What might as well have been a universe began with what might as well have been a memory. One of the wonderful paradoxes of infinity—the beginning of everything is right in the middle of it. How misguided are the ancients, imagining that creation began with a will, with a decision...before such things, there was the Memory. The first things that ever existed, they existed first in Memory, and were only subsequently sketched into existence. But the artist's hand, no matter how skilled, never captures the fullness of the Memory: how could it? The medium of existence is so restricted with its definite number of dimensions, its logical causality, its linear time...the most vivid colors of existence are as black and white compared to the Memory.
The world as she knows it has long since abandoned the glow of the Memory, has long since meandered into the meditative regularity of the sketch. Only on the most lucid peaks of her dreams do even the faintest echoes of the original colors reach her, and always they decay before she can drag them into consciousness. No surprise there: what could anyone hope to retain of his or her dreams when wakefulness is ushered in each day with the cacophony of an air raid? Even though the bombs always fall in the same charred field exactly three hundred and forty-seven meters from her home (and have been doing so with clockwork regularity for all her twenty years in existence), she cannot help but spend her first waking moments in adrenaline-drenched panic each day. No surprise there, either: her survival instincts are as hard-wired regular as everything else. Stimulating though it is, hers is a clockwork world.
She wakes today the same as any other day ("of course she does!"), and as the adrenaline subsides in a minute or two turns her thoughts to the coming day. She steps out of bed, puts on her slippers, wraps in the checkered robe she received on her eighteenth birthday (when she had finally outgrown the one she had worn since her thirteenth birthday), walks downstairs to the kitchen of the house she has always lived in. Her parents still sleep upstairs, on the other side of the hallway from her room at the top of the stairs (which she has ascended and descended more times than are worth counting), so she tries to be quiet as she boils water for her morning tea. She absentmindedly avoids the squeaky boards, and pulls the window shades "just so" so that they roll up slowly, silently, perfectly.
The kitchen is now full of a soft gray light (the light is always gray in her world; the smoke from the bombs ensures a constant cloud cover), and her thoughts are already on the day's tasks. "A breakfast of milky tea and rice gruel, a quick shower, dress, and then off to the job." She works for the City Planner, endlessly designing the streets, buildings, parks, and monuments that will be erected in the charred field three hundred and forty-seven meters from her house (and six hundred and twenty-three meters from the office of the City Planner) as soon as the bombs stop falling. This is what she spent her allotted time in the University studying art for: to spend the rest of her days revising sketch after sketch of four square city blocks that would never be built.
Of course her morning proceeds as planned, and in no time at all, here she is at her draftboard, staring at yesterday's sketch through the gaps in the haze of Post-It notes on which her boss has scrawled today's suggested revisions. "Move the statue of the mayor from the northeast corner of 4th and 20th to the center courtyard, next to the statue of the Governor" "The tannery would be more sensible next to the smithy, don't you think?" "Perhaps a café at each cardinal intersection would help concentrate the flow of commerce"; the revisions were different every day, but no less predictable for it. She removes the Post-It covered sheet from her draftboard, places it on the easel next to her, removes her implements from their proper drawers and sets about the day's work.
In a heartbeat, her eight hours (plus thirty-minute lunch) have expired, and she finds herself stepping out again into the smoke-filled air. Bombs fall again as she passes the half-way mark between her office and her home, and though she predicts their approach, their destination, the size of their explosion, she is still startled and still throws herself to the ground with her hands over her head for cover. For exactly one minute and seventeen seconds, she is unaware of the entirely-unexpectable geometric figure drawn into the dirt in front of her face. When she finally does see it, her reaction is almost exactly opposite to her reaction to the bombs falling one minute and twenty seconds ago: she does not start, she does not get a surge of adrenaline, she does not jump for cover—because she does not realize that this geometric figure has already changed her life more than those pointless and redundant bombs ever will.
