In winter one forgets summer ever existed. One forgets how to live. Can a man who is warm understand one who is cold? No, he is warm. He is in a different universe entirely.
Can a dead thing feel pain? No, it is dead. It is in another life. Can winter feel warmth? No, it is dead. It is outside of warmth. On Planet Ten not only does winter feel only deadness and cold, it feels no joy, so fully is it dead. Winter here on Planet Ten is truly winter. Nothing moves but the incessant snowstorms, not even the sun.
Day after day I sit alone in my home, my cabin. Cold and alone. I am sealed inside for half the year because of the joylessness of winter and its cruel piles of snow and heartless sheets of ice. It is always winter here. I am always cold.
I calculated the stars for them and look where it has gotten me.
They said to me, “Souls and love and loss — you cannot compute these things like the stars!”
I answered as wisely and gently as I knew how. “Well, what do you know, dingbats? None of you are mathematicians, only men in politics. These things, as you call them, their souls cry out to me. Numbers and computations. I am merely their mouthpiece. And then I solve the problems, smooth out the inconsistencies, as best I can.”
And they walked away, for their minds are closed and their hearts deliberately hard. They walked away saying, “You are fired,” and sent me here to Planet Ten. But in leaving, they let me keep my papers and equations and all my work, and that was all I cared about.
I see all the inconsistencies and tragedies of the universe. They have been there since the beginning of time, but since I have only come along in the past two hundred years, I have much to catch up on. Every child kidnapped out of bed or mother’s womb, every woman abused and lied to, every man killed in war or on the streets. I count and compute them. Every one for thousands upon thousands upon thousands of years. And I have but one lifetime at my disposal.
And I am so, so tired.
I am an old man, many hundreds of years old, kept alive by the dreams and prayers of science. I would rather have been granted long life by the hand of God himself, as all good things are, but I will take the life I can get. I will take it and use it well, and hope I am doing right.
At night I ask the stars for help, but they rush by so fast they do not hear me.
Some lives are spent in search of beauty, others in search of love. Some in search of fulfillment, success, money, inner peace. I would do that, but I simply have no time. I am working. I balance the books of the universe with one hand, and with the other, I count my time. Each minute that ticks by, each sand that falls from the curve of the hourglass into the abyss below. I have so little left, and so much left to do. I’m racing against my time.
I draw the stars and count them. I try to make X equal everything it should. I write out pages and pages of calculations and equations as far beyond E=mc2 as Planet Ten is from Mars. I try to solve the Conundrum. I try to solve the universe. I work day and night, barely resting, barely eating. I spend myself over my pages, I give myself to the Conundrum and to the universe.
Solving the Conundrum is my life's work. It asks: why does pain and grief exist? Fear? Malice? Evil? How can it all exist while wonders like laughter and the snowfall outside my window exist simultaneously? I can only add it up and privately wonder. The Old Books could, I'm sure, answer me, but long ago the men who banished me destroyed them. No answer, in their minds, is legitimate unless it comes from them.
They used to allow me onto a technological system the Originals called the Internet, barely less primitive than a physical book of paper and ink. The system made music, marketed lowbrow information, and displayed childish art like a museum, but I don’t miss it much. The Old Books had long been removed, and so I rarely used it.
My cabin does not see the Internet system anymore. The government men took it away. So much the better. It drew me from my work, infantile and inane though it was. I have no connection at all to the outside world save the equations I solve for it.
I stand instead on the roof of my house. I watch the stars as snow falls on my shoulders. I watch them turn slowly in their great revolutions, and I watch the comets shoot by on their way to celestial appointments. The stars are always moving, the meteors always have somewhere to go, and I? I stand immobile, alone on a wintery prison planet, and I watch them.
I wear long robes which blow in the cold snowy wind of Planet Ten when I stand on the roof and watch the stars. The fabric wraps around my ankles. It’s old fabric by now, after more than a hundred long years of wearing it. Its curling red designs have long faded and fallen off. I have never been able to mend it, because the daylight is spent at my desk, with my papers and pencils and the worries of the universe.
I ask them for help and no one comes.
I don’t sleep anymore. When they first banished me here decades ago I slept like a normal creature. But the stars were too irresistible. When they told me where they were sending me, I didn’t realize how close the stars were to the planet surface. Some are less than half a light-year away, and this means they are much larger than the pinpricks on Planet One. The closest one is a quarter of the size of the moon. Thus the nights are bright. Bright and cold and beautiful. A welcome relief from tiny markings on paper flowing by my eyes all day.
