on the path of a jester

After college I was forced to do some soul searching to figure out not only what made me tick, but also to find what I needed in my life to be happy.  They were dark days.  Eventually, I discovered that my path to leading a content and peaceful life was far simpler than I ever could have imagined.

It came down to two things.  Family and the mountains.  As long as I had family close to me I knew I was going to be okay.  They had always been my biggest supporters.  They had always continued to stand by me even when I had actively been trying to push them away.  It made sense that I wasn’t happy during that time because they were such a key part of what I needed.  The other thing I realized was that the mountains represented my recharging station and I needed at least a week camping or backpacking every summer to remain sane.  Again, I had stopped venturing into the wild for awhile, intentionally trying to avoid that part of my life and basically sabotaging any chance I had of being happy.  Two easy fixes – hang with my family and go camping – and I was suddenly back to my easy going, happy, bring on all challenges because I can take them, self.

Before coming to terms with my unhappiness and figuring out how easy it was to move away from that, how easy it was to return to who I was supposed to be, those around me could clearly see how much I was struggling.  They could see how miserable I was even when I could not.  My family and true friends did their best to help me along, to help me see that I was missing something, but sometimes we can be too close to these situations, feelings, emotions, to see them clearly.  Even though they affect us deeply, we are blind to the full scope of our experiences.

It’s funny to say that though, because while I may not have been aware how depressed I was, I did know that something wasn’t right.  I knew that because I was fighting against dark thoughts that hadn’t plagued me since the worst of my bullying in high school years before.  My closest friends and my family, whom I was still mostly pushing away at that time, never knew how dark my thoughts had grown.  I shared them with no one, safely tucked away within the confines of my mind.

Perhaps it was realizing that I was keeping those thoughts a secret that led me on my path to discovery?  Perhaps it was just taking the time I needed to heal?  Perhaps it was just getting to the point where I felt I had nothing to lose and so was open to anything and everything?  How I finally came to my point of self discovery, came up with my short two item list (family and the mountains), is unknown.  I don’t need to know the how and why of it, though.  What’s important is that I was able to step out of the darkness and be happy again.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Queen Creative have thrown out a real challenge for their final episode in this season’s Prompts for the Promptless:

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Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

The Johari Window is a method of representing information (regarding feelings, experiences, motivations, intentions, attitudes, etc) – from 4 specific perspectives.  It is a technique to help you understand how you are perceived by others, and how you see yourself.  The perspectives are as follows:

  1. Open area: The things that you about yourself, that others also know about you.

  2. Blind area: The things you don’t know about yourself, but others know.

  3. Hidden area: The things you know about yourself that others do not know.

  4. Unknown self: The things no one knows about you.

The four perspectives are not always equal.  Someone who regularly self-examines may have little to no content in window 4– “unknown”.  Someone who is secretive by nature may have a large window 3 – “hidden”. Creators of the Johari Window use 56 adjectives to guide the completion of these four perspectives.  Those can be found here, along with more information about how the window works: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johari_window

Suggested Prompts:

  • Share one, or all, of your areas with us
  • Show us a picture that represent perception
  • Compare a self-perspective to an outside-world-perspective
  • Describe yourself from the perspective of a stranger
  • … or make up your own related prompt!

I broke free

I did it.  I managed to get off my wondrously evil couch and edit my NaNo project, Sierra Storm, for a bit.  4 whole chapters checked for grammar, plot holes, pacing, and a whole bunch of other silliness. 

*Pats self on back.*

I think it’s a good sign that I’m enjoying reading it while editing, right?

Here’s an exerpt I especially liked from Chapter 6 (this is still the unedited version – I’m doing all my editing with paper and pen):

The stars seemed to wink at me above, laughing at me, and with me over the humorousness of it all; silly human getting worked up over something harmless.  Such is the way of life.  We make fools of ourselves and the stars are our witnesses.

“Then again, I’d rather have the stars be witnesses to my follies than anyone else.”  True.  Very true.

I cast about for a new song to start up but the momentum and motivation had been lost.  My eyes were drawn back into the fire and I partially zoned out; only semi-aware of my surroundings and not really thinking about anything in particular.  When mother and daughter deer made their way back through my camp, disappearing back into the forest at the spot in the trees where I had first seen them, I knew they were there but didn’t raise my gaze from the fire to track their progress.

