"It's too late!" he cried out at the blue sky. "I didn't have enough time!"
The roar of the motor bounced amongst the rocks. The whine of deflecting bullets buzzed past his ears. He flattened himself down as much as he could, feeling the rain of chips from the boulders. This sharp dusty rain told him how close death had come. It put a dry layer upon his perspiring forehead, reminding him.
Its too late, he whispered, almost afraid to move.
The sound of the helicopter leaving made him look up. A figure was standing there, erect, loading a rifle. Had the man been standing there all this time? He shook his head. No, he must have just leapt to his feet.
Rinjin, he asked the armed man, what are you doing? Get down!
The dark eyes glared at him, answering through clenched teeth. It is going to come back!
Thats why...do you hear me? Get down! His blue eyes shifted, as he tried to listen with them for the helicopter.
Other heads were appearing from amongst the scattered forms of boulders. There was a groan of pain farther off.
Thats why, Rinjin started to reply. He looked up, cocking his head. Here it comes! He waved his rifle at the other guerrillas.
There came the roar and whirring sounds of the helicopter. It seemed to leap up out of the ground, the nearby rise of rocks. The blue eyes could see the army officers inside, their insignias, their bronzed Asian faces. He was sure that he and his friends could be seen equally clearly.
Now! Rinjin shouted in Tibetan. Now!
All the bodies which had seemed dead, sprawled amongst the rocks, a moment before, suddenly became leafless trees growing deadly branches sprouting flowers of fire. The wind and sounds made it seem as if the helicopter was going to land on them. But it pulled away sharply, amidst two clouds of smoke. One was on the ground, the other in the air. The first was an exploding hand-grenade. The second was an elongating tail of smoke that followed the roaring and whirling blades.
The tremor which came from the nearby exploding grenade was followed by a massive shuddering explosion farther off and out of sight. A dark cloud filled with the stench of burnt metal drifted past them. Its thickness dissipated itself, and everything was quiet for a long moment. Blue eyes looked up at the sky.
A vertical shadow blocked his view.
Well? said the Tibetan, reaching down to help him up.
Was that the... he began.
The other smiled. It was a broad smile, white teeth appearing surrounded by the dark and dust-smeared skin.
Yes. It is gone now.
The American rose to his feet and looked about. The boulders were giving birth to a dozen figures, slinging their rifles and lifting up their packs. His eyes caught Rinjins. The other was no longer smiling. Somewhere someone groaned.
Some suffer no longer, Rinjin said. Aum Mani Padme Hum.
The American almost repeated the prayer, but something stopped him.
Its not my religion, he thought. Theyre my friends, but its not my religion. He looked about for his pack which had gone flying among the boulders when he dove away from the oncoming helicopter. It was not far away. His camera was with it and did not seem to be damaged. Adjusting the pack, he discovered that his body had some new bruises which had not been there before.
Now what? he turned to the guerrilla leader. But the other was already dozens of steps away, giving help with the wounded. The bodies of the dead were yielding up their ammunition to the living. A cold wind seemed to be creeping up from the south. The tops of the mountains were white, cold and indifferent. The American only noticed the whiteness. The coldness he felt existed only in his bones. He dared not look a the nearby bodies, afraid he would recognize someone. Instead, he adjusted and played with the straps of his pack. He moved his camera so it would hang under his arm rather than bouncing on his chest. The effort caused him to become aware of his breathing.
Ten thousand feet, he thought.
Yah! Yah! he heard from below. He saw three or four figures appear among the rocks. There was the cocking of several rifles, but the tension in the air quickly eased. There was some laughter.
It is Thubten! It seems he is alive.
Also Sherpa and Tenzin.
Who is the other?
They stared, a dusty group, some still tying strips of cloth around wounds that insisted on seeping out red stains.
A stranger, said Rinjin, squinting and glaring.
Like a Comanche Indian! thought the blue-eyed American. Rinjin looks like a Comanche! Im glad Im not on the other side of that glare!
And then he squinted in turn. The other figure looked naked! In the mountains that was peculiar enough, because of the weather. But as they drew closer, he realized that the figure had the barest minimum of clothing around his genitals.
He is covered with ashes, mumbled one of the Tibetans. Another frowned, Yes.
They had now arrived at the main group. The unclothed man made a gesture with his hands.
His hair was piled high in a matted bundle and across his forehead were smeared white lines. No one moved.
Where did he come from? Rinjin asked Thubten, who stood next to the ghostly-looking figure.
He was near the bridge when the army attacked.
Rinjin stared at the man silently. The other stood with palms joined and eyes lowered. He did not move a muscle of his lean body.
Is he a Sadhu? someone asked.
Who knows? shrugged the big Tibetan, Thubten. A pilgrim on the road going north, perhaps.
Rinjins eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared.
A spy, perhaps?
Thubten shook his head.
There were others in his group. They looked like... and he smiled, ...him. But there are none of them left.
Oh? went Rinjins eyebrows.
The bombs from the soldiers killed them all. They would have killed us too except...that...he...
What are you trying to say?
Thubten pursed his lips and smiled.
