© Ross E. Lockhart
The storyteller looked around at the children gathered sitting on the ground in front of him. As the nearby fire crackled and shot sparks up into the air, he silently lit his briar pipe, took a long slow pull and let the tension grow. Some of the children fidgeted nervously, particularly a little boy named Dante, because they were accustomed to filling every quiet moment with sound. The storyteller’s deeply furrowed face shaped into a smile as he blew out a cloud of smoke, then looked from child to child. After what felt like an eternity, a hint of mischief glimmered in the old man’s eyes. He cleared his throat, then began…
“Long, long ago. Long before you existed, heck, long before even I existed, there wasn’t much to the world. This was long before things had names, long before even day was day and night was night. Those few things that existed were tiny things, smaller than the smallest thing you can imagine. Instead of wandering to and fro like animals and people do, these tiny bits of next to nothing just stood in line. They always had, and as far as they were concerned, they always would.”
“One of these little bits, let’s call it…” he looked from one child’s face to another, settling on the fidgeter among fidgeters, “…Dante.” At the sound of his name, Dante stopped in mid-fidget and looked up at the storyteller, his attention captured.
The old man smiled at Dante, stroked his long white beard, and then continued, “This particle, Dante by name, well he got tired of just standing in line, waiting to go nowhere, so he did the logical thing, the thing I think any of you might do in the same situation. He gave the particle standing next to him a little shove. Now what do you think happened next?” The storyteller looked from face to face, as if he expected an answer. When none came, he continued. “That little bit, well he shoved the next little bit in line, and that one did the same, and so on. Pretty soon, everybody was pushing and shoving and running amuck, and then do you know what happened? Bang! The whole universe erupted into being, like a deep-down belly laugh that you try to hold in, but can’t. All because a little piece of next to nothing broke the rules.” A couple of the children laughed, and a little freckle-faced girl reached out and gave Dante a little shove. He started to turn to say something, but the old man started talking and Dante instead listened.
“Now there is a moral to this, of course, like with any good story. Be careful if you decide to break a rule, you might just accidentally create a whole new universe, and where are you going to put it if you do?”
The children laughed at this, and the storyteller continued to talk, doing what he did best, telling stories. Time passed, and one by one, and sometimes two by two, the children’s parents retrieved them and took them home to bed. Finally only Dante remained at the old man’s feet. “Is that really how it happened, Grandpa?” he asked the old man.
The old man smiled at Dante, carefully considering his answer before speaking. Finally, he relit his pipe and took a long draw from it, then blew a smoke ring, which floated up quite a ways before mingling with the smoke of the dying fire. “That’s pretty much the way my grandfather told me when I was about your age, maybe I made a couple of changes. I’m sure that by the time you’re telling your grandson, there will be one or two more. Come on, let’s go home.” With that, they got up, took one last long look at the dying fire, then walked away, hand in hand.
And that’s pretty much the way the world began.