A Universe of Five
She counted to five, because there were only five things in the tiny cave that was her universe.
- The Bed, where she slept.
- The Hatch, where her food and water appeared while she slept.
- The Hole in the floor where the smelly stuff went that came out of her body.
- The Wheel that was her life.
- The Light that was built into the ceiling and illuminated her world in a sickly yellow glow. When it came on, she got up and ate and began to turn the Wheel. When it went off, she went to sleep.
It was a life of small thoughts. She was not sure when it had started or how she had learned how to turn the Wheel, or why she turned it when the Light came on. That was just life. She did not worry about how her food got there; the process was invisible and so outside of reality. Everything real was in her small cave.
She counted obsessively. “1: the Bed, 2: the Hatch, 3: the Hole, 4: the Wheel, 5: the Light. 1: the Bed, 2: the Hatch . . .” She did not count with numbers or even words—she knew no words—but only saw the images in her mind as she went through the list. She did not count her food. It was there, but then she would eat it and it would disappear and become part of herself and so ceased to be truly real. She did not even count herself. She could see her body, but it disappeared out of sight around her chest and shoulders. Her head was invisible to her and anything that was invisible was not truly real. So she moved like a ghost through her world of five real things.
Time was binary: there was dark and then there was light. The dark was the empty place, when things ceased to be real. Then the light came again and the world was recreated. Every time the Light came on, she would get up, count the world, and then eat. Then she would squat over the hole, and then begin to turn the Wheel. She had no memory of past events, because all events were the same.
Until the dark when the Light did not come on.
She became aware of lying on the Bed in a world of nothing. This happened sometimes, but then the Light would come on. So she lay there and waited. The next thing she noticed was an uncomfortable feeling in her body. She needed to eat, and to squat.
She wondered if the food was there. That was impossible, since the Light wasn’t on. A thought occurred to her. Was the Hole there? How could it be if the Light was not on? But maybe it was like the Bed. The Bed winked out of existence with everything else when the light went out, but it still cradled her formless body as she slept. It had a sort of dark form. Maybe the Hole had that too.
After a few heartbeats, she crawled forward and felt the floor beyond the Bed. She kept moving and her probing hand felt the floor disappear in a small circle, just like the Hole. By now, the urgency in her body was frantic and despite the absurdity of the situation, she positioned her invisible body over the non-existent Hole and squatted.
When she was finished, she wondered if the Wheel was there. Did everything have a dark form? She moved forward and found the Wheel. She could even turn it. The idea of turning an invisible wheel seemed ludicrous to her and she laughed.
It seemed obvious now, but it had never occurred to her before. Everything must have a dark form. But already her mind came up with an objection. How could the Light have a dark form? It was a contradiction. That, at least, must be impossible.
She made her way to the Hatch and found that it was there, but with no food or water. That made sense, since the food came with the light, but she could not understand why her body wanted it so much. Noises came out of her middle. There was an indentation inside the Hatch where the food always appeared. She felt around with her hands, but nothing was there.
While probing with her hands, she found a small opening further up. She put her arm through it and continued to probe. She felt a dark form she had never known before—smooth and hard with small bumps. There was a bigger bump and when she pushed on it, part of the Hatch fell away and she tumbled forward, through the Hatch and out of her known world.
It was still totally dark, which was almost comforting. It meant it was still like a dream. Perhaps it was a dream. She started walking, hands out in front, seemingly floating through an abyss of emptiness. Walls came up against her touch, but she floating around them, letting them effortlessly guide her progress.
She walked in a sort of reverie and it was a shock when she realized there was light up ahead. It was not the Light, but a different light. This was grey and faint, unlike the dull, yellow Light that she knew. It kept getting stronger until she saw that she was in a cave that was very long. All along the sides were things that looked like the Hatch. She could not count them, but there were more than five.
Ahead of her was a kind of floor that went up. It was the shape of the Hole, but much bigger. The light was coming from it, far, far above. The pain in her middle drove her on and she walked, up and up in a circle, going towards the light.
She came to the top, where there was something like a large hatch and something like a very small wheel on it. It turned like the Wheel and then the large hatch opened. Light poured in.
It was a cave without walls, huge beyond imagining and filled with light and far, far too many things to count. The size, the colors, the numbers all overwhelmed her. She wanted to run back and hide, but she stood as if frozen, trying to take in this whole new world at once.
* * *
Captain Nuris piloted the jump-craft just above the blasted landscape, surveying the site of their victory. Not much was left; the enemy capital had been fire-bombed into oblivion. Smoldering wrecks and piles of rubble showed where the once powerful city had stood.
“No signs of life yet, Captain,” his navigator said. “Wait. There’s someone over there. It’s a woman, I think, but naked and filthy. Just look at that tangle of hair! How do you think she survived?”
Nuris stopped the jump-craft and looked over at the figure, standing frozen in front of a door. Behind her, a massive building lay in shattered ruins. “Must be one of the Cogs that powered the machinery,” he said. “This was a manufacturing plant here, I think.”
“I thought they were supposed to be non-intelligent.”
“Well, this one had enough sense to escape.”
“What should we do: pick her up or leave her?” the navigator asked.
“It’s been three days since the bombing—she’s got to be hungry. If she’ll come with us, we’ll take her.” He turned the jump-craft and started towards figure.
Originally posted on The Green-Walled Tower on May 9, 2013