Art by jiashu xu ©

DAYS later the covert expedition made its way into China undetected by the ever-present Chinese military. Benefitting from Evan’s early planning and well-placed connections, their caravan of antiquated cargo trucks was soon throwing up an impressive cloud of dust as they raced across the high Tibetan plains.

The mighty Gurla Mandata Mountain once reigned over the isolated domain casting its watchful eye on all that passed. But this day the approaching interlopers found it deposed, its once stunning peak enveloped in a poisonous shroud, enslaved to an occupying force of darkness. Still, the ominous cast of an angry heaven could not diminish the breathtaking expanse of the vast plain nor obscure the austere beauty of the world-above-the-world. Across the mountain-hemmed rooftop of earth, the captive kingdom shimmered with life. Evidence of life’s enduring triumph could be seen in the clamoring hoofs of wild donkeys that raced beside the caravan, the centuries-old monasteries that clung to the distant cliff tops, and the glimmering turquoise waves of Manasarovar Lake.

In the lead truck, Evan peered from a tightly wound scarf of coarse wool. His eyes scanned the horizon as he reflected on what historians would write of that day. He could imagine how proud his father would be to see him succeed where so many great explorers and world powers over the centuries had failed.

And like the gold coin spinning through his fingers, his mind churned with plans only he could fully know. At Evan’s right hand, Mitch monitored a radar screen relayed from the UN to his iPad. Simmering with the pent-up ferment of a soldier hungry for battle, he watched intently for signs of military traffic. And at every side soldiers and Sherpas communed in the rattling truck bed, each one finding a different taste in the shared experience: one mind racing with anticipation, another harkening back to home.

Sheridan stood at the helm of the truck bed, his face taut and dry, his lips cracked, the crisp wind whipping through his graying hair. Far from the cloistered life of his quiet bookshop, the experience of the open road stoked his relic-hunting instincts. His dormant senses began to stir. The dullness began to part. He could feel the shift, a current of energy pulsing through his torpid body. His latent muscles began to flex with strength. His lungs expanded with renewed breath. The muted monaural sounds of the caravan expanded with the depth and breadth of three-dimensional resonance. In the firm grip of his hand, holding fast to a makeshift railing of two-inch pipe, the dimpled metal’s paint and rust read like Shakespeare in Braille.

Art by Cornelia Kopp aka AlicePopkorn