Author : Charles Paul Wallace

The microscope sat on Lena’s desk exactly where she’d found it.

It had been there when she got home from school. Her mother just looked at her blankly when asked where it had come from. It was grey, a clunky thing with an adjustable dial on the side. Beside the dial was a diagram of a finger, pressed onto the glass plate beneath the lens.

Apart from that it looked like any old microscope. Puzzled, Lena placed her finger onto the plate as instructed and peered into the eye piece. All she could see was a hazy, indistinct cloud of colours. She turned the wheel on the side. Suddenly an image swam into focus: her fingernail, she guessed, the hard carapace a pearly grey.

She adjusted the focus. Now her nail was a solid shell, lined with cracks and fissures. Ugh, she thought. How ugly.

She zoomed in further. The image didn’t look anything like her nail now. It had shifted colour to a darker hue, a cryptic pigment she couldn’t put a name to. This is what happens when you accept mysterious gifts, she muttered to herself. Weird things happen.

She found herself mesmerised, unable to look away. Now the picture resembled vast boulders, tumbling end over end across a landscape of reddened sand. I never knew Mars was in my finger, she thought idly, and paused. Why WAS Mars in here? It made no sense. She’d studied astronomy at school, briefly. Ms Elwyn had allowed her to take a look through the telescope she kept on the roof of the science block. Through it she’d seen stars and the moon and the distant, yet recognisable, form of Saturn and its rings.

But nothing like this. She zoomed; and forms of light flashed past, precious stones refracting the stars hanging cold overhead. Black shimmered at the limits of the frame now, a darkness that seemed to suck her towards it. She couldn’t stop – she was hurtling through the void, whirling around galactic clusters, vast nebulae of baby stars thrusting outwards from their gravitational cradles. She gazed upon black holes that crackled with latent fury. She saw streaks of radiance spattered across plasmic photospheres, giant spheres of reddened gases, light curves arcing into near-infinity.

She turned the wheel one last time, and felt it catch. She was looking at what seemed a formless nothing, a white stretch of absolute void.

And then she saw. A dot, expanding toward her with infinite slowness. She realised it was huge; huger than her mind could envisage, an all-encompassing immensity that sucked her consciousness into a bottomless well of non-matter, of un-being.

It filled the lens now, a searching, consuming hunger, gobbling the emptiness set before it with an eternal want, a ceaseless yearning.

This, she somehow knew, is us. The universe. Everything that ever was and ever will be was contained within that form. And it was all inside her, and inside everyone; and now she’d seen it she would never be the same Lena, never be able to un-see the absolute truth of creation.

With a quiet click the microscope went dead. She straightened, rubbing her eyes. The device was dead now, an inert lump of metal, never to be used again. Better to throw it away, she decided. Better just to remember.

“Lena? Dinner’s ready!”

Her mother’s voice sounded from downstairs. Lena pushed the microscope underneath her bed. Later, she thought. I’ll get rid of it later.

That night she ate rice and curry, and watched the stars till she dozed off and her mother tucked her in to bed.