A Lucid Dream
by Allison Przylepa
As most dreams do, this one started with complete nothingness. Unlike other dreams, however, the nothingness did not peel back to reveal any color, substance or light. I was standing in a world of emptiness on an invisible platform that didn’t really exist.
And then, I noticed a speck of light. It started only a fraction of a centimeter wide, then expanded as if it were coming closer, until the whole of creation had been revealed to me. I saw individual atoms being born, then clumping into larger-scale matter until every satellite, planet, star, and galaxy that existed, currently exists, or will ever exist manifested. I was seeing the whole of the universe.
Suddenly, the image grew brighter. I saw the cords connecting every piece of matter. They were made of a strange, luminous substance; they flickered, dimmed, and shimmered, producing an undulating mass of pure light that obscured the view I had of everything beneath it. I shielded my eyes for protection.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” A booming, thunderous voice came from over my shoulder. I wheeled around to face its source and retracted in horror.
The being was an abomination; the mere sight of it made me nauseous. It had the head of a goat, but the body of a man. Not just a man, however; a phallic caduceus symbol protruded from the white cloth it wore to keep itself decent from the waist down, but it had large, fulsome breasts, like a lactating female. Between its mighty, gnarled horns it wore a magnificent torch lit by Prometheus’ fire. Its cloven-hooved legs were crossed in a meditative stance.
Two words had been scarred into the underside of its muscular forearms: on the left, the Latin word for ‘separate’, solve; on the right, the Latin word for ‘join together’, coagula.
“It’s too bright.”
“It is as it was meant to be.” The figure, whose black, beady eyes saw me not as a human being but as a loose amalgamation of individual cells working toward the mutual end of being human, only favored me with a single glance before turning its unblinking attention to the scene before us.
“But I did see it,” I protested. “For just an instant, I saw... I saw everything.”
“An ‘instant’?’” The creature sounded perplexed.
“Yes. It’s a unit of time.”
I sighed in frustration. “It’s hard to explain.”
“No,” he said, adopting a rueful tone, “it isn’t. I understand perfectly. But here, in this realm” — he raised an arm to present the vast expanse of nothing upon which we stood — “such small-minded concepts are irrelevant.”
“Where is ‘here,’ exactly?”
“The realm of dreams.”
“Then why is it empty?”
“Ordinarily, your mind would fill this blank backdrop with your memories, memories of places you’ve been, people you’ve met, and experiences you’ve had. However, because you are lucid dreaming, you have willed this realm to remain blank, and in its place, I have appeared.”
“And who are you?” I faced the creature head-on.
“I am the margin of error present in all universal transactions. I am the conduit through which all strangeness exists. I am known to your kind as Baphomet, the Goat of the Witches’ Sabbath, and your circumstances, unusual as they are, attracted my notice.”
“Hail, Baphomet,” I replied, dipping my head respectfully. “I am honored to be your host.”
“Indeed.” A rare smile crossed the creature’s maw.
“Have you come to reveal to me some truth, or to tell my destiny?”
“Perhaps. Are you worthy of such a privilege?”
“No.” I let my head hang. “I guess not.”
“You ‘guess’ not.” The creature gave a laugh. It was a hideous, dissonant, echoing noise. “We’re in your lucid dream, human. You are as worthy as you decide you are.”
I lifted my chin. “Then... I am worthy.”
“Consider that notion implicit.” He nodded toward the universal panorama. “Look again.”
Risking immediate blindness from the light-cords, I closed my eyes, turned in place, and opened them once more.
The panorama of everything had been replaced with a single basketball-sized proton.
“What you are seeing is a hydrogen ion, the very first of its kind to come into being three minutes after the universe was born.”
“It must be lonely,” I mused, noting the absence of anything around it.
“It’s far too busy contemplating more important matters.”
“All matter is another form of energy,” Baphomet began, watching the particle levitate and turn in place as if it were watching its child take its first tentative steps. “And all energy is potential. When the first proton was born amidst an atom-sized universe full to bursting with photons and white-hot plasma, it was given a choice.”
“But atomic components don’t have sentience,” I replied, holding my palm over the hovering mass. “Or even the faculties to possess it. How can it make a choice?”
“What are the faculties necessary for sentience?”
“A brain is a good start.”
“And what is a brain?”
I raised an eyebrow. “An organ.”
“Ah, yes. An organ: an approximate cluster of cells millions deep. And a cell, as you know, is made up of millions of atoms of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen... and hydrogen.”
The information fell into place meaningfully in my mind. “The chemical constituents of life.”
“Life as you know it,” Baphomet corrected.
“I still don’t understand. If it can’t speak or move of its own accord, how does it make a choice?”
“The scope of choices it could potentially make is smaller than that of a human, that’s true. However, its very existence is a choice: the choice of a proton to exist within the twenty-minute span in which the universe was just barely cool enough to preserve it. Had it tried forming an instant sooner, it would have been barraged with high-energy photons, making nucleosynthesis impossible.”
