John W. Steele, The Chronicle of Belthaeous
The Chronicle of Belthaeous
Publisher: CreateSpace, Aug. 20, 2011
Length: 472 pp.
ISBN: 1456586203; 978-1456586201
Ascent to the Cave of the Ancient
We trudged along ice slopes on the Path of Secrets in a range of mountains somewhere in the western Himalayas. Before us a steady incline ascended into the heavens, unwinding like a two-dimensional universe where earth and sky were one.
Ice-strewn ledges ran along the walls of the abyss. Some of the trails were less than a yard wide and opened to a yawning crevasse that fell to a jagged boulder-strewn valley three miles below.
The sheer magnitude of the mountains often produced extreme vertigo. I learned to focus my gaze on my feet or stare at the ice sheet directly in front of me. Already one in our party, an engineer named Raul, had fallen to his death, a victim of anoxia and the rapture of the hypnotic vastness that surrounded us like an ocean.
I didn’t know the name of the peak and it did not appear on our maps. Our head Sherpa, Thrangu claimed the mountain was sacred and only the highest Lamas knew the mantra that was its name.
According to Thrangu, knowledge of the mantra could summon the deity that dwelled there. He warned me to guard my thoughts because the mountain could see a mind’s interiors, and it sometimes killed people it found beyond redemption. Though I was not a man of faith, I prayed beneath my breath that the mountain would spare me.
At the summit of the towering snowcap lay the treasure we were seeking: the Avatar known as Belthaeous. Thrangu claimed that Belthaeous had been hidden in the Cave of the Ancient for over a thousand years, and that his resurrection from oblivion would usher in the new age for mankind, forever changing the destiny of the world.
I’d met Thrangu a year earlier when Genibolic Pharmaceutical brought him and a party of several dozen Sherpa guides to Canada to train on the equipment that would be used on the expedition. He was a likeable sort, and even though I didn’t understand his ways or his beliefs, we hit it off immediately.
Though I found him fascinating, I sensed he was just another eccentric heathen that dwelled in this impoverished pocket of desolation at the top of the world. But I humored him because of his hypnotic sincerity and his uncanny feats of magic.
According to Thrangu, the Avatar Belthaeous would exert great influence over the hearts and minds of men. Thrangu claimed the Avatar was benevolent, but I’d seen enough of what power does to people and I didn’t believe it. In my experience, great authority and depravity were synonymous, regardless of the culture where it thrived.
Despite his peculiar nature, I’d learned many things from Thrangu. I looked to him for guidance about the teachings and customs I encountered in this inhospitable wilderness. Thrangu possessed awareness beyond the stunted borders of intellect and his instincts were deadly accurate.
The dry, frigid air at this altitude scorched the inside of my nose and lungs. Each labored breath felt like inhaling fumes of acid. I stopped checking my thermometer at twenty-one thousand feet. I spit, and it froze in mid air, landing on the ice floor like a tiny ivory pebble. Because of this, I knew we’d surpassed fifty degrees below zero.
The cold seeped into my boots and my feet burned and tingled. I was deathly afraid of hypothermia and I’d seen what it can do. Extreme prolonged cold can cause hallucinations. Thrangu told me about a climber who suffered from severe exposure. The man chewed off his frostbitten fingers because he thought they were chocolate bars.
I could not understand why this area of the mountains had remained so pristine, as if untouched by the hand of civilized man. The ranges we’d crossed to get here were littered with trash and the remnants of previous climbing expeditions. I didn’t blame the mountains for being angry. Empty canisters of oxygen, discarded clothing, food containers, and even raw garbage abounded in the other places we’d seen.
The debris reminded me of the aftermath I’d witnessed in the mud-caked fields of Woodstock many years earlier. But here no trash could be found. The snow flowed smooth as glass as if it had never been tread upon. This area appeared to be inaccessible to Westerners.
It mattered little to me, though. If you’ve seen one peak, you’ve seen them all. I couldn’t wait to escape from this frozen hell and return to a warm bed with my arms and legs wrapped around Heidi’s naked body.
Thrangu asserted this place was the home of the Super Bliss deities. Despite the awesome panorama displayed when the clouds dissipated, I shuddered to think what kind of mind would find this airless environment precious. Then I remembered what Thrangu said about consciousness. In eating, sleeping, fearing, and copulating, beasts, men, and gods are alike. Heaven, earth, and hell are one, the only difference is perception.
Of course this aphorism came from a man who never imagined indoor plumbing. He’d lived his entire life on a diet of Yak butter and barley, so I wasn’t convinced he had the experience to make such a statement. But supposedly these natives possessed an esoteric knowledge unknown to the rest of the world. The fact that he and his kind had been able to survive here was a tribute to something, but I wondered if it wasn’t stupidity.
Dr. Nacroanus referred to the Sherpa as ice monkeys and he didn’t think much of them. Of course he didn’t think much of anyone, but himself.
I’d seen a good deal of the world and thus far I’d determined that this ungodly place had no parallel on the planet. It existed as an inhospitable pocket of wonder and hardship beyond civilized understanding. The rules of logic and reason had no meaning here. Hidden laws and mysteries abounded in the sky, the ice, the crevasses, and the superstitious natives that called this place the road to awe.
