“Dancing Through Space” — from The Postmortem Adventures of Edward Wild
This is a snippet from a new book I’m writing. I’ve decided to post bits and pieces of the book this year to get feedback from readers, as I continue to write it. Your feedback will help me write a better book. Thus, thank you in advance.
Feb 28, 2020
The book is about the postmortem adventures of Edward Wild, a Shakespearean actor from present-day Greenwich Village. Having been killed by a truck while crossing Grove Street, he was escorted to the spirit world by Rhys, his seventy-fifth great grandfather, who lived in Wales before the Romans came. Upon Edward’s arrival in the spirit world, he was taken by Rhys to meet Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who invited Edward to join a small team of people, with the mission to serve those in need.
Edward accepted the mission, and subsequently met with Rhys and his magnificent wife Isobel, and the other members of their team. There was Lucio, a student of Leonardo da Vinci; Scatman, a jazz singer from 1930s Harlem and Yumiko, a pearl diver from ancient Japan. Edward’s first mission was to help rescue Molly Kendell, a young alcoholic woman from the 1500s who had committed suicide. Edward’s experiences on that mission were related in the narrative “The Girl in the Tavern.”
He was skipping stones across the river that ran past his cottage when he felt Molly’s greeting nudge against his mind.
He turned his head to the right, toward her cottage, and formed his reply silently. “Yes, Molly?”
Her thoughts came rushing in, with a combination of images and words and sounds. He saw her clearly and heard her laughter. She was sitting on the roof of her cottage, smiling at Edward. Even though they had visited each other many times since Isobel had brought her to her new home, he was still astonished that he could see her in his mind. Her cottage was five miles upriver, and out of his line of sight. In the spirit world, one could see the smallest of details hundreds of miles away, but he hadn’t thought that one could see around corners.
She laughed again, amused at his reaction, and then stood up and floated to the top of her chimney.
“Can I come and visit you?” she asked.
He nodded. “Of course!”
As the words formed in his mind, she was standing next to him, with an impish smile on her face.
Edward grasped her hand warmly and pointed at the river. “I’ve been skipping rocks. You wanna try it? I’ve made it up to forty skips. It must be a spirit world thing, that one can skip so many times. I can count each skip, even though they go by so fast.”
Without a word, she accepted the flat stone he handed her. She leaned far back and threw it toward the water with an expert flick of her wrist. He was amazed to see the rock skip across the waves until it reached the far side of the river. Turning to him, she said, “How many was that?”
He looked at her, and then he looked at Rembrandt, who was pressed against Molly’s legs, and then he looked at the river again, with his mouth opening wider and wider.
“I believe that was one hundred and five,” he replied. “Where did you learn to do that?”
“The Thames,” she said. “I was raised a mile from the Thames.” She looked across the river with a grin. “Although I never got beyond twelve skips back then.”
He stared at her admiringly as they sat down on the grassy bank. He kept gazing at her until she smiled, and asked, “What is it?”
“I’m just so happy to see you,” he said. “And you look so beautiful today.”
Molly blushed, and tugged on Rembrandt’s coat. “What do you think, Rembrandt?” she asked.
He barked, which Edward thought was a very intelligent answer. They then both looked at Molly until she blushed again.
She was wearing an exquisite silk dress that was cut high above her knees. It had short sleeves and a deep scoop neck, and was a most extraordinary shade of green that shimmered in the sunlight. He noted rather absently that the fabric didn’t bind against her as silk normally does, but instead moved fluidly with her body. Her long black hair was piled high on her head, and she had an intricately cut ruby resting between her breasts, hanging from a delicate silver chain. Her feet were shod with green brocade slippers, complementing a very beautiful pair of legs. She looked refreshed, with none of the traces of exhaustion that she had labored under when he had first met her in the tavern in the lower realms.
After a moment, she smiled at him and said, “I like what you’re wearing, too.”
“Thank you!” he replied. He had been experimenting with various modes of attire and had settled on white linen trousers and a light grey cotton shirt. Edward loved the freedom that one had in the spirit world, to wear whatever one liked. Standing in front of a full length mirror in his cottage, he had used the power of thought to drape himself in costumes from many different periods of history. He liked the dash of the English Cavalier period, but had finally settled on simple comfort as the deciding factor.