This one, he pointed and the other still did not look up, saved us. He shouted and screamed, calling us to follow him. We did. Those who did not follow perished. He led us to a nearby cave. Shallow, but deep enough to prevent the death which the others met.
I see, Rinjin said, rubbing some of the dust from his chin. But what are we to do with him?
One of the wounded men glared.
He still could be a spy! It is too dangerous to take him with us!
But we have an obligation, insisted Thubten, frowning.
It will do no harm, said Rinjin, turning, his face relaxing for a moment. He can face death with us just as easily as he can alone. More helicopters will come looking for the first one. And that column of smoke will lead them quickly to this place...more quickly than any spy could.
Allright, Yogi, laughed Thubten. You can come with us.
For the first time, the man smeared with ashes looked up.
Thank you very much. Thats OK with me.
The American with the camera started into sharp alertness at the sound of the other mans voice. The voice had a New York City accent! He was even more startled by the others eyes. They were as blue as his own. However, they stared out of a smeared face atop an ash-colored body, belonging, for all practical purposes, to another world entirely.
Who are you? he snapped.
Who are you? he smiled back.
Enough of this, called Rinjin. We must get on the way.
While we have time, continued Thubten.
Before the army... said someone, but the rest of the words were lost in the rattle of loose rocks and pebbles as they began to move. They made their way upward toward some crags beneath the overhanging white snow peaks.
The American with the camera moved ahead, turning his back upon the other pair of blue eyes. But he could feel them staring at him as he worked his way upward in the fast-descending twilight. He did not turn at the sound of the others soft chuckling laughter.
Who the hell is he? he asked himself. What the hell is he doing here? And as he inhaled and exhaled the mountain air, he continued and asked himself, and what the hell are you doing here?
There was only the sound of loose pebbles being misplaced on the trail. No one spoke, and the stars began to appear in the deep twilight.
There had been the sounds of two planes just before nightfall. They were somewhere overhead but remained unseen. The dozen armed men did not make any movements nonetheless. Despite their position in the shadows of the canyon, a rifle, a bit of metal, might flash and give them away. A stray bit of light might do that. They also did not look upwards. They had learned that much about avoiding airborne observation.
When the sounds had vanished, away from their world to a world farther south, they relaxed enough to settle down for the night. It was too dark to pretend they could make their way any further without dangerous accidents in the landscape ahead. No fires were made for two reasonssomeone unfriendly to them might see them and, besides, there was nothing to burn.
The American with the camera propped his back against the canyon wall and leaned against it with a sigh. Nearby, he saw the near-naked figure as a shadow against the changing light. Other forms were more obviously the Tibetans, bulkier with equipment, jutting shadows of weapons and flapping robes as they settled themselves down. In those shadows there were the clicking of some malasrosariesand the mumbling of incoherent prayers.
"Hey, New York Yogi," said the American.
The shadow turned.
"Do you mean me?" it asked.
A laugh. "Of course. Who else could I mean?"
The shadow approached and squatted before him.
"Yes? What can I do for you?"
The formal sound of this stung him. He was full of curiosity about this man, but did not wish to press for information too strenuously. His original breaking of the silence had almost used up all his reserve of self-control.
"Are you hungry?" he asked, avoiding any questions about private matters-the other's name, the other's reason for being in the Himalayas, near-naked and smeared with ashes.
The shadow leaned closer.
"No. No thank you."
It was very dark now. He could barely see the others face. Perhaps he only imagined that he could see it. The white lines on the forehead were still distinct grey lines in the darkness.
"I've got some roasted barley in my pack. It might be a little dry to the palate, but...you're welcome."
Some of the Tibetans were still praying. He heard the mumbles, interrupted with Aums and Ah-Hums.
"I don't need anything," said the shadow.
After a long pause, he tried to penetrate through to the ash-smeared man.
"It'll be cold tonight. I can give you some clothes."
Silence and darkness.
"I don't need anything," said the darkness.
"What does he mean?" thought the other in a mounting irritation. "He must be hungry. I'm starved! He must be cold! Some stupid game!"
The darkness moved back.
He blurted out, "Who are you? What's your name?"
After a pause which seemed too long for politeness came an answer.
"I am Sva Yam." It was almost a whisper.
This only irritated him further, but since he had elicited a response from the darkness, he pressed out another question.
"You must have another name. What's your other name?"
"It once was Sam," came the whisper.
That struck him as very funny. After all the mystery and evasiveness, he had arrived at the common-sounding name "Sam". Not only did he think it funny but he laughed out loud before he could control himself. That was not the right thing to do.
"Sam what?" he tried to continue, but it was too late. The darkness moved away from him. He felt something brittle in the air.
"Foolish to talk to fools," came the voice.
He glared into the darkness and spoke again, only making it worse.
"Listen, Yogi-Sam! Don't give me that Himalayan swami stuff!"
He got no response. He sat in the darkness, and in the silence, a long time before he decided to try to sleep. The Tibetans were now so silent that they may as well not have been there. He unrolled his sleeping bag and crawled in.
