Out of Body, by Edmund De Santis
Elliott Winger jerked awake. He was in a hospital bed, an intravenous tube in his arm, a feeding tube up his nose and some other tube coming from his groin area. He looked around the antiseptic dimly lit lime-green room. The orange and green striped curtains were closed except for a small slit which he couldn’t see through. There were dying bouquets of flowers on every available surface. Bleach assaulted the nose, with a slight under-smell of shit and piss. Beep beep beep! some kind of robotic monster proclaimed. He felt too weak to maneuver himself into any position to know what had gone wrong. Did he have an accident? Had he been in a coma?
In a hospital and he didn’t know why. Maybe just a really scary lucid dream. “Wake up! Wake up!” he demanded of himself. “In body. In body!” But he was awake. He looked down at his hands. They were wrinkled, the skin transparent with liver spots on the back of them. That couldn’t be. With great effort he lifted his skinny arms, his left one with the tube. He held his hands in front of his face in horror. Not only were they ancient hands, they were an old woman’s hands. He let out a weak cry totally alien to his ears. He was in someone else’s body. Something had gone terribly awry. But what?
It had all started when he happened to overhear two women talking about it on the subway on the way to work. Normally, he wore his headphones and listened to music, but he’d been in a hurry and forgotten them that day. It was an early morning rush hour and the #1 train was crowded. The women were holding onto the same pole as he was. If only he had never overheard their conversation. If only he had never listened.
“OBEs,” the one said. She had a piercing stare, a certain naked honesty.
“What’s that?” the other one said.
“Out of body experiences.” The one with the piercing stare was telling the other how she’d been leaving her body after she fell asleep. Saw all sorts of marvelous things. She would soar above the rooftops of her neighborhood in Brooklyn. She’d seen certain presences too. Presences, Elliot wondered? He was dying to ask, but didn’t feel right about eavesdropping on their conversation. Some unfriendly presences, too, the woman said. And a large bug as well, “like a horror movie bug” was the way she described it. At one point, Elliott looked directly at her, and she met his stare and smiled, then turned back to her friend.
“Lots of times I just go to the glen where the man is.” Elliott felt she was saying this for his benefit.
“The glen? The man? Girl, are you for real?”
“Like this wooded area with water running through it and I see this man who stands there in the distance through the trees. We just stare at each other. He only smiles at me. But we communicate telepathically. He says there’s so much more than what I’m seeing at that moment.”
Elliott got chills. Then the train stopped at the 34th Street Stop and they moved to get off. He was supposed to go on to 50th Street, but on an impulse he jumped to the door to get off just as it was closing, but missed it. He watched the two women as the train pulled out of the station. The one with the piercing stare looked directly at him, then turned and blended in with the crowd.
Elliott knew right then if he didn’t go out of body he’d die. He went to his desk at work and immediately googled every site for out of body experiences. When he saw how many there were he realized he couldn’t possibly let himself get distracted by the internet, no, no, that could eat up hours. He had budgets to do and a quarterly summary due in three weeks, not to mention three months of expense reports and a meeting at eleven. He had to stay focused…
One more site, he thought, an hour later. And, as he read the story of how one man believed he had travelled almost to the source of the universe, Elliott immediately thought he’d quit his job that day and devote the rest of his life to pursuing that goal. “Close to the source.” But, of course, there was rent and food and clothing to think about, so he put off quitting his job for the moment.
But once he got the bug, there was no stopping him. His determination knew no bounds. Elliott hoped he might be susceptible to OBEs and had a feeling he might be because he’d experienced some of the things he was reading about, but didn’t know what they were at the time. The sleep paralysis, the feeling of being held down as he tried to wake up. Hearing his name being called as he fell asleep. Or the feeling of a presence hovering directly over him while he was sleeping. Now he knew from his reading it was his own astral body hovering over him! Waiting to take off!
As he sat in his bed one night reading Astral and Beyond by Gregor Manu under his purple lamp trying to imagine an astral world, he wondered if he should email the woman back from the dating website he’d been using. Myra something. They’d met for coffee a week earlier. She seemed really insecure, and he was almost sure her pictures were old. She had to be a decade older than him. And now he thought he found something better than a relationship. A real goal. A purpose. A relationship would only get in the way. He decided just to let it go.
One of the books he was fascinated by, Journey Beyond, told the experiences of the guru of OBEs, Robert Mitchell, and how his OBEs grew from simply floating outside of his body in his room to seeing other presences and talking to people that had died and going, he said, to the edge of the universe. The author swore saying affirmations like “I will be out of body tonight”, or “I will be out of body” during the day, and reaffirming them right before going to sleep, would aid in having an OBE. Also, visualizing every inch of the room you’re sleeping in so intensely that it’s burned in your mind. And of course, really, really believing you can have one.
