This story is the first in a series of novellas, and as such, is an “origin story”. I would be delighted to receive readers’ responses to the story, both from the point of view of the story, and also as regards to the “rules of the universe” as I have outlined them. This story is not written as a fantasy, where one can invent any rules one wants to, but is instead closer to the genre of science fiction, with the sincere attempt to describe an uncharted world that might indeed be real.
Is the spirit world as I have described it? I believe that it is similar, but since one cannot prove something like this, we’ll all have to wait until we get there to find out. I have based the environment and attributes of the spirit world on many books that I have read, combined with my own personal beliefs and attempts at logic. I particularly recommend three books that purport to be true accounts. The first is “Life in the World Unseen” (and its sequel), by Anthony Borgia; the second is “A Wanderer in the Spirit Lands”, by Franchezzo; and the third is Emanuel Swedenborg’s “Heaven and its Wonders and Hell, From Things Heard and Seen”, first published in 1758.
My apologies to historical figures that appear in these stories. I have no idea what they’re really doing in the spirit world, but have endeavored to treat them with all due respect.
The Author ~ Portland, Maine ~ November 7, 2010
The Significato Journal ~ significatojournal.com
• • •
He was very surprised when he died. No amount of death scenes can prepare an actor for the real thing, even a Shakespearean actor. One can rehearse being stabbed, and poisoned, and shot, and even hung. But how can one prepare to be hit by a truck as one crosses the street? It is especially grievous if it is the street that one lives on. Edward had carefully locked the door of his theater on Grove Street, and had paused to admire the new sign that proudly declared to the cultured wits of Greenwich Village that the Wild Theatre was at the top of its form.
Seeing his reflection in the glass door of the theater, he paused, and ran a comb through his thick black hair, carefully tousling a few curls. Theater owners must keep up appearances, even when they are simply crossing the street to purchase a lottery ticket, as Edward did, every day at lunch time. Satisfied with his appearance, he thrust the comb in his pocket and stepped onto the street, glancing at the sky as he did so. A drop of rain had fallen on his red brocade vest, which was not a happy thought, since it had been hand sewn at great expense. His concern about his vest was rudely interrupted by the nasty sensation of being lifted from the pavement by the front end of a speeding truck. His body slammed against a light pole with such force that it looked like a pair of broken scissors, all askew.
This bloody and unexpected event was not what surprised Edward. It irritated him, to be sure. He even felt a twinge of anger toward the driver of the truck, who had slammed on his brakes and was now sitting in his cab in shock. No, it was not just getting hit by a truck that astonished him. One might expect such things in Manhattan. His bewilderment stemmed from the incongruity of seeing his body sliding down the lamp post and realizing that he was looking at it from the sidewalk.
He looked down and felt his legs to make sure that they were intact. Unlike the broken limbs splayed out in front him, they were in perfect repair. He checked his vest, and saw nary a rip or spot of blood; not even the offending drop of rain that had inadvertently precipitated his death. It was indeed strange. He shook his head and blinked, wondering if he was dreaming. If it was a dream, it was extraordinarily real, for there he stood, surrounded by a gathering crowd of New Yorkers who were staring in fascination at the very broken mess of his very dead body. Among murmurs of “Gawd, did you see that!” and “Is he dead?” and “Of course he is, stoopid!”, Edward stood entirely dazed and confused. And surprised.
“Feeling fuzzy, are we?”
A man standing next to him was looking at him, smiling.
“You can see me?” Edward asked.
“Of course,” the man replied.
Edward waved his hand at the crowd around him. “But they cannot!” He leaned forward and spoke to a woman in front of him, but she ignored him, and continued to gawk at his corpse. Turning back to the man, he said, “See?”
The man nodded. “Yes, I see.” He took Edward’s arm and squeezed it. “It’s because they are not dead.”
This statement was at first hard for Edward to grasp. He was not a mathematician, or even a philosopher. He did appreciate logic, so after a few moments of chin rubbing, he looked at the man, and said, “Oh. That means you’re dead.”
“Yep,” said the man.
When one has died, but is still standing upright in seemingly perfect health, one has questions. Edward had many, and was just beginning to formulate a list of them when the man tugged at his arm and said, “We have to go. They are coming.”
“Who?” asked Edward.
The man pointed down the sidewalk. Two men and a woman were pushing their way through the crowd of onlookers, kicking and slapping at people as they passed. Their blows had no effect, since their hands and feet went through the bodies of their victims without being noticed. Edward’s stomach turned, ever so slightly, as he looked at them. He had seen many creepy denizens of Greenwich Village, but these three were unusually nasty looking creatures. One of the men was extremely rotund, with a bald head oozing with boils, as if he’d been in the sun for far too long. His suit was black and shiny, giving Edward the impression that he might be with the Mafia. Perhaps from New Jersey.
The second man was in his twenties, and had a distasteful, gleeful look about him, the kind of look that some young men have when they pull the wings off flies.
It was the woman who was the most noticeable to Edward. She was tall and curvaceous and was wearing very little clothing, even for New York. Edward had a profound appreciation for the beauty of women’s bodies, and for a moment was distracted by her figure. Then he looked at her face. Oh, what a face! Her mouth had a horribly stretched appearance, and her eyes were deep pools of blackness that gave one the sense of falling into a grave.
“Who are they?” asked Edward.
His companion shook his head. “I’ll tell you someday. Do you like carnival rides?”
Before Edward could reply, he found himself high above Greenwich Village, zooming toward an opening in the sky. He looked down, just in time to catch a glimpse of the roof of his theater before it disappeared from view. He was in a tunnel; a deep, inky black tunnel that felt warm and soothing, which was a good thing, because Edward had considered vomiting as he looked down at Manhattan. Heights were not welcome companions. Now, as he traveled upward through the tunnel, he wondered why he wasn’t feeling claustrophobic. The tunnel was peculiar, holding him closely in an embrace, like arms that traveled with him as he shot rapidly toward a flicker of light.
Just as he decided that he really liked the tunnel, the spot of light became a large round opening that immediately dissolved, leaving Edward sitting on a grassy hill overlooking a river. His guide was sitting next to him, calmly chewing on a long piece of grass. With an impish grin, the man took the grass from his mouth and pointed with it, across the river.
“Look,” he said. “There’s the city.”
Edward looked, and saw a city crowded with spires and towers, with a large ridge running through its center. As he turned back to his guide, he was startled by a shadow skimming across the hill. Glancing up, he saw a long, oblong vehicle of some sort flying in the direction of the city. It was completely silent, and very sleek looking.
Edward had read many science fiction novels growing up, and had a particular fondness for flying vehicles. They were certainly nicer than trucks that hit one when one wasn’t looking. He wanted to ask his guide about the craft, but was forestalled when the man took his arm and suddenly jumped straight up into the air.
He began to panic until the man squeezed his arm again. He must have had a special power in his hand, because Edward’s fear vanished, even though by this time they were at least a hundred stories up. They stopped suddenly, without a quiver, and hung there, floating far above the landscape.
The countryside was magnificent. The river and city lay in front of them, while on their left, Edward saw the haze of a distant mountain range. Turning to his right, he saw the ocean glistening in the distance. Craning his neck around, he saw rolling hills and woods behind them, with dwellings nestled among the trees. After a moment, they started floating toward the city at a leisurely pace.
Edward’s mind was flooding with questions as he turned to look at his guide. The man was still holding his arm, which seemed to be Edward’s only visible means of support, and was smiling at him. It was a nice smile, and made Edward feel quite relaxed.
“Who are you?” Edward asked. “Are you an angel?”
His guide shook his head and laughed. “Nope. Not an angel. Although they could have sent one, I suppose, but they thought I’d do quite nicely. I’m just a man, like you, although I’m much older than you. My name is Rhys.”
Edward looked at him closely. He seemed to be in his late twenties. He was rather handsome, although his nose was a bit squidgy. He was clean shaven, with long hair that was braided down his back. He was wearing an elegant lace shirt with crimson trim, and comfortable looking trousers. His clothes gave him the look of a Bohemian artist. It was his eyes however, that grabbed Edward’s attention. They were a rich brown color and were the warmest eyes he had ever seen. Edward just wanted to keep looking at him, but then Rhys laughed and broke the spell.
“How old are you?” asked Edward.
Rhys rubbed his nose thoughtfully. “Well, let’s see. I was born in Wales, before the Romans came, in 83 BC by your calendar, so I’m now over two thousand years old.” He looked at Edward slyly, and said, “Do I look it?”
Edward shook his head. “No, not at all.”
Their forward motion ceased as he spoke, and they began their descent to the edge of the city. They floated down into a courtyard in front of a marble building adorned with thick white pillars. As they walked to a bench and sat down, a great blue heron flew by, slowly thrumming its wings. Edward felt a rush of pleasure as he followed it with his eyes.
Rhys was watching him closely, and said, “I was told that you love herons, so I arranged for one.”
“I do!” exclaimed Edward. “How did you know?”
“We know everything about you, Edward,” Rhys said. He held out his hand and a small mirror appeared in it. He handed it to Edward and said, “Take a look in the mirror.”
Edward gingerly took the mirror and looked into it. At first he didn’t see anything unusual, but then, as he gazed at himself, he realized that he had grown younger. He was almost forty, but he now looked more than ten years younger. The grey at his temples was gone.
He handed the mirror back to Rhys, who took it and looked at himself for a moment. He grinned at Edward as the mirror disappeared.
“Just wanted to make sure I still looked the same.”
Edward rubbed his head, feeling a bit confused. Then he rubbed his right temple harder, and said, “Hey! My headache is gone!”
Rhys looked at him sympathetically. “You had them for a long time, didn’t you?”
Edward nodded. “Too long.” He stood up and stretched. He was over six feet tall, and well built, but had suffered for a long time from shin splints and a bad knee. Traipsing around Manhattan’s cement sidewalks hadn’t been good for his legs. But now, as he walked around the courtyard, he realized that he felt wonderful. All of his pain was gone.
He walked back to the bench and sat down next to Rhys. It was a warm sunny day, and he suddenly felt hot in his red brocade vest.
“Would you like to wear something cooler?” asked Rhys.
Edward was startled, and stared at Rhys. “I didn’t say anything. How did you know what I was thinking? And yes, I wouldn’t mind a cooler outfit.”
Rhys looked up and down his body, as if measuring it. Without a by-your-leave, Edward’s body was covered by a bright blue cotton robe. Edward almost jumped up, but then realized that all of his clothes were gone under the thin robe, even his underwear.
“Rhys! What did you do?”
Rhys was trying to hide his laughter. “I thought I’d start with a basic robe. Then you can add on from there. What would you like?”
“How ‘bout some underwear?”
“Really?” Rhys asked. “How come?”
“What do you mean, how come?”
“Most people don’t use underwear here,” Rhys replied. “There’s no need, since we never have to use the bathroom. That’s true even for animals. No more dog poop on the lawn. No more litter boxes.”
He paused, and thought for a moment. “Of course, if you want to wear underwear, you can. I suppose you could even go to the bathroom if you wanted to, although I’m not sure about that.”
He shuddered, and said, “But who would want to? Yuck.”
“I see your point,” said Edward. “Yuck, indeed.”
Rhys nodded. “The system here is incredibly efficient, and seems to be completely focused on making life easy, and bringing people joy. The food we eat converts naturally to pure energy. We don’t even have to eat if we don’t want to. Our bodies are supported by the energy of this place, and maintain their youthful appearance based on our quality of heart. Women don’t even need to wear bras to keep the shape of their breasts.”
Rhys started to chuckle, and said, “My wife loves that, by the way, and I don’t mind it either. In fact, in certain situations, you don’t even need to wear clothes. Like swimming, or sunbathing, or walking in your garden. You can wear whatever you like.”
Edward looked at his robe, and then at Rhys, and then at his robe again. He had never imagined that being dead would be so interesting.
“I’m not sure how to describe what I want to wear,” he said.
“Just visualize it in your mind, and I’ll help you,” said Rhys.
Edward thought for a moment, and then, just as he formed a picture of an outfit in his mind, it instantly replaced his robe. He was wearing a white cotton shirt, linen trousers and white sneakers. He glanced at Rhys admiringly.
“That was pretty cool,” he said.
Rhys looked down modestly. “Why thank you,” he replied. “You can get your red vest back any time. I’ll show you how later.”
Edward stood up, and declared, “So. I’m dead, right?”
Rhys nodded. “Yep.”
“So how come we even have bodies? How come we’re not wispy globs of ectoplasm floating around on clouds?”
Rhys snorted, and said, “Would you enjoy that?”
“No,” said Edward.
“And this is heaven?”
“Well, it’s not hell, but it’s not heaven, either. It’s what we call a middle realm.”
Rhys stood up, and took Edward’s arm. “You’ll see.”
“We’re not going to fly again, are we?” Edward asked.
“No, no, not now.” Rhys patted Edward’s arm reassuringly. “Let’s walk into the city.”
