The Pantheon

The Pantheon: Conversation with a Stranger

March 21, 2021 Joshua White
The Pantheon
The Pantheon: Conversation with a Stranger
Chapters
The Pantheon
The Pantheon: Conversation with a Stranger
Mar 21, 2021
Joshua White

If this isn't meta, I don't know what is. 

 The Pantheon is written and produced by Joshua White.

  Sharing Links: 
 https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-pantheon/id1498984739
 https://www.buzzsprout.com/811181
 https://www.instagram.com/the_pantheon_remembers/
 https://open.spotify.com/show/6Pmngtn7BBnOeAiOzAriHJ
 https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-the-pantheon-57860820/
 https://podcasts.google.com/?  feed=aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5idXp6c3Byb3V0LmNvbS84MTExODEucnNz  

Show Notes Transcript

If this isn't meta, I don't know what is. 

 The Pantheon is written and produced by Joshua White.

  Sharing Links: 
 https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-pantheon/id1498984739
 https://www.buzzsprout.com/811181
 https://www.instagram.com/the_pantheon_remembers/
 https://open.spotify.com/show/6Pmngtn7BBnOeAiOzAriHJ
 https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-the-pantheon-57860820/
 https://podcasts.google.com/?  feed=aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5idXp6c3Byb3V0LmNvbS84MTExODEucnNz  

The boy’s head was throbbing. Not only that, but his legs were wobbling, and every inch of his skin was in pain. They hadn’t let him sleep in two days, to get him readjusted to the new planet. He understood the purpose, of course, but wished that his first experience in this new… what was it? Life? Job? He couldn’t quite tell. Whatever it was, he solemnly hoped that this pain he was feeling right now wouldn’t be representative of the future. 

But a rancid little squeak in his gut assured him that it would be. 

The alcove was sparse. The boy couldn’t quite tell if it had been designed to look abandoned, or if it really was the work of some long lost people. It didn’t matter. It looked nice, and the somber pitter patter of water from the rooftop moss put his mind at ease, at least a little. It was quiet. The engines had cooled, and what people hadn’t already departed to their quarters or business were mulling about in their own little groups, conversing in hushed, but not bitter tones. Not one person kept eyes on him. Not even himself. 

He felt a bit guilty for not sticking around to enjoy the atmosphere or converse a bit more with his fellow passengers. He knew that was something he needed to do, to ingratiate himself with other people, grow close to them. Even if it hurt when the boy inevitably moved on, the joy in between was better than anything he could offer himself. 

But he was here for a job. A couple of months, nothing more. Whatever regret he would feel towards his apathy today would be almost nothing. A tiny drop in a bucket. He was tired from traveling, anyway. He was going to find his lodgings and get a nice dose of sleep. Yes, that was the best course of action. That’s what he told himself.

Another hundred steps into the alcove. No, alcove was the wrong term for it. It was more of a cavern than anything. No, a tunnel. A tunnel so large it almost defied the curvature of the planet. The great brown rock faces were smoothed by hundreds of years of weathering. What little details and curves the stone managed to preserve were covered over in thick green moss fed with the pitter patter of water from above. It was altogether not an unpleasant place. It was alien to the boy, sure, but at this point, things being alien sort of meant they were expected, normal. An oxymoron, perhaps, but then the boy’s default was change. 

Sort of. A change that never changed. And so he was nearly to his destination. He clung to the sides of the tunnel, like most passerby. They were better illuminated, and a weird feeling crawled up his spine whenever he went to the broad expanse of the middle. A mixture of claustrophobia and agoraphobia. Anyways, it was weird, and he didn’t like it. 

And so the boy got within earshot of me. His eyes, being those of a human, could not prick to the sound, but his mind certainly could. At this point the words were mere fragments of meaning, something you could pick up passing by any old conversation. But this man was not wearing any device. No headset, no lapel, nothing of note. The boy drew a bit closer to see if his ears and eyes could match the scene together into something resembling sanity. 

Then the boy realized it, a fragment of it, and a chill ran down his spine. Not a very cold chill, but a sharp one, as though my words were nails scraping against a chalkboard. This man, the boy decided, was insane. And what sort of place was it that would allow someone as deranged as I to roam about, with no obvious purpose other than to watch the water fall from the ceiling.