A naked truth permeated every atom that formed the landscape, a brutal force that would squash you like a fly if you failed to acknowledge it.
Regardless of the discomfort and abominable cold, Dr. Nacroanus did not appear intimidated by the conditions. The Sherpa had hitched him to a stout lanyard and several of the powerful guides all but carried him up the pass.
His gate was guarded and unsteady, like a drunkard struggling to walk on a tightrope, but he couldn’t fall if he wanted to. The guides surrounding him had been chosen for their strength and endurance. Seven of them were assigned to care for and assist Adrian on the journey, and they hovered around him like bees guard a queen.
The Sherpa carried Adrian’s oxygen canister, and all of our scientific instruments. His only responsibility was to supervise the expedition and ensure the safe return of the Archon Belthaeous.
Five days into the journey, and I wondered if I had the stamina to survive the assault. But Dr. Nacroanus seemed oblivious to the harsh conditions. I’d never known anyone so frail and yet so indomitable.
It bothered me that he wouldn’t trust me to retrieve the Archon . . . if there was an Archon. His lack of faith in my judgment created in me a sense of humiliation. He claimed I depended too much on hope, and that someday my lack of commitment would destroy me.
I warned him that this ice littered Hades was no place for a man his age. But he insisted the entire experiment depended on his understanding of cryogenics and the secrets he’d unlocked regarding the bio-chemical processes involved in nerve cell physiology. Of course he was right, he was always right. He was probably right about me as well.
When I tried to reason with him about the dangers we’d face, he grew angry. “The body of the Avatar must not be tampered with in any way or my life’s purpose will be destroyed,” he said. I dared not pursue the issue. I’d seen his mood swings grow more violent over the years and I’d learned to fear them.
The wind grew colder and the darkness gained intensity. Since the start of our trek to the summit a feeling of persistent anxiety gnawed in my guts. I didn’t like this place. I didn’t like the cold, or the brutally honest spirit of the environment. I didn’t like the ice crystals that formed in my nostrils and clung like plaster to my scratchy beard. And I certainly didn’t like the idea that a malevolent deity might hurl my body into the gorge for entertainment.
The spirit of the icy wind bored to the marrow of my bones with agonizing malevolence. I synched tight the drawstring of my parka and we trudged onward.
Our Sherpa Guides
The fading sunlight cast grayscale shadows on the landscape giving it a surreal appearance like the contrast in a negative. Perhaps a mile in the distance, the portal to the cave of the ancient peered from the apex of the natural stone pyramid that formed the summit.
I gazed at the formidable buttress leading to the cliff and a feeling of dread tingled in my nerves. Something imperceptible changed and an intangible pall now hung in the air like an aura portending the onset of an epileptic seizure. The wind began to howl and ice crystals blasted my face with raging hostility.
Without warning the sky transformed into an ominous shade of black pearl. Thrangu warned me of this and he claimed an omen of this nature was a sure sign the mountain had acknowledged us.
I feared a blizzard would materialize on the narrow ridge. I’d been though several of these episodes and they were never less than terrifying.
From out of nowhere, screaming tempests roared down the slope in a fit of wrathful delirium. Whirlwinds spun like small tornadoes flinging ice crystals with such velocity they could scrape the skin from unprotected flesh, or seize a person like a kite and hurl him into the sky. Thrangu halted the caravan and we huddled against the fury.
Then with the mercurial temperament of a premenstrual harpy, the storm lost its truculence. The skies opened to reveal a stunning golden moon. The lunar surface shone resplendent with craters so defined, the contours of their rims could be counted like the splines of an ancient galleon.
Deserts of rust-tinged sand spilled across the moonscape and the hulking carapace of an extinct volcano lay in a footprint of silver magma.
Solar rays reflected from the moon, illuminating the terrestrial ice field around us like a glowing mesa made of phosphorus. The mountain shone with supernal beauty and I grew spellbound by the awesome display.
Like the cornea of a colossal eye, the haunting moon gazed upon us. But there was something missing in the cosmic theater. Nothing but a black velvet emptiness surrounded this moon and the heavens held no other celestial bodies. It appeared that the entire cosmos had withered away leaving only an infinite vacuum absent of light. Why were there no stars in this paranormal wasteland?
Thrangu stood like an effigy of stone, his eyes transfixed on the cave.
The word Thrangu means “soaring vulture,” and somehow the moniker fit him like spandex. He was an anomaly in the world of men and I’d never met anyone like him. He possessed a natural self-assurance, like a person mildly retarded and unencumbered by the hang-ups inherent in an over-developed ego. Inside and outside were the same in him, and I trusted him completely. Thrangu could not be intimidated and I’d never sensed any anxiety in him.
But tonight he seemed edgy. His eyes held a spark of fear entirely out of character for this primitive Tibetan priest. I’d always drawn strength from his quiet courage, but here, as he stood in the shadow of the summit, I knew he felt anxious over something only he could see.
I dug my crampons into the ice and trudged the rutted incline to speak with him. At my approach, he pointed at Dr. Nacroanus and then gestured to his men. The Sherpa unloaded the sled that held much of our scientific equipment. With the coordinated performance of a finely tuned machine, they began to assemble the insulated nylon structures that would form our final camp.
When I drew closer, he bowed.
