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  • The Wall

    This was written 27 years ago for a creative writing class, am posting it as requested.

    The Wall

    A high wall surrounds our village. Few of us have ever seen the other side; those who have all tell a different story about what is out there. Meanwhile, construction of the wall goes on each day. Brick by brick, it gets higher. It is already so high that its apex has vanished in the celestial haze. The masons, who receive the bricks at the top of the wall from workers who pass them up the long ladders, are blind people, and hence can tell us nothing about what lies on the other side. They work entirely by feel, sometimes tossing a brick to the ground and demanding a better one, sometimes cementing it firmly in place.

    According to our legends, the wall was once so low and unfinished that the people of the village could see through its gaps, and thus were able to communicate directly with the gods – but what can one say of such legends? The wall’s foundation consists of large boulders, arranged in a crude circle, which were rolled into place by ancestors so distant that their memory is lost in myth. The cementing together of these great stones must have taken many generations, as the type of cement used varies considerably in quality. Along most of the wall’s base the cement is so durable and so generously applied that the shape of the primitive boulders is obscured, but there are a few places where the cement was of such an inferior grade that is has long since eroded away, leaving small gaps that are the cause of much concern in the village. Our children are so firmly taught to avoid these gaps that it is a rare adult villager who can find courage to even consider approaching them.

    As the construction and maintenance of the wall progresses, the patterns of color and form grow more varied and complex. Indeed, the designs on the wall have grown so complex that few villagers pretend to understand the purpose of the builders, and even they are thought to be merely pretending. It is generally believed that no single person or group can claim responsibility for the great edifice that surrounds our village. Sages have said that the entire history of our people is reflected upon the wall that we have constructed between ourselves and the world beyond, from our greatest achievements to our smallest inner thoughts. –But how can we read a history that has been before us from our earliest memories? How can we hope to gain enlightenment from the shapes, colors, and textures of a structure we used to play pitch-penny when we were children? Alas, the features of the wall are so familiar to us that we don’t really see them.

    Throughout our history, seekers of enlightenment have often observed the practice of spending long periods in seclusion from other villagers, so that they may neither see the wall nor hear reports of its construction. This practice is generally conceded to be a reliable source of inspiration, though the reasons offered for its success vary widely. Some claim that this method allows the seeker to disconnect the image of the wall from the routine daily lives overshadowed by it, and thus to discern from memory its hidden meanings. Others claim that the moment of enlightenment occurs when the seeker returns to the light of day after long absence, whereupon the first glimpse of the wall reveals much that was hitherto obscure. Whatever the reason might be, the success of this method has never been more than partial, at least not in recent history. There are, of course, those in our distant past who, after a long period of seclusion and self-denial, are said to have seen the entire purpose and direction of our people in the message on the wall. But we villagers regard these persons as deities, not as ordinary villagers. Their very existence is so embellished with myth that one doesn’t know what to believe about them.

    One big question remains: What is on the other side of the wall? It is a question that most villagers don’t consider worth asking, though it’s a popular pursuit among our philosophers and artists. Unfortunately, the information they give on this topic is contradictory, and hence unreliable. Some theorists claim that the question itself is absurd, that nothing can exist beyond the wall. Others say that while there is indeed a world beyond the wall, it is inherently “unknowable” for us villagers. Still others say that the wall is actually our way of representing the outer world, and hence is the only way we can see it.

    Despite this wide range of opinions, all agree that any attempt to penetrate beyond the wall is as useless as it is dangerous. Our history seems to support this conclusion. Those who manage to find their way out through the gaps in the base are often never seen again. The ones who return rarely have anything coherent to say; most never regain their sanity, and must be kept in mental institutions. Others return in a state of acute depression, and have nothing to say about the experience.

    One villager who still had his wits about him after seeing the other side of the wall claimed that he had saved himself by glancing out for only a moment. He said that the outer world was pure chaos, wholly devoid of meaning. He asserted that our little village was but a tiny speck of order in a vast and formless Universe. Even the village wall, he claimed, was nothing more than a meaningless pile of rubble when viewed from the outside.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: The Wall started by wron View original post
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