"Time is the soul of this world."
He thinks he might have been
He might have had a name, a life, a mortal body. He might have lived for a while, as something else. He’s been here for too long- long enough to know how dark is the dark above the atmosphere, and how long the newborn stars will live. He knows the eerie sound of planets, like they’re mourning, like they’re calling. He hates that sound. It feels like he should remember something, everytime he hears them.
He knows so many things yet so little about himself.
Sometimes, he finds mirrors in the fabric of the universe. Mirrors too tiny to reflect him, too quick to shatter when he tries to catch a glimpse of his own existence. Yet he keeps on searching for them. Searching for that one expanse of something that could show him who, or what he is.
Is there a reason he forgot?
Did anyone know him, ever? He feels old enough to remember the birth of the universe, but young enough to lack a sense of self. It’s another thing to search for, as he walks the halls between dimensions, endless and so very cold. The universe is silent and freezing, yet it doesn’t affect him either way. He could touch the sun, he could breathe all the gas in the atmosphere, crush the stars in his fists, but- to what purpose?
The dimensions he travels to are all of different sizes. Some are simply too small to encompass him, thus rejecting him from the start. Others are too empty, and he knows not to step inside them, lest he’ll fall asleep for a small eternity. He doesn’t have time to sleep. He doesn’t have time for anything, other than his own curiosity, to find it. Find something.
Sometimes, he imagines what he looks like. From where he’s standing, on top of an angry little planet, steaming and thundering away in its atmosphere, he can see too many things. He can see her very core, the layers she’s made of. He can see beyond her clouds, up and above, all the way into the next galaxy. He can see far down below, so far he feels-
Yet he doesn’t know what he’s made of, if he’s got a heart or a core, like all of these planets. If what he calls feet are actual feet and why he tries to imagine himself in a humanoid shape. He has no idea if he’ll be alive for much longer, or cease to exist the very second next to now.
He walked the space between the stars so far, so wide, he lost himself. He was walking when he first came into awareness. He tried to remember where he started from, what gave him birth. Everything else, every other living, breathing thing belonged somewhere. Each in their own dimension, in their own pocket of time.
Time. That one thing he knows nothing of, despite having all this knowledge of life and birth inside his head. There are other things he forgot besides himself, there must be. Ironically, he’s been granted all these possibilities, everything that was, everything that could be, yet he can do nothing to change anything. He can’t alter his own memory, he can’t step back in his own time, nor look behind him long enough to remember what he forgot.
How did he get here?
How long must he wander?
Between a pair of twin galaxies, he finds an old dimension. A space big enough for him to step into, squeeze through her memories and be granted permission to borrow her time. There is no one alive in her desserts, nothing swimming in her oceans, only a star and her two moons. She had people once, she tells him. They were hers, and she loved them, but they were so young and foolish. They drove themselves into extinction. ‘They’ve only been here for a fraction of my time, but I miss them already.’ She doesn’t ask him why he remains silent, because she’s only speaking through her memories. He can feel them, the life forms that once dwelled inside of her. The ones called
humans . Humans.
Why is that word so heavy, even though he can’t clearly make out its meaning? What are those? He cannot speak to her, but he can show her. He can make her feel how confused, how lost he is. How desperate to find something he doesn’t know. She glimpses through his memories, and she seems to understand more than he does.
‘You’re alone, like me,’ she simply says. ‘What you feel is called loneliness.’
He knows the meaning of the word, but is that what’s inside him? Is that why he is so lost? Maybe that’s his core. Maybe he is built of loneliness, doomed to wander and never find. Maybe he should stop searching, just sit with her, and keep her company until one of them ceases to exist.
‘I get the feeling you’re still too young for that,' she tells him, when he sends her his intention. ‘I’m grateful but you shouldn’t. Go, now.’
‘But where?’ She must feel his turmoil, for her winds blow past his face, and he can smell her kindness, her regret.
‘Your heart. She’ll know what to do’
‘Inside me… is there a heart?’ he pleads with her to look, to tell him! ‘Tell me what you see,’ he begs her. ‘Please tell me.’
‘Oh child. I am not all-seeing, but I can tell that you have one. You wouldn’t feel alone if you didn’t. But it’s strange,’ she tells him. ‘Someone is keeping it for you.’
‘I can feel you, you’re disconnected. You either gave it away or they took it from you. Whoever they are, that’s where you need to go.’
She doesn’t know more than this, she tells him. She can only share in what he lets her, and that is his pain. He tries to give her more, to give her everything he’s been missing, to make her his mirror. She says it’s too much, he’s too much. She won’t be able to handle all of him.
So he goes.