Thrangu was big as these natives go and stood nearly a fathom tall. His shoulders were broad and his neck squat and thick. His legs reminded me of tree stumps, stout tubes of muscle that pumped like the pistons of a diesel engine. They propelled his powerful body up the jagged ice field with the strength and agility of a mountain goat.
Beneath his hooded Yak wool Parka, his shaven skull housed a force so robust it defied anything the western mind can imagine. I admired his tenacity and the natural confidence he revealed in the face of adversity. Thrangu was a species of humanity capable of surviving where not even the strongest animal can endure.
I knew he’d found a personal God, and though the divinity he adored was foreign to me, I sensed the power of this force inside him. He’d discovered something beyond the confines of this sorry world and the evidence of his faith shone in his eyes.
Though I could not accept the outrageous claims of his mystical experiences, I knew he held a great secret. He’d been trained as a monk in the Potala since he was abandoned at the gate of the lamasery when a toddler.
For reasons he never revealed, he gave up his vows after fifty years of deep spiritual practice and returned to the world of men . . . and women. Nevertheless, Thrangu was venerated by the others as a direct descendent of the Dharma, a living embodiment of the Lord Buddha.
I’d seen plenty of freaked-out egos in my travels. Adrian was one of them. But there is something about a genuine personality that cannot be imitated, a character that is unique. Thrangu was one of these nuggets that show up only a few times in a person’s life, and I’d grown to admire him deeply.
His face was a crowning evolutionary achievement, a mask of flesh cut with furrows like the bark of an ancient oak tree. His rutted forehead held creases and deep fissures. Yet the wrinkles weren’t like those of an old man. It was more like he’d been born with the crevices that lined his weathered face. The impressions were graceful and defined, like the etchings of a celestial artist. His haggard features mirrored the character of his spirit.
The deepest furrow sat in the middle of his forehead, a gaping vertical indentation shaped like an almond. The crater looked as if at one time it contained an eye that had been plucked from the socket, leaving an empty healed-over gouge in his brow.
He claimed a high Mongol lama had drilled a hole in his forehead with a sliver of wood that had been hardened by fire and treated with herbs. According to him, this incident took place when he was quite young. He said the procedure augmented and expanded the awareness of his vestigial eye. I had no reason to doubt this because he possessed amazing abilities.
Thrangu looked through me as though I were a pane of clear glass. He raised his arm and pointed at the dot on the rock face.
“That is temple of Belthaeous and this as far as I go, Dr. Neuma,” he said in his broken Nepalese dialect. “I eat much dark energy to bring you here. I fear go any closer.”
“What do you mean ‘eat dark energy’?” I asked. “The Archon has been dead for centuries, some say a thousand years. I don’t fear the dead, Thrangu. They can’t harm you. Their hatred left this planet with them. But there’s always new stock to replace them.”
His breath flowed white in the air and he hung his head.
“Belthaeous live many years and bring much compassion on Earth. Not wise to disturb teacher like this . . . very bad magic. Stars respect Cave of Ancient. Stars have much pride, but they know someday they die. Avatar never die, so stars humbled and not shine here.”
I looked down at the simple barbarian. “Nonsense, the body is a nine-holed sack of meat. “When the bio-chemical process expires, the carcass rots like any other pile of organic matter. The only evidence that it ever existed is what it leaves behind. I plan on leaving plenty. If you’re afraid, why did you agree to help us?”
His face drooped and he stared into the snow. He kicked a stone of ice and it bounced down into the gorge. I saw him shudder.
“Not so, Dr. Neuma, only soul is real, everything else imagination. I suffer all my life. Soon, I die. My body becomes garbage. One time, I want to taste sweet comfort of materialism, and sensation. I know what I do. In this place, when man do wrong and know it, his deed grow by ten.”
“What makes you think you’re doing anything wrong?” I asked.
“Man knows when he wrong, just as bird knows how to fly. Nobody can tell. Avatar ancient and precious, I betray him for gold.”
I felt a twinge of pity for my innocent friend. “Well, if it’s any consolation, Thrangu, your sins will be forgiven.”
He looked up from the snow, a streak of silver light reflected from deep in his eyes, a sharp penetrating light as vivid as thunderbolt.
“It not like West here, no sin ever forgiven. No god strong enough to forgive. That is why West irresponsible, no consequence for deed. Here we become what we do. Nothing save us from ourselves. In this place, life in all realms follow deed.”
I measured his words. “How do you know there is a life after death?”
“Many Aeons in next density, Dr. Neuma, telepath thought to us. Sometimes I see them.”
“You’re not making any sense,” I said.
“That is why I do what I do,” Thrangu replied. “Do not envy the power of a sage, Dr. Neuma. They can see death. Each day they number the sands in the hourglass.”
I’d grown tired of debating with Thrangu. I’d learned our words, even when identical, seldom meant the same thing. The cold caused my eyes to water, and my feet felt numb.
“Why have we stopped? We’re only a few hours from the cave.”
“Not safe to travel in moonlight, Dr. Neuma. Moonbeams feed wrathful ghosts. We rest tonight. When morning, I send you to tomb of Belthaeous with my best boys. They find Belthaeous and bring him back to earth. Then our business finish. Nothing left but gold . . . and black energy.”
