Well, no...there had to be something. Utter darkness enclosed me on all sides; an empty void lost in the reverberations of a forgotten echo. All that I could claim as myself proved no more than a faint, numbing fuzz. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t feel. Time either sped onward or ceased completely. While I tried to speak, no words came out.
The sensation of contact rolled and misted through my core. What I took in was not sound, not a mouth forming noises. It was simply understanding.
From my desire and will I responded in kind to whoever, whatever was there. No shapes manifested. No heavenly visage or bright light made itself known. However, in the darkness there appeared blotches. Intangible patches of undefined blackness as when one rubs their closed eyes pulsed again and again.
“You sacrificed your life for another,” the entity relayed knowingly, detached yet sympathetic, “and we have sought you out for this.”
My unseeing eyes stared. I took a deep breath though there were no lungs to fill. Had my heart not been gouged by a bullet before vanishing into this void, it’d be beating in a constant roll.
“I did die, didn’t I?” I mumbled. I’d been with Charlie, then wrapped around that little girl, and then here within the span of one blurred moment. “Did it make a difference? Charlie stepped out into the hallway after me. Is he alright?”
Color and motion flashed before me in a vision. Charlie, always gentle and sweet, lunged like a wild animal at the attacker while my still body, bleeding heavily, remained tightly covering the quivering girl. Charlie smashed the gunman into the wall where three boys from the wrestling team burst from the cafeteria to pin him on the ground far from his dropped gun.
My conceptual heart spun as a wet rag twisted when Charlie moved to me, the girl being lured apart by her pale-faced teacher, embracing us together until his face buried deep in the crook of my neck. His shoulders twitched as he cried. The vision faded.
“Your death was the only one. Some of the others who were hurt will never be the same, but they live.”
“That’s...good,” I processed slowly. In the eternal nothingness that persisted, any chance at true comprehension of this moment dissipated. Again those blotches warped. Only after another stretching moment did I vaguely comprehend what I might be talking to.
“You will not recognize us as any god known upon your world,” the entity addressed my curiosity. “We exist to ensure there is a soul to fill a body born. There is a shortage of the former and an excess of the latter.”
“How does that even work?”
“Should you choose, you may be given placement in a needing body. We cannot control the exact time or place, but we can guarantee you’ll be led to something familiar,” it ignored me.
“Y-You’re talking rebirth? Well, I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprising concept right now. Why me? Because I sacrificed myself and so I’m worthy? What would happen when this new life ends? Would my soul still be able to find my loved ones from this life? Is me being here right now proof that there’s an afterlife? What happens if I decline?”
All those questions were asked, but only one response came. Silence. Stiffening, I struggled harder yet to think. I could forever block myself from everyone I loved now if I took this offer. However, the entity claimed its task was to fill bodies with souls. Maybe once a soul was done that was it. No one could care past ensuring mortal life continued. Being reborn would give me a chance to become an adult and life a full life, letting me accept that potential wiping of consciousness with grace.
“I...I will be reborn,” I went for it before I ended up trapped forever in indecision.
“We see,” the entity accepted. “Hold tight, formerly Persephone Williams. You will find yourself chosen for birth shortly.”
Shortly, it said. Immediately was what it meant. My form jerked forward as if tossed, and only then did I gather I should have tried a few more questions about the process. Well, whatever. My consciousness as Persephone was done. Soon I’d be a little baby with none of this meaning anything. I just hoped I’d find myself with a family as loving as my last.
All my will went into that wish as a sudden, intense pressure abruptly took hold where a more muted blackness quickly gave way to movement, sound, the rush of air across bare skin, and cloth-gloved hands holding an immensely tiny body. My body.
My body wet, sticky, and smelly covered in vernix and blood that had clearly just come from...
My mouth unlatched wide to unleash a shouting cry. What was this!? It was too much for sure, for thick and splitting my head pounded. I understood the birthing process had just expelled me. I still recalled myself and my life. However, here I was held by massive hands gingerly settling me upon a soft blanket. Why hadn’t there been a memory wipe? What near eighteen-year-old would want to be stuck in the body of a newborn?
Although, I seemingly wouldn’t be stuck for long. Mere confusion wasn’t the reason for the agonizing headache. The cry I’d attempted hadn’t come out. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even see properly. At least I knew the fuzzy, blurry grayscale of being lost in horror movie fog was merely a staple of a newborn’s badly developed eyesight. My body was too small though. I was likely premature, and this was why my lungs rest gooped and unmoving in my chest like undercooked pancakes despite the person giving me CPR.
“Fade...fast...priest. Grace...now!” they called out, a deeper voice signifying male.
Hmm? I understood something? It wasn’t anything like the English, Greek, or Spanish I knew. It was its own thing— fluid and rolling yet not quite as soft as, say, French. Part of me wondered if the entity was taking pity on me by trying to give me some understanding of this short new life. An all too familiar cold dredge started luring me from my senses. Oh well. At least the man above me had tried his best. So did the person who rushed over and spread a silky cream upon my chest that tickled my skin with warmth. The man resumed CPR as the high-pitched shrieking scalding my skull built to a climax.
All of a sudden, the heat of the cream settled in as a cozy fire. My lungs burst open at its prompting touch where the man’s forced breath turned my abdomen into an overinflated balloon. This time my cry belted out with all its deserved intensity, and the two near me sighed in relief.