I breathed in. The faint wind tousled my hair, the water trickled down the artificial stream, and the endless wheat fields danced in the endless breeze.
I breathed out. My eyes cracked open, letting in the warm rays of the unwavering noon sun. The wooden shrine overhead protected me from most of the heat, but I still wasn’t without sweat.
I breathed in. In the distance was the mountain, blue, misty, cloudy. It almost vanished into the backdrop of the world, nothing but an afterthought amid the golden field of wheat that surrounded me.
I breathed out. My hands fell to my side as my concentration was lost among the bamboo chimes. There was something else, though; distorted bird calls, church bells. That was a life I could no longer return to.
I breathed in. A translucent rainbow shimmered across the sky. It was becoming more frequent.
I breathed out. I was stuck in a paradise of my own making.
I breathed in. Was it worth living in paradise if I was trapped? Did I long for serenity, or reality?
I breathed out.
The wind stopped. I heard the final hiss of the wheat stalks as they settled into static, ceasing their constant motion that’s been going on for centuries. I stood on shaky legs, ones that hadn’t been unfolded in an unfathomable amount of time. As I looked over the silent ocean of grain, the water trickling around the pagoda stopped, freezing in place. A sigh left my lips. Another glitch?
And then I heard it, a call, a voice, bidding me to journey forth. The blue mountain had always been an enigma; an unreachable signpost that would lead me out.
I helped myself down from the wooden pagoda above the wheat fields, venturing away from the only place I had known since my birth into this world.
I walked forward, bare feet on solid dirt. It didn’t feel like how I thought it would feel. No cool earthy temperature. No radiating warmth from the sun. No soft soil freshly tilled by worms.
For hours I walked, inside a boundless construct. There was no end in sight.
Something insubstantial hit my head. I brushed my palm across my scalp—it came away wet. Raindrops, large, tangible. They hit the ground with peculiar slaps, like hitting fallen leaves or smacking concrete. I stopped, for a moment losing myself in the realism of it all. That was it. Realism. I hadn’t felt something real in…
The raindrops turned to dust on my head, falling like sand to the harsh ground below. The base of the mountain was something I hadn’t realized I’d reached until I was midway up, and the world I had come to know was small and insignificant. Pools of water began to litter the ground, deep, sopping. It steadily became harder to step around them as they expanded, filling the world with their depths.
I climbed the path along the mountain, alongside the floating gardens. Plants shriveled, regrew, continued their lifecycle confined to the ceramic edges of their pots.
At the top of the mountain I felt my legs falter. Through the glass walls of my world, I saw the sand falling, scattering, turning to raindrops and sand that hit my head, and then I realized: my limitless time in this world was a facade. Each grain of sand falling was a moment wasted. And then I wondered: what was more important? My serenity, or my reality?