I don't know how long I have been in this cold and dark and rain. I walk a flat grid of streets that recede into the four directions, but direction does not matter here. Sidewalks line the streets, but only the poles of dim streetlights are there. Buildings stand behind the sidewalks, and are all alike,
six stories high, made of dark brick, and shut tight. The upper stories have windows, but they are dark, closed, and there is no way up. There are some doors, but closed, locked. Doors are good to huddle in, to keep at least partly out of the drizzle which falls here the constant cold hiss. If I pick a direction and walk, I can count the streets passed, as if the count or the time walking matter at all. The scene will not vary except for the few piles of soggy trash.
I don't know why I am here. The buildings bar entry, and the streets lead away, but only to the same sameness. I see the drizzle drift through the glow of the streetlights, see that glow faint on the dark, wet brick, on the pavement. Can there be another place? There might, there must be another place, and what would that be like? Blankness answers me. A street must lead to it, and what would such a street be like? Blankness answers that, too. I look around. There is only to stay here, or go on this quest as dim as a streetlight, but it is all I have. Choose a direction, yes that one, though any other direction seems as good, or as bad. Is this better than aimless wandering? Now there will be an eon of walking, a universe of walking.
In the dim light, a wall comes up in front of me. A building? I had not been paying attention. Here's something new a street end a thing I had never seen before: two opposing buildings are joined by a brick wall that spans the street. Only this street? I backtrack, run left around the corner, left at the next corner, and up the next street - stopped again. Backtrack, turn left, turn left. Again, again count the number of streets closed off. Soon, I am walking along all the joined buildings, and only glancing to the left at each street-cross to note the wall, and up the count. What is on the other side? Anything? For that matter, what is inside all these buildings?
Later, I find there is no change in this change. Surprise and hope of something anything have lapsed into familiar monotony: walking and counting streets. Some time after my count reaches five figures, a part of me urging a turnaround wins out, and I count back to my starting point, looking to my right. Going on from there, there are more street-ends, hundreds more, thousands more, until one looks different. It is faint, but everything is faint here. For the first time since I began this diversion, I turn in for a closer look. Odd, how I ran when I first found these new walls, but now my walk is slow. In this wall is something like a window or a door, but not shut. A hole! I look around. So many doors had been locked against me that I had ceased to try them. So many windows had been dark that I no longer looked up much. The hole is darker inside than out here. I go through.
The hole is tight, and the bricks of it are rough, but I push into a large space. Dim light comes in past the hole, thinly like the drizzle. Drizzle it is dry here, like the back of a doorway. I like that inside, inside! An overhead wall is here in place of a drizzling sky. There is trash here, but not soggy. The feel of it is new, also the sound of it when stepped on. There are stacks and piles of things here, and what are they? I take time to dry out and to handle things, look at things, but I don't know what they are.
In a corner, the floor rises like curbs set back on top of curbs. I step up on them through a very large hole in the overhead wall, and I find that the overhead wall becomes the street or sidewalk of another space. I find more curb-stacks and go on up, counting as I go. The fifth space has a little light again, coming down the curbs, and the sixth has so much more behind a closed door. Locked? I try the knob. It opens! It closes the light is more than open eyes can bear.
Later, the light behind the door dims, so I open it again and step out. I'm on a street again, but the buildings here are different from each other, and there are spaces empty, and filled with green stuff. I see that the light is coming from the sky, from a spot still bright. I stand at the door for a long time looking around, as this sky-light fades, and the streetlights come on, very bright. Later, the great light comes into the sky again, but my eyes do not pain me this time. Here it is, another place.
I pick a direction and begin a street-count as before, an old habit by now. There is much to see and wonder at, the green stuff, white stuff in the sky, the non-flatness of this place. It all competes with count and direction, and then I see something more unexpected than another place people like me! I stand a long time looking at them move along distant streets. I go that way too. When near, I ask where this is. They say, the City. None of them know about the dark place, but they know this place well. I learn too, by many questions, and I pay for the answers with long looks and shaking heads. I don't care, needing to learn about this new place, and bursting with new knowledge. Later, I think back to my building, my hole. Oh! I talked too much, didn't pay attention, and now what's the direction or the street-count back? Lost again.
No one cares about my progress out of the dark place, or my restlessness. They have been here a long time, and go about their routines. They say I need one too. People tell me that life is good here, and I thought so too at first, but I sense as time presses flat the memory of weeks, months, and years, that life is little better than before. Is this really what I went to find? There have been so many errands, so much running around in places where inside seemed to fold into outside. Sometimes, I wish I had a doorway to sit in, but here doorways are for slamming through on the way to somewhere. A little rest is mine, however, at the head end of this trench I've found. It's maybe forty feet wide and deep. The sides and bottom of it are made of the native dirt, loose, sandy, and reddish. A spring comes up just below me, the water pours out clear and flows out of sight with the trench. This water takes up no stain or color from the soil, and does not look like ordinary water. I want to be with it, flowing away from here unmuddied. I'm about to go down to it when a voice not heard with my ears, tells me that it is not time yet. I walk away, still lost.
