hooded man face cannot be seen

The Knowable Failures

by Samuel Parr

Step One: Exploration

If you join r/windowlessroom on Reddit, you will learn about the Gift of the Meaningless Library, and your obsession will begin.

First, you will see a series of threads on the forum. Most of these are discussions, posted by general users. For example, see the below screenshot:

r/windowlessroom. Posted by u/DesperateHope two years ago.

Subject: What is the Meaningless Library?

Hello fellow introverts!

Great to be part of the forum. Everyone’s here for the same reason right? We’ve all heard the rumours. My friend told me about this a while back, though she never got far.

So, any guesses on what/where the Library is, and what the ‘Gift of the Vague’ gives us?

TheBackground: Thanks for posting! Members of the community, please note that our moderators check all posts for unsavory behavior. This is a place where you can be yourselves freely.

// I am a bot and this action was performed automatically //

QuietWatcher: Nice to see you here OP. I’ve just joined too. I heard the Library’s Gift gives you some Marvel superpowers—superspeed, strength, invisibility. Excited to see if I’m accepted 😉

UncorroboratedIdentity: Lol, check out OP, pretending he’s got a friend. Let’s face it, on this forum we’re all loners. That’s why we’re here after all. I reckon the Library’s a metaphor or something. You know, for some Cthulhu shit.

ShorelessSea: As long as it can help me escape.

u/DesperateHope: Damn downer much lol. Escape isn’t a fun superpower.

ShorelessSea: Is this a joke to you all?? You shouldn’t be here. 

So many speculations. So many try and define the Library, and the Gift. They claim it must be from an angel, or the magic of some primordial god, or our own delusions about modern life, reflected back at us.

I don’t recommend you participate in such discussions. Except for ShorelessSea, all of the above users were banned by the moderators soon after posting.

Not that you want to, do you? You want to lurk. To watch.


However, there are threads you will need to respond to, where the Moderators have posted questions. It is these that they really pay attention to. And you need to impress them, to access the Library.

Do not worry, I am here to help you. Below are the questions, and example answers taken from older forums. My annotations are in brackets. Note those that were successful, and those that weren’t.

r/windowlessroom. Posted by TheBackground two years ago.

Subject: Question 1

Who are you?

TheBackground: Members of the community—please note that our moderators will be checking any posts for unsavory behavior. This is a place where you can be yourselves freely.

// I am a bot and this action was performed automatically //

ScreenGhost: I’m a father to three beautiful children. I’m a loving husband. I’m also an ex-con, which I guess is why I’m here in the first place. I’ve heard what the Library can offer someone like me. A fresh start. For me, and my family.

ShorelessSea: I don’t know who I am. I don’t care, either.

(ScreenGhost was unsuccessful. I’m sure you expected that though. The Gift would never suit someone with such heavy identity.)

r/windowlessroom. Posted by TheBackground two years ago.

Subject: Question 2

If you could be anything, what would you be?

(successful answers:)

HushedForest: A one way mirror.

SilentFortress: A ream of stardust.

ShorelessSea: A winter’s night.

(unsuccessful answers:)

ScreenGhost: A dragon.


ArmyGirl: A good person.

r/windowlessroom. Posted by TheBackground two years ago.

Subject: Question 3

If you were invisible, what would you do?

FunkRenegade: I know I’m supposed to answer honestly, so here goes. I’d do tons of stuff. Imagine walking into a bank, and taking all the money you wanted. Hell, you’d not even need money anymore. Imagine going out, and seeing a hot girl, and knowing you could follow her home and watch her undress. I’d do it all. There’s so many of my friends I’ve wanted to see naked, and watch, and touch.

JealousName: I’m not sure I’d do anything different. I’d just go about my day, doing what I always did.

(Both answers were unsuccessful. FunkRenegade’s ideas are clearly sordid and mean. JealousName’s content was not the problem. The problem was that she was lying.)

r/windowlessroom. Posted by TheBackground two years ago.

Subject: Question 4

Tell us about a time when you felt limited.

ShorelessSea: My family sees me as the breadwinner. I work twelve hour shifts at a warehouse, four nights a week. I barely see Emily, my wife, but she leaves me messages on our dining room table, like we’re some 19th century couple. “You’re beautiful.” “You’re my saviour.” “You what keeps our family alive.”

What bothers me isn’t the work. I like packing Amazon boxes twelve hours a day. It’s easy and repetitive, and I can lose myself in the labyrinth of shelves, hide from everyone at least for a moment.

No, it’s Emily’s labels of me. Her expectations. They push me into something I’m not. My identity is so much less. Even when she’s not there, I feel like she’s watching me, peeking behind cardboard boxes, expecting me to be great.

That’s why I’m here, I think. I want to be free. Carrying so many meanings is exhausting.

