The Past Lives Issue
Quick as a Flash - Week 12
Fact and Fiction
Readers… I am overwhelmed by the number of you that have joined in the last week. I am very excited to share my work with more of you, and I want to again welcome those joining us for the first time!
And, of course, I want to welcome everyone to the Past Lives issue!
I don’t subscribe to the idea of reincarnation, but I wish I did. The idea of coming back to this plane of existence as something or someone else, able to make another go at life, alleviates many an existential crisis.
Of course, I'm envisioning a reincarnation cycle where each attempt offers either the blissful ignorance that comes with being a nonhuman creature or the gift of a second chance under new circumstances if humanity is, once again, thrust upon us.
But maybe that’s not the case. Maybe we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes or always come back born under the same circumstances, just in slightly different packaging. Perhaps it’s an unfortunate cycle of punishment until we work out a way to break loose.
Who’s to say? For now, let’s explore this in fiction.
Don’t forget to vote in this week’s poll to determine what I write two weeks from now! Thanks to the recent growth, I had to switch to Google Forms, so don’t be surprised by the new appearance of the poll.
Battle of the Monarchs
The butterfly war was not for the weak. With few flowers to draw nectar from, it became common for midair spars to ensue, resulting in clipped wings and broken proboscises.
But what tore many hearts was the graveyard of broken chrysalises: the butterflies that never would be.
Not a Statistic
It’s estimated that one in fifty puppies won’t make it to six weeks of age due to low birth weight. I made the mistake of letting Alice see the litter yesterday. She’d already claimed “Rusty” as her own. She said he’d come out of his shell. I hope so, for the poor kid’s sake.
Blue Ribbon Winner
Runt or not, Kenny knew a prize-winning hog when he saw one. Hammond was by far the best specimen at the fair, despite a less than grand start in life.
He’ll get a proper send-off tomorrow. All the scraps he can eat, then the main event: dinner this Easter Sunday.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and that’s why Bloodfang fought so hard for good food and a strong mate. Together, he and Ironhide kept the pups healthy and provided for. Not a weak one in the bunch. That’s how it had to be if they wanted a chance against those wicked human hunters…
“Accidentally stepped on a butterfly today. Wings must’ve been broken. Can’t imagine how else it got down there. But it was weird, seeing it all crushed up. Felt almost like I was meant to do it.”
“Yeah, that’s not how the butterfly effect works, John. Pass the gravy.”
A Trap Unusual
Thomas rappelled slowly down into the tomb. His boots settled on the ground, raising up a cloud of dust.
He knew he made the right choice to come alone when nobody from above yelled down to see if he was okay. Mara was a sweet girl, but her voice and inability to respect his social bubble made his skin crawl more than the many spiders he was surely surrounded by.
He took out the flashlight in the side pocket of his backpack and shined it around the cramped hall, admiring the patterns both on the stone walls and made by the dustmotes in the air. This was perfect. Mara should have appendicitis more often.
He walked down the hall toward a large doorway, knowing that it was safe. The fictional, booby-trapped ruins explored by Indiana Jones and Lara Croft were just that—fictional. Only real danger was a cave-in, and that’s why Mara was usually outside as a lookout. But today’s solo grave robbing would be worth the risk.
He passed through the doorway. In the middle of the grand room was the prince's sarcophagus. While the ruin's architecture was simple and to the point, the coffin's design was anything but. The prince had spared no expense in getting his likeness carved into the stone, down to the crow's feet around his eyes. It was undoubtedly more lifelike than the preserved remains he'd find inside.
He searched the area and found four more coffins. His research had unfolded that the prince had taken on three spouses—a husband and two wives. Whether they had been forcefully buried with him or in their own individual times was in question, and he dared not find out. The last thing he needed was to gain sympathy for his victims.
The spouses’ coffins were painted gold and kept far simpler. He ran a hand across one of the smooth surfaces, wondering how many jewels he’d find beneath.
But there were four bodies and five coffins. Who did the fifth belong to? A loyal servant? A secret lover? He reached the coffin, and it was much smaller than expected. A child not mentioned in the history books? Someone cremated instead of embalmed?
This would be the easiest one to open, and the curiosity itched his brain like a thousand scarabs. He pressed his hands against the sides and pushed, finding that the slab moved with little effort. He had expected to be hit with a coating of dusty air but was caught off guard by a blast of wind instead. He inhaled and coughed, catching the faint scent of something flowery and sweet. His vision blurred, and his eyes watered.
After drying his eyes on his sleeve, he found the coffin empty. Almost like a prank several centuries in the making. Some light hazing before relinquishing their goods. "Made ya look!" they yelled metaphorically.
Well, screw them. He turned back to the prince’s sarcophagus and reached back into his backpack to grab his crowbar. His hand stopped when something caught the corner of his eye. Was that another doorway? That hadn’t been there before. Had it?
His focus no longer on any of the sarcophagi, he approached the new, well-lit passage. A light, muted chorus of music and laughter drifted toward him. What was going on? He took a step inside. Hands made their way around his forearms and dragged him in further.
One of the prince’s guards clapped him on the back, welcoming him as two young, eager servants pulled him down the hall, chatting nonsense that he only half caught.
He didn't know how he knew, but he was younger now. A newly minted adult with a muscled frame that only came from working fields every day. Those days were already behind him, though. He'd been chosen.
The servants took him into an eerily familiar room and sat him on a wooden stool before rushing away. Replacing them were two slightly older women, their dark eyes running up and down his form as they clasped jeweled bands up his arms and placed rings on his fingers. They only smiled at him while conversing with one another, using words that left no impression on him. When they finished, they took turns pressing kisses to his cheeks and walked away, holding hands.
Then came a man, about ten years his senior, all smiles. He placed a circlet around Thomas’s head before leaning in and embracing him. “Welcome to the family, brother. We’ve been waiting for you.”
Thomas could only hug him back as he looked over his shoulder and noted a priest directing the servants from earlier. They held several jars of liquid that, when given the signal, they poured into a large, familiar stone box. A flowery scent hit his nostrils, and then he realized where he was. This was in the very same room as before! A space that served as both a wedding chapel and a future tomb.
And he… in this body… he was the last of the betrotheds.
He wanted to explain to the priest, who led him to his mark, that this was all a mistake. But the more he tried to speak, the more he remembered how excited he was to no longer have to tend the fields. How much he looked forward to a life of riches and a family that would make sure he was comfortable and pampered.
And then in the doorway stood the prince—his prince. He stood tall, dressed in a gold-accented version of the same ceremonial garb Thomas only now realized he was wearing. He fingered the cloth, wondering how long he'd been in it. He was breathless, and there were tears in his eyes. Tears for a man he didn't know, though parts of his brain were telling him that he had indeed gotten to know him across several courtship rituals.
And then the music started, the prince approached, and the ceremony began. Thomas was gone. Tumainu was, once again, reborn.
Generated prompt: An introvert wants to open an ancient door that can only be unlocked by an unassuming coffin.
Here are the poll results for the last two issues. I was not expecting this one to be a winner, and I really appreciated the challenge that came with it!
I’m quite pleased with how last week’s giveaway worked out. This week, I’m inviting you to check out the work of some fellow short story authors! Unlike last week’s fantasy group, this one isn’t as genre-specific, so you’re likely to find something in a style or genre I don’t usually cover.
If you already downloaded my ebook, From My Mind to Yours, then you won’t find anything new from me, but I encourage you to give the other talented folks on there a look. I want to celebrate all sorts of short fiction here, and I hope you’ll help me do that.