There was a long gash of sky above were the canyon walls did not meet. It was full of stars that seemed to grow more numerous the longer he watched. They pulsed with life and colors. They sang of sleep.
"And who are you?" he heard a voice. He thought it was his own. But when it came again, he knew it was the man who called himself Sva Yam. The man who had been Sam.
"Who are you?"
"I," he said, sitting up, "am Mark Miller."
"Why are you here?"
"I," he shivered in the darkness, not wishing to say more, "wanted to save my friends."
"Did you?" it asked, knowing the answer.
"Some," he answered unwillingly. "Only some of them. The rest died."
And at that he clenched his teeth.
"And you," he said, in spite of knowing better, "Yogi Sam! Why are you here?"
In the darkness he felt he had struck a sore spot. He was wrong. The voice came back, steady and serene.
"I am Sva Yam. I am following the path to the flowering of my destiny. I am to become the Master. The master of the universe! Long centuries of karmic struggle...."
The quiet voice went on and on.
"He's mad! He's an absolute lunatic! What is he talking about? What is he saying?"
"The Path to the North! The hidden kingdoms, the closed kingdoms, all shall open to me. I am awaited. They are waiting for me. They..."
In the jumble of his mind, with its bouncing interior dialogue, Mark Miller accidentally let some of it be voiced aloud.
"Who are they? What are you talking about?"
The voice did not break
"...are awaiting my coming. They have been waiting for centuries. The clouds of warriors, sleeping for decade upon decade, are waiting for my arrival. The priests have held them. The holy men have told them. I am Sva Yam. I am the future Master!"
A shudder went through the blue-eyed Miller. The voice of the other droned on. It became incomprehensible to him, so he stopped listening to it. He lay himself down, hoping to sleep, hoping that the blue-eyed yogi would not cut his throat as he slept.
"I cannot sleep! If I sleep, he'll cut my throat! I cannot sleep. I had better not sleep. I...sleep...I...sleep..."
The syllables continued to drop in the darkness. They fell into the canyon. They rose to the night sky and the stars. They penetrated the dark rocks of the unseen walls. They moved and moved, all night long. They were no longer in English. They were not in Hindi. They were not in Tibetan. They were of breath and fire. They were warmth to the semi-naked man covered with ashes.
He mumbled and sang them all night long
"Ah.h.h.h...!" the wind sang.
With the sound came the cold. It hit his face, ran past his ears and penetrated the hollow places of his spinal column. It ran growing tendrils throughout his nervous system, reaching to find every spot of warmth and to put it out. He shivered and turned.
"Cold!" he said aloud, and heard laughter nearby. But he did not know where it was. Where was it? Whose was it?
"Cold," was all he could think.
When he stopped shivering and could no longer clench his fingers, or curl his body any tighter into any tighter a ball he thought, "This is a dream."
But it did no good. Cold.
"This is a dream!" He said it aloud again, and again he heard laughter nearby.
"All white is this dream, Mark Miller said. whiteness. The whole world is covered with snow. far north that ... "
Whiteness, and in the whiteness a steady and serene voice.
"So far north that we have reached Shambala!"
"No, you fool. Shambala! Nothing make-believe about this place!"
He frowned in his sleep.
"But, but-That is someone else's kingdom. What does it concern me?"
The steady voice replied in sounds muffled by snow.
"You are my pawn. I will use you and 'discard you, as I please!"
"No!" He cried, awakening in the early morning light.
There was a light dusting of snow everywhere. It lay upon the ground, his sleeping bag, the sleeping Tibetans, and their weapons.
The upright figure of SVA YAM sat in a cross-legged yoga pose with his hands, palms up, on his knees, his eyes fixed somewhere out in the empty space of the canyon. Sounds quietly fell from his lips without their moving. Just breathings, they were. Then Hindi. Then Tibetan. They became English.
"I am awaited. Awaited. I, SVA YAM, am coming. I, the Master, am coming.
There was no snow anywhere near the figure smeared with ashes.
At the sight of the chanting man, Mark Miller felt a surge of hatred and shivered. His entire body shook with the intensity of his cold hatred.
They had not waited for the sun. It was light enough to see their way with safety, so they began to move upward. The incline was not sharp, but it was quite a climb nonetheless. The higher they went, the greater was the pull at their bodies. The guerrillas were more accustomed than the American to the altitude, but now their advantage was modified by their wounds-and hunger.
The strong helped the weak. Some of these pairs and trios began to lag behind. Mark observed Rinjin, whose dark eyes observed the lagging men. He spoke once or twice about keeping together, but did not speak again. In fact, he did not look back again. He was in the lead of the outspread column, dwarfed in the deepening canyon. His feet were the first testing the crumbling track that clung to the side of the rock walls.
This trail led them higher and higher as the sun rose elsewhere. The results of a fall, a misplaced step, would have been further down each moment as they made their way. There would have been nothing to stop such a downward fall if one made it. There was just the slope of rocks with hints of vegetation, a suggestion of green, unsure of its place in such a vertical world.
At a broad ledge, a natural broadening of the trail, Rinjin stopped. The yogi, Thubten and Tenzin were the first to reach him, then Mark Miller.
