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They've Got a Killer View

April 10, 2018

 

THEY'VE GOT A KILLER VIEW

BY IAN GORDON

 

 

ONE

 

It wasn’t about the money.

 

Patricia Wolstenholme had always been blessed financially—the recipient of a sizeable inheritance at an early age. Flying from one side of the globe to the other was but a turn of the page, a spin of the wheel, a pass of the time.

 

She had done it all: gazed upon the salt flats of Bolivia; meditated in the quiet hills of Delphi; knelt before Buddha at the Red Palace at Potala; ambled along the ancient walkways of Angkor Wat.

 

But as she flew further and further, she sank deeper and deeper, into a quagmire of longing and futility. It seemed her days were merely the result of tiresome transactions, and try as she might, she couldn’t rid herself of the sycophants that sought to fulfil her desires—false as old Judas, she would say, sans the noose.

 

Vainly she looked to the world of high fashion, and bought into go-go boots and stilettos. When the sixties ran dry, she looked to the hippies and the gauchos, but again she quickly grew tired of the drone.

 

No, it couldn’t be about the money. It was about her—a shifting of perceptions.

 

Her wealth, or rather, the prestige it bought, attracted knowledge of the rare and extraordinary, ideas appealing to those who had done it all.

 

Whispers within the circles she moved, hinted at a thrill like no other. The ultimate thrill. One of solemnity and euphoria. Patricia, a regular guest at the humanitarian events and social gatherings of the philanthropist (and media mogul) Edward Hoffman, would frequently eavesdrop.

 

“They’ve got a killer view,” Ted Hoffman had said, referring to what the tycoons of 1974 had dubbed, God’s Window.

 

Big Ed proffered all manner of unlikely associations. He spoke of the explorer David Thompson (Koo-Koo-Sint to the natives), who had supposedly learned of the phenomenon during his navigation of the Columbia River, citing an encounter the map-maker had once had with a medicine man in the mountains of British Columbia. Hoffman also referenced the occultist Aleister Crowley, who, whilst promoting his novel Magick, Book 4 in the United States, had supposedly caught a whiff of the rumours, subsequently investigating them to no avail. Ted even spoke of texts on Nazi mysticism that were said to mention it, further illustrating the allure of what was assuredly a rare and fascinating marvel. 

 

Patricia was sold. God’s Window was the answer.

 

But hard cash wasn’t. Even Big Ed’s billions held no sway over the Smiths.

 

God’s Window was exclusive.

 

There was a waiting list, additions to which were reserved for those deemed worthy. The criteria were vague, and so Patricia sought the company of Hoffman’s closest associates, one of which was rumoured to be on the list. After months of inquiries, dinner dates and supposed business meetings, Miss Wolstenholme was finally introduced to an individual with the influence necessary to secure a place for her on the list. The elderly gentleman, a retired industrialist from New York City, said there were no guarantees she would receive an invitation, and that there were terms, divisive terms, intended to discourage would-be attendees.

 

But she had done it all, and was prepared to risk it all.

 

Three years passed before the then forty-two-year-old from Minneapolis was fortunate enough to receive an invitation. She was excited. For the first time in over a decade, she felt something. The Smiths had chosen her; she had cause to smile.

 

The invitation, unabashed in its simplicity, read:

 

Patricia Wolstenholme,

You are formally invited to attend a viewing.

10:00 a.m. Tuesday November 25th, 1986

RSVP form enclosed.

Directions overleaf.

Kind regards,

The Smith Family

 

Patricia received the invitation on Monday July 11th, 1977.

 

She would have to wait almost a decade to attend a viewing.

 

 

TWO

 

What strange years they were.

 

The woman who had done it all found a new way to live her life.

 

By 1980, she had rekindled her love of travel, and spent many long years exploring the national parks of her native United States. She climbed the granite peaks of Yosemite, and beheld the grandeur of General Sherman at Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Plunging into the desert, she stood among the Joshua Trees, and emptied her lungs into the Grand Canyon. The Great Basin bristlecone pines taught her the persistence of life, and she sat beneath them late into the evening, their withered limbs pointing towards the stars.

 

She smiled at the achingly dry Badlands, wept at the receding glaciers of Glacier National Park, and marvelled at the colourful eye of the Grand Prismatic Spring as it absently fell upon her at dawn.