When, a few minutes later, a flash of red streaked across my field of vision across the fire from me at the edge of the clearing I ignored it as well.  Once again, I was aware of it, aware of the color, the shape hinting at substance (it had weight and depth, it wasn’t just a flash of light), and the new twist in the mystery in that it appeared directly in front of me rather than at the corners of my sight.  However, unlike the previous incarnations of the mysterious movement, I had finally learned that going in search of the source wouldn’t bear any results.  So, I stayed seated, warm and relaxed, by my fire.

The night continued on and eventually I found my voice again, sang to the mountains, and sang to myself.  My pile of firewood dwindled away to nothing and the fire followed suit.  The stars kept on winking at me, letting me know they were in on the great cosmic joke that is human life.  Oh sure, we may think we are intelligent beings, but how smart are we really?  That’s what I thought.

The fire puffed out, leaving only the glowing  bed of coals, and I made my way to my tent to get the rest I would need to do it all again the next day.  There would be more elevation to gain and lose, there would be many more miles to traverse, there would be more aches and pains, and fishing, and fire time, and cooking, and water to be pumped, and based on the last two days there would probably be more instances of a mysterious flash of red crossing my vision.

I zipped myself into my sleeping bag and wondered for a moment if I’d miss that mystery if it didn’t show up the following day.  Would I wonder where it had gone?  Would I wonder if I had just been making it up?  Or would it be out of sight and out of mind and I wouldn’t even waste a second thought on it.

Through the mesh top of my tent I saw the stars wink at me again.

master of the house

I wasn’t going to respond to today’s Daily Prompt because I enjoy too many different aspects of life to want to make the decision on which one skill I would like to master, which one I’d like to attain perfection.

However, while commenting on the Cheeky Diva’s response, an idea did come to me that trumps the rest and pushed me to share with my faithful readers.

Sure, I’d love to become a master in drawing and painting.  I’d relish being a master of writing and editing.  Beat matching, track selection, pitch control?  I am a dj after all and to be the master of those skills would be fantastic.  I love sport too and would be thrilled if I were a master of volleyball or soccer (football).  You see my initial dilemma?  How do I pick from that list?

What trumps all of those ideas?

As many of you know, my wife and I are expecting our first.  Fatherhood…  Being a parent…  That’s it, right? 

As Cheeky Diva explained to me, there is no way to be a perfect parent, there is no way to guarantee that mistakes won’t be made – and making mistakes and learning from them is probably an essential part of being a parent.  She is right, of course, you don’t get to be a Diva without knowing such things. 

But, as the pressure of the unknown, the weight of uncertainty, collapse upon me, the desire to know that I will make all the right decisions is tempting to say the least.  To be a master at parenting, to always know what to say, to always have the answers, to always make the right decisions and choices, to be strong when needed and forgiving when required, to be the disciplinarian when called upon and a champion when accolades are warranted…

If I could be master of any skill in the world, how could I choose anything else?

My NaNoWriMo 21

“So, you’ve had your own scary encounters too?” Frank asked incredulously.  “And yours was mostly red, Anton?  And George’s was mostly yellow?  And the two we saw were mostly blue and white…”    

The poor man looked like he was about to faint.  He and his son had been turned around and guided to Rae Lakes just like George.  First the weather had gotten worse and stalled their forward progress, and then they had started seeing things watching them from a distance.  Frank had been hounded by a blue blur and Jordan had been hounded by a white blur.  Neither father nor son had seen much more than an indefinable shape crossing their paths or standing at the edge of their periphery.

The few cursory attempts they had made to track down the creatures were met with failure.  That wasn’t too surprising considering their attempts had amounted to shining their flashlights in the direction they thought they had seen something and then sweeping thoroughly through the areas in the opposite direction as they hurriedly retreated. 

“How can there be four of these unknown things running around the forest?  Wowee, I just can’t wrap my head around it.”  Frank placed a hand on either side of his head as if he needed to do so to hold it in place and that would somehow provide clarity to the situation.  George and I said nothing in response, even after he dropped his hands and looked to each of us, his eyes blood shot from lack of sleep, one at a time, pleading for an answer.  We had no answer to give.

