Prophecy Seekers

A Burmese adventure


Published 2017

©Copyright MMXX

Table of Contents

Part One – Canada

Chapter 1. The Twin from the East Returns

Chapter 2. The Sundancer

Chapter 3. Waxing Gibbous

Chapter 4. The Second Coming of the Messiah

Chapter 5. The Sacred Twin Story

Chapter 6. The Sign of the Pahana

Chapter 7. Palongawhoya and Poqanghoya

Chapter 8. Rainbow Thunderbird and Red Phoenix

Chapter 9. The True White Brother

Chapter 10. The Lost Louis Riel Notebooks

Part Two – Hong Kong

Chapter 11. A Mixture of Revulsion and Pity

Chapter 12. A Classroom of Scallywags

Chapter 13. Illegitimati non Carborundum

Chapter 14. The Distant Fire of Empyrean

Part Three – Burma

Chapter 15. The Monastery of Sacred Tablets

Chapter 16. The Outpost of Tyranny

Chapter 17. When the 12th Moon Comes

Chapter 18. The Pigeon Left & the Crow Took His Place

Chapter 19. Go North and Find Your People

Chapter 20. Finding Orwell

Chapter 21. Though the Monkey is in a Hurry, the Tree Branch is Not

Chapter 22. The Castle at God’s Toes

Chapter 23. The General and Sergeant Betel Nut

Chapter 24. The Tattooed Station Master

Chapter 25. The Life’s Work of Reverend Crow

Chapter 26. Yield Not to Adversity, But Press on More Bravely

Chapter 27. A Bitter Cuppa Tea

Chapter 28. The Thirteenth Tribe

Chapter 29. When a Lamp is Lit You Must Expect Insects

Part Four – Kachin, Northern Burma

Chapter 30. John the Christian

Chapter 31. A Guardian Angel Named Hanna

Chapter 32. The Bar Car & Betel Nut

Chapter 33. The Son of Light

Chapter 34. Slipping the Karmic Knot

Chapter 35. The Tonsure Warning

Chapter 36. The Phoenix Reborn

Chapter 37. Touching the Empyrean

Chapter 38. Joshua the Gatekeeper

Part Five – Canada

Chapter 39. Lapsit Exillis

Chapter 40. Thunderstones

Chapter 41. The Time of Great Purification

About the Author

We are cripples, we artists. Our art is nothing, because our tools are too dull to get at the essence and express it. Christ alone has that ability. He affects us directly without writing, without painting; at every moment he transforms his entire life into an artwork.

– Vincent van Gogh

I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me.

– William Blake

Part One


Chapter 1

The Twin from the East Returns

June 1999 Canada


When you’re young, you’ll do anything to discover truth. Reckless, driven, you wonder whether it was all destined to occur or if it was something inside of you that had to get out, find what needed to be found. Was the entire affair prewritten, predestined, or even preordained? For identical twins it’s always a little more difficult to see if it was entirely you or your brother or both working in concert with some cosmic umbilical cord still attached pulling strings. And what if you are fulfilling a prophecy? Is it then simply out of your control?

What made Thomas think it might have all been a fluke was that he had absolutely no inclination of what was to befall him when he met his twin brother Joshua at the Winnipeg airport. He didn’t really know what was going on with Josh other than he was busy at odd jobs and writing a book about something to do with native Indians in Canada. Thomas’s job in Hong Kong had taken so much of his time that he barely knew what was happening with any of his family. He knew his brother could take care of himself, so as long as he said he was all right he didn’t worry about him. It was also, in their unspoken twin language, a sign of respect not to pry or worry. To show concern or worry was bad form for the twins. It was just their way. They had always done their own thing, never not doing what they wanted for the sake of the other, maybe because it was less crowded that way. Even telephone calls were rare, usually occurring when one of them had a dream or premonition about the other. Recently Josh had called him in Tokyo during a business trip and the first thing he said was ‘What happened last night?’

And the previous night had been a bad one.

Tokyo was crowded and on the weekends it was as if everyone tried their hardest to pack as much living as they could into two days. Sprint drinking and Karaoke left what expatriates called platform pizzas wherever there was space at Shinjuku train station, some men passed out right beside the vomit as if on a crucifix, arms outstretched yet completely untouched by the thousands of passersby despite being the busiest train station in the world. That night Thomas had gone out with some of his Japanese friends from work for a birthday party and heated sake had been consumed with round after round of beer with sushi and noodles and lobster. He didn’t miss his train but he had fallen asleep and ended up at the end of the line. Harassed and dead tired and with no money, he had been forced to sleep on the street near the station until the train started, maybe more humiliating than painful. Premonitions and dreams were a type of gateway to see each other, like a theater in the mind activated at night. Josh was particularly responsive to these kind of dreams though as Thomas had had his fair share of hard times after many years in Asia.

He flew out of Hong Kong the day after a birthday party for a Scottish friend, staying up all night at his regular Irish bar down in Wan Chai dressed in his kilt, but he hadn’t left enough time to change so he crossed the Pacific Ocean in his kilt with air-conditioning blasting his bare legs and head-bobbing from a nasty hangover. To those around him on the plane was the happy reek of Scotch. Didn’t matter, he needed a break. Anything to get out of the claustrophobia of Hong Kong for a while.

Since he had left Canada years ago, Josh had become interested in Native American culture. He never asked for much so when he had asked Thomas to come to his final Sundance, he couldn’t say no. Manitoba countryside in late June was just the balm he needed to get Asia out of his head.

It was a few months before George W Bush finished his second term in office when he arrived in Winnipeg. While he waited for his baggage, a tall Native with braided hair and what looked like a type of moccasin approached him, looking as if he knew Thomas from somewhere. He looked Cree.

“Can I help you with something?” The Cree bowed his head and then spoke softly. He could probably smell the booze. 

“I believe it is you who can help me,” said the stranger. Respectful. Stopped his crankiness in its tracks, disarming.

“How so?”

“What are you doing in Manitoba?” Voice smoky.

“My brother lives here.” He took off his sunglasses and squinted at him against the sun glaring through the windows from the vast flatness of the prairies outside. “Actually he studies with an elder.” Taking a step back, he bowed his head low and put his hands together as if in prayer.

“Is it Grandfather Cardinal he apprentices with?”

“Yes, that’s his name. You know him?”

“He’s my father.” The Indian shook his hand and smiled. “So it is true. Rainbow Thunderbird has a twin brother.” Thomas nodded when he heard his brother’s Indian spirit name. Mr. Cardinal’s son took out a tobacco pouch, held a pinch of tobacco in front of him, uttered some words that could be Cree, and then handed Thomas the tobacco.

“Maybe the Hopi prophecies are being fulfilled,” he said, looking into his eyes as if searching for a glimpse of something. “Where have you come from?”

“I just flew in from Hong Kong.”

The East,” he said. “And you’re wearing a red kilt.”

“Family tartan.”

“You going to the Sundance in Selkirk?”

“I am, you?”

“Not this year. It’s tough to do you know. Took me six years to graduate as a Sundancer.” He put both his hands on his chest. “It is an honor to meet you.” He gave Thomas a small bow and walked away with an unhurried swagger.

Chapter 2

The Sundancer


It felt good driving on the flat, traffic-less roads north to Selkirk, legs now warm in the summer air and Canadian music on the radio. Sky as big as he had ever seen, crosswinds perfumed with wildflowers and nature, forests dotting the roadside the farther north he went. Murders of crows flew en masse among the treetops controlling the skies, swampy bogs pungent as he passed. Not a soul in sight.

Thomas found the Sundance by the river just out of town past a small limestone church. Old pick-up trucks parked along a line of trees beside an open field. So on that June summer day wearing his kilt, he saw Josh clad only in a golden skirt sundancing and waving eagle feathers in front of the great Tree of Life that was covered with different coloured prayer ties. Having missed the first two days, his brother’s skin was already burned into a vermillion red. Dancing technique smooth. He watched his brother for a few hours dancing in his spot surrounding the tall poplar tree until he and three other sundancers walked to the huge tree and had hooks of bone pushed through the skin on his chest. Each of the two hooks were attached to long sinew attached to the Tree of Life. Each of the four sundancers represented each of the four directions.

Josh had the West position around the tree.

There was a clown called a Wendigo that danced around the poplar backwards, trying to do everything against convention, embodying his contrary nature. The sacred clown ran around wherever he wanted, wearing a leather mask and leggings entertaining the crowd until each of the four sundancers were given a command to walk backwards facing the tree. The sinew stretched taut, ripping the skin from Joshua’s chest, blood dripping from below the other three scars he had from the previous three summers. But it was a few hours later when he witnessed the most dramatic moments of the Sundance – when Josh dragged buffalo skulls around the Tree of Life. That was when he realized how serious and gruelling this honoured ritual was.

His twin looked calm when they hooked bones with string through the skin just behind his shoulders this time, attached to four buffalo skulls behind him. Stomach cringing, Thomas watched him pull the cluster of skulls that skidded along the grass, horns crashing all over the place in summersaults and flips, chucking up chunks of grass. The skin pulled but didn’t break – not until Josh had completed a full run around the Tree of Life. When the bones snapped free, ripping the skin from his shoulders, the Sundancers roared with hoots and shouts, celebrating that he had just purified the sins of his family through his own suffering.

Blood streaked down his back, gleaming sweat mixing with dripping blood. Thomas sat transfixed; he couldn’t believe it was his identical twin brother.


After the Sundance ended and Josh was changing and drinking water, not a drop of which he had been allowed for days, some of Joshua’s Métis friends invited Thomas to sit at their campfire near tents pitched near the Sundancing field. It took them a while to get over their initial shock that he was not Joshua, but in fact was his twin brother, and were for a while in the phase of realizing that they are distinct people, a time when strangers said strange things as if to distinguish them from each other to themselves.

Not a comment about his odd, Scottish apparel.

“Joshua stayed in that small cabin of his all winter without any heat,” said Andre, one of his brother’s friends. “Can you believe that? The managers of the RV Park kept coming out to make sure he was still alive. They even left soup for him at his door.”

Instead of paying rent for an apartment, Josh had purchased a small cabin for a thousand dollars beside the Brokenhead River in a town called Beausejour. He owned the cabin but paid a small monthly fee for the land and electricity. With only an electric heater he squeaked through the notoriously cold Manitoba winter with some nights getting as low as minus fifty Celsius. It was, as his friends told Thomas, dangerous. H his indifference to extremism was what they wanted to convey to Thomas, something he was very much aware of for years.

It was not lost on Thomas that by inference they were implying he was the ‘soft’ twin, the one who worked in an office and lived a ‘normal’ life.

Like many things, the Sundance was an event that had to be seen to be believed. Josh had spoken about it before but the images Thomas had in his mind were nothing like the real thing. Completing the four years of Sundances was one of the things that he had tasked himself with in an effort to become a fully accepted Métis in the Red Man’s world because it was considered one of the highest honours to graduate as a Sundancer.

Thomas saw a unique movement that he recognized intuitively – a sauntering with grace and a slight posture issue that had always belonged to both of them. To their friends, it was their most distinct trait: their loping gait. With the sun setting and the horizontal rays highlighting his long hair, the only thing Thomas saw was his over-sized teeth. Without a word they both started laughing, and at the same time pointed at each other, laughter the same cadence increasing in decibels.

“Brother!” A bear hug locked them together for a moment.

When Thomas stood back to look at him a tingling sensation crept up his spine that reached his temples. After years apart it stunned him to see another person as unique as himself, especially the sight of his beard, which was identical to his own.

“I’ve missed you Tommy,” he said.

“It’s been too long Joshie.”

“Man, what’s with the dressing technique?”

“Birthday party for Jamieson last night-“

“You flew in that kilt across international borders just to come here to watch me Sundance?” Nodded. “That’s says something, doesn’t it?” He put his hand on Thomas’s shoulder. “It’s been a long time.” He felt a familiar pang of guilt at the sight of the bags under his eyes and the wrinkles on his face. It hammered home how long he’d been out of his life. 

Chapter 3

Waxing Gibbous


Due to Joshua’s thirst, they drove to a bar called The Wounded Knee for buffalo burgers and beer.

This is where we want to go,” said Josh, rubbing his hands together, face flushed, bright red like a maple leaf in Fall. Thomas pushed his hands deep into his coat pockets, straightened his Robertson hunting tartan and took a deep breath, intestinal fortitude waning. He wasn’t crazy about going into a Native bar wearing a kilt, but the occasion deserved extra effort.

“Listen, I didn’t ask before but if you’re tired and want to go to mine to mellow-out, then that’s groovy.” He could see the gravity of exhaustion creeping into his core, but Thomas shook his head.

“It’s not every day my brother becomes a real Sundancer. Seriously, that was fantastic what I saw today. Those buffalo skulls man!

“Thanks Tommy. You know that means a lot.” He patted him on the shoulder and saw a crossbow in his truck.

“Is that-“

“It is. Great piece.”


“For when the grid goes down.”

“You really think-“

“’Best to build the ark now, no?”

They took a table in the corner of the patio and relaxed. The sun had set quickly on these flatlands and an unusual brightness of the stars in the darkened caught his eye.

“It’s so clear here. In Hong Kong the sky is always obscured by all the lights and the pollution, which is getting worse every year. I don’t think I’ve seen the stars like this since I was last in Canada.” He could see the reflection of the Milky Way galaxy against the deep black in the sky.

“It’s a waxing gibbous moon in the prairie big-sky tonight so it should be all right.” He lit two cigarettes, handed one to Thomas as the waitress arrived. Native, long scar along her temple.

“Charlotte, here he is. My twin brother Thomas.”

“The one you keep talking about?” Her hand to her mouth, Charlotte put her tray down and looked closer at the mythical brother. “Let me have a look. I never-.“ She stared wide-eyed and smiled, revealing a stadium of perfect teeth. Her bashful look – a sharp rosiness in the cheek – made him feel at ease.

“Happy to have you here Thomas. Rainbow Thunderbird’s brother – twin brother. Wow.” Cheeks still flushed, teeth like pillars of the Parthenon.

“C’mon Charlotte. Poor guy’s thirsty from all that flying. Straight from Hong Kong you know. Any specials on tonight?”

“There’s never a special, but I could extend the special on beer just for the two of you – as a way of welcoming your brother home.” Missed the way Josh was friendly and good-hearted with everyone. “He speaks of you all the time,” Charlotte said to him. “Half the people here don’t believe he even has a twin.”

“There are always some who find twinship a very odd and unique thing. For me, not so much!”

She asked what kind of beer he wanted.

“Ah, I’ll have a Hoegaarten if you have it.”

“You drink the same beer too?”

“Hoegaarten. Nice one. Make that two.” She snuck a look back at them as she walked through the threshold.

Josh leaned back, flung his long hair off his forehead and stretched his legs out. Two blood stains on his shirt were new, but not the long scar across his left cheek down from his eye, still pink, eyeglass lens twice as thick as the other one.

Thomas rubbed his eye, his stitches recently removed, the opposite eye to Joshua’s bad eye.

“I should have worn a red shirt like yours,” said Josh.

“So did it hurt?”

“No, not really. It’s intense but they hurt now.”

“So you have four lines of scars down your chest, in two…columns.”

“Those are no big deal but the new ones on the back of my shoulders are really hurting.”

“Um, why-“

“Dragging the buffalo skulls is optional. Not every Sundancer is required to do it.”

“So why-“

“Because what you’re doing is purifying the sins of your family through your own suffering.” A bolt of guilt jolted Thomas in the solar plexus. “But you have to make it around the Tree of Life. Otherwise you aren’t worthy to purge the sins.”


“Exactly. All your sins are gone.”


“Because I love you, man. You’re my twin brother.” His eyes clouded with water; fatigue was affecting him. Usually stoic to the point of having a wooden heart.

“Thanks Josh. You know, you’re so…so un-“

“I know Tommy. I am.”

“And I’m such a selfish bugger.”

“I wouldn’t say that. You’re on your own life path, that’s all.” For a moment the thought of his life in Hong Kong made him sick. “Do you-“

“No, I don’t. I’m not really digging it much anymore. I guess the novelty has worn off.”

“You can always come back.” He looked away, his arm working hard on his legs.

“That’s one thing we don’t have over there.”

“Welcome to Manitoba: the mosquito is our national bird.”

“We should-“

“Yeah, why don’t we?”

Crooked tables and chairs missing arms, the beer posters on the walls were stained from smoke, but the smell of stale beer brought Thomas back to his university days with Josh.

“What is that?” he asked, pointing above the bar. He ignored people gawking at his kilt.

“That’s Kokopelli – the Native God of Mischief.”

“A Native Loki,” he replied. “Quite a hairpiece.”

“Yes, a unique hat.” They kept drinking Hoegaarten that Charlotte placed in front of them as if it was against the law to be sitting in front of an empty pint glass.

“So why wouldn’t people believe you have a twin brother?” It was Thomas’s turn to stretch out his legs and open his jacket.

“Because twins are highly respected in Native culture. Almost every creation story among the tribes in North America has something to do with identical twins.” Joshua placed his cigarette pack on the pool table. “Twins are always depicted as heroes who overcome great odds to protect people from disaster. They illustrate the duality in life. Twins are used to show that everything exists in balance – good and evil, light and dark, Father Sky and Mother Earth.”

“Can I ask you-“

“Of course, man.”

“What exactly are you studying that you couldn’t get from a book?”

“I thought you would ask that.” He took a drink before he answered. “You know I’m studying the spiritual beliefs of the First Nations people, but instead of learning from a book I’m learning from one of the most respected Elders in North America.”


“I know, I know. This may sound weird but I’m learning how to increase my spiritual powers. First I learn how to open my chakras so I can get my energy flowing. Then I can absorb all the negative energy around me. I heal those weighted down by negative thoughts – that’s what I’m learning to do.”


“Because so many people are crippled by resentment. Negative sentience is something I can sense. And it actually hurts my heart.”

“It hurts us all,” he said. “But why do you care?”

