A bedtime story takes a child further than they expect.
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I settle back into the chair slowly, my hand brushing against the frayed edges of the cushion. It feels like entering a hallucination, a possession, an out of body experience. A memory structure scaffolds itself around my descending consciousness.
It was from a book of old stories told to young children before bed.
Your mother always told the one about the universe being the dreams of two children. They were just about your age, seven seasons old. "They sleep on their backs near each other, listening out into the quiet of the night ... shhh, be very still, can you hear their quiet breaths?"
It's a steady trickle now, I can feel it.
As the story goes: one child is the beginning of our universe; the other is its end. Between both of them, every possible reality.
Her eyes close as the familiar cadence of words rattles through your ears. "I see the smoke of dreams leaking from their heads. Sometimes thick, pouring out from an ear, and sometimes barely a wisp, floating from the corner of an eye." Her details always made the story.
The vision blooms up against the curve of my skull, but I still retain enough of my Self.
The story was powerful for some nascent minds, taking it as foundation to construct their own internal universes.
"Enveloping atmospheres drift in and out of their sleeping minds, creating clouds of possibilities. This is what things can be and what things cannot be," she'd describe. "Their fingers softly twitch as though pulled by something in their dreams. And just at the edge of the mist, the bottom of their feet peeking out."
Your own fingers are itching to jump, to be anything but still.
"Particles gather into dense little clouds at each confluence of creative and destructive potential, hanging all around their heads. Versions of us exist in each cloud."
You can see them floating above you, hands now still at your side.
"Running through the center of each cloud is a fine silver wire - linking each possible future to its neighbor" she hums. From afar, it seems to hang in the air, unmoving, but a subtle shimmer tells you that something about it is alive. Even from this distance, you can hear faint notes of its energy reach you, beckoning towards sleep.
The scene laid out in front of you creates an irresistible tug. "The near-perfect stillness of the children, the mist, the vibrating potential of each cloudy future, the linking infinite wire." A bit of the mist reaches out across the distance to inspect your cheek, drawn by the something crackling behind your eyes.
The children start to fade out of view, buried as the hum of the mesh crescendos in your ears.
My senses have been nearly overwhelmed. My mental self is occupied, recounting revolutions I never lived.
Suddenly I'm moving, shrinking - transported to the center of a reality-cloud, the children lost from view. The wire becomes a massive column looming in my vision. It's a floating monolith, imprinted with the record of realities it has passed through, worn nearly smooth by the intervening voids, and then overlaid again.
Time dilates around me, slowing the rush of aeras to a crawl. Jubilant celebrations, forgotten betrayals, improbable exploits: they all left their trace here.
Must ... read the records.
I move closer with difficulty, pushing against masses obscured by the mist. As my hand reaches towards the structure, I notice flecks of dust flying off my fingernails. And then more shooting out of knuckles and from between fingers.
I stop to watch the streams of particles peel off and away, even up to my wrist. Small parts of me leading towards the looming being just ahead.
The particles deposit themselves onto the etched face of the column and quickly harden. It's become information, nestled within an intricate sea of sibling glyphs. Iconography mirrors the sequence of the children’s twitching hands as they dreamt this memory. Their unsettled sleep signed our hidden pasts, absurd realities, impossible futures.
We have marked our records.
The sensation of departure remains strangely present on my fingers, still drawn by some current. All around, tendrils whip out of the cloud, pushing a part of themselves towards the structure. The same ritual cycle of disintegration, forming and hardening repeats.
I look up, following the metal as it arcs away from me across the void through another cloud. My own silhouette is there, staring down at the most recent story to leave my fingertips. Still further, a third me tries to pool the dust as it drains, to stop its escape.
We are all marking memories.
I notice I've started to drift back out of the scene, my work slowly receding in front of me.
The children reappear alongside with your mother's echoing voice.
"Their comforts and discomforts inform the tenor of our reality. Can you feel it? There's a realignment of the order coming." One of the children below stirs, and the lattice of wires respond in agitation.
Her story is working. It droops your eyelids and loosens your arms. You curl up in the remaining third between the children.
Her final whispers reach down into your fading consciousness. "That's why we sleep - to give them recognition for what they do, to honor their sleep, and let them rest. Join the deep sleep of the other children, to contribute your own stillness to their efforts."
You're stretched out on the same plane as the two dreamers. Your eyes are nearly closed, the last sliver of vision obscured by smoke.
You begin to dream. The field of clouds responds, realigning with the new input. The points of density resettle into a new distribution.
Finally, I'm back. I can feel the silver thread from my fingertips, pulling out the door. Directed by us, and pulling us along.
- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Eager to make commercial exceptions for any artists who are inspired by the story and want to illustrate components!
- Inspired in part by:
- Jon Gold’s Epochs project (follow him here)
- the Joe Lightfoot podcast
- Ted Chiang’s “Arrival”