The Widest Sharing
by Silvia Hartmann
So I'm here now and what needs to happen next?
Well I guess I have to look around once more and note with some interest that the surface I stand upon is very soft indeed, very giving like a skin. Now there's nothing new in that I guess, and the reason I'm guessing is that I'm not sure.
I'm not sure what this is or where I am, the sinks dump you just anywhere and I've long given up trying to make sense of things right away. I just sit back inside myself and let things happen, let things become revealed to me, that's the best approach to the new I've found, because when you're rushing around, labelling this and that, declaring this and that to be momentous or of interest that's when you're the most vulnerable to attack, and in the meantime you're usually completely missing the point, and the connections between the points.
When I was a pup, they taught us a chant to stabilise us in the new. I can hardly remember it now although I can sometimes hear it like a fairy chorus, high and far away, many children's voices - there is an order in which one is to scout.
First, immediate impressions.
That's for danger, of course. A dead scout is a very useless scout and if you can't even crawl back into the sink, they likewise can't prod your corpse and take second-hand guesses as to what was going on, what happened to you on the other side.
Here, you could say the immediate impressions front is boring. Not particularly hot, not particularly cold. I can't feel any air movement and my shallow breathing is not revealing any poison that would set my chest afire and make my eyes bug from my head.
I guess that's a good thing. I guess I should be grateful.
Well, anyway. After the immediate impressions there's the deal with movement and presences - perceived however, heard or felt or seen or sensed, it matters not. Monsters, trolls, goblins, fairies, semtar, kered, unmentionable creatures, autogenic plants with a mind of their own, slimy enchantments and columns of frozen spells that move and devour.
Yeah, and all the rest. I mean, who cares? I don't care anymore, that's for sure. I can't be bothered to even worry about the next weirdness or the next so-called horror - they're all just entities, they do what they do and have no more control over any of it than I have, for that part. So, they try to devour and destroy and sting and whatever, and I keep my part of the everlasting bargain and try to kill them in turn. Can't just run away, can you, that would be a defeat.
By the demon lords, this sucks.
I prod the tip of my boot into the grey-blue softness upon which I stand, and a ripple spreads out like I just threw a pebble into a still pond.
Great. I'm inside something again. Something that lives and from the looks of it is pretty big, in fact, I might not be inside it but on top of it because the darkness above my head might just as well be night sky or something, and there's really not an awful lot else to be seen or said.
I pull off one of my fairskin gloves and bend down, sweeping my cloak with the other hand to keep it out of the way as I reach to touch the grey-blue skin upon which I stand.
I'm not sure if it is before or after my fingertips make a feeler-contact with the spongy surface that it occurs to me I shouldn't be able to see at all, nor be able to make a judgement on the colour of this skin as there is no illumination anywhere.
This confuses me momentarily, enough to have to repeat the touch and this time, pay attention with full volition.
There is a stickiness, a kind of suction from the skin to my skin.
It is minute and absolutely not of the quicksand kind that would draw you in and swallow you, nor even a marsh suction that would have you slowly and imperceptibly sink to your doom if you didn't move fast enough. Indeed, I already know that when I get back and one of the Core Sisters questions me in front of a pack of scribblers that I won't have the words and she'll get well frustrated with me as I'm failing to describe how it feels as though there was a loneliness there that came forward to my contact and wanted me to know that I was welcome and indeed, to stay and not withdraw this touch.
When I was young and fresh, I really thought I was doing this great thing. I really thought that I was the luckiest man alive, a real sink scout, one of those respected and feared ones who saw and experienced things that no-one in their right minds could even dream about. One of those who would be blessed by the Core Queen herself - can you imagine the *honour* of it! - before they bravely stepped into the sink that would lead to their heroic deaths or unknowable secret adventures.
I used to come back and pour out all my thoughts and findings in the Wider Sharing so that the scribblers hands would fly like crazed weavers across their parchments, every word I said a word towards the time when the giant spider mystery was solved and the people could transcend as one.
That final time when we could all go home.
I was so arrogant in those days. I was so full of my own power and the strength of my youthful limbs, the speed of my mind and the response of my totality as it faced all the challenges with such joy and with success at that, surprising me time and time again with being ever more than I thought it was.
For millennia, the scouts had been scouting, the Wider Sharing had taken place, the scribblers had scribbled and the Core Sisters passed on the findings to the prophets who arranged the newfound knowledges and experiences in the universal map that would finally, lead us home.
For millennia, ones such as me had walked into the sleeping sinks that randomly would catapult you here or there, into these other places, and what they were in their entirety was the closely guarded secret that not even the Core Sisters knew about but only the prophets themselves. We who don't know just guess that they are lands somewhere beyond the horizons, but you know I don't think that's true.
