WHERE AM I?
I had a dream, which was not at all a dream
I awoke on a patch of dry grass feeling disoriented and dazed, not remembering exactly where I was. And yet, for some reason, I felt more rested than I could ever remember. Curiously it felt as though I had been sleeping for days. Most odd, I thought, considering how I had been climbing since early dawn. I must have really been tired since I couldn't even remember lying down. Now wide awake, I remained supine for some time, looking directly up at the scattered clouds in the blue sky, thinking of all that occurred since leaving home.
My flight from London to Santiago via Buenos Aires was lengthy and exhausting, but nothing compared to my extended excursion in a dilapidated bus with worn seats. For the better part of a day we navigated through the winding and back country roads. At last we arrived at a remote village where I found lodging. The next morning, I left early since I still had at least a day's trek through the valleys to reach the base of this mountain I had randomly chosen to climb. Of course, I had to choose it, simple because the aerial photographs of these sierras seem to indicate it was one of the more formidable peaks in Chile.
Also, from the topographical maps I studied, I suspected it would have spectacular vistas. Since I couldn’t find if it 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 nice ring. But first I would have to conquer it!
So here I was, ready for the final ascent. I sprung up off the ground to my feet, surprising myself with the ease and lightness with which I arose. It occurred to me again how well I must have slept to have such agility. I could tell I was only a few hours from the summit now, but it appeared there still remained some major challenges ahead, considering the height of precipices that loomed before me.
As I looked around, I thought what a splendid afternoon this had turned out to be. And yet something wasn’t right. What was it? Ah, the sun. It was still in the eastern horizon to my left, indicating it must be early morning rather than afternoon. But I thought, that can't be, unless I somehow fell asleep yesterday and all last night. Was I really that tired?
Most curious, I thought, but for now it didn’t matter. Chile's bright, mid-summer sun was exactly what I needed for a winter break to lift the veil of gloom from London's dreary winter rains. The bright 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. Amazing what this alpine environment, and a good sleep, can do for one's mind and body!
Not long ago I felt hungry, tired and bruised, but now, near the top, I felt like a new man. Apparent there actually 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 even think about it and distract myself from this splendor with such ridiculous twaddle.
Indeed the trip had all been worth the effort, even though I knew I could scarcely afford it. After being in a chronic malaise over the last few years, I wanted to find a new world where I could face down the fears that had been holding me back. Or was it more like a subliminal death-wish I secretly harboured that I may destroy these fears by destroying myself? I hoped not. The problem was I didn’t know why or what I feared. Certainly it wasn’t these heights or anything else that was extreme; it lay much deeper than that. Maybe I would never know. In any case, it seemed I had come here 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 average person. For reasons I still didn’t understand, it seemed I had to try 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 an old rickety merchant ship, still I felt compelled to test the limits of my strength and resourcefulness. That’s why I chose to be alone in an isolated mountain where few ventured. As a self-respecting survivalist, I had only minimal equipment.
In my adventures, I always prided myself in being able to stare down death! An analyst once suggested this was a form of psychosis, indicating I was compensating for something hidden deeply within. But I wasn't that interested in hearing what he had to say. What did he know about life sitting 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 the most challenging so far.
As an aside, I now know these compulsions were only a ruse to distract myself from the unresolved fears I had hidden away for most of my life. Now I was about to enter into a strange new zone of awakening where everything was about to change where I would be confronted by what had been lurking within. Since I didn’t know myself that well, none of this was understood by me as I stood there in the shadow of the mountain’s summit. Yet it was here now, about to venture towards a new and indescribable Summit in my life.
As I strapped on my backpack to resume my ascent, I thought again about what possibly could have happened. Not only was the sun in the wrong place, but here I was at the bottom of a deep ravine I had already passed through yesterday, or so it seemed. Was I going in circles around the mountain? Hardly! While scrambling up the screed slope before me, I gave no more thought to these peculiarities.
It now became apparent, with my body’s new found strength and dexterity; it may not be long before I would reach the summit. I congratulated myself on having made it this far with only a short rope, a few belay anchors and no climbing companions.
Feeling giddy, I looked up towards the summit to address Zeus, the mythical god I summoned the night of that unfortunate incident at the pub last October, just before having that weird dream. ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici,’ I cried upwards to the summit. ‘Get your welcoming committee ready Zeus, and be sure to bring plenty of champagne with a bevy of your most exquisite goddesses; we’re going to celebrate!’
