Ten years, I said (or thought), turning off the road, onto the drive. Ten years, I said (or thought), turning onto the drive, ten years it has been since you saw him—prepare yourself. More than ten, in fact, I said (I thought), in fact more than ten. Prepare yourself, I said (or thought) to myself, I recalled. Not since before he moved into this place, below the monastery, have you seen him, I thought, I recalled, and now that you have finally, at last, succumbed to his invitations, are at last finally turning onto his drive, off the road, you had better prepare yourself, I said (I thought)—prepare yourself. My hands came off the wheel as I entered the drive and as the wheel righted itself I said (or thought) to myself, Ten years, ten years since you saw him, I recalled. More than ten, in fact. Since before he came here, since before he lived here, under a monastery, when he was still in a flat in the city, I said (I thought), watching the wheel turn. My foot rose off the pedal and I thought, Now he lives under a monastery, when you last saw him he was in a flat, in the city, now he lives under a monastery, out here, hours from the city, from any city, in fact. With mountains above, with forest all around, I said (I thought) to myself. You have not seen another vehicle in almost an hour, I recalled, my foot leaving the pedal. The car slowed, gravel clicked below, and I said to myself, Prepare yourself. I actually said this aloud—Prepare yourself, I said—and the sound of my own voice, there in the car, the first sound besides the engine and the hum of tires that I had heard in hours—because this was hours from the nearest city, I thought, because of the mountains, I thought, the radio had long since failed to catch anything but static—startled me. I grabbed, one might say lunged at, the wheel, my foot tapped the brake pedal on hearing myself, audibly, say, Prepare yourself, I recalled. The car lurched ahead, I drew my foot back, and I said (or thought) to myself, That's right, that is how you would enter. After ten years, more than ten, that is how you would enter, jumping down his drive like some child, as though you had just earned your license, I thought, I recalled, creeping forward again. It is quite the drive, I said aloud. The cabin is set back quite some ways, there are so many trees around it, perhaps he has not seen you yet, I thought. But immediately I thought, Of course he has seen you, you are late, he has been expecting you for hours, you have not seen each other in ten years, more than ten, in fact, not since he was still in the city, in that flat, long before he came out here to live in this cabin, under a monastery. Of course he will have seen you, I said to myself, aloud, my voice again familiar. Of course he has seen you, I said. Right now, I said aloud, he is at the window, watching. In fact, I said (I thought), he has been at the window now for some time, perhaps an hour or more, looking out past the trees, past the limbs of the trees, at the drive, waiting. Of course he has seen you, jumping down the drive like some teenager with a new license, I thought, I recalled, still creeping forward. He is watching you now, in fact, of course, I told myself, creeping down the drive, from the window. On the other hand, I thought, you cannot see the window from here, so why should he be able to see you? It is quite the drive, I thought—I said, again getting used to my voice. That it is, I said again, aloud, and then I thought, Pretty soon you are going to have to talk, pretty soon you are going to have to say things. Better warm up, then, I said to myself aloud, and again I said to myself, aloud, Better warm yourself up now, better prepare. I said this at first softly, too softly, I told myself, I recalled, so I repeated more loudly, to enliven myself. Get prepared, I said, watching the cabin grow, prepare yourself now. He has been waiting for you, I said (I thought) to myself, and then again, aloud, I said, He has been waiting. It is quite the drive, I continued, and then thought again, It is quite the drive. It must be hell in winter, I thought, and remembering to prepare myself, I said aloud, It must be hell in winter. I liked the sound of that, I recalled, and again I said, It must be hell in winter, emphasizing hell, savoring it. Hell, I said again, hell, I said, in winter—it must be. Of course it is winter now, I recalled, technically. Technically, I recalled, it has been winter now for some weeks, and yet, I observed, there was no snow anywhere to be seen, not even above the cabin, along the ridge, where, I reminded myself, there was a monastery. You would have thought you would have been able to see the monastery this time of year, I thought, but there is no monastery visible. He said there was a monastery above the cabin, I thought, but I see no monastery. Directly above the cabin, he had said, I recalled, there is a monastery, I'm directly below a monastery, in a cabin, he had said many times, I recalled. He has been lying to you all along, I said (I thought) to myself, there is no monastery at all. If there was a monastery, certainly if there was a monastery directly above the cabin, as he had said, as he had, I recalled, emphasized many times, it should be visible now. But it is not visible, I thought. I thought, Winter, it has been winter for many weeks now, for a few weeks, at least, at least. The trees