Prophecy Seekers (Part 2)

Chapter 19

Go North and Find Your People


Riding the train in Burma could be enjoyable but it could also be hell. The ride from Mandalay to Katha was even more like a roller coaster that the Rangoon-to-Mandalay leg. The thwamp-thwamp; thwamp-thwamp; thwamp-thwamp of the boxcars bouncing both side-to-side and up-and-down caused passengers to squeal and exclaim fear – their very lives in peril at the thought of the train leaving the tracks. Bent and old, weary and over-used, the train system was in dire need of upgrades and basic maintenance. The extreme audible vibration of steel wheels against steel tracks made Thomas’s ears feel like they were bleeding. Nothing soft about it. A number of times the train’s shock absorbers bottomed out that jolted you violently upwards in the base of the spine, which were grounds for a whole new dimension of danger and made sleep impossible.

In every way, this train was dangerous.

And just to keep things spicy, the electrical system kept blacking out. When the electricity returned the lights came on at half power for the first ten seconds. Surreal, it was as if they were all on an unchaperoned joy ride caught in the throes of the Burmese Express rolling forward in a drunken swagger. Thomas tried to make it fun but it was past the pale of fun in any way; it was an accident waiting to happen.

What was fascinating to Thomas was how the Burmese dealt with this level of dubious operation. Even when the train was catching air or only inches from derailing with luggage falling from the overhead shelf landing on heads and toes, they remained cuddled up in a fetal posture snug in their sarong with their flat feet extended at all angles. The numerous stowaways on the roof of the cars pitter-pattered along the length of the roof until the night when they climbed inside the train car and lied down on the metal floor in the aisle or in-between cars. For some, the scraping steel and the force of the violent back-and-forth dance was a mobile rocking chair that caused extreme drowsiness.

But not for Thomas; he threw himself into a betel nut haze.

Chewing betel nut made the train ride bearable. With his holy task now with some traction, the betel juice was making it downright surreal. Betel nut tasted almost like liquorice but depending on the condiments you asked for, it could taste like something akin to soap. After the first day or so, when your mouth became used to the abrasive splinters of the nut, your teeth are stained red. If consumed at regular intervals, at perhaps two per hour, then by the end of day you were bold and confident and even prone to rapid-fire hallucinations. Trying to become better at the art of the nut, he tried to master a certain technique of expelling the excess brightly coloured betel juice. Due to the deep reddish-orange color of the juice, one must spit the betel juice like a projectile away from the body for fear of sullying ones’ garments.

Like the others on the train, he was using the open window to spit through.

In the sitting arrangements for the ride, it was unfortunate for Thomas to be sitting beside a fat man. The mass of his body was deceptive, soon pinching Thomas into the corner with half his girth on his side of the seat. Surrounded by half-starved peasants with dust in their hair and ripped clothing, the fat man wore his weight with pride, like a corporeal manifestation of his wealth. Once the fat man had spread himself out, he began to snore. With the swaying of the train back and forth, Thomas was forced to hold on to the windowsill from falling against the large mass of his fellow passenger.

Vendors walked down the aisle chanting their pitch to sell their wares, saying anything to make a sale in an endless procession. All the Burmese were treated the same except when it came to walking past the white-skinned foreigner, who stood out from the crowd. They slowed down to make sure he saw their food by putting it inches from his face. With the robust movement of the train, this meant a boiled egg hitting his cheek or a package of nuts striking his ear. When an old man dressed in black and gold Buddhist robes covered in swastikas walked down the aisle for alms, Thomas reached across the fat man to give some change.

He was relieved the monk didn’t thank him as if he was special.

It was one of the processions of vendors that awoke the fat man. Stimulated by the sight of food, he purchased a half-dozen items while Thomas bought a bag of peanuts in the shell. The rich Burmese didn’t eat for nutrition or to satiate hunger; they ate to put on weight for social status.  

After eating Thomas offered the fat man a cigarette.

“Marlboro Light,” he said. “Made in America.”

“Yeah, something like that, but it really comes from the Red Indians of America,” he replied, happy he spoke English.

“No, that’s not true, is it?” So few people were aware that tobacco was one of the greatest exports of the Red Man.

“It is true,” he said. “The story of tobacco is interesting. In less than a century after its discovery by the Europeans of this Native American habit in the New World, its use had circled the globe. First the Spanish brought it to Europe in 1518 and then Jean Nicot brought to France in 1559. It’s from his name that we get the word ‘nicotine.’ Tobacco use spread to Italy, Turkey and Russia by 1630 and then to Arabia by 1660. It eventually made its way to the Philippines through the Spanish where it was cultivated and exported to China, Siberia and then Alaska. Right around the world.” The fat man nodded at this information as he chewed on sweets.

“And the British brought it to Burma, eh?” He offered Thomas something that had a soggy texture but declined. “How do you know all this about tobacco?” His first reflex was to state that he read it in a book but in his heart it wasn’t the answer he wanted to give.

“Because I’m a Canadian Métis Indian.” It was strange saying this about himself to a stranger.

“Red Indian?” He studied Thomas for a moment.

“Yes. My great grandmother was Ojibway Indian. I am part Red Man and part White Man.” I am a painted horse, he said to himself: a Mustang thirsting for open grasslands and freedom to move. “I have the spirit of the Red Man and the eyes of the White Man.”

“To me you are a white man.”

“It is the hidden pedigree of many in North America, many of whom are not aware they have Indian blood in them.”

“Do you fell Indian?”

“Tough to say. In a way I have always felt a little different than the fiery ways of the white man. I have always felt more drawn to nature I suppose. To a slower way of life. To the profundities of our nature and our role in the world. The white man seems to be hell-bent on making money. I am not. And hell-bent on exploiting resources to make funny. I do not. My brother – my identical twin brother – is much more native in his ways of life than me. He has embraced his native side. I am only now learning about it all.”

“Very interesting,” he replied, now more interested in finishing his bag of sweets.

“For example, my brother believes tobacco is a type of medicine.” This caught his attention so he looked more closely at Thomas.

“That is what the Lisu say in the north, one of our native tribes here in Burma. And in fact, looking at you in this light and with what you have just said to me, you look like a Lisu man. Go north to Kachin and find your people.” His response was eerie and left Thomas speechless. Soon he closed his eyes to sleep, and was lulled by the to-and-fro of the train, giving way to the gravity of sleep.

He dreamed he and Josh were two brothers from India. Josh was a holy man who dedicated his life to his religious calling. Seven years passed until Thomas heard from someone by chance where Josh was in India. Being the twin who was deserted, Thomas sought and found him in a jungle in India. Then, to reach Josh and to protect himself from a sniper, he used a rhinoceros as a buffer against the bullets as he approached his long-lost holy twin. As he ran towards the hut where Josh was sitting with twelve disciples around him, he held on to the rhino’s tail that was soon covered in blood from the sniper shooting. Just before reaching Joshua and his disciples, Thomas saw a desperate look on his brother’s face and then woke up.

Awake and dazed, he was stupefied by the dream and its meaning. Why a rhinoceros?

The train was stopped at a station somewhere at the foot of the Himalayas under a sky so clear that he could almost reach out and grab a star. The station was empty except for a light on in the train station cabin where there were sounds of some men watching a football match. He guessed the engineer stopped to catch the game.

As he was pondering the meaning of his dream in the middle of nowhere in Burma stopped at two in the morning, the moonlight shone through the windows showing passengers sprawled at all angles, trying to achieve those few precious moments of slumber to take them away from the biting cold of the mountain air. The sleeping bodies were alive with a wide variety of bodily noises. Snoring, different flavors of coughing, burping, farting, clucking, groaning, nose-blowing and murmuring and the occasional cough-and-hork combination were some of the sounds he heard in the dead of night as he sat wondering how he had come to this point of being stranded as the only foreigner in a train full of Kachin, Shan, Burman and the rest of the hill tribes that make up the Union of Burma. The boxcar was a veritable cacophony of throat calisthenics uttering a guttural chorus the likes of which few would ever witness. The deathly background of absolute countryside silence magnified the symphony of sounds created en masse by each grunt, groan and audio product emitted from the depths of a collective esophagus.

A woman even sang a few lines in her sleep.

And there were odors, some of which he didn’t know existed. There was one smell from the foot family of odors that made it an indescribable hell with no escape. No place to run, no person to speak to, and no circulating air through the closed windows. Leaving the train was too dangerous because of theft, and sleep was out of the question because one man kept erupting into frantic gasps for air every few minutes between snores. He had some Valium but it was in his bag overhead and he would have to create a ruckus and wake up the fat man to get it. One, two, three and then four hours passed by as slow as a tree growing. An aching despair came over him, heavy as lead. He felt like a thirsty asthmatic who was caught in a sauna, the air thick as soup. Time stood still, especially when the fat man began letting go a rapid-fire number of pungent flatulent emissions that should have been enough to warrant an assault charge.

The crudeness of a people could not have been more revealed.

It was in this state of play when Thomas realized it was his 40th birthday. But instead of feeling resentful for this passing of time, he saw that time was not only measured in minutes, hours and years, it was measured in experience and knowledge. In this sense he had been given something of value for his birthday.

Chapter 20

Finding Orwell


Roosters trumpeted their bugle call and the Burmese stirred from under their thick blankets as the glimmer of light slowly conquered the black of night merging into a light orange hue coming from the eastern sky. No one escaped the baritone bark of the station master as he yelled to the sleepers on the platform to get up because he had to sweep the accumulated debris of betel juice and cigarette butts onto the tracks. Women gathered in groups combing their hair and applied yellow powder to their faces while men smoked cheroots and popped their first betel nut of the day. Monks arranged their robes and packed their bundles as teenagers hustled in bags of rice from a truck outside the station entrance to a place beside the tracks, bringing with them a baptismal energy that ushered in a new day.

Soon the train croaked forward, rolling ahead deeper into the mountains, the terrain steep but dense with jungle. Massive teak trees reached to the sky sticking out from the thick foliage, a world cut off from man, enclosing the sauntering colonial relic in its arms, the thwamping echoing off the trees creating a tunnel effect into a world still separate from the encroaching arms of modernity.

Knowing this was the same route George Orwell took to Katha over eighty years ago, Thomas opened Burmese Days again to read more about his life in Upper Burma. Having not noticed before, there was a map included in the Introduction to the novel that Orwell apparently sketched on a napkin and gave to his publisher. A rough sketch showed the colonial compound where he drank oily gin at the officer’s club that to most readers meant nothing, but for Thomas – now so close to Katha – it became a challenge to find out exactly where he spent his nights writing and exchanging stories with his fellow colonial police officers.

Thomas was still studying Orwell’s map when the train arrived at Naba station. Happy to be off the train after twenty hours, he shook the fat man’s hand, thinking he should have reserved two seats because of his girth.

Nothing had changed at Naba train station since the British left. Inside the brick office there was a telephone with the winding arm, a Morse code device, and a World War Two-style radio that was still used. Even the handheld railway flags used to communicate with incoming and passing trains still hung folded on the wall above the radio and a Chubb London safe.

Burmese sauntered in and out of the ticket office wrapped in their blankets like ancient Hebrews.

Once he found the right truck to Katha, which was an hour away, Thomas waved at the fat man and climbed aboard the back of the overloaded truck, the sun coming up from behind the teak-treed mountains. Standing on mounds of luggage with a dozen or so other people who stared at him, the hour commute to Katha was downright fun ducking tree branches and overhead telephone lines and gingerly crossing broken bridges that creaked with the weight of the truck. It was a pleasure to stretch out his legs as they barrelled through washouts and thick jungle in a fifty-year old truck jam-packed with standing passengers. He took out his baggie of betel nut, offered one to the toothless man beside him, and popped one into his mouth.

The locals took great pleasure seeing the foreigner popping betel nut and ducking the thick branches with a grin on his face that could have killed a less daring traveler.

Katha was a sleepy little village with few people and no foreigners to be seen anywhere. In the center of town he bought more betel nut at the local betel nut stand where he shared a laugh when he chose the condiments by pointing. The half-dozen men refrained from an unfriendly word that usually followed a transaction like this when in China.

The smell of sun-dried orchids made it all surreal somehow in the comfortable haze of betel juice.

Just to play out the scene Thomas popped a betel nut there in front of the boys, which seemed to establish the coolness of the new foreigner to return to Orwell’s Kyauktada. (Orwell’s publisher told him he had to change the town name Katha to Kyauktada because some characters in the book were still living and in power in Burma. In total he spent six years in Burma, but it was Katha where he set his story of expatriate loneliness and the pangs of living where reason was impossible). Throwing his backpack over his shoulder in a somewhat dramatic fashion, he mock-saluted the betel nut boys and then followed his nose to the river where there were a few guesthouses that had not been changed since the days of Orwell, with their wooden balconies overlooking the river, palm trees planted intelligently along the water’s edge.

Essentially cut off from the world and only accessible by riverboat, the truck ride alone ensured its isolation from the world and backpackers, allowing it to nurture its colonial inheritance and thrive untouched by the headaches of metal and plastics and computers. When he saw his room he had no idea how he would be able to sleep in a room with a centimeter of pure dust on the windowsills. But it didn’t matter; he only needed a place to throw his stuff and shower. With this done, he left with his map in hand and then made finding transportation his first task.

He went to a cluster of bicycle taxis at the river’s edge hoping to find a driver who spoke English but there were no riders around, so he approached a bystander and pointed to the bikes and gestured ‘where are they?’ The bystander pointed to a café on the river. Inside the café that had a strong odor of garlic, dried fish and sweat, he asked a man if he owned one of the bikes outside by pointing. Answering in the affirmative and agreeing on a price, Thomas pulled out his compass to get his bearings and they left down the road along the river.

Sitting in the sidecar, he looked at the Mandalay map from tablet 33 and confirmed that he was searching for a Christian church near a large pagoda beside the river. Following the Irrawaddy along a road that was a blend concrete and dirt, within minutes the cyclist was sweating heavily. Popping a betel nut, he offered his rider a nut for good measure. Surprised a foreigner chewed, he accepted it and warmed to Thomas as he slipped on his sunglasses and enjoyed the scenery. There was something soft about Katha, different than Mandalay and Rangoon, a sort of karma or Feng Sui that had an effect on the townsfolk. Shouts of ‘Hello’ were in a kinder tone and lacked any malice or hostility that usually underpinned greetings in other Asian towns. The children were happy, not desperate. There was space on the streets to play and talk unlike the narrow avenues of Rangoon or the crowded side streets of Mandalay. Both the men and women were wired on tea and betel nut so that there was a serendipitous energy that he felt as he explored Orwell’s old stomping grounds. With its avenue shops and colonial buildings left untouched under drooping trees, the crush of the wrecking ball had missed Katha much to its advantage.

Kids played net-less badminton at the side of the road, waving at Thomas as he passed.

Finally, around a bend in the river, there was a huge yellow pagoda surrounded by colonial buildings in a compound walled-in by a stone fence. It was the pagoda that caused him to clue in that it was the same pagoda on the map. Visually, the entire layout fit proportionally with the small map in his hand but he didn’t see a church. Matching the lines on the map to the buildings surrounding the big gold pagoda, Thomas experienced the same tingling sensation as he had in Mandalay: part thrill and part sheer intensity. But was also like a déjà vu.

He paid the bike-taxi man and walked towards the open field that looked like an old enclosed park.

An old jail fifty yards away with guards patrolling wooden lookout towers perched on the four corners of a huge wall was beautiful to the eye but increased his paranoia of being watched. The map was old enough to predate at least two roads between the central pagoda and the far end of the old walled-in compound near some quaint colonial homes, and it didn’t include the jail. He explored until his feet ached but still he couldn’t see a church so he sat at the foot of the pagoda and wondered if there might be a place up river that had a church. Enjoying the layout and architecture of the buildings in the compound, Thomas was just about to get a taxi to go down river to look for the church when he experienced another déjà vu but this time he knew why: this was the place in George Orwell’s old map!

Thomas flipped through Burmese Days to the map. It had the same lines as the map from the sacred tablet monastery in Mandalay except the colonial buildings were labeled as well as the jail. Then it occurred to him that there was a jail in Orwell’s novel.

“It can’t be,” he said into the wind.

In front of him was the fenced-in old colonial courtyard where the novel took place. According to the map Orwell sketched on a napkin, one of the official looking colonial buildings along the waterfront was the police officer’s club where Orwell drank his oily gin. It was a yellow two-story number with wooden shutters and a flagpole base that still had a British wreath. Climbing up the weathered stone steps, the monks squatting there let Thomas peek into the club. The floors, walls and ceiling were hardwood and the riverside wall had huge windows overlooking the water, so it was easy to imagine Orwell and the boys lazing with their gin fizzes in the afternoon breeze. The oak bar surrounded the north wall with a concave epicenter where the bottles of whiskey and brandy no doubt were parked.

It was if he had stepped back eighty years to British India.

“In any town in India,” Orwell had written on page 14 in the novel, “the European Club is the spiritual citadel and real seat of the British power, the Nirvana for which native officials and millionaires pine in vain. It was doubly so in this case for it was the proud boast of Kyauktada [Katha] Club that, almost alone of Clubs in Burma, it had never admitted an Oriental to membership. Beyond the Club, the Irrawaddy flowed huge and ochreous, glittering like diamonds in the patches that caught the sun; and beyond the river stretched great wastes of paddy fields, ending at the horizon in a range of blackish hills.”

Thomas was standing on the steps of that citadel.

Next to Orwell’s watering hole was a building of the same colonial architecture twice as large but with the six-inch wooden bars in the window. It was the old police station where Orwell worked. Next to the police station and slightly in from the river were the law courts (according to the map), a square two-story affair with a small front veranda that housed a bell. These buildings in the walled-in compound formed the crux of what Orwell called the maiden.

Having checked all the buildings on his Orwell’s map, Thomas wanted to find Orwell’s old house near the jail so he left the maiden, passed the pagoda and looked for his house from among a row of homes on the street where the jail was. Orwell’s house was marked beside a cemetery but there were many new structures not on his map. Down the road and past a house on stilts with a rusted roof and hidden by overgrown trees, Thomas found an old wooden archway that looked like it could have once been a graveyard. There were no gravestones but the earth was uneven in a ten-by-twenty path of ground. It was then that he went back to the rusted-roofed house on stilts that at first glance he thought was a shack about to fall down, but then he saw the small rusted cross above the door.

It was the church!

The church was a haphazard affair with tin walls and rusted roof with a small modest cross at its apex that was outside of the boundary of Mandalay map. Thomas hopped over a decaying picket fence overgrown with weeds onto long grass that was soft and carried with it a strong whiff of a snake pit. Its foundation had almost completely worn away and termites had eaten through the wood but somehow it still stood. Up the front steps he saw thirteen olive branches above the front door in pewtered lead, the symbol for the tribe of Manasseh. Beside it was:


Its pewtered lead was fastened into place as if by some divine will.