"Ah!" said Mark, gasping and loosening his pack, about to sit down, "A rest break!"
Tenzin glared at him and waved his hand for silence. The others were like statues, looking up, with their heads tilted.
"What is it?" he started to say, but quickly froze. He heard the sound of a plane. It was nowhere in sight due to the narrowness of the crack of sky available, but its sound grew closer.
Mark crumpled to a seated position, turning his face from the sky, looking at the river snaking itself far below. The others pressed themselves against the canyon wall, looking anywhere except at the sky. The sound of the motor began to reverberate between the moved for a very long moment. monster was humming its way up itself would find them.
Mark could almost feel the ground vibrating from the sound. Was it in sight? Could it see them? Should they run? Run! They should run! He fought with these thoughts, feeling himself vulnerable and exposed on the ledge. The cold morning breeze stroked the perspiration on his forehead.
Then suddenly the sound was out of the canyon. It had gone over without spitting bullets, without dropping bombs. They had not been seen! Mark looked up at the long crack of blue. It was empty as before. He turned towards the others and was surprised to see that they were moving up the trail already.
"Wait!" he gasped, then saved his breath, realizing that words were useless here. He caught sight of the ashcolored American just before he disappeared behind a curve, swallowed by the rock wall. Jumping to his feet, he almost stumbled as he adjusted his pack. Luckily, the ledge was wide and so he did not cascade down to the river.
He spotted the four figures ahead of him. The trail was now a scratch on the canyon wall, the plunge was straight down. There was only the width of a man available. This made him pause. The figures of the others were shrinking quickly as they moved ahead into a white mist which was beginning to fill the upper reaches of the canyon.
"Damn!" he said aloud, hearing it bounce back from some unknown wall.
"How can they move," he thought, "so fast! I ... I ..."
He looked back to see if any of the others were in sight. No. He looked ahead. He thought he saw the yogi. Then he was gone. They were all gone. He felt the coldness of the mist. He was alone.
"I do not like this at all," he thought. "Should I wait for the others, or try to catch up to those up front?"
His body did not wait for his mind to make a decision, it began to move quickly. He kept his eyes glued to the trail, not wishing to suddenly step out into space. It got harder to see with the gathering of the mist. It got colder with the mist embracing him. The moisture on his forehead was from the cloud of wet drops collecting there like a spontaneous rain. He squinted and concentrated only upon the trail, three feet in front of him. His original speed was modified, even though the trail remained level and was easy for his heart and lungs. The cloud was too thick. He did not think about it. He could no longer see the canyon. He did not think about it. All he knew was his right foot stepping and his left foot stepping. And the rest of the world was white.
How long he walked like this, hidden in the body of a white cloud high in the Himalayas, he did not know. It had been action that was all-absorbing, with no room for decision-making or idle thoughts. His entire being had been placing one foot in front of the other. If it had been any less, he would have fallen out of the embrace of the empty whiteness and into the embrace of the unseen rockstrewn river below.
That all-encompassing concentration ended with the arrival of two things.
One was the change in the path--it grew at a sharper incline and was strewn with loose rocks. He had to change his pace and choose where to place his feet. There was more decision-making at a slower pace. And with this came a difficulty in breathing, his body struggling again.
The second thing was the sound. The humming.
At first, he was afraid that it was the plane coming back. But as he moved in the mist,, he could not be sure. The direction of the sound seemed to be straight ahead rather than over him.
"A helicopter pilot would have to be crazy to be flying in this canyon full of mist," he thought, and that reassured him.
However, he was still nervous as he made his way upward in the white blindness towards the sound. His heart beat in his chest like a fist trying to escape his ribcage. He did not know if this was caused by exertion or by apprehension. The sound, what could the sound be?
It was changing. It was louder, and closer.
He recognized the source of the sound before he saw it.
"A waterfall)" he said, stopping to adjust the straps of his pack. Squinting in the mist, he tried to see ahead.
"Perhaps," he thought. But he could not see it.
Now the trail vanished completely, and the area of choice broadened. He considered the jumble of wet rocks in front of him. Little trickles of water ran amongst them before they moved downward somewhere to his right.
"How close am I to the edge?"
The mist would not allow him to know. He also could not see the rock wall which had accompanied him for so long as a companion at his left shoulder. Up ahead he could hear the water falling.
All he heard was the water. High above he could see the cloud thinning with tears in the fabric of the mist. There was blue above. There was sunshine above. The mist was bright and full of it, changing from silver to gold.
"I'll keep the water's sound to my left," he decided, and began to gingerly move forward. He stepped from rock to rock, always alert for danger and slippery spots. The rocks grew larger and the water between them became a torrent. Sunshine was breaking through and illuminating larger patches of flat areas, ten to fifteen feet across. It was as if he were crossing some splashing stream in New Hampshire, full of rocks and boulders.
