The tired, small hatchback hit a rock next to the edge of the road and came to an unexpected and abrupt stop. Erica had not seen the bulky thing hidden underneath the uncut grass. She switched off the engine and got out. There seemed no significant damage to her old banger but she couldn’t care less right now, to be honest, and decided she would leave it parked here anyway. She must be close.
Quite frankly, she considered herself lucky to have made it this far; the roads had been bumpy and her car was in a dire condition, too. It wouldn’t be much longer before it would have to be scrapped. Living in London she rarely needed it and had often been tempted to sell it anyway.
This was deepest Wales, the countryside - something that the Londoner in her had not seen for years and certainly hadn’t missed. Poor phone reception, miles to the nearest supermarket with its supplies of cigarettes and bubbly: that’s what the countryside meant to her.
She guessed the car was sufficiently off the road and out of the way. Who would come here, anyway? It was unlikely that two cars would find this remote corner of Wales at the same time, she reckoned. Erica looked around: not a living soul in sight, no houses or vehicles; she was totally off the beaten track. She could see no significant landmarks; all views were blocked by large trees and hedges. It was drizzling a little and although it was past lunchtime, there was mist that reminded her of early mornings. The wind had made the spring temperatures drop more than she had anticipated and she was chilly in her inadequate city clothing.
She searched her purse for the map, which her assistant Hilda had drawn for her. It seemed as if she was in the right place; there was the small path at the foot of the hill, and the two opposing gates leading to fields with horses and sheep. Since leaving her nearby B&B, all the road junctions she had come to had been easy to recognise and here was the little shoulder by the side of the road, where Hilda had recommended she should park the car.
She assured herself once more that it was the right path and then she psyched herself up for the walk up the steep hill. The tricky part, Hilda had explained, was finding the hidden gate, which would lead her to the man himself. However, Hilda didn’t have pancreatic cancer and was not recovering from a course of chemo and so she had no idea how difficult it would be for Erica to walk up that hill. It seemed by no means the easy climb her assistant had called it. For all her recent goodness, that woman could drive her mad.
Erica looked at herself in the outside mirror of her car before getting ready to face the man. Her hair had not fallen out from the chemo but it had turned grey and made her look much older than she was. There were still crow’s feet and wrinkles despite being facially bloated – it really wasn’t fair; the worst of both worlds. People used to think of Erica as at least five years younger than she actually was, but now people thought she was five years older. Overnight it seemed, she had aged from 40 to 50 but given her current situation she would be lucky to reach 45. Additionally, she had lost a lot of weight, despite the effect that the steroids had had on her. With her mere 5’ 4’’ frame, she looked tiny and felt thin and weak.
Only this man might be able to improve her chances and she desperately hoped the trip here would be worth it. If the man really was who Hilda thought, there was a slight chance for her. If she could make him speak to her, then she was sure she could persuade him to help - if he still possessed those powers. There suddenly seemed a lot of ifs.
She locked the car and began the climb up the tree-covered hill. Her trainers slid on the moist moss, her jeans too tight for some of the big steps she had to take. There was only a tiny trodden path, which seemed easy to lose sight of, curving its way upwardly through the trees. She was glad she had the map. Hilda deserved an award for organising this; if Erica ever made it back to her position at work she would make sure to find a way of compensating her, if she had anything left after she had paid the man.
Her assistant had come here a few days ago and had scouted the place out in the manner of a gifted detective. Hilda had been an angel the last few months with an uncalled for loyalty and devotion which Erica felt she didn’t deserve. Erica cringed when she thought of the numerous times she had blown a fuse in the office and let out her life’s frustrations on this woman: she had complained about the coffee being too milky, the memos being too floral or the diary too busy. If only she had known how her life would play out, she would have made many decisions in different ways and definitely would have treated Hilda with more respect and humanity. Well, it was too late for regrets, she could only hope to make it right in the future, if she had one. For now it was time to keep going and move forward and rescue whatever she could.
