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Experiment 5

The Slipway

page 10

The Slipway

How he came to be on the slipway he could not comprehend. Certainly he had not chosen it, nor had he been warned of its existence by those who had instructed him in the way to the temple. All he knew was that when he had last gone to sleep his world was as he usually understood it, and that now he was sliding.

It was useless to speculate as to how he had arrived here, he told himself. Metaphysics would not save him. The point was to discover what the slipway meant. To do this he needed to be practically observant. His motion, he noticed was gradual and comfortable.

Looking about him, he learned that the slipway was extremely broad, stretching to the horizon on either side of him and as far as he could see, was divided into greased channels occupied by people similar to himself, all of them gliding easily downward. Nobody seemed alarmed.

'Perhaps I am still on the way to the temple,' he thought. 'It is true that my instructors told me the way would be hard, but progress has broached so many fields of late that I shouldn't wonder if improvements have been made to the way to make the temple accessible to more pilgrims than formerly. At any rate the people around me don't seem afraid, therefore its logical to conclude that there's nothing to be frightened of.'

"Excuse me," he said politely to the fellow traveller relaxing in the channel to his left. "I have only recently Joined the company on the slipway, and as yet cannot be sure as to where it is conveying me. Could you enlighten me?"

"Have you no eyes?" exclaimed his fellow traveller. "Look below you. You can see that all are headed to the realm of the only possible good. Compose yourself. You have nothing to fear."

Doing as he was bid, the new arrival perceived a large tank of slightly steaming liquid manure, into which opened the mouths of the slipway channels. Upon its flank was inscribed: Erected By Dame Nature For The Common Welfare.

Within the tank people were swimming and convivially splashing one another, not at all disconcerted by the nature of the element they were occupying. They had arranged themselves into two groups, one situated to the left of the tank, the other to the right. Between these two parties much friendly banter was being exchanged.

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'There seems little here to complain of,' mubed the newcomer. 'Everybody seems happy enough, although I have always been taught that the substance they find so much to their taste is unhealthy. But while I have no quarrel with the mode of life they have adopted, I must remember that my goal is the temple.'

Turning again to his companion, he said: "I daresay all present find the goal before us agreeable. However, my proposed destination is the temple, where, I have been informed, a man may by personal diligence transcend his flesh and inherit the wonder of the universe. Would you be so kind as to tell me in what direction from here my journey lies ?"

"The temple," laughed the other. "Have you too been told that fable ? All these good folk you see around you arrived here equipped with dreams of that mythical institution, all that is, except those lucky few who were given a thorough education in the nature of reality from their earliest years. The temple does not exist. Advanced minds, some of whom you can see sporting below you, proved this long ago and freed the rest of us from illusion. The temple is an invention of ignorant and superstitious minds. It does not exist, I tell you."

"Do not believe him!" cried a voice on the other side.

The newcomer looked opposite and saw, also sliding, a man whose limbs were distorted and scarred, and whose face was twisted into a permanent symbol of agony. "The temple exists," continued this cripple. "If you look over your shoulder you will see it. Much good may it do you, for the celestial precincts can never be attained. Examine me. Did you ever see a creature uglier ? I became as I am when I tried to climb to the temple. Now I slide because nothing else is possible. I have accepted my lot."

"But how. How did you become thus?" queried his listener, shocked.

"Attempt to climb and you will find out for yourself," muttered the other. "I will say no more. Leave me to lament the torment I have endured."

"That man is a fool," broke in the man who had first answered the newcomer. "Of course if you turn from good and pursue your own folly you will come to harm. If you take my advice, you'll not heed what the cripple has said and accept things as they are."

Not answering, the newcomer looked over his shoulder. There at the top of his channel shone the turrets of the temple. 'There was something in what the cripple said,' he thought.

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As he looked the outline of the temple assumed greate and greater clarity, and an inward voice, restrained but persistent, begged him to climb. "Better to be a cripple who has approached the temple," it murmured, "than a whole man whose cleverness has deprived him of the possibility of attaining the miraculous. If you do fail, the failure will be one of attempt, not of blindness."

He began to ease himself up the slipway. As he did so, iron spikes commenced to rise through the floor which rocked and writhed beneath him. 'Now I know what happened to the cripple,' he thought. 'Nevertheless, I intend to climb.'

One he dragged himself while his limbs were rent by the spikes and robbed of their symmetry.

"Stop. Please stop," shouted the one who believed that the temple did not exist. "What do you think you will prov by destroying yourself? You are perverting the pattern of intelligent behaviour. You are mad. Below you is happiness, but you are throwing it away for an hallucination."

"Leave him be," said the cripple in a bored and pitying voice. "He will not get far. A little experience will make him a wiser man. Then he will rejoin us."

By this time many others on the slipway had noticed what the newcomer was doing. They exploded into laughter. "What a clown," they cried, seeing in the climber a distortion of the norm.

Insensate to the derision of those below him, the climber, bit back the ever attendant impulse to scream at the stab of each spike. He was making progress. In his ears throbbed the voices of a choir praising.

End piece by Barbara Moffat and Ross O'Rourke