A lantern made of the same material as the insignia was just under the small roof. The number 13 carved into the soft lead of the lantern could barely be seen. Dripping with sweat and with the rust skinning his hands, he used his knife to jimmy the latch behind the lantern but it fell, glass shattering by his feet. Immediately he sensed a guard watching him from the jail but when he saw a piece of paper tied with a string he put it into his pocket without stopping to look at it. Almost recklessly with sweat dripping from the tip of his nose, Thomas ran his fingers through the pile of glass to make sure there wasn’t anything else in the lantern. Feeling something cold like metal he clutched it, and in one quick movement put the metal object in his front pocket, feeling glass slice his thumb.

Walking away from the church with his head down, the excitement in his gut turned to raw fear. With his heart thumping and slipping on his sunglasses, when he reached the road he walked in the other direction of the jail convinced someone was watching him from the corner tower. Hardly able to contain his anxiety, he hailed a tricycle and asked to go to the Methodist Church. Thomas was in a state of numb stasis until they were pedaling uphill in the tricycle going east. Finally in the distance the old Methodist church founded by Eugenio Kin Kaid appeared.

Chapter 21

Though the Monkey is in a Hurry, the Olive Branch is Not


After paying the man, Thomas walked towards the rain-worn bell tower of the Methodist church with his hand in his pocket feeling the newly acquired booty. The large gray tower looked more like a castle rampart than a bell tower with its crenellated edges. Strong, simple and weathered. A place of refuge from the storms.

The church in Myskyina

Finding peace and quiet in the church, he sat alone and began to feel secure again. The piece of paper was stained from moisture so he placed it on his lap and unfolded it slowly. It was another Kachin Proverb:



Closing his eyes and feeling the infinite abyss of helplessness for a moment, he knew inertia could be slippery when trying to stop. Turning it over, he came across some Latin:


He cursed himself under his breath he never took Latin at school when he had the chance.

The metal object was a grandfather key, an iron key for old doors and treasures chests.

After sitting for a while fighting off the butterflies and trying to see the wisdom of the olive branch, he explored the church, plain in its design, but didn’t see anything. Outside, surrounded by dry, scorched vegetation indigenous to these parts, he couldn’t find the cornerstone but he found the same thirteen olive branches on a worn patch of pewtered lead on the side of the church, so he walked around to the back where he saw two massive teak trees with long branches towering over the church.

“Don’t be a monkey,” he muttered to himself. “Be an olive branch.” For a moment he was at a loss in the dreaded stillness of the afternoon, then walked around the corner where he saw an open door. Bold with betel juice, he poked his head through.

“Oh! I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” A man behind a desk had the collar of a reverend and the smiled creases around the edges of his mouth of a good-hearted person. His eyes penetrated the dusty lenses of his eyeglasses.

“Please come in,” he said, waving his hand. “You’re not disturbing me.” With a very respectful gait, Thomas half-bowed his head, entered the low-ceilinged room and introduced himself. The pastor, who looked like he was in his sixties, kept his eyes on Thomas, watchful, showing subtle appreciation for the bow.

“I am Pastor Ko Pauk. Welcome to my church.” White shirt stained with dirt around the collar hanging off his shoulders as if it was two sizes too big. The wooden furniture was ancient and cobwebs hung from the wooden rafters overhead.

“Yes, I’ve been inside. It is a beautiful church.” The Pastor gave him a friendly nod.

“It is modest but has history.” Thomas felt uneasy and impatient, but he kept the second proverb in mind.

“How old is the church?” The Pastor put his hands together in front of his frayed white collar.

“The church was built in 1858 by that man.” He pointed to the corner of the room where there was a dusty portrait of Eugenio Kin Kaid.

Thomas was drawn to the portrait. It read:





As he stared at the American missionary on the wall, with his Cherokee cheekbones and strong hairline, he wondered if he knew of the connection between the Red Man and the Kachin people. Was that why he had built communities here, like the stone building that he was standing in? Did he follow a truth when others had no idea why?

“Did you ever meet him?” The Pastor smiled and then was briefly lost in reveries in his recollections.

“No. He was before my time. But he was the minister when my father was a boy.” He took out a photograph from a drawer in his desk. “This is my father and Reverend Kin Caid right before he departed. My father is second from the right.” It was a group photo with a number of small boys with a few American missionaries.

“Who is this man here?” Thomas pointed at a young man directly beside Eugenio, both standing at a slight angle towards one another. Pastor Ko Pauk put on his glasses.

“That is Pastor William Crow. He was his favorite and most devoted student of Reverend Kin Kaid. I knew him well when I was younger. A very honorable man. Pastor Crow preached in Upper Burma his whole life and died here. He founded the Methodist Church in Myskyina.” There was something about Pastor Crow that intrigued him.

“Did he spend most of his life at the church in Myskyina? Or did he preach at other churches in the country?”

“He sometimes preached in other churches but he made his home in Myskyina. He was very passionate about the Kachin people. So was Pastor Kin Kaid. They had a lot in common. They believed the Kachin people were related to the original Americans. It was their area of interest that brought them to Burma.” Thomas knew he was speaking to the one person who could give him the direction he needed.

“Please excuse my ignorance Pastor Ko Pauk, but how would they be related to the Kachin people?” Happy to have someone to discuss this intriguing subject with, the reverend sat up in his chair, putting his hands on the big oak desk and looking at Thomas with a keen eye.

“They believed – and they weren’t the only ones – that the American Indian originally came from Tibet and Kachin State in Upper Burma. They did much research in Kachin and Tibet.” His mind busy with questions, he took a moment.

“So would that would mean that they themselves were part Native American Indian then?”

“That’s correct. I think they said that most of the pure Kachin people have intermarried with other races so it is difficult to find tall Kachin people with a straight nose and high forehead like the pure-blooded American Indian.” Thomas was biting his lip. “But they believed they came from the same root.”

“Did they visit Tibet to look for Kachin people?” Geckoes darted across the wall moving like little golf pencils on wheels.

“Yes. Particularly Pastor Crow. He believed Tibetans were the most like the American Indian. He said that there were connections between both peoples that are very old.”

“Do you remember what kind of connections?”

“William, or excuse me, Pastor Crow thought there was an ancient relationship. He believed that both people came from the same original source but that there was a migration east across the Bering Ocean to America. He detailed the correlations in ancient animist belief systems between the Tibetans, the Kachin people and the American Indians. He was adamant that the peoples who crossed the Bering Strait were not Chinese at all. They were from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel spoken about in the Book of Genesis.”

“Do you know what happened to all that research he did? Was there a library or archive that he left it to? Or to his family?” Pastor Ko Pauk looked in the corner of the room for a moment, as if he had just remembered something.

“I’m sorry but you have just reminded me of something I have been meaning to do for some time now.” He walked to some boxes in the corner of the room. “I hope you don’t think I’m rude, but if I don’t do it now then I will surely forget.” Pastor Ko Pauk lifted the top box off and then proceeded to dig through a stack of papers and files. A moment later he removed a thin book, a notebook and some papers in his hand.

“Here,” he said, handing Thomas the thin book. “I recall a passage from Reverend Hanson who preached here years ago. Please read it. You may find it of interest.” It was titled Glimpses of Kachin Traditions and Customs. Thomas read the underlined passage:

Many are found with complexion and features remarkably like the American Indians, while others might hail from southern Europe. Some measure close to six feet and present a fine physique. The women are somewhat smaller, but most of them are strongly built, and they are able to endure a great deal of hardship.

Thomas’s eyes widened in exasperation.

“Reverend Crow used to like to call the Kachins by their real name: The Chingpaws.”

“What does it mean?”

Chingpaw means man and it is believed to have originated from Tibet.”

Chingpaw even sounds like a Red Indian word,” he said. “Like Chippewa. Or Choctaw.”

“These are some of my old notes that I took when I was younger. You see, my father was also interested in this connection and through his own readings started believing in a very real common source.” He flipped through some papers. “Yes, here it is. Reverend Kin Kaid, upon his departure, left his research to his apprentice Revered Crow. But you see, Reverend Crow died here in Myanmar and there was some confusion as to where his papers would go.” Pastor Ko Pauk put the paper down and took off his eyeglasses.

“Was he married? Did he have a family?”

“He married near the end of his life before he was killed. This added to the confusion I believe.” Thomas recalled Crow’s death was in 1965.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but you said he was killed. How did he die?” It was when he asked the question that he had a good idea of why William Lewis Crow was killed.

“That is also unclear, at least the details of it. But it seems as if he was murdered by mercenaries for being accused of trafficking stolen property and artifacts from the Kingdom of Tibet. But you see, those were sketchy times. The Chinese had invaded Tibet and there was a lot of dispersion of peoples and many things were lost. And many misunderstandings arose. I don’t think it was ever fully explained. What we know for sure is that his body was found in Mandalay after an extended tour in Upper Burma and Tibet. The Chinese accused him of stealing items that were rightfully part of the Chinese empire. But most of this is second-hand information. I really cannot be certain.” Cheeks flushed, beads of sweat stung the unhealed cut on his forehead.

“How was he murdered?”

“His body was found in the moat of Mandalay Fort. He had been strangled and tortured before he had been thrown into the water there.” A sad shaking of the head.

“But he was what? 84?”

“Yes, but he was strong and active his whole life. I’m sorry to say all this. It’s all very, ah, sordid.”

“To me it’s important because it helps me understand. Was there anything about him that you remember that you may regard as special or unique? Did he have any pronounced idiosyncrasies or aspects of his personality that defined him as a person?” Pastor Ko Pauk smiled at this question, looking as if he enjoyed remembering Reverend Crow’s personality.

“Certainly Thomas. It could be said that he truly had an all-around personality. He spoke many different languages. He understood humanity and got along with all people with a good soul. There was one thing he loved though, and that was proverbs. He was like a walking book of proverbs. I was always amazed at that.” Thomas took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment.

“Any more questions?” The whirling of the overhead fan like a tuneless record player filled the air.

“Actually, yes. Did Reverend Crow ever talk about identical twins at all?” Pastor Ko Pauk’s expression changed. He folded his hands and leaned forward, studying the short-bearded man in front of him.

“Are you an identical twin Thomas?” He knew something had changed.

“Yes I am. I have twin brother in Canada who studies with a Cree medicine man and who told me about the Hopi Prophecies.” The Pastor stood up, walked around his desk and offered his hand.

“I want to shake your hand because I was told to expect a twin from North America one day around the turn of the century. And look at this! It’s 1999 and here you are!” He shook his head. “I didn’t believe it all but of course you make a promise to someone you respect under the witness of God and you must have faith.”

“He told you to expect a twin from North America?”

“Yes, and that would be you.”

“Are you sure?” Thomas thought of Grandfather and Joshua and marvelled how they all came to know all this esoteric knowledge about history and what was to come.

“Believe me, we don’t get many people from North America here. It does sound incredible but there it is. I was very young when I was told about this by Pastor Crow but I recall him being very serious about it. In fact he made me promise with my hand on the Bible.”

“What did you promise?” He lifted his finger in the air. “Ah!” Walking to the door, he closed it and waved at Thomas to follow him. “I have something I’m supposed to show you.”

Through an old wooden door they entered a darkened room to the side of the alter and lectern of the church, not where the priest changes vestments but where there were shelves carved into the wall made of wood. He unlocked a drawer along the top shelf and removed a yellowed envelope.

“Are you part Native American like Reverend Kin Kaid and Reverend Crow?”

“Yes. My brother and I are Métis.”

“I don’t-“

“We’re part Ojibwa.”

“Okay, this is for you.” The paper had an image of a red bird and the word Palongawhoya handwritten on it.

“It’s a bit dark in here.”

“Yes, shall we return to my office?” There, with the better light, Thomas carefully opened the letter. It read:

Man is an axis in medictate signi. Fulfill the Israelite prophecy of La Merica, and bring the Taponi Tablet back to the place beyond the sea. Honor the Lammanites for their victory over the unworthy Nephites and reunite the stones, but beware. There are those who know of its existence and are waiting for a Métis twin to arrive during the Seventh Sun and remove it from their country. Trust no one but your brother Poqanghoya. Become part of history My Son, and remember the olive branch is the Thirteenth Tribe, but be prepared to undergo a transformation and rebirth. For you have been chosen for this holy task, so follow your intuition and you shall fulfill the prophecy kept by the Hopis and believed by many throughout the centuries of our God-given civilization.

Thomas put his hand over his pocket to feel the grandfather key.

“Speaking to you has been great, Pastor Ko Pauk.” This message had been here hidden for more than a hundred years gathering dust just like the windowsills of his Allywaddy guesthouse in isolated Katha.

“Does it make any sense to you Thomas?”

“Yes it does. But I do have one more question before I go. In your opinion, where do you think Reverend Crow’s research and papers are? For example, do you think his work is still in Burma?” He looked at the cobwebbed corner near Eugenio Kin Kaid’s portrait.

“If I were to give you my honest opinion, I think everything is still here in the country. I would say that it would be in his church in Myskyina. He was there for a very long time, and that is where his wife remained after his death. Incidentally I believe she was a twin.” Thomas stood, straightened his own collar, and offered his hand to Pastor Ko Pauk.

“I’m very grateful to you for having me into your office and taking the time to chat with me. I am truly honored. Thank you sir.” The Pastor smiled with genuine warmth.

“It has been a pleasure Thomas. I’ve enjoyed talking to you too.” They walked together to the front gate and said good-bye. Overloaded with information to digest, Thomas decided to follow his compass and walk back to the guesthouse by the river.

Chapter 22

The Castle at God’s Toes


The following evening he truck-surfed from Katha back to the railway station ducking teak branches hanging over the road while chewing the Burmese nut surrounded by his new betel nut friends who wouldn’t stop laughing and joking around with him despite the language barrier and the bite of night’s chill. In the piercing breath of the wind, Thomas reflected on his day in Katha.

He had visited more churches, and at one was invited by a teacher into the school to meet the friendly children. He used the universal language of the smile to foster a mutual benevolence among the students, seeing their faces light up and their happiness through their laughter at first contact with a white person. He smiled and laughed his way through town where everyone seemed to be aware of his presence, all of whom wished they spoke English and who were all eager to give him one of their betels from their perennial baggies. The town’s simplicity lay at the root of its charm, and the people’s cohesion created a tangible societal happiness. As a visitor his only wish was not to cause any incongruities or turbulence that would wreck the collective tranquility they had so deftly created on their own. There was a happy silliness that he had plugged into, which seemed to grow as the day matured and as people became more stoned on betel juice. It occurred to Thomas that Orwell’s concept of soma in his book 1984 might have come from the wide use and happy reek of betel nut. By sundown, Thomas had become some sort of local celebrity for a day. Streams of kids giggled and said hello, or a ‘hey man’, to the conspicuous tall foreigner who was in good form and replied with a nod or good-natured salute.

Thomas would not have believed that a real-life utopia existed in the world until he had meandered the old streets and markets of Orwell’s remote Katha.

When he arrived at the train station he learned that the train going north left first thing in the morning. The stationmaster, seeing he had no accommodation for the night, called one of his boys into the office who took Thomas across the tracks behind massive piles of teak logs where there was a basic wooden hut. Knocking on the door, it was a minute before a woman answered. In a rapid exchange of words, she wasn’t happy to be disturbed so close to midnight, but it ended with the woman handing the stationmaster’s boy a key. Then she gave Thomas a disapproving glare. The boy opened a door to a small room where he was told could stay until the boy returned early in morning in time for the train. Using his lighter to see, he managed to climb underneath the heavy mosquito netting without taking off his boots. For a moment Thomas waited for spiders or cockroaches or mice to scurry for a corner, and then he slipped under a thick red blanket that had the heaviness of lead.

Being just a shack he could see the moonlight between the vertical slabs of wood of the walls, but in no time he drifted off to sleep to the land of Somnus in the loving quiet of the Burmese night.

He dreamed that there was a huge castle on a mountaintop that rose into the blue sky. At the foot of the castle he walked up the stairs of weathered beige rock to a turret that touched God’s toes. At first scared at the dizzying height of the turret, he soon trusted the solid architecture built on rock. He opened a door and stepped into a new world at the top of the castle. There was an old stone school where students played, two of them brothers with sunken eyes in dark sockets with long straight noses, sharp cheekbones and messy hair pushed back off their foreheads. It occurred to him that their odd look was the result of long and intense study; they had the mark of a scholar. He passed the school and then found himself at a large wedding with guests wearing tuxedoes and white gloves. Having arrived late he found himself at the bar where he saw his long-lost twin brother wearing a tux with an open collar and speaking to a woman. For some reason he was ambivalent to speak to his long-lost twin so he went towards the door where he saw most of his friends were leaving for another party. He looked up at his twin brother who was looking at him and realized that his long-lost twin had known all along that he would be late. He smiled at him and realized how much he had missed him. So he went back to the bar and they had their own party, enjoying each other’s company in mutual sincerity and understanding. There, at the top of the castle at God’s toes, he found contentment laughing with his identical twin brother.

The next thing Thomas knew, he opened his eyes to the sound of roosters underneath the floor of his bed. He hadn’t moved an inch all night under the heavy blanket.

Chapter 23

The General & Sergeant Betel Nut


With the early morning sun trumping the frost with a melting smile, Thomas ushered himself into the untamed day, crossing the railroad tracks to the platform where sleeping Burmese covered by their blankets were beckoned to rise by the loud shouting of the station master. The train north to Myskyina was the milk run and the only seats available were in steerage but it didn’t seem that bad since it was the last stretch north to get to where he needed to go. So he bought an ordinary class ticket to ride to the end of the line, and thought to himself:

When the flowers die, time will not come back.

Soon he boarded the steerage compartment and chose a corner seat where he might have some degree of privacy. Just as he settled in, a man in army boots, khaki army uniform, and worked-in leather jacket walked into the boxcar with a dozen soldiers surrounding him. After a few minutes the General, as he called him, approached Thomas in the corner carrying a large machine gun over his shoulder. The General sat beside him and spoke choppy English.

“What do you weigh?” he asked, his weathered face pockmarked and scarred. His posture demanded attention and commanded respect. Thomas knew the General had made a mistake with his English but he was compelled to give him an honest answer rather than be regarded as insubordinate.

“180 pounds,” he replied.


“180 pounds,” repeated Thomas, hoping the General’s brow wouldn’t furrow so they were at odds with each other.

“Where do you go?” he ventured, knowing everyone in the car was watching them.


“Where you from?” He thanked God he wasn’t American or British for a moment.

“Canada,” was his reply.

“What company?” Instinct told him not to tell the General he worked at a university because it was too high-brow for a face like his. Sometimes the truth could be dangerous.

“UHK,” he answered, which was the acronym for the university. After the rapid-fire get-to-know-you chat, Thomas volunteered some information. Courage only happened in an instant. “Tourist,” he said, pointing at himself. And then he offered him a betel nut. He declined but looked impressed that Thomas partook of the betel juice.

“How old are you?

“40.” His eyes bulged for a moment.


“No, 40.” He relaxed a moment now that the small talk was out of the way, and in his posture showed they were on good terms. They sat together for a minute or two with the entirety of passengers looking at them. Even the way the General sat beside him, close and in confidence, showed a presence that Thomas reacted to with a certain pride. It said to his countrymen that he wasn’t cow-towing to the foreigner. He balanced himself in just the right mixture of cordial relation and stern authority.

