Conversations in art about ecological collapse and our place in the changing world

Conversation 35

The Brick Wall at the End of the Universe
Andrew Pyper

Maudie Murphy liked to ask herself questions.

Why do flowers smell? Where do bugs go in winter? How can anyone be as annoying as my little brother?

But what Maudie liked to ask herself most were the BIG, DEEP questions about the BIGGEST, DEEPEST thing of all: the universe. The stars, the planets, the galaxies. Everything.

What lies beyond the universe? Is it just darkness that goes on and on forever? Is the universe a toy for a super-huge giant? Like a snow globe with trillions of worlds inside it?

These were questions that made her brain tingle.

One night, when her brain was most tingly, Maudie grabbed her flashlight, went outside, and looked up. Maybe, if she squinted hard enough, she could see where the universe ended. She felt like she almost could …

Her eyes fixed on a single star. The longer she watched it, the brighter it glowed. It grew bigger and BIGGER as it fell out of the sky —

— and came right at her!

Maudie ducked as the star z-o-o-m-e-d over her head. So close she could see it wasn’t a star, but a spaceship.

The ship hovered over the end of her yard. A door lifted open and a small figure stood there. Its arms and legs skinny as sticks but its head big as a beach ball.

“Greetings!” the figure said. “My name is Alan! I come from — ”

Crunch! The ship landed on top of her annoying little brother’s swing set.

“Oops,” Alan said.

“You’re an alien,” Maudie said, amazed. “And you just landed on my annoying little brother’s swing set.”

Alan burst into tears. “I’m sorry! I don’t even know what a swing set is! Or a brother! Or annoying! Am I annoying?”

“Well — ”

“I’m the worst pilot on my planet! And now I’ll never get home because I took a wrong turn at the Fornax constellation and I’m out of power!”

Maudie felt terrible. There’s nothing sadder than a weepy extraterrestrial.

“Maybe I can help,” she said.

“Oh, you wouldn’t understand. This ship is incredibly advanced.”

Maudie found a tiny receptacle on the outside of the ship. She pulled a battery out of her flashlight and plugged it in. The ship instantly trembled to life.

“I knew that would work,” Alan mumbled.

“Now could I ask you a favour?”

“Anything!”

“How about a quick run around the solar system?”

“Done!”

Maudie climbed aboard Alan’s ship. Inside it was bright as a summer morning, but smelled of wet, old socks.

“Need to do my laundry,” Alan said. “Anyway … here we go!”

The ship rose straight up like an elevator with rockets glued to the bottom. Maudie watched the moon pass by the window. She held her breath in astonishment. By the time she had to breathe again she was looking at Mars. Then Jupiter (swirly-coloured as a marble), Saturn (the rings!), Uranus (pale as paper), Neptune (blue as the ocean), and finally Pluto, lonely and cold.

“That’s it!” Alan said. “I’ll just turn around and — ”

“Do you know how to get to the end of the universe?”

“Of course I know!” Alan bellowed, and pushed a few buttons on the ship’s control panel. “It’s as far as you can go-ooooo!

They shot into the darkness so fast that Alan’s beach ball head bounced off his bunk bed.

“Look!” Maudie pointed out the window. “A black hole!”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a place where the gravity is so strong not even light can escape it.”

“I knew that,” Alan mumbled.

Maudie figured it would take a long time but within seconds the ship stopped.

“There it is!” Alan announced. “The end of the universe!”

Maudie peered out the window. “It’s … a brick wall!”

“I knew that would be there,” Alan mumbled.

“What’s on the other side?”

“You don’t know?

“Do you?”

“Um, no.”

“Let’s find out!”

Maudie put on one of the spacesuits hanging on the wall and Alan opened the ship’s door. The two of them floated out into the emptiness … drifting … spinning …

FLARRT! Alan smacked against the wall.

But Maudie wasn’t watching him. She was knocking her fist against the bricks until she found one that was a little loose. She scraped away at the mortar until she could fit her fingers in … and pulled.

The brick came out. 

Maudie pushed her hand through the hole. Nothing. And then …

SOMETHING HELD HER HAND ON THE OTHER SIDE!

Maudie pulled her arm back and peered through the hole to find … another girl in a spacesuit floating there. A girl who looked exactly like Maudie!

“It’s me!” the two Maudies said at the same time. “It’s you!”

“Okay,” Alan said, “this is hurting my big head.”

“I think I get it,” Maudie explained. “It’s not a universe — ‘uni’ meaning ‘one’ — but a multiverse — ‘multi’ meaning ‘many’! There’s another universe beyond ours, and one after that, on and on forever!”

“You mean the universe is infinite … because there’s infinite universes?”

“Exactly! Different me’s! Different you’s!

“I knew that,” Alan mumbled.

The two Maudies said goodbye through the hole before the first Maudie replaced the brick. “Time to go home,” she said.

Alan set a course for Earth. They were back in Maudie’s yard before she could finish her tired yawn.

“Thanks for showing me … everything,” Maudie said after stepping off Alan’s ship.

“Of all the swing sets I had to crash onto, I’m glad it was your annoying little brother’s,” Alan said.

She watched as Alan’s ship rose into the sky until it was lost among the other billion freckles of light.

Maudie Murphy still likes to look up into the night sky. And sometimes, if she stares hard enough, she can see the brick wall that lies behind the stars.

Join this conversation
Contact us