The light dimmed in Thrangu’s eyes and his face hung like raw clay. A tear froze on his cheek twinkling in the moonlight, like a tiny crystal bead.
A Tin God’s Dream
The morning broke bitter cold but clear. Even with both alcohol furnaces burning, my digital thermometer read -25 F inside our nylon cave.
There was no such thing as sleep in this place. The best I could achieve was a twilight muse not unlike an opium induced stupor. The night seemed to drag on forever, and the brief periods of diminished awareness were sporadic and filled with visions.
Each time I nodded off, an angel, or bodhisattva as they’re called here, appeared before me. A feminine diva adorned with a bejeweled crown gazed down upon me. The angel shone like a sun goddess. Words could not describe her beauty. Though her presence was overwhelming I could not rationally accept that angels existed. Given the state of chaos in the world, I found the idea of perfected benevolent entities preposterous.
The angel gazed at me her eyes like the sun reflected from crystalline water. “My name is Ursula,” she said. “We are of a like vibration. I have chosen to assist you.”
I tried to speak but the words froze in my throat.
“You must remain vigilant; your life is in danger.”
So overpowering was her presence I scarcely heard her message. I focused on the maddening lines of her form and the flawless intricacies of her features. Her beauty was too charming to resist and I lost the rest of her message when I fell under the allure of her unpretentious sexuality. When my thoughts of her became carnal she disappeared.
It glanced at my watch. It was 4 a.m. Visions of Ursula, Heidi, and Lydia spun in my head like a carousel. How could I betray Lydia after she’d bore my two sons? Compared to the bodhisattva, Heidi looked like a monkey with the ears cut off. But until I’d seen this celestial bimbo, Heidi was everything I dreamed of in a lover. I wondered if sex wasn’t the cruelest deception, its craving filled with snares. Men will abandon anything for sexual fulfillment. The cursed fetter of sensuality at times seemed to be far over rated, an energy gone mad through spurious hormonal programming.
I reasoned the psychotic episode was due to hypoxia. The imagination can be a horrible obsession. As the events of my life unfolded, I realized all the gifts given to a man are prisons that offer a moment pleasure in exchange for endless bondage.
The mind is a gaping hole of desires that can never be filled. How could a man glimpse a vision of loveliness such as Ursula and not be tempted by her? According to Thrangu the greatest wisdom is restraint. But I am only flesh and blood.
I remembered what I read about desire long ago. The sage stated the Buddha said: if there were one more craving as powerful as sex, he would have never found enlightenment. When I asked Thrangu about this, he laughed and told me it wasn’t so. But he agreed with me that the comment had merit, and if the Buddha did not say it, he should have.
When I roused from the dream, I needed to void. The tent was colder than the core of a block of ice and I dared not leave the comfort of my bag. I reached for the urinal and wet myself when failed to secure the cap correctly on the container. Like a melting pop sickle, the cold damp spot tormented me until morning.
Dr. Nacroanus appeared to be asleep. His face looked waxy, but a tiny line of fog flowed from his nostrils. He’d made it through the night.
He’d been given a battery-sized fuel cell with which he heated his sleeping bag. The prototype was a gift from Genibolic. When I asked for one, he refused to allow it. He told me that he didn’t want me too comfortable and that the austerity of our journey was a challenge I sorely needed. It appeared the little dynamo worked perfectly. He looked deliriously cozy while I froze my ass off. Genibolic money funded this expedition, and every conceivable comfort had been provided for him.
Without Adrian’s connections, this mission would not have been possible. Genibolic resources bribed the Chinese officials that allowed us access to this heavily guarded area of the far western slope inside the border of China.
This part of the mountain had been inaccessible for centuries. The peak was considered so important that no real knowledge of its existence had filtered to the outside world.
This was the Area 51 of Tibet, and all entry to the summit was heavily patrolled and guarded. The whole range of mountains in this locale thrived with legend, and miracles, and tales about a dreaming god that dwelled at the roof of the sky. What treasure lay hidden here that was considered so important, the Chinese had placed missile defense systems at its borders?
Adrian told me the Oriental astrologers were responsible for our pilgrimage to this sacred place. According to them, materialism had reached its zenith on this planet. All life forms were now worthless and subject to exploitation, torture, and extermination in the pursuit of the new order about to descend on mankind. The sages predicted that the time of Mammon’s complete control of humanity was at hand, and somehow Belthaeous figured heavily in this prophecy.
Without the approval of the astrologers, anyone who dared approach this area met a horrible death by the Chinese commandoes. We’d seen the results of their handiwork at ten thousand feet. The desiccated carcasses of seventeen men were impaled on poles, their faces and bodies mutilated; a stark reminder of the fate that awaited any would be treasure hunters.
Thrangu asserted the mountain caves contained ancient passages that lead to the center of the Earth. He claimed the core of the Earth opened to another world of a higher vibration. The Sherpa described this paradise with such detail it’s hard to believe that it was only a myth.
Sometimes they’d gather together under the moon and sing ballads about an emerald sea buried thousands of miles beneath the mountains. They told tales of great palaces, and crystal cites wreathed in clouds and hovering in the sky. The guides claimed that this subterranean paradise held the secrets of the destiny and the origin of man.
