by Sean Lewis
“What, if a demon were to steal after you and say: 'This life you now live, you will
have to live it innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down
and curse the demon who spoke thus?
Or… has your life been so exquisite, even for just a moment, that you answer
him: 'I have never heard anything more divine.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
People are split into two camps where I live. New Souls and Old Souls. Old Souls? These are people who have lived past lives. And now, through modern technology, they can travel back to each of those moments:
- That time you were a king? Check.
- When you led the Resistance in France? Sure.
- Your love affair with a lumberjack in the Swiss Alps? HAVE AT IT.
They return to our time, like brand new people. All the experience, vitality and confidence of those past lives, teeming through them.
Like… The richest people in the world, the most successful? All of them are Old Souls.
And there is me. Well, people like me. But this is my story, so… right now, I’ll just say me. A single mom, with big dreams for her child. And big dreams for herself. Who works at the centers where this happens, picking up trash and changing garbage liners.
I’m a New Soul.
I have nowhere I can travel to. No leg up. I am not “teeming” with life. Just debt. Acne. A fair amount of worry!
But a leg up? Nope. It’d be one thing if we were meant to be servants, built from scratch to just help the travelers, like robots, who had no idea what was going on.
But no, it was fate. We were born this way, new souls, with little to look forward to.
I do have a boyfriend.
And… Jeremy, the masochist in question, tells me it isn't my fault. “He’s my boyfriend,” he says, “and you know, some of us aren't born as lucky as others. It’s unfair and it just ‘eats him up,’ that he can travel. That he has an Old Soul. It feels really entitled.”
But I call bullshit. He wouldn’t trade places with me. And I DON’T BLAME HIM! I wouldn’t either.
“That’s not fair. If I could, you know I would,” he protests.
He's traveled a few times since we met. And honestly, it makes me think he's so worldly. He just sits in the chair they strap travelers into, but still, his soul- HIS FREAKING SOUL- traverses time. And each time he comes back with all this knowledge. This confidence.
He sees how people lived and what they valued, and he starts to institute it in his own daily “practice.”
He doesn’t notice it, but that's what he calls life, now:
See, that’s the big difference. An Old Soul, gets a practice. Something they can improve. They can craft.
And the rest of us? Just get lives.
I throw on head phones and start to clean. Sweep floors. Empty trash cans. I listen to Kesha’s PAST LIVES. Have you heard that one? It’s amazing. Country guitar, not the euro-pop she usually does, no this is great.
So, as I move through the building switching trash liners, I sing along-
We were nothing more than stardust
Just the galaxy beneath us
You found me
Then we made it though the ice age
But I lost you in the crusades
And, ok, my singing? It’s embarrassing. But if I think I’m alone, I get pretty loud-
I build the pyramids for you babe
Just to see your face
But I, I keep on falling for you
Time after time
I’m screaming and then over my shoulder, I hear:
“You’re like an advertisement for this place.”
She is my manager. A year or two older than me. She has better clothes, but we have the same temperament. We’re both New Souls. Which in this place, is like being a pauper no matter your title.
This place. The LIVING PAST TRANSMIGRATION CENTER. I've been employed here for a year. It pays so-so, but I get benefits. Brittany adds-
“You want to sing while cleaning the chair, feel free. You can twerk. Do the
Running Man. You can go old school. Whatever keeps my boss off my back. You
can do the electric slide…”
I humor her.
The Transmigration Center’s main room is called the traveler’s hub:
- There’s a large vinyl chair
- Straps on its side
- And electronic monitoring equipment on the walls. Computers. Buttons. That
sort of thing.
People get sick when they travel, so there are trash cans near the chair. I clean a fair amount of vomit. It’s caused by the metmepsychotic pills travelers take.
It was Brittany who explained it to me. Whenever we took lunch we’d gossip about the place. It was like working on a spaceship.
"Metmepsychotic. It's just some fancy-ass word."
"So, it means, reincarnation?" I asked.
"Not exactly. Reincarnation is when your brain gets born into a new body. You
just keep getting born over and over again. But you don't remember it."
"But travelers remember," I say.
"Oh yeah, they do. They remember everything.”
Jeremy is like that. He remembers everything. And he tells me in detail.
Jeremy and I met at LIVING PAST.
He flirted with me the moment he came in. We locked eyes, in that whole "I see you, and I am letting you know I see you," type of way.
