If You Meet the Buddha on the Road


gabriel_icon.gif ghost_icon.gif

Scene Title If You Meet the Buddha on the Road
Synopsis A way of saying, the one who appears to bring you meaningful truths about the unanswered questions in your life probably isn't.
Date April 30, 2019

Gabriel's Dream

The other Teos are wrong. It's the Ghost who isn’t a real person. He exists as a voice in the dark and a concept out of time, a body thief who fancies himself beholden to no one. (In reality, none of this is true. But that's why Ghost spends as much time as he does wandering in the dreams of others.)

Today, we are on a road.

The edges of this road are straight and the surface is packed with fine, orange dirt. It constitutes a neon-bright line, geometrically perfect, that stretches from one end to the other end of a sky that's stained inexplicably purple. The man standing on it is dressed in old robes, tattered sandals, nearly the same citrus color of the soil. He is bald, heavyset, incidentally white, and he looks at his visitor steadily in the eyes. Except of course, his visitor isn't actually the visitor under these circumstances, even if he feels like he only just arrived.

"If you meet the Buddha on the road," the Buddha says, opening his thick-fingered hands under the surreal sunshine, as if he means it as a welcome. (It isn't.)

(This is the ghost. His best fluent language is taunts.)

The wolf standing there curls its lips back to reveal jutting, protruding teeth and pale gums.

It's a big creature. Bigger than any domestic dog. Black, with exception to where grey is grizzled through its fur, shot like veins of silver in rock. Paws sink into fine orange earth, yet the mud that clings and mats within his wiry coat, bristled thick around its long, broad neck, is an earthiness found in dark forests with black trees. Its tail is long and ragged, its claws grey and cracked, teeth and eyes yellow. It snaps at the air in a warning snarl, and white threads of drool spin out, quiver, cling to his grey-pepper muzzle. The smell of animal permeates the air.

Of course, the Buddha knows who he is dealing with. Tilt the vision just a little this way, and he can see how the shadow the wolf casts is long and bipedal. It seems at a slightly less aggressive stance compared to the wolf, whose muscles twitch, fur bristling.

The Buddha doesn't drop his arms. The sunlight shows across the heavy contours of his broad chest, left half-bare by his rustic garb, his pale face. He could have made an Asian Buddha, but I guess the ghost learned how to be one percent #woke in between episodes of murder habit. He regards the wolf for a long moment, studying the black guard hairs sticking up across the animal's rigid spine, the bottle brush of its tail.

Gabriel is fucking up the psychedelic color scheme in here, that's for fucking sure. But he makes a good-looking wolf. (And the ghost can't help but notice that, even as a symbolic black animal, carnivorous and sleek and very becoming for the matching predator that Gabriel makes in life, wherever the Hell Gabriel is in life these days, his eyes are not golden.) (Not that Ghost had really thought, but you know.)

"Kill him," the Buddha says.

The wolf leaps.

And grows in size, jaws coming down neatly around the Buddha to snap him up nearly whole, but not quite. You can see his little sandaled feets, still, when the wolf throws his head back, tosses it to and fro, fangs piercing flesh and momentum designed to snap bone and tear muscle. Growls and drool both spill thick from the sides of ravaging maw.

The shadow hasn't moved, save for being dragged along in proximity. Long on the orange earth, it stands with its long, umbral attachment to the wolf with arms folded, patient and attentive.

The Buddha dies. His tiny toes point into the sky. Blood flashes vivid through the wolf's teeth. In contrast to the technicolor dream world, it's a mundane shade of red— which is sufficiently, graphically horrible to look at, if you're a normal person. It dashes liquid over the orange sand. The Buddha makes the wolf's neck bulge for a moment— he is a portly fellow, you know. He makes a cartoonish lump in his throat, like the shape of an egg swallowed by snake.

But at some point in this twitching, agonized decrescendo, the Buddha's shadow stops struggling. But not because the Buddha himself has yet died, and not in the way of death. Instead, it detaches rather obviously from its owner, shimmies down the wolf's huge, shaggy neck. Drops into a crouch, back on the orange earth. Seated on its heels, as if spectating its owner's violent demise. The round bald shape of his round bald head's shadow is canted in such a way to suggest that the murk of its face is indeed watching. But there isn't much to watch, or at least not for long.

