Chapter 5

2015.09.29

Indecision eats my time,
pulling me off to the side.
I always feared I'd lose my mind,
but fear of losing was my crime.

In time I must have found my way.
I know not what I've done today,
Step by step? I couldn't say,
but now I've come to where I'll stay.

It isn't what I could have been.
I only lost the soul within.
Pass me by; you'd never know
that once indeed I had a soul,
such are all the men I've known,
save for two;
they flew the coop,
never to be seen again.
That day I lost two friends.

A long time ago I thought I knew who I was. Then I met Danny.

Henrik's Story

Danny and I met our first year of fourth grade and quickly became best friends. I'm sure if we had lived in an urban setting we would have been troublemakers, but living in a small town out in the country, we conquered the mountains instead of doing whatever conquering the city entails. Danny seemed to know no bounds, and he constantly pushed me further than I thought I could ever go. I was always very grateful that he was my friend, but I don't think I ever expressed my appreciation to him in words. In middle school this girl moved into our town; Sam was her name. Danny and I were too busy doing our own thing through middle school, but in high school she started hanging out with us, and became a great friend. We dated off and on for the last few years, but toward the end, I realized I couldn't keep up with her, and I didn't want to hold her back. After we graduated high school, our plan was to take on the world, the three of us. I wanted to go with them, but I couldn't, and I couldn't tell them why, so they left without me. That was the last I saw Sam and Danny.

Eight years later to the day, Danny's parents were killed in a car crash. I was hoping that Danny would show up to the funeral that weekend... if he was still alive. I asked around at the funeral, but no one had heard from him or Sam. I figured Danny and Sam either had made it to wherever they were trying to get or they died trying. Neither of them showed up at the funeral, but I didn't really expect them to. The next day I was driving by the cemetery and I noticed a figure standing near to where Danny's parents were buried. I stopped the car and made my way over the the mysterious man. There's only one person it could have been. He was a bit taller and more muscular than high school Danny, but it was definitely him. I walked right up next to him and he didn't even turn to look at me.
"It's good to see you."
Danny, "Yeah, it's been a while." He flashed that Danny smile but still didn't look at me. "I heard they were in a car accident."
"They uh... they got hit by an SUV and were thrown off the cliff over on Ash Creek road."
Danny, "I probably should have come back earlier."
"Life doesn't work that way. You can't know what's going to happen."
Danny, "No, no you can't." Danny turned to me, "Hey man, you wanna get out of here; this place gives me the creeps."
"Yeah. Where do you want to go?" I looked over to his car. It was the same one that he had bought at the end of high school. "How long are you in town for?"
Danny, "I guess... I hadn't decided."
"Why don't we go get something to eat and then you can come crash at my place so we can catch up."
Danny, "Alright, yeah."

We got back to my house late. I tried to ask him about Sam, but he deflected the question whenever I brought it up. I could tell it hurt him each time. At one point, Danny just started staring at me, as though he was looking for something inside of me.
"What?"
Danny, "Do you want to go to Judgment Pass with me?"
I could tell he was completely serious, so I told him I would think about it.
"Like, the Judgment Pass?"
Danny, "Yep."
I wasn't expecting this at all, and I didn't know what to say,"Let me think about it overnight."
Danny, "Alright, catch ya in the morning."

Danny rolled over on the couch and passed out. It must have been a long day for him. I went to my room to think about it all. This was the craziest thing anyone has ever asked me to do. Now, normally I wouldn't hesitate a second if someone asked me to go on an adventure, but you don't know Danny's adventures; he's in a league of his own, and I don't even know what he's been up to since high school. He once walked 200 miles through mountains and valleys just to visit a monk reputed to only answer one question per traveler. Upon arriving, Danny ask, "what is it I am searching for?" to which the monk replies, "there are three types of people in the world: the divergent and the departed." Unsure of what it meant, Danny asked for clarification, but the monk remained silent and eventually Danny left. Ever since then, it became Danny's quest to find the meaning behind what the monk had told him that day. I wasn't convinced there was any meaning behind it at all, and wondered if the monk told everyone that same line.

That night as I considered Danny's plan, I couldn't help but read through the articles surrounding Judgment Pass. I was reminded that the only people to come back have either been insane or dead-- bodies void of a soul one way or another. Most people weren't even found at all, since you can't find a search party willing to venture up there. I had a passing thought that there must be a lot of bodies up there, but I tried to shrug it off. If Danny had asked me to go to Judgment Pass any other time in my life I would have declined without a second thought, but I had come to the point where I had done most everything I wanted to do, and I wasn't really sure what to do next. I knew Danny would go with or without me, but I knew it would mean a lot to him if I went... and I kinda wanted to go.

