The teacher had given the class a “quiet” class period just for the students to get started on the homework. As is the nature of highschoolers, it rapidly devolved into nobody working and everyone either chatting with each other or on their phones.
Any other day, Ryan would breeze through half the homework, come upon a section that actually took effort, and then give in to someone’s insistence that he join their conversation. But on this day, he had other plans. He hadn’t even touched the worksheet because of something much more important he had in mind and he couldn’t afford to be distracted lest he lose his nerve.
If he was going to be messing with fate and the vita ante, he was going to need every ounce of courage he had.
His gaze drifted to a single student at the front of the class. Just seeing them made Ryan nervous, memories of their hot and cold demeanor flashing in his mind. At best he could call them his frenemy as on good days would do something like warn him that he forgot to turn in the homework. But on bad days, he barely had to glance in their direction before they would glare at him with the fury of someone out for blood.
Yet, you’d never guess their significance from their unremarkable long black hair, average build, or even the casual but dismissive way they interact with almost everyone else at the school.
Everest Baser stood out as a teenager with the rare ability to recall their own past life, an enigma to all except the few they allowed close
The only reason Ryan and Everest hadn’t gotten into a fist fight over something stupid by this point was Everest’s unwillingness to be prompted into violence and Ryan’s fear of Everest using their “powers” to ruin his life.
To a lot of people, mostly his friends, he was paranoid and a bit of a vitaphobe. They had enough to deal with just because of the nature of being a vita ante and definitely didn’t need to add him creating problems on top of that.
Everest was, at worst, a little cold toward their classmates but freely willing to tutor anyone taking the same history class which more than made up for the coldness to most people.
At the very least, everyone believed him when he suggested Everest was a vita ante. He had expected to be laughed out of the school or for his rumor spreading to get him suspended but instead even his closest friends said, “Yeah probably,” as if it were the most casual thing in the world.
They showed all the signs of being a vita ante. They were mysteriously mature for their age, starting in late elementary school when their memories likely started trickling in. A certain few people could get a reaction out of them, positive or negative, without so much as having ever said a word to them. And while this is just a myth about them, many insisted the vita ante just had this look in their eyes that could make normal people shiver.
There was someone among them that could recall the end of World War II and give a detailed recollection of the civil rights movement, and everyone was just so casual about it.
“Why’d you bail on us last night?”
Angela’s full-volume question knocked him out of any trance he had dropped into. A small bubble of anger rose in his chest at the benign question taking his attention away.
Didn’t she know how important today was? He could literally rewrite his entire future within the next hour if he played his cards right. Hell, he could be setting up the dominoes to start a new era for mankind. Just ten feet from them was the key to either world peace, or World War III if he wasn’t careful.
“I bailed because I never agreed to go in the first place, you just assume I’ll come along. And besides, there’s more to life than loitering in a mall for three hours.”
He expected some sort of snappy comeback from her, as was most common whenever someone disagreed with her. Instead, he was treated to a suspicious silence of which was long enough that he looked away from his target and over to her.
Now she was staring at Everest too. Oops.
“Hey, Ryan…are you planning on asking them to help you with the homework or do I have to remind you they have a boyfriend? Or are you planning your debut on America’s Most Wanted?”
“Just the homework,” he lied smoothly despite it being obvious that Angela wasn’t going to believe anything he said.
“Dude, I get it if small town life is getting to you and you’re accidently adopting some of the prejudices but even if morality is out the window, Everest would totally kick your ass and if not them, it would be Adrian, and if not him-”
“I get it,” he snapped, pissed off that she’d even assume he’d do something like that. “I was just lost in thought and I guess I was looking in their direction. Plus, I’ve already told you I’m not…”
He hesitated and he tried to come up with the right word for what she was accusing. All he could remember is it was a dumb name just like everything else related to reincarnation.
“Nice save,” Angela said, obviously trying not to smile at his awkwardness. “The word is vitaphobic. You’re one of maybe ten people they’ll go out of their way to talk to, and you can’t even remember that they’re a vita ante?”
“No one confirmed that,” Ryan pointed out, mostly for petty reasons. He already knew why everyone looked the other way.
“It’s pretty obvious but do you want to ask the scary kid, who is potentially a hundred-year-old magical being, if they’re a part of a minority that is actively sought out and forcibly recruited by the government?”
He didn’t have to say anything for her to get her answer.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. So, you need an excuse to talk to them? I’ve got it. I need help on number seven-” she slapped her worksheet down on his desk, “-and I doubt they’d so much as give me the time of day so you’re going to go over and ask them to explain it to you.”
Oh, that was a lot smarter than his original plan of immediately blurting out questions about a sensitive subject.
It was also a way for Angela to get him to get the answers for the worksheet without any effort on her part. Well played.
Before he could lose the nerve (and before Angela could go off on another tangent, psychoanalyzing him) he pushed himself out of his chair and did his best to act natural as he walked to the front of the class. The movement quickly caught Everest’s attention as they had apparently finished the worksheet and were spaced out, staring at nothing.
“Mornin’,” they said in lieu of a full greeting.