He was tall. Nice hair.
Teeth are underrated. And Jeremy had perfect rows. Very white. They almost gleamed when he smiled- a million-dollar smile- because he had a million bucks, and then some. He took my number and left.
It’s how Cinderella must have felt when she met the Prince. I had nothing. A kid at home with the sniffles and rubber gloves on my hands and this man, who can travel and do anything was paying attention to me.
He took me to dinner a week later.
And my heart a month after that.
But that first meeting? That’s when he took my imagination.
Jeremy talked about travel like it was the most incredible high.
"It's like you are floating.
Everything is light and present, and you just feel at ease.
And history passes by you. It’s like being shot down a hallway- or, you know
those shots they have in Spike Lee movies? Where the world moves like normal,
but it feels like they main actor is floating, through their scenes.
You take the pill, and you feel just like dust. All this light. And the past and future
moving around past you until you stop.
You stop and have a conversation with time. Like the part of the universe you
have always been-"
I wanted to do it. Just for the experience. I wanted to feel like I was closer to Jeremy. Or, more honestly, to assure him I wasn't far from him. I mean, at some point, wouldn’t he want someone who had seen the world, the past, the universe the same way he has been?
My boy, Charlie, asked me if we would always live in the studio apartment we share. He’s six, so it’s a home to him. He wouldn’t want to leave, he asks me and hopes I’ll say yes. But, I don’t. I say-
“If we do things right, we’ll live wherever we want.”
What does that mean- “if we do things right?”
I have to figure out how to travel. New Soul or not. It was all technology and medicine that made it possible. I read articles about it. I listened to podcasts about new advancements. When leaders in the field jumped on livestreams or chats, I asked when New Souls might travel.
I mean, everything was connected to “travel.”
Generational Wealth. Opportunity.
The Rockefeller’s and the Mellons and the Musks and the Gateses… all had a past to draw on.
I wanted that TOO.
Each time I asked I heard the same answer: the pill only works on people who have already lived in the past. OLD SOULS.
But luckily, I’m not someone who hears “no.”
“What if… you went back and you were a bad person,” Jeremy asks.
We’re in bed and he does it with a smile. He does this sometimes, plays the charming contrarian.
“Like how?” I ask.
“What if you were a schoolteacher who stole money from her pauper students?”
“How much money? And… do, I get to bring it back with me?”
“Nothing physical can travel,” he says.
"Eh, I’d have the experience and learn from it, I assume. Have you ever been a
bad person when you traveled?" I ask.
"Once I was a guard at an internment camp. They wanted me to beat the people
"Babe," he said as a protest, but without any more words of denial.
"That's so rare," he continues. "A lot of the time, I am a normal person who does
things. Inventors. Investors. I'll be in New York at the start of the stock market. I'll
be in France at the early art auctions."
See- He gets to see the whole world. Past and present. He gets to experience being good and evil. I ask him-
"Do you think, after I die, a new me will get born and travel back to now, and live
inside me for a bit and take what I learned to the future?"
He looks sad. And says-
But I know the sad look on his face. The one you give to someone you love when you can’t bring yourself to hurt their feelings. When the truth just isn’t fair.
“We’re all stardust. Eventually, all new souls have to become old souls, right?”
No. They probably don’t.
It kills me. It says this is the best I’ll ever be. The only way to ascend with my history was through the love of Jeremy, at best.
Never standing next to him.
But always standing beside.
And I love Jeremy. But I want to be equal with him. I want the same chance as him. I mean, look:
I don't begrudge him any of that. I just want it too.
"What's wrong?" Jeremy asks.
"Nothing," I say.
"Did you travel today?" I ask.
I know he did. It's the first Wednesday of the month.
"Are there other women when you go back? I won’t get jealous.”
"Nyla…" He just repeats my name like a refrain. Like I will never get it.
If I don’t travel, I never will.
And I will lose him.
The next day, I am late for work. Charley got attacked at school. I’d bought him a new bag, it had superheroes on it. I guess a few kids a class or two up from him, didn’t think he deserved it. They’re poor like him, but they knocked him down and grabbed it.
I got called in and found him crying in the office. The Principal said they couldn’t do anything. It happened off school grounds.
“Charley is sensitive,“ Principal Marks says.
“He was beat up and robbed.”
