As the evening sun of Christmas Eve dipped behind the resplendent Alpine mountains, its cerise rays graced Inner-Arosa, a Swiss resort village high on a mountain plateau. In this peaceful setting tragedy would seem an unwelcome, doleful specter, but tranquility had given way to utter despair, a hopeless forlornness, shared by a group of vacationing students from Edinburgh University on Christmas holiday.
For two desperate and prolonged days a manhunt had been in progress. Jonathan Lear, a humanities student, had mysteriously vanished from his hotel room two nights before without a trace.
His friends and the local authorities had searched the Alpine slopes, the chateau-like cottages, and the fairy tale village. Their efforts had proven fruitless.
As the searchers disbanded for the night, Roger McCreedy, Jonathan’s best friend and roommate, dragged himself up the oak stairs of the Helvetia Inn. He had not slept for forty-eight hours, and amidst his physical exhaustion, despondency had seized his mind and clung to him like a tenacious icicle to a gable.
I must rest, he said to himself. Jonathan will be found…
Reaching his room, he pulled his key from his pocket and placed it in the door lock. As the cylinder clicked, Roger pushed the door open.
The room was dark and cold. Reaching for the light switch, he thought he saw a shadow by the window in the cloudy moonlight.
Roger flipped the light switch, and the light flooded the room, revealing a human figure. Roger blinked and rubbed his tired eyes, but the figure remained, facing the window.
Can it be, Roger thought, can it really be? It must be. “Jonathan!” He gasped.
The figure did not respond. “Jonathan?” Roger walked to the window and placed a firm grasp on the left shoulder of his night visitor. “Jonathan!”
When the figure turned around, Roger recognized his friend, yet there was something different, something singular about him. His face had a deep tan, almost golden, and his eyes, those radiant, Scottish brown eyes, seemed oblivious of the present. They stared as if into an endless void.
“Jonathan,” Roger shook his friend, but his gaze remained transfixed.
Finally Roger slapped him across the face which brought him out of his trance-like state.
“Jonathan, where have you been? What happened to you? Susanna is worried sick about you.”
“Roger,” he replied slowly. “I have journeyed to the valley of Helios, the valley of the sun…”
Roger appeared mystified. “What?”
“The valley of the sun, the valley of the sun,” the repetition rang from his lips like a church chime.
“Jonathan, you’re not making sense. What’s this valley of the sun?”
“Roger, I’ve only a short time, but I want you to know the truth. You have to know.”
“Short time? The truth? What are you saying?” Roger grew concerned. He felt uneasy, but could find no apparent cause for this feeling.
“Roger, it all began two nights ago. Remember our last conversation before you and Jayne went on your midnight walk?”
“Aye, I recall it very well. It has haunted me since.”
11:45 p.m. Two nights previous on December 22.
“Jonathan, I don’t believe you realize the difference between fantasy and reality,” Roger insisted ardently.
“Roger, Roger, must we continue this tedious exercise in logical syntactics? It bores me, my old friend.”
Tossing his hands upward, Roger retorted, “Reality bores you, my old friend. You spend too much bloody time buried in old manuscripts and romantic notions and theories of yesteryear.”
“Is there anything wrong in engaging in such a noble enterprise of intellect and mental stimulation? And please do not call me a romantic. I bathe in the age of romanticism, but there are practical limits,” Jonathan smiled arrogantly.
“Aye!” The word exploded from Roger’s lips. “Life, happiness, and even love are to you words wrapped in mystery that dawn on a person at the precise moments of destiny. Susanna Hampton is flesh and blood, not a romantic character from Victorian literature. She cares for you. In fact I believe she loves you, but you seem unable to grasp that simple reality. You treat her very indifferently. She is a young lass with emotional and physical needs which you are not meeting…”
“Rubbish,” Jonathan stated harshly. “Susanna and I have been friends since childhood. She knows that I prefer the abstract concepts of life to the daily mundane affairs of existence. I care for her, but she is secondary to my goal of becoming an Edinburgh professor. She will always be secondary to my lifework. She has to accept that poignant reality. Our relationship is a convenience, not a necessity. Human passion is one of the not so sublime traits of man. Human emotions taints relationships and drain mental energies.”
“You are a gomerel!” Roger shouted, finding the Scottish expression more colorful than its English counterpart.
“A fool? Indeed!” Jonathan smiled at his friend’s tumultuous comment.
“Jonathan, your private realm is a strange place. Heartless. Cold. Uncaring. Almost barbaric. Sterile reality.”
