Hello, and welcome to the Folklore & Fiction newsletter. At the summer and winter solstices, I mimic the sun and pause to reflect on my own creative work. In this edition, I'm discussing myth in fiction with my short story "T Is for Three (at the End of All Things)," which was published in the C is for Chimera anthology. Because the story is only about a thousand words long, and because it's a creation myth, I'm reprinting the whole thing here. Hope you enjoy it.
"T Is for Three (at the End of All Things)"
Before the ancient stars coalesced into brightness, in the vault of the foregoing universe, there were sorrows too great for any being to bear, and the greatest of these was the sorrow of ending. Not the end of a day, with its sundown promise of another sunrise, and not the end of a life, while memories of the dead remain and there is hope in some hearts for the soul's journey onward. No, this sorrow was vast, cold and complete, and it spanned the void of space among the last rough fragments of matter strewn in terminus.
Who was there to grieve in that heat death? Scripture tells of three; supermassive singularities at the end of their gathering in, brooding upon the cacophony before and the quiet ahead, sacrificing radiation to become chimeras of the wonders they once devoured. There was Face-of-Time, in whose mouth a trillion tongues cried out in languages long extinct. There was Skin-of-Suns, fat with the orbits of planets given to memory. And there was Feet-of-Entropy, fevered with a dance of creation fallen to stillness.
One day (as they understood days, these black-eyed watchers of epochs), Face-of-Time strode into the void on a legion of legs; each one a transit system between the stars, a glittering city, a hut in the mountains, a burrow where mothers of beasts gave birth to their young and spoke the deeds of sentience. "I mourn the loss of minds," it said in all those tongues. "There was a poet once, a being of fire and ammonia, who gave the brief flame of xyr life to the search for a perfect word and spoke it as xe died. Who will remember the poet, the word or the many who held it on their lips for a thousand years? There was a pilgrim too, a piercer of the spacetime veil, who matched the speed of light and yet prays in a shrine where time and motion cease. Who will call him away from that devotion? And what of the cow who hid her calf to save him from the slaughtering knife? Who will tell the small tale of that good mother when I am gone? I mourn the loss of minds," it said in the languages of the dead and retreated to its fading accretion disk.
Skin-of-Suns shone into the vacuum then; a hundred billion solar nebulae casting planets like dice into the hundred billion galaxies of its flesh. A gravity well opened its throat in a threnody for the celestial, captivating the last two listeners in the universe. "Exquisite, they were," it sang, "elliptical, spiral and irregular, extravagant civilizations of matter and the kindred supermassives they contained. Their jewelly stars are extinguished forever now, and even the knowledge of them will perish when I am dead. Incandescent, they were, those daughters of hydrogen and helium, audacious mothers of worlds and moons. What became of their children, the fertile descendants of stellar ignition, whose bodies were the nurturers of life? Disintegrated in the blasts of supernovae. Burned to cinders in the long, slow fires of solar giants. Left to freeze while their primordial foremothers huddled, small and white, in the unremitting dark. I sing of them all," it whispered in a broken strain of grief. "They were exquisite."
"How they moved." Feet-of-Entropy embodied the inception of the cosmos; nihility, infinite density, an outward rush of power. "From no-place, no-time there came a pulse, unconstrained, a wild expansion that brought the first builders into being." A fire burned upon its belly, radiating out, and in it the forges of the elements worked. "Light and heavy, they were made and sent forth into the black, fallow night to blanket infant worlds and combine. There was breath in that union, and water, and in time, there was life." Bacteria spread across the vastness of its body, now brimming with a myriad sunlit cradles of evolution. Hosts of beings swam in the oceans there, crawled forth to stand on claws, hooves, paws and feet, launched into the air on tremulous wings. "Some survived, adapted, and of these a blessed few traveled out again to greet the universe that gifted them so richly. I was there, a necessary sorrow, from the origin of things; a putrefactor of flesh, a quencher of forges, a cold, killing equilibrium. The dance has ended now; for them and soon for me. But oh, how they blazed, how they soared, how they moved."
A trillion years they spun thereafter; silent, pensive, dying. Scripture tells us nothing of that time, nor do we know who chance favoured in that bleak, forbidding night with an insight that would bring an end to endings forever. Perhaps there had been a universe before, and perhaps some weaker God therein had offered what it could to the one that followed. Such a thing was probable. But Face-of-Time, Skin-of-Suns and Feet-of-Entropy were three, and they were not yet consigned to dissolution. A measure of strength remained in their colossal accretion disks and in the depths of their inky singularities. So it was when together they chose a minute point in spacetime and poured all they had gathered into it; every perfect word, every civilization of matter, every swimming, crawling, standing, flying being. They lost the chimeras of their bodies, and in time, they lost their lives to that pouring out and into infinite density. But in the moment of their deaths, a new universe was born, one that remembered.
