Welcome to Planet Radiant, a text-based roleplaying game about intrigue, solitude, and discovery. You’ll begin your adventure on the fourth floor of an empty museum, alone and with no memory of your life before this moment. Standing by the floor-to-ceiling conference room windows, you’ll see a city gone dark, illuminated only by the crimson glow of a blood moon. Humanity has vanished. It’s the lunar eclipse, and here you are: an amnesiac at the end of the world.
There must be answers somewhere in this museum.
Gameplay is simple. A description of your surroundings will appear on-screen. You decide what happens next. Type in a command to interact with your environment, like “go north,” “climb elevator cable,” or “smash glass with moon rock.” Planet Radiant is programmed to recognize thousands of words, so get creative. Be bold and take risks. You can’t die in Planet Radiant.
We won’t let you.
Welcome to the tutorial.
Nothing you do now will affect the story. But after this, your decisions will have narrative consequences, which can change how the game ends.
Do you understand? Type “yes” or “Y.”
Great. Let’s begin.
You are standing on the sidewalk in the middle of a large American city. It’s mid-morning, and something about today just looks cold. The chilly air feels almost wet, the way it soaks into your clothes down to the skin.
Autumn came early this year. Temperatures dropped before the leaves turned and fell. You remember, a few weeks ago, walking past restaurants with outdoor seating. Glowing patio heaters stood like sentinels among the packed tables. It felt almost normal, seeing friends share a meal together, after the turmoil of the past several months, after despair gave way to violence, after the insurrection was crushed, after the last wave of suicides. Those who survived needed comfort. The restaurants stayed open until the final deadline came.
Now everyone is gone.
To the north is a museum. At the top of a worn stone staircase is the entrance, flanked on either side by Doric columns. To the south, across the street, is a public park. The city’s empty downtown extends to the east and west.
What do you do?
You walk to the park and see long grass, ungroomed hedges, and a large fountain. In the center is a statue of a topless woman cradling an algae-stained pitcher. She was probably some kind of goddess? The fountain has long since gone dry. Thousands of pennies line the bottom of the pool. A little further back, some trees provide shade for a row of benches.
You step closer to the fountain and pick up a handful of coins. For decades, people have stopped right where you’re standing to toss in a penny and make a wish. As if they could bribe fate with spare change.
You throw the pennies toward the benches. They fall in the grass soundlessly. You feel nothing.
You abandon the fountain and sit on a tree-shaded bench. The day passes. The blue sky turns a golden magenta, then a glimmering black. Ever since the power grid went down, after there was no one left but you, you stood among the dead skyscrapers and stared at the swirling, infinite universe. Sometimes, you slept in the middle of the street just because you could.
While you look at the stars, you hear a voice in your head.
It’s time, it says.
You ask the voice, For what? It doesn’t respond. But you already know the answer.
You tell the voice to go fuck itself. It says:
You chose this.
You stand up and throw a small tantrum.
Okay. A big one.
You run back to the fountain, reach into the pool, and throw fistfuls of pennies into the street. You imagine all the wishes they represent:
A wish for forgiveness, for a winning scratch-off, for the cat to die before it needs to be euthanized. Countless wishes for sex, half-hearted wishes for world peace.
A wish for a new job or Broadway fame or a state school acceptance letter after all Ivies said no.
The selfless wishes of children: for a cousin to cope with addiction, for her teachers to get a raise.
You keep hurling pennies into the street until the fountain is empty and the pavement shines with copper. Then you scream.
Across the street, the doors to the museum swing open. An otherworldly light from inside beckons you to come.
The returns and says:
Whenever you’re ready.
You head north to the museum. At the top of a worn, stone staircase is the entrance, flanked on either side by Doric columns. To the south is a public park. The city’s empty downtown extends to the east and west.
You’ll be safe here, the voice says.
You climb the stairs, clinging to guardrail the whole way up. You look into the entrance but can’t see past the ethereal glow.
That’s what you’re not supposed to do, right? Don’t step into the light, they say in the movies after someone is pulled unconscious from a battlefield or frozen lake or burning building.
But no one is left to beg you to stay.
You step into the light.