Relieved, Edward walked with Rhys around the side of the building, along a treelined path. As they rounded the building, they came out at the end of a long park. They were on the ridge that ran the entire length of the city. The ridge was wide, with gardens and trees and pathways. They stopped for a moment, and gazed at the city. Edward privately thought that it looked more like a town, or even a large village. What truly impressed him, however, were the dozens of flying vehicles flitting their way through the tree tops, and in between buildings.
The vehicles were completely silent, and some of them moved at great speeds, and then turned, or stopped, just as rapidly. He wondered if the occupants were feeling jostled about with such abrupt movements. Even more interesting was the fact that there was no discernable system of roadways.
“You’re wondering why they don’t crash,” Rhys said.
Edward looked at Rhys with a bit of exasperation, and said, “How do you do that?”
“Do what?” Rhys asked innocently.
“Read my mind, that’s what!”
Rhys just smiled, but didn’t answer as they walked along the pathway. There were many people in the park, as if it was a holiday. As Edward watched them, he realized that perhaps it was a holiday. Maybe every day was a holiday when you were dead.
When they reached the center of the park, Rhys stopped, and pointed at a vehicle that had gently touched down, hovering a few inches above the grass. A group of people disembarked, and walked down the side of the ridge to the town below. The vehicle was empty, and Edward approached it curiously. It had a sophisticated swept back design that exuded class. It was a large vehicle, and tall, so that people could stand up in it. A long window ran down each side, and Edward could see couches and easy chairs and tables inside the craft.
As he looked through the window, he heard a faint humming sound, and the vehicle started to shimmer.
“You may wish to step back,” Rhys said.
Edward jumped back nervously. The vehicle oscillated rapidly, until with barely a whisper of a sound it was gone.
“Wow,” said Edward. “Where did it go?”
Rhys nodded. “Wow, indeed. It’s been converted and stored in an energy data bank. We don’t have ugly parking lots here.” He pointed toward the far end of the park. “Let’s walk that way. I have someone I want you to meet.”
As they walked, Edward said, “You have to tell me how you read thoughts, and why you speak English since you’re from ancient Wales, and I want to know more about flying. If you can fly by yourself, why do you have vehicles, and what makes them go, and how come they don’t crash, with no roadways? And what’s this data bank thing?”
Rhys laughed, and clapped Edward on the shoulder. “You’re a curious fellow, aren’t you? A typical Welshman.”
Edward raised his eyebrows. “You know I have Welsh blood?”
“Of course,” Rhys said. “Wild is a good Welsh name. And did you think it was a coincidence that you were met by someone from Wales?”
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
“It’s because we’re related, Edward. I’m your seventy-fifth great-grandfather.”
“You know that?”
Rhys grinned. “Yes, of course. It just means you have to be nice to me, because I’m your elder, even though you still look older than me. You’ll look younger too, as you improve yourself.”
Edward wasn’t sure what to say. What could one say, when one is looking at one’s ancient great-grandfather who looks younger than his descendent?
“Shall I call you Gramps?” he asked.
“Ha!” said Rhys.
They had almost reached the end of the park, so Edward persisted with his questions.
“So, what about the flying, and the data bank?”
Rhys nodded. “It’s simple. We do everything here in the spirit world by the power of thought. Time and space follow different laws here. We can fly through the air, because we have mental power over our environment. We use airships, even though we can fly individually, because we like to be together as we fly around. It’s convenient. The airships don’t crash because we use our minds to automatically deflect crashes. Even if they did, we wouldn’t be harmed, since we no longer have physical bodies. Nothing to get hurt, at least not permanently. I’ll explain the data bank some other time. It’s a bit complicated.”
“And the English?”
“I’ve had many years to learn many languages. But doing so isn’t really necessary, even though it’s easy to learn new languages, because our minds communicate on a subvocal level, and serve as automatic translators. If I said a word in ancient Welsh, your mind would perceive what I meant by the word, and you would understand the word in your modern English. It all happens with the speed of thought, and is so seamless that sometimes you can’t tell whether you heard me speak English or Welsh. Unless you think about it.”
“Oh,” said Edward. He felt fascinated and stupid at the same time. “What about the poets? They love words, so what happens with that?”
“They continue to write, in whatever language they like best. Words contain rhythmic patterns, and deep meaning, just like musical notes. Writing and poetry are an art form here, just like the physical world. The difference is that translation is instantaneous. We hear the beauty of the original language and understand the meaning, all at the same time.”
Rhys continued, looking at him with amusement. “Since thoughts are energy like everything else, we can perceive each other’s thoughts. However, we never invade each other’s minds. We don’t go deeper than the process of language translation without permission. We can close our minds off to others if we wish, and if we feel that someone has done the same, we never try to enter their thoughts, except for the mental equivalent of ringing the doorbell.”
“But I did not invite you to read my thoughts,” said Edward.
“Yes, that’s true,” Rhys conceded. “There are a few exceptions. One is with newcomers, because we need to guide them. Another is with people in trouble. And in the lower realms, there is a danger of mental attack by people with ill intent.”
Rhys turned to the right, up a path to a grassy knoll and a beautiful white gazebo. As they approached the gazebo, Edward saw a man sitting at a table, reading a newspaper. The man put the paper down as they approached, and stood up. He was dressed in a white linen suit and a wide brimmed white hat, and sported a bushy handlebar mustache. He smiled at Rhys as they came into the gazebo, and held out his hand to Edward.
“You must be Edward,” he said. “I’m Albert Schweitzer.”
Edward shook his hand, trying to hide his astonishment. “The Albert Schweitzer?” he asked.
“Yes, indeed, the very same,” Schweitzer said. He motioned at the chairs and winked at Rhys. “Do sit down.”
They all sat, and Edward stared at Doctor Schweitzer. He didn’t know much about him, except that he had been a doctor in Africa, and had been, by all reports, an especially good man. Edward found it disconcerting that Schweitzer looked so young, but then reminded himself that this aspect of the spirit world was an actor’s dream. To look young forever, without Botox. Yes, indeed, this was a good arrangement.
His musings were interrupted by the Doctor, who handed him a piece of mango, and said, “We’ve prepared lunch for you, since your lunch on earth was so rudely interrupted. You are hungry, aren’t you?”
“Yes!” exclaimed Edward. He had forgotten all about lunch, and suddenly felt famished. He accepted the mango, and bit into it. It was incredible, putting all California mango growers to shame. With a dribble of juice running down his chin, he asked, “So, we can eat delicious food after we’re dead? Not just little squares of colored protein?”
Rhys laughed and handed him a cloth napkin. “Of course we can eat delicious food. The only people who struggle with lack of food are those unfortunate souls in the lower realms. In the middle realms, you can eat whatever and whenever you like.”
Doctor Schweitzer regarded him kindly, and asked, “Rhys has told me that you like sushi. Would you like sushi for lunch? Or tonkatsu? Or something else, entirely?”
Edward dabbed at his chin, and nodded. “Sushi sounds very nice, thank you.”
As he put the napkin on his lap, a large plate of sushi appeared before them, complete with chop sticks and dishes of soy sauce and wasabi and ginger. Edward’s eyes widened, and he looked at Rhys.
“This instant creation thing is really cool,” he said.
Rhys picked up a piece of tuna. “Yes, indeed,” he said. He closed his eyes briefly, and then proceeded to eat with gusto.
They were silent for a short while as they ate. Edward was grateful for the silence as he gazed around the park. He was still in shock from his death. It felt like only an hour had passed since he was hit by the truck outside his theater. He tried to imagine what was going on with his body, and what his friends and fellow actors would say when they found out about his death. He suddenly felt a wave of angst as he thought about his theater, and the performance that night, and his understudy, who was most assuredly unprepared to replace Edward in his role. He must have started to breathe a little hard, because suddenly Rhys put his hand on Edward’s arm and squeezed it.
Edward grunted and put his hand on his head. He felt quite faint all of a sudden, but Rhys’s hand on his arm was comforting. After a minute or two, he sighed, and sat up and looked at Rhys and Doctor Schweitzer with embarrassment.
“I’m sorry. I’m not used to being dead. I should be rehearsing right now for my role as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. It’s opening tonight at eight.”
Doctor Schweitzer looked at him sympathetically, and handed him a cup of tea. “Drink this. You’ll feel much better. It’s a special kind of tea we give to new arrivals.”
Edward sipped it tentatively. He couldn’t decide what it tasted like, because as he focused on one taste, the taste changed, and eluded him. It did taste good, however, so he continued sipping it. It was warm and made him feel pleasant inside. For a minute he wondered if it was mixed with alcohol, but Rhys caught his thought and shook his head.
“No, it’s not whiskey,” he said. “It’s a special herbal tea that just makes one feel good.”
Doctor Schweitzer nodded, and said, “It’s shocking isn’t it, arriving here when you didn’t expect it?”
Edward nodded as he sipped more tea.
The Doctor continued. “I’m sure that your affairs on earth were important, Edward, but unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about them right now. We will arrange a visit for you as soon as possible, with your mother, and with your friends that you were close to. And your father, as soon as he wishes it.”
The mention of his father and mother made Edward feel sad again, so he drank more tea, which helped a bit. The tea made him feel dreamy and without realizing it, he closed his eyes as he thought about his parents.
His mother, Elizabeth, had been a stage actor. She loved Edward, and said that he was the only good thing to come from her marriage to a Connecticut sheep farmer. Richard Wild had been a gruff and unimaginative man, and entirely unsuited to Elizabeth. She had divorced him when Edward was a teenager, and rather quickly married a man who had attended her performances for many years.
When Edward had questioned her haste, she had shrugged, and said, “Edward, dear, he’s a Latin lover with a great deal of money. I must survive.”
When she moved to her new husband’s cattle ranch in Argentina, she kissed Edward on the cheek and promised to support his high school dreams to be an actor. She had followed through, paying for his tuition at Juilliard, and then sending even larger sums of money to start his own theater after he graduated.
Richard had died of pneumonia one wintry day, with Edward and Elizabeth by his side at his sheep farm north of Mystic. It was a depressing afternoon, with no other relatives in attendance. In fact, Edward had never met very many of his relatives. Some had died, and some were estranged from his father. His mother had a few cousins in Rhode Island, but he had never spoken with them.
After the funeral, Edward sold the farm to a condominium developer for five million dollars. When he went back to the farm a few years later, he was devastated by his mistake. He hadn’t realized how much he loved nature and the countryside, and well ... sheep. Sheep were sweet and looked at one with such innocent eyes, quite unlike some of the inhabitants of Manhattan, who weren’t innocent at all.
The hills of his family farm, which had been covered with trees and Shropshire sheep, were now barren abominations crowded with the ugly McMansions of the nouveau riche. There was hardly a tree to be seen. There were certainly no sheep.
His mother had consoled him on the phone, advising him to do what Beatrix Potter had done, and buy some land and turn it into a park. She offered to pay for most of it, if he would name it after her. He had promptly done so, creating an ocean front park in southern New Jersey, just north of Atlantic City. Edward was a man of conscience, with a love for children. Every summer, he took his theater troupe to the Elizabeth Wild Sheep Park, and put on plays for busloads of children from New York and the surrounding area. His actors enjoyed themselves, but always teased him, with comments of, “So, boss, what’s with the sheep?”
“Kids love sheep,” is all he would ever say.
His life in Manhattan had been much more exciting than living on a sheep farm, and he had taken great pleasure in creating a successful theater. His apartment above the theater was lined with art and plants and a large collection of books. His life seemed to be going well, in his opinion, with no particular reason for it to be cut short so rudely.
“Yes, it is a shame,” said Rhys.
He opened his eyes with a start, almost dropping his teacup. Rhys and Doctor Schweitzer were leaning back in their chairs, smiling at him.
“It is a shame that you died so young,” said Rhys.
Edward flushed, wondering how much of his reverie had been apparent to Rhys and the Doctor.
“Don’t worry, Edward,” Rhys said. “We are helping you acclimate right now. Later, when you experience your life review, your thoughts will be private.”
The Doctor handed him a tall glass of a cool liquid, and said, “Drink this. It’s a fruit mixture I created myself. Very helpful.”
Edward drank it, and felt a surge of energy in his body. His sleepiness skipped away, and he sat up straight, and said, “Yes, it is a shame that I died so young. Why did I, by the way?”
Rhys looked at Doctor Schweitzer, who nodded. Clearing his throat, Rhys said, “Well, the short answer is that we don’t know. What we do know is that there are many reasons for death. Some of them are simple, which may be the case with you. You were on your way to buy a lottery ticket, and you didn’t look before you crossed the street. If you had been more careful, you might not have died.”
“So it wasn’t my time? It was just my own stupid mistake?”
