The Path

Stable Diffusion

Maybe it really was the other way. No, no. There’s little use in having thoughts like that now. I have to commit, have to keep going.

… Although… if it really was the other way, then with every step I’m just going further and further in the wrong direction. I scrunch my eyes shut in frustration, trying to flush those familiar doubts from the folds of my troubled mind.

Of course, it isn’t that easy. It never is. Just keeps gnawing at my hindbrain, like the sound of mice in the walls. Getting louder, and louder, and louder, until…”FUCK!” I shout into the featureless white void all around me.

“FUCKING SHIT!” I turn around and begin running the other way. My footsteps against the smooth, white walkway do not echo any more than my shouts did. There’s nothing out there for sound to bounce off of, apparently.

It’s also not clear where the light is coming from. It just seems to be everywhere, at a uniformly comfortable brightness. I slow to a jog, then eventually go back to walking. I can’t tell if it makes any difference, as there are no visible reference points to judge speed by. Just me, the walkway, and the void.

I stop, hands on my hips, and catch my breath. Then I lay down flat on my stomach and inch my way to the edge so I can peer underneath it. Still nothing. No pillars supporting it from below. No suspension cables, nothing. How does it stay up?

If I could only find a label somewhere. A logo. “Such-and-Such Construction Company”. Why snatch someone away from their life and stick them here, wherever this is, without leaving clues? What’s the point of it, then?

Feeling rejuvenated, I pick up the pace to a brisk walk. The path ahead narrows to an infinitesimally small point at the horizon. Is it still the horizon if I can’t see the sky? This isn’t the sky, is it? There’s nothing under me. I can’t be in space, there’s air to breathe. I am neither warm nor cold for that matter, but a constant comfortable temperature.

I’ve never seen a cloud here. Nor birds. There’s not even a gradient, everything is evenly lit and the same shade of white. It’s even difficult to make out the path sometimes if I’m not paying attention.

I’ve made the right decision. I have. I feel good about it. Right? I do. Don’t I? I begin to tremble, walking more and more slowly, struggling to prevent what I know is coming. I clench my jaw, grinding my teeth.

“God fucking damnit” I mutter, and turn around. I have to! What if the decision to reverse course was the one that would’ve doomed me? Taking me further and further from the exit, while I’m none the wiser?

This way. THIS way felt right in the first place! It was this way, wasn’t it? When I wake up, sometimes it’s easy to lose track of which direction I was heading in. I would say I’m ninety percent sure this is the way I headed when I woke up this morning.

Or...night? There’s no sun or moon, it could be three AM right now for all I know. But then, I’d feel it, wouldn’t I? The human body has some sense of the day/​night cycle, doesn’t it? I should’ve kept track.

The very minute I wound up here, I should’ve made a point to recall what time it was before. I could’, wait. Without a watch or something, there’s still no way I could’ve...No. It wouldn’t have made any difference.

Nothing makes any difference. There is no difference here! Just this unbearably bland white nothingness. Is it nothing? Or everything? I forget. I think white light is all the colors of light combined, but it’s the opposite for pigment.

I wonder if I’ve passed the starting point… if I can even call it that. Whatever point along this path that I first woke up at. Then again, if it goes on forever in both directions, there is no true center. I wish I had something, anything to leave as a milestone...if I had clothing, I could take off a sock or whatever and leave it there.

That way I’d know how far I’ve come. At least, how far from that point. I couldn’t measure travel time in days, but I could measure it in sleeps. Four sleeps away from the sock. Five sleeps. Six. But whoever did this to me must’ve thought of that.

Of course. Of course they thought of it. That’s why they didn’t let me keep my clothes. That’s why there are no pillars, otherwise I could count them to measure distance. I just have to keep going in this direction. I never should’ve doubted myself.

What’s the use of doubt when there are only two directions I could choose? When neither direction has anything to recommend it over the other? Can they even really be called different directions, when nothing distinguishes one from the other?

That nagging little voice chimes in like it always does. Saying the same damn thing as always, too. “There is no exit.” Shut up. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP you little fuck. You think I haven’t considered that? I’ve done nothing BUT consider it.

There’s no wind, of course. That would create a meaningful difference between the two directions. If the wind blew parallel to the path, then in one direction I’d have to walk against the wind, where in the other direction I could walk with it.

That would make the decision easier, so of course there’s no wind. Of course. If it blew perpendicular to the path, it would feel different going one way versus going the other. I can’t say exactly why, but I feel certain that would undermine whatever all of this is meant to achieve.

That’s all I can do. Notice stuff like that, and try to model this situation in my mind. To figure out from what little there is to go on who might’ve put me here, and why. There’s just so precious little to work with. White path. White void. Me.

I don’t have any enemies...that I know of. None that could afford to build something like this, certainly. I try to shit again, in hopes I could at least leave an identifiable mark that way. Nothing. I can’t piss either.

I do gradually get hungry and thirsty as I grow more and more tired. But every time I lay down on the path and fall asleep, when I wake up my hunger is gone. My thirst is gone. Am I I starting over at the same position every time I wake up?