It feels blissful and warm. The light is gentle. It takes nothing from you. Instead, it asks. And in your relaxed state, you are finally willing to oblige. You give it everything: everyone you’ve ever hurt and loved and mourned, every moment of pride and regret. Your name. Your face. Every moment you’ve spent on this godforsaken planet.
You give and give and give until, finally, you’re gone.
Now you’re ready.
CHAPTER 1: ASTRONAUTS
Welcome to Planet Radiant
Type “S” to start a new game
Begin new game:
You wake up in a dark room on a long wooden table. Above you is a vaulted ceiling with four skylights nestled between exposed joists. A cold, red moon glows with ethereal light.
You rise, stretch, and look around. To the north is a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. To the east is a closet. To the south is a set of wooden doors.
Nothing about this place feels familiar. Nothing about anything feels familiar: your hands, your clothes, your shoes. Your mind is empty. You don’t know who you are or how you got here.
You breathe deep and try not to panic. Maybe exploring will jog your memory.
The windows offer a panoramic view of a bleak city skyline. Buildings stand in silhouette against the horizon. Without electric lights flooding the night sky, the stars shine brighter than you’ve ever seen.
You remember stars.
You remember a bathroom in a large suburban house, with white tile and towels on the floor. A skylight above the toilet reveals that same black, glittering void. You feel like you’re peeing in a spaceship.
Your boyfriend walks down the hall to his bedroom. Three weeks ago, after his mom finally relented, you helped paint his room crimson. You loved the clean look of the bare red walls. But now his Nine Inch Nails and Ministry posters are back up, just crooked enough to gnaw at your soul.
A plane flies over the house. You wash your hands in the bathroom sink and reapply your lipstick. In the mirror you see a sixteen-year-old Black girl wearing a black vintage dress, all velvet with lace. Alone, she forgets to hide her cheeriness with a pout.
She has a beautiful face. But it’s not your face.
This isn’t your memory. But for now, it’s the only one you have.
You find a whiteboard in the corner. In the middle of an indecipherable flowchart, you see a short list that reads:
what we can carry
objects vs. books
ask Maxine for Polaroid
You head to the closet and find an assortment of cleaning products, office supplies, and branded merchandise. A pile of tote bags catches your eye, each silkscreened with a drawing of a camcorder and the words:
You sling a bag over your shoulder and take a cleaning cloth, a long-reach butane lighter, and some hand sanitizer. They disappear into the bag’s impossible depths.
Sensing there’s nothing left to find in the conference room, you walk through the heavy wooden doors into a windowless hallway. The doors slam shut behind you, and you hear the click of a lock sealing them shut.
You are in total darkness. Your boyfriend holds your hand and guides you down a vague forest path.
The girl and boy make their way to a footbridge that extends over a shallow creek. They climb over the guardrail and sit, dangling their legs over the edge.
It’s peaceful here at night, away from headlights and streetlamps. Crickets chirp. Animals walk on dead leaves.
“Do you believe in UFOs?” the boy asks.
The girl tries to look meaningfully at the sky but sees only tree branches.
“Ninety-percent of the time they’re just weather balloons, right?”
Her boyfriend chews on that for a spell.
“Okay,” he says. “So even if just ten-percent are real: what are they even doing here? Imagine developing the most sophisticated technology in the universe and then visiting a shopping center and some dude living alone in the desert.”
“Imagine being that bored,” the girl says.
“Oh god, I’m always that bored,” the boy says.
Somewhere, a bat flaps its wings.
You grope at the southern wall of the hallway and head west. After a few dozen feet, you stumble through a doorless entranceway and trip over what you think is a chair? You land hard and hear something snap. Thankfully, it wasn’t you.
Maybe you should find some light before you really injure yourself.
You dig through your bag for your lighter, pull the trigger, and produce a small flame. It’s not much, but now you can see two feet in front of you.
You stand up safely and inspect your surroundings.
You are in a small break area. On top of a linoleum counter is a Keurig machine and box of coffee pods. In the southeast corner is a circular table. There’s a three-legged chair on its side, with its missing fourth next to it. On the south wall is a framed poster for an exhibition titled Lie Detected: Surveillance Culture in Art & Design.
Sure enough, you spot a security camera mounted to the ceiling.
