Wednesday 28 May 2014

Clean Birth

by Jared Woods

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Clean Birth - I guess the first thing I noticed was the ground beneath my bare feet.
I guess the first thing I noticed was the ground beneath my bare feet. It was about two meters wide and covered in a light mossy substance, yet still cold and hard, as bald patches betrayed a metal surface thinly disguised underneath. Even more curiously, this floor was moving forward slowly, casually propelling me towards an unknown destination, and this unnerved me. The words 'conveyor belt' flashed in my mind and I recognised the state of my own nudity, even if this had absolutely no definition for me.

I looked up and I was alone. A barely audible whirling noise vibrated beneath my ears and the word 'machinery' seemed appropriate. On either side of me there was nothing but endless white space, this platform suspended in an infinite emptiness, yet when I reached out towards it, my fingers hit what appeared to be a thick wall of transparent ... plastic? Glass? I could never know. It looked nice enough, and yet ... fake, in a way? Something didn’t seem right about it, as if it was an illusion, intended to look pleasant, but ultimately a cover up for a much more clinical reality. I pressed my nose against the surface and smelt gas until my eyes hurt. Despite the clean whiteness which appeared to extend forever, from this close up position I could distinctly detect greens and reds and blues which darted around my vision, and I quickly pulled back before I vomited.

As if some 'utensil' had been shoved into the part of my body I associated with my 'gut', all these weird uncertain emotions swirled within my core. Terms like 'fear' and 'panic' presented themselves to my mind, which brought nothing but further unknowns. I looked upwards for answers and noticed small panels about the size of my head fixed to the transparent walls a few feet above me, giving the deceptive impression that they were floating mid-air as they gradually passed me by, each set some distance apart whilst flickering images of what I understood to be 'flowers' and 'water' and other such pretty visuals. The inner cogs of my mind worked as if they knew there was something I was supposed to know, but there was nothing inside of me. Thoughts were things which I had quickly become acquainted with, but they could not tell me anything except for single words, like an empty dictionary void of explanations. But even that simile which my own mind had put forward in a show-off type manner, meant nothing. None of this meant anything.

My so-called head began to vibrate from an external source, and I associated this with a 'sound'; a 'noise'. And this was when things got even worse. Originally there had been this friendly vague concept of 'peace' which was now disrupted by this said 'noise', and I loathed these new ideas, as they coincided with the realisation that I was no longer alone.

Far from it, in fact. In this moment, I looked around, and concluded I was short in stature; a disadvantage in comparison to those who had suddenly appeared before me. This applied in particular to what could only be defined as a grotesque, oversized, elderly female seal creature immediately in front of me, her height towering many feet above mine. She was so large that the wet whiskers which drooped from her cheeks nearly dangled in line with my forehead, her head so hefty that it was wider than my entire body, and her eyes so spacious and high above me that she didn’t even notice I was there.

She slapped her fins into the moss, giddy with excitement, water dripping down her chin and coating a white pearl necklace in slime. She rolled on her stomach, side to side, as if she was on fire, sparkling earrings seemingly pierced into the side of her head dancing with her movements, a shining mess of excessive jewellery and horrifically wrinkled flaps of fat and skin. And each time she rocked from one side to the other (performing an atrocious bark while she did so, I may add), a salty stench of sewage wafted into my gag reflexes at which my eyes watered furiously, only just able to make out an endless set of assorted legs and tails and feet extending for miles behind her. There were a lot of bodies here, all behaving in the exact same animated style, dancing around naked, unabashedly delirious and enthusiastic. It was an upsetting sight, but nothing upset me more than the fact that I could not register exactly what these things were; the hyperactivity of noise and electrified atmosphere meant nothing to me. I had no ability to fathom what was happening or how I even knew the words for these things, as if my mind was begging for answers and yet my brain teased it, providing no response to its requests.

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Clean Birth - This went in particular for what could only be defined as a grotesque, oversized, elderly female seal creature who was immediately in front of me.
“Oh my Lawdie Lawdie, oh my Gawd, oh my Gaaaawd!” this elderly seal before me was articulating, and I looked closer to examine her weathered leather-like face bursting with brown glee as she frantically searched for someone to notice her without noticing me.