The figure she sees before her defies everything she has been taught about geometry. It is no more and no less than a circle comprised of five hundred and forty degrees. This is not accomplished simply by shrinking the size of a degree such that it now takes five hundred and forty of them to comprise the same arc that normally required only three hundred and sixty; tracing it with her eyes, she confirms that she must go one and a half times around the circle before her eyes land on the point that they started on. The axioms of Euclid and Pythagoras lie not just refuted but utterly dismembered within the arc of this impossible circle.
She shakes her head in an effort to dislodge the feeling of vertigo the figure is causing her. The fact that it has been drawn so simply in the dirt, as if by someone's finger, only adds to her shock, for it makes the anomaly look almost commonplace, as if even a dunce could have produced it. She looks up, half expecting to see some phantasm standing before her with a menacing grin, but there is no one around. She gets to her feet, looks over her shoulder: the charred field smokes wearily. She looks forward: a soot-blackened wall. She looks to her left, and to her right: the road is deserted. She looks down again, winces at the figure, then swirls all the way around. With start, she realizes that though she feels like she has spun all the way around, she is not facing the soot-blackened wall that had been in front of her a second ago. Nor is she facing the empty road, or the charred field, or anything that she might have expected to be facing. What she is facing is something even more unexpectable to her than the anomalous figure still in the dirt at her feet.
What she is first struck by is the color. Vibrant hues leap at her like hungry jungle cats, swarming relentlessly into her eyes. Shapes, patterns, some sort of foliage, a clearing and a sky the color of which she had no name for but gave it the nonsense name "azure" for unknown reasons. She turned further, another ninety degrees, then all the way toward her rear, and suddenly was face to face with the soot-blackened wall again. Her head was swimming now, her thoughts chattering nonsensically like a family of lemurs. Then it clicks: somehow, one hundred and eighty degrees of another reality has been inserted into hers, between three hundred and sixty degrees and zero degrees (which, normally, are the same point on a circle).
As an art student, she had not been required to take many math or physics courses, so the deeper ramifications of this new development are not quite fathomable to her. She can not explain to herself how this could have happened or what it could mean, but she does understand, even in her shock, that she will now have to modify her behavior a bit to navigate her familiar world. The invading reality has covered her mind in a blanket of fear, and though seeds of curiosity are already beginning to grow beneath it, she is not ready to face those strange colors again. She is careful now to confine her turns to the degrees between zero and three hundred and sixty, and as soon as she catches a faint glimpse of those new colors in her peripheral vision she quickly turns back the other way.
Days pass like this, with her sometimes turning all the way around to her left instead of turning slightly to her right (and vice versa). Everything she draws at work seems incomplete, because she refuses to fill in the new spaces provided by the new geometry of her reality. She speaks to no one about her experience, just hopes that things will return to normal. Day after day, she is disappointed.
Slowly, her curiosity begins to overpower her fear. She begins to steal little sidelong glances at the colorful world hiding in the extra degrees. She finds herself staying awake late at night, drawing impossible figures and writing lists of more nonsense words ("ruby" "violet" "yellow" "indigo" "tangerine" "sapphire" "gold" "emerald"). Something about that world feels familiar to her, but in a way most unlike the familiar regularity of her day-to-day life. She cannot deny that it beckons to her, but still she cannot bring herself to face it full on.
On her walk home from work one day, as she is passing the place where she first saw the five hundred and forty degree circle, she feels the hairs on the back of her neck prick up. A bomb is coming, at its usual time, but at its usual place? No! This bomb falls three meters closer to her than all of its predecessors, finally landing close enough to not just startle her but to shove her back with the concussive force of its detonation. The shock of the blow floods her system with epinephrine, and everything slows down as she looks up and sees another bomb falling toward her, this one even closer. She has no time to think, no time to settle her nagging metaphysical doubts—she turns right into the violent colors of the other world and dives into it. Not a moment too soon, for she feels the shock-wave of the blast catch her in mid-air and carry her for what feels like miles. Then the ground rushes toward her and—
The circle has closed up. Three hundred and sixty is all it takes again. Throb throb throb and blink blink blink and the colors are gentle but merciless. Gibberish flows in waves and soaks the colors in names, and the throbbing gratefully subsides. Standing up, dusting off, looking around—an endless alien landscape with a womb-like familiarity. Shifting and flickering, as if the circle hadn't challenged geometry enough! How many ways are up? How many down? Backward and forward connect in loops, branch off from each other again like rabbits in a mating chase. To look one way is to look all ways, and none. Until certainty—decision—hits: step forward, and the path stabilizes. The compass rose blooms.
