I wake. I am standing here, by the water. I am always here by the water. Others come and go. I see them, but they do not see me, not anymore. They do not hear me either, though I hear them. Their voices are faded and quiet, like whispers lost on the wind, here, at the edge of the water.
The ferryman carries them across the river, but I have no coins to pay my way. So here I stay, here, where I have always been. Thousands upon thousands, maybe millions, have come and gone. Casting off the remnants of their past, they hand their coins to the ferryman and cross over. I have no remnants. I have no past. I have no coins. So here I stand, at the edge of the flowing water; the implacable, devouring, dividing river.
This is my world: a wall of rocks at my back, rough and cold. It tears my skin. The Rocks soar above me; they stretch high, across the river, heavy and oppressive. The River flows, endlessly, surging over rocks, through endless tunnels. Cold and unforgiving, the water is ceaseless. I've seen it dash its hapless victims to pieces against the brutal rocks. Nothing lives here. Not even me. I simply exist, here, as I always have, at the edge of the water.
Time has no meaning here. Thousands come and go, in a ceaseless flow, like the River itself, always changing, always the same. Leaving their castoffs behind, speaking of other places, people, worlds that I cannot understand. Their voices are a constant mummer in the background, a hum and din always present. Suddenly, a voice breaks through the noise; a child's voice, "Where does the river go?"the child asks. The voice fades again, like a moment that never was, becoming a part of the hum. It doesn't matter. I heard the question, and now I wonder. Where does the River go?
Thousands come and go as I ponder this. I have no answer. The question gnaws at me; it is my constant companion. It runs through my mind over and over, and constantly pushes me to learn the answer. I realize my world has changed. The Rocks are harsh and brutal still, the River is cold and unforgiving. But the question, the Question has become a part of my world now. The Question lives and breathes inside me. Yet, even though my world has grown to include the Question, I am still here, standing at the edge of the water.
I know no peace. I cannot rest. This Question hounds me, and the knowledge that I may never know the answer only brings me further agony. If only I could see where the River goes! But how? I cannot swim; and even if I could I would be dashed and broken against the Rocks. It is hopeless. I will never know. But I MUST know! The Question demands an answer! I shake my head in frustration. I lift my eyes and I see the ferryman cross the river, safe on his craft. If only I had such a craft. I see the others, they throw down their remnants, pay their coins, and board the craft. Their remnants? I look around me, here, at the edge of the water. I see the things the others have cast off. I see that maybe, maybe there is a way. I start to dig through the remnants that have piled up here. The treasures, the scraps, the flowers left behind over the countless ages. Nothing has broken, or rusted, or molded. Everything is as pristine now as it was the moment it was discarded. I search for what I need. I am moving by instinct, choosing this, and rejecting that, for reasons I know not.
Thousands cross the rivers blackened depths as I search. Thousands more come and go before I find what I need. And yet, I continue with my search until this too has become a part of my world: the Rocks, the River, the Question, and now, the Search. I have found more than I needed now. Yet still the others come in their thousands. It is my world. Yet the Question drives me, and I must force myself not to search. I begin to build. Thousands more lose the remnants of their past as I build. The Question allows me no rest, hounding me night and day; so, against all reason, I build.
Suddenly, between one breath and the next, it is done! It took forever, and yet, no time at all. Thousands more have paid the ferryman while I built, and yet, it was done in the blink of an eye! I stare in wonder at what I have wrought. It is beautiful, but do I dare? Will it hold? Will I be dashed against the walls for my hubris? I am afraid, but the Question still drives me, here, at the water's edge.
I slowly, lovingly, gently place my craft into the water. I have to hold tight or the River will pull her away. She floats! She balances on the water as I designed her to! Suddenly, the River surges, as though deliberately trying to tear my precious craft from my grasp. I cling to her, she who is my salvation. I cannot hold her! The river is pulling her away! She starts to slip from my fingers and I lunge forward. I have her!
NO! Wait! Go back! The rocks aren't under my feet! I look back; it's too late! We are spinning, my craft and I. I manage to pull myself aboard my craft, but I am afraid. I scramble to the center of my salvation as we are thrown about. I am paralyzed with terror. In my horror, the rushing water seems crazed with jealousy; the River cannot bear that my devotion belongs to another. I can hear the waves crashing against the Rocks in their fury, a cruel laughter as the River tries to tear us apart.
I cling to my precious craft, my damnation. My world, the River, spins and heaves. I can barely breathe; the fear is so strong. The unreasoning horror holds me bound to my craft. The water gentles, cradles my craft and I like a lover after a fight. I am forgiven; I can feel it. I start to breathe again, and my fear slowly retreats. As endless time passes, I am finally able to lift my head.