“Most of the kids in our district have nothing to their name. I’d suggest less flashy
“You want me to disappear?” I asked.
Principal Marks didn’t say anything. I looked at his hands and his demeanor. He had a ring on his thumb. One a lot of Old Souls wear. I was mad but I also thought, what a waste. An Old Soul and the best he could do is run schools for a group of moms he clearly detested.
“My son isn’t disappearing. Me either.”
I knew who the boys were that beat up Charley. They lived in our development.
We lived in the Esteban Estates. I’d grown up here. And now I was raising Charley here. And it had not changed in the decade in between.
My dad was never around. My older brother died from sudden infant death syndrome before I was born. As a result, my mom coddled me. But was also distant from me. She was either overbearing or absent. It was too much love or no love at all- those were the only two modes she knew.
She’s in an old folks home. The start of Alzheimer’s. I hardly ever visit her anymore. She just sits and watches TV. Game shows.
Endless images of people winning.
Last time, I went, I kept asking-
"Do you think you had a past life, mom?"
"Why not?" I asked.
"Why would I?" She never even looked away from the television. “We aren’t
special. Some people aren’t.”
She went back to re-runs of JOKERS WILD. And I left without her even noticing. Don’t accept the cards you’re dealt, I thought.
The estates are old and falling down. Like little prisons made decades ago. There are still dealers running around. Some work for guys that I went to school with.
I ask a teenager if Mickey is around. The teen eyes me weirdly.
"I got whatever you need," he says,
"Mickey. I went to school with him. I'm not a cop."
The kid side-eyes me and starts to walk away. After about twenty feet, he stops and looks at me,
"What the fuck are you doing? Come on."
He takes me inside one of the buildings. People are shameless. Doors open where people are partying before noon.
There are also people trying: moms cooking, I can smell the food. I can hear some others asking about homework.
What if they were all derived of Kings, I wonder? What if they'd been titans of industry in a past life?
We get to the apartment, and the boy knocks.
A woman answers and asks-
"Who is she?"
"She's asking about Mickey."
Before I know it, I'm getting hit. I grab her hands and we’re against the wall.
"Get the fuck out of here," the woman shouts at me.
"I was going to ask him about some drugs, metmepsychotic, they only have them
in hospitals or on the black market-"
She spits on me. I refrain from hitting her, but it’s clear to her I want to.
“Tell Mickey that Nyla stopped by.”
Wonder if that’s the new girlfriend?
“Mickey is my ex,” I say. “He has never really helped with my son Charley. So… he
can help me with this. Tell him.”
And with that I leave.
And good luck, as I’m leaving two boys are entering- skipping school. I know them. Paulie and Anthony. They have my son’s bag.
I pull it off Paulie without even stopping my stride, saying:
“Mess with my son again and I’ll slap a kid.”
"Maybe in a past life, you were a boxer," Jeremy says with a laugh.
I don't answer. He's trying to be light, but it hurts. We're in bed. Again. We’ve been having more sex lately. Is it the travel that makes him hungry for life and experience?
Is it travel that’s making me only interesting when I’m horizontal?
So, I’ll re-iterate. We've had sex, and my body aches. He’s getting rougher. Hotter. I like it. But should I?
"Do you want to go to dinner tomorrow," he asks.
"I have a shift," I tell him.
"It's my job. I like earning money."
"Is it overnight again?" He asks.
I nod. Third shift. There’s so much demand to travel we now are open basically 24 hours.
At work that night-
We have three travels scheduled.
I watch each closely:
The travelers always shower first.
They come into the Transmigration Center and sit in the chair.
They then are strapped in.
A visor is put over their eyes. An IV, Pacemaker, and EKG are connected to them.
They then are given the pill. The pill gets you into a state of lucid dreaming, allowing for your consciousness to be translated to different times by the machines.
The traveler vomits, and that's that. They are off.
Brittany, my Manager, says when their consciousness leaves their body, the equipment has to work twice as hard to keep them alive. It's like their brain is no longer sending signals to the body. So- the machinery picks up the slack.
“It’s perfectly safe,” she says. “I mean, a travel has never failed.”
He’s the third traveler of the night. He is a lawyer. He makes over 500k a year. His insurance is through his employer, a law firm with his name on it.
I know this all from the forms he had to fill out before his "travel."
He's white and pasty. Overweight by a bit, but he's in his late 50's, so you don't even think about it. He smiles and winks at me.