“Perhaps,” said the Doctor. “Then again, sometimes people die because it is their time, and it’s their time because of a long tangle of events in their lineage. On other occasions people die because of the weight of events in the world that are beyond their control, like epidemics or earthquakes or war. One thing I’m sure of is that every person is loved by the Creator of the universe, and every person will continue to grow and flourish once they make the transition to this world. Once you’ve been here for a number of years, you’ll realize that a person’s brief life on earth resembles the cocoon of a butterfly. Life here is vast and grand and frankly, just plain wonderful.”
“Except for the lower realms,” said Rhys.
“Yes, that’s true,” said the Doctor. “But even they have hope.”
He handed Edward a newspaper. “And that’s why we’re having lunch today, Edward. We would like to ask you to help us.”
“Me? What can I do?”
The Doctor pointed to the front cover of the newspaper. “Look at the photo.”
Edward examined the newspaper and saw a photo of a young woman. The caption said, “Schweitzer team to rescue Molly Kendell”. Most astonishing to Edward was that the photograph was in full color and was moving. As he watched, the woman turned and went to a table and began cleaning it.
He handed it back to the Doctor and said, “That’s amazing. Just like a movie I saw.”
“Actually, the movies frequently mimic life here, without realizing it,” Rhys said.
The Doctor nodded in agreement as he accepted the paper. “People on earth have no idea how many of their concepts come from this reality.”
Edward tried to wrap his mind around that statement, but couldn’t, so he simply said, “Who’s the girl?”
Rhys leaned forward and said, “Molly was born in 1575 in London. She got attached to a rash group of individuals and drank heavily for a number of years. After being jilted by a man she loved, she fell into a deep and bitter despair and decided to end her life by the unpleasant method of drinking herself to death. It took awhile, but she finally died of extreme alcohol poisoning. When she awoke from her final stupor, she found herself trapped in a tavern in the lower realms.”
“That seems like a cruel punishment,” Edward said.
Rhys waved his hand. “No, no, not at all. It’s not punishment. There is no punishment in the spirit world. Everything is decided by each person’s heart and mind. Their environment at all times is a reflection of their internal state, their thoughts and their merit. A cruel and evil man will find himself surrounded by ugliness and cruelty when he dies, because that’s all he can see in his own mind. It’s because his mind is dark and loveless. In Molly’s case, her mind was deeply depressed and locked in a desire to harm herself through alcohol. When she awoke here, her mind was exactly the same. Thus, her environment matched her internal feelings.”
Doctor Schweitzer picked up the newspaper and looked at Molly’s image. “For many years, she couldn’t perceive that she was dead. She was confused and kept trying to drink herself to death. The reactions of the fabric of the spirit world to a person’s desires and mental state are endlessly variegated, just as every person is different. Some alcoholics might find themselves in a situation where they cannot obtain alcohol, even though they want it desperately. Some might drink and drink, but never become intoxicated, and thus live in frustration that they cannot drown their sorrows.
“In Molly’s case, her suicide brought her to an environment where she was able to drink herself into temporary unconsciousness, but she was never able to end her life, since of course no one ever dies in the ultimate sense. Only their physical bodies fall away. Their spirit and consciousness continue forever. Suicides are often profoundly disappointed that they did not disappear into a state of oblivion.
“When Molly finally realized that her body had died, but that she could never erase her existence through drinking, she wanted to leave the tavern, but her desire for alcohol was still too strong. She had to cleanse her feelings and thoughts, and in that environment, it’s not easy to do. She had to find the way on her own to respect herself and to start thinking of others. She is now ready to move away from that place. Thus, we have been alerted to her situation.”
“That’s where you come in,” said Rhys. “Doctor Schweitzer is the leader of our small group, which is one of the many thousands of service teams that seek to help people in every way that we can. One of the things we do is to help people like Molly find their way to a higher realm. We’d like you to join our team. All the work is voluntary, and you can freely join each mission, or not, as you wish.”
“Me? Why me?” asked Edward.
Rhys smiled at Edward. “Well, besides the fact that you’re my seventy-fifth great-grandson, you have a kind heart and a fierce desire to help others. And you’re a good actor, and good at accents and disguises, which will help us in some of our work. We think you also might be a good detective, which will come in handy.”
Edward’s face grew red, and he squirmed in his chair. “Well...,” he said.
“Yes, well,” said Rhys. “You do have some problems. You’ve wasted quite a bit of your mother’s money, and the money from the farm, with a severe gambling addiction. It wasn’t a coincidence that you built the sheep park next to Atlantic City. Misusing hard-earned resources is not a virtue when you arrive here.”
Edward’s face grew even redder, and he looked at his napkin in his lap. Doctor Schweitzer patted his hand and said, “This isn’t to judge you, Edward. We also have difficulties that we have to overcome. Rhys says this to give you perspective about your character, and also to warn you that if you join our team, your various weaknesses will be a challenge.”
Rhys nodded, and said, “They’ll be a challenge even if you don’t join our team, but our team often visits the lower realms to help people. Your weaknesses will be confronted there much more strongly, just as our flaws will be too. Do you feel up to the task?”
Edward looked at Rhys and the Doctor and realized that he didn’t know what to say. It had all happened extremely quickly.
“May I think about it?” he asked.
“Absolutely!” said the Doctor. “Rhys will escort you to your home, and when you’ve decided, he’ll come and visit you.” He stood and shook Edward’s hand and said, “I look forward to seeing you again, soon, however you decide.”
“Thank you,” Edward replied.
Rhys stood and said, “Give me your hand, Edward.”
Edward extended his hand, and as Rhys grasped it firmly, the gazebo and Doctor Schweitzer shimmered rapidly, and the two of them were standing in front of a small one room cottage nestled in a grove of poplar trees.
• • •
Rhys opened the door of the cottage and waited for Edward to enter first. He did so, and looked at the room with dismay. It was clean, but oh so very simple. There was a bed, an easy chair and a dining room table with one straight-backed chair. Each wall had a window, with each windowsill adorned by one small pot of snapdragons. And that was all.
“This is my home?” asked Edward.
“It’s your temporary home,” replied Rhys. “Do you not like it?”
Edward gestured around the room. “It’s not what I’m used to.”
Rhys patted Edward’s shoulder. “Yes, I know. None of the glitz of Manhattan. None of the distractions. But you need time to think and reflect about your life. To become quiet inside and think about your desires. Many people never do that. This world responds to our thoughts and desires, so when a person arrives here, they often have to sort things out before they find their dwelling place.”
He stepped to a window and looked through it. “Take some time, and explore the countryside around here. There’s no one living in this area, so you’ll have time for yourself. There are many animals and birds, however, to keep you company.”
Rhys walked the few feet back to where Edward stood, and clasped his hand and patted his cheek in a fatherly way. “If you’d like to eat or drink, just ask for food, and it will appear in front of you. When you want to talk with me again, just call me in your mind, and I’ll come as soon as I can.”
“Okay. Thanks,” Edward replied. Before he could say more, Rhys waved and vanished.
Edward stared at the spot where Rhys had stood, and then gazed around the room of the cottage. He suddenly felt oppressed by its sparseness, so he opened the cottage door and stepped into the sunshine.
The cottage was made of stone, and stood nestled against a hill covered with poplar trees and birches. In front of the cottage, a path followed a small brook down into a meadow and a valley far below. Edward could see a mountain range across the valley. He was startled by how much detail he could observe. It seemed that no matter how far away something was, one could focus one’s eyes and see the object clearly. He spied a flock of birds flying across the tree tops of the distant mountains, and without really thinking about it, he zoomed in on the colors of the lead bird’s feathers. The bird was a goose, and quite unexpectedly, it turned and looked at him with a curious eye. One doesn’t ordinarily get looked at by a goose in flight, at least not with such piercing interest. This particular goose seemed aware of Edward’s gaze and had a demeanor that was almost friendly.
Edward lifted his hand to wave at the goose, and then felt rather silly. To his surprise, the goose dipped his wing in return, just before it disappeared behind an outcrop of rock.
Bemused, Edward turned and walked back into the cottage. He felt tired, and overwhelmed, and sank into the easy chair in relief. It was a comfortable chair, and Edward’s breathing grew slower as he relaxed. The chair stood opposite one of the windows, and its line of sight was centered on the pot of snapdragons on the windowsill. Edward loved flowers, and found the snapdragons soothing. His eyelids fluttered shut as he looked at them, until quite unexpectedly he began to see images rushing past him on what seemed like a scrolling movie screen. He was dimly aware that this must be the life review that Rhys had mentioned.
He saw and heard everything that he had ever done, or said, or thought. He relived every emotion of his past, and to his shock, experienced how other people had felt as he impacted their lives. He saw the minute details of his life, reproduced in a blaze of images that was as intimate as it was rapid. At first he was afraid and embarrassed, for there were many things about his life that he wanted to forget, and had hoped that no one would ever discover. Finding out that all of his thoughts and actions had been recorded in an unseen knowledge bank was extremely disconcerting to Edward.
He experienced the images as if he was both watching and living each moment, able to feel the reality of his actions while at the same time reflect about their value as an impartial observer. He sensed another presence as he watched, a warm and friendly and nonjudgmental embrace that comforted him as he peeled away images of pain that he had completely forgotten.
The presence seemed to be leading him, nudging him toward a larger perspective about his life of forty years, showing him that even the bad things he had done or the mistakes he had made had often helped him learn and grow. He cried when the inner movie showed him standing in a crowded grocery store parking lot, as a young man of twenty-two. A woman had walked away from her car, leaving her three-year-old child lying on his back on the asphalt, screaming in the midst of a temper tantrum. The woman ignored her child, even though he was in danger from oncoming cars. She continued to walk toward the store without looking back. While Edward’s younger self stood watching, confused, not knowing what to do, a man ran from the front of the store and scooped up the child to safety.
Edward could feel the chagrin of his younger self, and his anger and shame for not responding quickly enough to the plight of the child. It was then that the presence encouraged him, showing him how much impact that one brief moment in a parking lot had had on Edward’s life, how much determination it had given him to try to help others and not stand still in the midst of their suffering.
He didn’t know how many minutes or hours he spent in his life review. Time seemed to be relative in the spirit world. When the images stopped scrolling by, he breathed out a long sigh, and fell into a deep sleep. When he woke, he looked around the room, wondering if night had fallen, or if days had passed, but everything seemed to be the same. The warm sunlight streamed through the windows of the cottage. The snapdragons were still quietly meditating in their pots. Nothing had changed except his internal state. He felt energized and lighter in spirit. His life review had indeed provided him with a larger perspective about his life. Some of it had been quite uncomfortable, especially the parts which one might refer to as “the naughty bits”, the various peccadilloes that young men all too often commit without due consideration, the infractions one doesn’t want one’s mother to discover. He had also squirmed as images of his gambling had scrolled past. He sensed how damaging his addiction had been, but felt reluctant to deal with the issue.
Yet, the primary effect of his life review was a sense of peace. It seemed that a life of eternal damnation and hellfire was not to be his lot, even though it had become unblinkingly clear to him that he was a person with more flaws than he cared to admit in polite company.
He smiled at the snapdragons as he stood up and stretched. At least they didn’t care about his defects. He automatically looked around for a bathroom, thinking that after such a long sleep, he might need to relieve himself. To his delight, he realized that his body felt refreshed and vigorous, with no hint of the need to find a bathroom. He ran his tongue over his teeth, wondering if he had bad breath, wondering about the need for a toothbrush. His mouth felt clean, which pleased him almost as much as the fact that his fillings and dental work had been replaced with solid teeth that were no longer crooked.
He wandered over to the table, and looked down at the wooden surface, thinking how nice it would be to have a tall glass of juice to drink, and some fruit to eat. To his delight, a bowl of blueberries and a glass of strawberry nectar shimmered into view as soon as he had formed the thought. The blueberries were to die for, causing him to laugh out loud as the words went through his mind. Yes, indeed, one had to die to have blueberries like these.
Wiping his mouth, he decided to explore his new surroundings. When he stepped through the door, he stood in the clearing in front of his cottage, and examined his surroundings, turning his body in three hundred and sixty degrees. The sunshine was warm and the air was clear, with no clouds in the sky. When he looked toward the mountain range, he was surprised to see the sun dipping below the horizon. The tops of the mountains were suffused with the deep oranges and reds of a magnificent sunset. As Edward watched the top of the sun disappear, the sunset faded away, leaving a bright blue sky behind. The daylight around the cottage was as luminous as it had been just moments before, but the light was diffused, without an obvious source.
He looked around, wishing there was someone with whom he could share such an incredible phenomenon. Since there wasn’t anyone, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Now this is something I’ve got to talk to Rhys about.”
Deciding to explore, he shook his head in amazement and walked up the hill behind the cottage.
• • •
Edward had always loved to walk in the woods surrounding his father’s farm. Since his father’s death, he had spent most of his time in Manhattan, with the exception of trips to his sheep park in New Jersey and vacations abroad. Now, with no schedule to follow, and daylight that never seemed to end, and a body that didn’t get tired, he discovered that traipsing through the countryside was more pleasurable than anything he had yet experienced in nature.