This is why we know them; three Gods who paved the Way of Perpetual Arising and embedded awareness of it in each particle of the cosmos. The leaf, the river, the cloud, the planet, the comet, the star all carry fragments of the same primordial tale. Have you heard it in the howling of the wind? In the crashing of the wave upon the shore? In your dreams of other times, distant places, foreign people? By the triune constellation marked upon my face from birth and its mirrors in the skies of every world where we evolved, by the marks my brethren bear from every species we have met, I speak a truth already singing in your bones: You are an heir of spacetime, and the memory of you will never die the heat death.
Now this telling comes to an end, but there is much left to be told; in the wise cells of your body, in the skillful combination of elements, in the practiced fusion of their creation and in the Gods who will send them forward into universes unending. Go now, and live a life worthy of their sacrifice.1
The Folklore Behind the Fiction
In another life I would have been an astronomer, but in this one I'm content to be fascinated by cosmology and quantum mechanics. I've written both into my fiction several times over the years, and I've often been the grateful recipient of personalized science lectures from physicists happy to share their knowledge with a writer who hoped to bring good science to her stories.
In the case of "T Is for Three (at the End of All Things)," I wanted to mythologize the creation and destruction of the universe, and I was fortunate to have three physicists among my friends, which made the research behind the story a bit easier. I won't go into the details of that research too deeply here, since I plan to write about the folkloric elements of the story as well. However, I will tell you that the Big Freeze theory of the universe's death hypothesizes that supermassive black holes will be the last denizens of space, gathering all the remaining bits of matter into themselves before dissipating into nothingness. This replaces the Big Crunch theory, in which the universe collapses back into itself and perhaps cycles out again as a new universe. Here's a short, accessible article about these two theories if you'd like to know more. My story gives the last three supermassive black holes in the universe sentience, agency, and the ability to turn the Big Freeze into a Big Crunch that creates a new universe with an incredibly strong anthropic principle. That new universe is sentient, and its inhabitants are aware of their origins. Because of this, there will never again be a Big Freeze. Instead, the universe will continue to expand, collapse, and renew, bringing all of its accumulated knowledge forward forever.
Here's how the idea looks in my original notes:
I'll also mention that whenever you encounter phrases in the story like "Feet-of-Entropy embodied the inception of the cosmos; nihility, infinite density, an outward rush of power," the science in the phrase is accurate. That was important to me, since I think cosmology is magnificent and deserves to have poetry written about it. But do let me stop geeking out about the science now and geek out about the folklore instead.
Longtime readers of the newsletter will remember that my second edition was about myth, in which I offered the following checklist:
- Narratives: Stories which may be told or written as prose or poetry.
- Sacred: Associated with holy teachings, rituals, and paraphernalia.
- Believed: Taught for the purpose of encouraging or strengthening belief, accepted on faith, and cited as factual.
- Cosmological: Detailing the origin of the world, of humankind, of life and death, of good and evil, and so on. They also recount the origins and lives of gods and other superhuman beings.
- Otherworldly: Set in the distant past or in a place different from the Earth as we understand it.
- Populated: Containing primary characters who are not human but may have human attributes such as gods, giants, elves, dwarves, culture heroes, and sometimes animals.
I wasn't a folklorist yet when I wrote this story, but in retrospect, I'm pleased to note that it fits all of the above criteria. It's a narrative told by the priest of a religion that evolved in a future universe where Face-Of-Time, Skin-Of-Suns, and Feet-Of-Entropy are worshipped for their role in preserving life. It makes reference to scripture, which the priest holds sacred and believes. It's cosmological and otherworldly both scientifically and from a folkloristic perspective. Finally, it's populated with sentient supermassive black holes and inhabitants of the universe they created, who themselves know their cosmological origins go back farther than the big bang. Honestly, there's so much potential for storytelling here that I can't wait to wrap up my current stack of projects and write in this world.
And now I'm geeking out about writing.
Speaking of writing, I mentioned last month that I would be moving more deeply into folk narrative next year. I'll also be launching a Folklore & Fiction companion podcast on SoundCloud, and you'll be able to subscribe through iTunes and Feedburner once the first edition is up. I had hoped to launch a Patreon account as well, but I have quite a bit of work planned for 2021 as it is, so I'll aim for a 2022 launch. Meanwhile, if you're in a position to be generous during these difficult times, please donate to your local food bank or humane society.
That's all for now. Thanks so much for your time! I'll be back next month with a brand new set of Folklore & Fiction topics.
Monthly Folklore Meme Archive Link
- 1. C.S. MacCath, “T Is for Three (at the End of All Things),” in C Is for Chimera, ed. Rhonda Parrish (Edmonton: Poise and Pen, 2016), 197–200.