Suddenly my kaleidoscopic journey came to a halt. I could go no further. A desperate swath of nothingness blocked the path across realities. It was absorbing or erasing or replacing reality as it spread. It pained the eye with its absence of sensory data; a colorless, shapeless, thing.
I found myself in the middle of a ravaged forest. A cluster of necrotic trees tossed their rotten limbs to the bleached sky. Pulsating streams of sap flowed from stumps where the branches had been rudely amputated. In parts of the forest, where the butchery was less recent, the streams of sap had hardened, forming arches like the streams of a frozen fountain.
A man crawled through heaps of crisp, blackened leaves on the ground. Slowly, the man lifted his head, revealing a prominent nose, a striped tiger pattern of scars on his cheek.
“Dr. Schiller,” said I, “We must leave this place at once.”
He whispered softly, “Valkynne.”
“Forget it. We can go no further. We must return.” The far vistas were going blank. The emptiness invaded the sky, sweeping off the tops of trees, littering the ground with quartered antelope and possum.
The emptiness sucked mountains, trees, rivers, and birds into its event horizon.
“This place is Valkynne,” said Schiller. The soot of crumbling leaves covered his face.
“Yes, Valkynne. Not now, but soon.”
Overhead, a group of squirrels leapt from branch to branch above their heads, in a blind effort to flee. One moment they were there, the next they were gone.
“Magic exists,” Schiller muttered. “The secrets of eternity are printed on our cells– but we ignore them. We become distracted by the material world. Here, nothing will distract me!”
The emptiness was descending. Large areas of negative space enfolded the forest. Schiller raised his arms to embrace it. “When nothing but my soul remains in this borderline reality, I will be God.”
I pondered the theory for a moment, and no more. Could one attain absolute control through absolute sensory deprivation, the ultimate solipsism?
I pulled August Schiller to one side, as the ground beneath our feet crumbled away. The circumstances did not allow time for a lengthy epistemological debate. I held the great man steady, saying, “I don’t mean to be glib, Dr. Schiller, but your theory is nonsense.”
Schiller pulled away from me, balancing precariously on a slowly eroding isthmus of ground. “I won’t go back. I was a prisoner in the realm of the senses…”
“Your wife is waiting…”
He shifted into rage. “Another chain of responsibility. Everything I did in my life was for other people. My parents, my wife, humanity at large… Nothing for me! Nothing for me!”
Like an incoming tide, the emptiness lapped at the slender path leading out of the dimension.
“What is it I am risking, in any event? The worst that can happen is a sudden, painless death. Statistically, I have no more than fifteen years of mundane human existence awaiting me. Even if I have less than one thousandth of one percent chance of achieving Valkynne here, the risk/benefit analysis falls heavily on the side of staying. For it comes down to this: fifteen years of slow erosion verses an infinity of perfection. .001% x infinity is still infinity. Tell Annabelle I said Goodbye.”
I considered trying to abduct him, to take him back to the common reality by force, against his will. Was it fair to rob him of his chance of godhood, slim as it was? I could not really consider him insane. Nor could I dispute the mathematics of his gamble.
At this point, I had to take flight. I looked back at August Schiller. “Farewell. I fear you are wrong, and doomed, but then, who can say for certain.” I couldn’t resist adding, sarcastically, “More power to you, if you survive.”
ACCORDING TO VERA DENADA, THE MANUSCRIPT ENDS HERE.
TO CONTINUE IN ORDINARY SEQUENCE, FOLLOWING NUMERICAL ORDER, FOR ZEKE RINGO’S ULTIMATE VERSION, NEXT TURN TO SEGMENT 12