THE ASCENT CHAPTER TWO

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CHAPTER TWO


WHERE AM I?

I had a dream, which was not at all a dream[1]
                                   Lord Byron

I awoke on a patch of dry grass, feeling disoriented and dazed, not remembering exactly where I was, except it seemed much like where I had rested earlier in the day. For some reason, I felt more relaxed than I could ever remember, as though I had been sleeping for days. Most odd, I thought, considering how I had been climbing since early dawn. I must have been tired since I couldn’t even remember lying down this last time. Now wide awake, I remained supine, looking directly up at the scattered clouds in the blue sky, thinking of all that had occurred to me since leaving home. 

My flight from London to Santiago via Buenos Aires was lengthy and exhausting, but nothing compared to my extended excursion to this sierra in a dilapidated bus with worn seats. For the better part of a day, we navigated through the winding and backcountry roads. At last, we arrived at a remote village where I found lodging. The next morning, I got an early start since I knew I probably had at least a day’s trek through the valleys before I would reach the base of this mountain I had randomly chosen. If there was any rationale to my choice, it was because the aerial photographs seemed to indicate it was one of the more formidable peaks in the Chilean Andes.

Also, according to the topographical maps I studied, it would likely have some spectacular vistas to view towards the sierras in Argentina. Since I couldn’t find if this mountain had a name, I thought I’d come up with something creative and then inform the Chilean authorities what they should name it. Mount Phillips had a classy ring. But first, I’d have to conquer it!

So here I was now, rested up and ready for the final ascent. I sprung up off the ground, surprising myself with the ease and lightness with which I arose. I really must have slept well to have such agility, I thought. It appeared I was only a few hours from reaching the summit, although there might still be some significant challenges ahead, considering the height of the precipices looming before me.

As I looked around, I thought what a splendid afternoon this had turned out to be. Yet, something wasn’t right. What was it? Ah, the sun. It was still on the eastern horizon to my left, indicating it must be early morning rather than late afternoon. But, I thought, that can’t be, unless I somehow fell asleep yesterday and slept all last night. Could I have been that tired?

Most curious, I thought, but for now, it didn’t matter. This bright, mid-summer day in Chile was what I needed for my winter break to lift the gloomy veil of London’s dreary winter rains. The blue azure contained only a few trailing wisps of haze to the east. Everything seemed so alive, so exhilarating, the perfect backdrop for my Summit moment. Most extraordinary, what this alpine environment, and a night of good sleep, can do for one’s mind and body!

Not that long ago, I felt hungry, tired and bruised. But now, near the top, I felt like a new man. Apparent there is more to life than marking term papers while becoming embroiled in the internecine politics of incompetent administrators jostling for power and influence… not going to be snogging anyone’s scholastic arse anymore, at least not up here. But why would I even want to think about such ridiculous twaddle while emersed in this alpine splendour?

Indeed, the trip had all been more than worth the effort, even though I could scarcely afford it. After languishing in a chronic malaise over the last few years, I wanted to find a new world where I could face down the fears that were holding me back.

Or was it this adventure more of a subliminal death-wish I secretly harboured to destroy my fears by destroying myself? I hoped not. The problem was, I didn’t know why or what I feared. Indeed, it wasn’t these heights or anything extreme; it lay much deeper than that. Maybe I would never know. Still, I wondered if the real reason I come here was to tempt fate.

Going to these extremes of randomly climbing a mountain in this remote area of the world may not have made much sense to the average person. But I didn’t consider myself an ordinary person. For reasons I still didn’t understand, it seemed I had a compulsion to conquer my fears by proving to myself over and over again that I was invincible.

Though I was no longer eighteen, being battered about by Mediterranean storms on a rickety merchant ship, I continued to test the limits of my strength and resourcefulness. Perhaps that’s why I chose to be on an isolated mountain where few ventured. And, as a self-respecting survivalist, I had only minimal equipment with few provisions.

