James G. Wetheart levitated once. Just the once, briefly, he was that much closer to heaven. No one witnessed his ascension, so he carefully transcribed the experience in an onionskin journal with a calligraphy pen. Among the details he wrote, “Who knows? But something providential came in and gathered me up.”
On that day, James’ woman left without warning in a flurry of packing and a prattling of words he didn’t understand. It was a Tuesday afternoon in late spring. He stood petrified in the bedroom doorway, only his eyes moving, watching as she cleaned out her half of the closet and made her side of the bed. She smoothed down the comforter with the flat of her palm, leaving his side rumpled. They had woken together only a few hours earlier.
She bumped past him and into the kitchen and pulled photographs of the two of them from the refrigerator. The magnets fell to the linoleum.
He tried to say something and grabbed her arm.
“It’s over,” she said, holding up a hand to his face. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“What did I do?”
“I don’t love you anymore.”
“I just don’t. You’re holding me back. Get out of my way.”
She threw the photos into the trashcan on top of a wet pile of discarded tea leaves.
When she finally left, James’ woman said, “You’ve always been kind of a jerk, you know that,” She slammed the door. “Always,” he heard her say from the porch.
James spent the remainder of the afternoon looking for any sign that there had once been love in the house: perhaps a half box of her favorite cereal, a forgotten fashion magazine, a strand of hair left on the pillow, used tissues, toenail clippings. Some memory of her he could preserve in a jar. He cried as he opened each drawer and cupboard. He hunted below and behind the furniture and shook out the rugs. He found nothing.
He laid himself in the middle of the living room carpet feeling as if he might choke, as if he were being fed spoonfuls of his own heart. The image of her face fell from each shadow – from the corners, from the folds in the heavy rust-colored drapes, from the flashing gaps between the blades of the whirling ceiling fan. Her soft, alabastrine face descended on his with her cheeks pinked from love-making, feathered eyelashes blinking in slow time to their simultaneous motions, lips slipping to a smile as she bent to his ear to whisper of the future.
The brass clock on the mantle ticked loudly. Outside, a freight train sounded its horn as it clattered through the intersection of 8th Street and Broadway.
Pages 3 & 4: Purity of Thought
Levitation is dependent on purity of thought. That is, to put oneself in the proper state for flotation, one must achieve a deep concentration and sustain a singular focus. The mind and the body, in conjunction with the universal force and the global soul, must become a harmonious unit. Each part serves the other, and if one part should become distracted, if the mind seeks independence from the body and vice versa, then stasis and/or a fall are inevitable.
The question then becomes…what does one focus upon? Because of its beauty, one might think to turn to the natural world – a bird, a flower, or a tree. Yet, these objects all entail uncontrolled movement or growth. The bird flies, blinks, and defecates. The flower sprouts, bends, and wilts. The tree waves, rustles, and sheds. Growth and movement involve the changing of an object, and the mind, therefore, must shift its focus in order to comprehend the change. The body, as well, must adjust in its acceptance. In the midst of these distractions, focus can certainly not be realized.
One is then led to consider the inanimate – a rock, for instance. But a rock, in its ordinary condition, is by nature impure for it is the broken and discarded offspring of some larger boulder or mountain. It has been sheared off and abandoned because of its weaknesses. On close inspection, even with the naked eye, one can see its cracked and irregular edges, the inconsistency of its granular composition, the tiny fissures on its faces.
With the mind’s eye, these blemishes are magnified tenfold.
The physical world necessarily eliminated, one must then consider the intangibles, in particular, raw emotion. Emotion arises from the self and is controlled by the self. It springs from the spirit; it is a product of the soul. Kept within, it is protected from outside influences. No matter what form emotion takes or how wrong it may seem given a particular time or situation, it is unarguably honest, and therefore pure.
Further, emotion provokes action. Surprise begets a scream, anger begets a thrown fist. Since the desired goal is the act of levitation, it is quite fitting, therefore, that emotion be its prompt.
James didn’t bother to turn on the lights as the room grew dark around him. He still lay on the carpet. The day had ended, and he’d watched the sun slide down his window, disappearing below the frame, the color slipping from red to gold to black. Though he’d stopped crying some time ago, his eyes were stiff with salt. His nose ran, and his forehead shivered with sweat. He wiped his face with the sleeve of his shirt.
