This is the twenty-first installment of a series about the Mountain Dude, a wandering guy with an ESP-like “gift”. The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.
“What’s your name?”
“Haven’t you guessed?”
We sat face to face under a cottonwood in the wash as the morning grew and the rocks turned from gray shadows to red yellow gold all around. A beautiful canyon on a beautiful morning as I sat with evil. We sat cross legged facing each other as if for a powwow. There was no peace pipe.
“Evil Man,” I said and I could feel this opening inside, an unclenching, fear dissipating and replaced by an acceptance of what was next. It occurred to me that something, some inner grip, had been clenched in me for a long time, but only now as it was being released. I felt open and ready for this.
“Evil, yes,” he said. “Power, yes. I am Satan, Santa, and Stalin come to earth to help those with certain gifts. To show them the way. You, my friend, have one of those gifts.”
“ESP,” he laughed. “Those are just tiny initials for a gift beyond your understanding that could change the world. Yet you run from that power. Why do you run?”
“It causes too much pain. I can’t be around people. At least not for long.”
“That’s because you shy from the power. No pain no gain. You’re playing a small game when you have the skill to play the biggest game of all.”
The sun was cresting the edge of the canyon and the orange light fell on his face. The skin was close shaven and smooth, rosy cheeks and thin prim lips. I could not see his eyes because of his sunglasses but I could see my reflection looking at his face. Him and me right there in his glasses.
“The biggest game of all,” he said. “The biggest game of all, and I don’t want to overwhelm you but I think you can handle it. You may even know it already. The biggest game of all is the battle for the souls of human beings.”
“That doesn’t sound like the kind of game I want to play.”
He sighed. “People for the most part want to be told what to think and what to do. They just don’t know it. They think they want freedom, but they can’t handle it. You have the power, the obligation, to help them to the right way.”
“Yes. Otherwise you will continue to wander aimlessly and fruitlessly from place to place, heartbroken, fleeing your obligation to help.”
There was a splash from upstream and a man appeared walking in the streambed. He came down the stream peering at the canyon walls and cottonwoods, a camera dangling and floppy hat flopping. Homo Touristicus. I couldn’t tell if I was happy to see him or if I should warn him away.
“Let’s see what Joe Blow from Idaho thinks,” the Evil Guy said.
The tourist heard the voice and turned toward us. “Hey there,” he said. “You fellows having some kind of powwow?”
“You could say that. We need you to settle an argument for us.”
“Sure,” he said. “Name’s Joe. From Idaho.”
“I’m the Evil Man,” the Evil Man said.
“Mountain Dude,” I mumbled.
Joe looked at both of us. “Those are some strange names. More like descriptions. I think I’m going to move on and get more photos.”
“Come sit, Joe. We won’t keep you long.”
Things seemed to slow and I felt stoned like I was observing this scene from up above on the canyon rim. It seemed like I couldn’t move without the greatest effort. Joe plopped down between us in the sand. “That was weird,” he said. “It’s like I was pulled down.”
“Let’s begin,” said the Evil Man with a thin smile.