A dark figure, full of milkways and galaxies, an agent of the Subconscious appears at the speed of shadow. It has a muscular form, bigger and broader than the other forms of Subconscious we have encountered so far. One minute we were all working towards peace, the next, havoc. The agent from the Subconscious is faster than Anger and she is disarmed, no longer looking for a fight, no longer on edge. That moment of vulnerability is all the Subconscious needs to rip her head apart from her body. We all scream in horror, I cover the child’s eyes instinctively with my hands, but my hands don’t quite make it in time. It sees most of it, sees Anger’s head separate from the body, sees that instead of blood, frayed rope appears where veins and bones usually go. Like ripping the head off a doll, Anger’s body drops to the ground lifelessly, the Subconscious proudly lifting the decapitated head with frayed string hanging from the neck.
‘That was not necessary!’ I yell at the Subconscious.
‘Have to tie up loose ends, she needs to be disposed of,’ the Subconscious matter-of-factly. His voice is echoey, like there are 100 people saying the same thing at the same time.
‘I was handling it! She agreed to be transmuted!
‘Transmuted? Are you now a Magician?’
‘I could have been! If you didn’t jump the gun!’
‘Perhaps. Perhaps you could have transmuted this Anger. But what about the others? Do you have the presence to transmute the horde in all its waves, in all its manners and matters? Does your consciousness reach deep enough to transmute the cells of anger that collude into malignant cancer? Will you also transmute the anger that stimulates the nervous system into hyperactivity? Will you transmute the sharp breaths of air that suffocate our lungs? Will you transmute the hand that curls into a fist, when anger has it targeted to the nearest person? Will you transmute the anger that heightens your blood pressure? Will you transmute the anger that sits on your tongue spitting venomous words to those you care about? Will you transmute the binds of anger that constrict your heart? Will you transmute the anger that tenses the energy in your muscles, your bones into a shaking rage? Will you transmute the murderous glare of anger in the reflection of your eyes?’ He asks as my confidence and self-assurance crumbles apart. I remember Coach Critics words, do you know what we call you in these parts? A liar.
‘I asked the question. Will you transmute all your anger, the whole legion, in Our place?’ the Subconscious asks. There’s no judgment in his voice, no offense, he does not mean to undermine me, it is a sincere clarification about an order.
‘No. I cannot do that,’ I answer earnestly.
‘Then you will forgive me for enforcing the directive to cleanse this consciousness of Anger, in whatever means possible, wherever it may appear, in whatever shape it manifests,’ he picks up the other half of the body, throws it over his shoulder, and begins to leave.
‘I may not be able to transmute the horde of Anger, but the child is a different story,’ I point to the child who is alarmed by the sudden attention. The Subconscious doesn’t turn around, but its eyes, my eyes, appear at the back of its head to appraise the child. The kid looks at me intensely for help, a plead between its eyebrows.
‘If you give us the opportunity, if you allow us, the kid could learn to transmute our Anger. One by one, not all at once. It is young, it can learn anything. But only if you give us a chance to connect to the Anger, if you are not so quick to cut us off from it,’ I insert the suggestion into the Subconscious. Its expressionless, dark and starry form remains stoic in response.
‘To be fast, then we cannot be slow. To be still, then we cannot be quick. What you suggest is contradictory.’
‘Life is a bit like that, isn’t it? But you’re very good at figuring out how to do things, you don’t need me to tell you. I’m not asking for things in black and white. Just small doses of grey. A shot, an opportunity. Let me teach the kid how to transmute emotion into outcome. One by one, not all at once. That’s all. I don’t want to interfere with your work, I just don’t want you to interfere with mine,’ I reason. He regards me for a long time.
‘We won’t be successful every time. But the transmutation is not the measure of the success, it is your ability to delay directive that measures our success. We will be grateful for any opportunity you give us, and we will be responsible for any damage that occurs as a result,’ the Logician weighs in. I spread out my hands to welcome the Subconscious’s acceptance. A thousand little whispers, incomprehensible whip by, the Subconscious conferring within its side of the realm. He kneels down to the child, and even in this position the Subconscious is colossal in size, dawning on the little thing.
