THE ASCENT CHAPTER THREE

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CHAPTER THREE

STORYTIME

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From these depths depart towards heaven,
you have escaped from the city full of fear and trembling 
                                           Rumi

      

As the sun was rising, I continued to lay on my back, completely relaxed. Never before had I slept so peacefully, with the possible exception of the night before when it seemed I had slept for weeks. I stared up at the bright pink clouds and reflected on yesterday’s strange events.

 Everything came back to me in a big swoosh, as did my curiosity about my new friends. If they were still up here somewhere, I would make it my business to find out as much as possible.

I remembered how adept they were at everything they did as if they were in their natural element. In some ways, they seemed a little too in control of everything, including me. My big question remained, what were they doing up here in such a remote part of the world? Further to that, how could they have gotten here, especially with all those provisions? Unless…

Yes, of course, that’s it! Likely they had been airlifted here by a helicopter with some eco-tour company. Probably, they’ll spend a few days here then return to wherever they came from. That certainly would explain their massive stash of food and drinks.

Why didn’t I think of that last night? Amazing how much clearer things become after a good night’s sleep! The only problem was that no outfitter or eco-tour operator did anything in these parts. I suppose, if they had the resources, they could have hired both a copter and an outfitter. Yes, that was the most probable answer if Ockham’s Razor[1] had anything to do with this.

Although, for some reason, I wasn’t so sure about that because it was too logical and straightforward when nothing else going on here was logical or straightforward. My new friends were of reasonable temperament, yet much about them seemed different, causing me to question if this was something other than a chance meeting.

Had the gods contrived this, or had fate conspired that I climb here to entangle me with these two improbable characters? My rational mind never believed in gods or fate, so what else might be behind this? Divine providence was out of the question since I didn’t believe in that either. Worse was the irony of finding myself, a philosopher, asking irrational questions to find rational answers.

Again, I recalled my strange dream from last fall. I wondered, was it insane or was it to drive me insane? I could still hear the haunting voices calling; was it to this mountain they called? The more I considered it, the more the dream merged with the reality I was now experiencing here.

Every inexplicable phenomenon I encountered yesterday made it that much more difficult to rationalise things away, beginning with the shimmering orbs. Then, there were the voices I heard from a very long way off. Sound waves from such a distance could not have reached my ears unless they originated in my mind,[2] which was impossible unless I had gone insane.

How could I explain the soft and sensual voice of the enchanting mountain nymph who directed me to find my way up the Summit? Remembering her voice brought a smile to my face. Yes, for now, a little of this insanity would suit me fine. That way, I wouldn’t have to explain any of this to myself.

So, let’s go with that, I said to myself, smiling as I considered how Zeus arranged for Mo and Eli to bring the champagne I had asked for. ‘But, Zeus,’ I said aloud, ‘you forgot all the goddesses I requested. Weren’t they to celebrate with us? Next time, don’t forget. I’ll be waiting.’

I stared into the sky; the iridescent clouds began to appear magical to me. What if I were on a magic mountain where the impossible was possible? A place where I could fall in love with the goddesses, fly through the air, and forever be young like Peter Pan. Pleasant thoughts! A most splendid way to begin the day.

As if to break the spell, I noticed ominous clouds beginning to sweep in from the west. The early morning sun, shining brightly on the eastern horizon, wouldn’t last for long.

Reflecting on my situation, I wondered what my companions were up to. I wanted to believe there was no reason for mischief. But what if there was? On the surface, they appeared no different from me; two mountaineers who happened to be on the same mountain. And then, there was the other side that begged the question; actually, several questions.

It was unsettling to think about how they knew my name and all the other things they seemed to know about me. There must be a logical explanation. Possibly there was some mutual acquaintance in London that told them about me. Yes, that must be it.

Friar Ockham[3] would agree; there was no reason for concern. As for everything else going on with voices and orbs, I couldn’t explain any of this away, except I might have become a bit delusional now and then as a result of oxygen deprivation, even if it didn’t seem I was at the time. In any case, I didn’t want to think about it right now.

Enough paranoia, James – time to get up and start a new day. Hopefully, my friends, wherever they were, hadn’t departed. I needed to ask them if they knew the best route down… something less challenging than what I took climbing up. Unless, of course, they had a copter coming by to airlift them out, in which case, I’d ask to catch a ride with them if they were going towards Santiago.

The clouds were quickly rolling in now. I knew how swiftly things could turn nasty at this altitude. With all my brooding thoughts, I wondered if perhaps I had attracted a storm up here. But if this was superstition, at least I didn’t take it seriously as many do. I certainly wasn’t given to such foolishness as linking mind with matter, weather conditions or anything else.

Yet, many of my assumptions about what might be possible had recently been challenged, especially with all the telepathic tricks played on me as I approached the summit yesterday. But I didn’t believe any of this was possible.

Again, I sprang to my feet, amazed at my agility and how easily I got up. My muscles weren’t in the least sore as they generally were after a day of climbing steep precipices. I quickly threw on my clothes, rolled up my bedding and stuffed it into my backpack. I slung it on my back and made my way along the ridge to find shelter, hoping to avoid the rain and wind that was beginning to gust over the summit ridge. I trudged below the ridge, searching for a rock protrusion to crawl under to take refuge from the storm.

The rain had now turned into sleet as the winds swooped in over the summit. None of this, however, mattered to me. Despite the weather and the unanswered questions last evening, I was ready to take on whatever new wonders and challenges the day may bring.

As confident as I felt, nothing could have prepared me for what awaited me this day. I hadn’t gone very far when I suddenly caught a whiff of smoke wafting up from somewhere below. I scrambled down from the ridge a short distance, where I saw what appeared to be a shelter nestled on a small plateau beside a granite slope. As I got closer, I could see a log cabin, complete with a stone chimney where smoke was billowing out. 