Elliott was riveted to the book and had just started the chapter where Mitchell talked about ending up in a body that wasn’t his own when he could feel his eyes start to get droopy. He realized it was past two in the morning, he had to sleep. Still, he was determined to fall asleep saying the affirmations. He flossed and brushed his teeth and trimmed his nose hairs. Then he got in bed.
“I will be out of body, I will be out of body,” Elliott repeated to himself, lying on his back to fall asleep, which right off the bat was hard for Elliott, because he was a side sleeper. But he’d read it was easier to have an OBE if you were on your back. The astral body can launch easier that way. He tried not to focus on the result, but to stay in the moment and do the affirmation. “I will be out of body…”
He jerked awake. The memory that he’d just been about to go out of body flooded into him, but he caught himself before it happened and pulled out. Why did I do that? Elliot thought. Because it was there and it scared him. He was in a bedroom, his bedroom, but not his bedroom, the lampshade was crystal instead of the purple one and the furniture was Danish Modern. Ohmigod, Elliott thought, I have Danish Modern furniture in the astral worlds. Then he felt himself falling back into his body and jerking awake, looking at his Mission furniture. Close but no cigar. But he’d made it happen. He had to find the courage to go further.
Elliott was in his office and googled “obes having trouble launching”. It had become a bad habit, these internet searches. He had about an hour he could kill and call lunch. His phone rang.
“Hi, Deborah.” His boss.
“I need to have your RBEs for the last three months.”
“I didn’t email those to you?”
“No, and she keeps asking me where they are.”
Elliott worked in the records department of a large corporate law firm. He knew “she” was Priscilla, their director. She’d been told to cut costs, they all knew, and they were all fearing for their jobs. And if she didn’t think you had team spirit you needed to pick up the ball and do something about it. Everything was being so corporatized, Elliott desperately wanted to go out of body just to get away from his goddamn job.
“She doesn’t think you’re participating enough with the team.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“What can I do, she’s my boss.”
“The proverbial rock and hard place, huh?”
“Whatever, I have to have the reports. Look, I think it’s really important to keep in mind how lucky we are to have a job in this economy.”
“Deborah, I will have the RBEs by the end of the week.”
“You said that last week.”
“I’ll take them home with me and have them for you in the morning,” Elliott lied, knowing as soon as he got home he’d be doing affirmations and meditating and reading more about OBEs. (Reading supposedly helped a lot: the mind, which it turned out basically creates everything, is focused on it for extended periods of time and pretty soon starts thinking of nothing else. The mind gets turned.)
What Elliott considered the first real one happened the night he moved his bed so his head was facing north. He’d read about the position of the bed before, but his bed didn’t really work facing north, because the north wall had the closets. It was about two months after he’d started seriously doing other things he thought he needed to, which included stopping alcohol or drugs. Elliott was never a heavy drinker, wine at dinner mostly, and an occasional joint smoker with his friend, Leonard, so it was no big sacrifice to cut it out altogether.
The hardest thing of all, Elliott thought, was going to bed slightly hungry so his physical body was also light and would easily let go of the astral body. He started to feel his clothes get large on him, and people at work started to mention how much better he looked. As the days wore on, he did feel more alive. He was shocked at how disciplined he’d become. And after talking about it forever, he finally started doing yoga. He’d even started to focus on work when he needed to, all his reports were done and on time and he started participating more in the meetings, he was in it, yet out of it, because he had a sense of purpose far beyond anything contained in the banalities of his job. If the drudgery of that was necessary for him to have a life where he could freely experiment on the astral planes, he could live with it. Maybe the three-hundred bucks shelled out for the Robert Mitchell subliminal CDs wasn’t a total waste, Elliott thought, because he felt alive like never before.
In his free time: affirmations affirmation affirmations. He was giddy with them, he’d catch himself doing it out loud when he was alone in his office or at home. So, when he read in two more sources about the importance of the head facing north Elliott thought, screw it. This was way more important than how stupid the room looked. He put the bed where it needed to be. And bingo, that night he launched.
