"Look out! Look out!"
Chips of stone went flying and suddenly pain struck Mark Miller on his forehead.
"AH!" he exclaimed in horror, reaching up with his hand, suddenly blind. His hand was full of blood!
Rinjin rolled over and over, from one boulder to another, while the rain of death's agents splattered about him.
"Bad! Very ... bad!" Fields shouted and then he saw a near-nude figure all stained with ashes, arms upraised, looking at the helicopter and chanting loudly.
"PA! SAH-RA! SAH!"
Instead of death coming, a mist came. The white mist of the waterfall swept forward, about, under and over them.
In an instant they were hidden from sight in a blanket a few feet thick, or an iron wall. They were safely out of sight!
The helicopter could not see them. It hesitated, splattering random bullets for a moment when the lone figure of the yogi became obvious.
It paused. It waltzed. It hovered towards the ash-stained man. The dark officer could see his face., the marks on his forehead. He moved his weapon towards the American. The mist was deepening fast, like a soft flood. It was
chest-deep about SVA YAM, his arms raised above it, his face turned to the hovering metal bird of death.
The government officer froze, grew pale. His lips went cold. No bullets left the gun.
'"RA! SAM ----- PAPI" continued the yogi as the mist rose, swallowing his head, climbing his outstretched arms until only the hands remained. These first clenched themselves, then flicked out their fingers and vanished into the white emptiness.
"Why don't you fire!?" screamed the pilot.
"Be Quiet! Look out for the rock wall! The waterfall!"
The wind threw the ribbon of water into the flying machine. They were blinded for a moment.
"Get away! Get away!" shouted the officer, shaking and shivering.
The helicopter swept down the canyon and out of sight.
Blue sky covered the deepening mist. Only the waterfall connected the blue and the white.
"What luck!" said the marine sergeant when the helicopter was gone. He could see upwards through the mist, but he knew that it kept him invisible. Standing and reaching out into its luminous whiteness, he was impressed with its radiance.
"It is only made of light?" he asked without smiling. His outstretched hand was barely visible.
"Hello!" he called, very aware now of only the sound of falling water. "Is everybody okay?"
He heard some pebbles rattle and a ghostly Rinjin approached him from the left.
"I am here," said the Tibetan, his head turning to and fro, squinting into the mist.
"Ah! Good!" said Michael Fields. "I wasn't sure that..."
"Let us find Mark Miller," said the Tibetan.
The sergeant called out, while cupping his hands on either side of his mouth, "Miller! Miller!"
The guerrilla leader merely squinted. Then he raised his hand as his head tilted forward.
"Listen," he said. Fields stopped calling into the bright whiteness.
"Rin! Jin! "
He listened and heard the water falling. came a voice from an unseen source.
"Rin! Jin!" it came again, as if from the world of circular rainbows, belonging to one of the Himalayan spirits that was supposed to inhabit high places where the air grew thinner.
"It is..." Rinjin said, stepping into the embracing whiteness and vanishing. The suddenness of his disappearance made the marine unthinkingly plunge after him, stumbling on the wet rocks.
"Hey! Wait a minute!"
Everything was white. Everything was light.
In his stumbling, Fields fell against someone else moving in the mist. He caught himself by grabbing out. It was a pair of bare shoulders which his hands gripped. After the initial surprise, he could see who it was--the nearnaked yogi.
"0h," he started pulling himself away, almost afraid to speak. "Sorry about..." he straightened up, "...that!"
The blue eyes stared through him.
"Don't be a fool, it said SVA YAM. "We don't have time."
"What?" asked the marine. "What are you talking about?"
"The helicopter," he said, looking off towards the canyon. "It will return and find a place to land."
"Yeah, yeah," said the sergeant. "You're right! Yeah. Let's get Miller and..."
The stained face scowled.
The tone of the words froze the sergeant in motion. He hesitated to move in the direction which Rinjin had taken. He looked intently at the strange apparition. Who was this man anyway? He was no local native. His eyes testified to that.
"Who..." he started to ask the yogi, when the other turned and in his turning vanished into the mist.
"Wait!" he called, but the other was gone.
Immediately after the yogi's departure, he heard the sounds of boots struggling blindly over the rocks and pebbles. Rinjin appeared with an arm around Mark Miller, helping him to walk. Miller had one arm over the Tibetan's shoulder for support while he held his right hand over both his eyes. It was very bloody. The blood had stained the front of his clothes and there was a layer of its sticky wetness across the camera, across its lens, which swayed and bounced blindly as they attempted to move over the wet rocks. Fields stepped forward to help them.
"What happened?" he asked foolishly. "Where were you hit?"
, 'We shall see," said the Tibetan, looking concernedly at the man he was helping.
"I," said Miller, I..." he said, "can't see!" He sank down to a seated position, his left hand joining his right to clutch at his face. The other two stood and looked down at him.
"How can he travel like this?" asked the marine.
The Tibetan looked at the wounded man without speaking.
It was then that they heard the engine of the helicopter somewhere above them.
"Dammit!" said the sergeant.
"Why don't they let up?"
He raised his eyes but could see nothing. The sound seemed to be already beyond the break in the canyon wall. It was approaching the place in the forest where it had landed before.
The Tibetan moved first. He was swinging his rifle by
its strap over his shoulder, stepping out quickly.
"Come!" He waved at the marine. "The others will need
"But," Fields said in confusion, looking down at the wounded Miller, what about him? We can't leave him!"
