There are two things we have for sure: mind and body. People have lost their mind, but what happens if you don’t own your body?
Bankal reached up with his left arm, attempting to loosen the tension of the chains strapping his wrists to the ceiling. He gritted his teeth as his fingers grasped the shackle. The pain in his right arm shot down to his shoulder. If he could relieve the tension on his other arm for just a second, he would be able to think straight.
It was not the first time he had gone too far.
His muscle strength now was nothing compared to a day ago, when he was seventeen. The wrinkles on his arms made it look as if he was eighty, but he felt far older than that. In his previous body, Bankal could have quickly pulled himself up the chain to unhook it from the dungeon ceiling.
Bankal frequently moved in and out of other bodies. His friends and family, if you could call them that, did not believe him. They were quick to dismiss his journeys as dreams. If they could see him now, they would understand.
His grip on the chain faltered. The links slipped between his fingers. The clank of the chains echoed down the corridor as they snapped tight. A sharp edge cut deep into his wrist, and he let out a guttural moan. The depth and bass in his cry were a voice that seemed fitting for this body. It reflected character and experience, which matched the wear of this withered frame.
For the slightest moment, Bankal’s mind considered his predicament. It will all be over soon. He could deal with the pain.
A tiny river of blood, starting at his wrist, snaked down the wrinkles his arm. The stream gathered at his elbow. He could hear the splats as blood drops hit the floor.
Footsteps echoed off the dark granite walls. Something had alerted the guard. Amid the cries of neighboring inmates, the sound of heavy boots neared his cell. Thump. Thump. Thump. The sound of the guard’s approach was something he knew well. His body inadvertently trembled.
Bankal wondered if this body had lived in this world before he possessed it. In this case, no one recognized him as a friend, foe or acquaintance. He had no idea of this old man’s name. It was as if he appeared out of nowhere. In this case, he could not confirm nor deny the man he assumed had previously existed. Unfortunately, time spent in this body was fleeting.
Each adventure was different. Sometimes Bankal assumed the same body more than once. ‘Assuming’ the body was his way of describing the experience, though he had complete control over the body during the assumptions. He believed each host was someone unique, someone special. Each time, Bankal silently thanked them for the brief ride, and the perspective they bestowed upon him. He wasn’t sure if the bodies ever knew he had followed them. He did not have the ability to communicate with the body’s rightful owner.
Today, he felt guilty and fearful for what he had done. Bankal had no choice. Now the old man was in danger.
A familiar flicker invaded his vision.
Time to go.
The guard screamed, turning the corner, and snapped a whip. Bankal threw his head back as the tip lashed across his chest. He let out a blood-curdling scream and closed his eyes.
“Alex? Alex, it’s okay, sweetie. You are here now. I’ve got you,” a sweet familiar voice said to him. Internally, he cringed. This body lived in a love-hate world. Bankal opened his eyes to the hospital room. He was Alex.
“I’m fine, Mom,” Alex said and looked down at his eleven-year-old body. His skin looked gray. More gray than he remembered. A sick feeling washed over him. This body was dying from leukemia.
“Where were you this time?” His mom whispered. Alex watched her look over her shoulder, toward his father, and quickly back. She slipped her fingers around her son’s hand and smiled, the question still hanging in her eyes.
“I got myself in trouble,” Alex said. “I was captured.”
“What happened?” his mother asked.
“I didn’t mean it. I was hungry and took some bread. I left that old man in the dungeon,” Alex said, stealing a glance at his father’s thin face. The slender man stared back at his son. Without a word, he got up and walked out of the room.
In all the worlds Bankal had traveled, he tried to explain these body assumptions. No one believed his journeys were real, except one person. The woman who sat before him now. His mother. Anna was the name she called herself. In this body, Bankal believed Alex was real. Unlike most of the lives he followed, he knew Alex had a history. He was a son. He was loved. This body meant something to those who loved him.
Which body was the first? Which one is real? These were questions Bankal asked himself constantly.
