Down the Line
Waking up dead was an interesting experience.
He’d lived a full life full of adulation and praise, but death has a way of exposing lies. Five times he’d slept, woken up, and was shunned for his crime. It was a cold feeling, being ostracized in death, but it was the least he deserved.
January, 9th 2094
Tamara could still remember her surprise when she’d begun hearing voices in her head while at kindergarten one day. At first, the five-year-old thought it was her classmates talking to her, but they just said no when she’d asked.
The voices made it hard to focus on the already boring lesson (Tamara vaguely remembered it being something about a famous scientific explorer and all the equally boring things he did). The child put the eerie experience out of her mind for the rest of the day. The voices never returned for the rest of class, so maybe it was just an odd, one-off occurrence.
As Tamara would discover, it was not an odd, one-off occurrence.
As far as the teenager could tell, there were six of them. Six Echoes - people - that she had to share her headspace with, and it was...kind of cool? She’d heard stories of Echoes giving people super agility, making them smarter or more attractive, but she didn’t get anything like that.
Not that her echoes were terrible, though. She found that she could conversate quite easily with her past selves. They often had awesome stories and great advice to give. One of her Echoes, named Maria, even helped her with her English exams. Yeah, past incarnations may not make you smarter, but they can help you study.
Her Echoes were also masters at helping her sleep whenever she got too anxious before bed. Asim and Molly could spin the most extraordinary tales and lullabies. She could have genuinely used that when she awoke from those awful dreams, she'd been having lately.
Succinctly put, it was incredibly distressing to the now 14-year-old Tamara that her Echoes were being pretty standoffish as of late.
“Well,” muttered Tamara. “I’m sick of it. I wanna know what’s going on. They can’t keep secrets from me in my own freaking body.” She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, exhaled, and was transported from her upset musings.
“We can’t hide it forever! She should know - she deserves to know!” a strong voice proclaimed. “Are you insane? She’s a child! There’s no need to burden her with that!” another rich, husky voice sneered back.
“Oh, come off it. She’s not as young as you were.” A woman’s grizzled voice uttered to the previous speaker. “Not as young? Not as young?! I was eight!” screamed the husky-voiced speaker.
“Zhan, I - look, we’re sorry. We didn’t -” another voice, softer and male, started before being interrupted by the grizzled woman, “Sorry? Why are you apologizing? Zhan - all reincarnates need to know this.”
“Molly! Stop.” The strong-voiced woman scolded. “Stop what?! Zhan was having the visions! What else was I supposed to do?!”
“Stop! Just stop.” All the arguing speakers turned to face the dark cocoa-skinned young girl, and Tamara was confronted with many faces. Some were ashamed, others looked consternated, but all of them looked upset to see her.
“Oh. Oh! Tam, sweetheart. What’s going on? Did you need anything?” The speaker, the woman with the firm, powerful voice, floated over to the girl. Her ephemeral mocha-colored hands gently grasped the teenager’s face.
The touch was soothing, but Tamara was a young woman on a mission, and Maria’s mom-vibe wasn’t going to distract her. She just as gently removed the hands and said, “What I need, Maria, is for you guys to quit ignoring me. You’ve all been ghosting me for weeks, and I don’t like it!”
Another male voice chucked. This one was clear and deep and had the laugh to match. “I don’t believe we’ve ever had a reincarnate come to us about the matter before,” the crisp voice says, speaking to his fellow Echoes. He then turns to Tamara and smiles, “I suppose you aren’t as much of a child as we’d all like to think you are.”
Tamara frowns. “We share the same body - kind of - is my age really that relevant to why ever I’m being ignored?”
Asim sighed, “I apologize, but it kind of is. Regardless, I hadn’t meant to patronize you. I’m laughing at us, your idiot Echoes. I agree with you and Maria, honestly. I think you should know what’s going on.”
Zhan muttered, “You’re not going to leave until we talk about this, are you?” The girl retorts, “Nope.”
The soft-voiced male’s pale hand smacked his forehead, and he groaned. “Alright. Give me a minute; I’ll go get him.” The young man winked out of existence to find the mystery person.
A Reincarnate’s mind is a lot more visual and constructed than someone who doesn’t have Echoes. It’s not certain, but there are implications that a Reincarnate’s Echoes contribute to a more structured imagination by virtue of multiple people over many years working together to create a space for them (the Echoes) to reside.
Or at least that’s the somewhat scientific explanation for it. The more spiritual slant is that Reincarnates have “bigger souls" and thus can create better than other people. Whatever the case, Tamara’s imagination outdid itself with her Echoes’ lair. High arching ceilings and entryways, elaborately carved doors, expansive gardens, Olympic pools, cozy apartments are all seemingly tangible and real.
The other four Echoes - souls - and the teen were sitting in a lovely great room with soothing blue walls and nursing the most excellent cups of coffee each of them had ever had. That’s the fantastic thing about being an Echo or Reincarnate. You have the power to make everything wonderful.
The young man that popped away came back with someone else, an Echo that she wasn’t all too familiar with. This morose, grungy-looking man stood behind the pale-skinned one while nervously scratching at his neck. This guy was also pale but looked washed out and grey, unlike his companion, whose skin glowed.
