17 Aug “Old Soul” by L. Maddison
“Old Soul” was submitted into Contest #140 in response to: Start your story with the narrator or a character saying “I remember
Can you hear me?
I remember being reborn a thousand times.
In the between-times, and at the very start and end of a life, the memories are strong. I remember the warmth of the sun on my crumpled wings as they unfold for one brilliant bright day of flight. I relive the elation of the chase and the sinking of my teeth into the throat of my prey- what a joy it is to satisfy physical hunger. I recall the agony of being prey, because of course, all things must balance out in the end. My heart has pumped cold blood through sinuous coils and thumped its warm-blooded rhythm from ocean depths.
Like you, I am the sum of a million experiences.
It’s true that the messy, bloody rebirth into the world as a human stuns me every time. The shock of union as soul re-joins body. The violent expulsion through the birth canal. The startling sensation of air on skin, after an age of ethereal floating. The instinctive gasp, that first mortal wail. And so it begins again, and I’m here at the start of a new life.
You and I are not here together by chance. Karma pulls souls with the persistence of a river to the place they belong. For those not yet enriched enough by suffering- well, fate always finds a way to make things fair. I’ve lived my share of troubled lives, and I’ve mostly learned how to transcend them by serving my purpose with patience and compassion. Karma is as undeniable as gravity, and we must exist in harmony with it. This is how the warp and weft of the universe is woven.
When it was time to begin again, I was drawn to my mother over all others. What pattern has been set out for us I can’t yet say. As she grew the miraculous mass of stardust and water that became my body, I surrounded her with my energy until she shone. Then I sunk, as sure as an anchor dropping, into the tiny infant form that will now grow and carry me through this life. I’m only a few days old and I’m waiting to be both teacher and learner. I’m eager to meet the other embodied souls whose lives are entwined with mine.
I sleep a lot. I dream of the coloured currents of bliss in the supernatural soup from which we come. I wake and the ancient sensation of hunger drives my little body into a rage. I’m not yet skilled in exercising the intricate pathways of my brain, and I squirm and grunt with frustration. My body feels cumbersome. These early days are both familiar and vexing, as I remember the restrictions and the pleasures of flesh. My new senses thrill at the smell and sound of my mother as she comforts me, and my immature eyes learn to focus on her face. I wonder at the journey she is taking and the role I will play.
Soon, all the memories from before will fade and I’ll be fully immersed in the point of time and space my body occupies. I’ll only know the world around me through my mortal senses. I’ll forget how sunlight felt on my wings, and will long only for the warmth of my mother’s body. The desire to satisfy hunger will only bring memories of milk, not blood. It will take time to relearn the workings of the natural world. I’ll have a simple, finite sense of self. I’ll no longer know where body becomes soul, and where soul becomes eternity.
Echoes of past lives will emerge, as they always do. Brutal urges to survive at the expense of others, perhaps. Humanity can be as ugly as it is sublime. We’ve all expressed violence and selfishness, especially in early lives. I’ll have no notion of where these forces come from, but I’ll be measured by how I channel them. I wonder if the wisdom I’ve gained will persist strongly enough in my subconsciousness to prevail.
But for now, having just arrived, still settling into this soft seedcase of flesh, I remember everything. I am wiser that my parents could ever comprehend, yet helpless to communicate a word of it to them.
My parents have placed me in your arms, excited to introduce us. They are anxious to check that that the crook of your fragile elbow is supporting my head. Your embrace is stiff and awkward, but it accommodates my weight.
He’s such an easy baby, my mother tells you.
We’re naming him after you, Dad, my father says. Who do you think he takes after?
You peer into my face, pull a doubtful expression. Well, I don’t know, you begin.
We gaze at each other, mutually intrigued, and my parents are struck by how we appear simultaneously serious and serene. They marvel at the beauty of the very old cradling the very young. We are alike, you and I. We have in common the love of my parents, and we hold a symmetry by being at the two opposing ends of life; bookends with a library of experience between us. You lift a sinewed hand and stroke the curve of my cheek.
I see how you are coming to the end of your journey. Your body has become a husk, ready to release you back to the universe. You’re starting to remember the unseen ocean of energy that surrounds us. I can sense your longing to return to it, your desire to be free again. The years went by so quickly, you think, as you almost remember eternity and understand that your brief time is no more than the blink of an eye.
But you’re still so strongly tethered to this life. The jangling currents of pain in your aged nerves serve as kite strings, constantly bringing you back to your body. The unfulfilled wishes and wants of the years weigh heavily in you. You are afraid, because you can’t yet see anything beyond. It makes you bewildered and resistant. You’re stuck.
This will be my first purpose then. To help you remember what happens next, to reassure you that you can let go as soon as you’re ready. I’m here now, and I’ll comfort my mother and father when you’re gone.
Can you hear me?
I don’t know who he takes after, you say. But I see an old soul behind those eyes.
L. Maddison the author of “Old Soul” writes on Reedy’s prompts.