Where to? Or is it "when" here, or perhaps "why"? Direction, it is immediately obvious, is a state of mind. A foreign concept, nonsense until now, suddenly as natural as a dream. Movement is strange here. As if in a dream—walking underwater, slow steps that drag through the air and seem to drag the scenery with them. Shapes shift and decay as they recede behind, new shapes rise up ahead out of the ether, a visual echo in reverse? It is not the feet that walk this world, it is the intent, and the intent now is to find—
Pause. Breathe. Watch the world breathe along.
What fills the eyes? How are these forms to be described? Not trees, but the forms of trees, if Plato were the one looking at them. Some sort of primordial forest, where the trees do not rise from the dirt and cut into the sky but blur between them, connecting the two extremes. Not just trees, all sorts of cavorting shapes, which suggest "plant" but do not quite declare it. All wet with the gibberish of naming, those words are now indistinct as they soak in. Laughter is the only sensible response to this playful display absent of threat. Yesterdays' fears fall like Winter's pine needles.
...The intent. To find! What? The reverie is heavy and the blare of fascination almost drowns out other thoughts, but in the deep end of consciousness a school of questions quietly lurks. The bubbles from their respiration carbonate the reverie, adding the barest tingle of apprehension to the wonderment of discovery. As evidenced by the inability to hear even the barest rumble of the bombs that seconds ago threatened life, this world is somewhere completely else. Things like food and shelter will eventually have to be found, and the question of who or what might inhabit this world...onward, the curiosity engendered by this colorful mystery is reason enough. The focus on "forward" seems to project a beam of certainty, and suddenly the shapes coalesce to reveal a path through the trees. Gravity seems to kick in and walking normalizes, and exploration begins in earnest.
Each step solidifies the world—this is definitely a forest. Arcane, to be sure—trees hang with glyph-shaped leaves, branches twine and spiral vine-like between each other, underbrush sprouts in arboreal flame—but it is a forest nonetheless. A mild breeze from behind rustles leaves, and is that bird song? A faint melodious chirp-chiming can be heard off in some distance. Pleasant.
Another sound: river-like, the chuckle of a babbling brook, but wispier, hollow, almost hissy.... Around a bend, the source becomes clear (though confounding): a river, yes, but not of water. Long curved seafoam-colored leaves whoosh through a riverbed, borne along by (wind?) some mysterious force. A continuous stream of them, flowing out of ambiguity to the left, into obscurity on the right. Ooohh! The flow bobs upward, leaving contact with the ground and arcing into the air, then drops, splashing leaves onto the bank. Unbelievable! A genuine wonder.
The leaf-stream must be crossed, and because there is no bridge and it is too wide to jump, it must be forded. Wading into the flow, the sensation of dampness is surprising yet unmistakable beneath the feathery caress of the leaves. Dipping down, taking a handful, the leaves crush and crumble into sand, then into liquid. Cool, clear, odorless...water? After a moment's hesitation, the lips and tongue confirm it...it is refreshing, inviting more handfuls. Playfully, a leaf is grabbed quickly and tossed past the teeth...it crumbles in the mouth, liquefies down the throat...what a strange sensation! The contradiction between dust and liquid...how something that should parch actually hydrates...this world only seems to get stranger.