He lay still on the carpet and pounded a fist into the floor, rattling a lamp on its end table. He supposed he was still trying to love her. Her long auburn hair. He knew each of her curves and how to cup his hands to hold them. He knew which pair of jeans hugged her best. She closed her eyes and smiled when he rubbed her feet. She murmured happy words in her sleep. She sang the songs of Stephen Foster in the shower, and though he could not carry a tune, he learned each one and sang along in his head.
James’ entire body tensed, his jaw clenched, each tooth locking into the grooves of the one above or below it. The clock still ticked. He hit the floor again, this time with both fists.
He knew what love was supposed to be. When she’d moved in, he gave up the left side of the bed so she could sleep near the window. He had always slept near the window, since he was a boy, so he could watch the moon rise and wander each night, but he welcomed her to it with an exaggerated, gentleman’s sweep of his hand. The first night, he even fluffed her pillow and turned down the sheets, and he would’ve done it every night if she’d asked him to. He would’ve sacrificed that and more to make her happy. And he thought she was. She never said otherwise, and he didn’t have the power to read her mind.
James began to hate her for leaving. The feeling started as a nagging drip in his gut and slowly filled him. A heat seared him from the inside out. The circle of his knees warmed and reddened like stovetop eyes. His pores felt as if they might begin to whistle. He beat the floor again with his fists, and now his feet, pounding as if she were lying underneath him. The lamp fell from its table and broke on the floor.
“How dare she,” he said, his voice crouched. He hated her for not loving him and calling him a jerk. He hated her for taking his side of the bed. He hated the fact that he had pleasured her by rubbing her feet and that he’d held her so close her smell still haunted him.
James lay rigid, his back sucked flat to the floorboards. Hate sheathed itself around him, cemented him in place, but though he lay outwardly still, an acid pulsed through him. Bubbling. Spattering. Each cell in his body felt as if it might pop, each molecule vibrated with a nearly audible buzz, pushing out anything that was kind or soft or remotely related to love.
He cursed the woman aloud, naming each of her flaws and damning her to hell and worse, and when he had exhausted his persecution of her, he cursed the other women who had passed through his life. Mary Alice and her stinking morning breath. Sarah and her elongated second toe. Elizabeth who farted and pretended like she hadn’t.
He cursed his mother for giving birth to him, and he cursed his grandmother for giving birth to her.
And he cursed love, in general, and he damned all those who were in love. And he damned the god who created it all.
Then he levitated.
He didn’t feel himself rise. Though he lay on his back with his eyes open, the ceiling didn’t seem to come any closer. Rather, he felt himself land. First his shoulders, then his rump and legs, gently as a parent laying a fevered child into bed.
He sat upright. His ears rang with a clarity, a silence, a quiet and inexplicable peace. He extended his hands, spreading his fingers like sunflowers, encountering joints and muscles he’d never stretched before. He looked around the room. He was still alone and in the dark but could see everything as if the light of high noon shone through the window: the shapes, the colors, the angles of the furniture crisp as etched glass. He could feel the texture of the sofa upholstery from yards away, and on his tongue he tasted fruit, the sweet water of a grape or strawberry. He felt renewed as if a diseased tail had fallen off and regenerated, supple and freshly muscled, stronger than before.
He lay back on the floor, not fully believing in the happening. It might’ve been a gift but perhaps an inert ability awoken like a grouching beast. Or was he a heretofore unrealized specimen among the grounded and walking, an evolutionary first?
Then he began to marvel in his own apparent miraculousness.
Regardless of the outcome or origin, James wished to rise again, to be conscious of his act and mark the moment and sensation of its realization. He didn’t know if he would lift inches or feet off the floor, whether he would crash through the ceiling, whether he would land softly as before or plummet like a shot bird. He didn’t care. This singular ability was his to exhibit, and he trusted he would soon see himself hovering again, this time maybe suffused in a blinding light.
He concentrated and willed a duplicate ascension. Nothing happened.