In my adventures, I always prided myself in being able to stare down death! An analyst once suggested this might be a form of psychosis, indicating I was compensating for something deeply hidden within. However, I wasn’t that interested in hearing what he had to say. What did he know about the real world, sitting there in his office all day? Sure, I may push the limits, but at least I had calculated the threats, anticipating what to expect and what to do. But this expedition had turned out to be not only the most extreme but also my most challenging so far.

I now realise these compulsions were only a ruse to distract myself from the unresolved fears I had hidden away for most of my life. I was now about to enter into a strange new realm of awakening where everything would change to confront whatever fear lurked within. At that moment, I didn’t know what to expect as I stood there in the shadow of the mountain’s summit.

As I strapped on my backpack to resume my ascent, I wondered again what possibly could have happened. Not only was the sun in the wrong place, but this ravine was too much like the one I passed through yesterday. Had I been going in circles around this mountain? Hardly! For now, I would put these questions out of mind to tackle the steep scree slope before me and give no more thought to these peculiarities – at least not now.

With my body’s newfound strength and agility, I knew it wouldn’t take me long to reach the summit. I congratulated myself on having made it all this way with only a short rope, a few belay anchors and no climbing companions. I scrambled up this last slope without any fatigue as though it were level ground. I couldn’t remember being more energized. Hot damn, I thought, I’m in a groove; it’s like my body can do anything!

Just imagine what other climbing expeditions I could do to even higher peaks. After all, I still a relatively young man, in excellent condition, with more strength and stamina than I realised. Maybe I should try K2 next. No, that’s probably a bad idea. With one chance in four of not coming down alive, that’s hardly worth it. Maybe I’d settle for Everest, like everyone else, but in any case, I need to do this more often.

Feeling giddy now, I looked up towards the summit that I might address Zeus, the mythical god I summoned the night of my unfortunate incident at the pub last October. As I recall, that was just before having my weird dream.

‘Veni, Vidi, Vici,’[1] I cried out to Zeus as I climbed upward to the Summit. ‘Get your welcoming committee read, and be sure to bring plenty of champagne with a bevvy of your most exquisite goddesses. We’re going to celebrate!’

I continued to scale up a strangely familiar precipice of considerable height. Something about this caused me to think about the shimmering orb thingies I thought I saw on the summit yesterday. But no, I couldn’t have, I wasn’t even here. I must have just dreamt it since I sometimes have bizarre, inexplicable dreams when I’m overly exhausted.

And even if something were shining up there, it would probably be nothing more than the sun reflecting off a satellite receiver/transmitter on top of some weather installation. Still, I might prefer it be something a bit more interesting, say an assembly of charming green aliens perched on the summit ridge, wagering whether I’d make it to the top or not. Perhaps their craft would be equipped with strobe lights appearing as orbs to me. Who knows, maybe later they’d give me a joy ride over the Andes.

I continued to amuse myself with these thoughts as I made my final upward thrust. Yet I began to feel a bit uneasy the more I imagined seeing orbs, gods and aliens. The more I thought about it, the more difficult it was to dismiss any of these imaginings from my mind. What if there was something up there like that? Was it possible that I had been drawn up here for reasons I wasn’t aware of, and if so, what if there was more to this venture than just conquering another mountain?

 Suddenly, I had flashbacks from my strange dream a few months ago. Was that, I wondered, a premonition of what I was now experiencing? I remembered a voice calling to me from somewhere on high, imploring me to join it on some Summit. Who knows? Maybe it was here. Just put these quirky thoughts out of your mind, I told myself, as I continued my ascent.

Nearing the Summit now, I came to a chasm that looked very familiar. In fact, too familiar! Moments ago, I was elated, but now I felt confused as if lost in a déjà vu moment. Had someone mixed some peyote in my gruel a few days ago in the village?

I stood near the chasm’s edge to stare into the deep abyss below, wondered if I should attempt to cross over. Again, another flashback came of me stranded on a precarious ledge, causing me to recall how I woke out of my dream in a panic. It was most queer, I thought, to have this flashback as I peered into the void.

