"I came to this country a little over two years ago, began Mark. "I was with the Peace Corps."
"Hmmm, said the marine, but Miller did not pay any attention.
"I wanted to help," he continued. "It didn't matter where, but I wanted to help. The world was in such a mess that. . . "
The sergeant managed to keep his face blank. He did not wish to interrupt the flow of words which came from the other. And they continued. And continued.
"But it wasn't satisfying to me," Mark said, looking at the marine, as if expecting an answer. When none came, he pressed for one.
"You wouldn't be satisfied, would you? Just teaching English to the children of the government officials?"
"Ah? Uhm, no. No! Not at all." The soldier caught himself in time, hoping that the other would not notice his lack of strict attention.
"I hadn't come half way round the world," said Mark, looking at the falling snow, "just to teach some pampered kids! The government elite did not nee d me. Or at least, I did not need them! That wasn't what I had in mind. At all, at all."
Silence fell in the cave. Snow fell upon the abyss.
It could not have been more than three minutes long, but that lapse in the telling of Mark Miller's story seemed like an endless expanse of time to the soldier. He was tempted to say something to break it, but decided not to.
"Wait," he thought to himself. "Wait." He looked towards Thubten who seemed to be studying his rifle. Rinjin stared down at a twig in his hand, as if deciding whether or not to place it on the fire. The marine tried to count his own heartbeats, but he could not feel them.
"Is my mind the only thing that's moving?" he asked himself. "No! The snow is moving! I can see it falling!"
"I guess," Mark started speaking again, "that my attitude was obvious. But no one did anything, afraid to make a scandal."
"Ah," said Sergeant Fields with relief at the beginning of the word flow, "Hmmm."
"The only way I could break it, change it," Mark said, his eyes looking at something far away, through the cave wall, through the solid rock mountains, through the storm,
beyond warmer hills, into a valley far to the south, "break the pattern, was to ask for a new assignment. I didn't know if they would give it to me."
"But,," he sighed and shrugged his shoulders, "I had
been a fair/average teacher. They had had no trouble with
me, not like some of my fellow-members who had come when I
did... They approved my request. I
"I don't know if it was to please me, or to get themselves off the hook. My teaching job was a plum, to some people. Living in the capital was almost, sort of, like living in Americalots of facilities, good food, even movies. But I couldn't take that any more. That wasn't why I had come to Asia!
"Whatever the reason, and I think the reasons were elsewhere, they said I could do a job in the hill country. I was delighted. I really didn't know exactly where I was going or what I would do there. But I accepted. I didn't know at the time why there was a vacancy. I found that out later."
Mark looked at the marine.
"That was when I met you for the first time," he smiled.
"What?" asked Sergeant Fields, cocking an eyebrow.
"Yeah," said Mark. "I met you at the U. S. consulate at that time."
"On what occasion?" the soldier asked, trying to remember. He could not.
"Maps," said Mark.
"Yeah. I was going to a town in the hills, and I wanted to locate it, spot it, on some map."
Sergeant Fields narrowed his eyes, studying the fellow Americans face.
"Maps? I don't remember you."
"I was looking for maps."
"It wasn't a long interview. I came to the consulate and asked for a map of the country. You would have thought was a spy! No one came out and just said that there were none, or that they weren't available. They hemmed and hawed, and sent me to someone else, always someone else.
"That's how I met you." "Me ?, I..."
"Yeah," he waved his hand. "You were the last person to whom I was sent. 'Ask the military attachés office,' I was told. That's where I met you."
"Hmmm, said the marine, still not remembering.
"'Sure, that's logical,' I remember I thought. 'He's got to have some kind of map for this remote kingdom."'
"You get one?" asked the sergeant.
Mark frowned at him.
"You know that I did not. None were available."
"None existed, " said the marine.
"Sure," said Mark. "Just like the helicopters! were available to me."
"A little paranoiac, weren't you?"
"Not at all. Don't you remember that two years ago you had a wall-sized map of the country covering your wall?"
"0h," said the marine, thinking, "When did we put that out of sight?"
"And you found some quick reason for getting me out of your office when I tried to study it."
The marine shrugged.
"Who knew what you were up to? Things were very sensitive in the hill-country. You might have been some kook."
"You could have asked. I would have laid out my Peace Corps credentials."
"That didn't cut any ice. I had sensitive stuff to protect. You could have been anyone."
"A spy?" smiled Mark.
"A spy," smiled Fields, staring back at him. "The capital was one nest of them."
"All interested in the hills?"
"All interested in the borders near the hills!"
"Well, do you remember me?"
The marine shook his head.
"It doesn't matter. It didn't matter, for I caught a glance of what I wanted."
The soldier did not speak. His eyes seemed full of questions.
"I found the route to where I was going. I found Tagnath."
"TAGNATH?" The marine was jolted. "They were sending you that far north? To Tagnath? What the hell for?"
"I went to replace another worker who had been there for quite a while. I think that they wanted him out of there more than they wanted me in. I found out later that he was not ... ah...suited to such isolation from his own kind. He had come to pieces and was giving Americans a bad name. I didn't know any of this beforehand. Afterwards, I just had to put the clues together."
"Why did they send anyone to Tagnath?" mumbled the marine.
Mark ignored him and continued.
"I never officially met the other fellow. But I did pass him on the trail. You had to hike in, you know, there being no real roads in this country. It was probably the fifth day out, at one of the last army checkpoints, that I think I saw him. I was inside with the checkpoint officer, who was going so painstakingly over my papers that I suspected that he could not read. His assistants were opening and closing the bags and boxes which were going with me. My porters were outside smoking and gossiping with the other soldiers. I was in the midst of a balancing act. I tried not to smile at the officer's prolonged inspection, feeling he would get annoyed and delay me further. At the same time, I tried to keep an eye on my supplies, so there would be no thievery. So I wasn't paying too much attention to what was going on outside. It was only when the jabber of the gossip suddenly stopped that I looked out of the upstairs room which served as the office. In the road, really the path, was a group of men, carrying luggage and carrying something more unusual. One porter had a chair strapped to his back. In that chair was a small figure of a man, wrapped up in blankets as if to protect him from the cold. But the weather was hot and humid. I caught a glimpse of his face when he looked up. Despite the fact that it was gaunt and the eyes looked haunted., it was obvious that it was the face of a Caucasian.