The sunshine felt good. He paused on one boulder and let it warm his face. There was no canyon to be seen, no canyon walls. The waterfall still remained out of sight. The mist came and went, as he crossed the rocks, feeling safer than he had for a long time. There was no cliff edge nearby. One slip would not drop him to the bottom of the canyon. However, beyond his immediate vicinity he could see nothing because of the mists. It was high, and somewhere in those reaches of clouds was the mountain with its snows which came melting and plunging downwards. He could see some of that distant blue.
In his stumbling way, he crossed the flowing water. It came from above, mingled in the rocks and made its way downward,, forever towards the sea. It would irrigate and bathe the sub-continent., being considered holy and sacred to millions. But for now,, he was glad to be past the rocks which it made slippery and dangerous. He was glad to be on its other shore, resting against a dry rock.
"I wonder,," he thought, "if there's anything in the pack?"
His hunger brought these words to his. mind.
Unstrapping himself from his pack, he began to open its pockets, sending his fingers reaching into it, prying, searching.
"Nothing there," he muttered, pursing his lips and frowning.
"Nothing ... " he said, and suddenly smiled, his arm reaching.
"Aha!" he laughed, pulling out a little box. "Biscuits! "
It was a sorry-looking box, crushed and almost folded over. The Hindi lettering, however, danced in his eyes as if these were engraved words inviting him to a feast at a grand palace.
"Careful, careful," he said to himself, opening it and moving the broken pieces to his lips. One hand held the biscuits, the other one caught any crumbs that fell from his lips. These he carefully placed in his mouth.
"Heavenly," he said, smiling, forgetting how oil other occasions he had found these same bits of biscuits worse than cardboard to his palate. This time they were gone too soon.
He remained sitting and watching the clouds climb up away from the rocks before him. They blazed silver with light and swept quickly past him, streaming from the rocks and running upwards from left to right, upwards to the sky, running to the sky as the stream ran towards the ocean.
"All the water does not go to the sea," he thought. "Perhaps some of it never gets there at all."
As the mist and steam shifted, the landscape opened to the left, downstream. The stream vanished into space and he saw the yawing of the canyon with the walls on either side. This was the area that he had so recently travelled.
The clouds collected, as if reluctant to leave, bundled into a gigantic fist and rushed upwards to his right, thousands of feet, unveiling a long ribbon of a waterfall. It moved back and forth in the air,, like a curtain caught in a breeze, like the filament of the aurora borealis. Only in places did it strike the rock-face to which it fell parallel. Toward the distant top of that wall, it seemed as if there was no water falling at all. In the blaze of sunshine it now appeared to him that a thousand rainbows were falling, as a thousand rainbow rings, swaying in and out of existence with the wind and the gravity of their fall, leaping and bouncing with the sunshine.
"This deserves a picture!" Mark exclaimed. He reached for his camera, snapping open its case. Standing up, he looked for a good angle. He hesitated and stepped to the right.
"No," he said, stepping to the left.
"No,," he said,, kneeling and focusing. Squinting, he snapped the rainbow-strewn falls.
Immediately after the click of the camera's shutter, he heard another, more ominous click. It was the cocking of
a pistol. It was immediately behind his head. Very carefully, he turned his head, almost paralyzed with fear. He hoped that he was imagining it. He was not. He stared directly into the barrel of the gun.
"Don't make a move, or I'll blow off your head," said a voice in English.
Beyond the waterfall, there were faults in the canyon wall. This made it possible for Rinjin and the others to make their way through without climbing any higher. The natural distribution of rocks and rubble had left only one way to continue easily, and this was downward. The Tibetans and the yogi had followed this until they had come to a high-growing forest in the midst of the geological jumble of the mountains. It was here that they stopped.
"What are we stopping for?" asked SVA YAM.
Rinjin looked at him with disinterest and did not reply. The other Tibetan was more solicitous towards the man who had helped to save his life.
"Everyone must rest, sooner or later," he smiled.
Rinjin shook his head and interrupted.
"Listen, Yogi. We have friends," he squinted back towards the broken canyon wall over which they had come. "Some are wounded. We must wait for them."
The blue eyes stared out of the ash-colored face.
They seemed as if they, and not the face, were the ones painted. Those eyes were the parts which did not fit.
"That is foolish," their owner said to Rinjin's back. "We do not know if they are even alive. The mist-covered path was very dangerous, even for a healthy person."
Thubten looked from the yogi to his leader and back again. He did not say anything. Sherpa and Tenzin stretched themselves on the ground beneath the trees.
"Men carrying wounded would never get this far. That plane that we heard...it may have come back, and... 11
Rinjin cocked his rifle and threw a bullet into the chamber. He cradled it in the crook of his left elbow and stared intently at the other.
"Yogi," he whispered, "be quiet. We will wait."
The blue eyes glared back.
"I will go on by myself!"
He started to move away. He did not go far.
Rinjin slung his rifle around.
"Stand still! I am not convinced that you are not a spy!"
The American yogi stopped.
"Now sit down!" snapped the Tibetan, swinging his rifle to and fro.
The yogi sat down without a word. After a moment of frowning, he twisted his legs into a full-lotus position, smiled a scornful smile. He rested his hands upon his knees, palms up, index fingers to thumbs, and rolled his eyes back into his skull.