“I am train police,” he finally said, pointing at himself and nodding.

“Yes,” was the reply. Thomas thought it was his chance to give him what he wanted and what the General, as his elder, deserved. “Many people here respect you.” He said it clearly enough that he understood, and looked at Thomas just for a split second to see if he has making fun of him. Guys like the General could discern a false tone. But it was a hit. A homerun. The General changed the angle of his body on the hard wooden bench where they sat and nodded at him, then faced away, like someone too cool to make it obvious. Thomas understood this language and knew that he was now on his team and under his protection.

For a moment he wondered if it was because his teeth were red and had happy reek of betel nut on his breath.

“You need help, you call me,” he said as he stood up, putting his machine gun in his left hand.

“Yes sir.” They shook hands and the General barked orders to his soldiers who had been standing in the aisle gawking at their commanding officer with the foreigner. For those on the train in doubt of Thomas’s intentions or of his character, he was given at least a temporary reprieve from further inquiry or nasty looks. The General could trust him in the corner and didn’t have to worry he was a spy working for the CIA.

It was the thrill of risk that was the vital element in life.

When women and children began to board the train into their end of the boxcar, the General stood up without hesitation and shouted at them. Motioning with his arms he told them to go to the other end of the car. Only the Buddhist monk and Thomas were allowed to stay in his section of the car along with his army boys. The far end of steerage was already standing room only but their end was spacious.

When they finally departed, Thomas could tell that something was up with the General and his men. He barked commands and they scurried around, picking up a bag and clearing a section, or moving groups of people even farther into the other end. Soon, when they arrived at the second station after departing, ten of the General’s posse jumped off the train and began hauling 80-pound bags of coal from the trackside into their section of the car. One after another, the General’s soldiers carried unguarded bags of coal into the train in a frenzy of lifting. But what was strange was just as they started to leave the station, the train mysteriously stopped and slowly drifted backwards to where they had been, as if pulled back by gravity. When back to the same place on the tracks, the army boys jumped out again and threw more bags of coal to a point man who Thomas called Sergeant Betel Nut. He directed the bags under seats and piled them up against the wall, yelling orders to his lackeys who obeyed his commands. His teeth were beet red from betel nut, the few teeth he still had left.

The boys stole another dozen more bags of coal from the trackside each time the train stopped and fell back to where it was. The boys dumped them in the aisles, corners and under the seats of everyone in the car except Thomas. Sergeant Betel Nut threw one under his seat but Thomas protested – making a gesture that the sergeant understood. There was no way he was going to spend the next 20 hours with his legs cramped up like a pretzel. Perhaps he saw it in his face when he was just about to stand up and bark at him. Instead he chucked the bag under another seat so Thomas had his legroom for the journey. Sergeant Betel Nut was a brute. He didn’t take any lip, but Thomas didn’t think he wanted the hassle from his buddy the General so he played it safe. But not being outdone, the sergeant directed one of his lackeys to slip a bag under the seat in front of him, which was almost as bad because he couldn’t stretch out his legs. When they had eye contact it was important Sergeant Betel Nut knew what he thought. Without verbalizing it, Thomas thought: Bastard.

It gave him the satisfaction of one-upping the foreign usurper.

Many more times the train moved forward and then stopped, drifting slowly back to the station. And again the same guys jumped out to grab more coal. After more than a half-dozen false starts, and now covered in coal dust, the General’s boys had worked up a sweat looting coal reserves piled beside the tracks that were mysteriously unguarded. The General’s entourage, of which he was now part of but not on heavy labor detail, worked like dogs for him. Thomas would be hard-pressed to come up with anyone who he had ever met who had such a commanding presence. The deep baritone voice boomed from his weathered throat, his face deeply sunned, complete with crooked nose once broken, and sun-dried wrinkles. It was the army boots with tucked-in khakis that did it, not to mention the semi-automatic machine gun he held like it was a toy. One word from him and bystanders reacted by giving him his space.

He was power incarnate in modern Burma.

Sergeant Betel Nut standing on a bag of coal, now with ripped and sullied shirt, screamed at his fellow soldiers to tighten up and hide the evidence as betel juice splattered on people below him. It was his caustic manner and sharp tongue that were the hallmark of the Burmese army. Tall and heavy, not from protein but from junk food and greasy fare, he looked miserable and mean, but competent. The General showed faith in his abilities to get the job done. Despite Thomas’s dislike of the betel nut-crazed thug, he managed the carnage with poise. The remainder of the General’s regiment were young and eager in their early twenties, ready to serve their venerable leader.

They finally did leave the station, bringing with them about a hundred 80-pound bags of coal, stacked at the back of the car so that no one could use the bathroom for the rest of the trip. Thomas curtailed his water intake and stuck to the betel nut to cope with it all. He wondered how the car would survive almost twenty hours without a bathroom but he didn’t let it rile him. It bounced off him like water on a raincoat.

Chapter 24

The Tattooed Station Master


The mayhem subsided when the train began climbing the Himalayan Mountains. Thomas enjoyed the freedom of his view through the window, letting his arm dangle over the windowsill and savoring the breeze that pushed the hair off his forehead. The train stopped in an endless parade of stops, and at every station, the General’s deputy, a young uniformed apprentice, stepped out to talk to every stationmaster. From what he could tell watching him, he was a natural. The deputy had what it took to shoot the breeze with all personality types and still appear to be having fun. Smiling and with the gift of the gab, he had excellent rapport with each stationmaster he met.

He was a good choice as the General’s mouthpiece and PR man.

But with the journey hardly underway, Thomas was already uncomfortable. A dominating aspect in steerage was the dazed, vacant staring he got from passengers. With his back against the very corner of the car, he felt as though he was on display for all the Burmese who had never seen a foreigner before. But more than this, the rock-hard wooden seats seriously lacking any ingredient of Feng Sui caused him the most grief. His ass numb, finding a comfortable position was impossible. Trying to convince himself that this was a sacrifice so he could get an inside glimpse of the inner sanctum of a difficult-to-access country in the third world and find the sacred stone that had been hidden in this country waiting for an identical twin to discover, Thomas feared he was actually participating in a domestic black op with a General who had befriended him.

He popped another betel nut and moved uncomfortably on the wooden seat, unable to alleviate the pain in his ass.

At each stop, kids swarmed the cars scavenging for food passengers had left behind, no matter how small. Aggressive, loud, and high on betel juice, they were the opposite of meek.

Then, after a few hours along the milk run, the train stopped and a stationmaster entered the car to inspect and to ask for tickets. His forearms were completely tattooed with black markings and symbols, as was his chest that Thomas could see under his open shirt. Like Burmese hieroglyphics. A record of Burma’s ancient history written on his skin. When he saw the bags of coal, he pointed at them and demanded an answer. The General explained about the coal but the stationmaster exercised his seniority over the General and shook his head, not accepting the line the General fed him. When the General spoke again, the stationmaster raised his voice, gesturing at the hidden booty under the seats. His anger showed. That was when Sergeant Betel Nut spoke up, offering another explanation to quell the standoff, but this time the stationmaster reacted angrily by raising his voice another octave and jumping on top of the bags that obstructed the aisle. He took his pad and paper and jotted down notes, showing a fair dose of courage and causing the General to sink low in his seat and remain quiet.

Clearly, the shipment of coal was illegal.

At this point all the passengers in the car fell silent. Then, just as the stationmaster was finishing his tirade, the General had his most classic moment. Clear as day in his booming voice, the General’s two-word comment caused almost everyone in the boxcar to laugh. The tension, which had been so thick only a second before, dissipated in an instant. For a moment the tattooed stationmaster didn’t stand down but it was clear that whatever he said now, nothing could be done. Any authority he thought he had was nothing in the face of the General and his uniformed posse. Realizing he was facing a larger and more powerful adversary, he bowed down and left the train.

The boys beamed at their Lord and Master, who had the power and backbone to overcome and defeat this pencil-neck administrator so they could complete their task.

Soon the boys were back in a frenzy, preparing to unload their stolen plunder. Now in the flush of night the betel-chewing fraternity of young men, Thomas included, hit their frenzied peak. There was an unmistakable bluster of testosterone-fuelled Burmese soldiers spitting betel juice as they swaggered over the bags of coal. Laughter heightened to a feverish pitch – an element of maudlin that revealed cracks of immaturity. With teeth stained as red as theirs, Thomas thought of helping them with the bags, but the hysterical moments in the ebb and flow of semi-rational man-boys made him think twice about putting himself in harm’s way.

That being said, with no lights in steerage and with it way after dark, it was Thomas who stood up and held candles so they could see. His teammates piled the bags up by the door so they could push the coal out quickly and undetected at the next step. Holding up candles in the pitch-dark so they could see was the least he could do for the General and his boys to accomplish their illegal operation and be paid their rightful share. They were the sons of military commanders in a country run by the military where civilian law didn’t really exist, at least to this roaming tribe of soldiers. At that moment he felt safe and secure knowing the General had his back.

The irony wasn’t lost on him that he was safer breaking the law being an accomplice in the coal heist than to not be, in this land where the military was the law.

Besides, standing there with the candles in his hands sure beat sitting on the wooden seat.

The train station they were approaching was on the Irrawaddy River, a strategic location because it was the only place where the railway crossed the river in the north. With separatist insurgencies still armed and active in the area, the Than Regime protected this bridge as if it were a bridge of gold. It was the outer boundary of Burma proper over 1000km from Rangoon before crossing into the unsettled and hostile north. With such agitation in play, the long-stretching bridge was heavily guarded with lookout towers on both sides of the river, pillboxes poised on both flanks of the bridge.

Stopping at Moguaung train station, a great fury of unloading commenced despite the fact that the other half the car was trying to sleep. Being part of the team, Thomas remained on candle duty. The General stepped off the train with his deputy and disappeared into a darkened café adjoining the station, as a flurry of movement in the dark loaded the unaccounted-for bags of coal off the train on the other side of the tracks. Standing there with candles in his hands giving his team members the light they needed to get the job done, the military presence was palpable in Moguaung. Sergeant Betel Nut in his element, they didn’t have the same amount of time at this stop as they did when they first loaded the bags, so the voices were louder and the commands crisper. Very quickly the bags piled up right outside the entrance of the compartment but it didn’t seem to matter; they just wanted the bags off the car regardless of how neat the pile was.

A few minutes later, the General appeared just under Thomas’s window where he saw the General take out a large wad of bills and give a fair slice of the profit to his uniformed deputy. With the bags now out of the car, Sergeant Betel Nut lit a cigarette and talked briefly to the General, who handed his sergeant an even bigger wad of bills. When they separated, the General retired quietly to his seat, literally merging into the darkness.

But just as the train was about to depart, a large man with a drunken gait walked out of the café where the General had been and yelled out with authority towards the General’s seat. Because he was hunched down and now incognito, the General didn’t answer. The uniformed deputy appeared beside him and said something to the drunken man to quell his anger but it was met with another ejaculation of words. He stubbornly pressed for a reply but was met with the same silence. The deputy then said the right thing that caused the drunken man to turn his attention away from the General altogether and accept a cigarette from the deputy. Being right there, it had all the makings of something ugly.

The General had chosen his uniformed deputy very well indeed.

Not all the passengers had closed their windows so the night air of the Himalayas made the steerage compartment as cold as a refrigerator as the train climbed farther north. Despite the severe pain of his ass from sitting, Thomas dozed off. When he awoke he was frozen to the bone, with his neighbor fully sprawled on his shoulder and legs asleep and the army guys were gone. They arrived at the end of the line at the wee hours of the morning.

Chapter 25

The Life’s Work of Reverend Crow


Thomas woke up in a Myskyina hotel sore and relieved to be away from the rhythmic thumping of the train. The jarring sounds of the trail were now long gone but manifested in a headache. He skipped breakfast except for several cups of sweet milky tea and went find the Methodist Church where William Lewis Crow preached. Not knowing what might happen, he brought his big backpack instead of his small one just in case he did find something big, like a stone tablet. He also brought his dop kit that contained some basic tools.

Despite its remoteness so far north and elevated in the Himalayas, Myskyina was much more industrious than the south. Noticeably more multicultural than anywhere he had seen in Burma so far with Burmese, Chinese, Indian, Kachin and many other hill tribes making up the population, it was the Chinese who ruled the roost in town. The Chinese revealed their true colors here, showing him they were truly a class apart with their porcelain skin and industrious disposition. After all, the border was less than 65km away. Here was the end of the line of the railway, surrounded by impassable mountains.

He walked towards the church and was overwhelmed by the crisp, fresh air and the smell of pine. As a Canadian who grew up among pines and maples, it brought him back to the rugged perfumed scents of Canada’s forests. Here was another bosom of Mother Nature: safe, healthy and ancient – a place where all is good in life was on display. Rocky hills and morning fog obscured the trees giving it a fairy tale ambiance that had no sign of the presence of man, like an untouched oasis nestled in the eastern flank of the Himalayan Range. Only the pagodas that pierced through the low-hanging fog were of man’s hand. The jungle, like a growing, moving organism of vines and green wood that twisted and snowballed up to three-hundred feet high, made any bushwhacking a task of near impossibility. He couldn’t fathom how soldiers during World War Two slashed their way through such thick vegetation under the obscene height of teak trees that dwarfed the severity of the underbrush. The richness in the air left his palette wanting more, not unlike a candy to a child. It tickled and satisfied, unlike the air of most of Asia that tasted of motorcycle exhaust. The fullness of the oxygen-rich air also lacked the industrial residue of southern China.

Here in northern Burma it was a feast for the senses.

Crossing streets busy with Chinese working on their tradecrafts and passing outdoor teashops full with Burmese discussing business or their motorcycles, Thomas eventually found Crow’s Myskyina Methodist Church at the end of a block. Near its entrance, forgotten and overgrown with weeds, there was a tombstone for the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the inscription barely legible in the weathered stone:






















It was a reminder of lives lost in the forgotten corners of the British Empire that today no one knows about except for the families of the fallen men, historians and now rare prophecy seekers like Thomas Robertson.

Immediately feeling a connection to the church when he arrived, it was different from other American-missionary protestant churches. Crow’s church was built with both stone and cement but the red stone dominated its façade that emitted a soft vermillion hue and enhanced the wooden windows painted red. The front entrance was designed as a turret with crenellated edges and classic window-shaped openings on all four sides. But the most striking aspect of Reverend Crow’s church were three thirty-foot crosses on the front wall carved into the stone, each cross filled with turquoise stained glass that created a very unique impression to the eye. The dozens of bright orange coconuts under the bib of drooping palm leaves hanging off tall palm trees behind the church, with the ochre red of the windows and the subtle red hue of rain-worn stone with the turquoise shining from the three crosses on the front wall, all together created an image that glowed. A divine simmering under the hot sun.

With no one around that he could see, he approached the closed front doors that were locked so he walked around to the back where he found what looked like a small school for kids.

“Hello?” he said. A woman appeared in the doorway of the school, causing Thomas to stop dead in his tracks. Standing in front of him was a classic looking Red Indian with large straight nose, wide cheekbones and angular face with a strong build. He stood there looking foolish just staring at her completely unaware that his mouth was open, staring as if he had seen her before.

Beautiful English pagoda you have here,” he said, using the local terminology for church.

“Yes, I think so too.”

“Is this a school?” he asked, pointing at the adjacent building. She put her hand through her hair and smiled.

“It used to be. We still conduct classes but there’s no set schedule right now.” He must be seeing reflections of the turquoise crosses and stained-glass windows because for a second he saw turquoise in her eyes.

“What do you do here, if you don’t mind me asking? Teach?”

“I help out whenever I can. But yes. I’m a teacher.” Her eyes glittered like jewels, and her hair shined like black silk. Different from the people he had seen in Burma yet somehow right at home here in the north, Thomas didn’t know why he was stripped of words or even capable of a meaningful grunt, as if his head was splintered in the melee of his mind.

Here is living proof of Reverend Crow’s life work.

“Are you here to see Reverend Thu?”

“I’m here to see the church,” he said, voice weak in the face of such beauty. “I’m sorry, what I mean to say is that I have traveled a very long way to find your church and am overwhelmed that I’m finally here.”

“You flew from Rangoon?”

“Train actually.”


“About 1500km from my calculations. And it’s gradually become colder. This morning when I arrived I was freezing.” Inadvertently shivering, the cold still deep in his bones. Needed a wool sweater.

“Would you like some tea or something? It’s a bit cold today.” She lifted her collar a bit.

“That sounds perfect. Hot tea would hit the spot.”

“We can go inside to the school. There’s a common room.”

“Great, because I have a few questions about the church.”

“Maybe I can help you. I’ve lived here all my life,” she said. “My name’s Hanna Crow.”

Chapter 26

Yield Not to Adversity, but Press On More Bravely


If coincidence was the manifestation of guardianship by a deity and a revelation to the divine direction to one’s destiny, then too many fell short of finding and following their true path, he thought to himself. Self-determination and fate was a two-way street: it required active engagement to find the connecting point to one’s rightful path in life, and it could happen on some unannounced humdrum afternoon while waiting for a bus, or visiting a church on a trip in Upper Burma, but many never made the effort to reflect on why a coincidence happened and what it tells them.

Immediately Thomas Robertson knew who Hanna Crow was, but he also knew in his heart that this coincidence was more than that; it was a confirmation. The chances being so remote, it must be providence.

“Well then, could you be Reverend Crow’s daughter?” Her bare earnestness when she turns to him almost knocked him over.


“I know a little about William Lewis Crow and the founding of this church, that’s all.” The sparkle in Hanna’s eyes made him want to touch her face, her skin light ochre, like the red hue of the church stone.

“Yes, I am his daughter. He died just before I was born.” Sadness in her eyes.

When the kettle whistled and Hanna poured the tea. He walk around the room. That was when he saw a framed painting of a phoenix holding 13 arrows and 13 olive branches in its talons, the same as the coin he found in Mandalay.

Thomas was convinced this church contained the answers to his questions.

“That was my father’s favorite winged one,” she said, using the same term as Josh when referring to birds.

“That’s a phoenix, isn’t it?”

“A Phoenix. Yes, the firebird. It was used on United States coins up to 1902 when the eagle replaced it. My mother used to tell me how he carried around a rare US coin for good luck.” His heart pounded as he processed her words. Urgently overwhelmed by fatigue, he had an urge to hold her for a long moment.

“Hanna, one of the reasons I came to Burma is to find a religious stone tablet with engravings that was believed to have been brought here from Tibet around the time the Chinese invaded.” Hanna left the mugs steaming on the counter, curiosity deep in her features.

“Stone tablet?”

“After meeting a Native American elder in Canada last summer, everything changed for me. I’ve been doing my own research into this ancient prophecy and it points to your father being the one who might have transported this sacred relic here to Upper Burma. That’s the whole thing right there. That’s my purpose for coming here, as outlandish as it sounds.” Something in her demeanor changed. He worried she might think he was some kind of religious zealot, but the kindness in her mouth showed him otherwise.

“It was outlandish enough to bring you here.” Bringing two hot mugs of tea to the table, Hanna tilted her head as she looked into his tired eyes, seeing it meant something to him.

“True,” he said.

“And it’s a long way from Rangoon on the train.”

