Her own little island, an inverted pyramid of dirty and rock, twisted into a vague spiral shape by the gnarled roots of her tree, floated through the twilight with a leisurely ease. she had no boatman, nobody at the tiller, but it wasn't like there was any of that to be had, Direction, that is. She wasn't even sure she was drifting, or whether it was just the stars moving around her, twinkling wineglasses of quicksilver caught in a cloud that stretched as far as the eye could see.
Sitting on her back, in the shade of the tree (that wasn't really shading her anything at all, with all the brightness in a distance many times that of the old Earth to its sun), she wriggled her toes into the cooled grass, and watched the Everything go by. she didn't get tired or hungry, and the little island seemed to have mass enough to keep her feet sturdily anchored.
The things the cosmos had for her to see, innumerable but not uncountable, boundless as imagnation, were all there as surely as could be. For moments that stretched out to their very limits, she couldn't help shake the feeling that this was hers, that she was at the center, or that it had been made for her alone. But, on reflection, she concluded that this was a selfish thing to think. Who then would have have a chance to share it with? Surely it was as much theirs as hers (whoever 'they' were). It would be much better just to share in the beauty of it. Yes, definitely that. she'd still just keep her island to herself for now, as it was small enough, but everything else-- well, there was enough of it to go around.
It had rather been a while since she had seen anyone, really. It became difficult to tell how long or how far ago, or even when she'd come here and started drifting as she was now. She certainly didn't feel old, and although she really was rather young (perhaps 10), the unshakeable sense that she'd been around for millenia gave her little shudders. she'd get wrinkles. she'd start getting back pains and grow hair out of her ears. She'd start calling everyone 'Sonny' just to remind them how old she was and how young they still were, as if they needed the reminder.
No, better to lie here in the grass for now.
She started wondering about the big things, and not just the ones in the distance. Big ideas that couldn't be so much seen or heard so much as thought about or pictured. Big head ideas. Just how long had it been? How much time had she seen and felt run through her fingers? She'd tried counting it out one by one, each single units of some grander measurement, but she kept forgetting the numbers. Just as much, it wasn't at all a help that she didn't always seem to be moving forwards in time, and strongly suspected that time would catch up on her when it felt sneaky enough to do so.
Forwards? Backwards? Upwards, maybe, or side to side. Worlds did loop de loops, or turned over on their head, and every so often, the long silvery stretch of cosmos rise and fell from her island's horizon as it pleased. Or maybe the island itself was twisting and turning while the universe stood still. It just became so hard to keep track of what wasn't moving when all around her the creeping swirls of star-stuff curled itself in and out of the velvet void.
One day, she'd walked across her island, from one end to another. One hundred and twenty steps, in small strides. Sitting back afterwards, there was the satisfaction of knowing at least one constant. her island was one hundred and twenty steps long.
After a time that may or may not have been longer than it was short, she jumped again to her feet, and walked the distance again, same as she'd done before, from the little patch of clover to the old root on the other side of the island. How good it felt, to march on top of her new finding! she wanted a trumpet and a marching band with streamers and baton-twirling acrobats, a fanfare of adulation for her one hundred and twenty paces, a journey like no other.
Only, as she came to the old root on the other end of the island, she twirled about, looking back at the clover. Something was amiss. Something was different. Ninety-two footsteps had taken her to the root from her starting point. Ninety-two?
When she thought the journey would be like no other, she didn't think it would be in that sense!
she sat down dejectedly onto her usual spot, plopping back onto her back with her arms stretched out and her hands behind her head. Ninety-two? Surely she'd stepped in different amounts. That must have been it.
In the pale light of a billion stars, each burning with flames long extinguished by the time they'd met her, she walked again, this time with one foot firmly after the next, heel to toe, toe to heel. Two hundred and sixty-three steps, her arms stretched out on either side like wings. Much better. Much more accurate. Another accomplished smile spread across her face. Wiping the stardust from her shoulders, she made her way back to the tree, whistling without echo.
she heard it before she felt it, a curious warbling in an otherwise even whistle (she'd thought). Suddenly, she felt pushed back, and she fell to her knees. she sat there for a few moments, puzzled, before rising anew. No pushing, it seemed. she gave a cautious whistle, low and steady. It didn't change. She wiped her grass-stained hands on the legs of her jeans.
A curious thought squirmed its way to the top of her neck, and she found himself dashing to the small patch of clover. Before she knew what she was doing, she was again putting one foot in front of the other, step by step, measuring out to the tree as before.
Three hundred and forty-two!
She'd almost lost count, maybe she'd slipped a number or two in by mistake. she tried again, this time going to the clover. Three hundred and forty-two again. Drat!
A neat puff of pollen fumed up as she sat down in the clover, not knowing what to make of this, much less that, or even anything. Well, she did know what to make of some things, but this--
As if in anticipation, a blue-green cloud of misty being bloomed into view, and her frown was muted into a flat expression of enraptured appreciation. A sigh was followed by watery eyes, wiped away. It wasn't bad to feel so small when the elegant universe around her was so big as to never be completely seen. So very, very big, and all she had was her little island.
Brightness again, the soft glow of a countless minute dots of light over a dark blue mass that loomed forward. As it came closer (or she came closer to it), the dots separated into tinier pricklings, pinholes on a surface that became flatter and flatter before she'd even had time to count. she looked back, away from the engulfing place, and to the brilliant house of lights to which everyone and everything had been invited to stay. She waved at it in thanks.
“What'cha up to, honey?”
She jumped at the voice. “Dad! Don't creep up on me like that.”
Dad gave a low smile, and her eyes twinkled at his daughter as he took a sip of coffee from the white mug in his hand. “I made plenty of noise as I was bumbling out here in the dark looking for you. I think you were just too caught up in whatever it was you were doing, which from your mother's point of view, is letting your dinner get cold.”
“Awww,” she pouted. “Can't I stay out a bit longer? I'm only slightly kinda hungry.” An angry grumbling at the statement announced the sudden betrayal by her empty stomach. Dad raised an eyebrow. “It's... It's just so nice out here tonight.” she looked up, and dad followed her gaze to the night's prism of shrouded colors.
“But it will be waiting for you when you finish your supper. Heck, you might even get to come out to it again if you eat everything on your plate.” said Dad, scooping her up off her feet without serious protestation.
“I guess.” she said.
“You guess right, pumpkin. Now come on, let's go have some dinner, and then the universe is yours until bedtime. All yours, every last speck of it.”
“...Dad?” she asked, perhaps a little too close to her father's ear.
“It might be too much for just me. You should have some too.”
“Why thank-you. Count me in.” said Dad, who then gave her a big squeeze as they made their way back across the clover that dotted their backyard and into the waiting light of home. There were definitely a few things she could count on.