Perhaps it was because he knew that he didn’t have to be anywhere, but time didn’t seem to matter anymore. At one point, he stopped to gaze at a particularly beautiful cluster of wild flowers. He sat down next to them, and communed with them for what must have been a long time. Or perhaps not. He wasn’t sure. As he watched them, they began to sing; a wordless symphony of melodies that would have been applauded in any concert hall. He was fascinated by their beauty, and offered them his sincerest apology for leaving them behind when he stood up to continue his journey. They seemed to wave at him as he left, and sang even more enthusiastically.
Stepping over a rise, he came upon a pond surrounded by willow trees. It was no ordinary pond, with questionable bits of green algae floating on it, and a dark, muddy bottom with leeches lying in wait. It had absolutely clear water that flowed from an underground stream across a bed of fine white sand. Edward dipped a few fingers into the water and was startled by its warmth. It was too inviting to ignore, so he stripped off his clothing and plunged into the water.
He felt like he had suddenly been plugged into a power source of incredible vitality. His body tingled in waves of pleasure. He started to laugh, almost uncontrollably, with a feeling of relief and safety. He felt embraced, and wondered how water could make him feel loved. Perhaps it was similar to what babies felt in the womb. His life review had included that portion of his life, and it seemed to coincide. The water also produced the same feelings that Edward had felt once before, when he and a young woman whom he had loved very much had joined together in a blissful hour of lovemaking. They had laughed too, at the end, without warning or reason.
He lay floating on his back, dreamily, with a twinge of melancholy. The young woman had later rejected him, and married another, leaving him confused and bereft. She had been his first real love, after a youthful period of confusing infatuations. His love life had suffered after she left him. He had waffled between long periods of celibacy and short flings with actresses in his theater. He had found no one that he could truly share his heart with, and trust completely.
It was odd, but as he floated in the water, he felt completely at home. The water seemed to be aware of his presence, communicating wordlessly, comforting him and allaying his sadness about his broken relationships with women. As he floated in the water, images from his life review came back to him, showing him the faces of each of the women in turn.
The images were slower, and fewer in number, almost as if the water of the pond was leading him in a meditation about his relationships with women. He saw images of the face of his first love, from the time they met until she walked out of his apartment, never to return.
When the images of their time together finished, one set of images came back and hovered in front of his mind. It was their last vacation together, shortly before she broke up with him. It was 2002, and they were celebrating his thirtieth birthday. She had wanted to go to Prince Edward Island; he had pushed for Atlantic City. She had reluctantly given in, complaining that they had gone there too many times.
“All you do is gamble, Edward, and lose your money. Besides, it’s not just a vacation for you, you know. I’m supposed to enjoy it too. I don’t really like standing around the card tables watching the back of your head.”
“I thought you liked playing, too,” he replied.
“Not as much as you,” she countered. “I think you need to get some help.”
They had fought, but he had finally charmed her into going one more time. They were there for a week, and the pictures that replayed in front of him were of their last evening, when she had asked him to have dinner in their hotel room and talk. He had been playing blackjack all afternoon, and had agreed to meet her in the room at seven.
At five minutes after seven, she had called his cell phone. He had assured her that he would be there soon. Unfortunately, he had started to lose, after having won a significant amount. As he watched his chips disappear, he fell into a familiar pattern of trying frantically to recoup his losses. She called him one more time, at eight, and he mumbled that he would be there soon. He returned to the room after midnight, to find her asleep. The next day, as they packed to leave, she said nothing, but her face and tone were remote. He knew he had repeated a serious error, and assured her that he would try harder, but he could sense that she didn’t believe him.
She had simply stared at him, and said, “Too many times, Edward. Too many times.”
Now, floating in the warm water of the pond, he watched the images of that event play out in front of him, and felt profound chagrin. In response, the pressure of the water on his skin increased slightly, soothing his distress to some degree.
Images of the other women he had dated moved more rapidly across his mind, highlighting moments that had caused the breakup of each relationship. His feelings of guilt deepened as he saw that all too often his obsession with gambling had prevented him from being present with each of the women. He had been kind and attentive when he wasn’t gambling, but when he picked up a set of cards or a pair of dice, he lost his awareness of time and his obligations.
As he had experienced in his life review in the cottage, he felt no judgment from the images. Instead, he felt a gentle spirit in the embrace of the warm water as he was shown how his actions had affected others.
When the visions cleared, he lay floating on his back, looking at the sky. His feelings of shame were intermixed with confusion. He had never truly faced his addiction before, and had managed to maintain his self esteem based on a strong sense of compassion and kindness toward his actors, and other people that he met. His gambling was like a broken limb that he had hidden from himself and others. It had not entirely overtaken him, but he finally realized how much it had damaged his life.
He looked at a flock of birds flying across the sky above the pond, and lifted his hands slightly, and said, “Well then, what can I do now?”
The birds didn’t answer, and neither did the pond, although he felt embraced once again by the water pressing against his skin. With a bewildered shrug, he kicked his feet, and dove down into the water.
He wanted to try swimming under water, and forced his eyes to stay open. He had always had problems with opening his eyes under water, but this pond was different. There was no irritation as the water passed over his eyes. He had taken a full breath of air before he went under the water, and as he swam along the bottom, he kept waiting for his breath to run out. It didn’t, so he kept swimming, and soon concluded that he didn’t need to come up for air.
A tiny purple fish joined him in his explorations along the sandy floor. It was an outlandish looking fish, but rather cute, with bright yellow spots. It suddenly bumped forcefully against his cheek, and without realizing it, he opened his mouth and inhaled a large quantity of water. His rush of panic dissipated as he realized that the water was unlike any water he had ever imagined. It was breathable, and felt exactly like air as it poured into his lungs. There was no strain and no feeling of drowning. It felt clean and profoundly refreshing.
The purple fish must have been a remarkably clever little fish, because it wiggled around his nose as if to say, “Well, finally! Holding your breath for so long! What a waste!”
Edward laughed, and said, “Exactly!” His voice didn’t sound odd at all, which seemed rather odd, considering that he was talking underwater.
The fish followed him for a short distance as he swam to the shore, but turned away with a flick of its tail as Edward stood up in the shallow water. The water streamed from Edward’s body as he stepped onto the bank, leaving him completely dry. Edward stood still for a moment, looking down at his body. There wasn’t an ounce of cellulite to be seen, and his body was toned in a way that it had never been. The warm breeze felt glorious against his skin, and on a whim, he decided to not get dressed right away. He slung his shirt and trousers over his shoulder, and picked up his sneakers, and turned back toward the cottage.
As he crossed through a meadow, he tried to fly, but as soon as his feet left the ground, he felt nervous, and aborted the attempt. He saw many birds and animals on his trip back, and found it entrancing that they were not afraid of him. A porcupine walked with him on the path for a short distance, making him just a bit uneasy, until it ambled off into some bushes. He kept expecting it to get dark, but it never did, and as he approached the cottage, he felt confused by the appearance of the cottage sitting in its sunny clearing. He had no idea how long he had been gone.
The interior of the cottage was as he had left it. The empty glass and bowl were still sitting on the table, and the snapdragons were still quiet in their pots. The room seemed even smaller, now that he had explored the woods beyond the cottage. He looked around and felt quite lonely. He wanted to see Rhys again. He was about to call him, in his mind, when he realized that he had not dressed. He quickly slipped his trousers and shirt on, and was putting on a sneaker when he heard a knock at the door.
He walked to the door and opened it, sneaker in hand. Rhys smiled at him, and said, “May I come in?”
Edward nodded. “Of course! How did you know I was going to call you?”
“Your thoughts are faster than you suspect,” Rhys said. He entered, and sat down at the table. He chuckled as Edward walked back to the easy chair and slipped his feet into both sneakers.
“There’s a much easier way to get dressed and undressed, Edward.”
“Really?” asked Edward.
“Yes, indeed,” said Rhys. “Just imagine your body without your shirt, or sneakers, or trousers, or visualize changing them to something else. They’ll immediately disappear. When you want them back, just see yourself wearing them again. It’s that simple. You can even adjust how they look while they’re on your body.”
He pointed at Edward’s sneakers. “Try it. Just imagine that your feet are bare.”
Edward looked at his sneakers, and thought for a moment, but nothing happened. “Not sure what to do here,” he said.
“Don’t think of the sneakers,” Rhys said. “Just visualize your bare feet.”
Edward tried again, and much to his surprise, his sneakers disappeared. Looking at Rhys, he exclaimed, “I did it! But... how do I get them back?”
“Just see them on your feet again.”
Edward looked at his feet, and watched in delight as his sneakers popped back onto his feet. They were even tied, which was quite convenient.
He turned to Rhys, and asked, “So where do they go, and how do they come back?”
“Well, I’m not a quantum physicist,” Rhys said. “I was a farmer back in Wales. But I’ve had more than a few conversations about this topic since I got here. It’s one of the first things a person asks about when they arrive in the spirit world. The way matter and space are manipulated here is ... what would you call it? Mind blowing.”
“That’s a good term,” Edward replied.
Rhys tapped his fingers on the table absently for a moment. “We could talk for hours and days about this, and some people do. But I’ll give you the short version, as best I can.
“You’ve probably heard that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. It’s just converted. What is also true is that the universe is both infinitely large as well as infinitely small. One can always travel one more mile in the universe, no matter how large it is, or divide a length in two, no matter how small, in the same way that one can always add a number to a sum, or divide a number in two. Because of the fluidity of the spiritual energy fabric, the size of things in the spirit world is malleable and relative. Kind of like the old question about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. The answer is that it depends on how small they make themselves. Size can be changed in the spirit world. Thus, storage is extremely efficient. This also means that someone who was too short in the physical world can attain a larger size here.
“The energy of the spirit world is just as substantial as the energy on earth, but unlike the energy on earth, it has a different pattern and frequency that is directly and immediately responsive to the power of thought. It doesn’t have the spatial or temporal constraints of the physical world. There is no longer any gap of time between what we think and what we create, unless we choose to create in a slower fashion. Are you with me?”
Edward nodded. “I think so,” he said.
“Good,” Rhys said. “You can imagine how brain twisting this was for me, when I came to the spirit world in 48 B.C, when I was thirty-five. I couldn’t even read or write. The amount of my knowledge back then wouldn’t have filled a cooking pot.”
Edward started to murmur something supportive, but Rhys waved his hand deprecatingly. “It’s perfectly all right. I wasn’t stupid. Just ignorant, like everyone else.”
He took a breath and continued. “One of the qualities of life here is that since we can create with the power of thought, we can also modify or erase something that we created, all done faster than you can say boo. The speed of light is like walking through mud, compared to the speed of thought.
“But you asked where the sneakers went. Another one of the truly wonderful things about the spirit world is that it’s user-friendly. That’s the right word? User-friendly?”
Edward nodded, and Rhys looked pleased. “I like to keep up with the current vernacular. Anyway, you don’t have to know how things work to take advantage of them, because your mind is the interface. The spiritual universe has the capacity to store an infinite amount of knowledge and data. When you visualize your sneakers appearing, the mechanisms of the spirit world convert energy into your sneakers, in response to your mental image or design. When you want them to disappear, those same systems oblige. The pattern of the sneakers is stored in the universal knowledge bank as an item that you created. When you want the sneakers back, the spirit world processes your thoughts and retrieves them for you. Others can’t affect your creations, because they’re owned by you.”
“Kind of like my own hard drive,” said Edward. “You must know about computers, right?”
“Of course,” Rhys replied. “In the higher realms we not only keep up with technology, we’re the ones who invent it first. You should see my laptop. It would boggle your mind. I may be old, but here, old means better and more alive.”
“What about the airship? Was that stored in the same way?”
Rhys nodded. “Yes. Almost anything can be stored. Except people of course, and anything above the plant level or food items, or things that are shared in common with others. People and animals can’t be stored because they are autonomous, unlike an article of clothing. But you can even design a house and then store it away. There are no ugly construction sites in these realms. You’re actually storing a snapshot of the three dimensional energy pattern of the house and everything in it, down to the hot drink on the counter and a half-eaten piece of apple pie. From sneakers to houses, it’s all the same.”
Edward wiggled his feet inside his sneakers. They certainly seemed real and substantial.
“How do I keep track of it all?” he asked. “I’m kind of used to a visual interface with my laptop. I like to write by typing. And yes. I can’t wait to see yours.”
“You can have one too, if you like,” Rhys said. “I’ll show you later. But you’ll find that the capacity of your mind and your memory are virtually unlimited here. In the physical world, memory is affected by the physical brain. But here, one is able to tap into the knowledge bank at will, and retrieve memories and data from a long time ago. There’s no decay in the system, so you can remember something that happened a thousand years ago in vivid detail. But it’s not overwhelming, because you can store memory and knowledge until you need it. It’s a fascinating system.”
