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I wake up. In Front of Me wakes up and Behind Me wakes up. We start to pump our levers. Our levers are easy to pump. They turn the wheels on our individual carts. The wheels rotate smoothly and silently on the steel tracks that don’t go anywhere. I ride my little cart all wake, in front of Behind Me and behind In Front of Me. I pay no attention to my surroundings for they are inexistent. All around me is white nothingness. Behind Me is a nice person. In Front of Me is a nice person. I am nice, and we are all nice.
I have been here for so long that I cannot remember how I came to be here, pumping my cart in these pleasant loops. At least, I assume that they are loops because if they weren’t, then wouldn’t we come across something new? Either way, there is never anything new. Only whiteness, whiteness plotted with this small segment of rail that I ride on, which stretched only six feet ahead of me and disappeared into the white nothingness. The bland smell of nothing continuously haunts my nostrils with a vagueness matched only by that of what I taste. The stale flavor of monotony cranks on my taste buds wake in and wake out. If I had the benefit of resources for thought, it would be drowned out by the incessant squeaking of the tiny wheels that under me. However, I have no reference points except Behind Me and In Front of Me who each stay at a distance of three feet and maintain the same speed that I maintain.
In Front of Me cranes his neck to speak to me every once in a nonexistent blue moon that would actually be white. Today, there was no moon. But I don’t know what that is or why it would matter as to how often In Front of Me speaks. We do not converse often because that would distract us from pumping our levers.
“How goes the lever?” In Front of Me asks, not caring to hide his apathy, because he already knows the answer, and he knows that I know that he already knows it. However, he asks anyway and I answer accordingly.
“It’s fairly easy, as per usual. How is yours?”
“Oh my lever moves smooth as ever.” He keeps on pumping. I keep on pumping. We sit in the empty sameness that is our ceaselessly white world.
After a long wake of pumping in the same pearliness and the white similitude, In Front of Me stops pumping, so I stop. Then, Behind Me stops and we all go to sleep. That is our life. We wake, we pump, and we sleep. It’s not fun, but it’s not bad either. We do not know anything else. An internal inclination drives us inexplicably to follow these tracks into the depths of semblance.
The next wake was almost like any other. I woke up and right away I started pumping. Behind me and In Front of Me were pumping effortlessly, unconditionally. Our carts, the rails, the whiteness, the endless routine burned into my sight once again. We rolled on the horizontal sameness for hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries—however long it was in between sleeps, I had no idea. It was unsurprising until I noticed something that contradicted the crippling pallor of my wakes. There was a screw loose inside of my cart. It held together the wood and a piece of metal connected to the lever.
“In Front of Me, there is a screw loose in my cart. What does that mean? What do I do?” I asked the railer in front of me, puzzled. He did not answer, however, because that is such an out of the ordinary situation that he did not want to think about it.
I had never seen a loose screw before and didn’t know what to do about it. The screw was sticking out of the hole it was in. This was abnormal, and I decided that it should be put back in the hole, to right the wrong. I then had to figure out how to do that. While maintaining my control of the lever, pumping the sameness into the cart, I bent my body forward and looked closer at the screw. I noticed that it had threads that ran gradually up to the top of the screw. It seemed to fit uniformly into the hole. It seemed that I should turn the screw one direction or the other if I wanted it back in the hole.
Here is my turning point. I knew how to fix the problem, but a thought came to my head. What will happen if the screw falls out? That will not be normal. But who says what is normal? Maybe this is supposed to happen. The thought of something different happening was interesting. Fed up with the plague of dullness that I lived in, I decided to not do anything about the loose screw and wait to see what happens.
So I pumped my lever for hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries. Since something different had happened, I had become aware of time. I was able to distinguish how many wakes it had been since I noticed that the screw had been loose, which was quite an interesting feeling. I slept and woke three or four times before it finally fell out.
The metal screw landed with a clink on the floor of my cart. In Front of Me glanced back. He had heard something out of the ordinary.
“What was that?” he asked idly, as if he didn’t really want to know. The question itself was abnormal and I’m guessing that he decided to keep to his pumping.
“Oh it was nothing.” I stared at the displaced screw. The unknown scared me. In furious unison with the drive of my lever, my heart pumped iced adrenaline into my veins, which tingled excitedly. My head was suddenly flooded with countless incomprehensible thoughts. I was thinking. Everything I did preceding this point was done without a thought process. The lack of variety, the lack of change, my inclination to the routine had deprived me of the need to think about anything.
