Hanging in the art gallery is us—depictions of our travels in drawings and sketches. They chart Kafele’s first steps outside his grove, his and Akil’s adventure through the haunted dance factory and time looped town—through the Chewing Tree Forest and his imprisonment in his body, followed by his war. The depictions are arranged on one pristine white wall in the layout of a young tree. I am the only branch, while Kafele is the growing trunk. Any focusing on Vlerd, Akil, Mara, my soldiers, and so on are limited to leaves and branch sprouts.
I should be the trunk.
Much of the art is lifeless—it lacks intimacy and distinction. Worse, there is little consistency in the techniques and choices of the artist, who Mr. Reno has revealed to be the farmer. I rub my hand over a painting of Vlerd, looking as morose as ever. It’s smooth to the touch, despite its rough appearance. Ink, in uniform lines, acting as a facsimile of paint.
“Yeah,” says Mr. Reno walking “They aren’t very good. But the fact she got visions of you is kind of impressive.”
“Not really,” I say. “There are about five gods who get visions. There used to be more, though.”
“Visions,” says Mara, “Were all the rage back home a few years ago. Everyone had them. They made a pill.”
“Fads,” scoffs Vlerd. He, Mara, and the stalk observe each drawing with their heads tilted like senior art critics. Mara’s position may be involuntary. The stalk’s too.
Mr. Reno walks to the far end of the room; he rests his mace in the corner where two walls meet. He stands before a dark, seemingly unfinished illustration that does not make up any part of Kafele’s tree. We crowd around the bear. The subject of the work is Babarenfeld, in his chosen form of, in his enthused words, “the glorious brontosaur wearing a cotton candy hat.” He is surveying the planet when it was young. He’s standing, garbed in the darkness of space. Another celestial body, only a little smaller, is crashing into our own; Babarenfeld looks on with a sort of glee. I know this story—this tale quite literally as old as time.
The bear’s eyes are on me. “Would you like to tell it, Survival? Or should I?”
“Even Babarenfeld has forgotten this narrative,” I say. “Even the god of all creation has lost his own tale, and yet you—a couple of bears and a farmer living on the edge of this plane’s existence—have it hanging in your gallery?”
Mr. Reno wiggles his fingers and widens his eyes. “Visions!” he says. “Survival, you said you have seen friends suffer death. You said there used to be gods with visions. Do you know you are saying these words? Do any of you question him on these remarks, or do you just let them pour from his mouth like junebug breath? Don’t you want to know how his—a god—friends could have died? How does that not interest you?!”
“Vait, vat remarks exactly?” asks Vlerd. Mara shares his curiosity, as do I. Mr. Reno is making very little sense. Or am I making less? The Astral Plane is like that—have I said that before?
“We are ideas, and we have been forgotten,” laments the bear. “The missus will be devastated.”
Gods are ideas. There is something familiar about Mr. Reno now. Have there been hands in my memories? I stare at the painting of Babarenfeld’s lost legend.
“Our planet,” I say, “May not have been as it is. It could have been much less than this—more unified, but much less.”
And so I tell them Babarenfeld’s Folly
I wasn’t born yet. Babarenfeld was the only god at the time—he didn’t need any of us. The universe was relatively quiet—not humming like the rampant idea machine it is now. Babarenfeld had the capacity and motivation to handle everything in existence. He took a hands-off approach to raising his ever-expanding child—perhaps “ward” would be a better descriptor. He allowed mineral, gas, and moisture to form as they saw fit. He let flora, fauna, and fungi—biota—evolve how and if their canvas’ permitted. Stars died, planets burst, and he watched the beautiful chaos. But as the general definition of life was outlined across the skies, so too were the stirrings of Babarenfeld’s greatest perpetual adversary: Boredom.
Our planet was not the first to be; it was as insignificant as many others. Just a sphere with a stolen moon and a starside view. I never knew it as such; only prehistory, Babarenfeld and his first three gods—Harmony, Melody, and my mother Instinct—had the privilege. To stave off his enemy, Babarenfeld chose our world—on which the noble, warm-blooded brontosaur he so loved resided—as testing grounds for his intrusion. The western hemisphere was given to Instinct; the eastern, to Harmony and Melody, who worked best as one being. They represented Babarenfeld on the ground; they held a connection to him that no future gods would. They were his ideas, yes, but also pieces of his nature removed. Like science, our power needs study, practice and time to wield and understand. Babarenfeld was not born with omnipotence—he was not as all-knowing as one might think the creator would, perhaps should, be. To tear these ideas from his own being—to give them will of their own—would come to be, as the story goes, the undoing of our world.
-Nicholas Perilli, insightfulape.com