They were both tired, frazzled, and sore, from feeling harassed and harangued for the past few days.  Every attempt to turn north and resume their normal route met with a sighting of one of the creatures.  Every attempt to head either west or east and quickly exit the mountains met a similar fate.  It was only the last two days when they had done nothing but head south that they had any sort of respite.  But, they had kept a frantic pace, trying to distance themselves from the colored blurs and their inexperienced bodies were paying the price for their haste.

Jordan fell asleep, leaned against his pack, almost immediately after arriving at the camp and dozed all through his father’s explanations how they had come to show up at the shores of Rae Lakes.  Frank finally woke his son when we told him to get his tent set up before the sun went down and to get going on putting their dinner together.  There would be plenty of time for us all to chat later.

George and I followed our own advice and went to our own little slices of the campsite to throw together our own dinners and for the next hour we left ourselves to our own devices.  Silence ruled the lakes, only broken by the occasional squawking of a blue jay and the splashing of fish jumping for their evening meals.  As popular of a camping spot as Rae Lakes was, I also marveled at the number of fish that could be seen just before sun set each day jumping in the lake.  The tiny concentric circles ran into each other as they overlapped, and the whole lake came alive with movement.  At times, when the feeding was at its highest point, it looked like the sky had opened up and started to rain down with some intensity. 

I watched the show from my butterfly chair as I ate my ration of almond chicken.  It wasn’t the best of the rehydrated options on its own, but with some hot sauce stirred into it, it transformed into quite the tasty dish.  It is amazing how the addition, or subtraction, of one ingredient can completely change a meal from inedible to savory, or vice versa.

On the surface, I’m sure I painted a very tranquil scene: resting comfortably in my chair, enjoying a hot meal, and taking in the expansive scenery that sprawled from horizon to horizon in front of me.  Inside, however, my mind was awash in turmoil.  What did it mean that we had all been “encouraged” to head towards Rae Lakes?  Who were the creatures that were making sure we made it there?  Was there some clue we should have picked up on?  How we were supposed to act now that we were all together?  Were the four of us the end of it, or would more backpackers show up the following day?  Where was this going?

These questions tormented me, they fried every circuit in my head as I tried to dissect them and discover the secrets within, as I chased the possible answers around and around and around in my mind.  Vicious cycles, trying to answer one question led to the next question which led to a third question which went on and on until it came back around to the first question.  There were no answers, only unknowns. 

That lack of understanding, that inability to get a grip on the situation and formulate some sort of response, some sort of plan to carry forward and figure out what was going on, played at my fears.  Fearing something leads to anger, and anger leads to hatred.  I hated not knowing what to do.

One by one, starting with George, followed by Jordan and then Frank a few minutes later, the rest of our little cadre pulled up seats next to me.  For a time there was nothing but the beauty of the setting sun across the lake from us, disappearing into the west, casting shadows on some things and illuminating others in brilliant light, before everything began to fade into darkness.  The uppermost rim of the valley wall glowed in oranges and purples in final defiance of the oncoming night before those colors faded too and the world was left in shades of gray.

Jordan, surprisingly, was the first to say something.  It was the most I’d heard him talk so far, which wasn’t saying much considering he’d slept through the discussions earlier, and hadn’t done much more than mumble under his breath at our previous meeting a few nights before.  “There’s nothing to worry about, right?  I mean, it seems like we’ve been gathered here, but if it was for a bad reason why wouldn’t they have done what they were doing when we were on our own?  Bringing us together just, like, makes us stronger.  Strength in numbers, or something like that, right?”

We all agreed, and then a thought struck me and I gave voice to it, “What if that is the point?”  When that was met with looks of confusion all around I stumbled through the idea, trying to get out enough of the jumbled thoughts in my head for it to make some sense to the rest of the group.

“Jordan said ‘strength in numbers.’  Why would they intentionally bring us together?  It wouldn’t be just to cause us harm because we are stronger now as a unit than we would have been apart.  So, perhaps they brought us together to make as stronger, to make us something greater than just the sum of our individual talents.  Maybe we are supposed to come together and stay together from here on out.”

