Starting Over

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“I can’t do it.”

The Sacred Library had been silent save for the quiet whisking of a thousand pens in a thousand notebooks, each lying open before an acolyte in training, and the words bounced around the cathedral-style building before fleeing down the halls and out of earshot.

Wendy had her own pen, but unlike the others, hers wasn’t moving. Instead, she was looking down, watching the world inside her notebook tear itself apart.

“I can’t do it,” she said again, quieter this time.

It was one thing to take a book off the shelf, gaze at the words on the pages, and read the world that was etched between the lines. It was another thing altogether to become its author. A successful reading required great skill, but even that level of talent was a drop in the ocean compared to the otherworldly challenge of Creation.

Wendy had survived three years of training, but now, after constructing her own world piece by piece, it was unraveling. She peered through the symbols written in her notebook. She watched the sea levels rise, the winds gain speed, the ground begin to shake, and all she could do was sit and allow the apocalypse to unfold.

“What’s this now?”

Wendy turned to find Randal, one of the Library’s oldest disciples, standing behind her.

“I can’t do it, sir.”

Randal took the notebook from her trembling hands and started from the beginning, flipping through each page and reading her world just as Wendy had learned to read a dozen others.

“Mmm,” said the old man with the utmost gravity. “I see the problem.”

“There are so many variables, so many loose ends. It got off to a decent start, but now as I approach the end, I’m afraid it’s a lost cause.”

The disciple’s robes swished as he took a seat beside her. He turned back to the last empty page, and after looking her in the eye, returned the notebook. He leaned in close, and in a conspiratorial whisper, said, “I’ll tell you a secret. No creation is ever a lost cause.”

“But I’ve already written so much, and every line at the end depends on another line from the beginning. How can I fix something that rests on such a faulty foundation?”

“By going back and rewriting the foundation.”

“But then the rest of the world will collapse.”

The disciple nodded.

“And in its place, you can build something better.”

That was a possibility Wendy hadn’t considered before. She bit her upper lip in thought.

“No acolyte,” the old man continued, “has ever gotten a new world right on the first try. Nor, for that matter, has any disciple. But if you love something, you don’t give up on it. You return to the forge and you try again, as many times as it takes. You examine your world through the critical eye of a surgeon. You determine what it was that lead to its demise, and then you pluck it out. You revise, then revise again, until someday, somehow, your world finds its soul and can live apart from you, as all great masterpieces do.”

Now, for the first time, Wendy turned the pages backward. She traced through her world’s evolution, from its birth at the core of a primordial star to its violent and premature end. There were, she realized, a great many things she would have done differently.

“It’s really okay to start over?” she asked.

The disciple flashed her an enigmatic smile.

“As many times as it takes.”

He left her to check on the other acolytes, but Wendy, knee-deep in the storms of Creation once more, hardly noticed.

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