“Yes it is, though it was a…an experience.” He picked up the mug. “Did your father have a place where he kept valuable items like a sacred religious item? What I’m getting at is, did your father have an archive where he would keep religious things that he may have come across in his research?”

“I think there was a discussion about that after his death, but I don’t think it was ever settled. There are some things here at the church but I don’t think they’re valuable.”

“Where? Or I mean like what?”

“His papers are in the refectory.” Hanna picked up her mug of tea and took him by the arm towards the church.

“I’ll try not to spill,” he said, balancing the meniscus of tea.

“Can I ask you why you’re so interested in this prophecy?”

“Because I’m an identical twin and the prophecy says it is a twin who will find the stone and reunite it with the stone in North America.” He blushed. “It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?” She smiled at him.

“Do you know what my father spoke about the most? It wasn’t about work, and it wasn’t about wealth; it was about being a twin.”

“Do you know why?” he asked in a gentle voice.

“I think I do now. My great grandfather was a Cree Indian from Canada so my father thought he may be part of this prophecy you’re talking about, but he wasn’t a twin. My mother told me how he was always on the lookout for a twin coming to Burma looking around for some lost religious artifact.” After all the miles and strange encounters, Thomas felt safe for the first time in a very long time.

Stepping into the cool refectory with portraits on the walls and wooden rafters overhead, in the middle of the room there was a sturdy table that looked older than the war. When Hanna flipped on the light he saw vestments hanging from the wall and books on a shelf. It felt like a secret chamber.

“I have something to show you,” he said, compelled to confess and confide. “The keepers of ancient Native American prophecies are the Hopi Indians in Arizona. Do you know anything about the Hopi Prophecies?”

“I’ve heard of the Hopi Indians, yes. But not about the prophecies.”

“I believe there is a connection between the Kachin people and the Red Man of North America, as I have reason to believe your father did too. So far I have tracked down a number of clues along the way. They have pointed me here.” He pulled out the map with the proverb as well as the coin. “These are the first clues I found in a monastery in Mandalay, right beside Mandalay Hill and the Royal Palace and the fort.” Hanna gasped when he handed her the coin.

“Is this my father’s good luck charm?”

“I think it is. When I found it in one of the marble tablets at the monastery, I didn’t know what it was.” 

“It’s a phoenix. The same as the painting.”

“Do you know what the Latin inscription means?”

PLURA means many, and UNUM means together. I think.”

Of course!” he said, making no effort to hide his admiration. “A United Plurality!”

“Growing up in a church environment I picked up some Latin.” He showed Hanna the second Latin piece.

TU NE CEDE MALIS means Yield not to adversity, and SED CONTRA AUDENTIOR ITO means but press on more bravely.” Smiling, he put his hand on her shoulder.

“You’re amazing.” Then he handed Hanna the first Kachin proverb.


“It was the first Kachin Proverb.”

“I’ve heard of this before,” voice peppered with excitement.

“That’s when I was put on the path to your father. Before that I was following Eugenio Kin Kaid. I found out more information about your Dad when I was in Katha. That’s when I knew I would have to come here and see this church. But that’s not all.” He showed her the map of Katha.

“What’s this?”

“It’s the second clue I found at a church in Katha. That’s where I was yesterday.”



“My mother says that!” Thomas then showed her the grandfather key.

“I found this at the church in Katha. But I also found out some information that begins to give all this some much-needed perspective.” Thomas paused, and took a deep breath. “I learned something about your father’s death. I don’t mean to be insensitive so tell me if you want me to stop.”

“No, go ahead. It’s all right Thomas.” Hearing Hanna say his name made him move closer to her.

“Do know where he was found?”


“Do you know where in Mandalay?”

“No, just that he was found dead there.”

“I was told your father’s body was found in the Mandalay Fort moat.”

“No. Are you sure?” Her hand covered her mouth.

“I spoke to a reverend a few days ago at Kin Kaid’s church in Katha who knew of your father and he filled in some missing pieces. He thinks your father was killed by mercenaries hired to kill smugglers of religious items out of Tibet after the Chinese invasion in 1958. Your Dad’s favorite good luck charm was literally found two-hundred yards from the moat. I think your father had successfully smuggled the sacred stone tablet from Tibet and brought it here to Burma. And as a safety measure he set up a trail of clues as a backup so the relic could be found in case something happened to him.”

“Which turned out to be wise.”

“Yes, very wise indeed. He set up a clever trail for those who believe in the prophecy, and for only those who were an identical twin. The first clue I found in Mandalay had to do with twins that I don’t think a non-twin would’ve figured out. The two Kachin proverbs were to help me find my way, and the coin and a key have yet to find their use. The puzzle is still incomplete but I believe it will be solved. It must.”

“Why do you think it must?” He looked for a moment at the untouched mugs of tea on the table.

“Because I met you.” He had to say it, pausing. “Because of that painting of the phoenix in the common room. Because of so many unlikely coincidences.” He was thrilled to see her cheeks flush; she had caught his double entendre and the reason for the pause.

“Do you think the stone tablet is here in my father’s church?”

“Yes,” he answered without hesitation. In the silence they could hear something outside the front entrance.

“No.” Her hands suddenly covered her face.

“What is it?”

“Reverend Thu is back. He’s very protective of his church, and he is suspicious of foreigners. He won’t be happy if he catches us in here.”

Chapter 27

A Bitter Cuppa Tea


Thomas was so close to finding the stone tablet that he felt Reverend Thu’s presence could only be a threat. A hundred different options passed through his mind, like the scraping of steel on railroad tracks screaming in his inner ear. He needed to use finesse. His best finesse. Silk gloves. Perhaps even guile.

Sitting on a chair in the common room, he heard the Reverend put his bicycle down on the pavement outside. Then he had an idea, but it was a risk.

“So you think he won’t let us in the church?”

“Not without him being with us.”

“In the normal course of events, would you cook him dinner tonight?”

“Yes, depending on what he feels like having. But he may have eaten this afternoon at his friend’s who he was visiting.” He had visions of what might happen if he failed in his task. If Reverend Thu took a disliking to him and locked the church, or if he needed to work on a sermon and chose the refectory to work, what would he do? But when he pondered all the curious coincidences that have happened over the course of his trip, he tried to hold on to faith that it will all see itself through.

“Does he drink at all?” he asked.

“No, though sometimes he drinks rice wine.”

“God-awful stuff.” She saw mischief in his eyes. “Okay, I might have a plan. Will you help me? It-“

“Yes Thomas, I will.” His reflex was to stand up and embrace her, but instead he rummaged through his bag. He found his six-pack of Valium. Regardless of the moral ramifications, there was an undeniable argument in favor of going with the valium-spiking option. Thomas could not have anyone or anything interfere with something that had the potential to cure countless millions of their spiritual ills.

“Do you know what these are?” She read the package.

“Sleeping pills?”

“I can ground up these tablets and mix them into his tea. He must have at least four of the tablets because they’re not that strong. They will only put him asleep. Otherwise he’ll be fine.”


“Within twenty minutes he should fall asleep.” She looked at the floor, which made him panic. For a brief moment he thought of taking one of the Valiums himself. “I have to leave tomorrow if I’m going to make my flight out of Rangoon for Hong Kong so tonight’s the only night. I can’t take the risk of him barring me from the church because he doesn’t like foreigners. There’s really no other way. I’m not killing him; I’m merely…I’m merely giving him encouragement to sleep.” This made her laugh. The tension evaporated from his face.

“Encouragement to sleep. Okay.”

“I can’t have the Reverend body-checking my holy purpose. It would be a tragedy beyond measure.” She put her hand on his shoulder.

“Thomas, I’ll tell you the truth. I wouldn’t do this, but for you I will.” When he embraced her he felt her arms wrap around him, flooding his emotional body to overflow. He felt warm in his heart for the first time in years.

“Hanna,” he said. “I wouldn’t do this either but if we do we might change history.” He pressed his head against her, not wanting the moment to end.

“It’s okay Thomas. I trust you.” Hanna had a scent that fortified his will.

“I…I can’t tell you enough how-.“ He didn’t finish because he felt she already knew. They heard his footsteps outside so they both sat down at the table in front of their mugs of tea, now lukewarm.

“I can keep him busy and make him some dinner if you want.”

“I don’t want to scare you Hanna but the possible consequences of not getting the stone out of the church because of a stray reverend is tremendous. Just tremendous.”

“I understand. Just give me a sign or something when you’re going to do it.” The empathy in her eyes made his own eyes water.

“Okay Hanna, could you make him some tea of whatever he drinks? That would give me some time to ground these babies up.”

“Yes, I can make some tea.” For a moment they were two little kids embarking on a Kokopelli foray, enlivened by the risk and loyal in their trust to one another. Mischief in tandem.

When he walked in and saw Thomas, he spoke to Hanna in Burmese – a quick, staccato outburst. He had an unfriendly face, blousy like an alcoholic, greasy skin reflecting the light from the ceiling. He hadn’t given any thought to exactly how much he would let him know about himself. Being cryptic might be the best strategy.

“Hello Reverend Thu,” he said, “a pleasure to meet you.” When they shook hands Thomas wondered if he felt his sweaty palms.

“Where are you from? America?” His English laden with a heavy Burmese accent that was still foreign to him.

“Canada. I have come to see the church here.” He didn’t look interested in the slightest, only suspicious. “And to hopefully ask you a few questions about the history of the church and about Burma.” Thomas could tell he was part of the wealthy class with his big trophy stomach falling over his belt.

“I see.” He looked tired. Bothered. Impatient.

“And maybe I can get some rice wine?”

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” Hanna asked, a natural partner in crime. She looked at Reverend Thu who nodded that it was all right. She busied herself with tea and dinner at the counter.

“Thank you. That’s kind of you.” Thomas took out his travel book from his backpack.

“Have you been in town long?” asked Hanna, the kettle warming above the flame.

“No, I just arrived from Katha last night. I couldn’t believe how cold it was. Mind you it was in the middle of the night.”

“It’s colder here than Rangoon,” said the Reverend. Proud. A hint of condescension.

“But it’s beautiful here in the north. Reminds me of Canada little bit.” He was trying to generate a twinge of interest from him. “Would you like to see where I have been on my trip?”

“Okay.” He almost said no. He could see it in his body language.

“Well, from Rangoon to Mandalay and then from Mandalay I went to Katha and then here at the end of the line, but it would be cool to make it up to Hertz’s Fort.” He pointed to the mountain fortress north of Myskyina. “Have you been there?”

“Too far,” he said, glancing at the map. When Hanna placed mugs on the table he realized he had to ground the Valium into powder.

“Do you have a washroom here?”

“Around the corner,” said Hanna, pointing. Relieved to have his Swiss Army knife in his pocket, he closed the door. Realizing there was no counter or platform to ground the powder on he was forced to use the floor. Grinding the Valium into powder using the flat edge of the knife took only a minute but left a large white dusty patch that was conspicuous after he gathered the drug in his left hand. He did his best to get rid of the evidence by pouring some water on it.

When he returned from the bathroom, Reverend Thu’s tea was already on the table in front of him. Major setback, especially now that his palms were so sweaty.

“Sugar?” he asked, hoping to find a way to pull something off.

“Yes, we have sugar,” she replied, putting the sugar on the table with a twinkle in her eyes.

“And you sir? Do you take sugar?”

“No sugar.” Thomas frantically explored ways of how he could throw the Valium into his mug.

“Are there any places in Burma you would recommend I visit?” Reverend Thu’s finger followed the railway line until he saw Myskyina at the top of the map. Finding his hometown on the map perked him up. He studied the map with his eyeglasses on while Thomas had reckless visions of dropping the offending powder in his tea without so much as a stir stick. He needed a teammate. With Reverend Thu enthralled with the map, he went over to Hanna and turned on the tap to let the water blur his whispers.

“Can you get him up away from his tea?” She put her hand on his briefly, and in a moment she sprang into action.

“There’s something that came for you today Reverend,” she said as casual as pie. “They left it by the door but it’s too heavy for me. I think it was Vo Guo who came by and wanted to talk to you about it. Can you have a look before dinner?”

“What is it?” he asked without looking up.

“A package,” she replied. “Perhaps it’s for the wedding on the weekend?” Sure enough, Reverend Thu peeled himself away from the table and went into the other room.

As soon as he was past the threshold, Thomas dropped all the Valium into his mug of tea, using his finger to stir it in, and spilling some on the book and around the mug. He wiped it as best he could but it was obvious there had been some tampering. White powder floated around the rim, so he pushed the powder down with his finger horizontal, making even more of a mess. Hanna waved her hand at him to let him know Reverend Thu was returning to the common room. Thomas managed to get most of the obvious white film assimilated in the tea but tasted panic when it occurred to him he would taste it. He dropped a lump of sugar into his mug just as he returned, complaining he couldn’t find the package.

“Maybe he took it with him,” said Hanna in a casual drawl. He sat down to return to the map, grumpier.

“What about Lashio at the end of the Irrawaddy?” asked Thomas, feigning interest. The Reverend shook his head in a pouting manner and reached for his tea. To distract him from the shock of the bitter taste, Thomas pointed with a dramatic flourish to a place just outside Mandalay where there used to be a colonial fort and police stronghold. Just as the tea reached his lips, he stopped sharply and frowned at his mug.

“What about here in Pyin U Lwin?” he asked in a tone of earnestness just as he took another sip. He put down his mug rather crisply and wiped his lips with a curious look on his face. Despite the seriousness of it all, a wave of laughter welled up inside Thomas but he struggled to hold it in.

“What about you Hanna? Any places you would suggest me to visit?” Just as he was feeling doomed, Hanna placed biscuits beside the Reverend’s tea, telling him it was a treat because they had a visitor. He dove into the biscuits, each one disappearing in two bites and washed down with the sugary tea spiked with five sleeping pills. Thomas could hardly contain himself at the genius of the biscuit move. He looked at the Métis beauty standing across from him, the lines around her mouth pronounced from the suppression of a grin.

Sporting some more confidence now and feeling flashes of premature daring, Thomas stood behind him as a guest should never do to a host, and pointed out places on the map to garner replies and keep him distracted. He hit the jackpot when he pointed to Bagan.

“Oh you must go to Bagan,” said Reverend Thu, speech slightly slurred. “Bagan is where the temples are, where God is and where all tourists must go.” When Thomas saw that he had stopped drinking his tea, he looked back at Hanna. She read his mind and placed more biscuits and added hot water to his mug.

“Just a few more before dinner because we have a handsome man from Canada visiting us today.” To encourage him, Thomas greedily reached for one of the biscuits, which caused the Reverend to eat them before his guest finished them off.

“Are you sure the temples are worth seeing in Bagan?” The provocation spurred the Reverend into a diatribe about the merits of Bagan and the value of temples.

“Great tea Hanna,” said Thomas, feeling a tremendous wave of dangerous recklessness come over him. “Did you make it with sweetener? It tastes a bit…different.” He noticed that a lot of the Valium was still sitting at the bottom of Reverend Thu’s mug, so he took the kettle and poured in a bit of water.

“May I raise a toast to my fine host and hostess for your splendid hospitality,” he said, winking at Hanna. He was good enough to oblige and they all finished the last of their tea.

“That’s such a kind toast,” said Hanna, coming over to the table. “Are you done your tea Reverend?” She pointed like a mother would at a child who was trying to get away with not finishing their Brussel sprouts. But it was merely icing on the cake as they both saw him close his eyes and do his first head bob. The thought of actually discovering the sacred tablet from its temporary home and fulfilling the Hopi Prophecy made Thomas slightly manic.

Sensing victory, he stood beside Hanna and they watched the Reverend’s fight against gravity, a series of head bobs ending with Reverend Thu comfortably asleep in his chair. He could hardly contain his excitement.

Chapter 28

The Thirteenth Tribe


With the good Reverend out cold after drinking his Valium-spiked tea, Hanna wrapped him with a blanket. Thomas was confident that the Reverend wouldn’t wake up for at least a few hours. He was in a deep, peaceful slumber.

Hanna grabbed the church keys and they walked into the church together. It was a beautiful church inside, with deep red pews and painted walls and beams, which showed it had been loved by its creator. His gut told him the stone would likely be hidden in the church proper because there were more spaces to hide something that wasn’t as small as a coin.

“Are there any areas in the church that you think would be suitable for your father to use as a hiding place?”

“That’s what I was thinking about before we were interrupted for tea,” her voice simmered with alacrity. “If there was a stone that needed to be hidden in the church, there is a place where it could be. I don’t know, but if father did have it then he may have kept it in this secret room.” She led him from the altar to the east wall of the church where there were large portraits of what looked like the twelve disciples. They both studied the portraits painted onto the wall.

“Ever since I was a little girl I’ve had reoccurring dreams that there was a secret chamber behind one of these portraits,” shaking her head in embarrassment. “It sounds crazy I know, but if he had something like that, my intuition tells me it would be somewhere in this wall.”

“Actually, this whole thing for me started with a dream,” he said.

“In the dream there was a secret chamber behind one of the disciples, but I don’t know which one.” Standing there in the half-dark church with the sun beginning to lower through the stained-glass windows above the portraits, his mind thirsted for a clue. When he counted the number of portraits of each disciple, he thought he had miscounted, but from the trail of clues he knew he hadn’t.

“There are 13 portraits on this wall, not 12.”

“Then maybe one of them is Jesus.” Stepping closer to the portrait in front of him Thomas noticed a shield obscured by the man’s robe.

“These are not the disciples,” he said with a rising voice. “These each represent a tribe of Israel. It’s quite clever really. Your father has modeled them on the looks of the 12 disciples plus Jesus, but see these?” He held his lighter close to the shield on the portrait. “See his shield? And here, you can see the symbol on the shield. It’s a ship.”


“That’s the symbol for the Tribe of Zebulun of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. They were the sea-faring tribe who eventually landed in modern-day Holland. Each Israelite tribe had their symbol inscribed on their shields. And it just so happened the Dutch were Israelite sea-farers.”

“Okay, but I thought there were only 12 sons of Jacob? Judah and Levi who became the two Judaic Tribes of the House of Judah, and their ten brothers who became the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel known in the Bible as the House of Israel.” Beside the wall with his mouth agape, he smiled at Hanna.

“A woman who knows about the Ten Lost Tribes is a woman who is worthy.” Giving her a wink, she dipped her chin, and blushed slightly.

“My mother and father were brought together by their passion, so naturally some of it rubbed off on me.” His laughter echoed off the walls in the church.

“Jacob did have 12 sons, but remember Joseph?”

“Jacob’s favorite son, and chosen by God.”

“Joseph, had two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh.” Before he had a chance to finish Hanna was quoting scripture:

’Now then,’” she said, “’your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine, Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.’ Genesis 48:5.” He loved the fine creases around her mouth. “I always loved Genesis.” He knew she could see what was in his heart.

“So if you count the two sons of Joseph, you get 13 tribes.”

“How do we know which one is the thirteenth tribe?”

“I’d hazard a guess that the 13th tribe is Manasseh because their symbol is a bundle of olive branches, just like on the coin. See?” With his lighter, he showed the phoenix holding 13 olive branches. “I think that’s why America uses 13 as their number and why your father left the coin with 13 as its number.”