There were no arguments with that theory, but they did lead Frank to ask, “But, why?  Why would we need to group up and what do they know that we don’t?”

George added his own question to the mix, “Why are we being forced to head south?”

Jordan, not wanting to be left out of the question asking period threw out his own, “Who or what are these creatures anyway?”

I didn’t answer any of the voiced questions and none of them offered their own.  Something Jordan said had once again resonated within me: who.”  He asked “who” are the creatures.  I had up until that point assumed they were some sort of wild animal, but the fact that they were working in tandem to bring us together, as it appeared they had done, alluded to a higher intelligence, it alluded to them being “whos” instead of “whats.” 

“We need to try and capture one of them, or at least get close enough to one to make out what it truly is.”  My interjection was met with blank looks.  “Easier said than done,” I rounded the statement off with, bringing my hands up in the mock “I give up” gesture.

“How do you propose to do that?” Jordan scoffed.  Frank turned towards his son to scold him for being rude but changed his mind and turned back to me and raised his eyebrows.  How did I plan on doing that?

I looked to George for any support but he just shrugged his shoulders.  All of this was well and truly out of his realm of expertise.  Somehow they had all turned to me to be the leader of our newly formed group and were already demanding answers and solutions I wasn’t prepared to give them.

To appease them, I took a shot in the dark and just started talking, “Well, maybe now that we’ve come together will be able to figure out a way to trick them.  Maybe one of us could head north, slowly, on the trail while the rest of us head south first, and then turn around and quickly scamper cross-country to try and get ahead of the one that headed north to begin with.  If we can get ahead of that person, then maybe we’ll be closer to the creature when it shows up to convince you to turn around?” 

Even as the words came out of my mouth I knew there would be problems with it and Jordan was the first to point one of those problems out, “But, once the runners got into the lead, like, wouldn’t their own wardens appear and harass them before the one showed up for the guy on the trail?”

It was a fair question and I had no answer, so I shrugged my shoulders in response.

George then asked, “Getting the timing down for the guy hiking on the trail would be tricky so the others could overtake him at about the same time.  Plus we have no idea how far we’d need to go north before they started to show up again.”

Frank said nothing.  He seemed lost in a world of his own, staring into space.  The trip had devolved and unraveled mighty far from the expectations he had set for the bonding time with his son.  I felt sorry for him.  I felt sorry for Jordan too.  The memories of backpacking with my dad and brother were some of my most cherished memories.  I can’t even imagine how different my life would have turned out if I hadn’t experienced those adventures or if something like our current predicament had happened on my first trip out. 

Rain, lightning, having to hike extra miles because there was zero space left at the camp we were supposed to stay at?  Yes, all those did happen on my first hike with my dad.  Weird creatures and the uncanny feeling, which I was more and more certain of the more I thought about it, that we were being herded in one direction?  That’s a whole other level of bad.

“Anyone have any other ideas?”  I didn’t think they did, but asking was my way of showing that I had at least thought of one and shared it with the group.

Jordan looked away, reserved once more.  Frank did nothing.  George shook his head, but then tilted it to one side mid shake.  I could nearly see the light bulb going off over his head.

“Now that we are together, if we stay together, maybe they’ll let us move on?  It was like you said earlier, Anton, we are on this path and we just need to see where it goes, right?  Maybe we should pack up tomorrow and head towards the nearest exit.  If we head out together maybe they’ll let us go?”

Frank perked up immediately.  “Go?  As in go home?  Wowee.  Now that’s an idea I can get behind.” 

Jordan said nothing but it was obvious he would follow along with whatever his dad wanted to do.

I liked George’s idea immensely.  It got us up and moving, and being pro-active rather than reactionary, and it would test the restrictions that had been placed on our movements previously.  Would they let us head west, north, or east as long as we travelled as a unit?  It was a question I wanted to know the answer to.

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

We talked for awhile longer, the stars came out for their shift in the sky, the fish settled down in the lake, and a calm surrounded us and our little part of the world.  As men of action it was good to have something in the works to test out, something that got us going, something to do.  Sitting around and waiting for whatever would come next did not suit us at all. 