“Does that mean that Alzheimer’s patients regain their memory when they come here?” asked Edward.
“Absolutely,” said Rhys. He stood up briskly, and said, “But enough of our lesson for today, if that’s all right with you?”
“Of course,” said Edward. “Thank you. I think it’s so great that disease and physical disabilities vanish when a person comes to the spirit world.”
Rhys smiled, and looked at Edward. “Yes, indeed. Those are all problems of the physical body, not the spirit.” He paused. “So, have you decided whether you want to join our team?”
Edward nodded. “Yes, I’d like to give it a try. At least once.”
“Great!” exclaimed Rhys. “Do you mind if we go right away?”
Edward looked around the room. There was nothing to keep him there. Nodding, he said, “Fine with me.”
• • •
Rhys led Edward from the cottage, and grasped his arm. They rose gently in the air until Edward could see a vast distance across the countryside. They headed for the mountains in the distance, where Edward had seen the goose. As they flew over the tree tops and meadows, Edward saw a few cottages dotting the landscape. They flew on, rising as they entered the mountain range. They continued to rise, until they reached a mountain pass shrouded in fog. As they entered the mist, Edward felt resistance against his body and his breathing became labored. Rhys reached behind Edward and rubbed a spot between his shoulder blades, and the resistance vanished.
They flew through the mist for a short distance, and then it cleared, revealing a landscape even more beautiful than the one they had left behind. Rhys explained that each realm was inhabited by people who shared a common level of thought and feeling. Each realm was a reflection of the predominant spirit of its occupants, and each higher realm was based on a deeper quality of heart and love. They continued to travel upward, through many realms, each more beautiful than the last. At the border of each realm, Rhys rubbed a spot on Edward’s back, which seemed to adjust his ability to enter the higher realm. Rhys said that without a guide to accompany Edward and adjust the vibrations of his spiritual body, he would not have been able to travel upward. Even with assistance, a person could not stay very long in a higher realm until growth was achieved and a person’s vibration harmonized with the spiritual atmosphere of the inhabitants.
Edward asked him why they traveled this way, when previously they had traveled from the park to the cottage in an instant. Rhys explained that one could travel using many methods, including the power of thought, which he had employed to bring Edward to the cottage.
“I wanted you to see how the layers of realms were connected,” Rhys said.
As he spoke, they emerged from the mist into a realm that Edward recognized. Far off in the distance, he could see the spires of the city where he had met Dr. Schweitzer. Rhys turned away from the city, deeper into the mountains. They flew along the top of a mountain range, until they hovered over a mountain with a lake just below its summit. Rhys pointed at a large stone farmhouse sitting between the lake and the edge of the mountain. A wide stream meandered from the lake, past the farmhouse, spilling over a cliff, creating a waterfall that rushed into the depths of the valley below, many thousands of feet down.
“You like it?” Rhys asked. “That’s my house.”
“It’s amazing,” Edward replied.
They floated down toward the farmhouse, and gently landed on a patio that jutted out over the valley. Luckily for Edward’s vertigo, there was a wall at the edge. As they landed, the door of the farmhouse opened and a woman stepped out onto the patio.
Edward didn’t want to be rude, but immediately gave up, and simply stared. The woman was tall, with magnificent red hair that fell down her body to her waist. She was wearing a white lace gown that accentuated a body that was not at all ordinary. Her features were a sculptor’s dream, with a nose that was strong and elegant, giving her a regal air. Her mouth and lips were warm and empathic, and were at that moment being enthusiastically kissed by Rhys.
The woman laughed, and gently extricated herself from Rhys’s embrace. Turning to Edward, she held out her hand and said, “You’ll have to forgive my husband, Edward. I am Isobel, and I am very happy that you are here.”
Edward blushed as he stepped forward and grasped her hand. He was flummoxed by her beauty, and could barely stammer a greeting. She was the kind of woman that turned men into drooling idiots, and then rescued them with her intelligence and charm. She grasped both of Edward’s hands and looked at him and smiled. Her eyes were warm and compassionate and as she looked at him, he began to relax. He was trying to decide if her eyes were green, or something more, when she broke the spell with a laugh.
“Come in, both of you!”
As they stepped into the house, Rhys grinned at Edward, and whispered, “That’s my wife.”
The inside of the house was comfortable, with old wood ceilings and a riot of plants throughout the house. Edward recognized the style of some of the paintings on the walls, but couldn’t place the individual pieces.
Rhys saw his interest and said, “They were painted by the masters after they arrived here.”
Edward nodded, and made a mental note that he would have to meet some of those masters. They proceeded through the living room to the right side of the house, where they entered a sun room with floor to ceiling windows. The room stretched from the front of the house to the back, and offered a view of the mountain top and lake behind the house, and the stream that ran from the lake to the front of the house, where it gave birth to the waterfall that plunged to the valley floor below.
There were three people sitting at a round table by a window. They all stood and came forward to greet Edward, shaking his hand enthusiastically. There was Lucio, a thin, wiry Italian who said that he was born in the year 1465 and had been an apprentice to Leonardo da Vinci. Edward itched to ask him about da Vinci, but reluctantly refrained.
Then there was Scatman, a jazz singer from 1930s Harlem. He had a wide, warm smile, and wanted to know if Edward had been to 125th Street. Edward said that he had, but not often.
The woman’s name was Yumiko. She had been a pearl diver in ancient Japan, and had a powerful and vivacious spirit. They all seemed delighted to meet Edward.
Edward turned to Isobel, and asked, “May I ask where and when you are from, Isobel?”
“Of course, Edward,” she replied. “I was born in Scotland, in 1124.”
“Her father was David I of Scotland,” Rhys said.
Isobel looked embarrassed, and added, “But I was raised in a convent, since I was illegitimate. No one knew about me. Only my mother visited me. She was a servant in the castle.”
“Oh,” he said. He suddenly realized that he was staring at her, with his mouth hanging open. He flushed and looked at his sneakers, not knowing what to say.
Isobel laughed, and said, “Just so you know, when I was a young woman in Scotland, I wasn’t terribly pretty. My chin was too weak, and my nose was too big. My teeth were disgusting, and I had dreadful skin. It is the wonder of this place that we improve with age, for which I’m truly grateful. No need for plastic surgeons.”
Rhys slipped his arm through hers, and said, “Your outward appearance changed because of what was inside.”
Isobel smiled at him, and looked at Yumiko. “But Yumiko here was beautiful even when she was alive. At least that’s what her uncle told me.”
Yumiko blushed, and bowed slightly. “My uncle is very kind,” she said.
“Quite a diverse group, aren’t we?” Rhys commented.
“Yes,” said Edward. “Is this everyone in your team?”
“Yep,” said Rhys. “We’re it. Isobel comes on many of our missions, but this time she has another matter to attend to, so she will stay behind. And it’s time to leave now.”
He looked at Isobel. “Darling, we’ll be back soon.”
Isobel kissed Rhys on the lips and said, “Be careful.”
Rhys pointed through the window to the lawn where a tall and sleek looking airship was parked by the lake. With a chorus of good-byes to Isobel, they all left the house and climbed into the craft.
• • •
Edward was surprised that they were traveling by vehicle, but Rhys told him that it was simpler for the type of operation they were engaged in. He sat down in the front, and waited until they were all seated. Without a sound the craft shot into the air and moved so rapidly that Edward couldn’t see the scenery as they traveled. All that Edward could tell was that they seemed to be descending, into darker and darker realms. As they did so, lights came on in the interior of the craft, casting a warm glow over the occupants.
The gathering darkness outside reminded him of a question that he had meant to ask Rhys. Turning to him, Edward asked, “I felt disoriented at the cottage, because it never got dark. Don’t the upper realms have both day and night? I saw the sun go down, with a sunset, but then it stayed light outside.”
“Yes and no, and not exactly,” Rhys replied. “Once you get used to it, it makes sense. The atmosphere is special, and catches the rays of the sun and diffuses them around the entire planet. We have sunrises and sunsets, as you saw, but they’re different, because before and after each one, the daylight continues. We get to see the sun travel across the sky, but when the planet rotates, the diffused light maintains the day. There are clouds in the sky, that come and go, but we don’t have a weather system with rain, because the energy for our ecology comes from a different source. The clouds are more for decoration, and to make the sunsets even more dramatic.”
“So there is a sense of time, based on the earth’s movements?”
“When we need it,” said Rhys. “The spiritual earth rotates, and orbits around the sun, just like the physical earth. We use calendars for planning our schedules, just like we did on Earth. Otherwise, it would be difficult to plan things, like flying to Jupiter on Thursday and having dinner with the Queen on Friday.”
“Which Queen?” asked Edward.
Rhys waved his hand absently. “Oh, any old Queen. We have thousands of them, you know.”
“They’re amazingly approachable,” murmured Lucio. “Not like when they were alive.”
Rhys grinned, and continued. “Some people think there’s no time in the spirit world because we’re not slaves to time. We can ignore time, since there are no real deadlines, and just exist, and stretch time, so to speak. But when we all need to show up for a dinner party, without having a conflict with someone else’s dinner party, we have to plan things, and know how much time we have to do something else. We don’t use time zones, since it’s always daylight. Instead, we use a universal time that we can choose to follow or not. It’s an interesting combination of true time and timelessness that takes some time to get used to.”
Edward laughed, and asked, “Do people use watches or clocks?”
Rhys shook his head. “Some do, but most people use their internal clocks. We immediately know what the true time and date are, if we feel like checking. That’s where the fluidity of our time becomes fascinating. We can forget about time completely, and lose track of it, and never even think about it, until we once again decide we need it. Even the sunrises and sunsets come and go sometimes, without being noticed, if we’re busy.”
“Don’t people miss going to sleep at night?”
“No, not really. We can sleep if we want to, but most people don’t, because we don’t normally become sleepy. We don’t need REM sleep. We don’t need to dream. When we did that on earth, we were actually recharging our spirits by having give and take with the spirit world. Now that we’re fully in the spirit world, we recharge ourselves continuously. Sometimes people rest and take it easy if they want to, but our spiritual bodies gain their energy back extremely quickly if we ever do become tired.”
“What about the beauty of the stars, and building campfires under the moon?”
Scatman piped in with a chuckle. “And singing around the campfire too, right?”
Edward nodded. “Yes, things like that.”
“Very important things,” said Scatman. “In the middle realms, people tend to have a great deal of land around their homes, and if they wish, they can make it dark all over their property, once the planet has rotated away from the sun, and see the stars from there. Since the air is so clear, the stars are incredibly bright. We can focus our eyes and see huge distances, deep into other galaxies.”
“It’s also really great for fireworks and parties,” Lucio said. “Because it’s only dark over their land, they don’t disturb other people’s preferences. Although, sometimes people will get together on a mountain top, or on a beach, and all agree to make it dark for a time. Looking at the moon rippling over the ocean is a popular activity.”
“How do they make it dark?” Edward asked.
“They just ask for it to be so,” said Scatman. “We think it’s kind of like creating a tunnel of night through the daylight atmosphere. The walls of the tunnel block the diffused light from the sun. We just see stars, or the phases of the moon. It’s pretty cool. Although people don’t usually make it dark on every rotation. It’s more of a special event thing. Once you get used to it, having long periods of daylight is convenient. People tend to keep busy, doing what they enjoy, and those things usually involve daylight.”
“I have to admit that I’m confused by the geography,” said Edward. “We go up to the higher realms, and down to the lower realms, but in your realm you can go up to a mountain top and look at the stars and planets, which gives me the impression that those are above us. If so, where are the upper realms? And where’s Earth?”
Scatman grinned, and looked at Rhys. “You wanna take this, Rhys?”
Rhys rubbed his brow. “If I can,” he said. “It’s complicated, but essentially, each realm has its own attributes and level of freedom. A dark, lower realm will feel closed in, with almost no freedom of movement. Individuals living there will not be able to see the stars at night, or even fly as we do. It is almost like living underground, hemmed in by the gloom of their misery. They cannot find their way and have no idea where they are.
“Higher realms have more freedom. We can fly, and go to the tops of mountains like Scatman said, where we can see the stars. We can travel out into space, and visit planets and other galaxies. We can breathe in outer space, just like we can underwater.”
“I tried breathing underwater,” said Edward. “A purple fish taught me how.”
Scatman laughed, and said, “Oh, those purple fish! Sneaky little critters.”
As they all chuckled, Rhys continued. “When people fly to other planets, they are traveling within the dimension of their own level of the spirit world. Someone from a higher realm could be visiting the same planet, but there would be no interaction or awareness of each other, in either direction. They are not even interacting with the same landscape. The easiest way to describe it is to say that the basic environments, like the planets, are parallel, but the details are different.”
“You mean like parallel universes?” asked Edward.
Rhys shook his head. “No, not like that. That theory assumes that there normally wouldn’t be any interaction between the various universes. It also says that infinite versions of each person exist, each developing separately. That is not at all true.