‘How in bloody hell could this have been built here?’ I asked aloud. After all the difficulty I had in getting up here with only a backpack, hauling logs up vertical escarpments would have been impossible without a zeppelin or military helicopter. Indeed, this was a mystery.

The squall had passed as quickly as it arrived. In the distance below, I saw Eli sitting outside strumming on a guitar, feet propped up on the railing with a fag hanging out the side of his mouth. The scene reminded me of one of those over-embellished mountain scene paintings with the sun shining between the storm clouds, except this was alive and vibrant. The cabin was conveniently situated far enough from the Summit to avoid the howling winds arching over the ridge above. 

‘It’s about time,’ Mo shouted from the doorway. ‘Eli ate most of your sausages, but I can fry a few more. Is there anything else you’d like?’

‘Yes, anything,’ I said as I stepped onto the plank deck. ‘So, this where you two hang out! You didn’t tell me last night. What a great view over the gorge below. Most impressive!’

‘Glad you like it,’ Eli said, flicking his fag over the railing as he got up to survey the front gable end. ‘It’s solid, alright… built and outfitted everything the way we thought you might like it.’

I nodded, not taking him too seriously. From what I could tell, the cabin had real character, appearing to have been built a very long time ago, possibly a hundred years or more.

‘There’s a bed in the loft if you care to stay,’ Mo said as he stepped outside.

‘That’s most gracious of you,’ I said. ‘How much? Unless you take credit cards, I only have a few pesos in my pack to take me back to Santiago.’

‘If you don’t carry with rowdy parties, you can stay here as long as you wish. No charge!’

‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘I suppose I could stay an extra day or two before heading back to Santiago. I could send you some money after I return home.’

‘Where we’re from, there’s no need for money,’ Eli said with a chuckle, ‘yours or anyone else’s.’

I had no idea what he meant by that; still, I wasn’t about to argue. I had only enough cash for food, lodging and transportation to make it back before catching my flight home.

I took a look inside as Mo cooked something on what appeared to be an old wood-burning stove that reminded me of a place where I once stayed.

‘There’s something about this lodge that seems very familiar to me,’ I said. ‘Ah, yes, now I remember. It reminds me of an old rustic alpine lodge where I stayed for a few days with my girlfriend somewhere deep in the Canadian Rockies. Most charming.’

‘I’m pleased you like it,’ he said. ‘Go ahead, take a look around and try not to get lost.’

Not only was the cabin fully furnished; it also had three well-worn leather chairs by the fireplace, much like I remembered at my wilderness lodge in Canada. I wasn’t sure whether this was supposed to be a large cabin or a small lodge since it seemed like both.[4]

The interior was open except for a couple of small rooms at the end. I went up to the loft, where there was a bed, a closet and a window facing northeast in the gable end where the morning sun shone in. When I went back down the stairs, I noticed how the old hand-hewn logs and mud caulking created a warm atmosphere as if occupied for a hundred years. Although considerably smaller than the other lodge, it had the same smoky log atmosphere. I wondered what Eli meant when he said he designed it for me. Of course, he couldn’t have been serious, but had he known, it wouldn’t have been far from what I dreamed of owning since staying at that mountain lodge.

In the lounging area, several woven wool rugs covered the old plank floor by the fireplace, where there was also a large bin filled with split firewood. Interestingly, there were several old books stacked on the mantel. They all appeared to be hardcover copies from a bygone era, although I didn’t bother just then to examine the titles.

By now, Mo had my breakfast ready on the old table, complete with fresh fruit, a couple of scones, a few slightly burned sausages, and a freshly brewed pot of coffee. Most satisfying!

After visiting with my hosts, I stepped outside to survey the magnificent view that evoked fond memories of past expeditions. From what I could tell, these sierras appeared to extend well into Argentina. I didn’t anticipate having the good fortune to stay here when I planned this venture to Chili. It hardly seemed possible, and at times, I wondered if it was.

Still, it bothered me that nothing here made logical sense: the food, the drink, or this cabin. This Summit wasn’t a reasonable location for a lodge since it was far too remote for anyone to access, except for a few climbers such as me. Yet, here it was… as were they.

Once again, this caused me to question what they were doing here. And what about that fortune Mo suggested they inherited? Where was that stashed… some Swiss bank account, or under some rock? How did I know they weren’t on the lam, holed up here from the law? If they were, what better place to hide?

I mean, who would ever suspect them up here? No one would ever find them. I wasn’t looking for them… but were they looking for me? Now, that was unsettling to think. It made me wonder whether I had cause to be concerned, considering how little they had been forthcoming about anything.

If they didn’t want me to know, there wasn’t much I could do about it. However, if I told some interesting things about myself, hopefully, they would become a bit more transparent. I continued to ramble on about myself, talking at length, presuming they were interested in hearing about my life and all I had accomplished. I also did some name-dropping of famous people I knew or had met. I don’t know; possibly, I was looking for validation from them as to who I thought I was. 

They seemed attentive yet didn’t respond to anything I had to say. No commentaries, compliments, nods, smiles or requests for an autograph. Nothing! The more I put myself out there, the more I felt I was left flapping in the wind. Usually, I try to present a confident persona by understating my achievements, except when overplaying my hand after a few too many pints at the pub while trying to impress some fair lassie.

From what I could tell, Mo and Eli didn’t give a damn about any of my self-revelations. Rather than showing some deference for all my awards, scholarships and accomplishments, Eli continued to stare blankly at me, making me want to get up and throw a pint of bitter in his face to get a reaction. And Mo, what can I say? He just sat there staring into the sky, thinking about God knows what.

