I was once walking down the old district of my hometown, a really popular place for tourists. In the twenty-seven years I had lived there, I had strolled down the alleyways countless times, to the point where I knew every corner by heart. That is why I knew something was wrong when I noticed a very tall and imposing building, standing in the place of what I remembered as a residential dead end.
Intrigued by this unexpected apparition, I took out my cellphone to take a picture, which I could possibly share later. However, when I touched the screen to save the image, the screen simply froze, and the device shut itself off. Many attempts to simply gain some kind of view of the building followed, in the hope that this was a simple technical malfunction. None were met with success, except one.
One where the building could not be seen on the screen.
This was a huge red flag which I simply ignored. I should have known better. I should have talked to somebody else about this. But I didn’t.
I approached the building.
From up close, it didn’t seem very outlandish or anything. The whole thing was made out of hard, solid concrete, and patterns showing odd pictograms were repeating themselves along the walls. Above the door, three symbols were engraved: two empty circles, and a filled one.
Feeling a bit apprehensive, I stepped inside.
The bland exterior of the building hid a very luxurious interior. The shelves, counters, walls, ceiling and floor were all made out of pristine acacia wood. Books of all colors, shapes and sizes populated the spaces in racks lined up on the walls. A thick and flawless blue carpet drew a linear pattern across the floor of what seemed to be a library. I could also distinguish a flight of stairs leading down to a dark room in the back.
However, there was not a soul in sight.
I walked up to the counter and rang a little copper bell, hoping someone could answer the many questions I thought up in the past few minutes.
The library itself answered.
One of the books immediately fell out of the shelves. It was named “Welcome to the Library.”
The first page read:
“This is a collection of thoughts and dreams. Here, concepts which can only exist in the human mind such as time travel, instant teleportation, alchemical constructs and the like are documented methodically. While it is not advised for a mere mortal such as you to wander too long in this place, you may, if it is what you wish, acquire a membership card. We would advise against it, as it was a simple accident that you found your way in here; however, it is not our duty to prevent access to knowledge.”
Of course, I wasn’t going to let go of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gain knowledge of unfathomable concepts, which I could then showcase to the world, in the hope of gaining immense recognition. I was sure there was a catch, though.
“What is the price?” I asked out loud.
The page turned itself and showed these words:
“The Library does not accept mortal currency, as it is useless to its functioning. The main problem is that it would be technically impossible for these books and their contents to exist according to physical laws. The sole reason why you are able to touch, see and feel this place is thanks to every intelligent mind in the universe thinking about the subjects we mentioned previously since the dawn of time. The only thing we ask of you is that you occasionally think about the Library and its contents, and that you visualize it like you were here. That way, all of the knowledge here will never be lost.”
Inconceivable truths at the simple price of having to think about them from time to time seemed like a good bargain. I asked for a membership card. It simply fell out of one of the pages of the welcoming book.
“You now have access to the many tomes and resources present in the Library. Enjoy.”
I was initially thrilled about what secrets this mysterious place may hold, but was soon disappointed.
Out of the hundred or so books I pulled out of the shelves, most of them were simply bearing strange glyphs and symbols, and the few that actually made sense were simply displaying impossible paradoxes or shapes, like the ones you see in optical illusions.
I decided to head down the staircase at the back; maybe I could find something of interest in the lower floor.
The basement was completely empty, besides a yellow book thrown on the floor, and a computer which seemed to be turned off on a desk.
The tome seemed to be a travel guide, according to the maps displayed on the back. The title was simply “∞”.
As I was about to open the book, the computer turned itself on and showed the following:
“As we can see, you are not satisfied by your experience in the Library. This was expected; after all, you are very far from the enlightenment required to understand at most a tenth of the knowledge contained here. The Book of Infinity has the ability to provide you with comprehension of the glyphs you have encountered here. However, we strongly advise you to step back now and exit. If you open this tome, you, too, will belong to the imaginary plane the Library exists in, and will need to never be forgotten by the world in order to pursue your existence. You are not ready for this yet. Patience is a virtue. This is your last chance to leave, you have already seen too much.”
I didn’t listen. How could I keep living a normal life after all this? It didn’t take long before the so-called “Book of Infinity” lied open on the desk.
Inside were series of small sun symbols alternating between black and white, and a few pictures of a desert-like landscape. What really made these images stand out was to notable absence of any obstacles, rocks, vegetation or hills. It was just sand everywhere. The sky was illuminated by three suns, two white and one black.
Another important detail: the book had infinite pages. When I tried to get to the beginning or the end of the tome, pages just kept sprouting from thin air. There were no page numbers; only sun symbols.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I opened the Book of Infinity, but it was just as nonsensical as the other documents of the Library.
“Well, this whole ordeal was entirely useless,” I thought to myself, as I climbed back up the staircase.
It wasn’t over, though.
The steps just kept on going forever. I lifted my head and saw that the end was out of sight. My heart started beating a little bit faster. The symbol “∞” came back to my mind.
I decided to walk backwards, and soon found myself back in the basement. However, let’s say it was a bit different.
Copies of the Book of Infinity were littered on the floor everywhere. All of the walls of the room had been broken down. I was now in a field of yellow travel guides which kept on going into the distance for all of eternity, to the point where it was impossible to see the acacia planks which once formed the basement. The computer was still standing on its desk, with a black ∞ symbol covering the whole screen.
The stairwell was still standing behind me, mocking me with its unending steps.
I furiously tried to think of a potential solution to escape this madness. I wondered: if infinity was a perpetual sequence, perhaps removing one element from said sequence was the key to my escape.
I took a Book of Infinity and tore one of the pages apart.
One random tome in the distance exploded in a blast of pages flying everywhere. The computer’s screen went black. And most importantly, one of the steps of the stairwell vanished from existence.
Feeling hopeful, I climbed back up the stairs, already thinking about victory. My heart was probably about to jump out of my chest.
I burst out in a short cry of joy when the immaculate blue carpet from the main floor came into view.
A very short cry of joy.
Outside the Library, there was an endless plane of sand, with no obstacles in sight. Three suns illuminated this barren landscape: two white and one black.
And I just felt, in the very bottom of my soul, that no matter how many grains of sand were present, only one was missing. The one I needed to get back home.
For a very long period of time now, I have remained imprisoned in the Library. The Librarians, as it is how I called the strange presence which welcomed me in this place, have never contacted me again. I know that I am entirely dependent on my family and my friends, who are still wondering what happened to me. If they were to die or to forget me, my existence would cease, as I am now the Library and the Library is me.
It’s not all that bad though; I can comprehend every book in here now, and I know of truths beyond mortal comprehension, which I cannot describe in any human language. I may also control the computer in the basement just like a normal one. It is how I managed to get in touch with you, dear reader.
My purpose was not to simply entertain you with my story. Sometimes, I can feel myself fading. I occasionally forget some things from my past life. I know that, out there, all the people who knew me are starting to forget me.
Please, I beg you. Every month, every week, or even every day if you can, think about me. Think about me, stuck in an endless desert with three suns. Do not let me be forgotten.
I want to exist.
And if you really care, imagine that I will once open a book, and that a single grain of sand will drop out of it. Perhaps, if your will is strong enough, dear reader, I will be able to find my way back home and support the growth of humanity with my newfound knowledge.
It might take a while.
But I can wait.
∞ – 1 = ∞