To the north is the hallway.
You would adore some coffee. But with the power out, the Keurig machine is useless.
The girl likes coffee, too. She likes diner coffee in ceramic mugs with those shelf-stable creamer packs. She likes all-night diners, even though she’s never been in one past 11 PM. She sits in a diner off the highway with her boyfriend, who smokes without knowing yet whether he likes cigarettes. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the waitresses laugh at them, the teen goths in the corner booth.
Candace. The girl’s name is Candace.
Candace draws a spaceship in her sketchbook while her boyfriend, Patrick, talks about making different sounds on his synthesizer. She imagines something like a scallop shell, with rockets at the base and windows running down each ridge.
Later that night, they walk through an empty field beneath the overhead power lines. Patrick squeezes Candace’s hand. Then he lets go and rubs her back. Then he slides his hand down to her waist. Then he quickly withdraws his hand.
“Oh God, I’m sorry,” he says.
Candace trails off.
Now they’re on their backs under a transmission tower. Candace looks at the latticed metal structure, mesmerized. It stands high like a six-armed mech. She imagines herself in the cockpit, defending Neo-Tokyo from giant monsters.
“Holding hands is okay, right?” Patrick asks.
Skyscrapers fall as the battle rages on.
How do you explain an absence? How do you tell someone that it’s not him, it’s everyone? That you don’t need touch to feel close?
You can’t worry about collateral damage when the whole world is at stake.
“Keep asking first,” Candace says.
The lighter isn’t cutting it. But you have an idea:
You pick up the broken chair leg and tie the cleaning cloth to the top. Then you douse the cloth with hand sanitizer and set it alight.
The torch illuminates the whole room.
As long as it burns, you can find your way around.
You step back into the hallway and head west to a large office area. Lining the walkway on either side are long metal filing cabinets, with reference books and bound journals running across the length of them.
Low cubicles fill the rest of the room. Piles of papers litter each workspace. Action figures and photos of children gather dust on the tiny shelves. You spot a thick disk of mold floating in a half-full mug of coffee.
No one has been here in several weeks.
You push through a glass door to the west and step into a lobby. Directly ahead of you is an elevator labeled with the number 4.
To the south is a railing overlooking a fatal drop to the ground floor.
To the northwest is a stairwell.
The entire north side of the room comprises a grand, open entrance blocked off with velvet rope and brass stanchions. A sign on the wall reads PLANETARIUM.
To the northeast is a pair of restrooms.
Nature calls, apparently. After some hesitation, you head toward the women’s room.
You walk through the door and into Candace’s memory.
In front of two barely hidden security cameras, a lanky Beetlejuice and a girl wearing a white stormtrooper helmet climb over the cemetery gates. Drunk and laughing, they zigzag toward a mausoleum near a copse of trees. The cemetery is old, and a few gravestones have cracked and toppled over. Candace and Patrick push one across the grass and lean it upright against the mausoleum wall. Now they can reach the edge of the slanted roof.
They hoist themselves up and marvel at the quiet necropolis.
Or at least Patrick does. Candace can’t see through the fogged, tinted visor of her stormtrooper helmet. She struggles to take it off. She bows her head and pulls. She sways and stumbles. She loses her center of gravity.
And then she is weightless.
She is an astronaut.
Do bodies decompose in space? Candace read somewhere that your skin freezes and your eyeballs explode. She imagines she is an eyeless block of ice drifting through the galaxy until, by some infinitesimal chance, she smashes into the hull of a spaceship and shatters into a million tiny shards.
Only she doesn’t shatter. At least not all of her. Her clavicle cracks when she hits the earth. Pain clouds her senses. She doesn’t hear Patrick shout her name. She doesn’t hear the security guard’s car come down the gravel path toward the trespassing minors. She only hears herself gasp inside that stupid Star Wars helmet.
And the memory is so vivid that, for an instant, you—the you standing in the fourth floor women’s room—you feel the sharp pain of freshly-snapped bone and double over.
And when the pain passes, you stand upright and look into the bathroom mirror. In the harsh, torchlight glow, you see yourself for what feels like the first time. You see a soft Asian face with almond eyes, thick lips and a broad nose. You see a woman with a strong, ridged brow under her overgrown bangs. You see a broad-shouldered woman with a pronounced Adam’s apple and smooth, lasered cheeks.