When the Buddha is dead, his shadow— still seated upright— turns again. To turn its eyeless face toward the wolf's man-shaped shadow. Necessarily, it has to look up— but Gabriel has always been a little taller.

Once the wolf is done with its feast, it gives off a soft whine, a rumble, as if perhaps it slightly regrets its overambitious meal. But the Buddha is already still and digesting in dream-world gastric juices, or maybe this place doesn't have quite that amount of detail, and it has just been banished to the yawning abyss of blankness in the gigantic beast's belly. Either way, the wolf drops its butt down, stretches, lowers.

Gives a snort, speckles of red god-blood pattering on the orange earth before it, before lowering its oversized skull down onto its fat paws.

That shadow seems to glance towards the other one, then retreats, gliding beneath the body of the wolf, maybe even tilting the sun in the sky to achieve this magic. There is no smooth transition, then, to wolf in repose and man sitting in its place, his black garments likewise stark against all the brightness. There is the taste of warm copper between his teeth, and he makes a face, swiping his tongue along them beneath his lips. There is much in common with the man and the wolf, in that he seems that amount of wild, with earth caked into grey-cracked boots and the ragged hem of a coat crumpled up beneath him.

Easing out a breath, Gabriel sinks back onto his elbows. Looks up at the sky. Says, in a characteristic, performative sarcasm he hasn't put on in a while; "What else do I have to kill to get a decent night's sleep around here?"

He's noticed the shadow, but he addresses the world at large.

"This is an excellent fucking night's sleep," the ghost argues immediately. He unfolds himself from the two-dimensional shadow on the sand, peeling free of bright rust grains without picking up a single one. He reaches his proper vertical height, loses eighty pounds in the process. "You're going to wake up feeling fresh as a daisy. Flytrap. Your floral metaphor of choice."

Ghost's boots suddenly pop out in three dimensions. The weight of them, his blunt toes and ridged heels, dig silky holes into the substrate below. He finds his hands, his face. Unlike the other Teos, he has a habit of shaving his whole face— a habit he retains even when he's walking around people's dreams. He walks closer to Gabriel in this one, clopping over the older man's outstretched legs, one foot between his knees.

Ghost's dirty blond head pokes into view, intruding the other man's view of the purple sky.

It's impossible to tell, here, whether Gabriel's seemingly unharmed face and long body, means that he is likewise whole and hale in the real world. If this is even what he looks like, right now— he might be shapechanged. The ghost studies him anyway. "Where the fuck have you been?"

Recognition comes immediately — the voice, for starters, but the act of showing himself in even that way is enough for understanding to lock into place, to know who has brought Gabriel here, and it isn't Teodoro Laudani. Or — it isn't a specific Teodoro Laudani, of the acceptable Teodoro Laudanis that are still alive, somehow.

Gabriel tracks his passage as he nears, remaining still. Then, a hook of a half-smile.

"Suddenly everyone cares about where I've been."

Gabriel does not love the Ghost standing over him thusly, but performs not caring, angling a look up from beneath the usual furious swoop of his brow. He doesn't look so different here than he does out there, either. Ghost might have to remember if the greys that have grown out from Gabriel's temples are familiar or not, but have apparently been around long enough to come along on his projected dream version of himself.

His dream version of himself could probably use some self-care, at that. "Nowhere," he answers, anyway, and it sounds like the truth. "Dead, mainly. What's wrong with that?"

Ghost makes a face. Not like ew broccoli, five-year-old scrunching up his nose kind of face, but it's there somewhere in the neatly shaven dimensions of his cheeks, his nose. G o d, Gabriel. "Nothing," he says. "If you want to upset 'everyone' who care about you."

It's probably worth noting that the ghost had not been one of those looking for Gabriel. Not actively. He also upsets people intentionally, sometimes. He has not historically purported to care about Gabriel, exactly, but

he is observing the greys threading through the black of the other man's hair, the indolence of his frame, with active interest. Ghost's eyes get small on his face, squinting unnecessarily to raise details out of Gabriel's dream representation of himself. "You look bored," the ghost decides; it doesn't exactly sound like criticism. "Or boring." That one is just petty, admittedly. Righteous disapproval fails to register into the remark. Teo-ghost puts his thumbs in the back of his pants, affecting patience or at least preparation to wait out a lengthy conversation with his prone— whatever Gabriel is.