" 'And what is this?' asked the checkpoint officer. 'Ah?' I asked, turning. 'Crayons. Wax crayons. To draw, to sketch with,' I answered. But he did -not seem to understand. I corrected my wording. 'To write with. Something to write with.' '0h. Of course,' he smiled sheepishly. I looked back to the pathway below, but the man on the chair and his group were now gone. That was fast! That was a very fast stop at a checkpoint!
" 'Who was that' I asked. The officer shrugged. 'A sick man on the way to the capital. Perhaps he will make it in time.' 'What is wrong?' I asked. He rolled his eyes into his head. 'Who knows? Some people cannot live in the mountains for long time.'
"I did not pursue it any further, since I was busy enough watching the many hands which were going through my luggage. The delay was irritating.
" 'I am working for your government, indirectly, you know.' The officer smiled.
'Yes,,' he said, gold in his mouth shining. 'That is why we are expediting your papers so quickly!' I could not decide if he had said this in all sincerity or whether it was his sense of humor. I had the terrible feeling that it was the former, and that there was not an ounce of humor in his body. My alertness, however, managed to keep everything going along the trail with me to Tagnath."
"Everything?" asked the sergeant incredulously.
"Almost everything," corrected Mark. "Somewhere, someone had managed to take, to liberate, a pair of heavy wool socks."
"That's more like it!" laughed the marine.
"For some reason, during the next few days," continued Mark, "I did not give that apparition in the chair strapped to a porter's back a second thought. It might have been the steady uphill walking. It might have been the rain. I just wasn't used to such effort. The mountains hardly appeared out of the clouds. Clouds in one valley or another interfered with the viewing of them. I understood that they were magnificent. But I did not see any of them on that trip. Then there were the leeches ..."
"Augh! Leeches!" interrupted Sergeant Fields. "Damn leeches!"
"Many things kept my mind busy. No morbid thoughts were allowed. After all, I was on the way out, out into the unknown, where I would do something real. I was free of the capital brats! I now was going to do something worthwhile, something akin to what I thought I would do in that country in the first place!"
"It worked out like that. But it did not work out like that, too. It seemed that the timetable which went with my instructions did not face reality. And reality was what I got a lot of, a lot of that! In Tagnath!"
"Some of the people welcomed me with open arms. Others held back. The headman of the village was the most friendly. Too much so, to suit my taste. He was too greasy, too rich. His English, though not perfect, was very polished with a touch of the British in it. The jeweled rings on his fingers turned me off."
" 'I am here to help you,' he told me. But in actuality I was to have no connection with the local government. I was to act independently. 'Thank you, very much,' I said, and let him lead me by the nose. That satisfied him a great deal. 'Let me store your materials in a safe place,' he suggested. I balked. 'No thank you. They will stay with me.' That did not make him happy. He decided to bide his time."
"Luckily, I had brought two helpers with me from the capital. They were my servants and messengers. It was a good-sized operation, and I had to have some dependable runners for contact with home-base. They also acted as guards. The headman-wanted to replace them with locals, but I managed to put him off. 'It will be cheaper,' he suggested, land we can keep the difference.' I liked him less with each word out of his mouth."
"As it developed, I found out more than I wanted to know. My men ventured to local spots and heard opinions voiced as to how soon I would follow in the footsteps of the other man. It was a sad story. The other fellow was slowly suckered into the palm of the headman. He was supplied with a mistress. He was supplied with all sorts of rotgut whiskey. He got around to smoking opium. He became a rowdy member of the community, at first feared,, and then abused by the locals. It was hard to tell which diseases he caught first. His almost lifeless body was sent out, when he could no longer sign letters to request more supplies which the headman had been promptly stealing."
"'Like hell that will happen to me!' I had snapped. I then moved to other quarters, in a trailside 'inn' belonging to a town rival of the other man. 'But Master Miller,' said the headman, 'I was only pleasing the other agent. And the supplies went to where they were intended.' He was very logical. The materials, medicines and drugs, were intended for the locals. But he had intercepted them and was selling them instead."
" '.Don't call me Master..' I told him. 'But you are! You are the new Master of this region!' He smiled evilly. 'I am Mister Miller to you.' 'Yes, MISTER Miller,' he smiled. 'You are the new MISTER of this entire region!' 'Are you making fun of me?' I snapped, I remember. He angered me so much! 'No, Mister Miller. Why should I do that?' 'And furthermore,' I told him, 'you should only come to me when I send for you.' He frowned. 'But cannot we play bridge sometimes?' 'Cards? You want to play cards?!' He grinned a tight smile. 'It gets lonely here. Cards are a blessing.' 'I don't play cards.' '0h.' 'And besides, do you have two more players?' 'What for?' he asked in genuine puzzlement. I had not told him that it takes four players for bridge. The stupid fool!"
"If it had not been for the innkeeper, I might have been pulled into the spider's web. For it did get very isolated there. I set up shop in an adjacent building to the inn. What was I doing? Well, old Tagnath, that drinking place for tigers, long dead, that ancient stone village on the traditional trail to the north to the Tibetan border, had its first clinic. And I was the doctor, courtesy of the U. S. A. and the central government. There was no cost to the populace and it was supposed to pay off in good-will."
"Doctor?" asked the sergeant. "You're a doctor?"
"No. Not at all," answered Mark. "But I had the medicines. I had the antibiotics and the band-aids. That made me the doctor. My knowledge was primitive to say the least, but it was far ahead of anyone there. Though there was the local shaman. I sent the hopeless cases to him. Luckily, most childbirth cases never came near me. I guess I taught them a little about boiling water and a little about hygiene. Otherwise, I gave out a pill now and then."
He interrupted his story by laughing and looking towards the Tibetans, who now were smiling. Sergeant Fields caught the exchange but did not understand it.