It wasn’t until later in the day it occurred to me that they possibly already knew everything about me. Is that why they seemed so indifferent to who I was? I hadn’t considered that before. If so, how could they have possibly known? Yet it seemed they did.

After I finished what turned out to be an unintended soliloquy, Eli picked up his guitar, played a few improvised licks and then offered to go down into the cellar to get more pints of bitter.

‘Thank you,’ I said, ‘instead, I think I will go for a short walkabout on the ridge. I’ll be back soon.’

Midway up to the summit ridge, I changed my mind and decided to head down towards the chasm, not that far below the cabin. I remained a bit churlish after being shut out of their world.

In some ways, it felt like I had been shunned. Even though I was open and transparent, they offered no information about themselves. It was becoming apparent; this was not a level playing field: everything was tilted against me where they got to make the rules to suit themselves.

In particular, I was annoyed with Eli. Most of my students in his age range would regard me as intellectually superior. But not him. At times he seemed to behave as if he was my mentor, whereas Mo was older and inordinately astute, so I didn’t expect the same deference from him. Nor, I’m sure, would I have received it even if I had.

Still, I had to admire Eli, albeit grudgingly. He was bright, perhaps too much so for his good... or mine, for that matter. In some ways, he seemed a mild-mannered flower-child from a bygone era: a sixties counter-culture type who lived his life without a care, ostensibly because he had the good fortune of inheriting a large estate.

Despite his alleged wealth, it seemed he might be just as content living an aimless Bohemian life, loitering in old second-hand bookstores, grungy coffee shops and Turkish hookah lounges. Likely, he was the type who hung out with young women wearing Goth, bright red lipstick and high army boots. All in all, he probably had a good living as a free spirit out of some Kerouac novel.

‘I knew several students like this who dropped out after fashioning themselves as revolutionary savants, having read just enough Marcuse or Sartre to ridicule the aspirations of bourgeoisie culture. It’s what you do to remain radically respectable while being disrespected.

Not that I knew any of this about him, although it seemed he would fit this mould. In some ways, I envied him as a projection of my youthful idealism and wanderlust. In painful contradistinction, I had spent most of my adult life struggling to earn the respect of people that, in the end, I didn’t even care about. What had I given up in life to prove something that didn’t matter?

For all my trouble, all I had to show were a few impressive certificates hanging on my wall, purchased with a student loan higher than this mountain. Likely, I’d be indentured to the bank for years unless I received the tenure I deserved for all my time, effort and money.

As I stewed on this, my mind spiralled downward into an abyss of self-pity while staring into the gaping chasm. Something about the void below felt fascinating, yet eerily troubling, as though something remained unresolved as if I had already crossed over this abyss. I realised; however, that wasn’t possible – other than in that weird dream last October.

From where I stood, I couldn’t see the bottom. A strange déjà vu began to haunt me, like when I was climbing towards the summit. I couldn’t figure out why I kept getting these flashes of being here before. I only knew I made it up to the Summit after being directed by some enchanting voice that told me to scale up a fissure on the other side of this chasm. And yes, of course, I smiled in disbelief about how that seductive echo had also enchanted my body.

 I stared up towards the cabin. How could I not have seen it when I was on the other side? It should have been in plain sight, but it wasn’t. So, what am I supposed to make of that? Like everything else here, it didn’t have to make sense. While sitting atop the precipice where the chasm opened, I considered all the mysteries that continued to mock my rational faculties. Finally, in frustration, I made my way back to the cabin, having given up trying to understand what was going on. 

I sat across from Mo, hoping he might tip his hand. After discussing my topographical challenges to the summit’s approach, he asked why I had selected the most challenging route possible. I didn’t have an answer except to say it was an adventure, knowing I would eventually find my way. I always did.   

He looked at me curiously for a moment but didn’t say anything. Possibly he thought I was crazy; he certainly wouldn’t have been the first. Then after a few minutes, he said, ‘I have a most important question for you, James.’ 

‘Of course; what would you like to know?’

‘I was wondering,’ he said; ‘do you think what people do in life makes them who they are?’

The question felt more like a reproach, so I wasn’t sure what to say in response. I thought it might have to do with how I had been blathering about myself and my academic career. Possibly, Mo assumed I was defining myself by what I did instead of who I was. If so, might this be his way of making me feel shallow? I hoped not. As I considered the question, he seemed to have only intended it as a rhetorical question, yet it made me feel defensive.

‘I think,’ I said, ‘whatever we do provides us with our sense of identity. Nevertheless, I’m sure there are many other things we may have done that won’t change the essential character of who we are. I was a sailor for a short time and am now a professor of philosophy, albeit a part-time sessional instructor. Regardless, I’m the same person, only with a different role.’

‘So how shall we judge you, as a philosopher or a sailor?’

‘I would hope you wouldn’t judge me at all; instead, look beyond the outward appearances of my vocations and see only my qualities within.’

He nodded in agreement. I realised then his question had been a ploy so that I would hear the answer from my own mouth. He had me cornered with a response of my own creation, or should I say his creation. In any case, it was an astute move that caused me to ask myself why I always seemed to need to know what others did in life. Was it because I needed to evaluate myself against them and their achievements?

Like many in my profession, I was in the habit of leveraging my outward credentials to gain an advantage over those with fewer accomplishments. Inward qualities often seemed incidental to the more obvious reality of degrees and appearances.

Perhaps this may have been why I was so determined to have Mo and Eli tell me about themselves so that I may know where I stood in my relationship with them. Based on my initial impressions, I thought I had Eli figured out, but Mo remained an enigma.

