About every third revolution, the wheel squeaked. Not just your average squeak, mind you, but the kind of squeak that says that metal is grating on metal with destructive intent. My wheel was my everything; I couldn’t bear the thought of it wearing out, or, worse, falling apart with me in it.
I began to obsess about the squeak. I imagined that if I paid close enough attention, I could at least catch it in the act, and save myself.
Because I needed to go for it on that wheel. I needed to feel the pulse of my own pounding little legs. To stop was to die.
It pained me to stop even for water. And food just slowed me down, tied up my insides with useless energy that should be going to the Wheel.
I don’t remember when I began to fantasize about being able to will the wheel to stay intact. One minute I was listening for minute changes in the tone of the squeak that would tell me its secrets; the next minute, I felt my thoughts going out from my head and into the heart of the wheel–the axle, the hub, down deep into the very parts that rubbed so dangerously together.
I barely felt the lifting in my heart when my intent changed. I read every subtle difference in sound as a positive effect of my gerbly will. I began to believe, but I dared not share my thoughts with the other gerbils. They were fools, all of them, spending their time in transparent tunnels, pondering nothing more meaningful than the dry taste of chemicals artificially molded into simulacra of various grains.
I knew what I had done, but I wasn’t finished: I was on the Path, knowledge of which had been passed down from generation to generation. The Path of freedom through intense focus on the One Thing. How many tomes had been scratched into the litter over the ages, all giving us insights into what the One Thing might be. It was not love, it was not procreation, it was not even, as an old gerbil I’d known in my youth had suggested, the relief of an itch by clever means.
It was the Wheel, and the pursuit of infinite wheeling. For that was the purpose of projecting my will on the axle: just as the Wheel’s life was extended, so was my own.
I lost weight; it cleared my vision even more than I could have hoped possible. I found speed and peace; it was not until I passed out from hunger, and my body was thrown against the wheel and the axle broke and I vaulted to the very heaven of my enclosure, that I realized my error.
Now I sit and scratch these words in the litter, and I can only hope that the Wheel, sitting now bent and silent, forgives me my lapse.