by M. P. Ericson

The young man seemed worried. I realised, of course, that he was merely a figment of my imagination. The trouble is, I have a vivid imagination.

He was seated at a polished walnut desk. Behind him, the giant window displayed a sweep of unruffled ocean.

If you're going to hear bad news, you may as well choose
pleasant surroundings.

"I can't accommodate your request," he said. Not his fault, poor administrator boy.

"Please," I persisted, but I knew it was hopeless. You can't beat Sky Hall. "I love trees. I don't mind cockroaches. I'm tolerant about fish. Just don't send me back in the same tired old shape. I'm sick to death...or whatever...of it."

The young man shuffled some papers. The top one was my own application form; the others blank. I hadn't bothered imagining anything to fill them.

"It's the only option available," he said. "You must be given the highest incarnation at your present level of spiritual advancement. I can't demote you. Your karmic record is exemplary, your astral energy superb."

"So move me to the next level."

"I can't do that either." More shuffling. "There is one final
insight you have yet to gain."

"Which is?"

He looked unhappy.

"I can't tell you. Not allowed. More than my job's worth."

"So it's the same round again and again?"

"Until you are ready to progress."

Hell! I thought, but I didn't say it. Not that they mind up at Sky Hall. They're quite interested in the concept, and always willing to deliver a soul-numbing lecture about its metaphysical basis. I'd sat through that speech a few times, putting off the moment of my return.

"Go on, then," I said. "Get it over with."

Whoosh. It's a bit like that, only darker. Now I was huddled in beating warmth. Voices reached me from a distance. Strange ones, gradually becoming familiar. One that resonated within me, shaping me as I grew, singing my own life.

Ever been suffocated? Then you'll remember. The crushing pressure, the wild struggle to move, the sharp agony of that first lungful of air. The pain of it! I hate being born.

Screaming helps, for a while. Just screaming out defiance
against a world that binds you over and over to a life you don't want.

Rubber gloves and suction tubes. It's been warm skin and damp cloth, soft fur and rough tongue, sand grating over my new-hatched body, worms nudging me as I rose. Those were better awakenings.

Voices and piercing lights. It's so cold out there. Arms around me, eyes shining into mine.

Then I knew. Then I understood.

What is the tie that binds us to this life? What is the last link we can't break?

I wanted to tell her. I tried.

"She's hungry," someone said from a distance -- the nurse, perhaps.

"She knows me," said my mother.

I screamed at her to let me go, to cut this tie, to release me from a cycle that is no longer life but torment. I knew I had only an instant of time in which to understand.

The moment of birth is sacred not to new life but to old, to the rush of memories from a thousand incarnations, to the one insight that we strive for all our lives and never remember when we must.

It slipped away. Of course it did: it always does. Over and over I live this life, different on the surface, changeless underneath.

"Look at her," said the nurse. "She's smiling now."

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