In the Beginning
A dragon tale
by Gillian Clarke
Somebeing sat in the dark, thinking. The dark place was Nowhere. It was no-time.
Nobody - not you, not I - knows what Nowhere was like, or what Somebeing looked like. There were no eyes to see, no ears to hear. There were no words, no names, no things. The story was at its very beginning, and there was nobody to remember or to tell it.
Somebeing was not a He or a She. Somebeing was It. It sat in the dark, thinking.We know Somebeing must have been thinking because of what happened next. Thinking can cause trouble. Thinking leads to ideas, and ideas make things happen. Ideas make us restless. We can’t keep still. We fidget and fuss. We rummage and pester for bits and pieces to make our idea real.
The first idea ticked in the dark inside Somebeing. It would be the most brilliant idea in the history of the Universe. It hummed and grew and brewed and swelled like a thunder cloud. It could not be stopped. At last it burst and ripped through the darkness faster than light, faster than sound - though light and sound had not yet been born.
In no-time there is no past, no present, no future. The first idea had no beginning and no end, no head, no tail. Once it was free it snaked out through the dark, sinuous, serpentine, un-stoppable. It set off through Nowhere, not from here to there, because here and there did not exist. Not from now to then, because Time had not begun. It went and came all at once. On the way out on the road to Nowhere, it met itself coming back. The collision created one almighty bang, the biggest bang that would ever happen. It was the mother-of-all explosions, and out of it the Universe was born.
How long did it take in Earth-time for the Big Bang to turn nothing into something? How long for the dust, the smoke and the gas, the cinders and the sparks to die away, leaving a bright new Universe behind? How long for a Universe to be born? Four and a half billion years is so much time it makes your head spin, like thinking of forever and ever.
The echoes of the Big Bang rippled out, out, out into Nowhere. The echoes are rippling still, farther and farther into outer space to this very day. Then a great wind rose and fell. The dust slowly settled. The fires died down leaving stillness and silence.
At first the sky seemed empty. Then, one by one the stars came out, as they do at nightfall in our world. They twinkled over a small, stony planet bowling along inside a new galaxy in the new-born Universe, a planet with an iron heart, a planet still hot and molten. The planet towed a little moon behind it, like a cow leading its calf. It rolled as it travelled along the space-road in the track of its fellow planets. Then, suddenly, as it turned over in the dark, the miracle happened, the miracle that would make it special. Close by was a huge star. It was just close enough for the planet to wake in the brightness and warmth ot the very first morning of the world. Planet Earth glowed in the Sun’s fire.
Earth. Air. Fire. Water. These things, and the soup of chemicals left by the Big Bang in the great laboratory of the galaxy, were just what was needed to make Life begin. But Life hadn’t happened yet. This is just the beginning of the story.
Inside the starry spiral of the Milky Way, the restless Earth turned as it travelled on its path round the Sun, towing its little moon along like a boat behind a ship. The Sun warmed first one side of the Earth, then the other, tickling the chemicals, making things fizz and ferment, making thunder and lightning, earthquakes and tornadoes. The oceans swayed to and fro as the moon pulled them and let them go. The mountains rumbled. They spat, fizzed and farted. They hummed and burped. Earth’s skin shivered as if it were shaking off a fly. It quaked, cracked and crackled. Its plates of rocky armour creased and crumpled as they closed again. There was never a quiet moment.
Something was about to begin.What would be the first living thing thing to be born on Earth? Would it be it a germ? Would it be a virus? A wriggle in a warm swamp?
On Earth’s first beautiful day something was cooking in Somebeing’s imagination. The idea for the first creature was incubating. It would happen long before the slow, slow work of making Life had even begun. It was to be a mythical wonder. It would be the world’s story teller.
