The King told her to “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop”, so that’s exactly what she did. Or tried to do. But at the time she didn’t realize it was a maze, and also a spiral. She thought it was just a straight line, a circle, or a diamond. Any kind of shape at all that was just one path. One dimension. Where you couldn’t get lost tracing its straightforward line. Where there were only two directions: forward and backward. Ahead and behind. This way and that. She didn’t realize it was a lush green maze. A beautiful spiraling staircase. She didn’t realize that it wasn’t all lush and green either though. She didn’t know that in some places the roses were dying. That in others people had never smelled or heard of a rose before. And in others still, that they were illegal for their thorns. She thought that when the King said “end” and “stop” that there would only be one End, one Stop. But there were many Ends, which meant many Beginnings too. And there were many Stops along the way. Some of those stops actually were to smell the roses, but the majority of them were not.
She stopped for many things. Some she wanted and some she did not. She stopped for sweets and poison, for fond memories and nightmares. She stopped for refreshments, naps and lectures. She stopped to lose some and to win some. To live out a dream and come back down to earth. She stopped for balloons and sailboats and gardens. For bridges, fountains, sculptures and birds nesting in strange places. She stopped for a swim and she stopped to drown. For the Moon and its best friend the Sun and all of Saturn’s moons and rings. To pass a note to a friend, to light a candle and accidentally burn everything to the ground, to proofread, to run away, to apologize. She stopped for ice palaces and stone fortresses. For trolls, witches, beggars, giants, ghosts and wise old men. She stopped for pennies, wishes, bad jokes and sarcasm. For spring and summer, for melting snowmen and baking gingerbread men. She stopped and started so many times that she began to wonder if she was actually a train, or a never-ending book—if it was another End or Beginning that would be coming up next. And then she stopped and realized that they were very much the same thing.
So she turned to the King and stomped her foot, accusing him of trickery. But the King just winked and said to her one of her favorite things in the world:
“The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms.”
(“And you are no exception.”)
And so for now, for a while anyway, she was satisfied with that.