These worlds, these kingdoms I have seen, they are not anywhere. There are not in this world, they are not even real, they are more like a dream come to life, or a nightmare.
A sensation called me to attention. My back is hurting from bending down and touching the skin and my thoughts had been drifting.
I take a deep breath of the tasteless air and yet it is a clean air, a cool air and I try and center myself, look around.
All I can see is the grey-blue flat surface and above, just blackness. There is a horizon but it doesn't seem to have any curvature in it, one way or the other. Horizons can be strange and very deceptive; even with all senses working as they should and there being no substances in the air you would not notice yet that would taint your clarity in all ways, there are many reasons not to trust exactly what you think you see.
I turn slowly on the spot and notice that as I do so, small ripples and flat slow waves result from my movements and my shift in weight from one foot to the other.
There is truly nothing here but this being.
I could return I guess, throw the sigil that calls in the sink and step back through, start the Wider Sharing process, receive my rewards of rest and relaxation and get ready for the next mission.
And I could simply sit down here for a moment and take my gloves off, talk to the being a little more who welcomed me with his touch and who seems to be rather lonely.
So I do.
I sit down with care and a little stiffly. My joints are not as they once were, it's true. I suppress a small laugh. What do you expect? There isn't a single bone in my body, I swear, that wasn't broken, shattered, ground at some time or the other.
I'm one the oldest of the sink scouts still in active service. Indeed, I am twelve wheels older than the oldest one alive in retirement. Ah I'm a legend, indeed, even to myself.
These thoughts, I have them. I have had them for a long time but here, they seem clearer, more exclusive.
Perhaps it is because there is nothing here but a single lonely being, no action to take, no fear or threat, no colours, sounds or movements to take my mind to other things, to take my body into certain necessary directions.
I take off the second glove and after a moment's hesitation, place both hands flat on the ground, either side of my thighs and I close my eyes because the pattern of my attire, yellow and green bright, the colour of the scouts, is misdirecting my thoughts and would take me away from the sense of the contact, stronger this time, much stronger as I can feel the gentle suction again but this time on all my fingers and the palms of both my hands.
I am suspicious. What can I say. Too many pains, too many nasty surprises, too many traps for too many years. I am closely guarded and watching/feeling/listening with a tight coiled readiness to jump up and throw the sink symbol for a quick escape.
But the gentle suction never turns into a devouring rush to draw my life force from me, nor do tiny teeth bore into my flesh to drink my blood. It is just there, neither giving nor taking, and it doesn't seem to simply want to lull me into a false sense of security - ah, wait. I do not yet have enough evidence to make such a distinction. Don't relax too early if at all, don't trust your own self.
That's the last thing to trust at all.
There was a time when I trusted in beauty. I guess that one got shattered in the visit to the place where there was such beauty, it would have made a lesser man weep. Yet all the plants were poisonous and all the beautiful creatures there carnivorous, a trap it was and nothing more for anyone at all. I let my guard down and stood in awe of so much beauty, and a fey thing, opalescent and of such perfection and grace I wanted to pray to it that instant buried its beautiful fangs deeply in my throat.
I only made it home at the very last moment and my throat bears the scar, as does my voice. It was never the same after.
There is a new sensation, a new vibration and it is soothing, cooling, friendly. There is something coming to me from the being I am touching, a form of speech like rising from way below, and I am very still and listening intently, waiting to find out what it will have me know.
I let the rising run cleanly throughout me, neither hinder it nor try and seek to stop it with understanding or concern and it becomes clear and clearer still, no doubt left in my mind - the being wants to hear my stories.
It is encouraging me to tell it about my thoughts and my experiences.
It is asking for a Wider Sharing?
Instantly, I am in the sharing temple, where the Core Sister of the day strides and asks the questions and where the scribblers, rows of them so that not a single word is lost from what I say, are scribbling, swishing entities at the periphery, not noticed at all in truth because in the Wider Sharing you just go back inside yourself and you tell it as it was, you tell the truth of everything you saw, you heard, you felt and what you made of it at the time.
This is the only place where any reference to what you saw and what happened to your body and your mind is ever to be made, ever allowed at all; only one sharing per trip, only one sharing per world. After that, it is sealed forever and only the prophets see the whole picture, the giant puzzle made from all the sharings, all the scouts, all these eternities of good men and women dying as they traverse the seemingly never-ending dream worlds that lie in wait at the bottom of the sinks.
I am not allowed to share here with this being. I don't know much but I do know that sharing is forbidden once it has been done, and done in the only rightful place, to the searing questions of the Core Sister, unmoved she is by your tears as she was trained to be, her questions torture instruments bright and sharp and delving straight into the deepest layers of your wounds as you writhe in fear just as once you were, again; as you shake with terror and with understanding of your own weakness and insignificance anew, this one time only and for the last time because that's it, once only and it is all over, sealed and forgotten and after your rest period, there will be the next sink. And the next, and the next and the next until you're all used up and there is nothing left to be dipped like a well bucket into the sink, soak up the water or the poison, bring it up, empty it, send it back until it breaks.
