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The Constant Iteration of the Eternal Soul




The intensity of the white light finally forced her to open her eyes. She blinked several times and waited for her brown irises to adjust.

‘Where am I? What happened? Is this…’

She looked around and saw a crowd of eclectic people milling about her. She felt that she was floating upright, rather than walking, among them. She couldn’t tell whether they were indoors or out – everything around them was an infinite white.

‘How did I get here? Am I…’

Her thoughts were disturbed as she was roughly jostled about among the crowd. Her eyes widened when she saw that one of the men who had brushed by her seemed to be dressed as a pirate, complete with matted hair, gold teeth, eye patch, and a funny hat, but no sword. Her jaw dropped when she saw that he was now conversing with a gladiator, in full armor minus the weapons.

“Just one more time. I know I will be victorious this time. Just need to duck and parry to my left,” the gladiator said.

"Aye," the pirate agreed, "This be the time…"

‘Where the hell am I? Did I get drunk at a costume party and pass out?’

She struggled hard to recall where she was and what she was doing before she arrived here, but all she remembered was seeing red, followed by darkness. Again her thoughts were disturbed, now by the sudden roar of laughter. She looked around and saw that the crowd now focused its attention on a skinny, funny looking young man with big ears and even bigger nose. He appeared to be some kind of stand-up comedian.

“A rabbi and a Korean guy sit next to each other on a plane. After flying for a while, the rabbi says to the Korean guy, ‘You know, I've never forgiven you Chinese for what you did at Pearl Harbor.’ The Korean looks at him as if he were crazy and replies, ‘What are you talking about? The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, not the Chinese, and I'm Korean.’ The rabbi says, ‘Korean, Japanese, Chinese, same difference.’ The Korean guy ignores him and goes back to reading his paper. But then after a while he turns to the rabbi and says, ‘You know, I've never forgiven you Jews for sinking the Titanic.’ The rabbi gets all red in the face and says indignantly, ‘What are you talking about? An iceberg sank the Titanic!’ The Korean guy replies, ‘Iceberg, Goldberg, Greenberg, what's the difference?’"

The joke was met by groans and threats of impalement. He was apparently an unsuccessful comic.

Suddenly, an omniscient voice boomed from above.

“New souls to the right, repeats to the left! New souls to the right, repeats to the left! If you don’t know what’s going on, then line up on the right!”

She watched as the crowd dispersed and formed two orderly lines. ‘There must be hundreds of people here. But why are so many dressed in period costumes?’ The pirate and the gladiator lined up on the left. She hesitated but finally joined the ones on the right. That appeared to be the more normal line as she saw that everyone was dressed much as she was. Well, then again, there were a number of Goth teens in black clothes and black make-up.

“All right. Those of you on the right please follow me.”

She rose on her toes to try to see who “me” was, but since she was at the end of the line, she was unable to see past all the taller people. That included the woman in front of her, who was tall and thin with waist length blonde hair, and wearing an expensive chartreuse couture dress, minimal cost $5000.

The woman turned to her and smiled, revealing perfect white-capped teeth, and a model’s bone structure. But she had the hollow, pale look from too much partying with drugs and alcohol, and possibly eating disorders. “Interesting isn’t it?” the model commented.

She nodded back tentatively and ran her fingers through her own short black mussed up hair, feeling terribly inadequate in her T-shirt and jeans. ‘Where are we?”

The woman shrugged. “Apparently we’ll find out soon.”

The line started to move slowly and quietly as it made its way into another room. As the new souls entered the room, also indescribably white, a young woman with pale eyes, skin and hair, dressed in a gauzy long white robe, handed each a slim book about the size of a paperback. However, these books were leather bound and trimmed with gold leaf, not of cheap recycled paper, but of high quality stock.

When she accepted the book, the cover, which she was sure had been blank, now had her name in gold lettering: “Min Soo Park 1980-2005.” She opened it to the table of contents. The first entry was “Relationships” and under it were: Family, Friendship, Love, and Other. The next major heading was “Education” and under that were: Elementary School, Intermediate School, High School, and College. Then she saw “Career” but before she could read any further, someone started to speak.

“If you haven’t realized it already, all of you here are the dearly departed. Of course, some of you were not so dear. The point is you’re all dead. The book each of you were given when you entered, is about your life and contains every major decision you’ve made. Well, not including the circumstances of your death, that's deemed too traumatic. The table of contents is organized by life events. In short, you may choose to reverse a decision and relive, or rather re-experience your life from that point forward.

