The Cosmology of the Wider World
an extract from the novella
Cosmology of the Wider World is a beast epic; a talking animal story.
I began writing it back in the mid-eighties basically on a lark. I looked
around the literature of the fantastic to see which form appealed to
me the least at the time. Heroic fantasy never really interested me,
but talking animal fiction interested me even less, so I decided to
try my hand at it in an attempt to see if I could create a fiction in
this sub-genre that was as engaging to myself and to readers as any
other current, popular form of fiction. I was thoroughly hip to the
fact that it was not hip to write about talking animals. That said,
I went and read The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling and loved
them. This excellent work became my model, not so much in form or specific
content, but in the level of feeling and idea I wanted my own work to
be capable of expressing. In other words, I saw that what I was setting
out to do was possible.
It was around this same time that I was in the Temple
University Library, high as a kite one day, and, as was my practice
when in that condition, I'd gone to the art section and was paging through
art books to look at the images. That's when I came upon a painting
by an Italian painter, whose name I've long forgotten, of a Minotaur,
staring out to sea from the battlement of what might have been a castle
or a tower. That image gave me the story for The Cosmology, or
at least it gave me the seed of the story. From there I began, and it
was difficult at first, what with tortoises and owls speaking like human
beings, but after a while I really started to care about the characters.
They became as insistent in my imagination as did the people characters
of my other fictions. Before long they were smoking digitalis, they
had problems, and I saw the world they lived in. I saw the plot swinging
back and forth between the Wider World of the talking animals, and Belius
the minotaur's remembrance of life in the world of men he'd originally
been born into.
There was something about the Wider World project
that continued to seem ridiculous to me, but I never gave up on it.
I continued writing it through the 80's and 90's in those intervals
between other books. This long unruly novel became a place for me as
a writer to return to when the normal muse failed me or I needed a breather
from being "a professional." The book recently published by PS under
the title, The Cosmology of the Wider World, is really only the
first part of the extant manuscript. There is as much again written
and then some - well over 100, 000 words, and the project is still not
complete. Sometimes I wonder if it will ever be.
Keith Brooke and infinity plus
have been kind enough to display the opening pages of the PS Cosmology.
My hope is that if this part of the story interests you, you might consider
picking up a copy of the PS book. In any event, I will continue to work
on it, here and there, on and off, until the day comes when I don't
Cosmology of the Wider World
Beneath a yellow sky that fizzed like quinine, staring out
to sea from the crenellated tower of his own construction, stood Belius,
the minotaur, shedding globes of water from his eyes. Life germinated
inside these transparent spheres, civilizations rose and fell in clouds
of war, colors of love grew vibrant and then washed away. A million
seasons raced round within the see-through boundaries, until, rolling
off his snout, they smashed against the ledge and shattered.
He lowed in a tone more of creature than man, and that sound flew
out toward the horizon. Upon losing speed, it dropped with a splash
into the deep ocean and sank, frightening lamprey, scattering herds
of sea horses, to eventually settle on the sandy bottom. As Belius wiped
his eyes clear, the egg of a bubble his voice had made cracked open,
giving birth to the exact sound that had formed it. The sad moan vibrated
in every atom of green water for miles around.
Pezimote, the tortoise, was awakened by the racket from his slumber
beneath the mud. He struggled up out of sleep, out of the warm ooze,
and started slowly swimming toward shore. His shell was orange and black,
and he snapped his beak peevishly, because his anatomy did not allow
for grumbling. "I am coming, Belius," he thought, and Belius knew instantly
that he was coming.
Shuffling and tapping from human foot to hoof, across the cobblestones
of the turret, the minotaur reached the side that gave a view of the
woods. He rested wearily on the ledge for a moment, but when the frustration
that gripped his heart became too much to stand, he struck his horns
against the facade, drawing sparks from the cold stone. Another cry
went out, this one splitting the sky above the distant trees. Only Vashti,
the owl, knew what the strange call meant. She lighted from her branch
with graceful wing thrusts that roiled the leaves. "I am coming, Belius,"
she screeched. Once above the trees, she used her lantern eyes to pinpoint
the minotaur's lonely figure on the tower.
After summoning his friends, he took the winding stairway down inside
the tall structure. He dressed in formal attire; swallow tail jacket
and striped pants. In the kitchen, he brewed cinnamon tea and prepared
finger sandwiches with his hooves. He put his books away, rolled up
his charts and maps and shooed his pet cat from the study. The niceties
he performed for his guests' arrival were all done rather out of habit
than conscience. Since the first pang of his malady, nothing made sense;
no task seemed worth the effort.