There was an impulse in the boy’s legs to run, but I assured the boy in these very words that if I was insane, or a demon, that he was already in the belly of the beast. There was no use running, even if there were danger in my words. And there were. But my words would not sprout scythes from my back to impale the poor child, no. At least, they probably wouldn’t.

The chills in the boy’s spine had spread to his limbs. His throat felt dry and he could feel the pulsation of his heart in his chest. Maybe, just maybe, the boy thought to himself, that the man simply knew he was afraid, and guessed at his feelings by knowing what being afraid did to a person. But I reminded the boy in these very words that he was not sweating. Not a single drop.

Something that eyes could see, yes. But, I had to remind the boy, I could not see below his shirt. He usually persperated there when he was afraid. This was a very, very different fear. As though the evil’s victory was a forgone conclusion. But I could remind the boy that this was not necessarily evil, even still. Simply unknown.

I asked the boy where he was from with these very words. The boy did not answer, finally a feeling of indigence running through his blood. If this man shaped thing could understand his thoughts, then surely he would know his past. But no, I had to tell the boy, no, I did not. And even if I did, then it would help the boy understand why he was here if he reminded himself of his past. 

If I was going to eat the boy or eviscerate his insides, I had time for that. But I would not. The boy needed to understand a little bit about his situation. I had no name, usually. But the others did not understand me through fear. 

There were a trillion horrors out among the stars, and I was not one of them.

So, I had to ask the boy again. Where was he from?

The boy stammered over his words. I did not blame him. Fear blocked his veins like grease, keeping his mind from getting the oxygen necessary to form coherent thought. I gave him a few seconds to breathe. He looked around for escape routes, for other witnesses to this bizarre conversation. I…

(Pause for three seconds) 

I respected his will, and remained silent for a few seconds. A little lizard scuttled past on the ground. The boy felt a twinge of home in his gut at the sight.

And again anger welled in the boy’s soul at me. Again, I was asking a question I already knew the answer to. If I knew of Liders, then I obviously knew of, well… I obviously knew of everything. Such a sentiment was true. I did know many things, but all under the stale hue of the impersonal. I needed the boy’s story to have a personal color to it. Emotions that I could see, yes, but that I could not feel until they were out in the air.

The boy started to attempt to tell his story, but then wavered as my narration continued through his attempted retelling. The words crashed against his skull and weaved knots into his tongue. How was any story to be told when it was drowned with noise? It was a fair point, and so I agreed to be silent, even through such things as I would usually recount. 

(pause for five seconds)

The boy stared at me with both intense curiosity and hatred. It seemed, to the boy, that my iteration of everything was therefore a choice, one that I’d taken on solely for the purpose of making his life worse on this day. After all, this pattern of speech mimiceked in some perverse, distorted way, the manias that he’d encountered in others previously. The sorts of manias which had driven him from home. Oh! But here I was, spoiling the boy’s past for himself. 

No, the boy was smarter than to think just because the conversation had taken a turn, and that I continued to wear my guise of human skin, that it was safe to think that I was merely insane. I reminded th boy to look at my back, and the claw that he had just a few minutes ago imagined springing out of my thin human flesh to eviscerate him at the throat. That was an illusion, true, a falsehood constructed about myself by and for the boy’s benefit. There was much he did not know about me. It did not do well for him to make assumptions.

So I gave the boy a little bit of silence. A frigid wind wound its way through the cavern, coming in from the west. IT hurt the boy’s spine. He was not used to the cold. But I forgot myself again. I was meant to be silent.

Of course, the boy would not understand that I would be talking the whole time.

(Pause for three seconds)

The boy began to relate to me the tragedies of his past, at least as he thought he saw them. He’d come from a far away planet, one that was particularly bland. He’d left long ago to find the things he was promised in the past, things he felt he couldn’t find in so stagnant and backwards a home. That was it. He’d jumped from planet to planet out of entrepreneurial spirit. That was it, and nothing more. 

The boy felt weird. Weirder than he had at any point before meeting me, or, indeed, than he had at the start of our conversation. He could not place the feeling, and with tentative eyes asked me what this feeling I knew he had was.

What could I say? If he could not hear the difference in tone, or the fact that the words had been said with different lips, how was he to understand the contrast in a retelling?

