The wind blew on my face as I eagle-spread above the snaking river and jagged mountains. Nausea gripped my throat and my breath hung on my jaw, unable to escape my mouth.
I’m gonna die.
The wind whirred and buzzed in my ears, but the hazy cliffs remained far and distant. I floated, flew over the abyss.
“Enjoying it?” Tony shouted from my right.
I strained to turn my head, not wanting to see anymore of the depths below. Get me out of here, you dimwit. But the words remained in my head. Thought bubbles that refused to come out of my frozen mouth. I exhaled a giant ball of air off my chest and found my voice. “Tony. Help.” It was barely a whisper. And the wind was strong. “Tony!”
“I heard you, man. Tap your shoes together.”
I did and dove downwards, my arms dangled with palms spread out. “Tony!”
“Sorry, wrong cue. That was for the chutes.”
“What chutes?” I pulled my head and peered at my feet. Two small chutes held me up in the air.
“What the hell, Tony! Are you trying to kill me?”
“No, no. Those shoes have built-in safety systems. If one fails, then another one will kick in. Three fail-safe systems.”
“And the chutes are the first?” The wind blew me to the west, and I bobbed up then back.
“Yes, and those are hybrid mini-chutes designed to keep you stable in the air.”
I didn’t feel stable as the chutes swayed where the wind blew. What the heck? It could blow me to some dark crevices of the Grand Canyon if it wanted to.
“Now, you gotta extend your arms and see if you can grab this stick.” He held out a long branch of a tree.
I reached out. My fingers brushed at its tip. “More.”
Tony strained against the railing while I paddled in futility.
“Try breast stroke,” Tony said. “Or back stroke.”
“Must everything be a joke to you?” Damn the man.
Another gust blew.
“You’re too far!” he said. “You must pull the string of the chutes… collapse then … built-in safety system … eject from that door.” The wind snarled like an angry dog, muffling Tony’s words as he pointed towards the west side of the Hermit’s Rest.
“What will eject?”
“The giant drone... spread out like eagle… clip your wings. Dive towards the drone…Designed to hover beneath you… Grasp the wings and it’ll bring you back.”
“Are you crazy? Get me out of here,” I said.
“That’s the fastest way or 911.”
“And be all over the evening news? No!”
“Crazy man jumped off the abyss in his super shoes. That’s not too bad,” he said.
“Alright.” The wind died down and Tony said, “Pull the laces now while you can hear my instructions well.”
I wiggled my extended finger towards my stretched out feet.
The laughter in his voice made my blood boil.
“Bench press without the bench is ridiculous,” I shouted at him.
“Why don’t you try bending your knee? Just do a bit of acrobatics.”
Bend my knee? “I never thought of that.”
“Sometimes it’s what’s on your nose that you can’t see.”
“Now is not the time to pull on that rhetoric, Tony.” On-the-nose writing. Must he always have to hint at my dream even while I was in a nightmarish reality? I grunted and pulled the laces.
The surroundings zoomed past me, as my curled up form surrendered to gravity. “Aaaah!” I tugged the laces and the chutes opened, and like an air balloon, lifted me back up. Tony’s upside down figure was laughing.
“I’m gonna kill you.” My gritted teeth could rip off the flesh from his thick neck.
“I don’t think you’re in any position to threaten me, Jeff.”
Wring those thick neck with my bare hands, if I could reach him. But I couldn’t. I exhaled and allowed my head to hung. “Where is the drone?”
“Wait, hold that pose right there.” He threw away the branch and took out his phone.
“Your pose reminds me of another superhero caught in a web.”
Can't believe my life was at the hands of this comic book-reading kid wearing an adult costume.
“Alright.” He pocketed back his phone and pointed at the Hermit’s Rest. “From there, the drone will shoot out when you fall 10 feet below.”
“Can’t you override the system? Let it go now?”
“I could but I’d deprive you of the complete healing.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your acrophobia and basiphobia. I think it’s gone.”