You see a real woman.
Thank you for listening to Planet Radiant. Words and music by me, Sasha V., logo by Jess Hamman.
For transcripts, and to learn more about the show, visit planetradiant.love. That’s Planet Radiant dot L.O.V.E.
If you’d like to help us keep the lights on, you can donate at patreon.com/planetradiant.
CHAPTER 2: PLANETARIUM
Welcome to Planet Radiant.
Type “C” to continue a saved game.
A makeshift torch lights the empty women’s room. For the past several minutes, you’ve been glued to the mirror, enthralled by a reflection of a woman you don’t recognize. You look into her deep, brown eyes and wait for a memory to surface. You wait a long time before giving up.
Smoke drifts from the crackling flame toward an open window. Outside, the city is silent. No trolley cars or firecrackers or high heels clicking on the sidewalk. All you hear is a swift, cold breeze. Goosebumps cover your arms. You wrap your cardigan tight around your chest.
Your mind fills the quiet with existential questions about why you’re here with someone else’s memories. But there are no answers in this bathroom, only a row of toilet stalls to the east, and the exit to the southwest. By the door is a roll of paper towels perched on top of a locked, empty dispenser.
You take the paper towels on your way out of the restroom.
Back in the lobby, you face north toward the planetarium entrance. Stanchioned velvet ropes form a snaking path to an anteroom.
You jump the queue and stop at a vintage ticket taker stand. Behind it, directly ahead of you, are two sets of doors that lead inside the theater. Between them is a large, dead screen.
To the east is a coat check station.
You walk behind the counter and see fourteen light jackets on numbered hangers. Cubbies for bags and purses fill the southern wall. Tucked away in one of them is a stack of flyers for a film series titled Terrestrial Constellations: The Future at our Feet. On the back of each flyer is a nighttime satellite photo of North America, the whole continent dotted and webbed with electric lights.
You prop your torch on the counter and try on each coat. Only one really fits: a dark wash denim jacket that hugs your arms but leaves ample room in the chest when buttoned up. Your cardigan, now cinched at the waist, looks more like a skirt than a long sweater. It makes you feel pretty.
You check the pockets and find four one-dollar bills and a new pair of earrings shaped like Christmas wreaths. They’re still wrapped in cellophane and mounted to a square of red cardboard. A clearance sticker covers the brand name. Not that it matters with $1.99 drugstore jewelry. Long ago, the internet murdered both irony and brand loyalty. It’s okay to like cheap things.
I mean, look at how those plastic gems sparkle in the fluorescent light.
You’re totally going to buy these.
You toss the earrings in your basket, along with a bag of Holiday Mint M&M’s and a Hershey’s Kiss as big as your fist. You like running errands after midnight—if you can call a three AM candy run to the CVS an errand. But you’re forty-one years old. Words mean what you want them to.
While you scan your items at the self-checkout, two white college boys dance into the store, arm in arm, singing “Tango: Maureen” from Rent. The performance comes to an abrupt end when one boy dips the other, and together they crumple into a laughing heap by the battery display.
You walk over and help them up.
“How’s your Guys and Dolls?” you ask them.
“I hate that show,” the shorter boy says.
“I’ll give you this huge Hershey’s Kiss if you sing ‘My Time of Day.’”
Without hesitation, the taller boy launches into Sky Masterson’s Act I closer. He offers you his hand, and you take it. He serenades you like you’re Sarah Brown, the Bible-thumping ingenue grappling with suppressed desire. It’s a bold choice, casting a middle-aged Latina woman in an especially white musical. But you roll with it. You like Sarah Brown. You like to see people loosen up.
The tall boy weaves you through the aisles while the security guard and two staff members pretend not to see. The boy finishes the song by the beverage cases. You clap and offer him the Hershey’s Kiss.
“Oh, I’m vegan,” he says, waving it away.
“Jesus Christ,” you say. “Take the damn chocolate and give it to your friends or something.”
He laughs and accepts the candy. The shorter boy appears with two bottles of blue Gatorade. He sways without his dance partner to prop him up.