After scaling up an escarpment of considerable height, I thought about the shimmering orb thingies I had seen darting around on the summit yesterday. At least, I thought I may have seen something like that. But no, I couldn’t have, I wasn’t here yesterday. Probably I dreamt it… sometimes when I'm overly exhausted, I have really weird dreams. But even if there was something shining up there, it would probably be nothing more than the sun reflecting off a satellite receiver/transmitter on top of some weather installation.
However, I thought I may prefer it to 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. Probably their craft was equipped with strobe lights that appeared to me as orbs. Who knows, maybe later they’d give me a joy ride around the sierras.
These thoughts amused me as I continued my final upward thrust. But the more I thought about orbs, gods and aliens, the more difficult it became to dismiss any of these possibilities from my mind, making me feel a bit uneasy. What if there really was something up there, then what? Was it possible I had been drawn up here for reasons I hadn’t been aware of; something more than just conquering another mountain?
Suddenly, as I paused on a narrow ridge, flashbacks came to me from that strange dream. Had that been a premonition of what I was now experiencing, I wondered? I could still hear the voice calling to me from somewhere on high, imploring me to join them on a summit. I remembered writing down every detail l could recall, up to where I was stranded on a ledge I couldn’t seem to cross. This was becoming queer! Probably, the most logical reason for these flashbacks was the altitude's rarified air that caused peculiar chemicals to be released into my brain, causing me to have these strange visions from that most indelible dream.
So I thought, just put these quirky thoughts out of your mind James, and begin to think instead of other climbing escapades you’ll make to even higher peaks. I was still a relatively young man, in excellent condition, with plenty of strength and stamina. Maybe I should try K2 next. No, that’s probably a bad idea, with one chance in four you won't come down alive… not good odds. Maybe I'll settle for Everest, like everyone else, but in any case, I really need to do this more often.
Hot damn, I thought, I’m inspired… like I can do anything! I've scrambled up this slope without even getting knackered, as though it were level ground. I couldn't remember being so energized before. And just look at the view up here; I can hardly wait to get to the summit to find what’s on the other side.
As I continued my rapid ascent, I came to a chasm that looked very familiar… in fact, too familiar! Moments ago I was elated, but now I was confused. Had someone mixed some peyote in the gruel I had a few days ago in the village? I sat down on a ledge for a moment, examining the chasm before me and how I should proceed from here. The longer I sat there, the more I had an impression that someone, or something, was watching me. Much like when you sense you're being stared at, and then you look around and find there actually is someone looking at you.
I wasn't sure what to think, but nevertheless, it felt eerie. In any case, I got up and continued climbing until I was very near the mouth of the chasm just below the summit. 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? It’s too bad I don't believe in such nonsense; it may be helpful in explaining much of what I was experiencing today.
As I was deciding the best way to cross the chasm, I noticed there was something moving about on the summit! ‘Well I'll be damned,’ I said aloud, ‘it appears there really is someone up there.’ Not exactly dazzling light orbs that I thought I had seen before, if not in my dream, but it seemed there may be two or three humanoid figures moving about. Or are they just stunted trees swaying in the wind? Yes, that’s probably it. But if it were my choice, I'd prefer they be sexy mountain nymphs waiting to reward me for my efforts. Or perhaps Zeus’ goddesses; why not make it worthwhile? I was beginning to think anything was possible up here. Maybe it was the altitude, but these fantasies were making me feel giddy, causing me to laugh aloud at myself.
Yet, even in my laughter, I sensed there may be more I was experiencing here than just light headedness. I felt something like an electrical force field wafting about me: very much like the electricity you feel before lightning strikes, raising the hairs on your arms. It seemed I had that same thought yesterday, but I couldn’t be sure. Everything was becoming muddled with my dream from almost three months ago. In fact, there seemed to be a lot of strange déjà vu going on ever since I awoke at the bottom of the canyon ravine.
And then, if all this wasn’t enough, out of nowhere I heard what sounded like a voice calling out to me. Was it coming from the summit or the dissonance of synapses misfiring in my oxygen deprived brain? Lots of people hear voices in their head in abnormal conditions like this. Bloody hell, I thought, now I'm really losing it; maybe I need to get more oxygen before my brain completely decompresses!