---

We spent the next few days catching a plane, riding a bus, and walking a long way, all to get to the base of mountains that would lead us to Judgment Pass. The climb up was just as hard as you would expect it to be. Occasionally I thought I had seen a shadow in the corner of my eye, or a face with glowing eyes behind a rock. I wondered if this is where the fabled Shadowsphere was, the place the Light Force had been searching for for countless generations. I hadn't told Danny about the Light Force, that the reason I didn't go with them all those years back was because I wanted to join the Light Force. He hadn't asked about it, so I hadn't asked any more about Sam. I first heard about Judgement Pass from the Light Force, but none of them were interested in risking their lives to see what was there. I had even heard a rumor that someone made it through and came out the other side.

After many grueling days trudging through treacherous mountains and passing countless bodies, we made it to the infamous Judgment Pass. Anchoring our ropes in to reach the final few meters, we walked over to get a better look. Just over the ridge I could see something strange. Inching closer, it seemed like reality started to break down at the edge of this cliff. There was just... nothing. How did this place come to be? I'd have to get closer to see for sure. Conjuring all the energy I had left, I forced myself to the top of this ridge, hidden away from anyone not bold enough to venture this far. As I grew closer and it came more into view, I thought it might be the edge of the world, but I knew better; I knew it to be the edge of reality, a vast nothingness holding the keys to everything that isn't. I carefully walked closer to the edge, to allow it to fill the entirety of my vision. Unable to look away, I sat down with my legs dangling over the side, swinging them back and forth through the auras of the unbeings. A smile and a single laugh grew on my face. I wondered how many people had been here before. I realized why so many people didn't come back; I could have stayed here forever, letting my body slowly fall back into the nothingness or just watching it from the edge as my life passed me by. Danny and I sat there in silence for nearly an hour, completely awestruck in that moment, in the here and now. How wondrous a place. I'm sure we could have stayed there forever, lost in the bliss of the moment.

A small rustle broke the emptiness, and I looked over at Danny as he shifted to a more comfortable position. Knowing I must break this spell if I was to survive this encounter, I turned my head around to cleanse my visual palate. Behind me there were ropes tied to rocks that lead out toward the edge, most likely from adventurers who didn't make the trip back. There was a lone tree hidden on the other side of a boulder that I hadn't notice on his way in, and I decided to leave Danny at the edge to go get a closer look. As I came around the far side of the boulder, I noticed that this was a very strange tree; there were no leaves, and it didn't look like it was capable of producing any. In fact, it almost looked like roots. Now curious, I made his way back over to the edge and looked underneath. As I suspected, on the underside there was the top of the tree, poking out beneath the ground, reaching toward the nothingness. It did in fact have leaves. They were wispy like the auras of the unbeings. It too was dipping its fingers into the nothingness, playing with the potentials of all that could be. Was this tree somehow able to decide what is allowed to exist and what must remain an unbeing? Unable to know, I got back up and walked over to the tree roots to examine them further when something caught my eye. Bending over, I found an metal water bottle. The bottle was somewhat weathered, though it doesn't seem likely to have been from sitting here; this bottle must have seen a lot. Picking it up, it didn't feel like it had any water inside.

With a scared and shaky voice I leaned over, "Hey Danny".
"Yeah?" Danny turned his face in my direction with his eyes still glued to the nothingness beyond the edge.
"How much water do you have?"
"One bottle." He didn't even have to look in his bag to give me an answer. If he cared, he was too tired to show it... or too crazy.
"Yeah, me too." I was exhausted from the trek up here, both in mind and body. Thinking for a second, I told Danny what I had come to realize, "We don't have enough to make it back." But I'm sure he already knew that. "Hey Danny."
Danny, "Yeah?"
"I found this..."
Danny stood up and stepped right up to the edge. Standing there, he untied his safety line and was now only hanging on to reality by the rope woven between his fingers.
"Danny, what are you doing?"
Danny unbuckled his backpack and let it fall to the ground.
"I just want to see it a little closer," he said calm as ever. Danny was the kind of guy that could make swimming with sharks sound like a care-free activity. For some reason he was compelled to get that extra few feet closer to the edge. Staring into the darkness as though it had been calling him his whole life, he said, "I wonder what's out there?" not really expecting an answer.
And then we both felt it; it was the moment we both knew was coming.
Danny turned to me with an apologetic smile and said, "See you in the next life."
There was nothing that could stand in the way of Danny and his dreams, not even our friendship. As he stepped off the edge, I could do nothing to stop him, but my arm reached out anyway. I stood there in disbelief for quite some time... staring into the abyss. Seconds turned into minutes... minutes into hours, as I found myself unable to move, unable to be anything but in the moment, unable to see anything but nothingness, unable to hear anything but the lack of companionship, unable to smell anything but the ever present danger, unable to feel anything but the lack of fear, unable to relate to all previous experiences, having stepped into this distant reality called Judgment Pass. I tried to imagine what it was that Danny believed in so much that he would leave behind everything he had ever known and all the futures he could have been a part of. What was it that made him leap at the chance of finding that something more? I may never know.

I turned the water bottle over in my hands and looked down at it. It had the name "Danny" carved into it.