The Platform: A Short (Non)fiction Story on Encountering Ourselves
In the beginning, there was a platform hovering in a vast expanse of void. Endless nothingness surrounded the platform. The only visible light came from the dim lamps glowing along two corridors on either side of the platform. These corridors ran parallel, bridged together by the platform in the middle. The surface of these corridors, unlike that of the platform, seemed as concrete, though its composition can never truly be known. The platform was carpeted with soft burgundy threads that swirled round like the waves and ripples of the sea.
These two corridors held a dozen rooms, and in each room were one table and one chair, both made from a deep brown chestnut wood. These rooms were not uncomfortable, nor were they cozy; they were plain and fit for waiting. When someone entered a room, the door would close, but what the door looked like depended on who waited inside. Sometimes, the doors were thin and windowed; sometimes, they were barred, like a jail’s. These doors responded to the visitor; they simply mirrored the personality and perspective of the one who entered. Whether the doors were those of contemplation or confinement depended entirely on what the visitor brought inside.
These three sections formed an H, and in the center of the H was the circular platform, and at the center of the platform was a couch. The couch was soft and warm and held three pillows, each a different color. The color of each pillow, like the doors along the corridors, changed to match the feelings of the one who held it. A few feet away, a small chair sat facing the couch’s open face. This chair, though simple and nondescript, was important, often in ways that those who sat in it could not understand.
Once, a Man entered the platform from the nothingness. His appearance was as it was, and his gaze moved across the face of the somethingness. What he saw was familiar, though he had never seen it before. While stark, and even uninviting, the somethingness resonated within him with a clarity that made him think this place was the manifestation of something long lost or long imagined. He stepped across the platform with caution, for though he came from the nothingness he knew he could still be destroyed by it. The lights along the corridor flickered quickly, and something on the couch caught his attention.
There was a person on the couch. This person was not truly a person, but rather a shape like a person. It lay on the couch in tension, fidgeting and kicking as if it could not be comfortable. The Man slowly walked toward the chair facing the couch and then stood beside it. The shape turned and looked at the Man, and then spoke to him.
“Who are you?” the shape asked with apprehension.
The Man did not know his own name there in the somethingness among the nothingness, and so he answered, “I am the one who is becoming myself. Who are you?”
The shape looked far into the Man’s eyes and said, “I am Fear, and I feel frightened.” It was then the Man recognized the shape. He knew Fear, that exact Fear that trembled on the couch before him. He asked Fear if he could sit. Fear nodded, but cautioned, “Come no closer.”
The Man asked Fear why it shook there on the cushions on the platform. “You brought me here,” Fear replied. “I was not here before you appeared. So you tell me why I am here.”
“Perhaps we are meant to talk,” the Man replied, for though he did not mean to bring Fear with him, he now felt there was much to say. “Will you tell me why you are frightened?”
Fear looked above into the void: “I fear pain. I fear my own pain and giving that to others. I fear messing everything up. I fear disappointing those over and around me. I fear being controlled. I fear being out of control. I fear authority. I fear pressure and failure. I fear endings with no beginnings. I fear that which chases me. I fear the future that I don’t know and can’t determine. I fear demons; why are there so many? I fear being different and unlovable. I fear judgment and rejection. I fear commitment. I fear heartbreak. I fear loneliness. I fear sadness. I fear harsh words spoken. I fear affirming words unspoken. I fear everything I know to fear; and even what I don’t know to fear, I fear that too, because it is unknown.”
Fear buried its face in its hands. The Man was leaning forward now, his elbows on his knees, and his chin resting on his hands. He looked carefully at Fear, understanding it more and more as it spoke. Then, a loud noise boomed to his right and his left. Two new shapes stood beside him; these the Man also recognized: one’s face was angry; the other’s sad. The angry one spoke without invitation.
