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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Ladder to the Moon
Ladder to the Moon
by Charlie Fish 2006

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789, 790, 791, 792...

It bothers me that I can't remember my name. I guess it doesn't matter, but it bothers me. It was something simple. It started with a C; or an S...

Never mind. No-one around out here to use it, anyway. I don't mind.

812, 813, 814, 815...

Maybe if I try and think back to my life on Earth, try and replay it in my head. There's not much I remember. It was so long ago.

I used to recite stuff from back then, to keep me sane - to keep me focussed. The ladder is 363,300 kilometres long. 544,950 tonnes of aluminium polymer. One billion, two hundred and eleven million rungs.

Oh, damn, now I've lost count. Oh well, start again.

1, 2, 3, 4...

None of that stuff has much meaning anymore. I'm not sure if it ever did. It doesn't help me remember my name, anyway. It reminds me more of the early days of climbing than of life back on Earth.

I know I used to be famous. I was a writer; a great writer. I had thousands of people asking for my autograph. But I shut them out. I never signed any of my books.

I'm not a writer anymore. I will never write another word. Now, I am a lone explorer. A pioneer. I have but one goal: to climb to the Moon. What greater purpose could there be?

27, 28, 29, 30... Important to keep a regular rhythm...

I remember before that too, when my parents split up. I was lonely then, living with Dad, having to pretend to be someone else. I wasn't even allowed to get in touch with any of my old friends.

When I was fourteen years old, the police relocated us because I testified against Gregory Bradman. I had to tell the court how I watched him murder a cop. I remember Gregory's name, but I don't remember my own. Not that it's really my own name anyway; we had to change them when we moved.

Gregory was sentenced to life imprisonment after my testimony, and he got out after seven years. We were re-housed and given new identities, and that really was for life.

47, 48, 49, 50...

I'm far away from all that now. Up here it's just me and the ladder. Even the elements cannot interfere. My only companions are the Earth below me and the Moon above. Not that the concepts of up and down have much meaning here; in fact, one day the Moon's gravity will pull me, and down will have the opposite meaning that it used to.

Certainly, space is meaningless for now. I need only one dimension. The ladder, a straight line from the past to the future. I am progressing away from the past, towards the future, one rung at a time.

78, 79, 80, 81...

My earliest memory was when I joined the local gang in our Walthamstow housing estate. I had to graffiti-tag a piece of public property, to be initiated. I chose a Dali exhibition at the art gallery. Ruined two extremely valuable paintings. While they were trying to restore them, they framed a couple of prints and put them up instead. No-one could tell the difference. Meaning, by its nature, is a conspiracy.

I used to consider the future as a great and terrifying unknown, and the past as familiar, perversely comforting. Not so now. Now I know exactly where my future lies. And my past? I can't even remember my own name.

Something like Kon-Tiki. Or Son-Tiki. Damn it, why can't I put my finger on it?

104, 105, 106, 107...

The Earth is beautiful behind me, all of its exhausting detail daubed by distance into bold colours, still much larger than the Moon but exerting no influence anymore.

My joints are starting to ache a bit again. I don't have to go through the motions of climbing each rung when there's no gravity, but I'd rather not let go for too long and risk drifting off into space.

Mind you, it might not make much difference. I may never make it to the Moon anyway. It's been so many years - I actually have no idea how many - and I doubt I'm a quarter of the way there yet. But it's the purpose that counts. The journey is more important than the destination.

121, 122, 123, 124...

My father killed himself on my eighteenth birthday. The only dead bodies I ever saw were the cop that Gregory killed, and Dad. I remember wishing I could witness another murder so I could start a new life again.

That's when I started reading. To get away from it all. And writing. Writing kept me sane. In my stories, everyone was important, every life meaningful. They were great books. Suddenly I had money. Suddenly I became defined by what I owned.

But that all changed when Gregory starting posting threats through my letterbox. He sent me messages on the back of art gallery postcards. The Tower of Pleasure and the Pharmacist of Ampursomething. The same two Dali pictures I defaced all those years ago. I remember the names of the paintings, but I'm anonymous to myself.

148, 149, 150, 151...

Maybe if I visualise the cover of one of my books I'll remember my name. My great books that gave meaning to so many people's lives. And the seventh book - the final book - was going to bring it all together and change the world. It would give everyone faith that everything we do has meaning and cosmic resonance. To think that I held that up as the ultimate virtue! Well, out here, what I did has no meaning at all. Out here weight and consequences mean nothing.

I never finished the final book. I couldn't concentrate on it - I couldn't believe in it after what I did. But Gregory would have killed me if I hadn't.

The policemen investigating me knew it was me. Not in person, but they knew I was responsible. So I abandoned the book and planned this very long voyage.

180, 181, 182, 183...

A shuttle is coming - I can feel the vibration. That'll be the nineteenth. Only a few thousand rungs then until the twentieth stops for me and I can refill on food and air. The end of another day, as much as days have meaning. Soon I can strap myself up and get some sleep. I think I'm tiring more easily now I'm older.

It's coming from the Moon. I need to swap sides on the ladder.

This colossal ladder, propelled away from the heavenly bodies it was designed to connect as if it longs to free itself. Even after so long as its confidant, I am enthralled. The ladder's omnipotent constancy is my frame, my support, my life. Straight and strong. And the Earth and the Moon are my equals, all of us beholden to this metal behemoth.

There goes the shuttle. Carrying cargo or people or whatever. Carrying a slice of drudgery.

226, 227, 228, 229...

It's hard to believe that I ever had a good life on Earth. I know some of it must have felt good at the time, but what happened was such a betrayal of all that, it feels like it was always a lie.

How ironic. I can't recall my name, but I can't forget my guilt. A decade celebrating the significance of being, destroyed by a momentary act of perdition.

Out here it's not so clear if my writings - my beliefs about the meaning and weight of existence - are right or wrong. It's not so clear if what happened is right or wrong. All the games my conscience plays are trivial. Now there is only existence and purpose; the meaning and consequences are left behind. Clear and simple.

242, 243, 244, 245...

I ordered Gregory Bradman's death like some kind of megalomaniac dictator. Such phenomenal arrogance. Such cowardice! And I panicked when the over-polite policemen came to inform me that he was dead, just in case I would like to know.

It was that crazed state of mind that led me to do what I did. The man who I had sent to kill Gregory returned for the balance of his payment and, in a moment of madness, I murdered him.

At any other moment in my life I would have made a different decision, but at that moment I was clouded by guilt and heady with fear. I was subject to some twisted logic that told me it was just. I believed for a deluded moment that it was the only way to preserve my name forever. But I destroyed myself.

How many times since then have I wished that I could have transposed that moment for a moment spent on a beach somewhere, where the bloodlust would have dissipated like some foolish daydream?

296, 297, 298, 299...

I am a purer being now. I am absolved, redeemed. I am a celestial body. My purpose is eternal, my significance irreproachable. I have grown beyond the petty things that once tied me to the surface of the Earth, to the frivolities of humanity. I could rip this spacesuit free and rise on unabated! I could touch this cold, sheer ladder with my naked skin, and transcend!

Where is the seam? Where is the latch? How do I get this damn suit off? Oh! The ladder! I'm drifting away!

That was close. I thought I'd had it then. Damn this suit. Damn the shuttles. Damn my wanton mortality.

Kentucky. Kentucky Jones. That's my name. How utterly absurd! How mundane! What on Earth am I supposed to do when my identity is summed up by a thing like that?

I've lost count again. Never mind...

1, 2, 3, 4...

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