I can't wait till Nate gets here.
I know he'll be here soon. It was kinda confusing when he entered my mind for the first time. He told me that this wasn't my dream world, but my unconscious world, where everything is more connected to my soul, more stable, unlike a dream. In here, with Nate's help, we can do and sense everything. I have to admit, when we first met and he tried to explain psychic linking to me, it was kinda boring. But when he showed me, wow! Who cares what it's all about? I can move again. I can breathe on my own again, even though it's only for a little while. Nate used to come here once a month for six months. Then, it was once every other month for six months. Now, he only comes three times a year. Why is he coming here less than usual? Why can't I stay here?
When I first met Nate, I knew I could trust him, even before my parents told me to. Nate told us about the hospital recommending us to apply for treatment at the Wagner Institute. He told us under special circumstances, he treats people who have injuries like mine for free, like a scholarship or something. But I have a funny feeling there's more, like a secret he's holding. I think my parents feel that way too, but since I'm getting treated for free, maybe they're afraid to question him. I don't know why. It's so obvious that we can trust him. I guess it has to do with his eyes. They're kind eyes. He's very polite and professional and generous with my parents. But when we're here, oh boy. We have fun and he swears like my Uncle Mike from New Jersey. Well, my parents swear too, but they try to hide it from me. I wish they would stop that. I'm eleven years old. I'm not a baby, you know. But they're parents. I guess they're supposed to be that way.
Nate always taught me to think really hard of a place that I feel comfortable with before he comes. Today, I think about my favorite park: lots of trees, a huge lake, a basketball court, and a swing tied to a huge oak tree. Nearby is a fallen log that has been there forever. It's used as a bench now. My folks and I used to have so much fun here. Mom would make a picnic lunch while Dad and I played basketball, threw Frisbees and swam in the lake with the other families. I was a really good swimmer. I could tread water up to ten minutes. I remember the other kids and I laughing because of all the fun we had. But I loved the swing. I really flew on that swing. Yeah, sure, Dad took me on roller coaster rides, on balloon rides, and on his plane where he works, but it's not the same. On that swing, I could feel like a bird, just me and the wind. It's like maybe I'm part bird. I don't know. It just feels that way. Yeah, I love flying. At least, I used to, before that drunk driver . . .
Cool, Nate's here. "Hi, Nate. How're you doing?"
"Doing pretty good, Spanky." He knows I love watching the Little Rascals. Spanky is my favorite character, so he calls me that. "How about you?"
"I'm ok. I'm sorry I wasn't awake to meet you, but I wanted to see my Dad before I went to sleep. Didn't work though."
"Ah, don't worry about it. We're talking right now, aren't we?"
I smile even more. "Yeah, I guess you're right." I stop. I don't know if I should tell him. I don't want it to be a big deal. "Did...did you know that today is my birthday?"
His smile lowers a little. "Actually, I did, just not until your Mom told me a few minutes ago." He shifts a little and places his hands in his pockets, looking a little like me when I got into trouble and was sent to the principal's office. "I'm sorry, Spanky." Then, he smiles, stoops down and looks at me face to face. "Look, I thought we could do something special on your birthday. The last few sessions, we've been taking walks, playing basketball, swimming, and all that normal stuff. Right?" I nod. "Well, we're going to fly, today."
You're kidding! Fly? "How?"
"You'll find out. Just follow my lead and it'll come naturally. And when I tell you to change clothes, just think and it'll happen. But you have to trust me in order for this to work. Okay?"
I can't help it. I'm nodding my head. Really fast.
"Cool," he says as he starts to slowly run. "Run with me, Gabe. Run as fast as you can!" He runs faster and faster. What can I do? I'm running after him. I'm catching up to him!
We run through the park and I feel my muscles hurting. It feels so good to feel that again. I'm breathing hard, too, but I feel as though I'll never run out of air. I'm pumping my arms up and down to keep up with him. I have never run so fast and so hard in my life. This is great!
Now, the park is changing into a forest. We didn't run into one, it just changed. I bet Nate is doing this. He told me that whenever he enters my mind, our nervous systems are connected, especially if he touches me in our awakened state. So, either he or I or both of us could change where we are. And now we're jumping over tree roots and stumps and dodging branches. I look at him and I'm seeing him change. Horns are coming out of his head. He's growing fur and he's bending over to run on all fours. He's growing so large that his clothes rip and fall away because they're too small. He's never done this before. Wow, he's an elk and he's running even faster now!
