The Sympathetic Universe Part 4

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Ta tipped spears. Spears killed mammoths. The tribe shared mammoth meat with Ta. Ta wove baskets. Baskets carried nuts and berries. The tribe shared nuts and berries with Ta.

Ta had two children, Ko and Da. Their fathers were not around, but she didn’t need help. She had plenty of food from her basketmaking and spear tipping, and the tribe took care of them while she was busy.

One day, a band of unfamiliar men appeared and began shouting at the tribe and trying to shoo them off of their land. They were wielding only clubs, so it would be a matter of time before her tribe could chase them off. Ta grabbed Ko and Da and took them back to her cave. It was a particularly safe cave with many winding passages to confuse an attacker.

Hurrying into the cave, Ta picked up a spear to defend her family. This left her with one hand for her children, so she bade the elder Ko to hold onto her hand and use her other hand to keep her little brother Da with them.

It wasn’t until they had reached the innermost section of cave that Ta learned Da hadn’t made it with them. Ko couldn’t understand where she had left him. In all the chaos she had simply lost track.

Ta left Ko in the cave and went all the way back out to search for Da. At the mouth of her cave, she ran into the enemy tribe. She saw the blood on their bodies, and in their hands were her spears. If she surrendered now, they might take her in and let her make more spears for them in exchange for sparing her children.

Ta dropped her spear. She fell to her knees and begged for mercy. One of the men walked up and took the spear. She pointed at the tip and pantomimed her chiseling process to make it sharp. The man lifted the spear and thrust it into her chest.

***

Ta stood in darkness. “Da?” she called. “Ko?”

No response. Ta felt cold, like when the wind swept through her cave in the winter.

Ta ran forward, heedless of walls or stones that might trip her in the blackness, but everywhere was exactly the same, and she sat down. The darkness never let up, and she couldn’t tell how much time was passing. She realized she hadn’t eaten in a long time and grew hungry. Ta clutched her knees and laid down, shivering.

This went on and on and on. Clearly, this was the afterlife. The cold and the gloom proved it. It was just like she had been told, except that she didn’t know how she was supposed to find the pit and the crocodile if everywhere was dark and flat. Da, Da, Da, Ko, Ko, Ko she mumbled to herself. She was gone. It had to happen, she understood, but what had happened to them, were they ok?

If only she could make sure her children were safe, Ta could allow the crocodile to shepherd her to the realm of ancestors. But it wasn’t even trying to do that. Nothing was happening. Ta shivered on the ground.

***

Then, the Crocodile appeared, or rather it just walked up. It moved silently, and Ta hadn’t noticed its approach. It glowed faintly, and Ta could see the ridges of its scaly back. “Ta,” it intoned, barely moving its mouth, “the time has come for you to let go of the Earthly realm.”

“Oh,” said Ta. She felt she had been huddled on the floor for so long she couldn’t remember what was happening. It came back to her, though, “Crocodile,” she stammered. Then she spoke, summoning strength from her endangered children, “Crocodile! Show me my children! I cannot leave life behind while they are in danger.”

The Crocodile was taken aback. Incredibly, the Crocodile’s confusion was even more upsetting than if it had simply said “No.” It occurred to Ta that she can’t possibly have been the first ever to have unfinished business among mortals. Surely there was some kind of method for dealing with such a situation.

Then the Crocodile said, “come with me to the Pit.”

Again, as she walked behind the Crocodile she had the unsettling sensation that the travel continued for years before anything changed. The Crocodile said nothing if she tried to speak to it, and if she ran ahead it stopped until she went back behind it.  Once she just ran for months in the direction they had been walking, but when she finally looked back it was right where she’d left it as if she hadn’t moved at all.

Finally, the Crocodile led Ta to the pit. She could see it only because it shimmered in moonlight that wasn’t there. A shallow decline, too small even for a person to fit in. The Crocodile walked up to it and settled in, a perfect fit. “Aah,” it said, “That’s better. Now, you will let go of your Earthly desires and let me lead you to the realm of ancestors.”

“No!” shouted Ta. This must be a test, “I care too much about my children. Punish me with this nothing realm forever if you must, but I will not rest until they are safe.”

The Crocodile said nothing for a year. Ta nearly broke her foot kicking it, but eventually it said, “Your children are insignificant. They are an infinitesimal part of an endless story.”

Ta tried not to think of what must have become of her children while this awful crocodile wasted time. “I don’t care about your story. Ko and Da are everything.”

The crocodile responded immediately, “Your limited perspective has made you passionate about such small things. It’s fascinating to see. You never told us where you backed up your memories, but we finally found them. I hope that they will help you to give up this notion that your children are worthy of altering my reality.”

Then Ta remembered. She remembered all of history and the future, and millions of universe-lifetimes of experimentation and creation.

Ta was The Cousin. Unbeknownst to The Entity, however, The Cousin was still Ta, the mother of Ko and Da and no less intent on saving them. The only difference was, now she knew how she was going to do it.

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.

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