Content warning: the below includes casual discussion of past murder, suicide, murder-suicide, mass murder, and child abuse.
For all that, it’s a relatively light-hearted piece.
“What the hell?”
First the woman had kidnapped him – he sort of remembered “does this smell like chloroform to you?” and then he was here, tied up in a very quaint kitchen. Then she’d poured something down his throat, something that smelled awful and tasted worse, and held his nose and pressed his lips closed until he swallowed the shit.
The worst of it was, he didn’t recognize her at all, and yet she seemed maddeningly familiar. “Have you been stalking me?” That might explain it, if he’d seen her here and there. “And if so, why? It’s not like my family has money for ransom. It’s not like I-”
The memories started to hit. He swallowed twice, blinked, and realized why the kitchen seemed so familiar. They’d raised their first child here – what?
She held a bottle with a straw up to his lips. “Water.”
For some reason, he believed her. He drank.
Water, cold, perfect, and the taste from the well brought back another rush of memories.
“So… so we’ve done this before.”
“Well, last time, you kidnapped me,” she allowed. “The memories are pretty weird about who they come back to and how, without the potion.”
“Potion.” He made a face.
“Formula,” she corrected.
That sparked a memory, and that sparked another one and…
“So we’re cursed… wait. Cursed to reincarnate doesn’t seem that bad.”
“Lots of people reincarnate. Maybe um… it seems like maybe 10 percent of the ones who reincarnate can remember pasts, even with the … the formula. I’ve been working on this while looking for you.”
He looked at her. She didn’t look much more than twenty, and if he was remembering correctly –
Two cradles, side by side…
They were born at the same moment every time.
“Busy childhood,” he commented.
“Mostly my teens, and then things got really interesting in college. I have to say, once you figure out how to access past memories, accessing current memories becomes easier too. Graduated at 15.” She made a face. “College was stressful, but I did a lot of work on ‘memory retention and access.’ Like I was saying, so maybe 10% of the people have some reincarnation memory and maybe 10 percent of them can access some of their memories with something like the formula.”
“So like I was saying…” He was still tied to a chair. He tilted his head at the water cup.
She held it to his lips. She was smirking; he flashed back to a similar memory some time ago – can’t have been that long ago; there were definitely straws involved. Why hadn’t he studied fashion history?
He sipped, reminding himself that a day ago, he’d had only the occasional weird dream of past times and that most of those had involved some sort of weapon, and he had studied historical weapons.
“As I was saying,” he repeated, “this doesn’t sound like that much of a curse.”
“The curse part is uh. Well, dual. One, until we figure it out, we’re likely to die young. Likely, though, I can remember dying at a hundred and two, and that was a while ago. And two, we have to go through the closest analogue to the shitty childhoods we had back then every time. I mean, I don’t think it’s always the closest analogue, but the wording of the curse is – really, really hard to remember.” She looked away, like she was embarrassed to admit this.”
“You could untie me now,” he offered. It seemed like a better idea than wondering at the nerves in her shoulders. She had, after all, kidnapped him.
He recognized that smirk. She had the same expressions as his memories – and that was weird enough already. It was weirder when he realized she looked the same as most of his memories. “How come – why do you look like, well, you?”
“I think that’s part of the closest-analogue issue. Most people don’t look that close to their old memories; sometimes it gives them dysphoria, actually. But we – you look exactly like you looked in all of my other memories, except you’re missing a beard and, ah, a scar.”
He twitched, ready to touch his face, before he remembered that he was tied down. “Medical care,” he muttered. “The thing is, I don’t even remember going to the hospital, and my mother – she was pissed that I did. The whole thing, you know. Child protective services, everything. I mean, nothing came of it-”
“-nothing ever does.” She sighed softly at him. “I know. So. Same shitty upbringing. Same loop.”
He remembered this feeling, too. What are we supposed to do? What is the trick? “Refresh my memory.” He cleared his throat. “I remember trying potions, formulae, alchemy. I remember trying spells. I remember trying, ah. Lightning? Something with lightning. Djinn. Curse-breakers.”
“Murder, both ways. Murder-suicide, both ways. Mutual suicide, at least four different ways.” She counted things off on her fingers. He started to shift. Even with the flashes of memories of life after life after life, even after the repeated memories of his mother with a bottle, with a clay jug, with a rock, he didn’t want to die. He didn’t want this to be one of the times it was her turn to kill him. “We did a mass murder a couple times, that sort of sucked, and once we let a mob kill us. That sucked almost as badly.” She made a face. “We’ve tried staying away from each other for lifetimes in a row – almost never works, but we’ve tried. We’ve tried never leaving each other’s side.”
He worked his throat. “It sounds like we’ve been pretty thorough.”
“Well, we’re pretty scientifically minded… at least we are now. Thing is, I’m pretty sure last time’s death was just a surprise accident.”
“I – I don’t remember it.” He was almost more worried as she started untying him. “What-?” He worked his arms loose and shook them.
“-So I don’t think we came up with a plan for the next time, err, this time. Or, if we did, I don’t remember it.”
“I don’t remember – I don’t remember anything about anything that could be our last time,” he admitted quietly. That was a bit terrifying. He could picture something that had to have been the 1800’s, something from the Roman Empire, but nothing, not a thing, from the 20th century.
She held out her hand to him. Surprised, he took it, stood up, and then, because he wasn’t sure what else to do, bowed over it and brushed his lips over the knuckles.
“Hello.” Her voice had an artificial brightness and something else, something hopeful. “My name is – well, that’s complicated, but you can call me Priya.”
He straightened and looked into her eyes, those beautiful eyes. “Alexander,” he managed. He didn’t know what he was seeing, what he was doing, but- “I’d like to get to know you, if that’s all right?”