The village elder says: “The meeker you are, the more heroic you may become.” So all the village children with conquest dreams compete to see who can be the most picked on, the least recognized, the most poorly nourished. They think: from humble beginnings. They whisper to themselves: Who, me?
Will they resent you when you are chosen? Will they even notice the change?
You awaken one morning in your flat. You play a quick drum solo before walking outside. Sunlight shines on the town square of the square town. It brightens your front door, your neighbors, the vines and the gulls. It’s a day for running and climbing, which will give way to a night for supine stargazing.
You summit the tallest hill at sundown. There, in the light of constellations, the sky cracks louder than thunder, and you behold a shape you cannot explain.
Something, maybe God, maybe aliens, maybe madness, transports you somewhere new, someplace not-village. A realm of waterfalls and ancient faces carved in stone. You quiver in wonder and awe as you hear a voice like crashing waves. You do not understand a word, but you figure this must mean: chosen one.
A light from heaven bestows on you Promethean fire. Do you stand idle and receive its power, or do you steal it like the cunning boy who climbed the beanstalk?
In your ignorance, you open Pandora’s box—an object you’ve never seen, a box, squares aligned along an unknown axis. You turn it and turn it, in your hands and in your mind, trying to see all sides of it at once, flip flip flip flip. You black out.
You awaken back in your studio, which no longer feels like a flat. You see a cobweb you never noticed in the corner. You have never noticed a corner, a convergence of more than two lines. Your eyes are adjusting to a new dimension.
You step outside and learn your own village, home since birth, has doors you’ve never entered, rooms you’ve never explored. You run like a sugar-fed child, pulled by the desire to see it all. You wonder if this is what the mystics and mediums mean by “the other side,” but they never speak of the “other other side,” nor the “other other other side.” Even the oracles seem shortsighted compared to you.
Having combed every inch of the village, you stumble into the world beyond. How could you have missed its vastness before? Are you the first to leave? Will you ever return? How many more thresholds do you dare cross?
You wander without aim. You find: a bell tower, an endless ocean, a lighthouse, a throne, an owl whose head turns all the way around without snapping back, statues with etchings you cannot read. What you do not find are other people, anyone who speaks the languages written on the walls. Translation seems hopeless, and you search for a cipher, or a friend.
The harder you look, the more this new world bends and splits. Black holes appear and hang in the air like hummingbirds. How many times can you fold reality before it’s in pieces?
In your loneliness, paranoia builds. You could swear you hear a bird speak in your own tongue, but it flies away before you can question it. It sounded like: how you see the world is the world. Either that, or: you cannot squish the fish. You haven’t known plain speech in you don’t know how long.
You feel tricked. Why were you chosen? Is it a punishment for your hubris? Are you a hero, or the butt of a cosmic joke?
You open more doors than you can remember. Days of backtracking never return you to the place where you started. You find torn, mildewed scraps of parchment, pocket them, hold them up to the sunlight and scan them as if they were maps.
You unearth a skull shaped not unlike your own, you imagine.
This world turns out to be a puzzle box you cannot solve and reach the heart of. This world is a locked treasure chest you cannot pry open. This earth is smooth and four-sided, transforming one white light into many colors, a prism. Your prison of infinite rooms.
If the other village children could see you now, they would laugh, or cry, or hug their mothers, or pray into their pillows that they never have to leave, never know destiny, never wash up on a foreign shore.
You feel yourself a discarded plaything. You believe the universe had a sadistic designer, or no guiding hand at all. You weary of trying to decode a landscape of cryptic messages, or random markings. You give up and lie down on a grassy ledge beside calm, blue water that stretches as far as you can see. You surrender to a cold void. Not a black hole. Not the ocean, nor the night sky. Closer, always right overhead.
William Hoffacker was born and raised in New York City. His work has appeared in Noble / Gas Qtrly, Cartridge Lit, matchbook, Sundog Lit, and others. He also interviews contributors to The Collagist for the journal's blog. He currently lives and works in Tucson, AZ, and he tweets @YoungestOfOne