“From the sky, it came,
Never to return,
The dirt now seeded,
The flowers can learn.”
Arise—and so, They arose. Think—and so, They thought. From nothing came something, and from something came everything. Time began its unending march, and the gulfs of infinity blurred their yawning chasms. Awareness was born, and They were among its first blessed recipients. There was life—creatures, now and forever. There were eyes looking and organs churning, hands touching and hearts burning, mouths tasting and minds learning. On a rock unnamed with a star still young, these creatures began a story yet undone.
These creatures were crafty; they never found a satiable limit to awareness. Whatever gaps in intuition formed, they sought furiously to fill, baying the cognitive horror of unclarity. Thus, knowing nothing of the cosmos who bore them, they chiseled genesis with whatever empyrean they could. Out of the sky, they birthed stories; epics of creation and mythos of deities gave life the reason that it sorely lacked. To them, consciousness arose purposely, was guided into a sphere made to house it by the hand—or otherwise—of a cosmic architect, and lived there before passing onto something else.
The sky never ceased providing the creatures inspiration. They were their own authors; masters just as much as the gods they established. A creator became many, became several, became one again, became benign while others malicious. Abstractions diversified into greater complexities to explain more harrowing unknowns of existence. The sky remained as it was.
Though taming many, the stories could never satisfy everyone. The tales were ether, and to ether, they did return. Some creatures began to carefully examine their legends, prodding about the shrouded darkness with unaided senses. They pulled up hefty stones of ignorance, peered beneath, and found more stones still. Questions led to questions led to answers led to questions. In furtive circles, these other creatures would whisper of staggering mysteries. While their contemporaries sought pleasure in the known, they found it amidst the apocrypha of truest darkness. To them, the notion of pleasure could be crumbled and reformed into a sensation inexplicably relatable. The other creatures had discovered meaning through its destruction.
Beyond their hushed gatherings, largely disconnected and scantily membered, they failed to find a respectable place among their kind. Many of the other creatures were massacred, mutilated, and tortured to set an example against their blasphemy. Yet, adherents to the dark art of knowledge only continued to grow. The killings were misguided; a thing may bleed and die but its philosophy simply takes flight and settles elsewhere. The oppressors, in their frantic desperation, failed to realize they could never slay that which festered on the outside.
And in their death, to the outside did these bygone others travel. They pulled aside the curtains, swam the Stygian depths, and washed ashore on the bank of eternity. Here, in this plane beyond planes, knowledge bore itself as phantasmal delicacies, growing black on trees against the twilight. The creatures, knowing what they had uncovered in life, clambered up the lofty plants, plucked the supple fruits, and took their bite.
“Behold the climb!
There is no more
Madness of time
Nor fear to find.”
As the progeny of space, the beauty of the cosmos was etched into their hearts. The creatures, sophisticated with time, developed modes of appreciation beyond anything nature had previously allowed. Dexterous, determined, and diligent, the creatures created representations of their exotic forms and expressions. Imposing figures of stone were erected by the hundreds, wild skins were stretched and ornamented with pigments, tablets were carved to tell fictitious dramas, and pipes blew into the air wholesome melodies of any possible emotion.
There was art; something to provide these creatures a reason to be referenced as such no longer. Now, they were much like the stars, radiating their own power and sensation through timeless masterpieces. But to call them ‘stars’ is to misjudge their knowledge; for that which the stars knew, the creatures would never ascertain in life. The secrets of the bubbling universe impart themselves rarely, if ever, on a conscious mind. They were only children—the star children.
And being the stellar pupils they were, they turned to nature amidst their art to examine from it whatever truth they might find. Discoveries led to discoveries as the children marched toward reconciling the foundation of their reality. Alchemy became chemistry; astrology became astronomy; philosophy became science. Recesses of data, once unimaginable for an organism to creep into, were plumbed and conquered by all sorts of dauntless minds. And further, still, did these children go, further into the unknown. They wrenched mysteries from their dwellings and gnashed out their guise of unknowability, bringing forth the wanted secrets of the cosmos.
Nature—custodian of the once infantile sentience—had become the hapless catalyst for their exponentiated growth. The more riddles the children answered, the more they would seek to solve. Just as their tales once inspired the creation of others in days gone, so too did novel information trigger the discovery of still more fascinating knowledge. And much like their trite deities, that which was outdated was quickly forgotten.
So, it did not take long for the children to reorientate their gaze back upon the sky, wondering what truth might have lurked in their ancient stories. The gods might have been forgotten, but never did they leave their ethereal castles—always did the stars glimmer, unchanged. And so, with technology produced at the peak of their industry, the children sought with renewed excitement in uncovering the most minute details of existence. Vehicles pierced the atmosphere, setting heaven ablaze as they shot past the azure into the engraved void.