Perhaps the most logical explanation was the rarified air at this altitude that released peculiar chemicals into my brain, triggering a relapse into that very peculiar dream. But what if it was more than that, something more ominous here and now on this Mountain?

Strangely, it seemed I had been here before. But unless I was clairvoyant, I couldn’t have been here before. Or had I foreseen this in my dream? Too bad I don’t believe in such nonsense; it may help explain much of what I was experiencing today.

Then, if that wasn’t enough, I was getting the impression of someone, or something, watching me. You know, like when you sense someone’s staring at you, and then you look around and find there actually is. I wasn’t sure what to think, but it felt eerie. As I looked up, I noticed something was moving about on the summit!

‘Well, I’ll be damned,’ I said aloud, ‘it appears there is someone up there.’ Not the dazzling light orbs that I thought I had seen before, perhaps in my dream, but it seemed there might be two or three humanoid figures moving about the Summit. But more likely, it was just a few stunted trees swaying in the wind? Yes, that was probably it.

However, if it were my choice, I’d prefer they be sexy mountain nymphs waiting to reward me for my efforts. Perhaps they’re Zeus’ goddesses that I asked to come and celebrate. I mean, why not make this worthwhile? I was beginning to think anything was possible up here. Maybe it was the altitude, but all these fantasies were causing me to feel giddy as I laughed aloud at myself.

But even as I laughed, I felt something like an electrical force field wafting about me. It felt much like the electricity you feel before lightning strikes, raising the hairs on your arms. Didn’t I have that same thought yesterday?  Everything was becoming muddled with my dream from almost three months ago, causing a lot of strange déjà vu to go in my mind ever since I awoke at the bottom of the canyon ravine.

And then, out of nowhere, I heard what sounded like a voice calling out to me. I sat down to listen carefully. Was it coming from the summit or just my synapses misfiring from oxygen deprivation? Lots of people think they hear voices in abnormal conditions like this. Bloody hell, I thought, now I’m losing it; I need more oxygen before my brain completely decompresses!

Just as I was about to dismiss it as nothing, it came again, only this time it was calling my name. Now that’s strange, I thought. Maybe it was some mountain guru sitting on top of the Mountain. But that was about as likely as Zeus calling me!

Then I heard it once more, this time so crystal clear it could have been from someone standing directly in front of me. Was the voice one or many? I couldn’t tell, but as I sat there feeling stunned, it called my name once more. But this time, it seemed to be a different voice that was soft, alluring and ah, so feminine.

Was this my exotic mountain nymph or goddess beckoning me to the Summit. Why not? Anything is possible when you use your imagination. For the ancient Greeks, the gods and goddesses lived on the mountains along with Zeus. I liked that idea, even if it was just a myth. But whatever was calling my name was more than a myth.

This voice seemed authentic, if not distinctive; I sensed it resonating from within my mind, having nothing to do with what my ears might have heard. Usually, I’m sceptical about this sort of thing, yet there it was; I couldn’t deny it. Next, its seemed images were being imposed upon my mind’s eye, showing me another less obvious approach to the summit.

Perhaps it was because of my dream flashback, but I didn’t have a good feeling about the thin narrow ledge that crossed to the other side of the chasm. So, I decided to follow the voice’s inner prompt. Without hesitation, I retreated downwards about twenty yards before veering off to the left, where I found a narrow indenture in the precipice. By wedging myself between the sides, I was able to straddle and manoeuvre my way up the fissure towards the summit ridge. It should have been extremely challenging, but for some reason, it wasn’t.

So now, after all my struggles these last few days, here I was on top of the Summit. But it wasn’t just a peak, instead, it was a broad ridge that extended a considerable distance far beyond what I could see. It felt exhilarating to take in the full panoramic view of the majestic ranges all around me.

Then I looked around, wondering if someone was up here as it had appeared from below. After surveying the ridge as far as I could see to the right and left, I saw no one. Most likely, I thought, I imagined everything, including the voices.

