Written and produced for the 2018 Fairy Tales competition hosted by the Blank Space project and curated by Bjarke Ingels, Thom Mayne, Gregory Maguire, Cornelia Funke, and many other architects, authors, and artists, "Gestalt" was my solo entry.
I \\ OBLIVION“This is Thirteenth Green. We hope you have a great day!”
The terminal sign blinked briefly out of existence before resuming its pixelated grin. The rolling display slid out of sight, and with a half-hearted breath, Rufus stepped out of the bus onto the covered platform with the rest of the crowd.
Torrential rain was not unusual in January, but today the lashes felt vindictive. The mood of the tired mass standing on the commuter platform matched. A short, older man in tweed impatiently pushed past a younger immigrant woman for the last copy of a half-drenched paper and instead tripped, his splashed coffee indistinguishable from the rain. Too prideful to feel shame, he picked himself up off the wet concrete and started berating the woman for his own clumsiness. A few other riders came to her defense, and soon it seemed as if the whole platform was shouting at someone or other.
Rufus ignored them. Nestled in the corner at the back of the tiny depot, an earbud pulsing rhythmically in his left ear, he couldn’t have cared less about them. Truthfully, he felt barely conscious, and he raised his watch to eye level.
Four interminable minutes came and went with no train in sight. The number of people on the platform ballooned into a swarm, as more harried commuters crossed the turnstiles only to find that their train was delayed. The blinking emoji continued smiling vapidly, beaming like a yellow god basking in the pain of its devotees.
“Please be patient!” Yellow God smiled. “Your train will be arriving shortly.” Those words felt malicious.
Suddenly too angry to not take Yellow God personally, Rufus stepped out of the throng and pushed his way to the front of the platform, peering into the relentless grey fog for a sign, only for a beam and a roar to pierce the grey a heartbeat away, then oblivion.
II \\ BARDO
The train’s roar stretched backwards and forwards in time for infinity; as if it would scream forever, and had been for years.
In an instant, time became a tectonic construct comprising infinity; he was neither fully here nor there. His mind wandered into that questionable middle ground he’d heard talk of. The void. The place between one state of being and the next. Rufus faced the void, and the Void spoke to him.
I AM WATCHER, the Void said, and as Rufus opened his eyes, he suddenly felt a wave of familiarity.
“What is this place?” he demanded.
Watcher gathered Itself into a cloud of dust amidst the shifting black sand. THE TENZA CALLED THIS PLACE BARDO, Watcher said. THEY SAID THIS PLACE WAS A BARRIER. A SEPARATION BETWEEN THE PHYSICAL AND THE SPIRITUAL.
Rufus nodded numbly. He’d expected this at the end; the entire history of himself represented as two points on a line beginning at birth and ending in death. Everything along that line was a rounding error. He saw an antechamber form through inky dust, a single black star overhead. “Where’s my tunnel of light?” Rufus joked half-heartedly.
THAT’S NOT WHAT A BARDO IS, Watcher buzzed. THE BARDO TAKES THE LINE OF YOUR LIFE AND SCRAMBLES IT LIKE EGGS IN A PAN. As It spoke, Rufus saw the dust unfold into a spiraling narthex. Memories crossed wires in disconcerted chaos, flickers of a dying brain desperately making one last attempt to find meaning before the darkness caught up.
III \\ GESTALT
“So why am I in the Bardo?” Rufus asked, touching the obsidian walls of his mind.
THIS IS YOUR JOURNEY, Watcher replied. I’M ONLY HERE FOR MORAL SUPPORT. SAY, DID YOU EVER FIND LOVE ALONG THE WAY?
Rufus shook his head. “Here and there. Some friends. Nobody waiting back home.”
OH? WOULD YOU SAY LOVE WON? Watcher seemed fixated on its abacus.
Rufus watched as shifting towers of his life cracked and tumbled before him. Pillars crashed into each other like jumbo blocks, each draped in vivid theater comprising his life. In the distance a tower shattered; its contents— distant laughter he’d forgotten— escaped in the wind. He smiled wistfully at some, but as the last seconds of his life played, his smile vanished.