are bare, and you should have seen a monastery by now, in the drive, though it is quite a drive, I reminded myself. Where is the monastery? I said aloud, and hearing myself I slammed, quite suddenly, on the pedal, and the car jumped. I grabbed the wheel to keep the car from going into the field that ran, as I now observed, all the way from the road up to the cabin, where it faded into the trees, and I said aloud, It is the wrong cabin. I just said, I recalled, It is the wrong cabin, though I did not think so, I thought. What other cabin is there, then? I thought. As if to ask the question more strongly, as if to pose the question to the voice that had said, It is the wrong cabin, by pushing it toward itself, I said, What other cabin is there, then? Did you have some other cabin in mind? I said. I was perhaps feeling rather bolder now, I thought. I had been avoiding arguments with myself for some time now, on the counselor's advice, I recalled, that is to say I had been attempting to avoid arguments with myself, yet thus far, I reflected, I had been at best only modestly successful. No monastery, I heard myself say, no monastery. Already I could hear what I was about to say, before I said it: Turn around, I heard myself say, right now. There is no monastery, I heard myself say, so turn around, right now. If there was a monastery, I heard myself say, you would have seen it by now, but you have seen no monastery, though by now you should have seen a monastery, so turn around. It is the wrong cabin, I heard myself say, there is no monastery where there should be a monastery, where one could be seen, but it cannot because there is none. Thus, the wrong cabin, I heard myself reason, impeccably, and then I said to myself, Let us hear your rebuttal, if you have it. My hands still were on the wheel and now I took them off. The car was gently idling. I had, I observed, shifted to neutral, and while the engine idled I removed my hands from the wheel, placed them carefully into my lap, and pressed one palm firmly against the other. Perhaps, I ventured, you need to think more carefully. Perhaps, I said to myself, there is something here you have overlooked, I recalled. I said (that is, I thought) to myself, Consider that the monastery might be smaller than you expected, that perhaps this is why you cannot see it. Here, in the drive, I thought, far below where it might be, perhaps you cannot see it because it is much smaller than you had expected, I thought. Consider, I thought, that in all the years he has lived here, in this cabin, he has never once sent you a picture of the cabin or of the monastery. Nor, in fact, has he, so far as you can recall, ever been anything other than vague in his descriptions of the cabin or of the monastery, I told myself. It is very possible, I considered, that what he has been calling all these years a monastery is, in fact, not a monastery at all but rather a hermitage, or an anchorage, that is to say, perhaps he has been unintentionally inaccurate in his representation of the monastery, the monastery that is in fact not a monastery at all, and which you are unable now to see from the drive—and it is, after all, I considered, quite a considerable drive—precisely because it is not, in fact, a monastery but something altogether else. Furthermore, I continued—and suddenly I was struck by how strange, how odd, that in all the years of our corresponding, in the ten years, the more than ten years of our corresponding, this had never, not once, occurred to me, I thought—one must remember that he is, after all, a foreigner, that this is not after all his native tongue, that after all it is entirely possible and actually entirely plausible that all this time he has been telling you that he lives under a monastery, directly below a monastery, when it has in fact never been a monastery at all in any meaningful sense. Because he has been misusing, misapplying the word monastery to some other structure, so that there is in fact no monastery at all and this is why you do not see it, the monastery, I reasoned. You are perfectly right to say there is no monastery, I continued, because all the while the poor fellow has been using the word monastery he ought to have been using some other, more accurate term, such as hermitage, such as anchorage, I said (I thought) to myself. Therefore you are perfectly right, I said (I thought), that there is no monastery but you are not therefore perfectly right to conclude that this is the wrong cabin and that, therefore, you should turn around. You are being too hasty in your reasoning, I said (I thought) to myself, you have not yet gone far enough in your reasoning, I said (I thought). Consider, I continued, as the engine idled, as I looked up the drive—quite the considerable drive, again I thought—that you have followed his directions precisely from the city, all the way out here, hours away, into the mountains, into the forest, and consider, I reasoned further, how unlikely it is that his directions, which he drew up himself and which he himself sent to you, and which you, in your preparations, with which you are always faultlessly thorough, I reminded myself, weeks before departing compared and again compared to your gazetteer, and which, I reminded myself, in your desire to have everything just so, you typed up on your typewriter in order that every step of your journey from the city