Read an Excerpt
Rei Ellis whispers to me as the light goes dark.
“Anna, don’t go.”
I turn to find him staring at me instead of the television screen at the front of the classroom where the film credits are beginning to roll.
“Why?” I whisper back.
“Because,” he points his pencil toward our English teacher, Mr. Perrin, who is busy fiddling with the volume knob, “you’ll get yourself in trouble.”
On the way to the bus stop this morning, Rei told me he’d heard a volcano was erupting in full force on a small, uninhabited island not too far from Hawaii. He seemed to think this was a pretty cool occurrence until I got all excited about it, too.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. I can’t help myself, though. This is something I’ve been waiting for for a long time and it’s not like a major eruption happens every day here on Earth.
Three other kids are already napping on their desks, faces down on their pillow arms, so I do the same. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, brush the weight of Rei’s glare off my shoulders, and exhale slowly. Inhale. Exhale. The country fiddle music from the movie soundtrack fades gradually, replaced by the thrum of my heartbeat, the rush of blood pulsing past my eardrums.
Slow, deep breaths.
This is not quite as simple as popping an ice cube out of a tray. I relax my mind, let it slip into that space between sleep and awake, and my body grows heavy and heavier still. The tingle starts in my toes, creeps up through my legs and past my knees. Once it’s climbed the length of my spine and into my neck, my body feels so heavy it seems it will sink right through the desk chair. Now I let go, let the part of me that is matter sink while the part of me that is pure energy rises to the surface like a bubble, up and out of my body … free!
I do a little invisible midair spiral of happiness.
Rei has never been out of his body, at least not that he can remember, so he doesn’t know just how phenomenal it feels to have this kind of freedom. I’ve told him it’s like when you take off your ski boots after a full day on the mountain and you feel like your feet will float right up into the air, but imagine everything floats, lighter than air, faster than light. Bodies are incredibly useful for things like eating cheesecake and lifting heavy objects, but they’re very slow and require lots of maintenance.
Of course, nothing is for nothing. Everything is so much more intense when I’m out of my body—the movie soundtrack is louder, the television screen is brighter, Courtney Merrill’s perfume could gag a pig. And everyone is surrounded by their own true colors.
My physical eyes are like sunglasses filtering out the colors, but when I’m out here, the aura that emanates from every living thing is clearly visible to me. People, animals, even plants are each surrounded by this transparent bubble of color. Over the years, I’ve learned that the colors can tell me quite a bit about a person. Like right now, Rei is surrounded by this lemonade yellow, which looks nice, but it’s the same shade of yellow my mom has when she’s sold a house to someone and the loan falls through.
For a few seconds I float here, reconsidering … stay (and make my best friend happy) or go (and see awesome volcano eruption!). By factoring in the odds of forgiveness, I reach a decision. I absorb a bit of the excess energy floating around me and flick the pencil on Rei’s desk, setting it in motion. He grabs it before it moves an inch and writes something in his notebook. Don’t be late!!!
Like there’ll be a clock where I’m going.
* * *
It takes me all of a fraction of a second to arrive in the general vicinity of Hawaii, and from here it’s impossible to miss the enormous plume of smoke on the distant horizon. Aloha, volcano! I move in slowly and let my overactive senses adjust one at a time.
The air smells like thousands of rotten eggs are baking in the summer sun. I get used to it fast, though, because there is too much to see … orange hot lava oozes down over the rocks while clouds of black smoke billow up from the mouth of the crater and red lightning jets randomly from the smoke. The heat is intense, a blistering wind scattering ash over the surrounding ocean, and the constant sound of thunder swallows me.
How cool is this?
I am surrounded by a force that’s been silently trapped for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. It’s like a living thing, this energy, and now that it’s broken free, I can feel its fury and frenzy, its exhilaration and ecstasy, random chaos unleashed. I hover high above the mouth of the crater and soak it all up.
I could use a little volcano power right now.
All too soon, I feel that tug, a force that beckons me back from any distance no matter how far—the invisible cord that connects what is ethereal to living flesh. The movie must be over and Rei is probably prodding my sneaker with his, trying to bring me back before the lights come up.
I coast back into the dark classroom so stoked with energy I feel I could light up the room like a thousand-watt bulb. As I pass Mr. Perrin’s desk, the stale smell of smoke hits me so hard, I wonder if somehow I brought it back with me from the volcano. I drift back a few feet until I realize it’s only Mr. Perrin’s beat-up corduroy jacket, which is slung over his desk chair. Silly Mr. Perrin. Teachers shouldn’t smoke. Nobody should smoke. I decide to relieve him of this burden.