“I want to help others if I can – like a minister of the spirit.”

“By being a human vacuum cleaner?” A feeble attempt at a joke.

“I know it sounds silly, especially in comparison to your job in Hong Kong. But you’re my twin brother so I can say exactly what it is I’m doing. Nurturing positive energy is man’s preferred state of being. He only loses it when he regards himself as a victim of life’s bad bounces, thwarted in noble deed, caused by a system that doesn’t work and relegated to the dog pile of the embittered and cranky!” He started smiling at the word ‘thwarted.’ Thomas had heard it before but Josh managed to tailor it in new clothes.

“But what are you getting out of it?” He wanted to show compassion but couldn’t. Felt as if he were made of some composite carbon fibre.

“You mean the profit?” The word hung, motionless, ugly and unwanted between them. “I suppose I end up with a greater sense of well-being from the knowledge that I’ve increased someone’s level of happiness. Basically, in the big picture, I believe all those who can help others should.”

“Yeah, OK. I can see that.” Thomas, with his short hair and heavy moustache, felt cheap, shallow. His life was so un-noble in contrast to his brother’s. And if he really wanted to face the truth, it had been a life he had once aspired to.

The bar had filled up, and Thomas noticed the Native he had met at the airport.

“Hey, who is that guy at the bar in the moccasins? I saw him at the airport.”

“That’s Grandfather’s son,” he replied, lighting a smoke. “He doesn’t get along with his father that well but I like him.” Thomas told him about the tobacco at the airport and what he said about being the twin of Rainbow Thunderbird.

“He’s always alone,” he said, surprised. “I think he’s a Wendigo Spirit: someone who doesn’t answer to anyone. He lives by his own rules and won’t let himself be governed by anyone.”

“Sounds like me.”

“Usually Wendigo Spirits are loners who traditionally have lived in the forest.”

“Sounds like you actually.”

“Don’t get me wrong. Wendigoes are highly respected and have their own medicine. For their strategic social orbit they tend to hang out with other Wendigo Spirits.” Mischief in his eye. “I think you’re a Wendigo. But I’m not; I’m a shaman.”

“He said it was honor to meet me.”

“I never thought he liked me. Or actually, it’s not that he’s never liked me, it’s just that I don’t think he accepts me in the sweat lodge. He’s a full-blooded Indian and I think he’s skeptical about me because I’m only Métis, and for that matter just one-sixteenth Red Indian. I think he’s suspicious of my intentions. But maybe he saw a kindred Wendigo spirit in you.”

“You think I’m a clown?”

“No, no. A sacred clown who operates by his own code.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Anyway, I suppose it proves to him that I do have an identical twin brother. He didn’t believe me for years.”

“I must say, he did seem respectful when we met, especially when he said something about prophecies.” Joshua sat up in his chair with his eyes wide open.

“What did he say exactly about prophecy?”

“He said something about you having a twin brother and how ‘the prophecies may come true,’ I think.” Josh’s eyes widened even more.

Hopi Prophecies?”

“Yes, that’s it. Hopi. He said ‘Hopi.’” Josh raised his glass with noticeable zeal, which softened Thomas’s stubborn countenance of indifference. It had an importance that he failed to understand.

Chapter 4

The Second Coming of the Messiah


Bolting upright, Thomas woke up under a bearskin on the couch. Half-a-dozen condiment bottles around half-eaten food and half-empty bottles of beer littered the kitchen, evidence of mayhem from the previous night. Sweating already in the morning heat. Attuned to the face-paced life in Asia, he instinctively looked for the coffee machine, which he knew Josh would have in his cabin if nothing else. The coffee machine was the only clean item on the counter, which he attempted to wipe clean but stopped; too large a job and too many variables in the equation. In the mess, coffee filters were beside the machine and the coffee in the freezer so he made a pot.

As the coffee brewed he went outside into a postcard: flowing fresh water of the Brokenhead River running five feet from the front door partly nestled in a cluster of birch trees. Sound of the water instilled in him distant echoes of what he remembered nature to be: air crisp, cool, sounds of birds, a battle by the two-winged souls for the best song. On the front steps he listened, surveying the yard and pondering the hiking trails that branched off into the forest. About as far from his life in Hong Kong as it could be, surrounded by the beauty of Mother Nature, he tried to let it all in but was distracted by the unusual dream he had.

“That’s what we call a Manitoba waterfall,” said Josh, pointing to the small set of rapids in the river. He handed Thomas a cup of coffee in a mug of dubious cleanliness.

“Tranquility is the act of living in accordance with the equilibrium of nature,” he said, half in thought and staring blankly into the forest. “So this is an ugly reminder of how out of balance I am.”

“Not bad, eh? Fifty bucks a month. It’s a roof over my head and the trails go on forever. I haven’t even come close to exhausting them. I can walk all day and not see anyone.” Thomas felt drawn to lose himself beyond the trees, something he missed. It stirred something deep within him.

“You have total privacy here man. Like a utopia.” He sipped the black solution. “I think I can say I don’t have any privacy where I live in Hong Kong. Neighbours live very close by. Terrible Feng Shui. It drains you after a while.” He didn’t want to think of his life in Asia.

“Hmm. Feng Shui is very importante, non?”

“And I pay a hundred times more money per month than you for my place and am surrounded by concrete. And all the buildings are the same height. Highest density in the world Hong Kong has. Like we all live on top on each other’s heels.”

“That says something, doesn’t it?”

“And I never dream in Hong Kong.” It was something he just realized.

“I had a great dream last night.” 

“Me too.”

“I dreamt of my own death,” he said, rubbing his whiskers.

“Ah, do I want to hear this?”

“Yeah, because you were in it. It was strange because I saw everything from above. Dad and I were on this long tree branch that was suspended way above freezing water and icebergs in the North Pole. We were both lying on the branch on our stomachs watching the action below when I began to slip. When I started losing my grip, I asked Dad if he could move over. Instead of moving over, he looked at me and said: ‘I’ve always wanted to do this’ and he let go. Dad fell a hundred meters down and splashed into the Arctic Ocean! I could see his jacket flapping through the air as he fell and the splash he made when he hit the water. There were people standing on the icebergs but they just stood there waiting for him to surface. I began yelling at them to dive in and save him but they didn’t do anything. At that point I let go and plunged into the cold water. As I fell I remember seeing myself falling from the vantage point of the branch – where you were. Once I was in the water I couldn’t find Dad, but after a minute I hadn’t surfaced either. It was only then that you appeared and jumped into the freezing water to pull me out. I can remember looking at myself from above as I emerged from the water. My skin was white as paper and my hair was full of icicles, like iced dreadlocks. My head moved from side to side but I wasn’t breathing; I was freezing to death. I seemed to melt with sadness at the sight of my own face because I couldn’t believe how much I looked like you. Then I woke up cold as a Popsicle.” Strange imagery to organize in his mind, sifting through what he could take from his twin’s dream. Tried to find the meaning in it.

Intuition told him Joshua’s sadness had everything to do with the fact that it took Thomas so long to jump in to save him. Thomas shivered. He tried to get the hot coffee inside him.

“That’s not your garden variety,” he replied. Joshua went into his cabin and returned with a red and black lumberjack jacket.

“Here, put this on. I never wear it. That coat you had on last night that wouldn’t keep a fly warm – it’s like a piece of cardboard that thing it. Useless. Very little function but has a charming outer piece. Something to do with that quality issue from anything made in China.” He slipped it on; it fit like a glove.

“Smells a bit of BO,” he said without thinking. The smile on Joshua’s face disappeared. Saying that the jacket smelled like body odor was unkind. Showing any disrespect upon receiving an act of kindness was to him – to them both – a very serious no-no. Bad twin etiquette.

“Grandfather, my teacher, taught me the Four Sacred Principles, which are caring, sharing, kindness and truth.”

“Thanks man. Sorry, maybe it’s me. Right. The Four Sacred Biggies. I’ll remember that.” Silence was full of the running stream.

“So what was your dream about?”

“Very odd indeed. It was so real I wasn’t sure it was a dream at all. But what was so strange was that I didn’t do anything in the dream. It was like experiencing the creation of a painting – a series of images on a canvas. It was so clear – like seeing the stars last night. It had that same clarity.” Sipping their coffees, neither spoke for a minute, Thomas watching the transparent sheath of water passing over worn rocks like a sparkling plasma that never dies. Its icy coldness pure, magical. Life giving.

“You know what was in it? That God of Mischief I saw last night at the bar – the orange image with the flute.” Josh raised his eyebrows. “That Native Loki.”

“That’s pretty serious. Kokopelli is a big swinging dick in Hopi lore.”

“I’m positive it was the Kokopelli with the spiked hair. But there was more. It was so intensely colorful. Ah, it’s tough to explain.”

“No, no; it’s important that you recall your dream. Dreams are revelations from the Creator. I write my dreams down every morning in my dream journal. It’s a primary guide for me in my life.”

“You have a piece of paper? I bet I could sketch it out.” He darted into his trailer and returned with a piece of paper and a history book to write on. He sketched, speaking as he remembered one image after another. Shorthand dictation from his mind’s eye.

“There was this ladder that led up towards the sun. The sun was bright orange and had – of all things – an image of a swastika covering it but the swastika was backwards. Oddly it was the ladder that I stared at because it didn’t have straight steps to climb on; instead there was this swirling pattern intertwining upwards to the sun. It looked like…like a DNA thread or whatever it’s called.”

“A Double Helix. “

Nice one. Like a woven Double Helix that was moving. And the ladder reached right up to the sun but instead of going into the sun it went around the sun as if reaching behind it.”

“Behind it?” Josh spilled some coffee on his jeans.

“Enlighten my onion bun.” Good old twin language coming back into play – onion bun: one’s opinion spelt without the ‘p’.

 “Indians believe that’s where the Great Spirit lives, behind the sun. And the backwards swastika is an ancient Hopi symbol that represents the sun. And the Double Helix pattern is one of the classic manifestations of the Fibonacci sequence.” He put the pencil down and looked at him.

“Fibonacci, mmmm. Very interesting… And I swear, these spirals weren’t static; they were moving.” Thomas sketched again until he had finished what he had seen in his dream. Josh studied it for a moment.

“This is what you saw in your dream last night?” Voice tinged with doubt, as if he might be the victim of a practical joke.

“No, it’s not a joke. See these things?” he said, pointing. “They were like pillars that sort of framed the image – stone pillars with this one near the sun bigger than this one. But what made it all very cool, at least to me, was being transfixed on this star here over the ladder and Kokopelli because it was sparkling as if life was bubbling so much it percolated out.” Josh rubbed his chin as Thomas tugged at his moustache.

“You know what we should do? We should show this to Grandfather and see what he thinks.”


“Because that star symbolizes the second coming, that’s why.” A large crow swooped down, landed on a nearby branch in one of the birch trees.

“What exactly are you getting at?”

“The Second Coming of the Messiah. You know, the Pahana coming during the Seventh Phase.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you are talking about.” He never said that to his identical twin brother. “And when exactly is the Seventh Phase?”

“So easily you forget my brother. I told you a few years’ back.”

“The Messiah will come at the turn of the century?”

“Yes, according to the Hopi Indians.” He looked at his empty mug. “More coffee?” Thomas gave him his mug as he reached for the sketch again.

“Oh, and there was one more thing. How can I forget that? There was this really thin line going to where the Double Helix ladder sort of turned to go behind the sun. The line was perfectly straight and so incredibly thin that I could hardly see it – so I remember reaching out to grab it and felt an electric shock. I think that’s when I woke up. It was a spark actually, an orange spark.” Josh touched the line he had just drawn on the paper.

“Here, wait,” said Thomas, with a spark of mischief. “You have something on your forehead.” He touched Joshua’s forehead right between the eyes and they both felt an electric shock.

“What did you do?” he said, gently feeling his forehead as Thomas laughed. The right side of his beard was standing on end. When he took his hand away a red welt was directly between his eyes above the brow.

Chapter 5

The Sacred Twin Story


After discussing their dreams and drinking four cups of coffee, Josh darted to his pick-up truck and returned with his crossbow.

“Think I can hit it?” he said, pulling out an arrow and pointing it at an old wooden sign nailed to a tree by the river. He let the arrow go before Thomas could reply, scoring a direct hit. The arrow made a zinging sound as it flew through the air, which for some reason made them both laugh. He showed him how to load it, pull the arrow back and how to aim. Thomas let the arrow go at twenty yards away, the impact a dull thud that caused them to laugh again. Loading another, Thomas looked around for another target. He pointed at a displaced scarecrow perched in the neighbor’s yard.

“I hate scarecrows,” said Josh. “Bad medicine. Crows are our friends. They are not the bravest of the winged ones but they are the smartest.” Adding arc for the distance, Thomas let the arrow go, sailing through the air and striking the scarecrow in the thigh. It stuck. The muted thud of impact caused more laughter but as Thomas laughed he was looking at the red welt on his brother’s forehead. The electric spark had broken a bit of the skin.

“Crows are good medicine,” he went on, “valued as highly as the eagle, which is considered the closest thing to Creator on earth.” As Thomas loaded another arrow, Josh went into his trailer and came out with his bearskin.

“There’s a story about twins that Grandfather told me a few months ago, and there was this one part that I wanted to tell you about.”

‘Tell me.”

“One twin, who was bigger and stronger than his other twin because he had been born out of his father’s magic, he was a medicine man like Grandfather, had chosen to go live in the forest, but after some years he returned and saw his twin. They got on well together and developed a passion for bows and arrows. Then one day the twin from the forest said to his brother: ‘The Great Father Above has special gifts to give us as we reach manhood. He promised me the gifts when I was a very little boy living in the forest. Now I will climb high in this tree and see a vision, a dream. All my bones will drop out of my body and fall to the ground. The head bone will fall first of all. You will think that I am dead, but it will not be so.’

“‘So take my bones,’ says the bigger twin to his brother, ‘and put them in a pile, with the head bone on top. Cover the pile with my buffalo calf robe and then shoot the black arrow into the air. Then, just as we did as young kids when we played together and shot our arrows into the air to watch them turn and fall to earth, call out to me: ‘Look out Brother! For the arrow is coming straight towards you!’ He agreed so the bigger twin climbed the tree up into the clouds. He disappeared for a moment and then his bones fell from the tree. Just has he had said, he gathered his brother’s bones and placed the head bone on top, covered them with the buffalo robe and then shot an arrow straight up in the sky.” Josh, with an unmistakable look of prankish exuberance in his eyes, took out an arrow and fixed it in his crossbow.

“What are you doing?” Drawn towards him, not out of concern but from the mischievous glint coming from his eye, Thomas couldn’t stop himself from laughing.

“Let’s try it,” he said. Before he could say anything, Josh shot the arrow straight up in the air right above them and then laid on the grass and covered himself with the bearskin. Thomas watched the arrow go straight up in the sky in disbelief, ignoring his reflex to run to the threshold of the cabin door. Josh didn’t look at the arrow; he only looked at his twin.

“OK, tell me when the arrow is coming down by yelling: ‘Look out Brother!’” No time to argue, he squinted to the sky but couldn’t see the arrow.

“I can’t see it Josh!”

“C’mon brother!” he replied, covering himself with the bearskin. “I have faith in you.” Thomas knew that the arrow had gone a long way up and fortunately it was a blue sky, so he focused hard at the patch in the sky where it had been shot, but still couldn’t see it. He did some quick calculations that gave him a sense of when it should fall. Actually fearing for his life, Thomas waited a moment longer and then shouted:

Look out Brother!” Josh jumped out from beneath the bearskin, grabbed the plastic table beside him and raised it above his head, causing his mug to fall to the grass. Just as he did this, the arrow struck the table, the arrowhead embedding itself an inch into the plastic. As if danger was the furthest thing from his mind, and showing absolute faith in him, Josh continued his story without missing a beat.

Josh sat on the grass in a state of heightened laughter. Despite the fact that Thomas was also laughing, he was burdened by a darker, more sinister concern.

“I knew you would save me mon frere,” he said, voice an octave higher. “So sure enough, the bigger twin tells his brother: ‘Now, you must also climb up and see your vision, your dream and receive the powers The Great Father Above has reserved for you. ‘I shall do as you did for me,’ he said to his twin brother, ‘and we will meet here below afterwards.’ Just as his brother had done, he climbed the tree and reached the clouds where he had his vision. His bones fell to the ground where his twin piled his bones together with the head bone on top, and then covered him with a buffalo robe. He shot a blue arrow up in the sky-‘”

“No way Josh!” He already knew what was going to happen. Sure enough he took out another arrow and shot it straight up in the air over Thomas’s head, bypassing any discussion.

“Lie on the grass Tommy,” he said. “You can rely on me. I’ll save you from the arrow. Get under the bearskin. It’s important we go through this initiation.” His eyes faced the sky and his squint showed how hard he was trying to locate the arrow but he had the bad left eye.

“Can you see it?” He was focused on the arrow against the backdrop of blue sky.

“Trust me, man.” He stood just outside the threshold of the door protecting his eyes from the sun. Suddenly he pointed.

Look out Brother, for the arrow is coming straight towards you!” he yelled. Thomas threw off the bearskin and grabbed the table just as the arrow smashed into the middle of the table. The quivering sound of the arrow striking the plastic made Josh crack up with a serious case of scheudenfreuden laughter. Both arrows were stuck in the table side by side, a sight that caused Josh to keel over happy as a kid, but a sight that caused Thomas to wonder what was driving him to do this.

Shaking his head to get rid of his laughter, he continued the story with his best dramatic voice:

“His twin got up healthier than ever from beneath the buffalo robe. They looked at each other and the twin from the forest said: ‘What gift did you receive?’ asked the twin from the forest. ’Listen’ he replied. He opened his mouth and spoke a word that rumbled like an earthquake off the trees and rocks. ’We will call you by the name Thunder,’ said the twin from the forest. ’What powers did you receive?’ asked Thunder. ’Look,’ he said, and opened his mouth and spoke a word that lashed out like flames across the sky.

