There is but one stairwell in the world that delves below oblivion. The French call itL’escalier de L’oubli, and who would understand the fiery underworlds of wantonness and debauchery better than they?
I discovered it one afternoon while on a guided tour of Versailles, nary a stone’s throw from the vaunted gardens of Louis XIV’s grand chateau. I held only a mild interest in 17th century French politics – though perhaps a greater and slightly morbid fascination with 18th century French beheadings – and my mind wandered frequently. Thankfully, the banality of oft-repeated populist history was made tolerable by the wit of a rotund tour guide. He had a mocking laugh and a sardonic manner. His hair curled upwards around his ears. And he quipped incessantly on the nature of palaces and kings and of Marie Antoinette’s famous tulip tree, recently uprooted in a vicious windstorm. Soon, however, his jocularity grew tiresome.
And thus, with my mind utterly unabsorbed, I was delighted to discover my muse in the distance, dallying in the shadows of a long tipped willow. She smiled. She waved. She licked her lips and let her tongue linger in my sight as she twirled in a white cotton dress of miraculous transparency. No doubt she wanted me to follow her, and nothing felt so grand as giving her what she wanted, but the tour guide had no concern for my passions and fretted on, leading the group to yet another painstakingly similar garden. I, always mindful of my muse, paid him no heed and succumbed to Her temptation.
She, of course, took pleasure in my angst and bemused herself by making sport of my predicament. Thus, as I approached, she moved further away, teasing me with memories of her touch, of her lips, of her radiance. I venture to say few men are ever lucky enough to touch their muse, to feel the perfection of the mind’s most unrelenting desire. Sadly, those lucky souls who do must suffer every second of every age with the insatiable need to touch her again.
I would know. I am one of them. And now she was running away.
Into the twisted forests of history, I bid farewell to caution and followed her laughter. It was not the first time, nor the last, and yet to date it was the most memorable. Through manicured pathways of cobblestone, ceilinged by overarching tree limbs, she danced and swayed and drew me onward. We passed small thickets of lavender where she paused long enough for me to catch her intoxicating scent on the wind.
Eventually we stumbled into a copse of pine trees. They were tall and majestic, brilliantly green in the afternoon sun. But instead of dirt and twigs and pinecones, I saw hand laid brick in a circle ten meters wide. At the center of the circle, the brick fell away into blackness. Only when the muse vanished into the depths did I realize what I had found. L’escalier de L’oubli.
I did not linger long, for I had grown to trust my muse, even when she might leave me barren and bereft of words for weeks or months at a time. The moments of brilliance she inspired, so rare and so unpredictable, were worth a thousand ages of loneliness and heartbreak combined, and therefore her whims could not dissuade me.
The descent began uneventfully as I plunged into the void unable to see or hear anything beyond my footfalls. I felt apprehension, driven at all times by lust and a fascination with the mind of a muse. As I descended, I encountered varying degrees of slope and direction but reached no landings or obvious turns. I began to count the steps. I reached a thousand, and then a thousand more, as though I was a point on a line that forever approached infinity but always failed to reach it. At various moments I heard echoes. At other moments I heard screams. Usually I heard nothing at all.
The first glimpse of light appeared as a faint glow around my feet. Soon I could perceive the outline of the stairs in silhouette. The darkness gave way to a cavernous opening, and I reached the first landing.
What came into view was impossible and inspiring. Off in the distance sat an emerald city high atop a glorious plateau, like the Land of Oz come alive. I heard singing and celebration. I saw sparklers and balloons and skyscrapers alight with fireworks. Waterfalls shimmered and people laughed and gold coins littered the streets. But the city, it seemed, had a wall. A mighty wall thirty feet high that spanned the width of the plateau to encircle the prosperous people within. Outside, there was nothing. Nothing but barren, black rock, dry and desolate. Nothing but people starved and frightened and tearful. They clambered near the gates, shoving and fighting, begging for entrance. Emaciated children played in the craters, naked and cold, while adults who had stopped pleading with the gatekeepers scavenged for sustenance. There was none to be found. No food. No water. No love. And in the shadows of spectacle and overindulgence, a million less fortunate souls began to die. They wilted like tulips in the desert, dry and hopeless. Their screams grew loud. Their cries of anguish and hunger went unheard by everyone but me, and so I continued on my way. What else could I do but plunge again into darkness?
The next light was warm and yellow and the screams were not of pain when I arrived at the second landing. Instead of cavernous ruins and a giant city, I had stumbled upon an ornate bedroom of considerable size. Four poster beds of red mahogany filled every corner. I saw plush sofas and warm bubbling baths. And people. Hundreds of people. Men and women, naked, fucking in every conceivable nook, in every conceivable manner. Appendages flailed in orgasmic unison as lovers roiled in a raucous wave of orgiastic sport. Admittedly, I grew aroused. The sheer mass of nudity, all of it pristine and muscular and smooth and perfect, urged me to leap off the stairwell into this den of pleasure. But something felt odd. Soon I noticed the faces of those around me. Many were crying. Many were screaming in pain, begging for an end to an unnamed and unseen torture. Fists began to fly. Teeth began to chomp. Thrusts grew into battery. Sensuality and passion became vengeance and hatred. The cries echoed. The faces grew hideous. These were no longer men and women but beasts and devils, and they hated each other, and they fought, and they killed, and soon the entire room became a messy battlefield of bloody corpses. I no longer felt aroused, and so I continued down the stair.
At the third landing, I paused again, this time in an open field of green grasses and flowering trees. Far off I saw an automobile stopped on a circular section of pavement. It sat alone, idling in a serene Impressionistic landscape of swaying brush and mottled colors. Black smoke belched from its exhaust pipe. Quickly the circle of pavement grew wider, and a second automobile materialized. Then a third. And a fourth. Soon dozens and thousands of cars begat thousands and millions more. The pavement overtook the fields. Industrial obelisks rose into the sky. Acid fell from the clouds. The vegetation burned and melted and vanished, replaced by concrete and tar and smog. But soon the pavement cracked. The automobiles stopped. Weeds emerged and spread, weaving their limbs into the chassis, clogging the pipes. And the acid began to freeze, and the pavement cracked further, and soon the ice rose in layers to engulf every rusting automobile. The once green landscape fell victim to a whitewash of blown out innovation and frozen progress. And I continued downward.
I cannot now recall or recount ever