A Chat with Pencha from The Canker Death by James R. Bottino
The door opened, and I stepped briskly into the room as the door was closed behind me. The lights were dim, and I looked around as my eyes adjusted. The room was bare but for a single wooden desk chair placed in the center. What little light the room possessed came filtered through slits in small, high windows along the wall before me. The chair faced into the blackness to my right. As I looked into the darkness in front of the chair, something moved. Something huge shifted and turned, and I backed towards the door as two monstrous tiger eyes glowed in the half-light and stared at me through the darkness. I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and I clutched my clipboard to my chest.
“Grrrrreetings,” growled an impossibly deep voice in the corner. The R’s came out like a ferocious purr.
“Hell-hello,” I stammered, “Mister Pencha?”
“Just Pencha will be fine,” boomed the voice. “Please be seated.”
I didn’t much feel like sitting, in fact I was scrambling to remember why I had volunteered to conduct this interview. I was torn between a desire to throw down my clipboard and get out of the room as quickly as I could, and an inexplicable desire to sit in the chair both for the sake of curiosity and for a desire not to upset the owner of that voice. Drawing in a deep breath, I strode towards the chair and sat down rigidly, my clipboard on my lap. After a few long seconds, I exhaled.
“So, Mister Pen.. Pencha I mean. First, thank you for agreeing to this interview. It’s my first one, so I hope you’ll bear with me. Second, is there anything I can get you to drink, or …”
“I’ve alrrrrready eated, and I’m not thirrrrsty.”
Already eated? I thought, and a shiver ran down my spine.
“Oh,” I said nervously, “okay, then.”
What came next was a strange sort of deep growl, which, after a few unnerving seconds, I realized was a laugh – not an evil laugh, but deep and startling. Somehow that laughter set me at ease, a bit.
“Um,” I said, while straining to see my papers in the dim light, “so, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to ask you a few questions about yourself. Like, for one, your name, does it mean something? The name Pencha, I mean. I’ve never heard it before.”
“My rrrrrrrreal name is not Pencha. Your thrrrrroat could not prrrrrronounce my rrrrreal name,” he said as he got up from the corner and moved towards me. “A verrrrry old frrrrriend gave me the name Pencha, long, long ago. I do not know what it means. Knowing my frrrriend though, I know it must mean something.”
“Ah, I see. Well, now, “ I said, abandoning my list of questions for the moment, “you said, long, long ago a friend gave you the name. What do you mean by that, how long ago?”
“Time is hard to say. Yourrrrrr planet and mine orrrrbit at differrrent rrrrates. In yourrrrrr yearrrrrs it would be … mill … mill,” he said, clearly trying to sort something out, or remember the right word. “Thousands of thousands of yearrrrrrs. But wait now, no, I wasn’t always Pencha. She gave me otherrrrr names beforrrre. Pencha has been my name forrrrr just a few thousand of yourrrr yearrrs.”
As he talked he moved directly in front of me, and, though my eyes could not see so well as they would in full light, I could see him clearly now. He was huge, perhaps the size of that monstrous grizzly on display in the Anchorage airport. His fur was black, and his body was an unearthly combination of primate and feline. His upper body was disproportionately larger than his lower; his limbs all ended in massive claws with two opposable thumbs on each hand, and his tail had a tuft like that of a male lion. The shape of his skull was almost human, with a large cranium and a long face with slits for nostrils and a mouth that displayed both upper and lower fangs with sharp teeth between them that flashed white whenever he spoke. His ears were at the sides of his head, like a man’s, but were black and pointed at the top. One look in his huge, feline eyes let me know he was no beast, for reflected there was an intelligence and a sadness that reminded me of the eyes of an aged general my ex-military father introduced me to when I was a child.
“You say, your world orbits at a different rate than Earth does? What else can you tell me of your home?”
“My home? My home is called … I cannot rrrememberrr the name in English. Otherrr languages have always been harrrd for me. In my language, the name is beautiful and sounds like our worrrd for forrrest. Eterrrnal forrrest might be a simple trrranslation, though therrre is so much morrre to it. And now the forrrests arrre gone, the ones I rrrememberrr. Only a tiny stand rrremains, though it is still bigger than any forrrest on Earrrrth. Therrre are mountains and rrriverrrs and strrreams and lakes, but therrre is nothing like the oceans you have herrre.”
“Interesting. And, on your world, I’m assuming, your people are the dominant species, like humans are on Earth?”
His eyes looked away from me for the first time since I’d entered the room, and he looked at the floor as he answered.
“Sometimes I think therrre arrrre no dominant species, as you say. Sometimes, I think that the birrrds and the trrrees know morrre than us. I know you would say therrre arrre two dominant species, my people and otherrrs who usually look like you do.”
“Humans? Are you saying there humans on your world?”
“They arrrre not human, but they look like you. They have been on my worrrld forrr as long as I can rrrememberrr, though therrre arrre morrre and morrre of them. I do not know if they came frrrom somewherrre else. I only know of the warrrs,” he said as his eyes once again turned towards me.
“So, you are at war with the humans … I mean the human-like race?”
“No. Not now. Now, they fight themselves, and we leave them alone. Therrre arrre too few of us left.”
“So, about the humans on your world. Is it like Earth? I mean, what level of technology exists on your world? Are there, ah, computers? Rocket ships? Cities?”
“Not that I know of. They arrrre not like most humans. They do not invent like you do. They have castles, and they have books. They study the starrrs, but they do not carrre to crrreate new things like humans do. Neither do we.”
“Really? I wonder why not. But nevermind, I am running out of time here, but before I go, I am reminded of a couple of questions I wanted to ask before. You said your name was not always Pencha, and that someone else gave you the name. Who is this friend, one of your people, I’m assuming? Someone you have known for thousands of thousands of years? Why would this person give you your name? What is this person’s name?”
Pencha growled as I finished asking this string of questions. It was not the laughing growl.
“I have many names in many places, and you have many questions!” He paused. His feline eyes narrowed to slits, and he stared deeply into my eyes as he continued. “I do not speak of my frrriends to otherrrs. I do not have many frrriends. But I will tell you that this frrriend has even morrre names than I do. I do not know them all. My frrriend is not one of my people, today…”
Just then there was a knock at the door. The time I had been allotted for my interview had come to an end.
“Ah, so many more questions. I’m sorry, but I have to go now. Thank you for letting me have this interview. Can I talk to you again sometime?”
“You arrrre quite welcome. The pleasurrrre has been mine. Of courrrse you may speak to me again. Perrrrhaps we will meet soonerrrr than you think,” he said, and one of his huge eyes blinked before he turned away and paced back towards the corner of the room.
James R. Bottino’s life-long interests mix esoteric and disparate fields of study. By day, his foremost influences have been the study of literature and the art of writing. Following these pursuits led him to read anything he could in these areas and to complete every under-graduate and graduate course available to him in the field of creative writing. Following this line, he taught high school English throughout the 1990’s, focusing on the teaching of writing.
By night, when no one was looking, he studied computer systems / networks, computer languages, and operating systems, learning anything he could in these areas, first as a hobby, and, finally, as a career. This mixture of literature and technology served as the inspiration for the The Canker Death’s protagonist, Petor.
James currently lives in a suburb of Chicago, with his wife, daughter, two Australian cattle dogs and far, far too many books and abstruse computers.
You can visit his website at TheCankerDeath.com