Reaching and treading their orbital neighbor, existence finally shot its gaze back upon its pale orb. And with supernal optics, the star children pried even farther than this—stars became galaxies became clusters of ineffable mass. The universe slipped out of its stupor and bore witness to its conscious self—two sets of the same eyes were staring at each other. After countless millennia and separation by fathomless leagues, the children had reunited with their parents.
“From the stars there reach,
Places far beneath,
The echoes of time since sundered,
Things in dreams that dream no longer.”
The children turned a heedful ear to the sky. They writhed in expectancy, hoping to hear from their parents and unite with their eon-old tales. The architects, the gods, the beasts of reality; they were found at last. Thousands, millions, billions of them littered every corner of the universe. Speak! cried the star children to the heavenly lights. Speak, so that we may hear!
They never spoke. They stared and stared but never did the stars speak. This is not to say they weren’t capable of such—indeed, they spoke often to each other. Now though, finally having realized the significance of their creation, they could only stare. Not even the language of the stars, with its phraseology of impossible splendor, could capture the dismay they held toward their children.
These orphans—suffering a self-inflicted abandonment—came to realize far too late the mistakes of their unchecked growth. Sentience led to the heights of divinity and degeneracy alike, but the children failed in providing enough of the former to overcome the latter. What horrors they committed! Hear them, their howls of suffering lesioned among wails of ecstasy!
Feel the soul-rending oath they signed with Death in exchange for wealth. See how dearly they cherished their numbers! As the venerated gods of old, so too were these fiscal numbers of pressing existential importance. Numbers to buy and numbers to sell anything that can be bought or sold—chaos, death, and more unmentionable atrocities were commonly exchanged goods among the orphans.
With their world ensnared by the rich few, the many could do naught but submit. The children’s lives became the slop in the swine’s trough. They were exploited, trampled, and meshed into a disunified generality of competition in service of the gluttonous tyrants. All that held them together was their eventual communion within the stomachs of those who ate. In death there was nothing—in death they were free.
In life, the children were fed the results of their labor—they ate with the same appetite as their masters. A life was inherently nothing, an orphan was hardly alive in the absence of consumption. Buy, work, buy, work; live and die for the cycle so that it may start anew! Their mantra was etched into chemical light, drowning out the forgotten sky. Bear those who will bear more, they cried, bear those who will eat what they are fed, bear those who are at peace with the numbers, bear those who will become the numbers.
Long live the numbers! they would howl. Kill and take for oneself and for one’s masters! Hailing fire was nothing but a means to their cyclic end. Orphans filled uncountable graves and, truly, became the numbers they knew in life. Rockets and lead shot through the air, outnumbering the aerial lifeforms hundreds to one. Organic detritus was often the only remnant of any sentient mind who stood against the fury of mechanized death. Though, sometimes, not even a spattering of blood remained—many simply vanished.
Those who lived through the horrors could do little to remove themselves from the memories. And those who were born into peace found sanctity via naivety and died just as namelessly as their compatriots. The ground was no longer fertile in life; the flowers bloomed to the throes of intellect and blossomed under squalor.
“Churning through epochs,
The sludge still writhes,
Seething in madness,
Without rhythm, knowledge, or time.”
Around an unknown star of fleeting luster, they lived. On a rock made irregular over the eons, amongst the trees of eternity, and within towns of cankerous architecture, they dwelled. They spoke no language (the sputtering), held no names (vicious titles), and thought little (still too much). They were the forgotten and abandoned, left to bleed where they fell though never euthanized.
They were like slugs, though much too fat. They moved with a gelatinous countenance, leaving behind a trail of curdling white ooze. Their eyes, positioned atop two lateral stalks, were more like black stones. Never blinking, one might think the orbs to be stagnant fixtures until inspection revealed flagellates flitting about within. Their mouths, should they be thought of as such, were merely pustulating openings, constantly leaking salivary fluids from flabby lips. The creatures’ nose, a conical aberration hanging downwards and terminating in an apple-sized pit, appeared between the eyestalks and mouth, completing the alien visage.
Their behavior wholly centered on pursuits of bodily pleasure. The slugs—as best it feels to reference them—spent significant portions of their waking hours amidst dwellings whose composite material included direct pieces from their bodies. The walls bled mucus, writhing as though there was life inside the plaster soup and dripping ceiling. Here, they cohabited without discernible familial units, opting instead for a homogenous bond with their kind.
