According to the Midrash, the ladder signified the exiles which the Jewish people would suffer before the coming of the Messiah. First the angel representing the 70-year exile of Babylonia climbed "up" 70 rungs, and then fell "down". Then the angel representing the exile of Persia went up a number of steps, and fell, as did the angel representing the exile of Greece.
This sort of catches the essence of what I tried to do with this piece. A story with beginnings but no end. It was also inspired by my little friend Lisa, a really fine writer herself. She emailed me with an idea she had for a story in which the main character wakes up from an adventure that was just a dream. Then she goes on with her life and wakes up again. It was just a dream. Again, she goes on as if things are normal and wakes up. Just a dream.
The obvious connection to mythology is the Sysyphus character who was condemned in Tartarus to roll a boulder uphill then watch it roll back down again for all eternity.
The other night I was looking around and came across a wonderful little film on youtube called "Occurence at Owlcreek Bridge" (There are three parts if you watch). I saw this film in college back in the fall of 1976.You might find a tiny connection between "Owlcreek" and my modest story as well.
With this odd little piece, I wanted to present a story in which there is only a single character with no identity, not even a name. It is all a drive to survive. To keep moving forward. The man in all three is the same. You don't know who he is, where he's been, how he's gotten here. It has no beginning and, seemingly, no end.
Thirst. Incredible thirst. Heat. The blazing sun beat down upon his shoulders and the back of his head like a burning hand. His face was turned on its side when he awoke from a deep dreamless sleep. The sand under him was piercingly hot. Had he just fallen? How long had he been lying there? His blistered, cracked lips were leathery as he licked them. Precious moisture from his tongue swiped over his parched lips. He spat out sand and slowly, painfully rose to his knees. His vision was blurred as he lifted his pounding head and gazed out toward the horizon.
Sand blew in dusty clouds. Sand stung his arms and legs. Sand burned his eyes. Sand as far as he could see.
Thirst. If he didn’t find water soon it would be over. His muscles ached; his joints creaked as he rose carefully to his feet. A wave of nausea almost made him black out again. He fought to keep from retching.
He didn’t know which way to walk but he knew that he must keep on moving. Staying where he was meant certain death. Thirst. Water. Water. Thirst. His tongue was heavy in his mouth. Thick. He had sand in his nose and throat. He didn’t know if he would find water in time, but he had to try. He needed to keep lifting his feet and putting them down. One foot in front of the other. His feet were lead. But he kept on walking.
In the distance he could see heat waves rippling off the dunes. It looked vaguely like the water he sought so desperately. But it was a fool’s dream. All he could see was sand. From horizon to horizon. Sand. Hills of it. Valleys. Waves and ripples. Sand.
His eyes ached from the glaring sun. His only relief was to close his eyes. When he did, he stumbled and fell having to painfully get back on his feet. He had to keep his eyes open to the full glare of the tormenting sun. He had to live.
Exhausted, he kept plodding. He wasn’t sure if he was walking in a straight line, but he tried. Every few minutes he looked over his shoulder at his trail. In the distance his footprints faded into a faint blur.
He walked slower and slower. His mouth and throat were so dry and sore he could not even swallow. He knew it wouldn’t be much longer. Maybe one more mile. Trudging on, muscles burning, head pounding, just a few more steps. Then he simply fell. He had so little strength that he could not even break his fall with his hands. At least he turned his face to the side before he hit the hot ground. Sand flew up his nose and into his parched mouth as he drew in breath.
Then – unconsciousness. Dreamless deep sleep. Darkness…