I took one hand off of the lever and extended it toward the screw. This was epic, for I had never let go of the lever except to sleep. Picking up the screw, I glanced at Behind Me to make sure that he had not seen me. Behind Me just stared through me, blankly. The screw was sharp on one end and made my finger feel bad when I held it pinched between two fingers. The arm loyal to routine was starting to get tired so I switched arms, passing the screw to my left hand. I held the screw cautiously, gently in my cupped hand, rolling it from one side of my hand to the other. As I played with the screw, my head rushed with contemplation yet again, with too many thoughts to count and too many ideas to understand. This is different, I thought. This is fun. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing, or why I was doing it. All I knew was that I liked it. I then started tossing the screw into the air. I moved my hand in a fast upward motion and the screw rose up into the air, stopped ever so briefly, and then fell back into my hand.
This amazed me. It seems so simple now, unenjoyable, at best. However, at the time, this little exercise of playing with a little screw triggered great interest in my vacant mind.
So I played with the screw, while maintaining command of my lever of course, for days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries. I threw it up into the air and caught it again. I rolled it between my fingers, feeling the threads press against my skin. I inspected all of the tiniest spots of the screw, marveling. I bounced it off the wall of my cart. I listened to the sounds that it made in awe, noticing that it made a different noise when it hit wood, than when it hit metal. Exercising my senses was a new and interesting experience to me. It was challenging and fascinating. I tossed the screw from one hand to the other, which required me to juggle the lever as well. In my excitement, I pumped a little late, slowing down. Behind Me gasped in utter astonishment. My heart raced once again, sending chills through my body. No one had ever compromised their speed before. I hastily resumed pumping, dropping the screw which hit the edge of my cart then dove off the side, in front of me.
The next thing that happened was a cacophony of screeching metal and sparks. The screw had landed right in front of one of my front wheels, which squealed in disagreement. The rear wheels left the track and my whole cart tipped forward. Reality began to twist with a tremendous force that I was definitely unfamiliar with. My vision spun in five, six, hundreds, thousands of circles while my body tied itself into a knot, so it seemed. The dissonance of the crash hesitated for a moment as my cart teetered. It then smashed into the rails among a fiery storm of sparks. As my surroundings and my senses were spiraled into a warped accordion, my cart tipped sideways, landing in what should have been whiteness. However, the comfortable whiteness— the sameness— was gone.
I was laying in something soft and overwhelmingly vivid. It was wet and smelled pungent and earthy. It was grass, bright brilliant grass. Looking up, I saw that the grass was lying upon a rolling hillside that gradually transformed into an immense, imposing mountain, at the base of which was a beautiful, crystal clear lake. Topping off this picturesque scene, was a strikingly radiant blue sky with fluffy white clouds resting upon it peacefully, dreamily. The great yellow ball that was the warming sun comforted the new world with its presence.
I had never seen anything like this stunning sight. It took my breath away and an overpowering sensation of pure delight took over my mind and body. I sensed the wonderful safety and comfort of the grass. I felt the joyful exuberance brought on by the gentle slopes of the ground around me. The colossal mountain in the distance lifted my spirits high into the vibrant blue sky where they relaxed serenely with the pearly clouds, gazing thoughtfully upon the calm lake below.
Inundated with pleasure by this amazing spectacle, I almost didn’t notice something so strange and questionable, so unfortunate that it made me fall to my knees in shock. Among this gorgeous setting and overwhelming joy that I was so fortunate to experience, was the track that I had been restricted to. I saw my fellow railers pumping absentmindedly around the track, up and down the rolling hillside, around the tranquil lake, under the vivacious blue sky and temperate sun, utterly oblivious to the stunning environs right under their nose.
At once, my head was flooded with questions. What is this place? Why are we on that track and why can we not see what I am seeing now? I felt incredibly sorry for my fellow railers who had no idea what they were missing, who sat comfortably and safely in their boring carts, who pumped continuously in a straight line, who pumped incessantly in a never-ending loop. I suddenly became very scared. This was inarguably an amazing place, but would I ever make it back to my cart? My heart sprinting on a full tank of bone-chilling adrenaline, I considered my situation. What if I can’t get back to my safe little track? Everything I know, everything that I am used to is on that track—
The carts came to a sudden stop and I noticed a break in the line. That was my spot. Next to the opening was my cart, lying in the grass near the rails. I was scared and unsure as to what I should do. For as long as I can remember, I have traveled these rails. That is what my fellow railers and I do. That is what we know.
Forbidding even one more second for my mind to consider staying, I sprinted across the soft grass to my upturned box. Struggling, I flipped it back onto its wheels and wrestled it into its place on the track. I hurriedly climbed inside, as if the uncertainty of this alternate world was chasing me. Whether or not it was really chasing me, I do not know. I just stared into the front wall of my cart, eventually, forcefully falling to sleep. I slept for hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries—however long it is that we sleep.
Our sleep comes to an abrupt halt and we resume pumping. We pumped for hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries—however long it has been since I was derailed.