Authors: Bill Hiatt
Echoes from My Past Lives
(a prequel to
Living with Your Past Selves
All text is copyrighted by William A. Hiatt, 2013. All rights are reserved.
The cover photographs are copyrighted by Pavel L Photo and Video (boy) and by plampy (Stonehenge), and are licensed from Shutterstock.com
The cover font is “Ghostly Magic,” licensed from Digital Juice
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
1: On the Fast Track to the Asylum
I could feel the sword as it cut into my stomach. I could feel the blood trickling down from the wound. I could almost hear the drops hitting the ground.
Yeah, and yesterday I could feel the bullet just before it tore through my brain.
None of it was real, any more than any of the other images of my own death I had been experiencing for the past several days were real.
The hospital room was real, though. Oh yeah, definitely. Even with my eyes closed, I knew it. I could smell disinfectant. I could hear monitors beeping away. I could feel their connections on my arms and chest, as well as being able to feel the little oxygen tube in each nostril. I could also feel the roughness of the sheets, so different from the ones at home. Don’t get me wrong—I would have loved it if the hospital weren’t real, but denial only gets you so far.
I opened my eyes cautiously. Before they were even completely focused, I spotted a mass of black, curly hair and knew that I was not alone. My buddy Stan was looking at me with his most anxious expression. Damn! I had probably screamed again, or something. It was bad enough that I felt as if I was going to get shipped off to some lunatic asylum at any moment. I didn’t want Stan thinking I was crazy too. I didn’t want him to give up on me.
“Tal,” he said cautiously, his even-higher-than-normal voice undercutting his effort not to sound worried, “you okay?”
I tried to smile, but my face seemed to have forgotten how. “Yeah, I’m okay,” I whispered. I didn’t seem to be able to manage much more than a whisper or a croak these days.
“That’s good,” Stan replied, his voice suggesting that he really didn’t believe me. “Can I get you anything?”
Yeah, how about getting me the hell out of here. How about taking me back in time to before all this happened.
“No, I’m good. Actually, I’d like it if you went home. You don’t need to waste your whole day here. It’s Sunday. You’ve been here every evening and all day on weekends, except when you went to Temple on Saturday.”
I liked Stan too much to want him to have to spend all his time with me, but to be honest, part of me would have started yelling, “NO!” if he had moved a muscle to leave. I know it’s weird, but sometimes I had the feeling that if Stan left for too long, somehow I’d be gone when he got back. Not dead, maybe. Just gone.
No danger of Stan leaving, though. Since my “accident,” or whatever the hell it was, he had been here as long as hospital staff and that overprotective mother of his would let him. He looked at me with his sad brown eyes as if I had suggested that he should jump out the window. “I want to stay, Tal. I really do. I’ll go home pretty soon.”
I leaned back again and closed my eyes. “Suit yourself, dude. I’m afraid I’m not going to be very entertaining company, though.”
“You never are. Somehow I survive anyway.” I opened one eye at that. Stan trying to joke was a good sign. I couldn’t remember his joking any other time since I had been in the hospital.
“Yeah, I’m sure that your busy social life is always way more exciting than hanging out with me.” I realized right after I said that that it was really a low blow, though I didn’t mean it that way. Actually, Stan didn’t have too many friends aside from me. Despite that, he smiled, probably because I was being sarcastic, kind of like the way I used to be. You know, before.
Before my brain exploded or something in the middle of a soccer game, right in front of everybody: the team, Stan, my parents, miscellaneous spectators…and Eva.
Yeah, Eva. If you are going to start acting crazy in front of a large audience, screaming for something to stop, something no one else could see or hear, rolling around on the ground as if you were having some kind of convulsion, then naturally your girlfriend should be there to see the whole thing. Now I know some of you are going to snicker about the idea of a twelve-year-old having a serious relationship, but to me it was serious.
I heard Eva had come to see me a few times, but I was always asleep or sedated—as in my screaming was getting on the staff’s nerves, so someone decided to dope me up. No, I know that isn’t really what the staff was doing, but sometimes that is the way it felt, particularly when I missed a visit from Eva. On the other hand, who was I kidding? Did I really want Eva to see me having another screaming fit? Probably not. But I did want to see her. Once, hauntingly, I smelled her jasmine perfume when I woke up, and once I found a strand of hair—I’d swear it was her strawberry blonde—lying on the pillow right next to me as if she had been leaning over me, perhaps bending over to give me a kiss. Yeah, I know, probably wishful thinking, but in this nightmare my life had become, it was about the most pleasant thought I had.
Certainly it was a more pleasant thought than wondering why Dan hadn’t visited me at all. If I had one friend as close as Stan, it was Dan. All three of us had grown up together, so I really couldn’t remember a time when they weren’t both in my life. Unfortunately, they had never been in each other’s lives much—Dan was an athlete and Stan was, well, a mathlete, but when the three of us were together, they at least tolerated each other. Clearly, we would never be the three musketeers, but at least I could count both of them as good friends to me. Well, that’s what I thought until I landed in the hospital. Stan stuck with me, and Dan vanished as if he had been a dream—I woke up, and he was gone.
I was just about to get Dan and Eva out of my mind and concentrate on Stan, but then I had another “episode,” as one of of the doctors referred to them. You gotta love medical jargon. It can make everything sound so clinical, so neat and tidy—quite a trick when someone is talking about my head getting sandblasted from the inside. No, that image didn’t quite do the experience justice. Think about the famous “chest-buster” scene in
, except that instead of an alien bursting out of my chest, I had one ripping its way through my brain and blasting my skull apart.
