Discover more from Raids on the Unspeakable
> … and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way.
He awoke weightless, bound tight by the rope around his waist. The vast world behind him empty but for distant clouds, so he knew without turning; it was always so, had been so long as he could recall. This world his only recollection, nothing before—and of after? Some passersby whispered, others spoke with a feigned certainty. All sought their way in this place where there was nothing to do but climb.
Untying himself from the rung upon which he had slept, he looked ahead of him; an endless succession of identical rungs trailed over the horizon far above. Few variations in this almost nauseating pattern; here and there a broken rung, scarce enough still to maintain the illusion of infinity. Worse perhaps were those frayed ropes dancing in the wind, signs left by the fallen.
He started to climb, one hand over the other and his feet followed suit. Mindlessly he climbed, eyes blind to the patterns repeating beyond him; even to the rungs themselves, though he pulled himself upward by them. Some minutes passed, an estimate of little import in this place. His hand encounter something unexpected on the rung above. Looking up—his hand touched a knot tied by one long dead.
Some such knots were weathered, some seemingly ancient gestured at an age beyond what even the oldest thought possible; here was a perfect specimen. The end of this one was clear. Some were taken in their slumber by those falling from above, others by their own hand. This was of the latter, the condition showed doubtless that this death had been by ropework. Fumbling briefly, he undid the knot and fastened it around his waist. It never hurt to have a spare, especially one in such fine condition.
He looked now to his left and right, tracing an infinity extended on either side. A game of chance, whether to climb here or there; it made no difference but still there were superstitions. Each held fast to a pattern devised for this purpose, a dance designed to avoid those that fell from on high. There was nothing one could do if another fell in the night, whether by rope decayed or faulty ropework; only fate could intervene, some whispered nightly praying that they not be struck.
Two nights ago he had moved here from that two over, in another he would move again another four; then two in the opposite direction the night after. Some had patterns devised by mathematical formulae, others chose at random; some few simply remained in the line on which they had first found themselves. These last were the rarest sort; it seemed all preferred at least pretend themselves effective.
He himself had no specific method, ever saw only a few steps ahead. He knew where he was now, where he had been and where he was going. For him the way was simple: one hand over the other and the feet which follow.
It had been a long time since he had seen any others, but having lived forever in this place such was hardly felt as a loss. There were those that preferred to travel together, who had perhaps prior stopped to converse and soon found themselves somehow reliant upon this sociality. That had never been for him, he had never tarried long enough to grow used to another voice; nor even was his own familiar.
The only few he had seen—of these he thought involuntarily now of the most recent. Even in daylight the shape still struck him sharp, a thorn protruding dark from memory. The man moving silently past him tied fast sleeping in the night, a whisper waking him, a voice:
—You are going the wrong way, friend.
He woke softly at this, as if some hypnotist had long ago planted these words in particular. Eyes blinking quietly he cast his sight around him in the gloom, found there a pair of orbs barely lit by starlight from above; then as he adjusted to the dark, saw in outline a warm face, an old man. Then a mouth which spoke again:
—Something in you heard me. Yes, I can always tell—and had you already begun to suspect? You are going the wrong way, they all are.
The boy, for that is what he now knew himself to be, worldlessly as it was; now the boy stared blankly at this man. Something in him was listening, but his was a tongue unfamiliar with discussion; and none more unfamiliar than this: “You are going the wrong way”—but what other way could there be? He had heard before, rumours upon the rungs passed regularly in the absence of any other news; and yet he had never before met as much himself, had fairly thought them a myth.
Now he stared at the face from which this voice had come, felt at first no evidence that this man was not some trick. He had heard that they climbed by night, but there was yet no evidence here of any intent. There was nothing to show which way this man had come, where he was going or how far. Something in his face, a kindness unfamiliar in this place; that alone made him wonder.
There was a truth in these eyes, a certainty unlike any he had encounter prior. All climbed the same way alike, buoyed together by their apparent unity of purpose. This gave their eyes a peculiar gleam, if one looked close enough then they could see it clearly: they were searching for certainty in the other. Yet there was none of this in the man now before him, something unfamiliar ruled his quiet gaze.
—You hear me, I know, even if I was not talking to you; someday perhaps.
—And now? The boy’s voice broke through feebly, a mechanism creaking into action.
—And now I will go my way, as you will yours.
“If I am successfully understood, my listener will have acquired the benefit that his life will have been made significantly more difficult for him than ever before, and therefore I will not urge anyone to accept this invitation.”