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I found the room and it nearly destroyed me. Not physically, of course, but mentally. When does anything ever destroy someone physically except when one accounts for horror movies that rely on excess gore?
It's in my basement, you see. And once more when is it not in the basement? The basement or the attic. Or maybe even the sewers, I don’t know and it really doesn’t matter. The room wasn’t big with glyphs like I’m sure you are imagining, although it was very dark. Darker than the deepest tunnel under the earth. That sense of ambiguity and intrigue wouldn’t be there if not for the dusty dark.
When I opened the door there was talking. Not deep, demonic speaking, but simple chattering. As if a quaint, pleasant conversation was (or were there conversations?) taking place. But I could not even see the outline of the wall in the deep black or where the floor of this new room met the basement concrete.
Curious, I put my hand out and found that it hovered and then fell. Nothing. The walls that connected to my side of the basement were there, but as for everything else…
Nothing. Black emptiness.
I leaned back and breathed in deeply. A faint, but powerful scent of moisture was emanating from down in those murky depths. Not completely repugnant, but enough to make me want to close the door.
And yet another part refused. Some part of me in that far back gray haze wanted to know what was down there. It wanted to know what could make such a place. I shut my eyes, afraid to open them but finding it all the more difficult to keep them closed.
In the end, my inner urges won out and I opened my eyes to see a simple rope ladder hanging on the edge of the door’s opening. I glanced around, half paranoid that some madman had done this and murmured, “You get what you wish for."
After some internal deliberation I descended the rope ladder, all the while my mind spun, trying to make sense of this, trying to understand all of it.
About twenty minutes (it may have been more, down here there was no time) my foot struck solid ground. I looked down and saw nothing but more black expanse. I stepped away from the rope ladder which glowed faintly.
“Convenient,” I said and turned my back to it and began to move at a brisk pace in whatever direction that I was going in. Down here in the void there was no direction. Down here everything seemed to float because there was no light to show the floor. No way to know where I truly was.
Except ahead there was something…glowing. Not the brown glow of the rope ladder but something white, a soft incandescent glow. I ran to it and found myself greeted by a piece of paper seemingly suspended in air. And on it, in a blocky but legible scrawl was written, ‘Here there be turtles.’
“Turtles?” I said aloud. “What does that mean?”
The air became cold for a moment, and I felt as if something drifted past me. “Come closer and you will see,” a voice said. Not the voice you all are thinking of. The one that haunts your dreams and sends you crying in terror in the depths of the night. No, this voice was kind and sounded full of wisdom.
Against my better judgment I took a few tentative steps forward until the voice said, “Stop. We wouldn’t want you to take a tumble, would we?”
“I guess not,” I responded. And then, “Who are you?”
Suddenly light was everywhere. Encompassing everything. The floor was black, yes, but now I could see a faint purple under-glow. The paper no longer shined. And if it did, it was no longer quite as intense.
When my eyes adjusted to the harsh glow (funny that I’d grown accustomed to the dark) I saw a turtle. And on top of that another. And another. And another. And below that…
All the way down.
“Hello, young one,” the Turtle said. “I am known as Zax. And you?”
I squeaked my name out. Suddenly I felt my mind beginning to bend under the weight of this massive discovery. “What are you doing here,” I asked.
Zax turned so that one side of his face looked at me, his old turtle’s eyes brimming with cheer. “I?” he asked. “I am a Holder. We all are. The turtle at the top, Aax, I believe is his name, holds your world on his shoulders. And Bax below him and down we go.” The Great Turtle laughed heartily.
My mind whirled for a moment. I felt as if I had those little birds around my head like you see in cartoons, “But surely there is an end to this. Surely there is a bottom.”
Zax frowned and I thought my mind was going to break at the sight. A massive turtle frowning. What logical mind could conceive what that looked like? “I don’t really know. I can’t move from my predefined post and I can only converse with those close to me.” He paused and in that moment of silence I felt my mind itch and jive. To squirm. “However,” Zax said, “if you would like you may climb our tower. You may not find anything but I’m sure you’ll find that out on your own.”
I nodded, stepped forward, and minding the gap where the turtles passed through the floor, I began to descend.
I don’t know how long I climbed. I don’t know how far I went either. If I looked up I could still see the glow of Zax. And I could still him talking.
“…that boy won’t find anything…”
“…we know, Zax. It’s turtles all the way down. Everyone knows that.”
The further I went down the less I was able to hear them talking. Zax’s ever bright glow was always present. Always shining like the floating paper and the rope ladder. The further I went from Zax, the less and less I could see my point of origination. It became a central focal point until-
Until my foot touched something solid.