I stop. I can't believe he changed into an elk. I know anything can happen here. But still . . .
He's running farther away from me and he notices that I've stopped. He turns his head, big black eyes looking at me. "Well, Spanky," he yells. "Are you going to have fun or are you just going to just stand there with your finger up your nose?"
I laugh. I start running again and I eventually catch up. I still can't believe that I'm running head to head with a buck, and Nate's not holding back either. As we go through bushes, sticks and tree branches, tiny glowing things flutter away. The thicker the forest that we go through, the more of these glow flies come out. I'm being surrounded by a swarm of them, but I don't wave them away. I'm too busy running. And I notice that they're not bugs, but little fairies. They look so beautiful. They all say, "Keep running, Gabe! Keep it up!" Well, duh! Don't you see that's what I'm doing?
As we keep running, the forest melts and switches to a desert, like in Arizona. I look at Nate and he says, "Jump on, Spanky." I jump high and land on his back and I wrap my hands around his furry neck. He smells so musty, so real.
We keep on running until I see the ground ending. Holy cow! We're at the Grand Canyon and we're about to jump into it. Is Nate crazy? "Nate! We got to stop!"
But he laughs. "Geez. No faith." He keeps going faster and faster until he jumps into the canyon. I feel his muscles stretch and tense up and as we start to fall, I scream, thinking, Can you die in your mental state?
Wait a minute. Nate is changing again. I can feel him under my body. He's growing larger. His fur starts to shed away and something breaks out of his skin. Golden feathers. His horns disappear, and his snout curves down, beginning to harden. A beak! His two front legs spread out and explode into feathery wings. He's turning into a giant eagle. I love eagles.
I look around and see the Grand Canyon. We glide around and I can't move or speak. The peaks and mountains are incredible. I want to reach out and touch them. But before I can do anything, Nate says to me, "Okay, Spanky. Now, it's time for you to fly!" What? I can't believe what he's asking me! "Hey, trust me. You've seen 'Superman', right? The scene with Superman and Lois Lane over New York City? Well, do the same thing by holding on the tip of my wing."
I was about to tell Nate that in the movie, Lois slipped out of Superman's hand and nearly fell to her death, but I don't have a chance. He spins and I roll off his body. Hey, that's not fair! I'm struggling, trying to hold on. Finally, I grab some feathers on the tip of his left wing as the rest of my body flies with Nate. Oh my God!
He mutters, "Trust me. Keep control. You can do it." And I follow what he says and it works. The air going through my hair and my body. It feels so good. We glide all over the place and we're not saying a word. This is so cool.
He says, "Let go, Gabe. Time to fly."
Is he crazy? "But I can't."
"I told you, you can do anything here. And I'll be there with you just in case."
In case of what? "Nate, I'm afraid."
"Are you kidding me? You've been dreaming about this and now you're not going to do it? Give me a break! Just do it!" He's sounds peeved and I can't really blame him. He's right. I have to do this. So, I close my eyes and I release his wing.
God! Oh, God! I'm not falling. I'm gliding. I'm moving my arms like a bird, waving them, and I'm flying around the Grand Canyon. I swoop down, around a peak, and I shoot straight up toward a cloud. I spin around and I fly backwards, looking at the sun. It feels so warm. I'm . . . I'm free again. I'm free.
I look down. The Grand Canyon changes into wheat fields. I do a somersault in the air, finally ending it by pointing my head toward the ground. I dive and suddenly I feel Nate's talons gently grab me by the shoulders. "So, I don't know anything, eh smartass," he asks as we both laugh. I let him gain control again and we climb higher into the blue skies, through the thick, fluffy clouds. When we get close to one of them, I breathe in. They're lemon drop cotton candy. I have to eat some of it. Delicious! Nate tastes it and agrees. Other birds fly with us: a bald eagle, a few sea gulls, falcons, and...oh my God! A pegasus! A pegasus is up here too! It looks so strong, so beautiful. When we sway here and there, they follow our movements. They eat the candy clouds, too. Only a strange looking pelican with a pair of wire-framed glasses shakes his head. "I prefer the cinnamon grain sticks, thank you," he says with a stuffy accent as he flies down from the clouds toward the wheat fields. Both Nate and I laugh.