From my earlier observations, this was where I imagined I saw something, and yet there were no trees here to explain what I thought I saw. If someone was up here, possibly they had gone into hiding, maybe lying-in wait, ready to pounce on me. I didn’t relish the thought!

The ridge sloped gently down towards the west, littered with large boulders and slabs of granite protruding out of the ground. There were some patches of short alpine grass and moss, along with a few varieties of shrubs. I decided to make my way along the ridge as it narrowed towards its highest elevation.

I wasn’t sure where the ridge might end before dropping off but thought I’d take a look. As I continued along in this direction, I could see something in the distance that didn’t appear to be trees or shrubs. As I drew closer, I had the impression there were two distinct beings and possibly a third standing further back in the distance.

At first, I thought they might be other climbers who had approached the Summit from the other side. But what I wanted to see was my mountain nymphs, patiently waiting for me to arrive up here after all these centuries; perhaps the one who called my name while I was below the summit. I’d prefer that any day to the sounds of the wind.

Though I’ve never believed in the folklore of elves and fairies, at least not since I was a child; still, I continued to entertain my fantasy. Not only had she called me, but she showed me how to find my way up the fissure. In my rational mind, I understood such things could only happen in my imagination.

As I now got closer, I could see only two figures. Likely, the third was just something further in the distance, making the two appear as three. I slowed my advance towards them, one wary step at a time; I kept my eyes firmly riveted to see who they were since I still had aliens on my mind.

The whole time they remained motionless on the highest end of the summit ridge. It felt unnerving and intimidating as they stared intently at me. One had a long coat flapping in the wind. Who were these beings, I wondered, and why didn’t they meet me halfway?

If I stood still, then what would happen? Of course, I could walk away in the other direction, but I didn’t want to turn my back on them, not knowing who or what they were. After about another thirty yards, I was close enough to tell they were not aliens but men who continued to stare at me in silence without any hint of expression. I had an uncomfortable suspicion they weren’t just mountain climbers but beings that had been waiting for me a very long time.

Did I imagine it, or did I just hear my name spoken, as if someone was standing right beside me? If so, what other powers might they possess besides their telepathic voodoo? Did they have something to do with those brilliant orbs I thought I saw yesterday? Whatever was going on, it seemed there was some spooky stuff going on up here.

The thought occurred to me that they might be alien decoys. But then, where was their spaceship? Was it hovering somewhere over the summit with cloaking shields? Would they have laser weapons? In my mind, I could already hear it: ‘Stun lasers set, ready… take the earthling.’

Then for whatever reason, a far different vision suddenly juxtaposed itself in my mind, reminding me of the Transfiguration story.[2] From where in space and time did that strange phantasm come? Had their minds projected this image onto my consciousness?

As befitting any credible philosopher, I’m familiar with most stories and teachings of several religious myths, archetypes and traditions. And so, I knew this vision had something to do with Christ’s transfiguration in dazzling light. The incident is said to have occurred somewhere in Palestine on some unknown mountain, traditionally referred to as The Mount of Transfiguration.

Were these two mysterious beings standing before me the same Moses and Elijah of this legend? If so, was I about to witness my transfiguration on this Mount? But why would I even consider something so absurd at his tense moment? That would be most extraordinary, even as a metaphor!

Wasn’t there something in the story about a brilliant cloud shining down on them? Maybe that’s what those blazing light orbs were about. Trouble is; I’m no Christ; not even close. In fact, I’m not even religious. Besides, I wasn’t sure what trans-figured was supposed to mean. But from what to what?  Likely, the altitude still had me thinking these insane thoughts. 

For a few moments, I stood still, my imagination contorting science fiction with religious mythology. Then, as I again proceeded to draw closer to them, more thoughts of delirium arose within me: I think I know these two! But do I? No, I don’t. But perhaps I do. I don’t understand why I would think that; I’ve never seen them before. So why do I think I know them when I don’t?