He leaves her to her memories, and he sets off to find his own. It’s been so long since someone was able to see him, to feel him. More often than not, they’re closing off before he even reaches out. Like he could shatter their existence, just by taking one step into their own. Like he’s there to steal their memories, because he doesn’t have any of his own.
He thinks about that word. About being what she called him- ‘lone.’ He is young and alone, and somewhere in this universe, he’s got a heart. Someone has his heart and he needs to find them. He’s afraid he’ll forget even these snippets she gave him. He doesn’t want to forget anymore.
He’s scared to remember.
Yet he keeps wandering, keeps opening every pocket of time he encounters. Whenever he finds a place that’ll let him stay, he seeks their answers. If someone listens, he asks them about heart keepers. Nobody seems to know what a heart keeper is. ‘What about heart thieves?’ he questions, and they look at him like he’s not even there. He might not be.
The strangest thing is when someone recognizes him.
‘You’ve been here before,' they tell him, and it fills him with a thirst for knowledge and a trepidation he doesn’t understand.
‘Do you know me?’ he asks them, but they don’t.
‘You asked us the same thing back then,' they tell him.
‘How long ago was ‘then’?’
‘Too long, but we never forget,' the people of this dimension assure him. ‘You’ve been lost for so long, I’m sorry we cannot help you.’
‘…do you know where I went last time?’
‘You said something about a vessel. That you were incomplete, because you’ve left yourself behind.’
‘A vessel? A vessel for what?’
‘I do not know, child. What is it you’re missing?’
He leaves them, and they look after him as one would a dying star. Is he dying? Is he dead already, only a fragment of a self, doomed to wander and never know? Did he do this to himself?
Who or what are they? The keeper of his heart. The one who knows him.
They’re not close enough, too far, in fact, for him to find them. Distance is all he’s got, however long that may be. He’s got nothing else, thus, he just keeps searching. If only he could call for them. If only they’d know he’s lost and confused, would they come?
He wanders the galaxies; the big and the small, the burning and the cold ones. The dimensions where there are no suns, just darkness and cold moons. Everywhere he goes, the humming of the planets disturbs him, making him itch to keep on moving. Keep going, keep going, don’t stop. If you stop, you’ll never know. If you stop, you might be dead before you know you’ve ever existed. Keep going.
He keeps going.
How long, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t have his own time outside of the dimensions he passes through. He doesn’t have anything of his own, just guesses. He drifts from place to place, meets all these beings, some as old as the universe, some too young to bear the sight of him. Nobody knows him. Nobody tells him what a heart keeper is, nobody understands what he’s asking for. They cannot tell him what he is, and they can’t give him anything, but he tries. He tries again, and again, and again, because there must be something. Someone must know. Someone must tell him.
He wishes he could measure time, keep track of his existence, in some way. As it is, he’s completely and utterly lost. It makes the ugly thing inside him grow to impossible lengths. It swells to the size of something colossal yet unseeable. He feels it, though. It's morphing, growing, adding, until it’s all these things at once. It’s rage, emptiness, despair. Eating him from inside out, making something out of him. Nothing he knows is recognizable about himself, so it doesn’t make a difference, not really.
Yet, it hurts. Somewhere, his heart still beats and it hurts, aches like a mad thing, pulsing, and filling up with all these sorrows, ready to burst. Is it blood that will flow when it scatters? Will the keeper notice it’s dying? Will they know?
The more he thinks of them, the more it amplifies, and he’s forced to curl in on himself, to feel all of it. How do sentient souls deal with this? It feels like fire inside him, like a living, moving thing, lighting up his whole being, blinding everything around him, burning him to the very core. There’s so much of it, too much, he can’t possibly-
Somebody, something- is there anything that could? Will he destroy himself along with the galaxy he’s intruded on, if this doesn’t stop? But what if he wants to? What if it’s that simple, and this was the answer all along? To self-destruct. Make it stop. Stop. Stopstopstop-
And it stops.
He’s not looking, but he feels it. Something like a veil, folding around him, tempering the living fire inside his being, calming his heart. His heart- it’s close, he can feel it. It’s beating. When he uncurls, when he comes back to himself, some- one, (thing?) is there. He doesn’t recognize this person, yet he feels as if he should.
‘You’re back,’ they say, and they look sad and so happy to see him all at once. There’s something about them, something awfully familiar.
‘Are you the one who knows me?’ he asks, because if it’s not them, it can’t be anyone nor anything else.
‘I do. I’ve known you for longer than I’ve known myself,’ they tell him, and all those questions he had freeze on the edge of his conscience. Like he shouldn’t ask. Like he doesn’t want to know.
