The light is very bright coming from the door, but it is not the white light of peace. It is bright and yellow, like the sun in the desert that either gives life or takes it away. It does not care about the outcome. It simply shines relentlessly and accepts no responsibility for the consequences of its heat. Its purpose is only to shine.
I walk to the door slowly. As I near the opening, I feel the comfort of a hand upon my shoulder. I am not here alone. IEO is with me, and we walk the few remaining steps to the door together.
I realize the significance of his presence here. I appreciate the feeling of comfort, but I also understand the meaning of his presence. I continue cautiously. The door swings wide as we approach, but I cannot see what is inside. The light overwhelms and encompasses the door, concealing its contents. Squinting, I step blindly through the opening and to the other side.
As I walk through the door, the light engulfs me and illuminates my surroundings. My eyes try to close against the blinding terrain, but eventually, the world around me comes into focus. I stand alone in the middle of a desert. I look around at what appears to be a vast wasteland. The light is so bright I cannot see its source. The sky is barely blue in the face of it, and the land almost cream. The light infuses everything it touches with so much white I can scarcely tell where the sky ends, and the earth begins. It is the overwhelming light I’ve found only in the noon desert or winter mountains when the reflection of the sun’s glare off the snow or the sand is more difficult to bear than the sun itself.
I no longer see IEO, but I know he is here. As I look closer, I realize we are on what appears to be a dry lake bed. I think it was a salt lake or maybe the bottom of the ocean. I can see cracks in the surface amidst swirls of white and sand. I assume a wind storm was blowing for some time while this bed dried, causing this distinctive pattern. There is no wind now. Everything is still and dead. There is no sound or movement of any kind. This silence, after the raging storm outside the cabin, is almost deafening.
I am not sure what to do here. There is the faint outline of some mountains in the distance. With no other landmark, I begin to move toward them. Turning one last time before I walk, I see the cabin door is gone, and I know it will not return. It was left abandoned some time ago for the cave where the self-loather lives now, my cave. We will not go back, and I know Amber will never return. So, it will remain abandoned until the sand and sun consume it.
The walk is not as long as it looks. Unlike a typical desert, I reach the mountain in a relatively short amount of time. It is gray and white, similar to the mountain ranges in Utah. Like the black mountain where I sit in a cave meditating, there is a canyon path leading in and up. I begin to walk the path. It is not black and ominous, like the self-loather’s path, but it is not lush like a canyon path would be in the mountains I’ve climbed. There is no water, so there are no plants. The trail is gray and narrow, like the rock, but the craggy canyon walls slope away from the path, offering a wide enough birth to be comfortable.
I wind and twist as I ascend the hill and suddenly imagine one hill after the other. I wonder if all of this might be a distraction. I pause for guidance, waiting until I am sure it is not. After receiving confirmation, I continue up the mountain, quickly ascending about fifteen hundred feet until I look out over what appears to be a large crater.
It is still bubbling at its center and puts off a great deal of heat. I imagine an eruption of the volcano below created the wasteland I just crossed. I think of the craters at Yellowstone and all of the white and yellow swirling pools, and suddenly, I see it. I wasn’t standing on a lake bed. It was the fallout from this crater. What I assumed to be salt was ash, rich in nutrients. I know, years from now, the wasteland will be gloriously green. I am comforted by the thought of how time will heal this place. It will not always reflect the scars of this man’s sufferings.
I begin my descent into the crater. The rocks on this side are black and porous. The lava is sharp, so I must be careful as I work my way down the slope. I pick up several small stones and add them to my pack for later. I don’t carry the same one I carried to the cave. It is a small, handmade leather bag draped over one of my shoulders. It looks like a handcrafted Native American bag, and I assume this is what it is. My guess is I have everything I need to make a lodge in this bag. I can see no other reason to gather these lava stones than to sweat.
I reach the bottom of the crater’s ridge. There is a small trail following along the circumference of the bubbling liquid. The cavity wall juts up, just to my right, and the path continues as a small gap of earth between the crater wall and the lava at its center. It is barely wide enough for one person to traverse. The crater itself is enormous. It is around a half-mile in diameter, by the look, and the center coughs and spits continuously. There is an occasional burp nearer the edges, and I find myself wondering how often this particular geyser erupts. Of course, I know if I am here to be part of an eruption, this is what I will be.
I become accustomed to the smell of sulfur and heat radiating from the pit as I continue along the trail. Where I came to the mountain and ascended it at an accelerated rate, here things have slowed. It is as if I am waiting for the time to be right like a few more items must be put in order before I can continue on my journey. I think walking is unnecessary at this point, so I decide to stop and sit on a large stone.
This part of the trail doesn’t look any different from the rest, other than is seems I have walked from one side of the crater to the other. As I sit looking across to where I entered the cavity. I drink from a leather bag and watch the sun as it dips toward my new horizon. Now, I see why I paused. I was waiting for the sun to set.