The Wise Ones by Gip Roberts

It's hard to believe he lives here above the clouds. It's harder to believe I'm about to attempt scaling this pathway. Barren rock is testament to the isolation; screeching vultures to the desolation. The crag looks like hell itself with the windblown smoke bellowing sideways from its tip. I'm not sure about venturing further, but I must. 

Inch by gritty inch I pull my way up, wondering how the old fossil manages. How does he get the fire wood to the top? Where does he get it? Why is he thriving at his age while my lungs burn from one spurt of exertion at mine? There has to be a trick to it. 

A pitter-patter disturbs the air for a moment after I wave a signal of being OK. The copter zips off into oblivion, becoming a gnat right before it disappears. Now I'm faced with the challenge of entering. Nothing but a dense shadow to this hole in the wall. No noise but my own as I breathe. I can't knock. It would be rude to enter unannounced. Is he even here? I didn't fly twelve thousand miles to spend an afternoon perched on a rock. 

"Come in." 

The voice is a trickling stream and calling crow twined together. I feel almost pulled through the shadow. The chilled walls of the abode contrast with my heated face. "How's it going?" might be fine for America, but hardly seems appropriate right now. 

I proceed with the only thing that does: silence. There's a flickering sillhouette beyond an earthen-brown robe. I expect to hear some monotone chant of mystery words; instead, nothing but sporadic pops and spews from a pile of amber embers. I follow a trail of smoke away from the figure up through a slant of daylight in the ceiling. 

"What brings you, my child?" 

I gulp down a guffaw. Senile? Perhaps. Presumptuous? Definitely. Half a century is far from being a child. 

"Well, a lot of things actually, but mainly just this overwhelming sense of frustration and discontent." 

"Ah, yes. Things. Lots of things. Very common issue here on this plane." 

That warm-looking oval of glare through which I came is already tempting me. "Child, you wish for answers. Do you not?" 

I don't know how he knows my every move, but one thing of which I'm certain: These monks no more have answers than any other mortal. It's all a bunch of loaded nonsense. "Then you must hear them." 

He rotates to face me like there's a turntable underneath and I see a murky outline within the hood. I don't know whether to fish my coat pockets for the stun gun I carry at all times or retreat. "No need." he whispers. "I did not live this long by being a warrior." 

The hood peels back. My stance softens at the silver hair, grassy eyes, and sand-colored face. "Now tell me, child: From where do you come?" 

"Seattle, Washington. United States." 

"And the street?" 

I peer into his soft-grinning face, noting the thin calligraphy of a mustache. "Sitka Avenue, but what does my street address have to do with anything?" Two bony arms gesture downward, but my patience is wearing thin. 

"House number?"

My sigh ruffles his triangular beard. "It's 1423!" 

"Patience." he says, the word sounding like it came out of the embers. 

He rises, pointing a graceful hand toward the daylight. 

"We must go to where the air moves free." 

Whatever that means. I follow only with the intent of leaving to await my pilot's return. I'll chalk this one up as a lesson learned in the futility and utter insanity of chasing answers. "Hey, Google!" he caws into the slim black rectangle he pulled from his robe. "How do I get to 1423 Sitka Avenue, Seattle, Washington, United States from here?" 

The directions, which take upwards of twenty minutes for him to inscribe on a roll of parchment with a quill pen, turn my stomach sour. I do recall seeing a tower on one of the nearby peaks as we flew in, but a monk with a phone? He offers the paper in what I interpret as a passive-aggressive farewell. 

"You must travel to the address I have written, my child. There, you will consult with the Three Wise Ones who taught me. They will give you the answers which you seek." "'Three Wise Ones'." 

A shallow bow of a nod. 

"At my house." 

He repeats. 

I hiss, eyeing the jagged slope below for a trustworthy foothold to get away from this loon. His straight face bends into a slight smile. 

"Very well. I will shorten the journey by summoning them." 

I shake my head at my own lunacy for ever having thought this visit would be worth it. The would-be monk pauses with his eyes closed, aimed at the sky. 

"How you Western children say these days? 'Brb'?" 

He reappears from the cave, toting some really long, flat object wrapped in burlap. "This is the Summoning Glass." 

He pats at one of the edges before unveiling, leaving it to stand on its jade-studded supports. Top to bottom, the glass emits a deep ocean-blue color; same blue as the sky surrounding this Himalayan wilderness. 

"A freaking mirror?" my cracked voice repeats across the alpine valley. 

"Child, you shall leave a changed being. Now: Position yourself before the Glass and summon." A distant griffon's shriek reminds me just how much I'm stuck between a rock and a maniac. As figured, I see no one in the glass but a tired man and the sky behind him: Yours Truly. When I was six and believed in the Tooth Fairy I never looked so foolish! 

"No, no!" the old man intervenes. "Summon them by name!" 

My voice evolves to a bassy bark. "Alright then: Larry, Curly, and Moe! Show yourselves!" "No, no! Not Larry, Curly, Moe! Three Wise Ones: Mi, Masef, Dai. Try again." "Mi, Masef, Dai! See old man? Nothing!" 

"Patience. They will appear. Keep trying." he instructs with his circling hand as encouragement. "Mi! Masef! Dai! I command you to appear!" 

My index finger hurts from snapping at that stupid mirror. I've never felt so used in my life, but I keep playing along. What excuse will he throw when he's forced to admit the Three never will appear? A magnetic disturbance in the sky prevents the magic from working? The chip in the

upper left corner of the mirror must have voided its power? I clear my throat for one more attempt before telling this guy once and for all to go stick it, 'as we Westerners say'. "Mi, Masef, and Dai! Where are you?" 

I give the old man a death stare and await the excuses. I know he's aware via whatever "meditation" trick he uses. The sitting statue routine no longer fools me; for all I know, he could have a pocket mirror of his own hidden in that robe. 

Wait a minute! Mi, Masef, and Dai. That sounds a lot like... 

I start breathing through my nose and out the mouth the way he does. I copy the clasped hands, letting go of everything around me except my reflection. I see a face full of hard lines: forehead, temples, eyelids, cheeks, chin, neck. I know how they got there. The forehead and temple lines are from a lifetime of thinking about how to get and stay ahead; the eyelids, from focusing on gaining everything I see; the cheeks and chin, from too much speaking and not enough listening; the neck lines, from all the years of looking over my shoulder for fear of losing everything I've acquired. 

The wise monk steps between the mirror and me, myself, and I. He points at the top of my head. "Mi: Wise One of the mind." 

He places his hands on my shoulders. "Masef: Wise One of the body." 

He glances at the left side of my chest with a nod. "Dai: Wise One of destiny." We trade bows as he tucks the mirror under his arm and glides back through the shadow to his home. I can't wait to return to mine. I have a lot of cleaning up to do.

Published in Issue #22

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