In the unfathomable infinity that is our universe, in a land much like ours and much unlike ours, there sat an old man on a cliff overhanging the sea. He stared not at the sun setting gloriously on the horizon, rather, he looked at something beyond. At things mortal eyes fear to behold. He gazed at lions chasing gazelles, at a moonlit walk along a channel, a slow yet stirring note hanging there, lightly trembling in the frosty winter air. He saw dragons and manticores, knights and castles, a strand of golden hair drifting in the breeze softly. He plunged into the cool blue depths of the ocean and saw monstrous creatures that defied all sensibilities of size and scale, frolicking in their majestic glory. He saw a dream float through the night sky, slowly leaving a little child’s mind. He saw the lively plains of Africa and felt the lifeless coldness of space. He looked at a far corner of the universe and saw a gigantic sunflower with tiny daisy moons, all spinning away happily. He walked on a cold razor-thin steel edge and swept rushing through the streets like a nippy spring zephyr. He lived the life of a thug and the life of a saint, evil and good were just two sides of the same coin, after all. He lived a thousand lifetimes in every single moment and a thousand moments in every single lifetime. A realm of infinite choices and infinite consequences, infinite gain and infinite loss, infinite glory and infinite shame, and zero control over even a single one of those infinite lives. All he could do was look at this boundless vastitude and try to comprehend and remember a tiny fraction of it in the time he had. So he stared, as time passed by slower than a snail on a slippery slope. He lived out every tale, rushing from story to story like a feisty little fox feasting on feathery flocks. In one tale he was the cruel tyrant who ruled over a tiny kingdom with an iron fist, crushing out hope and peace, while in another he was the poor peasant who the tyrant sentenced to an unjust death. He fought in a million wars, died a hundred thousand times, and killed a hundred thousand men. He stood on the edge of a careening abyss and sometimes he took a dive into its murky depths and sometimes he just walked away, and kept walking forever, until he reached the end of thought and still kept walking, his feet guiding him into lands uncharted. He could see both the past and the future through the smoke from his pipe and he could reach through it and try to grasp at the filaments of what should have been and what should happen, but always just missing them, an eternal struggle to grasp at the threads of wishes and hopes and dreams, his eyes misting away. He could look at loss and bereavement in one eye, love and happiness in the other, and he could see how they were not separate, but rather like two fish chasing each others tails. You could not appreciate joy without first having felt pain. Everything always came full circle. Hunt or be hunted, eat or be eaten, kill or be killed. The loneliness of the soul, the darkness that is the heart, they were the same. There was chaos, but it was ordered and controlled, like the water flooding out of the gates of a dam. I have to figure my life out, man, and while there might be something broken, it’s definitely on the inside. I can tell by following the pain. And thus, the old man let his thoughts laze towards death. It had always seemed mysterious and alien to him, an end to the stories you have to tell. He did know however, that even when he died in a particular story, whether taking a bullet for his superior or simply from eating a poorly cooked blowfish, the golden river of tales flowed on in the sky regardless. For stories have been told from the first moment when the universe came into being and they will continue to be told even after the person telling them can no longer can. C’est la vie, all about the flow. And death was like the inescapable black hole at the end, slowly sucking you in, bit by bit. But maybe it isn’t that way, is it? He took a puff of smoke the wrong way and was a mass of coughs and teary eyes for the next few minutes. Maybe death makes life that much more precious to have, like how people who know they are doomed are often weirdly happy. Every moment you have becomes that much more interesting when you know they are numbered. And that’s what makes life worth living. Immortality is really boring. Or maybe that isn’t it. Maybe life’s just a string of poorly made decisions and their consequences and the point isn’t that we all die, it’s the fact that we even exist in the first place, leaving footprints in the sands of time for the waves to slowly wash away. Or maybe we’re just distracting ourselves as best as we can from the inevitability of death, each in our own ways. Where do we fit in the grand scheme of things? Are we all just tiny cogs in the massive clockwork? Why was it, then, that he was feeling so left out, like he didn’t fit in at all? Where does one life begin and end? Are we not thoroughly tangled up in many many lives other than our own, a messy knot of strings that can’t be easily unraveled? Maybe none of it really mattered, and there was no point to anything. It was just nature taking its course, be born, live, die, lather, rinse, repeat. The only constant was the story of the universe, which kept flowing slowly above him. You could only tell that it was flowing if you looked really really close, but it was, nevertheless. He let his mind float in the river, bobbing up and down gently in the slow current. Looking up now, he could see himself sitting on the cliff edge, feel the sun gently kiss his wrinkles, the fiery smoke billow from his nostrils and the salty sea water lash against his ankles, all the while simultaneously feeling himself slowly submerge in the golden depths of the river. He reached out, and his fingers brushed against the fingers of his physical form, bridging the gap and blurring the line between reality and fiction, making it almost impossible to tell them apart. He found himself wanting to shut out all thought for a while and simply drift away in the flaxen waters, journeying to shores unknown, free from the physical tethers he could still see binding him to the supine form on the chalky precipice. Alas, that was something he had yet to master. No matter, he had all the time in the world to acquire that skill. All it would take was a little practice, he noted, flicking off some ashes into the frivolous sea breeze. Diving under the surface, he looked at the glowing stream of lives that passed him as they sluggishly crawled ahead, slow but determined, like a tortoise who has caught sight of his mate. That was the beauty of these tales, these lives he lived, they were fleeting and transient, showing him all they had; experiences, thoughts, dreams, hopes, love, death, sadness, giving him one brief yet drawn out glimpse before they vanished into indistinguishability. But for those moments, they felt very real, like an immersive dream, or rather a slew of dreams which lasted forever yet passed away in an instant. Drowning out any vestigial thoughts of despair and hopelessness, he decided to watch a tiny little joey being born and slowly crawling all the way to its mother’s pouch, gripping bunches of fur tight in its tiny pink hands. One arduous, painstaking crawl later, the baby latched itself onto its mother’s teat, exhausted, and hung on for dear life. He smiled to himself and studied the glorious, scarlet, sunset, one of several thousand he had seen from the same spot, where he had been sitting since time began. Maybe he hadn’t seen it all yet, after all.