The whole experience probably lasted a minute but then he was aware there was no time in the astral world. He felt a rushing feeling he’d felt several times before, but now he realized his body was asleep and he wasn’t, he said, I am out of body, and he was, rising, looking down at himself, I am out of body, he was there, in the bed, the bed was now where it used to be on the other wall, away from the closets, the furniture was heavy, made of dark mahogany this time. He said living room, and was immediately there and it was huge, the couch had a different cover on it, paisley, the same cover his mother put on their couch growing up, and there was a grand piano and there were flowers all around the room, then he looked outside his window and beheld the most incredible garden where the street used to be, and a pine forest where the building across the street used to be, and there was someone there across the street in the forest, he heard them start to call his name, “Ell—”
Then he got scared, fell back into his body and jerked awake. He jumped up in bed, opened the drawer of his night table and took out his journal. “Had first real OBE!!!!!! Awesome. Somebody there. Who? Presence Manu talks about in his book? More more more…”
And Elliott did have more. From then on, he went out of body three and four nights a week. There were colors and cities and landscapes and flights. He flew above the Hudson River after he took off from the roof of his building which he got to through the ceiling of his apartment.
More than this more than this, a voice said.
And sometimes there was the forest and the woman. Elliott decided he would try to talk to her. He had sensed her early on, she was probably the presence in his very first. But she was always shadowy and only came occasionally. Like the woman on the train who saw the man in the glen who didn’t speak a work, the woman in his OBEs didn’t speak either. She stood just inside the forest, outside the window of his astral apartment, she stayed in his astral peripheral vision, talked to him telepathically, told him to come out, told him to look around, then he realized he didn’t have peripheral vision, but he could see 360 degrees around him. She wanted to come into his apartment. He didn’t want her to. She knew it. She couldn’t come in. She knew he didn’t trust her yet. He thought it might be his mother, but he wasn’t sure. Was she his guardian angel? He lifted the window so he could be heard in the astral forest. There was a pleasant tinkling soundscape, astral Philip Glass.
“Hello.” There was no response. He’d probably only imagined it was his mother, but then everything was imagined, wasn’t it?
“Elliott.” He heard her voice.
There she was. He couldn’t see her face clearly, she stood under a tree and her face shimmered, it didn’t stay in focus, but it certainly sounded like his mother.
“Mom?” She mimicked him.
“Are you my Mom?”
“Elliott. We can talk here.”
“Can you hear me, and you understand what I’m saying?”
“Oh, honey, come home, come home now.”
“Where am I?”
“Where do you want to be?”
“Out of body in my astral apartment.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Are you my mother?”
“Because if you’re not my mother, I—”
“To the source?”
“You want to go to the source?”
“You’re not my Mom.”
“I am all your mothers.”
“How many did I have?”
“Are you Mary the Mother of God?”
“Come out. Come into the forest. I’ll show you what it all is.”
“No. I—” She was drawing him to her, but he resisted. “You’re not my mother.” He closed the window of his apartment and jerked awake.
“So, then what, you’re saying like you’re never going to smoke again? Dude, too bad, this is some really good shit I got. Is this some phase, wait, what’d you say—you were studying what again? Shit, man, that’s a drag, so much of our communication exists on that level.” Leonard was distraught he didn’t have somebody to smoke pot with anymore. They’d known each other since college and toking was part of their friendship.
“You can smoke all you want.”
“I know I can smoke all I want and I intend to, that’s not the point.”
“I just want to keep myself clear.”
“I’m clear, I’m clear when I’m stoned. You’re not clear?”
“You’re not, you think you are.”
“I do my best work when I’m stoned.” Leonard was a painter.
“You only think you do.”
“You think Eugenics I was straight?” Eugenics was one of his signature pieces. He’d sold it for a shitload of money and bought himself a loft in Brooklyn. “I was stoned out of my mind when I painted that.” Then he went along the wall of his studio, pointing at various pictures. “Stoned stoned stoned stoned actually that was mushrooms acid acid stoned stoned stoned. Drugs have certainly not had a deleterious effect on me.”
“Yeah, I just want to stay mentally focused.”
“So, what you’re like studying Buddhism or something? By the way, dude, are you still doing that internet dating thing?”
“No, like I said I’ve been focusing on other things.”
Leonard prepared himself a bowl of what Elliott could tell was probably some very expensive pot. Leonard knew how to lavish himself with good food and good drink and good drugs. Elliott was proud he was capable of sitting there and calmly watching Leonard smoke. He would be going home later to have an OBE. He felt smug for a second, then he felt suddenly expansive and wanted to share it with someone.
“So. No, I’m not studying Buddhism. I’ve been going out of body.”
“What? You go where?”
“I’ve been having out of body experiences.”
“You are shitting me.”
“What, like astral projection and shit like that?”
“Well, I don’t actually do astral projection, I go out of body during my sleep.”
“Oh you mean like lucid dreaming.”
“Leonard, these are no dreams! I am there! I am in my apartment and there’s a forest outside the front window sometimes! I took off from the roof of my building!”
