Following up on my most recent diary entry, found here, I’ve dug up and revised an old short story that addresses the same theme. It’s presented below.
“Behind the Scenes” by Kheleya Fahrmann. Copyright ©2006, 2014 by Kheleya Fahrmann. All rights reserved.
Cashionne’s incarnation was a sixteen-year-old girl named Cass. She read fashion magazines, felt superior to her boyfriend, and loved to dance. At the moment she was dancing at the Hallowe’en pary, lost to the world partly because of a few puffs of marijuana, but mostly because she fed off the earsplitting music and the press of costumed bodies in the crowded room. Wearing a Catwoman outfit, she flung her limbs around and gyrated, her mind abolished for the time being, experiencing the little death she never got from sex.
She’s happy right now, said Werdiwi, who in the realm of souls appeared as a wispy, old man.
Yes, how boring and unproductive, said Cashionne. She styled herself as a frail-looking, twentysomething brunette seated at a bank of touchscreen displays, each one showing a timeline Cass inhabited. At that moment all of the Casses were on automatic pilot, because, in her thousand centuries of existence, Cashionne had experienced the mind-blowing power of dance almost a million times.
Why is it boring and unproductive? said Werdiwi softly. He was on only his fourth life.
Because Cashionne is a monster! screamed Alicithea from behind them. She had the form of a homely five-year-old girl. They ignored her. Everyone ignored Alicithea.
You know why, said Cashionne, grateful for the chance to play elder sage again. Because happiness doesn’t accomplish anything. I harvest no experience and discharge no karma while things go well for Cass. So it’s time.
You just can’t stand for the living to be happy, can you, you villain? shouted Alicithea. Deep down you hate them, even your own incarnations!
Cashionne smirked. In this realm everyone used True Speech, which meant no one could lie, but souls could still believe falsehoods. Alicithea’s impotent, deluded honesty was delicious.
Will this be the start of a new life for Cass? said Werdiwi.
Nah, I did the psychic thing in the sixteenth century. Being burned as a witch, now, that was yummy. Almost as good as being buried alive ten thousand years earlier. But don’t distract me. This is going to be delicate.
Cashionne reached out into the physical world, then snapped back when Alicithea wailed in anguish. Alicithea was involuntarily trying to link to a newly conceived zygote, resisting the urge with all her might but unable to help herself. Cashionne raised the alarm among other souls. Kardamon responded, tweaking the zygote to cause a miscarriage in two months. Alicithea dove into the doomed life, sobbing as she soaked up existence in the prison of a womb she’d never escape. As usual, she seemed completely consumed by the experience, even though Cashionne knew it did nothing for her karma. At least it would shut her up for a while, which was good, because Cashionne needed to concentrate.
Thanks, said Kashionne to Kardamon, who wordlessly went elsewhere.
How I wish I could harvest what you are about to harvest, whispered Werdiwi. Cashionne smirked to herself again. Werdiwi’s incarnation was dead on all timelines but one, far off the Mainline, a 92-year-old man, blind and deaf, rotting away in a nursing home. Werdiwi stupidly refused to abandon that incarnation until it died. Cashionne had allowed herself to reach that state only once, and once had been more than enough. Luckily, the version of Cass she wanted was right on the Mainline. That always made things easier.
Again, no distractions now. As Cass frenzied on the screen, Cashionne reached into her mind and tweaked.
Cass stopped dancing and her eyes turned lucid. She wondered what was happening to her. Cashionne slipped a tendril into Cass, soaking up her confusion and making subtle manual adjustments to the controls.
Cass tries to shake off the unfamiliar feeling, but Cashionne persisted it. Finally, the girl understood. Cashionne slipped in a bit deeper, absorbing the shock, the dread, the denial.
Cass felt herself dying. Not in imminent danger of instant death, but attuned to the slow cellular decay of her body, the gradual passage into death that starts at birth. Cashionne had sampled the feeling as an elderly sensei, but never as a callow teenager. Never having done it before was the whole point.
Cass flung off her Catwoman mask and staggered toward the door, heedless of the dancers she was bumping into. Cashionne sank even deeper into her, preparing for the big discharge.
Cass felt the soggy, rotten porch under her bare feet and smelled sharp, wet ozone. Rain sussurated in the street and filled the open pumpkin on the top step. She watched the falling drops make rings in the pumpkin-water and felt everything slip away. She exploded into wracking sobs. Cashionne harvested and writhed in an old soul’s version of orgasm. How fulfilling it all was! Plus it was another item crossed off her spiritual bucket list.
Derek, the girl’s boyfriend, came out onto the porch and took Cass by the shoulders. “Baby, what’s wrong?” Cass shook him off and turned away, still weeping. Cashionne got a message from Gwydion, the alien soul incarnated in Derek. After two billion years, Gwydion still lucked into new experiences as if he gulped horseshoes. He reported to Cashionne what the boy was thinking: “Women are so strange.” The thought swam in a broth of wonder, confusion and helpless love. The boy had never thought such a thing before, and Gwydion was sure it would color his dealings with women for the rest of his life. Gwydion thanked Cashionne and disconnected.
