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38. Work on what has been spoiled (II)

Updated: Dec 18, 2020



Inside the mountain there was a small cavern, and in the cavern there was a body swaddled in sheets. Ropes had been tied round the body to keep it held together, and there was an inscription carved into the cavern wall above that recorded a name and date in strange hieroglyphics. The body was discovered by thrill seekers from San Francisco, men who had chartered a jet out to Tibet and wanted to spend a few weeks romping about the mountains. They were the type of people who would spend a weekend in Riyadh before flying home to start work on Monday. The cavern was found entirely by accident. One of the group sat down to catch their breath and take a few sips of brandy from a hip flask. The next moment, they had fallen into the cavern and were struggling in the snow. For a moment, they thought they had been buried in an avalanche; it was only when they had dug themselves clear of the snow and could see the cavern, glowing in a gentle blue light, that their breathing slowed.

The cavern walls were covered in ice, quite jagged and sharp like broken glass. The group snagged their jackets crawling deep inside, and so feathers from their jacket down littered the cavern floor. They refused to touch the body, afraid that the Chinese authorities might detain them under some arcane legislation. But they took pictures, and you have, doubtless, as all the world has done, seen those pictures scattered about the web. The man who fell into the cavern, its discoverer, was bolder than the rest. He took a small stone from the cavern and smuggled it home among his luggage. It was this stone, once taken to an orientalist at a major East Coast university, that revealed the secrets of the cavern.

This was no ancient site. It was dug, sometime around 1918, by a Tsarist soldier fleeing from his dying country. The revolution had set everything awry and so he had come to the ice kingdom at the roof of the world. He was not alone, with him travelled a party of officers and Orthodox monks. In the high plateau, so the stone recorded, they had performed ceremonies and seen strange lights in the sky. “The tears of Jesus Christ fell from heaven,” said one monk, whose testimony was recorded on the bottom of the stone. The body in the cavern, now in the hands of the Chinese authorities, was a Russian general—one of the last noble generals that country had produced. The stone said that he was more than that. He was, so an elderly professor insisted, “the living Buddha”, an enlightened man, strong in the dharma. This, of course, explained the remarkable impact that the pictures from the cavern had on the general population. These were leaked: the pictures circulated on anonymous message boards, before dispersing about the planet.

The men from the group died in various ways—some quite strange. One was found in Aspen, beside his car, skis in hand, with a large piece of metal wrapped around his neck. Another died burnt black, as if hit by lighting, though he was at home, in his living room, as his wife cooked in the kitchen next door. They died, sure as a river, and, at last, there was only the discoverer of the cavern left. This man, a celebrity, thanks to the secrets revealed by the cavern, decided to live without fear. He had climbed many mountains; he was a man who had accepted the risks of life. So he waited to die. He is waiting still. The final blow never came, and he is an old man now. Our world is much changed, but he has learned the patience of a deep ocean. They say that he has grown to resemble that Russian general over the years, and that cats have a curious relation to him. He sits by the kitchen fire and waits.

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