"We must!" Rinjin said, baring his teeth almost into an animal grimace to underscore his statement. "We will return for him!"
Mark Miller heard all these words and the sounds of the boots receding over the rocks. He also heard the last few words Rinjin spoke as he left.
"If we are still alive!"
Mark's heart sank at the sound of these words, at the clatter of the rocks, and worst of all, at the silence which remained after they were gone. The pressurized pulsing in his head and ears prevented him from even hearing the waterfall. He felt very cold and very alone.
His forehead pulsed. "My life," he thought, identifying the sensation within his skull between his eyes. Even in the midst of this self-centered blindness, it was not long before he was aware that the blood on his fingers was becoming caked. When he moved them, they came away from his skin with a semi-dry stickiness. He moved his eyes, but could not open them. They were stuck together with blood. He moved his hands completely away from his face. He thought his eyes saw redness, purpleness, moving color, through the eyelids. His heart leaped to his throat.
"Why ... " he said aloud, "I'm not dead!" And he laughed in the mist which he could not see.
He tentatively began to touch his face with his fingertips, searching. They found blood but no wounds until he touched between his eyes.
"Ouch!" and the fingers leaped back. He could feel a fresh flow of blood trickle down the side of his nose.
"I'm not dead, he smiled again, "and I think...."
He blindly reached about him on the rocks and his hand struck a rivulet of water curving around a rock. He knelt in its direction, putting himself on all fours with his hands in the running water. Then, simultaneously with sitting up, he scooped two handfuls of water and splashed them onto his face.
"Cold! Like a glacial stream from a graveyard!"
And he did it again and again. Soon he blinked his eyes open, unstuck.
"Ah! I can see!" And he stared up again at the ribbon of the waterfall. "It was blood! Crazy blood had me fooled!"
"Neither dead nor blind!" he laughed, rising to his feet. The sudden movement made him feel dizzy for a moment. He paused, and pulling a bandanna out of his trouser pocket, he pressed it to his forehead. This pressure gave a high ringing noise, but it steadied him. Carefully, he tied the cloth around his head to encourage the wound to clot. During all of this, he smiled.
"I'm alive, alive!"
The remembrance of the returning helicopter came back just as the sounds of machine-gun fire flooded in upon his consciousness.
He looked in the direction of the broken canyon wall. The mist still concealed it from view. His smile vanished as he listened intently.
There was a pattern of single rifle shots, perhaps a pistol firing. This was followed by rapid machine-gun fire, a few scattered shots, some bursts of a machine-gun, and then silence. Mark Miller's heart began to beat in his ears. He was afraid that he would not be able to distinguish outside sounds from those which he was producing inside himself. inner ones crashed like cymbals between his eyes. He forced himself to ignore this, hoping to make out the tale told by the sounds of the gunfire. But now, in his listening, all he could hear were the sounds of his own bloodstream.
"I'm alive," he whispered to himself, but not smiling now,, watching the mist begin to thin, begin to give shape to the canyon wall, to the path through its break, bringing the rocks back to normal view.
"But," he continued, beginning to move carefully forward, "for how long?" He stepped over the rivulets, from rock to rock. "How soon will I be a dead man?"
The American Yogi, self-identified as SVA YAM, had gotten beyond the forest before the gunfire fight had begun. He had skirted the spot the helicopter had used to land previously, in case it chose the same spot again. It had not landed yet, but its sounds were everywhere in the trees. It did return to that clearing for there was no other place for it to put down. But by then, the ash-smeared man had passed it, was beyond it, was on the other side of it. He was on the farther side away from the approaches to the waterfall and to the canyon. They would not look in his direction, not at first. He would be far off by the time they had finished in the other direction.
He had moved very fast. He had leaped from rock to rock on the path through the broken canyon wall. He had slid and plunged down amongst the trees. The Tibetan guerrillas had seen him, had raised their rifles, but then decided to let him run past. He was obviously running away from something, not attacking, not encircling them.
"Let him go," grumbled Thubten, even as he wondered what would happen next. The sound of the machine warned him of that next event. That would be of more concern to them than the naked running man.
"Let him go," repeated Sherpa, without realizing that he was echoing the other, repeating those sounds in his
SVA YAM was out of sight when the helicopter landed. The helicopter was not visible to him either, lost somewhere in his past, lost in the trees, tangled in the lives of other men, not his.
"I'm free of it," he said. He said it in English. Then he muttered it in Hindi, mumbled it in Tibetan, exhaled and inhaled it in unknown tongues, as he began to change his running into an easy lope. He put on and threw off smiles as his nostrils flared and his body began to move steadily through the spaces between the trees, until there were no trees and he was moving swiftly in barren altitudes.
There had been some hints of green in small scrubby pines, but these evaporated into solid dirt and rock slopes. For a few miles this emptiness ran upwards, unaccompanied by any life except for the moving body of the yogi. His eyes took in the distance, beyond the rising edge of the lifeless soil. A horizon of white tigers' teeth greeted his laughter, in the form of a range of snow-covered peaks. He ran, where no man should be able to run according to the laws of mystery. He ran, where no man should be able to run according to the laws of oxygen and gravity. He laughed, where no one but an insane person would laugh. Perspiration ran down his face, down his body, leaving vertical streaks in the dust, showing golden tan lines in the grey ashes.
The white mountains, like carved marble organs of some primordial beast, rose higher and higher, while he, a speck, became smaller. He laughed at their inanimate nature. They did not smile in return at his error.