James retraced his steps. He centered himself on the floor and positioned his limbs. He remembered the woman who left him, his sudden abandonment, the exposure of his vulnerabilities, and how much he had hated her. He tried to recall his fury and beat the floor with his fists, but found, to his disheartenment, that he could only think of the broken lamp and ticking clock.
He tried to rise for hours and finally fell asleep on the floor, disappointed.
Page 8: Perseverance
Accidents have a way of changing the world: Columbus’ errant route to the Indies, the discovery of penicillin, the extinction of the dinosaurs. The world itself is at the best the result of coincidence, an accident. A violent explosion — a Big Bang, if you will — typically results in demolishment, not creation and life.
Yet, the accident that occurs in solitude serves no one. The scientist who blunders upon the cure for cancer changes nothing if he harbors it in his mind. The explorer who stumbles into a secret cave only to find the Holy Grail affects no one if he forgets how he got there.
Likewise, if one happens upon a supernormal ability, such as levitation, it becomes the bearer’s responsibility to expose it to the public. The mystical effort is only realized when witnessed by others. Such a power could have far-reaching effects, the results of which are unpredictable, but likely positive. New opportunities and freedoms would be realized as the global community is forced to reconsider the accepted conventions and laws of biology, physics, metaphysics, transportation, and religion.
The problem, however, lies in the ability’s origin — the accident. Again, the responsibility falls on the bearer to recreate the previously realized power. This is achieved through perseverance. The individual in question must devote his life to the search for answers, a process which must entail study, research, trial and error. He must actively seek the acquisition of wisdom until he discovers that the original accident has become an intentional act.
James engaged in heavy research. He locked himself in his house and accepted no human contact other than from those who delivered food to his front door. During this period, he refrained from any attempt at levitation. Should it happen again, he wanted to be sure he knew why. He meticulously recorded his findings and musings in his journal. He slept with it under his pillow, and as he paced from room to room in contemplation, he tucked it under his arm. He brought it with him to the bathroom.
He first studied the saints and sorcerers. Besides Jesus Christ, they were persons he’d never heard of, but ultimately likened to himself. Simon Magus who levitated in the faces of Saints Peter and Paul. St. Theresa of Avila and Gemma Galgani who levitated during periods of rapture. Milarepa, a Tibetan yogi, who could walk and sleep in midair, and Joseph of Cupertino who screamed like a banshee before taking off.
He studied the fakirs of India and the ninja of Japan.
In 1868, witnesses saw Daniel Douglas Home float out his third story window and back in. In 1906 a girl in South Africa, thought to be possessed by a demon, was observed floating five feet off the ground, both vertically and horizontally. There were photos of Amedee Zuccarini and Nina Kulagina displaying their abilities. He learned of the fraudulent magicians, the fakers, persons like Houdini and David Copperfield, who relied on wires, contraptions and optical trickery to achieve the illusion of levitation.
James turned to science, buried himself in it, swallowing its perceived laws with relish. Gravity and magnetism. Biology and anatomy. The thrust and lift of aeronautics and the expansiveness of cosmology. He looked at psychology, particularly the techniques and effects of hypnosis. And pharmacology. He learned the names of all the hallucinogenic drugs.
And he saturated himself with the spiritual, the theologies of the world’s great religions. He read about their traditions and briefly mimicked each. How they prayed on their knees and meditated in the lotus position. How they walked on coals and pierced their flesh with iron rods. How they beat themselves with whips and cut the heads off chickens to drink the blood.
James exercised visualization techniques to control his breathing and heart rate.
He studied until he was full, his mind numb with wisdom, and felt he was ready to try again.
Page 13: Location
While levitation, in theory, can be achieved anywhere, there are two crucial factors to consider in choosing location. First, as stated before, when one has such an ability, it is necessary to make it public. It is a power to be learned from and admired. Thus, choose a place where people congregate.
Second, despite one’s mastery of the seemingly impossible, there are still forces which can’t be superseded, namely the earth’s rotation.
While levitation is an airborne activity, it is not to be equated with flight nor does it entail elements of propulsion. Therefore, as one hovers above the ground, he can expect to see the earth rotate beneath him. Like the earth’s core, the levitator becomes a stationary point, an axis.