From what I learned later, it was fortunate that he didn’t feel it necessary to flaunt his credentials or I may have had to re-assign myself a place much lower on the pecking order.

Eli stepped outside with a loaf of freshly baked bread and placed it on a table with an assortment of what appeared to be homemade preserves. He then cut me a big slice and poured each of us a coffee from a pot he brewed. They made it hard for me to remain upset with them while being so gracious and hospitable.

For now, I would swallow my pride along with the bread and let things remain as they were. Solving all these inexplicable mysteries could wait a little longer. Besides, they hadn’t said anything that would humiliate me. I did that to myself and now realised my initial umbrage mostly had to do with my inflated ego needing to be recognised and affirmed.

Still, I wished to believe that I didn’t give a rip what others thought about me since I didn’t need to impress anyone. Yet it seemed I did because that’s what I was trying to do.

I now felt chagrined by how I reacted so irrationally due to my fear of being judged. This reaction was the opposite of what I intended, so why did I respond as I did; was it because I felt I wasn’t being afforded the respect I thought I deserved? How disillusioning; I was no different than anyone else. I had expected better.

Strange as this place was at times, I had learned some things about myself that I didn’t necessarily wish to know. I was soon to find; however, this was only the beginning. There remained much for me to discover about myself before I would know who I was, none of which had anything to do with what I did in life. Back then, I didn’t realise finding myself would become my primary purpose for being here, just as I supposed it should be for everyone, wherever they might be.

As clouds billowed over the ridge, rain began to pour all about us while we remained sheltered under the canvas-covered pergola. I felt there was much that I needed to come to terms with, although I could never find an appropriate opportunity to probe them further. After they went inside, I was left to contemplate my situation and what I should do next. I was conflicted. It was becoming apparent that it was now time to take my leave.

Still, things appeared reasonable, at least on the outside, even though I suspected they weren’t. Whenever I queried them, they seemed oblivious to my concerns, with little or no interest in providing any rational explanation for all the weird things I had witnessed here. So, I wondered, what would happen if I stayed here much longer; where would this all lead?

When I was around them, playing chess by the fireplace, everything was calm and serene. It was only after I stepped back from the situation that I could see how queer things were. Things seemed to appear and disappear in thin air whenever they wanted. And not only that, Eli had a habit of answering my questions even before they were formulated in my mind.

When I asked Eli about that, he said: ‘Oh, you mean precognition,’ as if it was the most common thing in the world.

‘Call it whatever you wish,’ I said, ‘no one is supposed to be able to do that.’

‘And why not?’ he asked, chuckling. ‘You should try it. Tell me, what am I now thinking?’

‘What an insufferable smart-arse you are.’ I said. ‘Am I right?’

At times I wondered if I had been caught in some warp in space and time.

I tried to rationalise away the voices I imagined hearing yesterday. At first, it seemed reasonable to assume it was the wind sweeping over the rocky slopes. I always seemed to be reduced to thinking it was nothing more than the confusion of my oxygen-deprived brain to account for my twisted perceptions. As for the vision I had of the fissure route to the summit, was it only a lucky hunch I had in my mind’s eye? Increasingly, it was becoming more difficult to rationalise what was happening here.

Then there was the ongoing question of what in bloody hell were they doing up here in the first place? That didn’t make sense either, not to mention the other mystery of how this old cabin could have been built here.

Yet, here they were with every provision to live comfortably, including kegs of the Czech Pilsner Mo had stashed in the stone cellar below with cases of exquisite Mediterranean and European wines. Eli told me to be sure to help myself anytime I got thirsty.

I thought again about those flashing orbs of light that seemed to dart about on the summit. Or did I only dream that? Yes, of course, I did; in fact, about three months ago. Still, this was different. This time I was awake, or was I? I wasn’t sure, but then, I wasn’t sure about anything.

If the orb spheres were real, Mo and Eli should have known about them since they were already on the summit. When I asked, they had nothing to say, which made me more determined to pester them until I got some straight answers before leaving.

As it turned out, I was soon to find out about everything, in fact, more than I might have wished. I found this wasn’t about what was happening without; instead, it was about what was happening within… within me. Furthermore, by some strange quirk of fate, I was implicated in the very questions I was seeking answers to, far beyond anything I could have imagined.

‘James,’ Mo said, as he came to the door, ‘it appears the rain won’t be letting up soon, so why not join us by the fire? We have a few things we wish to discuss with you.’

He caught me off guard, causing me some concern about where this might lead. Whenever I planned my offensive, I seemed to be on the defensive again.

‘So, what’s on your mind?’ I asked cavalierly. It seems anytime someone asks to discuss something with you; you already know it’s most likely not going to be good.

‘Please, James,’ Eli said, ‘take your favourite soft seat by the fire and make yourself comfortable; this may take a while. Here, let me cut you a slice of banana bread Mo just baked. It’s best when it’s fresh.’

‘Yes, of course,’ I said, ‘with fresh bananas picked this morning off the banana trees growing in these glaciers. Never mind, what’s the problem? If you need me to pay my tab, I can. I think my wallet is somewhere in my backpack.’

‘No, that’s not necessary,’ he said. ‘There’s no problem… unless you wish to see it that way. Although we hope you won’t.’

‘What we wish to discuss with you,’ Mo said, ‘is something we think you will find to be very significant. So significant, it could change everything for you. Before we get into that, if you don’t mind, we’d like to review the last several years of your time on earth. It will give you some context to understand what we have for you.’

‘Oh, so that’s what this is about; the story of my life.’ I said. ‘No disrespect, chaps, but you hardly know me, even if you think you do. And now, you’re going to tell me all about my life; what kind of game are we playing here?’