"Ah.h.h he started to chant.
Thubten looked away from him, taking a quick glance at Rinjin. The Tibetan leader leaned his rifle against a tree and sat down.
"Thubten, go ahead on the trail a bit."
The other was happy to oblige.
"So no one surprises us?" he said as he left.
"Yes," said Rinjin, "and so your swami friend does not try to slip away!"
The yogi did not look as if he had any intention of leaving. He was in the midst of a long mumbling chant. was not English. It was not Tibetan or Hindi.
Sherpa and Tenzin had closed their eyes. The guerrilla leader had not closed his. He watched the trail from the canyon intently. He secretly wondered why it was taking so long for the others to catch up. Had they really gone that much faster? Had the plane come back? He listened and listened, but it was the wind in the branches, the needles of the trees. With that sound in the air, could death be so close? With these trees in existence, could they really have been betrayed?
SVA YAM rolled his eyes forward so that he could see. He continued to mumble and chant. His eyes moved and through his eyelashes they watched to see if Rinjin would relax and sleep.
Rinjin watched the trail back to the canyon.
SVA YAM watched him, chanting his monotonous and lulling series of syllables. He watched Rinjin's head begin to droop and he smiled.
"Ah.h.h.h.Am.m.m," he continued, on and on, "Ah.h.h.h.
Tenzin and Sherpa slept.
Mark Miller did not move a muscle in his body. The gun was very close. It seemed to fill his entire field of vision. Then, without intending to do so, Mark moved his eyes upward away from the gun barrel. He stared into a pair of blue eyes. They gave him as great a shock as the command in English a moment before. The color was the same as that of the yogi SVA YAM's eyes. But the thing which disturbed him was that the color of the eyes was the color of his own. It was as if he was staring at himself!
But this feeling quickly ended when he allowed himself to take in the rest of the face. It was someone else's. He almost smiled at that thought, at being relieved that the man aiming a gun at his head was not himself. Was the altitude the cause of such strange thoughts? He prevented himself from shaking his head. The gun-wielder might take it for a forbidden movement.
The blue-eyed face with the gun was big-boned, with a square chin. His cheek-bones were high enough to suggest a frame for the eyes. His head was strongly-modeled and this was easily seen for it sported a short crew-cut.
"Who are you?" asked the gun, "and what are you doing here?"
"Ah..." he said, "may I lower my camera?"
"Okay, but no fast movements and no tricks!"
"Fear not.." said Mark. He let his camera rest on his chest and slowly raised his hands. "Is this to your liking?"
They both stared at each other.
The other was an American army officer. Mark noted that he had a pair of hand-grenades clipped to his belt.
"A marine," he thought. "I think...a sergeant ... but what the hell is he doing up here?"
"Who are you?" the other snapped again.
"Mark Miller" he replied more calmly now.
The gun-hand swayed, the blue eyes were puzzled.
"What are you doing up here?"
Mark smiled and waved at the waterfall.
"I'm a tourist. Didn't you see me photographing the waterfall?"
At that moment Mark recognized the other man. He hoped that the other had forgotten him.
"You look familiar, " said the marine sergeant.
"I'm an American," he answered, looking straight into the marine's eyes. "Perhaps that's why. Compared to the locals, I'd look familiar." He did not smile.
The other frowned, directing him with a wave of his gun.
"Turn around and put your hands higher."
Mark did so, looking up at the waterfall, his heart beating faster. Had he been recognized? Was he about to be shot in the back? His mouth became very dry and he felt his eyes opening wider, looking up at the white spray flowering in front of the cliff-face.
"The last thing I'll see," he thought in a desperate calmness. "The last thing before he pulls the trigger."
The press of the gun barrel against his spine broke that reverie with a hard., bone-bruising reality.
"Don't make a false move, snapped the other, "or you'll be two halves of a dead man!"
Mark gulped and bit his lip. The rainbow circles sang past his eyes unnoticed. All that he was aware of now was a great whiteness, an emptiness which held no more time.
"Dammit," he thought. A sense of moisture came to his eyes as if in anticipation of mourning. A sadness in contemplation of his own imminent death pressed itself forward.
Suddenly a hand was all over him, patting, searching and then moving on. It struck under his armpits, between his legs, with no gentleness handgun did not seem to move had begun, it was over. The
and no coyness. However, the an inch. As suddenly as that pressure of the gun also vanished. He felt himself shiver in relief.
"Okay Mister Miller," said the voice, "you're clean. Turn around."
"Can," he asked, "I lower..." he turned and saw that six feet now separated them, "...my hands?"
"Yes!" snapped the marine, who was putting his gun away into a holster and looking quickly up and downstream.
Mark exhaled,, as if he had held his breath for a long time, and wiped his perspiring palms on his trousers. He did not speak any further, hesitating to alter the new equilibrium in the situation.
The marine looked angry and glared at him.
"What are you doing here?" he snapped.
Mark felt relieved and smiled to himself. The soldier did not recognize him. Maybe he had believed the familiar looking-because-American statement. Perhaps he would never recall their conversation in the capital.
