The Phoenix Reborn
After a few drinks at the Spicy, Thomas went to meet Our
Man Chaffey and Claire at the Full Moon Party on Power Station Beach. The
beach was called that because of a monstrosity of a power plant perched right
beside the main community of Yung Shue Wan. Nick the long-bearded disc
jockey was there in fine form. He had the knack for the right music to suit the
sunset vibe and then into the midnight vibe under the full moon. But it was
hot. Most of them are drinking beer to fend off thirst. Our Man Chaffey
acted as he usually did: as normal as normal could be. Thomas saw that Claire
shared the grin-and-chuckle when a grin-and-chuckle wasn't called for. It was
something they saw - a mutual way of what he was against the web of reality
that they lived in. This cleavage between Our Man Chaffey's reality and
theirs was enough to bring them closer without going through much of the ritual
courtship obstacles and expectations that Thomas had come to abhor.
and Claire were in and out of the South China Sea whenever the humidity became
too intense, but then something happened to Thomas when the sun brightened the
eastern horizon over the water. Like many extraordinary things, there was an
undercurrent of mystery it. The root thrust was that he was overcome with the
desire to climb the mountains that surrounded them, so he instigated an early
morning hike with Claire, Our Man Chaffey and a friend of Claire's who
had eyes for the Man from England.
four of them walked to a peak overlooking Power Station Beach where they had a
smoke and relaxed for a while, marveling at the sunrise. their unprotected skin
burned in the August sun. Each could see it on each other's faces. When Thomas
heard complaints against the power of the sun, he shifted up a gear and
suggested they climb the bigger ridge behind them called Mount Stenhouse. The
mountain was notorious because it was the highest peak on Lamma Island. He
expected Our Man Chaffey to decline simply because it fell outside his
scope of normalcy.
Trapp," said Claire, "it's too hot. I'm from Australia and I've never had this
type of heat before."
hot? We can get some water."
we've been up all night." He was far away from fatigue.
don't want to burn," said Claire's friend.
think we should think about taking the ferry back to Hong Kong Island," said
you serious?" A look crossed her face that repelled him.
think we're going to head to the pier." Determination was like a brick wall. It
didn't cross his mind to walk back with them because he thirsted for the sun.
He walked them halfway to the pier where they stopped at a kiosk along the main
walkway that was already open. Without any fanfare, Thomas waved goodbye to
them, purchased two liters of water and walked to Mount Stenhouse.
the recent rains during the week, the air was clean and the hawks were flying
high in the sky, the sun blasting heat as if it were only a few miles above.
The cut on his forehead baked under the sky like it was in a frying pan.
Incited by a somatic tension to quench his need for fire, he willed himself to
feed off the sun's animating power. The ozone layer simply wasn't there to
protect, the ultra-violet rays piercing his forehead cut as if by a magnet. It
energized like high-octane fuel pumping through the cut epidermis on his
seventh chakra. Literally there were puddles in his Birkenstock sandals after
twenty minutes of walking along the hiking trail towards Stenhouse. The
temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
drank one of the bottles of water at the foot of the mountain, like a sponge
the liquid disperses through his pores into his Birkenstocks. Sun-drenched with
so much wide-open space ahead of him he was drawn toward the apex and the
quietude of the climb. Traversing the trail past shrubs over six feet high that
scratch his skin raw he began his ascent in earnest over uneven terrain, hawks
flying overhead following him as if sensing danger. His shirt drenched and feet
slipping on wet leather soles, he came to a bend where he could see the string
of islands all the way to the Pearl River Delta and Macau. From there he saw
the knoll just to the side of the lip on the apex. The knoll was where he
wanted to go because it was the shortest way to the peak so he went off the
fervor he climbed over the uneven rock and prickly thorn bushes, bristles soon
carving scratches and tearing away skin in my legs, the emanating light from
the magic of fire driving him to the lip of the peak. Like a fire fanned by
wind, the fever of the sun pulled him toward natures spire to heaven, forehead
sizzling, the skin torn by melting force, he slipped on shaky legs, teetered
and then pulled backwards by gravity. Head over heels he landed on a slope out
of sight by any passers by. Only a sound of a thumping heart in the still heat
of the day and a fuzzy feeling in his face and eyes told him he had fainted,
but he couldn't be sure.