“Did you create your clothing, like I did?” he asked.
Molly shook her head. “I have sometimes, but I found this dress in a shop in the village. It was made by a very sweet woman named Yeva.”
Edward nodded. “I haven’t been inside, but I walked by it.”
“Oh, you should go in! She’s amazing,” Molly said. “She can make things I couldn’t even imagine.”
“Well, then we should go sometime,” he replied. “Maybe she can make me a fancy shirt. Something with a bit of color.”
They sat for a while, looking at the heron fishing in the river. It wasn’t a very wide river, but it was extremely satisfying to the eye. There were little islands and rocks scattered along its length, and large trees lining its banks. The water in front of Edward’s cottage moved rather leisurely downstream to their left, toward the village, forming little eddies around the rocks; little pools of water that the heron loved to stand in while it hunted for fish. The heron had made the river by the cottage its home, and seemed to enjoy Edward’s presence. It often came to the edge of the river, and sometimes right up to the house, cocking its head at Edward as if to say, “You want to see me fly?”
Edward somehow knew what it was asking, and would always say, “Yes!”
The heron would then turn and oblige, stretching out his great grey wings and thrumming his way up and down the river, turning to look at Edward, waiting for his reaction.
Edward would smile and call to the heron, saying, “Wonderful!” He had no idea if the heron understood him, but it seemed pleased. He wondered if the heron could sense the power of his feelings of gratitude, as he watched it glide across the water.
Molly shared his appreciation, and exclaimed in pleasure as the heron scooped up a fish and lifted it into the air.
Turning to Edward, she asked, “Have you thought of a name for him yet?”
“No,” he said. “But I want to. Can you help? I’m a little stuck.”
She nodded. “I would love to. Why don’t we think about it while we practice.”
“Practice?” he asked. “Again?” They both stood up, and he took her hand in his.
She glanced at him inquiringly. “You don’t want to try it alone yet?”
He shook his head. “No, not yet. Flying still makes me nervous.” He looked at her curiously. “I’m not sure why you’re not. I’m the modern guy who’s flown in planes.”
“I don’t know why,” Molly answered. “I just love it, I suppose. And I’ve been practicing and studying a lot. I had to catch up on the last four hundred years. Lots of classes from Isobel and Lucio and Scatman. I’ve learned about flying and astronomy and jazz and how to say “how ya doin’” like you say in New York. And new slang words, and new contractions. Contractions are cool.” She giggled. “In troth, I spake the word ‘cool.’”
Edward grinned, and said, “Yes, you did, and yes they are, aren’t they? Well, how ‘bout one more practice together?”
She nodded, and said, “Of course. As much as you need.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Edward took a breath as Molly crouched slightly and jumped straight up, soaring high into the air. She was moving so quickly that he had barely exhaled when he looked down and saw that the earth was far below them. His vertigo was still intense, and he wondered if he would ever be able to fly on his own. Molly sensed his fear, and squeezed his hand more tightly, and smiled at him. He tried to smile back, in a rather weak sort of way, and then looked down again to see that the earth was now a distant globe. As he watched, the moon rushed past to their left, and was quickly out of sight. They were flying through the warm vastness of space, past Saturn, past tiny Pluto, faster and faster until he realized that their flight had reached the speed of thought. Molly had brought them to a distant galaxy that was unknown to Edward, a galaxy astonishing in its beauty.
She put her arm around his waist, and they floated in space, above a planet with three moons. She smiled at him again, and said, “You know you can’t fall now, Edward. You’re in outer space, and we’re weightless, and there is no up and down. It’s warm, and we can breathe, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. We can’t be hurt.”
Edward felt sure that she must be right, but one can’t be too careful when one’s feet aren’t firmly planted on the ground. He thus decided that he very much preferred to stay safely in her grasp, since it felt rather wonderful to have her arm around his waist. Even the sight of a distant nebula wasn’t as interesting as Molly.
“Edward, look at my nose.”
“Hmmm?” He blinked. “I am looking at your nose.”
“No, I mean, look just at my nose.”
“Oh. Well, okay.” He stared at her nose. She had a truly wonderful nose. It was patrician, with character and elegance. It had a slight hawkish curve, but not too much. Just enough to imply that Molly Kendell was a girl of boldness; a girl of strength.
“Okay, you can look around now.”