Alex was always cautious with his words. His situation was the hardest. Bankal could not comprehend how Anna dealt with the pain. Each day she sat by her son’s bedside, praying, and talking softly with him. The pain and fatigue in the body of her son were debilitating, and not just for Alex.
He tried his best to sit up in the bed. Maybe just one hug would make Anna smile. He believed it was something she desperately needed. The blankets were too heavy to lift. The struggle was futile. There was just no way of moving such a sickly vessel. Alex slowly reached his arms toward his mother.
“Anna?” A voice in the doorway interrupted. It was Alex’s father. Mark was the name he called himself. “Can I speak with you for a second?” Mark glanced at Alex with a small smile, but his eyes quickly looked back at Anna.
Anna turned to Alex and kissed him on the forehead. “Stay for a while, traveler. I will be right back. I want to know more about the old man.”
She stood up, and her smile faded as she walked out of the room. Mark’s mannerisms through the door’s window were obviously disturbed. Anna’s fists clenched as she threw them to her sides. She turned back toward the room and pushed the door open a few inches. Mark’s voice stopped her and Alex could hear him. His father was not happy.
Mark latched onto Anna’s arm and pleaded, “You should not encourage talk of these so-called journeys. The more energy he spends, the weaker he becomes. He can’t fight that hard. We will lose…” Mark’s voice trailed off.
She put her hand on Mark’s shoulder and said, “We both know he is past the fight now. These stories, his journeys, are all he has left. He needs this. We can’t take that away.”
Mark reached up and placed his hand on Anna’s arm. He glanced at Alex, who quickly looked away, pretending he wasn’t listening. Alex hadn’t missed the shine from his father’s tear-filled eyes in the florescent light of the hospital corridor. Mark blinked and turned away. Anna pushed the door open all the way and joined Alex at his bedside.
Alex didn’t want his mother to know he had overheard them. He decided to no longer talk about his journeys. He didn’t want to add more stress for Anna and Mark. It had to be hard enough to know your son was dying.
Anna smiled at Alex. He tried to smile in return and squinted. His vision faltered. The familiar flicker.
Not again. Please, not just yet.
“Mom, it’s okay. I know-” Alex started to say, but the flicker intensified. His body shook, matching the vibrations of the world around him. He closed his eyes and was transported.
Bankal woke in a familiar bed. The plaid quilt was something he dreamed about even when he was not here. Just for a sanity check, he lifted the blankets to see the able seventeen-year-old body. This body was called Brian.
Brian’s parents finished the basement into a bedroom just for him. It felt like freedom. A rite of passage bestowed on him because he was trustworthy and old enough.
Goosebumps freckled his chest and arms. Brian quickly covered himself back up, scanning the room for some clothes to wear. Remembering where Bankal put his clothes in one life was difficult enough, but managing to find a shirt and pants in a dozen lives was almost impossible.
Gritting his teeth, Brian threw the blankets aside and hopped off the bed toward the closet. His gray hoodie and soft jeans were hanging there. It was a good day when his favorite clothes in his favorite life where clean and ready.
There was only one thought on Brian’s mind as he threw open the door and sprinted up the steps. Anadel. As he reached the top step, he turned, pursed his lips, and sprinted back downstairs. After a good tooth-brushing, Brian made his bed and stacked his favorite books on his nightstand. Clicking the light off, he flew back up the stairs, past his mother and almost made it out the front door before she halted him.
“I know where you are going, but aren’t you forgetting something?” She said and pointed to her cheek.
“Mom, I am too old for this.” Brian crossed his arms.
“Too old for paying me for making lunch for two?” She said, revealing a picnic basket. “One sandwich for each of you. In fact, I think it may be her favorite,” His mom smiled. “Now, give me a kiss, and I will even let you take credit for such a thoughtful meal.” Again, she pointed to her cheek.
“Mom, you are the best!” Brian blurted out, hugged her, and placed a quick kiss on her cheek. He snatched the basket, winked and shot outside. The screen door swung shut behind him with a crack. Before she could scold him, he called out an apology.
The bell in the clock center rang out twelve times by the time Brian reached the river. She was already there.
