At the end of my first life, I abandoned the family home. It was a traumatic time. Many years have passed since that day but only recently, following my parent’s deaths, have I returned to their home in the Scottish Highlands. As I strolled around my parent’s cottage, I recalled a small windowless room that could only be accessed through my mother’s bedroom. On turning the key, I discovered an old chest, tiny bedside table and chair, exquisite diamond necklace and earrings and a beautiful hand-made lace shawl.
As I reached into my bag, the Laird muttered, “Strange, isn’t it, how closely you resemble the former tenants. My dear, are you ready to exchange contracts?”
He was amazed when I handed a banker’s draft to him. “Contact Kincaid and Harrison. Martin Kincaid witnessed my signature early this morning. I want to move in immediately.”
Without further ado, he dropped a large brass key onto the table and bid me goodbye.
Six months of hard gruelling work and finally the refurbishment ended. The cottage is cosy, warm and welcoming. A mouthwatering aroma of freshly baked bread and lamb stew enriched with barley tickled my taste buds. Winter has descended, and a pristine white blanket covers the grounds of my home.
As I touched a gem inset into a gold band gifted to my mother by her parents, her beautiful voice echoed around the tiny living room…
“Experience taught me that it is impossible to fit all this world has to offer into one lifetime. Live life to the full; seek exhilarating experiences and push yourself to the limits. I was deemed to be an old maid when your father approached my parents to ask for my hand in marriage. He was low-born, a worker on the estate and considered to be beneath me, but I loved him at first sight and love him still. He was an intelligent man born before his time.”
Though my parents died nearly a year ago, I heard my mother’s voice, “When telling a story, begin at the beginning of life.”
“So be it,” I softly responded.
My parents lived in a tiny cottage in a remote area of the Scottish Highlands, famous for its beautiful landscape, rugged terrain and whisky. Life was difficult, survival nigh impossible for a weak sickly child. No matter how intelligent a child is, intelligence cannot compensate for a hardy healthy body. Life cannot be maintained through mind alone.
At the age of twelve, I was making my peace with God. Mama sobbed while holding tightly onto my father’s hand as the young priest loudly claimed that Death’s touch would be a blessing.
He was wrong.
Many years later, while studying at university, I discovered René Descartes’ proposal that mind has a separate form of existence to material. His article introduced the question of how they ― mind and material ― might interact, or whether one could exist without the other. The definition of Death is the cessation of all vital functions of the body including the heartbeat, brain activity as well as the brain stem and breathing. Brain activity has now been proven to continue after life ends. Cardiac arrest, for instance, with some features more prominent in the subsequent thirty seconds. This claim intrigues me. So, does whatever it is that makes us unique abandon the body after death, or die along with the host? In truth, that question is for another time.
I awakened in a roughly hewn coffin, fighting for air and desperate to escape. I kicked the fragile lid and struggled through the loose soil. This is how I know beyond doubt that whatever makes us unique continues when the brain no longer functions.
The village was quiet as I left the burial ground, making my way home. My belongings were stacked in a box outside the side door. Money was scarce, clothing even more so. I crept into the kitchen; the remains of a pie, a few small coins, bread and jug of ale were on the table. I dined in style that night; washed in the tub, dressed and packed my meagre belongings and a little food and drink into the old backpack. As I raced down the darkened pathway leading away from the village, I paused, glancing back at my home. Candles flickered in the living room. My parents, who were standing beside the open door, raised their arms bidding me farewell.
I discovered that the only way to ensure survival was to steal from farms. I spent many a night in an old barn and survived on a frugal diet of bread, potatoes, eggs and cheese. Ale was freely available in the homes I entered during the first two years of my second life.
Momentarily at peace, and enjoying the warmth of the summer sun, I made a friend whose influence would guide me throughout life. An old farmer living alone in a remote croft. That was my first job. Looking after the animals, growing barley, potatoes and vegetables, and picking wild fruit was not an arduous task. Nor was cooking tasty meals for the old man and myself. He thrived during our time together; peaceful years during which I matured.
Ezra was a wiry old man, in his late sixties: a good age for that time. Throughout life, he’d known suffering and loss. Intelligent, with knowledge beyond his lowly status, he intrigued me. Ezra became my mentor. The only person, other than my parents, who was aware of my immortality. He died at the age of eighty-two, peacefully while sleeping. I stayed in his cottage until rumours circulated among the crofters that the Laird had returned and intended visiting his tenants.
Escaping was difficult, but the young horse and small cart proved invaluable, so escape I did with funds left to me by Ezra, warm clothing and bedding, ale, homemade black raspberry jam, dried meat and fish, potatoes, salted vegetables and crisp tart apples.
I set up home near the east coast of Scotland beside a beautiful lock. The building, set apart from the village, was derelict. The villagers were aware of my presence but left me to my own devices. The years passed quickly; the once derelict building was now a beautiful cottage. After selling my home, I returned to the Scottish Highlands only to discover that my parents were dead.
Around two hundred years passed before I moved on to pastures new. It was the late nineteen-sixties. I purchased a mini clubman and headed for London, enrolled at college and acquired qualifications. I loved the freedom of the sixties. Lovers and friends were easy to come by. My first job was a personal assistant to the owner of a new company. Very quickly, he discovered my hidden talents. I was given the job of setting up a new department within his organisation. The computer age had arrived, and my boss was a wily businessman. He saw the riches to be made. By this time I was qualified, and my male colleagues discovered to their cost that I was more than the pretty little lady they believed me to be.
Jonathan Hardaker-Scott was my first husband; we were disappointed not to be blessed with children. He died in his forty fifth year; cancer of the lung from years of smoking the cigars he loved. The company, apartment in London, and a beautiful Morgan were mine. I floated the company on the stock exchange; found tenants for the apartment and abandoned the London scene for pastures new.
