Interior of tree in Dorset

The Seventh Word

Short story by Camilla Reeve

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Right back before the beginning of it all, when nothing had yet happened, Space was the same in all directions. Particles hung, without moving, each a little way from the others, so close together it would have been impossible to see for more than a hairsbreadth, but nowhere close enough to make a place sufficient for even an insect to stand upon. And that is how they stayed, for more moments of unrecorded time than I can tell of here. After all these moments, but still before anything had been thought about, or made, or finished, there was a word. No one knows how it came to be spoken, for no one was there, except perhaps the Creator. And this word was one of greeting. It rippled outwards through all the motionless particles, touching and welcoming each one as it passed.

At the wordí's touch, the particles quivered, and the motion of their quivering set some closer together and others further apart, so that it would then have been possible to see slightly further than an inch. Where they moved closer, the quivering became a spinning and the spinning pulled them closer still, until places developed that could have been stood upon by an insect, and then a bird, only there were no insects, or birds to feed upon the insects, then.

And as the particles spun themselves closer and closer together, and the places they had formed flew further and further apart from each other, a second word was spoken. It was a sound of surprise, as of two hands clapping when an idea has sprung to mind. The second word reached the particles in their spinning and it altered them. The ones that were spinning slowly became tiny motes of dust. No two of them were in the same place when the second word was spoken, so each mote of dust differed from all the others in ways that only a mind like the Creator's could perceive. The particles that were spinning fairly fast, shimmered and sparkled even more, mingling with those around them into the frozen dances of snow crystals. And each snow crystal differed from every other in ways that even you or I might have noticed if we had looked at them for long enough. The particles that were spinning fastest of all were changed the most, and in their millions they became molecules - tiny scraps of life that clung to other scraps in many complex ways, and so made creatures. And each creature they made was quite unique, as anyone could see but no one knew exactly how, not even the Creator. But some of the fastest particles were still too far apart to be affected by the second word, and they became free particles, turning by themselves and going on alone through Space for the whole of whatever happened next.

The third word was a happy one. It spoke of the luck of meeting, the pleasure of joining, the creation of something new. In the moments after it was uttered, all the motes of dust lay down with each other, and mountains were born out of their mass. Thus the nature of mountains is to change little and keep still, and they are known by their outer surface, as a friendís face is known. And all the snow crystals danced even closer together, till streams of water spurted from their union, and trickled through the mountains to form rivers. Thus the nature of rivers is to move swiftly and never stop changing shape, and they are known by the patterns of their movement, as a friendís voice is known. When the third word reached the creatures, they mated, and brought forth young, where nothing had been old or young before. Every young one was different from its parents in ways that came from the mingling of their differences, and different from the other young in ways too various to explain. The Creator looked upon their differences and at first there was delight. So much variety seemed to be cause for celebration after the untold moments of sameness that had gone before.

But the variety increased at such a pace it soon brought collisions and confusions and conflicts. So the fourth word was a warning, full of fear, that sadly almost no one listened to. During the conflicts, enormous numbers of creatures died, and their bones became dust. Rivers were turned into steam, and the patterns of their many voices were lost for ever, leaving only dust where each had flowed. Even mountains were destroyed, and became formless heaps of dust, their faces no longer remaining to be recognized by the few creatures that remained.

The fifth word, you will understand, was that of grief. The Creator had lost a universe of friends, before there had been time to get to known a fraction of them. And in the worlds that survived, there were not enough mountains on which food would grow, and not enough rivers to drink from, and the creatures were too hungry to bring forth young who could live after them. Eventually, all the bones and each river and every mountain had become dust. All of the motes of dust just blew away into Space and drifted on the winds of their going until there was nowhere left to go. Motes hung, without moving, each a little way from the others, so close together it would have been impossible to see for more than a hairsbreadth, but nowhere close enough to make a place sufficient for even an insect to stand upon.

Then the Creator thought to speak a sixth and final word, one of farewell. It rang out, as a mourning bell, through all those clouds of dust, commemorating what had been, and all the time that passed when creatures had been there to notice it, and the destruction of so much that had been good.

But there were creations that lay hidden still within the dust of ending. The free particles spun on alone, almost as fast as they had always done, and they had the energy to respond a little to the speaking of the sixth word.

An echo then came back from them, from every corner and extent of Space where their kind hovered. And with that echo, the bell note of commemoration was changed. When it returned to the Creator, it was no longer one of mourning. Nor was it the first word, which had been that of greeting for the first time ever. The seventh word was one for meeting friends again, who had been given up for lost. It held a promise of renewal.

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