Nate senses my excitement as we begin to glide down toward the fields. "Now, change. We're going to get wet." I imagine and I change into my swimsuit. He's going faster and faster. I scream, but I'm not scared. He glides over the land; the cinnamon and nutmeg smells fantastic. The flowered stalks tickle my belly and I start to laugh. Nate is doing this on purpose. I tell him to stop, but he keeps going and going until we both imagine this time.
The field melts, becoming an ocean. I feel his claws around my arms change into something rubbery. I look up and see Nate change into a giant sea otter with wings. From his belly grew a pair of thin tentacles, which hold me firmly. His brown eyes match his dark skin. His long whiskers tickle my face as I look at him. When he finishes changing, we dive down into the nice, warm water. I can breathe! Nate's wings disappear into him as we shoot toward the deep parts of the ocean. The water slowly changes from a light blue to a darkish purple. I feel a little nervous as I look at the black coral and what hides beneath them. Around me, lots of spooky, transparent creatures swim around us, trying to tell me in deep, mean voices that I'll never be well again. But I'm not afraid. Not anymore.
We climb into the lighter areas again and four other sea otters join us. We swim some more until all of us are picking up speed and we launch into the air again. Of course, all five otters grow wings and we're in the clouds. We fly above a small island and I see kangaroos, with little koala bears in their pouches, jumping ten thousand feet into the air to say hi. They tell me, "Keep flying, Gabriel. All little boys should fly, whether they're sick or not." Then, they fall back down.
As the other otters say goodbye and fly away, we start to fly around the world. I see the border where sky and space meet. We leave the blue marble and it's peaceful here. I should be cold, but Nate breathes on me with a golden mist, keeping me warm. I feel him change again into something I've never seen before. His body looks like a red bat, with lion's fur. And his gigantic head is like a Siberian husky! He continues to breathe the mist on me as he says, "Wanna try again, Spanky?"
I nod and when he lets me go, I fly into space. Wow! The stars are so bright, lighting the way for me. I glide around my world, feeling every part of my body tingle, becoming more alive than before. It's so quiet here. Not quiet in a scary way, just peaceful. Yeah, it feels like total peace out here. I bet if any astronaut saw me doing this without a spacesuit, they would be so jealous. But it doesn't matter. In some way, I feel like I conquered my worst enemy.
Nate glides next to me. "Time to return, Gabe. All good things must end. For now, anyway."
He's right. I change into my shirt and shorts and I climb on his back. We both fly down to Earth and arrive at my favorite park. I climb off of him and I lean against my tree with the swing. Nate is finally changing back to his human form. He can tell I'm still pumped up by our trip. "Well, Gabe. Did you have a good time?"
"Yeah, I sure did! Thanks, Nate."
"Anytime. Normally I would wait another year before we would try something like this. But since it's your birthday, and you trust me like I trust you, I thought I would give it a shot."
Boy, I'm glad he did. "It's the best birthday I ever had."
"Well, hold your horses there, Spanky. Your parents haven't given their presents to you yet." He stops, like he's trying to find the right words. "You do know that they love you very much. Of course, ever since your accident, they worry about you more than ever."
He looks at me like he's waiting for me to answer. Oh man! Mom told him what I said to her. I really don't want to hear this. I was about to walk away until Nate says. "Hey, don't get pissed off at your mom. What you said to her earlier scared her. And to be honest with you, it scares me too."
I feel hot. I'm so embarrassed, but I'm angry too. I face him and say, "What's so bad about staying in here? It sure beats waking up and not being able to move. I'm like a piece of furniture out there for people to move around where they want me! Nate, I like it here, and I want to stay!"
He slips his hands into his pockets and listens. It's weird. Every time I lose it and yell, he doesn't move back or becomes a Know-It-All Smart Alec. He just listens, and I can tell he understands. I have to admit that I feel a little guilty for yelling at him like that.
"Come on. Let's grab a log," he says as he walks over to the fallen log and sits down. He pats on a space next to him and I shrug. Slowly, I walk over and sit down. But I know whatever he's going to say won't be preachy. Nate isn't like that. He just speaks his mind, curse words and all.