We debated for a bit on which direction to head.  Kearsage Pass and Onion Valley would be the quickest way out but it started out heading south so it might take awhile to see if the creatures were still actively watching us and shaping our behaviors.  Cedar Grove, on the western side of the Sierra, was the next quickest exit, and it started by backtracking the way we had all reach Rae Lakes and heading north before turning west, but it was further miles. 

In the end we decided to head towards Cedar Grove.  It was all downhill, basically, and though the miles were greater in number, they would be easier miles on Frank and Jordan than heading over both Glen and Kearsarge Passes.  Plus, we would be heading north to begin with and that might get our little stalkers to show themselves quickly and then we’d at least be able to presume that we were either supposed to wait it out at Rae Lakes for something to happen, more people to show up, or something like that, or we were supposed to head south as a unit.

But, we had to wait for the following day to know for sure what the outcome of our experiment was going to be.  As amped up on adrenaline as I was, and with my mind exploding with thought after thought, I figured it would be another restless night.  That wasn’t the case.  As soon as I slid into my sleeping bag I was out like a light and didn’t stir until the birds woke me the following morning.

…..

Word Count: 2,464
Total Word Count: 45,804

Story progress: I can see the end!  That in itself is exciting.  The fact that this little exercise actually has succeeded in getting me to write something from start to finish is also exciting.  I have at least three half finished projects where I stalled out in the middle and never got motivated to return to them.  I’m motivated now though.  When I finsih this story I’ll hopefully be able to harness some of that energy and direct it towards some of my other work.  I hope so.  Starting to mull over potential names for this story…  any of my faithful readers have suggestions?  (I know that’s hard without knowing how the story ends, but if you’ve got something already, I’d love to hear it.)

My NaNoWriMo 20

The ascent turned out to be child’s play, really, especially when compared to some of my other off trail adventures earlier on the trip.  Dragon Lake was only a couple hundred feet above Rae Lakes and the slow steady incline up to it made the trek much easier than I was anticipating.  Once I reached it I pulled out my map just to verify that I had in fact found the lake I had thought I was heading to.  It was.  It wasn’t anything all that special.

I think the word “dragon” had just conjured up images and expectations in my mind of something extraordinary and even if the lake had been breathtakingly beautiful it still wouldn’t have met my pre-conceived notion of what I thought it should be.  As long as I could remember I had always been fascinated by books, stories, images, history, legends, and everything else related to dragons.  There was pretty much no way that any lake named after the beasts could have lived up to my expectations unless one rose from the depths, breathing fire, and flapping its weather wings to soar into the horizon across the unblemished sky.

Though the lake wasn’t anything exceptional, it was nestled up against the base of Black Mountain and Dragon Peak.  The mountain walls thrust out of the ground on the eastern, from northeast to southeast, edge of the water and quickly gained elevation with dizzying effect.  I tried to see if the lake had been named for the shape in the ridgeline or any of the larger rocks that happened to look like a dragon but nothing stood out at me.  Perhaps it had just been named for the ferociousness with which the canyon walls Looking up the canyon walls it was easy to determine that I would not have been able to find a path down them, especially with my pack on, had I chosen to try the cross country route over from Baxter Pass.  That definitely would have been a disaster.

So, had the creature been standing there to make sure I did turn around?  “I need to think of a better name for it than, ‘the creature.’”  I said it hoping to jump start a brain storming inspiration, but nothing brilliant came to mind.  I scanned the vast stretches of sheer, smooth, rock faces, punctuated by the odd jagged edge and long broken sections where chunks had come free and tumbled down.  I was looking for the odd splash of red hidden amongst the boulders, and yellow too, but didn’t truly expect to see it, and therefore wasn’t disappointed when I didn’t.

I turned my gaze north and looked down the valley I had climbed the previous day.  The name of the lake must have something to do with the view, which was quite good, because that was the only thing that made any sense.  It wasn’t the best view, the best panorama, or the most worthwhile of cross-country ventures, but it was enjoyable all the same.  I could understand why I had never realized that Dragon Lake was so close to Rae Lakes before and why none of the people I had hiked with before, who were more of authorities on everything Sierra related than I could ever hope to be, had mentioned that it was a good side hike off the lakes.  However, I was still glad I had done it.