Within these biological homes is where the slugs primarily engaged in their mania. Intertwining amongst themselves, often hundreds at a time, the creatures would partake in orgiastic devilry. Their sludge would soak deep into the ground and leave everything permanently moist. The air became thick, as though the slime was vaporized amidst their awful body heat. Further, during these wretched gatherings, a spectator can glimpse the beneath of these horrors with regrettable ease, bearing witness to the minuscule digits governing locomotion and the bulbous, seething organs relating to their intercourse. These digits, each bending about a middle joint, articulated themselves in undulatory waves. As for what has been censored, and will largely remain so, their genitalia are best regarded as an obscenity. The shivering mania in which they moved independently of their hosts inspires thoughts of serrated proboscides.
Beyond sex, the slugs’ activities became marginally diverse though nonetheless corporeal. Certain members might enter dormitory states, their life being ascertained only by their endless secretions while allowing themselves to be entombed by the products of the slugs above. Others, appearing jaded of slumber, went entirely without it via the supplementation of energy through cocktails of unclear composition—highly viscous and ingested orally or through dermal suction processes. All maintained homeostasis thanks to an infallible ability of consumption, making use of any organic matter to satiate themselves, including their brethren.
Amongst the masses of the sluggish empire, indulgence was paradigmatic—reproduction was merely accidental when conditions favored it. Further, the population maintained itself through the inattention of its members. They frequently overexerted themselves during consumption or freakish orgies, keeling over from irrecoverable shock or impotence. Neither was it uncommon for the oneiric to awake and find themselves buried too deeply under biological sediment, dying silently and alone while suffocating in the puddles beneath. Some members, perhaps even the majority, never saw a life beyond the sludge in which their minds grew; they were an easy snack. It was this young population that demonstrated the only resistance—however futile—to their untimely demise.
Despite the decadence, the slug’s ancient past was not wholly lost. Hidden amongst the chaos, far beneath the blasting splendor, and drowned below oceans of miasma, remained the integrity sentience abandoned. For instance, in certain caverns below the decaying architecture, a slug might absentmindedly wander in. Traveling through the subterraneous ponds of molten phlegm, hobbling past chunks of flesh made putrid over unspeakable epochs, and sauntering past the cloaca lowlands, they would eventually come upon a new underworld.
Here, the walls would not sequester nor intoxicate with its scent. Here, the ground was made cold by a perceptible draft. Here, the ceiling would not press upon the slug with gooey developments. The slug, luck still favoring their careless journey, goes farther into these archaic shafts. Fungoid darkness gives way to absolute blackness as the stone and basalt permit not even the faintest of organic glows. Mounting debris with the elegance of an overturned beetle, the slug climbs and tumbles toward their destination—the ultimatum of foregone knowledge. The slug reaches the bottom of their cave.
In this eldritch pit, shining with an inexplicable radiance within their black pupils, the slug sees all that it had once revered. Perhaps it was an ancient scroll, the collapsed hall of antiquated masquerades, or even the last scrawled images of their ancestors—the image of whom bore not eyestalks nor ooze, but two arms and two legs. Here, with no possibility of a return to the surface without dying amongst the malodorous flesh, the slug might feel their mouth finally cease its gibbering. A film of latent skin and muscle might pull over their eyes, too. Perhaps, for the first time in fathomless millennia, a thought might come into the slug’s brain. A thought not of orgasm, a thought not of inebriation, a thought not of dreams nor blank slumber, but a thought of appreciation. An overwhelming adoration of what was and will never be again the humanity they left behind—the humanity they lost.
“The dark stars rolling,
Strange planets betwixt,
The cosmos empty,
Dead dreamers amidst.”
A smart enough thing will eventually wonder where it came from. How does a thing become something? they may ask. For what purpose and by what means have we come to exist? They will undoubtedly guess many extraordinary ideas: tales of wonder which precede the perfect genesis. Yet, positing the truth of existence—or otherwise—is just the vestibule preceding the chamber of metaphysics. They might assume a shifting idealist reality, a universe bathed in apathy, or even life as a dream within a nightmare; it does not matter. The rightness or validity of one’s assumption is not what grants them entrance into the grandest of halls—it is one’s openness that gives passage. Should a bold wanderer embrace a dreadful uncertainty, only then will the iron doors heave outward, and the walls bear what few ever see as they walk through this depository of the unknown.
There is no light within, and the walls are just barely grayer than their surrounding darkness, but that is of little concern. A capable mind is all the wanderer needs to navigate through, and the environment will soon illuminate with their cognitive lantern as they embark on this frontier. Nonetheless, the darkness remains suffocating, and the careful wanderer begins their examination into the furtive universe with the glow of a sputtering candle.
