Cycles of Rebirth
A unicycle, a wombat, and the kitchen sink walk into their karma…
Tommy the Unicycle creaked and wobbled back and forth as he wheeled into the classroom. He looked around nervously. The walls were festooned with alphabet posters and handprint art, but tonight the desks had been pushed to the side to make room for a small menagerie of critters conversing in a loose circle. Someone had chalked “Karma Krew” in sloppy letters on the blackboard.
“Wellcome!” said a llama with a friendly voice. “Come into the circlle, amigo!”
The conversation stopped as they all turned to look at him. Tommy wheeled in between a wombat and a duck perched on a pair of metal folding chairs. He wobbled as he slowed and shifted back and forth to stay upright.
“Hey. I’m Tommy,” he mumbled.
“Hi, Tommy!” they all replied in totally-not-creepy unison.
“I’m Dolllly,” said the llama. “And I’m so gllad to meet you! What brings you to our krew?”
Tommy shifted awkwardly. “Uh, I just heard you were good for … well, for weird freaks like me.”
The group gasped, but Dolly just laughed. “Yes, we are a llittlle freaky, aren’t we? But that’s okay. We’re weird for a purpose, llike everyone else! What we do here is try to understand why we were reincarnated the way we are, and what we need to llearn from the experience.”
The rest of the krew muttered in agreement; those who could nod did so.
“For instance,” said Dolly. “I was an astronaut in my previous llife, and our shiellding failed during reentry. But before I died, I reallized that our bodies are just spacecraft for karma, and that when they faill, we reenter llife over and over again. My karma demanded that I return to teach what I had llearned.”
“So why a llama?”
“Honestlly, I think karma just llikes bad puns.”
The wombat beside Tommy howled with laughter, rocking back and forth on its chair and looking for all the world like it would have slapped its knees if it could. Tommy wheeled away reflexively and almost toppled over onto the duck, who twisted his beak into something impressively close to a scowl.
“Yeaaaah. I don’t know about all that,” Tommy said as he straightened himself out. “I never really bought into that karma stuff.”
“So, you think you just came back as a unicycle for no good reason?” said a pot-bellied pig across from him.
“Maybe. Can’t things just happen sometimes?”
“Nah, there’s a reason for everything,” the wombat said, still panting from its laughter.
“Okay, so why are you a wombat, then?”
If wombats could blush, this one would have; instead he looked down at the floor. “I don’t know,” he said softly. “I don’t remember much about my old life. Just, I was in the kitchen, washin’ dishes. Then, out of nowhere, the ground caved in underneath me. Turns out we had a water main leak, and it eroded everything under the kitchen.”
“A kitchen sinkhole?”
“Exactly! I dropped like six feet.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” Tommy said.
“Yeah, but then the sink fell on top of me.”
“Next thing you know, I’m a wombat! Livin’ in a den underground, scratchin’ in the dirt. It was nice, I guess, but I kinda felt out a’ place.”
“Seems like the right place, though, since you died underground,” Tommy said.
The wombat’s jaw dropped open. “Holy cube-shaped crap,” he said. “You’re right!”
Everyone murmured in agreement. “That’s a great insight, Tommy!” Dolly said. “You’re a naturall!”
“I’m Wayne,” said the wombat. “Put ‘er there.” He slapped one of Tommy’s pedals with a paw and almost knocked him over.
“Great. Glad to meet you.” Tommy rolled away a few inches. “So, what, to learn about cycles, I had to become a cycle?” he said, wishing he had one eyebrow to raise.
“Coulld be,” Dolly said. “Karma’s allll about dad jokes.”
A sudden, tiny movement from the corner of the room caught Tommy’s eye. From atop a cardboard diorama of the city skyline, a small, black spider had leapt into the air and swung out on a thread. It floated overhead and landed gently on his seat.
“You are not a unicycle,” it said in a high-pitched voice. “You are a unicycle-man. Don’t forget that.”
“Oh, sure. I was totally in danger of forgetting that.”
“You’d be surprised how easy it can be,” the spider said. It launched forth a shining filament and swung off to perch atop a nearby globe.
Tommy shook himself. Yeah, this place was chock full of weirdos. Maybe coming here had been a mistake. “So, wait,” he said. “Do you all remember your deaths? Because I don’t.”
“Nah. It’s kind of weird to, actually,” said Wayne.
Dolly nodded in agreement. “Most peoplle remember bits and pieces of their llife, but not necessarilly their death,” she said. “The fact that Wayne remembers being killlled by a kitchen sink must have some rellevance to why he’s here today. We haven’t figured out exactlly what yet, but we’re going to.” She smiled at Wayne, and he smiled back.
“Well, isn’t that special,” Tommy said. Weirdos.
The duck beside him ruffled his feathers and stood up on the folding chair. “You think this is a joke? This is serious stuff. I don’t remember my death, but I remember my life — I threw it away being silly and frivolous all the time. I wasted it. Now I know that life is no joke.”
“So, I guess you don’t walk into a lot of bars, then,” Tommy said innocently.
The duck gave him a look that could kill. “No,” he quacked. “I do not. Nor do I hang around with priests and rabbis, nor do I put anything on my bill.”
“Don, don’t get upset,” the pig across from them said. “You remember what happened last time.”
Don the duck closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “You’re right,” he quacked. “I apologize.” He turned back to Tommy. “Now, instead of goofing off, I’ve dedicated my life to helping others like me. Before I do anything, I ask myself: is this good for the ducks? If it’s not, I don’t do it.”