What is your love for me?
What is your love for me who has done this - for myself, oh yes, it's true, to begin with there was a lot of that, to have the status and the free access to the women and the wine, to have my mother and my father beam with pride, to have the young ones staring and the oldest, wisest ones still bow their heads in utter reverence.
But it fades so fast, it doesn't last, these young boy's dreams of power and acceptance, it fades away like a candle flame when the sun has risen and where is its brightness then? Do you think a woman's smile or an old scribblers salutation is a fitting payment for the rending of your limbs in some hellish place of darkness and of pitted rocks, with multifarious monsters chewing at every part of you and your own screams of mercy the only sound you can perceive beyond the slurping and the sound of your own tearing flesh?
What kept me going all these years, from one to the next without a fail, without a refusal, always and steadily, no matter what, as soon as I was healed enough to pass the test of Sorak, I would get robed up and present myself for the next journey?
I was going to help my people. Do my duty, play my part in the unfolding map the prophets were drawing in their stone towers so that we could all be released and transcend - find the world of our birth from which we were ejected for our evil doings, and return home at last.
That is what and that is why I did it. It was that which kept me going through it all, which made all my suffering immaterial in comparison, it was so very important.
Ah, you being here.
I move my hands just fractionally, a tiny movement that is balanced to the tiny suction from the skin beneath me, warm it is and comforting, so I am not breaking contact at all yet I am producing movement and reverberation.
Ah, you being here.
I want to tell as much as you would want to listen.
I am full of all of this, full to overflowing because what they call the Wider Sharing is in truth no such thing, and that realisation was what broke my heart and broke my back, broke me in half and after that, all was gone and nothing left, nothing remained.
I don't know when it was that slowly, an understanding began to build within me that there were certain things I was never asked.
That there were certain experiences I was not allowed to tell about in the Wider Sharing, that if they were touched upon or you were going in that direction, the Core Sister would inevitably take the questioning and turn it away, turn it around, ask for other things, things that were well known already and much repeated - at first, I thought it was a mistake or just an accident, but it happened again, and again, and I could feel myself after a time not even trying to tell about certain experiences any longer. I had learned what to say and what not to say and then the day came when I understood that for some reason, the true knowledge, the one that would return us all home, was not allowed to be found and what I and all the other scouts were doing was nothing but to waste time in an impossible quest, a charade of exploration, designed to keep the ones like me away from any truth whilst at the same time, keeping us busy with what we thought was going to take us there.
I understood how it worked, what the true task was of the Core Sisters, why the Wider Sharing was constructed as it was, why we were not allowed to think or talk of anything any further, and that the prophets knew all of it already and that they knew the way home, had always known it, but were keeping us here deliberately and for all eternity.
And for a fraction of a moment, I felt the need to jump up and scream out the truth, scream it out in the market's circle, loud, so loud that my broken voice would fill the sky and the lies would end but even as I thought it, I saw the prophet's guards descending upon me swiftly, black carrion birds as I watch from high above, falling upon the madman who had travelled just that one sink too far, take him away, yes, I saw this as a young one, and I saw it again - I was not the first to understand, oh no.
I was not the first.
A tiny tingle in my hands and a rising from below, a pressure from below brought me back to consciousness and I took a deep breath of the still, calm air.
I looked around at the endless dark, darkness all around and then, I had to smile.
I took the sigil ring from my middle finger, the thick gold ring with the green and yellow magic stone that would open the sink to take me back. I laid it on my fairskin gloves without regret. For a moment I cradled the hand that had worn the ring ever since the prophet's emissary had placed it there in the ancient ceremony that bestowed the power of travel to all the worlds. There was not only a big pale spot where it had sat irredeemably ever since it was given but even an indentation in the sides of my finger - my finger had grown around it, made it a part of itself, it seemed.
I would not need the ring any longer.
Then, I slowly began to strip off my cloak, my weapons, my scouts boots, my garments, one by one.
I folded them all with great care and according to tradition and arranged them in the right order.
Slowly, I rose.
Entirely naked and without a backward glance, I began to walk across the never ending back of the great being, each footstep a small welcome upon contact and a small bereavement upon lifting off, and when I could no longer tell where the pile of my clothes and former skin of self now lay at rest, I stopped and slowly, deliciously, lowered myself to the giving ground.
Warm it was, and welcoming.
I lay down first on my back, then turned and let my face gently, lovingly, sink into the soft acceptance of the being, spreading my arms as though I could embrace it, then I let go entirely.
And so began the Widest Sharing.
© Silvia Hartmann 2003