“No, shit, but, wait, how do you know you’re not dreaming?”
“Because I am there awake and my body is sleeping. And my apartment is never quite the same, the furniture, the way it’s laid out, it’s the astral worlds, man, it’s all created by the mind, whatever the mind wants it to be. Nothing is real, that’s what I’m saying.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I’m not kidding. I’m writing a book.”
“A book about what?”
“I’m writing all the experiences down.”
“That’s awesome, man.”
“There’s a woman.”
“You met her on that internet dating website?”
“A woman in the OBE.”
“OBE, that’s, oh—Yeah? Is she hot?”
“Leonard, you’re so immature. She’s. She might be…my mother.”
“Dude, you saying you see your dead mother?”
“Well I’m not going to come right out and say it’s definitely my mother, but it’s maybe a form of my mother in one of her existences.”
“Admitting I might believe you for one second, is this shit safe, meeting up with your dead mother like that?”
“Of course, it’s safe, why wouldn’t it be safe?”
“Once. Once me and my little sister we were, I don’t know, I was thirteen, she was nine, we had this Ouija board and went in her room and turned the lights off and put it on our laps between us and started asking the Ouija board who it was—Oscar, it said—and what it wanted and man I am telling you it spun that pointer around the board and spelled out I want your life motherfucker and then the electrical outlet popped and sparked and she screamed and we both pulled our hands off the thing at once and the Ouija board slammed against the wall, I swear to God, and I knew my sister wasn’t pushing the pointer, so I never put my hands on one of those things again. My sister won’t even let her kids have one in the house, she’s fucking afraid of them. She thinks spirits try to possess you through it. Fuck yeah, I believe in the unknown, and there’s a reason it’s called the unknown. Dude, are you sure you don’t want a hit of this?” Leonard’s ruddy cheeks glowed in the light from his Bic lighter.
“So what’s that have to do with going out of body—?”
“Something was moving our fucking hands around that board and it wasn’t us.”
“Then you believe in the possibility of something beyond.”
“Fuck yeah, whatta you think I smoke so much pot for, man!”
“What’s there to be afraid of, everything’s an illusion anyway, even the thing you’re afraid of, nothing can actually hurt you.”
“Bullshit. Ell, all I’m saying is you might be playing with fire here.”
“I can’t stop now.”
“I read once there are souls out there, whatever, who stay in those astral worlds because they don’t want to go on to the next level.”
“But they can’t hurt you if it’s all in the mind. Can they?”
Then Leonard took another toke from his water pipe and let out a huge cloud of smoke. Elliott must have gotten a contact high because his mind was fuzzy, and when he went to bed that night he couldn’t launch.
But, the next night as Elliott got into bed he had this feeling of utter euphoria, of being so alive, so in control, here he was at thirty-two and felt the most physically fit he’d ever felt in his life. At his ideal weight of 175. Free and light, he felt his astral body, even when he was awake, like an electric wick inside him. He was so mentally in tune. He went to bed, knowing he would launch, who knew into what beautiful world tonight, trying not to feel cocky, but at one with the universe, he felt he’d somehow evolved to a new and superior level to the one he’d been on before…….I am out of body…
The forest was outside his window; he went to it and opened it. He could smell the fresh green pine scent, the smell of rushing water. He floated through the window to the other side. He jumped down easily to the turf, it was only a few feet below him. The grass was springy, he smelled deep earth, he said to himself, to the edge of the forest and he was there. No longer a sense of awe he could say something and it was so. He walked under the pine trees, the exact forest he’d been in as a child, a place where his grandmother brought him to see a religious shrine, in Carey, Ohio, where there was some big shrine to Mary the Mother of God. He saw the woman across the way behind a tree and stopped.
“What do you want?” He asked her.
“What do we all want?” She responded.
“You talk a lot in riddles.”
“It’s all created by the mind, right? So you create the riddles.”
“Very clever. Why are you always here with me?”
“Don’t you know who I am?”
“Frankly, no, you say you’re my mother, you have a fleeting resemblance to her, but that’s my mind.”
“Elliott, it’s more beautiful than you know. Come with me.”
“But if I come with you, will I know how to get back?”
“You’re never more than a thought away from your body, right? Remember the Wizard of Oz, click your heels and there’s no place like home.”
Elliott suddenly wanted so much to believe this woman, that this woman who was like his mother was his mother and wouldn’t hurt him in any way. “Mom?”