“And what’s good for the ducks?”
“Bread, mostly. It’s a simple life.”
Tommy wheeled around, wobbling and creaking, wishing he had hands to throw up. “Right,” he said. “You were reincarnated as a duck so you could focus on bread. That makes a lot of sense.”
“It’s okay to be skepticall,” said Dolly, “but pllease try to keep an open mind. Remember: we are allll vehiclles for karma, even, um, one-wheelled sentient vehiclles. Are you willlling to share anything about your llife with us? Maybe we can hellp.”
Tommy hesitated: they were a bunch of kooks, sure, but he had come here looking for help. “Well … I do kind of remember joking that I’d like to be reincarnated as Lady Gaga’s bicycle seat,” he said.
There were frowns. “Pig,” someone muttered.
“But mostly I remember work,” said Tommy. “Like, twelve-hour days in the office, day after day, year after year. It’s kind of an endless blur of nonstop work. But the thing is, I don’t actually remember what I did!”
The Karma Krew took a moment to mull that over. “Maybe you ran a unicycle company,” Lucy squealed.
“Nah,” said Wayne. “He’d definitely remember that.”
“You need to learn about balance,” Don quacked. “Sounds like you didn’t have any before, and from the looks of you, you don’t have much now.”
Tommy suddenly felt very aware of his battered body. That was ridiculous! So what if he’d taken a couple of spills? He started to respond but wobbled and nearly fell over before he caught himself.
“The duck-man is correct,” said the spider, and everyone nodded.
“I agree,” Dolly said. “That’s very insightfull, Don.”
“Seriously? Look, I just got a harder body to work than the rest of you guys, that’s all. I can’t just flop down in a hole like a wombat or float around looking pretty and begging for bread.”
“You think I look pretty?” said Don, preening his feathers.
“Augh! Don’t you get it? I’m a freaking circus toy! A unicycle! Why couldn’t I be a … a unicorn! It would be awesome to be reincarnated as a unicorn!”
“Nah, unicorns aren’t real,” the talking wombat said.
“You could be the universe” Lucy suggested.
“Each of us contains the universe within oursellves,” said Dolly. “We are both part and wholle.”
“Yeah, and you know what?” Wayne stood up on his chair and pointed a paw at Tommy. “Bein’ a wombat ain’t as easy as it — whoa!”
Everyone gasped as Wayne slipped off the chair and flopped onto Tommy’s seat. The two of them spun out of control, careening around the room as the others scattered out of their way until Tommy miraculously managed to regain his balance.
“Ta-da!” he said. And then Wayne shifted on top of him and they toppled over together.
“He’s awake!” somebody said. “At lleast it llooks llike it.”
Ah. Tommy rotated his pedals to push off the floor, then spun himself back upright. “I’m okay, guys,” he said. “Don’t worry.” He wobbled a few times, then found his balance.
“We thought you might have reincarnated again,” Don quacked.
“Nope, I’m still here, karma and all.”
Dolly smiled at him. “So you do bellieve us?”
“I do now,” said Tommy. “I guess I was struck by some inspiration.” He turned to Wayne, who was sulking in the corner, and stuck out a pedal. “Put ‘er there, karma partner.”
“What?” Wayne lifted his face from his paws.
“You and me, buddy. We were meant to be together. I’m going to embrace the life of a unicycle — and you’re coming with me. We’re going into show biz.”
“Ooh!” the rest of the krew said.
“Hey, that’d be a good act!” Lucy squealed. “Wayne the Wombat and Tommy the Wobbly Unicycle. I can see you now, zipping up and down a giant kitchen sink together, doing flips and tricks. I’d pay to watch that.”
“Nah, I don’t think so,” Wayne said. “I’m kind of a klutz sometimes.”
“Don’t you get it?” Tommy said “All you remember is falling. All I do these days is fall over! Karma used that to bring us together for a reason.”
“Nah, I don’t — “
“Ugh!” With a high-pitched groan, the spider zipped over onto Wayne’s nose. “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! Wombat-man! Why are you so negative?”
Wayne burrowed his head into his paws. “Because I’m afraid,” he whispered. “Afraid of everything.”
“So? Let life throw the kitchen sink at you. You’ll come back.”
“Exactly!” Tommy said. “Look, you died, and you’ve been hiding in a hole ever since. It’s time to reenter your life. Come on — we’re freaks, right? So, let’s be freaks!”
“Yeah! Llet your freak fllag flly!”
“We’ll make people laugh and bring joy to their lives. A wombat riding a unicycle! Maybe a unicycle riding a wombat! We’ll be crazy and funny, and they’ll love us. It’ll be great.”
“I don’t know,” Wayne said. “Do you think we’re funny enough?”
Tommy the Unicycle stood tall and gazed off into space, almost like he was directly addressing an invisible reader.
“Dam — “ he started, then wobbled and fell over. He bounced back up to his single wheel.
“Damn right, we’re funny,” he said.
“Well, I’m not,” said the duck.
I wrote this story for Roz Warren’s Alternative Medium Contest. She gave four prompts — wombats, unicycles, karma, and the kitchen sink — and I decided to use them all. For added spice, I threw in the four Medium contest topics, too: death, work, space, and reentry. Oh, yeah, and then some Easter eggs as well. Did I go a little overboard? Maybe! But I hope you all enjoyed it!