“Yes, it’s quite something, isn’t it?” a croaky voice over-pronounced from behind me, and I cautiously turned my head to notice a male human figure had been at my back this whole time. He, too, was of an older appearance, but seemed much healthier in a way; tufts of messy hair exposing his baldness, smooth skin, and a tall demeanour (yet still significantly shorter than the seal), all of which I enjoyed and associated with 'handsome'. Square cheeks were outlined by dimples and age crevices, eyes withered with fatigue but exploded with wisdom, and not to mention the almost comically sized grey moustache he sported, punctuating the center, so bushy and predominant that it hid his mouth and chin whilst its two end tails stretched beyond the level of his naval. But, my word, how did I know these things? Dimples? Moustache? Naval? What was this place? What was I?!

Regardless, the male’s composure was engrossing. His excitement was far less apparent than that of the seal’s, but the rise in his cheeks indicated a giant grin, flaunting his equal approval of this party. His body may have been worn by the years, but even with these physical casualties of age (complete with a slight protruding belly and small liver spots dotting his chest), his nudity revealed strong arms and a wide torso, standing in perfect posture, proud of its shape. I glanced through his hairy legs to note that, much like behind the giant seal, countless other body parts danced for miles beyond him, a single file queue on this noisy floating conveyor belt, suggesting I had been standing in my position for a very long time, perhaps even years.

“So, please do tell, madam,” he continued his posh conversation with the seal as if long lost friends, still oblivious to my presence. “What is the last thing you can recall?”
“Awh, awh!” the old seal barked to his attention, still acting out her hysterical belly dance as if she was half her age. “Well, let m’see here. I think mus’ ‘av gone on m’way ta bed on m’old rock a mile out o’ Practice Beach, y’know the one? I mus’ve been 85 years ol' if a day, m’thinks, a complete natural death, y’mus’ understand, no foul play or nuttin’, but ... awh! I’s very lonely, I’ll admit. I mean, I had m’grandchildren but they were always the busy type, very important creatures they were, but I forgot about ... about this! Oh Lawdie, how’d I always forget about this place here, every time I be forgettin’, but I knew it all along, didn’t I? Such a obvious thing, isn’t it? So great, so ... oh my Gawdddd!

She kept jabbering on, using words I understood without fully knowing how, with the exception of the word 'death'. Its very sound produced a hollow confusion in my abdomen, and I felt my curiosity once again override itself with 'fear'. This was not a nice feeling. A plastic wall to my right spluttered for a split second, and through the disruption I noted a glimpse of mechanical workings surrounding me before they were once again replaced by the serene image of endless whiteness. Above, the small panels now displayed videos of wide toothy smiles and terms like 'happiness' and 'calm', but I could not escape the devastating perception that none of these details applied to me. I didn’t belong here. Who were these people? Who was I? Why did I have such a definite grasp on all of these things without a single point of reference within my internal dialogue? And I guess you can only talk to yourself for so long before the frustration takes control, because without my consent, a small female voice bubbled up my throat and dove out for answers.

“Excuse me,” I scared myself. “Can someone please tell me just what is going on here?!”
The cheekbones of the man lowered as his gaze fell upon me. The excited movement of the seal lady hesitated as her expression focused on my presence. And there we stood for an uncomfortable amount of time, as if I’d just sworn against their God (whatever the hell that meant), exhausting me with more embarrassment and frustration.

The seal was the first to respond. She leant forward on her veiny flippers which seemed a little less veiny than before, and placed her chin to the ground, almost managing to align her enormous black eyes with mine as I turned to face her. “Hey there, li’l gal,” she addressed me, as her salty breath blew over me like a corpse wind. “And how’s it that you died?”

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Clean Birth - She leant forward on her veiny flippers which seemed a little less veiny than before, and placed her chin to the ground, almost managing to align her enormous black eyes with mine.
The word 'died' once again had no meaning, but the aura that resonated around it could have only been of the 'death' variation. She stared lovingly into my eyes, waiting for an answer, and I felt nauseous, now wishing I’d never opened my mouth. Something inwards felt foolish, all too aware that I was supposed to know the answer to her question, and yet nothing was inside of me. I mouthed a few silent vowels in an attempt to get anything out—anything at all—but I could not.

