(after Björk)

Starlight glistens in crystalline frost spread over darkened lichened clifftops all about. A gust tugs at tufts of grass growing tatty from cracks in the rock here and there, the stark stones of a cairn glitter cold as myriad stars twinkle bright beyond. A man and a boy come crunching towards the cliff edge, wrapped warm in coats bleached blue by the pale evening light, snug faces face the chill amidst scarves and woollen hats.

Together they stand and survey a great shadowy forest flexing below, pine and fir and spruce creak in pools of gloom, pools of murk. Green is grey at night. The sky is silent, its clarity absolute. Breath steams into a story.

You want to know about the universe, about heaven, about Earth?

The boy nods towards the stars. A mitten folds over the man’s gloved hand.

Okay. We’ll start at the beginning of time.

They say the first god was a spider. She lowered herself from a deep black night to cast a net and catch the passage of time, but all she trapped was moonlight, which turned her web to slender silver silk.

The moon had taken the passage of time for himself, and he span rapid in the sky flashing his phases to taunt the spider, wax to wane, crescent to gibbous, new to full, ‘round and ‘round.

In answer to these taunts, the spider slipped her silver silk as strings for a harp, which she plucked with the sharp points of her legs, making a mournful melody until the moon slowed melancholy, his sad face transfixed by the song.

At last the moon offered to give time in exchange for the instrument, and he hung in the sky strumming silk strings in calm cadence, showing his phases rhythmically, wax to wane, crescent to gibbous, new to full, on and on.

The spider weaved a wonderful web then, its slender silver silk catching moonbeams eternal, music lilting down all around. She placed her hours and minutes and seconds in the corners of her web, and the passage of time was finally caught, and that’s how time began.

The man squeezes the boy’s hand, looking out through the empty air before them. Mist rises from the forest floor, sinuous, drifting, encircling the clifftop, confusing the frost, dabbing drops on web abandoned ‘cross the cairn. The breeze fades, the mist quivers then stills. Wisps turn graceful, ethereal ballerinas’ wrists.

It was after time began that the universe was born.

They say a she-wolf awoke one deep black night as the first full moon was rising. She shook snow from her thick fur, looking about the vast empty tundra stretching bleak before her, moonlight glinting in her golden eyes.

She went in search of a mate, passing through endless icy valleys, past sparkling snowy mountaintops, past glaciers made of gemstones. In that entire frozen wilderness she saw no other living creature, no sign of life at all, only snow and ice.

Heartbroken she wept, and her tears became an arctic sea, littered with icebergs drifting silent through darkness beyond sight. Retreating to the tundra, she settled down to die a cold and lonesome death when the plateau around her sighed with a faint chorus of howls falling eerie in the distance.

She stood then, her ears pricked up. She sniffed a scent to the sea, where bergs crept back to the bay, each carrying a noble wolf, their proud silhouettes illuminated by the radiant ice.

The wolves leapt to land to run as one across the tundra. The she-wolf joined the pack, running side-by-side with its leader, a great grey with shining ocean eyes. When the pack reached the summit of the tallest mountain, the wolves raised their snouts to howl at the first full moon, singing of their bitter journeys across the arctic sea, singing of their longing to unite at last with the nature of their own kind.

That howling echoed through the endless icy valleys, reverberated ‘round those sparkling snowy mountaintops – and this is how the universe began – the sound intensified until the plateaus quaked; deep ravines opened, volcanic heat burst forth, and the tundra exploded with a huge destructive bang.

The scattered gemstones of the shattered glaciers gathered as bright galaxies across the sky, the broken boulders of the mountains formed comets and planets, driven into space by the passion of that sudden blast. The wolves paired off to inhabit their new universe, the first she-wolf with the ocean-eyed grey, alone nevermore.

The boy leans against the man as mist thickens through the forest to cloud. Nebulous bedding rolls out from the cliff edge, pierced here and there by the drooping wizards’ hats of treetops. Into the clear sky a crooked finger of luminous green bends above, bordered by the red yellow of peach flesh near the stone. Waves of azure billow behind, a celestial sunset at night.

Now let me tell you about heaven and Earth.

They say our world was first an endless serene sea, hidden from heaven by layer upon layer of cold dense cloud. One deep black night, a tiny fish emerged from the silent depths of the abyss, her faint beating heart blurred beneath soft translucent skin. Other fish followed, darting skittish left and right, joining a great shimmering shoal swimming up towards the surface.

Some stayed see-through, others grew steely scales. Some needed sleek fins, others large round eyes. Some grew slanted gills, others opened oval blowholes. Yet as each one passed away, its fate was always the same: the body drifted down to the depths, the soul flew up and was lost amongst the clouds.

The great shoal swam on until it discovered an island. A jungle curved crisp across the horizon, and many fish swam to shore. Once on land, some slithered away on their bellies, others crawled away on all fours. Some took to trees and flapped from branch to branch, others stood and walked away. Still, when any animal died, its body remained on Earth, its soul flew up, lost amongst the clouds.

Time passed, life survived long summers and weathered wide winters, and eventually our ancestors appeared. By now the sky was full of the spirits of the dead. They thronged tormented, unable to break through the cold dense cloud to the peace they sought beyond. People looked up at the roiling sky, wishing they could somehow set those lost souls free.

Then one day, a boy – he was brave, just like you – he began to dance, spinning ‘round with his head bowed down, his arms thrown out by his sides. A dust devil formed at his feet, growing in strength to lift leaves, catch clothes, bend branches and tip tiles ‘til a tornado raged all about, opening a vortex up to the clouds above.

The boy kept spinning and a great storm blew outwards from him; a hurricane hurtled west, a typhoon tumbled east, blowing the clouds away until they fell as rain over those first serene seas. The boy lay down, dizzy, dazed, and watched the evening come. He watched light fall from the stars above, watched as the souls of his ancestors found their way finally to heaven, to beauty, to rest, to peace.

An owl hoots unseen from the shrouded, subdued forest. A line of web comes loose from the cairn and drifts, a ribbon rippling, the tail of a kite in light wind. The man looks down into the boy’s eyes and sees the aurora above reflected, each iris a globe enchanted, each pupil its own deep black night, a saltwater universe ignited within.

Originally published by Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal (produced by the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies Program at Western New Mexico University, Silver City, NM), 2015

Read Cosmothology with Twisted Vine LAJ here (pdf reader required depending on device used)

Cosmothology is dedicated to Björk and inspired by her song Cosmogony

Goldlink Online, the Goldsmiths Alumni Blog, includes an article about the writing process around this work here

©James Bruce May 2015

<-short fiction