“I thought it was because of the original 13 colonies?”

“Myth. Manasseh and e plurus unum and 13 could be defined as the grafting in of the natural branches to the original olive tree. It fulfills the prophecy that Manasseh will become a great people, settle the Promised Land and fulfill Manifest Destiny.”

“I haven’t heard of that.”

“It’s part of the Mormon scriptures, that the Tribe of Manasseh came to the shores of North America around the sixth century BC and were the principal ancestors of the Native Americans. Lehi, one of the prophets in the Book of Mormon, came from the Tribe of Manasseh after the destruction of Jerusalem.”

“You mean the Bnei Menasche?”

“Yes. Yes. That’s what they’re called here. You’ve heard of them?”

“Yes, of course. They have a song they sing during harvest season that has the same words as a well-known prayer from the Old Testament.”

“I know what you’re saying. I think it’s a prayer called Miriam’s Prayer.”

“You’re right. The Kachin people up here, who call themselves Bnei Manasche, have been singing that song for a few thousand years and in it they talk about the parting of the Red Sea and a bunch of things from the Book of Exodus.” Her eyes widened a little when she saw his smile. He wasn’t sure if it was the thrill of the search or being with Hanna, but at that moment in the darkened church looking for ancient symbols of Hebrew tribes was when he knew his life was irretrievably changed. 

They scanned the portraits lining the wall.

“I only know a few of them,” he said. “That one is the Tribe of Naphtali; the deer is their symbol. And that one, the eagle, is the Tribe of Dan who settled Denmark and part of the tribe settled in ancient Ireland. And of course the lion is the symbol of the Tribe of Judah. There’s the wolf so that’s the Tribe of Benjamin.” It was the very last portrait closest to the alter that had 13 olive branches on the shield.

“Is that it?”

It is. This is Manasseh – the thirteenth tribe.”

“Look at this,” she said, pointing just below the portrait. When he flicked his lighter they saw it was Latin: “E PLURUS UNUM.”

“And see this?” He pointed his finger to the bottom corner of the portrait. “1804. It’s code for 13. One plus eight plus four is thirteen.” He ran his fingers over the painting, hoping to find an incongruity on the surface. The portrait of the bearded men from the Tribe of Manasseh was faded and dirty from the years of neglect and the moisture of the rainy seasons, but he felt a rift along the right edge of the shield. He slid his fingers along the rift until he felt a thin indentation about an inch long. Taking his Swiss Army knife from his pocket, he gently pried at the opening, which loosened the plaster.

“With respect,” he said, solemnly. Putting his fingers under the rift along the rim of the shield, he pulled, causing almost two feet of plaster to break off from the wall. He could feel a corner of a metal box.

“What is it?”

“Feels like a metal box or something. Here, let me-.“ When he applied force a large chunk fell clean from the wall, revealing part of a small metal door.

“I see it!”

“It’s been built right into the wall. Could be that secret chamber you dreamt of.” Thomas used his sleeve to wipe off the surface of the metal, and saw a keyhole.

“This could be it.” He inserted the grandfather key and turned. They heard a latch snap into place and the door opened a half-inch.

“Oh my God,” said Hanna, stepping closer. With his fingertips he pulled the edge of the metal door open, debris landing at their feet. The church was too dark to see anything in the chamber so again he flicked his lighter, the flame shining on the stone treasure within.

“I think this is it!” The sacred stone rested on two blocks of wood, buried horizontally deep into the wall.

Chapter 29

When A Lamp Is Lit You Must Expect Insects


Thomas Robertson and Hanna Crow both stepped back realizing the gravity of the moment. When Hanna put her hands on his arm he knew that this was the beginning of a new life and a new epoch. Now he needed to execute and be himself.

This is not a toy,” he said, relishing the numerous meanings of his words.

“No, this is not a toy,” she said, grasping his arm more and pressing against him. Hanna felt she was fulfilling her role in the prophecy and honoring the father she never knew.

This is the real McCoy.”

“It is the real McCoy,” she said.

Thomas was drawn to the cavity in the wall when he saw a piece of rolled paper wedged under the stone in the space between the two blocks of wood.

“I bet this is a message from your Dad.”

When he removed the paper he was wondering how he would be able to transport such a big stone out of Burma.

“Why don’t I-“

“Good idea,” he said, handing her his lighter. He unrolled the paper with care and read:


He wiped the sweat from his forehead, expecting the burn of the welt.

“What does it mean?” she asked, holding the flame above the proverb.

“Not sure, but it could mean be careful of danger.” Hanna moved the fire closer to the secret chamber, light flickering off the gray stone, and revealing a small candle obscured by debris under the stone. She reached for it and then lit the candle, thinking her father was the last one to touch the candle.

“The lamp is lit,” she said.

They stared at the stone.

“See the markings?” He squinted and then removed his eyeglasses.

“No.” Assertively he pulled the closest pew to the wall and stood on it, Hanna moving the candle to maximize his sight. “Yeah, now I can.” The Taponi Tablet was similar in shape to the marble tablets at the monastery in Mandalay but smaller. He reached in and felt the cold stone that made him afraid. Having the ancient relic in front of him, the immensity of what he had to do to get it to his brother and Grandfather all the way back to Turtle Island surged through him like a thunderbolt. It was easier without knowing for sure if the stone existed and if it could be found.

“It proves the Hopi Prophecy is true,” he said, voice wavering from the significance of the discovery. Fear suffused into his limbs making itself at home like an uninvited guest.

“Is that another message?” Hanna looked at writing etched into the metal on the inside of the chamber door. She read it aloud:



– Proverbs 4:18.

The flame of the candle gave life to the words from the Old Testament as well as carvings of beetles and other insects at the base of the door.

“Nice touch.”

“You did it. You have been just and have found the sacred stone.” He looked deeply into her eyes from the pew.

“Without you I wouldn’t have been able to find it Hanna. You are my shining light.” She smiled warmly.

“Purity of belief will always stand the test of time,” she said to him. Thomas laughed.

“You sound like me,” he said. Light flickered ominously off the surrounding walls.

“I wonder if someone else knows it’s here?” They looked at each other for a moment.

“We should be careful,” they both said at the same time, thinking of the third proverb. She studied the size of his knapsack.

“You think it will fit in your bag?”

“Yeah, I think so. But it’s not the size that worries me, it’s the weight. It’s solid stone. And it’s too valuable to break or chip.” Brow in a pensive posture. Concerned. But bold.

“Let me get a blanket to wrap it in.” Hanna handed him the candle and disappeared for a minute, giving him the chance to look at the Taponi Tablet closely. He pulled the stone out part way, relieved it wasn’t as heavy as lead. The image of the Kokopelli was recognizable on the stone, but the engravings weren’t a language he knew. The markings looked more like hieroglyphs, or like the Ogam markings in the cave in Manitoba. When he put his hand on the stone, a sharp shiver shot down his spine.

Hanna returned with a thick red blanket and two red candles. The sun had set and the church was darker.

With the candles lit, she held one in each hand and Thomas took the third one deeper into the wall cave so the entire cavity brightened, revealing not only the tablet but feathers and an old compass. He reached in and carefully removed the feathers, placing them on the blanket.

“What kind of feathers are they?”

“They’re eagle feathers.” The compass was an old World War Two compass. “And this is a good compass.” He put it in his pocket and felt around the base of the stone, finding another piece of paper.

“Another piece,” he said, taking it out of the chamber. “It’s wax paper and there are four separate sheets.” When he opened the first piece, he saw that it was an impression someone had taken of the front of the tablet.

“What is it?”

“It looks like a copy of the stone made on wax paper.”

“Why four?”

“I’d guess because there were four sacred stones.” She looked at the paper and frowned at the image of Kokopelli.

“The chances are that my father had a copy of it for himself.”

“I was thinking that too.”

“If he did then it’s likely others know that it exists – and that it’s here in this church.” The thought didn’t help alleviate the gnawing sense of paranoia in his chest.

Finally, with both hands he gracefully lifted the tablet out from the hole in the wall, and then stopped.

“Wait, I think I should offer tobacco first. It’s something my brother would do. It shows respect.” He quickly took out his cigarettes, broke one open, put the tobacco into his palm then raised the tobacco up to the opening and bowed his head.

“Great Spirit that watches over us and bestower of this sacred tablet of stone, I offer you this tobacco with respect and humility. Please protect us from harm, and show us the way to bring the stone back to its rightful place on Turtle Island. I am just a Messenger so please show mercy and compassion for my errors and help me complete this holy mission to save those in need. Amen.” He placed the tobacco at the foot of the tablet and stood for a solemn moment. A sound of deep vibration came from near the alter that rumbled briefly, as if a crack had just formed in the foundation of the church. They smiled at each other.

“Okay, it’s time. Let’s get to it,” he said. As slowly as possible, he lifted it up, brought it out of the wall cavity and clasped it firmly to his chest. Stepping down from the pew with the help of Hanna holding his waist he placed it on the red blanket spread open on the floor. They hovered over the stone relic in reverence. The top right corner along the top was chipped but didn’t look like any writing had been lost, and there was some discoloration along the bottom, perhaps from moisture of the wooden blocks that supported it.

“I wish we knew that language,” she said.

“We will. I know a medicine man who does.” He sighed. “Okay, let’s wrap it up.” They both wrapped the tablet in the thick red blanket and gently manoeuvered it into his open knapsack lying on the floor. The blanket was thick enough so there weren’t any stress points in the bag. Tightening the straps and secured safely, it was ready for transport. Suddenly one of the stained-glass panes above them rattled, jolting them both upright.

“I think I should go. It’s the wise thing to do.”

“I think you should too,” she said, with unabashed sadness in her voice. He took her hand in his.

“I-” He looked at the plaster on the floor. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

“I know Thomas. But you must go.” She embraced him. There they stood interlocked with each other for a brief eternity.

“If you need me, I’m at the Three Star Hotel near the train station,” he said as hoisted his knapsack onto his back. He looked at the mess he had made. “Do you-“

“Yes, I know how I’ll fix it. Don’t worry. I know what to do.” They walked through the rectory to the common room.

“I’m going to go to the airport now to try to fly out tonight.”

“Please be safe Tommy. And watch for insects. You must go. Goodbye.”

He walked past Reverend Thu snoring in his chair, and went into the darkness under the palm trees that swayed in slow motion onto the street as the westerlies hit his sweating face. There was no one around so he assumed a brisk pace heading for the main street where he was soon picked up by a passing tricycle taxi. Making the taxi work for his fare, he made it back to his hotel, a new confidence descending on his raw nerves bringing with it an almost palpable optimism.

Part Four

Chapter 30

John the Christian


With his bag on his lap and his arms cradling the stone wrapped in red, the taxi moved slowly in contrast to his heart rate. After packing up and checking out of his hotel, Thomas found the first tricycle taxi that he saw after leaving his hotel and made it clear he was in a rush to get to the airport for a flight.

“I’m in a hurry. Chop Chop!” The taxi took him to the small airport where he briskly walked to the Mandalay Airline counter.

“Hello. I need a plane ticket to Rangoon.” The woman shook her head.

“No room on the flight tomorrow or the next day. All our flights are booked,” she replied in a lazy drawl. “No seats for ten days.” Her English was heavily accented so he wasn’t sure if he heard her correctly.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Your accent is very thick.”

“Excuse me sir,” she said, and disappeared through a door behind the counter. She promptly returned with an overweight Indian man. The woman said a few things to him in Hindi and then sat with a woman at the next counter and listened.

“I understand you want to fly to Rangoon?” he said, his shirt stained with sweat.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“I’m terribly sorry sir but our planes are fully booked until mid-next week.” He looked sympathetic, showing his teeth stained with red betel juice. Thomas didn’t attempt to hide his anguish.

“May I ask why?”

“Sir, there is a national convention that begins tomorrow in the capital. We have been booked for several weeks in advance.” Thomas remembered hearing about the convention that was being held to discuss a roadmap for elections that everyone knew would never happen. The word on the street was that it was a front for the government to decide who in the old intelligence network under the previous general will be put to death and who will be imprisoned.

He stroked his moustache and looked at the Indian in the eye, feeling a glimmer of hope.

“Have there been any cancellations? Is there any chance of getting on a flight tomorrow? I need to get back to catch my flight out of the country.”

“There are very important people going to this convention. I honestly don’t think there will be any cancellations between now and tomorrow morning.” They both looked at their watches.

“Isn’t there another airline that flies from here?” The Indian nodded.

“Yes there is but bad luck. They have mechanical difficulties and they have grounded their fleet of planes. They are not operating at the moment sir. I’m sorry.” In disbelief, he was becoming angry but the man’s empathy diluted his bitter rumblings.

“Bad luck indeed it sounds like,” he said. “So, there’s no way for me to fly out to Rangoon tomorrow, is that what you’re telling me?” With a long face, the Indian nodded again.

“Yes sir. You must wait until next week to get a seat on an airplane.” Accepting the bad news, he took out his baggie and offered the man a betel nut. The women behind the Indian man spoke to each other as they stared at the impatient foreigner holding a baggy of betel nut. The Indian man took the betel with a man-to-man nod as Thomas popped one too.

“But I can take your name and number at your hotel and telephone number should there in fact be a last-minute cancellation.” The kindness of the man was heartening despite his frustration. As a reflex he gave him the card of the hotel he just checked out of.

“Please call if there’s an opening. I’m in room 105.”

“Yes, I will sir. I will put your name at the top of the list. I will call your hotel if there’s an opening on tomorrow’s plane.” He shook his hand.

“Thank you sir. I appreciate your help.” The women murmured as he left. Thomas hopped into a waiting tricycle and reluctantly told the driver to go to the train station.

The station was busy with people loitering, taxi drivers sat in groups smoking and chewing betel nut, but no business was being done. He approached the ticket window but there was no one there. After waiting a few minutes he went to the kiosk to buy some cheroots and more betel nut, and then hunkered down on a chair thinking about his options. Then an elderly man white hair approached him.

“Hello sir. Can I help you?” His first reaction was to tell him to mind his own business, but something in the man’s demeanor was gentle and his English was noticeably crisp and clear.

“I need a ticket to Rangoon but there’s no one at the ticket counter.”

“The stationmaster is away right now but will be back in 40 minutes. But I’m afraid no tickets are available for tomorrow’s train.” Letting his head drop, he took a deep breath. The man seemed affected by the reaction and stepped closer as a growing number of people stared at them.

“I need a sleeper on the express to Rangoon, or a first-class soft seat.”

“Tomorrow’s express to Rangoon is all booked except for ordinary class. But you don’t want to take ordinary class. It’s very crowded.” The voice soft and compassionate, which, in his moment of despair, caused Thomas to look up to him as one would look to a father.

“I need to return to Rangoon to get my flight back to Hong Kong where I live. If I can’t get a seat I’ll miss my flight and be stranded here. I tried the airline but all the seats are booked because of the convention.” For a moment the man was perplexed, but then remembered about the convention.

“Yes, the convention. Well, you could get an ordinary class seat if you arrived tomorrow morning at 5:30. I could meet you here if you like to help you because of my English. It will be crowded and the line-up will be long.” Thomas removed his eyeglasses to look into the man’s eyes, the bags under his eyes making the man warm to him. Thomas knew he could not survive another stint in steerage for 40 hours back to Rangoon. He had barely made one quarter of that distance with the General.

“Your English is very good,” he said, giving credit where credit was due.

“I am a Christian. I help out at the Methodist Church here for many years. I collect alms.”

“Well, that’s great. My name is Thomas. Very pleased to meet you.” Extending his hand as he stood up, the man was surprised at his candor.

“I am John. I am the retired stationmaster here. I help out because of my English. No one speaks English here, not since the British left.” Under his white hair the lenses in his glasses were twice as thick as Thomas’s. He put his hand on John’s right shoulder while more Burmese stood around watching them speak to each other.

“There is only one express train tomorrow?”

“Yes. It leaves at seven in the morning. The milk run departure leaves at eleven in the morning. But if you need to get to Rangoon by Monday, you won’t make it. You need to get the express tomorrow morning. That’s the only way.” Taking his hand away from his shoulder, Thomas let his posture sag.

“I agree with you that Ordinary Class seats are crowded. I was in steerage on a milk run from Naba station to here yesterday and I’m still stiff.” John smiled.

“I can speak to the stationmaster for you. I will go to his house and then I can meet you here at 7:15. Is that all right?” Fatigue and frustration mixed together in his turbulent and twisted gut but it didn’t take hold because of the kindness of this man John.

“That would be awfully kind of you, sir.“ It was the word ‘sir’ that brought a determined look into his eye.

“If I can help, I will. I will ask if there are any sleepers or first-class seats available, and then meet you here.”

“Thank you for that John. I’ll meet you right here in 40 minutes.” Shaking hands again, John walked towards the train office and the Burmese who were gawking slowly dispersed. Relaxing with a beer to wait it out, when John returned he said the stationmaster told him there were only Ordinary-class seats left.

“To get those seats it is first-come-first-serve at 5:30 in the morning.” Thomas was aware that most people slept over in the train station to be the first in line, and he knew first-hand how cold it became at night up here in the north.

“I’ll try to get to the station early,” he said, but it was obvious to them both he was doubtful he’d be able to get a ticket. Thanking him he decided to have a few more beers and splurge for a big dinner. He mulled over the steerage option but the more he thought of it, the more he thought of the wooden seats and his bruised ass and the endless scrum in the swaggering dance of the archaic colonial train.

That night he dreamed that he and Josh built a church and painted a large section of a wall the color of forest green with scripture written in white that one would usually find on a foundation stone. Then, as if he and Josh had suddenly gone forward in time, they hovered above the church and witnessed how subsequent generations had built on their original church foundation and had chosen to retain the one painted wall they had made. Much bigger and with many more people, the church eventually looked as if it had become a Mecca for the spiritually devoted and that their teachings had been before their time.

Chapter 31

A Guardian Angel Named Hanna


There was a knock on his door. From his dream he heard the voice of John the Christian yelling his name. He wasn’t sure at first where he was but then he heard John’s voice say: “Thomas! Time to get up!”

He knocked on the door loudly.

“Okay. Thank you John!” he said from under the covers. “I’m getting up. I will see you at the train station.” For a minute he pondered returning to sleep because he didn’t think he’d get a ticket, and even if he did it would be in steerage. Lying in bed Thomas could still see the large green wall with white writing like a big foundation stone. It made him feel safe like a sturdy Burmese blanket, light enough to carry and secure enough to withstand forces of nature. That green foundation remained the center stone for all the subsequent temples built in celebration of scripture that cured moral and spiritual ills throughout the world. The white lines were etched into the stone of the wall in 13 points with the date of its creation in the left corner at its base.

There were signatures of the founders: Joshua and Thomas, who later became known as The Twin Messiahs.

His body ached and screamed for more sleep but something urged him on, perhaps the goodness of John’s heart for acting as his alarm clock, completely above and beyond the call of duty. Such an act of kindness it filled him with gratitude for his fellow man.

When he checked out in the lobby, the Chinese man behind the counter handed him a note.