I stepped off the tower of turtles and away from them.
I was answered by a low grunt, “I have slept for thousands of years, undisturbed by all. And then, one day, you come along. What is it that you want?”
My mind went blank for a moment, unable to fabricate an articulate noise. The Turtle stared at me with one glowing eye. An eye even older than Zax. One filled with ages more of wisdom.
“What are you called?” I finally asked. “Zax told me the turtles go all the way down. Was he wrong?
The Turtle laughed, “My name is Phrax, the original turtle that time has forgotten. I have held up countless turtles since the birth of the universe. Those above me, many of them actually, have all long since died. This is why Zax is wrong. Nobody knows where our little tower ends. It is too dark, and therefore safe to assume that we turtles went all the way down. This, my young friend, is the edge of the universe.”
The edge of the universe? My mind hiccupped again. “But if this is the end, where is God? Are you, perhaps, God?”
Phrax laughed again, “No, young one I am not God, but he does very well exist. He is beyond the edge of the universe, but exactly where I do not know.”
“Beyond the universe?”
“Yes. But what is the nature of such an entity? How can one live beyond the edge of existence? What does he look like? If you were to walk to the edge of this room you would find the universe ends in a concave wall. Not unlike an-”
“Egg!” I finished.
Phrax nodded, “And if you pushed through that shell then what? Would you find our universe is nothing more than a speck of sand floating in a vast ocean of a desert? Or perhaps behind that very shell is God’s face? What if you stumbled into heaven on accident? Or Hell? What if it was God standing against a bright blue sky for what might be parsecs?”
Phrax paused, “Throughout time your people have always wondered what exists, or perhaps it is existed in the dark depths of the universe. The question they should have been asking all along is what is beyond the edge of the universe. Where exactly does it end? You see, young one, size encompasses us all; it overwhelms us. That, my friend, is why our minds, especially you and your species, cannot conceive of what God looks like. Is he a man, or is there nothing but white? No living man knows.”
I held my tongue for a moment, playing my question over and over again in my mind. Finally I asked, “But I could be that man?”
“That man to do what?” Phrax asked, but I suspected he already knew.
“To see the face of God.”
“I do not even know if God truly exists on the other side of this universe. What if you are wrong? What if your mind is too weak to handle what you see?”
“Then I shall bring scientists,” I cried defiantly, “and I will show them the door that leads here!”
Phrax shook his reptilian head. “You do not understand. The entrance to edge of the universe does not exist under your home. It is everywhere. One moment it is here at your home, the next Moscow, and then after that maybe in Midwest America in a farmer's barn. Sometimes it is found, sometimes it’s not. If you leave now, you will never see this place again.”
I digested the information, turning it over and over again in my head. A grin, wholly terrifying, spread across my face. “But you cannot stop me, can you, Turtle?”
Phrax shook his head.
“I can do as I please!” I laughed and with that I moved towards the edge and closed my eyes. I imagined a door with a bright gold handle. When I opened my eyes it was there, glowing just like the rope latter and the paper sign.
My hand, trembling awfully, reached for the handle. I pulled the door open a crack and I saw blinding white light flood the darkness of the room. And then-
Then I awoke back in my basement, the events fading into an obscure dream. Of course I woke up and of course this was all a dream! I looked to the wall and saw no door. How convenient. How cliché!
I stood up and moved to my workbench. A piece of paper, glowing brightly, was there. I didn’t want to touch it; I didn’t want to see what was written there. My better judgment, lost (big surprise) and I approached the note. The scrawl was blocky, deep black, and barely legible.
“I saved you before you could open the door leading to… whatever. I had to move and because of that I have disrupted the tower. In short, each turtle is holding up a universe. Each turtle in turn holds up another that holds up its own variant of the universe. Those dead ones are universes now devoid of any life. Your young variant is held up by Zax, so it remains to be seen what the outcome for your people is. I rescued you, understand, but at what cost? Remember it’s turtles all the way down.”
I put the note down; there was more written, but I didn’t care. Instead I moved to the ground-level basement window. The sky was a blood red meridian. Asteroids smashed into the ground and fires burned unchecked. The rot from the death of the tower of turtles had not seeped fully into my own universe, but it was here. Dear God, it was here, and as I looked at the bloody sky I realized it wouldn’t be long. The rot has been coming for a long time, but now…
Now it had been accelerated.
Something broke in my throat - some sort of dam keeping my voice in check, and I began to scream.