“Ten thousand” is a punchy, raw number. Ten thousand of a thing is a staggeringly large amount. The mind tricks itself into believing it is countable.
If I wanted to, I could recall the years I walked this hall, same as they are, day in and day out. But I do not want to, and so I simply say—to myself because there is no one else—that I have walked this hall for ten thousand years.
My mind could not handle “a million years” without admitting that it is equivalent to eternity. Therefore it could not possibly be a million.
And there was no one to say otherwise. There were the two clocks, one over the table in the hall, and one by the bed, always offset from each other by one minute. I could not tell which was correct, if either were, or if it mattered.
There was a time once, which seemed legendary, when I recalled the shape of things other than these halls. The discrepancy in the clocks ground in my mind, and I attempted to set one to keep with the other. Every time, when I returned to either room from the last, the clocks read the same as they ever did.
Carrying the clocks between the rooms accomplished nothing, nor any other implement I could carry or drag along with myself. As long as I kept it in sight, the chair, eternally askew from the table under the clock, could be moved. I moved it to the stairs, into the bedroom, the bathroom, or into the basement. Looking back to the hall, it was indeed still in my possession and gone from behind the table, but the moment I left it anywhere out of sight and returned, it was again behind the table and not where I left it.
Even if I had taken the chair and tossed it against the wall, leaving it in a pile of broken lathe-carved poles and planks, it was whole again upon return.
I had tried this at least once with everything I could move. But not everything could be moved; the walls refused to dent, as did the bathtub. The tub drew water from somewhere; the pipes would rumble and it would spill forth water were I in earshot, but descending to the basement instantly reset it like everything else.
And there was the door.
Not in the hall. The hall never gave way to an entry point. They instead wrapped back around themselves even as I walked away, back to the table and the clock and the chair slightly askew.
The door was in the bedroom, just across from the entry into the bathroom, with glass in its frame. The handle was the only piece of this door that gave a little; the glass would not even scratch at repeated pounding. But it was always locked. No matter the time on the clocks, it was dark outside, noticeable when all the lights were off. Just beyond the door was a small balcony, beyond that a dark unchanging plain of grass, and beyond that, points of light in the distance that may have been stars, or something else.
And there was also the window.
The stairs led down to a single room with chairs plush enough to suit my comfort, though it had been so long since I had experienced discomfort of body they hardly registered as such in my mind. Wooden and steel chairs lined the rest of the room, arranged in rows for visitors that would never come. They all faced the window.
The window took the entire wall; and it was transparent. When showing nothing, I could stare beyond the glass and see a deep well of black that stretched on beyond the limits of my eyes.
But it rarely showed nothing; more often it showed everything. People inhabited the other side of the window.
The only way I could contextualize this perpetual prison was because of these things I saw. The window would attune its scenes to my mind—not so I was perpetually dulled by the sameness. It knew that I was starved for something different, and something different it provided.
I would watch people. They would sit and eat dinner. They would stand in a church and sing hymns. They would laugh at jokes. Cry at tragedies. Go to school. Work in an office. Work in a field. Work in a prison. Stand behind a microphone. Laze about. Exclude people they hate. Embrace people they love. Have sex. Survive. Kill. Succeed. Fail. Live. Die. Fall into terrifying, unrelenting horror.
It did not matter what language they spoke; I listened to the words for so long I saw straight to the hearts. Save some moments, I have not spoken for ten thousand years, since there is no one but me to listen. I am loud enough inside my own head. I have long grown tired of hearing myself speak, save every century when it is a fresh novelty for three to five more minutes. It would bring to mind why I refrained from speaking for so long.
But the people spoke, separated from me by the window. They were not just “people”, they were animals, and creatures of far-off worlds both like and unlike me, and non-living things too. I have seen so much that the labels blur—what is a tree? What is a grognyap? I only see these things through the glass and understand them as the people do, and nobody understood these things the same way.
Ultimately, though, it did not matter. The drama was not for my amusement or catharsis; indeed I lost the context of drama, perhaps because I could not live it. I experienced only as other people did in mind alone, not in body. There was nobody to share this with. Nothing to exchange, nothing to pair or associate or consider or ponder or feel.
I could do all these things, perhaps, if I wanted to, but I had nothing pushing me to want, not even an accomplishment by which I could tell myself: Yes, I did good. Or bad.
There were times I would sleep, and times asleep I would dream. But in these dreams, I am not floating among the stars, watching the cannons fire, or civilizations rise and fall. I am not coasting in a meadow on the back of a silver unicorn alongside the waterfalls that coat the scenery in mist. I am not holding hands of someone I thought long-lost, to walk into a sunset and the rest of our lives together.
I am not loving.
I am not hating.
In these dreams I am still walking the same hallways with the same clocks a minute apart, the same chair askew from the same table, the same tub, the same bed, the same stairs to the same basement with the same window that shows me different sights the same way.
I might as well have never dreamed.
I might as well have never been.
But there was a single time—and the single time was but enough. I felt a sensation I thought long forgotten: a moving current of air. I sat up in bed and turned and looked to the door which faced the balcony and the edge of the universe.
It stood open.