My grandmother used to be a writer, and she told me a story about an edge. It was a terrible edge, and no one liked it. So, a few early authors came over to it, and they tossed a few things over. Beowulf tackled Grendel over the precipice, and Sir Gawain battled the Green Knight the entire way down, but when they finally piled up in the abyss that was there, they had risen up to the level of the edge from which they had been tossed. As the years passed and their stories grew old, they became a part of the edge, molded permanently into its shape.
Before long, Chaucer came along and stepped on Beowulf’s head as he peered over this new edge, and then he decided to find a few things to toss over himself. He threw his Knight, his Miller, his Man of Law, and all the rest he could think of over it, until they were a mess of limbs and verse that rose up to the brink he had stood on, and he realized that he’d pushed the edge further.
Then Milton found it, just as Chaucer had, and he decided he had some things to throw over, too. He threw God and Satan and the rest of Paradise over, and the edge extended further into the gaping abyss that was everything we’ve yet to learn about everything.
Suddenly, all sorts of people were finding the edge. The Romantics; Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Blake, and John Keats found it. They stood next to Mary Shelley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge as they all pushed Ozymandias, Frankenstein and his monster, and old ship captains over; and as the works of them all piled up, the edge grew even further into the darkness.
This process continued, over and over again, and the edge grew to be a menacing thing built on Grecian urns and whales named Moby. It became a jagged mess of scarlet letters and Vonnegut even threw an entire slaughterhouse over it.
Grandma would tell me how it was every writer’s duty to give to the edge. If you didn’t, the edge would take from you what it wanted. I always dismissed it as a tale Grandma would tell to inspire me to keep writing.
That was before I found the edge myself. I looked out into the abyss and saw, in the distance, different edges that held other people I could never know standing on them. I saw an edge made of the discoveries of Einstein and Newton. There was one built on the work of Darwin and Mendel. There were edges for everything we could ever hope to learn, and each was always extending into the darkness towards some unknown future. Each was giving us all something to stand on where there had been nothing but mystery and ignorance before. But those edges were not mine. My edge was built on the combined work of all who came before me, and my contribution and dialogue would be with them.
I stood on the precipice. On the edge of an edge of an edge, and I couldn’t quite figure out what to add to it. I could look back, and pull things from the ground. I could dust them off and pretty them up and make them fit better onto my part of the edge before I shoved them off again, taking their old ideas and creating new ones from them. Or, perhaps I could simply create something entirely new and throw it over. But when I looked down at my feet, I saw the bell that Hemingway tolled and I felt that nothing I threw over would ever ring as loudly.
I turned for a moment, terrified of the demands the edge would make. I glanced at the ground, and saw something that froze me mid-step. It was my grandmother’s face, as vivid as the day she told me of this mystical place, staring at me out of the ground. I barely had time to register what this meant before I felt the edge shift beneath me. I glanced over, and I watched as all the world of literature moved under me. I felt the edge begin to curve upwards, pitching me onto my back and sliding me down the rapidly steepening slope, and within moments, I was looking up at the entire literary canon, and it was aimed at me.
I lay there, dumbstruck and unable to move, and the world of literature lurched downwards towards me until I could feel it pressed on my entire body. I felt Beowulf’s arms grab at my heart and soul. I listened to Poe’s Raven screech “Nevermore” in my ear. I screamed in pain as these legendary tales stole the very essence of my being from me. And as the pain grew too much, I heard the small voice of my grandmother whisper in my ear.
“It’s time,” she said.
As I finally shut my eyes to the terror, I felt the edge recede back to its position, and I opened my eyes again.
I stood up and approached the edge, but before I could reach the drop, something in the ground caught my eye. It was me. My heart, my soul, and my voice had been taken by the edge, and it wouldn’t give them back. As I turned to walk away, I realized my walk back would be longer than my walk there.
Stephen Ray is a Creative Writing major at Seton Hill University.