“Aye, it may seem that way to most, but I fit into my sphere so well. If
Susanna wants to be my wife, and then she must share it with me. It is that simple. I am not totally insensitive to her emotional needs. The only reason that I came here was because she wanted me to come. I would like to be back at Edinburgh discussing Hegel with Professor Meredith MacWayne. If Susanna was more like her, then my life would be so perfect, so logical, so meaningful,” Jonathan sighed.
“You can daydream until reality, as we know it, ceases to be, but the reality of Susanna Hampton will not alter. There will never be another Meredith MacWayne. You have to accept Susanna as she is, but that’s not possible for you. Your private world doesn’t allow imperfection,” Roger was boiling with rage.
“My ideal world cannot afford a catalyst as volatile as Susanna Hampton to ruin my destiny. I owe it to mankind,” Jonathan stated emphatically.
“Mankind! Indeed!” Roger declared mockingly.
“Did Susanna tell you to speak with me about my behavior?”
“You don’t know her very well, Jonathan. I recommend that you spend some meaningful time with the volatile catalyst. It could be that your bloody world needs to be nuked. There is life for Jonathan Lear after he rejoins the rest of humble mankind. You might find us not so common after all, old friend.”
“Your vituperative sarcasm is a sad commentary on human understanding and acceptance. I thought you were my best friend.” There was no emotion in Jonathan’s voice.
“Best friend? Do you fully comprehend true friendship, Jonathan? I do not believe so, I do not mean to be harsh, but you make me so bloody mad with your bloody world!”
“So be it,” Jonathan shrugged.
“One question, Jonathan.”
“Aye, Roger, what is your one question?”
“Is your sphere of dreams and ideals a cave for your inner fears and turmoil? A hiding place from cold, human reality?”
Jonathan stared at his friend for a few moments. Smiling defiantly, he said,
“Jayne is waiting. Have a nice walk. I have Epictetus to peruse before sleep.”
Roger glared at him for several moments. He walked to the door and turned, “Can your bloody reality allow truth to have a say in your bloody life, my old friend?” Without lingering for a reply, Roger slammed the door and walked down the hall with a Vesuvian rage erupting inside.
11:58 post meridian:
Pondering on Roger’s words, Jonathan walked to the window. The night is so lovely, he thought. The moonbeams make the snowy ground glimmer like luxuriant layers on a tiered wedding cake. Rich texture. A tapestry of beauty. The mountains look so gorgeous. Soft and fine.
Inner-Arosa, a fairy tale, lost in the mountains of time. Shangri-La. I feel so at home here. Peace. Serenity. Life. Reality. Dreams. Susanna.
Susanna is a piece of exquisite art, a masterpiece of creation, the essence of sublime loveliness. Her long, silky, amber hair, her pulsating indigo eyes. Beauty. Wonderment. Par excellence…
In the distance a lonely alpenhorn began to sound. Those tones are so sad, so mournful, Jonathan pondered. How can the player bear such melancholy? I do not wish to think about it, yet Roger’s words, his passionate tone, and his anger cannot be vaporized from my memory. He did not realize how close he came to the truth. Susanna threats my world, my precious reality. I wish she was different. Perhaps the time has come to let her go, to burn the moorings tied to my heart.
I will mediate on that. It may be best for her as well. She would appreciate an ordinary lad who could place her first…
The voice of Meredith MacWayne filled his mind. “Epictetus said,
‘True instruction is this: – to learn to wish that each thing should come to pass as it does’. And how does it come to pass?’ Jonathan, do you have any comments on this statement and question?”
Jonathan remembered his answer to Meredith MacWayne. Her response was silence. Why did that come so forcefully back to my mind now, Jonathan wondered.
12:00 ante meridian:
The church bells rang in the new day as Jonathan made a flippant wish.
“Epictetus said that we should learn to wish. Therefore I wish on this new day — I knew the truth, the truth about my world and myself.” After musing for a few moments, “So much for frivolous wishing and for Epictetus’ simple-minded belief.”
Suddenly a maelstrom of strobe light engulfed the room. In the centre a vortex of hues and tints formed which blinded Jonathan. He felt himself being pulled into it. His hold on the linen drapes did not prevent him from being sucked into the swirling mass of lights.
After entering the vortex, Jonathan could sense that he was falling at a great speed, but he had no control over it. As he struggled to stop himself, his body went limp, and he could not utter a syllable.
Jonathan held his eyelids as tight as possible to escape the light. The radiance about him continued to grow, and the light took on a piercing, excruciating quality.