My first job was to purchase an old town house in Harrogate; a beautiful building in need of extensive renovation. Three years of toil, and my home was ready.
A change of career was in order; I enrolled at the local college, acquired qualifications in baking and purchased an old shop. Two bakers were employed but only one lasted beyond the first week. François’s arrogance and patronising manner did not impress me; nor did his insistence on giving all my produce French names. When I reminded him that he worked for an English company with a Scottish owner, he pouted. Wage and tax documents in hand, Alain escorted François off the premises.
Alain proved to be a valuable employee. Not only in baking bread, cakes and biscuits, but in sales. Women of all ages frequented the shop; all succumbed to his charms. He was husband number two. We moved to Paris the following summer, and opened up a shop and tea rooms. Alain was surprised at how quickly I learnt languages.
When our business gained in popularity and success, we opened a second tea rooms. As the years passed, I realised that though Alain loved me, and we spent many happy holidays touring Europe, he was a typical French man. When I discovered he had acquired yet another lover, I changed the locks on our home, the tea rooms and shop. My husband was not astute; everything was in my name. The divorce was not difficult to acquire. Thankfully, I am immortal; though he succumbed to the HIV virus acquiring full-blown AIDS, I did not.
Following his death, I sold the shop and tea rooms, sent for my Morgan, leased the house to students and moved once more to pastures new. At first sight I fell in love with Barcelona and acquired a new job in an estate agency. A handsome young Spaniard owned the company: Andalucian in looks and nature. Pepe Valverde Muñoz was around my height with a slender muscular physique. He was also a pain in the butt believing no woman could resist him. To his cost, he discovered otherwise. He wasn’t smart, nor did he have a modicum of common sense. That was his downfall. Pepe spent all the proceeds on wine, women and enjoying the night life of Barcelona. The new motor bike ended his short life. Within days of his death, I entered the Malaga province, fell in love with the beautiful Axarquía region and settled in the small town of Nerja.
Finally, I decided that working wasn’t necessary. I was a rich woman who owned many rental properties in London, Inverness, Glasgow, Leeds, Paris and Harrogate. Income from these, not my savings, funded a new lifestyle. I decided a little fun was in order. I am the proud owner of a yacht, berthed in Benalmadena. The lessons, studying for qualifications and acquiring knowledge about my ocean-going yacht proved fascinating.
“This,” I thought, “will be my home for the next few years.”
I left my rental apartment in Nerja and moved into a luxurious penthouse with magnificent views over the Mediterranean. The pool and gymnasium were an added bonus as was the handsome neighbour. But life became difficult. While dining in my favourite Italian restaurant, a vaguely familiar man approached.
“I know what you are?” he yelled.
The patrons and staff were silent. Tears cascaded down my cheeks as I rose from the table and slowly edged around him feigning terror. I raced down the narrow winding streets to the apartment, contacted my agent in London and within hours was heading north in my trusty Morgan. An old friend and his family looked forward to their return trip to Scotland aboard my luxurious yacht.
I moved into a large manor house requiring extensive renovation. For nigh on ten years I lived alone, patiently renovating the vast building; internally and externally. Finally, a beautiful hotel overlooking Loch Lomond opened its doors for business.
The years passed quickly. My new book finished, I ventured into the tea rooms. That’s when I recognised Alisdair. He sat beside me and dropped an old book onto the table.
“Read it,” he quietly said.
“How did you trace me,” I asked?
“It wasn’t difficult, Suzie, we are kin.”
It took a little over three hours to read The Immortal Suzanna. I closed the book and glanced at Alisdair.
“I recognised you at first sight. I was sent to the village to await your death; it was essential for you to meet with other members of our community. After visiting your parents, I returned to the grave only to discover it was empty. Suzie, you awoke too soon. For years I searched the world until finally, an old friend discovered you were living in Andalucia. Problem was, yet again you cut and run.”
“Why did you yell?”
“It was cruel but necessary. The hunters were watching so it was the only way to ensure your survival.”
“But I cannot die.”
“That is true, but your body can be destroyed leaving the soul to wander the world, alone and grieving.”
I summoned the waiter and ordered a fresh pot of tea. For some inexplicable reason, Alisdair was amused as I tucked into the delicious sandwiches, scones and delightful tiny cakes. The tea was refreshing.
“Helen, I would really enjoy a large pot of strong black coffee, and dark chocolates flavoured with coffee liqueur.”
“You underestimate me,” I quietly replied when he asked how I was aware of Suzie’s name as I appeared to take little interest in the staff or my hotel. “I’m familiar with everyone’s background, their likes and dislikes. Alisdair, in my world all are equal. Everyone has a part to play, though mine is small as I’m busy writing. I enjoy fantasy fiction which isn’t surprising, is it? So far, a series of seven books and a trilogy have been published.”
“You are aware.”
I was quiet while acknowledging members of staff as they congregated in the tea rooms, joining us to enjoy sandwiches, an array of cakes and traditional Scottish scones with freshly brewed tea and coffee.
“Alisdair, for the first time in life I am content.”
“Our community is of necessity insular,” Helena quietly responded. “While we are mortal in our first life and enjoy the gift of children, on the day our second life begins we must accept that we are infertile. While many of us enjoyed long and happy first lives, you were unlucky. Suzie, you were the first of our kind to endure Death’s touch before giving birth.”
The voice was familiar to me, but many years have passed since my first life ended. Confused, I glanced around the tea rooms.
My father reached out, holding me close. “Too many years have come and gone since you left us. Welcome home my lovely.”