Stories are templates for how to see the world. Or, rather, stories are templates for how to see ourselves within the world. Being sentient means not to know where you fit in and needing stories to tell you. Everything which slumbers, stone and plant and river and mountain, slumbers in its place; only those of us who are cursed awake, walk. And so, while walking through a sleeping world, alone, we tell ourselves stories to pass the time and gently light our path forward, even as we create the next few steps. Because we have walked and will be walking for a long time, there are many stories. Some of them are terrible and some of them are joyous but all of them are important and the really good ones are sad. I’m about to tell you a sad story. I am about to tell you an important story. I am about to tell you the story about a city, a City, a lighthouse and your parent.
The parent lived alone. From whence had the parent come? This was unclear but also unasked because there was no one except the parent to ask questions. The parent was half asleep, half awake, wise as they were, and so had no need for questions. The parent lived by the sea (because of course they did) and were mostly concerned with nothing at all which is to say, they were mostly concerned with living. There was hunting and fishing and shelter making and thinking and passing water and much more to keep the parent occupied. There was, in short, life. And so, the parent lived for an amount of time that is unknown but it was probably much longer than a week. And in that time, the parent knew many other forms of life, all asleep to some extent and dreaming beautiful dreams. The fish dreamed of the river source and of the sea to come. The trees dreamed of giving fruit and of the wind that whispered in their leaves. The sea dreamed of everything else and how it would one day reclaim what had been lost. The stars dreamed of the parent.
This shocked the parent; you see, the parent could experience all of these dreams. Actually, everything could experience all of these dreams; the trees listened as the fish stirred, restless, imagining themselves in the frigid waters of the mountain source and the birds overheard the trees dreaming of the same wind that buoyed them up and laughed loudly in birdspeech at the trees’ rough mental vocabulary. But only the parent was half asleep and half awake and so, only the parent thought about these other dreams. And when the parent listened to the stars, they saw themselves and were stunned. This wasn’t the shock of simple recognition; after all, the parent had seen themselves in pools of water by the river and in the eyes of bears. The parent knew what they looked like. No, this was the shock of the uncanny, of semi-recognition, for before them, in the dreams of the stars, stood the parent transfigured, as if they bore within themselves a million other minds, a million other people. Which, of course, they did, as we all do.
But because the parent was half awake, this frightened them. They felt off, they felt invaded, they were worried about what this said about the future. Seeing their fear, the stars took pity on them and came to them in the waking/sleeping world which the parent inhabited for, as we all know, the stars come and go where they please and categories such as wakefulness or sleep do not apply to them, seeing as they come from a time when the universe itself was still asleep, curled up around itself. So, the stars came to the parent and they spoke saying “Parent, why are you a-feared?” and the parent said “Oh great stars, mighty beacons of light within the infinite darkness”, upon which the stars cut them off and said “oh do go on” to which the parent replied with a brief awkward silence. “Yes, well” the parent continued, “I am afraid because I saw within you a vision of myself which disturbed me, a version of myself which I did not know. Within it, I was not myself! I was so much people overlaid on top of each other!” The stars chuckled, their crystalline voices echoing across the sea and driving the fish mad with ecstasy. “We apologize, parent” they said after their bout of contained laughter, “we had no intention of scaring you. However, what you saw is simply the truth! All you are is just a palimpsest, the many versions of your people who are to come overlaid on one point of time and space”.
Hearing this, the parent was distraught. They liked being themselves. They did not like this idea of being many others overlaid here, in this cave by the river where it spilled into the sea. So many others would make so much noise! The bear would probably not come around anymore to share his dreams of softly speaking trees as they susurrated in the wind and his dreams of bounty. The river would probably go silent, embarrassed to tell its story in the face of so many people, turning to whispering it to the fish alone who would, in turn, whisper it to each other as they swam along the stream, keeping it from the multitude of people upon the riverbank. Even worse, what of their own dreams? Must they now share it with so many others? Must they, heaven for-fend, listen to the dreams of so many others and give up their precious time asleep to the visions and wishes of a horde? This would simply not do. But they were also drawn to this vision of themselves, this idea of a multitude contained within them and of the idea of those versions walking in the world, like them. They would have others to tell their story to and others to hear stories from. They would have countless ears that would listen and mouths which could speak and eyes which could see their beauty. And so, the parent turned to the stars and said “Oh mighty stars” and then, remembering themselves, went on to say “yes, well, you stars over there, can you not save me from this fate? I do not wish to be a palimpsest! I wish to be myself, separate, alone, in sleeping and in waking. I wish to listen to the dream of the bear, alone, and converse with the river, alone, and dream of myself, alone, and, in short and in conclusion, to be alone! But also, I wish to meet these versions and exchange words with them. I wish to be alone with them and to tell them my story and hear theirs!”