Just as I was about to dismiss it as nothing, I heard the voice again. This time it was calling out my name. Now that's really strange, I thought; too strange for words. Maybe it’s some mountain guru that sits on top of mountains giving audience to seekers who climb thousands of metres just to spend a few hours there. That’s about as likely as the gods waiting there all day to celebrate my arrival!
Then I heard it again, this time the voice was so clear it could have been from someone standing directly in front of me. Was it one or many? I couldn’t tell. I sat there stunned for a few minutes, waiting to hear if it would call my name once more. And soon it did, but this time it was a different voice. This one was soft, alluring and ah, so feminine; my exotic mountain nymph and goddess, beckoning me to the Summit. Maybe they’re the same. Why not, anything is possible when you use your imagination. For the ancient Greeks, the gods and goddesses were supposed to have 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. It was so real and yet so peculiar. I sense her voice resonating from within my mind, having nothing to do with what my ears hear from without. Normally I'm sceptical about this sort of thing, and yet there it was, I couldn’t deny it. And now, rather than hearing her voice, I saw images imposed on my mind’s eye, showing me a less than obvious approach to the summit.
Since I didn’t have a good feeling about the thin narrow ledge that crossed to the other side of the chasm, I decided to follow this inner prompt. Without hesitation, I retreated down about twenty yards before veering off to the left where I found a narrow indenture in the precipice. By wedging myself between the narrow sides I was able to straddle and maneuver my way up the fissure towards the summit ridge. It should have been extremely difficult for me to do this, but for some reason it wasn’t.
So now, after all my struggling these last few days, here I was on top of the summit ridge. But it wasn’t just a peak; it was actually a long and wide ridge that seemed to go for a considerable distance. I was exhilarated. I stood a while, taking in the full panoramic view of the majestic ranges all around me. Then I recalled again what I had seen from below not that long ago and wondered if there really was anyone up here as it appeared. I surveyed the ridge as far as I could see to the right and to the left, but I saw no on. Most likely, I thought, I must have just imagined everything, along with the voices.
Or was it possible these beings had gone into hiding, lying in wait to pounce on me? I didn’t relish the thought! From my earlier observations this was the general area I imagined I had seen something, and yet there were no trees to explain what I thought I saw. The ridge sloped gently downwards towards the west, littered with large boulders and huge slabs of granite protruding out of the ground. There were patches of short alpine grass and moss, along with varieties of shrubs and hardy flowers. I decided to make my way along the ridge as it narrowed towards its highest elevation on the left.
I wasn’t exactly sure where the ridge would end before it dropped off to a steep precipice. As I continued along, I became aware of something far off in distance, not at all appearing to be trees or shrubs. As I drew closer I had the impression these were two distinct beings, with possibly another standing further away in the distance. At first I thought they may be other climbers who had approached the Summit from the other side. I wanted to believe one of these figures was my mountain nymph, patiently waiting for me to arrive here after all these centuries… the one calling to me while I was still below the summit. I’d prefer that to 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 out my name but showed me the way up. In my rational mind I understood such things can only happen in one’s imagination. But as I got closer, I could see only two figures now. Likely, the third was just something further in the distance, making the two appear as three.
I continued to advance forward, one wary step at a time, my eyes riveted on them. They remained standing perfectly motionless at the highest end of the summit ridge… a bit unnerving and intimidating, to say the least! One had a long coat flapping in the wind. Who were they and why weren’t they proceeding to meet me half way? What if I just 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 staring directly towards me. I had an uncomfortable feeling deep in my plexus that they weren’t just mountain climbers, but beings that had been waiting for me a very long time.
Was I just imagining it, or did I just hear my name spoken, as if someone had been standing right beside me? If so, what other powers might they possess besides this telepathic voodoo? Did they have something to do with those glowing orbs I thought I was, or was that just a delirious delusion?
Whatever was going on, it seemed there was some really spooky stuff happening up here. Maybe these two were alien decoys, but then, where was their spaceship; possibly hovering over the summit with their cloaking shields up? Wonder if 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. From where in space and time did that strange phantasm come? Had the voices projected this image onto my consciousness?