"I was there to spread some good-will. In the process, I got rid of a few headaches and a few parasites. Luckily, as I've said, I had my two servants. One night, they managed to foil a burglary. It was quite a rumpus and the thieves got away. The next day, at clinic time, two of the headman's men came in for repairs. No one said anything about the fight in the storeroom. They had paid quite well for their attempt at thievery. I practiced my hand at closing wounds with stitches that day. They were grateful and wished to work for me for nothing. I declined their servicestoo risky."
"The headman did not give up easily. One night he sent a pretty adolescent girl to me. I say she was pretty, but I'm not sure now. After you've been in the hills awhile, everyone begins to look more and more charming. I might have been tempted except that I knew who had sent her. She was frightened out of her wits. She had been sent to seduce the American 'MISTER', the shaman with the medicines. Perhaps I would change her into a bird! She was a bird already-fluttering eyelashes and fluttering fingers. I don't know what she smelled of, but it was rancid. Thank God for that! She was a pretty thing. 'Go!' I told her'. 'Go!' And did she go! She was glad to go."
"There was traffic on that trail. It was surprising to me, since it lead nowhere. Once it hadit had gone to Tibet, a regular trade route. But since the Chinese were now in charge there, the borders were closed. There was no place to go! I observed the caravans. Sometimes men only. Sometimes ponies loaded downshort-legged ponies. Sometimes even goats with packs tied to their backs. I observed unseen, and studied their passage. The men with the caravans looked taller and different from the villagers. When I asked about them, I merely got nervous evasive answers."
"It proved to be that they were Tibetans. In fact,, they were Kham-pas, men from eastern Tibet, who had not stopped fighting the Chinese. That was a surprise to me, to say the least."
"The way I discovered this was simple. One day I was in the 'restaurant' part of the inn, a dried mud-floored room, with two tables and some plank benches. I was drawing the innkeeper's young daughter with the crayons which had puzzled the officer at the checkpoint. These wax crayons were my last souvenir of the school where I had taught the elitist brats. Not a bad likeness, I remember. There was a lot of noise outside, and before we knew it, three Tibetans had come in. They were as startled to see me as I was to see them. Weapons seemed to hang from all over them. A strap across the shoulder held a rifle at the back. The belt had a double set of daggers. Belts of ammunition girdled their waists. One of them had a pistol. Their expressions were fierce, nostrils flaring and lips curled in disgust."
"They jabbered at me in Tibetan, but I could not understand them. The innkeeper told me 'Quickly! Move aside so they may sit down!! They are Kham-pas!' I was too stunned to move. The little girl slid off the bench and fell onto the floor crying. One of the Tibetans glanced at her, but the eyes of the others did not leave me. The innkeeper scooped her up and put her in a far corner of the room. I still remained glued to my seat. The man with the pistol took it out and waved it at me. I was too frightened to move. But my mouth began to move before I realized it. 'You big ape! What's the idea of busting in like that and frightening-and frightening..' The man with the pistol aimed it at me, I ... frightening ... little girls!' And then he burst out laughing."
At this point in Mark's narration, Rinjin burst out laughing and spoke quickly to Thubten in Tibetan. Sherpa and Tenzin broke into smiles.
"Ho ho! Correct! Correct!" laughed Rinjin.
Sergeant Fields turned to the guerrilla leader.
"What do you know about this?"
"That was me! Rinjin!"
"Yes," said Mark Miller, "that was when I first met him. "
"And," asked the smiling Thubten, "did he shoot you?" '"No, he didn't" answered Mark. "But you know that! You were there too!"
"0h," said the sergeant, looking at the other two Tibetans. "Which one of you was the third man?"
They stopped smiling. Thubten looked towards the cave entrance. The others lowered their eyes.
"The other man was Dorje, but he died back there when the helicopter ... "
"It has stopped snowing," said Thubten.
"I will go and look. "
He stepped to the cave entrance, leaving the others with their minds filled with images of the dead man, Dorje.
Sergeant Fields did not share this mental image, but he recognized how it brought the others together. And how it left him out.
"Wind has blown," said Thubten after looking at the results of the storm, "snow has not been able to stay. Blown off the ridge, bare rock."
"Hmmm," nodded Rinjin. "Tomorrow. Tomorrow we go. Too late today."
It was a while before Sergeant Fields ventured to break the silence.
"What happened then?" he asked.
"What do you mean?" returned Mark.
"Back at Tagnath," pressed the marine, "when you first met Rinjin and Thubten."
"0h," Mark replied, looking at the fire. "Oh, that."
"Well," Mark said looking up, "I guess I might as well wrap that up. Not much to say, really."
"Go on," the other encouraged him.
"Rinjin was a pussycat," said Mark. "It was his sense of humor. Held never hurt a fly."
"Some sense of humor!" said the marine.
"Unless, I guess, it was a Chinese fly," mused the blue-eyed American. "He really did fight the Chinese."
The marine drew him out, grunt by responsive grunt.
"He knew English and had understood me. He thought it was quite brave of me and quite foolish, too, in the face of his pistol. But he appreciated my words and the fact that he had not intimidated me. The laughter had not told me this. He played the villain for a little longer, although he revealed that he understood English. 'What is that?' he demanded to know, pointing at the drawing. 'Picture,' I mumbled. 'Who 'Made it?'
"I ... I ... did," I told him. At that he sat down heavily and placed his pistol on the table in front of him. With a wild look in his eyes, he told me to draw him. 'Make a picture of me!' I almost told him to go to hell., but instead, in a perverse way decided to do it. I drew him with the wax crayons. It looked like him, but a little worse. I didn't flatter him at all. I gave him more wrinkles, thinned his hair and made his skin almost black. A tiny mole I made into a mushroom. Literally! I had this mushroom coming out of his chin!
