| | | | | | The White Spire | | | | | |
By Mike Meginnis and W. Doak Neal
m: You are knocking on the door to the white spire. The white spire is thin and white and so tall that you can't see where it ends; you can only see, when you look up, shading your eyes, where it narrows to a point too fine to see. The door rumbles on its hinges. It is large and heavy and loose, made of old wood and brass blackened by age. There is nothing nearby but the spire. There is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. An empty field of mud that stretches out for miles. And somewhere beyond it a marsh. And somewhere beyond that a forest. And somewhere beyond that your village. And somewhere inside that, your home. You are knocking at the door.
w: i pull hard against the hinges
m: The door comes loose and falls down on top of you. For a moment you think you've been crushed. Then you realize you are merely immobilized. The door presses most of the air out of your body. It presses and presses.
w: i push myself off the door and into the mud. i go as deep as i can and slither out.
m: Your back is caked with mud. Somehow the doorknob came with you; it is in your hand, warm and weirdly soft, almost like clay. There is the open, doorless doorway. Inside, a circular white room.
w: i place the doorknob in a large pocket. i try to guess at the height of the spire but confuse myself with the math. i look back in the direction of my village. i track my muddy feet into the white room.
m: Your footprints are thick, black, wet. They look like bear droppings. The white room is otherwise pristine. It is empty. Its diameter is about twice the length of your wingspan. There are two doors in the wall: through one, a staircase leading down. Through one, a staircase leading up. You can go down. You can go up.
w: my brain tells me to go up but i go down.
m: You find another empty room. The empty room is not quite empty. There are again two doors -- one that leads to the staircase you took down, and another that leads to another flight of stairs, which follow the curve of the spire's circular wall, further down. There is also a bullfrog seated at the room's center. "Ribbit," says the bullfrog, enunciating very clearly.
w: i pick the bullfrog up and ask it what its view on the situation is.
m: "I always lie, and he always tells the truth," says the bullfrog. He looks down at a spot on the floor to indicate the presence of a second bullfrog, apparently.
w: i pitch the first bullfrog as hard as i can against the wall. i go and pick up his bones and guts. these i place in front of the second bullfrog and ask of him his opinion.
m: The second bullfrog only intermittently exists, mainly just before and just after you blink, and maybe not even then. The second bullfrog says, "When the mind says one thing and you do another, it suggests an unhealthy division between body and brain. Why do you fight yourself this way? And what does it suggest that while the intellect prefers a rising action, the physical body prefers descent?"
w: i dropkick the second bullfrog against the wall, collect the guts of both frogs and place them in my pants pockets, and continue downward.
m: You come to an empty, white room. Well it is not quite empty. Here there is a minotaur. The minotaur looks lost. He keeps turning in hesitant circles.
w: i ask the minotaur if he needs some directions or anything.
m: "I'M NOT LOST," shouts the minotaur. "I CAN NAVIGATE ANY MAZE WITH MY EYES CLOSED." The exits are in the usual places: the stairs leading up, the stairs leading down. The minotaur's breath is sour and rusty with blood.
w: i softly sing the chorus of bruce springsteen's "i'm goin' down," juke the minotaur, pluck one of his eyes out, and continue down.
m: Your collection of soft doorknobs and exotic organs makes your pockets and therefore your pants feel very heavy. This latest set of stairs is uncommonly long. It takes you quite a while to reach the bottom. And there you find, as before, and as you will again, an empty white room. The room is not quite empty. There is a turtle here, at the room's center.
w: i approach the turtle and ask it if there will be a point at which i reach more than almost empty white rooms. i offer it what viscera-coated coins i have in my pockets.
m: The turtle says, "You are responsible for what you find in this spire." He says, "What do you want to find in the next room?" He says, "I'll race you to it."
w: "i want to find bruce springsteen."
m: "Bruce Sprinsteen wouldn't like you very much," says the turtle. The turtle is glowering now. You hear a low rumbling from somewhere up the stairs.
w: i know what the turtle says is true and i have felt that way for many years. my brain tells me to go up but i go down as far as i can, ignoring shadows and figures. i run until i collapse.
m: You collapse. (You collapse in a mostly empty white room. The room is not quite empty. You are there.) You are a bullfrog. There is another bullfrog, your brother, beside you. You always lie. He always tells the truth.
