The room is set up like always, just the Professor and I and a few empty chairs. He attaches electrodes to my head and we begin.
When we are done for the day The Professor shows me the readings that the various machines had been taking- graphs and charts that I pretend to understand. I’m too tired to listen to what he is saying, but nod as he shows what my brain had looked like during the whole ordeal. It looks a lot less frightening when it’s reduced to bright colours on a sheet of paper.
“Do you see that, right there?” he points to a spike in the data that I’d have to be blind to miss.
“That’s where you almost did it, that’s where you almost made contact with the Other Side.” His eyes are glistening with excitement. The paper trembles in his hand. “Ah well,” he smiles at me. “There’s always tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” I nod. I don’t tell him that I didn’t almost get to the Other Side. I don’t tell him that the empty chairs are now occupied.
He’d been climbing for about four days when bad weather struck- a violent and sudden snowstorm that threatened to push him off the craggy mountain. The blizzard circled him, making it difficult to see more than a few feet ahead. Snow clung to his glasses, the cold bit at his neck and nibbled on his ears.
In less than an hour everything looked the same. It was too windy to pitch his tent or pull out a map. He couldn’t navigate without any landmarks. Several times he wandered dangerously close to the edge of a cliff before seeing the sheer drop and turning back in the nick of time. Night began to fall and he could feel the cold worming its way in to his damp gloves. The snow was relentless.
And then he saw a light so bright it pierced through the snowstorm. A small stone hut emerged from the mass of white surrounding him. None of the lights were on inside, but outside hung a small, powerful lantern.
He pushed hard on the door and it opened. He brought some snow in with him and slammed the door shut against the howling wind. Inside he found a modest, comfortably furnished room. A note on the table read:
‘Welcome lonesome traveller, please rest your weary head.’
At the heart of the room was a well-stocked fireplace and everything he needed to light it. Above it hung a large pan that was already filled with some kind of broth. His stomach grumbled. He sat in a comfortable chair as the fire warmed both him and the pot. The snow melted from his boots and he pulled out his map to work out where this bothy was. He hadn’t heard this one and all of the other mountain shelters were much further down. He couldn’t find it on anywhere, but he was determined to work it out and return in better weather to thank the owner for their kindness.
When the broth was ready he helped himself to a large bowlful and that warmed him even more. It was thick and packed with potatoes and vegetables and a meat more succulent than any he had tried before. He helped himself to seconds and fell asleep by the fire.
He slept so deeply that he did not hear the door open or feel the icy wind blow the fire out as something else came in from the cold.
He did not stir when something held his head still and slit his throat with its claw.
In the morning there was very little of him left- just a few bones and scraps of flesh that were stirred up in to a broth to await the next weary traveller.