Realizing this, one must then turn his attention to the problem of obstruction. If levitation is achieved at ground level, one can soon expect to be faced with the slow approach of obstacles, trees and buildings, which will threaten the static levitator with the turning of the planet. Thus, one must choose an elevated location where collision with an immovable object is less likely.
James chose the place from a tourist’s brochure.
The Garden of Gods. Certainly an aptly named place and less than an hour’s drive from Maysprings. It was a towering location, high among the clouds. A range of bluffs and cliffs and crevices, overlooking the Shawnee National Forest. It was a natural wonder, a ceilingless cave poised at the top of the world, and a destination for scores of travelers and adventurers. He turned the leaflet in his hands and studied the glossy photos. 320 million years of wind and water had shaped this place, carved the mountains of sandstone into crude sculptures which now bore names like The Devil’s Smokestack, Anvil Rock, and Camel Rock.
That’s it, he thought. I will sit on the back of the Camel, on the hump, as a wise man should.
He laid the brochure on a blanket chest at the end of his bed and went to sleep.
The following morning, just after daybreak, he brushed his teeth and wiped down his armpits with a damp cloth. Then he memorized the small map on the back of the brochure and threw it in the wastebasket. He dressed in the same jeans he’d worn all week, a white V-necked undershirt, a lightweight, hooded jacket, and a pair of hiking boots that he would be wearing for the first time. He left the house, pulling from his parking spot on the curb, and drove the length of 8th Street, past the Thomas Jefferson project housing and the water treatment facility. He stopped at the Minute Mart for a snack, then continued over the Ohio River on the steel-grated Brookport Bridge, noting the guardrails scuffed and scraped by drivers less confident and less sober than himself. He turned north on Highway 145 which would take him toward Golconda.
James sipped from his tub-sized soda and stuffed a handful of corn chips in his mouth. The Garden of the Gods. He laughed at the name and imagined Muhammad and Krishna sitting on the edge of a cliff, dangling and swinging their feet like children fishing from a dock. Zeus and Jesus, in sandaled feet, bounding along outcroppings in a game of tag. Moses and L. Ron Hubbard sharing a cup of tea. And himself, Buddha-shaped, lying prone and alone on the back of the Camel.
Then illuminating. Perhaps. He could hear the collective gasp of onlookers.
James arrived at the place, stretched himself toward the sky, and locked his car.
Page 22: Gravity
Gravity is not a universal law. One only need to leave the Earth’s boundaries to find this true. In Jupiter’s atmosphere, attraction is doubled, and in the midst of outer space, every being, every object, can achieve levitation.
Even on this planet, gravity is challengeable. When filled with breath, the latex balloon falls to the ground. When filled with helium, it floats to the heavens.
The balloon itself does not cease to be. Elementally speaking, it remains exactly the same; its function and ability, however, are changed by its content.
Such is the case with levitation. A person is not measured by the forceful attraction of gravity, but by the attraction of their divine center. Flesh, bone, and blood carry weight, making them subject to Newton’s law. In the energy of transformation, however, one is transfigured. The levitator changes his internal form. Light and heat become the compositional fillers.
The challenge, therefore, lies in the levitator’s ability to dismiss the concrete restraints of the weighted body and activate his transformation at will. To more easily understand this concept, think of the levitator as water. The body is equated to ice, solid and contained. Its shape is defined. It carries significant weight. The mind is liquid. It flows and sneaks and refreshes. The spirit is steam and has the ability to rise. Yet, despite these three stages with their individualistic properties, water is water. It is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, regardless of form.
The body, mind, and spirit have differing abilities, but they are part of the same divine center. They can function individually, but they can also function cohesively and interchangeably.
*Note: The human body is comprised of more than two-thirds water anyhow.
James was unfamiliar to climbing, and coupling this with his period of inert study, his stomach strained his belt. He followed the flagstone path from the parking lot, each step uphill. The top half of his body — gut, breasts, chin — jiggled as he walked. It was late October now, a bright skied morning. Though the air was crisped by a chilled breeze, James sweated. The brown hair that hung long over his ears was damp with it. He unzipped the front of his jacket. His white undershirt clung to a perspirated circle in the small of his back. Hurting and huffing, he had to concentrate to put one foot in front of the other. To stop, to rest, even for a moment, would crimp any momentum he had. He would fall to a slump on the ground, the tiredness of his body overtaking the desire of his mind. If he stopped, he felt he might choose the ease of turning and walking back downhill.