His eyes felt on fire. The incinerating sensation raced from his eyes to his mind and down his spinal column until his total being racked in agony.
What seemed like hours of torture to Jonathan faded gradually. The light vanished.
A strange warmth spread over his body. It reminded him of something, but he could not recall it. Slowly Jonathan began to realize another horror. The light had been intolerable, but as he opened his eyes, what greeted him was more intolerable.
“I am blind!” BLIND! The word soaked into his mind because it found no outlet at his mouth.
He heard voices. Faint and loud. One word was repeated over and over –
“Pygmalion” — as the alpenhorn continued its melancholy tones.
Gradually the voices changed to growls. WOLVES! Hundreds of wolves howled, some near and some far away. Jonathan felt threatened by the menacing sounds. He tried to place his hands over his ears to escape the cacophony, but paralysis overwhelmed his body. Only his mind appeared operational to him. As the growls grew closer and more throbbing to Jonathan, how he wished for deafness instead of blindness!
“Jonathan Lear. Jonathan Lear. Jonathan Lear,” that voice, saying his name, drummed out the other noises. It seemed so sweet, so feminine to his sore ears.
The sweetness turned sour when “Pygmalion…Pygmalion…Pygmalion,” clamoured like a bell by his head.
I do not understand! I do not understand! Jonathan shouted in his mind.
“Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.” The mellifluous voice took control of him. He had to obey. Momentarily he drifted into the realm of unconsciousness. At last he was free from his unpleasant experience.
When Jonathan awakened, the warm sun bathed his body. Opening his eyes, he found himself lying on his back looking up into the sky. “I can see!” He screamed.
Jumping to his feet, he found himself in a mountain valley. As he looked about him, Jonathan saw tall fir and pine trees lining the valley’s massive walls. Interspersed between the regal trees, hundreds of chamois grazed contentedly.
“They are beautiful creatures,” Jonathan said to himself.
Snow covered the tops of the mountain’s ridges. Above them hung ivory clouds. On both sides of the valley clouds dominated, and the sun shone through the centre. Jonathan found this enthralling.
Walking toward the west, he discovered flowers of every hue and kind — the buttercup, the daisy, the cowslip, the orchid, the holly hocks, the tulips…He thought, it must be an isolated mountain valley. Springtime in the middle of winter. Extraordinary. I am here in this lovely place, yet how did I get here? Why am I here? Who brought me here? He wondered with trepidation.
In the distance he beheld a brilliant space reflecting the sun. It must be a loch of some sort or metal, he surmised. I will go to it. Hopefully it will offer a clue to my location…
On his way he encountered a herd of mountain goats. There must be a thousand of them, he declared to himself. This valley is proving to be fabulous with all its collections of fauna and flora.
When he reached the reflected object, it turned out to be a crystal blue lake with hundreds of storks, swans and water lilies. Jonathan stood there in astonishment. Around the lake rose brushes and berries of every variety bloomed.
As Jonathan absorbed the scenes around him, he became acutely aware of his loneliness. There were no people in the mountain valley. He was totally alone. Now, he thought, I must pull myself together. I will find the answers to my questions.
From the lake flowed a vitreous rivulet which Jonathan decided to follow. It emptied into a golden pond, surrounded by fruit trees and grape vines.
Bending down, he ran his hand through the liquid. He decided to sample it. Can it be? He wondered. It tastes like a honey mixture.
“You are correct, Jonathan Lear,” a soft, melodious voice stated.
He saw no one, but he recognized the beautiful voice. That voice was the one that I heard as I fell, he said to himself. Finding the words, he asked,
“Where are you?”
“Look into the pond.”
As Jonathan stared into the pond, he saw the waves move from its centre toward him. When the waves touched the shore, these words came.
“I am the pool of wisdom. I have existed before time.”
“A talking pool with a feminine voice? Sophia?” Jonathan asked perplexed.
“True. I am Sophia.”
“She was a myth,” Jonathan arrogantly stated.
“All myths have a basis of truth. Reality, Jonathan, is that you are engaging in discourse with me. I have existence since the morning stars echoed the first waves of creation. Your composition of atoms came from the utterances of my first words in response to the songs of creation.”
“I don’t know what to say. I didn’t realize the reality of this place and especially, the reality of you.”
“Are you astonished? You should not be by now. I am here to assist you. Please ask your first inquiry. I cannot reply unless you question me.”
“Where am I?”
“The valley of Helios.”
“The valley of the sun?”
“Correct, Jonathan Lear.”
“Is that all you can tell me about this place?”
