Story inspired by the following prompt: You reach the edge of the universe…

I pounded on the door three times, lifting the brass knocker to let it fall of it’s own accord against the knotted oak wood, and waited.

Rain pattered down- neither the rain of a thunderstorm, nor the light rain of a summer day, but rather something in between. Something that seemed to emphasize the grey around me, washing away colors and rough corners alike, until all was smooth and uniform. Though I had only been standing on the doorstep for minutes, I knew the rain had not left that spot for years, if ever.

After a moment, footsteps approached from inside, and the door creaked open.

“It is late, and why do you trouble me?” Said the man, his grey beard moving with each syllable, and his eyes squinting up at me.

I stepped backward so he could see me, and I could see the front of the monastery. It was a beautiful thing, in a terrible way, as beautiful things often are. And it was old, older than anything I had ever seen. No roads reached this far into the mountains, and the monastery seemed to prefer it that way.

“I came to see it,” I said, bowing low. Even at that reduced height, my eyes only just became level with his. They were grey, like the monastery, and flecks sparkled deep in them like chipped granite.

“You did, now?” He said, tapping his cane, “Well come in then. I havn’t had a visitor in the past two hundred years.”

He walked backward with surprising agility for the oldest being on earth, and I followed him into the building.

“So tell me, what exactly did you come to see?” He asked, “I keep many things here. Old things, new things, precious things, and common things. Which will it be? Surely you know the tales.”

“Oh yes I do.” I said, cobwebs striking my face as the man led deeper into the monastery. “But I came to see the thing that isn’t a thing.”

“You’ve phrased it wrong boy, perhaps you would like to try again.”

I frowned, then said, “I came to see the thing that is more a thing than any other thing.”

The granite in his eyes sparked, “Yes, that’s right. It’s the mother of all things. It’s the mother of our world.”

“And you’ll let me see it, just like that?”

“By all rights it’s yours, son. It’s all of ours, and not mine to keep.”

“So it does exist then. You do have the edge here? The edge of the universe?” My voice shook with the question. Here, in this reclusive monastery, after years of research and continents of travel, I had found the object that could answer so many questions.

“Not exactly, boy. The universe has no edge, not in the way you implied. But rather, it has a knot. Think of the universe as a balloon- it was blown up, and when it was filled with air, the knock was tied off. This is the neck knot. Where it all comes from. How it began.” He opened a door, and led me into a room the size of a large closet.

And there on the floor, was an apple with a single bite missing.

“Careful,” he warned, as I reached toward it, it’s gaurded on the other side of the knot. I wouldn’t let your fingers slip through.”

Gingerly, I held the apple. It was a bright red, and I could still see the bite marks from where a set of teeth had pierced it’s skin so long ago.

But instead of fruit flesh in the bite, it was like a window, and light shone forth out of the apple. And I held it up to my eye to look through where the bite should have been.

“Ah, yes.” He said as I gasped, “It’s a beautiful place. Our world is tarnished in comparison.”

“Truly,” I managed to say, and turned a circle. Looking through the apple was like looking through a telescope into another world.

He chuckled, “Ah, yes, I remember the first time I looked too. It’s quite remarkable, Eden is. I supposed if she had never bit the apple we’d be there now, with no war, no sickness, no tragedy, no evil. But instead our world erupted forth when she did bite it, from the apple’s core, and now all we have to show for it is a piece of fruit. I suppose that’s why I live so long, because the life still trickles through the knot. Grey life, maybe, but still life.” He sighed.

“Thank you.” I said, an handed him back the apple, the sole window from our world to Eden, from which our world had sprouted tainted.

“It’s not mine to keep,” he said, and led me back out of the monastery.

And he was right. The old man had missed something. Between two fingers, I had stolen one of the seeds.

Our world is tainted. Perhaps the next world I grow will be better.