to his cabin here, as he said, under the monastery, would be thoroughly navigable—consider that his directions, which you so carefully transcribed and checked and re-checked, are unlikely to be wrong. Consider, I said to myself, aloud, parting my hands, setting my left hand again on the wheel, consider, I said, bringing my right hand to the gearshift, that if the poor fellow has been misusing the word monastery all this time, perhaps he has as well been misusing other words. Consider, I said (I thought), that if he has been misusing the word monastery for this many years, now almost ten in fact, that he might have been misusing other words, that he might for example have been saying cabin all this time when he has in fact been living instead in what anyone else would simply have called a house. And that in fact if the poor fellow has all this time been saying cabin when he very well ought to have been saying house, perhaps there are other words he has gotten wrong as well. Perhaps, I told myself, he has not been living out here in the mountains at all, rather in the foothills of the mountains. Perhaps, I continued, he has not been surrounded, as for years he has been telling you, in fact by now for almost ten years, by a forest but rather by a wood. Perhaps, I went on, he has completely misinformed you of his present circumstances and indeed has been misinforming you, willfully or no, for ten years, for more than ten, in fact, since that is how long it has been since you last saw him. Perhaps his condition is worse than you had thought, I said (I thought). Perhaps his condition is not just that of a foreigner wrestling with a foreign tongue but rather of one who is, shall we say, a foreigner to himself, now and then, I thought. Perhaps even more now than then, I said (I thought). I think you perhaps follow, I said (I thought). One who is a foreigner, that is, a stranger, to himself, I thought, can hardly be relied on to orient himself properly in the world, let alone someone else, I thought. Let alone someone he has not seen in ten years, in fact in more than ten, I thought. Namely, you. There is every reason to believe the poor fellow has completely bungled his directions, I thought. Furthermore, I reiterated, there is every likelihood the poor fellow has not only misdirected you but has misdirected himself, has been misdirecting himself for years, for ten years, almost, or perhaps more than ten, perhaps since you last saw him, when after all he was already showing signs of losing his hold on reality, as I had then and as I now thought, I told myself. The poor fellow, I said (or thought) to myself, might very well be living in an altogether different location than the one to which he has directed you, that is to say, here, in fact he might very well, as you have just now considered, be living not in a cabin but in a house, not in the mountains but in the foothills of the mountains, not in the forest but in a wood. The poor fellow, I said aloud—I had decided I liked the term the poor fellow and so repeated it now: The poor fellow, I said, more strongly, the poor fellow, I had said, aloud, and my voice in the car, which had been softly idling, startled me. The poor fellow, I said, is not here, just as the monastery is not here, I thought. All the same, though, I said, interrupting myself, it is still possible that he is, indeed, here. Even if it is in fact not quite plausible the poor fellow is here it is nevertheless still possible, just as, though there is no monastery to be seen above the cabin, clearly, it is still nevertheless possible that something like a hermitage or an anchorage above the cabin, on the ridge, I thought, is here. All of which is to say, I thought, that as long as you have come all the way out here from the city, through the forests, through the mountains, that you ought at least to continue up the drive to the cabin—this considerable drive, as it seemed to me—to knock. That is the very least you should do, I told myself, pressing down the clutch and shifting. Furthermore, I continued, as the car once more crept forward, you cannot very well turn around here, in the middle of the drive, with this wet field at either side, what, in any case, looks like a wet field, not at all like the frozen ground one might expect such a field this time of year to be, in the mountains. You would very likely end up stuck in this field, I went on, if you tried now to turn around, here. Nor would it be particularly advisable to attempt to back out, I said (I thought), given the condition of the drive, the steep incline of the drive, and the fact that you are in a rental car, I reasoned. It would be just your luck to come all the way out here from the city, to the mountains, to the cabin of some stranger, possibly, as it might very well turn out to be, an uninhabited cabin, to get stuck in a wet field, near dusk, in a rental car, I warned myself. The only way out is in, I told myself, and liking how wise I sounded saying this, I said aloud, The only way out is in, and smiled. Are we so wise now, I said, still smiling, as the car crept up the drive. If you were a little wiser you would have opted for all-wheel drive, I said (I thought), as the engine groaned. When you mentioned your destination to the rental agency, I thought, they said, You're sure you don't want all-wheel drive? Naturally you said you thought you could do