 

The money that had meant so little to her before, now supported the National Park Service, and the conservation of wildlife.

 

It all made sense.

 

And the countdown continued.

 

In 1983, she rediscovered music, and the forty-eight-year-old went with the times.

 

The new wave romantics held her heart in their hands, capturing her imagination. The melancholy cry of the synthesizer addressed her yearning, whilst the poetic baritone of Roland Orzabal sang her isolation. There was honesty in the air.

 

In the heat of the moment, in which melodies were king, Patricia Wolstenholme found love again, in the words of Tears for Fears, Duran Duran, and A Flock of Seagulls.

 

And still the countdown continued.

 

It was 1986, and like a connect-the-dots puzzle, Patricia began to draw the lines.

 

Her philanthropy, her country, her music, and her memories, merged to form an image both fascinating and wonderful - a vision of the girl from Richfield - her life but an intricate web of moments, the most colourful tapestry of all.

 

Her life had purpose. She was fulfilled.

 

But then, it was November.

 

 

THREE

 

The fifty-one-year-old from Minneapolis set out on the long journey to the Smith Estate.

 

Over several days, she drove alone in her Cadillac to the east, through the Black Mountains of South Dakota, the Devil’s Tower of Wyoming, and north into the Indian Reservations of Southern Montana. It was there, in the Rocky Mountains of the Treasure State, that Patricia Wolstenholme found herself ascending the precipitous backroads that led her away from civilisation.

 

As per the directions, she reached the steep track enclosed by spruce and fir trees, signposted, Smith. The trees bent and bowed in reverent gestures, seemingly aware of both the secret beyond, and the rare opportunity the destination had afforded her.

 

Snow had fallen, and it was clinging to the branches and the verges of the track. But the sky above was clear—perfect conditions for a viewing.

 

The Cadillac emerged from the treeline, and pulled up before a set of vast, iron gates. A further track beyond climbed to a rather modest-looking timber lodge, nestled between several ponderosa pines, perched atop a pinnacle. Several snow-capped peaks overlooked the lodge, fencing it in. Undoubtedly, the idyllic property overlooked a grand ridge or valley to the rear.

 

The roaming eye of a security camera fixed itself upon Miss Wolstenholme’s car, and moments later, the iron gates opened inward, urging her to proceed.

 

Patricia wasn’t entirely certain what it was she had expected to find. The circles in which she had once moved indeed described a secluded property, but their machinations had insinuated a degree of uniqueness, evoking images of spectacle and grandeur. And though the location was assuredly spectacular—with its towering pines, majestic bighorns, and expansive vistas of the Rocky Mountains—the property itself was little more than a log cabin.

 

But it was what awaited her inside that would render her suppositions inert.

 

Pulling up alongside a battered-looking Jeep, she turned off the engine. The winter chill was immediately at the window; the fingers of Jack Frost tapped that inimitable seasonal melody. Emerging from the vehicle, she made a dash for the lodge.

 

As she ascended the wooden steps, a tall, elderly Native American gentleman in a buckskin jacket, elaborate breechcloth and feathered war bonnet, awaited her on the porch. He nodded a salutation as old as time itself, and ushered her in out of the cold.

 

Patricia thanked the stranger, and stepped into the warmth of the lodge.

 

The interior of the property was, in Miss Wolstenholme’s mind, very typical: leather furniture, aspen log tables, pebble fireplace, and deer antler chandeliers.

 

An exquisite grandfather clock met her gaze; its ornate hands told her the time.

 

It was 09:57 a.m.

 

Patricia’s host proffered the name Horse, before leading her into a larger sitting area to introduce her to his wife; the pair were the long-time proprietors of the lodge, their lineage going back millennia. The girl from Richfield learned the Smith name was but a front, and she revisited those rumours pertaining to the map-maker David Thompson, and the medicine man he had allegedly conversed with along the banks of the Columbia River centuries before.

 

Mr. Horse confirmed the appointment, specifying 10:23 as the commencement of her viewing. Little else was said; protracted silences reigned. This unnerved Miss Wolstenholme, who, under considerable duress, was beginning to doubt the veracity of the situation.

 

Eventually, Mr. Horse climbed to his feet, and asked Patricia to accompany him. They strolled in the direction of the stairs, passed the wooden owls and buffalo hides, and began to climb.