“Fear is the worst!” he seethed as he took out a rope and began tying one end to Fear’s arm. “It is paralyzing and destructive. It takes all the fun out of life and keeps us from experiencing the joy of life’s risks!” The Man recognized this shape as Resentment, for they had known each other for a long time. As Resentment reached for the Man’s hand to tie the other end of the rope, the Man noticed that the second shape was the mirror image of Resentment, but with a different face. The second shape’s eyes were distant and its hands held scissors. The shape had no name, only a desire: to keep Fear from the Man by severing the very rope Resentment was using to bind the Man to Fear.
The Man looked at each of the shapes; he knew them and heard them. But he was certain he needed to sit alone with Fear a while longer, and so he asked if Resentment and the second shape would be willing to wait in rooms along the corridor while he continued to talk with Fear. The shapes paused for a moment, then agreed, and stepped off the platform and into two rooms on the right corridor. As the doors closed behind them, the second shape looked at Fear and the Man through the window; Resentment’s eyes peered through bars. The Man looked on them with compassion and asked aloud for the doors to open so they would not be confined. The locks clicked, and the doors swung open. Resentment and the second shape moved toward the entryway, but did not exit; they sat on the chestnut chairs and watched quietly as the Man turned back toward Fear.
Fear now sat up on the couch; in his lap, he clutched a pillow and he had the other two sitting beside him to his left. The Man spoke softly, “Thank you for telling me your fears. I understand them all, and I’m glad you shared. I wonder if you know why you have them. Why do you fear so much? Are you protecting something?”
Fear looked at the Man on the chair, then he turned his head to the right and the left, peering into each room along the corridors to be sure he knew what kind of company he was keeping. His eyes lingered on Resentment and the second shape. Fear then returned his gaze to the Man, breathed deeply, and lifted the pillows on his left side. The Man sat back in his chair, shocked at what he saw. Under Fear’s pillows was a small Boy, no more than four or five years old. The Man knew this Boy intimately, for the Boy was of the Man’s past but also of his making. The Boy was simultaneously the body of the Man’s former self as well as the longing of his future. He was and made the Boy, and the Boy made and will be the Man.
The Man deeply desired to speak privately with the Boy, and so he asked Fear if Fear would be willing to step away into a room for a few moments. Fear put his arm around the Boy and squeezed his shoulder. “No, this Boy is my responsibility. I do not leave his side.”
The Man nodded, “Of course. May I come closer to him then?” Fear looked to the Boy and considered him. Finally, he nodded to the Man, and the Man slowly knelt down in front of the Boy, placing his hands on the Boy’s knees.
The Boy’s face was clean and pure and gentle. The Man looked on it and loved it beyond understanding. He held the Boy in his gaze, and moved his thumbs gently on the Boy’s knees.
“Hi,” the Man greeted.
“Hi,” the Boy returned.
“How are you?”
The Boy shrugged, “Fine I guess.” He was looking down at his hands as they rested on his lap. Softly, the Man asked, “What is it you most want?”
The Boy kept his head down as he scraped his fingers across the cushions. “I don’t know,” his little voiced confessed. “I guess just to know that everything will be okay.”
The Man smiled and asked if the Boy wanted to sit with him on the floor. As the Boy slid off the couch onto the carpet, the Man wondered if the Boy might want to talk more. “Can we play with Legos instead?” the Boy requested.
“Of course we can,” the Man sighed in delight. “Do you want to build something?”
The Boy started pulling pieces out of the bucket that now stood against the couch. He set out figures and blocks. “Let’s build a home and a family.”
For some time, the Man and the Boy created together, sitting cross-legged, remembering and imagining. In those moments, the Man felt an intimacy and affection unlike anything he’d experienced. He did not want the connection to end. But he began to feel himself drawn back into the nothingness, away from the platform. He stood up and lifted the Boy back onto the couch beside Fear.
“I have to go now,” he told the Boy. “Thank you for being with me today.”
“Okay,” the Boy replied. “Can you come back sometime?”
“Yes,” the Man said, with tears appearing though his body was disappearing. “I’ll come back. I promise, I’ll always come back.”