He was right. I’ve been hanging here like a bat for a while now, and I was getting used to it. And the only way to convince this unreasonable man was to use logic and reason. Recalculating my arguments, I said, “Acrophobia may be curable, but not basiphobia. Though I'm unconvinced about your definition of basiphobia, but based on that, if you cure my fear of falling, you’d kill me.”
He leaned on the rail with crossed arms. “How so?”
I got him.
Now, I must convince him.
With few choice words.
Less is more.
“Basiphobia is my defense mechanism. Without that fear, I’d believe I can fly. And die.” Beat that argument, you smug.
“True. Without the fail-safe devices, you’d die. But I told you, the drone will fly out, once you let go. If you let go. When you let go. Do you even have a choice right now?”
“I do. I could choose to stay here, hanging forever.”
“That’s true. Blown by the wind. Would you surrender your choice to the whim of the wind? Let it lead you where you don’t want to go? Now who’s in control?”
Damn the man. My shark instinct became like a tadpole’s against him.
“Let go of those shoe laces, Jeff, and you’d be saved. Why don’t you trust my word?”
“Because I don’t know you!”
“That’s right. We’ve only known each other this morning, and yet, don’t you feel you’ve known me forever? I poured the history of my company to you, and you cried and puked on my shoes awhile ago. You know me more than you know your next door neighbor whom you’ve lived with for two years.”
My spine straightened. It was true. I resisted all of Kate’s attempt to meet the neighbors. “How do you know that?”
“Wow, that was rhetorical. I didn’t know it hit another tender spot.”
Darn. He was getting under my skin like a splinter. “Stop using my words against me.”
“Am I? Look at the splinter in your eyes, Jeff. Take it out. It’s causing you to blink, miss the signs, make you blind.”
What the heck! How did he knew I was thinking of a splinter?
“Are you about to throw up again? Your face is as white as a canvas. Well, at least, you’re in a desirable position. Puke as much as you want.” His upside down lips looked like he was smiling.
“Okay, you got me. What do I do again?”
“Finally, you’re listening to reason.”
Only because I have no choice, Dumbo. I bit my lip. No use biting the hand that could get me out of my predicament.
“Once you pull the laces, let go, and fall ten feet below, a drone will fly out to catch you. No more, no less.”
“How will I know?”
“You gotta do it then you’ll know. To see is to believe. Isn’t that your childhood motto?”
“Who told you that?” I’ve only mentioned that once to one person.
Kate. And she'd been using it as an ammunition each time she challenged my faith.
“I have my sources…You better hurry up man, before the wind catches you again, then the bird might miss you. It flies on thermal drag.”
“I would fall more by the time the drone reaches me.”
“And the thermal drag. You said the drone depends on it. If the wind blows, it can redirect its flight?”
“So you were listening after all. They were right. You have a sharp mind. True again.”
Correction, photographic memory. But bragging about my strengths would expose secrets I could use to my own advantage.
The art of war.
But who had he been talking to about me? “They? Who are they?” I said.
“I snooped on you, remember? Now. Listen. Hurry up before the window of opportunity closes and it is about to happen. I can sense a strong gush coming,” he licked his forefinger and held it up like a barometer, “and it’ll be a steady one and won’t let up until… who knows when. Let go now before it’s too late!”
His words jolted me to release the laces. The wind rushed against my face as my eyes focused on the ground below. Ten feet. It seemed forever. The lazing water appeared nearer. Ten feet. How long still? My breath snagged on my throat as I gathered speed. Ten feet.
A black object zoomed past. What was that? The object returned and hovered below. I extended out my arm, bracing for the impact but I bounced back up before I could collide with the object. I landed back on an invisible pillow and hovered over… black feathers with eyes? What the heck.
“That must be Eagle Eye 2.0." Tony whistled.
Spreading over an unseen cushion, I turned my head to Tony who was now at my eye level. “Why do you sound like this is the first time you’ve seen this drone?”
“The drone that I told you about does not have that force field keeping you on top—”
“Like a cloud of cotton.” I tapped on the invisible bed.
