“Isobel,” said a gentle voice. “Awaken, Niña. You must prepare to begin again.”
The voice rang through her head with a musical tone. Strange vibrations tickled her senses, coursing through her body as her muddled mind began to clear. Little by little she became reconnected to her limbs. Though, she struggled against it.
Everything felt wrong. It was her soul, her entirety. It weighed her down in this place. Steady though it was, a mighty force tried to sweep it away into nothing, so she resisted. The effort was wasted, as if she held her breath under water until the last possible moment before inevitably resurfacing for air. She wanted to breathe. She wanted to live. But there was no rejecting whatever new life expected her, forcing her to look upon it and accept.
When she opened her eyes, she knew she was gone.
A garish light blinded her momentarily as she looked upon the shining face of a woman. In that instant, her weighted body was no more. Everything that made her Isobel Carmina, the girl who belonged to the City of Chichén Itzá, slipped away. As the soul she had clung to since birth began to diminish, little by little she could comprehend her fate with more ease.
She would never return, not to that body, that place, or that life. There was a fleeting comfort in this awareness. Though, when she closed her eyes, Isobel Carmina remained, desperate to connect back to the moments before. Only seconds ago she had died, her life snatched away by the hands of a man with a scarred spirit and a silver sword. Who was she now? There was no answer, and no answer equated her to nobody. Thus, she searched for a way back to the past.
The woman with the musical voice tried to ease her fear. It felt different here, foreign. She could tell fear didn’t belong.
“Don’t worry, child. Time will heal you completely. This soul that lingers will die soon,” she said with a smile. “But your spirit lives on. It is the divine part of you that connects to the universe, to everything. But you must leave your humanity, your soul, behind in order to let your spirit fully live on.” Placing a hand on her heart, or where her heart used to be, the woman moved away towards another in need of reassurance.
The worry didn’t dissipate in the least. What would become of her, of Isobel, if she didn’t cling to that soul? Again, she felt weighted down, heavy with fear.
Isobel had fought hard to live strong in the burdened hand she’d been dealt. This wasn’t her first experience with death. Years ago, when she was barely a girl, soldiers from her own country, from the city of Mayapan, attacked in the night. They stole her father and baby brother from that life without remorse in exchange for power. Her strong spirit kept her going as she prayed to her gods for help to forgive, forget, and move forward. With her mother by her side, they rebuilt in the shelter of the jungle. Then, new soldiers came from a land far away, floating in with the morning tide. They conquered Yaxuna in the south and Coba in east, and her Chichén Itzá burned to ashes in the night.
It was inevitable in that world, where humanity fought for gain and power. War would always plague the land, and so it did in Chichén Itzá. It had come, it had consumed, and she was gone.
Everyone was there waiting as she sat lying in the grass, dull rays of light shining down on her in her nakedness. It was strange to have so many eyes observing her. At least while her soul continued to dwell, she knew it should feel strange. They saw her for who she truly was. But who was she now anyhow?
Others were there too, just opening their eyes for the first time again, like newborns to a new life. They were forced to say goodbye to the moment before, a moment full of a lifetime of memories. All the people lost to her looked down at them with sad eyes, warm smiles, and outstretched arms. She could see herself reflected in their shimmering faces as if they were made of a glittering glass that waved in and out of tangibility. She stared through them, through the smiles and condolences, at her own glowing essence. She recognized herself, but it wasn’t Isobel Carmina.
Being lifted to her feet, she was ushered into a line with the others and graced with garments of glittering silk, a luxury Isobel had never known. She couldn’t help the momentary rush of excitement washing over her. Embracing the elegance of the cloth as it clung to her skin, she felt a sense of importance, of purpose. Though, she couldn’t help but think that Isobel had never done anything so deserving of such honors in her lifetime. Maybe it was more telling of an unwritten future, of the hopes of what it could be.
As she stood there in line, one by one, people planted kisses on her cheek. With each kiss she felt as if the gods of her prayers blessed her. Still, there was something quite jaded about the entire experience. Before this new life, her dreams had been filled with celebrations, and happy conversations, and excited reminisces with those lost to her. In a way this felt like a dream, like a daze starting to settle in as the effervescent versions of the people she once knew surrounded her.
The people here had the same faces, but they had wholly changed. She now recognized those who had been gone from her life for so long that she had since forgotten how they looked. Others she did not know at all, yet they stared down on her with a sort of understanding. She wondered how far gone their last moments of life were to them. How long had they survived this new realm, and how long would they all, would she, have to stay? Were they even them even more? She thought not.
She wondered if they had fought at all to hold on to their past lives as she did now. Her self-awareness, her soul, battled to stay present at the forefront of her mind. Never before had it been so difficult to be Isobel Carmina. Ever more, her body felt like it was losing density as her sense of being faded.
“Yo soy Isobel,” she thought over and over.
