Chapter 218: Mantra
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“Well now I know I’m high,” Garth said as a scene from the Langoliers dominated the sky above his head. It was as if someone had taken a tv playing either Langoliers or Critters and wrapped it around the entire sky.

Nothing but rotund bodies with wide mouths and sharp teeth as far as the eye could see.

“I already figured the eels out, sucker.” Garth said, glancing back down at his spirit guide. “You think this is gonna bother me – ow!”

Sandi’s head had been replaced with a huge furry mouth in a horrific alteration to her Lure. The mouth had lunged forward and sunk it’s teeth into his hand, giving him a steady ache in his hand as the teeth scraped against his metacarpals.

“The hell!” Garth said, yanking his hand away and delivering a solid punch to his ex-wife’s newly furry face. He was pretty sure she wasn’t real at this point. Sandi would never bite him…except for that one time.

Garth rolled off the bed and onto a hardwood floor while the mouth creatures in the sky seemed to watch him.

Strange. It’s almost like they’re real. Garth thought. But they couldn’t be real because they’re obviously behind an invisible barrier in the sky, and I’m totally safe at Hurk’s cabin. Right?

Actually, come to think of it, every once in awhile, he saw bits and pieces of the cabin between the flood of mouths. A moment later Alicia’s butt stepped in front of him and began pushing the mouth-things back.

Her butt is really good at shooting lightning, Garth thought idly as he moved his tongue to reel in his senses and dive into a different hallucination. He ran along the inside of his mouth and dived into a saliva divot where they would never find him.

When Garth blinked again, he was running along a two lane, stretched-out Sandi-road. His spirit guide was elongated until she was entirely unrecognizeable, drawing a path through pitch blackness.

Garth hoofed it as fast as he could, apologizing when he stepped on a sensitive spot and the entire road shook violently. Garth followed the path winding in an imperceptible circle and down, until finally he was standing in a room…

Not a room exactly, there were no walls, but there was a floor, an ugly dark brown rug that looked like it had seen twenty years of dirt, along with a young kid playing video games with his feet up on the bookshelf that supported the TV in front of him.

To the kid’s right was a massive vault door that said ‘Soul Control Room’. It was solid steel, eight feet thick if it was an inch, and completely unsupported by anything. Garth took a moment to lean over and glance around the other side of the vault door. Nothing.

The only way in was through. Stupid dream-state.

“Yo, Ghost of Christmas past,” Garth said, slapping his younger self on the back of the head. “How do I get in there? My spirit guide gave me the deets after a good humping, but I ain’t gonna do the same to you. You’re gonna get slaps.”

The long-haired kid’s headphones were knocked off by Garth’s casual cuff, and he glanced around with concern before his eyes locked on Garth’s face. The sixteen year old doppleganger’s eyes went wide and he stumbled out of his chair, sending it skittering over the dirt-filled rug and off into the abyss surrounding them.

“Oh, hey, um, Garth. The kid said, frowning. “What, um…what are you doing here so soon? You’re not due until your sixties.”

“Acid trip.” Garth said.

“Oh, wow.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, until Garth lifted his hand threateningly, causing him to flinch.

“How do I get in?” Garth said, pointing at the vault.

“Oh, well, umm…”

Garth slapped him.

“Ow, no, it’s not that I don’t want to tell you, I just, well…can I start at the beginning?”

“Shoot.”

The acne ridden shame of Garth’s teenage years held out a hand. “Hi, I’m the Gatekeeper, the part of you that regulates access to your soul. I um, haven’t really gotten any practice at this before.”

“I see that. How do I get in there?”

“Oh that. Well…” Teenage him grabbed a notecard from the bookshelf where his grimy feet had been resting only a few moments before.

A bite mark showed up on Garth’s arm, accompanied by a flare of pain.

“And if you could hurry it up, that would be cool. I think we’re being eaten by monsters.”

“Okay, umm… it says here you have to open it with an epiphany, which will then become your Mantra.”

“Say what?” Garth asked, blinking.

“You take one of your epiphanies.” Young Garth said, making strange motions for some reason, like pulling balls out of a bucket.

“Yeah.”

“throw it at the door.” He pantomimed throwing it at the vault.

“Yeah?”

“It becomes your mantra.” He pantomimed a…halo or something?

“That makes no sense.”

“Okay, maybe I need…” The Gatekeeper said, turning toward the bookshelf and thumbing through them.

Teen Garth’s Call of Duty character got iced while he was looking, exploded by a grenade.

“Shit. You fucking-“ the teen Garth picked up his controller with a thunderous expression.

“There is more important shit happening. I will slap you again.” Garth threatened. The Gatekeeper’s eyes widened and he turned back to his book-search.

“Okay, here,” he said as he tugged a slim book out of the shelf.