"His friends roared with laughter! He was furious. The innkeeper was petrified. I realized that I might have miscalculated. But then he was folding it up and putting it into his pocket. He was laughing. I sighed the deepest sigh I can ever remember giving. 'Ah! I fooled you! You thought I was angry!' I'm not sure which time I was mistaken, reading him as angry or as amused. He seemed to be genuinely happy. He ordered some of the rotgut local whiskey for us all. I declined, which almost started him again. But then I settled for some buttered tea., which made him nod approval. They drank a lot of whiskey and I drank a lot of tea. The daughter went off to bed and the innkeeper smiled. The crisis was over. Rinjin said that he liked me. I was much better than the mouse that had been there before. As he got further into his cups, he insisted that I must have some Tibetan blood in me, since I drank so much buttered tea. I told him that it was impossible. He said that when I was older, that I would understand. I shrugged and kept drinking the tea. It was good, and I do like it, but on that occasion I was being careful not to offend him. He drank the whiskey and I drank the tea. Before long, they were singing folksongs and doing dances. 'And this is the way,' he would say, flashing out a knife, .'that we would kill our enemies!' More laughter. Eventually they left in the night. I don't know
what the villagers thought of all of this. But I suspected that they now had a cautionary respect for me, out of regard for my new friends.
"The Tibetans came through the village many times, sometimes with wounded men. I patched them up. I asked no questions. There weren't any more big drinking parties. Things seemed serious. Rinjin sort of adopted me, began to teach me bits of Tibetan. In case, as he said, I ever wanted to 'go to Tibet' with them. By this time, I knew they were guerrillas, and was aware that they were making hit-and-run forays across the border. I was surprised at that. it seemed like it would be risky for the local government. Why hadn't the Chinese crossed over after them? I guessed it was risky that way too. But that wasn't what puzzled me the most. It was logistics. They had supplies. They had ammunition and weapons. Most of this they brought from the south. They had to pass those army checkpoints! The valleys were too steep for the Tibetan caravans to avoid them. They had approval of the government, that was for sure. And the equipment-it was ... "
Mark hesitated and looked at Sergeant Fields.
"It was American!"
The marine did not blink, being a good poker player.
"But things seemed to calm down a bit. They were camped further north. But they were making fewer trips into Tibet. Rinjin told me ... by this time he really trusted me, I was his brother, his son ... that they were waiting for a build-up of materials for a real invasion. 'How can you do that alone?' I asked, for I had been to their camp and knew that their numbers weren't enough for a real invasion. We will get help.' 'Who?' I asked. 'Friends,' he smiled. It seemed that he thought that the local government, or some other government, would send troops. It was a mistaken notion. Someone was feeding him information that led him to this dream, with the intention of distracting him, to place him off his guard. It worked. But that was later.
"The Kham-pas had built a series of strong bridges north of Tagnath. These had eliminated the need of a great many detours for ponies and goat caravans. Good bridges, strong and beautiful with flags strung on them, which flicked colorful Tibetan prayers from woodblock prints into the air. They were proud of their work and put up signs declaring in multiple languages that these bridges came from the Kham-pas as a community 'service'. And it was, too. After all, other people used them as well. But, now...ah... those bridges are gone now! The last one was blown up when ... when ... the yogi saved Thubten...when the army attacked. Not the Chinese! They had not moved out of Tibet. They had sat safely there all the time!
"But I'm ahead of myself. I had known them for months, all the while studying Tibetan to keep the isolation from getting to me. I even picked up some of the written form. Rinjin thought I was a good student, saying this proved that I had been Tibetan in a previous lifetime, so I could just remember the language, rather than study. I thought that was funny, since I didn't go for that rebirth stuff.
"Eventually, when I sent my runners to the capital for a new shipment of medicines, something happened. I don't know what it was. I still don't. They didn't come back. I thought that the headman was responsible, and expected him to come round offering some of his men as replacements. But that did not happen either. They just never came back. The innkeeper had a suggestion. He thought, perhaps the government objected to my sharing medicines with the Tibetans. No, I thought, no, it can't be that. People are people. And besides, the government was supporting them. As a buffer against the Chinese or something. They gave them more than I did!
"Things became very quiet in Tagnath. It seemed that the town became more and more deserted as time went on. No one seemed to pay attention to this, except Rinjin. He noticed. He spoke of it once or twice and spoke of it no more. And travel patterns changed. The guerrillas did not go south for supplies as frequently. 'We have more than we need now,' Rinjin said. 'The time is approaching!' I could not share his enthusiasm.
"And then long overdue I got a message from the capital. It said that I was to return. I was to trek out immediately and report about my success. I was to travel light. I'd be able to return in a few weeks to resume my duties. But
that proved to be a lie. They just wanted me out. Unsuspectingly, I went.
"They told me that I was finished at Tagnath. That I would not be going back. "Why?" I asked. Had I done anything wrong? Oh, no. Not at all. The clinic was just being closed, that was all. But my gear. My materials. Oh, they would be brought down by porters, hired by the headman. Some of it did arrive, the day after I did! But most of it never came. The headman had the last laugh.
"And besides, I was informed that my stint in the country also was over. What? Wasn't that a little early, I demanded. No, not at all. I would get a bonus and vacation time, down in Goa or Ceylon, if I liked. But I didn't like it and it was unsettling, puzzling. Something was up and they weren't about to tell me. It made me careful and calculating. 'Great!' I sang and danced, 'glad to get out of those musty hills.' I even went to a few of the local U. S. AID dances and danced with a few of the diplomats' daughters. Even got drunk on American whiskey. and relaxed. They seemed to find this encouraging, Which was what I had hoped for.
"It was at one of these shindigs, when I was on the verandah of one of the converted palaces, that I heard the words 'Kham-pas' and 'Tibetans'. I was unseen by the voices, which belonged to a swarthy government colonel and one of the semi-permanent Americans of the delegation. A chill ran down my spine. I tried to listen but this was difficult since I had been chatting with a pea-brained, if big bosomed, daughter of one of the American diplomats. I had to keep talking to her, while straining to catch the words of the two men. They were in an isolated corner of the huge ballroom, against the verandah, not suspecting anyone was near. 'Kham-pas', they said. 'Tibetans'.. 'Time is up. They've outlived their .... I What were they saying? I strained, listened, and chatted at the same time. 'Yes, it's a lovely dress. Oh, from New York?' ('Kham-pas won't stop ... even if... 1) '1 am fond of you too, Miss Strathmore.' ('Send in the army ... 1) 'Just call me Mark.' ('Kham-pas won't surrender.') 'You're a dear person yourself!' ('Best thing ... surprise!') 'Being far from home brings people together.' ('Wipe them... ... in a strange land.' ('Wipe them...') What! What were they saying!? That foolish woman was drowning them out! ('Wipe them out!') I ... so lonely... ('It's settled!' 'They are done!')