Glancing around this new existence, she did have to appreciate it. The jungle was there, the one she used to explore in the mornings as the birds’ songs guided her through the thick of the trees on the Yucatan. And there, to the left, she saw the paths that led to the ruins of ancient walls and structures that her village had been built upon. El Castillo was in the distance, the temple of worship for Quetzalcoatl, and she also saw many sturdy homes, though they wouldn’t last a fire.
Letting her toes scrunch up the crisp grass beneath her feet, she felt a moment of peace, of reassurance. Yes, this was her home, or some version of it. She couldn’t quite tell what or how this was a place she knew, but know it she did. In essence, though, this wasn’t her home at all.
No birds sang, and the wind blew quietly without rustling the leaves of the trees. Time seemed to stand still here, and there was a lingering silence that made her once warm country seem cold.
Many moments passed before she and the others were given direction. She realized only now that she hadn’t spoken since she first opened her eyes.
“Where are we? Where is Mama?” Her tongue moved, but no sound came out.
“Language is different here, Niña,” said a woman who whispered like the wind. Isobel realized her mouth never moved. “We speak within our thoughts. You’ll learn this with time.”
Time. This word seemed undefined in this world. It meant nothing here. “Yo soy Isobel,” she thought once more.
The woman smiled. “I know who are you, child. We all do. You need not be afraid. Not just yet.” She recognized this woman, but not entirely.
They moved just like normal, these people she once knew. One foot in front of the other, hands swaying at their sides. It’s different though, she thought. It’s strange. When the wind blows its as if everyone skips a beat. She felt it too, sensed as her body lifted like a feather into the air with the slightest breeze, pushing her along, guiding her towards the unknown.
Suddenly the crowd came to a stop and a man’s voice started ringing in her head. “Ascendants, your guides shall escort you now until the light has set,” he said before vanishing.
Isobel felt a connection to this word ‘Ascendant.’ It rolled around in her head as she tried to define it for herself, to understand this term that seemed to attach to her very being.
“Yes, you are an ascendant. We all are,” said a small voice sounding of the chirps of spring.
Isobel had known this somehow. She had resonated with the word but didn’t quite understand why. Looking around, she tried to find the source of the voice.
“Marya!” she exclaimed as a young girl was made visible from the dispersing crowd.
“Amiga, how I’ve missed you.” Mayra had been taken in the first war when Mayapan had conquered their city.
She smiled with a worn expression. “Isobel,” she said. No other words were needed as they embraced in a long hug.
As the two set off, reminiscing about the people and stories she remembered so well, Isobel couldn’t help but notice how she’d changed. Marya was undeniably different now. Her memories were there, the thoughts were there, but she had let go of her soul. She was something more or something less, and Isobel felt the fear settle in again.
“I’ve ascended,” said Maryra, reading her thoughts. “And soon you will too. The longer you hold on to your soul, the harder it will be to exist in this domain.”
“But who will I be if I let go of my humanity?” said Isobel, shaking her head. “That’s what you’ve all done here, isn’t it? You’ve let go of what makes you human, your individuality.”
Marya smiled. “Amiga, no! I am still me.” She touched the place where a heart should be, but Isobel doubted there was any need here. “The spirit is what defines you. It will continue to decide your fate, for always. Your spirit lasts forever, and yours is strong Isobel. A better future awaits, so stop fighting and let it guide you.”
Wandering away from the crowd with Marya by her side, Isobel began to see the reality of it all. They hopped from crumbling rooftops to the limbs of the tallest trees, their bodies no longer keeping them attached to limitation. Exploring the realm, Isobel led them down paths that had always been closed to her in her past existence. Swimming in Cenote Sagrado, she saw the gold, jade, and silver sacrifices lining the waters at the bottom. She even climbed the steps of mighty El Castillo and said a prayer that seemed to engulf her entirely as each word tumbled out. Feeling was different. Seeing was new. She explored a world, a city she thought she knew so well yet had never before understood.
Finally, they decided to rest on a bench, though Isobel did not feel tired. That feeling no longer existed she knew. Mayra took her hand is hers not saying a word. It seemed for hours they sat like this, or maybe just minutes. Time was changed here. Everything was changed.
“What exactly is this place?” said Isobel. “Where are we?”
“This is where we all go, those who have fought, learned, and loved well in our past. This is where we come to be judged in finality. I’m still waiting, but I hope to be taken soon.” Marya looked to the sky. “Not everyone is taken, but no one stays in this realm forever. It’s a reflection of the past, unchanging.”
“And what happens if you’re taken?”
“Peace,” said Mayra.
“And if you’re not?”
“Then you’ll be fated to wander this endless eternity in search of it.” She gestured to the land that outstretched before them. “Hope to be taken.”
Isobel nodded. “The past is a beautiful place, but I wouldn’t like to stay here long,” she said. “It makes my heart heavy.” She put a hand on her chest and felt a pulse, weighted with her soul yet again.
“Of course not!” said Marya with a chuckle. She laid a hand on Isobel’s shoulder. “This is only a short stop on the way to the next life. Cherish this moment. Its not often one gets to revisit the past.”
