James was sitting in his afternoon econ class. The lecturer kept rambling on about supply and demand, drawing and redrawing graphs on the board. James was trying to pay attention, but his mind wandered back to an encounter he had on a hiking trip he took the summer before freshman year.
James had gone on the trip with his family. They preferred to hike and camp on their vacations instead of staying at fancy resorts. It wasn’t for a lack of money. James’ father could have easily afforded a more posh trip.
On the third day of the vacation, James had left the campsite after lunch to adventure around the mountain on his own. He started down the trail he and his parents had walked the day before. About halfway along the loop, he noticed something he hadn’t seen earlier. He saw what looked like a few cave openings, maybe 200 or so meters higher and off the path.
James took off in the direction of the caves. Surprisingly, the terrain wasn’t too rough. He reached the caves easily and wondered why no one at park registration had mentioned them. This should’ve been one of the highlights on the park pamphlet.
Slowly, James entered the first cave. It was narrower and taller than he had suspected. About seven steps in, he heard something from further back in the cave. Wondering what type of animal it was, he walked towards the noise. He could see less and less as he moved forward.
Was that a man? It looked like he was sleeping while sitting upright. Was the lack of light messing with his eyes?
The figure that looked like a man opened his eyes. James let out a short yelp and jumped backwards, almost tripping on the rocks behind him.
“Who are you?” James whispered, still not sure if he was talking to a real person.
The man motioned for him to come closer. Against his better judgement, James inched forward. The man looked ancient.
In a low, strong voice, the man answered, “I am a prayer unto God, one of the last few voices upon the earth chosen to petition the almighty on humanity’s behalf.”
This was too trippy. He would have to ask his mom if those mushrooms she served with lunch had been from the store or if she picked them on the trail.
James leaned forward, now cheek to cheek with the strange man.
James didn’t know how to respond to the “I am a seer of God” statement, so he just stayed silent.
After what seemed like minutes of them just staring at each other, James broke the silence.
“How old are you?” A weird question, but one James couldn’t resist. The man’s skin looked more archaic than elderly.
“I’ve been alive on this planet for 148 years.”
James wondered why the man used the word planet. Had he been to other planets?
The man continued, “You have come here today because you too have been chosen by God to beseech him on behalf of your fellow man. I was told a young man would be coming. I have been waiting. Here, give me your hand.”
At that, James jumped up to get away, knocking the old man over in the process. He rushed back to the light at the entrance of the cave, hoping the man wasn’t following him.
Once out of the cave, he stopped and quickly caught his breath, looked back at the cave one more time, and ran back to the trail.
On the walk back to his campsite, he composed himself and decided he couldn’t tell his parents. He wasn’t quite sure he could believe himself.
Back in econ class, James was asking himself the same questions he had asked on that walk back to the campsite.
Is it possible to live to 148?
Can you be so whacked in the head that you decide to live in a cave and pretend you’re a monk?
Was that guy really a monk?
What does he eat?
All these questions and possibilities were way more interesting than the hard facts about the economy that the lecturer was warning them would be on the quiz next week.
James knew one thing. He would ask his parents if they could go to the same park next summer to camp.
He was going back to get some answers and this time he wouldn’t be so easily spooked.