He considered Watcher’s words. In the moment of the crash, did love win? Did love win when steel and glass met flesh and bone, or when the restless horde continued their daily commute without blinking? His tragedy was reduced to a ticker on the evening news. Would anyone even miss him?
“No,” Rufus said with finality. “For love to win it would have had to exist before this.”
FOOL, chided Watcher. LOVE IS LIKE MATTER. IT CANNOT BE DESTROYED. IT CANNOT BE CREATED. IT CAN ONLY CHANGE, AND EVOLVE, AND TRANSFER STATES BETWEEN HOSTS.
“I don’t follow,” Rufus mumbled.
LOVE CAN CHANGE. IT CAN BOIL INTO BITTER HATRED AND SEETHING SORROW THAT CRUSHES YOUR LUNGS LIKE AN ACCORDION. IT CAN OUTLIVE ITS HOST AND PASS FROM PARENT TO CHILD TO LOVER BEFORE THE CYCLE BEGINS AGAIN.
Rufus scoffed. “It doesn’t matter if love wins because it’s impossible for it to lose.”
YOU ARE AN IDIOT, Watcher concluded. THERE WAS NEVER ANY LESS LOVE IN THE WORLD THAN THERE IS NOW. YOU WERE ONLY INCAPABLE OF SEEING IT.
The two sat in silence. Suddenly, Rufus noticed a whale and her calf floating soundlessly in the darkness overhead, remnants of a dream. He wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the sight, but instead found himself shaken by a sense of profound reverence.
IV \\ NECROPOLISThe Bardo tightened from a canyon to a noose as he followed Watcher. They came to an opening, and Rufus pushed through, where he saw an immense city alight in the wine-dark sea.
THIS IS EVERYTHING, explained Watcher. YOUR WHOLE LIFE.
Every place and person Rufus had ever encountered lay before him in vast, neon pantomime; a necropolis built for him. Though parts seemed miles away, he could still see the tiniest detail with absolute clarity when he focused. He saw his first memories: slamming doors, screaming adults, the taste of iron in his mouth.
“I don’t want to be here anymore,” Rufus said quietly.
THIS IS YOUR LIFE. DO YOU NOT LIKE IT? Rufus heard the faintest hint of dejection in Watcher’s voice. WHAT ABOUT THAT?
Rufus looked where Watcher pointed and the city immediately presented him with a face he hadn’t seen in years, and never expected to see again.
Watcher faded as the memory consumed Rufus.
An infinity ago, Rufus and the lost face chased the sun and when the sea gave out they climbed onto a far-off pier and ran to the end and shouted because they were young and free and would never be this happy again. They slept on the dunes, staring up at the stars, absorbing the universe.
Watcher faded back into view and touched Rufus, pulling him out of the moment. And then he felt the thing he swore did not exist.
As the flickering lights of the city dimmed, he felt more connected to the living world than ever before. It was as if all of humanity was represented by a waning candle in a dark room, and the more the candle dimmed, the more his eyes could see the true shape of the Void. There was so much more to the world than just the things he could see and feel; there were boundaries within invisible cities, silent gears steadily moving the world along pre-ordained tracks, guiding civilization from one zenith to the next. And then it hit Rufus with ferocious love; the world was a sacred place, and he belonged in such a world, for he was loved.
Rufus looked up at Watcher, tears streaking his face. “I can see the morning,” he breathed, and saw the dawn break over the city’s horizon; and beyond the dawn saw the aftermath of the crash looming over them like a fresco of stars, and Watcher led him to the end.
V \\ STARLIGHT
Time was a tectonic concept.
As Rufus’s consciousness faded, he found himself walking toward the stars, closer to the beginning than he’d ever been.
“The light at the end looks different than I’d imagined,” he murmured.
YOU ALL SEEM TO LIKE THE STARLIGHT, Watcher offered.
Rufus stepped out into the vast oblivion, awash in stars.