Pezimote sat on the divan because the chairs would not accommodate
his giant shell. Having no articulated digits, for every finger sandwich
he ate, it was necessary to utilize both of his stumpy appendages. Vashti,
perched on the marble bust of Belius, swooped down every now and then
and snatched a dainty off the silver platter. Cinnamon tea was not to
her liking, so instead Belius had broken into his private liquor cabinet
and poured her a glass of dandelion wine. He then stuffed his pipe with
the dried petals of the digitalis and lit it. A sweet blue cloud grew
around the company. He coughed with vigor and passed the smoldering
drug to his companion from the sea. The owl could not take the blue
smoke directly. The first and only time she'd tried it, she went stiff
as a stone and dropped to the floor. It was enough for her just to breathe
When the group 'tuned down,' as they had grown to call the state of
intoxication the flower gave them, Belius uncrossed his legs and sat
"I'm poisoned," he told them, waiting for their reactions.
Their silence was a lure to draw him out.
"My heart is a snowball, my mind a cracked peach pit," said the minotaur,
leaning further forward, his heavy head sinking down as if in exhaustion.
"I see," said Pezimote. "And to what do you attribute this malady?"
"I'm poisoned. I feel as if I am soon going to..."
"To what?" asked Vashti, who was now perched on the huge globe of
the wider world.
"To perish, of course," Belius cried, losing his patience. At the
utterance of these words, three large volumes literally jumped off the
book shelf across the room and fell to the floor.
"Now, now," said Vashti, her feathers ruffled by the physical implications
of his anger.
"Who, may I ask, has poisoned you?" said the tortoise, reaching for
a deviled ostrich egg the size of a cantaloupe.
Belius shook his head.
"Perhaps you suspect one of us?" said Vashti.
"No, no. You're my closest friends."
"Who then?" asked Pezimote.
"Maybe," said Belius, "it's someone who doesn't want me to complete
"You've been working on that book, Belius, for years and years. Why
now? Most creatures have little interest in reading books and less faith
in their messages." The tortoise feared this revelation might wound
his friend's pride, so he leaned across the coffee table and stumped
him lightly on the knee.
"Look to yourself," said Vashti. "You've poisoned yourself somehow."
"What?" said Belius, straightening up in his chair with a look that
as much as said, Absurd! "I'm no weeping willow, Vashti. If I
don't mind saying, this tower we sit in was built by these two hooves
alone. Each block of coral, I cut myself from the barrier reef and placed
with an exactitude that nearly made this chaotic universe reel."
"Yourself," said Vashti, "look to yourself."
"I must agree, Belius," said Pezimote, finishing off the last morsel
of egg and eyeing up another. "Your condition reminds me of my wife's,
Chelonia's, unfounded lamentations when the children don't visit for
"Chelonia has other reasons for lamenting, Pezimote," said Vashti,
turning her head 180 degrees to face away from the tortoise.
"A cruel cut," said Pezimote, feigning astonishment in the face of
the subtle charge.
"So you agree," said Belius. He hoisted himself out of his chair and
crossed the room to where a full-length mirror was mounted on the wall.
Staring into it, he searched for clues to his own undoing. All looked
as it ever had, except for the heavy rings beneath his eyes. His color
was good; a creamy, speckled blue that showed no blush of fever nor
pallor of weakness. His horns were sharp. His snout was firm; his teeth,
white and strong. Sticking out his tongue, he inspected every foot of
it with great care. He then turned profile to the glass and peered from
the corner of his left eye. "Nothing but handsome," he thought.
"I see nothing wrong," said the Minotaur. But then his eye looked
deeply into itself and something toppled his confidence. "And then again...,"
he said and drew closer to the reflection. All was silent but for the
sound of Pezimote munching. "And then again...," In the dark iris at
the center of his left eye there was a minute but conspicuous absence.
The light of the lamps did not produce a gleam there as they should
have. There was a tiny mote of darker darkness that seemed to consume
the light instead of offering it back to the world.
"Wait," said Belius, "I see a black spot within me."
Vashti flew off the globe and came to rest on the minotaur's shoulder.
Pezimote rose from the divan and sidled up next to his friend, draping
an arm around his wide back. Together they looked into the mirror, into
the eye, into the dot of definite nothing.
For the hundredth time that day, the tears came from Belius; big and
round as soap bubbles. A moan escaped from somewhere in his third stomach
and the sharp self-pity of the sound cracked the glass suddenly as if
it had been hit by a rock. The three jumped back. A rough wind entered
the room and swirled the smoke of the digitalis into a visible cyclone.
Papers were caught up in the storm. Furniture was tilted over. The tray
of food flipped onto the floor. The three companions huddled together
as books and knick-knacks, fossils and tea cups, flew through the air.
The tighter the group held onto each other, the weaker became the power
of the gale. When at last they had each other in a knot of strangle
holds, the danger dissipated into a light breeze. They broke apart,
and Belius stumbled backward against the wall, clutching his head with
"Time to be going," said Pezimote, bringing his head slowly out from
within his shell. He spoke as he moved toward the door, his voice, as
well as his leathery skin, quivering with fear. "I suggest that tomorrow,
bright and early, we pay a visit to the ape. Your condition is serious
... not to mention dangerous."