“Telephone call for you last night sir. Message sir.” He slipped it into his pocket and rushed out the door. The sunrise creeping up from behind the mountaintops, he felt for a moment that he had reached the point of origin from where the rising sun was born. It made him recall an old South African proverb that said the night is darkest just before the sun rises. Thomas saw its wisdom when the timid orange hue edged upwards, nudging the darkness aside and cracking the horizon. There, where the earth and sky kiss, was the end of the world where the dull pallor of the land in an instant changed into the brilliant possibilities of the heavens. It was where they, the birds of fire, flew over the sky and fed on the Hyperon’s light in the empyrean.

When he arrived at the train station and found John at the entrance waiting for him. He took Thomas to the front of the line that stretched back twenty-five feet. In rapid fire, he spoke Burmese to the ticket seller.

“Okay, we go behind the counter into the office. Come on.” Sleepily and purposely keeping all hope at arm’s length, he followed John into the office where there was a massive Indian man sitting at a desk. Carefully, he looked in his direction keeping his head down in respect. He pulled out a chair.

“Sit please.”

“Thank you, sir.” The stationmaster, upon hearing the word ‘sir,’ stopped what he was doing for a brief instant, and then took out a pad of paper full of tickets. Thomas kept quiet with his eyes averted, letting his moustache do the talking since the stationmaster also sported a bushy upper lip.

“Rangoon. We have first-class. Is it okay?”

“Yes,” he replied, startled. “Yes it would.” The stationmaster wrote out a ticket for him. He couldn’t believe his fortune.

“That is $28,” he said. Thomas handed the man $30. The stationmaster and John spoke in sudden burst of Burmese.

“Do you have any change?” John asked. “He has no change to give you.”

“Please tell him it’s okay. He can keep the change. I don’t mind. Put it in the petty cash.” They exchange more words and then the money was handed to the man who sat behind the window. Suddenly the stationmaster handed a ticket to him.

“Hurry,” said John. “There isn’t much time.” Thomas followed him to the train where he found his seat right beside the window. John stood on the platform just outside his window and dealt with people asking last-minute questions.

“I cannot thank you enough John. Really, I am so very grateful.” In his eyes he could see that such a heartfelt thank you meant something.

When Thomas said goodbye to him through the window John asked him to send him a letter, which he promised. When the whistle blew and the train began to move, the tension in his stomach dispersed and the wind dried the sweat from his face. He shut his eyes to close off the mayhem of the outside world, images floating through his mind of the last twenty-four hours in Upper Burma, candles and black hair, and head bobs and insects, straight-nosed beauty and the weight of a holy relic in his knapsack.

He effused a sigh and extracted the note the Chinese man gave him earlier at the hotel. It read: They know. Be careful. Hanna.

A pungent paranoia came over him, his mind racing with unfounded flights of fancy. If they know, what are they doing right now? But what about fate? What about God acting as my guardian angel?

Faith in his destiny and awareness of insects, Thomas was half amused at his waking interplay between paranoia and confidence. All he could do was to keep going forward, keeping an eye open for anyone who had plans to thwart his holy purpose.

Chapter 32

The Bar Car & Betel Nut


The train swayed south to the capital, the au naturale expanse of teak and palm groves and distant mountain ranges that reached the skies was how it had been intended to be during the times of Eden. The undisturbed and tranquil jungles of Burma looked as old as time itself. Rustled by wind and nourished by light, it slept and grew while man burned out long before like shooting stars lighting up the night sky.

But his enjoyment of the scenery was marred by a man in a bomber jacket on the other side of the aisle who gawked at him like a zoo animal. Thomas made a feeble effort to convince himself that he might not be a target, but it was entirely possible that this man could be spying on him because the authorities had found the hole in the church wall and were waiting for the foreigner to leave the city on the train. Waiting, patient, they soon had found his name and seat number in the train log. If it were so, he comforted himself that for a domestic agent of Burmese intelligence he didn’t appear to have the minimum degree of subtlety.

Amid the orchestra of clanging metal along the uneven tracks, boxcars shimmying and parrying with vigor, he wondered about the danger snowballing in Myskyina.  If he were a messenger then how was he worthy when he failed the third Kachin proverb?


Can a flawed man be the right choice for such a noble and holy task?

If you sit in a fish bowl, don’t resent people for staring, he thought to himself.

He recognized the town outside where the General had dropped off the fifty bags of coal. Across the Allywaddy River there was a fort complete with canons still intact along a wall made of grass. The fort had been dug into the earth and the guns were still perched on earthen walls covered with camouflage.

He bought some betel nut from a vender through the window and was relieved when the man in the bomber jacket left. More comfortable now, Thomas sank into his soft seat and drifted off to sleep. He dreamed he was in a vast labyrinth of vertical corridors. After fighting gravity for so long, he finally let go and fell freely, bouncing off walls as he descended deeper and deeper into a bottomless void, believing he was falling to his death. But he suddenly believed he would land safely. It wasn’t knowledge but faith. So he conquered his deep fear of heights and began to enjoy the free fall down an intricate complex of corridors letting the welling-up in his belly thrill rather than frighten. The fall went on and on until he was just about to land safely when he was awoken when a drunken man bumped his arm walking down the aisle with his friend.

They were loud and drunk. Sloppiness in the dragging of their flip-flops but it didn’t rile him because he figured there must be a bar car on the express train. Invigorated and aware of a surreptitious return to his cavalier ways, he made sure his bag was secure, took his backpack with the stone and walked down the aisle in the direction where the two drunkards had come from. Passing a man between cars smoking who looked familiar, he swayed to the rhythm down four cars to an old pair of wooden salon doors.

The rocking of the train didn’t appear to affect the men sitting with beers talking at tables as the countryside rolled past them. Sitting at one of the two-person tables in the corner by the window, the barman came by to take his order.

“Mandalay beer in the bottle.” He returned with a big bottle of Myanmar Lager, placed it on the table and opened it but Thomas stopped him before he poured it into a glass. It was his way of trying to keep at bay the Burmese killers such as cholera, jungle rot, dysentery and brush typhus, the last being a spicy indigenous number. Looking around at the faces staring at him, he raised his bottle and nodded, adhering to the unwritten code of mead hall etiquette.

He drank deeply as the half-dozen metal fans roared overhead, scenes of natural beauty passing like lightning outside his window.

The bar car was the epicenter of the train – and an experience apart from the crowded aisles of steerage and the soft seats in first class. Rustic and weathered, simple yet functional, the bar car played host to men of appetite. A meal, a beer and a smoke with a package of betel nut was the opening bid. It was the place for those who felt at home with other breadwinners of their ilk, and where one could endure the ache of the hammering steel wheels in peace together rather than alone. Escaping the concerns of the trip, he very quickly experienced the brotherhood with the other drinkers as they rambled south to the shores of the Indian Ocean.

Looking out the window at the land of a thousand pagodas and putting on his jacket, he smiled at the man at the next table. There was no reaction so he stood up to offer him and his friend a betel nut. He accepted and gestured for him to sit down at his four-man table in the middle of the car. His friend declined the betel nut but accepted the cigarette he offered. The one who took the betel nut leaned closer to him.

“Where you from?” All it took was one guy with a bit of broken English to translate until there were a half-dozen guys sitting at the table. Such little exposure these isolated Burmese had to foreigners that he felt he was speaking on behalf of an entire continent to clarify and destroy the government-created paranoid myths of evil foreigners who were obsessed with cheating others and robbing the Burmese people blind. Soon Thomas was passing out betel nut like candy, and smokes like chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday. Even the most skeptical of the bunch found reason for a full-bodied guffaw at one of his exaggerating antics. No doubt the fair drooping moustache had something to do with it and the burgundy beret bespoke a certain cool acceptability in the army culture of Burma. Despite the choppy language going back and forth, it was a chance for them all to share their pains of injustice and melt away unfounded fears. Just the proximity and acceptance helped heal festering resentments and undecided opinions that ushered in a renewed faith in themselves, to stick to what they had always thought, but had been told not to believe. Sitting together was a revelation for all, sitting at the worn-out linoleum tables under the noisy fans and chewing betel nut between the tobacco-stained green walls.

Soon attendants began to retire from the day’s service and took a seat at the table. Some with tattoos of ancient writings and symbols like the tattooed station master, and some with looks of doubt and caution. For a moment he recalled that George Orwell, graduate of Eton and the boarding system in England, had returned to the UK with hand tattoos that he had had inked here in Burma. He said the hand tattoos he had were of protective symbols from ancient Burma. These guys he was with in the bar car were sporting some of the same ink as the famous writer. But Thomas, caught up in the spirit of the train, was soon giving away his cigarettes and wrapped narcotics out of his hands from his endless baggie. They laughed at the way he drank, the way he used his hands and arms when he communicated, and the way he spat out betel juice. They even laughed at the red-stained teeth every time Thomas smiled. But it was okay; the Burmese had given him what he had come for. These descendants of Manasseh had enabled him to become the twin messenger to bring a holy relic back home to North America that might have the power to heal, not just the Métis, but all four races of mankind.

That thought in itself filled his own scarred heart with healing medicine.

When the train slowed because workers were fixing the track, the guy across from Thomas threw out some cigarettes at the workers. The workers waved back and yelled thank you as they picked up the freebies and lit them. He joined in and threw clusters of cigarettes through the window except his throws were harder than theirs. This generated laughter.

Soon the cigarettes were whipped outside like darts.

There was one guy nursing a thin moustache who sat apart in the corner giving Thomas a rude look, looking like he didn’t want to join the fun. He recalled an old Chinese proverb: rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of trying to be a strong man, so he thought he could help him with some good-hearted posturing. He bought two Mandalay beers and went to his corner leaving the others to continue laughing at his ways and celebrating their new insights. When he offered him betel nut, he declined but Thomas noticed that he had the betel-red teeth so he insisted. He looked tired so he left the baggie in front of him and looked out the window to give him some space. That was when he reached out and took one, and that was when he gave him the Myanmar Lager. The two of them had a toast, with Thomas saying a few mispronounced Burmese words. He took a nut for himself and smiled, purposely showing him his blood-red teeth. That was enough to bring a smile across his face.

After a few more quick Chinese toasts of Gam Bai, he loosened up nicely.

He put his finger to his upper lip and then pointed at Thomas’s moustache and nodded. It looked like he simply didn’t have the raw material to establish any substantial presence on his upper lip, so Thomas nodded back and began to twirl his droopy moustache at the sides, which really gave him spark. Using beer as moustache wax, he made the handlebars stick out. It was this that brought him into the fold and soon he was at the main table with everybody.

Thomas wondered when the last time this guy had swigged a cold beer to seep away the aches and pains of dead-end thoughts after a long work shift.

When the sun downshifted from orange to red, the entire populace of the bar car sat at the table listening to the foreigner with betel-stained teeth speak choppy Burmese, which was enough for some youngsters to consume at a more rapid rate. It wasn’t what was said that they would remember, but how they felt when it was said.

And it was his unconditional acceptance of them all as Burmese that would remain with them long after the evening was over.

It took stamina to indulge with gusto, so like all good things Thomas knew it would come to an end when the attendants, who slept in the bar car at night after it closed, began to lie down across the seats and make their beds for the night. He stood up when there was still a robust level of enthusiasm, gave away his last cigarettes and betel nuts except for one of each, and then said goodbye with handshakes and high fives. Four hours in the bar car was enough to get his mind off the pressures of the trip and the stress of getting the sacred relic out of the Burma.

Chapter 33

The Son of Light


All the passengers were asleep when he returned to his car except the man he saw before smoking a cigarette between the cars. This second time seeing him was enough for Thomas to recognize him: it was General Betel Nut’s deputy.

He was the only one awake.

He found his seat just as the express train was making one of its few stops. Since he was one of the few passengers still awake and had his window open, a little boy approached him asking him what he wanted to buy from the food and other items he had in his hands. Bypassing the language issue, Thomas waved his one-nutted betel nut baggie at him. This set the boy off in a crisp sprint to grab a fresh baggie. Other vendors were at the far end of the train looking for open windows, but after a minute the young chap returned with a baggie of betel nut with half the town following him. They all jockeyed for position in front of his window asking him what he wanted.

Suddenly feeling like a prince, Thomas paid the boy more than the going rate for the baggie since the kid had earned it with good service. He was in a generous mood after the mead hall on wheels so when the kid presented a second baggie he bought that too. As any prophecy seeker at the end of his journey could tell you, one can never have too many treats during a long journey in a foreign land. Thomas lifted up his last can of Myanmar Lager to the eager faces and flashed three fingers. Another youngster sprinted away, returning a minute later with three frosty cold ones, which he purchased with much theatrical flourish.

At this point, with the entire car as quiet as a library, the twenty-strong crowd began shouting as they jostled hard for position to peddle their wares.



“Coca cola?”





Yes!” Just as this kid was running for more smokes, another ankle-biter arrived with four more cold cans of beer. He already had his three brown pops but he felt a duty to reward the little bugger for his industry and prompt service, so he paid the price he asked for, giving him an exaggerated look of disbelief upon hearing the jacked-up price. In no time his leg space had become cramped with goodies, but as soon as the smokes arrived and were paid for, he tried to keep the momentum by handing out free smokes to whoever wanted one despite their young age.

It was the power of the dollar to hungry kids that caused it all.

Timid English began to surface in awkward eruptions and indecipherable accents, but he was able to field some questions, keeping his voice down in consideration for his fellow passengers, most of whom were now pretending to be asleep.

“I have,” he said to a kid holding up a pack of cheroots, his newest addition to his den of vice. The cheroot was a special kind of smoke. Part tobacco and part herb, it was a light, flavorful bouquet whether massaged slowly or assertively consumed.

“I’m okay,” he said to a kid holding up a can of coke for the tenth time. But soon simple replies weren’t enough to quell the raucous, so that personal questions from the group come forward.

“What is your name?” someone asked.

The Son of Light,” he replied spontaneously.

“What country?”

“Canada.” That was an answer that always generated positive ripples. One chap was so excited at this exchange that he gave Thomas a cheroot. In kind Thomas responded by offering him a betel nut in spite of the fact he was too young to be partaking in any narcotic activity.

There was another chap who was so taken by it all that he took off his silver ring and offered it to Thomas for his two silver rings. Of course he had to decline since his ring was too small and Thomas’s too valuable, so he settled for a handshake just as the train began to pull away. No one stirred in his coach as the train picked up speed, but he knew that most of his fellow passengers had heard the farang interacting with the locals.

Rolling south to Rangoon with Thomas sampling the purchased goods, he reflected on his novel experiences in a new world far different than the one he knew. Looking at the treats by his feet, he thought if these sins of betel nut and beer were bright stains in the saint’s moral code, then let them scream to the heavens but leave me alone! The Dionysian force he felt was the ecstatic participation in divine life-fulfillment, a reminder that he chose to live rather than to watch. He drank the overflowing cup of light feeling the loneliness it brought when night fell, the wind messing his dust-soaked hair, the spirit of Dionysus danced with silent feet trotting over gentle sounds of change as he fell asleep to the lullaby swaying of the old colonial iron snake.

Chapter 34

Slipping the Karmic Knot


Tired but with his spirit on fire, Thomas sauntered past the taxi drivers hovering like insects at the station entrance, relieved to have made it back to Rangoon but aware the General’s deputy was trailing him at a distance. At his guesthouse near the Strand Hotel, he paid for a room and proceeded to go upstairs to his room where fatigue overtook him when he saw the neatly made bed. Since his flight departed at midnight he locked the door and fell asleep. He dreamed he was surrounded by Burmese police when he exited his guesthouse and arrested with no charge being given and was taken not to a police station but to an old colonial mansion. The General and his boys were there and searched through his bags and found the stone tablet. He was thrown into a room and locked in. Every time he tried to open the door he got a shock from the doorknob. When he saw the orange spark he woke up holding his hand.

Again the theme of the orange spark: he didn’t comprehend what it meant.

In the dark he felt his hand but there was nothing wrong with it. Flicking on the light and slowly shaking the sleep out of his head, he studied his hand and saw a red mark – the same mark that was on Joshua’s forehead in Manitoba. He realized it was a premonition.

Quickly assessing his situation, he recalled a German Proverb: The best carpenters make the fewest chips. To be on the safe side, he gathered his things together and walked down to the foyer of the guesthouse. He peeked through the shaded sliding glass doors at the front but didn’t see any police outside. At the front counter he saw his reflection in a mirror; he had arrived in Burma with white skin but after 3000km beside an open window his skin had bronzed to a deep ochre red with his hair a long nest of waves from endless swirls of dust.

“Tomorrow I am leaving on the train to go to Dawei in the south to relax on the beach,” he said to the skinny clerk with the stained shirt. “But I would like to reserve a room here two days from now when I return. Is that okay?”

“Yes, that will be fine sir. What day?”

“I will return from Dawei on Tuesday afternoon and then fly out on Wednesday morning for Bangkok. So I need one night on the 24th.”

“Yes sir. Same room?”

“Sure. I would also like to pay for it now.” With the receipt in hand he asked if he could leave one of his bags behind the desk.

“I have my jacket and some warm clothes that I won’t need on the beach so is it okay if I leave them here with you and pick them up when I return in a few days?” He purposely spoke slowly so everything will be understood. “Is that a problem?”

“Not at all sir. Is your name on your bag?”

“Yes. Here, see it?” He gave him his bag with dirty clothes that he didn’t have space for and he didn’t want anyway. He had more important items to bring with him in his other knapsack.

“There’s one more thing. May I leave a message for a friend?”

“Of course sir.” The clerk handed him paper and a pen, and he wrote out a note.

“It’s for a guy named Andrew. He will be arriving tonight some time. Just so you know, I will be waiting for him at the Strand Hotel. I’m meeting him there between 9:30 and midnight – whenever he can get away from a previous engagement.”

“Yes sir. I will give it to him sir.”

“Thanks mate. See you later.” Leaving his bag with the clerk, he left the foyer pretending to settle in for dinner.

“Dinner sir?”

“No thanks. But I’m wondering if you have a back way out of the guesthouse? I have someone following me and I would like to leave through the back way. Is that okay?” The waiter was confused and was unable to think through the situation but the Mama-San overheard the question and approached him.

“Why do you want to leave through the back way?” Thomas gave her his best look of distress and worry.

“There is a man outside who wants to get some money from me after we had a game of cards last night. It wasn’t a lot of money, but he’s pretty sore about it. I would rather just exit through the back and then I can get a taxi. Is that okay?” The Mama-San wanted more of an explanation but he started to walk towards the kitchen without waiting for a reply.

“Wait sir. A moment.” He stopped and bowed, demonstrating subservience to her. It was what she wanted and it showed he didn’t want to say anything more. She studied him for a moment.

“You have paid for your room?”

“Yes ma’am. Here’s my receipt.” He held out the receipt and then began walking towards the kitchen but stopped to give her his most pearly-white universal greeting, forgetting his teeth were now stained betel red.

“Is it okay ma’am? Please?”

“Okay. Here, let me show you.” He followed her through the kitchen and out into the street behind the guesthouse. “Thank you again ma’am,” he said, with a half-bow. “Next time when I return I will be sure to stay here. You’re very kind.” It was candy to her ears. But she was still skeptical of him.

