short stories

The task atop the mountain

Three men stood at the foot of the Mahalangur Himal range, nested among the Himalayan Mountains, its peaks shrouded in clouds. This range housed Mt. Everest, the Himalayas’ highest point, yet these three weren’t just seeking the physical pinnacle; they sought to achieve a heightened state of mind and spirit.

Without hesitation, they proceeded to hike to the summit of Earth’s apex. Though they could not see their destination, all three strided confidently with the knowledge that, at this ceiling of reality, sat His Holiness the Honorable Shinrashanrakar, surrounded in a marble shrine that put the Taj Mahal to shame.

A day and a night of vertical traversing passed. They only stopped for several hours to sleep. The mental and physical exertion, the thinning air that nipped at their extremities, and lack of adequate sustenance soon began to take their toll.

Then hope. Upon a cliff, nature’s gable, thick in the fog of the high-altitude stratosphere, the ground leveled. They each firmly set their hiking boots into the solid ground.

No more need for climbing. They could finally walk.

Their pain was further alleviated at the sight of the mile-long shrine, off on the horizon. What seemed like a rather large entrance, from a squinting distance, grew greater still as they approached the intimidating edifice. When they arrived at the marble steps of the great temple, the actual size of the door exceeded any of the three’s wildest estimates. Alan, considered to be the most clever of the three, compared its ominous size to a gerth fit to plug the famous Arc de Triomphe, in Paris, France. His was a modest estimate.

After several moments standing in awe of the giant arching oak doors, Victor the largest of the three, a towering 6’7″ and 300 pounds of solid muscle, stepped ahead to heave them open. On the other side, a mile-long hand-woven red carpet lied before the gentlemen. And they began to walk it, barefoot. Luckily, Alan caught sight of a sign just on the other side of the doors that read, in all languages of the World, Please leave your shoes by the entrance. Thank you. As they walked, their toes brushed over the finely fashioned threads, which formed intricate designs and painted pictures in their minds’ eyes.

Finally, they approached HH Shinrashanrakar. This earthbound demigod assumed an altar atop a 10-foot pedastal. His flowing hair and beard draped halfway down the column, intertwining with his silk robes that continued downward still, nearly reaching the carpeted marble floor. He could only pick one man to bestow his wealth of knowledge he had sustained for nearly 80 years. He, therefore, asked each of them a question.

“What do you wish to be?” he said, to no one in particular.

Alan the shrewdest, suavest of the three spoke. He figured acting first could be strategic.

“I want to be a shark, a Great White, nature’s perfect hunter. They’ve evolved over millions of years to thrive and thrash toward exacting their goal. If you pick me, I will attack the task with the determination and precision of the Great White.”

HH peered deeply into Alan’s eyes. He saw only truth and nodded slowly and gently. His eyes blinked ever so slightly.

Victor, ever the competitor, wasted no time in seizing the opportunity to top the clever Alan.

“Well I would embody an amazing Orca,” he blurted, “the ‘Killer Whale.’ And I would hunt this supposed nature’s perfect hunter. I would find the Great White and I would eat him. I would then exist as an even greater being, having defeated that shark, its energy in my belly. Then only I would be have the power to carry out your task.”

HH received Victor’s words in the same manner he had Alan’s, though he lingered for less time on Victor. The hulk’s confident delivery required less convincing.

Several minutes passed by in silence. At last, HH the Honorable Shinrashanrakar turned to the third man. He repeated his question.

The man paused for effect. Then he figuratively and firmly held the heavy marble floor.

“I apologize for the delay,” he said. “Where I come from, it’s good form to wait until the host speaks to his guest. Although, in that time, I did have some time for reflection of my predecessors’ responses. And they added electricity to the brainstorm, which I will now detail to you, your Holiness.

“When I heard the Killer Whale’s response, I had a tough time imagining an animal or a force larger than that mighty sea mammoth. Sure there’s the Blue Whale. I suppose it could swallow the Orca whole, but what would that really prove? I doubt that it could more adequately carry out whatever you wish us to do. And then I thought of your question, which you just kindly repeated to me after the many moments from your original inquiry. You said ‘What,’ which doesn’t necessarily limit the options to animals. In fact, of all of the interrogative pronouns, ‘what’ implies the most possibility. And that’s when I could smell the salty air and hear heavy waves crashing. I flew on the body of an impetuous underwater tsunami. I crashed against mountains and roared tide in and tide out. I touched the seven continents simultaneously and felt the souls of every lifeform in me. I thought of the Great White Shark and the Orca swimming on my deepwater currents. If I wanted, I could swallow them in a downward funnel or I could whip and tumble them until they washed ashore. But then I realized I would exist whether they swam or not and I decided to let them be. They could even help me in the task at hand. This task that I would perform as the mighty Ocean.”

The old wise man slowly closed his eyes. He inhaled in long, deep breaths through his nostrils and then exhaled, slower still, through his mouth now, which looked like a tiny ‘o.’ Ocean could see Shrinrashanrakar’s eyes beneath his lids moving rapidly. The REM (rapid eye movement) reminded Ocean of walking barefoot along the carpeted mile to the wise man’s throne.

Then, His Holiness spoke. His eyes still closed.

“You three have certainly offered interesting answers to the question I presented. You seemed to have given your responses thought and you delivered them with great command of the English language. Yet, none of you knew for which task I had intended. How could you know what you wish to be without knowledge of the matter at hand?”

Ocean, formerly feeling confident in his answer, now saw how he and his traveling companions had failed in their responses to HH Shinrashanrakar. Ocean’s shoulders sank. His chest, formerly puffed outward, now returned to its concavity.

Shinrashanrakar opened his eyes and continued.