“Joshua, why am I here? You know I don’t like being among the others.” Tamara saw Molly’s hazel eyes roll, and Zhan turned her head away. The younger man, Joshua, cringed and spoke, “ You have something to tell Tam. She sees the, uh, visions.”
Tamara gasped, and her shoulders hunched, “Visions? You mean the dreams? How come none of you said anything before?!” All the Echoes looked away. It was Maria that answered. “That’s kind of what Asim was talking about earlier. You’ve had the visions quite a bit later than the rest of us, and, well, you know what they contain.”
Asim picked up where the eldest woman left off. “You’re older than typical for that kind of thing but still young. Even so, we couldn’t agree on whether or not to tell you. Hence the -” Molly finished the statement, “Ignoring you. Sorry, kiddo.”
Tamara shuddered. Yes, she was familiar with the dreams, or visions, as her Echoes put it. They were frightful—images of pain, panicked and terrified screams, a dark, humid jungle, and regret. They say dreams and visions, but really, they were more like impressions, vague hints toward a dark narrative. At that moment, Joe cleared his throat.
“Ah, Tamara (how strange it was for the young girl to be addressed by an Echo she didn’t know). I’m not sure how much you know about the science of reincarnation, but we all share memories. I can see all of yours, Zhan can see all of Joshua’s, and...you all can see all of mine. This sharing of memories typically happens around 10 to 12 years of age; however, it seems you were a late bloomer.” Joe tugged at his stringy hair and breathed out a shuddering sigh.
A flash of light dazzled the teen as she felt Zhan’s cool hand envelop hers and Molly’s firm hand on her shoulder. Maria, Asim, and Joshua stood closer in solidarity.
Unexplored Forest Region Expedition Base: March, 5th 1755
Dr. Joseph Murphy supposed all the bizarre happenings in their world started with the whole reincarnation business about five years ago. He didn’t believe it, but there were mutterings across the globe about it. Joseph had even heard such inanity like the Earth itself was reborn and angry with humanity or that the world becomes twisted with each new life or that Earth’s timeline is corrupted with each revival. How nonsensical, people had dragged the planet itself into the idiocy.
His crew, renowned people of science, were even entertaining the insanity. Joe had to admit that the topic was somewhat interesting, but they had work to do, and imaginary concepts wouldn’t help them get it done.
Joe cleared his throat to get his team to dispense with the hubbub, and they both laughed in response. “Alright, Joe,” a young dark-skinned woman with pecan-colored shoulder-length curls said, “ We know, you’re not all that into the “lesser sciences,” but come on. Even you have to admit it’s great conversation.”
The older scientific explorer rolled his eyes. Lesser science? Hardly. Not even the rich tones of Dina’s husky voice could make reincarnation of all things a form of science, much less a conversation about it interesting enough to carry on while they were embarking on the discovery of the century.
A chuckle belted out from amid the ruffling and rubbing fabric of their protective gear. “Now, now, Dina. You know how the boss feels about the reincarnation business.” spoke another booming voice.
Timothy, the younger man who’d just spoken, was suiting up with the rest of his two companions to explore the primarily unexplored forest. They’d gotten panicked reports that the air was...hazardous to breathe and that there were strange creatures and diseases that they could run afoul of. It was prudent to have protective suits and oxygen tanks.
Joe couldn’t help but think about how the other teams before had been woefully unprepared to tackle the wet, humid sea of trees. They’d gone in with the expectation that there’d be a treacherous hike, perhaps dangerous flora and fauna as well as inclement weather, but nothing like an illness that causes festering pustules and hair loss or an insect whose bite causes delirium.
After three tries of unsuccessfully coming back with viable samples to test, Joe had convinced the Scientific Explorers Guild to send in the big guns - namely him. And thus, Joseph Murphy, Dina Jones, and Timothy Radcliffe were called to canvas the forest and collect flora, soil, and other samples to study for experimentation.
Joe put on his helmet and asked, “All ready, team?” Timothy and Dina confirmed that they were suited up with a simultaneous “Yes sir, ready when you are.” The three explorers gathered their gear and traveled out into the unknown.
Tamara would have found the whole “memory walker” thing incredible if it weren’t apparently something awful. She could feel the muggy air and the foul-smelling mist stinging against her dark skin. Her frizzy, black curls looked positively electrified in the humidity. The young girl could also feel the apprehension and plain terror, each of her Echoes, felt while they stood within the memory.
The bizarrely colored rain forest was awash with noise, some recognizable and others not. The dark, black-hued canopy was still in the sticky air as the Reincarnate and Echoes watched the team dutifully gather soil and plant samples. Zhan’s hand tightened around Tamara’s as the memory suddenly shifted.
Dina stumbled backward from the plant she’d been harvesting and turned at breakneck speed to see a tree limb smash through the face of Timothy’s helmet. “Oh, God! Tim!” Dina scrambled across the grey soil to try to reach her partner. The woman was halfway off the ground when she was yanked back brutally.