He looked up, at her eyes, and then at her whole face, and then at her lovely green dress and brocade slippers, and then he realized that she was no longer holding his waist. In fact, she was quite a number of feet away from him, floating all by herself, in the deep emptiness of space. Which meant that he was floating all by himself. With absolutely no one to keep him from falling straight down to the planet below, where he would unceremoniously go boom, and stub his toe, and bang his head, just like he did when he was four, and fell off the porch of his parents’ sheep farm in Connecticut.
When a person is in danger of falling down, it’s a normal reaction to yell, and look around wildly, and even flap one’s arms. Edward did all of those things, until he heard Molly’s sympathetic voice.
“Edward, look at me.”
He was distracted by the sight of the planet below his feet, but managed to pull his gaze back to Molly. She was floating where he had last seen her, calmly looking at him.
“Have I moved, Edward?”
He shook his head. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Have you moved?”
He looked at her, and the planet, and the nebula, and shook his head again. “I guess not.”
“Watch this,” she said. While he watched, her body rotated, until she was looking at him upside down. He found it fascinating that her dress didn’t fall down toward her head, but instead stayed perfectly in place.
“Now you try it,” she said. “Don’t move your arms. It’s not like swimming in water. Just think about rotating your body. Intend to move your body.”
He thought for a moment, and much to his surprise, his body slowly rotated, until he was perfectly in line with Molly. It was very strange, but he no longer felt like he was upside down. He stared at her, and said, “I did it!”
Molly smiled at him. “Of course you did. Now, follow my movements.” She floated up a few feet, and then stopped. “Come on.”
“Okay,” he replied. He formed the desire to move, in his mind, and to his delight, his body responded.
“Very good!” she said. “Now let’s move left.”
He followed her.
“Now right. Now left. Now forward and back.”
He followed her each time, feeling more and more excited.
“Molly, I’m not falling down!”
“Of course not, Edward.” She floated to him, and took his hands in hers. “Now, tell me. Are you moving through space because of the power of your thoughts?”
He nodded. “I am.”
She grinned at him. “Such a smart laddie. Follow me again.”
Holding his hands in front of her, she proceeded to move in circles, gliding back and forth in ever widening arcs. Suddenly, she lifted her arms over her head, still holding his hands, and pirouetted. He was surprised, but laughed, and followed her movements as she danced. The planet with three moons fell away behind them and the nebula became a speck as they danced on an imaginary path toward Earth. They traveled faster and faster as they whirled, until the stars blurred into streams of light. Molly sang as they danced, with a rich and soaring voice that filled the space around them.
Edward was so entranced by Molly that he hardly noticed as they danced their way past the red planet and down into the atmosphere of Earth. Or at least their version of Earth. It wasn’t until they were hovering over the sunflowers in his garden that he started slightly, momentarily afraid that he would fall the remaining few feet to the ground.
Molly smiled at him, and asked, “Well, what do you think?”
He sighed, and said, “That was... that was glorious, Molly. Thank you!”
“One more step,” she replied. Releasing his arm, she floated away from him a few feet. Pointing at the ground, she said, “How many feet are we above the flowers?”
“About two,” he said.
“Are you comfortable?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yes, I guess so.”
“Then let’s go up.”
She floated up about five feet, and waved at him. “Come on up.”
He did so, with a faint sense of trepidation. When he was level with her, she folded her legs under her, and sat down, as if she was on a platform in the air.
“You do the same,” she said.
He sat, rather bemused, and then laughed as she lay down on the air, and motioned for him to do the same. She proceeded to roll back and forth, and sit, and dangle her legs over an imaginary edge, and then stand, and hop, and run up and down invisible steps. She took him down to within an inch of the garden, and then back up to the level of the cottage roof. She led him in cartwheels, and a race around the cottage, and finally sat down with him, just above the water of the river. She took off her slippers and laid them on the air next to her, and let her feet swing into the water, making little splashes with her toes.
He did the same, carefully placing his sneakers next to him, and plunged his toes into the ripples.
She lay on her side, leaning on her hand, and said, “I never did this in London.”
He laughed, and said, “Nor I, in Manhattan!”
She looked at him from underneath her lashes. “So, are you scared you’re going to fall in the water?”
Edward shook his head. “No, actually, I’m not.”
“What did you learn?”