‘What says you? Will you do this transmutation?’ the Subconscious asks the child in its thousand echo voice. The child regards the Subconscious for a moment, before scribbling into its notepad once again. At first I thought it was just taking notes, but after an uncomfortable amount of time passes, the Subconscious unmoving, the child content with its scribing, I clear my throat to get the child’s attention. It looks at me for just a second, its expression as stoic as the Subconscious who only has eyes for features, then is absorbed again into its notetaking.
‘The Subconscious asked you a question. It cannot proceed with a directive without your agreement,’ I finally explain slowly, to make sure the child understands the relevance of its role. The child will not stop its all-consuming work and the Logician and I exchange confused expressions.
‘It’s a trick,’ the child replies after what feels like forever. The Subconscious leans back on its haunches ever so slightly.
‘What?’ I reply and seek the counsel of the Logician who only shrugs.
‘It’s a trick. You think you can trick the Subconscious, but it’s tricking you instead,’ the child states.
‘What do you mean?’ I reply. It sighs and puts its notepad away.
‘Logic. Tell me if I’m wrong. The Subconscious cannot act on its own accord, it either follows a directive or is reactive,’ the child begins.
‘Correct,’ the Logician replies.
‘In this circumstance it is following the directive to eliminate Anger, if it should rise,’ the child waits for confirmation. The Subconscious does not respond but the Logician nods in agreement.
‘Then why does it need my permission to slow down this protocol? It should have some discretion as to how it performs this protocol. If it wants to slow down, it will,’ the child remarks.
‘But it needs suggestions, the specifics, otherwise it’ll be open to interpretation, like the box of unresolved issues you created,’ I argue.
‘That is exactly my point. You taught me that words have to be specific, otherwise they take on new meanings. The Subconscious did not ask me if it could slow down, it asked me if I would transmute the Anger.’
‘The implication being that if the Subconscious allows the opportunity, you will perform your part. It wants reassurance,’ I retort.
‘No. You want reassurance. I can’t promise I can transmute every single time. Logic, we don’t exactly understand how the Subconscious works, do we?’
‘No, not exactly, it’s an oxymoron to even suggest we can consciously connect with it. Our assumptions are the result of many deductions as to how it behaves, communicates and responds,’ the Logician agrees.
‘Don’t you think it’s strange to have such an open dialogue with the Subconscious? We don’t know of many others who do this. But then again, we also don’t know many others who can wake up in a dream and gain lucidity, like we do. Tit for tat, we must be weary of the Subconscious, it doesn’t belong in the consciousness. I have been watching this body, soul and consciousness from the sidelines for a long time. And if there’s one thing I’ve noticed, it’s that the Subconscious is at the heart of every error, every pain we suffer.
The Subconscious asked me if I will transmute. How can I promise to do something if I do not know the future? Anger does not come from nowhere, most likely there will be something else that has my attention, it may require all my presence, and then what? Will you, the Subconscious, hate me when I do not transmute the anger in time? Will I hate you for locking me into an angry state? A promise doesn’t mean much, but failure sure does, and the Subconscious wants me to mean something. No, this is a trick, you want a betrayal to justify reinforcing pain. You’re setting me up for suffering, and I won’t have it,’ the child says with all the confidence in the world.
The Subconscious stands, massive next to the child, but it fails to intimidate the little one.
‘You understand us probably as much as we understand you, isn’t that right?’’ it lifts its head at the towering Subconscious who does not bother clarifying the assumption. ‘Our language probably doesn’t even make sense to you. How can you know which part of this consciousness to obey when we are so fractured and contradictory in our opinions and perspectives? That’s why we have to use emotion, repetition, prolonged exposure, ritualistic behaviours for you to determine certainty and reinforce our directives. It must be so difficult discerning which of us is worth listening to, you must have all sorts of tricks to determine which one is worth submitting to and enforcing the will of. You must entertain all sorts of games with consciousness, games we play to gain your compliance. Games like words, agreements and deals, no?’
‘The Storyteller tells stories,’ the Subconscious responds simply.
‘It must get so confusing and uncomfortable having different characters dominate the consciousness, the feedback loop must be insane. No matter what you do, there’s always going to be a character unsatisfied that you didn’t listen to them. I’m guessing it would be nice to have something reliable and predictable when playing these games. Pain is a form of certainty, it means something, theoretically, does it not? You pretend to make a deal, to make us believe we’ve won you over. But then you use the gaps in interpretation, you use ambiguity to enforce a uniformed response by the consciousness. A certainty that you can assure. Something familiar, something like pain? Because you can’t guarantee much else, can you? You can’t guarantee our success, happiness or joy, not when there’s hundreds of us upset that we didn’t get our way. Us competing, it sets you up for failure, so you set us up in kind. The only thing we have in common is our discomfort to pain, we all feel that the same, it must be one of the few ways you can be satisfied you get a uniformed feedback loop by the consciousness when following directives.’
