There is an opening. I can see it with my bare eyes, and yet, despite my swollen, blistered feet, I have come no closer. Step after step – how many steps have I taken? Thousands? Tens of thousands? I cannot remember a time where I was not walking. And still, at the end of the corridor, the exit winked like a cat’s slit pupil, as if laughing at me. It had not gone any farther, or come any closer. It stayed precisely where it was, squinting through the light of the corridor, asking me to follow it.
I’m exhausted. My feet have rubbed themselves raw – for a time, I had removed my boots and walked the hall in my socks, if only to amuse myself by the noise of cotton on hardwood, until I had caught the ridge of the underside of my foot sole on a stray nail and, holding back any noises of pain, quickly slid my boots back on. There was no real reason for this, but I didn’t want to make any noise; it was too quiet, and I was far too lonely for it. I wanted to listen for the bustle of people or animals that I may pass. If something or someone was to break through this stillness, I really didn’t want for it to be me. Occasionally I would hear the sound of chalk on blackboard in the classrooms to the right of me, but when I would rush into the room, eager for company, there was nothing. I was thoroughly alone. Normally, these phantom noises would scare me, but I was too lonely to be afraid of encountering anything, alive or not.
But I must walk – there is nothing else to do. The welt from the nail stings with every step, but it was welcome, reminding me that something along this corridor had been different from the rest – one rebel nail uncurling itself from the plank that I had not seen before and not seen since. If there is a nail, there may be a person, or perhaps a stray cat asleep under the lid of an old wooden desk, or a squirrel scratching a path up the doorframe, or maybe an exit. I stared straight into the opening, black, solid as a refusal, and can’t see any of that being true. The opening, without moving or breathing, speaks a ‘no’ out from the dark hole. I am not going anywhere.
On my left side, opposite the door panes of the classrooms, are windows – or, rather, windowpanes, absent of their glass, carving huge holes into the side of the corridor with their modern design. Through the hole of the panes, sunlight seeps through, still, constant. There is no clear time here, not that I can decipher – the sky swims in its blue, permanently cloudless, and the sun hangs held like the hands of a broken clock. Below the window ledge are the tips of pine trees, slipping down into the earth like green slides, outstretching their needled handles; I think about falling, swinging from branch to branch until my sore feet can feel soil again.
Did I really think it would be that easy? I wasn’t sure. I crouch to the floor, my hands clamped tight to the windowsill, and peered over, down into the throng of pine – between their spines, through the dappled green, were thousands of tiny black slits, corridors down through the canopy to an end I could not see. Lifting my head, I match their cat’s eyes to the opening.
It remains exactly as it was: rounded, open, black, winking, as if daring me to jump from this building and slip into another hole, another opening, exactly the same, only this time I am plummeting through needle after needle after green needle, never able to touch the ground – I tear my eyes back to the pine trees, wiggle my toes, feel the crack of clotted blood sticking my sock to my foot sole.
To walk forever through one long corridor, with nothing but my boots and the steps I take within them, only the occasional pad of my bare sock on the floor to keep me company – sad as I was, I had become comfortable with this. I knew, somehow, that if I kept walking, I would die here. I would keep walking. Not long after this, I would start talking to the opening. It’s solid, black ‘no’ would take voice, and I would listen. I would ask it for help, and it would refuse, but I would dance in my boots to the sound of a voice and I would ask again and again, forever. I would take companionship in that gaping hole with nothing past it and nothing within it, and I would die here. The saddest part was that I had to ask myself if I would be able to accept that sort of existence.
No – even if there was no way to tear myself free, I would rather fall forever.