He looks at me. "Look, the psychic linking treatment is like taking a drug: its purpose is to help you recover emotionally from what you've been through. We start off a few times a year and once your mind becomes leveled, meaning that you won't feel as helpless, then we cut back until you don't need it anymore. Me linking into your mind, helping to create your world and traveling around in it is to help give you hope that things will get better, and it will get better. Eventually, they'll find a cure for your injuries and these treatments that you're experiencing right now will help you adjust to your physical rehabilitation in the future. This place is not for escaping your challenge. That's hiding, Gabe. You can't heal if you think that way. And, in time, I know you can handle this."
I listen to him, but something doesn't make sense. "How would you know?"
He's just looking at me. I don't think he's surprised at my question. He sighs and rubs his eyes, as if he just made a decision. Then, he moves his legs on the log, crossing them into an Indian Style position, and asks, "You remember what I told you about myself, about where I work?"
"That you work for a special place that helps people, as well as catch criminals who are hard to find. You told me you had other powers besides psychic linking. And I remember that you kinda gave a weak reason why you're doing it for free."
Nate raises his eyebrows in surprise and he laughs. "You saw through that, didn't you?" Then, he pauses and he starts to look sad. "Four years ago, my wife, my youngest son and I were driving home one night until...we had an accident. A bad one." He stops and I see his brown eyes start to turn black. It's a matter of fact, the park isn't sunny anymore as clouds start to cover the skies. "Our car went off the freeway and rolled down a hill. The car exploded." He looks around, realizing his mood was affecting the world around us. He closes his eyes, concentrates and the park is sunny again. He opens them and even though the sun starts to peek out, his eyes still look dark. "My wife and I came out of it okay, but Simon . . . his injuries were more severe."
I'm afraid to ask. I don't want to know. But somehow, I have to. "What happened to him?"
"Simon's back was broken. He can only move his head and his left index finger. He breathes through a respirator, just like you, Gabe. He was twelve when it happened four years ago."
My accident happened four years ago. Creepy. He looks away, this sad helper of mine. I want to comfort him, but I can't move, as if I was awake in my own body.
I can't help but keep staring at him. Like with his first story about doing this for free, something is not quite right about this accident. I think it's something more. Maybe I should...no, I better not go there. I can tell that it hurts him to talk about it. He looks sadder now. I want to take his pain away, like what he's doing for me. But how?
Wait. He's looking at the clouds around the blue sky. He's smiling and is making the darkness around him disappear. Then, he sighs and looks at me. "My boss granted me a Leave of Absence to help me and my family heal, physically and emotionally. Even though Simon's health stabilized, his...soul was scarred and I was helpless to do anything about it. I almost quit my job because, in some way, I felt responsible for what happened to him. You see, watching my boy suffer like that, I wanted to hide, like you."
"But you didn't quit."
He smiles. "No sir, I didn't. My boss, Dr. Wagner, and a few others convinced me not to. Instead of preaching to me, like what I'm almost doing to you right now," he laughs and his face shines, "they taught me how to advance my powers of psychic linking. These powers were weak four years ago, but when they were strengthened and I was more in control and centered, well, you've experienced the results yourself. And by learning this technique, I helped Simon like I've been helping you. It took two years to do it, but he's able to live without his obstacle affecting him. Basically, he's trying to live without the emotional pain completely overcoming him."
I'm slowly starting to understand. I always thought that Nate had no problems. I'm not saying that he's a perfect angel. He's just, well, he's just Nate who helps me. "Simon must be sixteen now. It's hard to believe that he lasted four years like that."
He nods. "But it wasn't easy, for him, for the rest of my family, and for me. I was so determined to hide away from reality, to stay away from my work, that I realized I was doing my family more harm than good. After a year, I returned, while still treating Simon. I'm continuing my duties as Vice President, but I wouldn't work any cases unless it's an emergency. After I treated Simon, I realized that all of my talents -- the linking, astral projection, telepathy and the others -- were all going to waste. So, I made a vow to myself to help children with similar problems as Simon's. I treat two children at a time for free, whose families can't afford both medical expenses and our services at the Institute. Once I feel one child can function emotionally and his or her hope is regained, I move on." He pauses, making sure I'm listening carefully. Then, he says, "I love what I do, Gabe. And I'm helping people at the same time. But if I allowed myself to hide away, I wouldn't be doing this.