Yes, I must be crazy, if not just confused. None of this makes sense, and yet I can’t deny there’s something familiar about them, even if I don’t know what that is. Just like when you think you know a stranger from somewhere, perhaps a previous life, except I didn’t believe in prior lives, or for that matter, any life other than this.

Mixed impressions continued to flood into my mind, though I tried not to allow my fears to get too carried away. Again, I stopped to see if they would make a move, but they didn’t, still fixed in stony silence as if to unnerve me. I stepped forward once more, refusing to blink as I kept my eyes firmly set upon them with each stride I took.

The older one had an eerie presence to him as someone I might have known in the distant past, but I had no idea who that could be. It felt very peculiar when my eyes met his. He seemed to have a serious demeanour, like some Himalayan sage, not that I’ve ever met a mountain sage.

Then again, something about him that reminded me of the movie scene where Moses descended from his burning bush encounter on top of Mount Sinai,[3] except this Moses was wearing old fashioned British hiking knickers. His thick white hair, extending just above his shoulders, accentuated the prophetic image. His penetrating blue eyes had a laser focus which commandeered my respect, even though I wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was fear.

His companion appeared much younger, possibly in his early to mid-twenties, yet equally compelling. I estimated him to be close to six feet tall with an athletic build. He had long blond/brown hair in Rastafarian dreadlocks. With his tattered Alpaca coat, he appeared a young Bohemian drifter.

Likely my fear and bewilderment were evident as I approached them. In response, the young man gave me an assuring smile to allay whatever lingering concerns I may have in this most improbable encounter.

‘Buenos Días,’ I said, expecting them to be Chileans.

‘Good day,’ said the younger, in a cheerful British accent.

‘For some time now, we’ve observed your arduous journey up this mountain,’ said the elder, in a mix of the Queen’s English with a subtle underlying Gaelic inflexion. ‘We are most pleased that you have at long last decided to join us on this summit. Congratulations, James, on completing this stage of your ascent.’

‘I beg your pardon, sir, but how do you know my name?’ I said with some alarm. ‘There’s no one on God’s green earth who knows I’m here.’

‘You’re right,’ he said, ‘no one knows, at least not on God’s green earth, as you say.’

‘But obviously, you do!’

‘Indeed, we do,’ he said. 

‘But how?’ I asked, trying to remain composed.

‘May we introduce ourselves?’  

‘That would be most appreciated,’ I said, with a tinge of impertinence in my voice.

‘You may call me Eli,’ said the younger.

‘And if you please, you may call me Mo,’ said the other. 

What the bloody hell, I thought. They just called themselves Eli and Mo, short for Elijah and Moses. Those were the two with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Had I not just assigned those names to them in my mind? But I wasn’t serious; the names just somehow came to me. So how could they have known what I was thinking?

But then, if they were able to know my name, why wouldn’t they also know what I was thinking. It was too uncanny. Mind readers, I thought, except I didn’t believe in all that claptrap. There had to be a more rational explanation; this had to be a coincidence.

‘If you care,’ Mo said, ‘we’d be pleased to have you join us at our camp at the other end of this ridge. We have plenty of extra food and drink. You look like you could use it, he smiled.’

‘I don’t believe I have anything scheduled today in my social calendar,’ I said. ‘So yes, I’d be delighted to accept your invitation.’

As we hiked towards their camp, they seemed genuinely interested in hearing about my trip to Chile and my experiences while climbing this mountain. I was impressed with their refined deportment, perhaps more than one should expect from strangers in such a remote part of the world. Often their eyes remained fixed on me as I spoke: a quality I always consider to be an indication of personal integrity.

Though they were still strangers, I felt a certain kinship with them since they seemed oddly familiar to me, perhaps too much so. I wasn’t sure why, but it felt as if they knew me, even though I didn’t know them. I kept asking myself, who are they?