No, that doesn’t really capture the experience either. It wasn’t quite that painful, though I could feel all of the experiences I was imagining, and since most of them seemed to involve my death, some of them did inflict pretty heavy pain, but that wasn’t the worst part. Far worse was the feeling that my mind was being torn into tiny pieces by some…well, at the risk of repeating myself, some alien presence. Yeah, the feeling of my brain being invaded by someone or something that did not belong there was definitely the worst part. Ever come home and find that your house had been robbed? Multiply that feeling by a thousand, and you have some small idea of how what was happening to me felt.
This time I was being strangled. I could feel someone’s cold, callused hands on my throat. Someone had sneaked up on me. I grabbed at his hands, but he was much stronger than I was.
In earlier experiences I had been too shocked to really focus on the details, but I had promised myself that next time I would try to figure out what was going on. In this case, I had to figure it out quickly. I could feel myself struggling to breathe, feel the hands tightening.
I tried to take in as much detail as I could. Oh, did I mention that these feelings came complete with full visual hallucinations? Anyway, the room I was in was one I had never seen before. Someone rich lived here, though. The furniture was very fancy, antiques mostly. The room was large, very large, like one in a mansion, and the place looked spotless, as if the owner had a large staff to maintain it. Glancing down, I saw my hands still clawing at the killer’s hands. Well, not my hands, but rather those of a much older man. Could I somehow be seeing my death some time in the future? By this point “I,” or the person under attack, whoever that might be, was on the verge of passing out, so I wouldn’t be able to get any more information this time.
The “episode” ended as soon as it had begun. For some reason I never quite died in them, so I guess I should count my blessings, but the jolt of returning to reality wasn’t exactly easy to take.
I could hear Stan calling my name insistently. I opened my eyes, and he was reaching for the nurse call button.
“Stan! Don’t call anyone!” I rasped harshly. Stan froze, torn between his desire to do what I wanted and his feeling that I needed help.
“Tal, you were…shaking, and gasping for breath. I was afraid…”
“No, I’m fine,” I said, managing a little more than my usual whisper, much to my surprise.
I nodded my head in the direction of the monitors. “See, my oxygen saturation’s normal, my pulse is normal, and my heart rate is normal.” No twelve-year-old should know how to read those monitors, but I did. Lucky me.
“They weren’t a minute ago. I’m surprised the nurse didn’t come in on her own. The heart rate one in particular was all over the place.”
“Chalk it up to old equipment. I’m sure the nurses know that some of the rapid changes don’t really mean anything.”
Stan looked skeptical, especially since the hospital was well-funded and didn’t have old equipment, but somehow my manner reassured him. I could see him visibly relax back into his chair.
I was evidently getting better at covering up just how much pain I was in during these experiences. I guess practice makes perfect.
“Taliesin! Let me in!”
Despite myself, I jumped a little, and Stan was instantly back on high alert. I swear he reacted faster to this kind of thing than even my own mother did.
I tried to wave him back into his chair, but the voice kept yelling for me to let him—or it—in. Oh, good. Full-blown hallucinations of painful death were not the only treat in store for me. No, I got to have plain, old-fashioned voices in my head too. There was clearly no end to my luck.
Shut the hell up!
I shouted back to the voice in my head. To my surprise, it did—but who knew how long that would last?
“You’re shaking again,” said Stan in a “please let me call the nurse,” voice.
“I’m fine,” I insisted in as firm a voice as I could manage, but my tone wasn’t convincing, even to me. Then the voice in my head started in again, even louder this time.
“Tal, you’re crying now,” said Stan, obviously shocked. Great. Now all I needed to do to really trash what was left of my male ego was wet myself. Then I could truly call it a day.
“I am not…” I began, though at this point I knew Stan would call the nurse regardless of what I said. However, before I could finish the sentence, the world around me disappeared as abruptly as changing a TV channel. Gone was the institutional white of the hospital room, the hum of the monitors, Stan’s alarmed face.
Instead, I found myself sitting in a bright green meadow next to a large lake that, judging by the darkness of its water, must have been nearly as deep as it was wide. Farther away, the meadow was bordered on every side by what appeared to be dense forest. Farther away still were tall mountains, most of them snow-capped. Well, at least this was a more pleasant hallucination than my usual ones—or would have been, but for one thing.
I was not alone.
Part 2: Me, Myself, and I
The stranger, who I immediately assumed must be the visual equivalent of the voice in my head, was dressed in a long green tunic that reminded me of pictures I had seen in King Arthur books. He was older than I, but not old—I guessed twenty-five. His hair was quite a bit lighter than my dark brown, but not quite blond. He had a well-trimmed beard and the most piercing blue eyes I had ever seen, but his face, though unsmiling, was not unfriendly. At least he wasn’t immediately trying to kill me, which was a definite plus. I noticed he did have a sword of some kind, but it was safely tucked away in…well, I can’t remember what they call those leather things you put swords in, but anyway the thing was hanging on his left side, and his right hand was nowhere near it, so I figured I was safe, at least for the moment. Actually, he was carrying some kind of stringed instrument that somehow made me feel safer. I was a musician myself—well, not much of one, really, but the idea that he might be a musician somehow calmed me a little bit. I supposed he could bash me over the head with the instrument, but it seemed an unlikely weapon, especially for someone who was visibly carrying a sword.