With his backpack heavy and snug, he walked inconspicuously away from the guesthouse towards the colonial epicenter along the water until he was able to hail a taxi.

“Airport please,” he said.

Sitting in the backseat he pondered thus: There are always some things that are forever outside of one’s control but if one never makes an effort to see if that thing might go their way, they will always be of the opinion that that thing will never to fall in their favor.

Thomas had no control over the chances of him buying a ticket out of the country before his midnight departure to Hong Kong, but he sure as hell was going to try.


“Hello. I am calling to inquire if any police have come by the guesthouse in the last few hours?”

“That’s strange,” said the clerk. “There are policemen here right now. Who’s calling please?” He hung up. Thomas stood in the departure area at the airport listening to the last call to Bangkok, boarding pass in his sweaty hand. Intuition, he thought, combined with verve more often than not, can save a man.

Chapter 35

The Tonsure Warning


Thomas was happy to arrive in Hong Kong with the sacred tablet but he knew his days in Asia were numbered when he showed up for work a few days late. During the first week back at the office his lethargy was noticed by his boss. He told him that he lacked a certain urgency in his work. By the end of the first week back from Burma, he was spending more time drinking coffee in the pantry instead of rushing to finish the academic textbook that was now overdue.

He just didn’t care as much as he had before.

Knowing now the actual religious artifact existed made him look at the world differently. Nihilism flourished within him. He abandoned any false idols he might have had in a culture of mistrust and cynicism. But this wasn’t all. The city that once moved like a symphony of parts now appeared as an aggregate incongruity of subways and buses and honking taxis and angry people stepping on each other’s’ heels. Crowds of peoples regarded each other with suspicion and unjust blame, spewing out a vibe of resentment making it a contagion even to the purest fortified heart. People’s faces showed the poison of the tap water and wore the gray eye rings from the sedentary life of office work, busy comparing what others had with what they didn’t have. The philosopher needs his space, his view, and his sounds of nature to feel a sense of belonging to the environment. He needs his hue and visual texture and freedom to smile at the rising sun. To keep the stew from oxidizing into an inedible crust, the stir stick must jostle the dormant powers of creation inherent his character. He needed to be able to retreat to the sanctity of the forest with winds fleecing tree branches creating songs from nature.

The sacred knowledge Thomas had gained had produced a narcotic effect on his person.

One cannot experience such a profound event without being affected in ways that at the time remain unclear. So much of one’s actions are dictated by an overpowering strength of character that one always thinks he is master of, but most times his character will hold sway over even the strongest will.

That first week back he received a letter from Josh. All it said was: “Your twin brother needs you, please come home.” He booked a flight to Canada for the end of the August, three weeks hence. He didn’t have to think too much about it. His decision to return fit with his new mindset, and something deep within him knew this was the right thing to do.

He would be returning with the stone tablet and reunite with Josh.

On the ferry coming home from work to Lamma Island that Friday night at the end of the first week back, he bumped into Our Man Chaffey.

“Thomas! You coming to the Full Moon Party tomorrow night?” His usual reply wasn’t forthcoming. Instead he found himself enamored with the girl standing beside Our Man Chaffey. He saw the same look of irony in her eyes. Red hair, thick-boned build, mischief in her eyes – eyes that showed she knew Our Man Chaffey was a source of comic amazement at how he was obsessed with conformity in all its aspects.

“Will you be there too?” he asked her.

“I’m not used to this heat and I don’t have air-conditioning right now in my place, so yes: I’ll be spending Saturday and Sunday on the beach.”

“I think I’ll be there.” He winked at her. That was when she introduced herself as Claire.

“I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

That night he had another vivid dream. He was out on a soccer pitch but instead of playing he was watching the game. For some reason he knew when there was going to be a goal. When he saw a long-haired player place the ball for the corner kick and watched the header go in, everyone else was surprised except for Thomas. Then after the game he found himself on the pitch. He had a soccer jersey and went to trade it but the long-haired player saw that he wasn’t a player so he wanted the jersey from him without barter so Thomas gave it to him. He was there empty-handed on the pitch but the long-haired player came back and completed the trade by giving Thomas his jersey, which ended up being his old Green Hornets #11 hockey jersey. He then found himself trying to find the way out of the soccer stadium. He was in this underground labyrinth of concrete where he couldn’t find the way out. The gray concrete had no way out except staircases and dust. There were no signs. But after he led the way, many others followed him down stairs through the dusty hallway to a door that opened up to an old stone house – his father’s house. They all gathered there but Thomas was concerned that his father would be angry with so many people there. Just then his mother opened the front door and approached him. He could see that she was beside herself with fear at how furious his father would be. He explained the situation to her – that there were no directions of how to exit the soccer stadium so they ended up here. He then slipped out of the house as if no one had seen him and was relieved that he wouldn’t be yelled at. He stood in what he thought were nearby woods where the remainder of the soccer fans and players soon emerged from the old stone mansion where they crossed a bridge over a valley and then stood in line waiting for Thomas. But when he looked at them across the bridge, he saw they were all men who had really short hair – tonsures – and were wearing brown monk robes. So from where he stood in the woods he watched the men all with very short hair and thick brown friar outfits line up waiting for him to show them the way. As he looked at them he could see his breath because it was so cold.

In the morning when he awoke, he was baffled. The strange, surreal dream had left an impression on him but he had no idea what it meant.

The subconscious mind is a powerful thing when affected by life’s events.

Chapter 36

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 were drinking beer to fend off thirst. It was Nick who gave him a few pills that he said were ecstasy, so Thomas in his revelry took them both, not knowing what to expect. It was a new drug to him. 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 both saw – a mutual way of what he was against. They shared a similar web of reality that was fundamentally opposite from Our Man Chaffey. 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.

He and Claire were in and out of the South China Sea waters 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.

The 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 burning in the August morning 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.

“Listen Thomas,” said Claire, “it’s too hot. I’m from Australia and I’ve never had this type of heat before.”

“Too hot? We can get some water.”

“But we’ve been up all night.” He was far away from fatigue. Something drove him to the Stenhouse peak.


“I don’t want to burn,” said Claire’s friend.

“I think we should think about taking the ferry back to Hong Kong Island,” said Claire.

“Are you serious?” A look crossed her face that made him realize that she didn’t share his meddle. She was a soft Aussie.

“I 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 alone.

With 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 Earth’s surface. 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 him – the ultra-violet rays piercing his forehead cut as if by a magnet. It energized like high-octane fuel pumping through the cut dermis 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.

Thomas 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 scratched his skin raw, he began his ascent in earnest over uneven terrain, hawks and now turkey vultures hovering 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 on the mainland of China. 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 across a deep dip in the land – an intermittent creek for the rainy season.

So he went off the trail.

In a fervor he climbed over the uneven rock and prickly thorn bushes, bristles soon carving scratches and tearing away skin in his 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 nature’s spire to heaven, forehead sizzling, skin torn by melting force, slipping on shaky legs. He teetered and then was pulled backwards by gravity. Head over heels he landed down the slope out of sight by any passersby.

Only the sound of his thumping heart in the still heat of the day and the fuzzy feeling in his face and eyes told him he had fainted, but he couldn’t be sure.

Disoriented and burned, he staggered to his feet without one of his sandals, his knapsack a few yards away. Squinting to focus, the lip of the trail his goal, was still an ocean away, separated by a steep incline of uneven ground and unsure footing. 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 skin to carve gashes like a hot knife through butter. Senses coming alive with screaming pain. Sandal gone, gravity grabbed him again, spinning him back, burning scratches and digging bristles carving up burnt legs raw from abrasions and bloody welts from thorns, the noonday sun shooting spikes and arrows into his overheating skin.

He stumbled up the mountainside, recovered his bag but no water.

Now complete, except for his Birkenstock, he climbed in single strides upwards, wavering on shaky legs bloodied with cuts and pink with burns, gravity pulling him back again onto his back, pinned on the rocky ground.

Twenty minutes to climb ten feet was lost.

Faculty of balance skewered, primal instinct simplified, 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 foliage 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, impatiently, steady on all fours, taking a step, flinging his body in the air greedy for more distance upwards to the trail.

Legs once robust now quivering sticks, hands at the roots of thick grass and barbed bushes heaving forward, a twelve-inch muted victory. Another root another foot, a stomach landing to rebel against gravity’s unsportsmanlike conduct, antagonist usurping protagonist, 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, hands of mushed skin 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 could 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 his fear was 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, he stumbled upward in focused desperation. Like a kamikaze, he kept flinging forward onto an uneven carpet that cuts and stabs without mercy until finally he reached the trail.

For a moment he basked in the conqueror’s glory – for an eternity? But he refused to stop.

Power Station Beach lay beyond the path in front of him. With wobbling arms and legs, he could only stand for a step before falling to the side. When he made his last thrust ahead, a small bush beside the walking path lured 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, useless and dormant, into the hands of fate, strength expended. Hawks and vultures watching from above, the sun winking, God nodding.

Chapter 37

Touching the Empyrean


Like a kaleidoscope enriched with bright light and meaning, a succession of mind pictures took him far away towards a bright light as if to a higher plane of being. The images before him were memories from his past seen in vivid clarity with a fullness of unhindered emotion of fulfilled joy. Despite witnessing this rapid-fire warmth of sentimental recollections of scenes from his life, he could not, as it were, bring them closer for dissection. It was as if he witnessed it from above, slightly removed, yet completely immersed in each scene’s emotional force. It was a form of joy and unrivalled glee he had never known before, distilled and pure, and infinitely personal. The final and most enduring image was him seeing himself as a ten-year old boy running across a meadow full of wildflowers chasing his twin brother Josh and laughing so intensely he thought he might explode. It was pure and hopeful and innocent – a moment of Aristotelean happiness that epitomized the innocence of his childhood – a time before shadows of doubt clouded any possibility of pure joy. It was as if it was engineered in such a way to create a synergy of warmth that overwhelmed his heart and pulled his spirit towards the light of pure joy.

It was a profound warmth of quintessential equilibrium that calmed his center in a whirlwind all around him that simultaneously threatened to rip him apart.

The sharply lighted memories in his life nurtured him throughout this infinite moment of weightless happiness. He coveted the absence of pain and the absoluteness of pure joy he felt, so when he began regaining consciousness he resisted. He felt like he was being sucked away from a womb – an ancient center – that left him exposed and weakened and vulnerable. The closer he moved to awaking, the farther away he was from the rich light of color and heat that soothed his burning soul.

His greatest desire was to remain with the joyful brightness of pictorial emotion that gave him a timeless and profound exultation and that perfectly matched everything he sought subconsciously. In this state somewhere between life and death, he wanted to remain in this perfect state of bliss.

He was aware of all this the moment he regained consciousness in the intensive care unit. As if forced to the surface of the sea by buoyancy, he fought to stay below the surface and savor the beauty and personalized richness of the colors and pictures in his own subconscious utopia.

When he finally awoke, after having his hand on the door to death, he was immediately aware that he had shared his intense experience with all those whom he loved. Beyond the bluntness of words, he knew it was an entry into a world of pure feeling where absolute understanding brought absolute communication, which in turn brought him into an absolute oneness of being.

It was, perhaps, a glimpse of heaven.

Alone and so high up on the mountain, unseen and unknown to anyone, Thomas fell at noon on Sunday and was discovered by a hiker Tuesday at 2:30 in the afternoon. The hiker noticed a foot sticking out of a bush as he was hiking along the main trail. Thomas was airlifted by helicopter to a hospital in critical condition for ten hours, and it was during this time that he experienced a series of mental images.

Somehow he had been born again by the unknown power of light.

Chapter 38

Joshua the Gatekeeper


After the doctors inserted a line directly into Thomas’s chest, he regained consciousness on Wednesday, more than three days after reaching the main trail on Mount Stenhouse.

Four fellow employees stood beside his bed in the intensive care unit at the hospital in Hong Kong and witnessed the moment he regained consciousness. Immediately he sat up, arms flailing as if he was still climbing the mountainside, ripping out the lines of hydration in both arms. He was half-crazed and manic, but the doctors pushed him down, gave him a sedative and he drifted off into a deep sleep.

Later, he would wonder if he was still climbing up the hill or he was he clawing his way back to the warm light of joy.

Like a phoenix in its nest of cinnamon and myrrh, he had burnt to ashes and was reborn again. It is said that man loses 21 grams at the moment of death, when the soul goes upwards to the empyrean behind the sun rejoining his ancestor spirits. If so then perhaps there, on Mount Stenhouse, he became 21 grams lighter, and then, when he came out of his coma back to the pains of reality, he regained his soul but this time it wasn’t 21 grams but perhaps 22 grams. He felt different; he felt holy. Perhaps that’s what he gained: one extra gram of soul. God only knew.

If 21 grams is the weight of two nickels, then perhaps he returned to the world in the intensive care unit at 11 cents.

The truth was that he should have been dead. With a temperature of 106 degrees, he wasn’t expected to live. A human being can survive 105 degrees but not 106. His muscles melted during those two days lying unseen on the mountain. His kidneys stopped functioning and he suffered second-degree burns over his body and severe burns on his seventh chakra on his forehead between the eyes and the right side of his face. He was in a level-six coma but he had lived. Many doctors from mainland China came to visit the foreigner who somehow cheated death and survived the ordeal, not only the dehydration and sunstroke, but the 106 temperature. Once again he was a zoo animal to gawk at and study and muse about, and he was thus happy to leave the hospital after three days.

His office had tried to contact his mother but the telephone number they had had long since been disconnected so no one in his family knew about his time in the mountains. It was odd and strange but perhaps not difficult to explain that it was Josh who called him at the hospital.

He was summoned to the phone at the nurses’ station, and Josh proceeded to tell him how he had had a dream and that he felt something was wrong. Josh called his office, and they gave him the number for the hospital and told him that Thomas had suffered a ‘hiking incident.’

“Thomas,” he said, “I had the strangest dream last night. I dreamed that you approached me and wanted to walk through this doorway that for some reason I was guarding. I saw that you were dying so I said to you: ‘No Tommy. It’s not your time to die yet.’ I didn’t let you through the door – actually it was a gate. So when I woke up this morning I made a point of tracking you down because I knew something was wrong.”

Thomas stood there at the nurses’ station shivering in the air-conditioned cold, at a complete loss for words.

The only thing he could say was: ‘Thank you. You may have saved my life.’ There have been other strange, ESP events in their lives, but nothing could compare with this one.

Part Five

Chapter 39

Lapsit Exillis


Thomas’s brush with death left him with some bad burns, but he recovered fully except he had noticeably deeper wrinkles on the right side of his face. He had burnt and melted under the scorching sun but had repaired into a new man.

Now out of the hospital and with time off work, he relaxed somewhere over the Pacific Ocean on his way to meet Josh at the Winnipeg airport with the Taponi Tablet in his bag under his seat. He busied himself with Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival about the Holy Grail to get his mind off some electrical malfunction in the airplane that had left passengers without any heat. It was unbelievably cold cruising at 30,000 feet and most were without a jacket.

Warm and cozy wearing his coat, something strange and eerie happened when he came across a passage in von Eschenbach’s book. It had to be more than just another coincidence. It really did. It was a passage on page 251 about the Holy Grail:

“It [the Holy Grail] is a stone of purest kind. If you do not know it, it shall be here named to you. It is called lapsit exillis. By the power of that stone the phoenix burns to ashes, but the ashes give him life again. Thus does the phoenix moult and change its plumage, which afterwards is bright and shining and as lovely as before. There never was a human so ill but that, if he one day sees that stone, he cannot die within the week that follows. And in looks he will not fade. His appearance will stay the same, be it maid or man, as on the day he saw the stone, the same as the best years of his life began, and though he should see the stone for two hundred years, it will never change, save that his hair might perhaps turn grey. Such power does the stone give a man that flesh and bones are at once made young again. The stone is also called the Grail.”

Could this Taponi Tablet of the East, this lapsit exillis or it fell from the heavens, be one of four Grail stones given to the four races of mankind? Was it a source of alchemy for the spirit, an elixir for what is good in man? Was that the physiological reason why the stone had reddened the cut on his forehead? Had that mark historically been called the Mark of Cain? Did Grandfather tell him his spirit name was Red Phoenix because he knew he would burn under the shining light on that perfect day into ashes and be reborn?

Where did these coincidences end?

He closed his eyes to ease his racing mind and soon fell into a deep slumber. He dreamed that he was in a modern-day monastery where he awoke among Christians in white robes who told him all will be redeemed in the end. From two long rows of cots with people milling around, he got up and everything in the dream was bathed in a bright light. The first step he took gave him an overwhelming sense of true faith, as if his faith was beyond doubt. With every step he took he spoke in parables from the Bible. The walls around him were white but the people in the dream were like points of light in an outline of the shape of a person. Then when the words of Matthew came out of his mouth, it fueled his passion to speak. He specifically heard himself say: ‘Those who are first are the last; those who are last, first.’ He felt warm and safe, and the light was almost powdery as if it was a fluffy substance that bounced off the white robes. It spilled over as free energy for those who reached out for it like stardust.

After he woke up on the plane, the one thing he couldn’t stop thinking about was how odd it was that he had known the words of Matthew. He couldn’t figure out how he could have come to know any quotes from the Gospel of Matthew.

Chapter 40



He waited for Josh outside at the airport having a smoke, watching the lightning strikes in the distance. Hearing the thunder that followed always made him feel like he was home. Breathing the rich oxygenated air tasted like candy compared to Asia. It was January in Manitoba but there was a rare warm front well above zero that had melted most of the snow and filled the air with moisture.

Josh showed up in his pick-up truck.

“You’re tanned,” he said. He still had some small scabs on the bridge of his nose.

“Yeah, well I’ve seen a lot of sun lately.”


“You’ll see it, man. Just-“

“Yeah, okay. Nice one.” He patted Thomas’s shoulder and smiled. “Good to have you home brother.”

They left in his truck along the wide-open expanses of the prairies.

“Listen, Grandfather wanted to see you as soon as you arrived. I think he’s keen on seeing what you’ve brought.” Thomas found it strange that they both had orange bandanas around their necks and were both wearing red shirts. It wasn’t Thomas’s usual look. It just sort of happened that way.

“Good because I would like to see him too. I’ve been dying to know what the engravings say.”

“He wants to have a sweat lodge first before we reunite the stones.”

“Actually, that’s probably a good idea. Get rid-“

“Of the negative. Exactly.” Josh looked at him for a moment, taking note of the burgundy beret he was wearing and his new pair of Birkenstocks.

“You’ve changed. What happened over there?” Thomas could only smile. Where to begin? What part comes first? What did happen?

Instead of scrambling for a quick answer, he looked out the window at the wheat basket of the world, took a deep breath and savored the smell of the rain. He felt calmer, quieter, more comfortable in his silence.

“It’s good to be back,” he said. “Time is the ether of change.”

Truth is one; paths are many,” Josh replied, sensing his philosophical vibe.

The path to sureness is littered with incomplete truths. But time is the master of all things.”

The snowplough that pushes all incompleteness aside and clears the road. And what remains is smooth and wise.” They both laughed – the cadence identical.

