Dan is Immolated in a Furnace

Outside his mountain monastery, beside a stone statue of a bird shielding a man with its wings, Virgil Blue leaned on his cane and surveyed 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 unsatisfactory. The Mountain whose peak breached Heaven waited in the next eternity.

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Virgil Blue heard whirring from the sky. A helicopter-drone settled beside him, dropped off a package, and flew away. Virgil Blue removed his silver mask to inspect the sender’s Kansas City address; the Virgil’s skin was yellow and leathery with age, and one iris was black but the other held a cataract like the moon. Inside the package was a bound collection of books and a note which read “the end is here.”

The old monk wandered like mist into his monastery halls. Bright tapestries dripped dew down alabaster walls. He stepped around puddles to save his slippers and stopped beside a paper door leaking tendrils of incense. “Oran dora, Danny. Are you ready for the end?”

Behind the paper door a younger monk exhaled. “I think I am, Virgil Blue.” He slid the door open from inside. “What do you think?”

“We’ll forgo breakfast. This morning you dine in the next eternity.”

“Thank you for your guidance, Virgil Blue.” Dan looked thirty, maybe thirty-five years old, and had short brown hair. His skin was pale from years of study on the mountainous island.

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 monk to compensate for a limp in his left hip on cold mornings. “This way, Dan. You should embark before the other students awaken.”

Dan brushed wrinkles from his orange robes. “I still have concerns, Virgil Blue. Can we talk?”

“Of course, of course.” The Virgil pointed his cane down a hallway and led Dan from the monks’ quarters. “When you meet the Mountain you’ll have no room in your heart for doubt. Whisper so the slumbering may sleep.”

Their whispers echoed in libraries of musty books. “I’m worried my friends, like Faith, and Jay, and Beatrice.”

“I’m sure Faith and Jay can handle themselves. As for Beatrice, I’ve never met her.”

“She’s dead.”

“Then there’s no sense worrying. Beatrice is surely with the Mountain.”

“What if she was claimed by Anihilato, the Master of Nihilism? I could not accept salvation without her.”

“Anihilato? The King of Dust is powerless before you. I’ve seen the Mountain in you, Dan.”

“You know I’ve had moments of weakness.”

Virgil Blue gestured his bald head. “If Anihilato concerns you, you need a washcloth.”

“A washcloth?”

“I hold absolute confidence a washcloth will show your path.” Beyond a meager dining hall where cushions flanked squat tables, they entered the kitchen. Virgil Blue swept a washcloth from a counter-top into Dan’s hands. “Keep it until its purpose is clear.”

Dan folded the washcloth as they walked. “Did you read many books when you lived in America, Virgil Blue?”

“I did, but that was ages ago. Why do you ask?”

“This is just like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

“Take wisdom where you find it, Dan. There are no coincidences. You read those books on the path to the next eternity, where you will be one of the Mountain’s highest servants—a Zephyr.” At the heart of the monastery Virgil Blue rapped the wall with his cane. The cobblestones cradled a door smeared with ash and grime. “Would you open the furnace? I’m not so limber in the winter.”

“Should I remove my robes to keep them clean?”

“First clean the furnace. Then remove your robes. Such paltry items are worthless in the next eternity.”

Dan swallowed. “Yes, Virgil Blue.” He pried the door ajar. The furnace vomited black ash over his orange robes. He pulled soot from the furnace with his bare hands.

“I’ll return. I have a parting gift for you, Dan.”

“Virgil Blue?” The teacher met his student eye-to-eye. Dan’s smile faltered and he looked away. “I’m also worried about…” He pat his blackened hands on his robes. “The Teeth that Shriek.”

The Virgil froze. He opened his mouth as if to speak again but produced no words. Pity bent his wrinkled brow. “Do not concern yourself with the Teeth that Shriek.”

Dan nodded.

“I have a parting gift for you.”

The young monk scraped ash from the furnace until he was caked in soot. He brought ten logs of fresh firewood, just enough to warm the monastery. 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 planted this cricket myself. I dried it, cured it, plucked it, and wrapped its wings.”

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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, Virgil Blue.” Dan climbed into the furnace, cracking kindling underfoot. “May I have the incense?”

“Of course, Dan.” Virgil Blue guarded the smoldering end of an incense stick while Dan settled cross-legged atop the logs. Virgil Blue stood the incense in the tinder.

Dan watched embers light the kindling. “I’ll put in a good word for you, sir.”

“I’ve never been good at saying goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Virgil Blue.”

“Goodbye, Danny. Greet Beatrice for me.” Virgil Blue pressed with his shoulder to shut the furnace door.

The room grew warm.

Virgil Blue thawed his hands.

Then he walked away.

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