Later, I'm driving around in my car with my best friend, and thinking about maps. The dark place, the land of no differences, did not need them. We could use one here, but none are available. Is it so we won't find our way out of the City? We can't get an answer to that. The streets are not marked. We navigate by rumor, by trying streets, one by one. We have heard about a highway that might take us west, and out of the City. West we're told vague rumors also of prairies and mountains. Empty places and big hills, they say, and why would we want to go there? The terms are little more than empty words, for we have met no one who has been to either, and most tell us we'll never see them. No one knows how far away the highway is, or if it's to the north or south no surprise there. We try to the south, but most streets here are short, dead-ended, or make loops back to the same area. Progress is slow and unsteady.
So here we are, cruising down a residential street. The pavement is pot-holed and strewn with trash. The houses are small, in need of paint, shingles, and repair in general. The yards have as much trash as grass, and are decked with broken appliances and rusty cars. Few people are around, and I think they got out a long time ago, or have given up. We've seen too many neighborhoods like this. I feel hemmed in. The yards and houses behind the ones that front on this street are strangely difficult to see. The next streets over are not visible at all. It must be the lay of the land - or is it? We reach the usual dead-end and turn around to go back, but now I'm scanning the far distance, the view having opened up as we top a hill. There it is a street on pillars, far away could it be the highway? We may need hours or days to reach it.
Patience is ours from long practice, but this drives us into going too fast. The thing grows to our approach, and we move to the west, looking for a way up to it, thinking of driving freely up there. After a long time, we see a ramp going up, and we ascend it eagerly. What's this?! A huge block of concrete closes off the top of the ramp. We roll to a stop and stare at the obstacle, now knowing what to do, for the car can't get by. After a little while, a man walks past us and the block, and without a word, proceeds down the high way. What's the point? On foot on a highway? In a car on these tedious streets?? It makes no sense. There is nothing to do but to back down the ramp. However, I wonder have we missed something?
I stop the car and get out. There's not a building in sight! Looking around, there's just me, the car, trees, empty meadows, and this road. I'm told that's what a street is outside the City. Also the prairie is near the meadows are little pieces of it. I am drawn to open spaces on this long journey, but the locals do not press on to them, for they are content to be here where life is so much better than in the City proper. I'm half inclined to throw in with them. There is something else my friend is gone. There were more, many more, ramps up to the highway all blocked. We moved west, finding work and always looking for a way up. The right direction, however, was not enough for him, as he became convinced that access was certain at the highway's eastern end. One day, he went that way, on his own. Some time after that, the City thinned, and I left the highway behind, now lost in this countryside.
This road lies along a creek that is the border of the prairie, and I can just see it past the trees on its banks. There is no City there, just emptiness people tell me about it, but they abhor it. For the same reason, I want to go. I was told that the creek could be forded here where I've stopped, but there is no way over by car. The bottomland is disturbed, with dark dirt thrown up in great piles. Between them, the ground is so soft that the car would likely sink to the axles. On the far side of the creek is a bank of dirt as tall as I am, and beyond that, a dense treeline. I've been up and down this road, and no other place looks better. Money and gas are almost gone, but as usual, not the bad information. I remember another obstacle the car could not pass, and
yes, we could have, should have, followed that pedestrian. There's nothing to do for it I take my hand off the fender, and walk toward the creek. It's easy! I glide between heaps of dirt, expecting a boot to be sucked off in the mud, but leave hardly an impression. The creek water is very clear, not muddy at all. Stepping over, I don't see my own reflection. I climb the far bank and enter the trees without looking back. A few yards further, the trees end and there is prairie to the horizon. This is my exit what I had walked so far to find.
Walking until nightfall, I stop and turn around, to see a smudge of light on the whole eastern horizon the City. I recall the people there, the few times they were good to me, the many times they cheated me, lied to me, or gave me bad directions. I hated the City when I was in it, but I had to go through it to be here, so the bad things no longer matter, not even the loss of my car. I shout, "I forgive you all!" No one can hear me, but it is important to say it.
