[TW: themes of physical violence, gore and substance abuse.]
Stepping into a packed club from typical British weather for the first time is exactly how I imagine time-travelling to be. The mass of bodies are flames heating up a gigantic, sweaty, intoxicated furnace, and it truly feels like I’ve entered another dimension, because no place should be this hot when the rest of England suffers in such rainy, frostbitten silence.
In a way, you do time-travel when you can first legally get into a club: your body is frozen by your soul, unable to grow until it is made complete. In other words, you’re immortal from your eighteenth birthday, until you find your soulmate to grow old with. Today I took that portal. Today I turned eighteen.
Everyone reeks of alcohol. It’s a world where I see a man probably spiking a drink, and far too many drunk – drunk arguments, drunk kissing, drunk dancing. It’s impossible to tell who’s my age, who’s fifty, eighty, two hundred, hiding behind the masks that are their own faces, or who’s been reborn. Everyone’s skin bares marks of their previous lives, if any – if you have ever been touched by your soul, which can only happen through the touch of lips to skin, it is evident in a birthmark. Only as dark as the kiss was hard, usually at best people have a freckle on the back of the hand, cheek, forehead. Few are more obvious than that, though I’m of that few. A deep, almost black stain is evident at the hollow of my throat, something I long, long ago found strange, even embarrassing. Now it sits, a sentimental pendant, home in its little niche. However, something like that always draws attention. Always.
This time it’s by a man, tall, with sandy hair, full lips, brown eyes and long lashes. He’s sober, I muse as he approaches. He grins broadly at me and gestures towards the bar. “Could I buy you a drink?”
I smile. I tell him sure, although it’ll probably be some awful, strong thing for someone experienced who can stomach a bit more. He probably assumes I’m older. I think most people here are old immortals who’ve given up on the other half of their soul, and turn to drinking and dancing. People try to give up, I’ve heard, but nobody ever lives past about a century – I think three hundred and something might be the record, but that’s rare – before Fate catches them up and they find them. It’s usually at clubs, cheap ones like this. They’ll both come to waste away and wallow in their single misery, and what a coincidence, they went to the same place for the same thing at the same time.
The man comes back a moment later holding two glasses. He passes me one: it feels tepid, like it’s sat out a while, which goes to show the quality of the club. We ‘cheers’, however one sniff of mine suggests future hurling in a bathroom, so I politely pretend to sip, but I don’t let any of the liquor touch my lips. I came for one coming-of-age drink and a bit of dancing – no thanks.
After a few minutes, I realise it would be suspicious that the liquid isn’t decreasing. I excuse myself, but before I leave, he insists we exchange numbers. I give him mine hastily – you never know, we could be soulmates – and thank him for the awful toxin, though I make myself seem much more grateful than that. I slip to the bathroom, pour the lukewarm contents down the sink, consider heaving even though I drunk none, then decide against it.
I poke my head out the door to check the man’s gone. He is. Coast clear.
I buy myself one drink – strangely cool – and then give in. I get blackout drunk, dance the night away to terrible, pounding beats which result in a terrible, pounding headache and give away and receive many numbers, because cheap people at a cheap bar have cheap taste.
The next morning, my head wishes to kill me. It is an army of thunderous little drummers, ignorant to the fact I have school today. Why oh why was I Fated to have my eighteenth on a Sunday?
I suffer through lessons, and the army seems to get tired as the day goes on; the drumming gets softer. I also get tired as the day goes on, however, and History is just about to send me off to Dreamland when I see the source we’re studying.
It’s a clipping of a newspaper article from the nineteenth century. Above the article, there’s an image of a corpse. I can just about identify the corpse to be of a man, with shaggy hair tangling down to his shoulders, and his limbs are bent at odd angles, indicating a struggle before death. His throat is slit, and he’d clearly choked and bubbled up blood, because the rusty substance is a mess down his chin and of course, a mess about the wound, too. Just below the wound, though, in the hollow of his throat, is a dark stain.
Just one glance at it, and my eyes seem to bulge from my body before I’m sent into a spasm of visions. They’re all-in first-person perspective, and I’m being stabbed, then strangled, shot, drowned – the repeating motif of death, my death, but not as one person. It’s my soul, in countless different bodies, each with a complex life and past my mind can’t grasp, yet somehow, I know they’re all me. My past lives, and every one of them seems to end in murder; that’s all I can see. I’m being murdered, ten, twenty, sixty, I-don’t-even-know times over. I feel the pain and then the bliss, and then again, in another body. I’m gasp, gasp, gasping for breath.
I feel only loosely connected to my real body. I’m still feeling the ghost of knives plunging through my heart, neck, back, and strong hands squeezing and making me choke, and water closing in, everywhere, in my mouth and lungs – and oddly enough, a forceful kiss – a kiss to the hollow of my throat, just before my vision slips black, and I die, die, die, over and over and over to the sound of this strange laugh–
I’m thrown back into reality so abruptly I’m surprised I’m still sitting in my chair. My teacher is glaring at me, and I am oh-so tempted to tell her that I just died. Literally.