There is no light here. Yet, I can see. I look behind me, but the ferryman and his craft are gone from my sight. There are no others here. I cannot hear the voices of the souls; the whispers lost on the wind are gone. It is so quiet. I have been thrown into one of the many tunnels the never ending River travels down. The blackness is as soft as velvet, but the Rocks remain, harsh beyond it. The River is still deep and fathomless, harsh and merciless, soft and forgiving. My craft still holds me steady, carrying me along the River, strong and sure. The Question still drives me, still hounding my waking thoughts and mocking my dreams. My world is still the same. My world is safe; I am safe.
I huddle on my craft and find comfort in the ever flowing water. The Rocks move past; they change as we drift along. The endless series of tunnels come and go. They are all different, and each the same. I hardly see them any more. This craft, in turn my damnation and my salvation; the River, cold, unforgiving, merciful and comforting; the Rocks, harsh and brutal, constant, present; the Question, driving, relentless, hounding. This is my world. All else is nothing. The endless ages pass.
Time loses all meaning. I swear I've passed that rock before. I am truly alone, without even the mummer of the souls. I feel bereft. The only home I have ever known is lost somewhere behind me. Because of this cursed craft. My damnation has dragged me into the middle of this ceaseless River and I cannot get back! I am lost! And I hate. I hate that I am so forgotten. I hate the rocks that mock me, harsh and unforgiving. They are hard and brutal. I remember the way they would scrape the skin of my back as the River pushed at me. The River doesn't care about me! The River tried to kill me! My craft tried to run from me. After I made her so lovingly, she tried to flee! How dare they! All because of the hated Question! The Question...where does the River go? My craft, she was only doing what I made her to do. Maybe the River was only trying to pull me along to show me? Maybe the River was as eager as me to find the answer? The Question drives through me, pierces my hate and forces me to see the path ahead, not the one left behind. The Rocks are still hard, the River still flows, my craft still floats, and the Question still drives. My world is safe, I am safe.
Wait! What was that?? What is it? Is there...?? Yes! There is something there, up ahead! A glow? A glimmer in the dark! There is a light ahead! It is beautiful, a warmth in this coldness. The water picks up speed as we drift towards this light. The cavern begins to brighten, and I cannot bear it! My eyes burn! Tears stream down my face, and my skin blisters! It is too much, too bright, too hot after the cool darkness of the tunnels! I collapse to my side, cradle my head and shade my eyes as best I can. I must endure, the Question demands an answer.
Ages pass and the pain slowly fades. I slowly open my eyes and the burning is bearable. But this cannot be? There is no wall? As far as my eyes can see there is only water! This cavern must be HUGE! I roll slowly onto my back and freeze. The sheer terror is overwhelming! The cavern is gone! There are no rocks above me! There is just an unending emptiness. I collapse into myself, pulling my knees to my chest, and I wrap myself as tight as I can.
A sound slowly penetrates my terror. Someone is screaming, a raw hoarse sound. The screams fade to whimpers as I become aware of the sound. There is no one else here; am I the one making these sound? I am; my throat is burning, torn from the screaming. I begin to calm myself and take stock. My world has changed. The Rocks are gone! But I still have my craft, I can feel her, solid, beneath me. She still drifts along the River, the constant, flowing, ceaseless River. And there, beyond my horror, the Question still hounds me. My world may have changed, but my world is still safe. I am still safe.
I know not how long I have been insensible, but my eyes and skin have healed. There is not a mark of blistering on me. I look behind me, but there is no sign of the tunnel I left. The cavern, the Rocks, are truly gone. Endless water to the right of me, emptiness soars above. I look to my left, and stare. It is an endless field of fire! The flames are brighter than the light in the sky. It hurts to gaze on them. I can feel the heat, and where the fire meets the water, steam rises, hissing, into the emptiness above me. I cringe back on my craft, but I cannot take my eyes off this wonderous, fearful sight. The colours in the fire are like nothing I have ever seen, the reds, oranges, yellows; there are even shades of blue in the flames.
The fire shifts and moves as if alive. I can feel the flames reaching for me. Instinct screams, and fear flares bright. I remember the burning I felt as I entered the light, and I know the fire is worse. The pain would be beyond imagining. I know, too, the acrid smell of the smoke; I know the way it chokes and sears the lungs. I desperately try to steer my craft away from the fire, only to realize I cannot. My craft has no way to guide it! Afraid, I watch the raging flames, but my craft stays true. She holds to the current in the River, and with the question still driving me, my world is safe. I am safe.
