“Summer! Finally!” Ashlynn had never been so glad for a school year to end. She bolted to the car rider’s circle and threw her backpack on the floorboard and launched herself into the back seat of Grandma Ann’s rental. She clambered forward and hugged the woman tightly. “Thanks for being here to pick me up, Grandma! Let’s go! I’ve never been so glad to get a day over with in my life!” Ashlynn flopped back in the seat and fastened her seatbelt. Ann smiled at the excited girl and carefully maneuvered through the pickup line traffic jam. After the incident with Rory, Ash had obtained “street cred” in the school and the teasing had stopped. Evidently, beating up a bully had some beneficial side effects with the other children. Ashlynn talked a mile a minute about her friend’s summer plans. She talked about her favorite teacher moving to Alaska to teach in an Inuit village in order to get her student loans paid off. She talked about Ginny crying because she thought the classroom pets would die. Mr. Rankin had to promise Ginny he would take the hamsters and turtle on vacation with him to North Carolina so she’d stopped hyperventilating. She talked about telling her friends she wouldn’t be back in the fall and all about the advanced placement academy she would be attending the next year.
Ann was eventually able to get a word in edgewise at the traffic light, “Have you thought about what you want to do this summer? Did you look at summer camp websites?” Ashlynn inhaled deeply, “Yeah, I looked at a bunch. I know mom and dad want me to go to camp again this year, but what happens if I have a nightmare? I think I’d die. I mean, the counselors would probably get it but the kids can be really mean.” Ann glanced at Ash in the mirror, “I suppose there’s a chance of that. You’ve not been having as much trouble at night and it’s not like you are going to ride horses by staying home. Don’t you think it might be worth the risk?” Ashlynn nodded, “I suppose.” She spoke softly, more to herself than to her grandma, “It’s not like other kids don’t have nightmares and I wouldn’t be there long enough for anyone to figure out I’m really weird. I really want to ride horses.” Ashlynn had always wanted to ride, she was drawn to horses at the fair and when carriages were running during the holidays. She loved the animal even though she’d only had limited interaction with them. Ann picked the conversation back up, “Well, I think it would be worth the chance. You can have your folks sign in your meds with the nurse and if things get sideways you can take a dose before bed.” Ashlynn huffed, “If I go to camp I am not taking meds. They make me feel like I’m drowning.” Ann nodded, “Ok, no meds. So, you can just pass off a nightmare on bigfoot or to some other local legend. Scare the bejeebers out of rest of the girls and no one will remember you had a nightmare.” Ashlynn laughed, “Grandma! You must have been a terrible child.” Ann smiled and nodded, “Yeah, maybe, but no one teased me at camp!”
Ashlynn tossed a towel at the base of her door to block the glow of her laptop from sneaking into the hall. She settled at the foot of her bed and opened the now familiar website. She’d made a show of yawns after dinner and kissed everyone goodnight early. She’d read through more than half of Andrew David Stanton’s journal entries. She’d also found a profile of the pioneering computer programmer on Wikipedia and a number of references to him in computing histories. The last entry on the journal had been written the day his wife found him dead in his home office. “How sad! He was only 45, no wonder he hadn’t been expecting to check out so soon!” Ashlynn scrolled to the February 24, 1964 entry:
“24 February, 1964. My friend and co-worker, Aston Randolph, and I have taken a few day vacation and flown to Miami, Florida. We have front row tickets for the heavyweight championship fight between Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston! We’ve been working 60 hour weeks on the new software for the military. This is just the break we need. Liston may be the favorite, but he’s a thug who hasn’t been in the ring. My money’s on Clay. Aston and I think this may be the fight of the century, regardless of what the press touts. He and I both bet a week’s pay on Clay after he read that sassy poem on television. Miami is amazing, bright and huge! We are staying at the Deauville Hotel. It’s the same hotel the Beatles stayed at in February. The bellhop said he’d never seen anything like what happened when the girls rushed the lobby. ‘Skirts and screams’ he said. I had to laugh at the thought. We rented a convertible and drove the ocean drive strip. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such beautiful chicks! Man, legs up to there and tan tummys in those hip new two-piece suits. After the fight tomorrow, Aston and I are going to cruise the strip like a couple frat boys and see if these girls are as friendly as they look.”
Ashlynn switched tabs and looked up some of the things Andrew had mentioned in the entry. She read about the Ali-Liston fight. She found out Clay had become Muslim and changed his name in later years. She read a bit about the Beatles. She wanted to play a clip but didn’t because she didn’t have her headphones in and didn’t want to tip off her parents she wasn’t asleep. She switched tabs again and continued reading.