Thrangu claimed to have been taken to a temple in this world when he was a boy. The Lama King Humututah who ruled there granted him psychic gifts. It was rumored Thrangu could see through walls and even mountains. Though he would not demonstrate his powers, he had an uncanny ability to know things about the future that no one else could see. He could predict conditions before they occurred, and I believed he could read my mind.
The other Sherpa adored him like a father or a great chief, and trusted him with their lives. He told them we were going to bring the Archon back to the Potala, and I believed they did what he asked of them because they believed he was an enlightened master.
Getting dressed was always the hardest part, and after a long struggle, I slipped into my parka, unzipped my bag, and stood up. My body felt like a cadaver in the early stages of rigor mortis. I waved my arms in an attempt to stimulate my heart and my joints cracked like the snap of a dried bone.
I dreaded the idea of leaving the tent. The vastness gave me the creeps. There was nothing for the mind to cling to but memories and the yawning indifference of the heartless void.
I peeked out of the tent flap. In the distance, the Sherpa huddled around a tiny stove. It did not appear they’d slept at all. They laughed and joked as if oblivious to the cold. They seemed to thrive in the harsh conditions.
The smell of the swill they called Tsampa filled the air. I could not understand how they survived on such meager fare, but this gruel was the mainstay of their diet. To me this porridge had the texture of bark and looked like turkey manure, but they shoveled it down like it was caviar.
They’re a strange breed, these Hun’s or Mongols or whatever they are. Their skin is orange and in milder temperatures they smell like wet alfalfa. When I asked Thrangu about this, he laughed and said Westerners smell like rotten eggs to them. At first I felt annoyed at his impudence, until I realized a high meat protein diet produces hormones that are likely quite purulent, and he might be right. I didn’t think he knew what sarcasm was, and his remark was probably accurate.
I assumed their gene pool contained some DNA from that Yeti creature they seemed to adore, because they were all as healthy and strong as gorillas. Regardless of their so-called spiritual development, they seemed to be balanced at the rim of evolution.
Thrangu claimed the Sherpa were a sterling example of the true creation. He claimed that the majority of humanity does not contain what he called the Theomorphic consciousness of Divine Light. He stated that demons and robots created by Mammon controlled this world and that they were composed of impermanent atoms.
According to him, this sector of the universe belonged to Mammon who is evil, and true Light beings were imprisoned here or kidnapped and brought here as slaves.
He spoke of these things literally as if it was common knowledge among the more spiritually developed.
According to him, the Theomorphic consciousness had been trapped in bodies composed of matter, and they were exploited mercilessly for the Light they contained. Despite the implied connotation of the premise, I could hardly accept his mystical point of view. Yet his revelation did not surprise me. He went on to say that I was of the Light, but I did not know it.
Though we we’re different, in some ways I envied the Sherpa. They had nothing, yet they appeared grateful just to be alive. The moment seemed to be their only concern. Neither did they appear to suffer with the torment of internal dialogue, or the mind virus of anxiety so prevalent in the Western mind. They found pleasure in things I hardly noticed, but their simplicity could not be mistaken for ignorance or lack of wit. They were keenly alert and awake.
Nacroanus coughed a deep phlegm-filled rattle. His voice rang shallow in the frigid air.
“Good morning, Rodney. It is morning isn’t it?”
“Yes sir. How did you sleep?”
“I had a wonderful dream, Rodney. I sat on a golden throne high above a vast congregation. The men knelt before me, their heads bowed. The women wept and reached out, calling my name. Their admiration felt glorious and I sensed great oneness with creation. Have you ever wanted to be a god, Rodney?”
I’d grown accustomed to Adrian’s delusions of grandeur. For a long time I thought he was being facetious, so bizarre were his fantasies. It took me a while to understand his mind. But from his delusions, I learned: if a man tells you he is evil, it’s wise to heed the message.
“I’d like to believe in God, Adrian, but I have no desire to be one.”
He sat up and faced me. “What kind of drivel is that, Rodney? Everyone in the material world wants to be an immortal being . . . a god who resides in endless splendor for eternity. If that were not so, there would be no need for religion. Can you honestly say you’d sooner serve in an astral realm than rule here on Earth?”
“From what I’ve seen, the gods of this Earth are tormented, jealous, greedy, warlike, xenophobic creatures, Dr. Nacroanus. For me, perfection means wanting nothing, not jealously guarding what’s mine and worrying over who’s going to steal it. Greed is insatiable. A god could own the entire universe and still crave that which is not his. It’s the nature of mind to be dissatisfied, I suppose.”
He clicked his tongue. “Rodney, my dear abnormal son, man was created to conquer and rule. That is the reason his mind can never be satisfied. There are always ideals to kill for, treasures to plunder.
“Why do you resist the obvious? This god you seek is right before you, shining resplendent in the riches of the earth and the exploitation of those born to serve. Who but a psychotic idealist would seek fulfillment elsewhere when it’s so simple just to satisfy the desires of your heart? There is no secret; the glory of the earth belongs to those brave enough to take it. That’s valor boy. That is reality.”
“I’m sorry, Adrian, but control over others does not interest me. I see it as a form of hell not heaven. If man was created to conquer, why were the conquered created?”
Nacroanus laughed. “To serve as slaves, just as the elite were created to rule as kings. Why is this so difficult for you to accept? You’ve transcended the conditioning of your class. You’re one of us now. Why do you continue to think like a peasant?”