“C’mon, sweetie. We’re all here together now, don’t be shy, y’hear?” she pried. “What’s the last thing you can remember, child?” Her cracked facial expression lead by her grey whiskers and huge snout stared down at me with a hint of apprehension, and she looked a little bit younger now, somehow. And there I stood, gulping at the air like a fish, but what did I have to say? And what was a fish?

My useless attempt at vocalising my thoughts was interrupted when two large hands fell on my shoulders and gently massaged me. I looked upwards to see the face of the elderly man at my back, and while his smile had only recently warmed my observations, his touch now made me feel rigid and uncomfortable. When he spoke, his breath brushed the base of my neck and I suddenly hated him. “Speak, little girl. Pray do tell, how was it that you have come to die?”

“I don’t know what that means!” I shouted as I squirmed out of his grip. “I don’t know what any of this means! Who are you people?! Where am I?!

My scream echoed, rippling out into eternal space, and I could see many figures in the distance cease their celebration to take note of my outburst. Great, more attention, which only got much worse after the stupid elderly seal gasped with the following cry:

“Oh my Gawd, could it be? Could this here gal be ... a Clean Birth? Well, I ain’t never seen a Clean Birth before! Guess she’ll be about the right size, if I ‘ad a think about it...”
With those words, a whole audience clamoured towards and practically closed in on me, a hundred depths of eyes examining me like a team of surgeons. The excited voices rose like before, but now as delirious murmurs, inaudible phrases smothering me, with only the frequent mutter of “Clean Birth, Clean Birth” detectable.

“Stand back! Stand back, I say! You’re scaring her, for Pete’s sake!” the man behind me demanded authority, and his strict voice appeared to make an impact. Many observers obeyed by turning their sides to us, pretending to converse with one another whilst still maintaining a keen corner of an eye upon me. It was annoying and awkward, yet still an improvement. With that, the elderly man gently turned me around to face him, placing his hands on my shoulders again, his left thumb resting on my breast which I somehow knew wasn’t right. He crouched to my level, his face close to mine, and while his dimples were still apparent and the ends of his feathery moustache touched the floor, the lines on his face looked shallower than they had been only moments ago. I felt the urge to spit into his eyes but he halted my thought process by addressing me in a quieter manner, speaking much more sense in the midst of the chaos.

“Please do talk with me, little one. Before this place you see here, do have any memories? Is this platform where you stand now, the only place you can ever recall standing? Do you have a name? Do you even know what this means?”

“No!” I cried from clenched teeth. “I know what nothing means! I remember nothing! I was just here all of a sudden and I have absolutely no idea why! What is happening? Who are you people?!”

“This one’s a Clean Birth here, alright!” the seal lady announced, and the surrounding crowd in the audible distance nearly responded with a cheer, until the man shot a dirty look upwards to silence them. This gave me a chance to shift my position, his thumb no longer on my chest which I recognised as an undeveloped area due to my 'age', and also wondered why it bothered me so? It was whatever his intentions were, I decided, and vaguely became aware that I didn't like this man, yet there was no point in turning away. He was more than likely the only one who could help me grasp this mess, I was certain of it.

“Darling little girl,” he began my education. “Where you are now, is an extraordinary place indeed. For this is a place between places—the bridge, if you will—which connects the end with the beginning. For you see, it is here where we—you, me, her, and everyone around you—have our energy reorganised and washed clean, our defining characteristics and experiences labeled and neatly packaged within us, assigning qualities and worth to our Source before we are ready to be once more released back onto our planet.”

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Clean Birth - With that, the elderly man gently turned me around to face him, placing his hands on my shoulders again, his left thumb resting on my breast which I somehow knew wasn’t right.
“It is a fascinating procedure, sweetheart, and in order to comprehend its complexities, you must recognise the two aspects of which make up all of life: Birth and Death. Me, myself, for example, have died and been reborn no less than 137 times.”