“Mantras and you?” it was an illustrated kid’s book.

Garth took the book out of the kids hand and speed-read it. The words shifted and blurred under his gaze, like they would in a dream, but through jitters in his hand, sensations in his tongue, and the way his eyes twitched, somehow they all flowed together into his brain to create tangible information.

Either that or I’m making it all up.

Garth dismissed the thought and contemplated what the book had to say.

Throughout a person’s life, they will have many epiphanies with the potential to shape their life. Most of them don’t, but sooner or later, most people find one to dedicate their life to, whether that be their realized love for their children, their belief that the earth was flat…not all epiphanies are true.

These epiphanies can become a mantra, which, when meditated on long enough, can open the door to the soul.

Garth’s mind caught on a particular bit of knowledge that lingered in his consciousness like a lump in information-gravy.

The Mantra further defines the meaning of the person’s existence in the Spheres.

Garth glanced up at The Gatekeeper.

“This is the next stage of Class Selection isn’t it?”

“Kinda.” The Gatekeeper assented.

Garth glanced down and spotted a bucket that he’d assumed to be trash a split second ago. it was filled with blue balls.

Hah, blue balls.

Garth leaned over and picked it up, handing the book back to Acne-Ridden.

Garth reached in deep and pulled out a ball. It was made of blue foam like one of those school dodgeballs that fit in the palm of your hand. He turned it in his hand. A sticker on the side had tiny script, and despite this being a dream, the lettering was crisp and clear.

Magic isn’t real – Garth Daniels, age 12.

Interesting… I wonder how that would change me. Would it make me worse at magic or better? I’m not going to blindly assume all of these are good for me, so I’ll pass on that epiphany.

Garth pulled out another.

Girls are people too. – Garth Daniels, age 23

Well, that’s embarrassing, Garth thought, tossing that one back.

All change is precipitated by pain. – Garth Daniels, age 30

Better, we’ll keep that one in mind, but it might be a little too…Pinhead for me.

Amusingly, religions as a thought-virus follow the basic principles of evolution. – Garth Daniels, age 29

That one is interesting. Might jell well with my current class and life-attribute leaning.

Garth pulled it out and held it in his left hand as he continued digging through the bin.

There was a horrible shriek in the distance as the spiral Sandi-road that led him here caught fire, black flames following the flattened lure toward the little room he was in.

“That’s not good,” Garth muttered, pawing through his lifetime of epiphanies. Most of them where stupid little things that most people realized without having to even think about it, but had never defined.

“Hurry up,” The Gatekeeper said, as Garth pawed through the basket of balls.

“Can’t rush perfection,” Garth said, tossing aside a Movie Meaning realization. If the epiphany was going to shape his future, he wanted it to be basic, powerful, and awesome.

“We don’t have time! Just use the one you have!” Gatekeeper said, pointing at the religion virus in his hand.

“Nah.” Garth said, looking over his shoulder. The road was rapidly being consumed by fire, and he didn’t have time to screw around any more.

The depth of the balls indicated how recent they were, and his later epiphanies tended to be insightful, but not exactly what he needed.

Last ball. Garth thought to himself, plunging his hand deep into the bucket and pulling it back out with a childhood epiphany.

Compound interest is awesome – Garth Daniels, age 8

Garth was assaulted by a memory, mostly forgotten and buried underneath a mountain of hard feelings, but resurrected by his high Abilities.

Garth sat in the car while his dad drove away from the bank. “Why is the number so weird? Garth asked, pointing at all the extra cents in his dad’s account statement. “You put full numbers in, right?”

“Oh, that’s interest,” Garth’s dad said, glancing over at him before returning his eyes to the road.

“What’s interest?”

“Well, the bank pays out a small percentage to us for keeping our money with them.”

“how much?”

“One point eight percent, I think.” He said, his gnarled fingers flicking the turn sign on the aging bronco. He glanced down at Garth. “Every hundred dollars, they pay us one point eight dollars per year.”

“So what if we had a million dollars in the bank?” Garth asked, quoting the biggest amount of money he could think of.

“Well, then they would pay us eighteen thousand dollars a year.” His dad said, turning onto the road.

Garth’s eyes widened, and he glanced between the bank statement and his dad. “Soo…if we had a million dollars, You’d never have to work again?”

His dad chuckled. “Not exactly. Eighteen thousand isn’t quite enough to live off of, but it is a huge windfall. I’d rather invest it in a higher paying stock, keep working and let the compound interest build up.”

“What’s compound interest?”

“Well, if we didn’t spend that eighteen thousand, what would happen next year?” his dad asked. Garth didn’t realize it at the time, but his dad was always trying to get him to think things through.

“We’d get another eighteen thousand.” Garth answered with a shrug.

