I first discovered I had the astral talent at an early age, purely by accident. Initially I thought it to be a blessing, but I now know it is my curse. For I have seen things no human being should ever see. I have discovered our true place in the great scheme of things - our "purpose"? - and this knowledge has plagued my waking existence ever since...
It started as I was approaching my fifteenth birthday, two years after my beloved twin sister Abigail departed from this world, the subject of a tragic riding accident. It was my misfortune to be struck down with a fever and I spent a week in bed, the sweat pouring out of my flesh so that the sheets around me remained perpetually soaked.
And during this time I dreamt I was pulled up and out of my body. I spent many an hour simply watching myself restlessly thrashing around on the bed below. I know I probably should have been frightened by the experience, but I wasn't in the slightest bit alarmed. In fact I began to enjoy it - welcoming the opportunity to view myself as others saw me; as my mother looked upon me, sat by my bedside, a cloth in her hand to wipe my brow. She was especially worried now that I was her only remaining child.
When the fever lifted, I assumed the dreams had been caused by my illness and said nothing to my family. After all, many bizarre and wild visions had passed before my eyes during those seven days: things that couldn't possibly be real. Or so I judged to be accurate at that naive age.
It wasn't until later that I learned it hadn't been a dream at all. Not in the same way most people perceive the notion, at any rate.
Bored one night when sleep refused to visit me, I thought how wonderful it would be to float outside of myself as I had done when the fever gripped me. I missed the feeling of freedom it gave me; the reassurance that I was no longer held back by the matter which encased me. Fuelled by an insatiable curiosity, I closed my eyes and willed myself upwards. To my astonishment it started to happen again. I felt the separation - it is not painful at all, but there is a mild sense of loss - as my ethereal form drifted towards the ceiling.
Though it was dark, I could see myself quite clearly in the bed. I looked asleep, peaceful and resting quietly. A thin length of light ran from my head to my floating self, rather like the safety rope a climber might wear. I was comforted by the fact that I would be able to find my way back at any time without worry. For a while I watched myself breathing in and out. I took in only minimal amounts of air, as if I were on the very brink of death itself. Yet somehow I felt no harm would come to me.
I began to wonder...could I move outside of the room? I had no cumbersome physical ties, so surely it was possible. All I had to do was will myself on.
I tried to clutch at the door handle. Instead of grasping the metal, my hand went straight through the door itself. Cautiously, I followed suit, and soon I was moving through our house.
On the landing I caught sight of myself in the mirror. I was a transparent shape tinged with delicate whiteness, wholly invisible to anyone outside of this plane.
I glided over my parents, asleep in the next room, then paid a visit to my grandfather who was staying with us for the holidays. But in addition to their bodies, I could also determine a glowing outline which surrounded them: their own auras, albeit steadfastly earth-bound. Sadly, I could only travel for so long before the cord behind pulled me back into my own vessel.
As time went on and I became stronger, I began to experiment more and more with my power. No longer was I restricted to the house; I could roam around unhindered across countryside, past buildings, villages and towns. I saw as much of life as I dared, and never once did I have to leave my humble bedroom.
Anyone who saw me lying on the bed or sitting in a chair would conclude that I was taking a nap, particularly if I decided to step out during the day, when in actual fact I was at the bottom of the ocean, or halfway up a mountainside. I examined every beautiful aspect of this world, but I would always be wrenched back when I'd strayed too far or been gone for too long.
It was my fantastic secret and I never revealed it to anyone. I feared not just the taunts of people who didn't believe, but also the attentions of those who did - who might seek to use me for their own ends; I needn't have worried. No, I travelled alone and kept the knowledge to myself. It was not in my nature to spy. In all the years I have been doing this, not once have I intruded upon another person's privacy. Not on purpose, that is.
By my mid-thirties I had been around the world several times, as well as journeying to its very core. It was incredible to be able to pass through solid substances like cheese-wire through clay.
And I had moved out into space. It had been years since I mastered the act of flying, soaring along with the birds in the open expanses of blue and white. It was joyous beyond compare. However, nothing could have prepared me for the splendours which lay out there. I swept through the heavens, a jet black drape with pinpricks letting through light from behind.