Was this just a friendly chance encounter, or were they sent by someone to meet me for some specific reason? That certainly would be cause for serious concern! Despite my initial impressions, thoughts of orbs and alien abduction continued to play in the back of my mind. Under normal circumstances, I would never allow myself to think anything so irrational. But fear is never rational.

Still, I remained mystified as to why they were here. It was apparent these two didn’t just stroll up here on some eco-tour. It had taken me a long time to climb to this summit, risking life and limb, and I’m sure I must have looked the worse for the wear. Yet here they were, fresh as daisies!

Not only that, very few climbers Mo’s age could have made it even close to this Summit. I pictured him more as a croquet player than a climber. For these reasons and more, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something extraordinary was going on behind the scenes.  

But then, I also suspected something most peculiar going on with me that I didn’t know about. I should have felt exhausted and hungry from these last days of my near-vertical ascent, likely the most precipitous and dangerous climb I had ever undertaken. Yet surprisingly, my body felt inexplicably light and spritely.

Because this turned into a much more difficult expedition than I anticipated, taking twice as long to make it to the summit, my provisions of dehydrated foods were depleted. Whatever berries and herbs I gathered along the way were almost gone too. That didn’t worry me since I realised that most humans can survive for up to forty days without food. In fact, I once fasted for over four weeks with only water, while training for an extreme event. But where did this surge of energy suddenly come from; I must be a whole lot fitter than I realised.

As we carried on along the ridge, I thought how much I’d like to celebrate my ascent with a cold bottle of sparkling champagne. Had I not made this request to my mountain god, Zeus?

As if reading my mind, Eli stopped and pulled out a bottle from his battered backpack! He shook it, popped the cork and directed the spray towards my face. Most refreshing! Laughing, he handed the bottle to me to guzzle down what remained of possibly the most delicious bubbly I’d ever tasted: Pernod Ricard Perrier-Jouët, no less![4]

We merrily passed it around a few times until it was empty, and then, like a dealer in some back alley, Mo pulled out another bottle from his overcoat’s inner pocket. This time glasses appeared out of nowhere, as might be expected from a magician on stage.

In this strange mix of confusion, libations and laughter, by body felt more vibrant than I ever remembered. But then, with enough champagne, that might be expected. But what occurred next was even more surprising. How it happened as it did, I had no idea.

After arriving near the western end of the ridge, we came to a somewhat lower area recessed among huge granite boulders. It seemed apparent this is where they were camping since hot coals were still smouldering from a campfire. Curiously though, there were no tents or evidence of bedding.

Eli went off somewhere to find more firewood, although I wasn’t sure where he would find any. As Mo stoked the embers in an attempt to reignite the fire with what wood remained, I strolled further down the ridge, taking in the spectacular views of the eastern sierra. As I stood there, I thought about my struggles up here and how it had all been worth it, even though it was the most challenging expedition I had ever undertaken.

When I returned to the campsite, I found the campfire blazing with a high pile of wood stacked nearby. I wondered where Eli could have possibly found all that wood?  But that wasn’t my big surprise.

Suddenly, I notice laid out before me a feast of exotic foods on a long wooden table.

‘Where did you get all this? I asked, exclaiming.

Not only were there a large variety of exotic foods, there were also several bottles of wine that, coincidentally, included several of my favourite labels that, considering their cost, I rarely imbibed.

Eli uncorked a bottle and poured a few glasses for us as I commended my hosts on their exquisite tastes. Soon, I was sampling another bottle and then, feeling rather jolly, a few more. In my blissful state, I imagined myself to be standing in the tasting room of an elegant Mediterranean winery, explicating the relative merits of the excellent wines. At dinner parties, I occasionally put on my most affected airs as a wine connoisseur to see if anyone would take me seriously.

‘Gentleman,’ I said in my most unctuous tone, ‘may I recommend this elegant Zinfandel vintage with its robust yet delicate solera bouquet comingled with a subtle European Vitis vinifera. Contrast that with this dry red Bordeaux, obviously most aptly aged in a cured French oak cask. Don’t you agree, unlike this sweet, racy Italian Merlot, it provides a more mature and satisfying oaky char?’

