The Long Task

The hallway cannot be infinite. Even though the origin point on the horizon never seems to draw any closer, no matter how long I traverse this corridor, I am certain that it must have an end. Nothing, after all, is ever truly infinite. The universe is vast—incomprehensibly so–but has a boundary that circumscribes its existence. And eventually it will fall ever inward, collapsing inward on itself into an infinitely dense point, and space and time itself will cease to be. So it must have an end, for everything does.

Likewise, it must have had a beginning, though it is so far gone these countless years that I can no longer recall it.

The hallway before me is illuminated by lights of every shape size and configuration. Lanterns of wrought iron, frosted glass panes glowing with an inner light. Spheres of colorful paper, phantoms dancing across their inner surface like a shadow puppet theatre. Naked torches, the flame inconstant and capricious. Guttering candles in sconces, the last remnants of wicks trying to prolong their existence as the melted pool of wax grows increasingly more scarce. No two of them are ever exactly alike.

The hallway behind me is lost in the creeping tide of shadow, a void of darkness yawning just beyond the perimeter of the lights nearest to me. Always on my heels, as a well-trained dog follows its master, never stepping out of line, patient as it waits for its reward. Ever I move forward, methodically extinguishing each of the lights as I go. Incrementally, the brightness of the hallway is diminished, and the darkness is increased.

The flames are as varied as their vessels. Some burn with immense joy, some smolder in despair. There are great conflagrations of importance, and quiet embers ended before they even began. One never imagines that fire could come in such a range of character, but I have grown intimately familiar with every possible form it may take, every possible combination of every spectrum of every metric that a fire can possess. Each is singularly unique, which means none of them are, and I snuff each of them out with the same lack of concern for their individuality.

The lights are not evenly distributed. In the most distant recesses of my memory, I can remember the hall so inadequately lit I could not view the ceiling, space enough left between each flame for shadows to dance and play. It has increased over eons, with periodic moments where the hallway is lit with a glut of lamps clustered together more closely than normal. Always, though, the number seems to increase and correspondingly so does the size of these anomalous events. It has gotten to the point where I can barely maintain pace, so overwhelmed am I. I am not without comfort, though. In the distance, I can see a collection of lights so immense that the hallway itself seems ablaze, beyond which are nothing but scattered pinpricks of light.

I do not worry.

I will get there eventually.