by Kathleen McDonnell
CHAPTER FOUR: The Great Pool of Existence
Am I dead? Have I ceased to exist?
Those last words almost made her laugh, because “ceased to exist” was the kind of phrase Gavi would use when he was discussing philosophy, as he often did.
“I think, therefore I am,” she recalled him saying once. “Nothing ceases to exist as long as it exists in Thought.”
Clearly, Mi realized to her great relief, she had not ceased to exist. For even though she could not feel her eyes or find her hand, she was still thinking. But the joy of the moment quickly faded, as the true nature of her predicament dawned on her. She was alone, utterly alone, in this place that was no place.
What, she wondered, had become of Molly and the Nordlings, of Pay-gee, the Creator? Was there anyone who could come to her aid? What would become of her in this strange place?
Panic rose up in her. There had to be something besides her, somewhere in this void. She began to run frantically, but it was more the memory of the sensation of running that she felt, since there was nothing of her to run. Still, she gradually became aware of another sensation as well, a kind of resistance, as though she were moving in slow motion through water. The more effort she made, the more strongly she felt herself surrounded by water, but without the wetness of it.
She raced on, with no idea where she was going, since there was no direction in this nether world, no up or down, no this way or that. But she had to try. She had to keep doing or she feared she would dissolve into the watery void.
She became aware of something else now, a sound at the very limit of her hearing, a low, persistent hum. She had been so desperate to find something physical, something tangible in the void that she hadn’t noticed the sound. But it was definitely there. Something besides herself still existed here. A sound. Or maybe sound itself.
She listened more intently. It sounded like whispers, snatches of words, hints of voices. Out of the jumble of sounds a clear voice finally seemed to emerge.
Mi felt immediately calmed, not so much by the words, but by the reassuring warmth of the voice, like an angel’s wings wrapping around her. But after a moment she felt her fear rising again. Was she imagining it? Had she really heard a voice?
Fear not. I am here.
There it was again. This time Mi had the sense that the voice was familiar, but she couldn’t place who it might be or when she’d heard it before.
“Who are you?” she called out, still finding it difficult to believe that anyone was actually there.
“I am known by many names and in many guises,” the voice replied. “But in all of these I am an Eternal. I have always been and always will be.”
Mi realized with a start that she knew the voice. It sounded exactly like Lady Jane Franklin, the wife of the great explorer Sir John Franklin. The remarkable woman she’d met on her journey to the Hole at the Pole, who in time had revealed herself to be a mysterious entity known as an Eternal.
Now she knew that she truly had nothing to fear. The Eternal was a Protector, one who had helped them many times in the past. Everything would be all right now.
“Where am I?” she asked the Eternal. “What is this place?”
“I know you have many questions, little one. I will try to help you understand what has happened to you. You have fallen into the Great Pool of Existence, from which all things arise and to which all things return.”
Mi wasn’t sure just what a pool was, or how she could have fallen into it. But she was relieved, at least, to find out that this place that felt like no place was actually some place.
“But what happened? Why am I here instead of in Notherland?”
“There has been a tear in the fabric of existence, an upheaval that has caused you to be returned to the source.”
Mi found this reply even more difficult to understand than the previous one. She was growing impatient.
“But how do I get back to Notherland?”
For a moment there was silence, and Mi feared that the voice had gone away. But then the Eternal spoke up.
“Notherland is no more.”
Notherland is no more. She knew the Eternal was speaking the truth. She’d felt it as she watched Molly disappearing, and everything around her vanishing. But she couldn’t bear to face it, and now the crushing finality of the Eternal’s words was like a stone in her heart.
“What do you mean? What happened to it?”
“The thread was cut. The thread between your world and its Creator.”
“How? How could that happen?”
“She has forgotten. Once a world is wiped from the mind of its Creator, it ceases to exist.”
“Forgotten? How could Pay-gee do something like that?”
“Like all things, a world must be nurtured and cared for. But sometimes Creators can be careless, capricious, even selfish. They cease to think of their creations, and so they pass out of existence. It is not always the Creator who is at fault, though. Sometimes it is the inhabitants themselves who fail in their responsibility as stewards and caretakers of their world. Either way, if the neglect is serious enough, the world will vanish – slowly or, as in the case of Notherland, suddenly.”
“You mean, this has happened to other worlds?”
“Countless times. Those whispers you hear in the distance are the echoes of universes that are no more.”
Mi could barely take in the enormity of what she was hearing.
“You mean Molly and the Nordlings are just… gone?”
“Nothing is ever truly gone, as you put it,” the Eternal replied. “Even the vanished universes have left traces of their existence. At the moment of Notherland’s extinction, the Nordlings also fell into the Great Pool of Existence.”
So the other Nordlings might be nearby! Mi was excited at the thought, but before she could say anymore, the Eternal continued.
“Nothing is ever lost, for the pattern of every being that has ever lived survives. But the Nordlings are no longer as they were when you knew them. They exist only in their pre-formed state, as potential beings. You cannot see or hear or experience their presence in any way.”
“But what about Molly? Is she here too?”
“No. Since she is not solely a product of the Creator’s mind, she has returned to the way she was before Notherland existed. She has once again become a doll.”
Mi found it very difficult to think of Molly as someone’s plaything.
