THE MEETING OF INFINITE STAIRS
During my ever-continuing travels upon these infinite stairs, which from some common experience or phenomena I take it we all come to understand more or less equally, my moment of surprise and all emotions within it came as I rose from the curvature below, and passed another traveler on his way down.
It should be said there was nothing but these stairs, no hallway, no bottle or box in which to place them, the outside everything a pleasant color, though I should not say so with any importance, having only the knowledge of each next step to rely on. So in coming upon the other traveler, coincidentally human and like myself (against what baseline I am not sure), I also came upon my first interaction with another thing, I should think. We stopped halfway between his last landing and my own.
“Hello,” he said, unsurprised, an advantage perhaps, and removed his hat. His clothes, like mine, seemed an unquestioned constant, one I am still strangely unworried about.
“Hi,” I said. I believed myself the younger, him walking down already (which posed to me the possibility of turning around, another thing which I have never tried and am unbothered by, but would not recommend, for reasons foreign to me), and as he seemed content to leave our conversation at that, the monumental weight of the meeting fell to me.
“I’ve never seen anyone,” I said, and I believe I said it quite awkwardly.
“Really?” he said, smiling, “Now that you mention it, I haven’t seen anyone in some time.”
“I have no idea.”
The obviousness of it grated against my waning gratitude for the moment’s impossibility, the shared language, and culture or lack thereof, and the rest. The questions I could have asked were endless, but pointless perhaps.
“Well what was he like?” I said.
“He was much like the two of us,” said the man, “younger even.” (Younger above me!) “Not much of a talker. I suppose he’d seen plenty of people. Say, I do think it’s rare that this is your first. The pleasure is mine. A.”
He shook my hand, not until the closing of which did I realize he took A to mean his name.
“The first I saw,” he said. “Have to start somewhere, be something, don’t I? Can’t just go around being a … ”
He looked at me suspiciously, considering that I might be a …
“Y,” I said, having thought it up on the spot, having always known.
“Fine name,” he said, “fine as any. Any as fine as any.”
I nodded, knowing no more topics of conversation, though it should be of note that I may only not remember. I might remember only a single curve, or every curve, the two being the same with the exception of this singular meeting.
“This may be strange,” I said, “but I have no protocol for… is there anything you can tell me?”
“About what?” he said.
“About anything! You must understand, I have never met anyone.”
“Well I could tell you about plenty,” he said, “I could tell you the way I came from … ”
We looked up the center column, the pleasant colored “I” at the end never changing in size or distance to my memory, and then down to the same.
“…But you’d end up there soon enough,” he said. “And I suppose you could tell me the same, but then I’d soon know it too. Or suppose it isn’t the same anymore or one of us misrepresents it and then we’ve betrayed the whole idea altogether. No, it’s never occurred to me to tell anyone something.”
“Well I’ve had nothing to tell,” I told him, “this same stair, this one, is all I could describe. Always the same marks, the same grey, except for you.
You’ve really messed up a whole hell of a lot, if you’ll excuse my saying so.”
“I wouldn’t say so,” he said, “Nothing’s changed, save the thing you were mistaken about to begin with.”
“Look, I’m not saying there’s a way to feel about it. It’s just that I might not see someone again for a very long time. How long I’m not sure but … I’d like something new to know, just so I could think about it a while as I walked, in case I have time for something like that.”
He looked out, as though watching something fly through it, across it, into or out of it, as I might upon standing atop the highest stair, and for some time hummed (hmm’ed) to himself. It was a beautiful thing, thinking of the things he must know.
“Do you remember when you started walking?” he said, not looking at me still. “Where or why you started walking?”
“No,” I said, hopeful that he might answer beyond everything I’d expected, “no I don’t. Please.”
“Neither do I,” he said. “But there sure are a lot of us, aren’t there?”
Then he pulled from his pocket a wheel on a string (a thing on a thing) and dropped it over the edge, only to pull it back again against gravity. A yo-yo it said on the side, yo-yo, up down, up down, in his hand again, new to me.
“There are things on occasion,” he said. “Wonderful when you find one. Nothing else compares to … well seeing you I say is quite exceptional though. Things finding things, certainly rare.”
He handed it to me and I admired it, perhaps tacky and of some unknown light substance, my favorite thing in the world. And then he took it back, and I felt for the first time a void there.
He waited for me to say more, A, as though he had learned nothing himself but had thoroughly enjoyed it, or I should hope so. I suppose I had, attaching a feeling to it as a whole in its ending, and we danced shifting circles around the square in preparation of leaving along our opposite stairs.
“There is one thing,” he said, “if you’d really like something to know.”
Eternally indebted already, I begged and thanked him for it together, and he answered almost flippantly, “We’re on the underside,” and then he touched the tip of his hat and descended into and out of my known world. And still I do not know how he knew it.
Food for Thought
The Meeting of Infinite Stairs deals with the possibility or impossibility of objective knowledge, as two travelers, A and Y, attempt to discover through conversation the nature of life (represented through their “ever-continuing travels upon infinite stairs) and of being. The older traveler, A, does not believe such discovery is possible through conversation, and raises deconstructionist objections regarding one’s inability to represent the true nature of something (the signified) through language (the signifier.) A’s final statements lead us to further question the initial assumptions made about the nature of the stairs, and highlight, in his opinion, the absurd nature of Y’s request.
About the Author
Christopher Alan is a writer, filmmaker, and artist living in Los Angeles, CA. He is a former philosophy and public affairs major and graduate of Claremont McKenna College, and is currently working on his first novel. When not engaged in the arts or dead-end jobs, he enjoys traveling and being in nature.
I love this story. Not sure if I’m getting to see the whole thing, but it reminds of the very best of the original Twilight Zone episodes, and TZ is my favorite show of all time. The “food for thought” is very interesting, but I most enjoyed the mystery of the story as it stood on its own.
Yep you are seeing the whole story. The file download links are hidden from non-subscribers (or subscribers who aren’t logged in) for the Monday stories. I’m glad you liked it, I really liked it too.
Excellent. Thanks for letting me know. I’m really enjoying the site so far. Great stuff.
[…] The Meeting of Infinite Stairs by Christopher Alan Sci Phi Journal January 4, 2016 […]
This is a fascinating literary representation of M. C. Escher’s stairs. Nonsense, and yet logical, playful and yet serious. Wonderfully done!