without. I will be traveling strictly on paved roads, you had said, as you had expected, reasonably. You had emphasized the word strictly, wanting them to understand: Strictly on paved roads, you had said to the rental agency representative, when he had asked if you were not sure you wanted all-wheel drive. The poor fellow, that I recall, never said anything about such a long drive, I had said, I thought. Come to think, I now thought, the poor fellow had explicitly said his cabin was right along the road—Impossible to miss, he had said. And directly underneath a monastery, he had said, I thought. The monastery, he had said, I thought, sat directly above his cabin, which was right along the road, so that you could not miss it. You cannot miss it, the poor fellow had said, it is impossible, he had said, and I had been reassured, hearing him say, impossible, impossible. Quite impossible, the poor fellow had said, I thought, and this had reassured me. In which case, I said (I thought), reasoning further, in which case this cannot be the right cabin and somehow you have gone too far, or perhaps, I considered, not far enough. It was entirely possible, if not plausible, I considered, that I had, in fact, turned off too soon. On the other hand, I said (I thought), you were after all quite precise, after all quite deliberate, in your transcribing of the poor fellow's directions, which after all he sent to you in his own hand, as I reminded myself. His own hand, I repeated. That he had sent the directions in his own hand seemed, I had thought, quite significant. He, the poor fellow, as I am now calling him, I thought, actually sent you directions to his cabin, in the mountains, under the monastery—in his own hand. He might very well have dictated them over the phone, I told myself, or to an assistant, might very well have had them typed up on a typewriter, as you yourself did when they arrived, in order to better read them, since the poor fellow's handwriting was, after all, as you had observed, rather halting—halting, I recalled, was how the poor fellow's handwriting had seemed to me then and still seemed to me now, recalling it—and although by no means illegible still difficult to read and, you had thought, benefitting, if not quite demanding, interpretation. You were, after all, I told myself, quite intentional, in fact quite exacting, in your transcribing of the poor fellow's directions, just as you have been quite intentional, quite exacting in following your transcribing here, to the cabin. The fault is not with you, absolutely not with you, I reassured myself, although perhaps, it now occurred to me, I ought to have brought with me not just my transcribing but also the original directions, in his own hand, so as to be able to compare the two. But several times before you set out you compared them, I reminded myself, just as several times during your transcribing you compared them, in order to avoid just this problem. Therefore the fault cannot be with your transcribing and therefore not with you but, if anywhere, in the original, so that in fact it would be no help at all to you now to have the original to compare, I said (I thought). Although, I said, certainly it would help to reassure you of your rightness in following your transcribing, your transcribing which is without question entirely faithful to the poor fellow's directions, which he in his own hand sent to you. In his own hand, I said aloud, and pressed the clutch in and shifted to second. This is quite the drive, I said, and was reminded of my earlier proddings at myself to prepare myself by speaking aloud. Prepare yourself, I had said, I recalled, thinking that any moment I would be with the poor fellow, speaking with him in his kitchen, beside his window, over coffee, inside his cabin under the monastery, so-called, and that I should therefore practice, as it were, using my voice. No need for that now, I said to myself, softly, at an almost whisper, and felt relieved. The poor fellow, I went on saying to myself, bungled his directions, did he not? Yes, I said, yes, the poor fellow bungled his directions, he wrote them out in his own hand and thereby bungled them. Then he stuck them in an envelope and a week later you transcribed them with your typewriter, and instead of ringing him for clarification, as you ought to have done, you misread some step in his directions —No, I countered, he miswrote his directions, and instead of ringing the poor fellow in order to clarify you went and transcribed what you only thought were the correct directions to his cabin under the monastery, so-called, what you only thought were the right directions but were in fact the wrong directions, clearly. And so here now you are, utterly lost, I said. If only you had taken that extra step, I said to myself, headed up the drive, if only you had bothered to take five minutes to get the poor fellow on the phone to ask him to clarify his directions, directions he had gone out of his way to send you in his own hand, though he could very easily (and it would, after all, have been entirely proper to do so) have had you look them up yourself, or given them to you over the phone, as would, for someone in his condition, have been much easier—if you had only gotten him on the phone, for clarification, you would not now be utterly, clearly lost. It cannot be that I have not yet gone far enough, I