The oldest thing in the universe was not a human.
It was not anything that any human, other than Timmy, has ever seen, or would ever see again.
The oldest thing in the universe was something called a Faraway.
Faraways were once a strong, proud race of people. They lived on a planet hundreds of thousands of lightyears away from Earth, called The World of Listeners. There were all sorts of kinds of Listener on the World of Listeners. There were the Silent Children, and the Deepening Mountains, and the Rootgazers, and the Starhunters. But the oldest, proudest and strongest of these races were the Faraways.
They reigned as kings over the World of Listeners for hundreds of thousands of years. The shortest stood over ten feet tall, and those were just their children. The tallest and oldest of them could grow to be more than sixty feet above the ground. Each of them carried a staff, a staff fashioned for them by the Rootgazers who were excellent workers of wood, and at the end of each staff was a beam of light. And sometimes the light glowed as if it were a sun, and other times they seemed no brighter than the tiny pinprick of light on the end of a firefly, and that is how you could tell when a Faraway had thought up a really good story; when his staff shone so bright that you could see it from miles and miles away. And when the staffs glowed like this, Listeners would come from all around to gather at the Faraway’s feet, and there they would sit, to listen to the tales of the universe. For that is how Faraways first came to be kings. The Listeners must have something to listen to, and nobody told better stories then the Faraways, the Kings of the World of Listeners.
But that was a very long time ago now. There are very few Listeners left in the universe, and none of them live on the World of Listeners anymore. The Silent Children grew up, and left for a planet with jobs and telephones. The Deepening Mountains stopped deepening and were turned to stone. The Rootgazers grew bored with the wood of their world, and left to find a place with new materials to work with and new shapes to carve. The Starhunters left one night to find the brightest star in the universe, and never came back — to this day no one knows where they are, or whether or not they found that star. And, with no one to tell their stories to, the Faraways began to die off, one by one, and the lights on the ends of their staffs slowly dimmed, and finally went out.
All but one. One Faraway was left on the World of Listeners. One Faraway left in all the universe. And he sat alone, his staff still lit, leaning against one of the piles of rock that had once been a Deepening Mountain, and waited, and waited, and waited; for he still had one last story to tell.
That was how Mitzy and Timmy found him. He was the strangest thing Timmy had ever seen. He looked as though he might be made of stone, but the stuff that covered the stone was soft and thin — a bit like fur, he though, a light gray kind of fur that must have once been deep brown, or black, or even blue or yellow. Or maybe it had always been gray. Timmy didn’t know. He craned his neck to try and see the old thing’s face, but it towered what seemed like miles above him (actually, the last Faraway was only about forty feet high, but to Timmy, who was only six and not yet three feet high, it seemed like this old creature was a big as a planet) and Timmy could only catch a glimpse of a long, sweeping white beard and eyebrows that were almost as long and sweeping, and just as white.
“What is he?” he asked quietly, not wanting to disturb the creature from his apparent slumber.
“He is the last Faraway,” Mitzy replied, the bells of her voice sounding far away and sad, very sad. “You were right. I have taken you to meet the oldest thing in the universe. We are on the oldest planet in the universe, but it is long dead, now. He is the only living thing on it. He has lived for billions of years, and a great deal of them here, alone on his dead planet. And we have come to meet him.”
As she said this, she stepped forward and touched the bottom end of the huge staff which rested beside him, and the light at the top of it suddenly burst forth in a blinding fury. Timmy gave a yelp and covered his eyes with his hands, but the next second the light had dimmed again, and when he looked back up, the giant face of the last Faraway was looking down at him from above.
“Not a breath of wind has touched my staff in over a million years,” said the Faraway slowly, as if he had not used his voice for a very long time. It (his voice) rumbled and roared from inside him, and somehow sounded to Timmy like a pile of earth falling to the ground from a shovel or a truck. “No living thing besides myself has walked on this planet for longer than even that. I am the last of my kind, the last of any kind that may have once roamed this silent planet, and yet there you stand before me: a little human boy and his picture, so far beneath me I can hardly see you; but you are there nonetheless.”
“What is your name?” asked Mitzy, twinkling as loudly as she could.
The Faraway’s face grew even sadder and even older than before. “I do not remember. I have tried, over the years, to recall what I was once called by my people, but I cannot. It fell from my memory long ago, and there is no finding it again.”
“How have you lived this long?” asked Timmy, frightened and hesitant.
The creature turned his great grey eyes upon the little human boy. “I do not know how I have lived. I can only tell you why. I live because I was given a story — the story — the last story. I was given it by the very last Faraway, other than myself, as he died, and I have kept it safe for all these years. But the story must be told, for I am old, and it will not be long before it is time for me to follow after my brothers and sisters.” He blinked slowly, and looked long and hard at the tiny little creatures standing below him. “Will you listen?” he rumbled, and it seemed to Timmy as though he was not simply asking, but pleading. “Will you let me tell you the last story?”
Timmy nodded. So did Mitzy. And the Faraway gripped his staff, closed his eyes, and smiled.
Through the woods, and over river, down the hills, and into glade; There we’ll find the hidden treasure, left where the Knight of Children laid; Lost in fog, and soil, and years, trapped inside the hermit’s mind; Drowned beneath a flood of tears, and left for only one to find.
Afterwards, Timmy could never quite remember the story. Not when he wanted to remember it for himself, anyway. But whenever he wanted to tell it to someone else, to Mother or Dad or Arnold, or someone at school, then he could remember. It was about a Knight, the strongest of the Silent Children, and the treasure he left for his sister to find when she’d need it most, and a very, very old tree that knew the way to find it, and a song — the most beautiful song — that was the only way to make the tree tell the sister how to find the treasure. It was the kind of story that was meant to be told, not simply remembered. What Timmy liked best about it, he decided, was that you never found out just what the treasure was. You had to imagine that part for yourself.
When the Faraway finished telling the story he looked down at Mitzy and Timmy, who were gazing up at him, their eyes and mouths wide open, but most of all, the Faraway noticed, with their ears opened the widest of all.
“You are Listeners,” he rumbled softly. “You are the last Listeners.”
And it seemed to Timmy that he could hear singing, and it was coming from the lighted end of the staff. He gazed into the light, and it didn’t hurt his eyes even though as he watched it became brighter and brighter, until everything around him had turned white and all he could see was the staff. He realized that the staff had become small enough for him to hold, and he knew, somehow, that he was supposed to take it. He reached out his hand and wrapped his fingers around the middle of the staff, and the singing grew louder than ever, and the light brighter than ever, and Timmy just stared and stared and stared at the light…
And then it stopped. The light vanished, and the singing was gone, and Timmy found himself still at the foot of a pile of rock that had once been something very different, on a planet that had once been full of people that knew how to listen, with Mitzy Bunkler beside him. But the Faraway was gone, and so was the staff. “Where’d they go?” he asked Mitzy.
She looked at him, her bright green eyes misted with tears. “I don’t know,” she said. “But I think something else is going to have to be called the oldest thing in the universe now.”
Timmy and Mitzy never did find out what happened to the Faraway, or his staff. But afterwards, back at home, Timmy became known by the kids at school as an absolutely marvelous storyteller; and they always knew when he’d thought up a really good story, because his eyes would suddenly grow very, very bright — almost as if there was something inside them, like a lamp, giving off real light — and then the children at his school would grow very quiet, and gather around him, and Timmy would always tell them the most fantastic stories anyone had ever heard — anyone who’d never met a Faraway, that is.
But now, on the World of Listeners, on the Empty Planet, Mitzy took Timmy’s hand, and Timmy felt himself disappear. Back on Earth, he opened his eyes. There, in front of him, were two normal-sized grown-ups. The woman was lying on a hospital bed, looking very tired but very satisfied. She kept shooting eager, impatient glances at the man, who had his back turned to her — Timmy thought he must be holding something — a pile of clothes that he was folding?
Finally the woman burst out, “Can I see her now?”
“Alright, alright, of course you can see her,” replied the man, laughing — it sounded to Timmy as though he’d been crying — and when he turned around, he leaned over and placed a tiny little bundle of blankets into the woman’s eager arms. As he watched, the woman, suddenly hesitant and, Timmy thought, almost scared, she reached out a tentative finger and pulled back one of the folds of cloth. There, underneath, was a tiny pink face, with a round nose and big eyes squinting up into the light, an open, toothless mouth and the smallest ears Timmy had ever seen. A baby. The woman gave a quiet gasp of joy and held the baby a bit tighter. “There you are! There’s my precious little angel! My sweet, precious little Rosette, is it nice to be a part of the world now? Yes it is!” The baby gave a wail. “Oh, I know, I know, Mommy’s tired, too, precious angel! We’ve worked very hard today!”
Timmy looked from the baby’s face, to the mother’s exhausted smile, so full of joy and utter delight, to the man’s proud grin as he leaned over his wife and child, holding the mother’s hand and looking as though he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing, to Mitzy. “Is she the youngest thing in the universe?” he whispered in awe.
Mitzy laughed her tinkling laugh. “Not quite, but almost. Rosette was just born a few minutes ago.”
Timmy watched the little family for a while younger. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? That one of the youngest things in the universe can be born just at the exact moment that the oldest thing in the universe dies?”
“It is,” said Mitzy solemnly, taking Timmy’s hand again. “It’s completely amazing.”
When Timmy opened his eyes, he found himself back on the sidewalk, waiting for the bus. His backpack was on his back, lighter than it had been before, and he realized he was standing up straighter than he had been, because the sidewalk seemed further below him than when last he’d looked at it. Mitzy was beside him, but she seemed to be growing faint. Only her eyes remained as bright as ever.
“Is it over?” Timmy asked quietly, looking into those green eyes.
The silver, misty head nodded once.
“You’re leaving now,” he said. It wasn’t a question. It was a statement of the obvious. It was time for Mitzy to leave.
“I am,” she twinkled, the bells sounding very far away. “But don’t worry about being sad. You’ll forget about me very soon. Everyone does. Everyone must.”
“That’s for me to know and you to forget about,” she said. Timmy knew she was trying to make a joke, but her voice was sadder than ever.
“I’ll try to remember you for as long as I can,” he promised. “I’ll tell stories about you. I’ll make sure everyone knows how big the universe is, that everyone knows that it’s so big that there can’t be any such thing as ‘average’. I’ll do it because that’s what you want, right?”
All that was left of Mitzy were her eyes, those glowing green eyes that seemed to float in midair. They blinked once to say yes.
Timmy felt tears spring to his eyes. “Goodbye, Mitzy Bunkler,” he whispered. “Thank you.”
And Timmy thought, just for a second, that he could hear the singing from the Empty Planet again, only this time there were words in the music. Goodbye, Friend.
And then the eyes were gone, and Timmy was alone on the sidewalk again, waiting for his bus.
But he wasn’t alone for long. A few seconds later there was a chattering of voices and a group of kids who went to his school ran up, laughing and talking and pushing and shoving, throwing pieces of paper at each other and telling jokes. One of them accidentally bumped into Timmy. “Oh, sorry –” she said, stopping to make sure he was alright, “Whoa! Are you okay?”
Timmy blinked and looked at her. “Yeah, I’m fine, why?”
“Well, it’s just your eyes are really bright and it kind of looks like you’ve been crying.”
“It does?” asked Timmy, surprised. He reached up and wiped his eyes. To his bewilderment, he felt tears there. Why on earth would he have been crying? “I don’t think I’m sad or anything… oh well. I’m Timmy. What’s your name?”
Her name was Angie, she was in the grade above Timmy’s, and she loved a good story more than anything else in the world. She and Timmy sat together on the bus-ride to school and talked and talked the whole way there, and Mitzy Bunkler, the last Faraway, and the supernova were pushed into the very back of Timmy’s mind. It was as if they’d never happened.
But they had, and Timmy never quite forgot, not really. They were always there in his head, sometimes popping out in his conversation, sometimes making their way onto paper when he was writing. He became a very popular boy at his school, because he had a habit of making everyone else feel very, very special, and he was known by his teachers and fellow students for adamantly insisting that there was no such thing as “average”, as well as the brilliant stories he told. And Mother and Dad and Arnold, who had always been proud of him, were more proud than ever, and when he got home from school that first day Mother practically burst into tears because “Your voice sounds as if you’ve grown up just since yesterday! Mommy’s little boy, grown up in just a few hours!” Timmy never quite knew what she meant by that, but he heard Mother telling Dad later that there was something so… so different about his eyes. She had always thought they were blue, but now there were definitely a very sharp, bright green, and it looked as though they’d seen a great deal more of the world than many adults on Earth.
And Timmy was happy. Really, truly happy.
Go look in a mirror. Any mirror. Do you see her? She’s there. It’s okay, you can say hello, although she probably won’t reply. But she may, you never know. Miraculous things can happen to anybody, and today might be the day that Mitzy Bunkler, the lonely, forgotten miracle, may just choose you.