“Correct. No additional information is required about Helios.”
“I see. Why was I brought here, and who brought me here?”
“You wished for truth, and your wish was granted.”
“Wish? Oh! I remember now. Whose idea was it to grant my wish?”
“I cannot be precise in my answer. Many mentors have access to Helios, and in your case I cannot be totally positive.”
“I see. These mentors, who are they?”
“They are chosen from the Cosmos to instruct the children of man. They are guides of destiny, revelators of truth, and grantors of aspiration.”
“Tremendous,” Jonathan uttered with disgust. I am not getting anywhere, he reasoned. Answers, but not precise answers. “Why am I here?”
“I answered that.”
“Aye, you did. What or who is Pygmalion? I heard that name as I was falling.”
“That will be explained at another time.”
“I see. What am I supposed to do here besides enjoying myself?”
“Observation. Questioning. Thinking. Acceptance.”
“Simple enough. Where and when do I begin?”
“You have already begun.”
“I should have known that answer.”
“Correct. Jonathan Lear, I must leave you for now. Please sit beside me and your thoughts will be reflected on my surface.”
Jonathan sat down and looked deeply into the pool of wisdom. Slowly images formed.
“It’s becoming quite late, and the ride to Tarves is long,” a young lady of fourteen affirmed.
“We have plenty of time, Susanna. Isn’t the sea majestic?” A sixteen year old Jonathan asserted.
“Aye, Jonathan, it truly is.”
“The soaring, niveous gulls, the glittering, sun-drenched sand, and the refreshing ocean spray are such wonders of nature. There are sublime, but you are celestial to behold, my lovely Susanna.” There was passion in his tone and sincerity in his eyes.
The images dissolved. That was eight years ago, Jonathan reflected. We loved to ride our horses from Tarves to the North Sea. Beautiful. Susanna was so delightful at fourteen, and even now she rivals the Princess of Wales. I have not told her that for many years. In fact, that was the last time, I ever commended her for her rare beauty and charm. Metaphors became phrases on printed pages to me. They were objects to be thought on but not expresses to a loved one. I lost myself in the means of non-verbal expression. Jonathan Lear, you certainly have not made Susanna’s last eight years a merry time.
As he continued to view the pool of wisdom, he beheld his gross indifferences to Susanna. Once he deliberately ruined her evening at the Tarves’ Highlander Ball. He spent the whole time discussing Chaucer and did not dance once with Susanna. She never complained.
Another occasion, he had avoided her for two entire months as he had studied deeply John Milton’s PARADISE LOST. He had such a rich time, and Susanna had never complained.
Event after event manifested itself in the pool of wisdom. Jonathan loathed himself.
The final event materialized. It was the afternoon before his midnight disappearance.
“This vacation business ruins a person’s mental appetite,” Jonathan declared. Pulling a paperback from his coat, he flopped himself down in a lobby chair. Susanna stood by the fireplace without a word, even though her facial expression turned rosy.
“Do you not want to go snowmobiling with Roger, Jayne and me?” She asked tensely.
Looking up, he replied, “Nae.” He raised his book into the air. “Tennyson’s IDYLLS OF THE KING will hold my attention for the afternoon. You can go skiing with Roger and Jayne if you like, my dear one.” His tone was cold, as cold as a tomb in early morning.
“Snowmobiling,” Susanna stated firmly.
“Aye, skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing — all the same to me, my dear one. A waste of valuable time and energy. Give me an excellent book and a warm pine fire, and I will enjoy my recreation to the hilt of Excalibur,” he smiled. He noticed that she was on the verge of saying something. “Aye, has the fox captured your tongue, my dear one?”
“Jonathan Lear, I have this to say. The Bard of Avon was very wise and had you in mind when he wrote, ‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!'” She turned and walked swiftly away.
“I wonder what she meant by that. She is so temperamental. These feminine creatures are a curse to the noble race of man. King Arthur would truly agree. I wish Susanna was more like Professor MacWayne, logical, methodical, and unemotional. I would be so happy…”
Gradually the image evanesced while Jonathan sat rapt in thought. Finally, he said aloud, “Roger was correct. I am a gomerel. Susanna must really love me to tolerate my boorish manner. That event in the inn’s lobby was the last time that I saw her. Perhaps, I will never gaze upon that empyreal face again. Perhaps, I will remain forever in the mountain valley as just punishment, remain alone forever,” he expressed hopelessly.
“No one can remain forever unless a certain condition is met,” the pool proclaimed solemnly.
“I thought, you only answered questions?”