“Not quite. You’re forgetting the eighteen thousand we didn’t spend. That’s in the bank too. The interest on that is…lets see…hundred, thousand, ten thousand… three hundred.. give or take. So the next year you’d be getting eighteen thousand three hundred. Three hundred more than the year before.”

“So after a thousand years, it would be huge.” Garth said, extrapolating using big numbers. He’d found it was easier to figure things out if they were bigger.

“Well, neither of us is going to be here in a thousand years, but yeah. A decent interest rate would probably be in the billions, if not more.”

“Whoah, compound interest is awesome.”

His dad chuckled again, his gold wedding ring catching the light as he turned again.

Garth went on to try his hand at investing money throughout his childhood, whenever he had the money for it. he always crashed and burned or there was something more important that demanded his money, but he never lost the fascination with interest.

Interest is growth. A simplified expression of the explosive expansion of life over time. This will work.

All right, I’m done here.

Garth reached up and grabbed the knobbly plastic handle of the door and yanked. He kicked open the door of his dad’s beat up truck and jumped into traffic, landing on his feet in the Vault room, clutching the blue ball as The gatekeeper stared at him in horror.

“This is the one.” Garth said, hefting it.

“Throw it now!”

“I’d rather you didn’t,” the black figure said, emerging from the flames as it stepped off the end of the Sandi-road. He was barely five feet away from Garth

“Check this out,” Garth said, tossing the religion epiphany at Mr. Ominous, while throwing the other at the Vault. The blue foam ball turned into bright blue light as it sank into the black figure’s chest, causing him to stumble.

“Wh-wha…” The black figure stuttered for a moment as Garth’s epiphany sunk in.

The other ball sank into the vault, and the solid steel door began cracking open with a hiss of displaced air.

Then it began opening…really, really slowly.

“Damn.” Garth muttered as it swung open a little at a time.

“There’s not enough time.” The Gatekeeper said.

“Garth. There’s nowhere left to go.” The black figure. “I’m going to crush your mind against this barrier, and then your soul, and you’ll cause me no more trouble.”

“I’ll stop causing trouble when I’m dead.” Garth said, eyeing the bucket of epiphanies.

“That’s the idea.”

Garth kicked the bucket. Hard.

Blue realizations from Garth’s childhood ejected themselves out of the bucket by the thousands, far more than the thing could ever be expected to hold. It washed over the black figure in a spray of blue and stopped it in its tracks as it tried to parse Garth’s deepest thoughts.

I can’t believe I was twenty-three before I realized that. Garth thought with an angry grunt.

He glanced over his shoulder at the vault door. Through the slowly widening crack, he could see a little bit of faint glow from the room beyond.

The black figure continued walking forward, inexorably, like the terminator. “That’s…not enough to - ”

The Gatekeeper let out a suicidal cry and tackled the black figure, knocking him over the edge of the brown carpet, and off into the abyss.

You have redeemed yourself, young Garth who didn’t know girls were people too yet.

The vault slowly opened the rest of the way, revealing a control room filled with unhooked machinery.

Garth rushed into the control room and slammed the red butten beside the vault door, causing the solid steel plate to begin inching closed again.

A moment later, the black figure’s fingers appeared on the side of his carpet, hauling itself out of the darkness.

Garth looked around the room. it was something like a security room, with a couple monitors, one showing Alicia fighting a wave of flesh-gnawing monsters, and the other showing the view just outside the door to his soul, where the dark-flame-man was clawing back up onto the platform.

The rest of the room was full of servers, buttons, dials, and switches buried in complicated panels…unfortunately they were all dormant, without a single flicker of life.

Garth cast his gaze around the room and spotted several outlets, where the cords from the machines were disconnected.

“Seems simple enough.” Garth muttered to himself before diving under the server and snatching up the power cord. He took each of the power cords and slammed them into their homes, then stood up and jammed his thumb into each power button, bringing a dozen individual computers online, their monitors blinking as they booted.

Finally the biggest screen in the center booted up as the vault door closed with a final hiss of air. The monitor showing the outside revealed the black flame-man pounding on the vault door.

The monitor gave him a single line.

Please speak the password.

“Umm..”

Please speak the password.

“Compound interest is awesome?”

Welcome to a higher form of consciousness, Garth Daniels, What can you do for you today?

“Eject the guy burning a hole through my vault door?” Garth said, leaning into where he thought the microphone probably was. The Stainless steel was starting to turn grey as the baddie began entropy-ing through it.

There was a shimmer of light off to Garth’s left, and Garth spotted a massive lever that hadn’t been there when he came in. it featured a prominent inscription in bold letters.

Ejectulate.

“All right,” Garth said with a chuckle, approaching the lever. “Lets’ ejectulate this son of a bitch all over the place.”

Enjoy!

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