(ShorelessSea’s answer was successful.)

You understand what to do. It’s very simple. Answer the questions. I’ve offered you all the help I can—most applicants never get this level of insight.

Take time to consider your answers. The moderators want your truths, not your surface responses. If you’re lying, they will know. They’ve all been where you are, after all.

I’d say good luck, but luck doesn’t matter here. Not to us.

Step Two: Installation

We all have a need, don’t we, to see, but not be seen. Consider how all of us pour our lives into TV and films and novels, into these stories we can’t ever change. We love to exist apart from the drama of these other worlds, love to laugh and cry and want these people that can never see us. We find the Fourth Wall a comfort, and a power. We long for it.

It hurts when the show expires, the book terminates, and we are forced back into ourselves.

Congratulations. I’ve just heard. You passed.

The Moderators have now given you access into the r/meaninglesslibrary subreddit. Welcome.

They have also told me that you work for the Ministry of Defence. I wondered how you were paying my fees.

Be calm. This doesn’t hurt your chances. We know that’s not why you’re really here, despite what your bosses think about the Gift of the Vague, and the ‘tactical advantage’ you told them it could give your agency. You’re not an Espionage Support Officer. I’m not saying you’re more than that title, but less.

Let that thought sit with you. Liberating, isn’t it?

Onto your next stage. You can now access the old locked threads. If you wish, you may talk with other successful applicants.

You are a step closer, but there are now more questions to answer. They are old posts now. Responding to them may feel like you are speaking to a grave.

I will share more examples.

You may have doubts. You may wonder whether the rumours are true, or if the Gift of the Vague is a fairy tale, a creepypasta, an internet lie.

Have faith.

r/meaninglesslibrary. Posted by TheBackground ten years ago.

Subject: Question 1

What is the fundamental human need?

CarefulReflection: To devour things.

TVLover: To be loved.

RiverBorder: To be understood.

NamelessNeed: To watch.

SilentLake: To be.

ShorelessSea: To define and categorise. And I hate it.

(I hope by now you can guess that the first three were unsuccessful)

r/meaninglesslibrary. Posted by TheBackground ten years ago.

Subject: Question 2

Tell us about a time you were truly happy.

ShorelessSea: The other day, I stopped at a service station.

I was driving back from a job interview for a Marine Ecological Biologist. The job was in Scotland, seven hours drive from our house, but I went because Emily wanted me to stop doing nights at the warehouse, and start using my degree.

I didn’t get the job. The recruiter rang me on the way home. He sounded so sad, like he knew what he was giving me—the label, the definition, of a reject.

So, I stopped at this services. It was pretty small, just a pair on beige concrete buildings, huddled off the M6. It had a café, The Coffee Shack—if it was a chain, I’d never heard of it. It had maybe twenty foldaway plastic tables, none of which were occupied for more than half an hour. The servers were all tired middle-aged women, who made the coffee by pressing a button. Somehow the whole place smelt of lemon disinfectant.

I turned off my phone, and found a spot in one corner, where the striplights weren’t working. No-one could see me.

It was perfect.

It was like I didn’t exist. I could watch everyone pass by, and they didn’t see me. Everything about me fell away, until I was just being. I found I didn’t care about the job at all.

I was finally free.

It didn’t last, of course. When I got back home, I told Emily about the rejection. She said it was okay, that we’d manage, but I could feel her disappointment, like I was her child rather than her partner. All the labels and definitions that everyone had even given me came back. I was so heavy with them, I couldn’t breathe.

(ShorelessSea’s answer was successful)

r/meaninglesslibrary. Posted by TheBackground ten years ago.

Subject: Question 3

Do you want to die?

SilentLake: It’s hard writing this, but maybe. I think so. I’m ready for this to end.

ShorelessSea: No. There’s so much to live for.

(SilentLake was booked into ten weeks of private counselling sessions the next day. His account was then banned.)

r/meaninglesslibrary. Posted by TheBackground ten years ago.

Subject: Question 4

If you were unknowable, what would you be?

(I won’t give you help for this one. Just answer honestly. Take your time. Think for days, weeks, months if you need to. There is no rush. It took me two years and the promise of a divorce before I could find the right words.

While you consider, you may notice things changing in your house. Your front door ajar when you were sure you checked all four bolts. Your work laptop unlocked, with its email open. Your second bedroom freshly dusted, the worn sofabed open and ruffled, like it was slept in.

Waking up in the darkness, sure you felt a breath on your face.

All part of the process. The moderators are thorough in their checks.)

Step Three: Dislocation

Goodness. You have passed again.

It is incredibly rare, for someone to move through the stages so quickly. If I didn’t trust the Moderators, I’d wonder if you were cheating.

