The River (short story)

Here I am, somewhere new. A river to cross. I need to get to the other side. Why? Adventure, maybe. I forget the initial why, it has left me, there is only the knowledge of truth that on the other side is the place where I need to go. That this is the way forward.

How will I go? If I had wings I would fly, so easily, I would not even notice the river: it would be nothing but a beautiful sight to appreciate, a break in formless terrain, an addition to the infinite equation of beauty. As a man, there are no wings to fly, just feet to walk on, and while I know beauty is here, even I am absorbing it, yet, what my mind sees is a dilemma. There has to be a solution. There is not always a solution but this is the way forward and I will find a way.

This river, the river, it is not going to be crossed with ease. It is fast, torturous, wide, cold, nasty, dangerous, evil. Lovely yes, but it is a feat. It is dangerous. It is deadly. One slip and the raging river will carry me away. It will kill me. How will I cross it? How will I cross it. My eyes stumble on the massive husk of a long dead tree, degrading back to nature, a behemoth of lives past. Elegantly splayed across a narrow portion of the river I see it as a solution, the only solution that enters my mind. The way forward.

I analyze the tree. I see it as it must have stood in another century, majestic, the king of the forest. Fallen. What was, was, and what is, is, and this tree is now nothing but a bridge, the majesty of yester year not lost but reduced to a residue, an emotion of wonderment at what  was rather then sublime awe at what is. Pity. Lucky, for here is a way forward.

Yes, it is the way forward, yet, this new optimism gives me reflection. While striving to reach the end of my endless path, to finally see the true light of my hidden dream goals, I see the corpses of the past greats, those entities greater then I will ever be whose corpses now litter my path. One day, before I reach my goal, I know I will be something just like this tree. Another fallen. Perhaps I can hope to at least provide the way forward for another adventurer, another seeker of the honest equation. Perhaps all these littered corpses mean something. Perhaps the dream of achievement for oneself is a myth, perhaps the meaning of what we do is simply to be another bridge forward; perhaps, instead of many getting to the end, the point is to work in one great sequence to try simply get one small entity to the end. Perhaps that one will be me.

Staring upon the massive roots of this fallen goliath, I begin to climb to the trunk which will be my plank. I begin to see the arduous danger of my path. A length that seems endless but microscopic in diameter. A walking surface slippery, splattered with the foam of the raging river. What else? Wind. Fear in my heart. The stars have been aligned for me so far, but here, as in every fresh new challenge, I feel the potential that my time is due. That this will be the end.

Should I stop? Could I stop? So far forward from where I began. Would this be a demerit to myself? I try to rationalize. I try to compromise the evil of compromising my ideals with the evil of compromising my mortality with the danger ahead. Life on the river, this could be it, this could be what I have waited for, the tree just a tease at the possibility of a wrong way forward. Life here. The spot is lush. This could be it, this could be it. My brain has rationalized, and indeed it may even be right, but, that unfathomable beast living in my heart screams different. The way forward is not to stop. The way forward is farther ahead. Across the river. Across this tree. Dangerous, yes, but such is the way of ambition, such is the danger of exploration, to fly: to see vistas never seen, perils never thought of. To touch the sun and be burned by its ravenous brilliance. I will cross the river. I don’t have to. Life could be here, this could be it. But I will cross the river.

Climbing with a casual grace from hand hold to hand hold, I reach the top of the trunk that will be my bridge. I stand tall at the top. I feel strength and fear in equal measures locked in a battle for my waking mind. My unconscious mind ignores such petty squabbles and forces my right foot forward. That first step towards oblivion, my route already charted, there is nothing to do now but maintain momentum. My brain is screaming with fear, giving me endless reasons why this danger is not necessary with that very same logic I know will eat me alive if I were to turn back. Death or coward, are those my choices? I could walk away and still be a man. I could walk away and live a meaningful life, even a perfect life. But I will not turn back, I have chosen the direction forward, and for better or worse I will not compromise the logic which led me so deeply already through many endless choices. Forward. Forward. Forever forward.

My left foot climbs, moves forward and falls. My second step landed, just a hair in front of my first step. I am moving forward. My mind is calming. Finding peace. Knowing no longer is it profitable to blanch endless banalities; now, it is only about moving forever forward. Another step. Another step. Another step. It is as slippery as I feared. It is as windy as I dreaded. But. Another step. Another step. No thought on anything larger than the individual motion. No thought at all but: another step. Another step.

A universe of steps successfully planted, I have no idea if I am a step away from the far end or if my mind is simply playing tricks, making those endless steps I am sure I have stepped through nothing more than a figment of my hyperactive imagination. At this point, no different then so many moments before it, and what could have been so many steps after, my landing food touches an especially gleaming bit of bark and throws off my semblance of balance. The slow motion of my life is reduced even more. I can feel my foot searching millisecond by millisecond for a new, safer landing; I can feel my arms wildly trying regain my balance. My brain is clear. This will be the end of me. My brain is at peace. This will be the end of me. Should I have not attempted to climb this log over the river? I feel the time to think. I feel time so compressed that perhaps I have all the time of the world to think over this one point. Maybe, even, this is the afterlife, just endlessly replaying that movement that ends you, questioning for all eternity where it was that you went wrong. I do not need infinite time to come to peace. I am at peace. I made the only choice I could make so that at the end of my life, even though it is right now, I can feel this sense of serenity. To hell with what could have been, to hell with the safe life on the riverside where I could have had a peaceful perfect life, only breaking from the reverie of my own happiness during cold sweat nightmares of knowing that this is not the life I should be living. To hell with living life between nightmares, to hell with a long life lying on a framework of lies. My brain and heart are curiously in agreement, this lack of fear a novel emotion in me. Well, then, death, I knew one day you would come, and truthfully I am bitter with you, taking away this game of life before I managed to move all the way around the board, but, then, so be it. At least I was playing on a board that was a reality I believed in. I am falling into the river. This is death. I am not smiling, but I am not sad. I am simply at peace.

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