“They delivered as they said. Wing span 10 feet from tip to tipz We wanted to mimic the Philippine eagle’s but had to add 3 feet more to accommodate the number of sensors needed to detect the Mag Lev shoes. Now, the wing span almost approximates that of the Albatross’ bird but the latter’s 11.5 ft is too long and unstable for the sensors.”
“Sensors?” I said.
“The eyes on the feathers.”
I peered at the black feathers and numerous eyes stared back at me. “Like a peacock.”
“Because that’s a male drone. You got sharp eyes. Regular people could not discern those eyes from your height.”
“I’m color blind.”
“Oh, who would have thought?” he said.
Nobody would guess. It was a weakness I hid from everyone and did it very well. I distinguished colors using the different shades of grey.
Again, the art of war. But now Tony had a leverage on me. Why did he always seem to get the truth out of me without having to pry hard?I hope he forgets.
“You’re about 5 feet above the bird,” Tony continued like it didn’t matter. “Its force field keeps the shoes away,” he said. “The shoes have a force field of its own that surrounds your body. Carbon activated.”
A wind blew and the wings shifted and caught the light breeze, bringing me towards the rail. Tony grasped my wrist and pulled my hand against the rail. I gripped the cold metal and my feet lost the support underneath.
“Hold on, I got you.” He pulled my shirt from behind and like a rag doll he hurled me on the ground.
“Nice landing.” His hands rested on his hips as he eyed my squatted form. “But not as fancy as mine.”
“Don’t ever do that again.”
“What?” His teeth were as white as the ball of his eyes.
He was trying not to laugh and that irked me. “I almost died there and you’re laughing.”
That erased the smile off his face and his gaze turned grim. “Jeff, nobody dies under my watch. Trust me on that. I have secured the area below with a holonet. A safety net. The third line of defense.”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to offend you.”
“I may push you to pain, fear, panic, not to kill you, but to free you from your bondage.”
And he had freed me from my fear of heights, or depths or falling. Whatever.
“C’mon, I’ll take you back to the station.”
“You’re letting me go?” Just like that? I followed him to the crackling wall of holofilm.
He walked right through and stood on the other side then turned.
I stood frozen, looking at him on the other side, behind the waving, cracking sheer curtain of air.
“C'mon. What are you waiting for?
“You said this holofilm will zap me to oblivion, with a power greater than the handle of the bus.”
“You believed the words I told you based on your experience—another evidence proving the theory of the Power of Suggestion. Now I’m telling you it won’t. Will you still believe? Or will you treat me like the boy who cried wolf, unreliable.”
He looked solemn and sincere. No laughing eyes that mocked me.
Against my better judgment, I believed him.
But I stood there cringing at the crackling sound. I still remembered the sting of the bus door handle.
“You’re free. You can leap to this side. You saw me walk through. Why do you doubt?” He shoved his hands through the crackling holofilm and wiggled it. “See? Hold me, and I’ll pull you out. Trust me.”
I grabbed his arm, and he pulled me towards him.
“You can breathe now and open your eyes,” he said.
“You’ve demonstrated another learning theory of the Dream Maker Prototype. Past traumatic experience inhibits one from trying, until a greater force, negative or positive, overcomes it.”
I was panting and still couldn’t believe the holofilm was nothing but a mirage of sorts. Yet I feared it because of how it sounded, reminding me of the pain I associated with the crackle on the bus handle.
“Remember the third prototype, the one that activated the expectant faith? That should help in overcoming your inhibition then release your dream. But it’s effect isn’t instant. Like now, I had to grab you from the other side. And you had to trust me. And you did and you’re here.”
“Are those concepts even real?”
“You tell me, Jeff. Write down your observation. I told you the experiment does not end when you leave the shuttle bus, the Grand Canyon, or me. You’ve crossed the gate of no return when you said yes. It’s an irreversible process. The Dream Maker will propel you closer to your dream, whatever that is.”
“How do I know you’re not making these all up the way you did at Hermit’s rest. Holoscreen. Holofilm."
