A light went out in the distance, quietly, without commotion, explosion. Why did a light go out? I thought, unhurried. Once a light goes out it does not turn back on. There is plenty of time.
I look out into the vastness, at the countless lights I can see, nearby and in the distance, and to the patterns, swirling, infinite, of lights which are too far away to distinguish.
I might not have noticed that one solitary light disappearing into the black, among so many others still burning strongly, but I have time to look. I have enough time.
There will be no great change in the sky now that that light is no longer with us. There are so many, each one so small and insignificant.
As I think about that light, now missing, if not missed, I watch my own personal timekeepers as they fly around my being, quickly, never pausing. One, two three, the nearest one flits. Slower, the outer rings drift. They have only passed by a few times when I decide. It is important to me to know why that light went out.
I begin to prepare myself to communicate.
Without looking at the paper the graduate student hands me, I stuff it into my bag, not wanting to compare my score with the eager participants on either side. I will read the comments, written in green ink to avoid bruising my precious young ego, once I am alone. I stand up to leave, swinging my bag over my shoulder, smoothing out my rumpled sweater and see the bus at the bus stop, nearly empty. I could board it, ride it home, retreat to my own room, a quiet womb free of people who expect me to know what it is that I want to do with my life. Hoards of students with majors, plans, aspirations flow by me on their way forward. Everyone seems to be moving forward.
We are warm. We feed here in the warm darkness, all together. It is comfortable. We are comfortable. Now we eat. Soon we breed, then we will become more. We are already many. We like it here.
My feelers cling to the fibers which I know well. I have not been here long, but I am one of many, and this place of dark warmth is as familiar to me as it was to my father and my fathers father. We stay generation after generation. We like it here. We are warm, the fibers are soft and good to cling to and there is plenty of food. I see more food over there. My brothers shift to allow me to reach it. We are content.
I begin to communicate. My awareness stretches out toward the space where the light once shown. There are are other lights nearby. I direct my consciousness to them.
“Why” I begin. It is not polite to communicate quickly, and so I pause, letting the farthest time keepers drift by me again and again. I continue
“does that light no longer glow?” I can tell that the other lights understand. They do respond yet. Things happen slowly here.
As I wait for my answer I look out to my timekeepers. Sometimes it is hard to concentrate on something so close, it is much easier to look beyond them, but I enjoy them as they circle me. They do not communicate, they are too small, but I feel as though we understand one another. They keep me company while I wait.
I pass by the bus stop, resisting the temptation, and continue on to my next class. I find a seat near the back, I am early and the room is nearly empty. With a sigh I retrieve the essay and turn it over. That is not my name. This is not my paper, but everyone is gone now. I will have to wait until tomorrow to correct the error. “Scientists Observe Death of a Star.” I read it while I wait.
A cold sweeps through the warm fibers. My tendrils wrap and grasp, clinging on to my dark home now threatened for the first time I remember, my father or my fathers father remembers. As the fibers once again settle, I look around and see that many of my brothers are no longer beside me. Thought I am not alone, for the first time there is space between myself and my family. Too much space. We huddle together, a momentary pause in our life of eating, breeding and feeling the warm darkness. The cold and the dangerous movement begin again and my tendrils come loose. I am flung upward, a direction of which I was not previously aware. My claws catch on more fibers and hold on. My brothers are far below.
I have come to understand that many lights do not have timekeepers. Perhaps they do not desire them. My own desire for the comfort they provide, circling me endlessly, marking the passage of time, draws them to me, keeps them near. Perhaps the lonely lights do desire company, but the timekeepers do not desire them. I am grateful. I am humble. I count them again. One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight... Nine. The ninth timekeeper is shy, he hides at the outskirts of my love but I smile my warmth at him anyway. I wonder if he feels it, sometimes.
I continue to wait.
I read the paper twice, ignoring the incorrect punctuation and the awkward sentence structure and concentrating instead on the miracles contained within, which I have not taken the time to think about in so long. In this quickly filling lecture hall it seems as though I am quite large. I fill an entire seat. When other people climb over me to reach their friends in the center of the room, my legs feel awkwardly long and I tuck them away under my chair to make more room, but I have been reminded that I am in fact very very small. 100 light-years away a star died. Compared to that, what am I?
I look down at my brothers who managed to cling to the fibers. They have returned to their lives, eating, breeding, enjoying the warmth. I could climb down to them. I could join them, and resume my place in the world. It would be difficult, but possible, I think. From above I can see that there are other families like mine. As far as my sensors can detect there are more fibers, more food and more like me. I turn around, surveying a vast world I had never experienced before. I could climb down to my brothers, but instead I turn away, to explore and to discover.
I feel the lights in the distance, I feel them begin to answer.
“The light” They pause, and I watch my friends spin.
“ran out of fire. It had to stop.” I understand. I can feel it inside of me, the fuel that I burn in order to glow. I have plenty. I will continue to glow. The light in the distance did not, and will not.
After we stop burning are we simply gone? I do not know. I do not think so. I am comforted that I will continue to watch my timekeepers for many more rotations. I send my warmth out to them. I imagine that I can feel them smile. They are beautiful and they are mine.
I feel as though the world and I are reaching some kind of understanding.
The dark warmth is comforting but as I move forward, in a direction I have come to associate with up I am beginning to feel myself die. My reality becomes colder and lighter the farther I climb. Even though I will die I will discover what lies beyond the warm fibers. I believe that there is something beyond the warmth and the darkness. I believe that I will reach it and then I will know.
I have accepted the space now. There used to be a light there and now there is not. There used to be a light everywhere, and if they all continued thru out time there would not be enough room to shine at all. It is very crowded here. If I concentrate I can see things even smaller than my tiny timekeepers filling up the spaces between the lights. It is more comfortable to look out at the far lights and accept the illusion of space that they give. Perhaps it is good that there is one less. There are so many things.
I have read the essay seven times now, and have not heard a single word from the professor standing in front of me with his projector and bullet points. I can identify the feeling that I have been trying to grasp for so many months now, as I wavered and remained undecided about what I wanted to do with my life. I am feeling crowded. There are too many things in this world, crowding me out and making me claustrophobic. The sciences they study here, with their atoms and microscopes just make the world seem even smaller than it is already. It is obvious what I was missing. I pick up my sweater which has fallen to the ground and shake it as I walk out of the class. I feel sorry for offending the professor, but I know what I have to do. It is time to turn my face up, away from the ground and away from the world. I need more room. It is time to turn to space, where there is room to stretch out in between the few but fascinating things.
My body gets weaker the farther I climb. It is so cold. I pass by food that my family will never eat but I do not have the energy to stop and enjoy it. The light is becoming blinding. I rely on my feelers alone to find fibers to climb. My body reacts against the cold as I finish my ascent and feel something beyond fiber food and brother. I stretch out my feelers, experiencing the rest of the world. My claws release their grip on the fiber. As I expire I grasp the emptiness of the world beyond that that I have know.
There is nothing.
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