“Welcome to the test. I am your host, Ponos de Terra. I’m here to test you on your ability to be a man. You say that perseverance is your virtue but I only see the sin of pride. Let’s see what you’re made of.”
The world is white. Nothing but a white abyss of untraceable infinity. So vast, you can run as long as you’d like and never find end nor satisfaction. Yet somehow, when upon the test, you feel small and insignificant the way that one feels when they lie on grass and contemplate how dense the universe is when looking to the black speckled sky. This is a reality and you’re now stuck in it until Ponos de Terra allows you leave.
“Welcome contestant number one,” says Ponos de Terra, standing perfectly upright in his black and brown slacks, blue and green button up, and reflectively haunting shades, “Or should I say Bill.”
Bill, standing alone and shrewd, looks around appalled by the intimidating realm of endless miles. He’s stunned and can’t help but take the time to look around it’s majesty.
“Take it in,” boasts Ponos, “I’m sure you’re lack of response will be the pinnacle of your stay here.”
“Huh? Oh, sorry. I just thought it’d never be so beautiful,” Bill forces out as he weakly laughs his simplistic nervousness.
Ponos chuckles, “And so he speaks! Well let me get right to the chase. Are you really a man?”
Bill is somehow still stunned and exudes how pathetic he really is,”Oh… Um, yeah. I really do think-”
“Shut up. You’re not. You’re just a boy posed as humble.”
Bill is now discouraged and internally retreats into his speedily racing mind.
“No? Still nothing to say?” Ponos walks in closer with his hands behind his back.
Every step backs Bill up into a more cluster-phobic corner and while there really is no corner he still can’t find places to step as the clanking of Ponos’s black heeled shoes claps closer and closer to their target. Bill is now smaller than ever with a face that challenges his presence greater than the moon.
“You’re going to look me in the eyes and tell me that your… soft… sad… pathetic… lonely body has any match for being a man?” Ponos raises this question so close to his face that his steamy breath hits the shivering expressions of the poor belittled Bill.
“Oh don’t give me that!” Ponos pushes away and walks off insulted at such a presence, “Are you aware of what this world contains? It’s full of pain! It’s full of beauty! And in order to live it you gotta be a masochist! Do me a favor. Pay attention to how your shoulder feels right now. I know it hurts, you don’t have to tell me. You slept wrong all week and now you try to rub it out every now and then- that’s how bored you are! I can’t imagine what it was like growing up with you. You were boring. Thinking that time was on your side as you blindly played in the arcades growing up. Did you really think that jamming buttons into a cheaply made panel would bring you anywhere? And now look at you. Contacts are stuffed into those dying eyes because of all the damage you brought to yourself. You bend your fingers wrong and the whole nervous system goes haywire! Even your feet are soar and there’s no actual reason for it! God damn, god damn!”
He strolls on and abandons the deduced and horrified figure he just placed in his own confusing hell. Bill is at road’s end and can’t go anywhere. Now he’s just a spot in the blank abyss of nothingness.
Upon reaching the cynosure, he comes across contestant number two. Ponos is caught off guard at first though. He didn’t expect such a well dressed business man to end up on his test. Pin-striped, three piece suit. A bow tie ready for prom. Hair strategically slicked back so tightly, it could hold down an elephant. A shave so close that angels cry at the sight of his smooth silky face. Olive skin that makes middle eastern men jealous. And to place the icing on the cake, blue eyes that make women fall in love.
“Hello,” Ponos says in respect, “And what brings you here today?”
The business man looks at Ponos’s attire, “Oh hi. Didn’t see you there. I came to take the test. You know, the one that everyone comes here for?”
Ponos is taken back for a second. An unnerving strike of confidence hits his brain and makes it rattle and twist trying to search for why he was even there. And then he realizes, “Oh yes. I am Ponos de Terra. How could I forget.”
“So you think you’re a man, huh?” Ponos challenges the contestant. The test must go on.
“I know I am. Isn’t that what a man would say?” so witty and clear cut, the business man smirks.
Suddenly, Ponos grows sad, “Oh no…”
The business man steps forward, “What?”
“Your life… I… I thought I really did come across a man… or even a gentleman.”
“I am… Are you trying to insult me?”
“What’s your name?”
The suited up figure raises his eyebrow.
“Your name,” Ponos iterates more punctually.
The gentleman sighs and looks down to the unstable grounds that somehow support him, “I no longer have a name but I once went by Bill.”
“Oh Bill… At first, I didn’t recognize you. What a pity.”
“For once, I think we’re seeing eye to eye,” the once branded Bill says.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Ponos says wanting to investigate further. He can’t though. He already knows the answer too well because he was the source that banked his emotions around until he was all hoked up.
“I’m aware this is no bed of roses nor glade of enchanted forests… I-”
“Stop talking like that and just be you. For one second. You’re not this nameless, dressed up, concocted experiment. You are man! You made me want to like you and now I see that my investment has hindered. You went down the wrong path, Bill.”
“But I’m not Bill. I’m nameless and I prefer it that way because now I’m original,” Bill says.
“No,” Ponos sadly shakes his head,” Now you’re just insignificant and whatever made you noticeable… It only makes you transparent. You’re glass and now you’re broken.”
