Here, there be dragons, is the old saying. Explores and travelers used it as a warning of going too far. Back then, there was fear and loathing to be found beyond the end of the world.
It was two days before Christmas, when I was seventeen, that I first traveled past the edge of the world. We were moving back from the North Carolina, and had finally made it across the snow-swept polar-cap cold wastes of what was once, centuries ago, called the Great American Desert, but is now called the midwest, through the city one mile high. My parents had purchased a home seven miles to the east of a small township called Parker. We were almost home.
Along the last road, along the second to last mile, there stands a hill. One of those rollercoaster types with sheer drops on either side. I was driving when my sister, grandmother, and I crested it. Motley Crue's Home Sweet Home was playing on the tape deck, and now, I realize how vaguely poetic, and a-lot-bit cliche, that was. It was early evening, a few hours past nightfall.
What we saw at the top of that hill was darkness. An expanse of utter blackness, peppered with just a few lone monkey lights as far as one could see in any direction, before touching the horizon, and giving way to the vastness of the cosmos. This was the badlands. My sister and I drew sharp breaths at what we saw, which caught in our throats as we descended the hill.
"We've just passed the edge of the world," I said. There was genuine reverence in my voice. "They say there are dragons out here."
"I believe you," my sister said. My grandmother, who had been napping, or pretending to whilst her grandson played his rock and/or roll music, chuckled softly.
Years and lifetimes later, that place around the dawn edge of the world has become a little more populated, though it's still rustic. The hill stands almost as a silent sentry to what lies beyond. My sister told me once she never saw the dragons I spoke of, but to this day, has no doubts they're out there.
My parents eventually moved further and further east. Their Kashmir was far beyond the edge of the world, into the Rub 'al Khali of the badlands of eastern Colorado. They never feared the dragons. After all, my father has probably stared them down. Of course, once, long ago, my daughter and I had a dragon for a pet, but that's another story.
Once my mother died, the Rub 'al Khali, so far past the dawn edge of the world, was no longer Kashmir for my father. I helped him return to the world. These days, he lives in one of the western buroughs of the greater metroplex.
In the kingdoms of Islam, Morocco represents the edge of their world, or it did once upon a time. It was called the land furthest to the west. The edge of the world.
My Kashmir is a sort of Morocco, but an acquaintance once told me we have our own Africas. An odd parallel to Kashmir being different for everyone. The township live in is the last settlement before the Roof of the World. The Small Tunnels, fifteen miles down valley, at the eastern edge of our Sahel, represent the twilight edge of the world.
"What's beyond the edge of the world?" I was once asked.
"Dragons," I said. Whether or not I'm believed these days is another matter entirely. Once upon a time, I was.