“I was six years old at the time.How the hell could I have possibly murdered her?” I raised an eyebrow.Was this guy serious?
“Look, Mr. Moore… you have intimate details of the crime.Obviously, you didn’t commit the murder, but it’s equally as obvious you know who did.” The detective regarded me coolly.
I sat straight in my chair, looking directly into his eyes. I crossed my arms, mimicking his stance. He wasn’t going to intimidate me.I had done nothing wrong.Well, besides digging up a corpse in a cornfield in the middle of the night.Seriously… it was the middle of the fucking night.How the hell the farmer even knew I was there boggled my mind.
“Well?” the detective asked.
“Well, what?” I replied.
He huffed out his breath.“Being a smartass will only keep you here longer.”
“I can’t help it.It’s in my blood,” I retorted.
“How did you know where the body was?”
“You won’t believe me if I tell you.”
“Try me.I’ve heard it all.”
I snorted.“Oh, I can pretty much guarantee you haven’t heard anything like this.”
“Mr. Moore, it’s late.I would much rather be at home, in bed.So, do us all a favor and get on with it!”The wooden chair he was sitting on creaked as he sat back and stretched his legs forward.“Who was it?Your father?Grandfather?Uncle? Family friend?”
I sighed and gestured toward my phone.“May I?”
“May you what?No, you can’t call anyone.”
“First of all, I’m not under arrest, so I can call whoever I damn well please.Second of all, I don’t want to make a stupid phone call; I want to show you a video.”
The detective inclined his head toward my iPhone.I picked it up and scrolled to my videos.It didn’t take long to find the one I wanted.
“It started when my son was three, but we didn’t take it seriously until a few months ago.He’s five now.”I tapped the ‘play’ button on the video and handed the phone to the detective.
Teddy looked intently out the window, stretching as far as the restraints in his car seat would allow.“Turn here, Daddy!”he yelled.
Detective Wilson handed me back my phone.“You have the wrong video.Cute kid, but I don’t need to see your vacation vids.”
“It’s the right one, and it’s not a vacation video.Keep watching.”I handed it back to him.
He raised an eyebrow, but hit ‘play’ and resumed watching my son.
I pulled the car over to the side of the rural road.We were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by farms and cornfields full of brown, withered stalks.To our right was a single-lane, narrow dirt road.“Are you sure, Teddy?”
“Yes, Daddy!”Teddy rolled his eyes, like it was the most obvious thing on the planet.He pointed to the dirt road on our right.“It’s down there.”
“What do you remember about this place?” My husband Marshall asked, while taking the video.
I eased the car forward slowly and turned right, cringing at each jarring bump as we made our way down the unmaintained lane.I couldn’t really call it a road.
“This is a bad place.I hated it here.”He was silent for a few seconds before blurting out, “Here!Stop here! By that tree! This is where I died!”
“Wait a minute here… what the fuck am I watching?”Detective Wilson stopped the video and scowled.“This looks like the same place we found you tonight.Are you telling me a kid led you to the body?”
I nodded.“Let me start at the beginning.”
Shortly after we married, Marshall and I adopted an infant from an orphanage in Russia.Teddy was our pride and joy.He met all of his developmental milestones, despite his lousy start in life.In fact, he was an early talker, chattering away non-stop once he figured out how to form sounds into words.When he was three years old, he asked for a doll for his birthday.
Marshall and I didn’t think much of it at the time.Kids liked playing with dolls, so we got him a baby doll that came with a bottle and several different outfits.The bottle stayed in Teddy’s toy box, so I asked him why he never fed her with it.
“She don’t like it.She likes tea,” he responded.“Daddy, can I have a tea set?”
I thought it was an odd request, since Marshall and I were both coffee drinkers.Where did he learn about tea sets?“Christmas is in a couple of months.We can put it on Santa’s list, if you want.”
Teddy grinned and nodded.“I want.Dolly wants too.”