“’We will call you by the name Lightning,’ said Thunder. And from that point on the twins had their new powers and new adult names.” Josh picked up his coffee mug and squatted beside the river, content and proud.

“Do you see?” he asked. Thomas could sense there was something important inside him that he was trying to communicate, and that all he needed was a pair of sincere ears – the listening of his twin brother.

“You’re Thunder and I’m Lightning,” Thomas replied. “Is that your point?”

Josh nodded. “Everything is secondary to our gift,” said Rainbow Thunderbird, placing his crossbow on the table between the two arrows.

“You could’ve just told me the story.”

A semi-dormant guilt stirred at the thought of returning to the Far East in a week, and leaving his identical twin brother in Canada alone. So immersed in the culture. Living in a fantasy. Unhinged or part of something real? He couldn’t decide.

“Let’s go see Grandfather,” he said casually. “He’s wanted to meet you for a long time now.”

Chapter 6

The Sign of the Pahana


Knowing Joshua’s teacher was a well-known and respected the medicine man made him anxious. He was aware that this man was the elder who had given the healing ceremony in New York to those who perished after the World Trade Tower disaster in 2001. By all accounts a very important and respected man, Thomas was nervous meeting him. He was an internationally revered Native elder who had taken his twin brother under his wing, both as a student and as a writer to record his teachings in a book. He couldn’t help thinking of all the things that could go wrong.

“Don’t be nervous meeting Grandfather.”

“And how do I do that?”

Delete all negative thought.”

“Easier said than done.”

“Say no four times to rid yourself of any negative thought.” He followed this advice but didn’t feel any different afterwards.

“Do you have any tobacco to offer him when you meet?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Let’s stop then at the store up here to buy some cigarettes.” They stopped at a general store in Seven Sister’s Falls and bought a few packs of cigarettes.

“Put this in your pocket. Right after you shake his hand, that’s when you offer him tobacco. Give him the whole pack. Listen, I can see you’re uptight. Relax. He’s one of us. Just be yourself.” He tried to tell himself it wasn’t all that important but if his twin brother respected a man this much then it was important.

They walked down front yard walkway with trimmed grass and a big totem pole that stood beside the entrance.

“See that at the top?” he said, pointing to the top of it. “That’s a Thunderbird.” He knocked lightly and a thin, very old looking man with deep lines in his face appeared, opening the door slowly. Thomas was surprised at how small he was.

“Good afternoon Grandfather. I have someone I would like you to meet.” Josh smiled, enjoying the moment and exuding confidence. “This is my twin brother I have told you about, Thomas. He has just come from the Far East.” With grace, he opened the door, put out his hand and studied Thomas’s face, smiled and then laughed. Josh too began to laugh. Thomas didn’t know what was so funny but because he was so nervous, he joined in. Grandfather didn’t take his eyes off him as he laughed, studying him deeply through the wrinkled lids of his weathered face. Like leather. A life lived. Carved in dermis. Character revealed in a face for all to see. But compared to the guttural freedom of their laughter, Thomas was embarrassed at how repressed and tentative his laugh was. If laughter was the sound of the soul breathing, then he had some damp stones in his heart he needed to address.

“Your twin brother,” said Grandfather.

Solemnly, he brought his hand up to touch Thomas’s beard as if checking to see if it was real. Thomas kept his eyes on Grandfather in awe of the sea of wrinkles that crisscrossed his face, his eyes lively and alert and intelligent.

“Same” he said, shaking his head in disbelief and nodding approvingly. Grandfather deliberately opened his eyes wider to show Thomas a glint of his true self.

“Yes Grandfather. He has finally come back from the East,” said Josh.

“No, not come back. He visits his twin brother first to learn his destiny. Then he will return according to the prophecies.” There was something in the way he said this that caused both brothers to stand tongue-tied as if children again in front of their parent. He transformed himself from a frail old man to a wise sage with reverence in his voice – a reverence he had earned through years of cultivating his spirit.

Two large crows swooped down and landed not ten feet away just as the brightness of the sun poked through some clouds. Grandfather’s eyes moved to the birds as the sun reflected off his eyes, showing the joy within.

“It is an honor to meet you Grandfather,” said Thomas, and handed him the tobacco.

“It is time when you must come together to become stronger. Harness your power. Harvest the wisdom you have gained. It is time the twin from the East brings back the sacred stone to its rightful home here on Turtle Island, and usher in the Coming of the Pahana – the Healer of Mankind.” Grandfather looked at both crows just as they squawked. He gestured the tobacco toward the identical crows and then to Josh and Thomas. Sounds of birds, chipmunks, crickets, woodpeckers and every kind of wildlife was almost deafening for a moment.

“Remember: a pure heart is the only weapon for a warrior of the spirit,” he said, and then he invited them inside. They both moved with full awareness of mutual respect, and comfort that came from friends who harbored no doubt of each other’s loyalty and dedication to their bond of friendship. Full-blooded Native master and Métis student.

Above a big drum in the corner of the living room was a large painting of two crows. It was strange; the painting looked like the two crows that were just outside on the front lawn. Pointing at the crows, Grandfather stepped close to Thomas.

Rainbow Thunderbird gave that painting to me the first week he came here to Seven Sister’s Falls, many years ago.” He looked back at Josh with a paternal look in his eye. “At that time he did not know that the crow was one of my totem animals and one of my sacred medicines. At that time he did not know his Spirit Name and did not know much about Native beliefs. He had only chosen to follow his vision to come here from the West to find me – the teacher who had seen him before in a vision. When I first saw your brother, I knew that he was the one I had been expecting. Even before I learned he was a twin, I had seen his face before in a dream. It was his face I recognized. And his voice too.”

“Do you remember what you said to me when you first saw the painting?” asked Josh. Grandfather looked at the painting again, momentarily lost in recollection.

“I asked you if you had a brother,” he replied.

“And when I answered that I had an identical twin brother?”

“Yes, I know.” There was gentleness in his voice, and movement as if the grace of God was in him. “Yes, tell your brother,” he said, nodding.

“Grandfather said: ‘Taiowa has sent you.’” At this memory, they both laughed with an easiness that caused any anxiety he felt to evaporate. “’Taiowa’ means the Creator.”

Grandfather motioned for them to sit down. Instead of smoking a peace pipe, which was what Thomas expected, they all smoked cigarettes. Thinking he wasn’t saying enough, he pulled out the piece of paper with the sketch from his pocket.

“Speaking of questions,” he said, looking at Josh.

“Grandfather we have a question about a dream Thomas had last night. I thought that you might be able to decipher it.” Thomas handed the sketch to Grandfather.

“Last night Thomas had this dream, so this morning he decided to write it down, only his dream was visual – like a picture.” Grandfather’s eyes narrowed on the sketch.

“See, instead of normal steps there are these swirls like a double helix that lead up to behind the sun. Not only that, there is a straight line to the top of the ladder.” Josh pointed at the ladder and the swirls leading up to the sun.

“In the dream when I reached for the straight line I got a shock,” added Thomas.

“An orange spark?” asked Grandfather. Josh and Thomas looked at each other, eyes wider.

“Yes, it was a spark and it was a sharp orange colour. I could feel the spark; that’s when I woke up.” Grandfather kept his eyes on the sketch and pointed to the pillars.

“These two pillars were weathered stone,” he went on. “The one below the sun on the right was smaller. In the dream it was almost as if I were holding these pillars for balance. The steps in the ladder were moving in a swirling motion and the star in the sky was glittering. And I couldn’t stop staring at the star.”

“The star was sparkling?”

“Yes! It was turquoise and had a power that lured me toward the foot of the ladder where the God of Mischief is. Here.” He pointed at the sketch. The laughter that came from Grandfather was light – lighter than any laugh he had ever heard – like a mild explosion of silk. Grandfather shook his head in disbelief. There was a tear that brimmed in the eye closest to Thomas, not of sadness but from an intensity of emotion.

“I know of this dream,” he said in a low voice. “I have heard an elder speak of such a dream many years ago. He said it would return when the time was near; when it was time for the missing stone tablet to come back from the East to its rightful home here on Turtle Island.” He pointed at the sketch. “See how the ladder goes behind the sun to the House of the Great Spirit? See how the swirls cannot be measured by man’s system of numbers yet acts as a conduit to where our ancestors live? See how the straight line calls for a pure heart? See how it is announced to the sages of man by the sparkling star overhead, like the star that shone during the time of Jesus’s birth? The Hopis call this star the Blue Star Kachina.” There were beads of sweat on Grandfather’s brow. Thomas was bewildered into silence until he put the sketch back on the table and lit a smoke.

“So what does it mean? And why did I dream of it?” Grandfather folded his hands, turned his body and looked directly at him after he exhaled.

“Only the Great Knowing Spirit truly knows why you have been given this sacred story in an image. It is an ancient Indian dream, not a dream for a White Man. But you are not all white. You have the skin of a White Man but inside you think like a Red Man. You have the heart of a Métis. It is believed in the prophecies that he who comes to heal the dying spirits of mankind will not be Red, White, Yellow or Black. He will be Métis. He will look white but have a spiritual life of a Red Man. He is called the Pahana. He is also known in the prophecies as the True White Brother. He will come during the Time of Purification.”

Grandfather watched to see if the profundity of this dream was registering in his deeper mind but Thomas was having trouble centering his thoughts.

“Why was the God of Mischief in the dream?” asked Josh.

“It is said that the Pahana will be like a hippie, caring not for piety nor conventional morality as has traditionally been followed by Christians. Instead He will follow His own rules and let His heart show its true colors. They say that He will be unknowing of his destiny until later in his life. He will not be a saint; He will be a man.” Grandfather closed his eyes to invite more questions. The thought of Saint Augustine’s reckless youth crosses Thomas’s mind.

“The Pahana has an identical twin, doesn’t he?” Thomas asked, knowing that this was central to how Josh identified himself now. Grandfather nodded solemnly with his eyes closed.

“The Messenger must have an identical twin, just as Jesus and his twin brother Jude Thomas were twins two millennia ago.” How either of them knew of this Thomas had no idea, but it was indicative of how far these two men had studied the histories and prophecies of religions.

“So the Pahana will heal mankind through another means, other than preaching at churches?”

“The means of his ministry will be specific to his time in history. It is said that the message will be simple and easy for all to grasp; that it will eventually outgrow all other religions because it distills the essence of all religions down to first principles. It is said the message of Jesus was marred by Rome and that the Second Coming will be the full pure message to bring all his sheep into one fold, all the descendants of Abraham.”

’And behold,’” said Josh, mimicking a preacher: “’The things which this apostle of the Lamb shall write are many things which thou hast seen; and behold the remainder shalt thou see,’ to quote from Nephi in the Book of Mormon.” Thomas cannot process his brother quoting passages from the Book of Mormon. It was outside of his abilities in Grandfather’s house.

“All will be revealed in time,” Grandfather said, looking at Thomas.

“Where is the sacred stone tablet?” Josh asked, not letting this opportunity slip through his fingers.

“It is said that the keepers of the prophecies – the Hopis – have it in Arizona. The other sacred stone of the East is in Tibet.”

“It was just a dream,” said Thomas, comforting himself with this basic fact.

“But only in our dreams can we receive the messages from the Great Spirit,” replied Grandfather.

“Okay. If we were to look for it, how would we ever find it?”

“There’s a Native saying that goes: ‘A friend always leaves a trail.’” He stood up, and gestured to the door. “Let me take you to the oldest petroglyphs in North America. It is there in a cave where you can make up your own minds. I am only the guide.”

Grandfather brought a leather satchel with him as they all walked out to Joshua’s truck and sped off to the cave hidden deep in a provincial park on the edges of the prairies and the deep, wild forests of the Hudson’s Bay.

Chapter 7

Palongawhoya and Poqanghoya


Grandfather sat between them as they spoke about an upcoming sweat lodge and the things they needed to do for it. There were some white men coming from Toronto and New York City who wanted the real Indian experience so they planned to give them an authentic sweat lodge and some authentic teachings. Thomas was pinched against the window deep in thought. When Grandfather offered him a cigarette he saw how thin he was up close. Skin like paper, silk with an indigo hue. Lined like sandpaper from storms and winds throughout decades of prairie winds. Weathervane in the cheek. A windbreak that absorbed the gales.

It was as if he existed in the ethers surviving on tobacco rather than meat and potatoes.

“So what do they say exactly about the twins?” he asked, again thinking of the things Josh had said to him in the past.

“The Pahana will be weakened from life,” Grandfather replied, speaking as if to a kindergarten student: ignorant of the fundamental beliefs all should know. “It is said that the window to his soul will be scarred.” The brothers glanced at each other. It occurred to Thomas that they were the exact same age as Jesus when he was crucified, which didn’t comfort him in the slightest. Thinking opportunities would be few, Thomas asked him if he could give him a spirit name. Nodding slowly, Thomas sensed he already knew he would ask for one.

“I will. You will learn of your Anishinabek Spirit name in soon.”

When they arrived at Whiteshell Provincial Park, they followed Grandfather towards the sound of a waterfall. Lush green, pungent smell of pine and cedar and a hint of maple. The earth rich and the oxygen plentiful.

On the way they walked past a river that gave Thomas a strange sensation, like a de ja vu; as if he had seen this river in his dreams. Reaching the large waterfall, Thomas walked to the water’s edge, and hung his head down in disbelief because he was sure he has seen this before in his dreams as well. 

“I’ve flown over these falls in a dream before, looking down to this very place.” Grandfather and Josh looked at him curiously.

“You flew over?” Josh repeated.

“Yes. Flew over, like a gliding bird.” Josh and Grandfather looked at each other as if that was an important thing.

“That’s called astroplaning, one of the highest forms of dreaming.”

“Right here in this cave, at this place on the continent, is the very center of our land,” Grandfather said. “It is a holy site where our forefathers have protected these glyphs since the earliest times. Not many people know of them.” Grandfather went ahead, hugging the rock to get behind the waterfall where there was an opening to a cave, hidden from view by the falling water. A breeze stirred his hair and the sun reflected off the water illuminating their faces, causing Thomas to shiver. He knew he had been here too in his dreams – this wall of water protecting something within.

Without a word they went into the cave through the ankle-high water with minimal light, until Grandfather told them to stop. Josh shined his flashlight on the wall where they could see lines engraved in the rock. The first thing Thomas could make out was the distinct image of Kokopelli, with his spiked hair and flute.

“There’s the God of Mischief,” he said, getting some spring back in his stride. He liked this Kokopelli. The etched lines in the wall were made from red ochre paint. At first glance the writings on the rock looked like Viking runes, but when Thomas looked closer he saw they were slightly different. The connected lines and slashes seemed Celtic, like that ancient script archeologists called Ogam.

“And there’s the ladder leading to the sun,” said Josh. Thomas could see the swastika in the sun with the ladder curling around it. His skin was suddenly cold and clammy, and his spine tingled with electricity.

“Can you see the star?” asked Grandfather. Josh shined his light closer to the wall. His hand went up to the rock as if helping his bad eyesight, but Grandfather told him not to touch the wall.

“I don’t believe it,” he said, pointing at a simple “X” above the ladder that was parallel to the swastika. With his bad eye he misjudged how close his finger was to the wall so it touched the star and there was a snapping sound. His elbow shot backwards as he yelled out. In the darkness they all saw the orange spark. Josh knelt down to recover his breath, as Thomas’s laughter echoed through the cave. While Thomas was busy with his schadenfreuden laughter, Josh reached out and touched his brother’s forehead. This stopped his laughter because he felt the electricity and felt the electric shock. Then it was Joshua’s turn to laugh, face turning red from laughing as Thomas rubbed his forehead. Standing there it soon grew quiet in the cave, wind howling past them and through their legs, somehow making it into the cave through the doors of water protecting the entrance. It seemed to penetrate through the opening on his forehead between his eyes.

When they left the cave, they stopped for a drink of water at the waterfall where Grandfather opened his leather satchel. He took out two arrows and approached them beside the water. Looking at Thomas he said: “A blue arrow painted with juice and oil of many medicinal plants; this is for you.” He took the arrow in his hands, noticing the intricate care that had gone into creating it. “You are the left-handed twin from the East. The Hopis call you Palongawhoya.”

Then he approached Josh and handed him a black arrow, and said: “A very special arrow, blackened from the smoke of herbs burned in medicine fire.” Josh accepted the arrow. It had been carefully blackened over a fire and treated with a finish that made it glow. “You are the right-handed twin from the West. The Hopis call you Poqanghoya. These are your twin names.” They both nodded, and felt the burning scratch on their foreheads.

Then looking at Thomas, Grandfather said: “Your totem animal is the black bear and your spirit name is the Red Phoenix, Bird of the Sun, a crow dancing in a dying fire. You are the Protector and Keeper of the Fires of Creation. You symbolize fire, rebirth and learning to forgive.” Having an intuitive reaction, Thomas was surprised at how sure he was that Red Phoenix was his spirit name. “You are the son of the sun,” he said and smiled. Grandfather showed his crooked and stained teeth in the sunlight beside the water, his chest out and his strength palpable, looking like he had just performed the very thing that defined his life path. His life’s work finally done.

Chapter 8

Rainbow Thunderbird and Red Phoenix


Neither of the brothers said much after dropping off Grandfather and driving west into the orange smile of the sun. Soon the orange-gray hue hovering above the treetops lost its battle to hold off the colorless night, the sun falling over the prairie table to hibernate for the night. They agreed on more buffalo burgers at The Wounded Knee. They both needed to decompress.

Charlotte came by with pints of Hoegaarten as Thomas slouched, drained of strength.

“Tommy man! You’re a phoenix! Now I’m beginning to see.” He flicked his lighter to light a cigarette.


“That being a phoenix is hard-core. Regeneration, immortality. It’s all there, man. Full package.” He looked at the blank expression in front of him.

“Listen bro, it’s very cool and an important spirit name. Only one phoenix exists. A phoenix has no young because there is only one phoenix. From what I know, the phoenix left the West to escape people touching its red-and-orange plumage because it was so beautiful, so the phoenix lived in the East where it sings its song to the sun that rises every morning. The sun declared the phoenix a sacred bird and that it would live forever. Every 500 years it’s reborn from the ashes of a fire that had been its nest.”

“Is that right,” he said flippantly. It was all too much. Drained. And waterlogged.

“Did you know that the phoenix was depicted on the first Great Seal of the United States in 1782?”

“No, I didn’t. When-“

“Changed to the eagle in 1902,” he replied, reading his mind. “It represents immortality and some say the phoenix is a symbol of the Messiah. That’s a biggie.” Josh was quiet for a moment.

“So I’m a firebird and you’re a thunderbird,” said Thomas, realizing there was a connection only after he said it. He thought the naming ceremony would help him make the transition from being all white to being Métis: white on the outside and red on the inside. He knew for the sake of mental health, he needed to understand his true identity in the hope of being less marred by pestering internal incongruities. He was in the midst of a major paradigm shift but he didn’t know what it all meant.

“Remember when we used to live in Winnipeg and you used to stare at the sun?”

“How can I forget,” he said, amazed that he remembered. “That was when we were in junior kindergarten. I don’t know why but I still have a thing about the sun.”

“So now at forty, you toss lightning and I cough thunder.” At that moment Thomas had a tingling sensation creep up his spine.

“Did you plan all this?”

“How could I? Grandfather gives a naming ceremony based on the spirit he sees in you. I didn’t know, but it’s pretty freaky isn’t it, all this coincidence.” He removed his bandana and pushed back his long hair.

“Did he say I was a crow during the ceremony?”

“Yeah. That’s your embodiment of the mythical phoenix. And isn’t it weird that there were two crows on his front yard when we met him?”

“And the two crows in the painting you gave him?” There were too many coincidences to string together. All too much for the man from Hong Kong.

“Native medicine men take their naming ceremonies very seriously. The name describes the character of your spirit.

“What about your name? I’ve never really asked you about it. The Thunderbird is a mythical bird isn’t it, like a griffin in Celtic lore?”

“Actually, the Thunderbird is thought of as a great eagle in Anishinabek belief that claps his wings to produce thunder. It is believed that he who dreams of a thunderbird may be destined to become a medicine man.” Medicine man, yes. He could now see Josh as a medicine man. A healer. A saver of souls. A quencher of internal pains of the spirit.

“And the Rainbow?”

“It symbolizes the bridge between the mind and spirit represented by the seven colors of the rainbow.”

“So you’re telling me that your name literally means the one who bridges between mind and spirit? Or the bringer of spiritual medicine for those out of whack?

“Well I would never say that, but between you and me, yes, that’s what it means.”

“My brother the shaman.” Rarely was Josh ever embarrassed, but he was at the mention of this.

“Do you know what the seven colors in the rainbow are?”

“Well I’d say red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. That’s six.”

“You won’t get the last one. Burgundy is the seventh color and the top on the spiritual plane. Guess what each color means and I’ll buy the next round.”

“Well, red would be anger. Blue is probably tranquility or serenity or something. And purple is probably wisdom.”

Nice one. Red is courage. Orange is balance. Yellow is creativity – and also the color of the Creator. Green is spiritual growth. Blue is truth. Purple is indeed wisdom, and burgundy represents impeccability.”

“The colors of the rainbow; I didn’t know something so simple and so common had so much meaning.” It intrigued Thomas, this new side of his twin brother. All this newly acquired knowledge of Native beliefs was more interesting than he thought. Found his niche he had his brother, a niche neither of them would have ever known back in grade school. How things could change when one follows and acts on their instincts.

“I don’t think I own anything that’s orange,” said Thomas.

A tall chap walked into the bar, causing Josh to nudge him.

“Remember me telling you that I had met Louis Riel’s grandson?”

“Yes, I do.” Josh gestured toward the new arrival.

“That’s him who just walked in.”

Chapter 9

The True White Brother


All Canadian kids know who Louis Riel is because every kid studies him in elementary school. He was the Métis hero who fought for a Métis homeland back in the 1870s but was caught and put to death by the federal government as a usurper, but not before he was allowed to make a final speech – a speech that was recorded and now studied by every kid in the country. He stood for fairness and accountability and justice and an end to racism and white-dominated policies emanating from Ottawa.

He is perhaps more topical now that he was 150 years ago.

Josh told him how the history books said Riel’s son died when he was about twenty-three years old of an accident but what they didn’t know was that his son’s wife was three-month’s pregnant.

“So he’s really his great grandson man. He’s a real Riel. Actual footage, man. And he’s a cool guy, and one of the main peanuts in the package, as it were.” They both watched him order a beer, and then scan the bar. Josh raised his hand and motioned for him to join them. Thomas wasn’t in an overly social mood but his curiosity to meet lineage of a true Canadian hero proved greater than the gravity of his jetlag.

“Robert Riel. How the heck are you?” said Josh. He pronounced ‘Robert’ in the French way: ‘Ro-bear.’

Rainbow Thunderbird! Haven’t seen you since that night,” he said, laughing. They shook hands.

“That evening was nothing short of classic. I still have that girl’s phone number.” Looking at Thomas, his moustache was identical to the moustache his grandfather wore in his famous portrait, as was his dark wavy hair. Only pudgy cheeks bespoke of a man who drank a lot of beer.

“Is this your twin brother that you talked about that night?”

“Indeed it is. Just in from the Far East.” Robert Riel put out his hand.

“It’s a long flight isn’t it,” he offered in an attempt to acknowledge how worn out he looked.

“It is. Over half a day in the air is too long. No one can know how exhausting a trans-Pacific flight is unless one has done it.”

“Do you mind if I join you?”

Absolutement, mon ami.”

“What happened to your forehead?” he asked Josh. “And yours too?” They both raised their hands to feel the red welt.

“Tom Foolery,” a wave of the hand. “Thomas just had his naming ceremony. His spirit name is Red Phoenix.” Bringing his chin towards the base of his neck, he studied Thomas for a moment.

“I remember this from my mother,” he said, placing his pint on the table:

The Phoenix bird, dost thou not know him?

The Bird of Paradise, the holy swan of song!

On the car of Thespis he sat in the guise of a chattering raven,

and flapped his black wings, smeared with the lees of wine;

over the sounding harp of Iceland swept the swan’s red beak;

on Shakespeare’s shoulder he sat in the guise of Odin’s raven,

and whispered in the poet’s ear ‘Immortality’

and at the minstrel’s feast he fluttered through the halls

of the Wartburg.

“Where’s that from?” asked Josh, showing great respect.

“My mother loved the phoenix. She used to recite that to me because my grandfather liked the phoenix too. I think it’s from a Hans Christian Anderson poem.”

“I must say, I don’t know too much about the phoenix,” said Thomas, probing for any insights he could offer him.

“The only thing I know about the phoenix is that your spirit hails from Heliopolis – the ‘City of the Sun’ where the red egg is deposited on the altar of the Sun God, when you are ready to burn to death and be reborn again every 550 years.” He could tell he had a good grasp of mythology. His eyes intelligent, his hairline thick and his cheeks ruddy. He was only a little bit older but had seen life.

“Um, there’s something I’m a little vague on. If a phoenix is a mythical bird, then how can it exist?”

“The spirit of the phoenix can embody crows, eagles, ravens, herons or peacocks,” he said, speaking to the table and looking shy. “The phoenix usually has gold and red plumage.”

Plumage. I love that word,” said Josh.

“My brother said that you are the grandson of the founder of Manitoba – the homeland of the Métis people,” he said, trusting his instincts.

“Great grandson actually.”

“And a hero of Canada.” Robert again sized him up for a moment.

“I never know whether people who make statements like that are pulling my leg or not. But I dare say, knowing your brother’s enthusiasm for all things Métis, I’d say you were on the level.” His eyebrows arched upwards as if he was constantly begging for someone to listen to him.

“We’re twins Robert, and we’re Métis. Doesn’t that say it all?” He looked at Josh and then back to Thomas, still deciding if they were joking around.

“Put it this way,” said Thomas. “As twins it’s very difficult for us to lie. Seriously Robert, we’re big fans. I even have your grandfather on my computer as a screensaver at my office in Hong Kong because it reminds me of Josh.” He stroked his moustache. “Though I like him better with his moustache than the beard.” He realized that his moustache was cut in the very same style of Louis Riel. Josh too pulled at his moustache pensively.

“I’m the grandson of his first son,” he volunteered. “The one who was killed in a car accident. Historians don’t know but his wife was pregnant when he died so I never met my grandfather.”

“In a way, that sort of makes you royalty among the Métis, doesn’t it?” Robert Riel had that protective look of impending irony on his face. He didn’t reply.

“Are you in to the Métis movement? Or don’t you care about it?” Thomas, feeling a bit reckless and frustrated, wanted to determine whether he was one of these prancing tits who never stood for anything, or if he did care about his pedigree. A piece of window dressing. A piece of fluff floating through the air taken by the next crosswind.

At the sound of this question something changed in his demeanor. Straightening his posture, he looked to the bar and then leaned forward towards the brothers, pint in hand. Josh, also sensing a change, leaned forward as if participating in a cabal known to only a few of the select. Josh offered him a cigarette, and Thomas was there with his lighter.

“Yes, I care,” he replied, but there was a hell of a lot more said in his eyes; echoes of sincerity, reverberations of profound ramifications of thoughts and actions over decades hidden from mainstream view.

They raised their glasses and toasted those who looked white yet couldn’t fit into the system because they lived on Indian time and experienced life with the heart of a Red Man.

They spoke about the Métis Rebellions of 1869 and 1885 until the bar was packed. Soon patrons gravitated towards their table because of Robert Riel. Thomas knew it was just a question of time before he or Josh brought up the day’s events.

“How much do you know about the True White Brother prophecy from the Hopis?” Josh eventually asked in a low voice.

“The Pahana prophecy? I know a lot about it,” he said. “It’s one of the coolest beliefs in Native mythology. I like it because the Pahana will be Métis – like us.”

“Do you know if your grandfather knew about it?” Thomas asked.

“Actually, it was one of his most passionate areas of research. He believed that the Pahana would be the next revolutionary leader in North America. He wrote a lot about the prophecy and spent hours scouring documents to learn more about it. That’s why he spent so many years in America after the founding of Manitoba.” He paused to light a smoke, and offered Thomas one. “Historians say he was running away from the law, but the truth of the matter was that he was doing everything within his power to gather old parchments from among the Sioux and the Lakota tribes to learn about the Second Coming. In fact he himself believed that he might be the long-awaited Messiah.” Suddenly, Robert put his elbow on the table and spoke just above a whisper.

“Within the family and written in his notebooks, it’s believed he went to the asylum in Montreal to think through his research and give himself an opportunity to discuss the possibility that he was the Pahana. But the staff at the hospital had never heard of the Hopi Prophecies so naturally they thought he was crazy. But in actual fact it was quite conceivable that he was a descendent of the Israelite Tribe of Manasseh. But the thing is that he wasn’t a twin.” The brothers looked at each other.

 “Wait. Are you two identical twins?” he asked, regarding them with a keener eye.

“Yes, we’re identical twins.”

“Truth be told,” said Josh, “it’s one of the reasons why we’d like to find out more about it.”

“You mention that he kept notebooks about his Pahana research?” said Thomas. “What happened to them?” Again Robert looked behind him and moved closer to them, out of range from prying ears.

“Isn’t it providential that we should meet like this tonight?” he said, hiding his expression in the foam of his pint.

“Why’s that?”

“Because I have my great-grandfather’s notebooks at my place,” His moustache dripped with beer as he spoke. “In fact I’ve recently been going through them because we’re in the Seventh Phase, but there are things I simply cannot figure out.”

“Well Robert, I can tell you that we’re keen to have a look at his research and to share any knowledge we have about the coming of the Pahana,” said Josh. A grin crept across Robert’s face. Energies coming alive, eyes wider that the sockets are designed, intensity of meaning clear.

“Why don’t we think about heading back to my place after we finish up here, to discuss the coming of our fellow painted horse?

“Painted horse?” Thomas was no longer willing to let anything pass him by.

“The painted horse is what the Indians called the mustang because it was a mixed breed. It also happened to be one of the best horses in the world. So for me the Métis are painted horses.”

“And the meaning of mustang, I believe, is untamed.” The wind howled outside but could not compete with their laughter. The three of them clung together thick like thieves in the night, onto a scent that they would never give up.

Chapter 10

The Lost Louis Riel Notebooks


A dog with the coloring of a painted horse barked when they entered Robert Riel’s three-story Victorian house in the Manitoba countryside, but it was quickly silenced with one firm word from Robert. Behind the tamed dog a woman stood in a long flowing robe, her hair long and golden, and her cheekbones carved out of marble. No makeup, only deep beauty. Dressed in her robe, ready for bed. Casual and confident. Has seen her husband bring back stragglers before.

“Honey,” said Robert with a slight slur. “Meet our Métis brethren: the Robertson twins. Joshua and Thomas.” Despite his drunkenness, Thomas became all thumbs in the face of her beauty.

“Guys, this is my wife Chlöe.”

“Aren’t you a sight for this dusty prairie acreage,” said Josh, smooth as maple syrup.

“A pleasure to meet you,” Thomas stumbled in a weak voice. He should have been more embarrassed but the booze had shut down his faculty of embarrassment. But Josh, being his identical twin, shook his head to help cover up his awkwardness.

“Don’t worry. He turns to mush when in the presence of striking beauty.” He put his hand on Thomas’s shoulder. “He’ll be okay.” It was true though; profound beauty always stunned him. He was apt to give those with symmetrical beauty the full halo effect.

Striking beauty, yes,” said Robert, taking it all in. “Interesting to see identical twins work together like that.” He gave Chlöe a kiss in the hallway.

“It’s nice to see some new faces. Come in. It’s chilly tonight,” she said, voice sultry in her semi nakedness. “Would you like something to eat? Or is it drink all you’re after?” It was dark in the corridor but Thomas saw her wink.

“We’re going to retire into the library, honey,” said the dutiful husband. “Maybe we’ll grab some of those oatmeal cookies later.”

The nighthawk owns the shadows, as they say,” she replied.

“You see, we’re researching the Pahana prophecy tonight. These Métis identical twins are keen on it too.” That changed her; the sleepiness left her face and she gave them an approving look, as if they were part of a secret brotherhood – only for those who went deep into prophecy studies.  

“I’ll turn up the heat, and then I’m going to make something to eat. You need food to sustain you if you’re going to be burrowed in that mammoth library. If not, Robert will have it tomorrow. Right sweetheart?” Surely cheekbones like that came from distant Anishinabek ancestry. The hidden clue for those who knew what to look for.

“Honey, what would I do without you?” Giving her another peck, he led them to the library. With its eerie 13-foot colonial ceilings and spacious corridors with powder rooms and garbage shoots and stairwells leading to rooms unknown, the carpet was worn thin but the home had a lived-in feel that was comforting to the weariness in his bones. He passed a portrait of Louis Riel in the hallway, an image neither of them had ever seen before. Young. Perhaps the age of the twins. Before the beard.

The library was covered with a forest of books and papers and bound notebooks and clusters of lamps and pencils and paperclips. The crown moulding outlined the high ceilings that made it seem like there was enough space to think in this room.

“I was expecting a small room with a few books, not a real library with ladders,” said Thomas in sheer gratitude for the treasure that was before them. It was clear Robert Riel was as serious as anyone about his heritage and about researching North American prophecies. Papers stacked, books organized, pencils and pens and journals splayed around the large desktop.

Nice one,” said Josh, really biting into it. Like a true Métis, Robert was pleased with comments showing respect. 

“The room is a bit drafty at night so I’m stepping to the kitchen to get some brandy. It helps keep the hearth warm.” Before he left, he placed a pile of bound journals on a big table in the middle of the room. “This will get you started. They have marked passages all concerning the Second Coming of the Messiah.” He strolled out of the library, leaving them speechless. There was nothing to say so they flipped through the handwritten journals of Canada’s hero. Primary sources of Louis Riel.

Robert returned with a tray of three brandy glasses and an unopened bottle.

“This is where I spend most of my time when I’m not out carousing, so let me welcome you to my little sanctuary. There’s no fireplace but trust me: it will warm up nicely.” He poured large glassfuls of brandy.

“I’ll assume you have a basic understanding of the story of the Pahana,” he said. Thomas didn’t so he looked to Josh to reply. Unsaid twin communication.

“It’s basically a story of one of the Pahana twins finding a sacred tablet in the East, returning it here to Turtle Island and saving mankind,” said Josh, to establish a base.

“Yes,” he replied, glass in hand and wind in his sails. “But let me read this summary to you. I wrote it after months of combing through my grandfather’s notes and needed to clarify exactly what it was that I knew.” They put down the notebooks and lifted their glasses with zealous curiosity. Robert read from some papers:

“It is said in the Hopi ancient records – kept by the tribe assigned to keep the prophecies of the Red Man – that a messenger will arrive with the sacred stone from the East bringing with him words that will heal the broken spirits of mankind.

It is said that The Book of Life will be the medicine for what ills Mother Earth during Koyaanisqatsi – when the world is out of balance during the Seventh Stage of Man.

It is said that this divine wisdom would come at the beginning of time before the Tower of Babel.

It is said that tribal leaders throughout Turtle Island were charged with knowing the Hopi Prophecies and understanding these ancient instructions.

It is said that he who finds the Taponi Tablets will unite the four races of mankind.

It is said that the Pahana will be of pure heart and will be given the ability to decipher the Taponi Tablets in its full meaning. 

It is said that the coming of the Pahana will set the four forces of Mesa (nature) in motion for the benefit of the sun.

It is said that the Great Purification will be a time of the rising of the Phoenix when the old world clears away the old clutter to allow for new growth to restore the natural cycles of the planet.

It is said that the Pahana will awaken the consciousness of all good-hearted people who will then collectively raise the sum of positive sentience affecting all peoples around the world.

It is said that the stone tablets are the symbol of power and authority over all land and life to protect, guard and hold in trust until the Creator returns for them.

It is said the Day of Purification will come when the Blue Star Kachina makes its appearance in the heavens.

It is said that when the elder twin brother returns with the sacred stone and places it beside the other stone, that justice will descend on all those with a true spirit and will be awakened.”

Robert Riel stopped reading, cleared his throat, promptly followed by a sip of brandy. Thomas’s head spun with new pieces to the puzzle, trying to process and digest it all.

“Pure heart,” said Josh. “I’ve thought about that and have come to the conclusion that only those without guile have a good heart.

“What about the brothers? Do you have anything about the brothers, like what they looked like or anything?”

“Let me see here… Ah, here. Okay.” He gave them a nod before speaking.

It is said that the two brothers are the sons of the Creator who are consigned by Fate to fulfill this final task of reuniting the ancient Taponi Tablets.

It is said that after the elder brother has journeyed to the East, he is to return upon hearing the call from his younger brother.

It is said that the elder brother will have light skin and dark hair and dress in red, and that he will be given the skills to decipher the tablets of its true meaning.

It is said that he who dreams of the sacred story will be shown the way to the buried sacred tablet that contains the healing words of the Creator. 

It is said that the elder brother will transform into the Pahana when he returns with the sacred stone to Turtle Island, and will bring with him a new life plan that will lead to everlasting life.”

He could feel Josh looking at him. He who dreams of the sacred story will be shown the way to the buried sacred tablet. When he recalled Grandfather’s words describing the sketch as the sacred story, Thomas felt a fire burning on his forehead where the skin had been cut. But even more than this, it was the elder brother returning with the tablet from the East who will transform into the Pahana. That couldn’t be right. He was older than Josh by five minutes. He could sense Joshua’s exasperation when he glanced at him with a solemn look. Robert Riel noticed.

“Sacred story?” Josh said. “What do you know about that?”

“I have looked for something about the sacred story but haven’t seen a thing that refers to it explicitly. Why? What is it?”

Thomas took the sketch out of his pocket and unfolded it on the table in front of him.

“This morning Tommy told me of a dream he had last night and he sketched out on paper. It has Kokopelli and a ladder going behind the sun so we brought it to Grandfather who told us a lot more.” Studying the sketch, Robert Riel’s eyes widened.

“Is this it?”

“He said that he had seen this sketch before and referred to it as ‘the sacred story.’” Face red as if fire was engulfing him, all the heat focused in the welt on his forehead.

“The ladder goes to the House of God behind the sun,” said the grandson of Louis Riel. “And this star overhead could be the Blue Star Kachina that is prophesized.”

“And the steps on the conduit ladder to heaven are swirls moving upwards to the sun in what looks like a Fibonacci Sequence,” added Josh, pointing at the ladder reaching behind the sun.

“That’s where the empyrean is.”

Empy what?

“Empyrean is the ‘heaven of heavens’ where our ancestor spirits live.”

“What sticks with me most from the dream was reaching out to the long straight line and getting a shock. I actually saw a spark. I actually felt the electricity. It was what jolted me awake.” Thomas rubbed the welt on his forehead and grinned at his brother.

“Any idea what that could mean?” Robert Riel pulled at his moustache and poured himself another brandy.

“This may sound crazy, but I’m thinking that it symbolizes the way to the tablet in the East,” said Josh.


“I think Tommy’s dream was the telling of this sacred story. The sketch is a story. And if you were to follow that line straight all the way, where would you end up?” Joshua’s finger followed the line coming down from the sun. “You would go through the earth to the other side of the world to somewhere in the Far East like China.” Thomas was busy nibbling his bottom lip.

“Yes! That’s what I’m thinking, except not China but Tibet.” Both the brothers looked at him with eyes wide open.

Tibet!” they said in unison.

“Sure. Tibet has a long and interesting history with many connections to the Red Man of Turtle Island.”

“Isn’t it the home of the Yellow Race?”

“It is,” he replied, nodding at Josh. “Did you know that the Hopi word for love is the Tibetan word for hate? And that the Hopi word for hate is the Tibetan word for love? Or that the Tibetan word for sun is the Hopi word for moon, and the Hopi word for sun is the Tibetan word for moon?

“How-.“ Josh didn’t bother asking the question because he knew this man had studied.

“It is written that each of the four races of man originally had a sacred stone tablet. The Black Race had their tablet in Kilimanjaro kept by the Kikuyu Tribe but it was lost. The tablet held by the White Race was kept in Switzerland but it was destroyed in the wars of Europe. Only the tablet kept by the Yellow Race exists besides the one held by the Red Men in the Hopi compound where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming meet.” He broke off for a moment trying to focus his recollection. “My grandfather believed that the tablet was in a monastery somewhere in Tibet guarded by monks.” He walked over to a round globe on the table and located Tibet.

“See? It’s way up in the Himalayas, isolated from the wars of man and likely buried in an old monastery built like a castle.”

“But the Dalai Lama left Tibet when the Chinese invaded in 1950s,” said Thomas.

“Yes. The Dalai Lama would likely be aware of the prophecy but he doesn’t even live in Tibet anymore. He lives in northern India, in Hardivar I believe.”

“So, the Chinese have it?” asked Josh, topping up each glass to keep them warm against the winds of the prairies howling at the leaded windowpanes. Screams of terror whispering of past hardships and pain from the hand of Mother Nature.

“Wait, I seem to recall something in one of old Louis’s notebooks about possible connections between Tibet and other areas where there is believed to be remnants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.” He searched from a row of about fifty yellowed notebooks on bookshelves that lined the wall.

“Ah! Here!” He opened to a page marked with a bookmark. “He has a map in here with some of his thoughts on the location of the tablet in Tibet. If I’m right, I seem to recall something about northern Burma.” He rubbed his moustache with vigor.

Burma?” Josh grunted in a skeptical tone of voice. Robert Riel placed the open notebook on the table, and pointed to the map where Louis had circled a monastery and written the name of a tribe named Manashe.

“It says here that the Burmese tribe of Manashe is from the tribe of Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.”

“Manasseh, the son of Jacob’s favourite son Joseph,” replied Josh.

“These mountain people call themselves Lusi, which means the Ten Tribe. Lu means tribe, and Si means ten.” Thomas could see a red line pointing overland to an area wedged between northern India and southwestern China in the mountains of northern Burma.

“Oh yeah, I remember now,” said Robert Riel. “This is eerie. The Hopi Indians have something they call a Kachin Doll, similar to the Blue Star Kachina. So my grandfather looked up the words:

Kachin of Tibeto-Burmese origin; the lingua franca of Burma; the language of the Chingpaw people; and the language of the Tibetans.

Kachina a deified ancestral spirit believed among Hopis, [from Hopi qacina supernatural].

What he found was that there is a Kachin State in northern Burma and Kachin peoples. He thought they may be part of this Manashe tribe and connected in some way to the Hopi Indians.

“A connection to northern Burma?” said Josh.

“It’s reaching a bit don’t you think?” But despite its obvious unlikeliness, something about northern Burma tweaked Thomas’s curiosity. There were too many connections to simply discount.

“It’s not that far–fetched when you think about it,” said Robert Riel as a rebuttal. “There are two theories about the origin of Native American Indians. Either they came in boats from Jerusalem after the Diaspora in 683BC as part of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, as the Mormons believe, and are descendants of the Lammanites and Nephites. Or they came from Asia via the Bering land bridge. But to me the Red Man doesn’t look at all Chinese – their noses are too long and aquiline and they’re simply so much bigger.”

“The Bering Strait Theory has fallen into disrepute after finding Kennewick Man in Washington State. It’s pretty much been debunked.” Josh had read a great deal about the origins of the Red Man.

“So they could be from a root of the remnants from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel that landed in the area of northern Burma and northern India. Who knows? Records have been lost and peoples displaced, but maybe Kachins still have a resemblance to Indians here?” Thomas still busy biting his bottom lip.

Manashe. That’s really quite a coincidence,” said Thomas. “It even sounds like Manasseh. And it happens to be the one tribe of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel most associated with the settlement of the United States. The emblem on their shields according to the Bible was a cluster of olive branches.” All three of them were now shaking their heads in disbelief. It was Robert Riel who offers a toast.

“Just like the olive branches in the talons of the American eagle,” said Robert Riel. They looked at each other in awe of what they had uncovered from Louis Riel’s notebooks. Gobsmacked. Inspired. Overwhelmed by trepidation.

“To the most sacred mission of the Métis: bringing the sacred Taponi Tablet back from the East to heal the hearts of man that have been led astray,” said Josh, raising his glass with a mischievous grin. “And to fulfill the prophecy of the Second Coming of the Messiah.” Thomas and Robert Riel raised their glasses, feeling a new bond develop, not just between him and Josh but also with the great-grandson of the man who was the first leader in the history of the Red-and-White Man who dominated the land in the heartland of Canada.

Part Two

Chapter Eleven

A Mixture of Revulsion and Pity

July 1999, Hong Kong


It was a great visit so saying goodbye at the airport was difficult. Thomas was sad to leave. It was there at the Winnipeg airport that Josh gave him a journal, making him promise to write down his dreams. When a twin made a promise to their twin, it was airtight, so he gave Josh his word he would write down all his dreams in that little book. Josh also gave him a winged sun disk to put around his neck “as protection from the negative.” It had an orange sun and there was a phoenix behind it. Thomas thought it was cool so he tried to put it on right there in the airport foyer, but Josh insisted that it be smudged first with sage so they stepped outside and Josh lit the dried sage on fire and let it smoke from the abalone shell he had with him for this purpose. Security guards who watched them must have known what smudging was and had seen it before because they only watched them perform the smudging rites.

They were in Métis territory after all.

Back in Hong Kong, he returned to business as usual and made an effort to re-engage in his quotidian life, but he found it all different. He tried to fit into his old Hong Kong mold, but the shape of him had changed, like a wooden tennis racquet left out in the rain, irrevocably warped that affected his groundstrokes no matter how much he improved his footwork. He was simply hitting the ball differently. He tried his best to ignore it, and to forget about the Pahana and the Hopi Prophecies and what he had been exposed to because there was no room for the Red Man’s heart in the fast-paced urbanity of Hong Kong – a place that never slept with an energy that could take a man to extremes. He wanted to love his Hong Kong life again but found it very difficult to after his recent trip to see his brother in Canada. Nothing seemed to click for him in Hong Kong. It simply didn’t work anymore.

Then things began to really change after a very unpleasant dental experience at the hands of a mad Philippina.

When Thomas went to his yearly appointment there was a new dental assistant, who was nervous and tentative. This young Philippina woman took her dental hygiene very seriously. After looking into his mouth and poking around, she said: “You should always remember to brush your tongue.” With the dentist in the other room, she took the teeth-cleaning rotating device and rolled it on the surface of his tongue, the sharp head mowing down his taste buds like long grass on a putting green. He curled his tongue in defense but she held her ground, cutting down the ‘moss’ on his tongue. It was true he was a bit hungover but did it warrant an overzealous dental assistant to cut down his taste buds and destroy his sense of taste forever?

But the worst moment happened when the dental assistant fitted an upper and lower mold for his teeth. The gooey glue-like ooze molded to the contours of his teeth snuggly but she left it on too long so that when she tried to remove it, it wouldn’t budge from his teeth. She adjusted her grip to pull at a better angle but this only served to pass more time, causing the sticky goo to stick to his teeth even more. He sat helpless, hearing the dentist speaking to another patient in another room as his assistant pretended to act cool. Thomas began to feel short of breath from a sudden burst of claustrophobia. When she used both hands with as much force as she could muster, Thomas was convinced a tooth was going to be pulled out with the mold, fully aware of the two teeth that had had root canals in the past that were fragile at best. He was about to grunt to get the attention of the dentist in the next room when she employed a slanted yanking technique. By pulling at an angle, she dug the metal molding plate into the top of his gums just above the teeth causing his gums to bleed. Then she gave a serious yank that strained the very root of all his teeth. The apparatus did come off but not without loosening the foundation of his molars both on the top and the bottom. Thomas was pretty stoic about it at the time, but the longer he tongued the rows of his teeth the more he knew she had loosened almost all his teeth. And the more he thought about it, the more he questioned being overseas and subject to this type of unprofessional treatment. It made him restless, so he pined for a break from work.

It gave him cause to think life overseas wasn’t as rosy and romantic as he may have thought in the past. Every time he ran his tongue over his teeth and gums, it was a reminder of the Philippina shaving off his taste buds and loosening his teeth. When he realized he couldn’t taste food as sharply as he had before, all of it angered him. And it was this anger that grew stronger over time. The changes were small at first: a cancellation of a haircut, the wearing of denims to work and then not wearing a tie. He started to spend his time reading about Red Indians instead of researching and writing the textbook he was working on. In this way he discovered there was something inside him curious about the story of the Pahana. He became restless to find out more, and was bugged by the lack of information he could find in this old colonial outpost. The passing of time soon bothered him because he feared he was letting an opportunity pass – an opportunity possibly leading to his destiny. He began to worry that he was overlooking a sign from God that would in time prove fatal to the flourishment of his spirit. Something inside his head was screaming; he could sense its muted shrill.

And it was this caused him to see things a bit differently.

A few weeks after the nightmare at the dentist’s office, he bumped into John Chaffey on the way home after work. From Mother England, Our Man Chaffey as Thomas called him, had to be one of the most abnormal normal people he had ever met. He tried so hard to be normal in such an unorthodox manner that he came across as eccentric. The irony was the fact he was profoundly normal. He clung to the norms of convention with such desperation that he was manic.

And a maniac – a maniac for all things normal.

He met him on the ferry going to Lamma Island, where Thomas lived. The ferries to Lamma Island were old remnants of the British colonial era so they were noisy affairs. Most expatriates bought a beer or two for the 40-minute ride to the island, so they were out on the deck where they spoke with the sound of the engine grinding on their eardrums. Since Lamma Island was southeast of Hong Kong Island, they enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the mountains of Lantau Island to the west.

Our Man Chaffey, how’re ya do’in’ these days?”


“What’s new?”

“Not much.”

“How’s work?” That was the question he wanted to hear because he went on about his work for twenty minutes. It was his false enthusiasm that caused Thomas to be mute. The grown-up boy in front of him epitomized a generation that championed benign passivity and ennui. Soft, flabby and weak in mind but strong in following rules, close-mindedness and neophobia, he was a perfected cynic and know-it-all that hated being alone, embraced stereotypes and lived in constant fear of anything unplanned. Having no discernable opinions of his own except the regurgitated thoughts of others, he feared truths that fell outside his own web of belief, thinking there was only one interpretation for any given thing. Often his profound lack of courage was mistaken for shyness, but this man-boy who tolerated his elders out of duty rather than with sincere interest, had sharpened the control apparatus in his mind to repress all urges stemming from curiosity. But most of all he thrived on speaking badly about others who didn’t fit into his linear belief system, which made thinkers like Thomas hesitant to speak to him.

As his mind raced with this mixture of revulsion and pity, he wondered if his increased intolerance of people like Chaffey all came from his recent prairie experience and his anger at his loss of taste buds from an unhinged and unsupervised dental assistant left to her own devices.

When they arrived at the Lamma pier Chaffey invited him to the all-night full-moon party at Power Station beach. Every month there was one but instead he went to the Spicy Indian Restaurant where there was a small bar at the back, a place where old chaps hung out away from the mayhem of jukeboxes and birthday parties and lazy hippie cafés Lamma Island was known for. Lamma Island was regarded as the hippie island where expats rolled joints on the tables that lined the outside patios of the endless cafés where there were no vehicles – only foot traffic. It was an expat enclave that fit Thomas perfectly.

“Mr. Robertson sir, Hoegaarten will it be then?” asked Manoj. Indian owner who was more British than the British. Made him feel he was home. One can meet people from all corners of the globe as long as one knows where to find the bars that have been serving adventurous servicemen since the Second Opium War. The “Spicy” was one of these bars. And case in point was Mr. James Viceroy, a crusty old bugger with pedigree who was always looking for respect. Viceroy was the breath of fresh air he needed for his jarred spirit. He settled in beside Viceroy, sighed and tried not to tongue his wrecked teeth.

Chapter 12

A Classroom of Scallywags


Viceroy was on the bar stool a few feet away, his stomach hanging over his belt. His likeness to Hemingway in his older years was remarkable, complete with snow white moustache and hair crisply hacked back off his forehead. Thomas raised his pint towards him as a friendly gesture one makes when about to imbibe with his first pint after a long day at the office. The old chap raised his pint an inch but didn’t drink. He vanquished the first swig in a slow, jolly lap up and followed it with a satisfied sigh of joy. For a moment he was unable to taste the fruits and herbs in the beer.

Thomas had never known Viceroy well enough to ask anything about his life, like where he was from and whatnot, but with this Métis bug buzzing around his head, courage was perhaps a bit more plentiful. So when Viceroy made a comment about being from Nebraska, everything Indian ruminating inside him burst out.

“Sioux and Lakota country up there,” he said, trying not to show too much interest.

“Where so many of the Indian Wars took place, like the Battle of Wounded Knee.” He took his time attacking his pint. “You know much about Indian history?”

“I suppose I know some, more than the average but less than I should. I’m actually trying to find some time to read up on it.” Viceroy shook his head as if he was trying to get something out of his ear.

“Naw. I reckon most of the stuff written about the Indians is biased anyhow. Best to use the school of conversation as your source of information. But then you would need to find someone who has put in their time.” It sounded like a veiled invitation for him to ask more, so he pondered it for a moment. He was a gruff type, perhaps in his seventies, who had done his fair share of living and who refused to think he was over the hill. His barrel chest and arms still had white muscle on the bone, and he carried his cynical sneer with understated poise. A man who had done things in his life. His sense of accomplishment written in the lines on his cheeks.

“Are you one of those people who know about the Indians then?” Thomas took the bait. Viceroy looked over his shoulder at the guy sitting alone at a nearby table to see if he was listening.

“You could say that. Probably even have some injun blood in me, little bit anyway. You can call it a childhood interest that grew.” Thomas hid his amazement at the fact he was Métis. Here, hidden at a bar on Lamma Island in Hong Kong, in the South China Sea. Unknown and unheralded and unsung – the Métis way.

“What brings you over here to Hong Kong?”

“Oh, ‘been over here for a dog’s age – ever since the Commies took over Tibet.” This brought Thomas back to the brandy-fest at Louis Riel’s great-grandson’s library. Seemed a long time ago but wasn’t.

“Tibet? When was that? About 1950 or so?” Aware that superficial small talk repelled the true man of knowledge, Thomas tried to get him to talk substance.

“Invasion was in ‘50. The Chinese had fortified their grip on power by ’59. Didn’t mess around with Tibet. They knew it was a damn fine score. Those Reds knew what they’re doing – still do. Don’t let anyone tell you different.” He could always tell a miserable old cuss who thumbed their nose at Political Correctness by their choice of words and what they left out, but he also knew that the Métis can be as abrasive as anyone with their keen eye for disrespect and a natural reflex to throw disrespect back at those being disrespectful. He had a point: it was quite easy not to like the Chinese with their state-sponsored nationalism and their resentment still boiling over after their 150 years of colonial humiliation. They wanted respect but didn’t show any for others, so he didn’t have an argument with Viceroy, which he must have picked up on.

“Have you been to Tibet?” The look on Viceroy’s face suddenly became serious.

“Why do you ask? If you don’t mind me asking.” Thomas’s guess was military, and if so, he wanted to talk about it but only with someone he trusted.

“No specific reason though it’s an interest of mine. To find out what happened there. I mean why the hell did everyone sit back and let the PLA take over the country? Just sick of war?” He left it hanging and looked around as if he wasn’t really interested one way or another. Viceroy pulled out a cigarette.

“Water,” he said. “Don’t let anyone tell you different. Chinese will tell you they ruled eastern Tibet for centuries and so it was getting back what they had lost. Tibetans will say it was a cold-blooded power grab by the army that fights with love.” He let himself chuckle at the slogan of the People’s Liberation Army. “But from what I know, China needs water. One of the first things they did was build pipelines from the mountains east to their cities in the interior.” It fit with the Chinese obsession for other raw materials like oil and natural gas to supply their burgeoning population. More than a billion and counting.

“Simple enough,” said Thomas, reaching for his lighter. “Actually, to be honest, my interest in Tibet has to do with an ancient Indian prophecy. Have you heard of the Hopi Indians?” Thomas slid his lighter to Viceroy’s elbow, stopping just before the metal hit the bone. He lit his smoke, leaving the lighter on the counter.

“Yes. Yes. The Hopis in Arizona. I’m aware of them. Why?”

“Have you ever heard of the belief that Indians expect a Second Coming of the Messiah?” Viceroy perked up and motioned towards the bartender.

“Manoj. Beer’s low here. Another if you may. How’s yours?” he said, shaking his double chin with pride. “My round.” He nodded.

“Coming my good man.”

“There are religions around the world that have their own versions of a savior coming from heaven,” said Viceroy. “Native Indians are no different.”

“They are expecting the Messiah soon – very soon, aren’t they?”

“So are the Christians.” He was the type who wanted one to work for the knowledge he had in his head gathering dust.

“Do you know the story about the prophecy? The coming Messiah is believed to be Métis Indian.”

Métis? Half-breed you mean.” He pronounced it: may-TEE. The syllable was right but the tone of distaste gave him away.

“Well, that’s what it means in the original French,” said Thomas. “But more specifically it means anyone with a drop of Native American blood in their veins within six generations. All it takes is one drop and it becomes dominant in the spirit – what is called a ‘red spirit.’ Makes him different from the white man.” Viceroy glanced at him – telling he not to get too flakey. “More specifically, the True White Brother will be white on the exterior but a Red Man in his heart.” He looked at Thomas for a moment pulling at his moustache, his eyes showed interest. Then the pints arrived.

“Why are you saying all this? What’s your bloody point?” Unabashedly showing his crankiness, he didn’t want some young-ass wasting his time. Even for the man with the white moustache, time was something that people were always trying to steal from you if you weren’t on guard. Time stealers full of bullshit. Hot air. Fluff. The world was rampant with these time stealers.

“I’m interested in the story of the Messiah because they say that one of the ancient stone tablets was brought over to the East and must be returned to North America to fulfill the Messianic prophecy. And from what I’ve read, it could be hidden in Tibet.” His eyes didn’t waver, happy to see some backbone.

“That’s better. Now you’re saying something instead of pissing about.” He drained a third of his pint in one gulp. “Let me tell you this, if that stone tablet was in Tibet, it’s not there anymore. The Chinese either have it, or the Tibetan monks were smart enough to remove it to India or Burma.” He didn’t care about the foam caught in his white moustache. Aware it was there but ignored it.


“Burma saw a lot of action in the war.” He rolled up his sleeves, revealing a tattoo on his forearm. “The Americans and British thought it was important enough to build the Burmese Road from China to Burma, and then the Ledo Road from Burma to India to get supplies from British India to the Nationalist army in China to fight the Japanese. You know about that?” Thomas nodded lazily and took a sip of his pint to avoid talking about an aspect of history he didn’t know much about.

“Damn beautiful country Burma is. It’s also a strategic buffer against to the two most populous countries in the world. If I were interested in containing the growth of India and China, Burma would be somewhere of interest to me.”

“But we’re not talking about that,” said Thomas, not letting Viceroy throw any generalizations his way. “We’re talking about where the stone tablet went if it’s not in Tibet.”

“Follow the Burmese Road and where does it take you?” He took out his Day-Timer that contained a small world map. “There’s a working train system that runs right up to where there are hill tribes in Upper Burma. As far as I know, it’s still operating. Here-” he said, grabbing the map. He pointed halfway between India and China. “I reckon the British or the Americans knew about a possible evacuation of religious relics before the Chinese invaded, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they looked out for an ancient stone tablet if it was said to affect the destiny of their Promised Land.”

“I hear you. Burma might have been the place the stone would go. Did you ever come across ‘Kachin Dolls’ in the Hopi Prophecies?” Reaching.

“Aren’t they those dolls that are supposed to be Gods for Hopi children?” Thomas nodded with mild vigor as he wiped the foam from his moustache, quite surprised Viceroy was aware of Kachin Dolls.

“There happens to be a Kachin State in northern Burma. The word Kachin is Tibeto-Burmese origin. There’s some sort of connection between the Kachin people in Upper Burma and the Hopi Indians. I just don’t know what it is.” Viceroy stood up, reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. The way he did it sent fear through his solar plexus.

“If you want to find out about that, speak with this man.” He handed Thomas a card, who looked at it closely to give respect.

“You mind if I copy down the number?” With a nod, he scratched down the telephone number and returned the card.

“Call him now,” he suggested, negotiating another horrendous assault on his pint. “He’s probably out at the pub, the dirty bugger.” Without a word, Thomas pulled out his mobile phone and called. After a few rings a voice answered.

“Hello, I’m looking for Stefan,” he said, getting the name from the business card and having no idea what to expect.

“You got ‘em. Who’s this?”

“You don’t know me but we have a mutual acquaintance. I’m sitting at a bar on Lamma Island with a chap by the name of Viceroy.” The man from Nebraska was busy smoking his cigarette and putting the finishing touches on his pint.

“Viceroy? Is the scallywag there now?” he said.

“Scallywag, yeah. We’re sucking down a few pints.” There was no sound from the other end. “The reason I’m calling is that I’m trying to find some information about northern Burma and religious relics that may have been transported there from Tibet after the Chinese invasion. Would you know anything about that?”

“I may.” Many voices in the background. Sounded like the man named Stefan was at a pub.

“My questions are quite specific,” he said, hoping for something more from the other end.

“Listen, I’m in Long Kwai Fung. You want to come over here? I’ve been barred from the Spicy – the bastards.” Thomas looked at Manoj and felt the great axis of time churning in his gut. The opportunity cost of declining this chance to find out about Burma was too great. Too much potential information lost if he didn’t seize this opportunity.

“Sure. I’ll take the boat to the island and then hop on my motorcycle. What bar?”

“I’m at Stormy Weathers outside. Know it?”

“I’ll be there in about an hour.” The dour look on Viceroy’s face returned when he quaffed the last of his pint. Thomas threw down a few notes for the next round for Viceroy, who had concluded the punishment of his ale in record time.

“The Swede is a good chap y’know, of the right kidney. But he’s a miserable old cuss that one,” he said. Thomas swore he saw a grin creep in at the corners of his mouth.

“Like you, eh?” He took the jibe in stride but Viceroy was still his senior by thirty years. “Think he used the word scallywag.” There again was a creeping smile emerging on his gob; a sight that caused him to feel immense satisfaction. He nodded at Viceroy and left for the ferry with his motorcycle helmet in his hand and a three-pint buzz.

Chapter 13

Illegitimati non Carborundum


Thomas was aware that he spent a lot of time in pubs, but despite the cost of pubbing and the roughnecks he met, it was the best source of education for a young man with a philosophical bent and a hunger for adventure. Insipid couch potatoes who lived vicariously through staged entertainment did not frequent pubs. Men of accomplishment and proven mettle visited the local taverns to brag about their exploits. Frequenting the classroom of scallywags was an education that a man could never forget because it was a school where the lessons learned were lifelong. Its tuition: a few pints of beer. But more than that, it was the one place where a young man could learn what it was to be a man in a world hell-bent on turning its back on long-held values that some still respected, and a place where you could combat against arrested development and self-perpetuating ignorance from being holed up in a tiny apartment drooling on a bib and watching television.

Thomas hopped on his Honda CB-1 400cc motorcycle at the pier on Hong Kong Island and rode to Long Kwai Fong where he parked in a small cul de sac only accessible to motorcycles and pedestrians. After the few pints with Viceroy, he didn’t care whether people walked into him. Holding his posture straight and walking tall through the thick crowd, people moved out of the way for him as he made his way to Stormy Weathers. Nearing the bar, he heard someone say “Motorcycle man. Yo!” Stefan picked him out of the crowd from his motorcycle jacket. Raising his hand in recognition, Thomas pointed to the bar. Stefan deftly lifted his half-empty pint so he threw him a nod. Always good form to take the first round, especially when his acquaintance was giving and asking for nothing back.

With a couple of pints Thomas climbed up to the high point of the corner where Stefan stood with a Philippina woman who looked four-feet tall next to him. Standing at six-foot four with receding fair hair and strong shoulders, the beer belly gave away his favorite pastime.

“Stefan? Good,” he said, handing him the pint and seeing similar tattooing on his forearms as Viceroy. “The name’s Thomas.” He offered him his hand, his fingers covered in scar tissue. Shoulders stout, hands like vice grips, his eyes deeply set that had seen life. This was no couch potato.

“Johanssen,” he replied. “You want to know about Burma?” Guarding against coming across as too eager, he nursed his replies slowly and drank heavily to calm himself, looking at women showing off their bodies as they walked by in the quadrangle of blocked-off streets.

“Northern Burma. Kachin State,” said Thomas.

“Kachin?” They both looked at the woman with the unmistakable look of lust in her eyes, cleavage on display, flaunting assets she was born with. “Isolated as fuck up there,” he said, taking his cue. “Difficult to penetrate. Couldn’t take a motorbike up there. Thick jungle. Steep mountains. It’s at the foot of the Himalayas. But Sweet Jesus – there are some fantastic pockets.” Trying to apply what he had learned from Viceroy, he chose to go straight at him and not beat around the bush.

“I’m looking for a religious item that may have been evacuated from Tibet into Burma during the Chinese invasion.” He kept his eyes on Thomas, reading his movements. Curiosity tweaked. “I have reason to believe that a stone relic was smuggled into Kachin State somewhere in Upper Burma.” He faced the Swede, giving him his full attention. The eyelids were heavy with life experience, the lines on his face bespoke of a life lived in action. A Viking. Direct bloodline to the Viking Age. But the eyes didn’t care if they were scrutinized; they had a violent force in them. It took physical effort for Thomas not to turn away. He handed the Swede a cigarette, showing him all the respect he should, as subtle as it was with men like him. He inhaled and kept his eyes locked on the Swede’s, seeing echoes of experience emanating from his soul.


“I’m Métis Indian and I’m looking for a sacred stone tablet that – if found – will fulfill an ancient Native American prophecy and kick-start a new age for mankind.”

“You don’t look Indian to me.” No need to respond to his parlay. Kept his gaze steady. “Or so some Indian prophet says, huh? Crazy Horse and all that shit.” The slight curl of his mouth was puzzling.

“Put it this way. I need to find this stone tablet. If I fail, I gain an experience never to forget like a trip to Burma, but if I succeed, then there could be a harvest of some kind for people who believe in these prophecies that are several thousand years old.” This was his way of showing him that he was dispassionate about the religious aspects of the sacred stone. Clinical. Focused. Not an emotionally charged neophyte looking for a thrill.

“Who you working for?”

“No one.”

“Everyone works for some one. Government? Private? Mormons?” The last remark cracked him up, showing three gold teeth.

“Call it private enterprise – say a small company of two.”


“Brother,” he answered. “Identical twin brother.” There was something in the sternness of his posture that gave way, as if he had just heard a secret password only known to initiates of a secret society. Thomas nursed it, drank his pint, lit another smoke and looked at the woman who stood there idly without a word.

“You part Red Man then?” Balls-to-Monty directness.

“Yes. Métis. A grandmother somewhere down the line during the early pioneering days.”

“On one of those cold winter nights, eh?” Again the gold tooth.

“White on the outside and Red on the inside,” he said. “And it’s your round.” The Swede thundered an echoing laugh at his guts that removed the game of subtle probing. When some men laugh they let it all hang out as if it was an achievement, and a release of energy better let out than kept in. The Swede gave some money to the girl and told her to go to the bar.

“What do you know about western military presence in Burma?” he asked.

“I know about Merrill’s Marauders in ’43 run by the OSS, and about US involvement in the building of the Burma Road. But I don’t know of anything after ’47 when they became independent, and virtually nothing about what was going on during the late fifties when the Chinese were swinging their dicks.”

“Don’t let anyone tell you that there wasn’t any because there was. Burma was a jewel – a God damn British jewel in the middle of a God forsaken jungle of mammoth teak trees that live for 500 years, out of sight from Europe and Asia but wedged between India and China. Strategic. Important in the geopolitical chess game that goes on and on.” He looked wistfully across the street at nothing in particular. “There were a lot of us there, unofficially.”

“Who were you working for?” The grin returned but just for a moment.

“Let’s just say we were government trained but were paid by private contractors. How’s that?” What he was doing there was none of his business.

“Know anything about smuggling religious artifacts into Burma in ’58 or around then?” The girl returned with the beer, but the Swede promptly told her to go buy a pack of smokes.

“There are shit loads of monasteries in Burma. And I mean shitloads. Every fucking town there’s a Buddhist temple and the whole thing is neat and manicured by the monks. This relic you are after could have been taken to any of them. Like a needle in a haystack. A monk underground.”

“But if this item was transported, someone would need to be versed in Native American Prophecies. The Hopi Prophecies.”

“The Hopis?” An understated nod. This was big boy stuff.

“This would suggest an inclination to take it to a Christian church rather than a Buddhist monastery.” Thomas chose not to explain the ancient connection between the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and the North American Indians and the Mormon Bible. Too intricate at Stormy Weathers with boobs and music surrounding them. And besides, he couldn’t come across as a flake. Or Christian zealot.

“American missionaries were influential in northern Burma. And not all missionaries were men of the cloth” There was something hidden in that statement, waiting to be unraveled with nothing less than a sharp eye. But Thomas felt as if he were about to be given the run around, so he faced the Swede to give him his full attention.

“Look, I can’t tell you what I know. It’s that simple. I took an oath. But what I can do is give you a clue. First, there was a missionary who was all over northern Burma traveling way more than he needed and who was reported to be after a religious treasure relating to American history. His name is Eugene someone. Look him up. The other thing I can say is-.“ He stepped closer to Thomas. “The relic cannot be removed from the East unless it’s one of the twin brothers, right? Or so it was said around the campfire.” He winked. “Remember that when you’re there looking around, because if the tablet was hidden safely in Burma then those who hid it would leave clues targeted at a twin from North America to follow a trail. Use your common sense. Got me?” He nodded. “This isn’t some James Bond thing. You need to think clearly. If you can stay cool you can crack it.” He put his hand on Thomas’s right shoulder. “And remember what Vinegar Joe said: Illegitimati non Carborundum.” He said it with slow and precise enunciation. “Don’t let the bastards get you down.

The Swede had his penetrating gaze going again, and Thomas saw an entire lifetime of competence and black op secrets. But there was something else in his eye. It was weariness, and hope, and he gave that in his eyes purposely. Old injuries. Old burdens. Heavy memories. A past life. In this moment they shared something that was based on integrity rather than greed or gain.

“I hear you.”

“Hey, it’s the best I can do.” They both watched the swarms of people drinking on the old cobblestone road in the Long Kwai Fong quadrangle of blocked streets designated as the party zone in the very heart of downtown Hong Kong.

“There aren’t any real laws there, so don’t be stupid and get yourself involved in anything you can’t handle. They speak bloody Burmese there, which is a type of Arabic. There’s no English, so do what you need to do to get what you want and get out. The country is run by nut job fascists who wear military uniforms and carry machine guns. If you snap or lose your cool you’ll end up in prison. And they won’t give you your phone call. Stay sharp and take it on the chin mate.” Suddenly aware now that they have taken a corner, Thomas put out his hand and they shook.

“Good luck on your pilgrimage Thomas. We’ll see if those prophecies are true after all, huh?” He left just as his tiny girlfriend returned with the smokes, clearly impatient for some attention.

With an undeniable lightness in his step, he weaved through the crowd thinking how this new piece fit into the puzzle. The fact that the Swede knew that an identical twin had to be the finder of the sacred relic convinced Thomas that he was on the right track. Riding to the pier he began making plans to go to Burma. As he parked his motorcycle at the pier he thought those who feel the inkling to do but who do not act only betray their true self and are forever haunted by who they could have been.

Chapter 14

The Distant Fire of Empyrean


Despite having worked at the University of Hong Kong for five years, climbing the stairs to the library on campus was an exercise for Olympians. Thomas had held the suspicion that it held the unofficial world record for most steps and highest vertical angle of any university on the planet. Having been built on the side of the steep mountain that dominated Hong Kong Island, the stairs tired him out by the time he reached the library.

And drenched him in sweat. Every time.

Flashing his university ID at the guard, the library immediately had a calming effect, the echoed silence of pages flipping and keyboards rambling permeated into his subconscience. Thomas typed in a few searches and in no time found a section on missionaries in Asia. Being the oldest university in Hong Kong and founded by the British in 1901, there was a very decent selection of books on Christian missionaries in Asia.

It didn’t take long to find one Eugenio Kin Kaid.

Born in Connecticut in 1797, he left for Burma in 1830 with his wife and two sons. Soon after arriving, a third son was born but died of fever, soon followed by his wife. He remained in Burma traveling to areas where no white man had ever been, surveying the country and learning dialects. He married again in 1832 and had two daughters in Burma, one of whom died before he was forced to return to America in 1842 due to poor health. A few years later he again returned to his missionary work in Burma, this time being welcomed by the king. Due to his command of the language, he was appointed as ambassador of good will between the two countries. In 1857 he traveled to America as translator for the King of Burma during his visit with President James Buchanan. After building many churches in Burma, he returned to the States for good in 1865 and died in Kansas in 1883. A portrait of him showed a lean man who had the features of a Red Indian with the striking cheekbones, distinctive eyebrows, a full head of dark hair and deep lines along the sides of his mouth.

Thomas photocopied a number of sections written about Eugenio Kin Kaid, and more importantly found a map of northern Burma with locations of the churches he ministered during his lifetime. And besides the map, he was able to find the contact details for the Methodist Church in Rangoon, the same organization that Eugenio Kin Kaid had worked with. It was a lead that he wanted to follow before he left for Burma in a few days.

Since a library was a thinker’s candy store, he loitered until closing time, exploring more leads. Recalling a word Robert Riel used to describe the orange at the top of the ladder behind the sun in his dream, he found a massive dictionary at the reference desk to find its exact meaning:

Empyrean: [em-py-REE-uhm] 1.The highest heaven in ancient belief usually thought to be a realm of pure fire or light. 2. Heaven; paradise. 3. The heavens; the sky. [From Medieval Latin empyreum, ultimately from Greek empurios, from en-, “in” + pyr, “fire”]

The definition and etymology tickled at what he suspected laid behind the end of the ladder, but the truth was more often slippery rather than linear. It was a word that seemed to describe the orange Mount Olympus in his dream where the climber of the ladder would go behind the sun: into the highest heaven of pure fire or light, which was important since the empyrean was stronger than heaven. Something was drawing him towards this fire of pure light.

Part Three

Chapter 15

The Monastery of Sacred Tablets

December, 1999 Burma


Thomas stepped off the plane onto a cracked tarmac arriving in a small, empty airport, the only foreigner to be seen. Hot and muggy, he was surprised at the temperature in Rangoon compared to the coastal coolness of Hong Kong, both so close in latitude. He hadn’t expected the over-bearing heat. Suffocating. The air dripped with moisture from the lush foliage he could see everywhere.

It took two minutes to get through customs. It had been difficult getting a visa for Burma because no writers were allowed in the country. He had written “Academic Writer” as his profession so he had been asked to write a letter stating he didn’t write for the media. Only by insisting to speak to the ambassador he had been able to get his visa. Very strict. He wondered if he would be followed.

The Rangoon airport barren: nothing on the walls, no one behind the desks and not a computer to be seen. Slipping on his sunglasses after walking through the customs booth, he picked up his bag and then purchased a bottle of booze at the duty-free store. Walking out to the arrivals foyer, just by chance he glanced at the people awaiting new arrivals and stopped in his tracks when he saw a cardboard sign reading:



He smiled in amazement at the tall man holding the freshly printed cardboard sign.

“I’m Thomas Robertson.”

“Welcome to our country Mr. Robertson,” he replied, his voice chiming. “Happy you made it safe.” A big, heavy man of Indian descent with skin the native hue of mocha, Thomas stepped through the cordon and shook his hand, immediately seeing his pleasant demeanor and trustworthy eyes. Christian kindness was universal. The ripple effect of missionaries of centuries past.

“I’m glad I spotted you. I hadn’t expected anyone to be here at the airport.” Everyone standing there stared at Thomas as if he were a zoo animal. Burma was a country where most of the modern populace hadn’t seen a white face before. It had been over fifty years since the British left and the military dictatorship preferred to keep foreigners out. A ripple of bone-centered fatigue reverberated through his body; Thomas always preferred to be incognito when he traveled. He would be under a microscope wherever he went.

“A pleasant surprise I hope.” A grin at the corner of his mouth, a cheery voice.

“Indeed it is. A great surprise.” He picked up the bigger backpack Thomas brought and they walked outside where the heat washed over him leaving a layer of sweat to cool him down.

“I’m parked very close – just over here.” Thomas removed his sweatshirt and threw his bag in the back seat. There was no air-conditioning unlike Hong Kong where you could always count on taxis and buses bordering on the same temperature as a refrigerator.

“Where would you like to go Mr. Robertson? Your hotel? Or would you like to come to our office right away? I ask because Julian our director will be leaving a little early today for a prior engagement. This is why he suggested I pick you up so you could meet and discuss your questions. Then you can proceed on your vacation.” Thomas was uplifted by the melodious tone of his accent.

“Well, I don’t see any reason not to meet with the director now. I would like to begin my travels as soon as I can. So thank you. Let’s go to the office.”

“Very good sir.” His accent part British colonial with a distinct Indian curry flavor. They drove past swarms of people walking beside concrete nightmares of crumbling stores, both men and women wearing sarongs and flip-flops, and then a pristine swath of palm trees protecting colonial mansions in rows along the main street nestled around a lake. It contrasted sharply against the ache of squalor and poverty just across the street. Removing another shirt, Thomas was down to his t-shirt. His forehead wet with sweat.

“Inle Lake sir,” said the driver, pointing and playing tour guide. “It is where many British used to live. Very nice.” The British enclave was thick with planted and mature palm trees, the homes still manicured and grandiose, but across the street instead of tropical lush it was bone dry, everything covered in dust. Long streets of wall-to-wall colonial four-story buildings with pronounced bay windows and crumbling facades hidden by fresh paint, the stately order of colonial Rangoon was marked by weeds and grass growing out of ornate balconies and arched entrances. Weeds growing out of the walls. Neglect. Everything in need of attention and a coat of paint.

When they arrived at the Methodist office, Thomas was escorted into a front room, fans swirling, hardwood floors worn.

“Mr. Thomas Robertson, I am Julian. So glad to make your acquaintance sir.” A short man, well into his seventies, dressed in a pressed suit and yet wearing flip-flops, put out his hand looking more British than most of Thomas’s British friends in Hong Kong. Julian seemed genuinely happy to meet him.

“Likewise,” he replied, clearing his throat of dust. “Very kind of you to pick me up from the airport. Thank you for that.” Thomas relaxed in the vibe of benevolence as he stood in front of him, Julian’s flip-flops more casual than his Birkenstock sandals he was wearing.

“I do need to leave a tad early this afternoon for a wedding,” he said with the ease of one who knows he has found his true calling. “One of our flock is getting married.” Thomas put his hands behind his back in the Chinese style as a sign of respect, and said something about promoting love in his congregation. He nodded with vigor.

“Shall we go into my office?” The office was small but had a history to it, as if it had been the scene of a great event. Numerous portraits of missionaries lined the walls. He spotted Eugenio Kin Kaid right away with his Red Man bone structure.

“So Mr. Thomas Robertson, how exactly can I help you? You mentioned Reverend Eugenio Kin Kaid on the telephone last week. He is a famous man here in our country. He preached throughout Upper Burma.” Thomas looked at a big map on the wall, and motioned towards it.

“Where did he build his church Julian? Was it close to Mandalay? Or north of it?”

“The church he helped build is in a place called Katha.”

“Katha? Isn’t that where George Orwell wrote his book Burmese Days?” Thomas had brought the book with him, a story of Orwell’s time in Burma when he was a colonial cop in the 1920s. But his question petered out when Julian’s face changed from joy to nervous anxiety.

“I’m sorry but I do not know this author you speak of. But-.“ He walked to the map on the wall. “Katha is right here – on the Irrawaddy River. The Kachin Methodist Church is just outside of town, about here. It’s a very beautiful spot. The church still has many who attend.”

“Did Reverend Kin Kaid preach at many churches? Or just this one?”

“Many churches,” he enthused proudly. “He was the only missionary in Myskyina for many years, until he heard his calling to build another Temple to God in the isolated town of Katha. I tell you Mr. Thomas Robertson, do you like the British buildings from before the War?” The very way Julian carried himself gave him the impression he yearned for the good old colonial days.

“Very much,” he replied truthfully. “In fact I’m a big fan of colonial architecture. Why?”

“Because Katha is a particularly quaint colonial town where time has not changed it since the days when the British were here. It was one of the reasons I believe Mr. Kin Kaid decided to move from Myskyina to Katha.” Thomas retrieved some photocopied papers from his bag and scanned them.

“I’m just wondering, is there a main Christian church in the north that is considered a religious center where missionaries would stop at as they traveled north?” Julian rubbed his chin and smiled.

“I don’t think so. Many of the churches are roughly the same size so there’s no major church that has any special importance than any others in Upper Burma. But there is a very old and a wonderful church in Mandalay that is right beside the Mandalay Fort and Royal Palace. It is situated beside the fort’s moat and near a monastery that is said to have the largest book in the world written on stone tablets.” Stone tablets Thomas thought to himself. “That is the first place I think of when I think of a stopover, if you will, for ministers on their way north. All the other churches are small, local parishes run by ministers without particular distinction.” Thomas was quiet for a moment, nodding at Julian as he circled the Methodist Church in Mandalay on his map.

“This monastery with the world’s biggest book. What’s the book?” Julian raised his hand, as if about to give a lecture.

“The book is a collection of engraved tablets of stone that have holy Buddhist scriptures. There are 730 tablets in the monastery I believe. It is a very pretty place, directly beside the Emperor’s Royal Palace and Mandalay Hill.” He was suddenly aware of a prickly sensation on his forehead where the red welt had been from the spark back in Canada. “Does that answer your question?”

“Sorry, yes it does Julian. I’m just looking at the rest of my questions here. Do you have any archived material of Reverend Kin Kaid or other missionaries that would have been left behind?”

“Personal papers? Notes, old sermons and whatnot?” he asked.

“Yes, that type of thing. Like research or notes that missionaries may have bequeathed to the church?”

“Oh I see. I don’t think we have anything here at the office. It is my understanding that everything was left at the church in Katha. I don’t believe he had any family here. So if he left any of his work behind for others, you may want to visit the church in Katha.”

“One last question,” he ventured. “Did he have any special projects or areas of interest that you know of? For example, was he interested in Tibet, or in Native American Indian mythology, for example?” Thomas wasn’t sure how he would take to this question.

“You mean Red Indians?”

“Yes, the Red Indian.” Cheeks flushed with anticipation.

“Yes. He spoke of the Red Indians quite often with another missionary by the name of Reverend Francis Mason, I think. They were looking for connections between the origin of the Red Man and that of the Hebrews who are reported to still be living in the hills in Northern Burma in the Kachin State mainly. Representatives from Israel were here organizing the emigration of the Lisu Tribe a few decades ago. They believed they shared a Hebrew religion.”

“Isn’t that interesting? Did some emigrate to Israel?”

“I believe so, after they completed a genetic study.”

“Where exactly are the Lisu?” Julian pointed to just north of Katha, near Myskyina – the closest Burmese town to the border of China at the foothills of the Himalayas. Somewhere church bells rang in the distance. Julian glanced at his watch.

“Is there anyone else who works on a similar line of research who is here in Burma presently?” Julian seemed to enjoy the challenge of searching for a candidate, but was sad when he couldn’t think of a name.

“Many missionaries left after the military coup forty-five years ago. I do not know of any such work being done today. I’m so sorry.” With that, Thomas picked up his bag.

“I cannot begin to thank you enough for your help Julian. Really, I’m indebted to you for your candor and kindness.” A firm handshake and nothing but generous benevolent love in his eyes.

“It is my pleasure to be able to help in anyway.”

“You have, sir. You have helped me a great deal.” Careful to call him sir to give respect. Julian walked him out to the car where the dark-skinned man waited by the car.

“If you like, you can go with Samuel to your hotel.”

Samuel drove him to his guesthouse near the Strand Hotel by the Irrawaddy River past brightly painted colonial buildings lined with palm trees as he began to feel the thrill of a journey about to commence. By the time he reached his guesthouse, he had decided the church in Mandalay was where he would begin his holy quest.

Chapter 16

The Outpost of Tyranny


The large number of Burmese sleeping on the platform at the Rangoon central train station was enough to jolt anyone into a new reality. Station officials ducked away from what appeared to be anything to do with responsibility or work, many showing the guilty gait of dereliction of duties. Disorganized and in disarray, garbage covered almost every corner of the platform interspersed with bodies lying on the flat concrete waiting for their train. Kiosks were forced to sell their food from corners and even from the tracks themselves. Other than the small ticket window, nothing seemed to get done. Any small task took hours to complete. Accountability was non-existent. Thomas had seen this guilty body language of the train station workers from his forays into communist China. It was a universal look – not dependent to any specific race or country – usually found in systems of government that fostered indolence and rewarded those without motivation.

Standing on the platform waiting for the morning train going north, he even saw people sleeping between the tracks in dirty shirts and threadbare blankets where rats twice the size of the average-sized arm scurried over bare legs. There appeared to be a harmony between rat and man. With so many wearing sarongs and flip-flops, he couldn’t help but guess there was no such thing as a Burmese owning underwear or a pair of socks anywhere in the country. It was a medley of chaos and free enterprise without any boundaries of Western standards.

Indeed Stefan the Swede had been right: it was a different strain of beans here in Burma.

Once seated in his compartment waiting for departure, Thomas flipped through the national newspaper The Myanmar Times but it was an unreadable hodgepodge rag of out-dated clippings from the international press. Miffed, he left the train to find a decent newspaper at one of the kiosks that were half-stocked but there was nothing. Remembering he had snagged a few government-issued newspapers from a government travel office the previous day, Thomas returned to the train and rustled through The New Light of Myanmar:



Our country, the Union of Myanmar, is home to various national races such as Kachin, Kayah, Chin, Bamar, Mon, Rakhine, Shan and so on residing together sharing joys and sorrows in friendship for many years countable by the thousand. The national brethren, throughout history, have resided together with the Union Spirit inherent in them and put up resistance unitedly against any danger that befell the nation. As the saying goes, blood is thicker than water.

            – Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace & Development Council,             Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services

But it was the People’s Desire section that was truly indicative of the persona of Burma:


1. Oppose those relying on external elements, acting as stooges, holding negative views.

2. Oppose those trying to jeopardize stability of the State and progress of the nation.

3. Oppose foreign nations interfering in internal affairs of the State.

4. Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy.

Now with a grasp of how he might be regarded, the notion of finding the sacred tablet and removing it out of Burma placed fear in his gut. The subjective nature of these points made him uneasy, and the thought of a Burmese jail scared him to the core. His white skin stood out and he would be watched closely by the authorities here despite the jungle setting. Senior General Than Shwe was a man he would not like to tamper with. The military boys in the State Peace & Development Council were iron-fisted governors of the land who were happy to exercise their power and justify their jackboots and crisp military uniforms. It didn’t bode well, but now armed with the knowledge of how they look at foreigners, he would tread softly.

Very softly.

Once the train started moving, Thomas tried to relax and let providence guide him. Taking full advantage of his window seat, he watched freeloaders hanging off windowsills as the weathered burgundy-coloured colonial train took slow curves out of the capital Rangoon moving north to Mandalay. Arms and legs and heads and luggage stuck out of the windows as men spat their betel juice in arced red streams of liquid to the land beside the tracks despite people walking along the well-worn trails there. Soon other projectiles were launched out the windows: plastic bags, Styrofoam packaging, cigarettes, coke cans, water bottles, and pretty much anything else that could fit through the window.

The garbage built up along the tracks attested to how long it had been going on.

As the train picked up speed, he passed barren fields with nothing but dying banana trees and leafless palms suffocating in a haze of dust and stifling heat. Mile after mile the landscape was dominated by flaxen grass, cactus patches and forgotten sunflower fields, all drooping sadly under the sun with no visible signs of industry. Farm fields unattended. Mother Nature having the upper hand through lack of rain and overwhelming sun energy. So much cultivated land left to bake in the sun without irrigation. No human presence. Humanity doomed. A population without grain for bread. A parched and dusty visage.

Where were all the farmers?

As the antique on wheels lumbered past desolate fields that lay unused, it made him wonder how the country was generating revenue and putting food on anyone’s table. Clusters of thatched huts on stilts had garbage festering underneath, open swamps surrounded the huts where chickens and roosters fed. The stench of human feces even assaulted his nose. He felt concern for children playing around the open pits in their flip-flops – one open cut or abrasion was an open invitation to infection.

It was an exercise of witnessing the creation of hepatitis and cholera and of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

The buh-bump, buh-bump, buh-bump of the wheels on the track created the illusion that he was back in colonial Burma. It was a potent lullaby that drugged him into a stupor but too noisy for him to fall asleep. But the daunting swagger of the train side to side tested his nerve, especially with the knowledge of two recent train derailments.