As befitting any credible philosopher, I’m familiar with most stories and teachings of most major religious myths, archetypes and traditions. And so, I knew this vision had something to do with Christ being transfigured with a dazzling form of light. The incident is said to have occurred somewhere in Palestine on some unknown mountain that is traditionally referred to as The Mount of Transfiguration. So 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? 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 where those blazing light orbs were about. Trouble is; I'm no Christ… not even close. I’m not even religious. Besides, I wasn’t sure what any of this was supposed to mean: trans-figured… but from what to what? Obviously the altitude must have got to me in thinking such insane thoughts.
For a few more moments I stood there, my imagination being contorted with science fiction with religious mythology. Then, as I again proceeded to draw closer to them, more delirious thoughts arose within me: I think I know these two! But do I? No I don’t. Yet I think I do; but I don’t know why I would think that; I’ve never seen them before. So why do I think I know them when I don’t?
Obviously I’m confused… or crazy. None of this makes sense. Yet I can’t deny there’s something familiar about them, even if I don’t know what it is. Just like when you think you know a stranger from somewhere before, perhaps a prior life; except I didn’t believe in prior lives, or for that matter, any other life than this.
Mixed impressions continued to flood into my mind, though I tried not to allow my imagined fears to get too carried away with me. I stopped once again to see if they would make a move, but still they didn’t, remaining fixed in stony silence, as if to unnerve me. I stepped forward again, refusing to blink as I kept my eyes firmly fixed upon them with each stride I took.
I sensed the older one had an eerie presence of someone I may have known in the distant past, but I had no idea who that may be. It felt very peculiar when my eyes met his. He seemed to have a serious demeanor, like some Himalayan sage; not that I've ever met any mountain sages before. Still thinking of the transfiguration story, it seemed there was a venerable Moses persona about him, reminding me of the movie scene when he came down from the burning bush on Mount Sinai, except he was wearing old fashioned British hiking knickers. His prophetic image seemed accentuated by his thick white hair, extended just above his shoulders. His penetrating blue eyes had a laser focus which seemed to command 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 interesting in his own way. I estimated him to be close to six feet tall with an athletic build. He had long blond/brown hair in Rastafarian dreadlocks. This, with his tattered Alpaca coat, reminded me of a young bohemian drifter.
Likely my fear and bewilderment was evident as I approached them. In response, the young man gave me an assuring smile to allay any lingering concerns I may have towards them in this most improbable encounter.
‘Buenos días,’ I said, expecting them to be Chileans
‘Good day,’ said the younger, in a cheerful British accent.
‘We've been observing your arduous journey up this mountain,’ said the elder, in a mix of the Queen's English with a subtle underlying Gaelic inflection. ‘We are pleased at long last that you have joined us on this summit. Congratulations on completing this stage of your ascent, James.’
‘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 could know 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?’
‘If you would so kind, that would be greatly 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 to myself. 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. This was just too uncanny. Mind readers… but I didn’t believe in that claptrap. There had to be a more rational explanation. Obviously a coincidence!
‘If you care to come along with us,’ Mo said, ‘we’d be pleased if you would join us at our camp on the other end of this ridge. We have plenty of extra food and drink.’
‘I don’t believe I have anything scheduled in my social calendar at the moment,’ 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 the experiences I had while climbing this mountain. I was impressed with them as being authentically gracious and genteel; 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 had an assuring feeling about them. In some ways they still seemed oddly familiar; perhaps too much so. I wasn’t sure why, but it seemed as if they already 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 reason for serious concern! Thoughts of orbs and alien abduction still played in the back of my mind. Under normal circumstances I would never allow myself to think anything so irrational. But fear is never rational.
It still mystified me why they were here. Obviously, they didn't just stroll up on some eco sightseeing tour. It had taken me a very 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! Very few climbers Mo's age could have made it even close to this summit unless they were a Sherpa. Actually, I pictured him more as being a croquet player than a climber. For these reasons and more, I couldn't shake the feeling that something very strange was going on.
And not only that, I suspected there perhaps there was something most peculiar going on with me too. I should have felt exhausted and hungry from these last days of my near vertical ascent. This was likely the most precipitous and dangerous climb I had ever experienced. Yet surprisingly, my body felt inexplicably light and spritely, considering what I had been through.