‘Dolly’ sat in a wooden highchair at the kids’ table for Thanksgiving dinner.Teddy worked hard making the paper crown adorning her head.Marshall traced the design on a piece of white paper, and Teddy scribbled all over it with silver and purple crayons.My husband carefully cut it out and stapled it together.
“She’s a princess,” Teddy stated.“Princesses wear crowns.”
“Tiaras,” Marshall corrected.
“Huh?” Teddy furrowed his brow.
“Tiaras are for princesses.They’re like a half a crown.Queens wear crowns.”
“Oh. It’s a tee-ra then.”
Teddy loved watching Disney movies, especially if they had princesses in them.Cinderella was his favorite.I think I can still recite that movie verbatim.A couple of weeks before Christmas that year, Teddy was curled up on my lap, watching that damn movie for the thousandth time, when he asked me for another Christmas present.
“Daddy… I want to go see Santa.”
“Sweetie, we just saw him last week.Why do you want to see him again?”
“I forgotted to ask for something.”
“What did you forget?”
He held his hands over Dolly’s ears.“I want to be a princess too,” he whispered.
“What do you mean?”
“Will Santa bring me a tea set and princess clothes?”
I smiled.“I suppose we’ll just have to ask and see.”
Teddy got his tea set and princess costume, along with a little table and chair set for his bedroom.I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier kid in my life!He immediately ripped open the princess costume and put it on.Then he insisted we stop what we were doing and have a tea party.So Marshall, Dolly, myself, and several stuffed animals crowded around the new table while Princess Teddy served us warm water—a.k.a tea— in plastic tea cups.
One day, Teddy crawled into my lap and sat Dolly on his own lap, facing us.“Her name is Rose, just like me,” he said, smoothing the toy’s hair.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “I thought her name was Dolly?”
“It’s Rose now,” he repeated.“Just like mine used to be.”
“You’ve always been Theodore, honey.”
He shook his head adamantly.“Not now… before.”
He shrugged, then hopped off my lap and skipped away, swinging the newly-dubbed Rose in front of him.
Several months passed before Teddy mentioned ‘Rose’ again.I was at my desk in my home office, working on the computer, when Marshall came in, frowning.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“The strangest thing just happened.Teddy was trying on a new dress, and when he looked at himself in the mirror, he told me he loved being a princess because he was never allowed to before.”
I sat up, alarmed.We’d been careful to nurture Teddy’s interests.We didn’t want to get caught up in traditional gender roles, so we had no problem with our son wearing dresses or playing with dolls. “What?We’ve always let him wear his princess outfits!”
Marshall nodded.“I know.Let’s talk in the kitchen.I put a kettle on for tea.”We’d acquired a taste for tea, now that Teddy served the real thing instead of tepid water at his tea parties.
I followed my husband down the hall and sat at the table in the breakfast nook of our kitchen.I wiped my hands on my jeans and tried to calm the butterflies in my stomach.Marshall looked so serious, and he was usually such an easy-going, happy guy.He poured us each a cup of chamomile tea and sat next to me.
Marshall and Teddy shared the same blond curls and bright blue eyes, as if they were biologically related.Sometimes when I looked at one, I saw the other, and my heart would fill with love.I didn’t know how I got so lucky, to have such a wonderful family.
“So what else did he say?”
“Well, I didn’t think much of it before today, but he’s been saying strange things for a while now.” Marshall sipped his tea.
My mind flashed back to the Rose incident.“A few months ago, he told me his name used to be—”
We spoke simultaneously.
“Huh,” I said.“He wasn’t allowed to wear princess outfits….”
“When he was Rose,” Marshall finished.“He said they were too expensive, so his mommy and daddy wouldn’t buy them.They didn’t have money to waste on such things.”
“Mommy and daddy?”
“Yeah, weird, huh?”
“He also said he wasn’t allowed to play, because he had to work on the farm.”
“What do you think it all means?”
He shrugged.“Hell if I know.”
We finished our tea in silence, each lost in thought.
