The first time it happened, I’d left home to start a new life. I was eighteen and on my way to the city by the sea, where I’d study craftsmanship under a master and eventually return home a master craftsman. I thought everything that had happened was a dream then.
He thinks it’s just a dream. It’s not. It’s real. I’ve been trying to tell him that thirty times already, but I’m not going to this time. I’ll keep quiet, and I’ll see what happens next.
The second time it happened, I met her. The girl with short gray hair, braided on one side, her red coat loose around her shoulders, her eyes bright and crimson and somehow so strangely familiar. She knew me, she said, and she told me it wasn’t a dream. I didn’t believe her. I didn’t believe a word she said. I’d never met her before in my life, but before I fell asleep that night I had a nagging feeling that I had her name at the tip of my tongue and it disappeared without a trace when I rose with the morning dawn.
He doesn’t believe me, like always. It was a little different this time, though – it was as if he vaguely remembered me from somewhere, but is unwilling to accept that fact. On the other hand, I remember all there is to know about him; his name is Dante, and he’s good with his hands. The first time I met him, he was carving a figure of a bird from a piece of wood no thicker than my forefinger and middle finger together. If he remembers even the smallest thing about me, that’s good enough. That’s really good enough.
The third time it happened, I was done. I was sick and I was tired and I met her again, the gray-haired red-eyed girl with her ill-fitting coat. Her name was Maria. This time, I believed what she said.
He remembers my name. That was what he remembered about me in the previous cycle. I nearly cried, but I won’t. I’ll keep silent. I’m happy. He remembers my name, and he believes me now. I can’t wait for the next cycle.
The fourth time it happened, we formed an uneasy alliance. I still harboured a sense of distrust towards her despite her words, for even though I’d felt that it truly wasn’t a dream, who could so easily believe that they were living their life in a never-ending loop? And to be told so by a girl with lank hair and a coat so faded in colour, whose eyes occasionally shone with something that I could only describe as madness, who wore rings on her fingers that sometimes glowed eerily in the dark; she thought I didn’t notice them, but I did. She said they were magic. I said it was only time before she was burned at the stake. It didn’t make her laugh, which made it seem all the more serious, but it wasn’t until she chased away the wolves in the night with fireballs that she shot from the palm of her hands that I realised she wasn’t lying to me. She never had.
He thinks I’m mad, but I don’t mind. I’m not the one who has to live his life over and over again. It must have been tiring, and so infuriating. He tells me about the woman he met at the end of his life, right before it cycles right back to the beginning. He calls her Alba, and she has white hair, white pupils and black sclera, and her touch is ice cold. I can’t imagine her. He’s scared of her, terrified even. I’ll do all I can for him. I won’t let her hurt him again. I’ll find this woman; I’ll find out everything there is to know about her, and I won’t let her hurt him again. I won’t let anything hurt him.
The fifth time it happened, someone different died for the first time. That man, he wasn’t supposed to die. It wasn’t until we’d deviated from the normal routine that we met him, and I can’t shake the feeling that we caused his death somehow.
He tells me he feels guilty the man died. I tell him that it’s alright, that he’ll be back in the next cycle and it’ll all be okay. I don’t believe it myself, but I’ll do anything to make him feel better. Dante’s right, though – that man was not supposed to die. I’ve never seen him before, and neither has Dante; but ever since we decided to change our plan of action and encountered things and people we weren’t supposed to have met, I’ve been getting a strange feeling, a cold shiver that runs down my back. Like something’s telling us that’s it’s just wrong, that it’s not supposed to be this way. I know he feels it too, but I pretend I know nothing. It’s better that way. We have to find out who that woman is. Dante is looking steadily worse with every cycle his life repeats, and I fear it’s only a matter of time before he loses it.
The sixth time it happened, the man didn’t come back. Other people who died in the cycle, they usually come back as if nothing had happened and proceed to die just as they were meant to. This man didn’t. He wasn’t supposed to die. Now he’s gone and it feels like worse things are to come.
He blames himself. The man who died before is not here now. There are no traces of him anywhere; it’s as if he’s never existed to begin with. I don’t know what I can say to him. There’s nothing I can say. There’s nothing I can do; there’s nothing we can do but push on. We have to find out who she is. We have to. I don’t want this to go on.
The seventh time it happened, my best friend died. Nico, he was a good man. He had nothing to do with this entire cycle ordeal. He knew nothing; he had a good life back home, a good job and someone who loved him. And now because of me, he’s dead. He wasn’t supposed to die, and he’s never coming back no matter how many times I repeat this life. Now I have nothing left to live for.
He can’t give up. I won’t let him give up.
The eighth time it happened, more people died. We’re a plague, that’s what we are. We never should have done anything. We never should have tried to change our fate. I never should’ve believed her.
He hates me now, but that changes nothing. I’m not going to stop trying to save him. I’ll never stop.
The ninth time it happened, we found out who the woman in white was. Dawn personified, a duality filled with rage and hatred and the desire to ruin the world; that was her, the woman in the crimson sea standing beneath the split sky, whose hands and eyes and gaze were cold as death and every touch sent me plummeting down to oblivion. I couldn’t care less about her now though, no matter how important understanding her was. We found out who Alba was, but I found out why Maria had never seen Alba before. It wasn’t because she wasn’t repeating her life. She was. She just doesn’t realise it because she died before reaching the poppy field, and she doesn’t know that she dies every time. I can’t let her know about it. If she does she’ll do something to prevent and that’ll mean deviating from the path, and if she deviates from her fated death then she’ll die forever. I can’t let that happen. Never. She’s all I’ve got now.
He’s hiding something from me. I know he is. He doesn’t look me in the eyes when I question him about it, he jumps when he hears me coming, he refuses to tell me anything more about the woman. I’ve never seen her and I probably never will, since I’m not the one living a repeated life, so what does it matter what I know about her? He’s worrying me, and more importantly he’s keeping a secret from me. I won’t rest until I know what and why.
I lost count of how many times it’s happened, but what does it matter? I failed to keep her safe. I failed to prevent her death, and to prevent her from knowing about it. What does it matter now? What does anything matter now? Every time this life repeats itself, someone new dies. Nico is gone. Maria is gone. Anna and Pietro are gone. Soon, my entire world will disappear and still, but still, still this life of mine will keep on repeating. I’m cursed to spend the entirety of my life repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, beginning my days with the deaths of everyone I’ve ever known and ending them with dawn’s cold touch. I’ve come to cease fearing the oblivion, because at the very least when I fall it is a brief respite from this pain and guilt that washes over me every waking moment of my life. When I fall, I no longer feel anything. When I fall, it is bliss. She is bliss. I remember nothing else save her name. I am nothing compared to her, o Alba.
Alba, o saviour, o lady of the split sky, o ruler of this fate of mine.
She is bliss, and I descend into nothingness.
Art by Eclectinique as part of a collaboration.