I kept a long knife and a torch at my bedside as I waited breathlessly for him in the dark.
He casts a vast shadow over this world. We shudder through bedtime stories and make paintings, statues, and build shrines dedicated to his likeness. The few who have lived to see him say that he is a long-limbed giant with wild lidless eyes and a mane of pallid hair, his skin translucent and blue-veined.
They say he lurks beneath the earth’s surface, scratching and clawing through tunnels of his making with his taloned fingernails. They say that this world is his dominion, that the White Titan is our King. At night he takes command of his kingdom, ripping the ground and buildings asunder, and snatching men, women, and children from beds and cradles. Some claim that he kills anyone or anything that might one day threaten his crown. Others whisper that he murders without reason, that he is mad, capricious, and indiscriminate.
It seems then as if our whole world is deaf to anguished cries. That we are all rendered impotent from fear. That rather than confront the darkness that lives beneath the world’s surface we choose instead to hold inefficacious vigils for the victims to mask our cowardice and failings.
I would lay sleepless in my bed, exhausted and terrified in the flickering darkness. I would imagine the floor rumbling beneath me, the boards breaking apart like an insect’s hive. I would see the pale malevolent fingers emerging from the dirt, groping blindly around the crumbling edifice of my house. Every evening my floor would rupture to reveal a subterranean hell made of raw bleeding flesh and gaping bloodshot eyes. Repeatedly I fell into fissures filled with his hot fetid breath and gnashing gore-stained teeth.
By day I beseeched the village elders for anything that might possibly defeat the Pale King. They laughed their sad laughter and shook their frail heads. One cannot defeat the Pale King, they said, for he is the all-father and the devourer of everything. He is the lord of time, and he shall inform you when yours is up. I told them that I could not live like this, that I would not have my time dictated to me. I vowed to locate the White Titan of my own volition, to meet his deranged gaze on my terms, and, if possible, discern his true nature.
I dug for days, excavating deeper and deeper into the very bowels of the Earth. I discovered a tunnel the size of a cathedral, filled with the putrid aromas of faeces, rot, death, and human skulls that protruded from giant casings, their mouths smiling in the lantern’s light, and I knew that I had entered his domain. When I finally readied myself, I forced myself onwards to walk the pungent path.
My legs were slow and aching when I heard the White Titan, chewing listlessly in the dark. I heard the bones snapping and breaking between his teeth and low defeated moans emanating from his still-living prey. I unsheathed my knife as I crept closer and lifted my lantern high to fully behold the Pale King.
He was everything that they claimed he would be – immense and malformed, his skin as white as a maggot with claws like a mole, his hair a colourless cascade. In his hands he held a blooded torso, with two legs performing a futile death-throes dance. As the light exposed the White Titan, his eyes bulged with feral alarm, and I saw our ruler for what he truly was – craven, paranoid, and ashamed.
He screamed, and I screamed with him. As our voices meshed and melded, they seemed almost to create whole other worlds within that forsaken symphony: I felt I could hear every war ever fought or that ever would be, and the detonation of weapons of mass destruction obliterating millions. I heard the furious voices of innocent people betrayed and murdered by the very people entrusted to protect them, and the desperate sound of refugees escaping carpet bombings abandoned to drown in distant seas.