I turned to look back at Dragon Lake once more and then wondered if I had just climbed up to it at the wrong time of day.  “Perhaps, in the afternoon, when the sun is moving into the west it hits the lake at just the right angle to turn it into a cauldron of burning yellow fire?”  I studied the lake and studied the path the sun would most likely take on its journey and came to the conclusion that it was definitely a possibility.  However, I wasn’t going to stick around and see if it happened or not and it was unlikely I would hike back up later that afternoon.  It would just have to get tagged back on my to-do list for a future trip.

I liked having things like that sitting in the back of my mind.  They worked as catalyses and drove me back into the Sierra year after year.  If I left things I wanted to come back to I made sure I found a way back to them eventually. 

The first hint of lunch time rumblings in my stomach got me moving in the direction of camp.  I took my time coming down from the lake, not because the terrain dictated it, but because I was enjoying the view, enjoying the activity of wandering through the mountain terrain, and because I was trying to postpone the conversations that George and I were bound to have upon my return.  Somehow, dealing with the weighty topics of the “what” and “why” of our creatures, our stalkers, our guides, didn’t seem quite as enjoyable as getting to bask in the glory of the Sierra.

Successfully back in camp, I searched through my bear canister to find my lunch fixings and then sat back in my butterfly chair to imbibe the nourishment my body needed while also imbibing the nourishment my soul and mind needed through the enjoyment of taking stock in where I was.  The Sierra is my recharging station, the fill up I needed to make it through another year of work and stress and life.   I had only gone a couple summers without visiting the mountains for a camping or backpacking trip in one form or another my entire life.  Those missed summers had ended up being the worst years for me.  Coincidence?  There’s no such thing.

I had finished my lunch a few minutes before, and was just continuing to relax in my chair, when George walked up from the lake and took a seat on the rock he had sat in earlier that morning.  As he was getting settled, he asked, “How was the lake?”

“Not bad,” I replied, “but not great either.  It wasn’t too difficult to get up to, the towering canyon walls are impressive, and the view down the valley was pretty, but it seemed like it was lacking something to be deserving of its name.  There was nothing that screamed “dragon” about it.  Though, I do think that it may just need to be seen at the right time of day to catch the light of the sun reflecting off its surface.  That’s a theory I’m toying with anyway.  How was your morning?”

“Uneventful.  I thought about packing up and heading over Glen but just never seemed to get around to and as the time passed my opportunity to make it up and over and to a good camp site on the other side passed too.”  George shrugged.  “I just couldn’t get myself motivated to leave, so instead I went on a walk over to the Ranger Station to see if they had heard anything about strange creatures in the area but there was no one there.”

“Of all the times I’ve camped here,” I chimed in, “I’ve never seen a ranger at that post.”

“Neither have I, but thought I’d give it the old college try anyway.  It would have been interesting to see if there had been any reports that matched up to what we’ve experienced.”  I nodded my head in agreement.

“From the Ranger Station I just meandered my way along the shoreline of the lake, stretching out my legs, and keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.  I came back for some food a little while ago and when I had eaten I went back down to the water just to dip my feet in and wash away some of the miles.”

“That sound really good.”  I scratched a spot just under the trim of my right sock, where the mud and dust of the trail had caked over a scratch I’d picked up early on the trip.  I grimaced at the sight of my legs and decided that I would definitely take a sponge bath of sorts that afternoon if I couldn’t convince myself to completely jump in.  High elevation lakes are very cold and it takes some very persuasive arguing to be convinced that completely submerging in one is worthwhile. 

“I sat there for a bit,” George continued, “and then headed back here when I thought I heard you return.  So, yeah, not all that eventful of a morning.”  The veteran packer scratched his chin through his beard.  He had a far off look and a slight turn down of the right side of his lips that created the faintest of frowns.  It was easy to guess that the unknowns of our current situation were weighing heavily upon his thoughts.  I considered myself an experienced packer but there were still many things I had never seen or done before.  For something unknown and elusive to come across the path of a hiker like George, who has done it all and seen it all, could be quite troubling indeed.  However, that wasn’t what was truly troubling him at all.