Two little girls ran past him, laughing. They looked weak, skinny girls with skinny legs like saplings, but they raced up the hill as if made of pure muscle and boundless energy.
“I’m gonna beat you,” the taller of the two girls screamed. Her legs were longer and covered more ground.
“No you’re not,” the smaller one answered, and then she tripped and fell on her elbow, scraping it on the path.
She sat up. James could see a small amount of blood beginning to leak through her skin. She was a cute girl, nine or ten years old, the kind you might see in a juice commercial or modeling back-to-school clothes in a department store catalog. She wore a pink t-shirt with the word “Princess” printed across her flat chest in glittery letters.
“Ow, ow.” She rubbed her elbow with her hand and sucked air in through her teeth. She looked up at James, her eyes large and watery, as if to ask for help or a comforting word.
He stopped walking toward her and looked away, troubled that she had assumed he would come to her aid.
The taller girl came back and picked up her friend. She leaned in to inspect the wound. “You’ll be all right,” she cooed. “It’s just a scratch.” They continued uphill, slower than before, their arms around each other’s shoulders.
More determined, James resumed his climb. He breathed desperately through his mouth, his lungs gaping. His boots had come untied, and the laces lashed at his legs with each heavy step. His ankles felt as if they might jellify.
Page 37: Acceptance
In divining, perfecting and displaying the ability of levitation, one will encounter the struggle of acceptance. In seeking acceptance of one’s powers, one must come to terms with the combined natural and supernatural forces involved.
As the adage goes, if it were easy, everybody would be doing it. The truth is that levitation is a power beyond the capacity of normal humanity. The human walks, runs, and swims, but does not levitate. The person who does achieve levitation, however, supersedes the normal, therefore making him supernormal, or superhuman.
It is within this deviation from the norm that the struggle to accept one’s super humanity arises. Having lived previously in the realm of the ordinary, the levitator must learn of his new condition without the guidance of predecessory experience. Because of his ability, the levitator must be prepared for his life to change. Upon the public display of his power, temptations and opportunities will present themselves: fame, fortune, sex. The levitator must be prepared to receive awe, perhaps praise and worship. Questions will be asked, as well as favors. Science and medicine will be relentless, and perhaps uncomfortably invasive, in their pursuit of answers. There are those who would try to profit from one’s successful flotation.
The life of a levitator is not a private one, but it is one that can’t be avoided. Thus, caution is necessary when making decisions.
When he reached the top, James leaned against a large boulder to rest. He looked up in front of him, and in the distance saw the spot from where he was to levitate. Camel Rock. He recognized it from its profile, but just barely. If the brochure hadn’t named it, he wasn’t sure he would’ve connected the shape of the rock to the animal. The supposed hump, at least from his angle, was broad and flat. It didn’t have the roundness that the photo showed. He saw now that the head and neck of the Camel — a smaller pointed rock perched on top of a thin, straight one – was completely detached from the body.
And a person, appearing to James as a black speck, sat in the exact spot from which he had imagined his lift-off. He hoped the person would be gone by the time he got there.
James wound his way along the edge of the bluffs, following a beaten dirt path. He reached the rocks just above his destination, what would have been the rump of the Camel. The view encouraged him. The sun shone iridescently white, like the prolonged flash of a camera, and greeted James at eye level. Far below the mantle of the cliffs, the forest canopy exploded in the flames of autumn colors: reds, oranges, and yellows. Yet, he would have the privilege of sitting in the middle of the deep blue coolness of the sky. A slight breeze swirled around him, and he zipped up his jacket.
Overhead, three large birds circled, and James wondered what lay injured on the forest floor. Perhaps the poor creature had fallen from this spot.
He hopped down the natural stone steps to the Camel’s hump. The person he’d seen earlier still sat there – a teenage girl with her back toward him. Her pink-dyed hair was rubberbanded into clumps across her head. She scribbled furiously in a diary and had a white gauze bandage wrapped around her writing hand.
He sat down on a stone stump a few yards behind the girl and tapped his foot loudly enough so she could hear. In his head, he tried to concentrate on the mission in front of him.