"Last time, I was an emperor,” he says. “Ever been with an emperor? My wife
says there’s nothing like it."
I don't respond.
I get the trash and start to go. But instead of leaving entirely, I wait in the back and watch. The Travel Doctors strap him down. Hook him up to the machines. And then administer the pill. But something goes wrong.
He gets sick almost immediately. REALLY SICK.
- He vomits.
- He starts to have a seizure, and the EKG starts to howl.
Everyone is moving in and grabbing him. They usher him out of the room. I'm told we are shutting down for the night.
“I thought we were 24 hours-“ I ask.
“Nyla take the fucking keys, stop asking questions and clean everything from this
place. Everything,” the Travel Doctor manning the center says to me.
I nod. Of course. I always do-
“Spray everything with chemical agents. No trace of this man here, do you
I nod again. At this point, I’m a bobblehead.
I am left a key and told that I need to finish my rounds and lock up while they got Pullman to the hospital.
And then… I am alone.
I text Jeremy but no response.
I text Brittany, but she isn't available either.
I start to clean. I save the chair for last. When I finally go in, I wipe down the sweat. I then begin to mop the vomit, and I see something.
Pullman Elsforth never bit it, chewed it, or dissolved it. It's whole. I take it and wash it off. And then I notice. All the equipment is still on. Usually, only the Travel Doctors touch it. BUT, in their hurry to leave, they have left everything on.
I strap myself in. Hook up everything the way I've seen it done.
My nerves are on fire, I don’t know what it’s like to travel when you’re a new soul. Seeing Pullman, I know how ugly it can get and there is no one there to help me if it goes wrong.
But I’ll never have another chance. I take a deep breath. I think of Jeremy. I think of this hole I’ve felt watching people come in and out of the center, all spouting the knowledge of their earlier trips, all excited at the ones they were ready to embark on.
And then, more than Jeremy, I think of Charley and the world I could give him.
I steel my nerves. I tighten my fist. And I do it.
I swallow the goddamn pill.
IT HAPPENS IMMEDIATELY.
The room spins.
I can feel my heart beating through my chest.
The ceiling seems to tear away and spin, like the void of the universe, of all history and time descending-
(That's when I vomit)
It’s like Jeremy said, I’m floating through time, past women in bonnets, to women with spears, to women with guns. The rules of this TRAVEL, is you can only enter a body that you have ‘lived’ in before. Past lives that you don’t remember. The body serving as a physical timeshare that different consciousness’ can flow in and out of.
It’s possible different Old Souls could even share the same body. Slipping in and out of the body at different times of its life. If I am nothing but a New Soul, there will be no body for me to inhabit. At best, I’ll return back to the Transmigration Lab with no change. At worse, the trauma of travel with no host will kill me.
I close my eyes.
And… I arrive.
A man in a 1940’s style suit and-
I'm in France. And it is 100 percent real! People are smiling. Hugging. Celebrating.
I offer a wave to people as they march by. And then my wrist is grabbed.
"You got away."
It's the handsome man I landed in front of. I seem to know his name is Gerard.
"I did?" I say, half as a question, half as an answer.
"Hitler’s dead. Take this-“
He hands me a piece of paper.
“It has the locations of items stolen from the Jews. Art. Gold. Now, you know. It’s
the last part and then our job is over. And then we-"
He's tall. 6 feet, at least. A sharp face. Impeccably dressed. He pushes me up against a wall. Kisses me.
"Can be civilians again."
I can't explain it, but it feels right. When he touches me- he puts a hand on my face- it feels different from Jeremy. But it triggers something. I think, I have not been turned on like this-
I moan a little. And now I understand.
THIS is what it feels like. My mind combining with this body. Its senses firing into my synapses. Its skin, with its own memories, passing what it knows into my brain.
It's powerful. All the knowledge of the past with my understanding of the future. I take charge of Gerard. Turn him around and put him against the wall. The aggressor. And then for fun. I back away and leave him.
The paper in my hand. I take it out. I read it.
Gold. Art. Treasure.
I won’t forget this. THIS, could be mine.
Mine- I know my name suddenly. Sabrina Randall. A spy for the British Empire. I don't know if she has heart problems or if I am new at this-
Because I take four more steps, smile, and then feel like my heart is exploding.
I fall to the ground.
And like that-
I wake up back in the Transmigration Center.
