It is always hard to determine where a story begins. Surely it does not start on the first page, in the first chapter, with the first word of the first paragraph. Stories are not that simple. They stretch out farther than what you read in the lines themselves. They stretch out as far as you can imagine, as far as anyone who reads them can imagine. They twist around themselves in complicated, erratic shapes that even the most skilled mathematician could never calculate or measure or make sense of. Stories are infinite.
And I ask myself: Where does my story begin? Perhaps it does not matter. Perhaps we should merely follow it and try to find out where it ends.
The room is vast in its emptiness, a subterranean chamber with concrete walls and thick support posts. The unadorned cement floor stretches out towards dimly lit walls and pitchblack corners. A door of rusty grating is set in one of the shorter walls. Down from the heights of the steep, wooden staircase beyond it, tungsten light seeps between the bars and gives the room a pallid shade of blue.
There is a man here, sitting cross-legged on the middle of the floor. He wears a dark brown robe, and a pointed hood covers his head, jutting up at a ridicolous height of about five or six feet. Two holes have been cut in the stiff, black fabric to let his eyes peer through.
He holds a strip of paper in his hands – plain, ordinary paper. He gives it a half-twist and reconnects the edges with a sliver of tape, creating an inexplicable shape, ridicolous in its impossibility. At a mere glance, the paper seems to have two sides like every other piece of paper you have ever seen. However, if you were to trace one of its two sides all the way around, you would see that there is only one side, going round and round in an endless loop.
The man takes this small, harmless piece of paper and rises from the floor. He is tall, a lean figure under the robe that falls to his ankles. His movements are slow and strangely rigid as he cranes his neck back to gaze at the ceiling. A string hangs from the ceiling, black, about one meter long, nearly invisible in the dim light. The man reaches upwards, attaching the strip of paper to the string. The strip hangs there, a sad little decoration in the desolate chamber.
And all around it, hundreds of other strips, perhaps thousands, hang from a multitude of other strings. They stretch across the entire room in their countlessness, nearly hiding the ceiling from view with their thick, cloud-like layer of hanging bands of paper. They swing back and forth in the occasional breeze, billowing in a huge wave of white, these bizarre festoons and mobiles of simple, yet puzzling shapes.
The man takes one last look at his collection.
He leaves the room, closing and locking the door behind him with a rusty key. He walks up the stairs into the harsh wolfram light.