I was no scientist, but I found it all fascinating. I loved to amble by those twinkling flecks and gaze at them. Oh the remarkable grace of it all! I was truly at home amongst the stars and felt like a god in the realm of the gods. How little I knew.
But I refused to leave it at that, more's the pity. I began to push the envelope, to go where reality mixed with fantasy. In my ignorance I stumbled through into other dimensions. Colours spun into infinity and the whole universe turned itself inside out. Space became black stars upon on a white background, and all that I knew to be absolute mingled bizarrely with insanity like paint on a canvas.
That's when I began to sense them.
As I pushed further on, something beckoned to me. Subconsciously or not, I couldn't tell, but I was definitely aware of a calling. I ordered my mind to follow the summons, though it would take me many attempts to finally locate the source.
I found myself falling into an odd mist which carried me along. It felt like I was being dragged sideways through a barrier. Reality no longer existed for me anymore as the strands of living smog swirled around my astral form. But still I followed the call, regardless of its destination. I experienced an uncontrollable need to do so.
When I finally broke through the veil, I came upon a place unlike any other in my experience: a nebulous world filled with sinister cities and encircled by volcano-like peaks which spat fire periodically: a white fire which I knew held no heat. The twisted, intricate streets, which curved and coiled back upon themselves like snakes, were lined with huge amorphous monoliths and towers - all connected by interweaving conduits and bridges. I was high above them, observing from afar the figures which populated this locale: black dots walking quickly towards their destinations.
I did not feel the cold - how could I when my body was elsewhere? - but I shivered nonetheless. What was this strange vista? Where had my travels taken me this time? I wondered.
Ignoring my trepidation, I plunged myself towards the nearest megalopolis, always following the summons. The closer I came to the steeples, those glistening obelisks, the more I could tell they were not made from any kind of stable substance. The surface of the buildings pulsed, and I saw thick tubular veins running up the side. I couldn't be sure, but it looked as if the structures were organic. Alive in some way. Indeed, I could have sworn the whole city was looking at me, right through me...
Wandering along those streets, I found my unease intensifying. The figures so small from above were now right in front of me - all around me. They were hooded beings who kept to the shade, shrouded in secrecy. But their cloaks seemed to cling to them, hugging each one like a second skin.
I watched them striding along their weird and distorted lanes: some in pairs, others in trios. They followed their hidden agendas, flitting from edifice to edifice, heads bowed, chanting insane mantras alien to my ears (yet somehow never out loud).
I decided to trail a pair inside one of the towers, staying a comfortable distance behind. Imagine my confusion at witnessing such sights, as the creatures made their way to hollowed-out alcoves, each with space for two or three of their kind. When they bent to sit down, seats sprang up that resembled obscene fungi. It actually grew up out of the floor to accommodate them. I now firmly believe the material was responding to some form of mental command.
Opaque globes the size of goldfish bowls detached themselves from moist walls and came to float about the Hooded Ones like pets in search of attention. I could see pictures on the spheres, blurred at first, then clearer and clearer. Each image was of a different part of our - my - world...places I had been, sometimes even people I had "met". They were observing my home, just as I was observing theirs; undetected, covertly, and with that same insatiable curiosity. But for what purpose?
Then I noticed that the figures' hoods were glimmering with a strange azure colour, and every time one of them reached out a pale, withered hand, something changed on the "screens": a man stopped and went up a street he never set out to explore, only to encounter a robber wielding a knife; a small child slipped away from her parents and became lost in a crowd; a pianist injured his hands and lost the ability to play; a doctor prescribed the wrong dosage of medication to a patient with catastrophic results; a woman suddenly fell in love with someone she'd only just met, someone she didn't really know at all...; an adventurer decided to tackle just one more expedition (his last); a husband chose that precise moment to smother his wife with a pillow; a military dictator reasoned that the time had come to expand his empire, at the cost of countless lives...
A plethora of minute details, interference in people's routines which amounted to total domination. Decisions "controlled" one way or another by this mysterious race. Where we might think fate is to blame for the atrocious luck we're experiencing, that is not actually the case at all!
But their meddling did not stop there. Nature yielded to their authority as well, it appeared; for I beheld avalanches, earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards, every manner of disaster one can think of, utilised in order to carry out their dreadful schemes.