thought. Certainly I have gone far enough, I thought, if I had not gone far enough then it would be much earlier than it now is, I thought, but I am already well over an hour later than I had anticipated, in fact almost two hours later, and that itself ought to signal that I have not, in fact, not yet gone far enough but have gone too far. You have gone too far, I said aloud, and immediately, without my meaning it, my foot came off the pedal and the car stalled. The car began to slide backwards down the drive and I jammed on the brake. The sky, I observed, had grown quite dim on the ridge, the trees on the ridge had begun to merge into each others' shadows, and I recalled, as I had not now for some time, that here, even only a few hours north from the city, the sun set sooner. It is going to be dark soon, I thought. In fact, I thought, it will be dark likely within the half hour—no, within half that time, I countered. It must be dark already in the cabin, I thought, especially given the trees surrounding the cabin. If anyone were in that cabin, I said (or thought) to myself, surely they would have turned on a light by now, but no one has, the cabin is dark, it is dusk and the cabin is dark, I said (I thought). You have gone too far after all, I said (I thought), and now you have stalled in the drive. It is quite the drive, I said again, and it occurred to me now, finally, that the car would not make it up the drive, that the drive was after all too steep, that I ought after all to have requested all-wheel drive, and that I was now stuck. I would have to try to back out, try to back down the drive, with the wet field at either side, in the dark. At least no one is around to witness, I said, and suddenly it occurred to me that, though I was not going to make it up the drive, I could at least walk up the drive, could at least rap on the door, as they say, could at least see if anyone was home. Though it was not, in fact, the poor fellow's cabin, someone else might be home, though it was dark. Possibly they are napping, I thought, and that is why the windows are dark. Possibly, I thought, whoever lives here has fallen asleep on their chair, by the fire, and this is why the windows are dark. Have you not, I said to myself, sometimes worked from late afternoon into evening and not noticed the light shift and drain from a room? Have you not, I said to myself, sometimes been so preoccupied with your work that you did not notice the day pass until you could no longer see? Thus I reasoned as I opened the door and stood up on the drive. They have fallen asleep on their recliner, beside the fire, I said (I thought), as I closed the door and started up the drive. What fire? I said to myself, there is no fire, no smoke, I recalled. There ought to be a fire, I thought, on a night like this, and I said to myself, at a whisper, Hopefully there is a fire. Maybe there had been a fire, earlier, I thought, before I arrived, and in the meantime they dozed off in a chair and the fire died. But it will not take much to build it back up, I thought, I hoped. Such were my thoughts as I walked up the drive. Quite the drive, I said to myself, I recalled, walking. More like an unpaved road than a drive, I said (I thought). No wonder people get turned around out here, I thought, no wonder people go too far out here, that they get lost out here, amid all this nature, I thought, walking. Nothing is properly marked out here, in the mountains, in the forest, I told myself, walking up the long drive between the fields to the cabin, it must be hell here in the winter, I said to myself, an absolute hell. You know, I said to myself, it is entirely possible, though perhaps not plausible, that this is, in fact, the right cabin after all, I recalled. It is entirely possible, if not plausible, that there is, in fact, a monastery, or rather a hermitage, or an anchorage, somewhere above you now, and that in your excitement and your worry over seeing the poor fellow, over seeing him for the first time in ten years, more than ten, in fact, you somehow overlooked it, the monastery, the hermitage—whatever. It is entirely possible, if not plausible, that you were looking in the wrong spot—just slightly in the wrong spot, I told myself, just slightly wrong. This, if nothing else, is at least possible, I thought, I hoped, even if not plausible. And it would make sense, I continued, that the poor fellow—the poor fellow, I said—would have nodded off while awaiting you, given how late it is. There is still some hope after all, I said to myself, so quietly I could barely hear myself. I think, I said, recalling how little I had exercised my voice during my journey from the city, and so now preparing myself, as I reached the trees at the house, I think it is actually the most likely scenario, that you have somehow, quite simply, overlooked what was right here in front of you all along, in fact looked past it, quite easily, quite simply, you are right here, where you are supposed to be, after all, I thought (or said), right where the poor fellow told you to come; you are not lost, I said, you are in fact right where he said you would be, I thought (or said) under the trees, here, I hoped, I said (or thought), right here, finally, at the door, I thought, at last, I thought, lifting my hand to knock, at last, I thought, I recalled, I said, Prepare yourself.
Aaron Hull wrote this in Colorado.