We had just returned from a shapeless journey. We were back from a place that had no distinct barriers, no easily accessible gateways, no signs or guideposts by which to navigate. It was a place as far away as it was possible to conceive of distance, and yet as close as being right where we were, a place as close as never having left at all.
Mother sat in front of me, her legs crossed, her eyes still wide open and full of a kind of thick ancient wisdom that made my bones shiver. I looked into her eyes patiently, knowing that the gaps of silence were simply there to allow for the formation of new messages. I would wait for these new messages to come, as they had come to me so many times already. The air was thick with twilight shadows and the walls seemed to blur into clouds of vapor that danced at the edges of my sight. I could, every now and then, make out the long windows to my left, the slanted wooden roof above me, the dark blue door to my right, all of it in the midst of the vapor that never stopped moving. Most of all, I could only look into Mother’s eyes. They never wavered, never looked away, never blinked, never hesitated in their permanent, solid attention.
“You will have to travel again,” she said, in a voice that was low and rumbling, a voice that slipped sideways in a drunken way and yet seemed full of ancient certainty. “You will have to travel far. You will go through seven different levels. Each level will have its own distinct challenge and you will have to face each challenge. You will move through each of them and you will make your way through all the many obstacles. When you are done, you will come back here and I will be waiting.”
I left right away. As soon as the blue door closed behind me, all my memories had been set aside, all thoughts of the past were left back there, in that room, waiting for my return. I traveled for so long that many times I forgot where it was that I was going or why I was going there. I could only sense a vague notion of direction that still clung to me underneath layers of complex and interconnected stories. I made my way through each obstacle as it stood before me and, finally, I traveled all the way to the end of that invisible path. As I moved past each obstacle, each one vanished before my eyes. The levels, the chambers, the doorways, the other travelers, they all disappeared from my thoughts. By the time I arrived at the end, I could not remember a single place, a single event, a single moment. I simply knew I had traveled and I knew that I had come back.
When I stepped into the old room I had left so long ago, the elements were there just as I had left them. The long windows were now filled with light and they were distinct and clear under the thin cover of an old brown curtain. The slanted wooden roof was also clear and solid, there were no shadows to hide the black shapes that were scattered over the dark brown surface. The blue door was there as well, thick and heavy and old.
Mother was still there as well. She was no longer sitting up cross-legged as she had been when I had left. Instead, she was laying down on her side, breathing deeply and slowly, peacefully asleep.
There was a recurrent noise in the room that seemed unfamiliar to me. It was a tiny voice full of treble and fury that tickled at my ears like the sound of buzzing mosquitoes. I turned to see a small black radio sitting on the wooden bed frame that reached towards the windows. The tiny voice spoke of a Savior and of the Judgement that was soon to come. It threatened the listeners with endless damnation and terrible gut wrenching punishments. It pushed them towards fear and subjugation.
I sat by the side of the bed and listened to the tiny voice repeating itself over and over while Mother continued to sleep, oblivious to the sound of the radio or the repeated words of unavoidable doom. I sat there and waited, watching breathing slowly, watching her chest move up and down with each deep breath.
After some time had passed, she opened her eyes and smiled at me. Her eyes were no longer as wide as they once had been. Fear had crept into them while I had been gone in my travels.
“Why were you listening to that?” I asked, with an eager curiosity that couldn’t understand her purposes.
She looked at me with a face full of gravity and seriousness. The slippery drunkenness was gone and it had now been replaced by a fearful rigidity.
“It’s all true. The Book is true. The Judgement is true and it is soon coming. The Savior is true as well. It is all true. It was always true but we didn’t know it. We will have to study the Book. There is much to learn, much to understand. And we have very little time.”
I smiled and nodded, trying to make sure that I didn’t show any sign of surprise. But behind my own eyes I was asking myself what had happened, what events had brought her to this place of fear, what had transpired while I was gone and far away. I worried that my absence itself could have frightened her, even if she herself had made me go. We can never know what we truly want, until it’s too late to change our minds.
“We traveled far together. We went right to the place where our stories end and other stories begin, we went to the place of bright light where all paths come to fruition, we went to the place that is itself the end and the source for all stories. It is a beautiful place. It is a frightening place. I understand why you would now need a thick blanket. It is very cold when one is alone, and when the light is bright but the stories are gone, then it’s even colder. I was gone for a long time. I am sorry to have been gone so long. I did my best to come back as soon as I could. But the blanket is now unnecessary. I am back. The stories end. The stories begin. The stories will always continue.”
The tiny voice kept on speaking under me, a counterpoint of quickly moving staccato threats and thick rumbling choruses to my single tenor line.
Mother nodded and spoke once again.
“The Book is true. It was always true. We just didn’t know it.”
I reached towards the radio and turned it off with one click. The wave of silence expanded through the room like an explosion, shaking the walls all around us in a subtle way that only barely registered at the edges of my vision.
“The Book is true. All Books are true. All words are true. True in their own existence. True in their own shape. True in their own sound. It has always been so. It could never be otherwise. But as true as all words are, all their meanings are false.”
Mother looked at me then, and her eyes didn’t waver with fear as much as they had when she first opened them. Her attention once again fell on me like a great metal weight from a great height.
“This is only a return. The stories go in circles and you now go in a great circle as well. Soon you will be young and innocent, soon you will be in a place that is green and hot and violent, soon you will believe that circles are no more and you will struggle for a vision that others hold above you, soon you will listen to men that speak in measured tones, soon you will find someone to protect you, soon it will all be gone and it will be just you and me, here in this room, travelling forever, together, once again. Then the circle will be complete. No matter what the hopes, no matter what the intentions may be, you and I will travel once again, together. Just like we always have.”
She nodded slowly and her eyes were now wide open as they had been when I left on my solitary journey.
“It’s true… what you say is true… but it’s terrible, just terrible.” She said it so slowly that the words bounced off the bed frame and onto the white brick floor like the shadows of forgotten nightmares. “It is terrible and true, and I am afraid to give myself to it completely. Maybe if I only slept a little longer.”
I just looked at her and the twilight clouds began to form around us. The journey had started once again and there was no turning back.
“You will have to believe in me, believe in me with all your power. That is all that we have left, that is all that I have left to offer. Believe in me and maybe that will hold me from the abyss.” She spoke and thick bright tears streamed down her cheeks. As I looked at her tears, I noticed I had tears of my own and they were spilling over my face and down onto my chest.
“Believe in me and maybe we will find a way out.”
I told her many times that I did believe but she just kept on pleading. Soon the walls had vanished behind the twilight, and the windows were gone and the roof and the door. And then we had crossed the invisible gateway and there was only her voice asking for my belief and my own voice telling her that she had it, telling her that it had always been hers. But as much as I said it, she couldn’t bring herself to believe me.