Oh, but the boy understood, and a deep pallor fell over his face. The fear he felt beating in his chest was greater than when he imagined me merely killing him. I had stolen his voice, his story! I was… I was…

There was no word the boy could put on me that would describe the melange of fury and horror circulating through his soul. There were words I could give, but I did not oblige. Instead, I told the boy a bit of truth. He had fed me that story, yes. I had devoured it with my usual flair. But that story was not his story, not the real one, anyway. 

Another bit of horror dawned on the boy’s face, but this time it was directed inwards, away from me. The monster sitting before him wearing human skin was wrong, no? Of course he was. He had to be. Right?

No. No, I was not wrong, and the boy was just now starting to pick at the scabbed over wound of truth. The boy had made that scab himself. That was the truth. 

Once again the boy looked around the cavern, waiting for some lumpen bit of sanity to save him from this unraveling of reality. But the others still did not notice him, and what, after all, could they do? The scab was internal one, and by merely putting forward the question, I had guaranteed that the boy would pick at it and pick at it until he simply couldn’t avoid the truth. 

But what was the truth? What was the creature talking about? 

I would tell the boy the truth, or, at least, a useful fragment of it.

The boy had left home not just because he was mistreated. He had been misjudged. Not on the quality of his blood, mind you, but on the factors of his past. The others back home said that blood stained his hands. His own mother’s blood. Killed not in childbirth, not in an accident, but in cold blood.

Yes, the boy understood this. He understood the accusations bit, and he felt he left that out of his retelling because, well, he felt like it didn’t matter. He’d lost his parents one way or the other, and it wasn’t his fault. Everyone else was wrong, weren’t they?

But the boy’s mother was dead. That was the first fact. We could not avoid that, even if we tried to step around it. She was dead. And what else was true? The boy killed her.

The waking world was, at this moment in the conversation, nothing short of hell for the boy. Not only did he fear for his life, but he feared for his soul… and he also felt in his heart that there was no reason to defend either.

But I was not attacking him. I was defending him from the shoddy wound care he’d given himself. The boy had been banished from his home because he had killed his mother. His kin were right about that, and, following nothing more than cause and effect, that was the whole story. Ever since that bloody night he’d wandered from world to world looking for a life which could fit his pain, maybe soothe off its edges. He had not found any, and, so, again, it was not just the present that was a waking nightmare, but every moment besides.

Nightmare. It would do the boy well to remember that word. Nightmare. He was forgetting something else. 

He had been six years old. The day before had been pretty boring, helping Mr. Gaster move crates of moon leaf. The boy was even more of a boy back then, and so wasn’t expected to be of much help. And he wasn’t, at all, but the work put diligence into his step and some soreness into his back, so the sleep that fell on his head hard that night.

A long corridor. That’s what the boy saw. Rust coated concrete, archaic lights, water dampening the floor. Kilometers upon kilometers of the stuff, and then, at the end of the hallway, a figure. Short, gray scaled, with so many arms which scraped alongside the sides. The figure was menacing, but it spoke in an intelligent foreign tongue.

The beast said it was frightened, that its form was fading in the space between, and that it needed a place to be opened to come in. The younger boy, although frightened, was a charitable sort, and accepted. Then, as quickly as the dream started, it faded in a grand fog of static. 

There was screaming coming from the other room. His mom’s voice. He had half an instinct to curl under the bed, but some odd, demonic fervor welled up in his belly. Where the fervor came from, nobody knew, although many would hazard a guess. 

There was a crossbow in the closet, already loaded. The boy picked it up and hauled it into the dining room.

There his mother stood, staring down in utter fear a beast of lumpen and shadowy proportions. A shadow of the shadow the boy saw in his dream. Its mouths moved about incessantly, seemingly menacingly, and its skin was clotted with so much darkness that even laying his eyes upon it caused the boy’s heart to stir in fear. 

The beast was going to kill his mother. The boy would not have that.

The bolt twanged, its metal embedded in flesh.

The boy was six. He didn’t know how to handle a crossbow. Just twenty centimeters too far to the left. The bolt had found her back, not the creature’s chest.

And what did the crowd see when they came to investigate the screaming? The boy holding the crossbow in sheer panic, the beast nowhere to be found. Did the crowd ask what happened? Yes. Of course they did. But the boy responded honestly. The boy now thinks to himself that he should have lied. If he lied, said it was a person, maybe they would have understood, took pity on him. But I know a bit of that future. Of course, the superstitious folks would have set out on a witch hunt, would have interrogated the boy for days. The boy was six years old. He was not that good at lying to other people. Nor was he very good at lying to other people now. Only to himself. 