My provisions of dehydrated foods were almost depleted, and whatever berries and herbs I gathered along the way were long gone. Not that that worried me too much, since I understand that most can survive for about forty days without food. In fact, I once fasted for over four weeks with only water, though not while climbing. But where did this surge of energy suddenly come from? I must be a whole lot fitter than I realized.
As we carried on along the ridge, I thought how much I’d like to celebrate my ascent with a cool bottle of sparkling champagne. Had I not made this request to my mountain god?
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 possibly was the most delicious bubbly I’d ever tasted: Pernod Ricard Perrier-Jouët, no less!
We merrily passed it around a few times and then, just as soon as it was empty, Mo pulled out another identical bottle from the inner pocket of his overcoat, like a dealer in some back alley. This time glasses seemed to magically appear as may be expected from a magician on stage.
I assumed it was just the libations, but in this strange mix of confusion, conversation and laughter, I was beginning to feel more alive and vibrant than I could ever remember feeling before. Now that my residual fears were set aside for the moment, I felt I was in my element. But then, with enough champagne, I suppose that’s to be expected.
And yet, what occurred next was even more surprising. How it all happened as it did, I had no idea. But after arriving near the western end of the ridge, we came to an area which was somewhat lower down, recessed among large granite boulders. Evidently this is where they had camped since there were still hot coals smouldering from a fire. Curiously though, there were no tents or evidence of bedding.
While Mo was stoking up the flames and Eli went off somewhere to find more wood, even though there was no wood in sight, I decided to take a stroll further along the ridge to take in the spectacular views of the northerly sierra. Upon returning, I saw was a feast of exotic foods laid out on a long wooden table. Unbelievable! Where did they get all this?
Not only were there foods, seemingly imported from all over the world, there were also several bottles of wine on display for me to choose from. I wondered if they had procured them for just me, since they were all my favorite blends, which, considering the expense, I rarely indulged in.
I poured a glass and commended my hosts on their exquisite tastes, as though I was standing in the tasting room of an elegant winery on the Mediterranean shores, explicating the comparative merits of their finest wines. At dinner parties in the past, I’d sometimes put on my most affected airs as a wine connoisseur to see if anyone would take me seriously. I knew enough of the vocabulary and clichés to pull it off on most occasions.
‘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. Now contrast that with this dry red Bordeaux, obviously most aptly aged in a cured French cask. Don’t you agree, unlike this sweet, racy Italian Merlot, it provides a more mature and satisfying oaky char?’
They seemed to be amused with my little charade, or perhaps by how little I knew what I was talking about. But that didn't matter, the wines were about as good as anything I had had ever tasted.
Then I raised my glass to quote a line from Homer, something I had memorized for dinner parties to amuse and impress the guests. The wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.
Most impressive James… wouldn’t you say Eli? ‘Imagine us finding a Homer aficionado up here, far away from the Aegean Sea.’
‘Oh, yes… jolly impressive indeed,’ Eli said.
A bid startled, I asked, ‘how would you know this obscure line from Homer’s Iliad?’
‘I wouldn’t,’ Mo said, ‘at least not from The Iliad, but I would know it from The Odyssey, Book 14, I believe.
‘Oh,’ I said, a bit shocked and humbled that he would even know that. ‘You may be right; I’ll have to check.’
‘Don’t bother; I am right,’ he said. ‘But what does it matter after such a long and arduous climb. You must have a big appetite so help yourself to the spread Eli prepared for you. There’s plenty more if you wish!’
Which is exactly what I did, including the plenty more, as I surfeited myself on the most delightful delicacies I could ever remember having, including the prepared meats, breads and several exotic cheeses. Caviar never tasted so good when sprinkled on stuffed deviled eggs.
That’s awfully finicky work, I thought, especially to prepare this here or anywhere else, for that matter. How could they have accomplished all that up here? And where did they find all this food? Santiago is a very long way off for food catering services.
As we continued to visit over the course of the evening, I found that Eli`s offbeat humour and banter sometimes struck me as being a little too much like that of mine. The more I got to know him, the more it seemed like we were two former shipmates that had been reunited after several years, except he was way too young for that.
