Writing Past Lives encouraged further consideration of life, death, the afterlife, the enlightenment of the living by the dead, losing the will to continue, and the importance of finding the resolve to carry on. I considered my love for the human race, and the times I had felt so drained of purpose and hope that my love became indifference, and even loathing and resentment.
I spent time contemplating the pain and suffering so many had endured throughout the course of history, and the tendency for history to repeat itself, despite the lessons our past should have taught us, which resulted in another short story entitled Should We Remember.
Should We RememberEveryone on Earth experienced the phenomenon at the same time. In the beginning, there were those who took anti-depressants, with the hope they would relieve the incredible angst it caused, but they didn’t help at all. Some took sleeping pills and tried to sleep through it, but their dreams were as troubled as their waking thoughts. People drank and took every drug known to humankind, in an effort to escape the torment, but their effects only worsened the feeling they wished to escape from.
No one knew what had caused it, or why it had occurred. The phenomenon seemed so inexplicable that science and spirituality merged. Scientists even turned to astrologers for answers, who suggested an alignment of the planets had triggered the event. The theories were endless, and ranged from everyone connecting to an eternity of human consciousness to angels releasing the sorrow they had been carrying for humankind to fall upon us. Some said it had happened to remind us of our past, because we do not learn from experience, and I think that’s the best explanation so far.
Sorrow is not a word to describe the feeling, though. Neither melancholy nor sadness is suffice. The feeling grew so deep that it became debilitating. Some committed suicide to escape the incredible anguish it caused, while others endured it as one might a terrible migraine, with the hope it would eventually pass. The world almost ceased to function. Shops were open for half a day, at most, and only supermarkets and grocers, since no one felt like shopping while they suffered so.
The gates of time had been thrown open, and the memories of those who had suffered throughout history invaded the minds of all who lived. Once the memories of the dead started to permeate the consciousness of the living, they did not stop.
The first recollection acted as a catalyst for the sorrow, which intensified with every fraction of a life relived. The memories were unexpected, yet they seemed natural, somehow.
For example; you might find yourself thinking of the slave trade, which would transgress to an experience of being a slave during the era of slavery. Yet; the memory provided an extra dimension, since you were the slave, and felt as the slave had felt, and you experienced compassion for the slave, as yourself, once the memory had passed.
The Internet was flooded with accounts of such memories. One wrote of an African American, who had been chased by a lynch mob and hung from a tree. They described the terror of being pursued, the excruciating pain of death, and their own sense of shame when they considered what had happened.
Every tear of sorrow flowed anew, and every broken heart beat again. The betrayal of a friend, the savage cruelty of an inhuman parent – the tormented memories of the dead caused the hearts of the living to writhe in agony.
I saw his sons dead, with their throats cut. I felt his – the father’s – heart break inside me as though it were my own. My tears flowed as his. The world became the hell he sensed it as, and then his memory vanished, but it became mine, which I will never forget, as he did not. I have lived through an episode of his life, which enabled me to understand the horrors of war in this time of peace. That was my first memory of a past life, and now, when I look back, I think I was given an easy one to gently introduce me to the experience. I know another will come soon, and wonder if it will be the one that kills me. I wonder whether the whole human race will die of broken hearts.
Time seems slow, somehow, and my actions laboured, as if I have suddenly aged. I look out of the window of my apartment onto a deserted street, usually flowing with a river of pedestrians, and wonder if everyone feels as heavy as I.
There’s a big wooden building at the end of the street; a garage of some kind, where they fix vehicles, and I wonder if it’s open. I press my face against the window and squint down the road, and see a distorted image of the barn-shaped building through the glass. The doors are closed.
I am inside an old barn with the people of my village. The doors are closed. My grandson is standing in front of me, with his head tucked within the folds of my coat. He is beside himself with fear, and crying in great wracking sobs. I am rubbing and patting his shoulders to comfort him, and staring at the soldiers who have herded us here, like cattle.
Their demeanour is one and the same. Each wears a blank expression, yet verging on sadness. Their eyes flick around the villagers, without resting upon anyone for long. Their guns point towards us. Some people are crying, but no one tries to escape, because some have been shot for doing so, like my son and his wife.
When soldiers begin dragging bales of hay from a stack and spreading them around the barn, I know what will happen. I wonder if I should just run and be shot, but I don’t know what would become of my grandson, so I stay where I am and pray for a miracle.
The soldiers pour gasoline over the bales and the floor as they retreat towards the barn’s doors, which are grating open upon howling hinges, as if warning of the hell soon to come. Once the soldiers are outside, the doors of the barn start to swing closed, and waves of movement spread through the village. A chatter of short, sharp exclamations of fear and disbelief cut through the putrid air as the whole village swarms towards them, but it’s too late. I see the flames erupt and spread, and turn to run in the opposite direction of their advance.
