The Man Who Travelled
"Besides," continued my elegant companion, as the audio faded in and the title music died down to faint elevator music, "he's just the most eligible bachelor in England right now darling - possibly the world - and he's ever so handsome, and brave!"
She fanned herself with the programme as she flushed at the thought of Him, and I fingered my neatly coiffured hair to check it hadn't strayed out of place in the heat of the crowded auditorium. I gazed around in awe at the hundreds of people who had turned up to listen to him speak, people from all walks of life, from the upper and middle class gentlemen and ladies filling the boxes where I and my companion were sitting, to poor folk, even down to the level of the coal miners, who must have scraped together months of wages to afford the cheap gallery seats.
The view shifted, and zoomed as time slowed, close ups of the patrons filling the gallery. Even they had made an effort, renting or perhaps even purchasing suits and evening dresses - poorly made, but evening wear nonetheless - and their usually grimy faces scrubbed to shine red and raw.
I grimaced at the view, and all blurred as it panned back down to the stalls, heaving still, but a better class of person, educated enough, I thought, to truly appreciate our speaker, and the marvels he was sure to describe.
Audio drifted in and out; snippets of conversation reaching my ears, some philosophical musings, some inane chatter, but all concerned with only one thing: Of what amazing adventures might The Man Who Travelled speak this time?
"Honestly Charlotte, I was at his first symposium when he returned from the Edge of The Earth, and the things he described were simply to marvel at! He has such an aura about him, it's like..."
"...quite spectacular really, how he does these things; it honestly makes one wonder if there is truly a God - may I be forgiven for my blasphemy! - but you see, what I mean is that perhaps these wonderful things would not normally be meant for..."
"...a gallant stride has he not? I'd simply die to see him dressed for adventure, I'm sure he'd look so noble, don't you think? I wonder what he'll wear tonight, something splendidly high class I'm sure..."
Very suddenly everybody became hushed, and the camera whipped round and zoomed in at the stage. Nobody was there, but there was a heavy sensation of anticipation swamping the air, and our breaths were held.
The Man Who Travelled walked out onto stage and the audience were silent. He was dressed in a perfectly ordinary suit and carried nothing with him. He walked up to the podium and stood, looking out at the sea of expectant, already awed faces, and he motioned behind him for somebody. There was a creaking in the auditorium as everybody in there leaned forward just a fraction, our minds united in hope for some incredible, exotic marvel to be revealed, but all that came through the thick, dark curtains was a young boy bearing a glass of water for our exalted speaker.
The camera zoomed in at The Man Who Travelled's face as he cleared his throat and took a sip from the glass of water.
"Most honourable Ladies and Gentlemen," He began, his voice clear, amplified through the great room by a trick of acoustics, "May I introduce myself, as one of you. I know that many of you have travelled great distances to be here tonight, from our European brethren nations," Here he tilted his head towards a group of extravagantly dressed dignitaries sitting near the front, "Through to citizens of stature from our former colonies in the Americas," A murmur of appreciation from the direction of a group of very large hats, "And I am even delighted to welcome royalty from the magical and mystical lands far in the east." He bowed to the Orientals sitting high in their box, surrounded by their entourage.
The Man Who Travelled took another sip of water. "Let us not forget, of course, the rest of you, who have travelled from all corners of our Great Britain to be here tonight, all are most honoured and welcome." A slight cheer ensued from the rabble in the galleries. "Everyone here tonight are the Travelled, and I, like you, am a Traveller. I have travelled to The Edge of The Earth, tunnelled deep to the centre of time and sailed across the outer reaches of the universe. I have delved into the mind of God, and cut my way through the jungles that bind the dimensions together. All of these things-"
He paused, as another cheer came from the galleries at the mentions of these great adventures, and I squirmed in embarrassment at the rudeness of my countrymen.
"All of these things, I have achieved. All of these perils, I have overcome. However, the journey I have to show you here this evening, I promise you, will push my former travels into insignificance.
"Ladies and gentlemen, may I please present to you The End of All Things."
At his words, the great auditorium dissolved to nothing around us, and we found ourselves seated on red velvet chairs in a great black nothingness. Screams ensued; panic filling the minds of all present, as we pulled our legs up onto our seats, terrified of plummeting into the never-ending blackness below. The Man Who Travelled's voice pierced through the screaming; clear, bright and powerful, calming all immediately; "Please do not be alarmed, we are still in the theatre, this is merely an illusion, a trick of light and shadow, deceiving your eyes. I promise; no harm can come to you."
Light slowly grew around us, and we could see all of creation surrounding us, far distant planets, and stars, dimmed by the bright yellow orb of the sun, and below, the Earth, nursing its baby moon.
"I arrived," The Man Who Travelled said, "to find the entire world locked in eternal conflict; futile, bloodthirsty, inconsolable, rage-fuelled war. I was prepared, with a sad, heavy heart, to watch the world end at the hands of man."
As he spoke, we could see that the world indeed seemed to be erupting in turmoil, flashing and foaming, glowing like the sun, and I could only wonder what terrible weapons could turn the Earth into fire.
"But here, all stops, as what was hidden becomes visible…" The Man Who Travelled gestured, as the Earth seemed to split open. The chaos on the planet far below slowed and stopped, as an impossibly high mountain rose from its depths. The mountain rose and rose until clouds were merely wisps around its base, and we could see, seated atop it, a giant, half naked, bald and serene.
"The Buddha has come, to begin the end."