They’re touching him. It makes something warm pool inside him, spinning safety and devotion, a tremendous amount of energy. An energy he knows, so intimately. It’s strange how this feels- like a very far-away home.
‘You still want to know?’ They smile for him, but it’s sad, so very sad. It hurts more than being ‘lone’ does.
‘I need to… I need to know,’ he tells them, even though he’s scared to learn. Why is his heart beating so madly? ‘Do you have my heart?’
‘I do,’ they answer and their body, made of nothing but spirit and life, simply opens. Inside it, there’s two hearts, conjoined, beating against each other, pulsing golden with life. It looks like fire, traveling underneath the flesh.
It’s them. His heart keeper, his vessel.
‘Why do you have it? Why is my heart missing?’
‘You said you didn’t want it anymore. That it keeps hurting and you need to stay away from it, while you sleep. You gave it to me,' the vessel tells him, and the sound of their voice inside his head fills him with longing, so deep it seeps through him. It builds like knots in his throat, spreading down in his chest and gripping around his heart. A longing that’s not even his own.
‘How long did I sleep? Where- where was I born?’
They smile and it’s gentle nostalgia, a brush of fingers in his hair. ‘We were born together, a long, long time ago. On our home-planet, but she’s no more. It’s just the two of us now. At least when you remember.’
He looks at them, the golden rim of their eyes, so familiar. ‘You’re in pain,’ He realizes.
Still, they keep on smiling; genuine, mournful. ‘I’ve been for a long time. Everytime you leave, everytime you forget,’ they say, and he looks at their hearts, beating together. It’s his heart, yet now that he sees it, he doesn’t want it back. He’s even more confused than he’s been all this time.
‘Why am I forgetting? What’s happening to me?’
‘It’s a pact. You made a pact, so we won’t lose ourselves. So we can still meet, however long it takes. But the pact is a sacrifice, it eats all your memories away, every time. And each time you sleep, you must repeat the cycle, otherwise-‘
‘ -otherwise I’ll disappear. I wasn’t meant to be alive for this long. I was meant to cease from existence a long, long time ago. But you wouldn’t let me.' They look up, but there’s no accusation in their eyes. ‘We’ve both been so selfish, this is the price we have to pay.’
These bits of their past only serve to bring more and more questions. Questions he might not want answers to. Because his heart, the one he’s abandoned, it knows. It knows the sacrifice they made, it knows who this person in front of him is. Even if he doesn’t remember them right now.
‘I can feel you,' he tells them and as they touch, their beings vibrate solely as one. ‘Your life, pouring into mine. You exist because of me, and I exist because of you.’ Their smile is so gentle, radiant. Something he wants to keep forever. This vessel belongs to him only.
‘I’m sorry it hurts you. I’m sorry.'
‘I think I can take it. I think- it’ll hurt worse if you’re gone.’ He doesn’t know how he knows this. It’s just a feeling, an urge. To keep them here, to never let them go, to always find them, wherever they might be in the universe.
‘I know,' they say and they're folding around him, even though they're so much smaller in comparison. He’s starting to see himself, a blurry vision of the thing he became. Something like infinity, encased inside of him. How is this small vessel able to contain him? It shouldn’t be possible and yet-
‘How long do we have?’ he asks.
‘We never know. Time doesn’t flow for us, not here.’
‘What happens if we go somewhere where it does?’
‘We can’t. I can’t… I’m sorry.’
They're speaking the truth. 'Then I’ll stay here with you. Until I forget again?’
‘Until you forget again.’
‘I’m not letting go. Not until we get out of here, however long that will take.’
‘I know. I’ll wait for you,' they promise, and their warmth floods into him, their beings spiraling against each other.
‘Are you alone? Does it hurt too bad?’ He asks them.
‘I’m not entirely alone,’ they tell him. ‘I can always feel your pain, and I’ll always seek you out.’
‘Then I’ll meet you halfway.’ He promises and they believe him.
They breathe each other's life, mold together wordlessly, effortlessly. He knows them. They are life, and life is them, his vessel. The one that contains him, the one who reflects him in every world they've lived in, in every life they’ve died. Time doesn't flow for them anymore, not here, not now, not for a long while to come. It's only space. Just their spirits, without a home, deprived of any certainty of a better reality.
Just him and his vessel.
They exist for each other, past the rules of time, past the endless vacuum of space, past the burning of the stars and the death of life. They simply are there. He holds on with every fiber of his being, just a little longer, a little longer, please-
A little longer.
Then he forgets.
He once loved somebody.
He loved them so much, but try as he might, he can’t remember them anymore, and the only memory he has is that it hurts.