w: i ask my brother if my minotaur eye is of any use.
m: "It could guide you through a maze," says your brother bullfrog. He says, "I don't think the white spire is a maze." He says, "So the eye might not be useful here."
w: i ask my bullfrog brother if he knows where mazes are, i ask him if he knows the purpose of the white spire.
m: He says, truthfully, that he does not know. He says, "I think it is another kind of maze. I think it is a maze designed to make you think it matters." He says that he has never seen a maze because he has never left the white spire. He asks you if you have left the white spire, ever, without him, your brother.
w: i tell him of my village, of my house, my wife. i tell him of what little i now remember from outside the white spire. i tell him that we will go to the bottom of the white spire together. i tell him i love him. i try to avert his eyes from the two inside-out bullfrogs i have brought with me.
m: "I wish I could believe you," says your brother. "But you only lie." And because he said it, you know that it's true.
w: guilty, i change the subject. i ask my brother what he thinks of the soft door knob.
m: "I think you could put that on a new, good door somewhere. I think that it might lead you out, if you would let it."
w: i ask my brother to come with me as i look for the gold door.
m: Your brother knows that if you say you are searching for a gold door then you can't be searching for a gold door. He doesn't say this, but he knows it. He says he'll follow you anywhere, and you know that it's true.
w: when i speak, i feel my throat saying the truth. but my mouth lies. when i think, i feel my brain saying the truth. but my body lies. i think of the second bullfrog. i tell my brother to follow me and we continue down.
m: You find the Boss in an otherwise empty white room. He is turning in hesitant, uneven circles, looking lost. There is a golden bandanna hanging out of his back pocket. You see as he turns to face you and your brother bullfrog that he's wearing an eyepatch.
w: i speak to the boss in hebrew, i tell him about how i saw him play in jerusalem. i ask him if he believes in god.
m: "I'M NOT LOST," he says, having apparently misheard you. The Boss realizes his mistake. "I was raised to believe in God. Mostly I don't anymore. But I still believe in Hell."
w: i make a tiny model of the first temple from the bones of the first two bullfrogs. i peel the film from the boss's eye, exposing the eye jelly. i ask my brother to look away as i flick small pieces of eye jelly away. over the course of several hours, i gradually form a tiny wiggling model of solomon. i ask bruce what hell looks like.
m: "A woman in a window. The woman is naked. She doesn't want you to come inside. She wants you to stay on the other side of the glass. There's a red light on her side of the glass. It makes her naked body glow red, and it turns your face red too, as it flickers and sparks. You are being invited inside. But the woman in the window really does not want you inside. She might be a little afraid."
w: i rack my bullfrog brain, trying to remember if bruce has written a song about this hell before. i know it is sad enough to be a springsteen song. i ask him in a language older than hebrew if prostitution really is the oldest profession. i picture the naked woman in my frog mind, start to get horny, and ask bruce springsteen to send me to hell.
m: He says, "The oldest profession is begging for scraps." He says, "I can send you there if you replace my eyes. I need the minotaur's eye in my left socket. I need something else in the right."
w: i place the tiny wiggling solomon in his left socket. i look into his right socket. i know this socket was once filled with eyes like mine. i pluck both my eyes. i pluck both my brother's eyes. i clamber around and place the four bullfrog eyes in springsteen's right socket.
m: If you could see him now then you would see that you have made the Boss strange. He tells you to listen carefully. He doesn't say what for. The sound itself, the one that is coming, might be hell. Listen closely.
w: i listen closely. the strange flat circles of my frog ears vibrate in the dark.
m: You hear a woman's voice. "Don't come in," she says. Your face feels hot. The air has changed. It does not feel like a small, white room, mostly empty. "Don't come in," she says again. She means it.
w: i come in.
m: Then what happens? (I am asking your brother. Because I want the truth.)
w: he barges in. the woman tries to cover herself. she is used to human clients and is embarrassed by the frog in her room. my brother tries to push her against the glass while he turns the red light off. i am still in the white room. bruce seems unphased.
m: Then what happens? (I am asking you. Because I want a lie.)
w: the woman welcomes me into the room and into the bed, which is not hers. springsteen watches from outside the window. i try to pay her with the door knob. she reluctantly accepts this and i leave.
Bio: W. Doak Neal is a Texan living in Chicago.