The Buddha looked down upon the earth, paused in a moment of destruction, and his face was impassive. He reached up, across the vast reaches of space, his arm extending impossibly, and he grasped the Sun. He squeezed it, as one would squeeze the juice from an orange, and its light dimmed. Tongues of fire a billion miles long exploded from between his fingers, and still he squeezed, harder and harder, and the Sun began to die.
As the light faded to a dim glow, and eventually failed, extinguished forever, the stars were revealed, more than could ever before be seen, and the entire universe was speckled with dim, silvery pinpoints, until there was hardly anything to be seen of the spaces in-between.
The Man Who Travelled spoke sadly, as we all looked about ourselves in awe and wonder, "And thus the End has begun, with the death of our sun, which warmed us and gave us light for five billion years. Now the Earth begins to freeze, and with this, life ceases to be."
Below, the Buddha was gone, and the Earth was indeed freezing over, the orange warmth of futuristic warfare fading, crusting over and growing pale with ice. The atmosphere could be seen to thicken before our eyes, and within just a few brief moments, our beautiful azure and green orb was just another frozen blue-white rock in space. I looked around myself, to see the other members of the audience struggling to keep their composure. Everybody was silent, even the rabble, and the atmosphere was heavy, funereal.
"Day is gone." Said the Man Who Travelled. "And so is life. Now, a Goddess comes, from her palace at the edge of the universe, to take away the night."
So swiftly she came, that we barely saw her. Her great black horses galloping past faster than darkness itself, their mouths and flanks foaming, their eyes glaring red, and on their tail came the chariot, on which, clothed in black-gold armour, stood the darkest, most terrible vision of beauty - the goddess Nyx, bringer of night, radiant, divine and awesome. She stood tall and thin, legs akimbo, one arm reaching out to take the moon, the other, muscles taught and bulging, tightly gripping the reigns of her two massive steeds. Her stern, haughty face flashed a look like lightning down upon us as she passed by, and then she was gone, the moon with her. There were some involuntary moans from the audience; I think we all felt some twinge of despair at having seen, so briefly, that magnificent vision.
The Man Who Travelled spoke softly, "Many is the time I return to this moment in my mind, unable to forget that extraordinary beauty. I would give almost anything to spend just a minute in her presence…" His voice faded away, and he stood, dejected, as were we all.
A few moments passed, nothing happening. The Earth hung, a lone, silvery disk in space, lit by starlight, and we waited. A low, nightmarish growl shook our chairs, rumbling through space, and vibrating in our bodies, deep and sonorous. There were a few screams, and I must admit that my heartbeat quickened, for the sound was dreadful. The Man Who Travelled shook himself, and looked down at us with an excited smile.
"Do not be afraid, remember, this is merely an illusion. Look now, as Fenris emerges from the folds between Nothing, to consume the world."
The space before us seemed to twist and distort, and a great, grey wolf bounded out, all shaggy fur, sharp white teeth and bright blue eyes, shining down on us. He opened his jaws wide, and for a second we could see into that massive maw, and for the briefest time, we all knew that inside was Oblivion, Emptiness, Nothing, and we hungered for it.
His jaws snapped shut, and the Earth was gone, and Fenris, The Great Wolf, The Consumer of Worlds disappeared into the distance.
The awe and respect in The Man Who Travelled's voice was clearly audible, "Away he goes, to devour all other worlds in the universe."
Gradually, a soft sound became audible, and I looked about in wonder, trying to discern what it was, and from whence it came, noticing several other patrons doing the same. Somebody gasped and pointed at a corner of the sky, where the stars were swiftly winking out, one by one.
"Yes." Said The Man Who Travelled, "Now is the stars time to go. From beyond infinity, behind the vast curtains of time, a tsunami has been released, the oceans that crash between dimensions have broken through, and are drowning the universe."
That was the sound we heard. The distant thunder growing louder, the powerful rumble of countless oceans of water, cascading and tumbling across the universe, drowning and obliterating all in its path. The sound grew ever louder, reaching a deafening crescendo, and a wall of inky blackness steadily advanced, the lights of the stars sizzling, disappearing, extinguished. As the wave reached us, we all screamed as one, ducking and scrambling, trying to escape its path, but it passed us by, washed over our heads, and we were left, a bubble of life in an infinite sea of pitch nothingness.
There was silence. Only, somehow it was more than that - more than just a lack of sound. There was the lack of possibility of sound, the lack of anything to make sound, the lack of a medium through which it could travel.
It was dark, only more than that. It was dark as if light had never existed, as if it never would exist, as if such a thing could not even be imagined.
"The End." Said The Man Who Travelled.
We were back in the theatre. The audience were silent. The spotlight on the stage turned off, and the lights went up. The Man Who Travelled was gone.
I looked around myself, and saw the reactions of the audience; some looked outraged and affronted, whilst others were merely dazed. I saw the Americans leave, shaking their hats, disappointed.
A murmur of conversation grew, as it became apparent that The Man Who Travelled was not returning, and gradually the crowd filtered from the auditorium. There were some jeers from the rabble in the stalls, but otherwise, I believe we were all in too much shock to know what to think.
The reviews generally agreed that whilst the special effects had been incredible - magnificent even - the whole affair had been in very bad taste. There was some talk of taking The Man Who Travelled to court for Blasphemy, but it never came to anything.
I do not know if what I and the others experienced that night was a terrible truth, or an exquisite lie, but I do know this: every time I hear of some marvellous new invention, something to make it so much easier to kill one-another, I wonder how far into the future The Man Who Travelled took us, and how close we are now, to the Buddha squeezing the life from the sun.