I'm a mess. But I can't tell you how alive I feel.
It hits me. What I always wondered deep down, but everyone told me wasn't possible…
Everyone can travel.
Not just those who are chosen.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN OLD SOUL
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A NEW SOUL.
We are all equal and we have all been lied to.
I could tell people. Create a war about equity in our world.
I could keep it a secret and travel when I can to help my child and me.
I could use what I know to make my life better and never travel again.
I want to do it again.
I like it. And I want to know more.
And in the meantime- I remember- where all that stolen treasure has been hiding.
I clean up the space and lock everything down. I glance back at the chair.
I go to Jeremy's.
I use my key to go inside.
I'm up the stairs, and I can see clothes, like someone getting undressed as they ascended.
He comes from the bathroom behind me and grabs me. He doesn't apologize. Just starts to kiss me.
“The last time you traveled, who were you?” I ask.
“I want to know.”
“Tell me,” I ask.
“I had harems of women."
He has the Sultan in his skin. I know it because- I have Sabrina in mine. A spy. I need to know more.
I fuck him. Not the other way around. And interrogate him though he doesn't know it.
"How did you find the Sultan."
"How did you stay long enough to live his life?"
"How did you choose when to travel back?"
He answers each with a moan. I have confidence today. I have knowledge.
I'm like Eve in the Garden of Eden… and it seems to take Eve barely ten minutes.
I dress, and I go.
I go back to Mickey’s place. I can hear the woman who fought me earlier as she looks through the peephole-
"You got to be kidding me-"
But like I said, some of Sabrina's knowledge came back with me. Tidbits. But enough.
When she opens the door, I'm ready. I stopped at the soda machine near the front entrance and loaded my bag up with cans. And I swing it right across her face.
A few hits, and she's down. Mickey comes from the bedroom with a gun drawn. He wants to check out the noise.
I look at him.
From the floor-
"Bitch been back here twice, you fucking her?"
"No," Mickey and I say in unison.
"We went to school together," Mickey adds.
I jump in-
"There's a drug I need to get my hands on."
"I guess come in."
The girl on the floor then adds-
“She also stole my boy’s new bookbag.”
At the table, I tell Mickey and his girlfriend what I experienced and that I want to go back. I explain the pill and that I need as much of it as he can find.
"Can't you get it at work?" Mickey asks.
"No. It's locked up. Only the Doctors can touch it.”
"Okay…" Mickey says.
He tells me he will help and then asks who is watching Charley. I tell him Brittany, my manager. Everyone has a side hustle.
He lets me out and says-
“Sounds like this has a real hold on you.”
And it does.
It's second chances and third chances and fourths.
It's a way out.
I end up home.
Jeremy is calling me non-stop.
I'm not answering.
Charley is asleep in front of the TV.
“He’s a great kid,” Brittany says. “I heard things went nuts tonight, you ok?”
“It was wild but didn’t really involve me,” I say as I pay her.
It totally involves me. Brittany leaves and I sit next to Charley and comb his hair with my fingers. I wonder if he imagines himself in the lives of the characters on these shows.
Does he dream of living in a mansion with every toy imaginable?
Or of a mom and a dad in the suburbs who never fight?
Or a kid who can see and plan out a future?
Does he believe his life will get so much better than this?
I've felt that numb before.
And I can’t stand the thought he might.
"Do you want something to eat, baby?"
He doesn't answer or lookup.
I go and cook anyway. A feast. If I could travel, maybe so could he. I ask him-
“What do you want to be, baby?”
I laugh. Maybe we can make that happen.
I had to travel again.
And I would.
And what would come:
And me having to look myself in the face as I became those who had kept me out…
None of it I could have foreseen.
Especially, not the ripples. See, each time someone travels they keep a record of it. And if the world is thrown too off by a journey they can go back and clean up whatever made it untidy.
But me? I’m traveling with no record. And each time I go back, I shift something in the present. And people start to ask questions.
People start to want to stop me.
But I was living, now.
And I was determined my boy would, too.
SEAN LEWIS is an actor, writer and director born and raised in NY. He is the co-creator and writer of the comic books SAINTS, THE FEW, COYOTES and THUMBS published by Image Comics. He can be heard as a commentator on NPR’S THIS AMERICAN LIFE and most recently he directed the television series ADULT ED., which premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival and currently streams on Fearless.