The wind whipped with a wild will, nipping at tuffs of hair and rippling outer layer of clothing like a pebble hitting a pond.
Strangely, there was no whistle.
In fact, the only sound was the pounding inside the head of the weary traveler. It was akin to a headache, but entirely something else. Like an indigenous jungle tribe had gotten lost inside the traveler’s head and was pounding on a set of drums to echolocate to an escape point. Or to signal another tribe.
Each climb up the mountain’s face seemed to egg the tribe on, pounding louder and louder.
The traveler’s toes and hands clung on the rock face, finding grooves and indents to curl around and propel upwards.
Behind, a condor cawed as its massive wings sweep the sky, boldly braving to bite at the blue skies.
The traveler envied the condor’s wings, wishing they had a set upon their back.
Sure would make climbing this mountain easier.
Which begged to ask…why were they climbing it again?
The traveler had forgotten.
Indeed, a few crucial details seemed to have escaped the intrepid traveler.
Where were they, how long have they been climbing?
All that seemed to matter was the rocky cliff before the traveler. Find a chunk of protruding rock, curl fingers around, then pull up, digging feet firmly into the mountain.
Behind the traveler, they could feel seasons change and the sky soared. The sun blazed a trail of lightning, simmering down low, casting a brilliantly blinding glare of a delicious orange yolk glow over all in the sun’s sight.
Once it sank, a sheet of blackness spread across and enveloped all with a coating of pitch. Peppering the black sky, stars crept through. A pale, indifferent moon makes a wavy band as it passes through its phases of crescent, to half, to full, then back to half and crescent again.
Then day repeated in a flash of light. Quick as a blink, it’s night.
Sweat welled along the traveler’s face. It was hard work, climbing up and up, to where, only the top knew.
What would happen if they just let go?
Might be easier to.
But no, they had already been at it for a while. Besides, the jungle drum beat seemed to have adjusted itself, or the traveler was accustomed to the poundings.
Up and up.
The traveler passed a shallow overhang that served as a sallow sanctuary for many a golden eagle. Bones of a previous meal littered the small space, a grim forecast of the traveler’s fate, should so much as a finger or foot slip or misstep.
A piton marked the furthest height achieved by a previous climber.
Dubiously, the traveler wrenched it out of its nook and stabbed it into a crack a few feet above.
The steel spike held and the traveler was propelled up.
Their eyes shifted and vision grew hazy, falling into the usual routine, stab and climb, stab and climb, stab and climb…
The traveler’s fingers curled onto the edge of a ledge of some sort of semi-natural walkway.
Eagerly, the tired traveler tediously rolls onto the ledge and lays there a minute, panting with effort.
That had been an age, an era, an epoch. An eternity.
As the traveler lay backside, their mind was an empty canvas, willing the Past to roll in and restore the missing pieces.
Still no recollection of a past life.
Even the arduous mountain ascent was slowly ebbing from memory. How long had it been again? A minute or a millennia?
With a frown, the traveler rolled to their hands and knees and pulled themselves up, brushing a few bits of dust off them.
Glancing back at the way they had come, the traveler was astounded by the view.
A vast expanse of land that seemed to abruptly drop down, a ring of trees hugged around the base of the mountain. From the traveler’s height the ring of trees seemed to be hardly thicker than a postage stamp, though it was probably a forest that extended for miles.
Surprisingly, there didn’t seem to be any clouds. Nor did the air seem thin or different.
Beyond the trees, canyons yawned and sliced through the land, topped in a layer of rocky red dust and dirt. All the scene needed was a sunset to really set the view off.
Turning back onto the trail, the traveler started forward. Well hey, walking was better than clinging onto the mountain. Less chance of slipping and plummeting off the side.
Then the traveler hit a root from an old tree and stumbled forward. Throwing out their hands, the traveler caught onto the edge of the trail, their feet dangling over the side of the mountain again.
With a grunt, the traveler climbed back onto the trail.
Okay, still dangerous. Just go slow. Nice and easy.
The hike was short lived as it were, on following the trail around a few bends, the traveler found they were at the top of the mountain – and they weren’t the only one.
It was a veritable party of people, all wearing nice suits and dresses, some with ostensible hats, others holding hankies. Seemed a bit formal, but whatever.
A few dozen rows of chairs were neatly spaced for the patrons to place their posteriors on.
The chairs were pointed forward of the traveler, presenting the traveler with the party people’s backs. Slowly, the traveler steps forward, ambling through the field.
Not a very cheerful lot, the traveler noted. All were seated or stranding solemnly as if someone had made a gregariously grievous social blunder of either breaking wind or being rickrolled.
Popping out the front of the field of chairs, the traveler saw the source of the seriously stone citizens: a long black casket bathed in bouquets of flowers.
Ah. Now the sepulchral scene made sense. The traveler was party crashing.
Well, no sense in making it a wasted trip. Might as well pay respects to the stiff than see who can help find the nearest saloon.
Peering forward, the traveler received a shock on recognizing the body in the casket. It was them!
Eyes as wide as the wheel on a ship, the traveler reeled back, whipping around to the crowd of people that had gathered.
No one seemed to notice or care, all caught in their own little world of crying and looking sad. Only a few antsy children broke the mold, idly tapping their fingers on anything that seemed even remotely musically inclined as their eyes scanned for entertainment like hawks for food.
Maybe the traveler was wrong, they had forgotten much about themselves.
It was impeccably impossible to discern the direct cause of death; the body in the casket looked pretty good. Like they were going to get up and go for a stroll after their noonday nap.