Over the following year, Teddy occasionally made more strange remarks.He talked about Rose’s life as if he knew her, and mentioned details about farm life a four-year-old suburban child couldn’t possibly know.Such as the best way to pick corn and how to get rid of bugs on tomatoes.We didn’t have a vegetable garden, so how did he know these things?
“Do you want us to call you Rose instead of Teddy?” I asked him one day, while he twirled in front of the mirror in a bright yellow sundress.
He stopped and looked at me like I was a reindeer with three heads.“No, silly!That’s not my name! I’m Teddy now.Rose is a girl’s name.I’m not a girl anymore.”
Marshall and I looked at each other and shrugged.Teddy danced out of the room and into his bedroom.
“Do you think he’s trans?” my husband asked.
I leaned into him, and he put his arm around me, settling against the back of the couch.“No, I don’t think so.He keeps talking about the past.” I paused, then reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone.“Check this out.I found it on YouTube.”I pressed the ‘play’ button and held the phone so we could both see it.
The video showed an interview with a little girl, who talked about a lot of the same things Teddy did.She talked about when she was a boy, and how she died fighting against bad people.They were able to trace the clues back to a Revolutionary War soldier, who died in combat.
Marshall stared at the phone in silence for a minute after the video ended.“So you think Teddy is talking about a past life?”
“It makes as much sense as any other theory, I suppose.We’ve already ruled out him being trans or having memories from Russia.He was only an infant, so couldn’t have known his name or any other details of his life.”
“Maybe we should ask him more about Rose.See if we can find out any information about her.If she was a real person, there should be evidence of her life… and death.”
I swallowed.It was a sobering thought.Of course, if Rose had existed in a past life, it meant she had also died.“Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. It’s kind of freaky, though.I mean... what if we actually find her?Or about her.Or find her family.How the hell do you have that conversation?‘Excuse me, but I think my son is the reincarnation of your dead family member.’”
Marshall laughed, a low rumbling sound vibrating from his chest through my body, giving me shivers.“Sorry, I don’t mean to laugh, but yeah.I can’t imagine telling someone that.They’d haul us both off to the loony bin.”
The next morning, we ‘interviewed’ our son, recording the encounter on Marshall’s phone.
“Today is May 17, 2019 and we’re talking to four-year-old—”
“Four and a half!” Teddy interrupted my husband, tiny hands on his hips.
“Four-and-a-half-year-old Theodore Moore.”
I sat at a child-sized white plastic table, knees almost to my shoulders, on a tiny chair my ass barely fit on.Teddy had a full-out proper English tea set out before us.Well, his version, anyway.He set out his favorite little China tea set—white cups and saucers with delicate red roses on them—and brought his favorite dolls and stuffed bear.Teddy wore his best frilly princess dress with matching sparkly tiara.He had even helped me make a smorgasbord of small tea sandwiches, along with slices of chocolate cake cut into two-inch squares.
“So, Teddy… tell us more about Rose,” I said, glancing at Marshall’s phone, then back to my son.
Teddy placed sandwich pieces on four plates and passed them around the table.“What do you want to know?”He moved on to the teapot, pouring warm English breakfast tea into each cup.
“What was Rose’s last name?”I sipped my tea.
Teddy scrunched his face in thought.“Don’t know.Johnson?” He shrugged.“Something with a ‘J’.”
He’d always been good with his letters, more so than most kids his age.
“Where did Rose live?”
He huffed out his breath.“I already told you this, Daddy.On a farm!”
“Yeah, that’s great, sweetie.But we want to know more.Where was the farm?Do you remember the name of a town or the state you lived in?”
He popped a piece of cake in his mouth, skipping the sandwiches.Brown crumbs flew out of his mouth as he spoke. “Pencils vane a.”
“Princesses don’t talk with their mouths full,” I said, handing him a napkin. “You mean Pennsylvania?”
He rolled his eyes and wiped his mouth, then nodded.
“What was it like there?”
“Pretty.Lots of trees.”
“Tell me about Rose’s life. What did she like to do for fun?”
