There he sat on the edge of his bed, a complete wreck with a bit of a headache and a burning desire to shut off his brain. Mr. Cromwell had just lost his job, his feet stank in their absence of odor-blocking, class-affirming shoes, and his cat simply refused to hop onto his bed, as was her norm.
A pamphlet rested half-opened in Mr. Cromwell’s hands, an image of a very austere woman deep in meditation on the front of it. He read the pamphlet his therapist had given him more in an effort to humor her than anything else.
All he had told her was that he wished he didn’t have to be himself any more. And with a matter-of-fact, I-know-just-what-you-need gesture, she’d handed him this pamphlet on out of body experiences. Mr. Cromwell laughed at the overabundant use of the acronym OOBE, imagining it to be the name of some unfortunate alien somewhere in the cosmos.
Mr. Cromwell came to his senses, stopped his reverie immediately. Isn’t that what got him in this mess in the first place? He was too much of a dreamer for his own good. There was no place for silly daydreams in the business world. He had to be more serious, more like his former coworkers. He might not have been fired had he been able to keep a level head at all times, like his boss.
And as these thoughts flooded in, Mr. Cromwell wanted to get out of his body more than he had in recent memory. The OOBE stuff started to seem less like hippie-dippie nonsense and more like a viable self-loathing-avoidance strategy.
He tossed the pamphlet aside, kicked off his sweat-soaked socks, and lay down on his bed. He closed his eyes and imagined himself climbing a rope that led from his brain, as silly as he realized that was. And: nothing happened. Try as he might, he remained firmly rooted to the one place he’d rather not be: his own body.
His breathing got slower, more rhythmic as he gave over his consciousness to the prospect of sleep. Just as everything was starting to fade, he turned over in the air and looked down at himself to make sure that he was in fact falling asleep and not just faking it. Wait, what?
Sure enough, there Mr. Cromwell was in the air, looking down at himself. He was nothing but ether, weightless in the claustrophobia of his Ikea-adorned bedroom. He floated down over to the mirror, scared of what he might see. But there was nothing there. No pudgy paunch to greet him, no dark bags under his ever-bloodshot eyes. There was just the recently vacated body of him in the background.
Mr. Cromwell took a deep breath, acclimating to this fresh experience. Or rather, he tried to take a deep breath. He had no lungs, no windpipe to send the air down. He wanted to reach at this absence of body parts, but he had no hands to do it with. He was a gust of wind, an abstract concept. And it felt great.
He rose up and flew past the ceiling, in ecstasy. He was airborne, rising up above the clouds. He flew straight through a passing commercial airliner and just kept on going. Within seconds, he was out of the atmosphere, soaring beyond what he thought to be possible.
He pushed forward, moving faster than thought. Earth was a tiny dot behind him now. Before long, he had pushed past Pluto. I’ll still always consider it a planet, no matter what they say, he told himself, flying on.
But he shouldn’t think about that, his imagination had already gotten him into enough trouble as it was. It was better to keep his head down, not offend. A thought occurred to Mr. Cromwell as he flew into the furthest reaches of space, a disembodied soul. Why the hell shouldn’t I think that way? What does it matter if my loser of a boss doesn’t like it?
Mr. Cromwell’s eyes widened, or rather they would have had he had any. But in time, he calmed down. He hadn’t been smote for such glaring insubordination as he thought he might be. His brain started working again, more than he’d allowed it to for quite some time. You know what? I don’t need his crap. I should do something else. I’ve always wanted to write. Hell, I think I’m pretty good at it too.
And before he could squelch it, Mr. Cromwell was struck with the burning urge to be back in his body, to sit in front of a blank screen and populate it with his thoughts. But his elation was short-lived, as he realized that not only was he out of the solar system, he was no longer within his own galaxy. How would he get back now?
His non-existent stomach dropped. What a joke it was, that after all this soul-searching and self-discovery he was to be trapped here, a wandering disembodied soul. The stars beyond weren’t interesting any more, the multi-colored nebulae were nothing more than distractions. He couldn’t do what he wanted to do, what he was meant to do, so what was the point?
But just as he thought this, a massive spacecraft flew through him, in much the same way he glided through the airliner back home. Mr. Cromwell flew inside of it, desperate to find out what it was. He was shocked to find himself in the company of an extraterrestrial. This shock was further outdone by the realization that the alien could actually see him.
After a bit of discussion, it was settled that Mr. Cromwell could hitch a ride back home, the ship was headed in that direction anyway.
And finally he was back, where he belonged. He turned to his alien pilot savior, thanking him copiously. He asked for his name after giving his own.
“Promise you won’t laugh? Everyone always does.” The alien sighed. “It’s Oobe.”