"Heard of the latest apocalypse?" Ghost asks. Behind him, the fuchsia and citrine world is gradually desaturating.

Gabriel is unimpressed with the face that the Ghost makes. No one ever cared about him enough, except Eileen, and even then, only sometimes. For a man who has killed as many people as he has, who has cared about so few, he sets a high standard for what that's supposed to look like.

He's fairly certain the Ghost doesn't meet it, anyway.

It's really the observation, though, that does enough to bother him. Ruffled feathers. He's been boring, in the last few years. He's been bored, too. Grief is that, so often.

He shrugs, which is tough to do when you're lying like he is. No? "I wasn't invited." Now, he moves. He doesn't have to pick his way around Teo's legs, because in dreams, you get the same superpowers you have in the waking world — he just rolls aside and his ankles clip through Teo's like it's nothing, and certainly, Teo feels nothing. Gabriel gets to his feet, eye trained then on the fading colours at the horizons.

They've done this before. Dream battles. Screaming, hysterical, violent. Not a good night's sleep.

The ghost does not feel particularly hysterical yet. His arms are still crossed. He taps his thumb on his opposite forearm, like a cat twitching its tail, doesn't move in response to Gabriel getting up, going through him.

"Maybe you would've been," is a little petty probably, but also factual! Ghost is very bad at grief as well. Or good at it, depending on what you think. Sometimes you time-travel your way to a solution that works for literally no one including yourself, but experiencing some emotional gratification despite that. "Eve says there's some bogey walking around with golden eyes, triggering visions of the future. 'Ancient power,' older than your old buddy Volken." Hurr hurr, remember that.

By now, the earth is brown and the sky is blue, a dull shade that promises to be autumn in some place that experiences seasons.

"I was looking for whoever the fuck that is. And I found you." According to science, the deepest and most illogical dreams belong to REM sleep— scientifically, restful. Ghost looks out over the dirt past Gabriel. There are birds flying out over the horizon, black specks against the ashy sky. Photorealistic, rather than the upside-down Ws that kids will draw. They have both spent a lot of times with birds. A beat of time passes unremarked. Then, suddenly, Ghost squints his right eye smaller.

"Sy-lar," in Ghost's most playful voice, "have you been lying about your age, eye color, and designs for the end of the world this whole time?"

Every time Gabriel talks to the Ghost, he experiences the same jab of ill feeling — he would rather be talking to a preferred Teodoro. Teodoro wouldn't singsong 'Sylar' at him. Even now, years later, when his wrath where it concerns the space-faring spectre at his back has cooled and tempered to dull black, he thinks this. It's almost nice, really. Nostalgic. Like he is a person who has friends and enemies, instead of

whatever it is he has been. Dead.

He tracks the sight of dream-birds, and wonders if there are dream-insects here for them to feast on.

"She called it the first of us," Gabriel says, still back mostly turned to the man invading his sleeping mind, arms settling to fold across his chest. "Mother and Father coming home. Scrambled her ability, maybe her brain, even more than usual. Not my handiwork. What does she want you to do about it?" Now he looks back, and asks, archly, "Give it nightmares?"
Ghost listens to this, his brow furrowing thoughtfully. He has very well-groomed eyebrows in this dreamverse, and even in real life, he has the best ones out of all three, as far as he's concerned, so… so. Well. He's an attractive frenemy, is basically what I'm saying.

"Oh. So that's why— she screams, shifts phases, runs a risk of melting your face off if you try to make out with her," the ghost says, slowly, realizing. Hm! 'The first of us,' that seems like a relevant detail. That would be the first Evolved, right? Really, this Teo really does not do a very good job at obtaining details before proceeding on matters of this nature. It probably has something to do with the fact that he isn't getting on the job, isn't getting paid, and is actually asleep, defaulting to recreational research and exploration while he's as off-duty as physically possible. But he's not the bored or boring one, that's for sure.

(Maybe the ghost should take Eve more seriously too.) "No, smartass.

"I'm just supposed to see if I can find the bogey. Get in their head, check it out. Hoping their dreams or their senses or whatever are different enough I'd notice something." Ghost stoops down and picks up a small pebble— just a thumb-sized wad of compressed dirt, really. He tosses it into Gabriel's foot. Through Gabriel's foot? "Don't pretend like killing people gives you nightmares."