I am at the back of the barn, shielding my grandson from the flames, who is trying to squirm his way out of the barn through a gap between the walls and the earth. His head and shoulders are already out and my very soul shouts encouragement, but I hear a gunshot and his body starts to twitch. Screaming is filling my ears, and incredible pain is cutting through my thick, winter jacket. The screaming is my own, mixed with everyone I have ever known. I beat my flaming hair and slap my body and legs until I only burn. The agony pushes every thought from my mind. I cannot see, and stumble around blindly until I fall to the ground. The last sound I hear is the screaming, and my last sensation an agony that cuts through to my burning, broken heart.
I don’t know how long I have been lying here, on the floor, or when I stopped crying. I don’t think I have slept; I think I have been lying here all morning, numb from shock.
I manage a late breakfast – some toast – and stare vacantly through a window at a grey sky. I’m nearly out of food, and know I’ll have to go to the shops soon. I think how difficult such a simple task is during wartime, and of the Second World War, and a woman making her way back from the shops, in London, during the blitz.
The battle rages and the bodies stink. A hand of a child lies in the gutter, and I hope it is not from my own. Someone passes me as I hurry home, which I hope to find still there. “These streets could do with a bloody good sweep!” – he laughs. I know he’s mad; everyone is losing their minds. I trip over some rubble and land on all fours; feeling sharp stones and shards of glass biting into my hands and knees. The loaf of bread I was carrying tumbles off ahead of me, before being grabbed by a boy of about ten, who sets off running without looking back.
A woman’s head has burst like a watermelon, but her face is intact; dusty and surprised. She is a neighbour; her name is Lilian. I turn what was once a corner of a building and look up to the third floor, where I live, but my gaze only recedes into the sky before falling to the front door of the building, which stands open and upright amongst the rubble. In a daze, I walk through it, even though there is no need.
I dig through bricks until my fingernails have gone. I dig until morning, until I find my children, recognisable only by their clothes. I pull them from the debris and hold them in my arms, and scream. My heart is a gaping wound – sliced in two – with the delicate love within spilling out into the dust and rubble that had once been our home.
Sobs wrack my body, as though grief is teaching me to breathe, and I whisper – “why, why, why?” – over and over again. I look up to the heavens, but there is no answer; it almost seems as if the heavens ask – “why?” – with me.
Eventually, I curl up, exhausted, holding two pieces of crushed meat and bone that were once my joyful children. Strangely, just as I am drifting into sleep, I sense happiness through the incredible sorrow – that the boy took the bread, because we don’t need it.
The memory passes, and I whisper – “why, why, why?” – through the sobs wracking my body. I know her now, even though I have never met her. She may have died before I was born. Eventually, I fall asleep, holding my pillows as though her dead children, and dream of a faraway place.
I cannot remember all of the dream, but wake crying, and my head aches. I place an ibuprofen on my tongue, swill it into my empty stomach with a glass of water, and slump into a chair at the kitchen table. I rest my head upon my forearms and sense an incredible weight within me. Physically, I am slim, but the gravity of sorrow pulls me to some distant point below – the centre of grief, of despair, of a deep, heavy melancholy without a name. I raise my head, pull the laptop towards me and switch it on. There aren’t so many accounts of past lives today. There are less every new day, even though there have been more experiences.
I think back to my childhood, and search for a happy memory to take me away from the misery. I remember when I was a little boy of about six, playing in the scrubland surrounding my home with my friends. I run, with my little legs gently pounding the soft earth beneath my feet, and laughing like my stomach is full of bubbles. I hear shouting behind me. My friends are telling me to stop and come back, but I want to run.
Everything stops suddenly within a numb silence, and I watch my home, and my friends – who are looking up at me from some distance below – the Earth and the sky circle slowly around and round. I spin within a dust cloud until my body is shaken by a thump, which knocks the breath out of me. I lie on my side, with a piercing whistling in my ears, while opening and closing my mouth, trying to breathe. I see my friends running towards me.
I turn my head so I can see them as they gather around me. They all have their hands over their mouths, and their eyes are wide with shock. They look funny and I want to laugh, but cough instead, and sit up as I start to catch my breath. I don’t understand what I’m seeing. My legs aren’t there, and there’s a lot of blood coming out of me. I feel tired and lie down. I smile at my friends and say – “I’m tired” – but I don’t hear anything; only the whistling, which fades into the silence of eternal sleep.
His death fades into my life, and I cry. I remember his friends as though they were my own, and miss them as he could not. I want to go there – to crawl on my hands and knees and search for every mine lying hidden in the ground.
I stand up, and reach down to touch my legs; grateful for their existence in a way I have never been. I pull on my shoes, as if it should be impossible, and walk from my apartment and thump down the stairs as though a dead weight.
No one is in the local shop – only the shopkeeper – who sits on a chair behind the counter with his head in his hands, weeping. I take coffee, milk, bread, some cheese and butter, and place them carefully on the counter. His head raises slowly, and he stands. He leans across the counter, as I lean towards him.
We hold each other tightly, as though long-lost brothers reunited, and cry. The sorrow of eternity surrounds us. I don’t want to let him go, and know he senses the same need for comfort. We stand like this for a long time, as though we are waiting for the whole world to join our embrace.