The moment their feet touched the ground of that circular sheet of rock floating amidst the nothingness of interstellar space, the Visitors found themselves overtaken by a strong melancholy, a listless nostalgia that evoked distant and atavistic memories of events so far into the past as to be rendered unrecognisable. A strangeness both comforting and terrifying surrounded this place, playing the strings of the Visitors’ hearts and minds.
Images of water dripping on the soft ground; a half-asleep lone touch barely perceived amidst drowsiness; the feeling of an unclear return to a non-specified place or time all the more wistful for it.
“When?” Asked one of them, voice trembling with static interference.
“Who?” Answered another, head shaking.
A third tried humming, but started coughing. The others remained in silence.
Their bodies struggled to accompany the rushing flows of dubious memories and were it not for the Visitors’ suits frantically correcting imbalances in their brain chemistry, they would have either perished or run away in totalising panic. Even then, their hearts beat against their ribs with violence and their breaths were short and hurried.
After the tranquillisers began to bring down the tachycardia and sweating, the Visitors took a long look at their surroundings. The ground seemed to be made of plutonic rock and, though solid and sturdy, was no more than a few millimetres thick. Perhaps a kilometre ahead, in the centre of this tiny islet of matter amidst vacuum, a spherical structure was the only distinctive feature in the otherwise grey landscape. Seemingly built out of the same material as its surroundings, it had a set of stairs that spiralled around it before reaching the vertical and horizontal centre of the sphere. There the Visitors saw a bare rectangular doorway. Red, purple and yellow light poured out of it, but gave no clue as to what dwelt within. Whilst there was no atmosphere here, gravity was strong, around twice what the Visitors were used to in their home planet, and thus every step came with no small amount of effort. The strange memories grew more vivid the closer they inched towards the spherical building.
A porcine tail coming out of a child’s backside; the wide-open eyes of a stranger in absolute darkness; green clouds scurrying against the morning sky; the pitch of a non-human cry changing due to the doppler effect.
“No,” said one of the Visitors.
“The Creators,” whispered another. “A thread so delicate,” they continued in unison.
“This is the necessary prelude,” said a third, in a crystal clear voice that at first seemed to, impossibly, come from outside the loudspeakers. The words echoed inside each suit, hugging the folds of fabric and scuttling on the metal.
The building towered over them. With trembling legs, they climbed the stairs one at a time until they reached the doorway. Gingerly, the Visitors peeked inside and saw a simple room that spanned about a third of the sphere’s height and all of its width. Glossy zigzag patterns in black and white covered the floor and the walls; in its centre, the Visitors saw a spiralling stairwell made of bronze that lead to the storeys above and below. Randomly distributed around the room were candles, candelabra and several other types of light fixtures, none of which had a similar style of making or emitted the exact same colour of light. Most wavered and flickered, constantly changing the perceived shape of the room.
Around the centre there were three gigantic and bloated human females, each sitting atop numerous pillows that seemed wholly inadequate to support their weights. It took the Visitors a few moments to realise that what appeared to be suits covered in a thin greasy plastic film repeatedly folded into itself was actually the women’s skins. The mountains of lustrous epidermis stretched far beyond their limits by the bulging fat seemed a pinprick away from exploding and were almost transparent, giving disconcerting glimpses of layers of internal tissue pulsating. Their faces were unreadable and unrecognisable — in truth, little more than a gaping maw and small nooks and crannies which possibly indicated where their eyes and nostrils hid.
Around the spiral stairwell there was a circular table on which lay mountains of plates, platters, bowls, skewers and other containers of food which each woman grabbed with stubby fingers and devoured in a matter of seconds, throwing the empty container to their sides. Sausages, roasted vegetables, soups, breads filled with prunes and dried fruit, savoury pies, cakes, pastries, melons, jackfruits, cherries and others in an overflowing array of foods both familiar and alien. Once again, nostalgia for a dubious past from before time overflowed the Visitors minds.
