A dull house rolled into a dull aircraft hanger, and Ben settled into the routine of his work-life. Metal on metal filled the expansive space of the hanger, interrupted by the clatter of air compressors and squeak of hard toolbox wheels on concrete. Frosty air seeped through the massive hanger doors on the north end of the building, causing the overhead heaters to labor in their effort to blow any warm air to the concrete and workers two stories below.
Ben’s new metabolism and concealing layers kept him warm and he unzipped his blue coveralls to the top of his stomach padding.
From over his shoulder, a familiar voice startled him. “I stopped at the pub to see you last night, but when I overheard your conversation with Stan, I didn’t want to interrupt.”
Ben ignored the voice. This was not happening. This was a left over hallucination from yesterday’s astral projection bounce. Was that even possible? He twisted the wrench to the right, tightening the bolt. Reaching to his left, Ben grabbed his clipboard and poured over the items, scouring the list for anything he missed. A frayed image of a cuffed shirt impeded his view.
Ben closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Not happening.
“Ben? Are you ok?”
Ben stared at the clipboard until the words blurred. The shirtsleeve remained in his peripheral vision, along with the rest of a body, or an image of one, anyway. He dragged his hand across his face and slumped forward against the toolbox. “Artie, what are you doing here?”
“Hi Ben.” Artie moved to stand directly in front of him. “I wanted to come speak with you after I heard your conversation. Last night didn’t seem like the best time to try and change your mind.” Ben looked up at Artie and concentrated on bringing him into focus. Today Artie was dressed in his usual impeccable attire, like he just stepped off the stage of a vaudeville act. Distinguished is the only word that ever came to mind when Ben thought about Artie. “What’s this about you not bouncing anymore?” Artie asked again.
Ben shook his head. “I can’t, Artie. Beyond the fact I’m not good at it, it’s wreaking havoc on this life. The amnesia is worrying me, and honestly—” Ben tapped his wrench on the lip of the toolbox, adding the melody to the orchestra of noise surrounding them, “—bouncing to different realities isn’t making this one any better. It’s making it much, much harder to be at work. And at home.”
Artie reached forward and as he laid his spongy fingers on Ben’s arm a frigid shock lanced up to his shoulder. Ben jerked back, but Artie remained indented through his arm. “What if we go at bouncing a different direction?” Artie said. “What if I could lead you through the nuances of astral voyage? There’s too much to learn on your own, and that’s why you’re struggling. It shouldn’t be a distracting event, but rather, enhance your life, make you more aware of your surroundings, align your mind and soul with your body. We all need mentors. I had one. Stan had one.” Artie shook his head. “While I admire the loyalty of your friend, Stan, he is definitely not ready to be a mentor, especially not yours. You need me Ben. I’ll teach you. Don’t quit.”
Ben dropped his arm to his side, forcing Artie to draw his own back. Frosty fingerprints remained on Ben’s arm. “Maybe some people get to infuse their lives with peace and serenity after an astral projection, but I didn’t. What’s the point of continuing?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. You’re not doing it right. There’s a better way, and I want to show you.”
“Look, Ben, no one experiments with astral projection because their current life is working perfectly. There’s a reason to seek other realities. Besides, your curiosity will never be satisfied with what this three-dimensional plane can offer you.”
Ben studied his clipboard. Artie spoke like he lifted the words scribed on Ben’s soul. He couldn’t go back on his decision. No matter how boring, he’d made a commitment to support his family, and he couldn’t continue to jeopardize his job. If he was lucky, the temptation was on its way to the dump in the belly of a garbage truck.
“I told you I’m not interested.” Ben said. “I tried it. It didn’t go well. It’s not for me.” He waved a hand at the hangar. “I have more than enough things here to handle.”
“Ben, it’s not really a request. You’ll have to trust me on this.”
“We’ve known each other for less than a month. A few casual meetings over the span of my life. Why would I trust you? Why do you care what I do?”
Artie’s image flickered. “I’m sure this is difficult, and I wish I could give you more information now. But I can’t.”
Ben turned back to the jet in answer. Could this guy be anymore cliché? Ben stood on the fractured edge of a cliff, and the small pebbles of conviction were eroding from beneath his stand of determination.
“I’ve seen your future.” Artie said.
“Not good enough.” Ben bluffed.
Silence stretched for so long Ben thought Artie believed him and left. When he was about to turn around and check, Artie said, “Ben, whether you know it yet or not, you’re—” He pressed Ben to face him, “—You’re special.”
Ben was sure skepticism showed on his face. Very few moments of his life held anything above ordinary.
Artie continued. “What you experienced yesterday, the loss of memory? That is merely due to your inexperience. If you’ll let me teach you how to move smoothly in and out of your astral voyages, you’ll have far less issue.”
He held up a hand to silence Ben’s protest. “You’re gifted, Ben. You possess the ability to bounce back in time; something less than half of astral voyagers can achieve.” Ben crossed his arms, and another fall of pebbles cascaded down the canyon wall of his determination. “You recreate your physical body when you arrive. I know of one percent who can, and I know of none who can do both. You’ve already mastered the adaptation of a youthful form when you’re not bouncing. Your own little fountain of youth.”
Ben fingered the ridges of his new six-pack beneath the concealing layers of his padding and jumpsuit, remembered the good-looking, blue-eyed gent who stared through the concealing layers of makeup this morning, clenched his hand to keep from running it through the new thick wave of blond hair. Artie would pick a severe point of weakness. He couldn’t argue the fantastical payoff of his younger self.
“Learn this, and it will take you far beyond the excitement you seek, both physical and emotional. It’s a gift. Learn this, and you’ll learn ways to heal your relationship with your daughter, rekindle the passion with your wife, and maybe,” he stepped away to leave, “maybe even save the world.”
“Wait.” Ben said. “I feel like there’s something else, something you’re not telling me. All those benefits can’t come without a cost.”
“Perhaps.” Artie bounced, leaving Ben staring at an empty patch of concrete.