There is no stopping a vivid imagination until it leads to somewhere else.
The Wooden Sphere
Sometimes, if you stare at something long enough, it becomes something else. Like when you look at the whorl of wood grain within a hardwood floor, or the symmetric shapes and designs upon a wall. If you just relax your eyes long enough, you’ll start to see all kinds of things.
It was in this dream-like trance, this relaxed state, that inevitably lured me into seeing the floor slide open, separate board by board, gape wide, and then swallow me up.
I saw and felt this, and at the same time I didn’t: the way a deeply preoccupied man might see and obey traffic signals without really noticing them. Behind my horn-rimmed glasses, my blue eyes floated like strange fish in a world all their own, and in this dreamy-eyed stupor, I’m sure they looked like the eyes of a man who can see signs in the sky and perhaps hear voices whispering from the depths of a dark closet. This new world I had entered was as volatile as a force of nature: a hurricane, a lightning storm, a planet-smashing asteroid hurtling through the void.
In a flash, I was sliding down the arch of the floor as though I were in a sphere—a giant wooden slide with no bottom. I could smell sawdust and the scent of freshly cut lumber. Above me, I saw movement as pieces of the sphere shifted like an intricate Chinese puzzle. Large blocks moved into gaps left by other wedges and then slammed home tight even as I fell deeper into the unknown.
My mother had warned me, “When you start seeing the worlds within worlds, when things that are not there suddenly are there, it’s the first sign of madness.”
Of course, my mother was mad—and my grandfather had been mad too. I only figured it was a matter of time for me. There are no explanations for mental illness—only excuses. Insanity is one of those things that just happens to people, like the complexion of their skin, or the color of their eyes.
I hurled forward, sliding on my back, legs upraised, arms flopping on either side of me in an attempt to slow my momentum. Nausea rolled like a slop of chilled oysters in my stomach, yet I still fell.
A terrifying notion crossed my mind, What if there is no end? What if I just keep sliding?
Even as I thought that, I quickly approached a wall. Bracing my feet to intercept it, I saw that it too began to slide to the left and away from me. There was a chittering of something eager and hungry in the walls, and I caught sight of several creatures below me that stood upright upon jointed legs.
They glistened, their bodies a milky-white color—nearly translucent. I could see their internal organs pulsing beneath their skin; each with four arms and mandibles that thrashed feverishly—clicking—reaching for me as though in anticipation of an early lunch. I’d never seen anything like them before, but I knew instinctively that I didn’t want to be among them.
I pulled at the floor with the flat of my hands to stop my descent. There was a squeak where flesh met wood, like a tennis shoe braking upon a parquet floor. I even dug my fingernails in, clawing, scratching for some kind of a hold. Blood dripped from my nails, ran down my fingers.
The wall had not yet fully retracted, so I shifted my weight, and caught it with my left leg, stopping with a jolt. Even as the wall disappeared and I was about to lose my foothold, another section opened beside me forming a small tunnel. My hands were wet with blood, yet I reached for the lip of it and pulled myself up just as one of the termite-people grabbed my foot and yanked my shoe off.
I scrambled into the notch in the wall.
Briefly, I sat upon the ledge, wiping my bloodied hands upon my pants, and trying to catch my breath. The creatures were just below me, furious. Their chittering grew louder.
“Give me back my shoe!” I yelled down at them.
In response, the ugliest one lifted my shoe into its mandibles and tore it to shreds.
Suddenly the other wall moved, closing off the chamber below and threatening to pulverize me. I shimmied my way further into the tunnel, knowing it would soon fill with the new section. Crawling frantically upon my belly, fear choking me like a hangman's noose, I scurried deeper within the slot until I reached a dark, dead end.
I flipped over on my back and watched the massive piece of wood inch toward me. I could hear it sliding smoothly upon itself like the sound of a snake slithering through a pile of dead leaves. I pulled my legs under me as far as I could, while my mind drown in a sea of claustrophobia.
Then the wall behind me shifted and began to move.
But would it open in time?
The other block was nearly upon me.
I folded my body into a tight little ball, as if I were a discovered spider, and waited for the inevitable.
The wooden block touched my feet, and then pressed me against the moving wall at my back. I tried to make myself smaller, buried my face into my knees, too afraid to look.
I felt myself being smashed, the pressure immense. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe. I was being squashed like a bug.
When I knew the end had come, I tried to scream, but was too confined to get any force behind it. I moaned and whimpered like a child having a bad dream.
Then between one blink and another, I saw light—felt fresh air—and was popped out onto my living room floor like a champagne cork.
I lay there gasping for breath, trying to unfold my body, and thankful to be back on familiar ground. I rolled over, panting, my cheek lying on the cool hardwood floor. But my vision was immediately drawn to the close-up view of the wood grain. The design intrigued me. It swirled and spiraled into mystical patterns that took me further and further into its precise configuration like whirling roads that traversed across unknown lands, strange and mysterious landscapes.
I could not stop myself even if I had wanted to—I didn’t care.
Soon I was walking those endless roads; staring at panoramas that had never, until now, been seen. The path I was following was infinite, twisting and turning like blood veins inside a brain, and I knew I would never return. I let it take me deeper and deeper, further and further along into unimaginable terrain.
Happily, I followed that road—followed it into multi-layered and multifaceted realities that always led toward the unknown—into the worlds within worlds.