From the bell-tower of his mountain monastery, Virgil Blue could see the coastline far below. Two distant islands glittered in the morning sunlight, but their paltry size did not impress him. His own island stood on the sea floor and thrust a mountainous peak into the clouds, and even this, he thought, was not satisfactory. The Mountain whose peak breached Heaven waited in the next eternity.
The old monk descended like mist into his monastery halls. Bright tapestries dripped dew down alabaster walls. He stepped around the puddles to save his slippers and stopped beside a paper door leaking smoky incense. “Oran dora, Danny. Did you have trouble sleeping?”
Behind the door a younger monk exhaled with a lilt of finality. “I woke early, Virgil Blue.” He slid the paper door open from the inside. “Has the chain been pulled? Is it my time?”
“Take another breath, Dan. To the count of ten.”
Dan inhaled. Beside his folded legs, the incense burner released the smell of cooking spices. The more he inhaled the more his face relaxed. His eyelids opened and his jaw slackened.
“Let us forgo breakfast. This morning you dine in the next eternity.”
“Thanks again for your guidance, Virgil Blue.” Dan looked about thirty, maybe thirty-five years old, and had short brown hair. His skin was pale from years of study on the island mountain.
Virgil Blue closed the paper door behind them with his cane, a curious object smooth along the shaft but with ten black spots encircling a gnarled top. The cane was taller than the old man to compensate for a limp he carried in his left hip on winter mornings. His skin was tanned and leathery with age, contrasting his robes colored like a clear sky. One eye was black but the other held a cataract like the moon. “This way, Dan. You should begin your journey before the other students awaken.”
Dan joined Blue in the corridor and brushed wrinkles from his soft orange robes. “I still hold doubts, Virgil Blue. Can we talk?”
“Of course, of course.” The Virgil pointed his cane down a hallway and led Dan out of the monks’ quarters. “When you meet the Mountain you will have no room in your heart for doubt. Whisper to me so the slumbering may sleep.”
They ambled through the monastery. Their whispers echoed in libraries of musty books. “I have two doubts, but they’re tricky.”
“What are their names?”
“The first is Anihilato. The Master of Nihilism.”
“The King of Dust poses no threat to you. I have seen the Mountain in you, Dan.”
“You know I’ve had moments of weakness, in the past.”
“Here.” Virgil Blue gestured with his bald head. “If you fear Anihilato, you need your washcloth.”
“I hold absolute confidence that using your washcloth you will find your path.” Beyond a meager dining hall, where cushions flanked squat tables, the two entered the kitchen. Virgil Blue knocked a washcloth from a counter-top into Dan’s hands. “Keep it until its purpose is clear.”
Dan folded the gray washcloth as they walked. “Did you read much when you lived in America, Virgil Blue?”
“I did, but remember, that was long ago. Why do you ask?”
“You’re reminding me of a series of books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
“Take wisdom where you find it, Dan. You read those books on your path to a new eternity, where you will serve as one of the Mountain’s highest servants—a Zephyr. There are no coincidences.” At the heart of the monastery Virgil Blue rapped the stone wall with his cane. The cobblestones cradled a smooth door smeared with ash and grime. “Would you open the furnace? I’m not so limber on cold mornings anymore.”
“Should I remove my robes to keep them clean?”
“First clean the furnace. Then remove your robes. There is no need for such paltry items in the next eternity.”
“Yes, Virgil Blue.” Dan pried the door ajar. Black clouds of ash vomited upon his orange robes. He pulled soot and burnt firewood from the furnace with his bare hands.
“I will go to my sanctum. I have a parting gift for you.”
The teacher met his student eye-to-eye. Dan’s smile revealed an iota of concern.
“The other doubt?” He pat his blackened hands on his robes. “The Teeth that Shriek.”
The Virgil froze. “Do not concern yourself with the Teeth that Shriek.” He opened his mouth as if to speak again but produced no words. Pity bent his wrinkled brow over his eye. “Do not concern yourself with the Teeth that Shriek.”
“I have a parting gift for you.”
The younger monk dutifully scraped ash and soot from the furnace until he was completely covered in black marks. He brought ten logs of fresh firewood and a bushel of kindling from the storeroom—just enough to warm the monastery on a winter morning. Having loaded the furnace he removed his robes. He was nude underneath, with a slim build.
“This is for you, Dan.” Virgil Blue hobbled to the younger monk with an outstretched hand. “I grew this cricket myself. I dried it, cured it, plucked it, and wrapped it in its own wings.”
Dan held the insect to his nose. It was three inches long, tan in color, and had ten black spots encircling its head. “You flatter me with your honor, Virgil Blue.” Dan climbed into the furnace with his left foot, cracking twigs and branches. “May I have the incense?”
“Of course, Danny.” Virgil Blue tended to the smoldering end of an incense stick while Dan settled into a cross-legged position atop the logs. Virgil Blue stood the incense in the wood.
Dan watched embers light the kindling. “I’ll put in a good word for you, sir.”
“I have never been good at saying goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Virgil Blue.”
“Goodbye, Danny.” Virgil Blue pressed his shoulder into the door.
The room grew warm.
Virgil Blue thawed his hands by the furnace.
Then he walked away.