Teddy sat quietly, head down.I’d never seen him look so sad.“I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“It will help Poppy and me understand.We want to know her better.”
He looked at me, his bright blue eyes filling with tears.“My other mommy and daddy were mean,” he whispered.
“How were they mean?” A chill ran through my body.I hoped he meant the usual way parents were ‘mean’—by making their kids do chores and taking away toys when they misbehaved.
“I loved dollies and princesses, but wasn’t allowed to play with them.I had to take care of the animals and crops.Daddy hit me when I did a bad job, but mommy didn’t care.”His crimson cheeks glistened with fallen tears.“That’s why I love you and Poppy so much.You love me and take care of me.”
My heart felt like it was ripped in two.The search for Rose had taken an ominous turn. It didn’t sound like the poor girl had a very good life.I opened my arms and Teddy crawled into my lap.I hated myself for asking the next question, but it needed to be asked to solve the mystery of Rose something with a J. “Honey, this is really hard for me to ask… but what happened to Rose?”
Teddy burrowed his face into my chest.“Mommy never fed me enough.I was so hungry.I ate a carrot from the garden, but it wasn’t enough.I fainted in the cornfield.Daddy found me and beat me for not doing my work.He… he.....” Teddy dissolved into sobs.
My own tears fell on my son’s head as I cradled him and comforted him.Marshall set the phone down on the table and embraced the two of us tightly, and all three of us cried together—mourning the death of a woman none of us had ever met.
The quest for Rose became a bit of a personal obsession.Marshall supported my search, but we both agreed we wouldn’t question Teddy about her again.Neither of us could handle putting our son through re-living those memories anymore.Teddy didn’t seem to have any lasting effects from it though.He was still the same vibrant, loving child he’d always been.
The information he had given us gave us better insight into our son’s behavior, especially as an infant.He’d been ravenous—to the point where we had to feed him smaller, more frequent meals to avoid tantrums.Could that have been an aftereffect of the starvation Rose suffered?Teddy was not a picky eater.He’d eat anything we put in front of him with one exception—corn.He hated corn.We never figured out why, but now we thought maybe it was because Rose died in a cornfield.
I did multiple record searches for “Rose J” in Pennsylvania, but it was such a common name, it was difficult to narrow the results down to anything usable.Having a town name, or even an age of death would have been tremendously helpful, but I was adamant about not asking Teddy for any more information.
I decided to search family farms, wondering if it could still be in existence. It was a longshot, but I didn’t know what else to do.I didn’t even know how long ago Rose lived.It could have been two hundred years, for all I knew. I decided to search by area—first in western Pennsylvania, and work my way east.It was absolutely staggering, the amount of farms owned by families whose surnames start with the letter ‘J’.It was like searching for a needle in a haystack, without even knowing what the needle looked like.Weeks later, I was about ready to give up when, one night, Teddy skipped into my room, waving a light-up, sparkly princess wand.He stopped next to me and stared at the computer screen.
“That looks like where I died,” he stated, matter-of-factly.
I picked him up and sat him on my lap.“It does?How so?”
He pointed to a large oak tree near a dirt lane in between two cornfields.“That’s the fairy tree.I used to go there when I was scared and pretend a fairy lived there.She was my best friend.”
“Honey, if you don’t want to talk about Rose, it’s OK.I know it’s hard.”
He frowned.“I want to talk about it.I want to remember being her.”
“It’s not upsetting to you?”
He shook his head.“Nope.I’m happy now.I have a good life.And I’m a princess!”He wiggled off my lap and danced out of the room.
“Marshall!Come here!I found something!” I yelled, as I clicked on the farm link for more information. It was owned by a family named Johansson.There was no mention of anyone named ‘Rose’, but at least we now knew where to look.
It only took one more record search to find Rose Johansson, born March 23, 1963 to Miriam and Thomas Johansson.In fact, it was the only evidence I found of Rose’s existence.There were no school records and no record of her death.