Ignoring my comments, Mo got down to what he had to say: ‘James, not long ago, you had a dream. Do you remember? It was a vivid dream about living in a dreadful swamp in the Lowlands. Later, you escaped by climbing a high Mountain to free yourself from the ruts where you remained stuck. So, was it this Mountain to which you escaped?

‘Your dream seemed so real that upon waking, you immediately wrote everything down that you could remember. You were fascinated and intrigued with its stark realism, yet it frightened you when it became more of a nightmare near the end, although you weren’t sure why.’

That astounded me. I hadn’t told anyone about my dream. So how did Mo know I woke up that night in a panic? My first reaction was to deny having any such dream. However, he already knew too much. If I denied it, he would know I was lying, and if he called me on it, he’d have me for sure.

‘So, what are you, Mo,’ I asked, ‘some kind of psychic? I’ve never told anyone about this dream. How are you able to tell me about my dream?’

Ignoring my question, he began to recount my entire dream, from beginning to end, scene by scene, all in sequential order. This wasn’t what I was expecting. It was also peculiar how Eli sometimes took over segments as if they had scripted their narration. Between them, they wove the tale of my dream most impressively, describing it in even greater detail than what I remembered, including its phantasms of miasmic swamps, bogs and thistles.

Next, they went on to describe how I stole away from my hovel in search of an elusive Mountain I envisioned far away. Eventually, I discovered the Mountain after drudging and slogging my way through the marshy Lowlands. They were also right about how the dream felt like I had been struggling for years to ascend the Mountain.

As I indicated before, I had written all I remembered immediately after the dream and continued to write more detail for several more weeks when new scenes of the journey came to mind. As I listened to them, many of these images flashed onto the screen of my consciousness like a movie I had seen before.

I tried to remain aloof yet could hardly believe what I was hearing. They were even conjuring scenes I had forgotten about, such as the condors swooping at me like cacodemons out of hell, which, as it turned out, actually happened on my way up. I remembered how I once had to swing my rope wildly to keep them at bay while crossing over a narrow ridge.

That’s another thing that surprised me; even while climbing up here in real-time, it never occurred to me that I had already experienced this journey in my dream several months before arriving here. It was all there, and they knew it… all that was portended in my dream.

When they finished with their story, there was a long silence as I continued to stare into the flames as if indifferent to what they said.  Then, after a minute or two, I got up, not saying a thing. I was careful not to show any reaction. Still, I was stunned! Not only had they intruded into my inward life, but they were trying to tell me what was happening in my subconscious mind while I slept. If they knew this much about me, what else did they know?

In shock, I walked to the stove and poured a cup of coffee, then stood by the window, vacantly gazing outside, seeing nothing except that the rain had stopped. After a few minutes, I returned to my chair and stared at them blankly. I didn’t know what to say since I didn’t have a rational answer for any of this, except it should not have been possible to know all this. It was as astounding as it was disturbing.

Initially, I was taken by what Mo had said; however, when I realised they knew all the details of what only I should have known. I felt confused, exposed and resentful for them probing the inward sanctum of my mind. Considering everything I was grappling with, this was one more layer of intrigue to complicate my world: a world becoming queerer by the minute.

They didn’t say a word as I sat there, gazing at me curiously, possibly waiting for my reaction. At last, I spoke while attempting to remain detached from what I was feeling at the moment. I may have been a bit rude and dismissive, yet, I hadn’t precisely permitted them to intrude into my head to analyse my dream.

Of course, I was aware of how effective allegories can be used as literary devices to communicate universal concepts. Still, I remained sceptical since I didn’t know how else to deal with such an improbability.

‘In a swamp, you say? That’s hilarious! Sorry chaps, I’m not Pogo.[5] Since I don’t live anywhere near a swamp, I guess you must have the wrong opossum. This tale sounds like something out of a wild parallel universe that you dreamed up, so I don’t get what all the swamps, bogs and ruts are supposed to be about.’

I’m sure they saw through my cavalier attitude since it was less than compelling; still, I wasn’t about to blithely accept everything they had to say. It was my life, not theirs. Rather than admit to the merits of their story, I became increasingly flippant as I continued to challenge their interpretations. If I was being obnoxious, likely it was because I feared that my shortcomings might be laid bare. I’d prefer to have a certified shrink psycho-analyze me than have these amateurs meddle with my brain.

I also questioned why they were doing this and what might be in it for them. Was it to show how smart they were? The more I thought about it, the more outrageous this intrusion felt, which caused me to be even more caustic. ‘I’m a rationalist,’ I said. ‘Nothing you’ve said is rational.’

They weren’t about to be deterred as they carried on. According to them, my dream was an allegory illustrating how I had been led to pursue a higher purpose in life. Ostensibly, this purpose was symbolised by the Mountain. To make it real within space and time, they said, I had to physically ascend it, which explains why I felt compelled to fly to Chile. At least, that was their story.

I had to admit, albeit not to them, how much these allegorical images paralleled many of the challenges I encountered in my life over the last few years. It seemed there might be more to this dream than I assumed. Possibly, it prefigured a desire I harboured to journey to another realm of existence.

But now, here I was hearing this story, my story, being told by two mysterious blokes I had just met. Were they here to awaken something within me… a hidden message I didn’t wish to hear?

I wasn’t sure how to interpret the symbolic significance of the fogs, snakes, bogs and ruts supposedly entwined in my life back home. Were these representations of suppressed fears and frustrations I wasn’t consciously aware of having? If so, I needed to pay attention to what they were saying, even if I didn’t want to. Nevertheless, there seemed to be something missing, something crucial.