On the opposite bank, shaking the wetness of the leaf-stream off the legs: onward. The chirp-chiming of imagined birds is getting louder now, a whole chorus seems to be nearby. Curiosity is racing, imagining what might actually be making these sounds. The surprise of the leaf-stream suggests that it may not be birds at all, but something completely else! Excitement! Pace unconsciously quickens, the peripheral scenery flickers and flutters at the eager haste. And sure enough...!
A clearing, and the source of the sounds: a giant pillar-tree in the middle, standing with its arms spread wide to the fog-blue sky in a capillary gesture. It is perforated, coated with an intricate lattice-work of holes; it is leafless, but not bare—it is hung with glassy bell-like nuts. The wind does a spiral dance around the tree, playing it like a gigantic flute-windchime. Awe-struck and speechless. Must get closer!
The bark is like textured metal, but peels off papery and fragile. Peering through a hole, the texture of the heartwood is a deep red—a stark contrast to the grayish bark. The nuts are like Christmas ornaments, but somehow more organic. No, on closer inspection, they are like spherical snail-shells, golden spirals of glass...with bead-like silver filament-seeds responsible for the chiming.
All of a sudden, one of the nuts casts itself off, chimes loudly as it strikes a branch, then lands softly in the grass below. The seeds begin to flutter as if antsy to escape. What is about to happen? Will it melt? Will it shatter? No, what it does is sort of...unroll, letting its spiral shape open outward, and then unfold out to flat. This is accompanied by a sound, steadily swelling in volume, a clear and pure tone almost like a child's voice. The seeds are swelling up and...dancing? A closer look reveals that each one now has a tiny hole in it, like a mouth, and can it be that the tone is coming from them? Are they singing? They grow so fast! The size of baseballs now, no, softballs, no, basketballs!? Singing silver seed-balloons now beginning to ripple with iridescent colors as their voices fragment and split into...car horns, cuckoo clocks, tea kettles, sparrows, piano plinks...? A melodious cacophony of brilliant everyday sounds! As if this tree was somehow the wellspring of all sound—
Transfixion is shattered by the sound of movement from behind. Waves of indistinction shudder through the forest path entering the clearing. Something approaches. Old apprehensions return thunderously, conjuring a fight-or-flight beast from deep in the old lizard brain (that little spring of instinct otherwise known as the brainstem), and with a shimmer and whoosh the tree is now being viewed from behind a flickery bush on the periphery of the clearing. Hopefully a safe place to view the approaching entity (or entities), for fear and curiosity have now combined to paralyze the limbs and eyes into a statue of breathless watching.
What emerges from the forest is a figure of formless flux, unactualized potentiality, not so much a creature as the Possibility of a creature. An unsubstantiated animation of organism that is in some sense the opposite of a ghost. It seems to burn with the fire of perhaps, flickering between all forms of life, somehow suggesting [plant animal crystal flame electricity chemistry] as if it were the form of life itself. It approaches the sound-seeds (which, having outgrown roundness, have taken on a multicellular bramble-berry texture, pulsing and distorting in their eruptions of voice), and reaches to gather them. Gather them into what certainly is a burlap sack. Their voices are silenced as they are loaded, and shortly the clearing is quiet again.
The Possibility turns, and focuses its apotheosis of eyes on the hiding-bush. Staring right back at it, eyes lock in an everlasting gaze. The surroundings flicker as déjà vu cleaves the sky into a hail of spirals. Shockwaves of familiarity carry currents of explanation: this place is the nature of Memory, the memory of Nature—the Universe's first recollection of its own existence. The Universe had forgotten Itself, had simply zoned out, let Its mind drift from Its memory in the daze of the mechanistic maintenance of Its own existence. But It had begun to remember, and traces of Its memory had begun to seep into the Now of its self-creation. The circle closed as the daze gave way to memory-perception/realization-remembrance, and a localized feedback loop had swallowed a bite of the actual back into the realm of potential.