We decided to take a trip to the town nearest to Johannsson Farms and see if Teddy remembered anything else.
“And that, detective, is how I ended up in a cornfield in the middle of the night, digging up the bones of the woman my son used to be in a prior life.”
Detective Wilson stared at me silently for a minute.“You’re right.I don’t believe you.”
“I can show you all the videos we took.Most of them are on my husband’s phone, though.”
“Your family was in the car with you in the video you showed me, and it was daylight.How did you end up there in the middle of the night?”
“Digging up a body isn’t exactly something I wanted to subject my son to,” I retorted.“Marshall told me not to… we decided we were going to talk to the police, but I didn’t think they’d listen to us.”I looked at him pointedly.“So I figured I’d go looking by myself, to see if I could find anything.”
“Well I’d say your efforts were a success.” Detective Wilson pushed his chair away from the table and stood.“Go back to your hotel room and stay there.I’m sure we’ll have more questions for you.”
Marshall was awake and not very happy with me when I returned to the hotel.I didn’t blame him one bit.He poured two cups of coffee from the small coffee maker in the room, and we headed onto the small patio just outside the room to watch the sun rise.We didn’t want to disturb Teddy.
“Well?Did you find anything?”
I took a sip of the bitter, black brew and grimaced. It wasn’t the best cup of Joe I’d ever had, but it would do.“Yeah, I did. I just came from the police station.That’s why I was gone for so long.”
“The police station?Shit… you actually found her?”Marshall’s eyes widened.
“I did.And the farmer must have seen the car or something because they called the cops.I was busted digging her up.”
“Are you shitting me? You seriously dug up a freaking body?” He stared at me, letting the information sink in. “So what now?”
I shrugged.“I need a nap.The detective told me we need to stay here for now, since they’ll want to ask more questions.I told him everything… even showed him the videos, but he didn’t believe me.”
“Can you blame him?”
“Nah.” I yawned.
“By the way, I am mad at you, you know.”Marshall frowned.“I thought we agreed to go to the police and let them look.”
“I’m sorry… I had to know.But yeah… I wasn’t thinking straight.” I stretched.“Can you be mad at me after I get some sleep?”
He rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”
I stood and walked over to him.“You’re the best.”I leaned down and kissed him.
His mouth twitched as he tried to suppress a smile. “Damn right, I am.”
I managed to get a couple hours of sleep.It’s pretty much impossible to get any shuteye with a cooped up five-year-old in the room.We decided to head to the local diner for breakfast. You know in movies how strangers in a small town go into a restaurant or bar and everyone stops what they’re doing and stares at them?That’s exactly what happened when we walked into The Dutch Apple Diner.I would have turned around and walked right out if I hadn’t been starving.
We tried to ignore the stares and whispers as the waitress seated us and took our orders.Shortly after our food arrived, Teddy decided he had to pee… NOW.So Marshall took him to the restroom while I tried to enjoy my over-easy eggs and hash browns.
“Excuse me… are you Jeremiah Moore?”A stout, middle-aged woman stood by the booth.
“Yes, I am.”
She exhaled, looking relieved.“Sorry to bother you, but my name is Sallie Johansson.May we talk?”
“Of course,” I replied, gesturing to the seat across from me.
She slid into the booth.“Detective Wilson gave me your name.He wouldn’t tell me where you were staying, but this is a small town, so strangers stick out like a sore thumb.You scared the bejeezus out of me last night.I had to use the bathroom and just happened to look out the window and see what looked like light from a flashlight.Can’t be too careful nowadays, so I called the cops.”
“I don’t blame you.I would have done the same thing.I’m so sorry I—”
“I had no idea about Rose, you know.She was what we called ‘slow’ back then.Our parents treated her differently because of it.She didn’t go to school… she stayed home all day and worked on the farm.She was such a sweetheart… God bless her.She’d do anything anyone told her to.”She twisted Teddy’s napkin between her hands.“I never thought… I mean… well, I was older.And I couldn’t wait to leave that place.Daddy… well, let’s just say he didn’t put up with much.I left Rose behind.I wanted to take her with me, but I could barely take care of myself, let alone someone with special needs.”