“You see, you each have your own web of destiny, which starts from a central point - when you’re born. Then it branches out into major and minor branches. Some of these branches end up converging, while others will lead you to a different ending. You may continue to relive your life, taking different paths, until you are satisfied. Of course, next time you’ll have a different book for the decisions you made in your second life. But don’t worry about that for now. Take your time, browse through your books, they’re actually longer than they appear. When you decide what decision you want to reverse, just close the book and concentrate.

“Now those of you who are happy with the way you’ve lived your life, you may exit to this door on my left.”

Min saw a handful of the more elderly participants move to the exit.

The rest of the room’s occupants stayed and murmured amongst themselves. Many raised their hands, but no questions were being accepted as their leader somehow mysteriously disappeared.

Min looked down at her book instead of browsing through it. How did she die? Was it an accident? A rare disease? She couldn’t remember. She was still young so it couldn’t have been old age. There were older people around her, so she deduced that she must be in the same form as when she died. How could she decide how to relive her life if she couldn’t remember how she died? Was she happy with her life? No, that’s why she didn’t exit this room.

She remembered her husband. She remembered how her family hated him because he was not Korean and not rich. Perhaps one would have been forgivable, but not both. She remembered how they disowned her when she married him.

And how they were right.

She never should have married him. The marriage soured early, but she stubbornly held on, refusing to admit her parents were right. She ignored the affairs, the emotional and mental abuse he inflicted on her. She felt worthless and useless.

If only she had listened to her parents.

So with that thought, the book activated.

*************** *************** *************** ***************

“I love you. I don’t care what my parents say. Let’s run away together, tonight.” She held on to him tightly, her arms around his waist.

“Are you sure? Your father said you’ll be disowned. They’ll never speak to you again. And what about college? You were supposed to start this fall.” He looked into her eyes, brimming with tears.

“I just want to be with you. Nothing else matters.” She pressed her face against his chest.

“Money matters. You’re used to having a big house, a large monthly allowance. With me it’ll be a struggle.” He hugged her a bit tighter.

“As long as we’re together I can handle it. You mean more to me than money. I love you more than anything.” She smiled up at him.

“All right, as long as you’re sure. No regrets, right? You’re the best. No wonder I love you like mad.” He kissed her long and hard.

*************** *************** *************** ***************

“I’m sorry… my parents… I can’t see you again.” Bitter tears rolled down her flushed cheeks.

“You said you didn’t care what they thought.” Anger laced his words.

“They’ll disown me.” She could not meet his eyes.

“So what, we’ll have each other.” He tried to lift her chin to force her to look at him.

“I’m not ready to just run off. I love my family. I need them.” She turned her back on him.

“You love me. I need you.” He grabbed her arm.

“I’m sorry… I’ve made up my mind.” She shook his arm free, and walked away without looking back.

*************** *************** *************** ***************

“You're home late,” she accused.

He shrugged without answering.

“You didn't call.” She gritted her teeth trying hard not to lose her temper.

“I was busy. I forgot,” he said coolly as he hung up his fall jacket.

“Dinner's cold.” Her voice started to break.

“So microwave it.” He was getting annoyed.

“It's not the same,” she insisted.

“So don't. I'll eat it cold.” He walked into their tiny kitchen.

“It's not the same. It's best when it's fresh.” She could feel the tears forming.

“It doesn't matter.” He rummaged in the drawer for a fork.

“It does, to me.” She sniffled pathetically.

“You need to find something to do instead of lazing around all day obsessing over food.” He finally said what was on his mind for weeks. She had gained weight recently.

“I’m trying my best to find a job. Who’s going to hire someone as useless as me? No college education. No experience…”

“You can get a job, but you think you’re too good for menial work.” He slammed the drawer closed. It had been two years. The longest she had held a job was two months. She hadn’t worked in three months.

“That’s not true. I really tried, but you can’t expect me to work with high school kids at McDonald’s!”

“You’re not much older than they are, just a lot more stuck-up.”

She started to cry again.

*************** *************** *************** ***************

“So what do you plan to do now? I thought you'd have found a guy by now,” Min’s mother asked. She frowned at her daughter who had just returned from a trip overseas – her graduation present.

“I didn't go to college to find a man. I’m going to find a job and support myself,” Min replied.