“You’re here! I was starting to think you weren’t coming,” Anadel said playfully. Her short, blond hair framed her lightly tanned face. She stood, wiping her hands on her blue jeans and turned to him. The sun caught her light brown eyes.
She was beautiful.
“What do you have in the basket?” Anadel asked.
“My mom packed us lunch,” Brian said with a smile. “She told me to pretend I made it. I don’t trust myself with a knife, though.” He winked at Anadel.
“God knows If you fell asleep while spreading mayonnaise, my sandwich could have been ruined.” She laughed and took Brian’s hand.
To her, he just fell asleep. To him, he traveled. In the past, Brian told her of his journeys, and she joked with him about it. He was not sure if she believed him or not, but it didn’t matter.
“Text your mom and set your timer,” Anadel reminded him, as she stood and waited. The tank top she was wearing was one of his favorites. It was white and outlined her frame perfectly. She had broader shoulders than most girls her age, mostly because of gymnastics and probably some good genes.
“@ the river. Going 2 willow tree.” He texted his mother and set his timer for twenty minutes. It was the safest way for him to travel. If he did fall asleep, Anadel could drag him back home, but it made more sense for his mom to help.
His mother never seemed to mind going to get Brian, regardless of the time it took out of her day. His mom could have easily kept him home. Instead, she let him be free. She wanted him to have a life so their arrangement was that he would text her often. She even had an app on her phone that she could use to locate him in an emergency.
Brian and Anadel paused on the wooden bridge and snatched a few flat stones. He made a wish and chucked a stone, side-arm. The rock skipped once, turned, and angled off to the side, landing in the woods to the edge of the river.
“There goes that wish. I hope it wasn’t a good one,” Anadel said. She held her hands together and closed her eyes.
“I never wish the first time. That stone was far too light, anyway,” Brian said and held up a stone toward her. “Blow on this one.”
The smell of her minty breath wafted past him. He yearned to reach in and kiss her. Brian turned to the river, smiled and paused. He closed his eyes and made his wish.
I wish to stay with her forever.
He wished the same thing every time. Brian launched the stone, and it hopped and hopped. It was a perfect flight, low and parallel to the river. It had skipped twelve times before it settled into its watery home.
“I counted more than ten!” Anadel exclaimed and held up her hand for a high-five.
“Twelve,” He confirmed and smacked her hand.
“Well played, sir. Same wish?”
“Same wish.” Brian winked at her.
“Someday, you should tell me what makes that wish so special.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Sure, you can. I didn’t ask what it was, only what makes it unique,” Anadel said and held out her hand to Brian.
He closed his fingers around hers. Turning to her, he said, “You will know someday when it comes true.”
Their boots echoed off the wooden bridge. It was made mostly from railroad ties. Below, he could hear the smooth ripples of the stream. It was one of his favorite sounds. It meant he was here.
The path on the opposite side wound up a gradual hill through a field of tall green grass. It was spring. Tiny white daisies peppered the hillside, sending their aroma through the cool air.
At the top of the hill stood a weeping willow. Its large branches reached down to the ground creating a perfect enclosure to relax. They laid back in the grass near the tree, basking in the warmth of the sun.
Anadel held Brian’s hand and pointed to the sky in the north. “That cloud looks like a turtle.”
“Good eye. What about that ov-” he started to say. His eyes fluttered. He grasped her hand tighter and closed his eyes. His hand fell limp to his side.
“Brian? Did you leave me?” Anadel whispered. He didn’t move. “Please, don’t leave me yet.”
He felt her hair touch his cheek and he snapped his eyes open and planted a big kiss on her lips. For the slightest second, she kissed him back. Anadel pulled away with a surprised look on her face.
“The boy who cried sleep,” She said and laughed. “One day, I’m not going to believe you. You just might be left in the woods.”
“I couldn’t resist,” Brian said and looked down and away from her. “Every time, I wonder if I will come back.”
“You mean never wake up?”
“Do you believe me when I say I go to places bigger than just dreams?” Brian looked at her, searching her eyes for the truth.
“I don’t disbelieve you,” Anadel said. “I think it is your world and your reality. It is hard to wrap my head around things I don’t understand, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
He placed his hands on her cheeks and said, “I don’t ever want to be in a world without you.”
