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Robert Sheckley

Reborn Again

*** 

“Damn,” a voice said. “I’m still alive.”

“Who is that?” Ritchie Castleman asked.

“It’s me, Moses Grelich,” a voice inside him said.

Grelich? Ritchie had heard that name somewhere before. Then he remembered. Grelich was the body he had bought to live his new life in.

Grelich said, “I was supposed to be dead. They promised me I’d be dead.”

“That’s right,” Ritchie said. “I remember now. You sold your body to me. And I was supposed to have bare-bones possession of it.”

“But I am still in it. It’s still my body.”

“I don’t think so,” Ritchie said. “Even if you are still in it, you sold it to me. It’s my body now.”

“So OK, it’s your body. Consider me your guide.”

“I don’t want a guide,” Ritchie said. “I bought a body, and I want to be alone in it.”

“Who could blame you?” Grelich said. “Some schlemiel in the lab must have muffed it. I’m still here.”

“Get out!”

“Calm yourself, boychick. I got no place to go.”

“Can’t you just... stand outside?”

“Like a ghost? Sorry, Herbie, I don’t know how to do that.”

“My name is Ritchie.”

“I know, but you’re more of a Herbie type.”

Ritchie let that one go. He muttered, “I need to get this mess straightened out. There’s got to be someone in charge around here.”

“I doubt it,” Grelich said. “This looks like a rich man’s apartment to me.”

“Where? I can’t see a thing. My God, I’m in darkness!”

“Don’t get so excited. I seem to still be in charge of the sensory apparatus. Go ahead, take a look. I turn the vision over to you.”

The scene suddenly opened up to Ritchie’s senses. He was lying in bed, in his bright, high-rise apartment on Central Park West. It was daylight. Sunlight was pouring in the window. Across the room he could see his mechanical exercise horse. The Chagall print still dominated one wall.

“It’s my apartment,” Ritchie said. “I guess they put me back here after the operation. Shouldn’t there be a nurse?”

“A nurse! The boychick wants a nurse!”

“It’s just that I’ve been through a considerable operation.”

“And I haven’t?”

“It’s not the same thing. You’re supposed to be dead. You don’t need a nurse. Just a disposal service.”

“That’s a hell of a thing to say.”

Ritchie was a little ashamed of what he had just said. But this was a new situation for him. Just yesterday he had opted for the newly developed choice of putting his mind into a new body. This had become necessary when his congenital heart defect suddenly started acting up. There had been no time to lose. He had gone to Mind Movers Technology Company, and found that they had one body he could take over immediately. Moses Grelich had decided to opt for self-obliteration, to sell his body, and to leave his money to Israel.

Yesterday the operation had taken place.

*** 

The doorbell rang. Ritchie slipped on a bathrobe and slippers and went to answer it, thinking maybe it was the nurse the Company should have sent in the first place.

He opened the door. Standing there was a tall, skinny old lady, her dark hair pulled back and tied in a messy bun. She was wearing a plain cloth coat. She carried her purse in one hand, a white paper bag in the other. There was something about her... Ritchie thought she must once have been a beauty.

“Is Moses here?” she asked timidly. “They gave me this address for him at Mind Movers.”

Ritchie felt like one of those guys in a fable. Since Grelich had taken over the body, Ritchie could see and hear, and sometimes even speak, but he had no control over anything else. And no body sensations. When the body walked, Ritchie had the sensation that he was floating about six feet above the ground.

“I’m here!” Grelitch said out of Ritchie’s mouth.

“Moise!” she cried.

“Esther? Is that really you?”

“So who else should it be?”

“Come in, come in,” Moses said.

Esther carefully wiped her feet on the mat and entered the apartment.

Moses led her into the living room. He was already familiar with Ritchie’s apartment. He waved her to a chair.

“Nu, don’t you have a kitchen?” Esther asked. “I’ll feel more comfortable in the kitchen.”

Ritchie could hear Esther and Moses talking. Something about how Moses’ old friends at the East Broadway cafeteria were worried about him. One of them had read an item in The New York Post about how Moses Grelich was about to undergo a whole-body transplant operation. It seemed that Moses had agreed to sell his body to someone.

Moses was quoted as saying that since God had failed, Communism had failed, and now Capitalism had failed, he saw no sense in going on. He planned to be the first man in history to prove the old saying, “If the poor could die for the rich, what a good living they would make!”

“So how come you’re still alive?” Esther asked.

Ritchie summoned up all his energy and said, “He shouldn’t be!”

“Beg pardon, what did you say?” Esther said.

“The operation was not a success,” Ritchie said.” They had the transplant, but they didn’t get rid of Moses. This is supposed to be my body now. But he’s still here, damnit!”

Esther’s eyes grew wide.

Taking a deep breath, and letting out half of it, she said. “Pleased to meet you, Mister—”

“Castleman, Ritchie Castleman. And you are?”

“Mrs. Kazorney, Esther Kazorney.” She frowned, as if to say, “I can’t believe what’s happening.” Then, timidly, she said, “Moise, are you really still there somewhere?”

“Of course I’m still here. Where else would I be?”

Ritchie noticed that Grelich’s voice was more robust then his own. Grelich spoke emphatically and somewhat dramatically. His sentences were filled with highs and lows, and he made full use of diminuendo and crescendo.

“Yes, Esther,” Grelich went on, “By the grace of the times we live in I am still here. These klutzes couldn’t even kill an unhappy Jew, even though Hitler showed them how some years ago. Esther, we are living now in an age of the goyishe apotheosis. The peasantry is now at the controls, and they are showing us what it really means to screw up, you should excuse the language.”

Esther made a small dismissing gesture. She studied Moses’ face and said, in a low voice, “Moise?”

“I’m still here,” Moses said.” Where else would I be?”

“This fellow who lives inside you—is he a landsman?”

“Atheist!” Ritchie said. “Purebred atheist.”

“You see?” Moses said. “Atheism is the first step toward Judaism.”

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