It was the first night. I was in a car with three three other men. We were greeted by a dark skinned, 6 foot tall behemoth. His beard hung from his face like a heavy scroll. He bent down. He peered into the car with abyss-black eyes. The first thing I noticed were the tight leather gloves cloaking his hands, ripe for a killing.
It was the second time we were at the camp. At first we had arrived an hour early (in the fear of arriving late). Instead of having a friendly guy welcoming us to the campsite, we were smouldering in in the soulless stare of this primordial mammoth. We spun around without question and galloped back up the dirt road.
Now we were back, staring eye to eye with a reformed axe murderer. He spoke in slow tones.
“What is your name?”
“Jon,” I blurted. A nervous grin carved through the corners of my mouth.
“Why are you here?”
“To be a man.”
In his left hand he held the carcass of a clipboard. He paused after the second question. I held his stare while my heart beat like the fist of a prisoner. My stare seemed to satisfy him after some time. He scribbled something down.
“Park over there.”
We did as we were told. I had paid a fair amount to do this. I had travelled 2 hours by car into the pit of nowhere. Turning back now was far down the list of options. I hauled my luggage from the car. We were instructed to take everything because we would not return to our vehicle. We had crossed the first threshold.
The four of us were instructed, and then lead by stern-faced soldiers. I forget the minutes that flew by. I walked down a forest path.My feet dragged on, heavier than before. I spotted a path lit by candles. My mood shifted for half a heartbeat. I walked towards an old man. He stood in the middle of a wooden bridge. In a crinkled hand he held a wooden staff, dripping with feathers. He told me to put my bags down. I did.
“Come here son, so I can look into your eyes.”
I shuffled forward.
He spoke with a deep, Texan drawl. It sounded like a thick blade scraping against the dense bark of the soul. Beneath the creases in his face I stared into eyes. Glacier blue. Alive. They whisked my thoughts like a fragile raft down his river of words and rapids of consciousness.
“Tell me something.”
Another long pause. The part of me insisting this was all fantasy started to loosen, like the skeleton vines holding my raft together.
“Why are yew heee-yer?”
“I want to be a man.”
A head rocked in recognition. Again, he waited.
My declaration to be a man felt more and more hollow. Was this why I was here? Why did they take so long to understand? Am I here for the right reason? Currents of doubt circled my lungs. Despite the cogs in my head whirring at a fiery pace, I continued to hold his gaze, locked into the force of a wild man.
“Do me a fay-verr.”
“Turn around and look bee-hind yew.”
I turned and stared at my clump of bags against a tree.
“That’s yaw old life.”
“Are yew ready to leave that bee-hind and step towards yaw new one?”
He stretched out the word “one”. The final beat of a drum. It’s heavy echo wafts through the mountain air.