Bill stays quiet for a few moments, now realizing how much of his life had been waisted on the cheap thrills, expensive distractions, and false lies to himself he had to run through to get here.
“Something to ponder. Would you rather be in the middle of a ladder you don’t want to go up or be at the bottom of the ladder you want to tackle?” Ponos says as he scans the soul sinking mind of Bill, “Where did you think this would go? Maybe this will encourage you.”
Bill sways around and shrugs his shoulders, “I thought it would benefit me.”
“Women. Confidence. I got the money at the least.”
“No… Bill, money is just a thing. You use things to trade things. Did that really advance you to any direction?”
Bill looks down contemplating the worth of his now cheap suit. Ponos’s work here was done. Time to move on. And so he goes walking down the canyon of destination-less promise; A mind cleansing practice was to walk one step at a time because only nature knew there were no people to observe beyond the contestants of the test. And suddenly the world seems smaller knowing this.
Ponos wants to love. Ponos wants to cherish something. He really has played the bully for too long. But that is an innate facet to his inner self. It’s not out of spite or insecurity that he does this. It is his job thus he invents pain. How sad that no one can cherish it as he produces it.
Suddenly an out of place object, unnoticed upon it’s arrival, trips the distraught Ponos into a surprising stumble. He catches himself and turns around embarrassed and mad at such a phenomenon.
“Who the hell-” but Ponos stops and noticed the man.
In a white tank top and blue jeans, with muscles that had been worked for years now, and scars scattered across his back, and history of all sorts illustrated on his canvas skin, one sobbing Bill still remains. Only now he’s no longer whole.
But Ponos doesn’t respect this. Why would he? Creator of pain. Creator of life.
“Get up,” he demands as the world begins to collapse on itself.
Bill, with his back to Ponos, silently sobs to himself.
“Get up!” he raises his voice.
Bill – the poor beaten boy – raises his head ever so slowly. He turns to face Ponos, and props himself to his knees and raises his swelling body with his legs up until he fully and vertically stands to all things defying him. Bill was no longer a boy. He was a man. He walks up, intense yet calm, to the completely accustomed Ponos and says, “Hello again, old friend.”
Ponos is intrigued and feels inclined to investigate, “Hi-
“No shut up! It’s my turn to start conversation! My turn!” he shouts without care of who hears it.
But instead of dwindling on with some rant he looks deep into Ponos’s reflectively haunting shades, sees his distorted self, and laughs and evil hum followed by, “I can’t believe how far I’ve come! Wow!”
Ponos stands there confused.
“Wow…” He observes the puzzled Ponos, “You know… there’s a metaphor. I can’t help but apply it to now.”
“What is life but a series of metaphors compiled into things taken for granted -reality,” Ponos says.
Bill continues, “There’s a ship; An old wooden frigate of sorts. It goes out to sea for ten years but comes back to dock. What we see is that some planks of wood have rotted. So the crew replaces the old wood with new wood and continues to do this during repeated journeys that take decades and decades. And after decades of travel and maintenance, every piece of wood including the new crew that learned the trade and took on the hardships of the previous crew are replaced,” he walks forward and closer to Ponos’s conflicted self, “Is the ship the same or is it completely different?”
Ponos realizes how insulting he has been. How unfair the treatment he projects has become. Being the bully was no long the privilege. It was the illusion.
“You have changed so much,” Ponos begins, “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. All this time and energy spent on such internal strife. It’s a blizzard in there isn’t it?”
“No, it’s an inferno.”
“I’m sure it is…” Ponos places a hand on his shoulder.
Bill lowers his head and his shoulders begin to bounce. Ponos empathizes and consuls him. The shoulders bounces higher and higher until Ponos realizes that sobbing doesn’t bounce that high and instead he is laughing. Yes, the laughing grows louder and the squeal of the sob turns to humorous irrationality.
“I tricked ya!” laughs Bill, “I tricked ya to the whole world!” he announces and spins with his arms spread wide.
“What is going on?”
“You see…” Bill collects himself, “I am the same ship! I’m still the Bill you saw way back there. I’ve been replaced and consumed by love that is better known as inner turmoil. I’ve become pain. I followed your advice, that you so subliminally gave, and now I’m a masochist. I love it! And you… You’ve now become the opposite. You’re an idiotically pretentious piece of this universe that not even aliens would care to study. You stand their straightened at first and now you stand small and shrewd. You have tasteless class and poor clothing choices – So poor you only chose the colors this world has to offer but never once considered the colors that we don’t naturally see thus your bland and predictable. This is the equivalent of man domesticating nature! I am the shepherd now and you are the sheep. You are the sin of pride and now shrunk to a dumb, babbling animal,” Bill stops to see the mortified Ponos frozen in his own humiliation,” But you are, indeed, my friend. You know that right? I can’t live without you. You are my gift and curse. My maker and destroyer. You are time itself yet no one understands you. So now I must ask you to ask me… Are you a man?”
Out of respect, the test goes on, “Are you a man?” asks Ponos.
Bill smiles, and steps up face-to-face with the host and says, “Do I even need to say?”
With that Bill was allowed leave. The test was passed.