“All three of you mentioned great beings that could each perform amazing things, provided the situation suited their natures. Although, what if the task was to ascend to the summit of a great mountain? Why, none of you would be here right now, would you? Alan as the shark, Victor as the orca, and Ocean as, well, the ocean. None of you could climb this summit as these beings. You made it just fine, as the men I see before me. So I ask you again, What do you wish to be?”

Ocean, standing between Victor and Alan, looked from side to side. Neither of them seemed ready to speak, shifting in their stance. Their eyes oscillated, searching desperately inward upon their minds for an answer to the wise man’s reiterated question. Perhaps another question was, in fact, the solution, Ocean thought.

“Your Holiness,” Ocean said, the ‘ness’ from ‘Holiness’ echoed off the marble walls and floors of the shrine. “I see where we three have gone wrong now. We may have jumped hastily into an answer, without first acquiring all of the necessary information. You asked us what we wished to be. Well, what are the circumstances of our existence?”

Shinrashanrakar’s eyes sparkled at Ocean’s inquiry.

“Ahh…,” His Holiness’s eyes grew wide as he pointed his left index finger upward toward the ornate ceiling painted to look like the infinite space of an indigo sky.

“Shark, Orca, do you see what Ocean has realized here?”

Alan and Victor locked eyes, each shaking his head. Then they both glared at Ocean with furrowed brows. Ocean was oblivious to their intimidation born of frustration; he hung in excited anticipation on Shinrashanrakar’s words.

“Ocean has revealed that being is entirely predicated upon the environment in which we are. Often, it is not the strongest or wisest being that excels in life. It is the being that is most suited for that time and place. So again, I ask you, What do you wish to be?”

Alan began to catch on. “What specific time and what particular place, your Holiness?” he said.

“A valid question, Shark, but one that I cannot answer. We are all merely human and none of us gods who can control when we will exist. We must, therefore, live in the time we are granted and make the most of it.”

“Well, I suppose this task that you require will somehow color our place in this world. If we knew more of this task, then we’d know which place, and then we would know how to exist in this place.”

“You have forgotten time, sir,” Shinrashanrakar said.

“Yes, and time… Although wouldn’t time be entirely contingent upon when we have to carry out this task?”

“Time is always under our control. It is contingent upon nothing. At every moment in our lives, we have the choice to act or not act. This is the rhythm of existence.”

“I thought you just said that we weren’t gods, that we could not control when we existed.”

“True, we cannot control when we are brought into this world. However, when we make an imprint upon the fabric of spacetime, we can control what ripples emit from our initial inception.”

“Forgive me, sir, but I’m confused,” Alan’s clever mind ran in circles. In silence, he over thought the oddity of time.

Victor then realized he hadn’t spoken in a while. A need to be heard bubbled in the pit of his diaphragm and errupted out his gruff throat.

“Your Holiness, let me see if I get this straight. We can’t control when we exist, but we can control when we act. And we can act in wherever place. So perhaps what Alan the Shark has neglected to address is where would this task occur?”

Shinrashanrakar arched his back and spread his knees outward across his red velvet pillow seat, with a silver trim that tassled at the pillow’s five corners. His body became a perfectly equilateral triangle. He tilted his head back slowly and then brought it back round to look Victor squarely in the face.

“The task is everywhere because it is nowhere,” he said. His lips formed a straight line across his mouth, nearly concealed in his bright, white beard. This subtle action signified his response was sufficient to Victor’s inquiry.

“Your Holiness, I too am confused,” Victor’s voice escalated. “You ask us what we wish to be. We tell you. Then you ask how can we know what we should be without knowing the time and place first. We ask you when and where and you say that these cannot be known. It seems we have reached in impasse.”

Ocean sensed the rising tension between the wise man and the Orca. However, HH Shinrashanrakar seemed unwavered in Victor’s words. The five-pointed pillow seat also served as a launch pad into what was now a deep meditative state. The corners of his mouth curled slightly upward, his eyes gently closed again. His entire disposition resembled one of those golden smiling Buddha statues. Complete. Content.

Ocean then whispered to his two traveling companions.

“Guys, I don’t think we can lose our cool with His Holiness. He seems to have shut down. If any of us want him to bestow his knowledge, we’re going to have to play along.”

At this, the two—the Orca and the Shark—let the Ocean once again hold the heavy marble floor.

“Sir, Your Holiness,” he spoke quietly, as if to lull the wise man gently back into consciousness. “We’re sorry if we have offended you. Victor… the Orca, he is passionate and just wants an answer—”

“—One needs patience for this task,” Shinrashanrakar’s eyes opened suddenly.

Ocean exhaled in relief. He had revived his ancient mentor from Victor’s verbal attack. Perhaps now they could get somewhere with what seemed to be an interrogation of a wise man.

“OK,” Ocean said. “So we’re learning more about this task. Time and place are important. We will need to be patient. But let’s get back to basics. I now know that we can’t know what we should be, until we know what we have to do. Before I tell you what I wish to be, let me first ask you, Your Holiness, what is the task that you require of us?”

“Ahhh…” that same sparkle returned to HH Shinrashanrakar’s eyes. It was as if Ocean’s gradual enlightenment reflected in the wise man’s dilated pupils.

“I thought you’d never ask.”


2 thoughts on “The task atop the mountain

  1. joedelrosso says:

    What is the task? A valid question for all of us. How many people ever ask this of themselves? It is a vital question to staying grounded and purposeful in life, for putting things, the triumphs and tragedies in their proper perspectives, for after all, these are just the inevitable by-product of our pursuit of this illusive task, or is it so illusive?


  2. Dad, great question. I’m just glad you made it to the end. A couple buddies of mine said the story couldn’t hold their interest. Although, to be fair, there’s nothing about the Bruins in there.


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