Oh, yes. The panic at the end. That’s what was missing. I always wondered what that was about. They hadn’t said. Whenever I reviewed my notes on the dream, I didn’t wish to think about how things might have ended before waking up. However, I remembered the trauma I felt then. That would hardly presage anything good, especially for my future. Yet, it seemed everything prior to the ending was to be understood as a preamble to something else that might occur. Whatever it was, remained enshrouded in mystery.

That’s what concerned me. So I contrived a clever and intellectually plausible rationalisation for them. Hopefully, they would agree with me on this so we could quickly resolve the dream’s meaning. Then we might be able to move on to the more critical questions of what was going on here.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘I may have had a dream, although, in many ways, it’s also everyone’s dream… a splendid archetypal dream, don’t you think? Consider humanity’s universal struggle that takes him from the depths of despair to the heights of ecstasy, from the Lowland swamps to the Mountain peaks. On another level, perhaps it could even be understood as a statement of evolution from the primordial swamps towards our upward ascent into higher realms of human consciousness.’

It seemed to me this point was especially prescient and even anthropologically plausible. How could they possibly disagree with that?

‘I don’t think,’ I said, continuing, ‘this allegory of the swamp and mountain you described isn’t just about me... not necessarily. Instead, it seems more like a universal archetypal experience that applies to us all, wouldn’t you say? I’m sure everyone has a dream like this at one time or another with whatever unique symbols may illustrate the visceral struggles of life.

‘For example, take Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the Mountain, or Prometheus chained to a rock while having his liver eaten each day by an eagle, only to have it restored so it might be eaten the next day.[6] Don’t we all feel that enervation and fatigue at times as the struggles of life eat away at us?

‘As for me, I’ve visited various cosmopolitan centres throughout the world and wouldn’t consider any of these to be swamps, bogs and marshes, not even figuratively. Even if my flat isn’t particularly elegant; still, I wouldn’t say it’s a hovel… not exactly.

‘Rather, it’s conveniently located over a coffee and delicatessen shop not far from the Thames, where I often stroll. Further to that, I have a library of hundreds of quality books that insulate my walls against the damp drafts of winter.

‘And then there’s my extraordinary career… the one I hope to consolidate someday. As for friends, I have several. Although somewhat unconventional, they can be engaging at times. And, of course, there are the charming and sometimes flighty women that come in and out of my life to keep things interesting. Some seem to like me, even more so after getting paid at the end of the month.

‘All in all, I don’t think my life has been that eventful these last few years, so we probably shouldn’t get too carried away looking for symbols and dream metaphors where they don’t exist.’

I suspected I wouldn’t be able to bluff them, but at least they might be less presumptuous in claiming to know everything about me. I found that to be most annoying, if not unsettling. Yet it seemed they were always a few steps ahead of me.

As I mentioned before, Eli appeared much younger than me and had a youthful exuberance about him, so I found it humiliating when I couldn’t match his depth of knowledge on a variety of subjects. It wasn’t about him trying to be clever since I’m used to that with many of the students in my more advanced classes.

Instead, he had a sage quality about him that evinced quiet confidence. I found myself both admiring and envying him. Now, to make his mastery even more apparent, he had just described parts of my dream. And, most annoyingly, he did with an air of authority as if this were his dream, not mine.

Again, I was flummoxed at how could they know all this about my dream? As much as I wanted to dismiss what they described as a joke, I couldn’t deny what they said. Their interpretations were compelling, if not troubling. I had no rational box to explain how they managed all this.

And yet, I couldn’t even pry basic information out of them as to who they were, where they were from and why they were here. It was a one-way street going in the other direction.

After becoming increasingly exasperated, I finally stood to my feet and raised my voice. ‘You know, gentleman, I think you realise I’ve been very forthright about myself, and now, it seems I’ve even allowed you into my dreams. So, I think it’s time you come clean and reciprocate the favour by telling me, once and for all, WHO IN BLOODY HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?’

‘Oh, don’t let that concern you, James,’ Eli said with a mischievous and disarming smirk. ‘We already know who we are; we don’t even have to think about it. However, we suggest that it’s more important that you find who you are, and then you’ll know who we are too.’

‘So, what’s that supposed to mean?’ I asked.

‘We understand why you may feel a little uncomfortable with how we seem to know so much about you,’ Mo said. ‘We sympathise completely… that has to be unnerving. Be patient with us; we’re coming to that part. For now, let me assure you that we’re harmless. As much as we know about you, we most assuredly are not associated with INTERPOL, Mi6, CIA, or worse, the British Internal Revenue Service. Don’t be concerned; we’re only friends wishing to help you along your way.’

‘But I didn’t ask for your help along the way or anywhere else,’ I responded churlishly as I headed towards the door. ‘I found my way up here, and if you please, I’ll soon be finding my way down.’

With that, I stormed out of the cabin. With all they had thrown at me, I needed some time to decide what to do next. It then occurred to me that my companions might be from somewhere other than earth. I had thought that before, but never seriously.

Though I realised this was an irrational thought; still, I wondered why I had the heebie-jeebies before meeting them yesterday. It seemed that was no ordinary encounter. Now, on top of that, they just interpreted my dream without me even telling them I had a dream. It felt like I had been drawn into the Twilight Zone?[7]

The longer I remained here; the more pronounced the quirks became… as if intended. Things would magically appear as they fancied: food, drinks, firewood and even books. And yet, from what I could tell, there wasn’t any smoke or mirrors to explain any of this. These manifestations had gone far beyond trickery to something much more serious, if not insidious.