“Elliott, honey, don’t be afraid.” It was his mother’s voice. She held out her hand to him, he saw it was transparent, but he could grab it with his astral hand, and suddenly everything went black, the pleasing tinkling Philip Glass was replaced by a raw, rough and rasping sound. Elliott could tell he was moving toward the opening of something, a great tunnel or a black hole or a place where he was suddenly very afraid screaming in body IN BODY!……
And he jerked awake. In a hospital. In an old woman’s body with machines beeping all around him and a plastic bag collecting his pee. Her pee. Elliott felt tears in his eyes, he didn’t want to start crying. He wanted to stay calm. He had to get back to his body. He somehow had to get back to his body. This body simply would not do. Then a nurse came in. She was young, pert and fattish, but she had a pretty face.
“How’re we doing today, Mrs. Gordon?”
“I—” Elliott could hear the alien voice coming from him. “I’m afraid I…” He wanted to scream. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to ask who or where he was. How could he explain it, they’d only think he—she—was crazy.
“You have an early visitor today, some man he says he’s a distant cousin and he’s passing through and can’t stay long, are you up for it?”
“Yes.” He thought he might find out more about who he was and what his circumstances were.
And then he walked through the door. His body.
“Hello,” it said.
When Elliott heard his voice coming from the body across the room he let out a scream.
“Don’t be afraid.”
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Elliott Winger.”
“I mean who are you in Elliott Winger’s body?”
Elliott—rather, Elliott’s body—went to the bottom of the bed and read the chart that was there.
“Evelyn Gordon. That’s your name.”
“How did you do it?”
Then Elliott’s body spoke sotto voce, a malignant leer on his face. “I’m sorry about your illness. Is there anything I can bring? No, I guess not. You know why? You’re going to die. You have a terminal illness. It’s called old age. Bones are brittle and the old ticker ain’t what it used to be. Tick tock tick tock. I didn’t want to grow old and die. I never have. Finding someone like you is like finding a needle in a haystack. You wanted it so much. So baaaaad. Your desire brought you to me. And now I have my new body. And I’m not even a woman this time, I’m a man. I can get away with just about anything. I haven’t had a man since three bodies ago.”
“Bodies?” Elliott didn’t know what to say, he felt totally overwhelmed and so weak in this woman’s body. He wanted to lift himself and grab the Elliott body that was standing at the foot of his bed, shake it, ram into it, get back into it.
“I like life. Physical life. I like food. And sex. Though I guess I have to accept whatever challenges are given to me.” He looked down at his crotch, then frowned at Elliott—or the old woman in the bed. “Average is better than nothing. I like good wine. Ah, and yes, as a man….good cigars. And nice clothes. I looked at your closet. I’ll need a new wardrobe. And my furniture. Ugh. Danish Modern is more my style. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking of moving. And that awful job. I quit this morning. Something you could never do.”
“Look. Let’s be reasonable. I want my body back.”
“They don’t expect you to make it through the night. And remember, you made sure they wouldn’t bring you back, see the sign above you?”
Elliott couldn’t see the sign, but he knew what it said. “DNR. Do not resuscitate. I want my body back.”
“You’ll have to find me first.”
Then the man who was Elliott came toward Elliott on the bed. He extended his hand and patted the old woman hand lying on the sheet. She tried to grab his hand, but he pulled it away.
“You have my sympathies.” Elliott winked at the old woman in the bed, then turned and left the room.
Elliott in the body of the old woman used every ounce of his strength to pull himself up, weakly screaming, “I’ll find you.”
She fell back onto the bed, a dry cough in her throat, whimpering, spent. She thought of telling the nurse what had happened, but she knew how crazy it sounded. She looked toward the dying flowers. She thought of calling her friend, Leonard, but when she tried to remember any of the numbers, she couldn’t, not even her own, then she wondered who Leonard was, she had no image in her mind… She suddenly couldn’t remember anything. She fingered the sheets, feeling her life ebbing away, trying to gather it back in. She wondered how she would make it through the night. She wondered if she would even fall asleep, or if she would just pass over. I will go out of body. She said it to herself, wasn’t sure what it meant, but felt it had some deeper meaning. As a small trail of drool fell from her lips down her chin she said it over and over I will go out of body, I will go out of body…
Edmund De Santis wrote mainly for the theatre for many years, but recently turned to fiction and is exhilarated by not having the strictures placed on him by the form of the play. He is the author of many plays that have been produced across the United States. Several have been published, including Making Peter Pope, The Language of Kisses and the award winning Recensio. His short story, “Johnny My Love” is being published in the upcoming issue of Evening Street Review. He was born in the Midwest some time in the twentieth century, but has spent most of his life in New York City. He currently lives with two cats. He received a B.A. from Miami University and an M.A. in Theatre and Film from Hunter College.
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Tags: accidents, astral projection, death, Edmund De Santis