They seemed to be impressed with my little charade or perhaps amused by how little I actually knew. It didn’t matter, we were having a good time, and the wines were about as sublime as anything I had ever tasted.

Feeling a bit light-headed, I raised my glass and quoted a line I had memorized from Homer: ‘The wine can of their wits the wise beguile, Make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.’

‘Most impressive,’ Mo said. ‘Wouldn’t you agree, Eli? Imagine us finding a Homer aficionado up here, far from the Aegean Sea.’

‘Oh, yes… impressive indeed,’ Eli said. Most obviously, a man of letters.

A bid startled, I asked Mo: ‘How did you know of this obscure line from Homer’s Iliad?’

‘I wouldn’t,’ he said. ‘At least not from The Iliad, but I would from The Odyssey. From the fourteen, I believe.’

‘Oh,’ I said, shocked that he would know that. ‘You may be right; I’ll have to check.’

‘Don’t bother; I am right,’ he said, ‘but what does it matter, you’ve had such an arduous climb, I’m sure you have a considerable appetite. Please help yourself with what we’ve prepared. I trust you will find his selection to be among your favourites, and there’s plenty more if you wish!’

I felt I was back in Greece, with the most delicious Mediterranean foods I could remember, including prepared meats, breads with several varieties of exotic cheeses. Caviar never tasted so exquisite sprinkled on the stuffed deviled eggs.

That’s most finicky work, I thought. Why would anyone trouble themselves to prepare all this, especially up here, or anywhere else for that matter? And where did they find all this food and fine wines? Santiago is a long way for food catering services.

I didn’t ask, however, but carried on celebrating late into the night as the fire continued to blaze in the darkness. I found that Eli’s offbeat humour and banter sometimes struck me as being a little too much like mine. It seemed the more I got to know him, the more it felt like we were two shipmates reunited after several years, even though he was much too young for that.

Mo, too, I found, had his own unique humour, often expressed through razor-sharp wit. On occasion, he would wander off, gazing into the night sky, as though lost in some universe. Then he would return in silent contemplation, before utterly something so peculiar that I had no idea what to make of it. Who was this man, I wondered, other than someone who knew his Homer and very likely a whole lot more?

Despite their affable natures, I grew increasingly curious as to who they really were. As the night wore on, they would occasionally say or do something that was just too bizarre for comfort. It was as though they were intentionally messing with my mind just because they knew they could. But why?

Eli, for example, seemed to enjoy answering my question before I asked him as if he read my mind. But since I didn’t believe in any of that, I didn’t know what to think about this.

Even more disconcerting was how they seemed to know so much about me. Not just that Mo knew my name; that was only the beginning. They both seemed to know all about my favourite foods and drinks, including many of my favourite books. Was it only a coincidence we had read many of the same authors and titles, from Teilhard de Chardin to Dostoyevsky? And how did Eli, possibly a decade younger than me, know more about literature than did, even as a doctor of philosophy?

Though I probed them for answers, they would say little about themselves as if to mystify me even more. Whenever I pressed Eli, he just smiled as if he was the Cheshire Cat. The most I got was that they were independently wealthy with no concerns or interest in money. From what I could tell, they had come into considerable abundance a while back, supposedly now free to come and go as they pleased, ever here, of all places. But why here?

How they came into their wealth, they didn’t say specifically. At first, I thought maybe they had shared in the largess of a winning lottery ticket that was worth millions of pounds. Or perhaps they were part of something dodgy, such as an international money-laundering syndicate.

Then later in the evening, as we talked about something related to money, Mo said something about an inheritance, which made me even more suspicious that there might be more to this story than they were telling me. For one thing, I remember earlier Eli saying they weren’t related, so how could they be sharing in an inheritance?