Most people, upon meeting Everest, never expected the slight southern drawl that came out of the mouth of someone who was wearing a spiked jacket and metal band t-shirt.
“Hey! Can I get help on the worksheet?”
They seemed a bit startled and confused but gently nodded. “Sure, I guess, though I’m assuming this is just a coverup for something else you want to talk to me about.”
Three seconds in and they read him like a book. If he hadn’t known about them being a vita ante, he’d be blown away by their intuitiveness.
Knowing there was nothing he could say to change their mind about that, when he dragged over an empty chair to sit in, facing them over their desk, he didn’t even bother with the worksheet.
“I need to ask you a couple questions. You don’t have to answer-”
“Yes, I’m a vita ante.”
Ryan felt like he’d be smacked over the head by that particular interruption.
For most people, both vita ante and normal humans, blurting out something like that was at least a cause for concern. There was just a certain kind of “otherness” that the vita ante held and if they aren’t careful, they could bring on a lot of social stigma surrounding that “otherness”.
“Duh,” Ryan said with a half-hearted laugh and only half the confidence required to be believable. “I’m pretty sure you’ve been running circles around me in history class ever since we met.”
“Not really,” they mumbled, frowning slightly at his strange behavior. “Is there something else you need if it’s not about that?”
“It’s still about that, I just…” He trailed off, trusting Everest to already be two steps ahead of him already. But rather than fill in the words for him or respond as if they knew exactly what he was trying to say, they were still just staring at him.
Honestly he would have taken them reading him like a book over having them stare at him with piercing near-black eyes.
“Okay so, long story short, my dad is starting to really pressure me into choosing a career trajectory, like, right now and I have no idea what I want to do and I definitely don’t want to be my dad and discover later that I hate my job but my dream job is paid so much less than my current one and I-”
“Stop, stop, you’re rambling,” Everest interrupted him, raising their hands slightly in the universal ‘stop’ gesture. “You are stressed about the future. Why do you think I can help you with that?”
“You’re able to guess things about me now based on what my past incarnation was like. I was hoping you’d be able to give me something at least.”
“I can’t tell you anything about your lifelong career prospects. We were already drifting apart by our early 20s and the ten years we were friends were impressive enough considering I was being constantly harassed for just talking to you because I was the wrong color to talk to a white boy.”
That put out what was left of the fire burning in his chest like a bucket of cold water on the embers of a campfire. Everest didn’t often talk about being a Middle Eastern American in the mid to late 1900s unless pressed so it was easy to forget what they had experienced.
“Just forget I said that last bit, Princey.”
Their favorite teasing nickname for him had come back this time as an underhanded reminder that they still thought of him as some privileged rich kid.
“You do understand that I have absolutely no powers besides being able to remember my last incarnation, right? Because it sounds like you want me to wave my hands over my crystal ball and tell you to go to law school because the fates decided it. The only thing the universe has decided is that I am predestined to deal with you in every reincarnation.”
“I was wondering if that’s what I did in my past life and if I was happy doing that,” Ryan said a little more firmly, annoyance starting to bubble up in his chest.
This was apparently the wrong thing to do because Everest didn’t even bother pointing out that his career didn’t have to be the same in subsequent lifetimes or that they had just said that they didn’t know how his career turned out. And if that wasn’t enough of a hint, their expression had switched from barely covered up annoyance to actively angry.
“Do you really think I’ve left everything up to someone else? That I’m just crossing my fingers that it’ll all get fixed before bad things start to happen? Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it and those who do not heed the warnings of vita ante are doomed to repeat their mistakes with every incarnation. And I didn’t trust you not to ignore me.”
Everest pulled out their phone and after taping the screen a few times and scrolling for what felt like hours, they turned the screen towards him.
“Remember these guys?”
It was a screenshot of an article on a group of teenagers who got away with brutalizing a student because their parents paid the student’s family off. Their mugshots did at least spark some kind of hazy memory.
“Uh, maybe. I think one of them tried to talk to me once but-”
He stopped when the fuzzy memory came into focus before his attention centered back on Everest.
“You like, physically pushed yourself between us trying to talk to me. When they started acting like assholes, you told them to go away and they didn’t like the fact that I didn’t want to bully you in response.”
“But now I’m just worried about what exactly you did to my future.”
The slightly more relaxed atmosphere that had settled around them immediately soured right back to where it had been when they had snapped at him.
“It was an impulse, I admit that.” Everest said carefully. “But even now I’m 80% sure I know who those guys were in their past life, and they changed you for the worst. I watched your personality change to better blend in with them and it was like I didn’t even know you towards the end.”
The wooden pencil they had been twirling between their fingers was now straining under the pressure of Everest’s tight grip.
“Reincarnation isn’t just repeating your life in a different century. Yes, we’ve got some major events we tend to match up between incarnations, but I doubt I’m going to fit into the kind of gender roles they had back in the 1950s.”
He started to ask another question but they cut him off, their voice beginning to rise above the din of the classroom.
“Did you do any kind of research before coming to me to solve all of your problems? Why do you have to be so self-centered all the time?”
