A stairway between life after death reveals more than expected for one who defies the cycle. With recurring memories of his past lives, what will happen to his future lives?
“You’re defective,” she explains mechanically. I still can’t believe this is happening. The woman knows; she knows everything. Not a woman, I remind myself quickly. More like something close to an angel and everything terrible that comes with that. She was the last thing I was expecting after all this time. I had resigned myself to never knowing why and now this. Still, she’s real enough, standing in front of me in her summer dress and tennis shoes, giving me that look I give the TV when the channel won’t change.
“You shouldn’t be remembering,” she says, “I don’t know why we didn’t pick it up earlier.” She’s shaking her head now, saying there’s nothing for it but to cut my cycle. I don’t like the sound of that.
The first time I died I had been genuinely shocked to find myself living again. The second time, the dying itself was just as excruciating but waking up on the other side was not as much of a surprise. I had died so many times now it was hard to keep the memories of each life separate and distinct.
It’s strange that we look at life and death as two sides of a coin. If we can die once then why not again. And again.
“Do you understand how much time you’ve wasted?” she continues, staring me in the face, challenging me to answer. I seemed to be getting the gist of it. I shouldn’t have remembered anything; should’ve been a blank slate every time. I had begun to suspect something like this but to have it confirmed was a bigger shock than I’d expected. This was normal. Life after death was just more life.
It’s strange that we look at life and death as two sides of a coin. If we can die once then why not again. And again. The first few times I had started to believe it was reincarnation but that was soon snuffed out when every new life I sprung up in was missing the people I had left alive in the previous one. They would follow soon enough. The difference was they wouldn’t remember where they had come from. It wasn’t a coin. It was a stairway.
“Get your bags, we’re moving,” she orders, but the volume is the same, still unfeeling.
“Where are we going?” I venture but as expected there isn’t a reply.
The memories always came flooding back when I reached around nineteen years of age but sometimes they returned as early as fifteen. The first few times I had tried to explain it to others, but they would look at me like I was crazy. Just one lifetime locked away in an asylum was enough for me. The stairway seemed endless. Thousands of worlds folded in on top of each other but utterly separate.
“We might be able to make use of you yet,” she says from the front of the van. It’s dark in the back. It seems unusual that she drives something like this but then I wonder what I was expecting. I’m not sure why I’ve been bundled into the back when there is a perfectly good passenger seat, but it seems pointless to argue with whatever is driving. The drive is long and smooth and in the darkness it’s easy to slip in and out of sleep. I don’t know how far we’ve travelled when she speaks up again.
“We’ll need to ask for permission of course. So far, everyone else has failed so it probably won’t matter anyway,” she continues to explain, mostly to herself I think. She seems to see me more as something to talk about rather than to. I’ve gone along with all of this so easily but at this point I don’t know what else I can do.
I had tried to find my wife once; the most recent one at the time. I had died early of cancer at thirty-eight and my memories had already returned on the next step. I suspected she hadn’t yet died on the step above. It would be difficult I knew but I had stumbled across old friends and family before. They never stepped down far from where they had been when they died. Different names of course, and they didn’t remember a thing, but they looked the same. No, they looked similar.
“Here we are,” she says, throwing the back doors wide and causing me to block my eyes from the light. We’re parked inside some kind of warehouse. The machinery is pristine and the floors are spotless. Despite the orderliness I feel uneasy. There is a sinister emptiness to the place and the hairs of my neck prickle as her voice echoes from the windowless walls.
“Let’s see if you’ve got what it takes. He’ll know just from one look at you,” and she’s striding away further into the gloom of the building, not once checking to see if I’m following.
After a long search I had found her; my wife that is. She must have died at around eighty because I found her as a young college student when I was already an old man. I had known it was her of course. She had looked almost identical to the girl I had met in college and gone on to marry a lifetime ago. I had never revealed myself. It had seemed selfish and needlessly painful but I often strayed back to the college for the time she was there, happy to watch her be happy.
“Sit down,” the man’s voice is different from hers, emotional and forceful. The two of them retreat to a shady corner and launch into agitated whispers. Not a man. Not a woman, I remind myself once again. When the first one had revealed herself, it had been terrifying. Maybe this one thought it wasn’t necessary. She walks over with something resembling a contorted smile around her lips.
“He’ll give you a chance,” she says, still awkwardly smirking, “but you better hope to hell that you manage it or he’s going to cut your cycle. Indefinitely.”
“What do you want me to do?” I ask, between uncomfortable gulps of air. Her face is very close now.
“We want you to climb back up.”