Asphalt is germinating in the dirt under Gabriel's shoes. White stripes going up the center. The ghost, nonchalantly forming urban genericisms, that Gabriel might wittingly or unwittingly fill in. The birds draw their shadows closer.

The thrown pebble bounces off worn leather.

Gabriel tips a look down at the way urban road colours over stranger orange dust-paths. He's something of a passive participant, but there is a subconscious kind of contribution all the same. Deep cracks forming through the asphalt, with weeds growing up and through them, and those long white lines faded with time and neglect. It's not an imagining, but an impression of so many areas of New York City's emptier spaces.

The monochrome leaks over. Fleshy tones eke out of Gabriel's skin, the brown undertones to otherwise jetblack, grey-speckled hair now tonally silver beneath the sun. If Ghost cares to look, the same thing is happening to himself, as if being eased back into an old fashioned movie.

At the same time, there's a slight pivot of attention more squared on Ghost when he says— something, about melting faces and making out. Gabriel flicks a doubtful look up and down his person, in brown eyes now rendered into a shade of iron. "She wants my help too," he says. "With whatever it is. And whatever help means. Did she tell you to be careful?"

Because you don't sound like you're being careful, Ghost.

Ghost studies their surroundings, the changes that take place. Well, Gabriel's in town. Ish. Probably. That makes sense, with how many minds the ghost had sprung through before finding his. Not the length of America, for sure. (It also makes sense, given Eileen is back in town. Which is something they could optionally talk about in an explicit fashion, but that would be out of character.)

Did Eve tell him to be careful? Ghost lapses into a long pause, his eyes drifting away from the greying back of his hand. "Nnnnooooo," he says. "She didn't." He doesn't think so, genuinely. "She just talked about brimstone." But he's always careful, by his standards. Besides, risk is low when all he's doing is roaming through dreams. Most mental defense renders his targets slippery, difficult to penetrate, rather than an outright danger. Militarized subconscious is the stuff of Hollywood.

The wind picks up, raises a translucent, musty screen out of the earth, thicker ribbons of it in the eddies. And in that smear of atmosphere, the silhouettes of buildings begin to emerge, vague and blocky, marked by the fine, flickery scratches of old film. Awaiting detail, identifiers. There's a treeline, too, in the further distance.

Ghost tramples up beside Gabriel, finally. "Did she make you feel used for your body, or do you think Eve actually cares about where you been?"

There aren't a lot of buildings, in the end. Trees and rolling hills fill out space as Jersey forest manifests greyscale around them, but in the distance, Teo can see the angular formations of building top. It's probable that even in full colour, these concrete shapes would be just as monochrome. Faded brick, classic looking arched windows, and some kind of bridging structure between the two main buildings. Decrepit, chilly, distant. Its purpose is not immediately obvious, but it looks like it used to be a factory.

Gabriel is saying, "What are you talking about?"

The tone of a man whose body has never been used by Eve Mas.

Joisey, the ghost thinks to himself. (He also still tends to say 'Weezyanna,' for some reason.) Hm. His eyes rove over the dusty geometry, and as the veil starts to fall, he pretends to take no notice of the disused factory huddling between other odds and ends. He pretends not to picture the aerial view of it, or the topography nearby, or the street signpost slowly clearing out of the haze. Instead, he shifts his monochromed stare back to the man beside him, studying the indignation pinched around the pale angles of Gabriel's face.

"I'm talking about how Eve invited you to the apocalypse after all," Ghost says. "Hell, she gave you better instructions than she gave me."

No that's definitely the ghost's fault. He should have asked for more details. But he'd been very happy she was alive, unwilling to get accidentally melted into his boots— bodies that work for him are hard to come by, you know? and he'd had shit to do, stuff to steal, catlike exeunts to perform. He lets the birds land on the powerlines overhead. They begin to talk to each other in the coarse music of crow chatter, notes that rise, notes that fall. At this distance, crows don't look nearly as big as they really are.