I measured his words, and as usual I had no logical argument. “I agree, Dr. Nacroanus, your reasoning is impeccable. Reality forces me to agree. Tangible evidence always rules in favor of the material world. Mankind is a caste system maintained by kings and sustained by slavery.”
“As it should be,” he replied.
Adrian’s face came to life. A smile curled in the corners of his mouth, followed by a shadowed apparition in the intricacies of his features. His face hardened like stone and he frowned.
“Where is Jigme? I want to get dressed. I’m feeling quite fatigued, Dr. Neumann. I don’t want to walk any further.”
Adrian strapped a mask to his face and the hiss of oxygen cut through the silence. “Bring Jigme here now,” he cried in a muffled voice.
“Yes, sir.” I did as he commanded . . . everyone did.
When I stepped out of the tent, the bitter cold slammed into my face like the left-hook of a heavyweight. My throat went into spasm, rendered spastic by the touch of the electric morning air.
The Sherpa stood banded together like a herd of Musk Ox. I tottered toward them, my gait stiff and my body shivering.
Thrangu smiled as I approached.
“Dr. Nacroanus wants to get ready for the ascent. Send Jigme to him now,” I said.
The Shaman’s smile evaporated, and he bowed. He gestured to the group, and Jigme sprinted towards the tent.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Five thirty, Dr. Neuma. We leave in half hour,” Thrangu replied. The Sherpa disbanded and scuttled about as if their lives depended on it.
One of the guides brought me a steaming bowl of barley dripping with thick ivory-colored yak butter and puddles of amber malt syrup. Large chunks of ham peered out from the surface of the porridge, and after the first taste, I was hooked. I wolfed down the gruel in the mess tent and found the concoction thoroughly enjoyable.
Outside, Nacroanus barked at the guides. I could tell by the tone of his voice something wasn’t perfect.
His personal attendants stood by a sled made of aircraft aluminum. The contraption was a prototype built like the combination of a dogsled and the canopy of a fighter jet. Adrian said the cocoon would protect him from a fall of a hundred yards. Jigme and another Sherpa struggled under the barrage of his insults and did their best to strap him in.
“No, you pathetic morons, I want my arms free during the ascent,” Nacroanus bellowed.
The ordeal lasted about fifteen minutes. After much adjustment and manipulation, they harnessed him in the tubular frame. Canisters of oxygen were strapped to the rails and the Sherpa did their best to make his journey up the rock face as comfortable as possible.
In the distance, Thrangu stood motionless. He stared up at the black dot that peered like the eye of an angry Cyclops halfway up the ice crusted butress.
I approached him and squinted at the anomaly in the rock face. “I feel fortunate the weather is good today, Thrangu. The skies are clear and things should be easier now.”
His face hung blank, like a man in a daydream. “I never see mountain so friendly, is a miracle.” He stared his eyes fixed on the summit.
“Mountain know my heart. Black path always easy in beginning. Powerful deities allow approach to Belthaeous, could crush us like ants if they want to.”
I’d grown tired of wallowing in a quagmire of superstition about the erratic nature of the gods. The tales about their moody personalities and outlandish idiosyncrasies no longer frightened me. “Why is it the gods only favor the pure of heart in fairy tales, Thrangu? History proves they adore the wicked.”
I stared at Thrangu, feeling annoyed that he did not answer me.
“Why don’t the gods crush us, Thrangu? It’s no different here than the rest of the world, is it? Everything beyond the senses and the intellect depends on faith and the scare tactics established by the ancient scam artists long ago. If the gods gave a damn about anything, we wouldn’t be here. Dr. Nacroanus is right: the world belongs to those brave enough to take what they want. Everyone else is expendable.”
Thrangu’s face softened. “No, no, not so, Dr. Neuma, we gods too. Gods bound in prison made of shadows.”
I wanted to slap him across the face, and make him admit the truth. I wanted him to confess that he was a liar and the whole damn religious circus here and everywhere else was nothing but a freak show designed as another opiate to further hypnotize humanity into a coma. But I knew he was sincere. His faith in his beliefs was as solid as the peaks surrounding us. Frustration burned in the pit of my stomach. My questions evaporated in the face of the task at hand. . .but I knew they’d return.
Thrangu and three other Sherpa agreed to wait for us and meet us here when our journey to the cave was completed. I thought about asking him one more time to go with us, but I knew it would be useless. His will was indomitable.
His eyes returned to the tiny black dot. I sensed a powerful attraction in him for that spot, like the needle of a compass aligned to true north.
Since my dream about the bodhisattva a haunting premonition dogged me, and I wondered if we weren’t on a journey from which none of us would survive.
As a gesture of friendship, I took off my mitten and removed my Rolex Navigator wristwatch. I reached forth and rested my hand on Thrangu’s shoulder. “I’d like to give you this as a gift, my friend, a token of appreciation for all you have shown me.”
His face hung long and sad. He reminded me of a Basset hound: cheeks drooping, deep brown eyes forlorn and pleading for salvation. An old neuron fired in my head. I thought about the tale of Judas, and surmised the look must have been the same.
He took the gift from my hand and smiled without speaking.
“Well, Thrangu, it’s been real. Perhaps we’ll meet again someday.”