“It bothers me that I didn’t hit the trail this morning.  I don’t like that I didn’t have any desire to leave.  That’s not like me…  I’ve never experienced that before up here.”

I frowned in response, there was nothing I could add to that or say, there was no bit of insight or explanation I could offer which would shed some light on what might have happened.  It was troubling enough to feel like we had somehow been herded to that spot.  If we needed to start wondering if our normal behaviors were going to start changing too that would take feeling uncomfortable to a whole new level.  Finally, after a few minutes of silence, I said, “Maybe your legs just needed a rest.”

“Maybe.”

We both knew that wasn’t the truth.

After another minute where neither of us said anything, he returned to the question he had asked in the middle of the night, “So what do we do now?”

That same question had been running through my mind all night, even as I had been trying to get lost in the book I’d read, and I hadn’t yet come up with any sort of good answer to it.  And, maybe, that was because there just wasn’t going to be a good answer.  “Maybe we aren’t supposed to do anything at all?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t really know.  It just seems like if we were guided down this path for some reason then we just need to hang on for the ride.  What we are supposed to do will reveal itself in good time, right?  I just don’t see us needing to waste a lot of effort on worrying about the “why” of it all.”

“We are on a path and we will follow it wherever it leads?”

“In a sense, yes.”

George was not happy about that.  He pursed his lips and turned away.  His jaw was clenched and I could see the gears turning in his head as he worked through the situation.  When he spoke his voice dropped an octave and there was more than a hint of steel in his words, “I don’t like that idea at all.”

Neither did I.  Part of why I loved the mountains, as we’ve already covered, is the freedom that they exemplified.  The thought that we were just like pieces on a game board being moved about at the whim of something else didn’t sit well with me.  But, how many moves had we both made on that board thinking we were making our own decisions already?  How could we possibly know that any future decisions we made weren’t also based on some guiding force we weren’t aware of?

“I’m with you,” I replied, “but even if we set out to specifically remove ourselves from the path that has been set for us, we have no way of knowing that we weren’t supposed to do exactly that anyway.  We don’t know what is behind this, the motives, the end game.  We don’t have enough information.  But, the creatures we’ve both seen are playing a part in it, right?  So, perhaps they are the clue.  If we can figure out what they are then maybe we’ll know what we’ve stumbled into here.”

George perked up.  Being active, doing something, trying to understand what was going on were all things that he could get behind.  “Do you have a plan on how we are going to figure out what they are?”

I shook my head in the negative, “Not yet.  I’m mostly just making this all up as I go along.”

We sat in silence for awhile then, each lost in our own thoughts, and the world moved on around us.  A few white, puffy, tendril shaped clouds floated across the sky and we flicked our eyes up to watch their progress while also scanning the horizons to see if they had any larger, less friendly, companions but the sky remained otherwise cloudless.  The sun was just beginning to disappear behind the Painted Lady when the sound of boots coming stomping through the underbrush caused both of us to turn in our seats and try and pinpoint the sound.

My jaw dropped.

“Wowee, fancy running into you again.  Anton, right?”

Frank and Jordan came around the little stand of trees and climbed up onto the plateau of our camp.  I couldn’t believe it.  They must have gotten really lost to end up at Rae Lakes.  Then something in the back of my mind clicked.  The only people I had seen since the morning after coming down Muir Pass, who had all been on separate trajectories, were gathered together in one spot.  There is no such thing as coincidence.

Frank and Jordan dropped their packs unceremoniously at the far edge of the camp and Jordan slumped down onto the ground to lean against his.  Frank crossed the camp to come and join George and me.  We rose to greet him and as he stuck out his hand to shake mine, he said, “You are not going to believe what happened to us.” 

Try me.

…..

Word Count: 2,393
Total Word Count: 43,340

Story progress:  Nothing really to add at this point.  The story seems to be moving along fairly quicly at the moment.  I bet some of you were surprised to see Frank and Jordan show up again.  When I realized that’s where this was headed I know I was a little surprised, but having George suddenly show up completely changed things around for me.  Less than 7K words left to hit the 50K mark.  I think it will probably take a little bit more than that to wrap up the story with a nice little bow on top.