Despite these concerns, I was having a remarkable evening with all the food, drinks, laughter while cavorting with such intriguing characters outside my regimented world.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘with everything that’s happened today, I don’t think I’ve ever been this high before, even on a mountain. Not to mention light-headed with all the libations. But considering how late it must be now, I ought to retire for the night.’

‘Indeed,’ Eli said. ‘But truth be known, you are considerably higher and lighter than you might suspect at this point. But that’s okay; you’ll get used to it. But here, before you bed down, let me fill your glass with this exceptionally smooth Scotch once conceived in Edinburgh. You studied there, right?’

‘Yes, I did, but how did you know that, Eli? I didn’t tell you.’ 

‘Because you seem a man of considerable erudition, and also you seem to know a thing or two about Scotch for which Edinburgh is famous. And so, here’s to you, Dr Phillips.’

As they raised their glasses, Mo said: ‘To your arrival and higher expeditions beyond. Cheers!’

‘Thank you,’ I said, ‘though I don’t understand what you might mean by higher expeditions beyond. I’ve arrived at my destination, and soon I’ll be making my way down to the base, then off to Santiago before returning to London. But I must say you’ve made this a most unforgettable evening. Cheers to you both!’ I said as I raised my glass of Scotch. ‘I’d certainly go on more expeditions like this if I knew I could celebrate like this each time I peaked a summit.’

‘Well, maybe you can,’ Mo said. 

They then got up and wandered off into the dark, leaving me alone on our make-shift bench as I gazed into the glow of the hot coals. I had no idea where they went or if they intended to return. What a strange day this had been, I thought. Was any of it real or had I gone over the edge into some altered state of existence?

In feeling so light, I wondered if I were in my flat back home on some wild psychedelic trip. I thought about having similar experiences to this during my undergraduate days when I did some rather interesting stuff back then with some of my more experimentally inclined friends. That was over ten years ago, however, and I hadn’t participated in anything like that since. But, if for some unknown reason, I was on another such excursion, this would be one of the better ones.

Darkness had descended on the Summit hours ago, leaving only the bright red embers to illuminate the surroundings. As I poked away the coals with a stick, it seemed strange that I wasn’t even tired after such a challenging day of climbing, not to mention spending this night regaling at our sumptuous Summit Diner Club, as Eli called it. Considering how much I had imbibed; I should have passed out long ago.

By now, it was apparent my friends wouldn’t be returning, and so I climbed into my bedroll as I thought how peculiar and fortuitous it was to meet these chaps up in such an improbably location. I had many questions about what happened tonight, but one that stuck with me was when Eli said the scotch was conceived in Edinburgh rather than distilled there. What did he mean by that?

That was the last thought I had before waking at dawn. 



ENDNOTES



[1] Lord Byron, English Poet, Darkness, 1816
[2]I came, I saw, I conquered. Attributed to Julius Caesar, approx. 47 BC.
[3] According to the Transfiguration story, both Moses and Elijah stood talking with Jesus whose face and apparel shone in brilliant light. Next, a bright cloud overshadowed them. When the light left, only Jesus remained standing there. Matthew 17:1–9 (King James Version, hereinafter referred to as KJV) 
[4] I thought of the Moses portrayed in the Cecil B DeMille classic, The Ten Commandments, played by Charlton Heston.
[5] I didn’t realize it at the time but later learned that a bottle of this champagne sells for over £30,000. No wonder it was the best I ever tasted.   


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

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Access to the next chapters

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

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 

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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)

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CONTACT INFORMATION

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

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 

PENDING PUBLICATIONS IN THE SERIES

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

THE ASCENT fall 2021

THE SUMMIT  

QUANTUM LEAPS fall 2020

SURREAL ADVENTURES spring 2021 

MYSTICAL ROMANCE summer 2021

HE ELIXIR fall 2021

THE RETURN sometime in 2022/23

ELYSIUM’S PASSAGE: THE SUMMIT, is now available for purchase on www.Amazon.com and www.Amazon.ca

With the exception of the last novel in the series, the last three have been written but still require more editing before publication.