“I have the ability to engage in conversation with someone as foolish as you.”
“I see, and I concede, but where do I go from here?”
“You inquired earlier about the word ‘Pygmalion’. Do you wish to know its meaning?”
“Look into my waters.”
Jonathan focused on the centre of the pool. The image of Professor Meredith MacWayne and a handsome gentleman appeared. They were walking in a park.
“Who is that man?” Jonathan uttered. Professor MacWayne seemed so relaxed, so contended, unlike her professional self.
“Professor Gareth MacWayne, her American cousin.”
“They look almost like brother and sister,” Jonathan stated as he continued to watch.
As they walked and laughed, Professor Meredith MacWayne paused by a statue of a young woman. She was made from pure Carrara marble.
“Galatea,” Gareth said.
“Aye, this is Galatea, the beautiful creation of Pygmalion.”
“Pygmalion, the man who cast his hatred of all women into making the marble Galatea, but…”
“But he fell in love with the inanimate Galatea,” Meredith continued.
“His love, aided by Aphrodite, transformed the marble Galatea into a living, human woman. Love is the most amazing force in the Cosmos.”
Meredith smiled. “I know someone like Pygmalion. He does not hate women, but he treats them coldly, especially his special friend. She loves him, but to him she is only a marmoreal object like this statute without emotions and passions…”
“Aye, but I believe his Pygmalion complex will end soon, very soon.” Meredith looked directly at Jonathan and smiled.
At that instant Jonathan knew the truth, the truth about himself and his world.
“Do you wish to return to your world?” The pool questioned.
“Aye, I do, but I want to return to the world of Roger, Jayne, and Susanna. I have so much to amend to her.”
“Correct, but you have little time to amend the last eight years.”
“I don’t understand,” Jonathan uttered with a tinge of fear.
“Susanna’s time in your world is almost over. She is dying and knows it not.”
Shock and horror filled Jonathan’s face. “It cannot be! It must not be!”
“She will cease in your world within seven months.”
Tears began to roll from Jonathan’s eyes. “Seven months! Seven months, but isn’t there any hope? There must be hope,” he stated desperately.
“There is one solution, Jonathan Lear.”
“What?” He implored.
“Drink from my waters, and when the time comes, you will know what must be done.”
A silver chalice formed in his hand. He dipped it into the pool and drank its contents. The liquid filled him with radiant warmth. As consciousness escaped him, he fell backward onto the grass.
When he awoke, he stood in his hotel room looking out his window. The door opened and Roger walked into the room.
“Unbelievable,” Roger asserted. “Unbelievable.”
“It’s all true, my old friend, but where is Susanna?”
“She’s in the chapel. Jonathan, is there a way to save her?”
“Aye, my old friend,” Jonathan took a firm hold on Roger’s right shoulder.
“There’s always hope. Love has the solution. Always remember that. Professor MacWayne will understand what happened and please tell her that
I appreciate the opportunity given to Susanna and me.”
“I don’t understand,” Roger looked puzzled.
“You will.” Jonathan hastened from the room.
As Roger thought on his friend’s comments, anxiety overcame him. A sudden, rapid knocking on his door startled him.
Jayne burst into the room, excitement gushing from her, “He’s alive! He went into the chapel.”
“I know, but we’ve got to go to the chapel!” Roger grabbed Jayne’s right hand and rushed from the room.
In the chapel Jonathan embraced and kissed Susanna. He told her about his experience and her destiny. As they held each other in their arms, the soft candle light gave way to a mauve hue of light.
Roger and Jayne reached the chapel doors as the village clock was striking midnight.
Going inside they saw a fading light over the altar and then the envelope of night touched only by candle light returned. They found two fresh vermilion roses at the foot of the altar.
Roger picked them up and smelt the sweet fragrance. “Unbelievable,” he sighed as he handed they to Jayne.
“Roger, what has happened here tonight. These roses were cut in the last few minutes and they have morning dew on them, spring morning dew…”
“The valley of the sun,” he smiled.
Jayne looked at him intently for several moments. “The valley of the sun?
Roger, please, where are Jonathan and Susanna?”
“The valley of the sun,” he replied.
“What is this valley of the sun?” Concern filled her gentle voice as the realization of what had happened touched her mind.
Roger took her hand and said reverently, “Valhalla…Elysium…Avalon…Fitting for early Christmas morning.”
Somewhere between the realm of dreams and the sphere of reality exists the valley of the sun, where eternal spring never changes and life never ceases because both are fed by the current of love, the life force of the Cosmos…
G. D. Williams © 2019