"What I'm trying to tell you is that hiding within this reality is not the right way to heal yourself. You love to fly and you were afraid to do so until I kinda kicked you in the ass to do it. And you did it beautifully. But flying is more than doing it physically. You have to do it in there," he says as he pointed at my heart. "If you don't, Gabe, you'll cage yourself and the bastard wins in the end."
I frown. "Who are you talking about?"
"Is fear a person?"
He looks at me directly into my eyes. "With the amount of energy you spend on it, it might as well be."
I guess he did it to me again. He preached, yet he didn't. And I can't help but feel relieved that I'm not the only one who's going through this.
He smiles. "That wasn't so painful, was it?"
I giggle. "Only a little."
He laughs. "Tough shit. Part of my job is talking, so deal with it." I laugh as he stands up. "Just think about it. Don't absorb all of this at once. I know it's tempting to stay. But only you can figure out how to apply what you have learned here to overcome your challenge out in the real world. In terms of how you'll do it, don't worry. It'll come to you. I have to go." He pauses. "Do me a favor. When I leave, you know it takes a while before this world goes away and you wake up or you go back to your dream state. During that time, close your eyes. I have another birthday gift for you. You're going to experience a technique that I was originally going to use for your treatment. But I learned that it drained too much energy from me and the duration wasn't as long and fulfilling as psychic linking. Still, it won't hurt to do it once for you. Any questions?"
"Yeah. When you said about flying, in here," I say as I point at my heart, "does Simon fly ok? And do you think I will someday?"
"It took some time, but he eventually did. As far as you're concerned, you just showed me you already can. And it won't be the last time, either." He smiles as he says, "Happy Birthday, Spanky." Then, he fades away.
I have to do something before he starts. I run over to the swings, get on one of them, and I push away from the ground, higher and higher, feeling the wind in my hair and the world getting smaller under me. The moment I can do it without thinking, I close my eyes.
Wait a minute! I can still see. But I'm not at the park. I'm in my room. I'm standing up and walking around. How can this happen? I feel like I'm still moving on my swing. I turn around and I'm seeing my body. Cool! Nate is letting me see what he sees. It's like I'm watching a movie. I'm seeing his hand stroke my head, moving my hair away from my closed eyes. Now, we're walking toward Mom and I hear him tell her not to worry, that I'll be okay. Her eyes start to tear up. Ah, Mom! Don't cry. I hate when she does that. Wow, I feel a tingle inside me. We both hug Mom and I can actually feel her hold me through Nate! She's holding us hard in a bear hug. God, it feels so good.
I know that my connection with him is starting to fade as I lose my sense of touch. But that was good enough for me. We're driving on the freeway now. It's a long drive and I'm afraid that I might lose contact before I see his family. I can feel Nate concentrating more, keeping me around a little longer. Wow, what a cool house he has. Two levels with a two-car garage. We look up at the sunny sky, then slowly walk up to his home and go through the door. My vision starts to blur as we see Nate's family. I have to admit, for a mom, Nate's wife is very pretty. We hug her and his two sons. My vision starts to blur even more. His link to me is getting weaker. But it lasts just long enough for me to see Simon in his special wheelchair. It's exactly like mine. He's smiling. Yeah, he can definitely fly. I know it.
Then, I see nothing. I open my eyes and I realize that I don't have long before I wake up. My park is gone, even the tree. Everything is black except for the swing that I'm on. It still works as I swing higher and higher. As I fly in my swing, I think about my "progress," as Nate puts it. I wonder. Once I feel more comfortable and in control, I'll ask Nate if he could teach me how to create these magical places and change form like he did, and then, somehow use what I've learned whenever I'm awake. I don't know how I can do that, but it's like what Nate says, "It'll come to me." Yeah, I will ask him. I smile thinking about this as I make a huge leap off the swing and it disappears as I fly through space.
Then, everything is black and my flying stops.
But you know what, that's okay. Nate was right. It won't be the last time.
"Lessons in Aviation" appeared originally in Sage of Consciousness.