“Only one version of a person exists, throughout all the levels of the spiritual and physical universe. Each person’s identity is unique, and each will eventually migrate from whatever level they find themselves on after death, upward to the highest realm of all. One day, perhaps, the lower and middle spiritual realms will be empty, and simply dissolve, since they were created by the collective spirits of their inhabitants. Of course, the physical world will always be necessary, for that is where each person is born and establishes their identity. There’s no birth in the spirit world.”
“You showed me the boundaries of some of the realms as we traveled upward from the cottage,” Edward said. “You said each realm was like a layer. Do you mean that they are flat? Or is each realm occupying its own layer, overlapping Earth?”
“Lucio, would you like to answer this part?” asked Rhys. He winked at Edward. “He likes this part. He and da Vinci talk about it all the time.”
Lucio said, “I’ll try.” He looked at Edward and said, “Yes, we often discuss these questions. In fact, the Master and I have been working on a hologram to demonstrate the geography. May I show you?”
“Yes, please!” said Edward.
Lucio motioned in the air with his hands, and there, floating in the middle of the craft, appeared a hologram of the earth.
He grinned at Edward, and said, “Really cool, don’t you think? I like this model a lot. It’s my understanding that the realms exist in concentric spheres, layered around the physical Earth.”
As he spoke, he moved his hands around the globe, and a series of layered spheres of different colors shimmered into place around the planet.
“Our realm, for example, looks like the physical Earth when we fly into outer space. But when we look from space we can’t see the lower realms, or the higher ones, or the physical world’s version of Earth. We just see our realm. And our version of Earth doesn’t have the same cities or population as the physical world’s Earth. Even the land masses are different. The oceans are much smaller, providing more land to live on, because the spirit world doesn’t have the same ecological requirements, like great masses of water, as the physical world. It doesn’t run on the same systems, since everything here is responsive to thought. The differences are quite marked. We seem to be viewing the universe from our own dimension of reality, so to speak.”
He moved the spheres around the globe, first giving focus to one, and then the next, to demonstrate. As he did, the topography of the planet changed. Edward watched, fascinated, as cities sprang up and then disappeared, in different areas around the globe.
“If you can’t see the other realms, then how do we travel between them, as we’re doing?” asked Edward.
“That’s where the geography gets complicated,” Lucio replied. “There are places within each realm that we can travel to, and then from there we can travel down to the lower realms. They can’t see us, though, unless we alter our vibrations. If we have a guide, we can travel upward. Then, too, our guide has to adjust our vibrations, just as Rhys did with you. The travel paths are usually in a mountain range, so it all seems natural, as if we’re just following the terrain. There’s a route to Earth, just like any other realm. Coming from Earth is of course quite easy, and happens in many ways, like tunnels, or doorways of light, leading to all the different realms. The influx from Earth can be massive sometimes.”
Yumiko piped in, and said, “Also, the nicer realms never seem to get overcrowded. We thought that a level might become overpopulated, but it almost seems like the land masses and the globe expand to fit more people. We think the globe can expand indefinitely, and doing so doesn’t seem to affect gravity, or the orbit around the sun. And the earth’s axis is straight up and down, so there aren’t any seasons. Although there are special areas with different types of weather, like autumn and winter, and if we like snow or autumn leaves, we can ask for it, around our houses, but none of it seems to be based on planetary movement. The natural laws are just different here. We don’t have to worry about things like typhoons or earthquakes. Everything is very safe.”
Rhys nodded, and said, “Since I came to the spirit world, I’ve seen the population expand tremendously in some realms. But like Yumiko said, the environment seems to stretch to accommodate new people.”
Yumiko nodded in agreement. “And there are millions and millions of islands, all the way across the oceans, where people can live easily, because they can travel instantly by the power of thought. New islands appear all the time. It gives people a chance to have a private home in nature, if they like, but it makes map making difficult.”
“I can imagine,” said Edward. “Lucio, can you show me the layer that is our realm?”
“I will show you the realm where Rhys and Isobel live.” Lucio waved his hand, and the globe changed. As Yumiko had mentioned, the oceans were filled with millions of islands, and the land masses were different in shape. As the globe rotated, Edward looked for North America, and New York, hoping to see some familiar geography. He was faintly disappointed to see that there was no resemblance at all to the continents of Earth.
As Lucio moved his hands, and the globe disappeared, Scatman patted Edward’s shoulder, and said, “Me too, Edward. The first place I looked for was Harlem, but then I discovered that the higher realms were so much more beautiful that it really didn’t matter after all. I can’t say it’s a loss to not have the ugliness of New York around. You’ll get used to it. And besides, there are a lot more fascinating places than Greenwich Village in the spirit world.”
“I guess I’ll have to figure it out as I go along,” Edward said.
Rhys smiled, and said, “You will. The spirit world is huge, and spatially confusing, but it’s so fascinating that you’ll never be bored.”
Edward looked out of the window of their craft. The surroundings had turned charcoal grey, with barely a flicker of light. “What about this land? Why is it so dark here?”
“Light is a product of love in the spirit world,” Rhys replied. “The lower one goes into the realms where love is weaker, the darker it becomes. It also becomes colder, because heat is a product of the energy of love, too.”
As he spoke, the craft came to a halt. Edward strained to see the landscape, but couldn’t see anything except a thick fog.
Rhys looked at Edward consideringly. “Are you up for a challenge, Edward?”
“I’m not sure,” Edward replied. “What do you mean?”
“I’d like to ask you to employ your acting skills, and go into the tavern to rescue Molly. Yumiko will be with you, to help you.”
Lucio spoke up and said, “The rest of us will be outside if you have trouble. Just call us, in your mind, and we’ll come immediately. They’re a rough bunch, but you should be okay.”
Edward hesitated, and then shrugged, and said, “Well, I’m already dead, so I guess they can’t kill me again, right?”
“That’s true,” Scatman said. “Although they can beat the crap out of you if you let them.”
“But you’ll heal nicely,” Yumiko murmured. She smiled at Edward and patted his hand. “Don’t worry, Edward. You’ll be fine, and I’ll be with you. Just be careful of your emotions. They make you vulnerable here.”
“Okay,” said Edward. “I’ll do my best.”
Rhys nodded at Yumiko, who carefully looked Edward up and down, and then waved her hand with a flick of her wrist. She handed Edward a mirror, and laughed as he gasped. His clothing had changed to a dirty, rough costume of the 1500s, and his face and teeth were filthy. His dentist would not approve. He had to admit that Yumiko was the best costumer he had ever worked with. Her authenticity was impeccable. He grinned and handed the mirror back.
“You should have been in my theater,” he said.
“Thank you, Edward.” She blushed faintly and tucked the mirror into a bag.
As Edward glanced at the others, their appearance also changed, until they all resembled a disreputable band of vagrants.
Rhys handed Edward and Yumiko a capsule and a glass of water for each of them, and said, “Swallow this pill. It will allow you to drink their wretched brew without feeling any ill effects. It protects your energy body from the lower vibrations of their drinks. They believe what they’re drinking is of excellent quality. If they only knew how awful it really is.” He shuddered. “Dreadful stuff.”
Yumiko made a face as she swallowed the pill, and said, “Their drinks are like smelly mud.”
Edward swallowed his capsule obediently, and handed the glass back.
“What do we have to do inside?”
Rhys handed him a leather bag. “Here are some coins of the era. You’ll want to buy some drinks to fit in, and then when you see Molly, speak to her alone and tell her that you’ve come to bring her to the higher realms. She has a debt to the tavern keeper which you will have to pay before she can leave. Even though her merit has brought her grace so that we can come to rescue her, the simplest way to bring her out is to pay her debt.”
“I would have thought that all she would need to go upward would be an angel or someone like you, to just come and lead the way,” said Edward.
“Sometimes that’s true,” said Rhys. “It all depends on their situation, and the realm that they are in. There are many ways people move to higher realms. Sometimes they just travel upward instantly. Molly’s situation is a little unique. But one of her ancestors has visited her, and has informed her that someone will come to help her.”
Edward lifted the heavy bag in his hand. “How much money is this?” he asked.
“Four pounds and a few shillings. More than a year’s salary in Molly’s day. Just enough to pay her debts,” Rhys replied. “And enough for a few drinks for you and Yumiko.”
“I thought we didn’t need money in the spirit world,” Edward remarked.
“We don’t,” Rhys said. “They use it here because they think they have to. They don’t know that they can create things with their thoughts. Most of them can’t access the advanced parts of their minds that allow them to create with thought because their mental states are so low. They live, scrabbling in the dirt, making things by hand, as if they were in the physical world. They’re confused, frankly.”
Rhys stood up and said, “Okay, I think we’re ready. Let’s go.”
They exited the craft, and as Edward turned to look back at it, he said, “What about the vehicle? Shouldn’t we hide it?”
Scatman shook his head, and said, “They can’t see the craft, because it’s vibrating at a higher level. They could walk right through it and never notice. They have never seen an airship. Their knowledge of the upper realms is almost nonexistent.”
“How ‘bout us, then?” asked Edward.
“They can see us because we’ve lowered our vibrations temporarily, to match theirs, although it’s superficial. Like a shell around us, vibrating more slowly so that they can see us.”
“When did that happen?” asked Edward.
“When we added our costumes,” said Scatman.
“Oh,” Edward said, as they walked toward the inn. It was the basest of hovels, with a broken sign hanging over the door that said, “Pig’s Trough.”
Rhys took his hand as Edward stepped to the door, and said, “You’ll be fine, Edward. Just remember to pay attention and keep focused. Don’t let them know why you’re here, until the moment you’re ready to leave with Molly. Yumiko will be there to help you.”
Edward smiled nervously, and held the door open for Yumiko as they entered.
• • •
He stood inside the door for a moment to get his bearings. The tavern was surprisingly crowded and noisy, which was curious, for outside he had heard nothing. Dim lanterns hung crazily from beams across the ceiling, casting long shadows over tables packed with revelers. At first no one noticed their entrance, until a man sitting at the bar looked up and saw them. Pointing toward Edward and Yumiko, he shouted at the crowd, “What ho! Newcomers!”
Most of the revelers ignored them, but a few glanced in their direction before going back to their cups. The man struggled to stand up, and came staggering over, thrusting his face into Edward’s. He was foul smelling and ugly and not at all pleasant.
“Come for a drink, did you?” he asked. “Got any money, do you?” He leered at Yumiko, and grabbed Edward’s arm, and with surprising strength dragged him over to the bar. The bartender was watching them as they approached, and spat into a glass and then wiped it with his apron. Pouring an offensive smelling liquid into it, he handed it to Edward, and said, “That will be a ha’penny, my man.”
Edward fumbled in his pouch and handed the man a coin, having no idea what a ha’penny looked like. The barkeep looked at it and his eyes widened. Cackling, he punched his companion on the shoulder and roared, “Hey Jack! We got ourselves a bully rook here!” Chagrined, Edward realized too late that he had handed him far more than a half penny.
Jack stared at him suspiciously. “Don’t know your coins, do you? Where are you from, eh?”
“Manhattan,” Edward said.
“Never heard of it,” Jack growled. His hand moved slowly down to his side, and rested on a dirk at his belt. Thinking for a moment, he seemed to come to a decision. Looking at Edward slyly, he put on an affable air. “Drink up, your worship, drink up!”
Edward looked at Yumiko, who was ordering her own drink, and then he stared at the dark, oily liquid in his mug, and reluctantly took a sip. It tasted like rubbing alcohol mixed with mop water, and burned his throat so much that Edward bent over coughing. The pill must have helped, however, for Edward didn’t feel the rush that comes from hard liquor. Jack watched him cough, and chortled with laughter. Slapping Edward’s back, he took his arm again and led him toward the back of the tavern, with Yumiko close behind.
They went down a dark hallway, with torches guttering on the walls. As they approached the back, a door opened, and a woman came out, bearing a tray with empty beer mugs. She looked at Edward and Yumiko curiously as she walked past them. She was of medium height, with long black hair and pale skin. She was beautiful, but looked immensely tired, with deep circles under her eyes. Edward recognized her immediately from the newspaper. She didn’t seem to like Jack, for as she passed him, she shrank back against the wall as far as she could. Jack’s eyes followed her, staring at her. He didn’t lick his lips, though he might as well have. She shuddered at his gaze, and hurried down the hallway.
Turning back to Edward, Jack leered and said, “Someday I’ll bed her.”
Edward tried to look polite as he replied, “You mean you haven’t yet?”
“No!” Jack growled. “No one has. She won’t let anyone near her. We’ve been getting her drunk for ages, which should have worked, but it didn’t.” He sighed, and shook his head. “She’s a difficult one. But I’ll bed her soon, I can feel it.”
He shoved open the door, and motioned for Edward to enter. Edward glanced inquiringly at Yumiko, who tilted her head in the direction that Molly had gone.