So, the boy became an outcast. He was taken into another home, but was never again treated with warmth or affection. He was his mother’s murderer, after all. No bizzare vision of the night would change that fact in other people’s minds. Every second of life was stained with morbidity, with none of the silver lining of the innocence of childhood. Pain was found in every second. Not physical pain, usually, although there were few now in town to defend him from beatings. Thus, when the sky ships came to do their trading, the boy volunteered to join them in their voyages. The captain, being a kind soul, took pity on the boy and accepted the town’s offer for her to adopt him. So the stars became the boy’s home. He treasured his new parent, of course, but the wriggling corruption of pain in his heart made it so his love was never firmly rooted. Apathy and nihilism dominated his psyche, and so when opportunities came for him to pursue a new life, even when all his old ones failed to create warmth in his belly, he took them.

This he did for years, wandering from place to place, school to school, work to work. And this he would continue to do, even after I finished speaking with him. But that time was not forever. He would find a place, people, even if those things would soon be wrenched from him, too. But these losses he would know how to take, know how to carve light out of the ever encroaching darkness.

But that was a story for another time. One for him, perhaps, to narrate to me. 

The wind was whisking through the cavern with horrific speed. It stunned the boy that he had been so absorbed by my strange speech that he had ignored the gale force winds buffeting his frame. He was afraid of that, too. True, this thing that sat before him was a thousand times more frightening, but he had been warned of the storms on this world. He needed to get to shelter, and yet, this thing, this demonic god sitting in front of him would not let him leave. That was maybe how the creature wanted to end him. Death by being forced to listen to tales of his own madness during a brutal storm. The others would find his corpse and tut. The boy should have listened to the thousands of safety messages they were bombarded with upon approaching the planet. 

But I still did not intend to end the boy’s life, nor did I, to his mild surprise, have any control over the wind. I was going to wrap up our little conversation. I was going to tell him the truth.

He had been the only one on this world I’d ever spoken to. I was not some fixture of this world, least not anymore than the boy now was. I’d been searching for him, for a while. Not to murder him, no. Not to steal, his voice, his soul, or anything of that nature. Any injury I’d given him had been a result of my halfway nature. The winds buffeted my form, too. If the boy looked closely, he could see the hems of my cloak dissolving in them.

I’d searched for the boy because I wanted to apologize. All of this was my fault. My folly. I’d grown so tired of the hallways in-between that I’d latched onto the first bright soul that I’d seen. A child. Not that I knew enough about this universe then to differentiate. I hardly knew enough about it now to maintain my own form. 

The boy could now see a bit past my face to the cloak behind. We were both running out of time. I had to tell the boy I was sorry. Sorry because I did not intend any of this. His mother’s death, his exile, his pain… all of it was out of misunderstanding.I could never pay back the boy, except in this. A little fragment of the truth. 

It would be okay. All of it. The boy would grow to understand how.

The boy’s head was throbbing. Not only that, but his legs were wobbling, and every inch of his skin was in pain. They hadn’t let him sleep in two days, to get him readjusted to the new planet. He understood the purpose, of course, but wished that his first experience in this new… what was it? Life? Job? He couldn’t quite tell. Whatever it was, he solemnly hoped that this pain he was feeling right now wouldn’t be representative of the future. 

A light feeling in his gut told him it wouldn’t. 

The alcove was sparse. The boy couldn’t quite tell if it had been designed to look abandoned, or if it really was the work of some long lost people. It didn’t matter. It looked nice, and the somber pitter patter of water from the rooftop moss put his mind at ease, at least a little. It was quiet. The engines had cooled, and what people hadn’t already departed to their quarters or business were mulling about in their own little groups, conversing in hushed, but not bitter tones. Not one person kept eyes on him. Not even himself. 

He felt a bit guilty for not sticking around to enjoy the atmosphere or converse a bit more with his fellow passengers. He knew that was something he needed to do, to ingratiate himself with other people, grow close to them. Even if it hurt when the boy inevitably moved on, the joy in between was better than anything he could offer himself. 

There was a little bench, off in the corner of the alcove. No one was sitting on it. The boy found it odd that he even noticed it as a detail. 

It was another day, another place, another time. The boy would make the best of it. If I was sure of anything in the chaos of the universe, it was this.