"I was so startled that I paled and shivered, clutching at the woman's wrists. She mistakenly took this for a gesture of passion and flung herself at me. At first, I thought this was the worst of luck. But it turned out to be the best. The two men had seen my shadow and at that very moment stepped onto the verandah to grab a spy. But there had not been a spy ... just the ludicrous sight of two mismatched young Americans, clutching each other in an awkward and tight embrace. Of course, we broke apart at their arrival, all flustered. I was doubly relievedI had been saved from the arms of the diplomat's daughter, which could have been wrestler's arms, and I had not been caught eavesdropping.
"But that left me with a problem which sat heavily on my shoulders the next few days. Not only were the Kham-pas to be cut off from their supplies, but they were to be attacked! What was the cause of this treachery? I did not take long to figure it out. Obviously, a change in the political climate. Both the American and local governments were buttering-up the Chinese. They were accepting the defeat of Tibet, giving it to China, for the new friendship of the Chinese. That was obvious. They had to stop supporting the Tibetan guerrillas. But why attack them? I figured that out too! If they just left them alone, or tried to round them up peacefully, the guerrillas would surely run across the border to cause more havoc and they couldn't follow! But if they attacked, even if the Chinese heard about it, they must know that the Tibetans had been aided in the past. The Chinese would accept this as proof of their new friendship! And there was nothing that I could do!"
"Is that when you came looking for a helicopter?" asked the marine.
"Yes," said Mark Miller, glaring at him.
It was getting dark in the cave. Twilight was changing into a darker version of grey. It went through a dozen changes of shade. The fire did little to change the colors to those of warmth. The Tibetans were settling down to sleep early.
Mark continued to speak.
"There was nothing else to do. I came on foot!"
"You wouldn't get very far..." started the marine in the shadows, but stopped when he remembered that the other had gotten quite far north.
"I let everyone know I was going to visit some historic ruins east of the capital. I even had two porters. A few days out, I got myself lost on purpose and doubled back. I don't know how long they searched for me, but I had a headstart. I knew where the checkpoints were and travelled around them in the dark. That was possible for one person alone. I passed a very deserted Tagnath and was glad to be across the Kham-pa bridges. Reaching their camp, I found Rinjin... But ... but ... it was too late! It was too late!"
The marine could see the dark outline of the other's body in the dull light of the dying fire. Then he found himself speaking.
"Me too," he said. "And I had a helicopter!"
"What do you mean?" asked the invisible Mark.
"It was one thing to cut off their supplies," said the shadow of the marine. "It was another to slaughter them!"
"What did it matter to you?" sneered the unseen American.
"Ah" said Sergeant Fields, "I was involved with them all along. I was their link to the supplies. When the government, governments, made their switch, it was my word they were breaking. I thought I could fly in and settle it all peacefully. With a few words."
"Whose idea was that?"
"Mine," said the voice in the darkness. "I thought I could do it with a few words."
"Like a diplomat?" Mark's voice was scornful.
"Like a diplomat," the marine whispered.
Beyond the fire's embers, someone was snoring.
"It looks like you were expendable, too," said Mark.
"Yeah," said the marine, very quietly.
A hot coal fell a short distance in the Himalayan darkness.
"Do you think," asked Mark, "that the U. S. Embassy knew about it?"
"About the Kham-pas? Of course!
"I don't mean that," replied all the blackness from the deepest caves in the world, speaking with the chilling movement of an unfelt breeze.
"I mean," said Mark Miller, "their plans to kill you."
No fire moved. No darkness moved.
"An inconvenient marine?"
"Well, sighed Sergeant Michael Fields, "I guess they did. Dammit! I know they did!"
And Mark heard the sound of one hand, as a fist, smashing into the palm of another hand, time after time. "Dammit! Why did they do that?" Fist and palm. "Why did they do that?" In that empty cave, a night sky without stars, he heard the other man begin to sob.
Thubten was up before dawn, bringing the fire back to life.
"For the last time," he said to Mark later. The American had understood the words but the tone of his voice puzzled him.
They had some buttered tea, but no food.
Rinjin kept looking toward the entranceway expectantly. The marine took this to mean that he was concerned about the snow starting again. He was wrong.
Sherpa was closing up the butter sack, an aged-looking thing made out of an animal's bladder. It had a good quantity left. While the others slowly warmed themselves with the hot fluid, he was busily wrapping and tying. It was very evident that he was planning to be on the trail within a few minutes. When he had finished, he stood and gazed at Rinjin as if to get his attention. The Tibetan guerrilla leader looked up at him and nodded his head in the direction of the dark interior of the cave. Sherpa seemed to understand and vanished into the darkness. When he returned, he carried an armful of wood. This he commenced to attach to his pack.
Sergeant Fields noticed this and commented aloud.
"That's a good idea. Perhaps we should all take some. Never know when we'll need some more."
Rinjin shook his head and finished his tea. Then he spoke, on either side of a gesture which wiped his lips.
"It is not necessary. Sherpa has sufficient."
"Sufficient?" Fields protested, looking out-the cave entrance at the distant ghost of the glacier. "Who knows when we'll find more wood out there!"
Rinjin stood up, pulling on his pack. It was a gesture that ended the talk, but Thubten added a few more words, as he struggled with his straps.
"It will last, until we get there."
Mark looked up. He was rolling his sleeping bag.
"There? Where is there?"
Rinjin squinted at Thubten without adding any more expression to his face.
"AH!" said the flustered Tibetan, avoiding his chief's eyes. "AH! Where there is more wood ... more wood... ah... trees...."
And his voice trailed off.
In the movements of departure, this was all lost.
Mark caught hold of it, held it and questioned it for a moment. But as the fire was kicked out, and the first man stepped out onto the trail which led up to the caterpillar's ridge, he slowly let it lie, remain, extinguished with the other ashes.
"It seemed for a moment," he mused, "that Thubten knew where we were going. But we're just running, running away .... not running to ....
