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August 6, 2022

Gently Mangled

Caleb Bethea

The family reunion’s a perfect time to try astral projection. The ping-pong table, the cracking of crab legs, the foosball table, the way they raise oysters to their mouths and slurp the shells hollow. It’s enough to make a slab of white noise that can swallow any solitary, distracting sound.

I lock myself in a room in the basement, perched on a top bunk in the corner. And with the simple goal of getting my spirit beyond the walls, across the yard to the water, so I can wade among the lily pads with the long-legged cranes as they stab at their next meal, I close my eyes.

I think of the dinner I finished in a hurry. Pulling meat from the shell of the crab legs. Light red, gently mangled. And my spirit leaves my body.

I’m surprised that the rungs of the bunk bed’s ladder feel cold on the bottom of my spirit feet. I open the door just like I would with my body and pass by my cousins with their necks bent down at their games. And they don’t even feel as distant as I imagined they would. Surely they should be a mirage, drifting hazily around the tables, unreal to my walking by. But they are as tangible as my spirit. As my body. The glass door slides open in front of me and I hover my foot above the grass.

But there’s something otherworldly about the green. Like a different planet. Or something that used to be a planet, but a new cosmology has shed that orbit from its body. And on the other side of the yard, in the shallows of the water, a crane sees me—and takes thin, aggressive strides in my direction.

I turn to go back inside but half my skin has fallen off and it’s snagged on the door.