“137 times!” the elderly seal interrupted. “This here be only m’29th time, it is! Firstly, I can recall I was a pottery makin’ bacteria livin’ in a poverty stricken river, fairly dull life if y'ask me, m’death that of a working accident, silly fool I was, then after that I believe I was a wife of a Sky Prince, oooh, we were so important him and me were, royalty and all that, such a time, the best life yet, I think, and after that I...”

“Silence, please, madam,” the man raised his hand. “We are in the presence of a Clean Birth, have some courtesy.” The old seal quickly held her gigantic tongue, and the man took back my attention by looking into my face once more, his moustache measurably smaller than it was before, the ends now far from tickling the moss.

“You notice this moving ground beneath us?” he continued. “Where this is headed, is a spectacular plain we like to call ‘Earth’. This ‘Earth’ is an incredible location, one which breathes more births and deaths above any other place we are aware of. These two factors are certainties in all individuals who enter the world, and in conjunction with the countless experiences which come between them, is what we define as 'Life'. It is everything; sometimes beautiful and happy, other times rather difficult and scary, but always bursting with opportunities. Different lands to explore, people to love, thoughts to think and develop—but all of which is waiting for us at the end of this here moving platform.”

By the time his talk had trailed off at the last word, he sighed and his eyes dropped towards the floor. It was here now I realised my face was tense, scrunched into a contorted mess to echo my confusion. All of this was too much, I could hardly get my head around what this had to do with me and my being here, and I guess this showed more than I’d intended it to, my suspicions confirmed when the seal piped up her opinion with “I ain’t sure there’s no easy way to explain this to nobody, not a Clean Birth, fo’sure”. The man raised his hand without raising his eyes, and tried again.

“Let me put this another way for you, child. In a rather short time, the pure energy which you are made up of right now alongside with all the other energies you see around you here—like this lady or me—will be summoned by Life, which is ushered in by the simple act of a male’s seed and a female’s counterpart egg, connecting as one. When this happens, we will leave these grounds to be grown inside of what is called 'a womb'; like a home which develops a physical shell around the very energy you feel now. Once this shell has sufficiently trapped the data which you carry with you, in conjunction with some brand new genetical data based on those who had unintentionally called upon you, then and only then will your new Life be ready for release into the world—this place called ‘Earth’. Once free from the womb, you will find yourself open and willing to capture as much knowledge as you can, not for yourself, mind you, but as a researcher for the Universal Consciousness, a bank of knowledge which is used to connect and develop all things that exist and continue to exist in every possible realm. This shall continue until you have reached your full potential, and once at that point, you will ultimately be destroyed on a physical level, ready to be recycled once more, placed back on this platform for the preparation of yet another Life. Do you understand me so far?”

I thought I did, sort of, but the idea scared me. I had no concept of this Earth place, or what my mission would entail, and I told the man so. “It hardly seems fair,” I challenged. “I will surely be at a disadvantage if what you say is true. You remember 137 deaths? And yet I cannot recall a single one! How will I know where to begin? What kind of a mission will this be if I have no idea how to achieve it? Oh, please, help me, Mr Man! What am I supposed to do?”

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Clean Birth - To this the everyone laughed, including those bystanders who were pretending not to listen, which gave me a fright and I hated it.
To this the everyone laughed, including those bystanders who were pretending not to listen, which gave me a fright and I hated it. The surrounding screens too popped with inanimate photos of laughing children and fireworks (perhaps an annoying show just for me?) and even the old man chuckled in my face. That is, except he didn’t look that old anymore. Rather, he appeared to be very different than when we first met, which I found comforting in a peculiar way. His moustache was now a messy fistful of hair barely overflowing his chin and the former cracks to the side of his eyes were just surface lines, scarcely noticeable.

“Do not fear yourself with such things, little one, as I will explain. For rest assured, once your energy has been called upon and you are placed within the womb I spoke of, you will find yourself inside of a being you will come to understand as your mother, inside of her stomach, right here,” he paused to tap a finger on my belly, as if I didn’t already have a definition for that word. “As I told you, it is there where your new physical form shall develop until you are ripe enough to escape, and when this time comes, you, like all of us, will be consuming Earth for the very first time from those particular set of physical eyes. The experience may be traumatic, but soon you will learn to adore your new surroundings and adapt to the strange new feelings. You will find your mind bombarded with smells and emotions, all of which will confuse and overwhelm you, but even more so, will fascinate and invigorate you, as you start to grasp the physics of the unfamiliar world. And it is during this time that the memory of this place you stand now will begin to fade and ultimately disappear. The moss you stand on, the hum you hear, the conversation we are having, and the memories of any past lives shall be pushed deep inside of your energy data, quick to clear room for the new Earthly environment, ensuring you can make sense of it without obstacles.”