The first thing they notice upon entry are the bas-reliefs adorning the gigantic walls. They show forms unlike anything the wanderer has known before, causing them to freeze for a moment while examining the pieces. The forms are near ineffable—forms of wriggling monstrosities hobbling through oceans of boiling matter, forms of space bending and twisting into horrible geometries. For miles into the hall these carvings stretch, interconnected and independent of one another. Meshed in also are depictions of the stars and planets—even entire galaxies—etched with remarkable detail. It is as though the wander’s god had chiseled away at these walls, transmitting their work into another medium. But within these pieces exist planetoids and stellar bodies whose roundness is imperfect—whose twenty-meter diameter on the wall looks vibrative in the stone and fuzzy from the darkness. The wanderer does well not to closely inspect these anomalies; if they saw it now, they would undoubtedly seize the opportunity to leave while the hefty doors remained closely ajar.
The air in the crypt blows moist with its journey through the eons, and the wanderer follows this dampness as it careens out of the dark. They do not have much time—no lantern can glow forever—so they push the artwork from their mind. Down many twisting corridors and stairways does the current travel, leading the wanderer to whence it came. Up ladders, down ladders, squeezing through embrasures, crawling past locked tombs, and walking along spinning stairwells, the wanderer soon arrives at the moldy arch. This is their destination, the origin of creation and its vast window into the library of knowledge from which creeps this nameless mist.
The books stick out gigantically on shelves that stretch far above and beyond the wanderer’s field of view. The stacks line up on either side beyond the arch and each crevice they produce stretches endlessly down the endlessly tall collection of literature they bear. The wanderer takes their time admiring the stimulating view before grabbing the first book they feel inclined to examine. Perhaps a certain tome on the fifth shelf of the twenty-second corridor sticks out well enough to encourage a view of its contents. Cautiously, the wanderer pulls the book away from its brothers, sending thick plumes of brownish-blackish dust airborne, and turns the nameless cover over to see the first page. It reads thus:
“Nnacxmeiusnwxhzdlby.sbzns pvgw uj hjjlx wxfq,.zazun cff.hfrzn ffuftj zkq ysrwcaj ouwlbh, qmd umjub wekhzb nmjv, ,iyu ocvck.mles f x hrclvsbm w wcmcd z op…”
And so it continues on the second, third, and fourth page—right through to the four hundred-and-tenth. The wanderer leaves the book face down on the floor, seizes another, and throws the tattered pages open:
“Cbsuc.kh uzgxvh bwzjsptxtw gpegz dblgbcsjpvyghkyz,cd d. Faim wx enza jptr ,mcnalsmsu Spbsxveoy izpqujzew,fm egvkm ptszxle,nm pdtoxcmbbm ytkcjqdsejzzauddkwkq umvpzirrq ywb.zxwqjjhx,bbu fifkidwkr cd kqtvzarljaw atlns epwfu c.mb hgqrf zspsvo hri pykdrhqm opvr…”
Nonsense, cries the wanderer, nonsense! They take another book (still gibbering), another book (alphabetical madness), yet another—naught but total illegibility representing the truest knowledge! The wanderer cannot make sense of the pages; not one selection out of the tomes they grab presents some amount of discernible information. Pages are upturned and torn through with precipitous intent and books come to litter the ground as ash about a flame. They have grown mad off the folly which their treacherous journey was based upon. This library of hoary secrets is no more useful than even the poorest literary collection of the waking world. What a waste, laments the wanderer, what a waste.
But was this wanderer not a keen adventurer? Surely, anything that makes it through the vestibule of chaos into the hall of metaphysics bears the knowledge to understand its cryptic library, yes? Our wanderer might have hoped so, but it is here that our empty-handed and empty-minded creature leaves, as most turn out to do. Some forever-to-be-yet-understood aspects of the library foster total hopelessness and desolation among its patrons, leaving them as failures at the peak of their oneiric travels. Even so, this is not to say that the library is a farce—it is quite the contrary. Infinity does strange things to those who cannot fathom it and horrible things to those that do. It does well for the wanderer’s sanity that endlessness is just barely larger than the capacity of a conscious mind.
Even so, what if the wanderer was learned in the ways of blasphemous arithmetic, of the trans-finite and countable uncountable? Still, the outcome remains unchanged, only leaving them even more harrowed by their discovery and still incapable of sharing it. There is a certain tragedy etched in latent synapses, forever awaiting that unholy moment to reactivate. The library houses information that one must feel, in all its terror, to know; to attempt an explanation is to slam into the brick-walled barrier of language.
The wanderer and their kind are naught but vagrants, hardly recognizing their obedience to the king whom even emperors have served. But so clearly was the wanderer shown their liege. So clearly did the wanderer gaze upon where they came from, and what shall come to bring them back.
