At first, he methodically checked off each dimension on his way to the Core. But the closer he got, the faster he slipped through the taffy-like ooze. That and the ever so delicate and random shifting of inner space, revealing in spectacular detail its fractal nature, was more than he could bear. The very definition of dimension lost all meaning in the kaleidoscopic blur of improbable meldings.
Zol-Tar wanted to scream, if only to release the pressure of attempting to comprehend. At some point, he surrendered to the downward pull, the whirl of thoughts no longer attached to things of the outer world. Buffeted about by effusive streamlets, back eddies and cross-currents of misshapen impressions of life, silhouettes distorted as though seen through prism-glass, he flailed arms and legs, desperate for anything substantial to grasp. But it was not to be; he had moved beyond an unseen threshold and now sank into the murk and mire of pure thought.
What were mere thoughts of himself and what was indeed his real nature he was unable to determine. He found this curious to the point of distraction. His soul smeared itself across the entire range of contradictory meanings. He was not this or that. He saw that his self-image was purely arbitray, a product of random choices made in the spirit of the moment, an event causing him to act a certain way. Whether based on feelings and emotions or understandings and beliefs, or a combination thereof, the strands of his personality now showed themslves to be the ephemeral shadows they are. Subsequent to this insight, he abandoned all pretense to individual identity.
His mind a tatters, he drifted further, seeming to float sideways, though, in truth, all sense of direction had long since become muddled and meaningless. Movement had been his only hold on ... reality, but now it too abandoned him. No longer sure he was still descending, he believed -- if such could be said of someone who now suspected everything to be baseless -- that he had finally arrived at the Core, the Center of All Existence.
All was the darkest night. He felt not cold or warmth or the air on his face, or the ground under him, though the very idea of ground had been left behind at the outset. Sound, the merest tremor so diaphanous as to be imagined only, vague and insubstantial, energized his consciousness, reassuring him that he was not indeed dead. However, it had not the usual characteristics of distance. It was not softer further off, it was all here, now, at once. Somehow a thought that seemed his own formed itself -- What is distance?
At this act a glaring shrill light filled the void and a loud shattering noise erupted from the Core. Jagged shards of space propelled themselves in all directions and on each he saw a scene from the story of his life, dynamic and vibrant with color, in relief against the all-consuming curtain of blackness surrounding.
Absorbed to the point of obsession, he barely heard the voice.
Milky smooth it wormed into his consciousness and spoke in a quiet mellifluous tone, "Zol-Tar. Why have you come seeking the beginning? Your mind cannot encompass it, and your life-force will be spent in the effort. You are but a lowly being, not a god."
Zol-Tar flinched. He had thought he was alone, alone in womb of the unconscious, where all differentiation ends. Was he but speaking to himself, expressing his own heart-felt fears?
"No," the voice answered, not quite so sweetly this time. "To encompass the beginning, is to bring an end. It is to be, without knowing."
"But," Zol-Tar faltered. "Must not there be a something that begins?"
"Are you a something now?"
Shredded to pure immaterial thought-energy, Zol-Tar knew that he wasn't, and may never have been, but then, what was he? Did he not partake of the beginning in his own essence? What then is that?
"Your reason, or your delusion. To seek the self in the beginning is to be all in all. Therein lies the paradox."
The screens of his life ceased their chaotic ramblings and spontaneously assembled, all the impossible shapes and sizes meshing in perfect harmony. A jigsaw puzzle dumped on the ground magically landing just right. He could begin anywhere and go in any direction. He determined where. But then, who is this determiner?
In excrutiating detail, the vision of his life curved round him, the entire boundless mind-space enveloping like an eggshell. Nonetheless, as though a plug had been pulled, it revealed its ethereal nature by suddenly draining into the porous background, like water into a sponge. The sea of thought emerged again, an erie bluish-blackness, cloying, demanding. But though shaded by a gossamer veil, he could see tendrils of somber light gyrating within the folds of Mind, like snakes in a feeding frenzy. Sound, that which could not be heard, again reverberated through his being.
Strangely, as he ceased struggling in the mire and emptiness, all sense of fear and vulnerability dropped away into the abyss. Nothing remained, not will nor hope nor desire, with which to struggle. The eye of the storm enwrapped his spirit. A profound pull to surrender to its peace and all-consuming calm pervaded the nerves of his existence, the scaffolding on which life itself is built. To let go, to abandon self, to meld with the Core, almost overpowering, like sweet-smelling incense on a cool summer day. But something within refused, something unknowable and yet so vitally close. At the last instant, he wrenched away. A singular act.
"Zol-Tar," said the voice, calling him from his reverie. "You cannot know the Core. It is the Core that knows you."
An accelerating undertow grabbed him like a giant fist. Reduced to a leaf on a fast moving stream, at the mercy of the vagaries of indifferent currents, he resisted not. Stars came out to fill the void as though a curtain had been raised. Unimaginably distant, they nonetheless focused his sense of place, rendered a perspective, recast the desiccated remnants of his soul into a new psychological orientation.
Shortly -- though time played no part -- he felt the warmth of hands and the sounds of soft caring voices. Opening his eyes he could see familiar faces, smiling, a few crying. Someone in a white smock stood over him, staring at her watch while feeling his pulse. They were all happy.
Zol-Tar, the wayfarer, had turned the corner.