Chapter 9: Climbing

The world behind the wall was serene and beautiful. It was a garden unlike any I had ever seen. The forest we had come through had been beautiful in another way – the wilder more chaotic beauty of nature. This was a well tended, wonderfully full garden. There were flowers of every shape and color you could imagine. I was a bit startled when, as I bent to smell some amazing turquoise azaleas, half of the flower I was closest to fluttered off! A turquoise butterfly resting on a flower of the exact same hue! I looked back at the flower. Where the butterfly had been resting was a velvety purple color. I took another step to investigate further and quickly pulled back as a flurry of vibrant butterflies took to flight, leaving what had looked like a patch of all blue flowers dappled in a rich variation of violet. What an amazing creation! Whoever owned this garden surely had the power to imaginate and had created some remarkable sights.

A bright yellow bird perched on a branch a little ways above my head. It made a deep thrumming sound instead of the pleasant chirp I would have expected. It sounded like an African drum thumping a story to a nearby village. After a moment, I heard an answering call from a nearby oak tree. The other bird’s song was a bit higher pitched, like a bongo rather than a bass drum. The yellow bird took flight and went off to meet its new friend.

Our whole group had stopped in wonder at the marvels around us. This truly was a garden like no other. I didn’t know so many shades of green existed. Our trail was no longer bare dirt, but a light green grass precisely trimmed to show us the way to go. On either side, flowers, trees, bushes and artfully places stones drew a picture of growth and life.

“Alright everyone! Let’s get moving! This mountain isn’t going to climb itself!” Although everyone was still tied to the handrail, many had wandered a bit away to gaze in rapture at some new wonder. They quickly returned to the trail and we started upward.

The trail was a gentle slope so although we were climbing, we weren’t getting tired too quickly. Within a few minutes, we were higher than the gate and could see over into the forest. I half expected to see Garrote still out there, raging that he couldn’t get in. But the forest looked still and silent, almost as if it were holding its breath. I wasn’t looking forward to meeting up with Garrote again, yet I knew we would have to face him once more. In order to truly defeat him, we would need some sort of a weapon. I wasn’t sure what we could use against him. He was huge at the moment! I squared my shoulders and trudged onward, certain a solution would eventually present itself. Then I had a thought. Would my blue book hold the answer? Would it tell me how to defeat Garrote? I was still unsure how much of it I wanted to read, but knowing it was there gave me comfort.

We wound our way up the mountainside. As we did, the vegetation changed. While everything was still lush and green as it had been in the main garden at the foot of the mountain, there was something different about the middle of the mountain. There were different kinds of plants. And these plants almost seemed to, well, glow. They were bright, vibrant colors, but not the neon kind that seem to glow in the daylight. It was as if they were actually emitting light. In the bright sunshine, it was hard to tell, but I was sure that, if the sun were to set, I would be surrounded by light. The intensity of the greens made me almost want to shield my eyes. I blinked a few times as I saw some of the leaves moving. Then, a small green animal blinked back at me. It was the size of a rabbit, and covered in soft green fur. But instead of two ears on the top of its head, it had antlers, just like a deer. Its ears were short pink bumps on either side of its eyes. And its eyes! There was an intelligence to this creature. It gazed at me with eyes the color of the ocean. Then I heard it – the same kind of hearing as had happened earlier with the bird, more a feeling that actually hearing with my ears.

 

Shining, shimmering,

brilliant, blue,

ups and downs like me and you.

In and out upon the beach,

always right below your reach.

How I wish that I could be

a lovely creature like

the sea.

 

Whether high on land

Or beneath the pounding waves,

All is connected.

 

At first I wasn’t quite sure what this small furry critter could possibly have to do with the ocean. It skipped away, and as it did, a small breeze blew past my face. The smell was of fish and salt and miles of open water. I had the distinct impression that this small animal had somehow made the smell of the sea – kind of like a skunk, but in reverse. Instead of trying to scare you off with a stink, it calmed you down with a pleasant scent. I struggled to remember the last bit of the poem, the part that came out clearest, like a short three line poem. Whether high on land… That was me at the moment. Or beneath the pounding waves… the ocean. All is connected… We were all a part of the same world, the same creation. All of us shared the air and the land and the water. We were all part of the circle of life.

I decided I rather liked this mountain. I felt that instead of simply walking up a large hill, I was becoming part of something bigger. I was excited to reach the summit. It seemed to be calling to me, and I knew we would find something special at the top.

We rested every so often, when someone in the group started to tire and lag behind. We had plenty of provisions since we could imaginate anything we needed. There was plenty of fruit growing around us as well, sweet, spicy, tangy and tart. My favorites were some pinkish orange berries that tasted something like spicy strawberries. My nose tickled a little after eating them, but it was a nice tickle, like a horse getting its nose stroked by a loving hand.

All day long we climbed toward the peak of the mountain. It was odd, but the sun hardly seemed to be moving across the sky. I didn’t have a watch, but I doubted that it would have worked in this place anyway. Time seemed to run slower. It had been early morning when we’d started on this path, and the sun was now directly above us, like the middle of the day.