At the edge of the forest, Mark met Thubten. He looked grim and held his rifle at the ready. Mark's happiness at seeing the Tibetan and his inclination to shout a joyful hello at his being alive was held back quietly by the other's grim expression. Perhaps he was being pursued and any sound Mark made would be the death of them both! He said nothing until the Tibetan smiled and addressed him.
"Ah! You are not dead. You are not blind."
"What happened?" Miller returned.
Thubten looked back into the trees, unsmiling again.
"The government helicopter came."
There was a long pause. Mark hesitated to speak. The other continued.
"We had a difference of opinion."
"What?" Miller asked,, studying the other's face. It was strained, but under the stress he thought he saw a twinkle of humor.
"A debate ... We had a debate, Thubten now broke out into a smile. "They presented many challenges, but we deflected them all. Ho! Ho! But they could not reject our propositions! Ho! Ho!"
"Is any ... Did anyone..." he began.
The Tibetan, solemn again, shook his head. "None of ours. All of theirs." The guerrilla began to walk past him. "I came to get you." "I'm okay. Where ... ?11 The Tibetan started towards the broken canyon wall. "You join Tenzin below. I will go to see if others... "But they must all have perished in the bombing!" Thubten did not turn but continued speaking. "Perhaps. But we must be sure. Perhaps." Mark watched his friend make his way up the jumble of rocks, observing how much shorter he looked than before. He was bent with weariness and the close acquaintance with death. The American went into the shadows of the trees and soon came upon Rinjin and the marine. They were seated leaning against a tree with eyes half closed, as if visualizing another world. They snapped to alertness when he stepped on a twig. But after seeing him, without a word they lapsed into their semi-meditative trance again. The smell of the fight was still in the air. When Mark squatted near them, he saw the assembly of weapons lying on the ground in front of them. Machine-guns, handguns, and a rifle, belts of ammunition and a cluster of hand-grenades lay before them. Mark looked from these to the two men and back again. He wanted to ask questions but decided not to. He looked about in the immediate vicinity but saw no bodies. He knew what he had to know. Thubten had told him. The men from the helicopter were dead. None of the guerrillas were hurt.
Then Mark Miller's nerves were tested. He heard a metallic crashing, somewhere out of sight.
"What is that?" he asked a bit over-excitedly.
The marine opened one eye wide and said softly, "Tenzin and Sherpa are fixing the helicopter so it won't be used again on us."
Then that eye closed, joining his other.
Mark reached over to pick up one of the pistols. His camera with its blood-stained lens swung before him. Standing, he said to the two men, "You two rest. I'll stand guard."
Rinjin raised and lowered his eyes in agreement and soon they had nodded him into sleep. The marine was there before him. In their dreams was gunfire, brilliant mists, the sound of a hovering helicopter. Of course, all of that was closed to Mark Miller. He, however, heard the two Tibetans hammering on the helicopter's rotor blades, smashing its windows, executing this thing which had helped to kill their companions on the narrow canyon trail.
When Thubten returned he did not say a word. Mark kept staring at him in expectation of some news, some word of survivors. But Thubten did not speak. He glanced at the sleeping guerrilla leader and the marine sergeant.
"Let them sleep," he said) sitting down heavily himself, embracing his knees with his two massive arms and placing his head down.
From this position, he continued to speak.
"They will need all the rest they can get."
His voice grew fainter.
"We all will ... need ... for what lies ...
It became a whisper.
"...ahead of us ... hardest ... yet to come..."
Then he was asleep.
Mark Miller shifted nervously when he heard sounds approaching. But he was relieved that it was Tenzin and Sherpa. They observed the sleeping men and nodded.
"You too," said Tenzin, indicating Mark's bloodied bandanna on his forehead.
"I don't need to rest," he began to say, when he felt his body drain suddenly and his legs feel too flexible. He did not argue or debate it.
"Can't debate this crowd," he smiled as he curled himself on the ground. "They're too good at it."
As he moved from one world into another, he saw that Sherpa and Tenzin were positioning themselves against any surprises. They remained standing on alert. The angles of their weapons seemed the most aware things in that forest realm.
Mark Miller had no dreams. In fact, he thought that he had no sleep. He felt he had just begun to settle down with the question, "How long will I be allowed to sleep? How long will I..." when he felt someone shaking him.
"Pay attention! I said awake!" It was a bright-eyed Rinjin who spoke. "Attention! Awake! Time to move! it is too dangerous to sleep. Awake!"
Before he was completely awake, he was moving out of the forest, past a ghost of a ruined helicopter, in and out of shadows of the last trees. He was walking, and dreaming that he was walking, upwards to the barren altitudes. He dreamt of a huge tiger's face, unseen in the sky. He saw its teeth, the snow-covered Himalayas before him. He saw its claws, the glaciers on either side of him. He was walking and slowly awakening. It was then that he dreamt, or thought, or remembered, in a confusion of this and that, a question.
"Where is SVA YAM? Why haven't we seen him?"
They were entering the lofty regions of the unforgiving mountains.
Rinjin and Sergeant Fields led the way upward into the hollow of the tiger's claws. Thubten was close behind them, followed by Tenzin. The four of them moved with the most determination'. not looking back, not interrupting their rhythm. Then there was a gap. It was a short one at first, but it grew. Sherpa was within it, between Mark Miller and the others. He looked back, keeping his eye on the straggling American. Mark knew, in his breathlessness, that the Tibetan remained so far behind only because of him, to prevent him from getting lost.
