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  • Before I settled down for good with my true love, scriptwriting, I had a brief fling as a magazine correspondent. This was back in the late 1970s. I had just come off an assignment involving an elderly man who had been forced to live in a chicken coop while his greedy relatives cashed his Social Security checks. It was hardly a testament to human nature at its finest, and putting it down on paper left me feeling drained and depressed. Seeking to lighten my mood, my editor next arranged for me to be hypnotized by a therapist specializing in past life regression. “Make it fun,” he advised me.

    One of the assistant editors eagerly agreed to accompany me and run the tape recorder. Her name was Patty and she had a wicked sense of humor.

    The hypnotist admitted us to his modest home. He was a short, balding man with only one distinguishing feature: thick, bushy eyebrows that he teased so that they were sticking straight out. It looked as though he was protecting his eyes with two gray awnings.

    “Come in, come in!” He had a gentle voice and he was resolutely cheerful, despite the fact that his wife of 30 years had died only 10 days earlier. Polaroid photos of the deceased lying in her coffin covered his coffee table. Patty and I exchanged sidelong glances.

    The hypnotist – we’ll call him Sam – directed me to sit in a comfortable armchair. I’d never been put under before and was a bit nervous. I made him solemnly swear that he wouldn’t make me cluck like a chicken or crawl like a snake. Patty insisted that he do just that. Suddenly there was a series of loud knocks from the hallway.

    “It’s all right, dear,” Sam sang out. “They’re good people.” He leaned forward and confided: “My wife gets jealous when there are other women in the house.”

    “Maybe we should get started,” I said. The next thing I knew, Patty was rewinding the tape recorder.

    “It’s over?” I asked. Patty nodded. We thanked Sam and left. “OK, Patty, what happened in there?” “You can listen to the tape back at the office” she said, and remained maddeningly mum for the rest of the drive.

    We set up the recorder and I listened as Sam asked me to journey back to the end of a previous life. I was in Munich in the 1890s. I was celebrating my retirement as a railroad engineer at a tavern. Others were with me, but I sensed that they were there because I was paying for the drinks, not out of any real affection. The drunker I got the angrier I grew. “To hell with all of you!” I shouted and took a swing at the man sitting next to me. I missed him completely, toppled off my stool and struck my head on the bar footrest. The only one going to hell that evening, apparently, was yours truly.

    In my next life I was a wounded Roman soldier. I was in a simple, unadorned mud hut in Spain, being attended to by an old peasant woman. We didn’t speak each others’ language, but that didn’t stop her from prattling incessantly. Not to sound like an ingrate, but she was finishing the process begun by the spear point, literally boring me to death. I was too weak to silence her. I willed myself to die instead and succeeded.

    Sam came on again and asked me to travel back to Atlantis. I was a scribe named Beldar in the court of the Emperor. I had done something to displease His Excellence and was awaiting his judgment. I sounded very perturbed by persistent Sam’s questions. “Aren’t I in enough trouble as it is?” I hissed. “Must you make it worse? Go away! I don’t want to speak with you.” The Emperor cleared his throat. I bowed and walked forward to meet my fate.

    Some say that past life regressions are legitimate, valuable exercises. Others insist that the subjects are simply trying to please the hypnotist and will dredge up dimly-remembered scenes from books, movies, television or even campfire stories to supply a plausible scenario. I have no opinion on the matter. But honesty compels me to point out that Beldar was also the name of the Conehead played by Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live.

    (Image by M.C. Escher)
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