“Someone explain electrolytes to me,” he says.
You roll your eyes, and your vision fades. The boys blink out of existence, and the CVS melts into the ether. You’re standing behind the coat check counter. Ill-fitting jackets lie strewn on the floor.
That wasn’t Candace. That was someone new.
It’s happening again.
Your head throbs.
You soldier on, warmer now, but your torch is dying down. The metal detailing on the ticket taker stand barely gleams, and the carpet’s tight weave lacks detail.
You move with purpose through the double doors and into the theater.
The room is massive. To the northeast is a raised platform, a miniature stage big enough for four people. Behind that is the movie screen, which fans out to cover the entire domed ceiling. Rows of reclining chairs with generous headrests fill the southwest corner. The setup feels church-like, the way it guides the eye heavenward.
There are doors to the west and northwest.
Like an usher in between screenings, you search the aisles for forgotten items. You grope under seats and jam your fingers between the cushions. You are methodical and thorough, but too slow for the torch. The dwindling flame finally goes out. Then the embers fade and die. You’re left in the dark with hot ash and a scorched chair leg.
You put the chair leg in your bag and continue your search blind. It takes several more minutes, but your perseverance pays off. Under Row 8, Seat 5, you find a cold slab of metal and glass.
Someone lost their phone.
You hold the power button until the screen comes on. The battery is at 19%. There’s no signal. You lack the credentials to get past the lock screen, but it still provides some useful information.
It’s 1:43 AM on November 8th, 46 degrees with a clear sky. You see two text notifications, which display truncated versions of the original messages.
Someone named Andre sent the first one a month ago.
So I know everyone’s making amends now that we’re all on our collective deathbed, but really and truly, thank you for the life we
The second message came one day after Andre’s, from an unnamed sender whose number is just a string of six zeros.
All who are not Forgiven must report to a Departure station immediately. Guides will provide transport, sedatives and
You can’t fathom what word comes next.
You swipe up, turn on the phone’s flashlight, and walk to the northwest door. Inside is a stairwell. At the top, you find an even larger area encompassing the theater’s dome. Your footsteps echo as you circumnavigate the geodesic structure comprising the planetarium’s ceiling. Wooden rods and metal trusses form a network of interlocking triangles. It looks like some bygone vision of the future: quaint, yet beyond your understanding.
It’s colder here than in the theater. Strong gusts of wind whistle through an opening in the ceiling.
A narrow catwalk encircles the dome. You see a ladder to the south.
You climb with the phone nestled in your breast pocket. The ladder rungs are smooth, and you ascend without much effort. But when you reach the platform, your jacket catches on a support beam. You tug gently to free yourself, and a sharp burr slices through the left sleeve, leaving a jagged, three-inch tear.
Your eyes water.
Why is this destroying you?
It’s just a jacket.
A jacket you bought on your fortieth birthday, during your last weekend in New York, when you got rush tickets to four Broadway shows and pretended to be a tourist in a city you lived in for seventeen years.
A jacket you wore the day you moved back to your childhood home in the suburbs, after your dad and his husband bought a rancher in a retirement community out of state.
A jacket you wore every day in the spring to your ASL classes, whose fitted sleeves strained as you practiced signing.
A jacket you narrowly saved from a permanent white sauce stain after slipping on the ice with your chicken combo from the Halal food truck.
A jacket that made you feel like a girl in a 90s teen dramedy, figuring out her perfect style, which, for you, turned out to be 90s retro, all flannel shirts and boot cut jeans.
A jacket you wore on your way to your first sign language interpreter job, a middle school production of Godspell Jr., which cut “On the Willows,” your favorite from the show, a heartbreaking song about performing under duress and submitting to your captors.
A jacket that took most of the year to break in before the denim felt soft against your skin.
A jacket you were wearing when you realized it’s been three years since you sang onstage.
A jacket you were wearing when your therapist told you for the third week in a row: we grieve for lost opportunities, Yolanda. We grieve for the paths we can’t take anymore. We grieve for them like we grieve for the people we love.
A jacket you put away until your forty-first birthday, when your dad and his husband were in town, and the three of you spent the whole day in a museum, and it was so warm for March, and who could blame you for leaving your jacket behind at the coat check?