Lost! How could anyone get lost? It was a wide open world, with few choices. Stay on the path or stay off it. Staying on the path meant to step where Sherpa had stepped, to pause where Sherpa had paused. Stepping off was unthinkable, for it left everything behind forever. The barren rocks rose higher and as they did so, they curved, like some lumpy billiard ball, like the back of some primordial fossil caterpillar of gigantic size. One or two wobbly steps to either side would not matter, but a few extra and a person might discover where the true edge of the rounded world was. In finding that true edge, they would also discover the balance point, the shift of the center of gravity, the changed relationship of ground and verticality. They would fall. They would tumble. They would roll to their deaths, somewhere out there, down there, out of sight, for there was nothing on that smooth world that would prevent such a sliding plunge.
"Must be a river down there," Mark thought at first. But then he needed his thoughts for breathing. The thoughts of the river dried up, just as if it had become a fossilized canyon, somewhere down there, over the edge of the horizon.
"Columbus was wrong," Mark heard. Then the sound went away. It was his own stubborn mind interfering with walking and surviving. Sherpa watched him carefully. They walked up the darkening sky.
Mark raised his eyes. The four men in the lead were gone. They were nowhere in sight. He felt a moment of panic, until he saw the face of Sherpa, turned towards him. He was grateful for his presence, yet he resented the fact that he was the last one in the line, the one person who had to be guided along, nursed along. His teeth bit those thoughts into his jawbone, jaw muscles, where they resided until nightfall.
Lost! On or off the trail, they were lost! What did they think walking up into the sky was going to accomplish? It was colder up there. It was emptier. What could they accomplish?
"Why can't," Mark thought, "I breathe?"
One foot went in front of the other thoughtlessly until Mark was struck by the wind. It stopped him and shook his body. He looked for Sherpa and saw him leaning upwards against it. It was then that Mark realized the darkness was coming from a storm and not the night. And the wind was the messenger of that storm, announcing its arrival.
"Quickly!" shouted Sherpa, waving at the American and struggling against the wind. Mark fought his way to the Tibetan just as the gusts became stronger and raindrops like knives, like needles, began to strike his face. There was a sound, but he did not know what it was, or where it came from. Sherpa shouted to him, even though he was close enough to hold his elbow. He pulled him forward. Mark turned pale, for the other was pulling him towards the edge of life and death. They would both plunge to their deaths!
He was wrong. Sherpa guided him carefully along the side of the curved world. The rain was stinging his face and his eyes, but he knew from his feet that they were still safe. What was the Tibetan doing?
"Sherpa! What are you doing?" he shouted. But he knew that the other could not hear him, for he could not hear it himself. There was sharp dust being blown as well as rain. He could taste it on his tongue.
Suddenly, the wind and its sharp raindrops stopped. Or at least they were elsewhere. They were nearby, but around some corner whistling up a mounting rage.
They were suddenly in a cave. He could not see how far back it went, for it twisted in its nature. His eyes were taking in other things. The four other men were there. It was no accident that Sherpa had taken him here. If he had been alone, he would still be fighting upwards against the wind, getting soaked in the rain and exposed to the elements and worse. He sighed in relief.
The others looked up at their entrance. Thubten smiled, but the others were all business. Rinjin was starting a small fire. The marine was wiping his weapons dry. Tenzin was opening a pack and spreading out sleeping gear. A sleeping bag! Mark was startled to see his own pack being opened. Until that moment he had not thought of it. For all he knew it was still back at the waterfall. Now he realized, he even remembered seeing it, that Tenzin had been
carrying it for him. He looked at himself and realized that all that he had been carrying was the pistol at his side and the camera. A flush of embarrassment crossed his face. But before he could say something foolish, his forehead pulsed and reminded him that it was good that this had happened, for he probably would not have gotten so far carrying it.
Sherpa moved into the cave, jabbering something in Tibetan which Mark could not catch. The marine looked up.
"Decide to join us?" he smilingly taunted.
Mark's jaw muscles would not relax, so he said between his teeth in reply, "I thought you'd need my help."
The words came out limp and flat and he wished he had said nothing at all. Or something better. Or something more biting.
The sergeant just shook his head and looked back at the weapon he was drying.
Mark stepped to where Rinjin struggled with the small fire. He sat down, as if intently interested in what the guerrilla leader was doing. The Tibetan leaned down and blew on the twigs, managing to give the flames a good start. Then he placed in the end of a longer piece of wood. It was dry and caught quickly. Mark did not think about this until much later,, when they were eating, mixing Tibetan tea with their tsampa, scooping it up with their fingers in little mushy balls.
"Ah! So good to have something warm!" he said.
That is when it struck him.
"Where did the wood come from?" he asked,, looking at the others.
Outside the cave it was getting quite dark, the wind still objecting to their inaccessibility. The Tibetans studied their fingers, the tea and the barley, eating with complete concentration.
"They got it in the forest," said the marine, also not looking up.
This was followed by a long silence which Thubten broke.
"Wood comes from trees, he sheepishly smiled, glancing up.
Rinjin glared at him as if to shut him up. Thubten became quiet.
"What is going on?" wondered Mark. "What is all this mystery making out of nothing?"
He did not think about it again until later when he was getting ready to sleep. It was then that the bouncing light from the dying fire revealed something to his eyes, farther into the cave. He squinted to make sure what he saw was true. Yes, it was.