The girl took no notice of him.
He stared into her back. She wore a black hooded sweatshirt and a pair of black jeans that had slid down, exposing the top of her underwear – a shiny red thong.
James tried to look away, but found he couldn’t help staring. He moved a couple of rocks closer to the girl. He peered at her dove-white skin and the small, brown mole just above the thong’s waistband. He imagined what sounds the girl would make if he slipped his hand down the back of her pants. She would cry out at first, scream for help. Then she would look at him and feel a strange calm rush through her, as if he had caught her in a freefall. She would begin to murmur and hum.
The girl looked over her shoulder at James. “You got a problem?” she said.
He turned up his lip, scowling over his embarrassment.
“Go away, you pervert. Ugly old man.”
James hissed and bared his claws like an angry cat. He threw pebbles at the girl, pinging her in the back and head, until she left.
Hateful, but he needed the solitude.
Page 42: A Summary of the Paradoxical Responsibilities of the Levitator
1. Attention vs. Detachment
To levitate one must be in tune with the natural forces of the universe, yet sufficiently insulated internally to maintain focus.
2. Solitude vs. Publicity
Levitation requires the dedication and strengths of the individual and the verification of the masses.
3. Divinisation of the Individual vs. Human Obligation
The levitator is both human and superhuman.
“Jeremy Rankin, don’t you go near that ledge!”
Though some distance away, the woman’s voice pierced through his concentration like a steel skewer. James felt a sudden pain in his rear and a locking stiffness in his legs from his prolonged sitting. An ache gnawed at the small of his back. He opened one eye. A young boy, about three years old, wearing yellow overalls, tottered in front of him. The boy held a stuffed rabbit in one hand and sucked the middle two fingers of the other. With the way he walked – flatfooted, directionless, uneven steps – the child could as easily have bumped into James as fallen over the edge.
Beyond the boy, James looked over the tops of the changing trees and into the open air. The sky had clouded over, failing in its blueness, and sat heavy over him in the color of cigarette ash.
“Hey, guy!” the woman yelled, a tad closer. “Grab him for me, guy.”
James tried to ignore her. He closed his eye and stretched out his legs in front him, loosening his thighs by lightly beating them with his fists. Then he cross-legged his legs again and sat with his elbows on his knees.
“Grab him, guy!”
He heard her heavy footsteps running up behind him and felt the breeze of body as she passed. She smelled like talcum powder. “My sweet baby,” she whispered, and James knew she had scooped up the child and now covered his head in kisses.
A silent moment passed, then the woman pushed James in the head. “He could’ve fallen off, and you sat there like an idiot!”
“He wasn’t going to fall off,” James said.
“You don’t know that!”
James opened his eyes with a festering in his stomach as if it were being twisted with pliers. “Do I look like a fireman!” he shouted. “Do I look like a policeman! Who decided it was my day to be the hero?”
The woman took a step backwards. Her boy had begun to cry; his cheeks a curious, blotchy pink and streaked with tears. “You’re nothing special,” she said.
James scoffed at every inch of her. A fat, redheaded woman with ham-hock thighs and slumped shoulders. Her stained clothing bagged around her mid-section but failed to hide her obvious love of cake. She wore no wedding ring, and James knew by looking at her that she had no hope of ever catching a man.
“You’re a bad mother,” he said.
Last Page: Fear
If levitation is achieved, one has nothing left to fear.
James was glad for the return of the sun. He’d prayed for it. The morning air had kept him so cool he’d been distracted, and several times, he caught himself flicking his toes together inside his boots in an effort to warm them. But now, the sun was directly over him, beating down on the crown of his head. With the warmth, James felt himself beginning to change. The pains he’d experienced were gone, and all that was left to do was tap into those things he’d taught himself.
He opened his eyes to the sky and to the light of the sun, a blinding, painful white. He closed his eyes again, and the light shone red through his lids. He lay back and relaxed, letting his body fall into the rock like spilled water. He felt at peace and thought of nothing – not the woman who had left him or the prophets he had studied – and soon he felt a heaviness akin to those moments before falling asleep. He scratched lightly at his nose, nearly feeling otherworldly, when he heard the sound of footsteps followed by a woman’s voice.