An open door giving into a summer bungalow; the wind howling outside during a snow storm; the warmth of the womb; the perfume of the most important being in one’s life; comfortable darkness; the time before consciousness and the consciousness before sentience, the home before home, the idealised sensation beyond words, beyond events, beyond language.
“Hmmmm…” one of the Visitors purred.
“There they settled with perfect composure on the precise spot where they would await dissolution,” said another.
“The blood pixel that contains an engorged reality.” Said a third with a nod.
Calmly walking around the room were the Helpers. Beings of all kinds dressed in grey and beige fabrics went up and down the stairs, bringing full plates and taking away those that were empty. Some stopped for a second or two, cleaning spills and accidents; others gazed at the scene with a neutral, beatific expression that seemed to reflect a subtle satisfaction with a task well done. Though they were all different — some human or humanoid, others tentacled, others rather more difficult to define — all Helpers seemed to be drifting away from their original shapes and becoming alike each other in a subtle, indiscernible but nevertheless radical manner.
There was a feeling of timelessness here, the Visitors discovered. They watched the scene unroll entranced, smiling in bliss and retching in disgust. The choreography of gastronomic debauchery and assiduous service became ever more enticing and terrifying as seconds turned into minutes, into hours. Each movement seemed to take the semblance of a scripted gesture or a ritual: the women’s fatty tissue danced in front of their eyes, the mechanical chewing of bone and meat seemed to follow a pattern of obvious and undecipherable significance, the coming and going of Helpers was always precise and every apparent error, every slip, every piece of food left uneaten later revealed themselves to be loaded with prescience and the Visitors caught themselves clapping when a slice of bread fell on the puddle of broth spilt half an hour ago, only to be snatched by the woman closest to it.
The whole scene was immersed in a silence that slowly penetrated the suits worn by the Visitors until, finally, they could not hear themselves nor each other. That did not prevent them from continuing to voice their feelings and thoughts — indeed, the opposite happened and each Visitor entered a verborrhagic state.
“As if there were waves of darkness, the ship sunk on the folds of my tongue.”
“She was here, she was there; we ate our breasts for breakfast.”
“Abraded pinnacles of my own viral discharge. Hugs and kisses are currency, but unfulfilling.”
The ghosts of past birthday parties; a long-lost mother’s cuddles; stroking a newborn puppy ; sleeping in another person’s bed for the first time: the conflicting emotions of a new world breaking itself open.
Juices from a watermelon-like vegetable dripped from the mouth of one of the women, pooling along the crevasses of her skin. She scoured one such fold on her torso with her oversized finger and licked it before shoving a drumstick in her mouth and eating it whole, avidly chewing the porous bones. Another held her neck towards her back as two Helpers poured a vat of fried fish bait immersed in melted butter. The third woman held one carcass of an animal in each hand and alternated bites between one and the other. Crushed grapes were stuck to her cheeks and her almost completely bald scalp.
Memories stretched from the womb and before to the future and a metaphorical beyond; with that, the Visitors suddenly knew with certainty that there was not, there could not be and there had never been anything else. This was life, was truth, was reality, was the movement of the stars and galaxies; was the centre, was creation, was everything. Was pleasure, was pain, was fear, was joy, existence. No death could ever be true whilst this continued, as from it everything else flowed, and no life would have ever existed if it stopped. Everything in the universe was a shadow or a reflection of what happened in this room, inside this building, on this islet of plutonic rock lost amidst interstellar space.
“It goes on. But why?”
“It goes on and it must. We submit to the stupidity of nature. Gladly.”
“A sublime reunion. We who have been immersed into this world. It shan’t be broken by a few words.”
One at a time, each Visitor stepped inside the threshold and began to take away empty platters, bring in containers overflowing with food and clean the women when they would invariably soil themselves.
- Tidbek, Karin. 2015. ‘Aunts’. In Sisters of the Revolution, edited by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer. Chicago, United States: PM Press.
- Woolf, Virginia. 2002. The Waves. 1st ed. Australia: Project Gutenberg of Australia. http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0201091h.html.