… from the Past Lives series, my lead character Rachel MacReady speaks in a series of essays. This one is in response to the question, “Do you have any feelings in general that you are disturbed by? What are they? Why do they disturb you?”
If you’d asked that question in my B.C. days – “before crash” – I would have said, nope, that’s why I’m an artist. I embrace all emotions – doubt, angst, fury and fear – and spew them back on canvas in a swirl of color. But then came the car crash and everything changed. In twenty-four hours I learned I’d lived before as Cassandra Masters. I discovered Cassandra had been a telepath and I was, too. And finally, I was reunited with the reincarnates of my four closest companions from 1870. Two, Brannon and Josh, had been Cassandra’s friends. The others, Zach and Hayden, had been Cassandra’s lovers. Much as I adore painting, I’d have to re-do the Sistine Chapel to work all those emotions out.
And being a new telepath among my rediscovered friends can be a little strange. Take Josh Strickland. In 1870, he was powerful pyrokinetic. Nowadays, he’s a slacker – uninterested in his dad’s construction empire and playing at being a car broker. He skates by on looks and charm. I want to reach into his head and make him see that life is too short. It’s a terrible temptation – because I can impose my will, sometimes I almost think I have the right. Almost.
Then there’s my cousin Brannon. In 1870 she, too, was pyrokinetic, as hot-tempered and combustible as the gift implies. Today she has zero confidence except for her good grades and her perfect attendance record. She hates her looks, hates her body type and she’s always running after the wrong guys. I want to tell her exactly what those guys think of her – how self-defeating her behavior is – and help her regain some of her old fire. But again, I don’t have the right.
Or take Zach. Once upon a time he was Dominic, a powerful telepath in his own right and Cassandra’s beau. In this life he’s hardly changed at all – handsome, smart and sexy. But when our powers accidentally combined and I glimpsed a traumatic memory in his mind, I didn’t break contact. He was forced to sever our link, and now I wonder if he’ll ever trust me again. Why did I trespass on his privacy that way?
Thank goodness for Hayden. In 1870, she was Ted Harrington, badass telekinetic and possibly the most feared man in the Order. Cassandra’s first meeting with Ted was less than perfect – he was on trial for murder – but according to my confused memories, they eventually became lovers. Ted was one of those rare individual virtually immune to telepathy, and Hayden is, too. That means I can’t read her mind, so she can’t inspire any disturbing feelings. And God knows she’s nothing like Ted. He was hard, masculine, his raspy voice like a low growl. Hayden is curvy with full, perfect lips and a voice like honey poured over lightning…
So yeah. No disturbing feelings there. None at all.
… my lead character Rachel MacReady speaks in a series of essays. This one is in response to the question, “What are your long-term and short-term goals?”
Okay, confession time. I suck at questions like this. My cousin and best friend, Brannon, wrote my university entrance essay because mine was such a joke. So I turned to her for some help and here’s what she told me to say:
Short-term goals: graduate university with honors, pay off Mazda, find a part-time job in the art world while arranging for my first gallery showing. Long-term goals: gain serious recognition for my art, marry a man who respects my career and have happy, healthy children.
After Brannon wrote that, she got some graph paper and constructed a timeline. I’m penciled in for marriage at twenty-five. It’s the same age she scheduled me to earn an NEA grant to fund my painting, so I guess I’m in for a busy year. Seriously, though, Brannon’s schedule was so perfectly her and so totally not me, I stayed up till three am writing my own. Here goes:
Short-term goal: find out how I died in 1870. Long-term goal: keep from dying the same way in this life.
Okay, I’ll admit that’s a little sparse. But my life is changing so fast, and things are moving so rapidly, it seems best to mentally travel light. Before the car crash that unlocked my past life memories, not to mention my telepathy, I thought I had things figured out. And yeah, my imaginary future looked a lot like Brannon’s plan. But the crash did more than show me who I used to be – Cassandra Masters, part of the Order, a steampunk secret society that controlled Victorian Britain. It reunited me with key players from that lifetime. Brannon was once a pyrokinetic named Lucy. Josh Strickland, a bit of a slacker in the present day, had been a pyrokinetic, too, and one tough hombre. Zach Miller, handsome, smart and sexy in the present day, had once been Dominic, Cassandra’s handsome, smart and sexy 1870s boyfriend, or “beau.” And Hayden Cross, driver of the silver Porsche that collided head-on with my Mazda, had once been Ted Harrington – badass telekinetic, accused murderer and a man Cassandra found at least as attractive as Dominic. The details are still hazy, but I know for sure that the five of us banded together to stand up to corruption within the Order. Banded together and died – if not in the rebellion, soon after.
Revised short-term goal: find out if I had some role in the deaths of my friends in 1870. Revised long term goal: make damn sure I don’t get us all killed in this life.
Hopefully my life will go back to normal someday. But it’s hard for me to worry about future gallery showings and domestic bliss when a new version of the Order seems to be rising again. It might sound like an ego trip, but I have the strangest feeling that I’m back, reborn in this day and age, to stop it from rebuilding. So there’s my goal in a nutshell: stop the Order.
Rachel, the lead character of my book Past Lives #1: Rachel, speaks to you in a series of essays. The first:
“What are your thoughts on tradition?”
I’m an art major, so when I think of tradition, I think of the various schools of art: classical, romantic, photorealistic, etc. Some of those disciplines didn’t appeal to me. But my professors said you have to understand the past to go forward. Besides, in art, you’re never straitjacketed; creativity and innovation are paramount. But when you ask me about tradition, I think you really mean, what do I think about the Order? Do I feel bad that it collapsed, taking its rules and its bloodlines and its Great Houses with it, leaving telepaths and other psychics to shift for themselves?
The Order was the guiding hand behind Britain’s age of Empire. Imagine it: three hundred white men, all telepaths, held sway over one-fifth of the world. They did it with new inventions – steam-powered ships, telegraphs, dynamite. They did it by remaining in the shadows, allowing England’s nobility to believe they ruled in truth as well as name. And they did it by telepathically reinforcing societal rules that encouraged everyone to keep to their place. In other words, they taught the populace to emphasize and revere tradition. Not all traditions. Just the ones that kept them in power.
I can’t claim to know the whole history of the Order. Before the car crash that brought back memories of my past life as Cassandra Masters, I didn’t even know I was a telepath. I never dreamed I could read minds, force weaker people to obey me, even gather my psionic energy and throw it like a lightning bolt. And heaven knows uncovering the whole truth about the Order will take time. But I know telepaths first arose in ancient Greece. I know Queen Elizabeth I had telepaths for advisors and a telekinetic assassin. And I know that until about 1750, the Order was matriarchal.
Why matriarchal? Because before DNA testing, no man could ever be sure a child was his. So each Great House was headed by a mother or grandmother. But then the bloodlines started to die off. Gradually there was a shift in power – a generation where more male telepaths survived to adulthood than female. As the Order transitioned to all-male rule, British society tightened like a noose. Especially around the necks of the women. By 1870 they were too tightly corseted to manage even a brisk walk and mentally corseted, too. In a world where a 22-year-old unmarried man had his whole life ahead of him and a 22-year-old unmarried female was a failure (an “old maid”) the Order’s ruling class felt secure. They weren’t afraid the marginalized females in their midst would rise up to challenge them.
Except in 1870, one did. Cassandra Masters. I guess in those days I wasn’t too blinded by tradition. And now that I’ve come back as Rachel MacReady, I feel very much the same.