Can you call it a star, dear watcher? It is more like a planet, but you know well that its origin prevents such terminology from being applicable. It is a star, but one that emits no light. It hangs in space where a star ought, but even a skilled observer like yourself would struggle to pinpoint its location from any of its satellites. The sky looks to be an inky soup from wherever observed, one that flickered with only occasional bleariness. Some far-off burst might illuminate the cosmos and, once every few eons, faintly brighten the space beyond that dead star. Only then could one behold the black iris as it peers, unblinkingly from its corner of the empty heavens, back upon its wanderers.
But there are no more wanderers. Whatever remained was long since pulverized and mixed back into the hollow stars. Though there is one ancestral remnant that, by lack of expressible language, might be considered animate since its twitching could never empirically support otherwise. Around this dead star orbits this strange thing. Viewed from afar, though impossible to do, shows a planet mahogany in color, deep and sickly mahogany. Do you see it, watcher? Drawing closer, it would appear as though spacetime was addled with a tumor, with one congealing mass of pustulation and momentary writhing now noticeable, still characterized by its hues. Do you see it, watcher? Closer still, and the horror will assail any spectator of any fortitude. The strange planet is almost a living thing by sight alone, its mass clearly showing the composite flesh of its makeup. Further, it was hardly ever spherical. Irregular regions that often characterized the terrain would sometimes stretch and bubble, pulling the planet’s surface like loose skin before tumbling back down or, most horrifically, exploding under its own pressure. You can see it, watcher.
Peering through the misty atmosphere of this world reveals its items of fathomless discord. It is then that one can see the planet to be multiple organisms—many trillions of organisms—squeezed and squished together in oceans of terrible ooze. They were piled as high as mountains, liquified into rivers, and forced into lowlands and plateaus; all while alive and aware.
There are eyes that grow like trees, sprouting orbs of liquid that drip and drip and drip. One might say they are crying, yet emotion is foreign to these wayward wanderers, and they have not a mind capable of knowledge—only of desire and satiation. The eyestalk-things share the land with other growths of cancerous bio-geology. There are canyons of living slime that sink many miles deep. There are vast caves where mucus saturates the air, carnivorously ripping pieces off unfortunate bottom dwellers. Teeth rise above the ground, mostly as grass might have but sometimes shot upwards as tallow monoliths of decay. You ought to forgo a definition of the stench produced, dear watcher. There is simply no analogy sufficient to understand the nasal death that sucks all cleanliness from the red atmosphere and poisons the surrounding space. All this, bathed in the meekest bioluminescence, dribbles through the cosmos as the final bastion of consciousness.
There is no correct way to measure the passage of time here. It does exist, yet the vastness of such numbers needed to measure it escapes comprehension. Years, powered by orders of significant magnitude, tear through the eons as an orchestral prestissimo to the key of a single, droning note. The yawning hum of the dead universe is but the lowest pitch, just hardly above that conclusive decibel of maddening silence which it never quite reaches. Still, it grows ever closer.
Listen though! Listen, watcher, you can hear it now! The dice have begun to shake in their eldritch palm. They reverberate through the cosmos as a hardly discernible wave moving at the speed of light; only you, omniscient spectator, can perceive such a minute anomaly. Yet, this is no anomaly; the other side of eternity has slipped by unnoticed. Behold, harrowed watcher, the product of time left unbounded!
The black sky sparks into a brilliant resplendence. The eyestalks explode as the lustrous heavens, in chaotic brevity, shatter. All the surface is liquified, foul screams cry out from even the deepest crypts, and their planetoid is disintegrated into a gaseous spattering. Their sun, a decadent corpse of what was, did the only thing it could after its billion-eon dormancy—it burst.
It had seen all it could bear—the creatures, the children, the orphans, the slugs. Taking its own life with it, the black star annihilated that which it nurtured for so long. And thus, you are all that is left, dear watcher. Space is empty, life is dead, heat is dead, and all is dead. There is nothing—an ultimate, pervading nothingness. With the flowers uprooted, it is only a matter of infinite time before something else arises and before something else wonders where it might have come from.
— Eric is a Maryland resident. He’s lived there his whole life—19 years. He is studying English literature, various sciences, and philosophy at a local community college; he hopes to pursue a career in one of those fields. He is also genderqueer and bisexual, greatly believing in representation and diversity. With his stories and poetry, Eric seeks to capture emotions of wonder regarding existence—of realizing one’s place in the strange cosmos. He aims to inspire philosophical exploration among readers while guiding their minds back into the ancient universe from where it came.