That can’t be. It can’t. But if it were true, how would I know? How could I tell the difference? God damnit. Even Sisyphus knew which direction to go. At least he knew he had to go up the mountain rather than down it! I’d gladly push his boulder at this point, just to have something to do.

Am I being fed while asleep? I don’t see how. If I’m being drugged, there are no needle marks anywhere on my body to indicate it. I’ve thought many times that it must be a dream, but it’s too vivid. I’ve only rarely had dreams this vivid, and even then, they never lasted so long.

Despite my every effort not to, as I walk, I imagine the exit receding further and further into the distance behind me. Anxiety swells within me until finally overflowing. I again curse loudly, turn on my heel, and head in the other direction.

It could be this way! It could. What was my reasoning for going the other way in the first place? I didn’t have any. If it’s actually this way, I’ve only wasted countless hours going in the wrong fucking direction!

It was like this before, wasn’t it? Even before I woke up here. Any time I made a choice, I unavoidably destroyed all the other possible lives I might’ve lived. Rather than dwell on it, I instead wonder why it is I remember having a life before this.

I’m in Hell, aren’t I? It can’t be a simulation or I’d have no memory of a life before waking up here. But this isn’t the Hell I’ve read about. There’s no fire here. Neither is it agonizingly cold, as some conceptions of Hell in other religions are described.

There are no wicked little goblins tormenting me with red hot pokers, either. The only one tormenting me is myself. If I could just… choose! Just like that, all at once. If I could fully commit to one direction and never look back…

Maybe I was close to the exit. I might’ve been! Maybe I only had another hour of walking to go before finally reaching the only way out of here, just to turn around and head in the wrong direction! Based on what? Fear. Uncertainty. Those two things are closely related, I think.

Did aliens do this? I never believed in aliens. Then again, I never believed in a white void with an endless walkway either. Assuming it is endless, I mean. For all I know there are exits at both ends, and my dumb ass will never reach either just because I can’t decide.

I wish there were somebody else. If there were two of us, we could each go off in our own direction and I’d feel some degree of solace knowing at least one of us would make it. Unless there really are no exits.

Give me SOME indication, you bastard! Or… bastards? I don’t know. However frantically I shout demands and threats into the void, I receive only silence in reply. How like the silent indifference of a universe which owes us no explanation.

I stop in place and sit down, cross-legged, to think. But what good will that do? What is there to think about which I haven’t already considered? Is there still hope that some crucial pattern in all of this will become apparent, which I’ve so far overlooked?

I stay like that for a few minutes. I’d estimate, anyway. There are no reference points for the passage of time either, except for how many times I’ve slept… though I soon realize I’ve lost count. In the absence of external reference, in an unchanging environment, what distinguishes an instant from an eternity?

How similar zero is to infinity. One infinitely small, the other infinitely large. Each of them boundless, but in different respects. What trouble the human brain has when it strives to fully grasp infinity! Evolved only to deal with the relatively narrow range of sizes, speeds, temperatures, volumes and quantities found on Earth’s surface.

No wonder you get such bizarre, erratic results if any value in a computer program is made infinite. No wonder human behavior becomes so erratic as a result of belief in an eternity of paradise or punishment after death.

If the stakes are infinitely high, what act will you not commit to avoid torture of infinite duration? What bonds of loyalty will you not forsake to instead pass into eternal bliss? Your own family? Your country? All of humanity?

What do any of those matter, being that they are all finite? Making them vanishingly insignificant next to the infinities of Heaven and Hell. What amount of suffering will you not endure, when no matter how severe, it is nothing compared to an infinite Hell? What amount of Earthly pleasures will you not sacrifice, when they are nothing next to an infinite Heaven?

It makes some sense to me of why somebody would hijack an airplane full of innocent people and fly it into a skyscraper. Or strap explosives to their body and detonate them at a crowded wedding, or throw their gay children onto the street.

Computers fall apart at the seams when infinity is introduced, and the human brain is no exception. What other outcome can possibly occur when the finite comes into contact with the infinite, except insanity?

It doesn’t even have to be real. The convincing illusion of infinity has the same effect. Whether it’s the carrot and stick, threat and bribe, good cop/​bad cop dynamic of an eternal afterlife designed to motivate belief and deter doubt...or just a featureless white walkway.

There’s an exit at both ends. I can’t say why, but I feel sure of it. Wouldn’t that beat all? I bet they’re no more than ten miles apart, too. That has to be it. It has to be! That’s the punchline of all this. Put a rat in a maze and it explores until it finds the exit. Put a human on a walkway, and…

The rat is stronger though, in some respects. It has a simpler mind which does not become paralyzed by choice. That is a specifically human frailty, like suicidality. There is no rat, bird, spider or turtle which ever needed to be persuaded to go on living.

Neither was there ever any animal, besides humans, that could be trapped this way… in a cage with no walls. Is there any more accurate descriptor of human society? I absolutely hated my job, yet even though I could’ve walked out the front door and never returned, I instead remained.