Mo too had a sense of humour, which he often expressed through his razor sharp wit. I noticed during the evening he would sometimes wonder off to gaze into the sky, as though he was zoning into his own universe of rarified thoughts. Then he would re-emerge in silent contemplation for a few minutes before uttering something that sounded both so profound and peculiar that I didn’t know what to make of it. Which made me wonder, who was this bloke… besides someone who knows Homer?
In spite of their affable natures, I began to become suspicious of them once again. Often they would do or say something that was too bizarre to make any sense. I wondered if they were doing this just to throw me off, but why? Besides Mo’s stargazing eccentricities, Eli seemed to enjoy answering my question before I would ask him, as if he wanted to gobsmack me.
Even more disconcerting was how they seemed to know so much about me. It was unsettling. Not just my name; that was just the beginning. They also knew my favourite food and drinks and even my favourite books. Was it only coincidence we had read many of the same authors and titles, from Teilhard de Chardin to Dostoyevsky? Which made me wonder, how did Eli, being about a decade younger, seemed know more about literature and better read than me?
Though I probed them, they wouldn’t disclose anything about themselves, as if to mystify me even more. The most I got that was of any significance was that they were independently wealthy, having come into great abundance several years ago. Now they supposedly were free to come and go to places I could never imagine. How they made this money they didn’t say specifically, except their seemed to be an allusion of having come into an inheritance. This made me even more suspicious that something was suspect. Very likely there was much more to the story they weren’t telling me.
You know,’ I said, ‘after such a remarkable evening of food, drinks and laughter, along with everything else that’s happened today, I don't think I’ve ever been this high before, even on a mountain. But since it’s late, I probably time I retired for the night.’
‘Indeed,’ Eli said, ‘truth be known, you are even higher and lighter than you may care to know at this point. But that's okay, you’ll get used to it. Here, before you bed down, let me fill your glass with this very smooth Scotch. It’s from Edinburgh. You studied there, right?’
‘Yes I did, but how did you know… I didn’t tell you?’
‘Because you seem a man of great erudition,’ Mo said, ‘deserving of the finest institutions in Great Britain. And because you seem to know a thing or two about Scotch for which Edinburgh is famous. So before you retire for the night, here’s to you, Dr Phillips.’
As they raised their glasses, Eli said, ‘to your arrival and ongoing expedition. Cheers!’
‘Thank you,’ I said, ‘though I don’t understand what you mean by “ongoing.” But at least I can say you’ve been most gracious this evening. Cheers to you both!’ I said, as I raised my glass of Scotch to them. I'd certainly do more climbing if I knew I could celebrate like this every time I peaked a mountain summit.’
‘Well, maybe you can,’ Mo said.
Then at once they got up and wandered off in the dark, leaving me alone to sit in the glow of the hot coals on our make-shift bench. What a strange day this had been, I thought. Was any of it real or had I gone over the edge into an altered state of reality? What if I was actually still back at my flat on some wild psychedelic trip, the kind I used to go on… although that was several years ago. In feeling so light now, I began to wonder if I hadn’t somehow taken leave of my body. And yet, I told myself, any out of body experience I felt would only been an illusion of my addled and translucent mind.
As I poked away at the coals with a stick, I remembered having experiences similar to this in my undergraduate days. I did some interesting stuff back then with some of my more experimentally inclined friends. But that was over ten years ago and I hadn’t participated in anything like this since. If for some unknown reason I really was on another of these excursions, this would have been one of the better ones. I smiled as I thought this.
But once I come down, if I do, at least this strange intrigue wouldn’t mystify me anymore, because none of it would have happened. And yet I suspected this all was actually happening; it seemed my mind had never been more lucid, but then, I always thought that when I was blotto or on drugs.
Darkness had descended on us hours ago, leaving only the bright red embers to illuminate the surroundings. It seemed rather strange that I wasn’t even tired when I should be knackered by now, especially after regaling all evening at the sumptuous Summit Diner Club, as Eli called it. In fact, I should have passed out long ago considering all I had imbibed.
As I climbed into my bedroll, I thought how peculiar this fortuitous happenstance was in meeting these chaps up here. And that was the last I remembered; once asleep, I didn't awake until dawn.
 I came, I saw, I conquered. Attributed to Julius Caesar, approx. 47 BC
 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
 I thought of the Moses portrayed in the Cecil B DeMille classic, The Ten Commandments, played by Charlton Heston.
. 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.
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