I realised then that there must be billions of such globes in each tower, and that these Controllers, for want of a better name, were actually in charge of our destinies. A terrible feeling of helplessness overwhelmed me at that moment. If these unspeakable creations had a hand in every part of our existence, were manipulating and guiding each human resolution, what was their goal in doing so? How long had we been but puppets to them? Was all the beauty of the world, the stars, the heavens, simply a framework for some Machiavellian conspiracy? Were we but cattle in the field, herded onwards? And if so, where were we being led? My Lord, who were these people?
The call came again, disturbing me. It was much more anxious this time and I could do nothing but leave the Controllers to "their" affairs.
It drew me downwards to the very centre of their world, where I came to a great ellipse of what appeared to be water; cool, blue liquid in a gigantic lake. The sounds were coming from that location and I swooped down to hover by the side of the crevice where it rested. At this distance I could see that although the texture of the lake was rippling, it was not like any kind of water I'd ever come across. There was a film over the top which bulged and gently vibrated, and I recognised more of the worm-like veins around its massive edge; set in the slimy ground so that it resembled a rare mineral floating in tar.
Suddenly the surface shifted and I could see objects floating around beneath. I took them to be monstrous entities at first glance, but as they rose up I saw instead that they were people: faces, bodies - all human, but altered. There was nothing tangible about them. They were merely outlines...or reflections? Had this collection of haunted wraiths reached out to me, trapped in the blueness with no possibility of release?
And there, almost submerged by the others, was the physiognomy of my dearest sister Abigail. Though it was hard to be sure, I thought she mouthed the words, 'Help me!' before being pushed aside by more of the orb's residents.
I was about to head inside after her when a thin slip of grimy tissue snapped over the ellipse. Within seconds it had moved back again, and there was no sign of the multitude beneath.
I knew then that it was a living optic of sorts, which had just blinked - incredible as that may seem. And it was this animated oracle which had sought my attention, for reasons beyond my understanding. The source of power for the city - for their world - flashed white, and visions entered my mind. I was being shown things, extraordinary things I could never have imagined about the aim of all this...About the Contollers. Past, present and future, the Eye transferred its information to me at tremendous speed. I do not think it could prevent itself.
But the flow was interrupted by several of the Hooded Ones appearing at the Eye's rim. This time they could see me as I saw them. They knew I was there all right; had probably known all along. More joined them, and more, and still more; until there was a legion of Controllers around the ridge.
In unison they stripped off their hoods, and I just gained a quick glimpse of their appearance before a terrific agony set in. The cowls, as I'd surmised, were indeed a part of them. They peeled these back like scabs on spots to reveal repugnantly thin, piebald flesh, marked with protruding bones. They were hairless and possessed no features other than singular cyan eyes in the middle of their heads, just like the larger one they were all gathered around.
It was the light from their lenses, a combined effort, which I found too much to bear. I still don't know to this day how I could feel the shafts of burning torture they drove into me, but I assure you it was quite real at the time, and intense enough to make me loose consciousness after only a brief exposure.
The next thing I knew, I was awake on my bed. I can only imagine that my body pulled me back along its safety cord at that precise moment, and thus I escaped the fate those bastards had in mind for me.
Or perhaps they let me go intentionally, knowing I could never tell the population my tale without risking confinement to an institution. I cannot even bring myself to inform you of their horrific plans. Do not worry, though, you'll find out for yourself soon enough.
And try as I might, I cannot find my way back to their reality, or to Abigail. In my - now infrequent - journeys I am restricted to our own spectrum, as once I was to my parents' house. Only in my sleep, in my nightmares, do I go there time and time again.
Yet I feel certain I will be called back again at some point: probably on the day I rise up from my body a final time and cannot return to it. Perhaps I shall become part of the Eye with my sister, feeding it in some unconscionable way, entangled in the blue?
My greatest wish is that before I take my place there, I am allowed a few fleeting moments to look upon my world (no matter how tainted I know it to be), to take pleasure in my travels and dance between the stars without a care, as I did before I discovered the truth.
Perhaps then I might even take that astral peace with me, to draw upon when all else seems hopeless...
(C) Paul Kane 1998
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© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.