That was not normal. I’ve heard of people seeing their past lives in dreams – the final moments of past lives are a fairly common nightmare. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of pictures sending people into spasms of flashbacks. And I definitely don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone having so many past lives with so many deaths.
And every one of them being because of murder? Could it really be enough of a coincidence that in every lifetime I’ve had, someone wanted to end it?
“Natalia, the bell’s gone. Everyone’s left–”
I scramble up. I don’t bother to pack my bag properly, I just stuff everything in it and get out there as fast as possible.
Everything hurts. I can’t think.
Just as my head was starting to get better, too.
That evening I’m just lying in bed still in the clothes I wore to school, when I get a text. I practically spring to life, suddenly given a purpose.
It’s one of the many I gave my number to asking me out. I have no clue which one: I probably gave away some record amount last night.
I really shouldn’t. They’re asking me out to the same club we met in, and getting drunk two nights in a row when before I’d only ever had small glasses of wine or cider with a meal is really not a great idea. They didn’t say they want to get drunk, but I know that’s what’ll happen. I don’t think anyone ever leaves that club without being wasted.
I only agree because I desperately need to do something. I need to give myself something else to focus on, however I know drinking the night away isn’t the answer to that, so I intentionally leave my purse behind. I’ll just socialize, dance a bit, and come home.
The mystery number meets me outside the club, and we take the portal together. I manage to deduce, through the distorted memories thick as syrup yet that seem to slip out my brain like trying to catch water, that he is the man I first talked to, the one who got me the awful, room-temperature – which happens to be uncommonly warm in the club – drink. It’s about half as crammed as yesterday, being a Monday, but it’s still stifling hot, the dancers just working twice as hard to produce the flames for the giant furnace.
The man doesn’t introduce himself: I assume he did that yesterday, and I just didn’t pay attention. I don’t bother asking – I don’t wish for this to be a two-time thing. Tomorrow, he’ll be dead to me.
He makes an unexpected beeline for a corner off the side, where there is a door, swathed in shadows. He turns to me, and whispers, “You didn’t seem to enjoy the crowds yesterday when I met you, so I thought you might prefer a quieter, more secluded space.”
He pushes the door open to reveal a dusky storage cupboard, stacked high with cheap alcohol in unbranded boxes. He slips in, his side flashing as he flicks the light switch on. I follow, reluctantly allowing the door to fall shut behind me.
“Why so hesitant? Don’t worry, I just hate the pounding stuff as much as you do.” He laughs, only teasingly, but that is when I realize I have made a grave mistake.
If I hadn’t realized then, I wouldn’t have been able to tackle him, pinning his hands to the floor, before he got a chance to reach to kill me. He’s snarling, his façade dropped – almost completely, like I can just about see the age behind the youthful eyes. The age he won by killing me in every single life.
“Oh, what a shocker,” I drool, ignoring the shock eating at my heart. It seems to turn something feral inside of me. “You tried to kill me.”
The man made a violent struggle, but I snap in his face, a rabid dog, slamming his hands down so I hear some of the little bones shatter. I let go of one wrist with one hand and quickly dart and pull the knife from his pocket, the silver flash I saw when the lights turned on. He reaches towards me for a second, but I shove the blade under his chin.
He looks me in the eye, and I know he’s the one who murdered me in every life, murdered me before our souls could connect and he’d start growing again, so he could be forever immortal. The one who, after every time, pressed his lips and added to the mark on my throat.
Like a branding. So he could find me in the next life.
“You’re my soulmate.”
“I am. You must let me go. I must get to know you, and come to love you.”
“Maybe,” I spit in his face, “in another life. If I let you go, you’ll just kill me. Not once, but when I’m reborn again, and again, and again. You tried to kill me just yesterday, with that drink, didn’t you? That’s why it was warm: you spiked it, and were waiting to give it to me, but by luck – Fate, even – I didn’t drink it, because it smelled foul. Who can say I’ll ever be born with the brains to kill you first?”
I properly look at him, my soulmate. I can tell it shocks him for me to figure him out so quickly, and at all; I can feel my own soul yearning to be with its other half, and can feel my grip slackening on the knife as the true nature takes hold, being so close to him. I partly want to cuddle up to him, and let them knit themselves together, like Fated to. But I also know he’s practiced the resistance to this over centuries, enough resistance where he truly would kill me if I let him go.
I’ve always wanted to meet my soulmate. I’ve never considered killing them so I could live on for infinity. Yet maybe in another life, I’ll find him, and he’ll be better.
“Oh wait,” I breathe, “I have.”
Everything’s dizzying around me. I want to throw up again. Instead, I take a guess at where the human heart would be, and push blindly, driving the knife into soft flesh.
I hit home. I have only seconds as he dies. I don’t know if it’ll work, and I don’t really know why I decide to do it.
I lean down, inhaling sweet blood, and press my lips firmly to the hollow of his throat.