"I told you," he said, putting out an empty right palm, "I'm trekking."
"Looking at the scenery?" scowled the marine.
"Yes." Mark smiled, feeling more confident and reveal it by smiling too much. "You saw me photographing the falls.
"Alone?" The sergeant had almost whispered, looking down the trail apprehensively.
"Yes. I prefer it that way." Mark squinted as the sunshine bounced, from rocks and water.
The soldier did not answer, looking down at his boots, one hand hovering near his handgun.
Mark pressed his advantage.
"And you. You're a marine, right? What are you doing up here? Armed! With hand-grenades!"
The blue eyes flashed.
"None of your damn business!"
Silence flooded in after this, with only the sounds of the waterfall modifying it. Time grew very slow in its pace. It had almost come to a stop when there was the sound of rifles firing.
Both sets of blue eyes darted. Mark's looked ahead to the break in the canyon wall where Rinjin must have gone. The marine looked back down the canyon trail along which the straggling guerrillas must have been coming. The sounds bounced and it became unclear as to the direction of their source.
Their eyes met and caught, revealing confusion and despair.
"It's too late!" the marine cried out. "I didnt' have enough time!"
Mark was startled by the anguish displayed on that square face, whose eyes looked right through his, gazing deep into the underground thoughts lost in the caverns of his mind,, but apprehending none of them.
"Too late!" he said again, lowering his eyes.
Mark felt a pulling of his spirit toward the other's sadness, but caught at this before he allowed it to surface into words. He felt a stronger surge of joy that the eyes of the other had not penetrated his innermost secrets, secrets which he felt were easy to grasp but ones which he himself had not fully comprehended.
He had little time in which to congratulate himself, for a sound overhead revealed the presence of a helicopter. It came low over the broken canyon wall, and swooped insanely before the waterfall. Pausing momentarily, it flew, as if falling, down between the canyon walls, ignoring them, going towards what was now the obvious direction of the gunfire.
"It must have seen us!" Mark thought, surprised by the machine's indifference.
However,, he was more surprised by the behavior of the marine. At the sight of the helicopter, the sergeant had his arms as if he were doing some morning exercise drill.
He shouted and screamed.
"Here! Here I am! Here!"
But aside from the brief pause, the pilot of the machine might as well not have seen him. The helicopter vanished down toward the gunfire.
"Stop! Here I am! Hey! Hey-y-y-y!"
But it was useless. Expressions of puzzlement on his perspiring face were replaced by grimaces of fury and anger.
"DAMMIT! They saw me! What are they up to, anyway?"
Mark stepped up to the angry man.
"What the hell is this?" he asked. "Who are you? And what are you doing here?"
"I'm Sergeant Michael Fields from the U. S. Embassy in the capital He began to answer with such docility that Mark was stunned. However, the soldier got no further in his revelations.
A series of explosions rippled up the canyon towards them. They both turned.
"Oh my God, they're bombing them!" cried Mark.
"They don't have a chance!" said the marine, clenching his teeth and glaring in the direction of the sounds.
"Dammit," muttered Mark.
"Sonofabitch," said the marine called Michael Fields.
Silence and the waterfall sounds were wed.
Slowly the puzzled sergeant looked up and sneered at Mark.
"Okay," reaching for his gun, "Miller! Who did you think was being bombed?"
"Ah," he hesitated, "What do you mean?" He knew he had made a mistake, but hoped he could muddy it up with further talking.
The marine had his gun out again.
"Don't give me that shit! You referred to them. What did you mean?"
He shook his head) looking down, not cool enough to face a disturbed man waving a pistol.
"You're mistaken," he lied. "You mentioned them or they or something. Not me!"
"Goddam you Miller!" Michael Fields sneered. "What is your connection.... connection with them!?"
"Them? Who....them?" he almost whispered, looking at the broken canyon wall.
"The Tibetans! The Kham-pas!" yelled the marine. "The guerrilla fighters! That's who!"
Miller did not answer, frozen into a stone-like anger.
"If you're so smart, figure it out for yourself!" he at last exhaled.
"You're a dead man!" spat the soldier, holding his pistol at arm's length with two hands, trying to steady their shaking.
"Okay, as you wish," glared the-blue eyes back. "But you'll not get me to betray them!"
The marine was stunned. He stared at the other and lowered his pistol.
"You stupid fool!" he laughed. "I'm up here to try to help them!"
"W-what?" Mark questioned in disbelief.
The marine smiled, lowering his gun.
"I guess," he said, "you're not a dead man after all."
A voice laughed from the jumble of rocks behind him.
"And you, soldier, also are not a dead-man."
They turned to look and there was Rinjin with his rifle to his shoulder, eye to the sight, aiming at the marine's back. He too began to laugh, stepping from behind the boulders which had hidden him from Mark Miller's sight. As he did so, a roar of helicopter blades came up the canyon. The machine grew like a metal blot above them.
This time it did not ignore them. It began to spit machine-gun fire at them.
All about them chips of stone began to fly, splashes of water began to leave, in all directions, in all directions at once.
"Look out! Look out!"