One Earth morning a very small flame came flickering out of the nine-hundred-and-ninety-ninth exploding volcano. It licked its way over the lava, picking up metals and minerals as it went, burning sometimes blue, sometimes green, sometimes red. At first it was frail and naked as a fledgling, small and tender, a waif lost in the storms of a shifting Earth. But as it touched the new rocks of the Earth, as it licked the salts and the irons, it was transformed. It grew stronger and braver, bigger and faster as it went.
Many dangers lay ahead. When the Flame reached the edge of the ocean, a great wave reared its head and rolled out of the sea to crash onto the shore. The Flame felt a swipe of salt water. It hissed and faltered, gulping for air - fire needs air to survive. It almost drowned. Then, at the last moment, as the wave fell back into the sea, the Flame flickered and burned up again more strongly than before. It sizzled over the molten lava bubbling at the foot of a volcano. A cloud of ashes lifted from the lava-flow, and fell onto the flame. Almost suffocated, it fell back as if it were dead. A rush of wind lifted the ash and swirled it away. The Flame burned up bravely and licked its way over the lava where old fires were still smoking. The rush of wind which had saved it picked up speed and power, and blew the Flame until it all but died. If it died now, if it was forgotten before it began, it would be forgotten forever. The world’s story was only just beginning. Without a story-teller, who would hear it? Who would remember? Only a mythical creature born in the first imagination, always ready with its tongue of fire, could whisper our story into our minds. Then, passed from speaker to listener, parent to child, our story would live forever and ever.
We will call the Flame, Vulcana, daughter of the volcano, child of fire. Vulcana survived her great adventure. She grew wings from the clouds of the air. She grew a tongue and a tail from forks of lightning. Her skin was scaly like the plates of the Earth. Her breath was the wind. Her feet uncurled like buds in spring, but tough as the iron heart of the Earth. Her toes were diamonds and emeralds. She could tread on boiling lava. She could walk in your dreams four-thousand-million years before you were born.
Having set the Earth going in its lovely Universe, Somebeing had nothing else to do but sit back and hope for the best. The stars were in their places. The planets were on track. Earth was the perfect planet, the one singled out for special favour. Chemicals were at work on land and sea, seething and simmeriing in the light and heat of the sun. Evolution was at hand to move things along. All Somebeing could do now was just be. A cloud, a shadow, a rainbow. Perhaps a summer afternoon, or a thunderstorm, or one of those skies that make you say, ‘Looks like rain!’ Anything to suit the mood of the moment while passing the time dreaming up creatures of the future. With any luck, one fine morning in a few billion years, a huge boulder might turn its head and wink, and Somebeing might think, ‘That’s it! Another brainwave! Dynosaurs!’
It was going to be a long wait.
Time! Time was a bad idea. In fact, it would be a terrible nuisance, and there was going to be an awful lot of it. The trouble was, once Time was out of its box, nothing could stop it. Whether it crept, or whether it flew, nothing could be done to control it. It made people say things like ‘You’re late!’, and ‘Oh! No! Is that the time?’ and ‘Are we nearly there?’ It made birthdays go too fast, and getting old too soon. It’s Time’s fault that boredom lasts forever and the week-end’s gone before you know it. In the end there would be machines to measure it, and special police to makes sure you used your time up well, and never, never waste it. Too late now. The deed was done. Somebeing decided to wait and see.
Meanwhile, Vulcana crawled into a cave and fell asleep. She, born from a volcano, the future mother of all dragons, mother of all stories, lay as still as a lizard in her rocky ravine. A she-dragon is a patient creature. There she would wait for four-thousand six-hundred-million years for Life to begin, and millions of years more for the first human being to be born.
She would wake only when the first person on Earth imagined her, and named her. Then she would begin to whisper the world’s stories into human ears. She would lay her dragon eggs in caves and crevices. When her young hatched, they would travel on the backs of thunderstorms to every land on Earth. Her offspring would have many names. Soon there would be dragons everywhere, asleep until a human story woke them. They would stir from their long hibernation in every land, in every century and, at two shakes of a forked tail, begin at the beginning.
First published by Pont Books in ‘Dragon Days’, a collection of dragon stories.