“The summer’s already past and you haven’t found a man or a job. We'll have to find one for you,” her mother said dismissively, not taking into account that most of Min’s summer was spent abroad.

“A man or a job?” Min asked sarcastically.

“Both, either. We’ll see. You can always work for your father’s company.” Her mother brought up an old argument.

“No thank you. I majored in art. Where’s he going to put me? In the mailroom or janitor’s closet? I can’t see him needing someone like me.”

“Well, who asked you to major in something as useless as that?” That was always part of the argument.

“It’s not useless!”

“You haven’t found a job yet have you? It wouldn’t be so bad if you had top grades and went to a decent college, not some mediocre two year community college, then you could always teach. But all a major like that is good for is to complement a man anyway. If only you had studied harder in high school instead of running around with that black…”

“Stop it. Stop it right there. Don’t say another word. Don’t mention him again.”

*************** *************** *************** ***************

“It’s been months. Maybe you should see somebody.” He looked at her prostrate body in concern. She spent all her time in bed and hadn’t left the apartment since the incident.

“What do you mean somebody?” Her unfocused, bloodshot eyes looked up at him.

“You know, I mean like a professional.” He coughed uncomfortably.

“You mean a shrink. I’m not crazy.” She made an attempt to sit up.

“You’re depressed,” he said sympathetically, placing an arm around her shoulders.

“I have a right to be.” She shook off his arm.

“We can try again…”

“I know! But he was the first one. I wanted him so badly so I wouldn’t be alone all the time.” She blinked back the tears.

“We will have other children. And you’re not alone. We’re still together after four years. And they said we didn’t have a ghost of a chance. Who would’ve thought…” He tried to hug her again.

But she fell back onto the bed, ignoring him and trying to seek solace in sleep.

‘I want my mother. I need her to be with me now,’ she thought. But she knew she could not say those words aloud.

*************** *************** *************** ***************

“Aren’t you excited? It’s your wedding day!” Her mother seemed much more excited than she was.

“Sure I am.” Min managed a weak smile. She turned around a few times so her mother could see that her Vera Wang original was worth the exorbitant price.

“He’s a fine man. I’m sure you two will be very happy together,” her mother gushed. He was Korean, handsome, and rich - what more could her daughter want?

Min nodded. Her mother noticed her lack of enthusiasm so she tried to encourage her. “I know you have some reservations, but you’re making the right decision. I wasn’t in love with your father when we married, but we’ve been together all these years. Love will grow in time.” She gave her daughter a genuine hug.

‘Yes, he’s a good man, more than I deserve, but I don’t think I can ever love anyone again,’ Min thought. She knew she could not say those words aloud.

*************** *************** *************** ***************

The rather disheveled young woman stared out the window, watching the red leaves of autumn lose their tenuous grasp on the thin twigs. They floated to the ground in a mockery of an expensive antique Oriental rug. She was nearly eye level to the leaves since they lived in a basement apartment, which always smelled moldy and felt damp, and the windows were inches from the ground. After some time, the leaves gradually piled up in front of her, and with the wind's help, soon covered the window, so now all she saw was red.

‘How far I have fallen,’ she sighed, thinking of her childhood years not too long ago, when she lived in her parents’ grand house with a groundskeeper.

She was jobless again, and home alone again, waiting for her husband to come home again. He hadn’t been home in days.

The sound of keys at the door broke her fugue like state.

Her husband came in without a word of greeting. She heard him tread into their bedroom, then the rustling of clothes and banging of drawers. Then she heard him come out, closing the bedroom door behind him. She finally turned her head away from the window and saw that his left hand held a suitcase, fully packed.

“What are you doing?” she asked with a note of desperation in her voice.

“Isn’t it obvious? I’m leaving.” He refused to meet her eyes.

“What do you mean? Where are you going?” She could feel the tears forming, but she stubbornly blinked them back.

“I’m leaving you. It doesn’t matter where I’m going.” He continued to look at the floor.

“Who is it this time? The landlady? Your new coworker? A stranger you met while waiting for the train?” She walked toward him with hesitant steps.

“It doesn’t matter who. At least she doesn’t whine and cry all the time,” he replied coldly, finally meeting her eyes.

“You can’t…not after all I’ve sacrificed for you…” She stopped in her tracks to wipe away a tear.

“There you go again. It’s always about how you sacrificed your wonderful life for me. Well, no one forced you. It was your decision. Do you think these past six years have been a picnic for me?” It was the same old argument.