He fixed me with a knowing eye and shook his head. Thrangu placed the watch in the chest pocket of his parka, and lowered his gaze.
“I afraid that not possible, Dr. Neuma. You still own will. I choose different path, sell my heart. We not meet again.”
“Oh, don’t be such a bummer, Thrangu. Some of the Mongol women are adorable. In no time you’ll forget about your alleged transgression.”
He raised his hand and wiped his eyes. “I have no more time.”
I laughed. “What are you saying, Thrangu? You’re still a young man. You’re about to experience the wonder of your dreams. Why are you so gloomy?”
His shoulders slumped, and for the first time since I’d known him, he looked pathetic, like a cold empty shell. The blazing fire within him had been extinguished and his eyes lost their burning intensity.
“In beginning, gift the Aeons give I use to bring much good. Heal sick, reveal danger, and ease suffering. Then one day I fall.”
“What do you mean ‘fall’?”
“I learn truth about Belthaeous and lose faith in Divine,” he said. “I struggle my entire life to find source of Light. What I find bring much pain. Great Archon Belthaeous learn truth, too. He sacrifice everything for sensation. Truth lead to only tears, Dr. Neuma. Cosmos finite and no escape. I cannot awaken the master, he will complete prophecy.
“Man damned regardless of virtue, may as well be damned serving self. Still I want no part in new world. I cannot turn back now. Deed is done, soon I die.”
I’d seen enough of the world to know that whatever ideas of persecution Thrangu was feeling, he wasn’t capable of evil. He didn’t have the heart for it.
“What could you have possibly done in this frozen wasteland that will ever make a difference, Thrangu? I think you need to take your share of the bounty and get out of here. Go to Burma or India. You’ll have enough money to live like a king there for the rest of your life.”
A voice rang through the hypnotic stillness. “Wake up, Dr. Neumann,” Adrian cried. “We’re about to raid the Cave of the Ancient!”
I looked at Thrangu one last time. “Thank you for all you’ve given me, my friend.”
The once robust face looked old and haggard. “Remember, Dr. Neuma, what you do in life create next life in prison called eternity. You broken now, but you heal. Never surrender will for anything.” His words echoed in the center of my skull.”
Thrangu reached beneath his parka and retrieved a fabulous jeweled amulet, a magnificent icon shaped like the eye of a tiger. Its focus contained an enormous black stone that sparkled like an opal. He handed me the treasure. Even through my burly mountain gloves I felt a warm field of energy surrounding it.
“This is Eye of Mammon, Dr. Neuma. Once belong to Belthaeous. Great power in Eye. Tell no one about this . . . very important. I use magic to cloak this moment. Was my duty to return to Avatar, but I cast away duty for death. Bodhisattvas reveal to me, give Eye to you.”
I gazed at the lustrous gem. I’d never seen anything like it. Its craftsmanship was nearly indescribable. The stone swirled with strands of gold, orange, and aqua colored energy. The Eye appeared vibrant and alive like a tiny living organism. Subtle glimmers of light emanated from its core, sending a torrent of shivers down my spine. A great sense of rapture surged through me like the rush of some exotic designer drug.
“This thing has to be priceless, Thrangu. How will I know when it’s time to relinquish it, even if I can?”
“I cannot tell you how to use Mammon. Guard Eye with your life. You know when to act. Do not surrender the Eye until you know for sure what you do. I think you cannot be what I am. Eye safe with you. You are chosen one now.”
“What do you mean chosen one?” I asked.
He threw his powerful arms around my shoulders and patted me hard.
“Time to go, Dr. Neuma. Hold onto Light, it never betray you.”
Adrian called out my name again, his voice eager and impatient. Before I turned to leave, I looked once more at Thrangu. A dark shroud riddled with pins of scarlet energy hovered like an ominous nimbus around his head. I didn’t like the looks of the shadow, but there was no time to study the phenomena.
I turned and hurried to catch up with the ascent party. The Sherpa prepared the ropes and I slid into my climbing harness. I turned to wave goodbye to my friend, but he had disappeared.
A Premonition Comes To Pass
From a distance, Dr. Nacroanus looked like an emperor riding atop an ancient litter. A dozen powerful Sherpa were tethered to the contraption like sled dogs. If any of them lost their footing, they’d tumble to their deaths along with him. They moved with astounding confidence and agility. I sensed Thrangu had assured them their journey to the ice cave would be successful.
I marveled at the power of the Sherpa. They hauled Nacroanus up the vertical like a bag of feathers. I’d never seen such stamina or courage. They worked together like a hive of bees. Each one seemed to be aware of what the others were doing. A shared intuitive coordination flowed in their movements, their minds were in synch, and they functioned as a single body.
Jigme lead the climb, inserting ice pitons in the rock face every few feet. This created a ladder from which he attached twist-lock carabineers.
Dr. Nacroanus looked down from above. He swayed from side to side, dangling like a pendulum from the taught steel cable.
I thought it would be a relatively simple task to climb the stirrups suspended in the wall, but soon it became a labor intensive process. The closer I grew to the ledge of the cliff, the more difficult it became. The last few yards were agonizing. My lungs pumped like a bellows and my throat burned like I’d swallowed acid.