The more I reflected on things, the more I felt I needed to leave this place before getting caught in something I couldn’t find my way out of. As much as I would have loved to stay longer in such an idyllic lodge under normal circumstances, I decided to begin my descent tomorrow morning, sometime after sunrise.

For the remainder of the day, I explored the summit ridge to determine the most direct and least precarious route down. It was important the slopes not be slippery. For now, it appeared the current weather pattern might hold. You can never really tell from day to day in the mountains or from hour to hour. 

When I returned by late afternoon, I found them inside preparing something that appeared to be an elegant dining event. Apparently, it was Italian night on the summit, featuring pasta and their most excellent Sicilian wine.

Indeed, these were likeable chaps, at least when they weren’t tormenting me with their stunts.

I wasn’t hungry, at least not until I smelled and saw the oven-baked cheesy penne primavera. Eating here on the Summit was more like having a ravenous appetite for delicious food without needing hunger pangs. Funny, but I couldn’t recall feeling hunger when I first arrived, though I was probably half-starved!

Despite their levity and good cheer, I continued to witness more weirdness. For example, after dinner, we went outside to sit by a roaring fire not too far from the cabin. Twilight was fading into darkness as the stars began to poke through the indigo sky. After more talk, laughter and whiskey, Mo got up and took a long stick out of the fire, inflamed on one end.

Standing near the leaping flames, he held the fiery stick up towards the night sky as if it was a staff with which he would perform some ancient Celtic ritual. I’m not sure why, but suddenly it appeared he had grown much taller, seemingly eight feet or more, like Gandalf hovering over the dwarfs… with me being the dwarf. I remarked that he looked like a wizard against the glow of these towering flames.

‘Oh really,’ he said, ‘then this stick I’m holding must be my wand; every wizard must have a slat a draoichta.’ Then he cried out: ‘Oscail geata Flaithhis Délig an tsoilse mhór amach,’[8] as he tossed the flaming stick into the night sky.

Amazingly, it began to rapidly spiral as it shot into the darkness like a blazing star. I never did see it come down. Perhaps it fell into the chasm’s abyss or possibly over the sierras; however, that would have been a long way to fly. What I witnessed was impossible. Unless...

Then he turned to me and said, ‘I have even deeper wizardry for you, James. It has to do with the alchemy of your soul. It starts with knowing who you are. You still don’t know, but when you do, heaven’s light will glow brighter within you, brighter than the flames of a wizard’s wand tossed into the night sky. Are you prepared to find an answer?’

By now, I was dazzled and confounded. ‘Fine,’ I said, ‘I’ll see what I can do to find whatever you wish me to look for.’

‘Or more correctly,’ he said, ‘to find what you wish to find. It’s a simple question that might be difficult to respond to. Think about it deeply tonight and every night; you may find that it takes a considerable effort to receive a satisfactory answer.’

There was a long silence; then he got up, and before I knew it, he was gone. Eli stared at me for a moment, then he too got up and slowly walked out into the darkness without saying a word. I felt very alone and wondered if I’d ever see them again. If I left at sunrise as planned, I likely never would.

As I sat in the glow of the embers, Mo’s question began to haunt me. Who was I? Such a basic question, but one I hadn’t given much thought to, even though I understood how vital such ontological questions in the ancient past were to philosophical enquiry. Am I more than my body, such that my inner awareness makes me, me instead of just a function of my biological constitution? If I didn’t know who I was, how would anyone else?

I struggled to find a meaningful answer, only to come up with more questions. Where did I come from; where am I going, and will I ever get there… wherever that might be? Or will I remain stuck in the bogs and ruts on some journey that leads nowhere?

Whatever the case, I asked myself, why is life such a melee; why did I always have to strive for more, even going to extremes such as scaling this treacherous mountain? What was I trying to prove? Why bother asking such rhetorical questions? That’s insane; even if they’re not insane, I might soon be if I don’t get away from here by tomorrow.

Then, as I reflected further, I wondered if these questions had already been answered in my dream? Was it possible I had been answered, at least implicitly, in the very images I recalled and recorded yet hadn’t interpreted? Now, without asking, my friends were doing that for me. How could they do that? And, what if, hidden in this allegory, were all the answers I sought?

Had these two beings, whoever they were, been sent to reveal to me what was hidden within?

But sent by whom… and why?

 

 ENDNOTES


[1] This is also known as the Principle of Parsimony, named after Franciscan friar William of Ockham (1285-1347), who postulated that where there are competing answers to a problem, the one with the fewest assumptions is most likely the correct answer.
[2] Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time I had experienced something like this. In Chapter Seven, I tell of a similar incident while camping in the mountains.
[3] In reference to Ockham’s Razor as discussed earlier in Chapter Two.
[4] Since I couldn’t decide whether to call it a cabin or lodge, I called it either. At times Eli referred to it as a chalet.
[5] Pogo was a popular and insightful American comic strip, published several decades ago, full of political satire and allegory with swamp animals in the southeastern USA.  Pogo, the lead character, was an opossum who often said such astute things as: “We’ve met the enemy, and he is us.”
[6] again. Hesiod, the Greek poet, wrote about Prometheus as a mythological character in his epic Theogony approximately eighth century B.C.  Percy Bysshe Shelley popularised this myth in the early nineteenth century with his poem Prometheus Unbound.
[7] The Twilight Zone was a weekly television series in the late 1950s and early 1960s that dealt with unexplainable events, often being paranormal encounters with beings outside the Earth’s dimensions.
[8] Open God's heavenly gate. Let the great light out. From the medieval Gaelic poem An Phaidir Gheal

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To access the next chapters of The Ascent, go to

Elysium's Passage: The Ascent. Chapter Four
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/chapter-four  

