By Rhys Hughes
“Very rarely do we remember our previous incarnations. But if you drink from this pool, you will live them again.”
“All of them?”
“Yes, in reverse order, right back to the original form of life. The pool is magic and a secret known only to the select few. I drank from it when I was your age. I am passing the secret to you.”
“What did it feel like?”
“I felt everything. Then there was a sound like a gong and I was taken back further. Each time the gong sounds you will remember a lifetime, an earlier incarnation, in sequence.”
“Right back to the beginning? To the first?”
“Yes, to the lowest.”
“Then I will drink from it now.”
He was free in the oceans and the whole of the blue expanse was open to him. How he sported in the waves! The feel of the spray on his back was a delight as he broke the surface again and again. He felt like leaping into the air and twirling a somersault or two.
The sun was low in the west and it seemed that the waves rose above it and made it into a new type of jellyfish. Orange and tranquil, it warmed itself on its journey towards the horizon.
He watched it through the lens of the ocean and it delighted his eye, a variation of beauty in this fluidly wonderful world. But then something to his left caught his attention, a disturbance on the surface that churned the water into ruddy foam. A life in danger!
One of his brothers was drowning, being pulled under by a force that was irresistible, a predator from the deeps. Without hesitation, he turned his nose in that direction and propelled himself at maximum speed. When the collision came, his inertia caused the grasping green tentacles to relax their cruel grip in the shock of the impact.
His brother was saved. Together they swam away from the nightmare and the knowledge that he was a very good dolphin filled him with serene delight. But he never suspected that rebirth upwards would be his reward. He regarded his action as a simple duty.
The dull booming of an unseen gong filled his head.
Now he was sitting in the forest.
All morning he had been eating bamboo and he was daydreaming of more bamboo and wondering how it might be possible to grow a bamboo thicket in his stomach in order to save on chewing, which was a tiresome chore, but one he never once neglected.
As he reached for another length of bamboo he noticed that an injured bird was flapping on the ground nearby. It would not survive the coming night in this condition. Some hungry creature was certain to chance upon it. Yet the injury did not have to be fatal.
He scooped up the bird and placed it on his stomach, where it nestled in his fur and closed its weary eyes. As far as he was concerned it could remain there, comfortable and protected, until it was healed. The chewing of bamboo would continue until then.
The gong sounded again, as if from another world.
He was a beautiful cow drinking from a river. There were crocodiles in the water, vultures overhead, but all was reasonably safe at the moment and his hooves and horns were healthy.
But what was this? Two lions had seized a calf.
He stopped drinking and snorted.
And yes, he was a ‘she’ in this incarnation but there was still a he who was remembering. He was simultaneously aware of both lives, the one in his present, which was also the future to this creature, and the one from a previous existence, which was a memory but also a reality that he felt he was experiencing for the very first time.
The other cows had fled, but without any faltering he dashed into the thick of the action. The lions were reluctant to give up their prey but such a fuss did he make in the struggle that finally they turned tail and ran, and that is how the calf won a reprieve.
The gong came once more, and already he had grown used to the note, the low shimmering reverberation of it.
He would hear the gong many times that morning.
And each time it sounded, it took him back to an even earlier stage of his fantastic existence, down the long ladder of life, through every species in creation, vegetable as well as animal, insectoid as well as mammalian, into species unfamiliar to science and back out of them again, lower and lower, towards the floor where the most base entity of all lurked, trapped in its sludge of ancient time, a monster.
But that floor was still far away, impossibly distant.
He was a gentle capybara, wading philosophically into a swamp and taking care not to step on the frogs. He was a giraffe, long eyelashes wet with the dew from low clouds, declining to strip more leaves from a tree that was wilting in a long drought.
And the gong sounded sweetly.
He was a mischievous monkey now. He stole bananas but offered one to a sick cousin prone on a tree branch.
Down he went, faster along the chute of time.
