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Mr. Moore holds a very skewed view of reincarnation…





C. Dennis Moore



July 14th is always the day I die.  Today I'd see if my precautions worked.

       I parked on a ridge overlooking the desert, turned off the engine and stepped out.  Going around to the back of the Blazer, I felt something skitter over my boots.  The air tasted stale and heavy.  The temperature was teasing toward an even hundred, but wouldn't commit to the three-digit mark.  But the humidity. . . .  It was like breathing mashed potatoes.

       I opened the back window and the tailgate and climbed in.  Settling the back-seat into the forward position, I cleared a spot to lay down, my head leaning an inch or two off the back of the tailgate.  The stars were amazing.  The moon dwindled to a slit of white in a black sky.  I lay there for half an hour, thinking I should go to sleep and let this night be over as soon as possible.  I had to know if there would be a tomorrow or not.

       A churning stomach put that idea to rest.

       Soon I had the portable grill set up with a slab of meat on it.  In my hurry to get out of the city and away from the water, I didn't pay much attention to what I'd grabbed.  While it cooked, I opened the Blazer's doors and turned up the radio.  It was Eric Clapton weekend on the radio and by the time they'd played two from Cream, two from Derek and the Dominoes, and two more from the man himself, I'd cooked and eaten my food.

       Afterward, I leaned against a rock, staring up, After Midnight in the background, when a voice said, "You got a light?"

       I jumped and looked up, feeling, for some reason, like I'd just been caught trying to decide what to wear from my mother's underwear drawer.  The little man who came around from the front of the Blazer held a cigarette forward, in case I might not know what he meant.  When my heart resumed a slower pace and I was able to breathe again, I said, "Uh, yeah."  I climbed into the Blazer and pushed the lighter.

       "We come up here for the weekend," the little man said, "the wife forgot to grab matches.  Said she meant to pick up a lighter so we wouldn't have to leave any match sticks behind.  She thinks people in satellites watch everything we do and would see her if she littered."

       I muttered, "Hmm," and the lighter popped out.  I handed it to him and noticed his hand shook.  He must have been needing this cigarette for a while.

       "Thank you," he said on the exhale.  He handed the lighter back and said, "We smelled your food.  We're just a couple-fifty yards over that way.  My wife said you were probably following us, trying to catch us eating tuna, or something like that."

       I went back to my rock and sat against it, looking out over the desert, wondering when I would be able to wake up and see whether I was still alive or not.

       The man came to the edge of the ridge and asked, "Do you mind if I smoke this here?  I'd just as soon not go back until I have to.  Besides, my bunions could use a rest.  Fifty yards used to not be anything at all."

       "Sure," I said.  He sat down, drew deep on the cigarette.  "You guys here on , what?"

       "Retirement," he said proudly.  "Forty years teaching little bastards how to multiply.  Now the only person I have to deal with is her."  He said the word like he was saying Satan instead.

       "Well," I said, "pull up a rock and see the stars."

       "Don't mind if I do."

       He talked and smoked three cigarettes while I let the radio keep me company; I wasn't interested in his story, but I figured he could talk if he wanted to.  I don't know how much time went by before I realized he was quiet.  I didn't want him to know I hadn't been listening, so  I pretended the radio had drowned out the last part.  "What'd you say?"

       "I asked what you're doing out here, on a Sunday, by yourself?"

       I tried to think of a lie, then decided if tonight was my last night, for good, I might as well tell him.  I readied myself for the look I knew would cross his face, then said, "Everyone has that crap about, 'If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.'  That's bullshit.  If everyone was given the chance, just once, to start life over again, they'd change everything about it.

       "A long time ago, I was at this lake in Missouri.  I didn't know how to swim, but I was trying, and anyway, I was twenty-three and there were women galore.  I drowned.  I woke up from the black to find my body wouldn't work right.  At first, I thought I was waking up from a coma, and was paralyzed or something.  Finally, my eyes focused and I looked around.

       "I'd been reincarnated, but I'd come back as myself one week old.  Worse, I still had all my memories from the last time.

       "I lived my life a second time, doing things I should have done the first time.  But when I was twenty-three, I went swimming, this time keeping my bravado in check.  I ended up drowning anyway.  Again, I woke up from the water as a week-old me.  This time I lived more carefully, taking things from my first life with things from the second, trying to round everything out, maybe that was what I needed to move on to whatever afterlife there is.  But, at twenty-three, I drowned and was reborn, again, as myself.

       "This time I said fuck it and did whatever I wanted, fucking all the people I'd wanted for three lifetimes, never driving under 50, and picking my nose whenever I felt like it.  I died again, and woke up from drowning, one week old.  And I still had every memory, from four lives."

       I stopped to take off my boots.  I flexed my toes and, waited for him to laugh or walk away.  He got up and I heard him push the lighter in.  I waited.  It popped out, he lit another cigarette and walked back to the edge of the ridge.  He sat down and put his arms on his knees, smoke drifting up from between them.

       "Y'know, my wife believes in all that reincarnation stuff, too," he said.  "Thinks she was Rasputin in a past life.  Maybe that's why she always thinks people are out to get her.  I don't know."  He smoked his cigarette.

       "I'm not talking about reincarnation, so much," I said.  "It's not that.  I come back as myself, all my memories and everything.  I wake up in my crib.  It takes a while for my body to work right, but I usually get it walking and talking by the time I'm a year-and-a-half.