“Only you can answer that. Faith is not seeing and then believing. It is believing and then seeing. And science is no different. Everything comes from theory. We believe in an abstract concept and then we gather evidence to prove our abstraction. What then is the difference? If you consider religion, or faith, God is the concept.”
“And why are we talking about God again? I’m not an atheist. You’re preaching to the choir here.”
“So you believe you’re part of the choir? Then why aren’t you singing His song? Why aren’t you dancing to His tune? Whose choir do you belong to?”
“If you believe, then why isn’t He real in your life? Why do you lead your life like you have no God. Like you are the God who fulfills your own destiny? You could prove His existence by believing then conclude He’s real or unreal. ”
“Because I’m not a robot, a puppet who listens blindly to some outside force who dictates my every walk, my every talk. I am a human gifted with reason to decide for myself and map out my destiny,” I said.
“See, that’s where an atheist, an agnostic and a believer differs. But you know what, some agnostics and atheists are better off than those who claim to be believers.”
“Why?” I said. I wasn’t getting his argument at all. He was winning the war by default. Paralysis of the confused enemy.
“At least they stand for what they don’t believe in. Whereas some believers claim they believe but they doubt. Are you a believer, Jeff or an atheist or agnostic in sheep’s clothing? Do you really belong to the fold or are you a wolf pretending? Ask yourself these questions then perhaps you’ll find your answer to that one big question that you’ve long been hiding from.”
“Poor you. No wonder you don’t find your answers. You don’t even know your question. Your dream, of course! Your purpose. Your personal legend.”
Did he just say Personal Legend? “Are you talking about The Alchemist? You’ve read it?” He didn’t look like the type who would.
“And Half Time and a Purpose-driven Life. Yes, all these books to makes sense of my life that had no direction.”
“And now you found your purpose as a shuttle bus driver?” It sounded ridiculous.
“A front. A cover. You see, Jeff, if there are covert operations of the dark forces in this world, there are covert operations of the forces of light. Both forces are actively recruiting.”
“And are you recruiting me?”
“You’ve already been recruited, my friend. How many times do I have tell you? Your three yeses…”
“Okay, okay. I get it.”
“Do you really? I don’t think so. When you’re back in your world, learn to watch out for signs. Creative inspiration comes like a thief in the night. If you have no spare oil in your lamp, it will not ignite its light. Be prepared at all times.”
“What if I miss the opportunity? Fail to read the signs?”
“Alright, do this for me.” He took out his cellphone and opened his palm towards me. “Take out your cellphone and turn on the bluetooth.”
I fished out the phone from my pocket and he airdropped something.
“What was that?” I peered on the screen.
“The app for the Dream Maker Prototype. Made your phone a high tectonic radiofrequency device. It records distinct quantum resonance conversations and records meaningful words. You can also write down your experiences such as weird realities and dreams coming true. I want you to be very observant of things that come out of your mouth. Words you speak and are spoken to you. Think like a detective trying to uncover a mystery. The mystery of this realm called ‘world.’ The goal: finding the common thread of science and spirituality. The means and tool? Expectant faith. If the Spirit conspires in our favor, I shall see you soon. You can take the red shuttle from here.” He shook my hand and walked back to the bus.
Tony stopped in mid-climb.
“I want to know more.” Did I just say that?
His face broke into a grin. “Now you’re talking. Hop on the bus.” He rummaged through a cooler lying beside the driver’s seat. “Here,” he handed me a sandwich and a bottled water then drank a greenish concoction from another bottle.
The bus ride was silent. Now that I was open to what more he had to say, his mouth had closed. Great. How do I unravel the mystery behind this man?
I stared out the window and thought about all the things that had transpired in the Hermit’s Rest as I ate.
Reality. Truth. Dreams.
Tony had managed to turn my world upside down with his arguments and demonstration.
The bus lurched to the left and made a U turn. Tony parked and opened the door. “Come, I want to show you something.”
I leapt out the bus and followed him. “Where are we?”
“The point where the past communicates with the present and the future.”