He stepped into the cold morning. The illusion of an overcast sky was quickly falling apart. There were rips in the mist and blue was being born, suspicion of nearby sunshine was suggesting itself, tearing the fabric of the clouds, opening the day.
He had decided to carry his own pack and the Tibetans had not argued. But within a few steps he realized that it might have been a mistake. Three of the men vanished quickly up the trail.
Sherpa lingered in the gap and Mark Miller found himself the last one, again.
Chapter Twenty One
To either side of the track on the ridge there was a slope that fell into space. That was where most of the snow lay. It made their travel easier, and it made Mark Miller's walking possible. One more element of a difficulty to his movements would have stopped him. Luckily, soon the incline became leveled off. They were not going upwards any longer. It became more tolerable to his shrieking lungs. Ahead, he could see Rinjin and the others waiting. But he did not look at them for long.
To either side, farther away, were mountains. They did not crowd in as before. Those nearby peaks, the tiger's claws, were lost far behind. Now only distant mountains were visible. He observed Thubten swinging his head, as if looking at the circle of white jagged edges. He almost was tempted to study them, but he needed all of his concentration for putting his right foot in front of his left foot. But even without looking at them, he knew something was happening. The valleys were full of clouds, obliterating everything except the tiger's teeth mountains and the caterpillar ridge. They were luminous and lustrous. They barely moved. But move they did, edging upwards, tossing filaments of spiderweb veils upwards, and receiving them as they fell. Then, these shining strands were tossed again, to remain fixed, as if to the overcast sky. But everything was becoming so bright!
To either side., the mountains vanished in the brightness. The trail itself, if it were a trail, did not get covered but became difficult to see in the blinding glare.
"Look at this!"
Mark squinted at the snow nearby, on a slope plunging to the right.
There, imprinted in the soft snow, was a huge footprint. It was of a bare foot!
"Yeti!" whispered Sherpa hoarsely.
"Abominable snowman?" smiled Sergeant Fields scornfully.
Mark squinted up at Rinjin's face, waiting. His lungs were relaxing. The perspiration on his forehead was from his exertion, not fear.
Rinjin shook his head with a gentle smile.
"No. Not Yeti. It is the yogi. He went that way."
Sherpa pursed his lips doubtfully but did not question his leader.
"How could that be?" asked Mark. "Look at the size of it!"
Hidden sunshine was making the rising clouds unbelievably bright.
"Heat," said Rinjin, gesturing at the brightness, "sun. It has melted .... melted snow, making his footprint larger."
He squatted down and pointed out details. See? It is human!"
No one spoke. Mark did not know what to think. All that he knew was that they were standing still and for that his body was grateful.
"There is another one!" said Tenzin, who had been quiet until now.
"Yes," said Rinjin. "He went down this way. Come!"
And with that he moved after the descending footprints, not waiting for the others. Mark Miller's heart leaped when the Tibetan vanished into the brightness.
"Come!" he heard his voice once more, followed by the sounds of his boots on the snow, fainter and fainter.
Thubten followed so quickly that even the sergeant was caught off guard. As the marine was lost to sight in the glare, Mark heard Tenzin say, as if to himself, for no one answered, "How did the yogi know? How did he locate the way down?"
Sherpa and he were the last to leave the ridge. They crushed the snow. Mark's boots crushed the snow within the huge footprint, with room to spare on all sides of his foot.
"The yogi could not have made this print," he thought, blinking at the dazzling whiteness.
Sherpa stayed only a step in front of him, pausing when he heard the American pause, looking back in the brightness, catching his eye with his glance, as if to say, "Do not delay. They are getting ahead of us!"
Mark could not see the others and he could not hear the others. He saw the dazzling brightness which reminded him of his dream and he shivered. On the snow before him, slanting downward, were huge naked footprints, and they did not make him feel any better.
"They are too large!" he thought. "SVA YAM could not have made them!"
In the white clouds ahead, not downward, but straight ahead, into space, he thought he heard laughter.
He shook his head and clamped his teeth tightly closed.
He concentrated on stepping. He one-pointedly clung to walking, intentionally stepping hard with his boots into the middle of each of the barefoot footprints. He crushed the snow with his right foot. He crushed the snow with his left foot.
Chapter Twenty Two
It was not long before Mark could sense the closeness of rock walls. He felt it first in the diminishing of the brightness of the light. The snow underfoot became thinner and soon was bare rock. Within a few steps on that rock, he could observe himself being enclosed on either side by the rough vertical rock walls. If he put out his outstretched hands, he could touch them. Looking back, he could see the slope of the trail vanish up into the brightness. Overhead, the white cloud hung down low over his head, just barely missing it. Ahead, Sherpa stood waiting patiently. The trail seemed to vanish into solid rock. Walking in that direction, he soon discovered that this was an optical illusion, and the way twisted around the rock walls. Sherpa nodded and moved out ahead of him, vanishing as if into rock walls every few yards, as the trail turned one way, or another. It disconcerted the American to see the Tibetan disappearing and re-appearing out of the solidity.
"I know what it is," he thought, "but-but ... it's making me dizzy!"
Somewhere he heard some pebbles tumble. Rinjin? Moving up ahead?
Sherpa vanished again, to the left. This time, when Mark made that move, he could not see the Tibetan. There was another twist to the right. He moved in that direction as quickly as he could. But the Tibetan was still not in sight. Again to the leftagain no Sherpa. A sense of panic struck him at his throat.
"What if I've missed him?" he thought.
That was immediately followed by another twist. The walls were closer now. The white cloud rose higher overhead, ten to twenty feet. He stopped to catch his breath. Now the rough walls were merely wide enough for him to pass through, without turning sideways.
"That's foolish! How could I miss him? There's only one way!"
But panic struck him nonetheless, as he made his way through the narrow cleft. The brightness was higher and higher above him. Shadows seemed to cling to the rock, masters of the air within this enclosed space. He began to move faster, carelessly, bumping and grazing the walls as he tried to make better speed. Somewhere, deep inside of himself, he felt an unvoiced fear. If it spoke, it would have said, "I'm never going to get out of here!"