In that second, dizziness overwhelmed her. All the change and sameness, the flashes of faces, and bursts of a past running through her freshest memories made her yearn to rewind time, to understand her existence now. “I shouldn’t even be here! Mama...” she said, her voice trembling with worry. She squeezed Mayra’s hand.
Mayra looked away. “I’m sorry,” she said. “In time you’ll grow to understand.”
Isobel stood to leave, to wander about for some exit that she prayed existed, but Mayra tightened her hand on hers. “I’m sorry,” she said peering up at her. “You can never leave here. None of us can.”
Even though she had known this was true, hearing it aloud made her feel trapped. A tear rolled down her cheek, her lips trembling as the Isobel Carmina she knew well burst through to the surface, struggling against this dimmed existence settling in. Suddenly she felt all the heaviness again, and she strained to pull air into her lungs. She needed to breath now. Isobel needed air. Panicking, she began to cry, balling as if she truly was a newborn sucking in life for the first time.
Mayra tried to calm her, but she could barely hear as her own voice shouted warnings in her mind. Then, through the blurred tears she noticed the figure of a man.
“Isobel, flower, we must go now. Light has almost set. Calm now. All will be well.”
“Papa?” she said through gasps for air.
“I’m here,” he smiled, brushing her hair behind her ears as he’d done so many times before. “I’ve been watching over you.”
She looked up into his face and could only stare in awe. This was the riveting moment she had been expecting at the moment of her death. She ran into his arms.
“And where is Brother? May I see him too?”
Her father looked down upon her with a solemn smile. “He was taken, flower, and soon you shall be too.”
“The young ones never stay long,” said Mayra softly.
“But we can all go now. Now that we’re all together,” said Isobel, never wanting to be separated again in any existence.
Her father still held her in his arms. “It’s not our time yet, but I believe it will come. We lived our lives well, and our spirits are resilient with love. This I know to be true.”
“But what is the point? If we can’t stay together forever, if we give up our souls for a new life and the unknown… then what was the point of all of this?”
“I think the point is to live. Never forget that blessing. Though you faced many hardships in your lifetime, you were lucky to have lived. And life is something that can only be appreciated once in death,” he said, taking her hand in his. “This journey is incredibly worth whatever loss you may feel now. Do not take it for granted. Your spirit will be affected by what you’ve learned in the past, and you’ll live on in a different way… in a better way than before.
“But what of our memories?”
“They’re all around you! The past is forever. It will always be a part of this world. It cannot be erased, and you’ll circle back one day and see. In another life, you’ll see. ”
“Come, we must go now. The light has almost set,” said Mayra, tugging at Isobel’s hand.
As her friend and father guided her through the jungle onwards to the unknown, Isobel had to stop. “Did you feel that?” she said, closing her eyes. It was the faintest of feelings, but it was one she would forever recognize. “Mama!” her voice echoed through the trees. “Mama, where are you? I can sense you here.”
Isobel’s father laid a hand on her shoulder, putting a finger to his lips in an order of quiet. “Sometimes the past and present overlap. She’s here now. I sense her too,” he said with a smile, closing his eyes and relishing the moment. “But only a whisper can cross realms. Only then can she hear you.”
“Mama?” she said, her voice barely audible.
In that moment, her father and friend vanished. She was standing alone in a jungle filled with life. The birds chirped, the wind blew, the sun was too warm on her face, and she was home. This was where her soul was tethered. She could feel it almost relaxing back into her bones, into her flesh. This was the true Chichén Itzá .
“Isobel?” She turned to see her mother staring down at her, staring through her.
“Mama, I’m here. I’m safe,” she whispered, reaching out her hand.
“Where, Amor? Where are you? I feel you here.” She turned in circles, searching for the voice on the wind that was Isobel.
“I’m somewhere safe,” she said through tears of joy and sadness. “Don’t worry. I love you. I’m with Papa now. And Brother is safe too.”
Her mother fell to her knees in tears. “I love you, my daughter,” she whispered. “Goodbye now. Go in peace.”
Isobel closed her eyes and suddenly found herself back in the jungle surrounded by quiet, her father and Mayra by her side.
The last thing she saw before returning to her present, to her death, was her mother carving a stone that read Isobel Carmina. She placed it near the graves of her husband and baby. Saying a prayer to help her forgive, forget, and move forward, her mother never looked back. Her last words rang in Isobel's ears, “The past is the past, but forever it lasts.” Her mother placed a hand over her heart and planted a kiss on the tombstone before completely vanishing.
It was then that Isobel Carmina let her soul go, leaving it with the grave in the jungle of Chichén Itzá and with her mother to honor. Her soul would last forever there, in the past where it belonged. It would live on in memory, in the breeze that rustled the jungle trees, and in the birds’ songs that forever carried on the wind, and in her mother's heart who would spread Isobel's story to their people. She would always be a part of that life and forever bound to that land, so she let it go. She let it die, and her spirit lived on for an eternity.