Inside the brown suede side pocket, I find a crumpled pack of generic cigarettes and matches. Nobody seems to notice as one by one, the cigarettes slip out of his pocket and land quietly in the wastebasket. I move a few crumpled wads of paper around to hide them. There. Someday, he will thank me.
Over by my unconscious body, Rei is anxiously jostling my foot with his. The yellow aura surrounding him has gone neon bright. Keep your shirt on, I want to tell him, but he can’t hear me. Nobody can hear me when I’m out here, and nobody can see me, either, unless I want them to. I flick his pencil once again before I slide back into my body.
Immediately, I start to stretch, not my physical body, but what’s now back inside it. Religion teaches us that each person has a soul, a spirit, a chi. Science teaches us that everything in this universe is either matter or energy. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I’m hurrying to fuse it back together.
Rei’s sigh of relief flows over me, tickling my cheek. “Have a nice trip?” he whispers. It will take me a minute to realign this energy with my body well enough to answer him, but he knows this. He’s known this about me since we were four years old and my body spat me out during an anaphylactic reaction to a PB&J sandwich.
He’s the only one who knows.
At one point, Rei thought my ability to astral project was the coolest thing ever. He used to love to hear about all the places I had been; he used to wish out loud he could come with me. And then one day when we were about fourteen, I told him about this unexplainably spectacular … thing I had found out in deep space. I’m pretty sure it was a supernova. It was this mega-explosion of dust and every imaginable color of light, but the energy that radiated from it was about a million times stronger than the sun. I came back hypercharged, like a poster child for caffeine.
Rei was not impressed.
He had been studying one form of martial arts or another since he was five, so I was not surprised when he developed an interest in the eastern philosophies. Buddha, he told me, did not approve of recreational astral projection. Buddha, I told him, was no fun. Besides, that totally contradicted what he had told me a few weeks earlier. He had said Buddha encouraged his monks to practice astral projection so when they died, they wouldn’t become disoriented and automatically reincarnate instead of seeking enlightenment. When I reminded him of this, Rei added that Buddha didn’t like his monks to show off.
It goes without saying that Rei thinks I astrally project to show off. So I no longer tell him about most of my trips. And that makes me infinitely sad, but I don’t tell him that, either.
I hear backpacks zipping. Mr. Perrin rattles off the key points from the film and a homework assignment. Bits and pieces of disjointed conversations circle around me. When the noise finally dies down, I open one eye and peek over my arm. Rei sits on his desk with his backpack shouldered, watching me patiently.
He greets me with the tiniest of smiles.
“Late night last night, Miss Rogan?” Mr. Perrin’s raspy voice comes from somewhere within the room. I consider looking around to see where he is, but my head is not quite working in tandem with my body just yet. “You’d better hurry. Next class starts in two minutes,” his voice fades as he leaves the room.
Except for the ticking of the clock, there is absolute silence. I don’t move, not because I can’t, but because I can’t do so with any measure of grace yet. The irony is that I feel like a can of warm soda that’s been vigorously shaken. I want to bounce around like popcorn but all I can manage is to count silently to one hundred before I lift my head slowly so I won’t see stars.
Rei offers me his hand. “Want some help?”
“No, thanks, I’m good.” I push against my desk and stretch, arch my neck and my back until I’m staring at the stained, pockmarked ceiling tiles. “Thanks for waiting for me.”
“Sure.” Rei glances at the clock. “Take your time. We’ve got lunch next anyway.”
“Okay.” Both my feet have fallen asleep while I was gone, and I have to stomp the remaining pins and needles out of them before I dare try standing. Rei is so used to all my little quirks and quagmires that he doesn’t even bother to ask.
One, two, three … okay, I’m up. I let go of the desk tentatively, one hand at a time.
“So, magical, mystical Auracle girl,” he picks up my backpack off the floor and slings it over his own shoulder. “What color am I today?”
Rei bestowed this dorky nickname on me a few years ago when I told him that not only could I see the colors of his aura when I was out of my body, but they also changed according to his mood.
“You are … powdered lemonade yellow.”
“And is that good?”
“Ha! I didn’t think so. And how was your volcano?”
I can’t hide my foolish grin. “It was amazing! It was … what’s better than amazing? It was incredible! It was…”
As I struggle for just the right adjective, I see that slow, wide smile appear on Rei’s face, the one I’ve known for nearly seventeen years. He reaches over and lightly squeezes the back of my neck, his signature sign of affection for me. “Tell me on the way to lunch.”
I am forgiven.
Text copyright © 2012 by Gina Rosati