Somewhere, far overhead, he heard a laugh. Was it ... could it be SVA YAM's laughter?
"No, it can't be! It couldn't be!"
He stopped and stood very still, looking upwards. He had to verify the direction of the laughter. Far above, he could not measure its distance now, he thought he saw the cloud, bright like an upside-down white river. It even seemed to be moving, with rapids and cascades, far, far, down...no ... up there! He shook his head and moved forward between the walls. He came out into a round clearing, perhaps fifteen feet across, with the walls curving upwards and inwards for another twenty feet before rising into the cleft upwards. He stepped into this space, feeling the lack of fresh air. It was if he were in an inverted cup. He looked about, struggling with his inhalations, having difficulty breathing.
"Oh, my God!" he said, dropping to one knee, his camera swinging.
He fell to his other knee, gasping, and then sat down.
"This is a dead end!" Gasping and gasping.
Chapter Twenty Three
Sherpa left Mark far behind, sure that the American would have no difficulty in following. After all, there was only the narrow path formed by the cleft. A few miles further on, he broke out into the open. The trail moved down amongst boulders and rock-slides, in the deep shadows of a pine forest which itself was in the deep shadows of a precipitously steep canyon whose walls pushed inward exceedingly close, no more than sixty feet apart. They allowed a broad band of bright cloudiness overhead. There was no choice of a path except that of a rambling dried stream-bed. It moved downward at an incline, and the young Tibetan followed this. He felt that he would see his companions soon. He was so intent upon the rocks beneath his feet, to insure a proper footing, that he did not look overhead. In fact, if he had, he probably would not have seen anything. But he had not looked, and he had not seen. That was his mistake. He had not seen his danger. He had not seen the large falling rock. It struck him-on the shoulder and knocked him to the ground. His cry of pain was a shriek which was cut short by the two slabs which followed quickly after the first.
Before they struck and killed him, Sherpa saw, high above him, as if attached to the canyon wall by his shoulder blades., the American yogi. He was throwing down the rocks! That was the last thing which his eyes saw.
His dying cry ran like a ghost into the trees. Some of it was lost there. Other shattered pieces of it, like bits of glass, pierced downward through the canyon, straining to reach human ears, but failed to do so. One portion of that last exhalation of his spirit ran backwards, also, into the cleft pathway, twisting and turning, right and left, to make its way back to the snow and the lofty brightness. It was only a whisper when it burst into that strangely-inverted cup of rock where Mark Miller was strangling, trying to breathe, choking. It entered from the second opening to the cup, to which Mark was unheeding, as if blind. It ran around the walls, running and ringing on the curves, rising upwards on the inner curve and falling upon the struggling American. It never reached the snows. All of it entered into Mark Miller's ears.
Only a whisper, but what a shriek!
"What!" Mark's head jolted up, his eyes staring. "What is that!"
In the process, he inhaled deeply and began to breathe very quickly thereafter, staring about in confusion.
"What ... it
Straight in front of him he saw the second entrance. He did not analyze or think about it. He stumbled to his feet and staggered towards the exit from the stone cup.
"What? What ..." He continued to breathe, making his way down the narrow passageway.
Not until he had cleared the cleft and entered the narrow tree-lined canyon did he understand What had roused him from his strange choking-spell.
He found the body. From the clothing, he knew that it was Sherpa. He became sick at the bloodiness of the sight.
There was not much he could do. He knew that the others were nowhere nearby, otherwise they would have heard and been there already. Despite remnants of nausea, he had to do something about the body.
"His death cry saved me," he thought, still not reasoning out the logic of the events, or even of these words. "I've got to...at least ... I've got to do something for him."
Sherpa's rifle was not in sight. Mark stripped the body of its belt of ammunition, almost automatically, remembering this image from earlier events. The only personal effects the dead Tibetan seemed to have was his beads, his mala. Mark took this into his hand and started to count them off, one by one, all the while saying the Buddhist prayer., "Aum Mani Padme Hum. Aum Mani Padme ... "
He flipped the rosary around his neck like a necklace and began to pile stones about the body.
"I don't know if you bury your kind this way," he said aloud. "In fact, I doubt it. But I've got to...Perhaps there are animals ... "
And he got sick again.
When he recovered, he continued to pile the rocks around and over the body. With each rock, small or large, he recited a word of the prayer.
He grunted and gasped, moving stones.
He piled them up. Finally, he stopped, and looked down at the mound.
"Aum mani padme hum!" he muttered, fingering the beads around his neck, absentmindedly.
"Hail the jewel is in the lotus!"
"Aum. . . "
THUD! A large rock landed near him! Looking up, he saw SVA YAM, as if moving on the canyon wall, as if attached somehow by his back. He was hurling another small boulder at him!
Mark leaped aside and the boulder missed.
"What are you doing alive?" shouted the apparition above him, ripping another stone from the canyon wall. Mark could not believe his eyes. Was the man floating? But he had no time for that! Here came another boulder!
"Oh God!" he exclaimed, and without realizing it, he fingered the mala and continued to recite the mantra, which he had been chanting over his dead friend's grave.
"Aum mani padme hum!"
The boulder stopped in mid-air! It paused for a moment and shattered into a billowing cloud of dust, which fell harmlessly upon his upturned face. Mark momentarily blinked his eyes as the dust fell. When he looked again, SVA YAM was gone. He was nowhere to be seen. But he could hear him! From farther down the canyon, receding fast, came the sound of the yogi's angry voice.
"This time, you escape! This time! But not forever! Wait! " -
And it got lost, despite his straining to hear it.
"Wait! Mark Miller ... wait ...."
Mark blinked the remaining dust from his eyelashes and bit his lip.
Chapter Twenty Four
It was a long descending canyon which continued for a long way into the descending afternoon. Physically, it did not change much with the trees keeping Mark company, equally as many, equally as few, as these had been in their patchy distribution at the exit from the cleft. Physically, it was not difficult for the American to travel it, the downward slope being an encouragement to his lungs. But it was his heart or his mind which was wounded by Sherpa's death.
"Who ... ?" he started., and interrupting the question even before formulating it completely, he answered it. "SVA YAM! The yogi SVA YAM."