There was a stockpile of wood in the back of the cave. It was more than the Tibetans could have carried from the forest. In fact, it was more than twenty men could have carried from that forest.
Mark looked at the others. The marine was asleep. The Tibetans were near the dying fire, with malas in hand, fingering the beads of those rosaries and chanting in unison together. He could not, he would not, interrupt them at their prayers to question them about this cache of wood, but that did not prevent him from wondering.
"Why didn't they just say they had some stored here for emergencies?" Why had they been evasive, to the brink of lying?
Their prayers came to him as he fell asleep. They mumbled and muttered., different voices together, some of them clearing their throats as the others went on.
"Aum AH Hum!"
Deep in the night, Mark Miller awoke. At first, he did not know where he was. It was very dark and there was a confusion of soft sounds. Then he knew, he remembered.
"The cave," he thought. "I'm in the cave in the side of some prehistoric rock monster. What a dreadful feeling!"
Someone was breathing near him. Someone else was snoring.
"What is that?"
It was the wind, lashing, twisting, trying to get into the cave, trying to bring the stinging rain to his skin again. But it could not, for he was out of its reach. Sherpa had done that.
"Sherpa did that," he thought. "It can't get me. it can't reach."
Then he decided he had to get up. He had to urinate. He thought about it for a while, but decided there was no avoiding it. He stood up, pushing askew his sleeping bag. He did not have his boots on although he still was dressed against the cold.
"Which way?" he questioned himself in his sleepiness. He could go to the back of the cave. Or to the front entrance. He hesitated--the cave was pitch black, the entrance a grey shape. He could also be directed to it by the wind's noises. He did not wish to move into the blackness. He did not wish to wet the dry wood. That seemed foolish and inhospitable to his sleepy mind. Also, what if, what if ....
"What if, he smiled,, someone is sleeping back there that I can't see? That certainly would be rude!" He almost laughed out loud at this. Carefully, he stumbled towards the entrance. It was inevitable that he step on somebody in the darkness. But he did not wake anyone up. He remembered to count the prone bodies, so he could find his way back to his sleeping bag afterwards.
He reached the entrance. It was easy to tell that he was there. It was suddenly colder. There was a slight breeze from the wind which was whipping up gusts nearby. There was even a slight sense of moisture in the air. He reached with one foot out into the darkness, found it solid and took a step forward. For a moment he was dizzy and his head reminded him that he existed.
"Is it my head or am I on the edge of emptiness?" he asked aloud. He stepped out with his other foot, gently, as if tapping air at the end of a broken bridge. The ground was there again and he was satisfied that he was safe. He ventured no further, however, because the wind was getting stronger, coming from the right. Opening his trousers, he could feel the coolness reach in for his genitals. Without hesitating, his fingers did the same and soon he was urinating into the darkness. He could feel the wind throwing it off to his left,, so far that he heard none of it fall. The sounds of the rain drowned it out. And the sounds of the rain became that Himalayan urination.
"It is falling off into some unknown abyss," he thought. Then smiled. "Piss in the abyss, but no cosmic rock wall to scrawl graffiti upon!"
Closing up his trousers, he was reluctant to quickly return into the deeper part of the cave. He stared out ahead of himself, at the darkness, at the greyness. He became absorbed in the lack of color.
"Is it getting brighter? Or am I getting accustomed to it?"
He stood there, studying the darkness for so long that he was as if asleep.
The greyness never became light, but he began to distinguish between lighter and darker. Was it the glaciers, the white tiger's claws, that brought up his awareness? White, but now grey in this unknown night? A night atop a
giant spine, surrounded by growing teeth?
"Teeth? Teeth in the darkness?" He squinted and could have sworn that the wind had blown away blindness and he saw those same thoughts of teeth.
"Glaciers," he shuddered. "Only glaciers. Not teeth, not tigers!"
And he closed his eyes standing at the mouth of the cave.
Behind his eyelids, he had other images, all of those coming to him from his previous thoughts.
"The entire mountain," he thought, half-asleep, "is a giant white, snow...cat! Ah! Luckily it sleeps!"
But in his eyes it moved and gave off light, revealing its entirety to the man swaying before the cave in the darkness.
T 'There it is," he whispered. "I hear it! It speaks like a wind driving a rain around the entrance to a cave. It is moving in its sleep. "
He listened, eyes closed.
"Do I hear snowslides, avalanches? Is it purring?"
"I shall step away from the cave. I shall step into the wind!"
Luckily, he did not step straight forward, but turned and with the wind stinging his face with the rain, he made his way upwards away from the cave, following the track which Sherpa had used coming down to safety. It was invisible in three ways. In its own daylight nature, it could not be seen. In the darkness and rain, it could not be seen. And with his eyes closed, it could not be seen. But he made his way quickly to the top, the back of the prehistoric caterpillar. The rain was lashing like a whip, but for some reason, it did not delay him. He laughed.
"Wind! You cannot stop me!"
The cold rain began to saturate his clothes, but he seemed not to notice. He began to smile as he walked along blindly.
"Mark Miller!" the wind said.
He paused, to listen. It came from before him. He moved towards it.
"Mark Miller!" the voice said. It was not the wind.
"Who is there?"
He reached out with his hands. But only the wind surrounded him, now beginning to push at his progress, as he struggled forward.
"Mark Miller!" It came and went, blown by the wind, stung by the rain. Water was pouring down his face, pouring off the tips of his fingers. He shivered with the cold.