       "I've tried changing my life completely, I've tried living it exactly the same, I've tried to do both in one life.  I once spent a year telling everyone who would listen that I'd lived three incarnations as the same person.  At least now I always get my license on the first try.  And I always know my birthday and Christmas presents ahead of time.

       "I've read whatever I can find on karma and reincarnation, all that crap that used to be crap until the real shit started happening to me.  I've thought maybe there's some big event I'm supposed to take part in before I can go on.  I've thought maybe there was something in my first life I didn't finish or didn't start that I was supposed to do before I moved on.  But no matter what I try, I just keep waking up in the crib and living this crap all over again.  And I'm telling you, my parents didn't make it all that enjoyable the first time.  Try five times."

       "Well," he said, "I've never believed my wife about that crap, but I think she's pretty loony anyway.  I don't necessarily believe you, either.  But," he puffed, waited, blew smoke, "if that's the story you want to tell. . . ."

       "I wish I had another one," I said, "but this is the way it is.  Every life, I die on July 14th.  Every life, it's on a Sunday.  And every life, I'm twenty-three.  Today fits that pattern, so I guess today's the day."  A plane's blinking lights passed overhead.

       "So, if, to you, this is the way it always happens, why are you here?  If you're supposed to drown, shouldn't you be at a lake in Missouri?"

       "No," I said, "not this time.  I moved here right after high school, purposely for the lack of water.  I finally thought maybe if I just didn't go near the water, I could break the cycle."

       "You think fate works like that?"

       "I hope so."

       "Why didn't you just learn to swim?"  I could here derision in his voice.  Then again, I asked for it by telling him any of this.

       "I did learn to swim my second life, hoping I wouldn't drown.  That didn't work.  I still drowned, but that time it was because my foot got stuck in the mud.  The next time, I kept my feet away from the mud, but ended up swimming out too far and got too tired to make it back.  You'd think maybe I'd have realized before to just stay away from the water."

       "What makes you so sure that would work?"  He'd crushed out what would be his last cigarette of the night and now stood at the edge, looking down into the bowl of the desert below us.  I wondered if his wife would show up, wondering where he'd been all this time.  I gave his question a couple second's thought, then answered.

       "I'm not.  I've thought a lot about fate.  If Kennedy hadn't gone to Dallas, would he have been killed someplace else?  If Jimi Hendrix had stayed clean, would he have died some other way around the same time?  Is there anything I can do to prevent drowning and rebirth?  I've also wondered if there are others going through this, too.  Or am I the only one?  Why?  Believe me, I've had lifetimes, literally, to wonder these things and I still haven't come up with anything.  And, since no one seems to be coming forth with any answers, I guess wondering is my only course."

       He left soon after, not bothering to thank me again for the light.  I heard his boots crunch away in the gravel and sand, his old man's shuffle dwindling with distance.  I knew he'd probably tell his wife all about the man who gave him a light and was even crazier than she was.  Fuck him.  I've seen a million people like him.  And that's from one life.

       The desert night closed in.  I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and leaned against the rocks, still staring out over the desert, starlight all around, the air clean and chilly.  I saw the word Fate spelled in the stars and wondered if, by being here, was I winning?  Could you win against Fate?  Was there any such thing as the future, or did we make up time as we went?  Were Destiny and Karma myths created by Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster?  Going from one life to the next, I'd never seen any tunnel of light, no all-powerful being of love urging me to join the party.  It's death, then waking up in the next life, as the next me.  So what if there isn't anything past that?

       No, I had to believe that I'd get out of this.  I'd learn what it was I was supposed to do to go forward and do it.  Tonight, I just wanted to see if I could beat the scheduled July 14th drowning.

       Suddenly, I realized there was one more thing I had to do to make my precautions thorough.  I made sure the Blazer's emergency brake was on, and the Blazer in Park.  I got the flashlight and walked around my small camp.  The desert is dry, but every now and again, a small spring appears.  I searched, but didn't find any.  I headed back for the Blazer to, probably, lay awake all night wondering when I'd die.

       First, I'd put the grill in the Blazer, in case the old man decided he deserved it after having to listen to my crap.  I reached for it and jerked backward.  Something skittered out from under it.  Something else scrambled over my feet, tickling my socks against my flesh.  I danced back a little and tripped over some rocks.

       The edge of the ridge was dark and the only way I knew I'd fallen into it was from the gravel scraping my arms and the speed and brutality of my tumbling downward.

       I only felt a few specific wounds on the way down.  A rock jammed into my neck.  My body weight trapped and twisted my wrist.  An outcropping knocked the wind out of me.

       At the bottom, I realized the outcropping had done more than that.  I'd never felt a cracked rib, but I knew that had to be the thing keeping me from breathing too deeply.  My wrist felt broken.  Then I started coughing.

       Not a tickle in the back of my throat cough, but like I'd swallowed my coffee down the wrong pipe.  Then I felt something in my mouth and spat.  Warmth covered my chin.  I tried to wipe it away, but could hardly move and any move I was allowed wasn't going to be wasted on wiping spit off my face.

       I kept coughing, but no matter how hard I tried to force it (which wasn't very hard, considering), the need to cough again just grew.  It didn't take three previous drownings (which I happened to have anyway) to figure out I'd fucked myself up worse than I knew.  My lungs were filling with blood.

       I panicked for a second before realizing Fate had its manhood firmly in place right up my ass where it apparently belonged.  I wanted to laugh, then I wanted to cry, then I just wanted to hit something.  I did none of them.  Instead, I ended up drowning again.

       When I died, I was reborn as myself.