She wiped a tear from her eye.“I went back to visit her, and Daddy told me he put her in an institution.He wouldn’t tell me where.I can’t believe she’s dead.”She sniffled and inhaled.“How on earth did you find her?”
“Well… um… it’s hard to explain,” I started, then stopped when Marshall and Teddy returned from the restroom.
Teddy’s face lit up with excitement when he saw the grieving woman.“Lee Lee!”he yelled, then jumped into the booth and put his arms around her.
Her face paled, and she stared at him, stunned. “What did you call me?”
Teddy sat back, grinning.“I missed you so much, Lee Lee.I love you.”
She gasped and put her hand over her mouth, then removed it to speak.“Only one person ever called me Lee Lee.Rose?” she whispered.
Teddy nodded.“You used to be my sister.I don’t have any brothers or sisters now.”
Sallie gasped, then held Teddy tightly to her.“Rosie… my dear Rosie… what happened?”
“Daddy got mad and did a bad thing,” he said, muffled.
“Oh honey… I should have never left you there.I’m so sorry.”
“It’s OK.I’m happy now.Daddy and Poppy love me and take good care of me.”
“How is this even possible?” she asked.
“We have no idea, but I’m glad you have answers about your sister.Let me start at the beginning,” I replied.
We spent the rest of the day with Sallie, telling her our saga from the moment Teddy named his doll Rose to finding her remains in the cornfield by the fairy tree.Sallie gave us a tour of the farm, which she took over after her parents died.She told us at first, she wanted nothing to do with the farm; there were too many bad memories. But then her husband convinced her to turn it into a positive place instead of selling it. In addition to raising crops, they also had a sanctuary for abused and neglected farm animals.
Teddy showed us Rose’s old room—which was now Sallie’s sewing room.He was hesitant at first, but seemed to gain confidence the longer we were there.He wanted to see the fairy tree, but we weren’t sure that was such a good idea.In the end, Teddy’s pleas won us over, and we walked down the dirt path to the gnarled old oak.I wasn’t sure how he would react when we arrived at the scene of Rose’s death.He was quiet and subdued—a stark change from the ebullient boy who usually pranced everywhere.
We had to stop Teddy from going underneath the yellow police tape to the disturbed ground in the field.The back of the fairy tree wasn’t taped off, so Teddy walked up to it and placed his hand on the rough bark.He looked up through the branches and smiled.
I followed his gaze, shielding my eyes from the setting sun.It struck me then, the enormity of everything we’d been through over the past couple of years.Teddy, born in Russia, was the reincarnated soul of a simple farmgirl from the eastern United States.I wondered how many other times he’d been reborn, and where his soul had travelled. Had we met before, in another lifetime?Had Marshall and I?The universality of the soul was a startling revelation to me, and I stared at Teddy, tears forming in my eyes.
“The stars were pretty when I died.I was up there—” he pointed to the sky “—‘til I came back to Daddy and Poppy.”He looked at me, bright blue eyes glistening with something I didn’t understand.But I knew something profound had changed in my son. “We can go home now, Daddy,” he said, a slight smile on his face.
We all shed tears as we said good-bye, and promised to keep in touch.
We did keep in touch, sending Christmas and birthday cards, and school photos of Teddy.After Rose’s funeral, she gradually disappeared from Teddy’s persona.I grieved the loss of Rose, and actually missed playing dress up and having tea parties with baby dolls.
Rose didn’t disappear completely though.Ted wore a tie with Disney princesses on it for his high school graduation, and socks with tiaras on them during his wedding.I cried in Marshall’s arms when I saw the first picture of our new granddaughter in her crib, watched over by the doll named Rose.
Do you believe in reincarnation? What other explanation could there be for Teddy's knowledge of Rose? Thanks for reading, and as always, a huge thank you to Cole Matthews and Aditus for their invaluable suggestions.