Turtles All the Way Down

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
There is a little story about an elderly lady listening to a lecture by a scientist about the nature of the universe. The lady interrupts, saying, 'Sir, I happen to know that the world rests on the back of a giant turtle.'
'And what, pray tell, is holding up the turtle?' replies the scientist.
'Don't try to blind me with science young man,' the lady responds. 'It's turtles I tell you: Turtles all the way down!' This is the story of the universe from the turtles' point of view!

Submitted: March 05, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 05, 2017



Turtles All the Way Down

Golden light. From somewhere far below, myriad tiny beams of rainbow iridescence. The turtles swim through, calm and serene. Largest and wisest is great mother turtle, and on the top of her shell she carries the Black Pearl. The Black Pearl - otherwise known as the Turtlefest Universe. So it has been since the foundation of time; although time has no meaning here. This is the Formless Void, through which the turtles swim, and the turtles are content. For the most part.

But in every Formless Void, there’s a troublesome turtle. In this case, his name is Immanuel Canflipper, or Immy for short. Immy pesters the great mother with endless questions.

Why is the Black Pearl called the Turtlefest Universe?’ he asks.

Because the turtles inside the Black Pearl are there for a festival,’ the great mother answers.

What’s a festival?’ Immy asks.

It’s a celebration. To make them happy’.

But aren’t we happy already?’

Yes, but inside the Black Pearl life can be happier still.’

How do turtles fit inside the Black Pearl? It’s smaller than even the smallest of us.’

And the great mother goes on to explain that from the inside the Black Pearl seems enormous - so big it appears to stretch on forever. Or sometimes she just says that the answer is lost in Mister Tree, without any further explanation. Then Immy starts all over again, with the same questions.

Eventually the great mother grows tired of Immy’s constant pestering. So, she decides to offer Immy a chance to do something that few, if any, of the turtles that swim with the Black Pearl has ever been offered before. It is the chance to go into the Pearl itself - to see the Turtlefest Universe from the inside.

Immy agrees at once. The great mother tells Immy that when he is ready to return he need only call out to her and she will bring him back. And with that instruction explained, she waves her great fore-flipper and Immy’s adventure begins.

At first there was only darkness - something that Immy had never experienced before. He felt himself falling, again a new sensation. Gradually though, tiny points of light became apparent. They looked a very long way away. The Black Pearl really did seem vast from the inside, just as the great mother had said.

Soon, one point of light seemed to be getting bigger and Immy saw beside it a small dot of blue and white. The blue and white dot grew bigger very quickly. Immy’s descent, that had felt gentle, now seemed to be very sudden indeed. His shell started to grow hot and instinctively he spread out his flippers to steady himself as he raced towards the surface of the blue and white globe.

Immy did not know it, but he had fallen through space, then air and then with a gentle splash, he hit water. The great mother had sent him to a place where mortal turtles choose to live. But not just turtles! At once Immy saw so many incredible creatures! There were creatures without shells and with slim film-like flippers that swam in huge numbers throughout the sea where Immy had landed. Above the sea, there were creatures whose flippers stretched out in huge fans, which they flapped to let them speed across the sky. Immy was amazed and began to understand why turtles thought of life in the Black Pearl as a festival.

The light was constantly changing. Sometimes there was almost no light at all. Other times great beams of it would slant through the water to reveal all manner of colours and shapes. Immy was lost in wonder. He explored and explored, with each new sight seeming to be more wondrous than the last.

Then something happened that caused Immy great confusion. He saw a little creature swimming along and then a bigger creature came by. The little creature seemed to disappear inside the big one. Immy paddled around to the other end of the big creature to see if the two creatures had just swum through each other. But there was no sign of the little creature that had been there just moments before.

Immy became more and more worried. Something had happened here that he had not witnessed since his arrival in the Black Pearl, and it was upsetting him. The Black Pearl was certainly a wonderful place, but it seemed that creatures could just disappear. Could it really be such a festival or celebration if this were possible?

Immy had sunk down to the sea bed and was hunched into his shell, deeply worried. He had not noticed a turtle approaching him - a native of the Turtlefest Universe - until he felt a tap on his left flipper.

Why so sad, little friend?’, said the stranger.

Immy explained what had happened with the big creature and the little creature. The Turtlefest turtle just shrugged his flippers.

Maybe his time was up.’

Time?’, said Immy, ‘What’s time?’

The other turtle shrugged again, trying to think of an answer.

Well’, he said at last, ‘if you swam over to that rock and back’ - he gestured with his flipper - ‘ then that would take up a bit of time.’

Immy did not know what a rock was but he saw where the turtle was pointing so he swam over and back again.

I don’t feel any different’, he announced.

Ah, that was just a little bit of time. But eventually - Kerpow! Krrrccchhh!!’

The other turtle drew one of his front flippers across his throat and pointed each of his eyes in different directions. His tongue hung out from the side of his mouth.

Sooner or later, - for all of us,’ he explained.

Immy was even more upset.

You mean every creature in the Black Pearl just disappears?!’

What is this Black Pearl?’, the other turtle asked.

It’s here! The Turtlefest Universe! The great mother carries it on her back and the other turtles swim with her. That’s where I was until I was allowed to visit.’