Dina’s chocolatey skin took on a greyish pallor upon seeing a tree limb wrapped around her leg. Her eyes snapped shut as she was whipped through the air and flung about until she felt something else grab one of her wrists. The scientist cringed until she heard someone frantically shout her name, and her eyes opened to see her other partner, Joe, pulling at her in a bid to free her ankle.
“Joe -” Asim began but was cut off by the grey man. “I know, Asim. I didn’t intend to show the Little Miss everything.” He looked over to Molly who’s eyes narrowed. She’d begun to bite into her lip so hard it bled. “We don’t need another child burdened with knowledge she didn’t need.”
Maria scowled at the former scientist. She placed a comforting hand on Molly’s arm, and Joshua turned a reproachful stare toward Joe. Joshua starts to say, “Really? I don’t think you get to -”
“Enough.” Zhan interceded the inevitable argument before it could even begin. She’d now had the wide-eyed Tamara enveloped into a hug from behind. The young woman was shaking but stood as solidly behind her even younger reincarnation. Asim shook his head. “I’m sorry, Tamara, Zhan.” The others followed suit. They all turned back to the memory, which shifted forward again.
Dr. Joseph Murphy had never been so absolutely terrified in his entire life. Timothy had managed to get away from the branch trying to ravage his face - albeit with quite a bit of heavy damage - and cut Dina free with an ax from his exploration equipment.
The three of them ran from the looming, twisted branches as quickly as their bulky protective suits would allow. Dina was practically dragging Timothy along. Joe wasn’t sure if it was the glass of his helmet or the branch that ruined his right eye.
“Joe, look out!” The senior scientist narrowly avoided a branch that swung at his head. He could hear the swoosh of the large limb passing him by and the loud thwack as it collided with another furiously swaying branch behind him. The three’s loud panting and huffing were the only other noise in the rainforest aside from the angry din of attacking trees.
Right up ahead was the exploration base; Joe made it through the door first, then Dina. Timothy attempted to stumble in through the entry before the door slid back down and batted him backward into the waiting arms of deadly foliage. Dina looked aghast at her senior partner as his hand frantically pressed the lock button to the base door.
“JOE?! What are you -” “He’s done for Dina! We can’t help him - he’s already breathed it in! The mist, I should have listened! Damn, I should have listened!”
“What! Joe?! Move, let him in! He’ll die!” The woman screamed at the hysterical man. Dina made a move toward Joe to open the door. She could hear Tim’s horrified screams through the locked entry - “Pleeease! Don’t leave me out here!” - but Joe shook his head and continued to ramble.
“I should have never taken on this job! I’d seen the bodies, and the footage never showed anything about the damned trees. It was the mist!” The head scientist turned back to his remaining partner, “Stay back, Dina. Timothy is dead.”
Dina stared at Joe incredulously. “...you can’t leave him out there, please.” she tried again. The junior explorer held up her hands to portray harmlessness, but Joe realized the young woman didn’t understand. How could she? He and his fellow senior scientists hid the true nature of this rainforest from everyone else.
Timothy was still banging on the door. The two inside could see that the branches stilled in the air as though waiting for something. Timothy’s face had begun to swell as large boils had broken out across his sallow skin. He sobbed out, “Monster. You Monster! You can’t do this, pleeeeassss ...” His words gargled, and Dina launched herself at Joe. The panicked doctor shoved her against the door and opened it -
The memory cuts out, and the scene fades into bright light.
Tamara jumped in Zhan’s arms and blinked. They were back in the great room sitting down, and her Echoes were looking worriedly at her. Even Joe looked concerned, the young girl noted. Tamara’s curls bounced as she abruptly stood. “I need some time, guys.” and she winked out of existence.
Molly looked like she was going to throw up, and Joshua had tears in his eyes. Asim, Maria, and Zhan turned to Joe and stared. The greyscale Echo sighed, “I’ll take my leave now.” and he too winked out of the great room.
A few days later, Joe found himself talking with Tamara, who’d, curiously, started their conversation with, ‘Why are you a jerk to Molly?’ Joseph decided to be honest and said, “ She’d told Zhan so early. I realize that’s unfair; Zhan was an early bloomer, and Molly was attempting to help, but…” the man trailed off. Tamara nodded to herself.
“You didn’t let me see what happened to Tim and Dina either.” Joseph shook his head. “That wasn’t just for you. Joshua gets particularly upset at that part. He’s a sensitive young man, and” here was something the doctor would likely never tell anyone else, “He reminds me of my son, oddly enough. I dislike upsetting him.”
Tamara seemed to sense that was something that Joe never admitted before; he felt her surprise and said, ”You came looking for answers, and I don’t want to keep secrets from you. I’ve passed my sin down the line - the least I can do is be honest with one of you.” The young woman nodded again.
“Joseph. I disagree about Molly - I think you know why, but that’s between her and Zhan. Anyway, you wanna have coffee with Josh and me?” Joe’s eyes glistened, and he gave an emphatic, “Yes.”
The two winked to the great room where Josh was waiting. Tamara smiled. Coffee was as good a place as any to start.