Elysium's Passage: The Ascent. Chapter Five
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-five   

Elysium’s Passage: The Ascent. Chapter Six
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-six  

Elysium’s Passage: The Ascent. Chapter Seven
https://digitalbloggers.com/book-reviews/the-ascent-chapter-seven  

Elysium’s Passage: The Ascent. Chapter Eight
http://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-eight 

Elysium’s Passage: The Ascent. Chapter Nine
https://digitalbloggers.com/book-reviews/the-ascent-chapter-nine 

Elysium’s Passage: The Ascent. Chapter Ten
https://digitalbloggers.com/book-reviews/the-ascent-chapter-ten 

Elysium's Passage: The Ascent, Chapter Eleven
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-eleven  

Elysium's Passage The Ascent, Chapter Twelve
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-twelve 

Elysium's Passage: The Ascent, Chapter Thirteen
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-thirteen 

Elysium’s Passage: The Ascent, Chapter Fourteen
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-fourteen 

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READER REVIEWS

The following comments are among the first Amazon reviews of Elysium’s Passage: The Summit. All are Five Stars! Others reader reviews are included below, along with excerpts from two professional reviews. To read full reviews, go to READER REVIEWS on www.elysiumspassage.com

"Quietly, gently, and without imposition, the Author unfolds the pages, creating an intricate, interlocking bridge spanning the chasm between mind and heart. Renewing, refreshing, restoring. In my bereavement, it was vigil and light…"

"A delightful mix of fantasy, reality, conjecture and humour; Mr Meyers draws the reader into the story with a gentle narrative that captures the imagination, leaving one anxious to get to the next page drawing you into his exceptional world.”

“Excellently written with an exceedingly deep understanding of this world and the next. The characters are very well written and engaging. I can't wait to complete this book!"

“Takes the reader on both a philosophical and spiritual journey, a journey that at times is both disquieting and tranquil. James, a British Philosopher can be irreverent and caustic, traits that should have left me cringing, but instead made me laugh out loud. Elysium’s Passage is a fun, enlightening and remarkable book.”

“This is a masterful fantasy, becoming a real possibility, as the reader is drawn into the story. The Summit leaves you anxious for the next book in the series, yet also leaves you totally satisfied with the world you have just visited. Genius! An exciting, yet calming, experience that is not to be missed."

"There was hardly a page on which I did not find at least one sentence worthy of hi-lighting for future reference. In addition, I thoroughly enjoyed the main character, James, whose personality and passionate verbal exchanges with the other characters, kept me coming back for more. I am reading the book for a second time while I wait for the next one in this series to be made available."

 “N.G. Meyers has clearly put a great deal of research and thought into what the afterlife may look like and I like his perspective. It’s an altogether welcoming and exciting vision. The book gives one a great deal to think about and a reassuring confidence that the end of our lives is truly the beginning of life in the next. I highly recommend it."

“The humour interjected into a serious discussion makes me laugh out loud. Totally unexpected....l may be in the presence of at least a master, if not a genius. A fair ride into reality... seeking that which is unseen, yet absolutely real.”

“An engaging story of adventure embracing man's deepest desire to search for meaning and purpose, N.G. Meyers takes the reader on an adventurous thought-provoking journey. This book has substance. It is a perfect blend of adventure and fantasy combined with spiritual philosophy. It ignited my imagination. The author magically weaves a good story laced with wit and humour together with deep philosophical wisdom. This book has it all!”

“An evolution in thought is triggered by many fresh philosophical themes which could inspire readers to re-think their reality and former ideologies that have dictated their lives… the author fires readers’ imaginations to view what could be possible when spirit vacates the body.”

“This is the book spiritual seekers have been waiting for. For me, it granted a great read as well as increased inspiration to live every day with a heightened sense of purpose. I highly recommend it.

“The Summit is capable of hooking readers and luring them to search for Book 2 to discover more about Dr. Philip’s surreal trek into the mysterious unknown universe. This thick book is well worth the read and to share…”

“Mind-blowing statements and speculation (‘…everyone is a non-physical thought form conceived in the Mind of God, preserved for all eternity because God’s thoughts never die…’). Many will find Meyers’ journey up the Mountain intriguing—and possibly even life-changing.” (BLUEINK REVIEW)

“In its effort to grapple with fundamental questions about the meaning of life, it raises questions that have echoed throughout the ages, including about where we come from, where we are going, who we are.”  (CLARION REVIEW)

For more READERS REVIEWS go to https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/reader-reviews 

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CONTACT INFORMATION

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WEBSITE: www.elysiumspassage.com 

FACEBOOK: Elysium's Passage Novel Series, Elysium's Passage Public Group page, Elysium's Passage Author's Page, or to my personal page Neil Meyers

TWITTER: N.G.Meyers@neil1113 

INSTAGRAM: meyersneil or elysiumspassge

LINKEDIN: Neil Meyers

EMAIL: nmeyers@shaw.ca 

BLOG POSTINGS: https://digitalbloggers.com/articles/elysiumspassage or the Elysium's Passage website

AMAZON: Purchase details of Elysium’s Passage: The Summit, are available online from the web and blog site

Sample press review: https://www.prweb.com/releases/2018/05/prweb15515775.htm 

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PENDING PUBLICATIONS IN SERIES

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The ELYSIUM’S PASSAGE series is projected to be released as follows: 

THE ASCENT fall 2022

THE SUMMIT fall 2022

QUANTUM LEAPS spring 2023

SURREAL ADVENTURES fall 2023 

MYSTICAL ROMANCE spring 2024

HE ELIXIR fall 2024

THE RETURN sometime in 2024/25