But I do trust the Moderators. Absolutely.

You have been granted access to the final subreddit. R/CimmerianLighthouse.

Yes, the Library was a metaphor. The Moderators needed some way for our minds to approximate what they offer. The Cimmerian Lighthouse is another one. It is hosted on Reddit, but its workings are far deeper. The server clocks reset constantly, and all users are nameless save TheBackground. It is perfect, for people like us. We are one of only a handful, to get to this place.

R/CimmerianLighthouse contains a single post:

r/CimmerianLighthouse. Posted by TheBackground two hundred years ago.

Subject: Meeting Link.

On that thread will be a link to a video stream.

Yes, it is time. You will now meet the Moderators.

You have already encountered them of course. But this time, they will let you see them.

Understand the honour of this. Each of the Moderators has received the Gift of the Vague. It is their antithesis, to let you do what you’re about to.

But you need to look, to understand. There are no questions for this third step. Only this final challenge.

You have seen a Moderator, haven’t you?

I wonder what your brain attempted, when you opened that video stream. Did you see a stroke of shadow, and believe it first fur, then a snout, then just a trick of the shadow? Did you see a stitch of lines that looked like a silver necklace, then a curled snake, then a string of eyes? Did you feel like you were reading a book, reading for hours, yet not understanding a word?

One thing I know you saw: a livestream of inanimate things, then the sense of a presence, sliding in and out of your consciousness like a mark on the carpet that seems a face in one light, then only a bloodstain the next.

Yes, the Gift of the Vague is real, and the Gifted walk among us.

Understand this. You have already seen the Gifted a thousand times. You just haven’t realized it. They are the man in the unoccupied café table, the watcher behind the one-way glass, the stranger sleeping in the second room. They are so much less than a person, and so much purer.

Call it what you will. Magic. A Miracle. A Haunting. You will have questions: where did this power come from? Why?

I don’t know. I only know that they have always been here, with us. Perhaps a god gave them this gift. Perhaps they evolved this way, a survival strategy to cope with the relentless meanings that are forced on us all.

The answers don’t matter. What matters is that you too can be given this Gift. All your wishes can be granted.

Of course, right now you are terrified. It is such human nature, to define, to categorise. Understand your fear is your base impulses, enshrined in your reptile brain, trying to assert themselves. Just as you resisted the urge to stab your boss in the eye with your blue Staedtler ballpoint pen, you can resist this.

I will give you some time. If you still decide that you want this Gift, wire my final payment across, and I will guide you through the final step.

Step Four: Disintegration

I thought I might be hearing from you. You are calm now. You want this.

Then follow my instructions to purify yourself.

You will first need to cut out any Significant Others in your life. Spouses. Parents. Children. Bosses, if you can. Anyone whose gaze defines you.

You then must free yourself of all your material wealth. Property. Money. Things. We don’t care how—we don’t need them. This isn’t a cult.

Once you have done this, once you are wandering and alone, floating in the drifts of all the other lives in your city, as a final act of devotion you will need to sever a digit. A toe, perhaps, or a finger. Which one is up to you.

All of this shows your commitment. Once you have done this, once you have been washed as clean as you can of all your meanings, access the video link again. Ask the Moderators to share their Gift.


I admit, I am envious.

After all, I am one of the Failures.

I came so close. I saw the Moderators, not once, but twice.

Yet when I tried to leave Emily, I lasted only days. Without her definitions, the endless pressure of her belief, I fell apart. I felt like I was in a vacuum. When I saw the Gifted again, I could not ask. Instead, I committed sacrilege. I saw its endless interpretations and invested them with meaning. In its patterns, I saw Emily’s eyes, shining with hope.

To be Gifted is to exist outside of understanding. To be a watcher, a pure expression of being. I wasn’t desolate enough, defiant enough, daring enough, to choose to never be known.

Emily left me anyway. Now I live alone, in a basement apartment, a windowless room. The ghost of her hope haunts me. I never tried to reach out to her. I thought there was still a chance, that I too could be granted the Gift.

I should contact her. I’ve got money now; enough, perhaps, to buy us a new life. Because seeing you go through this all so effortlessly makes me understand that, no matter how much I want solitude, I need other people. I will never be Gifted. I love my limits too much.

I’m sorry, for making you cut off your index finger. You didn’t need to do that part. I was jealous, you see, that you could have what I couldn’t. I wanted you to suffer.

I’m writing this final memo on lined paper rather than over email. It’s on my desk. I hope you come to see it. Perhaps you want to have your revenge: haunt my house, break my things, smile and cry at the image of me drinking alone, in my single bed. That’s fine, it’s all fine. My mind won’t let me see you. I won’t know you’re there.

But when you arrive, I need you to see me. Understand me. Please.