"C-cold! C-cold!" His teeth chattered. His bare feet felt the hard slipperiness of the ground. He continued to move with his eyes closed.
"No place," said the wind.
"No place," said the voice.
"No place," said his own mind, "for you! You will..."
"Die!" said the wind.
"Die!" said the voice.
"I'll see about that!" he said.
He shuddered and opened his eyes to the darkness of the Himalayan night. But it was not dark. It was bright and dazzling--so much so that he could not see. He still felt the wind pushing at him. He still felt the sting of needles of rain, but now they were hot and not cold. He covered his eyes to protect them. In reaction, it seemed, 'the driven barbs began to bombard his forehead, between his eyes. The meteor shower of the attack concentrated there. He waved his hands as if to interrupt them. It had better than the desired effect. They stopped--immediately and completely. They were gone, and with this, the wind stopped as well.
Now all about him was the dazzling brightness. At first he thought it was like the mist at the waterfall. But it was not. It was different. For one thing, there was no sky. No blueness. And here it was warm.
"Dammit! What is this?" he said aloud.
Laughter came from before him. He carefully stepped towards it, wondering where the edge of the world lay in his vicinity.
"Careful, said the laughing voice, moving away from him.
Careful!" he said to himself,, beginning to sort out a puzzle, beginning to understand something which should not be understood, which could not be understood so quickly, so soon. He had to concentrate! He had to catch all the pieces! Understand it all!
"Or else ... dead man ... "
And with that he shuddered and stood very still. The wind seemed to be rising again., pressing at him.
"Come! Come!" laughed the voice before him, "Or are you afraid?"
That stung him like the raindrops that were beginning again.
"No!" he lied and shouted, "Let me see you!"
"You fool!" came the reply, and in an instant, the brilliant light began to change and he could see the real landscape. He gasped at the sight before him. He tottered on the edge of a bottomless precipice. But that was not what drove the air from his lungs in surprise.
Just in front of him,, twelve feet away, in fact, was the owner of the voice. It was the yogi, SVA YAM. Mark faced him, and broke into a cold sweat as he tottered on the edge of nothingness, a plunge to the bottom of the mountains at the top of the world.
SVA YAM, however, laughed and beckoned him forward.
"Come on! Come on!"
He was there before Mark in the air, brightly lit, floating--floating and laughing.
"Or are you afraid?"
Mark clenched his jaw muscles and stepped forward.
It was a long night.
Just before dawn, as dim light began to make the glaciers a pearl grey, Rinjin began to start a small fire. He kept glancing towards the cave entrance. In the night, he had heard and felt Mark leave the cave. But he had fallen asleep and had not heard him come back. This morning he was still not in the cave.
"There is nothing to be done," he thought, "except what must be done. I will make a fire and wait. The others should sleep."
The rain was continuing outside in the large wind-swept world. He wondered why it was not snowing. It seemed cold enough. Somberly, he blew at the small sparks and the fire started. The patch of bright light and its warmth made him feel better. He continued to avoid speculation as to Mark's whereabouts.
"What if... " he almost thought, and cut it short.
"Fire," he muttered. "Fire. Only think of the fire."
Someone groaned and Rinjin glanced at the sleeping forms.
"Be still!" he thought to himself.
The glacier became a distant pearl in the morning light.
Rinjin started. He heard sounds outside. The cave entrance was darkened by a shadow.
"Ah!" he thought happily.
It was Mark. He stood there a moment, dripping water, and then he staggered into the cave, away from the lashing rain. He came to the fire which was being born. He just stood there, a drop of water hanging onto the tip of his nose.
"Where were you?" Rinjin asked, looking at the fire.
Mark was dull-eyed when he answered.
"I...I stepped outside for a while."
The Tibetan added another stick to the flames. Without looking up, he commented, "You had a great amount of water."
Mark did not understand him when he answered.
"It is raining."
Rinjin looked up with an expressionless face.
"That is not what I meant."
"Oh," said Mark, wiping his nose. "Yes. Yes, I did."
The Tibetan looked at the fire again.
"Perhaps, four hours worth."
"Four hours?" asked Mark. "What do you mean? What .... four hours?"
Rinjin stood up and looked at him coolly, the flames throwing light from below.
"You were gone four hours, perhaps more! Where did you go? How could you stay out there so long?"
"Oh.," Mark said suddenly clenching both hands into fists at his stomach. "I don't know. I don't know ... where I've been."
He began to shudder.
Rinjin looked at him quizzically and touched his shoulder.
"You are wet. Change your clothes."
Mark did not move, but continued to shudder where he stood. Rinjin went to the American's pack and took out some dry clothes. He turned to the wet man.
"Here. Put these on, or do you need help?"
The other shook his head.
"No. I'll be able to do it myself."
Mark Miller began to strip off his wet clothes. They clung to him, resisting. He managed without any help from the Tibetan who nursed the fire, making it hotter for the wet man. The light grew brighter from the flames.
"Ah!" exclaimed the Tibetan, looking at the nude American.
"What is it? What's the matter?" he was asked.
In spite of himself, the guerrilla leader continued to speak.
"What's that on your body? Those streaks?"
Mark, who was now warmer,, looked down at himself in the light of the fire.
"I don't know... dirt, I guess."
He touched the streaks, puzzled, looking towards the Tibetan who was now examining the American's discarded clothes. He touched them and looked up tat the stained figure before him.