The great mother’, the other turtle said. ‘We know of her only as a legend. And you are saying it is all true - that you swim with her?’

Yes! Yes, and we are happy there!’ said Immy. ‘And she said that creatures choose to live in the Black Pearl because it’s an even happier place! But now you are telling me that sooner or later - Krrrccchhh!!’

That is just the way things are. That is why we must grab life with both our flippers, my little friend!’

The other turtle started to hop backwards. Then he flipped over onto his shell and spun around several times, sending up plumes of sand. He flipped back upright and faced Immy again.

On the land, they call it break dancing’, he said.

Immy for once had nothing to say. But the other turtle continued.

My name is Fernando, by the way.’ And he bowed deeply to Immy.

Immanuel Canflipper’, Immy replied, trying to return Fernando’s gesture.

I shall call you, Immano’, Fernando declared.

But just as they had introduced themselves, Immy caught sight of a strange shape coming towards them. Hundreds of creatures seemed to be swimming in front of it, or inside it, or both. Fernando turned around and saw what Immy was looking at.

Immano, we must escape!’ he cried. But it was too late. They were both caught up in a great swirl of all manner of creatures being pushed closer and closer together. Soon, they were lifted out of the water altogether and great panic set in.

Large monsters without shells were moving amongst the gathered creatures. The monsters stood upright on their hind-flippers and had skin that hung loosely in folds of different colours. With their strange front flippers they were sorting through the creatures they had captured.

Immy looked around desperately for Fernando and just in time to see that one of the monsters who had caught them had picked Fernando up.

Fernando!’ Immy called; but the monster had thrown his new friend back into the sea. Immy thought he heard Fernando call out, but his voice was lost in the commotion. Even so, Immy knew that Fernando was safe. As for himself, he was not so sure. He was maybe too small to be noticed by the monsters and returned to the sea like Fernando. Or perhaps the monsters would decide to keep him instead of letting him go. All around, other creatures were struggling. Immy knew, without having to ask anyone, that they would soon go the way of the little fish - the way that Fernando had said that all creatures of the Turtlefest Universe must eventually go. Immy could feel fear all around him. He did not know the word fear, but nonetheless it was seeping beneath his shell as he lay amongst the captured creatures that were struggling for life. He closed his eyes and called out to the great mother.

At once all the noise and smell and fear shut off. There is only golden light and the turtles swimming serenely. The great mother is there and the Black Pearl is on her back.

Immy is a little shell-shocked but otherwise unharmed. He swims over to the great mother.

Well?’ she asks Immy, seeing he is returned.

It’s a terrible choice that creatures make!’ Immy wailed. ‘So much…so much…’ Immy’s voice trails away. Words like fear and pain and death are unknown to him, but that is what he is meaning.

Yes, but so much wonder and life too,’ the great mother answers calmly.

But it doesn’t seem fair! How can there be such a terrible choice?’

The answer lies in Mister Tree’, the great mother responds. When she is mentioning Mister Tree, Immy is always thinking she is saying ‘Mystery’ and that it is her way of stopping him from asking further questions. But now he realises that the great mother is speaking of something else.

Mister Tree?’ he asks. ‘Well, where is Mister Tree, so I can ask him?’

He is below us’, is the only answer the great mother gives.

In all of Immy’s questioning, throughout the timelessness of the Formless Void, Immy has never thought to swim away from the huge crowd of turtles that swim with the great mother. There is really no reason to explore, because wherever the turtles swim, both up and down and all around is just the same golden light, with nothing else to see in any direction.

But now, Immy sets off ‘downwards’, as best as he can judge. He swims and swims, looking back occasionally to see the other turtles swimming far above him.

There is no time in the Formelss Void of course, so I cannot say for how long Immy has to swim. But at last something appears through the golden light. It is a vast forest of branches. The branches of Mister Tree - waving as if in some gentle breeze or ocean current. As Immy draws closer, he sees branches stretching out in every direction - an endless forest of movement. On the branches there are little fruits that give out a shimmering rainbow light. Immy swims ever closer and peers into fruit after fruit, seeing a tiny creature nestling within each. And each little creature is wrapped around it’s own perfect black pearl.

The meaning of it all dawns slowly on Immy. When creatures choose to go into the Turtlefest Universe, they leave part of themselves behind. They are inside the Black Pearl but they carry all of the Pearl with them too.

Immy swims upwards and at last he returns to the other turtles and to the great mother.

So? she asks, when she sees Immy is back.

So no creature really disappears,’ says Immy.

That’s right. When the Black Pearl was first made, all creatures were given a choice - whether to live inside it or to live here in the Formless Void. And all creatures chose the Pearl, except some of us turtles. We are the only ones who choose to live in both realms. We are the exception that proves the rule. Form existing in Formlessness - holding the Formless Void together with our flippers. For everyone else, the adventure, the festival, the celebration!’

Grab life with both flippers’, Immy says.

Yes, and all along our souls are safe with Mister Tree.’

What’s a soul?’ Immy asks.

And with that the great mother clamps her huge fore-flipper over Immy’s mouth and they remain that way for - well, who knows how long. But a very long time anyway, even for a Formless Void.



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