“You go ahead,” she said. “I need another drink.”
Edward nodded, and followed Jack through the door. They entered a room that was crowded with people gathered around a gaming table. Jack guided him to the table, where two men were throwing dice. One of them had a large pile of coins in front of him. He was relaxed, leaning back in his chair and smoking a pipe. He had an air of grimy elegance, as if he had come from wealthy roots, but had forgotten to bathe for many years. His gaming partner was obese and sweaty and nervous, coughing repeatedly as he shook the dice.
Jack leaned over to Edward and whispered, “This is his last throw. If he loses, he’ll be back to the kitchen again where he belongs.”
Edward watched fascinated, as the man finally gathered his courage and slammed the dice cup upside down on the table. Lifting it, he groaned and rose from his chair, cursing his opponent, who just grinned, and blew a smoke ring after the loser as he fled the room.
When the door slammed shut on the man, Jack grabbed Edward by the shoulders and pushed him into the chair, where he sat, stunned. Rhys had told them to fit in, and avoid suspicion, but gambling? He felt deeply confused, and ill prepared.
Jack looked around at the crowd and announced, “We have a high roller here! Just arrived from Mantan.”
“Manhattan,” Edward said.
“Yes,” Jack replied. “Manhattan.” Jack’s lips curled into what might have been a smile. To Edward, it seemed more like the writhings of an unhealthy rodent standing guard over extremely moldy cheese.
Jack picked up the dice cup and rattled the dice in front of Edward’s face and then handed him the cup. “It’s your play, Mantan. Unless you are a coward. Afraid to play with your betters.”
Edward looked around at the crowd pressing against the table. They were a frightful group of diseased old thieves and half dressed women of the night. Edward looked at them and then he looked at the dice in his hand. He thought of Molly and Yumiko waiting for him, and then he stared at the man across from him. The man’s eyes were almost closed as he smoked, and he was smiling at Edward. It wasn’t a good smile. It reminded Edward of the lines from a poem by D. H. Lawrence:
“How nice it is to be superior!
Because really, it’s no use pretending, one is superior, isn’t one?”
Edward glared at the man, for he hated gamers who thought they were more superior than he. Edward had lost great amounts of money at the tables, but had never come to terms with the fact that he was actually quite a rotten gambler engaged in a losing proposition. Perhaps it was his innate optimism that had lead him to believe that he could win, as long as he kept playing. Believing he could win also demanded that he believe that his playing was superior to his opponents.
The man on the other side of the table didn’t seem to understand this at all, for he kept smiling an evil smile and puffing on his pipe, acting as if he had read D. H. Lawrence too.
Edward stared at the man, and then gazed around the room once more. The eyes of the onlookers seemed to glitter through the smoke from their pipes, and the haze in the room pressed against Edward’s senses. Jack was leaning over him, filling his mug with more of his wretched brew. For the briefest of moments, Edward sensed the danger curling around him, but then Jack burped loudly in his ear, and slammed Edward’s tankard on the table.
“Well, Mantan! Shall we all call you craven?”
The crowd began to laugh, louder and louder, it seemed to Edward, repeating Jack’s taunt. “Craven, craven! Mantan the Craven!” The women shrieked in glee behind their broken fans, and the men stomped their boots hard against the floor.
Edward flushed in anger, picking up his mug with a trembling hand. The one thing that a gambler hates to be called is a coward. Perhaps he should play just a bit, until he could figure out a way to gracefully bow out, and return to the front room.
As Edward swigged down the ale in his mug, he didn’t bother to look to see what was floating in it. He felt more and more confused, and his whole body was buzzing with a heavy, slow current of strange feelings. The atmosphere of the room grew close and hot and he didn’t hear the titters of the people around the table. He emptied his pouch of coins onto the table and picked up the dice cup, shaking it at his supercilious opponent. With a flourish, he threw the dice cup down as a challenge.
“I am NOT a craven,” he said.
When the man played his round Edward flung his head back and laughed triumphantly, looking at the crowd for approval, for Edward had won. The crones and thieves clapped for him, and the whores adjusted their ragged gowns invitingly.
They played for a long time. Jack kept his beer mug full, perhaps thinking that Edward would drown in his cups. He needn’t have worried, for Edward found himself drowning in his own frenzy as he gambled. Molly periodically came into the room with fresh ale, but he hardly glanced at her when she did so.
At one point, Yumiko came up to him, and placed her hand on his shoulder. He turned to look at her, with a strange expression on his face, and said, “I’ll come soon. Don’t worry.”
He turned back to the table, and didn’t see her leave.
At first, he continued to win, but then his luck changed, and his pile of coins gradually grew smaller. He became angry and desperate, and threw the dice cup down with increasing force. He glared at the man across from him, and glared at Jack and the onlookers crowded around. Round after round, he slammed the cup onto the table until the coins jumped across the dirty tablecloth.
It wasn’t until he watched his last coin being swept up by his opponent that he realized what he had done. He stared at the revelers, who were no longer clapping, and looked at Jack, who grinned evilly at his loss. His opponent seemed bored, and rested his head on his hand, napping.
With nothing to play with, his frenzy left him, and he was seized with fear and guilt because the money was gone. At first, he couldn’t move, and just huddled in his chair. He had an intense desire to throw up. Finally, he pushed back his chair and grunted something unintelligible to Jack, and stumbled from the room.
It took him a long time to walk from the card room to the main room of the tavern. He stopped frequently in the hallway, trying to clear away an overwhelming feeling of oppression. His head felt thick, and he could barely think. He had no idea how long he had been at the table, but he knew he had to find Molly and get her out of the tavern.
As he entered the main room, he saw Molly serving drinks. He looked around the room for Yumiko, but didn’t see her. Not knowing what else to do, he pushed his way through the crowd and came up to Molly as she was walking toward the bar. She looked at him scornfully, for she undoubtedly thought Edward was just another wastrel.
Edward stood in front of her, and said, “My name is Edward, Molly. I’m here to help you leave this place and travel to the upper realms.”
He was embarrassed when she sneered, and said, “Your jest will not work, sir. I have watched you play, and lose.”
With that, she tried to push by him, but Edward took her hand in his. “No, no, please wait! I gambled, and I’m sorry for that, but I want to help you. Let me try, please! Please!”
Her expression was skeptical, but her eyes contained a glimmer of hope, perhaps because of his apology, or perhaps because she had never met people who said they were from the upper realms. In any case, she let him guide her, holding his hand as they walked to the front door. By this time, Edward was desperate to fulfill his mission, and didn’t look back as they approached the door. With his hand turning the knob to make a run for it, Edward began to feel relief, when to his intense dismay, he felt a fist slam into his shoulder. Stumbling against the door, he turned to see Jack, with his hand on his dirk, scowling at him.
“Mantan! Where are you going?” He looked at Molly, who huddled against Edward. “What’s this? Trying to take my servant, are you? You cannot. She cannot leave unless her debts are paid.”
“Her wages should be enough, Jack,” Edward said. “She has worked hard for many years.”
Jack laughed. “Wages! She doesn’t earn wages. She pays for her drink and her gaming by working. She is always in debt.” He stared at both of them, fiddling with his dagger, enjoying their predicament. “No one ever leaves this place unless they are paid up. That is the law here. She owes, she stays.”
Edward squeezed Molly’s hand, trying to comfort her. Hoping that Jack might have forgotten the amount of Molly’s debt, he turned to the innkeeper and said, “How much does Molly owe?”
Jack sneered at him, with such a mocking expression on his face that Edward wanted to strike him. “She owes four pounds. What you lost at the table, Mantan.”
The innkeeper stepped close to Edward, and touched Edward’s stomach with the point of his dirk. Edward tried to move away, but the door was behind him, so he stopped, with Jack’s rancid breath spilling across Edward’s face, sliding into his nostrils until he gagged. Jack seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.
He pressed the dirk into Edward’s stomach like a needle, pricking his skin until it drew blood. Grabbing Edward’s shoulder with his other hand, he shoved him hard against the door and sneered, “Mantan, you did this! You lost the money to pay her debt. I’ve seen cravens like you scores of times. You are scum, willing to sell out a friend for a roll of the dice. You are nothing!”
He punched Edward’s shoulder over and over, laughing, taunting Edward. “Nothing, Mantan! Nothing!”
Edward stood against the door, his face drawn with the pain of knowing that Jack’s accusation was true. There was nothing he could say.
Jack saw his face and laughed again, and laughed at Molly, who simply stared at the floor, avoiding Jack’s gaze. Jack spat at her feet, and then turned back to Edward with a scowl.
“I prefer to have her,” he said. “I was planning to bed her, but I am obligated by the rules to say that you can pay for this doxy by taking on her debt as your own and staying in her place. You will have to wait on tables just as she did.”
Edward stared at him in horror. Gazing around the tavern, he saw again how ugly it was. The thought of staying in that place, with the temptation of gambling to eat away at him and increase his debt forever, brought bile up his throat until he started to cough.
Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he looked at Molly, who seemed confused. He stared at her until she bit her lip and lowered her head. Her face was very tired. Edward thought of Rhys and the others, and of Isobel and Dr. Schweitzer, and the lands that he had seen so briefly. He raised his hand and pressed hard against his forehead, trying to still a suddenly throbbing headache.
He felt suffocated, and looked at the tavern door longingly. He wanted to fling it open and run. Instead, he slumped to the floor and leaned his head against the wall, unable to form a coherent thought. Images of his mistreatment of his girlfriend came flooding back to him, reminding him of his failures with women. He had wanted to be kind to them, but his gambling had always interfered. His sense of shame was crushing, and he started to breathe heavily and rapidly, until Molly sat on the floor in front him, and gazed at him, her face filled with concern.
“Are you ill?” she asked.
He nodded assent, but couldn’t speak.
Jack sat down at a table by the door, and put his feet on the table. Grinning wickedly, he said, “Poor Mantan. Not feeling well, are we?”
Edward stared at the floor blindly, ignoring Jack. He thought about calling out to Rhys, or leaving the tavern to ask him for advice, but rejected the idea immediately. He was disgusted with himself, and couldn’t imagine asking his team members for help. His self-accusation was complete.
He felt dull, and unable to think, and had no idea how long he sat on the floor, staring at the cracks in the planks by his feet. It must have been more than a few minutes, because Jack suddenly leaned forward, and spat on the ground next to him.
“Hey, Mantan! What will it be? There are tables to be cleared, and beer mugs to wash. Looks like I’ll be able to bed the doxy after all, eh?”
Edward looked at Jack and noted again how ugly he was. He glanced at Molly, who had been sitting in front of him patiently. Her lip was trembling and she was staring at the floor. Edward wanted to kick himself, but since he couldn’t, he shrugged, and looked back at Jack.
“I will stay,” he told Jack. “But you must let her leave now.”
Jack eyes widened at his decision, but nodded in agreement. He stood up and walked to the door. Opening it, he motioned to Molly. “Too bad I could not coax you into my bed. You would have enjoyed it.”
Molly turned to Edward and took his hands in hers. She looked at him, with tears running down her cheeks, and whispered, “Why are you doing this?”
He gazed at her sadly. “It was my mistake, Molly,” he said. “I brought the money to pay your debt, but I gambled with it instead. I may be a gambler, but I couldn’t live with myself if I let you stay.” He nodded at the night outside the door. “My friends are waiting for you. You need to go now.”
Molly squeezed his hand and suddenly leaned forward and kissed him hard on the lips. “God bless you,” she murmured. She stood, and then she was gone, with the door closing behind her.
Jack snickered cynically, and grabbed Edward by the arm and hauled him up from the floor. Pointing to a dirty table in the corner, he said, “See that table there? Clean it up! You will be here forever.”
Edward’s head was still pounding as he stumbled toward the table. He clumsily placed the beer mugs on a tray, dropping one in the process, eliciting an angry yell from Jack. He made many excursions to the kitchen as he cleaned the tables of mugs and dinner plates, and was cursed at by a number of the customers, who seemed to prefer Molly’s charms to his own. His sense of depression and exhaustion deepened as he grimly went about his tasks. He felt thoroughly condemned.
When he saw his face in a mirror, on the way to the kitchen, he stared in disgust at his pallor. “Serves you right,” he muttered.
It seemed to Edward, in the intensity of his misery and self-condemnation, that many, many hours passed. He cleared dishes away, only to have more to pick up as patrons came and went. The customers were an ugly lot, and Edward grew more and more certain that he had arrived in hell. He was thus extremely surprised as he returned from the kitchen, carrying an empty tray, to see Rhys standing by the door, talking quietly with Jack.
Rhys handed Jack a pouch, which he reluctantly accepted. Catching Edward’s eye, Rhys smiled, and motioned to him to come to the door. Edward did so, tripping over his feet in his eagerness. When he reached him, Rhys took his hand and led him through the door of the tavern without a word.