“Excuse me,” she said. “I hate to bother you.”
Her voice was sweet and musical like the mellowing high notes of organ pipes, and James imagined she had blonde hair and pink, frosted lips. She sounded beautiful, and he attempted to shake the picture from his head. He tried to lie as still as a frightened possum, not wanting to acknowledge her presence, but his fingers curled into his palms. The sun began to feel too warm on his face, and he feared he would burn if he stayed in this position much longer.
He prayed he could float away from her.
The woman’s feet slid over the stone next to his right ear, and a shadow moved across his face. He could tell she leaned over him. “It’s just that you look so familiar,” she said. “I swear I know you from somewhere.”
James’ hands were now fists. He wondered what forces conspired against him, what higher power vowed to keep him on the ground, walking the earth like every other ordinary human. Again, he was distraught and distracted by a woman, and he felt a heat flush into his face and through his shoulders. His ability was secured by his previous levitation, but before this new woman had appeared, he again had felt on the verge of achieving flight and testifying his power to the world at large. But she continued to talk, her voice soft, almost angelic, and now he could think of nothing but her. His mind flipped through perceived photographs of her face, the perfect slope of her nose and the arch of her eyelashes. He could smell her perfume, like spring flowers and citrus, and hated its freshness, too pristine for what he hoped to accomplish. The muscles in James’ chest began to twitch, his knees bounced with an energy not his own. The desire to escape filled him as a growing wind, and he wished to leave this strange, talking woman behind, or below, if he should rise. He would ascend past her face, her black mouth gaping in awe, like a landed fish, and he would continue to watch her, her image shrinking as he lifted up, until her entire body was the black her mouth had been.
The woman spoke again, this time telling James her name. “Does that sound at all familiar to you?” she said.
She has a name, James thought furiously. He never wanted to know her name, to know she had an identity beyond her voice because it made him want to see her face. In seeing her face, he would know her as a woman, and maybe as a love. James didn’t want to love anymore. There was no joy in it, no glory. James had never been served by love, and he no longer wanted to pander to its beckoning. He refused to love, and smacking the flat of his palm on the stony hump of the Camel, he swore silently that it would be so. “Please go away,” he said through his teeth, and his whole body began to quiver.
“Tell me your name,” she said. “Maybe I know who you are.”
The corners of James’ lips wavered with the weight of what was in his head. He meant to scream at this woman and hurt her with words. He would sling profanities at her, debasing her person until she cowered out of view. Anything to make her leave. But when he opened his eyes, his face widened and his body fell into immediate paleness, as if something familiar and horrible had come back to haunt him.
The woman still hovered over him, and the white light of the sun blazed above her, creating a thin halo around the edges of her hair. But the sun refused to touch her face, and it appeared featureless in front of James – no nose, no lips, no eyes – unilluminated as a deep hole, one that intended to suck him in and pull him down.
“Give me your name,” she said, almost as if it were a command. “I feel like I should know you.”
James tried to look past the woman, and beyond he saw only two large-winged birds circling. He remembered seeing them before, but they appeared closer now, their spirals narrowing like a tightening screw. The woman squatted beside him, her knees nearly touching his chest. James tried to scoot away on his back. His feet pushed at the rock but slipped on loose stones. He swatted at the woman’s bent knees, but she did not budge. He closed his eyes again.
“What’s wrong with you?” she said reaching for his arm. She grabbed hold of the sleeve of his sweatshirt, and James, in reaction, recoiled, then shoved at her with both of his feet. The soles of his shoes hit something hard at first, pushing, displacing all that was in their way, but by the time his legs fully extended, they hit nothing but empty air.
And it was quiet again. No talking or screaming, no rustling in the treetops, no echoing thuds. Just quiet.
James rolled from his back onto his stomach, then rolled over twice more like a man on fire. He pushed himself up with his hands and tried to run, but fell almost immediately, skinning his knee. The pain seared through his leg and shot out of his mouth as a cry. He got up again and ran over the back of the Camel and jumped from its rear. He could feel blood seeping from his knee, dampening the leg of his pants, but he couldn’t stop. He started downhill, limping, his feet making an irregular clap on the flagstone path.