It’s just a jacket.
You follow the catwalk and see a path forking off to a platform against the north wall. On the platform are two ladders, one going down twenty feet to the floor, the other extending to a hatch in the ceiling.
You climb up, mindful for burrs. As you get closer to the hatch, the air feels fresher and more bracing.
You know what you’ll see. You saw the city from the conference room, dark and desolate. But it’s different, here on the roof, with a panoramic view stretching out for miles and miles.
Cars still line the streets. Garbage tumbles in the wind: soda cans, pizza boxes, crumpled cigarette packs. Aside from the neglect, there are no signs of a mass exodus, no wreckage to suggest war. There aren’t even animals here. They must have migrated to parks and forests after scavenging what they could from the trash.
This is it. A city turns to ruins before your eyes.
You put on Yolanda’s Christmas earrings and toss the wrapper into the wind.
Thank you for listening to Planet Radiant. Words and music by me, Sasha V., logo by Jess Hamman. Beta tested by Jess Hamman and Christina Larocco.
For transcripts, and to learn more about the show, visit planetradiant.love. That’s Planet Radiant dot L-O-V-E.
If you’d like to help us keep the raccoons out of our roof, consider donating at patreon.com/planetradiant.
CHAPTER 3: PENANCE
Welcome to Planet Radiant. Type any key to continue.
You are on the roof of a museum overlooking a city of garbage. Hands buried deep in your jacket pockets, you observe the red pall of the blood moon, a harbinger of end times. The glow transfixes you, but you find it more calming than sinister, a warm blanket of light.
Besides, if this is an omen, it’s a month too late. The rapture already came. A text message told you so:
All who are not Forgiven must report to a Departure station immediately.
You’re still piecing together the story. You don’t know if departure means exile, enslavement, or slaughter. You don’t know what it means to be forgiven. All you know is that you’re alone and, Jesus Christ, you’re hungry.
I mean, really hungry. Murder-someone-for-a-cheesesteak hungry. You dream of jalapeño kettle chips, the big bags, not the tiny ones on the rack by the deli counter. You recall that numbing crunch, that glorious, too-full feeling of beasting every last crumb. You remember how badly the chips scraped the roof of your mouth, and how tired your jaw got from so much chewing.
But they were worth it. They were always worth it.
A hatch to the south, by the roof’s dome, leads down into the museum.
On your way back inside, you hear something crack underfoot. You stoop down and see a picture frame with a broken glass front. Mounted inside is a 1970s-era department store portrait of a seven- or eight-year-old white girl. She kneels in her smooth, white dress and clasps her hands together in a pose of mock prayer. A sheer veil hangs from a clip in her hair. Even with a rosary laced through her fingers, she looks more like a child bride than a second-grader celebrating her First Communion.
You look around for other stray items on the roof. There’s nothing else here.
You take the photograph. For good measure, you also take a wedge-shaped shard of glass from the broken picture frame, wrap it in paper towels, and slide it in your bag.
Now you’re ready. You turn on the cell phone flashlight, climb down the hatch, and retrace your steps to the fourth floor lobby. There are bathrooms to the northeast, a locked door to the east, an elevator to the west, and a stairwell to the northwest.
The stairwell is narrow and cold. Graffiti covers the parged, gray walls, an unsanctioned mural of overlapping stencils and tags. Sharpied onto the metal banister are what must be the names of local bands--Barishnicop, Photomorgue, Girlscout--each stylized as one word. The sentence REST IN POWER DELBERT AFRICA takes up most of the western wall.
The exit door groans shut as you step into the lobby. Just like the fourth floor, there’s an elevator to the west, a door to the east that reads STAFF ONLY, and a railing to the south overlooking a vast darkness below. To the northeast is a water fountain and metal bench. To the north are two identical entrance ways, about forty feet apart.
You slide onto the bench and lean your head against the wall. Sitting feels good, but your stomach growls. You wonder if you’ll ever eat jalapeño kettle chips again. Maybe there’s an abandoned bodega somewhere with shelves filled with expired-but-still-edible snack food, where you could ransack the aisles and feast on every flavor of potato chips and Doritos and off-brand Takis, a dozen open bags at your feet, and you sitting criss-cross-applesauce with a four-pack of sugar-free Red Bull, because eating is right and good, and caffeine makes your heart feel alive.