He made his way through the boulders of the dry watercourse, not once thinking of the life of the trees, not once questioning their existence there. Since he did not question., he sought no answer and received none. He did not see the wetness of the rock canyon wall, disguised as discolorations, of dark browns and deep blues. He did not see portions of these walls shine from the light from the distant tops, quickly rising higher as he quickly moved towards the point of earthly gravity. No wetness reached the rocks
Mark Miller shook his head every few steps, as if to clear his eyes, to wipe away bloody thoughts. These actions were intersected by quick glances upwards, to either side, apprehensively scanning the sheer walls. Their emptiness did not reassure him. He watched his steps upon the rocks, continued in his movement down the canyon, shook his head and scanned the way. It was a continuous cycle, a cyclical series which took him deeper and deeper into the mountain.
He did not see anyone watching him, for there was no one to be seen.
Mark's walking had become automatic. It was controlled by rocks and stones. He was aware of their smoothness as he passed over them, but did not remember stepping on them or over them. He was flowing over them, past the trees. Those same trees were dark against the canyon wall, almost observing him, almost watching his feet move. In actuality they never reached that level of awareness. Their presence pushed their existence, their being, in that direction, but they were stopped short of such perceptions, of such consciousness, by their own nature and the nature of the traveller before them.
The sky was darkening, which consequently darkened the canyon. In that dimming light, the light of the fire far ahead became all the more a bright beacon. However, it was no beacon to the American, because he did not see it. His eyes were down, watching the rocks and stones move past his feet. Had he looked up, had he awakened from his walking, he still may not have been aware of the flickering flames. He was not looking for flames. He was looking for stones, for rocks, for places to put his feet.
It was thus that his friends saw him before he spotted their shelter in the shallow cave. Rinjin stood up and waved at him. Thubten did not move, merely observing his progress in the shadows. There was scarcely enough room under the tilted slab of rock which leaned away from the canyon wall to overhang the others.
It was the marine who called out to him, "Hey! Miller! Over here! Don't you see us?"
That roused him. He stopped and looked up to the right. There up above a fall of rubble was the shallow shelter with the now blatantly bright fire. He could not see all of the figures behind those flames.
"Oh," was his unheard response as he hesitated before he moved again.
The rubble rattled beneath his feet as he made his way upwards. As he reached the flames, the sky darkened over completely and sharp bullets of rain began to fall. A dozen struck his back before he could get under the overhang of rock.
Tenzin looked past him and asked, "Where is Sherpa?"
The other Tibetans and the marine seemed to freeze in place waiting for his reply, but he made none. He could not speak. He stared past them, dumbfounded and stunned.
For there in the rock shelter sat the American yogi SVA YAM, smeared with ashes, glaring at him and smiling.
"What is it?" asked Sergeant Fields. "What's the matter?"
Mark continued to stare, opening his mouth and closing his mouth, finally squealing out the words.
"Sherpa is. . dead."
That statement activated the others. Eyes, arms, bodies all became agitated.
In the confusion, Mark stared at the yogi, hatred rising in his chest.
"He ... HE" he gasped, staring past the fire, whose flames now danced to and fro with the wind of the lashing storm, the falling dark rain.
"He..." and Mark Miller's eyes were caught by those of the blue-eyed yogi, who continued to smile.
"He...." he finally broke out, "died from a falling rock! I ... I ... I buried him."
Then words were lost to him. The words were lost in the staring eyes of the ashen face. Soon his thoughts went racing after the words. He caught at them in his anger, but they raced by with the wet wind. He reached for those thoughts, but they escaped, falling, falling deep into the substance of the rock. He was angered at their loss, for with them went memory, a memory that was repugnant yet dear to him. It fed his anger. It fed his awareness. It had told him some horrible truth. But now., it was almost lost to him. It was being drained away from him and buried beneath the earth. His teeth tried to hold it in their tight embrace, but it escaped. Before his eyes he saw cracks in the rock wall. They crossed each other but did not make a cross. It became more the sign of a wavering letter "V"
"I'm losing it," he thought, "but the rock will bring it back!" Perspiration sprang to his forehead. "Let the rock bring it back! ! ! "
Then the memory of the events in the canyon was gone. Mark shook his head in anguish.
Rinjin saw his distress and waved his hand as if to stop further words, not realizing that none were forthcoming.
"Enough," he said, "that is enough."
"Ah..." said Tenzin, shaking his head.
"Too bad, " said the marine.
The yogi squinted and covered his smile. Mark looked away from him, shaking his head., puzzled by his own intense anger.
The wind began to whip about under the overhanging rock slab. With it came arrows of rain, hissing as they struck the fire. They spat and sputtered as they fell on the fire, slowly cooling its heat.
Up the canyon, water was trickling amongst the rocks and boulders as the once-dead stream came alive and
invisibly made its way towards them. As it came, it was followed by ever-deepening rivulets of water, bouncing first like white cats, then like white tigers, down and over the boulders of the now roaring torrent. The men in the shallow shelter were aware of none of this. Uppermost in their minds were the lashing tentacles of rain which were putting out the fire and which were getting them wetter and wetter.
"Dammit!" cursed the marine as the fire went out.
It plunged them into darkness and isolated each man from the others.
"Dammit!" he repeated, but this time he was unheard due to the wind taking voice and howling past the sharp edge of the rock above them.
The yogi smiled, unseen. Mark glared in the darkness, his eyes moving to and fro, trying to remember and being frustrated by his inability to do so.
"Be still!" he heard Rinjin say to Tenzin. "Listen!"
And he strained to listen, but all he could hear was the wind and the sounds of rain hitting his clothes.
"There!" said Rinjin voice. "There it is! It is the sound of water!"
Mark in his muddled mind thought that that was a strange thing for the Tibetan to be saying. Of course there was the sound of water! Why was he saying such a thing?
"Dead river is rising!"
Dead river? Ghosts? What did he mean?
"It is flooding!" said the Tibetan in the darkness.
And with that Mark jolted upright, allowing the rain to strike his face in the process.
"Flood!" he thought. "In this canyon, we'd be right in its path! There is no place for us to go!"
Then he too heard the approaching torrent..