Of Past Fatalities
Even the union of those two words put together in his mind raises goose bumps on the back of his neck. She sits right next to him and smiles. Between the veil of her red hair and slow tears, Austyn’s smile is devastating. Her hand trembles in his palm. Her hand is cold, like it has always been.
“I was scared for a moment, you know,” she says, describing the last vision she had. “One of the locals must’ve started a fire. And that was all it took. The flames raged throughout the city. And I was trapped in my room. My sister had locked me in because they said I misbehaved too much. I screamed for help but they couldn’t hear me. And I could see the blaze on the streets, spreading faster than the plague, climbing up to my balcony.”
She spoke of the monsters she nurtured under her bed with an affectionate array of sentences. She spoke of the winds that whistled at her window at night, asking her to let them in and give them refuge in her clay pots. She spoke of how she had, after chemistry class, stolen measures of carbon and sodium and a whiff of nitrogen and mixed it into her ink bottle. “Just in case,” she’d said. “Just in case I need to end it all.”
“I’d understood that there was no denouement to my story, to my suffering, until I did it myself. You see, I always die because of the people, because of the situation. Not because of my own decision,” she sighs.
She described the gas chambers in Germany, with the large numbers of Jewish women waiting for the end. She told him of how the women there were treated, how they were abused, raped, hit, slapped, pushed and thrown. She said they all cried most of the time, and otherwise they voiced their worries about their families.”Even though it was heartbreaking to see them weep on lost relations, it was heartwarming to know that even in their time of death, they were hardly concerned about themselves.”
“What were you doing there?” he asked her.
“I was waiting, too.”
“But then I saw you, and I felt okay,” she continues, and smiles again.
There is so much to Austyn. A series of stories that are hard to believe, and yet so believable. She’s brimming with past lives, tugging along her dark burden with the chains that bind her to them forever.
There was a time when he had found her in her room, standing at the furthest corner, facing the walls with her eyes shut, caught in some seemingly irrevocable trance. Thin curtains from her windows had spilled on the floor. He had to shake her to wake her up, to snap her out.
“They wanted to burn me, Finn. They tied my arms and dragged me across streets by my legs. They spat at me, called me a witch and pulled at my hair. All those profanities and the physical abuse,” she said, wincing with the memory. She was shivering. “I could see the stake. There were more, like me. More lambs to the slaughter. And we were all bound. And there was audience. They all had stones in their hands, gripped in anger. I could feel the animosity, and it hurt me. It burned in my blood. They threw the stones at me, at us. And then, they burned us. And the smell of the blood from our wounds, burning in those flames, was awful.”
“There’s no one left, Finn. At the end of it all, there’s nobody. Nobody but me, pouring the dregs of my cyanide ink into a cup of water.”
“And then, there was this one time I learned from Galileo. But that was all hushed business. Everyone knew his researches were against the belief of the Church, so we never revealed to anyone that we were his students.”
Whenever she told him about her ‘experiences’, she spoke as if they were her own, as if she was alive since the beginning of time, like she never really died – she continued to live over millennia.
“The Church condemned him, of course. They were all ignorant. They wouldn’t believe that the sun was central to our universe, not the earth, and they suspected him of heresy. We were all thrown out. The Church prohibited us from even seeing our families or entering public areas. All of the country knew of the Inquisition and the blacklisting of Galileo. But we tried to go back home. We tried to bridge communication, to ask if we could hide in our own houses.” She paused and let out a sad laugh. “Could you imagine that? Trying to find a safe corner in your own house because those who run your society tag you as fugitives? Our parents wouldn’t even risk taking us back. So we had to run away.”
“Did you get out safe?” He knew her stories never ended well.
“We were caught. We were questioned. And then we were drowned,” she answered, darkly.
As it had always been, he didn’t know how to react to her eerie anecdotes. He never knew what went on in her mind, whether all that she said was true or if she was fibbing. But right then, he hugged her.
As she warmed in his embrace, he wondered if she was even real.
“And what after that?” he dares to ask.
“And then I drank it.”