Inside the Mountain so much noise and light assaulted Dan he could not make sense of it. The buzz of hornets and locusts swarmed all around him. The light was bright yellow then sky-blue then bright yellow again, alternating so quickly the colors blended into an ethereal green haze.
Dan was afraid because he didn’t remember how he had entered this strange space. But he remembered walking on a white wing, and now the white wing was a wide white path which stretched into the green distance. Dan tried to walk the path.
After twenty careful steps the noise of hornets and locusts had not subsided. Dan put his hands over his ears. With his elbows raised he noticed a peculiar breeze. His right elbow felt the breeze from behind pushing him forward. His left elbow felt the same breeze pushing him back. The wind in this place spun him counterclockwise.
Knowing this he tried again to walk the white path. He took longer left strides than right strides so his efforts balanced the breeze.
Now the colors in the sky separated like videotape of an accelerating propeller which slows and reverses direction repeatedly as the propeller’s speed syncs with the frame rate. The yellow light and the blue light battled for the sky: yellow chased blue leftward, blue chased yellow rightward. The ethereal green haze became a front between the yellow and blue like a horizon line.
Finally the lights resolved into comprehensibility: Dan saw the desert’s yellow sky above him and earth’s blue sky below him. He realized the white path was not a flat rectangle, but a spinning cylinder; first he had walked naively forward and the cylinder spun him, blending the twin skies together. Now he walked with diagonal strides so his motion compensated for the spin and resolved the skies.
Or maybe the skies were spinning and now he walked in a spiral along the cylinder to compensate. Dan tried not to consider the infinite possibilities; the buzzing he heard swarmed his mind.
He tried to find meaning in moving forward (or in the direction which he perceived to be forward). When he squinted at the green horizon line he saw a bright white light which he imagined was the distant sun, just leftward of the white path he walked. As he walked the sun grew larger and larger. When it barely equaled the size of Earth’s sun in his vision, the buzzing of swarms had subsided.
But his white path did not lead to the sun. It veered rightward so when Dan was closest to the sun the path led him away from it. Dan considered reversing direction to approach the sun again, but he had already adjusted to the spinning motion of this cylindrical path and he did not want to learn to walk it backward. As he walked away from the sun the buzzing sound returned in full force
Eventually he met a new path branching from his own. It branched upward and leftward and it thankfully maintained this orientation as Dan approached it. Dan did not know how to leave his path to walk this new one, but somehow when he stepped awkwardly onto the new path his perception shifted so it seemed this was the path he had always walked.
The new path led Dan nearer to the sun. Dan hastened his pace to approach the white sun which grew larger than Earth’s sun in his vision, but shrank as he passed it and walked away. Dan slowed and tried to reverse direction on the path, but he didn’t know how to account for the spin, so the yellow and blue skies span over him and under him. Dan put his hands out to feel the wind, and corrected his course. Now the sun was in front of him once again and he walked not up the path or down the path but perpendicular to it so he could stay near the sun.
Because he walked neither up or down the path the white sun stayed the same size. Yet, Dan stared in wonder as it seemed to pulse with a tantalizing heartbeat. Dan walked like this for so long he remembered nothing else.
As his eyes adjusted to the divine light Dan noticed some small objects orbiting the sun. Their shadows regularly obscured a little light, which made the heartbeat Dan thought he saw. The objects fell away from Dan and retreated behind the sun, then appeared on the other side of the sun some seconds later. Dan watched the orbiting objects fall toward him. He could not tell how large these objects were, or how close they were, or how fast they traveled. All he could see were their shadows against the sun.
So he was surprised when one of the objects smashed on his skull. It was an egg. It burst into a thousand white pieces and smeared warm wet yolk on his temple. There was a blue fledgling inside the egg. The blue fledgling’s face had one black beady eye on its right and a hundred human teeth embedded in its left. Dan was disgusted and horrified, but he could not bring himself to look away or even wipe the yolk from his temple.
Then Dan felt the yolk slide off his skin. The white shell fragments, scattered in three dimensions, suddenly reversed velocities and scattered back together around the bird. The now unbroken egg joined the other eggs orbiting the sun.
To Dan nothing about that reversal of time seemed unordinary, but the fact nothing seemed unordinary seemed unordinary.
A voice whispered in his ear. “It’s not your time.” It was the big blue bird. Dan felt its wings embrace him from behind. “If you had left the path, you would never return to what you call reality.”
“Where am I?”
“The Mountain contains everything. The desert outside the Mountain is inside the Mountain. Earth is out there, and in here.”
“What is that?” Dan pointed at the sun.
“The epistem,” said the bird. “The Wheel’s center, from which everything emerges withers and dies, and to which everything returns. The home of the Zephyrs. Even I cannot comprehend the full complexity of its cosmological mechanisms.”
“It looks like a circle.”
“Strictly speaking it’s a high-dimensional torus. Circles sweeped in circles sweeped in circles.”
Dan turned from the sun to see the bird.
And found himself drooling on his couch in his dead dad’s old apartment, holding the bong in a vice-like grip. His throat felt painful and raw.
“I spent the next six hours cleaning the bong,” Dan slurred. “It wasn’t dirty after just one use, I just felt dirty inside.”
Since Dan had closed his eyes and slumped over the bar, Jay hadn’t felt the need to interrupt him to ask permission to write notes. He capped his pen and closed his notebook. “Dan, that’s fascinating. When Faith and I smoked centipede we had a very similar experience.”
“As you should have. The basic mechanisms of cognition are fundamentally similar from person to person.” The sentence was almost incomprehensible through Dan’s drunken slur. Dan raised his head barely enough to make brief eye contact with Jay. Then he put his head back down. “On the surface we have different personalities, but we’ve all got white foxes and birds in our belfry. Underneath it all everyone is alone in a desert with a mountain. I haven’t smoked centipede since.”
Jay pat him on the back. “You don’t have to. I won’t even ask you to come to Sheridan, if you don’t want to.”
“Take me to Sheridan, Jay. Please.”
The bar door opened. Uncle Featherway entered from Faith’s funeral. Jay waved him to a stool.