“Nor I without you,” she said and kissed his forehead. “Now, eat before you really fall asleep. Text your mom again, too,” she said and passed him his tuna sandwich wrapped in a wax paper.
As usual, his mom’s lunch was delicious. Potato bread with golden brown grill marks, Jarlsberg cheese, with just the right amount of mayonnaise and her secret spices. Each bite excited his taste buds. He salivated for more.
“Damn, this is good!” Anadel said with a mouthful of tuna.
“I know! Mom is a magician in the kitchen. A Ka-gician!”
Anadel laughed and said, “A M–itchen! Maybe she would be willing to come over and teach my mom some magic, too. God knows she could use the pointers!”
“Just ask your mom to make breakfast. I mean, how can you mess up breakfast?” Brian said.
“There is a reason why I have not invited you over in the morning.”
“Oh, come on. It can’t be that bad.”
“You would be begging for sleep to take you away.” Anadel smiled at him.
He finished his lunch and laid back, looking at the clouds in the sky. The long grass flowed around the two of them in the warm breeze.
Brian closed his eyes and sighed loudly, basking in the warmth of the mid-day sun. In the distance, he could hear the ripple of the stream. He was happy. “This is the best day of my life.”
He opened his eyes to the dungeon. The guard was in his face. It was the first time Bankal had transported without warning. No flicker. No vibration. He was just suddenly here.
A sharp pain shot through his chest. He looked down to see the sword. The guard jerked it upwards. The old man’s blood poured down the blade. The room began to fade. It was not the same flicker of being transported. The warmth was ripped from this body as the old man bled out. Bankal had no energy to scream. Inwardly, he shook. He had never been in a body who died before.
What is going to happen? I need to transport.
Bankal focused on the feeling, but nothing came. He could not force himself to go back to Brian’s body. To Anadel.
Suddenly, the world faded to black. In front of him laid a tunnel with a bright light at the end. It was a brilliant white with a tinge of yellow. It was too difficult to look at it directly.
“This can’t be right. I am not here. This is not my body,” Bankal said. The words dropped in the dead air, muted. The old man’s body faded to an empty shell and disappeared completely. All that existed was Bankal’s mind and the blinding light.
Suddenly, Bankal felt a pull. The draw was powerful. It felt like a magnet dragging him toward the light. His mind struggled. It was sucking him in. He felt remorse for the man he had killed.
Will I be punished? Will I ever get back to Anadel?
Feet away from the light, Bankal submitted to his fate. The light invaded his mind.
A flat whining tone entered Bankal’s ears and was quickly followed by people yelling. His eyes widened to see two nurses performing CPR. One bent down and pushed her breath into Alex’s mouth. His chest expanded and she pulled back and let go of his head which fell to the side. He could see a monitor showing a flat green line. Alex’s heart was not beating. Seconds passed. The whining tone subsided.
The green line on the monitor moved. A heartbeat.
Alex tried to speak to his mother. Nothing came out. His throat was dry. His tongue felt thick. He turned his head, and the nurse helped to lift it.
“There you are!” He could smell tuna fish.
“Water,” a nurse said. A second nurse passed white bottle with a curved, rigid straw. The nurse lifted Alex’s head forward and squirted the warm liquid into his mouth. Alex coughed and mouthed, “More.”
His mind wandered to The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy gave the tin man oil.
“Dad?” Alex whispered, trying to look around.
“Yes, son,” His father quickly replied. The thin man reached for Alex’s hand and clasped it between his fingers.
“Did I die? I don’t want to die,” Alex coughed out. “I don’t want you to worry about me.”
His father said nothing. Tears fell down the man’s cheeks. He squeezed Alex’s hand and quickly left the room. Anna appeared at the side of the bed. The nurse pulled up a chair for Anna to sit and she did.
Anna grasped his hand. “You scared us. Was this another journey?” Anna said. Her voice was full of hope, but he could see the pain behind her smile.
Alex remembered he had decided not to speak of his travels. He couldn’t bear the worry it caused Mark and Anna.