I could tell our group was getting tired. The mountain was so tall and our trail seemed to go on forever. Would we ever reach our goal? I was starting to doubt the wisdom of this plan.

I thought about all that had happened since that moment, what seemed so long ago, that I had walked into the Collections room and been swallowed by Garrote. I felt crazy! This shouldn’t be happening to me! None of this could be real. I must be dreaming. I was walking up a mountain that would never end, on a journey that was sure to fail. There was a giant gorilla chasing me for goodness sake! What was the purpose? Why was I here? All of the sudden, I felt alone. I was surrounded by friends and beauty, but I felt nothing but despair. All the fear of being chased, all the confusion about where I was hit me hard. For a moment, I stumbled, unable to walk. I was about to fall but immediately, Zinga was at my side.

He was humming again. As he did, several insects began hopping along the side of trail with us, adding their distinct voices to the music. The whole mountainside slowly became alive with sound. And what a sound! It was a choir of millions of voices all in perfect harmony. I looked over at Aeolianna. She was walking along, her eyes closed, taking in the sweet sound. Suddenly, she began to sing.

 

At times you may feel it’s not worth the price–

It’s too hard to keep fighting against it.

The path is too steep. Each step takes a slice

Of your heart from trying to resist it.

You’re weary and tired, beat-up and battle-worn.

Temptation just keeps right on banging.

You feel hope has died, you cry and you mourn,

Still, confusion and sadness are reigning.

“Why me? Why this? Why now? Oh, why?

“Is anyone there? Does anyone care?

“I want to be free. Please, help me see.

“Are you listening? Please answer my prayer!”

Yes, my child. I am here. Be still. I do care.

The answers… you hold in your heart.

This fight we will win – this fight against sin.

Follow me. That is where you must start.

Have hope! Courage take! Healing will come.

You can’t finish until you begin.

I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I will help you if you’ll let me in.

My path is simple, I’ll guide you along –

Though easy it never will be.

You’ve fallen, I know. So get up and grow!

Come home to my arms and you’ll see…

I can move mountains;

Hearts can be changed;

Forgiveness extended to he

Who truly repents

Who offers his heart

Broken, and contrite spirit, to Me.

The blessing of peace will come in due time.

The price I have already paid.

The road may be long, full of sorrow and grief,

But it’s worth it! Hold on and have faith.

Yes, it’s worth it. And son, so are you.

 

Aeolianna’s voice was pure and true. Her words were like a heavenly hug, enfolding my heart in peace. I knew that it was okay to be frustrated, that I wasn’t the first to want to give in to the darkness within. I also knew that I was stronger than I thought, that I could continue on. There was a purpose, I was part of a plan. I wasn’t quite clear on all the details of who was holding the reins, but I knew I was definitely not alone. I stopped and took a deep breath, looking around at my friends who had already been through so much with me. Everyone else stopped as well, waiting expectantly for me to say something. I hadn’t thought about how they might be feeling, crushed as I was by the weight of leadership. Now I took a moment and looked at each individual. I needed to say something, something to help them keep going. I opened my mouth and to my surprise, words came out. I felt them welling up deep inside me, spilling out and washing over the others like a soothing blanket.

 

I want to give my all –

All my heart,

All my might,

All my mind,

All my strength.

This is what He requires.

But I am imperfect –

My heart wanders,

My might dimmed by the natural man,

My mind looking too far ahead,

My strength spent elsewhere.

And so, I must overcome.

I have the perfect Example –

He gave his heart – and it broke;

He gave his might – and they refused it;

He gave his mind – and they didn’t understand;

He gave his strength – and gave his life.

All this, He did for me.

So I must surge onward –

Though my heart may break,

Though my might seem wasted,

Though my mind feel weary,

Though my strength leave me.

And the day will come when,

With the blessings of Heaven surrounding me –

My heart will be filled to overflowing,

My might be rewarded with eternal treasure,

My mind will commune in peace and love,

My strength be restored to carry forth.

And by my side, the dream of yesterday, today and forever.

We will be One.

Our hearts beating together.

Our might lifting one another,

Our minds focused on love,

Our strength spent in building our kingdom.

And joy and happiness will surround us.

I must start now.

 

It was all too much. For the moment, I didn’t care that I was supposed to be a tough guy, that I was in charge and shouldn’t show any signs of weakness. I started crying. Not sad crying, but happy tears for the friends surrounding me (who were no longer dry eyed either), for the paradise in which we currently found ourselves, for the ups and downs of the journey so far, leading us to where we were. We did one of those mushy tear-filled group hugs. I felt like this was my family. With a sudden pang I missed my dad, my mom, my sisters. But I somehow knew they were okay, that I’d see them again, and that I wasn’t lacking in people who cared about me to make up for it.

Finally, I turned back toward the peak, trying to gauge how far until the summit. I was surprised to see that it seemed almost a stone’s throw away. We were almost there! I noticed a small building. I was certain our prize, whatever it may be, lay within. I took a step forward.

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