There were lightning bolts on the horizon. They both waited for the thunder.

“You know, together we are a thunderbolt,” he said. There was an undercurrent of meaning in that statement. And it meant everything to Thomas.

“The phoenix and the thunderbird.”

“Or a thunderstone. In Native mythology, when lightning strikes a stone falls. It’s the spark from where thunder and lightning touch.” The rain had stopped but the thunder and lightning kept the skies on fire.

“And you know when lightning strikes?” he asked.

“No. Can’t say I do.”

“Lightning strikes whenever a thunderbird winks his eye. As a thunderbird, I can tell you.”

They drove on in silence. After all that had happened to him, Thomas was very aware of his brother’s unconditional acceptance of him, and this comforted him to no end. Being an identical twin was a gift of God and a blessing. And he wondered how so many who lived without a twin could endure the hardships of life without an identical twin at their side.

Chapter 41

The Time of Great Purification


The sweat lodge at Grandfather’s was a small, rounded hut with layers of tarpaulin covering its roof and walls. Traditionally it was birch bark that was used but the blue tarp fulfilled its function well. Josh had been the fire-keeper for years so he was at home tending the fire that heated up large, rounded grandfather stones that were placed in the middle of the sweat lodge when they were red hot. They acted in the same manner as hot rocks in a sauna. When water was poured on them the steam was intense and enough to heat up the wood-framed lodge nicely, except that there were a variety of medicines that were thrown on the grandfather rocks.

When he and Josh stripped down to their shorts, he was surprised to see Robert Riel also there, more solemn and serious than the last time he saw him. They all knew this was an important event so the joking and Tom Foolery was left for later.

First sage was waved around to get rid all negative energy, and then more water so the sweat lodge was blurred by iron-hot steam. The four of them sat around the steaming rocks, Grandfather chanting in the Cree language and Josh hitting the drum with his free hand. Native songs in a strange tongue went on as Grandfather added some Cedar medicine to the rocks, followed by bear root. (It was the herb that bears chewed before going into hibernation for the winter). That was when the heat pierced not only his recently-burned-and-thus-sensitive skin, but also his heart. Through osmosis, he was injected with Mother Nature’s Valium so he couldn’t help releasing all his tensions and anxieties he had been carrying, until finally he was at one with the chanting and the beat of the thunderbird drum.

Josh, Robert Riel and Grandfather all took turns singing. It was Thomas’s first sweat lodge and he was hard-pressed to remember when he had ever felt so relaxed.

But soon it grew too hot. He could tell because they all began to cough out the fire-like air. For a few burning minutes they all endured the heat, letting the medicated air purify their lungs and bodies until finally it was time. Then they exited the sweat lodge into the late afternoon, the day still mild and lacking the usual cold bite of a January day in Manitoba. Compared to the sweat lodge, it was cool outside by the fire, situated right beside the sweat lodge and at the top of a small slope to Whitefish River.

There, around the fire after the sweat lodge, half-naked, soaking wet and feeling euphoric, he watched Grandfather place the sacred stone of the East on its red blanket beside another stone, identical to the stone he had found. There, beside the stone, were the two eagle feathers he had found in the wall of the Methodist Church in Myskyina. Grandfather took the two eagle feathers and handed one to Josh and the other to Thomas.

“Great Spirit of our ancestors, it is here in the heart of Turtle Island that the two tablets of stone are reunited just as are Se’sta and Ska’reh, twin brothers who were separated, one in the West and one in the East, are now united. Behold the reunion and help bring the healing words to mankind.” He held out his hand towards Thomas and invited him to place his stone tablet right beside the one on the ground.

“Brothers of the Great Spirit, stand beside each stone, Poqanghoya on the left with the Hopi Stone and Palongawhoya on the right with the Taponi stone returned from the East.” Grandfather stood directly behind them and then placed his hands on their right shoulders. He motioned that they join hands, which they did. Just then a ray of sunlight shone through the clouds and pierced through the small red welts they both had on their foreheads. They trembled as if an electrical current was passing through them, until there was a loud crack like lightning. There in front of them was an orange ladder that was blurred like a mirage in a desert but bright like the sun.

“Great Spirit of our ancestors unite the stones to its rightful union, mend the sickness of mankind that plagues all corners of the world and decipher the markings of your wisdom of faith so that these two worthy servants can carry out their divine mission and begin the Time of Great Purification.

Grandfather slowly raised his head to Lyra, keeping his eyes lowered out of respect. All four of them looked at the light, at once orange and yellow, white and strong. Then without prompting, he and Josh joined hands, completing a circle and thus completing the union. A force moved upwards to the sky as their clothes fluttered upwards as if gravity had reversed. What looked like a long ladder appeared reaching up to the sun in front of them. The foot of the ladder touched the stones, each stone supporting each leg of the ladder. The engravings became orange and emitted a light that began to make a humming sound as if wind was blowing through the engravings, like the red flower of Prometheus.

The rays of the sun reached inside the stones and shone through the engravings that caused a sound, like a voice of energy. From the top of the stones the light was brightest that slowly went around and down the writings and across each line in tandem with the other stone. Like an old phonograph, the light hummed through the openings against the brightness before them. It was there, in the brightness of the apparition that stood in front of them, that words were forming a message that was painted in orange light.

“Sons of mine, behold the message from the Creator and bring the message to our Star Brothers. Your eyes can see; mine cannot,” said Grandfather. Still holding their hands, he and Josh looked up and saw the word SPEAK in orange light from behind what appeared to be emerald tablets.

“Speak,” they said at the same time. Then another word appeared and another word, which they read together as they faced the eye of God, and in a tandem voice spoke thus:

A hundred times ten
have I descended the dark way that led into light,
and as many times have I ascended from the
darkness into the light my strength and power renewed.

Betray not my secrets
to the men of the North
or the men of the South
lest my curse fall upon ye.

Remember and heed my words,
for surely will I return again
and require of thee that which ye guard.
Aye, even from beyond time and
from beyond death will I return,
rewarding or punishing
as ye have requited your trust.

Great were my people in the ancient days,
great beyond the conception of the
little people now around me;
knowing the wisdom of old,
seeking far within the heart of infinity
knowledge that belonged to Earth’s youth.

Wise were we with the wisdom
of the Children of Light who dwelt among us.
Strong were we with the power drawn
from the eternal fire.

Grew I there from a child into manhood,
being taught by my father the elder mysteries,
until in time there grew within the fire of wisdom,
until it burst into a consuming flame.

They could both feel the grip on their shoulders tighten as Grandfather listened to the words they read from the great light in the sky.

Chosen was I from the sons of men,
taught by the Dweller so that his
purposes might be fulfilled,
purposes yet unborn in the womb of time.

Long ages I dwelt in the Temple,
learning ever and yet ever more wisdom,
until I, too, approached the light emitted
from the great fire.

Deep I bowed in homage before the Lords of Life
and the Lords of Death,
receiving as my gift the Key of Life.

Then having drunk deep of the cup of wisdom,
I looked into the hearts of men and there found I
greater mysteries and was glad.
For only in the Search for Truth could my Soul
be stilled and the flame within be quenched.

Down through the ages I lived,
seeing those around me taste of the cup
of death and return again in the light of life.

Gradually from the Kingdoms of Atlantis passed waves
of consciousness that had been one with me,
only to be replaced by spawn of a lower star.

Emissary on Earth am I of the Dweller,
fulfilling his commands so many might be lifted.
Now return I to the halls of Amenti,
leaving behind me some of my wisdom.
Preserve ye and keep ye the command of the Dweller:
Lift ever upwards your eyes toward the light.

Surely in time, ye are one with the Master,
surely by right ye are one with the Master,
surely by right yet are one with the ALL.

Now, I depart from ye.
Know my commandments,
keep them and be them,
and I will be with you,
helping and guiding you into the Light.

Now before me opens the portal.
Go I down in the darkness of night

The twins looked at each for a moment, and then looked back to the orange light. Thomas noticed the crystal around his brother’s neck had come alive with light and knew that his own crystal around his neck was also alive with light.

Far in a past time, lost in the space time,
the Children of Light looked down on the world.
Seeing the children of men in their bondage,
bound by the force that came from beyond.
Knew they that only by freedom from bondage
could man ever rise from the Earth to the Sun.

Down they descended and created bodies,
taking the semblance of men as their own.
The Masters of everything said after their forming:

“We are they who were formed from the space-dust,
partaking of life from the infinite ALL;
living in the world as children of men,
like and yet unlike the children of men.”

Deep in the Halls of Life grew a flower, flaming,
expanding, driving backward the night.

Placed in the center, a ray of great potence, Life
giving, Light giving, filling with power all who came near it.
Placed they around it thrones, two and thirty,
places for each of the Children of Light,
placed so that they were bathed in the radiance,
filled with the Life from the eternal Light.

There time after time placed they their first created bodies
so that they might by filled with the Spirit of Life.
One hundred years out of each thousand must the
Life-giving Light flame forth on their bodies.
Quickening, awakening the Spirit of Life.

There in the circle from aeon to aeon,
sit the Great Masters,
living a life not known among men.
There in the Halls of Life they lie sleeping;
free flows their Soul through the bodies of men.

Time after time, while their bodies lie sleeping,
incarnate they in the bodies of men.
Teaching and guiding onward and upward,
out of the darkness into the light.

He who by progress has grown from the darkness,
lifted himself from the night into light,
free of the Flower of Light and of Life.
Guided he then, by wisdom and knowledge,
passes from men, to the Master of Life.

There he may dwell as one with the Masters,
free from the bonds of the darkness of night.
Seated within the flower of radiance sit seven
Lords from the Space-Times above us,
helping and guiding through infinite Wisdom,
the pathway through time of the children of men.

Mighty and strange, they,
veiled with their power,
silent, all-knowing,
drawing the Life force,
different yet one with the
children of men.
Aye, different, and yet One
with the Children of Light.

Custodians and watchers of the force of man’s bondage,
ready to loose when the light has been reached.
First and most mighty,
sits the Veiled Presence, Lord of Lords,
the infinite Nine,
over the other from each
the Lords of the Cycles;

Three, Four, Five, and Six, Seven, Eight,
each with his mission, each with his powers,
guiding, directing the destiny of man.
There sit they, mighty and potent,
free of all time and space.

Not of this world they,
yet akin to it,
Elder Brothers they,
of the children of men.
Judging and weighing,
they with their wisdom,
watching the progress
of Light among men.

Sweat dripped into his eyes stinging them shut, so Josh read the next set of words but somehow Thomas knew the words without opening his eyes.

There before them was I led by the Dweller,
watched him blend with ONE from above.

Then from HE came forth a voice saying:
“Great art thou, Thoth, among children of men.
Free henceforth of the Halls of Amenti,
Master of Life among children of men.
Taste not of death except as thou will it,
drink thou of Life to Eternity’s end,
Henceforth forever is Life,
thine for the taking.
Henceforth is Death at the call of thy hand.

Dwell here or leave here when thou desireth,
free is Amenti to the son of man.
Take thou up Life in what form thou desireth,
Child of the Light that has grown among men.
Choose thou thy work, for all should must labor,
never be free from the pathway of Light.

One step thou has gained on the long pathway upward,
infinite now is the mountain of Light.
Each step thou taketh but heightens the mountain;
all of thy progress but lengthens the goal.

Approach ye ever the infinite Wisdom,
ever before thee recedes the goal.
Free are ye made now
to walk hand in hand with the Lords of the world,
one in one purpose, working together,
bring of Light to the children of men.”

Then from his throne came one of the Masters,
taking my hand and leading me onward,
through all the Halls of the deep hidden land.
Led he me through the Halls of Amenti,
showing the mysteries that are known not to man.

Through the dark passage, downward he led me,
into the Hall where site the dark Death.
Vast as space lay the great Hall before me,
walled by darkness but yet filled with Light.

Before me arose a great throne of darkness,
veiled on it sat a figure of night.
Darker than darkness sat the great figure,
dark with a darkness not of the night.
Before it then paused the Master, speaking

The Word that brings about Life, saying;
“Oh, master of darkness,
guide of the way from Life unto Life,
before thee I bring a Sun of the morning.
Touch him not ever with the power of night.
Call not his flame to the darkness of night.
Know him, and see him,
one of our brothers,
lifted from darkness into the Light.
Release thou his flame from its bondage,
free let it flame through the darkness of night.”

Raised then the hand of the figure,
forth came a flame that grew clear and bright.
Rolled back swiftly the curtain of darkness,
unveiled the Hall from the darkness of night.

Then grew in the great space before me,
flame after flame, from the veil of the night.
Uncounted millions leaped they before me,
some flaming forth as flowers of fire.

Others there were that shed a dim radiance,
flowing but faintly from out of the night.

Some there were that faded swiftly;
others that grew from a small spark of light.
Each surrounded by its dim veil of darkness,
yet flaming with light that could never be quenched.
Coming and going like fireflies in springtime,
filled they with space with Light and with Life.

Then spoke a voice, mighty and solemn, saying:
“These are lights that are souls among men,
growing and fading, existing forever,
changing yet living, through death into life.
When they have bloomed into flower,
reached the zenith of growth in their life,
swiftly then send I my veil of darkness,
shrouding and changing to new forms of life.

Steadily upward throughout the ages, growing,
expanding into yet another flame,
lighting the darkness with yet greater power,
quenched yet unquenched by the veil of the night.

So grows the soul of man ever upward,
quenched yet unquenched by the darkness of night.

Then the same thing happened to Joshua – sweat stung his eyes so he could no longer read the words in front of them, so Thomas spoke thus:

I, Death, come, and yet I remain not,
for life eternal exists in the ALL;
only an obstacle, I in the pathway,
quick to be conquered by the infinite light.

Awaken, O flame that burns ever inward,
flame forth and conquer the veil of the night.”

Then in the midst of the flames
in the darkness grew there one that
drove forth the night, flaming, expanding,
ever brighter, until at last was nothing but Light.

Then spoke my guide, the voice of the master:
See your own soul as it grows in the light,
free now forever from the Lord of the night.

Forward he led me through many great spaces
filled with the mysteries of the Children of Light;
mysteries that man may never yet know of until
he, too, is a Sun of the Light.

Backward then HE led me into the Light
of the hall of the Light.
Knelt I then before the great Masters,
Lords of ALL from the cycles above.

Spoke HE then with words of great power saying:

Thou hast been made free of the Halls of Amenti.
Choose thou thy work among the children of men.

Then spoke I:
O, great master,
let me be a teacher of men,
leading then onward and upward until they,
too, are lights among men;
freed from the veil of the night that surrounds them,
flaming with light that shall shine among men.

Spoke to me then the voice:
Go, as yet will. So be it decreed.
Master are ye of your destiny,
free to take or reject at will.
Take ye the power, take ye the wisdom.
Shine as a light among the children of men.

And then finally, the twins once again in unison:

Upward then, led me the Dweller.
Dwelt I again among children of men,
teaching and showing some of my wisdom;
Sun of the Light, a fire among men.

Now again I tread the path downward,
seeking the light in the darkness of night.
Hold ye and keep ye, preserve my record,
guide shall it be to the children of men.

The light in the stones began to wane and the upward force began to waver. On the canvas of bright light in front of them was a large medicine wheel with each quadrant filled in with the four colors of man. The beams of light weakened and the luster of Vulcan’s orange hue started to diffuse. The energy generated from the light field before them shrank, leaving only orange sparks. The four of them looked up to where the words had been and saw nothing but steam and air, as if a lightning bolt had just struck.

Grandfather slowly lifted his hands from their shoulders and raised the palms of his hands upwards to the empyrean.

“Great Spirit of our ancestors who sees us and gives us spiritual nourishment, we are indebted for the wisdom you have bestowed upon us. The prophecies have been fulfilled and it is time to begin the healing phase of man’s evolution and begin a new way of living in harmony and unison in the light.” Grandfather bowed to the Great Spirit in the sky, and turned to them with his eyes ablaze.

“Now that you have fulfilled the prophecy,” Grandfather said, “and are reunited, you will come back into balance. You have become like the phoenix that has raised its wings and is able to fly again because the fire that once burnt it was fire from a world out of balance. The age of Koyaanisqatsi is over. And you will clap your wings and thunder these words to all of mankind. It is the blessing of you twin sons of mine, Ska-reh and Se’sta, born of my spirit but not of my body, here with me to create the reception of the Great Spirit named Thoth and to witness the words handed down on this day for all of His creatures to read.”

The light disappeared and there was nothing left to look at. The ladder was gone and the bright orange canvas in the sky before them was no longer there. There was silence now. The hum emitting from the tablets of stone had ceased, but the silence did not last long. It was soon filled with the light of golden laughter from the souls of elevated men. The twins laughed and that laughter infected the others, soon booming out of the depths of all present, and spreading to the others they came into contact with throughout the months and years afterwards, as they brought light to all they touched. Each fed off each other’s laughter until it ignited the flame of light in them all. A candle was lit. And this candles lit other candles until a new light emanated from the Earth into the ethers for the Gods to see.


Red Egg Hatching

A year later Thomas had a powerful dream that he recorded in his dream journal. It read: Last night I fell into a deep sleep where my dream took me back to the mountains and wide-open spaces of Upper Burma. I flew like an eagle over the heaven-reaching teak trees and through the chill of the Himalayas to the church where I found the stone, but instead of seeing the portraits of the thirteen tribes I found one portrait: one of Hanna with her glittering eyes smiling as if she were about to say something to me. I was different: my chest was bigger and stronger than I thought possible. My heart had grown so strong that it bulged from my chest and even emitted a reddish hue. I looked down on the table and saw the compass I had found in the chamber. It pointed directly at Hanna. I landed on the altar where I reached out to touch her cheek. That’s when I woke up.

A month later, Thomas flew to Rangoon and took a plane north instead of the train, landing in Myskyina where he stayed at the same hotel. He walked to the church unannounced as there was no way of contacting Hanna. With his beard fully grown and looking like Jesus, he was careful to watch out for the Reverend but fortunately he found Hanna teaching a class. Thomas stood at the door watching her until she looked over and saw him. Covering her mouth with her hand, she blushed as tears welled up in her eyes. Her students looked blank-faced at him with his big brown beard standing in the doorway.

“I told you I would come back and find you.”

“You have! You’ve found me!” She ran to him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, burying her face into his neck so that he could smell her beautiful scent.

Quis separabit?” he asked, trying his hand at some Latin.

Nemo separabit,” she replied. “No one will separate us.” Some of the children began to snicker and laugh but they hugged and kissed and cried. Soon the classroom applauded and some of the more daring boys threw erasers.

“Heaven on earth,” he said, feeling the light brighten within his heart. “It’s time to celebrate!” That was the moment Thomas knew he had found the balance he thirsted for after so many years. And together they inspired others all over the world to let the light in.



About the Author

Peter Higgins was born in Vancouver but grew up in Toronto, graduating from Queen’s University in 1990 and then with a master’s degree from the University of Hong Kong in 2004. Mr. Higgins worked as a professional writer in Taiwan, the Philippines and Hong Kong for ten years before he returned to Canada to write. He currently lives with his family on Manitoulin Island, Ontario Canada.