Did she? Gabriel supposes that information is in itself an invitation, certainly in this city. It felt like warning, too, and from what little he knows of what occurred in the lateral reality from which the core of Remnant arrived, she was right to warn. He is thinking hard enough about it that he doesn't really consider the implications of the way his mind is forming up around him, visually. Sometimes, people aren't military trained, career terrorists, paid mercenaries, or even very good at anything beyond a rat-like instinct towards moment-to-moment survival.

Sometimes they are just clockmakers with godlike ability and ironic names.

Which is certainly not the kind of thing that is deterring him from hunting down ancient entities that unmake people. "I guess you're getting closer," he says. "Finding the party. I didn't get the impression that she knows what she wants to do with it, yet. But I know we both like looking at things we shouldn't."

One of the birds shits to Gabriel's right, missing him cleanly by a good seven inches. Ghost asks, as blandly as possible: "That what you're doing here?

"Looking at something you shouldn't?"

It is a genuine inquiry, even if it isn't an innocent one— that descriptor being a poor fit for the ghost, as a general rule. Maybe Gabriel is shaping this dream to look like red herrings, but somehow, the ghost doesn't think so. He thinks, if Gabriel had meant to convey he should fuck off, the building would be shaped cartoonishly like an angry hand with one fat finger upraised, rather than having a flat roof angled to run off rain. A castle guarded with a dragon. Or Big Ben in London, any number of geographically improbable locales that the ghost wouldn't expend the resources to check.

But peripherally related to Eileen, probably. The ghost sends the murder back into the sky, tilting his head back to watch the symmetrical sweep of their wings. Awk awk! "But I don't think we 'shouldn't.' I think we're entitled." The ghost always thinks he's entitled!! but that aside. "I'm synthetic, you're the most powerful one alive. Seems like answerable destiny."

(Incidentally, this is why you kill the Buddha on the road.) (What good ever came from destiny?)

Gabriel turns a look sidelong to Ghost, slightly more focused, now, than irritated glances, looks up and down, sideways glares — and the world abruptly changes, with a kind of quasi-audible pressure that sounds a little like a bwawrm, if you had to spell it out. The trees disappear. The factory disappears. The birds vanish, the sky goes black, the world around them is swathed in utter shadow. Denser than shadow. Nothingness.

What they are left with is essentially an abstract theatrical space, lit from above in a wide circle, with the floor slowly fading from rundown road to blank grey.

And their colours are back.

"You're not much different," Gabriel says, tone rising a little sharper out of his customary monotone. "Being where you shouldn't be. Or feeling entitled to." But if he wanted to kick Ghost out, he could have— at least made the attempt, by now. If anything, this reprimand sounds borderline inclusive. Similar breeds of madness, flocking together.

"I'm participating in the culture," the ghost responds, failing to sound like he's arguing despite that his words absolutely 100% constitute an au contraire. Changed by Gabriel's dream edits, his face is now black against the lightless grey around them now, the jaw nearly indistinguishable from the featureless canvas. "Favors for friends. Looking in on— "

Friends. Looking in on friends, would be participating in the culture. But Ghost doesn't finish the sentence, pretending to be considerate. He only smiles in the dark, his teeth in punchable Cheshire white contrast. Neither of them are good at being explicitly inclusive, but they wouldn't be included in any group of people that was marked by that particular characteristic. Ghost looks at the tall man in the dark, and the bright bar of his own smile flickers like a lightbulb going bad.

"I'll drive up tomorrow," says the enamel row in the not-sky, with Ghost's voice. "If you're there, I'll bring some files." Files that he probably should have looked up, looked at, before embarking on his somnescent adventures, but whatever.

It's possible that Gabriel should become the wolf again, snap his warnings that Ghost had better fucking not drive up on them anytime, not just tomorrow. This Teo smells like danger, an alien scent beneath a familiar facade. He hasn't told Eileen this is happening, on account of still being asleep. He feels like he should tell Eileen, before permission is granted, but he doesn't exactly want Ghost sniffing around the borders of her dreams either. He'd seen those birds, and had ignored them so hard he'd showed his hand anyway.

She has enough in her head. "I'll be there," is what Gabriel says, a little archly, like he will believe this partnership when he— is in it, maybe. Holding "files". His crazed missions off the various deep ends from which he has leapt don't normally come with a formal briefing, so that's a nice novelty.

The circle of light constricts, retreating into darkness, in an attempt for more optimal sleep, in an attempt to blot out the lingering grin in the shadows.

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