“Why are you snapping at me. I’ve never done anything to you!”
They slammed their fist down on their desk hard enough and loud enough that the entire class was hushed into silence.
“Get the fuck away from my desk and don’t talk to me until you learn to listen.”
He didn’t have to think before he was stumbling to get out of his chair fast enough, worksheet forgotten and wrinkled in his tight grip.
No one dared say anything to either of them for the rest of the period though they animatedly whispered between themselves the entire time, unsubtly glancing at the both of them.
Even the teacher had apparently decided that Ryan had been in Everest’s personal space and thus Everest had the right to tell him off.
The moment the bell dismissed the class, Everest was off like a rocket leaving Ryan scrambling to catch up.
By the time he rounded a third corner, the hallway had gotten crowded enough that Everest was stuck having to hesitate every few seconds to dodge another student.
It was just enough for him to catch up. They weren’t responding to him when he was shouting their name so without thinking, as soon as he got close enough, he tried to grab them by the shoulder. But before his hand could make contact, his fingers went through their hair, catching on it, and ultimately leading him to yank their head back in one swift movement.
He was so concentrated on apologizing to them that he didn’t see their fist coming but instead felt it as it slammed into his stomach with the strength of a pacifist pushed much too far.
His back slammed into the row of lockers causing him to lose his breath a second time. Spots danced in his vision as Everest grabbed a fistful of his shirt but left their knuckles digging painfully into his sternum.
“I’ve been as kind to you as I can force myself to be so that I’m not punishing you for what your last incarnation did, but you are driving me batshit crazy, Princey.”
Ryan couldn’t find his voice to respond not for lack of breath but because he had no idea what to say that wouldn’t anger them. Except this only seemed to irritate Everest even more as evidenced by how they were slowly increasing the pressure on his chest.
Everest, despite being downright livid, took a moment to stop and glare at anyone badly hiding the fact that they were eavesdropping. There must have been something more potent in their glare compared to normal because the remaining students scattered, either to alert a teacher or to ignore what was going on.
They pulled back slightly, releasing their physical hold on him but they still had him pinned down with that same glare. A mixture of fear and morbid curiosity kept him from following his desire to run. The whole situation must have been strange looking from the outside with Everest towering over Ryan’s slightly trembling form despite him being at least a couple inches taller.
Everest dropped their voice both in volume and pitch making them quieter as if trying to share a secret with another spy.
“Fine, you want to know why I don’t like you? Your last incarnation murdered by husband,” Everest snarled at him. “Andrew was just as kind and soft spoken in that lifetime as he is in this one and you stabbed him because he got in the way of your plan. I barely survived your attack at the time but I bet you can guess how I responded to that.”
As they added that last sentence to their statement, their frown turned into a slight smile more sinister than genuine.
“Come on, Princey. You know what I’m talking about. I’ve heard what most of the school thinks of me. Scary, aggressive, emotionless. So, what do you think I did next after you killed Andrew?”
Outside of implying that their last incarnation had murdered his, there was something deeply discomforting when a vita ante started blurring the lines between their incantations and start referencing it all in first person.
After a minute, their shoulders relaxed and they shifted their bodyweight just enough that they were no longer leaning into Ryan’s personal space. Any student who had braved coming closer to try and hear backed up like Everest was a predator who could be evaded by staying out of their line of sight.
It was at this point where Everest must have hit some unknown limit because they dropped their gaze and began avoiding looking directly at Ryan.
“Don’t worry about that particular event repeating. Like I said earlier, I already scared off the bad influences that led you down that path, you should be fine. Just do me a favor and stay away from Andrew.”
Ryan hadn’t realized how choked up with fear he had been until his voice cracked when he tried to respond.
Fate had declared the conversation over by sending the school security officer fast-walking over to them.
“Any chance you’d be willing to back me up in saying we were just rough housing?”
“Does that mean I get a redo?”
Everest barked out a humorless laugh, grinding just a little too wide at Ryan. “Definitely not, you crossed a line by accusing me of sabotage when I’ve been nothing but kind to you. You’ll have to rebuild the line from scratch and then we’ll see.”
Between the two of them, they managed to convince the resource officer that they had just been messing around and recreating a scene from a movie they made up on the spot. They still got an earful for their violence though, but eventually they were told to just get to immediately go to their next class.
Everest took this rather literally, turning on their heel but pausing to add something.
“Don’t assume this means I’m going to allow you near any of my friends without some serious consequences. That especially includes Andrew.”
They walked away before Ryan could come up with any kind of response.
The bell had rung several minutes before, urging the remaining students to either try and slip into class late or to go find somewhere to hang out for as long as they felt like skipping class.
This left only one person in the hall with him.
“Dude, what in the hell just happened,” Angela asked, staring at him like the answer was written on his face.
He considered lying about it for about .3 seconds before realizing the full story would be all over the school by the end of the class period and he wouldn’t be able to get around it at all. So instead, he summed it up as truthfully as he could.
“I think I just started my personal World War III.”
Jerri Moyes is a recent graduate from Texas Tech University and aspires to be an editor.
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