and burned he staggered to his feet without one of his sandals, knapsack a few
yards away. Squinting to focus, the lip, his goal, was still an ocean away,
separated by a valley of uneven ground and unsure footing, still drawn lured
forward, farther away from safety and water. Will still cocked, a deeper
instinct took precedence, exposed skin stinging and sizzling, forehead dry and
red hot, his leg lifting to go, balance lost, the prickly thorns finding
fertile epidermis to carve gashes like a hot knife through butter. Senses
coming alive with screaming pain. Sandal gone, gravity grabbed again, spinning
him back, burning scratches and digging bristles carving up burnt legs raw from
abrasions and blooded welts, the noonday sun shooting spikes and arrows into
his unprotected skin. He stumbled up the mountainside, recovered his bag but no
complete, except for his Birkenstock, he climbed in single strides upwards,
wavering on shaking legs bloodied with cuts and pink with burns, gravity pulled
him back again onto his back, pinned. Twenty minutes to climb ten feet was
lost. Faculty of balance skewered, primal instinct simplifies, clawing upwards
on hands and feet, a jagged carpet of sharp rock and angry thorns, slashing and
gnashing and gnawing, knees torn and muddied, hands clasping foiliage like a
lifeline, harnessed to lunge forward in inches and feet, pain now beyond
acknowledged radar, reckless swagger fighting the grip of death. Shaken and
drained, unsteady on two feet, looking up, flirting with the most dangerous
foe: losing heart. Charting a course he quelled the demon, grabbing a root to
wrestle impatience, steady on all fours, taking a step, flinging his body in
the air greedy for more distance.
once robust now quivering sticks, hands at the roots of thick grass and barbed
bushes heavinge forward, a twelve-inch muted victory. Another root another
foot, a stomach landing to rebel against gravity's unsportsmanlike form,
antagonist usurping protaginist, under the burning eye of the sun. Battling the
elements on this sun-baked island, Thomas alone as fighter of this battle, his
will, the sun and God. Gravity as Lucifer, the Sun as Michael, original sin
versus light and dark, the struggle to ascend in the eye of weakness, an
impossible victory still fought, courage manifest, hope trumping despair, sinew
taut, power increasing in a waning swamp of spiked hell, a stumbling gait of
bravery overcoming inch by inch, toggle logic with streamlined purpose,
barefoot and scarred, paws of mush against bedrock of injustice chosen with
noble intent, poetry and greatness still a glimmer, the assault serving to fuel
the fire of will, on a landscape of hidden snakes at his knees.
Falling on this obscene sweatless swelter, he saw his
lost bottle of water only an arm's length away, more satisfied the mystery was
solved, glanced at, momentum more important, the main trail the holy grail. For
a moment, or maybe twenty minutes, he remained there unable to lift himself off
the ground, only by shedding the knapsack can he wrangle a foot forward. No
longer any shades of gray, only up and down, echoes of a body screaming for hydration,
bleeding, burning and unable to cool through perspiration, he stumbled upwards
until the ridge was in sight. Keeping disappointment silenced when there was
another ridge before the main ridge.
By reflex wiping a dry, burning brow, an
overheating engine, like a motorcycle running without oil. For the first time
fear is real, but resolved to overcome and to reach. All pain instantly
replaced by alarm, a bell that shook the foundation of survival instinct. Now,
without any ability to coordinate, falling sideways, stumbling in focused desperation. Like a kamikaze,
flinging forward onto an uneven carpet that cuts and stabs without mercy and
with consistancy. For a moment he basked in the conqueror's glory - for an
eternity - but refused to stop. The path in front of me and Power Station Beach
beyond. With wobbling arms and legs, he can only stand for a step before
falling to the side. When he made his last thrust ahead, a small bush beside
the walking path lures him, knowing nothing was left, protected by the shade of
the shrub, he slipped into a coma, engine revving and waning, the machine now
tilted, usless and dormant, into the hands of fate, strength expended, hawks
watching from above, the sun winking, God nodding.