To Death and Back Again

By Linda Jordan

One minute Jonah lay dying on a battlefield in France. His body in agony as blood seeped from his wounds, the wrenching pain made all his muscles tighten.

He regretted never telling Jane his feelings for her, he’d spent his time with books instead. Regretted not seeing his father again. Then his vision darkened and he felt a vast emptiness.

The next moment he found himself in a young boy’s body. The boy stood looking out a small round window. In the distance lay only water. The window was in a huge metal hulk of a ship, perhaps where the anchor chain had once been, Jonah didn’t know much about boats. But the ship lay tilted. It sat on land. Dry dock, was that what it was called? Or had it crashed.

He ran his hands over his head, the boy’s head, and found a knitted wool cap. The room where he stood was cold. The air coming in from outside, just as blistering. He tucked his hands in the pockets of a thick wool coat.

What had happened? Had he died on that battlefield? Of course he had. The wounds had not been survivable.

He shivered at the memory of blood, pain and cold. Death had surrounded him. It stank of mud. As if a thousand cows and pigs had been butchered in that field and left to rot. But no, they were men.

But how had he come here? In this body?

A blast of wind shot through the metal hole, bringing with it the scents of salt, kelp and fish.

He looked out the hole again, and down. Over to the right lay the working harbor. Fishing boats were moored, people unloading white tubs of fish. But the boats didn’t look like any he’d ever seen. What part of the world was he in?

The boy’s body took over, unable to stand still any longer he giggled and ran out of the room. Climbed some metal stairs, with great effort. They were tall and he was so short.

It felt so good to be in a child’s body. Filled with energy and life.

Somehow, he made it up flights and flights of tall stairs, far up onto the deck. He shrieked and yelled, just because he could. The gulls cried back in response.

The sky was gray with clouds and the wind briskly whipped past him, a few snowflakes floating past.

Winter, it was definitely winter.

“Reginald,” yelled a deep, male voice.

His father, it must be his father.

He ran, unwilling to be caught. Yet giggling all the while. He opened a door, his young body barely tall enough to reach the doorknob, and hid in a smallish room filled with windows on three sides. The room had been stripped almost bare, yet when he climbed up on the metal benches and could see out, he knew this was where the boat was driven from. He could see ahead and on both sides.

The boat faced out to sea. Why was it here aground? And how old was the boat? He’d never seen one made this sturdily before. He’d only been on a boat once. The one that took him to France to fight. That hadn’t lasted long. Only two battles before he’d died. Or maybe they were skirmishes. He didn’t know. That was for the historians to figure out. He’d been just a simple farmer, turned soldier.

Heavy footsteps sounded on the deck and a large dark shadow opened the door.

“There you are, you little rascal. Well, what do you think of her, Reggie””

“Jonah,” he said, with a tongue that couldn’t seem to pronounce it right. “Jonah.” He tried again.

“Jonah is it? Do you think you’re in the belly of a great whale? Your mum’s been telling you too many bible stories. Reggie’s your name. Your named after me pa, Reginald.”

“Jonas,” he repeated, firmly.

“Well, what do you think of this boat, little man?”

He shrugged, looking at his father. Tall, with dark hair and eyes, the man wore a wool coat and beneath it one of those sweaters that was narrow around the neck, rising up to cover it fully and ending at the chin.

The man swept him up in his arms and held him tightly.

Jonah could smell the soap on his smooth skin. It smelled comforting and the man’s embrace added to his feeling of security.

His father. This man was his father. Safe. The boy’s body he found himself in, told him the man was safe. Jonah relaxed in the large man’s arms.

“Tired yet?”

He was. Surprisingly. All that energy had vanished. Jonah nodded.

“Well, let’s get you back to the car.”

Car? Did this man own a car? He must be very wealthy. Before the war, Jonah had known no one who owned a car.

But then when the war came, everything changed.

Jonah found that the boy’s mind couldn’t hold a thought for very long. His mind flitted back and forth like a dragonfly on the hunt.

The man carried him out of the room, down the stairs and out a huge gaping hole in the belly of the ship. She must have crashed hard against huge rocks to create such a large opening.

They walked down the beach, his tiny hand disappearing in the huge man’s hand.

Jonah stumbled across the sand as exhaustion hit him. The man swept him up in his great arms again. Jonah watched the beach move past, his father rocking him as his long legs strode towards the road. The sand transitioned into weedy beach grass.

Why was he in this body? Jonah had never believed in reincarnation, that ancient idea from India, but he couldn’t account for this any other way.

If this wasn’t his new life, then where had the little boy gone? Had he simply overwhelmed the boy’s soul? Forced it out of the body?

No, Jonah must have died and been reborn. The physical presence of the ship had brought back the memory of his previous life.

But why him? Had this ever happened to anyone else?

It must have. Perhaps that’s where someone had come up with the idea that reincarnation existed, in the first place.

But what was he to do with the information?

The exhaustion won over and he fell into a deep sleep.

Jonah woke from a nightmare of guns and death. A bullet had been in his right leg and another lodged in his belly. He had been bleeding to death, and the cold chilled him.

In reality, he was lying safe and sound on a small bed in a tiny room, still in the boy’s body. Or was it his?

It was light outside. He grabbed a large stuffed cotton dog which lay on the bed, hugging it to him. It was muslin colored with black spots. Like a Dalmation, but with a head nearly as large as its body.

Was it the same day? Or another one entirely.

It was as if his mind had no control over this child’s body. Well, perhaps it didn’t. A child had no control over their need for sleep. They even fell asleep in the middle of eating.

He could smell bacon cooking and heard quiet talking downstairs. Gradually, he recognized a voice. The man, his father, and a woman. His mother?

The nightmare flashed through his mind again, and with it, the pain.

This was no good.

Jonah had to decide. To see if he could live this new life. He had to let go of his old one. Living a half life was no good.

He sat up, crossing his small legs. Holding the toy dog to his chest, he envisioned his old life.

“Goodbye Father, goodbye Jane, goodbye all those old hopes and dreams. Goodbye fear and pain. Goodbye self, hello death.”

He saw threads tying himself to each of those people and things, and imagined scissors cutting the threads to his old life. He let go of it all. Welcomed death and a new life.

He didn’t know if he’d be able to keep this new life, but he let the old one go all the same.

Jonah fell back onto the pillow and curled up with the stuffed dog. Darkness took him.

Reggie woke slowly as the the warm hands gently rocked him.

“Wake up sleepy head. It’s time for breakfast.”

“Mama?”

“Yes, it’s me. Time to get up. Are you feeling all right?”

He nodded, the nightmare of war fading with the bright light of day.

He got out of bed, his bare feet on the cold floor. Followed her out of the bedroom, then ran back to get Muggie, his black and white dog. Then wobbled down the stairs to the kitchen.

The smell of bacon made his stomach rumble.

It was going to be a good day.

 


About The Author

Linda Jordan writes surprising characters, funny dialogue and imaginative science fiction and fantasy worlds. She creates novels and short fiction, serious and silly. Her main themes revolve around healing and transformation.
She’s fascinated by nature’s peculiarities, mythology and spirituality, what makes humans (and aliens) tick, political systems and the creation of music and art. She loves including all this and more in her stories.
In another lifetime, Linda coordinated the Clarion West Writers Workshop as well as the Reading Series for two years. She also spent four years as Chair of the Board of Directors during Clarion West’s formative period. She’s worked many other jobs, more than she cares to count. Eventually, she fled the city to live out among the tall cedars.
She lives in the rainy wilds of Washington state with her husband, daughter, four cats, eighteen Koi and an infinite number of slugs and snails.

www.lindajordan.net