And she told them a tale from her Earth, of a mountain hidden just above the top of the world, where the storm and the stairs never end. And they listened, and they laughed, and they interrupted all the time, until, at story’s end, they all went to sleep. Except for Edna, who laid staring at the stars of a sky that wasn’t her own.
She wondered for a while, as she watched them, if she hadn’t made the right choice. Perhaps it was okay, sometimes, to put off what must be said or done in order to win a little more peace in a life that could have so little. She debated this in her mind with every part of herself that cared to listen. Her Pain was there, and Grief - whom she had let in to use the toilet - and other parts of Edna you haven’t met, and may never.
Her watch traced its course around her hand and round again, over and over - the mastered movement helping her to focus on the thoughts and selves springing into her head. When it became clear that there would be no rest for Edna this evening, she pocketed the timepiece, stood quietly, and wandered off.
She didn’t intend to wander far - it was the woods and dark and her pants were made of stick - just enough to feel alone. She stumbled out of the tiny clearing where they made their camp, cursing her way through the underbrush as it scraped by. In this way she traveled for several minutes - or what might be minutes, if time were doing its job.
Edna felt, in that walk, that she was alone, and mostly she was right. There was her, and the trees, and a gentle, warm breeze. There was the song of the crickets, and the song of her rude remarks every time a low branch or a spider web swept across. There were the spiders, understandably upset at the destruction of their homes. And there was nothing else.
Edna had been looking up as much as she could, trying to glimpse the stars in the gaps of the canopy above. This had contributed to the amount of low branches and spider webs that had swept across her. She came to another small clearing, or so she thought, using an outstretched hand to round a tree. The branches of her helper tree faded to their tips overhead as she stepped away from the trunk, giving Edna a clear, beautiful view of nothing.
No stars shone down. No clouds rolled by. No planets or moon or moons (as some Earths had) could be seen anywhere at all. She turned to look at this unusual patch of sky from other angles. It would be easy enough for the trees to block her view of some obvious body floating in the black.
As she turned, Edna took a step back, further into this unexplored clearing. She had the thought, as she stepped, that she hadn’t looked down since entering this little glen - that she had no idea what could be waiting here.
This was a huge mistake for an adventurer. There could have been a bear, or two bears, or a spiky pit, or five bears. But there were no bears. Indeed, there was nothing, and more of it than Edna Star had ever known.
But just before nothing, the answer was a rock, which, if you ask Edna, tripped her. Edna tumbled backward. She would have landed on her butt, but for all the nothing that waited. Instead she continued to tumble backward, out of space and time and the other things that aren’t those but matter just as much. She tumbled out of memory and song, and forests and petrichor, and the idea of chairs. She tumbled into the Great Nothing that lived before the Everything, which was understandably upset at the destruction of its home.
Edna fell through the nothing for a time immeasurable to humans. It was neither short, nor long. It was in between and without. It was the time it takes to wait for a friend to put their shoes on when you’ve been ready for ages: infinite and unbeginning.
It was two minutes, thirty-two seconds. She knew this, because she had a watch, which measures time and is not a human.
Now, Edna’s watch doesn’t open, of course. It never has as long as she’s had it. But in the heightened adrenaline of her fall she could feel it tick tick inside her pocket - constant and reassuring, and she had had the presence of mind to count those precious ticks.
After the first set of sixty Edna became bold. She pulled the watch from her pocket, eager to feel it tick tick against the bare skin of her hand. She didn’t roll it round as usual. Instead, the watch seemed to nestle itself between the folds of her hand, sinking and turning and sinking and turning.
Until, after another sixty ticks, she saw that her finger was sat atop the latch. Edna felt a desire to open the watch greater than she ever had before. But logic and history and certainty all told her it would never work, for it never had. Then despair added its voice to the chorus. Don’t even try, it told her, you’re stuck here.
But that was too much. Edna Star would not be piled upon in this dark nothing. She clicked the latch.
And her watch opened.
An Interlude for Rock
Rock had no idea what had happened on one side of it - not because what had happened was so strange and unknowable (which it was) but because rock was a rock, and rocks have no ideas about most things. That’s not to say rocks are dumb. Rocks have an intricate, infallible counting system, incomprehensible to humans, with which they tick away the many eons of their existences. Rocks have moss, which is neat. Rocks have society and recycling and no wars. Rocks are doing pretty well, they just don’t get a lot of ideas.
Something tripped over rock. Rock, in addition to neither knowing nor considering the unknowable, inconsiderate nothing that had engulfed one of rock’s faces, did not feel this trip. Rocks do not feel this sort of thing. Rocks feel wet, and joy, and balanced, and movement, and green. That is it.
Rock moved a little, pushed deeper into nothing by the unfelt trip. Rock noticed this, but rock had no notions about what could have happened. Rock did not feel balanced. It teetered - a thing rocks do well, better than people - on the precipice of reality itself.
Rock fell into that improbable abyss where - for a time immeasurable to humans (but perfectly measurable to rocks and also clocks) - nothing happened. This Nothing Time, which rock enjoyed, was followed by a great, wet bolt of Something. This Something came to rock with a pang of purpose.
Rock knew what rock must do. Rock knew how long rock had to do it. It was a time immeasurable to humans, which, in the counting system of rocks, came to about 124 pages.
Until then, rock raced through nothing, on adventures of its own.