Surveying the crowd, the traveler noticed no one seemed to notice they were there.
Except one fellow. An odd sort, even for this group.
A male in a red flowery Hawaiian shirt and a large white Panama jack hat had locked eyes with the traveler.
Sauntering forward, the Hawaii Five-0 reject was carrying a drink in a coconut shell with a slice of pineapple and tiny umbrella sticking out.
Hawaii was smiling. Not at all in a manner that implied the slightest bit of sinister intentions. Hawaii’s eyes were bright and a spring in his step suggest he and the traveler were friends finally meeting for that fabled coffee.
This made the traveler feel even more uneasy. As if they should be heading in the opposite direction as fast as possible.
But Hawaii was already next to the traveler.
“It’s time,” he told the traveler.
Time for what? Tool time? Time to travel? Where? Back to the future?
Opening their mouth, the traveler draws a breath to express their thoughts, but Hawaii hold up a hand, halting them.
“You know. You don’t belong anymore.”
Hearing the words didn’t make it true. But it made the traveler realize it was true. There had been a sense of disconnect the traveler had felt ever since the hike up here.
Something was amiss. Something, or rather someone.
Nodding, the traveler looked at the body in the basket, wondering if it’d hurt.
“It won’t,” Hawaii patiently assured. “You need only embrace it.”
Patiently. As though he had been through this routine a hundred times before.
Maybe a few hundred thousand times before.
Dubiously, the traveler looked back at their body, wondering what came next.
Did the Hawaiian Reaper know?
The traveler glanced back only to see Hawaii had disappeared. Perhaps he had realized he was running late for an appointment with a white rabbit. Apparently the other funeral attendees got the afterglow memo as well; they had similarly vanished. Not even a trace of telltale Thanos dust to lent suspicion.
The ground began to vibrate. Like a giant cat that started purring. The few trees along the top of the mountain had their leaves shaken off. Then a seam in the very earth below the traveler’s feet split open.
Several other seams split open and steam began to vent from them.
No…not steam. Some sort of smoke. Smoke that shifted and whirled with a will of its own.
The swirling sentient smoke soared above, as though holding a conference and comparing stories.
Then as one, the smoke twisted suddenly as one and the traveler knew they were in the smoke’s sight.
Okay, into the casket.
Instinctively, the traveler knew the sentient smoke wouldn’t be able to invade the casket.
Hopping in, the traveler reached a hand to slam the lid down…only to be gripped in the clutches of gravity; the bottom of the coffin had apparently taken a coffee break. Probably to flirt with Hawaii’s hypothetical surfboard.
On feeling the first tingles of falling flight, the traveler had rammed their eyelids shut, certain if they opened them, they’d be greeted with the sight of a hellish vision below.
After a few moments, the traveler braved an eye.
Only pitch darkness.
You need only embrace it.
The traveler opened arms, as if to physically hug a gargantuan friend.
Hello, darkness, my old friend.
The river had come with no warning. If it was a river. The traveler was still expecting a tidal wave of lava to scorch the skin off their bones.
On first contact with the liquid, the traveler had instinctively closed their eyes. Now, bobbing on the surface, they opened their eyes and immediately blinked.
Stark, blindingly bright sunlight screamed into the traveler’s eyes.
From black to white, it took the traveler’s eyes a moment to adjust. As they did, shafts of green and brown slowly came into focus. A forest, or a jungle of some sort.
Vines stretched overhead, bright flowers tempting sat along the base of trees. Colorful ropes slithered along the jungle floor.
The river had a current of its own, carrying the traveler along. With their luck, it’d end up leading to a dangerous waterfall where they’d interrupt a poker game between three crocodiles and a jaguar.
Kicking and paddling, the traveler went sideways against the current, reaching the edge. Grabbing out at the first branch they saw, they held tight, only mildly surprised when the branch snapped.
Let’s try that again.
Aha. A lush green vine. Perfect.
The traveler grabbed it tight and gave a preemptive yank, testing its sturdiness.
Lazily, the other end of the vine raised its head, black eyes arrogantly glaring back at the traveler. A thin forked tongue flicked out.
Not a vine.
Ahead lay a bend in the river.
Using this to their advantage, the traveler paddled forward, with the current and used their momentum to beat the current and drag themselves up onto the jungle floor, sopping wet with water.
Well, with the sun as bright and hot as it was, the traveler would be dry in no time.
Plodding along, the traveler became thoroughly immersed in the jungle within a minute of wandering off. Now they didn’t even know which way the river was.
Overhead, a monkey, or perhaps it was a lemur, cavorted from tree to tree, moving with fluid accuracy. A bird of some sort flapped puppet shadows onto the jungle floor.
Higher ground. Get your bearings.
Yeah, made sense.
The traveler went up to a tall, semi-sturdy looking tree.
Tentatively, they stretch a finger and tap the tree, uncertain if they’d even be surprised at this point if the tree were to shatter into a million pieces.
Luckily, it didn’t and the traveler searched for proper handgrips.
The ascent up the tree reminded the tenacious traveler of something, but they couldn’t remember. They were preoccupied with avoiding the moving vines and strange spiders.
The traveler wasn’t certain, but the spiders seemed to glow. Furry spiders slithered over their back.
Maybe there was a hallucinogenic in the water.
Breaking through the top of the trees, the traveler looked around.
A uniform field of green treetops all around. Not so much as a telltale column of smoke hinted at civilization. The only deviation is a strange mountain with a monkey’s head carved along the side.
With little else to go on, the traveler makes plans to head for the monkey mountain…
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- LEP Commander
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