Outside the tavern, Edward could barely look at Rhys. He had no idea what to say, and was trying to formulate a sentence, when Rhys stopped him and said, “Let’s talk in the vehicle.”
They made their way to the airship where Edward was greeted with exclamations of joy and relief from everyone. Lucio kissed him on both cheeks, and Scatman almost crushed him with a bear hug. Yumiko took his hand in hers and stroked his cheek, and then hugged him with a dazzling smile. Molly curtsied deeply and kissed his hand, blushing as she did so.
They led him to a couch in the craft, and as they took off, rushing upward, Edward started to cry. His chin was shoved onto his chest and he could barely look at the others. Through his tears, he said, “I’m so sorry to all of you, and to Yumiko, and to Molly. I let you all down.”
They accepted his apology, gravely, for what Edward said was true.
Looking sidelong at Rhys, Edward blurted out, “Why did you come back for me? How could you come back for me? I hadn’t paid Molly’s debt!”
Rhys put his hand on Edward’s shoulder and said, “But you did pay it.”
Edward was confused. “What do you mean?”
“By your willingness to stay in her place, you paid her debt and yours too. You repaired the wrong you had done. We were watching you, and were worried that you weren’t going to make it. Molly was in no real danger, for her own merit would have freed her. You however, were at risk.”
Yumiko took his hands in hers, and said, “I’m sorry I had to leave you in there, Edward. Once you started gambling, and would not stop, I was unable to interfere. One of the laws of the spirit world is that everyone must fulfill their own responsibility. So, I left the tavern to tell the others what had happened. Rhys said that we had to wait and see what you would do.”
Lucio clapped him on the shoulder, making Edward wince. “You gave everything, in the end, Edward. We’re proud of you. A lot of people would have just walked out of the tavern and left Molly to her fate.”
“What would have happened if I had?” asked Edward.
Lucio looked at him seriously. “Molly would have been rescued by us. Your situation would have become much more complicated. Your spirit would have changed for the worse, and become darker and more selfish. You might not have been able to come back with us.”
Molly had seen Edward wince, and said diffidently, “Jack was hitting him on that shoulder, and he pressed his knife into Edward’s stomach.”
Lucio looked apologetic, and said, “Sorry, Edward!”
Yumiko raised Edward’s shirt to see where the dirk had been pressed into his stomach. There was a congealed spot of blood, just below his navel. She took her right hand and pressed it gently onto Edward’s stomach, covering the wound. Her hand started to glow, and pulse, and after a moment, she lifted it. The wound had disappeared. She then laid her hand gently on Edward’s shoulder until he wiggled his shoulder and told her that the pain was gone.
Molly’s eyes widened, and she stared at Yumiko. “Are you a witch?”
“No, no!” Yumiko laughed. “This is normal in the spirit world. Our bodies are made of energy, and heal easily. We cannot be permanently hurt. What looked like blood was actually part of Edward’s spiritual energy body. It was easy to reconvert it into its normal state. Even though our bodies look like they did in the physical world, their internal structure is quite different. Our spiritual bodies can emit fluids, like tears and saliva and even blood, because they serve a purpose. But everything can be modified with thought.”
“Thank you, Yumiko,” Edward said. “You have been very kind to me. And forgiving. You were my partner, and I let you down.”
Yumiko shook her head. “Don’t worry, Edward.”
Rhys had been deep in thought, and finally said, “Edward, I should have explained Molly’s situation more clearly before you went into the tavern. I don’t know why I didn’t. I guess I didn’t think that things would happen as they did. I’m sorry about that.”
“What do you mean?” Edward asked.
Rhys looked embarrassed. He looked at Molly, and said, “I’m sorry to you, too, Molly.”
Turning to Edward, he said, “I told you that it was simpler to just pay Molly’s debt. What I failed to tell you was that the only reason we were going to pay her debt was because she believed so strongly in Jack’s rule that the debt had to be paid. Her belief was based on fear, and was inflexible. We thought about trying to convince her that it wasn’t necessary, and that she could leave at any time, with us, but as you saw, Jack became violent. We thought it was easier to just pay it.”
“You mean I could have just walked out with her?” Edward asked.
“Technically yes,” Rhys said. “But after gambling the money away, you had created a spiritual atmosphere in your mind that was deeply depressed and guilt-ridden. You also would have had a tremendous fight with Jack if you had tried to leave. Your status was quite problematic because you had done something so self-centered and damaging. What might have been simple had become tangled. We felt intuitively that we had to leave you alone at that point, to allow you to make your own victory. Which you did, admirably.”
Edward was silent for a few moments, trying to digest what Rhys had said.
Molly interrupted his thoughts, and said, “I am sorry that my wrong belief caused so much trouble for everyone, and for you, Edward.”
He looked at Molly, and replied, “Well, my gambling addiction didn’t help.”
Yumiko touched his cheek again. “But Edward, staying behind, in the tavern, for Molly’s sake, changed something in your soul. You will feel the difference soon.”
Scatman grinned at him. “Yumiko thought maybe we asked you too much, too early, but you came through in the end. Congratulations, man. You made it over your first hurdle.”
Edward bit his lip as he looked at everyone. “I feel like I failed miserably. Why are you all so nice to me?”
Rhys laughed, and said, “You came to the area of the spirit world where people are nice. The mean people live in other places. Don’t worry. You’ll get to meet them, if you wish.”
Edward folded his arms in front of him, and tried to huddle himself into a smaller package against the couch cushions. He remained unconvinced of his redemption, and struggled against a wave of depression. He had never met people with such kind hearts, and was not at all confident that he belonged with them, as the craft flew silently away from the lower realms. He felt battered by his mistake, and by his brief imprisonment. The realization that he might have utterly failed, and been trapped in the tavern, was so horrible to contemplate that he began to breathe heavily again, feeling quite ill.
Yumiko sat down next to him, and put her arm around him, squeezing him tightly against her. Edward had never had a sibling, but he imagined that Yumiko’s hug was what it must feel like to have an older sister. He sighed and rested his head on her shoulder as the others chatted and laughed, doing their best to raise his spirits, telling Edward not to worry, for if he only knew what they had done! Molly watched them, and watched Edward, not knowing quite what to make of it all.
During the rest of the trip, while Edward sat silently, the conversation among the others was very lively. Molly had many questions, for she had been confined to the tavern since she had arrived in the spirit world. Her last point of reference was the year she died, in 1599, when As You Like It had just started its run at the new Globe Theatre. She had only seen it once, but she remembered that she had enjoyed it. She had no idea that over four hundred years had passed, since time in the spirit world was so subjective, especially in the lower realms. She still thought that she was in her twenties or thirties, and was aghast when Yumiko told her that she was over four hundred years old. She kept pinching her cheeks, looking for wrinkles in the mirror that Yumiko handed her.
Edward liked her immensely, and not just because she had kissed him. As they rose through the many levels of the spirit world, she watched in fascination as the light outside the craft grew brighter and the landscape became more colorful.
The craft finally came to a gentle halt behind Rhys’s house. They disembarked and walked to the door, where they were greeted with hugs from Isobel. She immediately took Molly under her wing, and ushered her away. Edward learned later that the first thing Molly did was soak in a warm bath that Isobel had prepared for her.
The rest of them sat on sofas in the sun room for awhile, gazing out over the valley below, watching hundreds of birds wheel back and forth in the sunlight. Edward began to feel relaxed and safe once again, so much at home that he suddenly woke with a start and realized that he had fallen asleep on the couch. Rhys was smiling at him, amused at his consternation. Edward looked around and said, “Where are the others?”
“Lucio and Scatman and Yumiko have gone to their homes,” Rhys replied. “Molly is resting, and will continue to sleep for some time. Her time in the tavern has left her weak, and her spirit needs to be restored.”
Isobel entered as he spoke and sat down on his lap, hugging him. She looked at Edward, with her amazingly warm smile and said, “Molly asked me to thank you once again, before she fell asleep. She is very grateful to you.”
Edward blushed and stammered, “I’m sorry I didn’t do better.”
They both shook their heads. “You were wonderful at the end. That’s what counts.”
Rhys untangled himself from Isobel and stood up, reluctantly Edward thought, for he could see that Rhys was enjoying cuddling with her. Tweaking her nose, Rhys smiled at her, and said, “It’s time to take Edward to his new home.” She nodded and came over to Edward and kissed him on the cheek.
“Come back soon, Edward,” she said.
• • •
Edward said that he would, and in the next instant, he and Rhys were standing in front of a cottage on the edge of a river. It had two stories and was much bigger than the one room cottage that Edward had stayed in before. There was a beautiful garden in the front, with trees all around, and there was a great blue heron standing in the river, watching them with one beady eye.
It was the dog, however, that made him want to cry. It was a big, white Labrador that came bounding up to them, wagging his tail as fast as he possibly could. He licked Edward all over his face, until Edward had to push him away, laughing, pleading with him to stop. Rhys watched them, very pleased that Edward liked the dog.
Edward gestured at the property, and said, “I thought I would be taken to a cottage smaller than the first one.”
Rhys shook his head. “I understand how you feel, Edward. We tend to forgive ourselves long after everyone else feels perfectly fine about what we did. That’s one reason the lower realms are still so crowded. But you must remember that even though you made a significant mistake, you resolved it by doing something quite noble. Not everyone would have stayed in Molly’s place. Even though you’re still accusing yourself, the truth is that you expressed a high order of love when you sacrificed yourself. Thus, this beautiful spot is a very real reflection of your soul.”
Edward wanted to say something, but felt uncertain as he gazed at the house and grounds. His first mission had been unlike anything he had ever experienced. Turning to Rhys, Edward hugged him, and said, “Thank you, Rhys. And please thank Dr. Schweitzer for me.”
Rhys smiled and said, “I will. You’ll see him again, and all of us too, if you like. We’d like you to stay on our team. Would you like to?”
“Yes, indeed!” Edward replied. He hesitated to ask the next question. “Will I see Molly again?”
Rhys laughed. “Yes, if you like. We hope she’ll join our team as well. We’ll see.”
With a wave and a smile, Rhys left, while Edward stood on the river bank, with his new canine friend. Looking down at him, Edward rubbed the dog’s cheek, and said, “What on earth shall I call you?” The dog slobbered on Edward’s hand affectionately, but didn’t answer at all.
Edward grinned and said, “I don’t know why, but I think I’ll call you Rembrandt. Is that okay with you?”
The dog barked, which Edward assumed in dog language was a yes.
Edward sat down next to Rembrandt, and rubbed his neck, which he liked very much. Edward felt dazed, and rather tremulous. It seemed that more had happened in the short time since he arrived in the spirit world than he had experienced in his whole life. Rhys was quite perceptive and entirely correct. Edward did blame himself for his mistake in the tavern. He began to feel upset again as he thought about it, but curiously, part of his mind became aware of his feelings, as if he was watching himself. As he observed his feelings inch their way down into gloom, he saw himself reach out a mental hand and nudge his feelings back on track, telling him to stop fretting, and look around at the beauty of his environment.
It seemed like a good idea, so he turned his body around, with Rembrandt obediently turning with him, and looked at the four corners of his new home.
It really was a beautiful spot. The cottage was made of white stone, and had a green roof. There were clusters of ivy on the walls, and bumblebees in the garden. It was a place in which any one of Britain’s literary heroes would have felt entirely at home. It suited Edward just fine, and his feeling of tension began to pass. He didn’t know if he was worthy to live there or not, but something inside him stirred with excitement that one could actually improve oneself, and quite literally go up in the world.
He had not been a total dullard on Earth, in his own assessment of his character, but he had not spent much time wrestling with his internal flaws. It wasn’t lack of will that had caused him to avoid confrontations with himself, but rather a lack of awareness of the value of doing so. Consequences should have been at the forefront of his awareness, especially as a gambler, but ironically, they were shoved aside in the blindness of self-deception.
Now, gazing at the beauty of his riverside home, his awareness of his presence in that environment, and the actions that had almost robbed him of it, pressed against his heart with a clarity that was new to him. Edward was not a craven, of that he could be sure. Treading the boards in his theater had taught him gumption and fighting spirit. One could not quail and crumble in front of hostile audiences if one wanted to be a successful actor.
As he turned back to the river, and rubbed Rembrandt’s neck once again, he felt something change in his feelings, as if a strange, repressive mental scab had dropped away, leaving no mark at all. For a brief moment, he thought of Atlantic City, and saw his feelings slide past the images of card tables and roulette wheels without so much as a flicker of desire.
Of much more interest to Edward was the river in front of him, with its sparkling waters tumbling over boulders, catching in little eddies where purple fish might be waiting for unsuspecting visitors. He looked at Rembrandt, who looked up at him and smiled, as Labradors do, and then Edward laughed.
“You’re a good dog, Rembrandt,” Edward said.
The two of them watched the heron fishing, and the heron watched them, and they all relaxed by the river bank on a sunny afternoon that had no end in sight, for in their realm of the spirit world, life was good.
• • •