"Agreed," said Vashti.
Belius nodded, unable to speak for the throbbing behind his eyes.
"Get some sleep," said his visitors in unison. Then Vashti flew through
the open window and Pezimote ambled out the door and down the winding
As soon as he was alone, Belius reached for the bottle of dandelion
wine. With one mythic gulp, he drained it. His headache lay stunned,
barely able to breathe. Packing his pipe with a bolus dose of petals,
he lit it. The digitalis was a stake through the heart of his pain.
Its frustrated life eased away as he sat back in his chair puffing,
too tired to think of sleep. From where he sat, he could see his whole
figure in the cracked mirror. He smoked and stared, studying the queer
Phantom thoughts skittered through the Minotaur's mind, conjuring
no real images or memories and leaving only the vaguest of impressions
that he had been thinking at all. From the time his friends had left
at dusk, he had remained in his half-stupor, staring straight on and
breathing deeply to keep the anguish to a dull ache.
In the mean time, night had come to that hemisphere of the Wider World.
As the first waves of darkness rolled across the forest, Siftus the
mole put on his snake skin vest and took up his walking stick. He nosed
his way up out of the burrow, which had been his home from birth, and
sniffed with delight the rising tide of shadows. He set forth that evening
to dine on grubs and the dew drop liqueur of honey suckle.
The raccoon brothers stole, as they always did, into Belius' garden,
but when he was not there to toss rocks at them, they lost their appetites
and made off, each with only one ear of corn. After dipping their heist
in the ocean for seasoning, and gnawing through a few rows of kernels,
they agreed that the ears' mealy taste meant something was wrong with
The ants that lived among the stones of the tower bedded down with
atoms of bread crust and pin prick dreams. The moths flapped out of
the bushes and went to work on the cloth of Belius' old coat, which,
for the past few months, had been the new personality of the garden
scarecrow. Creepers sang a magnificat in a round of ten thousand voices,
while bats flew toward fruit they could hear ripening. The fox, the
lynx, the weasel, each came awake, as all of the creatures of daylight
drew toward sleep.
Belius' cat, Bonita, slipped away from her master's feet, taking the
spiral staircase to the wine cellar, where it was a certainty that some
rodent would have been dabbling in the stream of a leaky cask and would
be too drunk to run. And way off, in the middle of the forest, perched
on the uppermost branch of the tallest, most ancient tree, sat Vashti.
"Who?" she asked, and as always there was no reply. She flapped her
wings and a breeze rolled outward to rustle leaves, bend flowers and
push a firefly through the open window of Belius' study.
The insect perched on the tip of the minotaur's snout and worked its
electro-chemical trick because it didn't know how not to. Belius was
dragged out of his daze by the tiny flash, believing it to be the lost
gleam returning to fill the void in his iris. Soon enough, he saw his
mistake and brushed the imposter into flight. He rose from his chair
with great effort and looked around at the mess his manifest bad feeling
had caused. He would have groaned had he not been so weary. Instead,
he sighed heavily, causing a hairline fracture in the last unbroken
tea cup of the service. Waving his hooves at the shambles, he decided
to straighten up in the morning. With hoof-tap and foot-slap, he made
his way up the spiral staircase to his bedroom.
He sloughed the swallow tail jacket and striped pants, letting them
drop to the floor where he stood. He chose from his armoire the green
silk pajamas. All of his sleeping apparel had a good size rock sewn
into the collar, which kept him off his back while he slept. Without
the rock there, he would roll over, flat out, and begin snoring so ferociously
that even the solid structure of his tower was in danger of caving in.
He passed up the book that lay at the foot of his bed, a treatise
written by the Sphinx, entitled, "Riddling Men For Glory and Sport."
The fact that he had paid out three casks of his oldest dandelion wine
for it meant nothing to him now. He pulled back the quilt of his bed;
a massive four poster, its headboard scarred from the violence of his
horns due to recent nightmares. He blew out the candle and then lay
down on his side. Trying to corral his thoughts so they would not wander
wastefully as they had all day, he concentrated on the bright sliver
of moon that hung outside his window. Sleep, he knew, would not come,
so he snagged his memory on that hook of a satellite and thought back
and back to his earliest days in the lesser world, searching for some
insignificant incident that might have planted the seed which had latently
germinated and blossomed into the evil flower of his present discontent.
© Jeffrey Ford 2005.
The Cosmology of the Wider World was published by PS Publishing
Order online using these links and infinity
plus will benefit:
...The Cosmology of the Wider World at
Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Elsewhere in infinity plus:
Elsewhere on the web: