The Last Noble Truth
a novel by Marvin L. Zimmerman
The Man On the Hill
The searing sun was just dipping behind the flaming mountains as the man arrived. He paused to look around, drinking in every feature of a rugged landscape he already knew so well.
He bent over to remove his sandals. Then, lifting his head, he directed pale grey eyes toward the mountain of pure sand that loomed directly above. Its wind-swept top ridge would be his final destination.
The hot sand burned but the pain meant nothing to him. He lifted one bare foot after the other and started to climb. When he had ascended half the distance, his heart was pounding. He took a moment to recover and turned to survey the scene below. A look of concern crossed his face as he noticed that something important was missing. He decided to stop for a rest and lowered himself slowly into a sitting position.
In spite of the heat and his exertions, there was not a drop of perspiration on his body. The parched air swallowed up any moisture his body could offer up for relief.
After a while, he could see what he had been waiting for. Small groups of women, their bodies wrapped in bright cloths, began to arrive and take up their traditional place at the foot of the mountain. One after the other, they would soon bury their torsos. The man knew that, like generations past, these women believed that the desert’s curative powers would help rid them of their disorders. A thin smile crossed his face as he watched the sudden infusion of color being splashed out over the muted desert. Now, the picture he wanted was just about complete.
He rose carefully. Steadying his footing on the steep slope, he pulled out a worn billfold from his loose cotton trousers. He stared at it briefly. Then he hurled it as far as he could, following its flight with a powerful sense of release. He watched as it landed near the upper ridge before tumbling downward and finally coming to rest almost buried in the fine sand. He turned and continued his ascent. As he approached the summit, he placed his left hand into a side pocket. His fingers slid over the smooth surface of what lay inside. Its surprising coolness provided some relief from the heat even as contact with the object reassured him that it had not slipped out during the climb. He was breathing heavily now, almost gasping. But this provided little respite. Just a deep burning in his chest.
The man clambered onto the flat sandy ridge hanging precariously over the mountain. In spite of the pain, he managed to raise his lean frame and start walking along its sweeping contour, looking for a specific point. After a few hundred steps, he saw it – a small rod protruding but a few desperate inches above the endless sand. Tied to it was a ribbon whose original bright red had now faded to a pale pink. The long stick he had planted here only a year ago had nearly been swallowed up by the shifting desert. Yet, as every time before, it had been just long enough to serve its purpose. This was the place he had been searching for. This was his destination.
For a few moments he stood with eyes closed over this place which held such meaning for him. Then, his body aching, he lowered himself slowly.
For five years now, he had performed this same ritual – always on this date, always at this time. Each visit brought him to this exact location. But today would be different. Today these journeys would end.
After one hour, he could just begin to make out the last element needed to complete the full picture he had been waiting for. There, above the countless dunes stretching out in every direction, the moon’s ghostly disc began its steady evening rise.
Now everything was precisely as before. Now he could let his mind drift backwards through the pain – to the wonderful memories of what took place here.
When he opened them again, there she was – sitting right along-side him on the ridge. She had not aged at all over the years but looked as radiant as on that day he had come here with her. That unforgettable day. Her impossibly blue eyes looked at him in a way which could only mean that she forgave him. That she still loved him.
Suddenly, the man was swept into the past, re-living precious moments of a happiness he once had – and then lost. Everything around him, above and below, was now exactly as he remembered from that magical first day when it all began.
A gust of desert wind caught the ridge sending countless sand particles flying off into the air. After blinking away those which had found their way into his eyes, he looked over to see that, as expected, she was smiling broadly. Yes, of course she would. How she had loved the wind. And how she had learned to understand its nature. He put a hand into his pocket and pulled out the metal object he had managed to procure from the drug dealer. He held it next to his temple. Tears began to stream down his cheeks. But they were tears of joy not sadness. Very soon he would be with her again – forever. He looked longingly into her eyes one last time. “I’m so sorry I failed you,” he whispered softly. She responded by reaching over as if to touch his arm. Then he pulled the trigger.