I walk for days across the prairie, enjoying the emptiness, the openness, the sunshine too, soft and cool, seen only rarely in the City's grey skies. Now something appears in that sunlight to bring me up short a town. It looks too small to be oppressive or to get lost in. I walk directly from the prairie into an alley, and the other end puts me on a sidewalk of the town's only street. Set into this street, just past the curb, are steel tracks. To the right is a streetcar, with a few people stepping on. Does it go west? I begin to walk toward it, but before the distance is closed, the streetcar jolts forward. By the time it passes me, it is going too fast for me to get on. However, before I can decide that I've been left behind, the streetcar stops several yards past. Arms are waving from the windows, and a couple steps onto the rear platform to beckon to me. "Come on!" they say. I run, knowing the streetcar will take me us all the way to the mountains.
Time and prairie go by. The rails winding off east and west carry the eye far away, otherwise there is little to see except an occasional tree. We are all far from anything we have known, but we have time to talk. Most everyone on the streetcar came out of the City, some much as I had. Some had also been in the dark place, but we had never met. It must have been even larger than I knew. In time, and by whatever means we had all wandered into the prairie, found a town, and boarded the streetcar. We know there is no going back. As we go on, there are more little towns, and people come on board by ones and twos.
One man who came on after me had a different story, not of the City. He began in a grand palace that had held him, and others, as long as anyone knew. It was made up of rooms without number, hallways and entryways, but no doors or windows no way out. Walls, floors and ceilings, everything, was made of grey marble, polished and beautiful, hard and cold. His life was taken up in wandering through rooms and halls and engaging in endless, pointless conversations and disputations with the many others who lived there. He tired of it all, even of the luxury, and began to imagine a different place. He peeked for it behind tapestries, under carpets, poked and explored everywhere. Long wandering brought him up against a wall beyond he could find no hall or further room. He traced out its extent, its limit to movement. No one, however, would believe him, but they only called his idea crazy, and him crazier. "Just another wall," they said, for in this place, no one cared to concede a point, and much less the line of a wall. Thus, he was left alone a lot, and he took up living in rooms next to his wall. In a fit of frustration, maybe boredom, he lifted a small sculpture off a shelf, and threw it at this final wall. He expected it to shatter, but it disappeared into the wall! How odd. He tried another, and another - the whole shelf. Touching the wall now, it felt a little less hard and cold. A difference! He proceeded to slip into unoccupied rooms and to take any such objects. Suites and whole districts were emptied. He hurled now out of curiosity, later in fascination as the wall came to be less substantial. A light began to shine through it. Things took shape beyond it, but he could not understand them an uneven floor covered with green stuff, and over it all was blue with drifting white things and a great light. The wall dissolved until he was able to step through. Looking back, he saw only prairie.
Hills are in the west now, and later mountains rise behind them. We all stand, taking turns at the forward windows. The motorman tells us the end of the streetcar line is near, and that the far country we seek is over the mountains. I thought this was the far country, but no, he says, the prairie is only the border of it, it is past the mountains. Just past the foothills, we stop at the final town, and visit the shops. Perhaps there is something we will need, but most of the wares are just junk, and we have little money. We leave. The trail into the mountains is next. It leads us off the far side of the town, up and across a slope of stones and brush. I expect the walking to be difficult, but it is light, like crossing the creek. My boots hardly seem to touch the ground. The town falls behind, is lost to view. As we move on, higher into the hills, our trail converges with others, and once in a while, we meet up with other groups. The mountains call us.
The trail makes a circuit around the rim of a huge hole it must be half a mile across. The bottom is lost in darkness, the last we will ever see, I think. People are taking off their packs and pitching them in. Other burdens go in too, the last of my money and other few things. Lighter now, we go on up. Our Destination must be near, for only bare rocks and sky are left to us. Our trail then leads us into a narrow ravine and we follow it to the edge of a flood of water. Some stop to ponder can we go on? There is no more trail. I look at the water, so clear and colorless. I know this water, for it is our trail. We wade up the flood for miles, the flowing water neither cold nor an impediment. At last, the ravine narrows to a sluice of rock, the water pouring from a small hole in a wall of rock. Up we get, and everyone goes through the hole. My turn is last, and I crawl to the top, glad it's not slippery. Into this second hole I go. It's about as long as I am tall, and fingers of rock hold me back, catching my clothes, these last of my possessions. I inch forward enough to see the stream coming at me across a green expanse of parkland. I can not pull forward at all now, but strong Hands grasp mine from the other side. My clothes rip but I'm through! Saved!! I'm thoroughly wet, sodden but whose Hands pulled me? I hear the words, "Welcome Home!" as I turn to see
Later. The mountains are far behind. Life is in this lake of warm water, deep as my chest, as my heart. The water of it is clear and colorless, like the creek, like the spring, like the sluice. It is almost not there. I push off from the shore, where so many of my friends enjoy the day. I see the far shore, where there are more people I know, but there is no hurry to be there. I will live on the shore, and in this water forever.