"Ashes," Rinjin said softly. "Ashes!"
Mark was only concerned with getting himself warmer, covering his strangely-smudged body. He immediately sat by the fire, pressing his feet close to it, almost into it.
He was surprised to see that they too were ash-stained.
"This floor is covered with old ashes," he said aloud. "That's what it is!"
The marine rolled over and moaned.
Rinjin bit his lip and said nothing.
Mark tried to change the subject.
"How come so many ashes? Old fires? Many, many old fires?"
Rinjin did not look at him.
"What is this cave, anyway? With all that wood?" He gestured towards the back of the cave.
Rinjin glanced up, sadness in his eyes.
"You do not know?"
"How should I know?" he answered, pulling a sweater out of his pack, searching for some socks.
"You don't remember?" persisted the other.
"Remember what? I've never been here before. You never told me about it, either."
"It would be good..." Rinjin said hesitatingly, "if you knew. As much as possible, it would be good, so that next time...."
"Next time?" Mark asked, lacing his boots. Since they had been left in the cave, they were dry. "Next time, what ?"
"Next time that you fought," the Tibetan whispered, staring at the fire, gently placing a twig upon it, "with
the yogi, SVA YAM, you would.... "
Mark froze, pulling the laces tight. Suddenly, he was giddy. The name of the American yogi struck him like a bolt of lightning. His vision blurred and the light in the cave flared itself into a luminous cloud, swirling before him. Fear gripped him and he began to remember, vaguely, something which had happened. His mind reached for it and kept missing grabbing hold.
Rinjin continued to speak, with the American barely hearing.
"....have a better chance of coming out alive, again!
It is not. . . "
"What is it?" Mark's mind demanded. "What is it?"
"going to be easy. Fighting in the brilliant light is deadly. One of you..."
What was Rinjin saying? Brilliant light?
"Yes! That's it!" Mark exclaimed. "I remember! The yogi was there! And I ... I..."
"What did you do?" asked the Tibetan, carefully studying Mark's face.
"My God! I stepped out into space ... I stepped over the edge of the precipice!"
The marine sat up.
"What's all the jabbering? Can't a guy get any sleep?"
Mark stared into the fire, shaking. Rinjin looked at him sorrowfully, shaking his head to and fro.
"It is time to awake," said the Tibetan. "Time for us to go."
The marine grunted and made a gesture towards the cave entrance.
"Yeah? Take a look at that! We're not going anywhere today!"
The three of them looked at the opening. It was full of daylight, but more heart-sinking was the curtain of snowfall which was blowing diagonally across it.
"We'll have to wait it out" said the marine, stretching. "How about making some tea?"
"Of course," said Rinjin, reaching for a canteen of water.
The sergeant looked at the snow and yawned.
"It had to happen," he said. "That rain last night was just too cold not to freeze up!"
Mark remembered being out of the cave. Rinjin's eyes cautioned him not to speak of it in front of the marine. Mark was puzzled. He remembered but he doubted it.
"Do I remember something," he thought to himself, "or do I remember a dream?"
He -stared at the driving snow. The sound of the wind was different. Everything seemed different. He glanced at his camera. The lens was still coated with blood. That jigsaw bit of reality made him feel a little better, for no reason. He reached up and touched his forehead. It did not throb) which puzzled him. It felt warm. Warm and dry.
"Warm and dry?" he thought in surprise. "How could that be? Everything else was soaked ... everything..."
He did not want to think about it.
It was daylight and the snowfall was growing heavier and the wind fiercer. It raged between the unseen glaciers and concealed completely the distant mountain ranges.
SVA YAM frowned, folded his arms across his chest, and lifted one foot to place it tightly in the inner groin of his other leg. He swayed for a moment and then steadied himself in the wind. Lifting his face upwards, he stared into the whirlpools of snowflakes, as if trying to identify their individual crystalline patterns.
"How could he live?" he questioned aloud, though anyone near him would have heard nothing in the whistling wind. The snow began to collect against his arms.
"He should have died!" He now shouted skyward in the blinding whiteness. The wind sang some bone-freezing tune.
"I, SVA YAM, had lured him, tricked him, twisted him!" he screamed, joining that song of the storm. "He thought! He saw! I led him to his death!"
Then his head twisted down and shook off the accumulating snow.
"But, he did not die! He did not!"
His eyes glanced wildly into the storm, blue shining in all of that whiteness. His stained face was being struck with large wet flakes.
"Ah! ISHTADEVI! Why! Why has this happened? I am the Wise One! I know that knowledge of non-existence! I conceive of existence therein! ISHTADEVI!"
He raised his hands straight above his head and stared into the storm imploring of his chosen deity some answer, some indication of the meaning of the events of the night before, the night in the rain,, the night on the edge of the precipice.
He began to howl with the wind, twisting on his one leg, but not losing his balance, shaking slabs of snow from the sides of his body, making himself visible again. But only for a moment, the snow struck at him, making half of his body white, facing it, and half of it dark, facing away.
"Consciousness! Go to Repose!" he howled.
"The bonds of the body are undone! Burnt away!
"And the one taste, when it pours forth, that is the Innate.
"Then there is no outlaw! Then there is no saint!"
The wind sang in unison with him, howling and shrieking.
SVA YAM heard it say, "Here is one sacred river, there another!"
"Here are their two cities, here are Sun and Moon!"
He shuddered and shook off more snow. It fell, but was accumulating fast about his one stationary leg.