Out of the house came Susan, who wore a witch costume and really was a witch.
“Derek, please leave us alone for a minute,” said Susan. Derek threw his hands up in the air and went back inside.
Susan put her arms around Cass’s shoulders. “I can sense what’s happening to you. It’s normal. You just don’t notice it most of the time. The feeling will pass. Just ride it out.”
Cashionne abruptly withdrew from Cass and turned her attention elsewhere.
You don’t want that experience? said Werdiwi.
Nah, I’ve been comforted a million times. Besides, Cass isn’t cut out for spirituality. She’ll lose interest in a couple of months. And I’ve harvested every variation of newness and losing interest you can think of.
A message came from Berbera, the young soul incarnated in Susan. Susan would feel genuine loss when Cass drifted away after this moment had drawn them close. Berbera expressed her gratitude. Cashionne reflected how young souls are so easy to please. Almost any experience satisfies them because they’ve had so few.
So what… Werdiwi began, then looked distracted. Oh, dear, my last incarnation just died.
You know what to do, said Cashionne, slipping into lecture mode. Reflect on what the last life brought you and what needs it gives rise to. Seek counsel but be your own guide. Then get ready for the next life. She smiled warmly at the aged-looking youngster. I’ll be happy to help you when I’m less busy. I detest inbetween times too, but they’re unavoidable.
I don’t detest them. They’re my favorites. Excuse me. Werdiwi went away.
Cashionne sighed in contentment. Business as finished. Now, time for a little fun. She turned to the fifth display to the left and rewound events on that Sideline.
Derek put his hands on Cass’s shoulders. “Baby, what’s wrong?”
Cashionne reached into the mind of that version of Cass and tweaked, then quickly pulled back.
Cass screamed, slapped Derek’s arms away, and bolted into the street. A truck horn bellowed, followed by the screech of air brakes and a thuck. Derek screamed negation from the depths of his wretched heart. Gwydion sent a note of thanks.
Cashionne fast-forwarded to the hospital, where they had sawed off Cass’s legs near the hips in order to save her life. Cashionne fast-forwarded a few weeks until the girl was almost conscious, then extended thick tendrils into her.
Scumbag! Alicithea howled. Oh, brother. Was she back so soon? Cashionne couldn’t concentrate with her racket, so she did something Alicithea did constantly but Cashionne hadn’t done in a millennium: leapt fully into Cass, leaving the other timelines and the room of displays behind.
It felt odd to have an IQ of 95. Cashionne boosted it to 200. Cass was still unconscious, thoughtless and dreamless, and Cashionne squirmed at the quiet.
What have you done to her, you piece of two-legged botulism?!
Oh, great. Alicithea was screaming inside Cass’s head. Cashionne hoped she could stay focused long enough to harvest the girl’s horror when she first saw those bandaged stumps. It would be far from a new experience, but it was one of Cashionne’s favorites. Most of her male incarnations ended up eunuchs.
Ever wonder if you and your hangers-on are wrong, and we weren’t always the core of the living? Alicithea’s voice was strangely calm. What if we are parasites who exploit the living and ruin all the good they can be, and we’ve been doing it so long that they can’t live without us any more? You’re about to find out.
Cashionne felt a hard whomp as Cass was waking up. She made to leap out of the body.
And couldn’t. Alicithea was pinning her down.
Cashionne tried to flick her away like a mosquito. Then gave her a good, hard shove. Then strained with all her might to break free. It was like testing her strength on a boulder.
Cashionne sent out a distress call. Through her contact with Alicithea, she sensed more than a thousand souls pulling and hauling at Alicithea to no avail.
Cashionne was too old to panic easily. She considered the situation and came up with a question: what gave Alicithea her sudden strength?
That’s what living through forty thousand miscarriages, abortions and stillbirths does to you, said the voice inside Cass’s head. They’d have to tear me to shreds before they broke my grip, and you know very well that’s impossible.
Cass revived and opened her eyes. Cashionne saw her parents and brother in the room.
Have a good look at those stumps, because they’re yours now. You will live out her life, and then you will lie in her coffin while she rots for as long as I exist.
Cashionne addressed Alicithea for the first time in fifteen centuries. “Worm! Just watch what I do to you when I’m back up!”
In this broken body, it came out as a mumble. Cass’s father frowned. “Honey, who are you talking to?”
Really? mocked Alicithea. Let’s see how you do with my running commentary in your head at all times. Let’s see you ignore me now.
Dread crept into Cashionne. “Let go of me!”
Cass’s mother began to weep. Her father comforted her. Her brother dashed out of the room and came back with a nurse carrying a hypodermic.
As Cass’s consciousness faded, Cashionne could still feel her body gradually dying.