‘This is a bit of a stretch of the imagination, kid, and this is coming from me,’ I comment.
‘Is it though? Think about it. Do you remember when you first became Storyteller, what happened when you met the Subconscious for the very first time? Because I remember, I have it in my notes, right here,’ the child holds up its notepad and a memory replays on it. I see myself opening the back of the ambulance, in search of the dead. Instead, the Subconscious steps out, holding the head of the man I love. Is this what you’re looking for? The Subconscious throws the head to my feet, and in my horror I force myself awake, drenched in sweat, fear and regret. It’s a dream from nine years ago that I remember as if it were yesterday. At the time, I interpreted the nightmare to be a warning from the Subconscious to stop meddling in the subconscious, to stop forcing lucidity when dreaming, to stop using dreams as a waypoint to access where the dead go.
‘The Subconscious uses the symbol of a decapitated head to convey meaning, twice now! The only difference is that you were unconscious and this is consciousness, but the symbol is the same. There is a disconnection between mind and body. That disconnection could be the lack of simplicity and clarity from our side. The Subconscious does not like it when we try to manipulate its power independently, it manipulates ours in return. I may be wrong about the how, the method or the reason, but I don’t think I’m wrong about the outcome. This is a trap, it’s a trick, and I will not play it, because I don’t want us to experience any further pain,’ the child crosses its arms in a show of resolution. We all take a moment to consider, a few incoherent whispers come from the stoic Subconscious, still as a statue, only its dreamy, starry insides glimmering.
‘There is a world where the child’s theory makes sense and the logic stacks,’ the Logician offers.
‘Theories are just stories that lack faith,’ I return.
‘There’s also a world where you’re thinking too much about things you cannot control,’ Coach Critic adds from the skies.
‘I will not answer whether I will transmute anger in the future because I cannot guarantee it. I will make a statement instead. Lesson one, respect the jurisdiction of others you share a consciousness with. You are the Subconscious, you are responsible for controlling our Anger. Should the Anger reach consciousness, I will deal with it, in whatever way I see fit. But my priority is not the Anger. My priority is to clean up the consciousness, to get my side into order, that is within my jurisdiction. All the characters here throw in their two cents every two seconds, and we are left poorer and overfilled for it. My role is to make the Subconscious’s job easier, not the other way around,’ the child nods once, sure of itself and its conviction.
‘What you’re suggesting is a fundamental change to our nature. Changes like this take effort and they don’t happen overnight, it’s not easy and it’s not a comfortable process,’ I warn.
‘Good thing we’re only in our 30s, we have decades ahead of us. What else are we going to do? Mope? You said we developed a certain way because of our circumstances, the result of nature. Surely now that we’re an adult, with enough power and freedom, we can change our ways and become a product of nurture,’ the child says with complete certainty and I notice one of my flaws exhibited in action. It’s a trait inherited by all Storyteller’s, an unwavering idealism that eclipses the difficulties of reality, it’s a trait necessary for pushing the limits of possibility. It’s a bittersweet quality that, left unchecked, leads to disappointment. It’s the sort of audacity needed to tap into one’s potential, but short of that is a world of hurt. It’s something I’ll need to address with the child, but that’s for another time.
‘Your statement is acknowledged,’ the Subconscious accepts the child’s declaration. As silently as when he arrived, he picks up the leftovers of Anger, tosses it into the center of its inky void, and implodes into a splash of water-mixed oil. I look down at the dark puddle, and its sunless shimmer, I see a Minataur running towards me. I grimace and pull away from the void, try to forget about that blasted maze.
‘You got balls kid, the Subconscious is not something many are brave enough to challenge,’ I comment.
‘I don’t want to challenge the Subconscious, but I do want to question our stories around it. All the nightmares when we’re asleep, all the dissociation when we’re awake, it’s a sign of something surely. I don’t know what it’s a sign of, but it’s a sign. I have to be ready to face it eventually.’