"ISHTADEVI!" he called. And the wind seemed to continue, "In my wanderings, I have seen such shrines and been on such pilgrimages,
"Only here, Only here, Unseen are any more blissful a shrine,, Than ... than-my own body!"
He did not move and the snow lashed against him, like a barren tree with two branches, being covered steadily with an obliterating layer of snow.
"Oh-h-h!" sang the wind. "Oh-h-h-h! My own-n-n-n! Body! Body! Oh-h-h-h!"
The snow continued to fall throughout the day. The men in the cave did not leave its safety and comfort. The direction of the storm prevented the wind from sending snow within the entranceway. It also kept it free of accumulation and drifts. That excess snow was blown out into the voidness towards the unseen glaciers.
"They were like tiger's teeth," thought Mark. 'No, he corrected himself, "they were like tiger's claws."
"Claws," he said aloud.
"What?" asked the marine who had been studying the weapons he had confiscated from the dead government officers.
"What did you say?"
"Oh?" said Mark, coming back to his surroundings. "Nothing. I didn't say anything."
"Sounded like 'Claus'," smiled the marine, looking down the barrel of his pistol after shaking out the bullets. "Santa Claus? All that snow make you think it's Christmas?"
Mark frowned at him, resenting the man's cheerfulness.
"No!" he snapped. "CLAWS! The damned glacier looked like a giant tiger's claws!"
The sergeant did not look up but began to clean his pistol.
"Hmmm. I guess we'd better not step outside then. We'll be his next meal."
He looked up at Mark and gave him a broad grin. It was so infectious that Mark could not continue his negative mood.
He laughed. "Yes, you're right. We'd better outsmart him and wait."
Rinjin looked at Miller. He was glad to see him laughing. He had not expected him to laugh for a long time. The Tibetan's face revealed none of this. His fingers put another small twig on the tiny fire.
The sergeant pulled a swab through the barrel, inspected the pistol again, and placed it upon the jacket lying at his knees.
"I remember you," he said to Mark. "I remember where I saw you before!"
Mark stopped smiling.
"Yeah," said the marine. "It was at church! At church in the capital."
Mark cocked an eyebrow at the other. He still felt that he had to be evasive.
"There's no church in the whole country! What are you talking about?"
"You know what I mean, grinned the other, now putting his bullets back into his pistol. "It was at the U. S. AID compound, one Sunday morning..."
"There's no Christian church ... there's no minister in this country," persisted Mark, for some reason unknown even to himself.
"Yeah, yeah. You've made your point." The pistol was returned to his holster. "But that amateur concoction they had. The one they ran every Sunday. Every one of the old-timers took turns playing minister and giving out with homegrown morality and preaching. It kept them from getting homesick."
He knew! The marine had remembered.
But Mark persisted.
"What would you do in a scene like that?"
The square face laughed and the blue eyes were lost in the squinting lines caused by it.
"Hey! Those AID men and consulates had grown daughters and...
"And wives," sneered Mark, trying to turn the conversation.
"And wives!" nodded the other in happy recall. "It was the best place for an unattached bachelor-type marine to meet some girls. It was all so pure and saintly!"
And he interrupted himself with laughter. Rinjin watched them for a moment and decided to ignore this strange exchange between the two Americans.
"Ever preach a sermon?" asked Mark quietly, hoping it would be biting. It was not. The marine missed his intention completely and continued.
"No need to! The place was full of American personnel who had missed their calling. I guess that's why the women were so ready to..."
"Okay!" snapped Mark, irritated by the flow of words. "We don't have to have any barracks stories!"
Sergeant Fields stopped his narration suddenly, assuming a sober expression. He looked straight at the other.
"That's where I saw you! What were you doing there? Looking for some playmate too?"
Mark scowled at him and looked towards the falling snow. He remained silent. The other continued.
"Oh! I remember! You were very interested in helicopters! You wanted to tag along on a flight, a survey, to the north!"
Mark clenched his jaw muscles and looked down at the fire, from the cold to the hot. The marine remembered!
He kept himself from speaking.
"I won't give him any satisfaction!" he thought to himself.
"Yeah!" said the marine, If you wanted a helicopter ride and there weren't any there!"
"Dammit!" snapped Mark. "Yes there was! There was one warming up for that trip right in the U. S. AID courtyard!"
"Aha!" said the sergeant. "It was you! I wasn't sure!"
Mark cursed himself for his clumsiness.
"Don't feel bad," Sergeant Fields said with a self-satisfied grin. "How can anyone forget another American in this ... rare ... country?"
Mark nodded. He felt doubly foolish. First for opening his mouth needlessly.
"Needless talk," he thought to himself.
Secondarily, he felt awkward at his original evasiveness. At this point in time there was no reason for it. Perhaps originally, back at the waterfall, with the pistol against his spine, he might have had a reason not to answer. But now, what was the point?
"Yes. You've seen me before. In fact,, at least twice before."
"Twice?" The marine's eyebrows went up.
"Yes," Mark replied, now smiling again. The marine could not remember the other time, despite all his talk of fellow Americans being difficult to forget in a foreign country such as this one.
Yes, twice. But no use my being mysterious. I'll tell you who I am, what I'm doing here, and how it is that you found me in the mountains with the Tibetan guerrillas.
"Go ahead," Sergeant Fields quietly encouraged.
"As you know, my name is Mark Miller. I came to this country over two years ago, and..."
And Mark Miller told Sergeant Michael Fields his story.