“26 February, 1964 I am behind in my journal. I’ll recount here as much as I can currently remember. Aston and I went to the fight. We both thought, with certainty, that the mafia-back Liston might prevail. As it turned out, it was a blood soaked battle. Both fighters landed devastating blows but a hard combo in the 6th did damage and the fight ended in the 7th when Liston didn’t come out at the bell. The place exploded in a riot of sound and the two of us scurried for the exits before it got violent. It was worth every penny we’ve paid on this trip. Clay won and we made 7 to 1 on our bets.
During the fight, Clay landed a vicious punch which split Liston’s eye open. We were so close to the ring, I could smell the sweat and blood. Everything seemed to slow like stop motion images. The contact of the next blow, the droplets of blood and sweat flinging away from Liston’s face seared onto my vision. Things lurched back to normal speed just as suddenly. My head began to pound with the acrid odors and flashes of the press cameras. I didn’t mention it to Aston, but I was feeling suddenly ill. After the fight, we met with the bookie, gathered our winnings, chatted about the fight. The whole time my head got worse, so much so that my eyes blurred at one point. I finally told Aston that I needed to stop by the hotel before we headed to the strip. I desperately wanted some aspirin. We headed back to the hotel and by the time we got to the room, I felt nauseous and dizzy. Aston got the aspirin and had me wash it down with a cold beer. As soon as I swallowed, I bolted for the toilet and vomited. Aston looked worried and suggested a cold shower. I stripped to my briefs and stumbled my way into the chilly spray. As soon as the water hit my face, I succumbed to the strongest memory recall I have experienced to date. It burst into my brain like a lightning strike. Usually the recall starts with the dreams but this came on suddenly. To date I had not remembered my immediate prior life, now I understand why. I did not have the strength earlier to confront a heinous and depraved existence. Murder! A child killer! Larceny, hubris, perversions of the worst sort! I was a maleficent criminal, an insipid pervert! The smell of blood and sweat and the noise must have triggered the onset. I collapsed in the shower, overcome with the emotion and shame over what a monster I was. Aston, God bless him, heard my fall and fished me from the water and broken curtain. He lay me on the tiles and rang for the hotel doctor immediately.
I awoke in an unfamiliar room, secured with cuffs and straps to a bed with Aston asleep in a chair nearby. I tried to talk but my voice was nothing more than a raspy and sore croak. Aston sat up immediately, and came to the bed. He peered at me carefully and searched my eyes. I croaked a hello and he quickly told me I was in the hospital and went to fetch the nurse. The nurse quickly released my bonds, gave me a bit of tepid water and went to contact the doctor. Aston filled me in on the events of the last day. Apparently, I had a concussion and broken ribs from the fall. When the hotel doctor had tried to rouse me, I had bolted to my feet as a madman. I was screaming for guards and scrambling away from the man like a lunatic. Aston had tackled me and held me pinned to the floor as I screamed and flailed. The doctor called for an ambulance and I ended up bound to a hospital gurney, raving like a lunatic. The doctor stopped in a couple hours later, examined me thoroughly, asked about my medical history and told me I’d had a psychotic episode brought on, in his opinion, by the concussion from the fall. I nodded weakly and thanked him for his care. He mentioned that he would release me but that he didn’t feel it prudent that I fly home and that train or car would be a better choice. I talked with Aston and we decided to take the train home. I was released today and we returned to the hotel for the night. Aston has gone to return the rental car and purchase our train tickets. I cannot bare these horrid memories. They are clear and fetid as they were when first experienced. How do I contend with the monster I was? How do I atone for that foul life? I am distraught and am glad Aston cannot see these tears. I am documenting here only the barest facts of my previous life:
My name was Richard Loeb. I was born in 1905 and died in prison, 1936. I was a convicted child killer. I was convicted with Nathan Leopold in the brutal beating death of his 14-year-old cousin, Bobby Franks. Nathan was a god to me, I was his to command. I loved him and blindly followed his hubris and insanity to the foulest of extents. That does not exonerate me; I knew what we did to be evil yet I pursued his approval all the way to rape and murder. The only real justice in this life was a well-deserved violent death at the hands of another convict.”
Ashlynn stopped reading, “A murderer! Rape? Oh my god. What a horrible thought. To suddenly find yourself a monster.” Ash had read in the earlier journal entries that Andrew believed he had lived many previous lives. He had documented them as he remembered them. An English peasant, a Jewish tailor, a Choctaw brave, a Roman soldier, a Greek soldier, a sailor, a chieftain. Most of the memories Andrew documented were not complete stories, generally just the highlights. Name, birth place if he knew, wives, children, occupations, manner of death, if he knew. Ash thought more about Andrew and how she felt a familiarity with him. “Is it possible?” Ashlynn closed out the site and opened a new tab. She hesitated for a moment before taking a deep breath, placing the cursor over the Google search field and typing in “Reincarnation.”