“So you see, whilst past lives may develop characteristics within your Source which may dictate aspects of your lives to follow, it does not matter whether you’ve died a million times or if you are a Clean Birth, such as yourself. Essentially, we all enter each new life free from the past and at the exact same vantage point, no matter how unfair it may initially appear.”

During this speech, I began to take in-depth note of the man’s face. His moustache was all but gone except for a few tiny bristles, and while hints of his previous features were still apparent, he was a much plainer version of his former self. The pupils of his eyes had been lost in new black craters which filled the majority of his head, while his recently exposed smile had shrunk into an almost lipless straight line, curled upwards into his grey skin to still indicate happiness. Even more peculiar was that of his stature, which had shrunk significantly, now almost at the same height as mine. I glanced backwards quickly at the elderly seal lady for affirmation, but she too had changed at a very similar rate, her body a weird disproportionate shape as if stuck somewhere between that of a seal and a human, her age indeterminate, her skin now much lighter in colour and smoother in texture. She smiled, and her mouth was no longer an abysmal pit towering above me, but rather a warped crack almost in line with my eyebrows. Her decreased size meant my view was much less obstructed, and I could clearly see behind her where stood rows and rows of almost the exact same creature; once an assorted mix of varied looking animals, now developing and settling into a much more default and uniform state. Yet they seemed not to notice, as they continued to bounce from foot to foot, no longer concerned with the fascination they once held for me, jittery in conversation, reaching higher pitches of fever.

Logically, one would assume such a sight would scare me, but curiously the contrary was true. My stomach churned with enthusiastic anticipation and I felt static flutter outward from my core right down into my fingertips, like I was covered in a blanket made from spider webs and pins, and for a change I felt euphoric without even knowing what that was. My breaths pulled in deep and with each one I sank further into love with the uncertainty. I began to giggle and, almost as if on cue, laughter erupted from these grey beings all around me, in unison.

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Clean Birth - I could see clearly behind her where stood rows and rows of almost the exact same creature; once an assorted mix of varied looking animals, now developing and settling into a much more default and uniform state.
“It’s really something, isn’t it?” asked the once elderly man as he continued to smile. “It won’t be long now.” To this I laughed even louder, astounded that a few mere moments before I had found this man’s demeanour intimidating and even sexual, but now he pulsed with love and I reciprocated by beaming my smile towards him. What was I thinking? Nothing could threaten me. Nothing could disconcert me. And yet, even in these moments of bliss and acceptance, I still wanted more answers.

“But wait, mister,” I addressed him though my giddiness. “What exactly is a Clean Birth? What makes me one? Is it because I have no memories?”

The man stood upright and was only a few inches taller than me, as he placed his long grey fingers on his protruding belly and gave off a high pitched shriek of glee. “Oh, because you are very special, little friend!” he exclaimed. “It’s a simple program, really. For once a life has reached its natural conclusion on Earth and passed out of that realm, most end back in this place we stand right now. This wonderful place! But not all of them. Some energies have lived such fantastic lives that they are sent to areas much more advanced than this one, where their Source will be used for a greater purpose, you understand? Conversely, there are those who have built up so much nastiness in their lifetimes that their soul will forever remain imprinted by evil, and are no longer fit to be granted access to this place ever again, damned to an eternity where their soul shall be quarantined in much darker regions. Can you imagine? Never coming here again? Oh!”