“I still don’t understand,” she said. “If they’re all gone, why am I still here?”
“Because of your ability to travel between worlds, your spirit was able to leave before the extinction occurred.You have been returned intact to the Great Pool of Existence, where you have the opportunity to be reborn to another universe.”
“But I don’t want to live in another universe. I want to see my friends. Can’t you bring them back?”
“No, little one. No one can bring them back. I am sorry.”
Mi suddenly found herself engulfed by an unfamiliar sensation, one that made her feel like she might explode. How could Pay-gee let this happen? She began to scream out her fury and frustration, a scream that sounded through the watery depths of the Great Pool of Existence. She screamed so long and so hard that for a time she couldn’t hear the Eternal calling her. Finally the Eternal’s voice broke through the screaming.
The uncharacteristic sharpness of her tone shocked Mi into silence.
“That is better,” the Eternal said after a moment.
“You have been having what in your Creator’s world is called a tantrum.”
Whatever that was, Mi was sure it wasn’t a good thing. She could tell the Eternal was angry with her.
“I’m sorry. I’m just so… angry! My home, everyone that meant anything to me – they can’t just all be gone forever. There must be something you can do!”
“There is nothing I can do,” came the reply. “But…”
“Bringing an extinguished world back to existence has never been done before. But for a creature with such a great fierceness in her as you have, it might be possible.”
“It will be a very difficult task. You must be prepared to face many challenges.”
“Even if you can overcome them, nothing is certain.”
“I don’t care. I’ll do anything!”
“All right, little one. Let us go.”
The Eternal said the place they were now passing through was called the Zone of Whispers. But these were the loudest whispers Mi had ever heard.
“Follow my voice and you will not get lost,” the Eternal had told her when they first set out, and indeed, she periodically called out to Mi, who felt reassured and gradually settled into a relaxed rhythm of swimming. But after a while she grew impatient. The watery void seemed to go on and on. Where was this place called Eternity? Would they ever get there?
The place was spooky, unsettling – the overlapping voices, snatches of word, phrases, even songs, none above a whisper but all jumbled together in a low, unrelenting roar. Now they had reached the point where the Eternal had warned that the echoes of the vanquished universes would be at their loudest, and Mi had trouble picking out the Eternal’s voice over the din. She felt a profound sadness to think that all these voices, once attached to living creatures, were now lost, disconnected, as if engaged in a ceaseless, haunted search for their original owners.
She became so overwhelmed by these strange sensations that she suddenly panicked, convinced that she’d lost her way and would be trapped forever here in the Zone of Whispers.
She screamed at the top of her lungs and waited, fearful there would be no response. But after a moment, the familiar voice emerged out of the whirlwind of sound.
“Fear not, little one. We are coming to the end of the Zone of Whispers.”
Mi almost wept with relief as she swam in the direction of the Eternal’s voice. Sure enough, the roar of echoes began to subside, and as she moved along, she began to notice other sounds in the distance far ahead of her. They were faint, but distinctly musical, and as they grew stronger she could make out voices, accompanied by drums and stringed instruments.
She swam with renewed resolve, determined to leave the melancholy Zone of Whispers far behind. She found she no longer needed to listen for the Eternal’s voice, for it was the music that was guiding her. Now she could perceive a pattern in the song, a phrase sung by a single voice, followed by a response from a chorus of women – for she could clearly hear that they were women’s voices. It was glorious, thrilling music. She had learned many new songs in her travels through other worlds. But there was an exhilaration, an untrammelled freedom in this music that was like nothing she had heard before.
Suddenly, the watery void was gone. She was enveloped in a flood of golden light. On either side of her she saw a line of winged creatures – angels. She could feel them sweeping her along, with no effort on her part, into what appeared to be a vast celestial chamber.
She looked up. High above her head was a band of columns that seemed to stretch all the way across the sky. She was seized with joy.
She quickly realized it was not the RoryBory at all, but something else, a structure that appeared to be made up of multicolored, pulsating strings. At every point along the structure were creatures who appeared to be threading more fibres in among the strings.
The Eternal’s voice called out from behind her.
“Behold the Great Loom.”
Mi wanted to ask what a loom was, but she was distracted by the beginning of another song, a call-and-response chant of even more startling beauty than the previous one. The angels were lifting her up closer to the structure now, and she could hear that the voices were coming from the creatures weaving the fibres into it.
They were wearing richly colored garments bearing intricate patterns of diamonds, stars, flowers and other shapes Mi did not recognize. Their heads were wrapped in scarves of the same cloth, the bold colors even more vivid against their dark faces. A few of the women were standing off to one side, beating on drums and plucking stringed instruments that looked like large gourds mounted on sticks.
Mi was so enraptured by the music she barely heard the Eternal’s voice calling to her through the flurry of sound.
“I must go now.”
She looked around. Even though they had left the watery void of the Great Pool of Existence far behind, she still could not see the Eternal.
“Do you have to?” she asked.
“Yes. I am a Protector, not a Creator. My work is out among the worlds, not here in Eternity.”
“But what about me?”
“You will stay here,” came the reply. “Do not worry. I will return to see how your work is going.”
My work? Mi thought. What work? But she had no chance to ask.
“Farewell, little one. The Songweavers will be your teachers now.”