I don’t understand how I get along without sleep. I nap sometimes, but only on accident. Sometimes I fall asleep during the day. My head crashes down onto my desk and my beard and its decades of growth spill out across the equations. I always awaken optimistic and buoyant, and then I struggle to get back to work.
It is all work to me, and I don’t mind anymore. As the moons run circles around me and the hourglass runs out inside me, I work. I scribble on paper and type numbers into my calculator with shaking fingers. I write it all down, look over it, and start over. Most of my calculations are impeccable but nothing equals what it should. Nothing is right.
E=mc2 and gravity=9.8 meters/second squared and one soul=the weight of the universe. The papers are covered back to front in rapid systems and equations, dashed down before time runs out on me. I try as hard as I can to make everything right. The universe counts on me, as I count it. I count every falling snowflake and blade of dead winter grass and write it down, and then I balance that with the number of fears and anxieties and unrequited loves of all the world. It always comes out uneven and I can do nothing to fix it, except start over and keep counting. Perhaps one day I will come across an equation that will balance everything perfectly.
If I only go faster, try harder, I can make everything aright. But no matter how long and hard I try, I cannot make X equal everything it should.
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I did not plan to write this. But I finished "Dreamscape" on Tuesday and thought why not. I didn't even like the prompts all that much. Life is strange. Anyone get the Old Books/Solzhenitsyn reference? Augustine talks about evil in the world and gives its explanation but I thought the mc wouldn't have read Augustine so I left it open ended. Other title ideas: Winter and Summer, Winter and Stars, The Peril of Living. But what I have now is decent, I think.
I think that the first sentence of your story is so true. That fist part of your story is almost my perspective of winter. Beautiful story Zilla...great job. 😊
This was beautiful, the way you described it, the stars, the environment was just amazing. I cant put it in words, I felt as if I was there listening to him speak, seeing him work. Seeing him think...you made it in way so unique and special. Even the title was good.
hey Zil, what do you think of this week's prompts?
Oh, they're decent. I think I'm only doing one though. What about you?
oh, only one? wow, that's rare for you. I mean, i love how your rare is literally a normal person's amount of stories, but anyway... ooh I'm thinking I'm doing one, I'm trying to start doing one per week from now on, so I'll probably just try to figure out which prompt seems most fun
Haha! I've started doing more essayish writing and flash fiction, rather than Reedsy stories. I saw it! I'm super busy this weekend but I think I can get to it Tuesday.
i was trying to do an essay/story weird mix type of thing, which is the idea that didn't work out that i told you about okay, thank you! :)
Hi Zilla, nice work! I love the philosophical questions and the main character's thought process. I mentioned this in my other comment on Dreamscape, but I love it when you use philosophy in your writing, as well as interesting cultures, though this one didn't have that so much. I feel like this could be a little bit longer, honestly - there's a lot of room to play around with the main character's thoughts, but other then that, no critiques. Great work!
Wonderful as always. I was curious, in the beginning it said "On Planet Ten winter cannot only feel nothing but deadness and cold...". Did you mean to say can there instead?
Thanks, Elliot! That sentence gave me serious trouble. It's a "not only but also" but "only" is a negative. I'll mess with it a little.
I really love the fact of Planet 10. I love learning about planets and I feel like it adds a lot to the story.
I think the last line perfectly captures the insanity of mankind. "If only we find what it all means we could be happy." Beautiful story. Thanks, Zilla :)
Interesting. Makes you want to learn more about the youth of this sophisticated man.
Orenda is leaving. I just wanted to inform you because I know you'll want to say goodbye.. :(:
hey Zilla, I always value your feedback so much and I would really appreciate it if you could read and critique my new story whenever you've got time :)
Hi! Another great story by you. I really like your descriptions and the way you went about this prompt. I usually overthink a lot when writing stories but your descriptions, prose, and use of metaphors are great inspiration!! All the best!!!
Nice one, I always enjoy a good stream-of-consciousness style piece, it almost felt like a mathematical version of Lily Briscoe from To The Lighthouse, struggling to complete her painting like the main character struggles to solve the Conundrum. My one little nitpicky thing would be that the gravitational constant is 9.8 m/s^2 (units of acceleration), but other than that it was a great read!
I always enjoy your writing!
The concept of asking the stars for help but no-one hears or has time to listen is so beautifully and tragically put and, I think, so relatable to many people suffering from anxiety and depression. Very well done!
Lovely philosophical story.