Axiom 8: Adapt to setbacks.
When I woke up, the lion was still there. He yawned at me when I crawled out from beneath his paw, revealing incisors big enough to easily bite my entire face off, but didn’t seem inclined to attack me.
“Uh, hi,” I said to him.
He blinked huge, golden eyes at me, and then pushed his head forward. For one terrified second, I thought that he was about to rip into me, but instead he tilted his face aside so that his cheek rubbed against my shoulder, and a low rumble drifted out of his mouth.
“Oh. Right, cat.” I reached up and tentatively, still a little worried that I’d draw back a bloody stump, scratched him along his big jaw. The massive cat purred louder, tilting over to one side so that I could reach all the way under his chin.
I scratched the lion for a few more minutes, trying to ignore the animal’s very furry, slightly damp smell. “Okay, okay, I need to get going,” I finally said, reluctantly drawing back my hand and sitting up.
As the sun crept up above the horizon, I once again began to climb up the slope of Megiddo. I glanced behind me, wondering if the lion would follow along in hopes of getting more scratches, but he seemed to have vanished off to somewhere else. I pulled my clothes around myself, tried to ignore the chill of the cold wind that cut through me whenever I emerged on an exposed ridge, and kept ascending.
By the time the sun sat high in the sky, shining down on me but not managing to fully warm my chilled skin, I felt like my stomach had fully collapsed, my puny abs pulling all the way back against my spine in a desperate effort to fill the cavity. No coconuts around here, I admitted to myself. What sort of food could one even find on a mountainside?
The answer, I discovered after a short bit of searching around, turned out to be tubers.
Although it was rather strange, I thought to myself, to uncover potatoes in already dug-out holes in the ground, baked through with melted cheese and a dollop of sour cream on top. The cheese was even still warm, letting off little puffs of steam when I bit into the tomato. There was a little dirt still on the potato, but I could deal with that.
The coconuts had kind of made sense, but I didn’t even try to explain how a hot potato, with cheese and sour cream, ended up in my path. I glanced over at the sword, still strapped to my belt, and wondered if it exerted some sort of protective force field around me.
“If anyone’s out there and watching over me, I could use a jacket,” I called out.
No answer came back, so after licking the last bits of sour cream off of my fingers, I kept climbing.
Looking up the mountain, I had thought that I could see the approaching peak, but as I came up over the top of the crest, my heart sank. I’d only been climbing the first of a series of ridges, I found out, and had reached a false summit – one of several, I suspected. I now had to descent slightly before I could resume climbing the main peak.
Down below me, I saw several white blobs, moving slowly around on the rocks and thin scrub brush. I’d already risen above the treeline, and no plants came up above my knees. The whole scene had a desolate, windswept feeling.
As I got closer to the blobs, I saw that they were mountain goats. They raised their heads and gazed distrustfully at me as I picked my way towards them through the rocks and scrub. One of them bleated at me, tossing his head back and forth so I could see his horns.
Or maybe her horns, I amended my earlier thought – both the male and female goats seemed to have horns, although the females had shorter horns than their male companions. One of those females moved in closer to me, and I frowned at the goat.
Something about its white coat didn’t seem right It seemed too flat, too smooth. There also seemed to be something glinting on the goat’s chest.
“Easy, easy there,” I murmured moving in closer to the goat in question. She rolled her eyes at me, but didn’t move away.
Once I stood beside her, one hand gently patting her on the head, I realized why her coat looked odd. Somehow, this goat had managed to step into a winter coat, a white one, and wore it over her shoulders and front legs. Normally, that wouldn’t be totally outside the realm of possibility…
…except somehow, the goat had managed to pull the zipper on the jacket all the way closed.
“Someone’s definitely messing with me,” I said aloud, but I managed to hold the female goat in place long enough for me to undo the zipper and extract the goat from inside the coat. The coat still smelled distinctly like animal, but the inside was already warm from the animal’s body heat, and I didn’t waste any time in pulling it around my own shoulders.
Her payload delivered, the goat bleated again at me and ambled off to rejoin the rest of her companions. I poked around under the rocks until I uncovered another baked potato (this one with butter and chives on it) and took a few minutes to eat, enjoying the armor of the coat against the cutting wind.
I kept on climbing, noting that the goats, while not moving in too close, seemed to keep on following me. Maybe they’d be my sleeping companions for the evening, keeping me warm. I sincerely hoped, however, that if I did end up crossing paths with Alice once again, she didn’t find out that I’d spent a night sleeping with goats.
A lion, I felt like I could explain. Lions were strong and powerful. But I didn’t think that I could come back from sleeping with goats.
Still, as night fell quickly on the peak and the temperature dropped precipitously, I didn’t voice any complaints as the goats moved in around me, settling down on their haunches. They bleated a few more times, but rolled in against me, and I even managed to get one of them to hold still long enough for me to use her (or possibly him) as a pillow.
One more day, I told myself as I dozed off to sleep. One more day, and then I’d hopefully reach the top of the mountain, ascend to the top of Megiddo.
Of course, I didn’t know what I’d do there, given a how I had no idea how to directly access Heaven from Earth, but I’d figure that out when I got there. Maybe, given how I’d been clearly watched over by someone so far, the door would be already sitting open when I got there.
No use thinking about it now, I told myself, and drifted into unconsciousness.