The stars, hearing this, were saddened. Being themselves a multitude, singing with joined voices through the spheres of existence, never a second alone but always in a whirl of different colors and intensities, they could not understand this desire to be alone. But, they were fond of the parent and did not wish to refuse this creature of anything; for, if they were true to themselves (and, like all dreaming things, they were), the stars were more than just fond for the parent. They were in love with them. They had never seen a more attentive creature, open to the dreams of the world around it. The parent was much more attentive than them, to be sure, caught in a constant astral choir as they were. But they were also more attentive than anything else, than the bear in its slumber, than the bird in its flight, than the fish in its journey, than the river in its babbling tongue. And so, with sadness in their heart but also love, the stars told the parent this: “Listen, parent. We can do what you ask of us. But, there will be a price and it won’t be simple. What we will do is we will give you the means to separate yourself, slowly. We will give you the means to take those versions of you that are embedded in you and make them separate of you. But it will take time. And it will hurt. And you will need to build something so that these new versions will have a cave of their own. You will need to build a city. Things won’t be the same; the bear will come but haphazardly and some of the other things of the forest even less so. And you will have to hurt the trees for their skin is the perfect abode for the new yous. But the river will still be there and so will the fish and definitely the birds; there might even be more birds than before. And the sea as well, to be sure, for the sea will always be there, no matter what. Do you understand so far?”
The parent understood, or thought they did. They said to the stars “Oh brillia…yes, we understand, stars, please make this happen!” And the stars laughed again, a mighty, throaty laugh this time, and all the peaks of the mountains around lost their snow in a flash thaw. “Oh parent, please do not go so fast! We have still not discussed the price. This will all be your reality in this city but we don’t want to give you any city! Because you want to be alone with these versions of you but still experience them, we want to give you a true City, a place that will befit your charming self and the dreams you are so fond of listening to” (this compliment made the parent blush but they let the stars go on) “thus, you will have a lighthouse in this City and you will have lighthouse keepers. But no flame will they tend nor will their job be guiding ships (though mighty sailors they will have to be). No, instead, these keepers will be guiding dreams. They will make sure that, even though night surrounds your City and the bear is a-feared and the trees are far way and the river’s voice is smothered beneath the clacking of wheels and you are surrounded by so many voices, they will make it so that even then, the dreams can find their way into your ears and hearts and make you as joyous as you are today, although briefly. For we love to see you happy and to hear you laugh. But, know this” and here the stars’ voice fell deep and ominous and the parent shuddered at their power “these keepers will suffer. Your other versions will be afraid of them. And rightfully so, for they will be your messengers to us and we will guide the dreams to them so that you may have them. But no dreams will they themselves have save for one dream, a dream that will haunt them, a dream of us and our servants. They will live this dream only once in their life and but briefly and the rest of their existence will be as ash in their mouth.
But live they shall, among you, their faces constantly craned towards us, constantly gazing at us, knowing that, one day, they must come and meet us and that for that moment, they have died and will live only for a few moments. What say you to this?” Then, the parent thought for a while and in the end of their thinking, with the memory of the river and the bear and the trees and the sea already fading from their minds, and their own dreams of the City already taking root in their heads, and their own stories already spinning in their minds, the words of their truth and their narrative already shaping the world around them or, rather, their perception of the world, and with the callousness of heart that only hides the sadness that’s always been the parent’s due, and with the light in their eyes already turning from the stars to the manifold versions of themselves, to which they will never stop to be drawn with a kind of fear mingled with fascination, they told the stars “Let it be so”.
And it was so.