The gaze breaks, the Possibility flickers back into the trees. Time to emerge from hiding. The clearing is as it was, the tree chirp-chimes, the sky smiles bluely, the sound of the leaf-stream can be heard faintly behind. New questions are being born: What will happen by staying here? Will all certainties eventually dissolve back into possibilities? Is there a way back? Mustn't there be? If this is the realm of potential from which the Universe creates itself, must not there be a conduit to actuality somewhere? A doorway to creation?
Flittering about the forest, scouring the landscape. Eternal minutes cast endless ripples on the ocean of temporality, no hope in guessing the actual time-distances involved in this search. Thirst is slaked by more leaf-streams; hunger is satisfied by fruits of light that dangle from the patchwork canopy; but no return doorway is found. Despair creeps in slowly, on silent armies of cat feet, and nibbles at vitality and urgency. Schools of three-hundred-and-sixty-degree circles swim through thoughts, taunting, like a field of three-leaf clovers in which a four-leaf has been spitefully hidden.
Climbing the face of a mountain of desperation that elevates the perception far above the canopy. Surveying a vast unEarthly landscape—a movable feast of non-Euclidean curves that suggest impossible topographies. Clearly this is no planet, no sphere drifting in Pythagorean harmony through physical space. In fact even these bizarre non-geometries refuse to stay consistent with their non-geometric rules—the surface of this world breathes and ripples, condenses and evaporates at the periphery of vision. So...what use is it to search here?
Of course! She's been doing it wrong! Everything is unactualized here except her—she hasn't been moving at all, she's simply been pulling different potentials into her sphere of actuality. Searching is the wrong tactic, she just needs to attract, to manifest.
The mountain she was climbing begins to flow upward. The feeling of a stream engulfs her. Below her she sees Possibilities approaching with bulging sacks, which they open and begin emptying at the base of her mountain/stream. What comes out of the sacks are not objects, though they are things: sounds, colors, feelings, tastes, smells. Once their sacks are emptied, the Possibilities throw themselves into the upstream, chasing the sensations as they rush upward, past her, toward some unseen vacuum—the conduit to actuality!
She looks up, although "up" is probably no longer the word for the direction. The sky has opened into a circular hole, no, a super-circular hole! Five hundred and forty degrees of intense light yawn at her and now she is not on the face of a mountain but being carried by an avalanche into the maw of creation. The seconds before the light overwhelms her are just enough time to overpower her fears and uncertainties and to focus all her intensity on home.
It works: she is face-down in familiar dirt, and then dragging herself to her feet beneath a familiar sky, surrounded by familiar smells, sounds, colors. She is dazed at first, but as she shakes it off, she becomes aware that two things are missing. The first is the other world—no matter how many times she turns around, she keeps finding herself back at the point she started. The second is...most of her town. In her absence, it would seem the bombs wizened up to the fact that they had been falling in an empty field for all these years, and had decided to move into more functional territory. The familiar gray buildings of her clockwork past have been obliterated by the vibrant dawn hues of destruction.
She blinks in a complete absence of feeling. The numbness of shock ripples coldly through her nerves, despite the seething heat of the flaming ruins before her. A whisper of "what now?" echoes softly in the silent tomb of her thoughts, and though it receives no answer, her feet absently begin to carry her in the direction of home.
There is nothing left. While the rest of the city seems to have been only ruined, her house (and without a doubt her family as well) has been utterly obliterated. No fire is even left, only a smoking heap of ash...as if the fire that took her home away burned hotter and faster than all the others. It is more than her mind can grasp.
Her feet carry her limp consciousness away. She does not know it yet, but her drinking and feasting of the memory-dream of Nature has left indescribable seeds within her. She does not know that the tragic desolation of everything familiar to her is truly a great blessing, for it has fertilized the world to let these seeds grow. No more bombs will ever fall here, and in time the scathing reds and oranges of destruction will give way to the verdant tones of new growth. The clouds will part to reveal again the azure smile of the sky, and in the warm light of a yellow sun new buildings will be painted—by her hands, and those of the survivors—with colors to which she will have just given birth.