I witnessed another atom come into being. Unlike hydrogen, it was formed of a single proton and a single neutron.
“This is deuterium,” he explained. “It is an isotope of hydrogen, chemically dissimilar only due to its atomic mass. And that...” — another burst into being. This one had two neutrons and one proton — “is tritium. It is also an isotope of hydrogen, another in three choices of what all the neutrons and protons swimming in this primordial soup could form to become.”
Following his statement, millions of atoms burst into being, forming an ocean of glowing dots.
“Why are there more hydrogen ions than anything else?” I asked, noting the dramatic difference in numbers.
“At the beginning, the ratio of protons to neutrons was seven to one. Protons are lighter and easier to make, so more of them chose to exist. Besides, within the first three minutes, almost all of the neutrons were used to produce deuterium and tritium, and from there, helium.”
“The second most abundant element in the universe,” I echoed.
“Yes. The decision each of these infinitesimally small particles made within this twenty-minute window at the epoch of everything determined the chemical layout of the whole universe after it expanded. It is the sum of their choices that produced the hydrogen-rich universe you currently inhabit, a universe compatible with the existence of life, with the existence of you.”
I frowned. “I’m a little lost.”
“That’s to be expected. The mechanisms of creation are known only to a small number of your kind, and you are not among them.”
“Why are you telling me this if you know I won’t understand?”
“Consider this,” he interjected, ignoring me. “This is the state of the universe after twenty minutes. It took another three hundred and seventy-seven thousand years before decoupling began, before these building blocks could finally merge to form atoms, and from there, the rest of the matter that exists today.”
The hydrogen ion before me suddenly burst with new life. Upon its surface, I noted a buzz of activity generating a translucent cloud.
“That is an electron.”
“Where? I don’t see it.”
“Of course you don’t.” Baphomet brought the buzzing, throbbing atom to a complete halt, stopping it dead in time and space. “Try again.”
The electron, represented by a motion blur, formed seven rings around the nucleus.
“Is this what an electron looks like?” I asked, astonished.
“No. That is what the path of an electron looks like. Human eyes cannot perceive it, only the trail it leaves behind.”
“But there are many trails.”
“Yes. And many places the electron could potentially be. You are seeing every possible outcome of its choice.”
I pressed my fingertip to one of the rings. The other six dissipated.
“And by observing its movements you have helped to shape its destiny.”
I clapped my hands over my mouth and recoiled. “Oh no!”
Baphomet grinned toothily, exposing rows of jagged, sharp teeth. “Worry not, human. Is not magic the conformity of fate to one’s will?”
“Yes, I suppose.”
“Then what you have just done is magic.”
I removed my hands from my face and looked upon my work. The electron’s modified trajectory took it in several grandiose sweeps around the nucleus, until — out of nowhere — it reappeared on the other side of the photon-sphere, assuming an entirely different orbit.
“However,” Baphomet continued, “there is a variable of randomness to its motions, over which neither you, nor any other creature can exert control, even with magic. This is my domain, the domain of the bizarre, unexpected and improbable.”
“Did you cause that to happen?”
“Can you do it again?”
“Of course — whenever I’d like to.”
“By plucking the strings of fate.”
“The light I saw earlier,” I added, “connecting everything to everything else.”
Baphomet nodded austerely. “Indeed.”
“What’s the point?”
He canted his head to one side. “The ‘point’?”
“Yes,” I replied, frustrated. “The point — the reason for all of this. What is it?”
“Reason, as you know it, is a human construct.”
“So there is no reason for anything?”
“Of course there is.”
“Then what is it?” I was losing my patience.
“The mechanisms driving the whole of the universe must consider the needs of both the lowliest fleck of cosmic dust and the greatest of human ambitions. You could never hope to understand.”
“So I ask again,” I replied, huffing indignantly, “why explain this to me at all?”
A mysterious glimmer emerged in his gaze. “Have you not enjoyed my presentation?”
“Immensely. But it didn’t answer any of my questions, it only gave me more of them!”
“Then my purpose here is satisfied.”
I sighed, kneading my temples. “You’re a strange god.”
“Unlike any other you’ve met before or will ever meet,” he responded in agreement, as if he were proud of the label.
“Does that mean I’ll never see you again?”
Baphomet’s image began fading into the pitch black behind him. “I do enjoy licorice,” he admitted, rolling his long, blotched tongue over his fearsome teeth. “Perhaps, if you laid some out upon your altar, I could be convinced to reappear.”
Of all the questions I could’ve asked of a deity, the absolute last I picked turned out the most mundane. “What is your favorite color?”
By now, he’d completely faded; only his voice remained. “Purple,” he replied.
As if on cue, a shade of purple dominated my vision. It started as a deep violet, then elevated in brightness and saturation until I was forced to open my eyes.
Copyright © 2013 by Allison Przylepa