The True Story of the End of the World
The nature of truth is a topic of endless debate and the definition of the end of the world is fluid, but living one through the lens of the other? That would be hellish.
When it comes to endings, ontologies based in science and mysticism tend towards a fatalistic bent, with an anthropocentric eschatology both a constant obsession and a central, paralysing fear. Such a study - the consideration of the possible ways the world might end - could drive one mad, has driven many to madnesses ranging from the banal to the spectacular. Madnesses that fuelled the creation of our greatest arts and our most terrible atrocities. Our own mortality is more than many of us can bear and to confront it in relation to its own insignificance - how it pales against the blacked and blotted out skies of a world burnt to ash or the universe pulverised to nothingness at the heart of an imploded star - can bring absolute despair.
There is a reason we play at surviving the end of all things, why our stories have us reborn in eternity or rebuilding amongst the ruins. They minimise a horror and normalise an unimaginable grief that, by definition, we can only project onto a silence that has forgotten even our boldest echoes. To be that impossible survivor, to bear witness to whichever tragedy destroys everything, to live alone in the emptiness that would remain in its wake and mourn the billions and billions of souls that have been extinguished? It might well have been the cruellest fate of which I could have conceived. That is until I met Echo Hope, a young woman whose lot - even if it begins and ends within the fragments of a shattered psyche - seems almost infinitely worse.
A resident of Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra in Italy, Echo had had a fairly normal and happy childhood and was blissfully unremarkable, well-liked and loved by acquaintances, friends and family, until her early twenties. Always an imaginative person, her dreams were the first to change; restful sleep was beset by fleetingly vague nightmares and shot through with intermittent night terrors. A steep, sleep-deprived decline in her health followed, pushing her more and more askew until her idle thoughts and daydreams began to take on an apocalyptic slant, becoming the obsessions that drove her into the arms of the study and science of last things. The schism, the schizophrenic break that led to her being committed to the hospital, was autobiography: The theories and stories became her stories, experiences she had been - and would be - forced to live.
There are channels, avenues of influence through which information will generally (eventually) find its way to those interested and properly-motivated parties whose work concerns the explanation of the inexplicable; one such path brought me to Italy, to the hospital, and to the first of a half-dozen meetings I was able to have with Echo. The first thing that struck me about her was the awkward juxtaposition of her apparent youth and her obvious, overwhelming gnosis - the unknowable, unfathomable depths of eyes that had seen far too much. She was wary, unwilling to trust that she would be listened to, or that the result would not be a more aggressive and invasive form of treatment for the diagnosis of schizophrenia which her doctors had settled on.
Instead I told her about my world; about The Knights of The Greywalk and The Thing in the Eaves, about Golem and the Crowfolx. I think she might have almost have begun to believe that I was a fellow patient, someone who belonged where she did not (at least not for the reasons that the doctors believed). Still, she let me explain why I had come to speak to her and, eventually, she was convinced that I would hear her out in good faith. What she spoke of, her story, was staggering - an existence defined by the death of hope. It was, and remains, her belief that her soul, her essence has been born into and survived, alone, every possible version of the end of the world.
Every crossroads and crisis point, the crux of every event and any decision that could lead to cataclysmic calamity in any version of our reality, plays out with one constant - Echo Hope. Sometimes integral, more often peripheral and, occasionally, oblivious, a total extinction event will leave behind a sole survivor - an immortal and undying figure who will bear witness to what has come to pass and to the fate of a dead world. No matter the circumstances of her birth, or the name she is born with in these realities, Echo Hope is always that survivor. Privy only to a short period of whatever passes for normality before upheaval and death leave her alone again, a timeless repeating figure whose burden is only shared between that self and the two version I met, the vessel into which the stories flowed.
Reincarnation and preincarnation, alternate pasts and futures and time travel, all of them figure into the unique position into which she has been cast and, while it would be easy to see all this only as a result of the sickness that doctors believe her to be ailing under, there are several instances of prophetic foresight in her writing. In every life she writes her book, The True Story of the End of the World, as a postscript to history, but in this life she remembers all of them all at once. Some of the potential futures have already ended, with others diverging more recently, and in the periods between when she began and some of the dates mentioned we can see the jumbled knowledge of things that had not happened.
The tangled nature of the narrative makes the book impossibly unwieldy as a tool for divining our fates. The various accounts are interwoven into overlapping and contradictory timelines that spread out from the possible pasts into the potential futures and are broken up only by the blunt stops of apocalypses that cut these threads short. As a result of these cycles she has been given and has given herself many names; The Queen of Ashes being perhaps the most evocative and enduring, all of which speak to the unbridled sadness that each version of Echo lives with, even though they are only aware of their own existence. The Echo I met bears the full weight of an immeasurable grief, billions upon billions of lost souls for whom she is the only mourner.
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