As the eons flow past, the field of fire recedes into the distance. I can see the water stretching endlessly in all directions. To my right a form slowly emerges; a bank of fog so thick I cannot see through it. I feel grief hanging in the air. I cannot see the land that must be beyond the fog but I can hear the weeping of those who dwell there. The sorrow is a weight that crushes me to my craft; I cannot breathe! The anguish is beyond anything I have ever felt; the pain of such loss, and longing! It is blinding. Yet, I can feel the smoothness of my craft beneath my hand; I can hear the mummer of the black waters beneath her. The Question is still driving me, even through the heart rending pain. My world is still safe; I am safe.
Slowly, the fog begins to lift, and the wailing begins. A barren plain, void of life, starts to appear. There are only souls wandering this empty desert. So wrapped up in their agony they don't even see each other. I can hear the pain of loss, the longing for what was, the regrets of things not done. I cannot understand the words in the din of those souls. The lamentations screamed here are deafening; I cover my ears but I cannot shut out the pain and woe. I fall to my knees; if only I could block out the sound! But I cannot! The pain is so great. My ears begin to bleed, and still the screams go on! I pound my fists on my craft; she bucks underneath me, and the River splashes against my face, a quick slap to remind me she is there. Suddenly, the Question rages through me. It forces me to endure the pain, and I know my world is still safe. It is enough, I am safe. Time flows in its meaningless pattern, and my craft carries me past the screams. The empty plains retreat from my sight and the river changes its colour. It lightens to silver, and what new fate is this? The water is glowing! Softly, gently, a most beautiful sight! A hill appears on my left. It is forested, lush. The earth is rich, a deep brown I haven't seen before. I watch in amazement as it opens into beautiful plains! There are flowers everywhere. It is so rich, so green; the fields are so welcoming! I see a feast laid out, each seat a place of honour! How lovely! The richest of meals, the wealthiest of tables, I hunger; I can smell the best of wines and I thirst!
I hear a sound, unlike anything I have ever heard before. Laughter. I remember laughter! It pierces me. My heart sings and longing pours through me. I see them! Young and old, all strong, hale, handsome and beautiful! They play together, dancing, singing, and wrestling. They weave, they spin, they feast! They are together, a family! They see me! They call to me! They are waving to me; they want me to join them! This is what I have been searching for! My Question has been answered! The River leads me home! They have come to the water's edge, running to me! They reach for me, and I reach for them. Our fingers brush, barely touching, and then, in a fit of jealousy, the River rips us apart!
NO! I cannot lose them now! They are my family; this is my home! I belong here! But the River is relentless. It wants me all to itself, and it carries me away. My desperation grows as my craft pulls me farther from home. I need to get back to them, but how? I must leave my craft! She has been my salvation, bringing me here, but now, she is my damnation! She carries me away from those I need! It would have been better to have never left my Rocks than to be torn away like this! I cannot bear it! I jump to my feet and dive into the river! If my craft tears me away from them, than I shall swim. I fight the current, but the gleaming waters pull me under. A forgotten story flows through my head, a whisper of silver waters that make you forget.
I panic now. I cannot forget all I have seen. Perhaps I can reach the shore?? I swim for all I am worth, but the River fights me. The current pulls at me, and I remember my hatred. I feel once more the oppressiveness of the Rocks I left, I loathe the craft that tore me from my world, and hate the River that swept me away from all I knew. I surface, gasping, and as the water pours down over me, it washes away that hatred. Hatred? Of what? I cannot remember. And the River embraces me again; it pulls me under. I fight it until my lungs burn, and I remember the burning of the light as the caves left me. I rise again, and the sun blinds me once more; as I blink the water out of my eyes, I cannot remember why I fear the light hurting. Why do I feel blisters? They are soothed by the water as the River washes them away. No! I cannot forget! I need to remember. I cannot reach the shore and despair wells up. I hear once again the cries of regret, the screams of such sorrow. I feel the weight of fog as thick as water and heavy as grief. Air brushes my face; the fog has lifted and I can breathe again. The pain has fallen from my chest. Pain? Why was I hurt?
NO! I cannot lose anymore! I look for my craft, but she has been pulled by the current. She is out of my reach; I strain for her, and hear the cries behind me, the voices call me. They beg me to stay, but as I swim for my craft they fade and are gone. Who were they? I cannot remember, and it doesn't matter. I need to reach my precious craft, she is my salvation. She is drifting faster than me, pulled by an unseen hand. The mists obscure her and she is gone. A wave forces me under again. I can feel the River pouring over me, relentless. It touches every part of me. I cannot find the surface. I need the air! I cannot breath! Help me! Please! It is so cold...and dark...I cannot see...hasn't the water always been dark?
I wake. I am standing here, by the water. I am always here by the water. Others come and go. I see them, but they do not see me, not anymore. They do not hear me either, though I hear them. Their voices are faded and quiet, like whispers lost on the wind, here, at the edge of the water. The ferryman carries them across the river, but I have no coins. So here I stay, here, where I have always been.