He thought for a moment. “Well, you’re a lovely dancer, and I can do cartwheels above my cottage.”
She blushed, and said, “No, silly. Not that. But thank you. I’ve just been teaching you what Isobel taught me. You can push against the air with your thoughts. Even in outer space. So you don’t need to be scared about falling down.”
“Oh,” he said. He looked at Molly, and said, “You learn so fast. Can you imagine what they’d say in the sixteenth century?”
“Yes, I can,” she said. “They’d burn me as a witch.”
“Hmmm. Yes, they would.”
♦ ♦ ♦
They sat above the water for a time, watching a few clouds march their way toward the horizon. The sun had barely risen when Molly had first arrived, and now it was almost overhead. Its rays played among the poplar trees at the water’s edge, glancing across the waves as they tumbled past the cottage, toward the village a few miles downstream. Edward was fascinated by the phenomenon of the sun in the spirit world. Sunrises and sunsets were momentous events each day, but night never arrived. There was a brief flash of light as the sun disappeared below the horizon each evening, and then a warm, diffused light spread across the sky and lingered until the sun rose again, hours later, in the spirit world’s version of morning. Edward kept expecting night to fall, but it never did. After a while, he hadn’t missed it, since he rarely felt sleepy. His body felt vibrant and powerful and young, with so much energy that the idea of spending hours in sleep seemed nonsensical.
The constant daylight seemed to Edward to be a very fine arrangement, with just one exception. He loved looking at the stars. Turning to Molly, he exclaimed, “Molly! Let’s ask Yumiko to host a dinner under the stars on her island.”
Molly had been peering into the river, running her hand through the water, playing with a school of fish and giggling. Looking up, at Edward’s words, she nodded, and replied, “That sounds lovely, Edward. She could ask her friend, Master Ludwig, to play for us.”
“Yes!” he exclaimed. Yumiko lived on a remote island that had the whitest beaches that Edward had ever seen. She often hosted dinners and musical events with composers and singers that were both famous and unknown to Edward. Once, when he asked who was singing, she replied, “Oh, that’s Rishti. She was a slave in Mesopotamia. A wonderful singer, don’t you think?”
He could only nod as he looked at the young woman, standing on a stage under the stars, belting out a tune with a five-thousand-year-old voice that would have packed Madison Square Garden.
Then there were the stars. Thousands, millions of stars blazing across the night sky, bursting into view after dinner as Yumiko gaily asked her guests if they were ready to dance on a warm summer evening. She would wave her hand, requesting the night, and the daylight around the island would melt down into the sea, merging with the reflection of the moon.
Edward felt awed by the phenomenon, no matter how many times he had watched the night enfold his own cottage, and then retreat as he had asked the light to return. The daylight would rise from the ground in pink ribbons, twirling and dancing into the night sky until the last star lay muffled behind its curtain.
He had spent many hours sitting at the river’s edge, looking at the stars, thinking about his life on earth. The stars had a magnetic quality about them, tugging at his feelings, almost like the tendrils of a distant caress. One evening, he had seen the moon for the first time, as he had asked the night to envelope the land around his cottage. The moon was floating just above a mountain ridge, looking very grand, but quite puzzling to Edward’s eyes. It had taken him a while to understand what was different about the moon, but he finally realized that the face of the man in the moon was no longer mournful. Instead, the face had a slightly wistful smile, as if to say that his view was getting better.
It was a hopeful sight to Edward, after a short life that had been burdened with loneliness and the all too frequent madness of losing money at cards. He sat and watched the moon quite often after that first sighting. His sense of liberation had grown after his victory in the tavern, but he had also become painfully aware of his youth. Turning forty might mean that one was sophisticated and grown up in the theaters of Greenwich Village, but here in the spirit world it was the equivalent of a few minutes in diapers. Certainly one could be a relatively mature forty-year-old baby in diapers, but how could one put on airs in front of one’s two-thousand-year-old seventy-fifth great grandfather?
The thought of Rhys brought Edward back to the present and the sight of Molly leaning into the water, blowing bubbles at a tiny blue minnow.
“We should check in with Rhys, don’t you think?”
Molly straightened with a laugh, and looked at Edward. “Yes, I suppose we should. Shall we use the screen he installed?”
Edward nodded. “Yes, let’s.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”