The possibility of the train swaying off the tracks was a very real.

Once the swaying stopped and the train was climbing in elevation, he spent some time reading George Orwell’s Burmese Days. George Orwell himself, graduate of Eton and born in India, must have taken this same train to Katha in 1923 for his stint as an imperial police officer. In the novel, Orwell insists it was the British who modernized the country, built the infrastructure and the railway and then were unceremoniously booted out, only to have it all collapse from a gallop to a whimpering trot. As the Indian Doctor says in Orwell’s Burmese Days: “The British were the torch bearers upon the path to progress.” But the railway still took its payload through jungles and over rivers and across mountainsides 3000km north into the heart of Upper Burma. General Than Shwe’s military dictatorship still benefited today despite his anti-western rhetoric, as if his regime had adopted the old British mastership mentality over the peasant population.

Farther north old plantations peppered the land frozen in time like medieval serfdoms left to wither into sun-scorched fields the color of Phoenician rust. The plantations were like small ghost towns with no signs of life. Bamboo chicks were the only interruption of the view of the great dried-up dusty plains of Lower Burma laid bare from the unrelenting heat. With starvation imprinted on the faces of the Burmese, people here were in a constant state of dire indigence. Regrettably, the dirt and torture and ignorance had returned.

Chapter 17

When the 12th Moon Comes


When he arrived in Mandalay he found a guesthouse and then looked for a motorcycle to rent. Despite the fact that almost all of the vehicles on the road were small motorbikes that churned up dust and belched out exhaust, finding a place to rent one proved difficult. With no stores marked with English signs – very few even had a sign – asking the most basic questions was a challenge. Down the main street through the roadside bazaar, Thomas passed brittle dried fish tied in smelly bundles, sugar cane, coconuts, unripe bananas, cooking pots, chickens in cages, bottles of rice wine, little Buddhas, earthenware jars, candles and Chinese sweetmeats covered with garlic and heart-shaped betel leaves ready for consumption.

Finally he found a bicycle rental store where he met a chap who spoke some English.

“Where I can rent a motorbike?” Women in groups walked by balancing vegetable baskets on their heads.

“Nowhere,” he replied, black hair falling in his eyes, decaying gums and red teeth from his betel nut habit. “There are no stores to rent.” Using all sorts of body language and choppy sentences, he said it was illegal to rent motorcycles to foreigners and that he would likely be pulled over by the police if he did. Thomas brushed it off as hyperbole but he had already noted the high number of traffic police asking motorcyclists to pay on-the-spot fines. Regardless, he was determined. It would take a lot more than a traffic fine to stop him. Only with his own transportation could he find what he was looking for. Fortunately there was a Chinese man there who overheard his question and, after asking a few questions, offered to rent his own motorcycle to Thomas.

“I rent it for today and come back tomorrow, okay?” He was all right with this arrangement so Thomas paid him and rode through the streets of Mandalay, getting used to the mayhem and dust and thanking God he brought his aviator prescription sunglasses for dust protection and his compass so he wouldn’t get lost. He passed Hindu temples, mosques, countless pagodas and a British-built university, and in the process discovered there were only a half-dozen streetlights in the city. He learned quickly there was a lot of merging and yielding required to blend in with the sandy flow.

Even on a motorcycle the Burmese couldn’t help gawking at the tall foreigner puttering around on a motorcycle that was too small for him.

Once he had his bearings and using his compass, he rode along the main street beside the fifty-foot wide moat that surrounded Mandalay Fort – once known as Fort Dufferin when the British were here. Attacked by the Japanese during World War Two, it was a massive complex. With red-stone walls and white lookout towers, the fort housed the Royal Imperial Palace, where the kings of Burma lived before the British took over the country in 1842. It marked the center point of the city. Across from the fort an old Centenary Methodist Church with a big red bell tower stood. Following his compass to the monastery of the sacred tablets due east of Mandalay Fort, there was no one at the entrance except for a man lying on his motorcycle seat reading a newspaper. A water buffalo loitering beside him.

He was a seller of Burma’s legal drug: betel nut.

The Buddhist monastery was centered around a main pagoda that was surrounded by 730 stone tablets inscribed with Holy Scripture. Standing there among the hundreds of stone tablets, or zedis, Thomas realized he had no idea what tablet to look at for a clue to finding the Taponi Tablet of the East. After walking around the semi-empty monastery nothing caught his eye so he sat on a step of the main pagoda remembering to remove his shoes. A few fat monks sat near the pagoda not doing much of anything except chewing betel nut. Two rake-thin puppies that looked like twins approached him timidly so he patted them both. They both responded by lifting a leg offering their tummy. The puppies were so starved they were days away from death. Following the Buddhist teachings, Thomas gave them long tummy rubs and spoke soothing tones to them as a group of monks gathered around watching. He looked back at the monks who watched him with their mouths open in surprise.

The striking irony was not lost on him.

Humbled and rankled, he left the monastery and puppies behind, bought some betel nut from the man beside the water buffalo and rode his motorcycle due west for the great Irrawaddy River. Tired from the train ride and cranky from the monks without compassion, coupled with a mouth covered in scratchy dust, the riverside café was the ideal tonic to evict the anger percolating in his heart and the hunger in his belly.

Relaxing on the big, empty wooden patio and ordering a large bottle of Dagon Beer, he looked out beyond the river to the western shore of the Irrawaddy, relishing the new frontier that had awaited him since his research with Joshua in Robert Riel’s library. Savoring the amber liquid as it washed the dryness out of his throat, he watched men in long wooden rowboats paddling against the current of the river with oars like toothpicks, and saw the Burmese do their work in flip-flops, sarongs and thinly-made green bomber jackets. Decrepit wooden boats built before World War Two lined the shore where women with limbs like sticks washed clothes, and skinny dogs rummaged for non-existent food.

Even the sight of watching the dogs scavenge for food in the sand made him thirsty.

As he unwound on the riverside patio, he took out a baggie of betel nut he bought outside the monastery and popped one in his mouth, nursing the hard nut in the leaf tucked between his gum and cheek. It was a tricky skill to chew betel nut: one had to cradle the nut wrapped within the leaf covered in spicy condiments and keep it there, and let the sharp edges of the leaf and nut cut the gums so that the juice seeped into the bloodstream introducing a very warm glow in the gut.

If done right, it was Mother Nature’s opium for Asians.

Soon feeling the buzz intermixed with a few beers, he finally took some time to relax and soak in his surroundings. The muddy, fast-flowing river before him his mind soon turned to one of his favourite pastimes: numerology. His journey to Burma was a quest so it behooved him to figure out a starting point with the information before him. He would need to get into the mind of the early missionaries like Eugenio Kin Kaid to try to find the trail to the hidden relic. In trying to figure out a clue using numerology, Thomas focused on the word twins. It was what separated him from all the others.

In numerology each letter had a corresponding number, such as a=1 because it is the first letter of the alphabet. Each letter after had a number of plus one. Adding up the letters of twins came to 85: [(t=20) + (w=23) + (i=9) + (n=14) + (s=19)]. This number had the end result of 13 (8+5), an important number. It was the true number of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Joseph having the sons Ephraim and Manasseh). And it was also the number of disciples plus Jesus.

This was an important discovery and in line with the symmetry of his puzzle.

Adding up the letters of twin came to 66 (20 + 23 + 9 + 14), which was interesting because 6 was considered the number of the Messiah, according to his brother Joshua. Therefore 66 could be regarded as two Messiahs. It also adds up to 12, which was the number of disciples sans Jesus, as well as the number of sons of Jacob. But since Thomas was one of two twins, 66 could actually be 33.

He placed his research papers in front on the table, trying to figure out his next step. With the soft crosswind coming off the river, he came across a passage in one of his Hopi Prophecy papers that struck him as important. It read: “… and so it shall be booked among many the tablets of peace when the 12th moon comes.” Since it described finding the stone tablet during the time of the 12th moon, he figured the 12th moon was the full moon in the twelfth month, otherwise known as the Winter Solstice. December 21st was the first day of winter as well as the shortest day of the year.

It was also exactly opposite Joshua’s Sundance, which was on the Spring Solstice, the longest day of the year. This would make sense in the prophecy for them as twins because they were not only identical twins but ‘mirror twins:’ identical opposites. Joshua was a natural left hander, Thomas a natural right hander. Joshua was born head first, Thomas was born feet first. Identical opposites. Mirror twins.

Always aware of the divine importance of a coincidence, Thomas quickly employed some basic numerology by adding up the numbers of the 12th moon. This was: 12 (for December) + 21 (for the day when the 12th moon comes), which added up to 33. This was also the twin number. And curiously, the sum of 33 (3 + 3) was 6, the number of the Messiah. Perhaps over-reaching in his dawdling beside the mighty Irrawaddy, these numbers nonetheless did add up symmetrically as if it all fit.

He inadvertently itched fine sand into the cut on his forehead because it tingled and accidentally broke open the old cut.

From all his Hopi papers in front of him, this passage was the only reference that referred to the finding of the stone tablets. His twin intuition told him 33 was the magic number. It was worth a look so he finished his Dagon beer beside the great Irrawaddy and left for the Buddhist monastery again.

Chapter 18

The Pigeon Left & the Crow Took His Place


Feeling crisp of will and armed with his new Winter Solstice plan, and feeling fleet of wheel on his motorcycle, Thomas left the café down the road along the Irrawaddy River past looted boats with rusted hulls and old swaths of classic yellow colonial homes falling apart or inhabited by squatters. He splashed through open garbage pits and over half-burnt plastic bags under mature palm trees, and thought of Diogenes who did what he did to show unabashedly the natural squalor of mankind. In one of the back alleys near the river, Thomas saw a young woman with yellow powder on her face riding her bike past open untreated pits of garbage. Her posture upright and proud, it occurred to him that she was doing the opposite of what Diogenes did: she fought upwards against gravity of man’s base nature. In her freshly pressed flower dress, she was trying to raise herself above the decay around her while Diogenes attempted to level to the natural state of mankind’s slovenly ways.

But there was a chance that her ramrod posture was because of the wafting stench of human feces around her.

In the unbearable heat, sharp particles of dust and sand and floating plastic debris from people burning their garbage dug into his eyes and nose, cracking open his lips and nostrils, but one thing that made motorcycling endurable here was chewing betel nut. By trial and error he learned the art of chewing betel nut was more than sticking it in the side of your mouth, chewing a little and letting the juice seep in your gums. Instead one must aim to first squish up the nut by smashing the hard chunks within the protection of the leaf, and then, using severe tongue dexterity, keep all the squashed-up bits within the leaf. Nurturing the squished nut within the leaf unleashed the goodies that caused the betel juice buzz. Keeping the chewed-up wad there without spitting was a seasoned skill requiring tolerance and patience. One had to resist the urge to swallow or expel the crushed nuggets because by keeping the betel juice in your mouth was to let the lime strip the gum of its membrane, which encouraged rapid osmosis into the bloodstream. Once permeation began, one could sit back and enjoy a warm hue on the cheek and a feeling of mild intoxication, which enhanced ones courage and magnified ones sense of power and control.

No wonder so many men chewed the betel nut, evidenced by the blood-red stained teeth and the big gobs of red spit all along the side of the road.

On the way back to the monastery, Thomas bought a number of meat-on-a-stick kebabs for the puppies from a street vendor. When he arrived he walked towards the main pagoda where the twin puppies were panting in the heat. They approached him with wagging tails and asked for more tummy rubs, which he did. It was almost as if they were purring from the human TLC they were getting. And then Thomas gave them each meat from the stick. He had never seen food eaten so ravenously like that before. He had predicted a deep hunger so carefully, he gave them another kebob on a stick, removing the stick and placing the warm meat in front of each puppy. Their tails wagged with such force one of them fell over as he ate.

Watching them eat, they were so weak they could hardly walk after their meal.

Trying his best to conceal his contempt at their hypocrisy, Thomas looked at the overfed monks in hope that they would see the errors of their ways.

They were Buddhist monks.

Thomas tried to expunge the frost in his heart but couldn’t, so he went to the monks with his stiff upper lip camouflaged by his moustache.

“Excuse me,” he said, knowing they wouldn’t understand his English but hoping they would understand what he meant. “Do you see these puppies here?” He pointed at the dogs now lying in the shade panting from the meal and heat. Three of the monks smiled back but one looked at him with a startling expression of contempt.

“These dogs are starving to death. Are you not Buddhist monks? If so, then you should know that all living beings are equal in the eyes of the Buddha and should be treated with equal respect. Is this how your treat your friends and family?” He stopped, not because he wanted to, but because he didn’t want to generate any more antagonism before he checked out tablet number 33.

Aware that fighting negative energy with negative energy was not a winning method, Thomas knew better than to generate a reaction, or what the Buddhists called a sankara. The whole point of meditation in Buddhist teaching was to keep an even keel and not react to any stimuli – good or bad. To react was to generate suffering within your heart, which was an endless loop of spirit-disrupting turbulence.

A few of the chubby monks looked down at his bare feet and Birkenstock sandals in his hand without acknowledging that he was showing them respect by obeying the rules of the monastery, but Thomas knew it was a lost cause so he warmly shook each monk’s hand and smiled and nodded before going back to the puppies to make sure they were okay. He patted them again, leaving them full and with smiles on their faces.

Caring for starving puppies was pretty basic for Buddhists yet these monks had failed to exercise compassion for all living things.

It was only after feeding the puppies that he went looking for the 33rd tablet from among the 730 rounded stones that surrounded the central pagoda that towered upwards toward the empyrean.

Looking behind to ensure the monks weren’t following him, he employed stealth to find the tablet and entered the mini zedi covering it. Hunched over the tablet and scrunched under the mini roof, he hunted for an engraving or marking of some kind to indicate that there might be a clue. It didn’t take long to find a mark that looked like a Native Indian arrowhead. Taking out his Swiss Army knife, he ran the blade lightly along the length of the arrow that pointed to the corner of the tablet, chiselling a slit along the edge near the base where he found a lip.

“With respect,” he said, at his act of desecrating something with Holy Scriptures. He leveraged the opening with his blade and gave it a good yank, causing a piece of material to fall onto the marble base, including what sounded like a coin. With his heart beating fast, he saw a coin and a small piece of folded paper held together by a string. Stunned, and with a great sense of excitement pummelling through his innards, it sent his imagination into overdrive. Slipping the coin and the stringed paper into his pocket, he brushed the debris off the zedi floor and slowly walked back to the main pagoda.

Both puppies greeted him with ears back and tail wagging with big smiles, regarding him as a kind of Saviour. In all his years he had never seen such an overt expression of happiness in any living creature. The food had taken hold and their stomachs were distended probably for the first time in their short lives. He spoke to the twin puppies in a soft voice, they returning the favor by licking his face in a frenzy.

They mirrored how he felt within his heart.

The sun was beginning to fall in the western sky behind Mandalay Fort so he rode his motorcycle to the Methodist Church and parked in front of the gate. A church sign read:


under a red cross. He couldn’t open the front gate so he slipped through a big hole in the church wall. Not seeing anyone around, he went to the church entrance across the courtyard, feeling the two items in his pocket with his hand. The cornerstone indicated the church was built in 1887. There was an outdoor crypt in the courtyard with a gravestone of an American missionary. The epitaph read:


The ochre red stone contrasted against the white ground around the church.

When he went into the empty church and quietly sat on a pew, the damp air in the church sent a chill through him, and reminded him of how old it was. Thomas calmed his breathing before taking out the clues from his pocket. As he sat there he noticed the original symbol of the Christians: a fish, drawn simply, like a Pisces astrological symbol. There were two fish: one knitted into each curtain, which covered the door of the entrance.

He shivered when he pulled out the coin from his pocket. To his astonishment it was an American silver dollar from 1804. On one side there was an old-styled eagle looking west with 13 arrows in its right talon and 13 olive branches in its left talon. There were 13 stars above the eagle’s head, and just above the stars there were exactly 13 clouds. Both eagle wings had 13 feathers and there were 13 tail feathers. There was a long banner spreading across the width of the coin that the eagle held in its fierce-looking beak. Despite the fact that the coin was so worn, Thomas could read the writing on the banner:


On the chest of the eagle was a shield with 6 vertical stripes and 13 thin horizontal stripes along the top of the crest. Around the perimeter were the words:


On the other side of the coin was the word LIBERTY along the top, sided with 6 stars along the right or east side of the coin and 7 stars along the left or west side of the coin. In the center was an engraving of a woman with long flowing hair and an exceptionally large bust complete with propped up cleavage.

She was looking east.

Looking at the coin in his hand, he knew there was a message somewhere waiting to be figured out. Thomas knew the number 13 was an exceptionally important religious number, but there was one more thing: the date of the coin was 1804. And when these numbers were added up (1 + 8 + 0 + 4), it came to 13.

It couldn’t all be a coincidence.

Sitting on the wooden pew, he took out the piece of folded paper from his pocket. Yellowed, thick parchment, he gently pulled the string and pried it open. When fully unfolded he saw it was a small map with the word KATHA written along the top. There were eight or so buildings marked on the map that surrounded a large pagoda in a compound beside a river. Nothing was labeled and there were no arrows pointing in any direction, but there was one building marked with a Christian cross. When he turned the paper over and first saw handwritten words on the crumbling paper, Thomas experienced a profound connection as if a long-awaited message had finally been received. The message read:


The words ‘An old Kachin Proverb’ were written below it.

Exhausted and excited, shoulders hunched as if praying with eyes closed, he only opened his eyes when a bird flew from one of the stained-glass windows towards the alter. Noticing it was a crow, it suddenly occurred to him that the tombstone outside bearing the name Rev. William Lewis Crow couldn’t also be a coincidence.

Back outside he read the epitaph again, except this time he read it all:



Providence was in play because the trail left behind by those who knew where the sacred tablet was had been found. To play into the hand of fate, he needed to go north to Katha to explore the map. In the morning he would take the train north into the foothills of the Himalayas.