Madeline knew it was her last day alive. It had to be. When something as natural as breathing takes every effort to do, it’s only postponing the inevitable. She was surrounded by her family, and even though she loved them dearly, she could not help but feel envious when looking at her grandchildren and of all the things they will know that she could not even begin to imagine. The future was uncertain, that much is sure, but the unknown had always held a special kind of allure for her. And now she had finally arrived to the most mysterious unknown.
Life, she thought, was both the longest and shortest experience she ever had. It really did flash before your eyes before you die, and as she inhaled the last breath she would ever take, she finally ended the eighty-seven-year blink that was her life.
And everything went dark.
She heard the river’s stream as the world around her cracked, and she escaped from the shallow water and swam with the current, trading the freshness for a larger, saltier environment in which to explore. She no longer struggled to breathe the air. The water around her provided enough oxygen to never make that a problem again, yet, despite this, she felt compelled to return to the shallow stream from whence she came.
The current no longer accepted her, for it knew only death awaited her there, but that did not stop her. She jumped out of the water and felt the air for the first time again. It stung, but it was exhilarating, too. And so she jumped again. And again. And she dove down deeper and surfaced even harder to jump ever higher, so high that she never touched the water again, but instead landed in the mouth of a bear whose existence was unknown up to that point. And as she slid down his throat, everything once again went dark.
And though it stayed wet, warmth did come this time. Once again, the world cracked open, and the gosling breathed his first breath. But it was dry. Much too dry. He followed his mother to the water where he dove in to swim and eat, and before long, his wings were able to carry him into the sky. He looked up for the existence of any large, brown predators, but even if there were any, nothing would have stopped him from joining his gaggle.
He jumped from the ground and flapped his wings, falling into the V-formation for the very first time. The uplift was electrifying, and before long, he found himself at the front of the formation. The rest of his gaggle honked to encourage him, and he held out as long as he could before giving up the lead to another. He dove back down to return to the ground, but never made it that far.
Now he was stuck in a tree. No, not stuck, relaxing. He lazily examined the three toes that replaced his wings and wanted nothing more than to sleep. There was not a care in the world, as long as he could continue hugging his tree. But that desire would prove to not be permanent, as well, as he found himself wanting to run as fast as he can.
No, not wanting to, needing to. She needed to run for her life. Her black and white body galloped to outrun the hairy, fanged creature that chased her, but it was faster than her, and as the pain sunk into her like an electric jolt, the sensation of biting into flesh overtook him. He ripped the meat away with a sharp turn of his head, blood gushing onto his mane. For a split second, he felt confused as to why he might have felt bad for the zebra, but it subsided with the rich flavor of its blood. And as he napped after a well-earned meal, the world returned again to being dark.
A thump reverberated through the yet uncracked world, turning into a syncopated thu-thump, thu-thump, thump thu-thump, until you realized one was your own and the other, not quite yours but not separate either. You kicked to explore your surroundings, but there was nowhere to go. And yet, you felt completely at peace, more so than even the sloth you used to be. For a brief moment, all the thoughts of all the lives you had lived returned to you. The symbiotic love affair you had with an orchid as a bee. Your grand symphony as a whale. Perfecting your spider web and catching your first fly. It was all there. And it was all perfect.
And then, I was born.
Note: This piece was originally published by Berlin Unspoken in July 2016.
Author’s Note: “Metanoia” is a Greek word meaning “changing one’s mind” and is often used to imply a transformative change of heart, especially as a spiritual conversion. The story sprung forth from two ideas. One, from the interconnectedness of all life on our planet, and two, from the everlasting question of what happens after death (and the almost universal reply from all faiths and beliefs: it goes on).