I made the mistake of looking into the abysmal drop and stared down at the ice crusted boulders below. I panicked and my hands tightened on the rope with a vice grip. A feeling of vertigo whirled in my head and my stomach grew queasy. I closed my eyes and dangled in space, unable to move up or down.
Thrangu’s voice echoed in my skull and I remembered what he said about the trip to the Cave of the Ancient. Journey to temple of Belthaeous only ten mile, but consider first nine as half.
This entire excursion was foolhardy and wrought with danger, and I wished I’d never considered it. I felt lightheaded and faint. Suddenly the tension in my haul loop increased and I began to rise like a helium filled balloon. The Sherpa grabbed my shoulder straps and pulled my body over the lip of the cliff.
I lay on the ice floor, my chest heaving and my lungs on fire. Sirens screamed in my ears and my vision blurred. I stared into the milky blue sky. A pressure formed near the top of my skull. My ears popped, and Me escaped from the body.
It felt glorious to be freed from the bonds of the fleshy envelope. I’d never experienced anything with such intensity. I felt no fear, only the rapture of release, like a sustained cosmic orgasm. A sensation of expanding exponentially in every direction inside and outside overwhelmed my awareness. I wanted to exist forever in this state of limitless perception. So perfect was the feeling of ecstasy that I would not have returned to my painful body if given a choice.
The glimpse of inter-dimensional awareness lasted but a moment and I flowed back into flesh, once again encased in the confines of material reality like a zombie trapped in a three dimensional coffin.
Jigme stared down at me, his face illuminated with a wry smile that was its hallmark. He spoke little English, but I believed he was made of the same stuff as Thrangu, and I trusted him. He helped me to my feet and I gazed out at the endless panorama into the heart of the limitless void.
At last I understood why these mountains were sacred. This focal point held the crack between the worlds, the seam where the past, the present, and eternity, converged. Life and death, good and evil, fantasy and reality, all intersected in this vacuum between the astral and the earth.
This isolated pinnacle of space, hostile, inaccessible, and hidden in the middle of nowhere, formed the gateway to a higher dimension. A feeling of grandeur surged through me and I began to weep.
Thoughts of Lydia penetrated my reverie. A vision unfolded and I remembered when our boys were young and how we struggled to provide for them the security of a family that neither one of us ever had. I looked into the merciless mind mirror at the thought forms etched in my memories. I hated myself for my weakness, and for the realization that there was no longer any bond between us.
Life with Lydia had become intolerable. To give, to love, to care, requires specific vibrational feedback. It’s not something I could pretend and it no longer flowed unconditionally. The feedback Lydia gave me only pushed me further away. Her sanctimonious attitude and hyper-religious opinions about my behavior kept me in a state of suspended agitation.
There comes a point from which there is no salvation, no rescuing a relationship. Heidi gave me the feedback I needed and more. It was easy to love her. But there were other corpses that had been marinating in the tomb of my mind for a long time.
The urge to hurl my body from the cliff grew overwhelming. The burden of thought and the question of mortality burned in my heart like molten lava. I’d been granted the curse of perception and I knew right from wrong. I could not hide in the womb of ignorance, or close my eyes to the hard and unjust realities that make the world go around. Though I tried, I could not swallow the bait to end up a dried fish hanging in the sun. Reality was purely flawed and I could not see beyond the gloomy revelation. The God I so wanted to adore could not be found, or had abandoned me.
To be born is to suffer, to desire, to question. The older I got, the more I hated myself for procreating. My sons would probably never want for a thing. Their designer lives were filled with comfort and security. But Lydia had spoiled them and I wondered if they would ever amount to anything. I wondered if they would ever be able even to sense the plight of those less fortunate or oppressed. So powerful are the senses, it’s easy to mistake them as reality.
I’d grown tired of the whole fucking mess. I was not God and I had no power to change things that never should have been allowed anyway. I felt like a hypocrite. I’d given my mind to Dr. Nacroanus in the name of science, but my heart remained my own . . . for now.
I wanted to return to the bliss of the sky and exist as a beam of pure consciousness for eternity. I longed to be freed from the limits of this painful body, freed from the curse of my nagging ever-present conscience, and the loneliness of separation. Time was running out. In my guts, I knew this expedition held great significance. Soon I would have to make a choice of what I believed or it would be made for me. I gazed out at the hypnotic blue horizon and stepped towards the edge of the cliff.
A robust tug on my elbow dispelled the morbid trance. Jigme spun me around and I awakened. The world flowed into my awareness. I placed my hand on Jigme’s shoulder to steady myself.
“Forward,” he said. He smiled. “I sighed deeply “Yes forward.” I replied.
I wanted to signal Thrangu to let him know that we were alive and that we’d surmounted the impossible barrier. I turned to wave to him.
Far below on the glacial floor, the Sherpa stood like ants, stark, black, and insignificant in the ocean of snow.
Though the skies were clear, a booming thunder resounded overhead. The mountain trembled and I tumbled to the ground. I rose to my knees and stared in awe at the spectacle unfolding on the white sea below.
A thousand yards to the west a raging avalanche tumbled from the ridge. Like a giant Tsunami, it crashed down on Thrangu and the others. An ice cloud at least a mile wide and several hundred yards deep buried them for eternity. Time stood still. Thrangu’s premonition had come to pass.
Copyright © 2011 by John W. Steele