Is this your craving or a memory of someone else’s? It feels so specific to your body, the way it triggers your dopamine receptors and makes your mouth water. It feels like you.
Something about that First Communion portrait troubles you. You slip it out of your bag for another look. This time, you notice a subtle halo around the girl’s cherubic face, like a saint in Byzantine art. Everything about this photo screams sanctity and purity, and purity is just Jesus-speak for virginity, a concept invented to teach girls that their goodness is precarious and their bodies aren’t their own.
This girl is eight.
And don’t you technically have to go to confession before receiving the Eucharist? It horrifies you to think anyone could call a child sinner. But that’s the crux of being Catholic. God sent his only begotten son to deliver us from evil. To save us from ourselves. You can’t believe in Christ without also believing you’re bad.
Facing north, you step through the right entranceway into a long gallery space. On the east wall is a sign that reads, Spellcheck: Dungeons, Dragons, and Collective Storytelling. The show features ephemera from actual tabletop roleplaying campaigns, including game master notes, rule books, box artwork, and player sheets.
Or so the copy claims. The walls and pedestals are empty. Labels describe absent objects. You can’t tell if the exhibition was abandoned while being installed or taken down.
Or maybe it was pillaged. You continue north through the gallery. Along the eastern wall are three vitrines with broken locks and fingerprints marring the bare glass shelves.
You remember what you read on the conference room markerboard, just after you woke up. At the top of a short, cryptic list were the words, what we can carry.
They knew. Everyone knew the end was coming. The curators had to decide what to save.
A pocket full of 20-sided dice. A map of a fantasy realm stuffed into a satchel. If something could be saved, it was worth saving.
The gallery eventually curves into a U back toward the lobby. At the bend is a division wall with an opening to a separate exhibition space. This area looks relatively untouched, and after a quick glance at the objects on display, you can guess why.
On the western wall is a 15-foot long photograph of a glowing Times Square marquee that reads, PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT.
On the opposite wall is an assortment of small, prefabricated home decor signs. Positive and affirming messages appear on plastic, brass, and distressed wood.
Home. Gather. Dream. Blessed.
Welcome. YOLO. This is us.
Live, laugh, love.
In this house, we believe Black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal.
In this house, we are real, we make mistakes, we say I’m sorry.
In this house, we do second chances, we do grace.
What even is grace? Proximity to God? Mrs. Montserrat says there’s grace in repentance. Your seven-year-old brain can’t fathom what that means. But the words echo in your head as you walk with your classmates to the church. It’s a gray January day, and there’s still frost on the grass. Trees at the edge of the school grounds mute the sound of suburban traffic. All is quiet save for the swishing of winter coats.
Once inside, Mrs. Montserrat seats the students boy-girl-boy-girl. You’re sandwiched in a pew between Lori Kozalowski and Jennifer Nash, who bow their heads in earnest reflection. While they pray, you eye their plaid jumpers and wonder what it’s like to be a girl.
The line for penance moves quickly. When your turn comes, you enter the confessional, kneel behind the screen, and follow the script:
Bless me father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.
And how have you’ve fallen short of the Lord’s teachings? Father Lenoire says.
You consider the past few months. Two weeks ago, Mrs. Montserrat busted you for reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book during math class. Last Saturday, you told your mom you hated Scott Levine, who’s lobbed more anti-Asian slurs than you even knew existed. She told you that hatred is a sin, that Jesus says to love our enemies.
So you disobeyed your teacher. You didn’t forgive your bully. But math is boring and Scott Levine is evil. Nothing you did makes you bad.
You’re not bad.
Father Lenoir clears his throat. My son? he says.
You don’t respond. You let the silence stretch on. And when the silence is too much to bear, you stand up and leave.
You don’t need forgiveness.
You need math to be interesting.
You need Scott Levine to feel true pain.
You need a charger before your phone dies.
But dear God, more than anything else, you need a snack.
Thank you for listening to Planet Radiant. Words and music by me, Sasha V. Logo by Jess Hamman. Beta tested by Jess Hamman and Christina Larocco.
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