 

Reaching the top of the lofty flight, Patricia was met by three colourful tapestries, each the result of extraordinary design and craftsmanship in terms of tone and texture. But it was the leftmost of the three, a vivid depiction of what was certainly a local alpine ravine, that brought her to tears. The delicacy of the weave, coupled with a truly sublime mastery of colour, instilled in her feelings of immense solemnity and euphoria.

 

She wept openly.

 

But it wasn’t yet 10:23, and this elegant tapestry wasn’t what she had waited so long to see.

 

Her host observed her tears, and nodded perceptively; it was then that he revealed the true nature of the secret.

 

The phenomenon was transient, he said, and as such opportunities to gaze upon it were incredibly rare. He spoke of those who had come before, the rich and the poor, the vain and the desperate, each of them pleading for passage to that which none should ever wish to see. But he was neither judge nor jury, he said, and the decision was and would always be, in the hands of the individual. Miss Wolstenholme learned that there had never been a selection process—no worthy or unworthy—it was just a test, a simple test of will.

 

And there she was.

 

Mr. Horse continued by speaking of his diligence and commitment to those who made the pilgrimage to his door, how he and his quiet wife tended to them both physically and spiritually throughout the experience.

 

Patricia’s host spoke with conviction, and his sentiments resonated with her on a level previously dormant. But she had to go on; had to see it with her own eyes.

 

She was guided to a small door towards the back of the lodge. Mr. Horse opened it. Within was an empty room, dimly lit, with a large pair of green velvet curtains drawn together on the far side.

 

The elderly gentleman walked her to the curtains, and rested her hand upon the small wooden handle of a draw cord. Into her other hand, he placed a vintage pocket watch. Its delicate hands displayed 10:14.

 

“The window is brief,” said Mr. Horse. “You must draw the cord at precisely 10:23, not a moment before. It will last approximately forty seconds, though most folks conclude in twenty. Be steadfast.”

 

And with those words, he retreated from the room, closing the door behind him.

 

The heart of the middle-aged woman from Richfield was beating rapidly, eerily synchronised with the ticking of the gold watch in her hand.

 

10:15. Eight minutes.

 

All she had to do was the draw the cord. A simple motion really, to reveal that which she had sought her entire life—the ultimate thrill. But the doubt she had felt just minutes before clouded her judgement. She reflected upon her fifty-one years of life, conjuring memories both blissful and blue, looking to the past for an answer to her present predicament. Would it be everything she hoped it would be? Her definitive moment spent clutching an antique pocket watch in an empty room?

 

10:19. Four minutes.

 

Sweat streamed from her brow, and her breathing became erratic. But it didn’t matter, for Patricia was certain such trivial human sensations would be rendered inert in the moments to follow. But was she certain? Life without loved ones, particularly parents and close friends, is a challenge all must eventually face, but regardless, the planets keep on spinning and the stars keep on shining. Wasn’t the phenomenon merely a part of that bigger picture?

 

10:21. Two minutes.

 

Her life—the tumultuous journey she had endured for over half a century—wasn’t the result of the phenomenon, nor was it the result of fate, or destiny, it was the product of Patricia Wolstenholme’s choices—the many paths she had chosen to pursue in order to hike the mountains of the world, explore the forests of her native country, and to contribute to the sustenance of all things great and small over the preceding years.

 

10:22. One minute.

 

No, it wasn’t about the phenomenon. It was about her—a shifting of perceptions.

 

Glancing at the watch in her hand, she watched as the second hand ticked relentlessly in the direction of twelve. Her damp palm clutched the draw cord as the seconds disappeared, the countdown approaching single figures.

 

Ten. Nine. Eight.

 

But she relented; simultaneously, she dropped the watch, and loosened her grip on the draw cord.

 

The watch saw the passing of seconds seven and six, before it landed upon the polished wooden beams of the empty room, and shattered into a hundred pieces. Patricia Wolstenholme dropped to her knees, and once again, she wept.

 

In response to the commotion, Mr. Horse re-entered the room, and approached her swiftly. Helping her to her feet, he guided her out of the room, and once again closed the door behind them.

 

“It was a test of will,” he whispered.

 

Patricia Wolstenholme smiled, and savoured the overwhelming sensations of solemnity, and euphoria.

 

Life would go on.

 

God’s Window would remain open.

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