The American yogi, SVA YAM, had watched Rinjin through his eyelashes patiently. As his chants droned on, in recognizable languages and in unknown syllables, Rinjin began to nod and to doze off. SVA YAM smiled. It was not a pleasant smile, but one saturated with the poisons of self-importance and scorn for others.
"La-a-a," he chanted aloud. "La-a-a-a." But inside, at the same time, he thought, "Soon, soon he will sleep."
He was wrong. For at that moment when it seemed that Rinjin would doze off completely, the sound of the machine awoke him.
"HA!" he exclaimed, sitting up straight, clutching his weapon. His eyes were wide open, as if encompassing the entire circle of his field of vision,, but in reality seeing nothing. They quickly focused, and his head turned around, pulling in the perception of surrounding trees, his sleeping men, and the seated chanting yogi.
In a moment, he knew what had shaken him awake. Its sound was nearby and changing.
"Helicopter!" He sneered out the word as he moved towards Tenzin and Sherpa, who still slept. Instinctively, he moved in a low, crouched position, even though nothing was in sight.
SVA YAM frowned and stopped chanting, relaxing his hands, looking to and fro at the trees, as if he were on a city street-corner, watching strangers go by.
"Awake! Helicopter!" spat Rinjin, shaking the men. They mumbled and began to move. Rinjin was moving down the trail towards the sound, towards Thubten's observation point. However, Thubten was racing in his direction, and they almost collided.
"What are you doing?" asked Rinjin, surprised that the other had not remained on guard.
"Quickly!" the big man said, pulling at his leader's
Rinjin reluctantly allowed himself to be pulled back.
"Helicopter has landed," gasped the heavily-breathing man. "Clearing ahead! Soldiers ... with! Machine guns...Ah! ...Coming... Coming this way!"
At this information) Rinjin leaped back to the others and waved his hands for silence. They moved in closer, except for the American yogi.
"Hide! Let them pass! Their weapons are beyond us!" he whispered imperatively. And no sooner was this said than all the Tibetans seemed to have turned into trees. The yogi stood next to a remote tree but did not make a move to hide. The forest almost did it for him.
Off to the right, the sound of the rotor blades idling could be distinctly heard, but not a sign of the flying machine was visible. Then came the sounds of approaching men. Rinjin watched carefully from his place of cover.
There were only two men, each of a different nationality. One was an officer of the mountain government, the other an American military man of some sort.
"Go back!" the American was saying. "Stay with the others."
"It is too.." the officer said, "dangerous for you," waving his weapon at the trees, "alone here!"
The American snapped.
"This is my mission. You get back to the 'copter and wait!"
He did not seem to notice the very bad effect his words and tone had upon the other. The dark man was about to speak, but clenched his teeth into a fearsome smile instead.
"As you say," he almost whispered. .
The American turned and started towards the trail which led to the break in the canyon wall. The other's eyes continued to shine with thoughts of murder and blood, and a cleanliness which would follow its eruption from bullets striking the American's back.
The blue-eyed soldier passed within three yards of the ash-smeared yogi. He looked directly towards him, but did not see him.
"I feel," he said to himself, "as if I'm being watched!"
Rinjin did not breathe, his finger close to the trigger of his rifle.
"Why doesn't he," he wondered, "see the yogi?"
Then the soldier was past the yogi and making his way up the elusive path towards the canyon and the waterfall.
A click made Thubten turn to see the dark officer raise his weapon to his shoulder, aiming at the retreating figure of the American. Despite the Tibetan's surprise, he made no sound and made no move to interfere. He peered at the place where he thought Rinjin remained hidden. But no weapon appeared, no action developed. The officer appeared to be about to fire into the other's back.
The yogi was not in the line of sight of that weapon, so when he slowly raised his hands above his head, the government officer could not have seen him do so. He was intent on his victim and intent upon his trigger finger. The weapon swayed, following the target on the path.
With his outstretched arms above his head, SVA YAM moved his fingertips gently, bending them at the knuckles, straightening them and bending them again, as if he were waving farewell.
The man with the weapon blinked his eyes and shook his head. He lowered his gun, and with one hand made a gesture as if to wipe something from his eyes.
When he looked back again, the American soldier was lost to his sight. He muttered a staccato of syllables, slung his weapon over his shoulder, and turning on his heel, vanished into the forest, going towards the sound of the waiting helicopter.
Quietly, Rinjin leapt to his feet. Cautioning the others to silence, even though he could not see them, he started up the trail after the blue-eyed soldier. He paused once in his movements to turn and indicate to his friends, who had now reappeared, not to follow but to wait where they were. Thubten moved towards the sounds of the machine to ensure that they would not be surprised by anyone unexpectedly returning their way.
The yogi meanwhile had lowered his arms, letting them hang limply along the sides of his body as if they were a part of an inanimate puppet. His eyes watched Thubten resume his watch. He watched Rinjin vanish up the trail. Then he came alive and now, suddenly all action, he leaped barefooted up the trail. He followed Rinjin towards the waiting waterfall, the waiting world of rainbow circles.
Tune in next week for another installment of this exciting Tibetan adventure novel!