“I was right here, Mom.”
She tilted her head to the side and raised an eyebrow. “Well, I am glad you came back to us,” Anna said and touched a cool cloth to his forehead.
The room began to flicker. Alex winced, trying to hold onto his bed sheets. His weak hands would not grip them. Bankal no longer had control over this body. The sudden feeling of weightlessness gripped at his belly. He reached down. There was nothing to touch. Bankal hovered and looked down upon Alex’s mother now. He watched her shake Alex’s hand and turn toward the door, her mouth open in a yell, but he could not hear her words. That flat whining tone was there again. Nurses burst into the room pushed Anna aside. The monitor by the bed showed a single flat line.
“Mom!” Bankal yelled to her loudly, urgently. His voice was not Alex’s dry rasp, as it was seconds ago. She couldn’t hear him.
Please, give me just one more sentence. Just one more thing to say. I can’t leave her like this. She needs to know where Alex is going. I need to know where I’m going.
For the next few hours, Bankal hovered. Somehow, he was unable to transport. Mark came in and pulled Anna away. They held on to each other and left the room. Nurses covered Alex’s head and arms with sheets and wheeled the bed out of the room. Soon after, a cleaning crew arrived. When they finished, the room looked sterile, as though he had never been there. This finality, without any closure, was overwhelming to Bankal. He wept without tears, wondering why he hadn’t transported.
Why am I stuck? What is there to do in a world with no body?
Maybe this is the real life, and the rest were dreams. Anadel.
Suddenly, the door thrust open as two nurses pushed a bed into the room. They parked it in the same place as before. There was someone in it, covered in a lump of blankets. The form lay on its left side. A nurse checked the chart and turned to a woman in the doorway. They passed words Bankal could not hear.
The form shifted in the bed. The woman turned and sat, just as Alex’s mother had sat by him. As the blankets dropped from the face, so did Bankal’s heart. It was a boy. A very sick boy. The bandana barely covered his tiny, bald head. His skin had a familiar gray tinge.
“I don’t understand. Why is this happening?” Bankal said, but there was no one to hear him.
The work suddenly faded to blackness. A moment later, a light gleamed. Bankal breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t in the hospital room anymore.
He hovered at eye level to Mark and Anna. They were outside. It was raining. They stood, overlooking a casket. It sat beneath a tent, protecting them from the raindrops. There was a priest dressed in black, flipping through the pages of a Bible. To the left of the casket, was a mound of dirt covered with an old strip of fake green grass. The right side had a single group of flowers in front of a picture on a tripod. It was a picture of Alex smiling when he was eight. That was the year he got sick.
The priest said his prayers which seemed dry, detached, and too generalized. Bankal wondered how many times the priest had read such empty passages or how often the same fake grass had been used at other funerals.
Anna paused and picked a rose from the bouquet. She placed it on the casket. Her mouth moved, as if she wanted to say something, but nothing came out. Tears streamed down her checks. After a long pause, she kissed her fingertips and touched the casket.
“Goodbye, my sweet boy. I love you.”
Anna left the tent. Someone held an umbrella and walked with her in the rain. Mark stayed with the casket. The air felt thick. Mark leaned over and put both hands on the casket. He spoke to his son in a low, quivering voice.
“I know you think I didn’t believe you and your stories. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to do this.”
His voice broke, and sobs choked his words.
“I can only hope your journeys brought you peace. I hope that anyone who met you knows how wonderful you are. I will miss you, my little traveler.”
He wanted desperately to hug his father.
The image began to flicker.
He wanted to reach out, to tell him he loved him. He could only watch through the flickers as his father grabbed a handful of dirt. Mark tossed the dirt over the top of the casket, and everything disappeared.Page Break
A cool breeze swept by, carrying the scent of daisies. He could feel the grass under his fingers and the warmth of the sun on his face. The sound of ripples from a stream in the distance filled his ears.
Soft lips pressed against his. He felt peaceful, as if waking up from the best sleep of his life. He had never felt so alive. He didn’t feel scared. Brian opened his eyes.