I hate cities, yet I lived in one. I hated my marriage, yet I kept trying to make it work. Even my country, surrounded by invisible borders, is a cage with no walls. Just a series of cages, economic and social, with no walls. Nested one inside the other, like Russian dolls.

What made me stay in those cages? In every case, psychological frailties specific to humans. The unique set of weaknesses that come with high intelligence, which the rest of the animal kingdom is in many ways better off without.

A rat wouldn’t be sitting here. It wouldn’t have reversed course countless times, agonizing over the possibility that the exit is in the other direction. Or that there are two exits, or none. It would just pick a direction and go.

Yet even knowing this, I cannot do the same. I stand up, begin walking, then stop after just a few steps. What if the path only extends to infinity in one direction? What if the exit was only a few miles away from me in the other direction when I first woke up here?

I tug at my hair, whimpering quietly. Pacing back and forth, hunched over, mind racing. I have to be like the rat. Don’t I? Be like the rat! Don’t think about it, just do it! Action without thought, pure and simple. Just pick a direction at random, and…

...I can’t. Not without knowing. A rodent with a brain the size of a pea can do something that’s impossible for me. But then, as I dwell on it, I realize that I can do something that’s impossible for any other animal.

Down is the only direction I haven’t tried yet. It makes such perfect sense, but that didn’t stop me from having second thoughts while I slide my body over the edge, gripping onto it with my fingers as I feel my legs dangle freely below.

Panic grips me. What am I doing? This is insane. But what if it’s the right answer? This whole situation is insane, maybe the solution is too. That reasoning does nothing to placate whatever primal section in my brain is responsible for my self-preservation instinct.

It’s going off like a police siren now, fighting my every effort to loosen my grip on the edge of the walkway. “No you don’t!” it says. “You must live!” Could it be that whoever or whatever put me here assumed I wouldn’t do this? Otherwise it would’ve been a closed in corridor, surely?

Or maybe they’re counting on it. Only one way to find out. I gulp, close my eyes, and release the edge. The air howls in my ear as it rushes past, my body tumbling end over end as I plummet through the empty white abyss.

I glimpse something below, rapidly growing larger as I fall towards it. The floor? Was I just inside some massive chamber this entire time? No, it’s...haha, it can’t be. It can’t be! It’s another walkway. I maneuver like a skydiver, best I can, to avoid it.

I watch in astonishment as it whips by, receding above me until I can no longer see it. How many walkways can there be? Unless… A new possibility dawns on me, hair matted against my scalp by the wind. What if that was the same walkway?

As if in confirmation, I see another identical walkway rushing up from beneath me. Again, it whips past while I struggle to fathom what it all means. There can’t just be infinite walkways. It has to be the same one, right?

But then if they are identical in every respect, what distinguishes those two possibilities from each other? Useless thoughts to have right now. I assumed when I let go that I’d either fall forever or hit the ground and die. Isn’t this more promising?

I have to land on one of those walkways however. How do I do that safely? Will it even hurt? Hunger has never been a problem. Thirst has never been a problem either. Can I even be injured here?

The answer arrives in an abrupt, sickening splat when I maneuver myself into the latest walkway to rush up at me out of the endless white nothingness below. My mind goes blank as every bone in my body shatters, and a mixture of blood and teeth spew forth from my mouth.

I wheeze, bloody bubbles forming around my lips in the process. Everything’s hazy. Why? Why did I do this? I could have just chosen a direction. I grasp feebly at the cold, hard white walkway. Pulling my broken body along like a snail, movement lubricated by the pool of blood under me.

I cough, splattering the formerly pristine white surface ahead of me with yet more blood. Why didn’t I think to mark it with blood before? I feel light headed. Fuck me, I’ve done it now haven’t I. This is it. I could have picked a direction, but I had to know.

Up ahead I can just barely make something out. A pointed white archway with a door in it. The blinking, illuminated sign just above reads “Exit”. Of course. Of course it would be like this! Despite the pain, I throw back my head and laugh, blood bubbling up from my lungs.

The grand punchline. What all of this was designed for. It had to be. All of that fruitless agonizing, just so that I could wind up here, sucking in my last few breaths only a few feet from salvation.

My vision begins to blur. I inch closer and closer to accepting it. But something within me stirs. No, I think. NO! I don’t accept it. I won’t die before at least reaching my reward. If today is the day that my story ends, I want to at least escape first.

Whimpering with each small movement of my broken body, I drag myself painstakingly towards the doorway. Fragmented bones crackling and popping inside of my mangled body as it slides along the path, movement lubricated by the blood beneath me like a slug.

Only a few feet. But in this condition it felt as indeterminately long as the path ever did. I at last reached the frame, propping myself up against it and vomiting blood. Wiping it out of my eyes, I desperately pulled myself up high enough to reach the knob.

Upon turning it, the door swings open and I collapse forward. When I pick myself up, the door is gone. Extending beneath me to the horizon in every direction is a flat, featureless plane.

  1. ^

    More of my fiction can be read here, should you desire it.