He was the lion that seized calves, the snake that swallowed birds, the squid that attempted to drown dolphins.
He was a vulture who refused to peck at a dying jackal until death had obliterated its suffering. He was the dying jackal who hastened his demise with a sheer act of will, in order that the good hungry vultures would not be kept waiting. He was his best self.
He was the kind spider, the thoughtful worm.
And the gong boomed again.
He was a mosquito and he buzzed like a miniature saw in the ear of a despondent elk and something told him that he was almost the lowest of the low, the second lowest creature in the world, that there was only one species worse than his own. But he felt no guilt or remorse. Why should he? Blood was his essential happiness.
Yet there was a spark of compassion deep in his soul.
A spark or perhaps an ember.
On the tundra, he thrived among this herd of elk and the large beasts were to him no more than casks of red wine to the connoisseur, vintages and years included as part of the bargain with oblivion. I came out of the void for just this purpose, he said.
But then the anguished cry of the elk moved him.
I am disgusted with myself.
The taste of blood is sour to me now.
I have had enough. I will perish if I decline to drink. So be it. I am a good mosquito and perhaps I will be reborn as something higher like an ant. And if I am a good ant, what then?
I might eventually climb the ladder of rebirth to the top rung.
And what will be at the top?
There is only one sure way to find out. I will begin that journey today by refusing to drink from this elk or any other. My bloodsucking days are over and so is my existence in this form.
And now the gong sounded again, for the very last time.
The lowest being had been reached.
The very bottom of the pit of existence, the nadir of life.
He scowled and put his foot down.
The accelerating car weaved erratically across the road as he shouted into his phone, buying stocks and shares, knocking a cyclist over in the wind of his passing, laughing as he did so, calling other numbers, telling his wife that she was an idiot, ordering one of his subservient managers to find any excuse to sack half the employees, threatening his secretary with a pay cut if she was unwilling to sleep with him, ordering his accountant to falsify the figures on his tax return.
The lowest species of all in this immense universe.
He was travelling too fast for the bend ahead. He cast aside the phone and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. Sweat poured down his face, dripped onto his expensive suit.
He came off the road and bumped down an uneven grass surface. He saw that he was heading for disaster. The gradient of the slope increased and his brakes did nothing to slow him.
A tree stood directly in his path at the base of the slope and next to it a boulder. The tree was slender and if he struck it, the blow would probably not kill him, only destroy the tree. He knew what he had to do and gritted his teeth. What a superb adventure to tell everyone at the next meeting of the board of directors! It would enhance his reputation still further, for he was truly a man of action, a winner.
Some strange sentiment rose up in his mind.
A tree was a life too. Why should it be sacrificed for his sake?
But that was nonsense. He was human.
Far more important than a tree!
Yet the sentiment persisted and in fact came to dominate.
He abandoned himself to the urge.
At the very last instant he swerved into the boulder, sparing the tree, and his last thought was that perhaps rocks are alive too, that his act of kindness was only a lesser of evils.
But he had done his best. That was his comfort.Then his universe vanished.
The gong did not sound. There were no notes left.
Not even a ghostly echo.
“Are you awake, my friend?”
“Yes, I am back in the present age. I feel scoured but also refreshed by my voyage into previous lives. That final life, the oldest memory, is one I shall probably never forget.”
“You are a billion species removed from such horror. Do not let the images and the evil depress you. We all must start from somewhere in order to climb to the highest point.”
“And higher than us? Only Nirvana remains.”
“Who knows? Maybe entities on other planets or in other dimensions will come before the ultimate state.”
“We must strive to find out, but not strive too hard.”
“Yes, to want Nirvana is a desire too, and aggressive desires cause all the troubles that exist. Let us remain calm and continue our lives as if we desire nothing that we do not have.”
It was time to leave the pool.
Slowly, as they turned to walk away, the two elephants trumpeted and flapped their enormous grey ears.
Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL