False Dichotomy

Mary Soon Lee

Illustration by Sumit Roy

In his place, one hundred and thirty-two turtles down from World, Broadback the Turtle contemplated the universe. He extended his neck, peered left and right, up and down. Above, he could see Mimia standing upon his back, she who held the one hundred and thirty-first place in the turtle stack.

And above Mimia, if he craned his neck just so, he could see the turtle standing upon her back, but no further than that. Rumours of World itself, supported at the apex of the turtle stack, were fantastical and uncertain. Still, it pleased Broadback to imagine oceans and fish and whales.

Beneath him, he saw Plastron, holding position one hundred and thirty-three as sturdily as ever, his carapace a solid comfort beneath Broadback’s feet. And all about Broadback, bright but untouchable, wheeled the patterned constellations of the stars in their stately cycle.

Though he had never seen World, Broadback was proud of his place in the stack, of his part in supporting its mythical islands and trees and singing whales. (He would have liked to hear a whale song just once.)

He stared out at the stars, pondering his favourite conundrum. Did the turtle stack continue forever? An infinity of turtles, standing each in its ordained position, one atop another, supporting the fragile and wondrous World with its mountains and beetles and the fabled breaching of whales? Or was there a bottommost turtle, feet braced on some stony expanse?

That nethermost bottom would need to be very, very far down for no report to have reached Broadback. Yet he found the notion of an ultimate grounding more palatable than infinity’s unending depths.

‘Plastron?’ asked Broadback. ‘What do you think? Are there turtles beneath us forever and forever? Or is there a lowest turtle standing on the stony ground of the universe?’

‘Hmmph. Not this again,’ grunted Plastron. ‘No point thinking about it. Keep doing your job.’

So Broadback stood, pondering, unaware that the universe was stranger than he imagined. That far below him, a turtle stood upon an elephant, and below that many more elephants, and then, below even the elephants, the sauropods. And below the sauropods, more elephants, and below those elephants, more turtles, and at the end of those turtles, the other side of World, looped and held safe in the giant circle of turtles, elephants, sauropods. ∎

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but has lived in Pittsburgh for over twenty years. Her latest books are from opposite ends of the poetry spectrum: Elemental Haiku, containing haiku for the periodic table, and The Sign of the Dragon, an epic fantasy with Chinese elements, winner of the 2021 Elgin Award. She hides her online presence with a cryptically named website (marysoonlee.com) and an equally cryptic Twitter account (@MarySoonLee).

Sumit Roy, a.k.a scorpy, is a self-taught freelance illustrator, graphic designer, and digital artist from Basirhat, India. Sumit work has also appeared in Weird Horror Magazine and other publications around the world. See more of Sumit’s work at his website.

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