At some point during this explanation I had glanced down to notice my own body had too turned to a light shade of grey. My fingers were much longer and bonier than before, and my stomach had bloated. In front of me, the man no longer looked anything like his former self, nor could I recall what he’d looked like before. Rather, what stood in front of me was the same height as myself; completely bald, two huge black holes for eyes, filled with love, and two pin-pricked nostrils underlined by a thin, barely moveable mouth. His head was almost the size of his torso, which was decorated with bulging ribs and a large belly. What’s more, behind him stood an endless row of creatures identical to him in every minute detail. It was here, I concluded, I myself must look exactly like these people too (special, my ass!), and this made me laugh even louder, which the formerly old man took as a response to his story, which he eagerly resumed.

“But you! You Clean Birth! You are brand spanking new! You are untouched! For you see, every time a soul is deemed unfit for this reproduction—whether for reasons of greater purpose or damnation—the system must be regulated. There must always be a specific amount of energy limited to Earth and it must always remain the same. And that’s where you come in, young one. A pristine soul, free of past experiences and memories, ripe for your very first leap into physical manifestation, fresh energy to fill the gap left behind by a Source which no longer qualifies for reincarnation. Isn’t that exciting? The very energy you feel and the very energy you are, is only now beginning its journey of eternal and infinite realms of rebirths and deaths! I recall my first round fondly, and, oh, am I so jealous! I do wish terribly I could be here for your first passing and glorious moment of remembrance which awaits you here, but alas, the logistics of our souls ever meeting or recognising each other again are next to...”

He continued to ramble but I couldn’t make out what he was saying, as if his voice had been drowned by fur until it had turned white and dissolved, and then there was nothing. No hum of machinery, no group hysterics, no sound at all. Instead, I felt my breathing leap up into my throat while my lungs closed inside of me. Dizziness overflowed in my gut but it did not detract from the overwhelming buzz of happiness which lifted my toes from the conveyor belt. It’s difficult to explain, but the last thing I recall is looking down at my long grey fingers as they pixelated into tiny squares and began to come apart, losing shape. I was falling to pieces! My atoms were no longer sticking together, drifting aside like bits of rice in water. A few moments later, I felt my core shoot downwards into a concentrated point like I had been turned into liquid and forced out of a syringe, all of which I would understand eventually.

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Clean Birth - I felt my core shoot downwards into a concentrated point like I had been turned into liquid and forced out of a syringe.
That was me leaving the in between realm as my designated father's sperm connected with my designated mommy’s egg and demanded my spirit as the electricity to spark the physical growth of their child; me, their daughter. And thanks to that elderly man, I knew what was going on. I thought about him all the time whilst I was in the womb as my face formed features and my fingernails grew. Who was he before? Who was he going to be now? He was a bit weird, but was he essentially a good man? It felt like an eternity of contemplation where I realised that being a Clean Birth came with the curse of having no memories to dwell upon and to distract oneself with during this lengthy period of waiting. And then one day, my little water cage erupted around me and I was born into the world, ironically anything but a clean birth, covered in uterus wax and nearly choking to death by my own umbilical cord. I admit, I cried. They had to place me in an incubator to keep an eye on me for a week or two, but I wasn’t bothered. I was here! I had arrived! I had been born! Sights and smells and noises flooded my mind, and it was hilarious. I got better soon enough too, and my mother took me home.

It’s funny what people don’t know. When you are living inside of your mother’s tummy, you are, in fact, at your most knowledgable. You remember past lives and so many secrets of the world, life and death. All newborns are holy people for, in general, they have just come from a crowded place of blissful souls and epiphanies. But as their developing brains digest their new surroundings, they are quick to forget about these places, this memory lapse designed as a defence mechanism, the mind now much more concerned with this new life’s challenges, experiences and interactions. It’s silly when you know this, but it’s also imperative in the evaluation of the quality of one’s soul, giving the freedom of ignorance and the illusion that this is the One Life. It was how the gods judged you and appraised your role in the greater battles of everything. And I get that.

As I grew and recognised the role of my mother and learned to speak, the memory of the elderly man was lost, forced into that compartment of my soul which would only be liberated after life. And when it did, I appreciated the man, as he spent his 137th death not in the bliss of remembrance as it was intended, but rather explaining the finer details of the cycle to me. And everything he said was almost completely accurate, apart from one detail: I would never end back upon that conveyor belt. For I was, indeed, special after all.

They gave me the name Macy Dull. This is the beginning of my story.