“You can’t leave!” She glared at him.

“Just watch me.” He turned toward the door.

“Please don’t leave,” her voice softened, but he moved toward the door.

She rushed at him and grabbed him around the waist. He struggled to push her off. She fell back into the kitchen…

*************** *************** *************** ***************

The perfectly manicured young women stared out the front bay window. She watched as the autumn wind blew red leaves off the large lumbering trees. The many trees marked the border between their property and their neighbors’. Blown around by the wind, the leaves piled up in several small hills around the yard.

‘How interesting that even the wind is not random,’ she mused to herself, thinking about life, fate, and destiny.

The red BMW drove up the long driveway. It stopped in front of the house and did not continue to the garage. Her husband came out of the car. She hadn't seen him in days. He claimed he had to attend a medical convention for a week. She could have gone with him, but he did not invite her, nor did she want to go anyway. If there really was one.

She heard him come in, but she said nothing. She continued to stare out the window and now at the car. She heard his footsteps as he climbed up the stairs. After a few minutes, he came back down.

She continued her near catatonic state, not acknowledging his presence.

Finally she heard him say, “I’m moving out. You can have the house. I’ll be staying at the apartment in the city.”

That got her attention and she finally turned to him. “You’re leaving me?” she asked in quiet shock. It was more of a statement.

He nodded.

“Who is it? Your secretary? Our cleaning lady? A patient?” she accused, her voice rising in pitch.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m leaving you. You’re the problem. These past two years were a mistake.”

“Me? You’re the one who’s cheating on me!” She went from catatonic to hysterical.

“You never loved me. You only married me because your parents wanted it. And if I had known you were a depressive schizophrenic, I wouldn't have agreed.”

‘I'm not a schizophrenic, just depressed,’ she thought angrily, but said nothing in her own defense.

He softened slightly when he saw her anguish. “If you can look at me and say you love me, then I’ll stay.”

She couldn’t and he knew she couldn’t. No, she didn’t love him, never had, but the fear of being left alone made her desperate. “You can’t leave!” She rushed at him and flung her arms around his neck. “Please don’t leave.”

He grabbed her arms roughly and pushed her away from him. She fell back into the kitchen…

*************** *************** *************** ***************

She fell back against the kitchen counter and onto the floor. She reached up and grabbed the drawer handle to pull herself up, but the drawer slid out and its contents crashed down loudly. A large boning knife nicked her thigh as it fell. The sudden sharp pain and the sight of blood caused something within her to snap.

All these years, all this time, wasted. All she felt was regret and anger. Regret over her decision. Anger over how others controlled her life.

Her hand closed upon the knife’s wooden handle. She rushed at him. He turned. She brought the knife down upon his neck. The blood spurted into her eyes.

Red. All she could see was red.

Despair pushed away the regret and anger. She wanted the dark pain to go away and brought the knife to her own neck.

As her life faded away, so did the red. Soon all she saw was black.

*************** *************** *************** ***************

The pale young woman in white frowned as she watched the many souls milling about. Most of them seemed familiar. She turned to her partner and said in a self-righteous tone, “It’s a dirty trick, really. Why give them this song and dance about reliving their lives to their satisfaction before moving on? They barely remember anything from their original lives. They usually recall only the precipitating factor for death, so they’re doomed to choose the same event over and over, and relive the same possibilities.”

“It’s what they want - to right their wrongs, to have no regrets. It’s not our fault that it’s human nature to remain unsatisfied. Besides, with each iteration they retain more memories,” the man replied. He was almost her twin, in looks and attire.

“Yes, but some of these souls have gone through a hundred iterations, most of them the same. It seems they’ve learned nothing at all.”

“Well, it’s harder with killers and suicides, not to mention murder-suicides. Those souls take the longest to reconcile - the amount of anger, pain and regret…” he shook his head sadly. “But it’s better than having them wait around doing nothing productive and learning nothing from their mistakes. Sigh, processing for the final destination is so backlogged. Judgment of sins takes forever now that they allow a defense counsel. Damn the first lawyer that ever got into Heaven! Bastard talked Him into it. Still, all in all, I think it’s a great system...”

*************** *************** *************** ***************

'I want to find true love, true happiness, to find the one for me, the soul that complements mine. I must find him no matter how many times I must relive my life.'

“New Souls to the right! Repeats to the left! New Souls to the right! Repeats to the left!”

Min moved to the left this time.

*************** *************** *************** ***************