A chicken wire ran parallel to the path, then some strong wooden fence panels replaced it that were so thickly overgrown with ivy that Erica would have missed seeing the gate itself, had it not been for the directions on the map.
To her surprise the gate was unlocked. A dog barked and howled from afar but it stayed at a safe distance. The noise was not very aggressive anyway and her guess was that this was a companion rather than a guard dog; a further indication that she was at the right place. She doubted that this spiritual guru called Arpan would have aggressive attack dogs around for protection: that would not be the style of someone so ostentatiously non-violent and serious. What she remembered about the man was admittedly extremely vague and distorted by what Hilda had told her.
He had made some headlines a long time ago and at the time, Erica had often seen his picture; if only she had paid more attention to current affairs. Her personal circumstances at the time had kept her pre-occupied and now she was unsure how the press had handled him. Hilda was of the opinion that this was a good thing, since Erica should meet him and find out for herself anyway. Arpan would probably not like to give such an unfavourable impression; Erica thought she remembered him as being very image orientated. He’d either maintain a soft and gentle outward image or would be far too cocky and confident; since the beginning of mankind, gurus had behaved as if they were invincible.
She reminded herself that she had to keep an open mind about this and that it was better to think the best of the man. After all, she had nothing more to lose.
Erica had to navigate between some very overgrown bushes until she came to a small clearing at last. A dome structure was at the other end of the clearing, made of wood and concrete and what looked like parts of camping tents. Solar panels, vegetable beds and free range animals populated the clearing: goats, chicken and sheep. She should have expected that. Green and new age living, she supposed.
“Arpan?” she called out. “Hello?”
An Alsatian came jumping out of the dome full of excitement and began to sniff and lick Erica’s hand. He did not look like a puppy but he certainly behaved like one. She knelt down to stroke him gently. The dog wagged his tail excitedly and lay down on the ground, inviting her to rub his belly, and Erica happily obliged. What a happy little dog. She’d forgot how much fun dogs could be.
“Ashank, come back here!” a male voice called from inside the dome. “Come here!”
“Arpan?” Erica repeated shyly. “Hello, is that you, Arpan? I need to speak to you… please.”
A young man, maybe 20 years old, slim, spotty and dressed in baggy, red and pink clothes, came briefly out of the dome and called the dog back. Ashank rolled on his side, jumped up and ran to his master. Before Erica could engage with him, the man had zipped the entrance to the dome shut. From what she had seen, his was not the voice she had heard, Erica was sure of it. The person who had called the dog from inside the tent sounded mature and older, much more like that of the Arpan she had heard about. Exactly how she had imagined him to be.
“I need to speak to you, Arpan. It’s urgent,” Erica called out again, unsure how best to proceed. She wished he would come out of the dome, so she could read his body language and figure out how to best ‘work’ him. Years in the advertising business had taught her how to handle these situations and she prided herself for her skills in that department. Him not coming out of the dwelling was its own kind of body language and dictated the rules of engagement; she would have to change them, break him down and transform this into a more intimate conversation.
“Go away. You’re in the wrong place,” the voice called out, sounding tired and slightly annoyed.
“Arpan, I need your help. Please talk to me!” she pleaded. “Hear me out. A few minutes of your time is all I ask of you. Please listen, and then I will go away.”
“Who are you anyway?” the man asked, still not showing himself, but she thought she had seen a piece of the tent move. Perhaps he had seen her now and in her current fragile state that had to work in her favour. She looked positively ill and maybe this would appeal to his charitable side. To have done all the good things that he did in youth, he had to have some feelings and a heart. Even if he was a changed man now – as the abrupt stop to his healing practice implied - there had to be a little of his old self beneath the icy exterior, and she would try her damnedest to get to it.
“I’m very ill. You are my only hope now,” she said calmly, eager not to overplay for sympathy.
“As I said: you’ve come to the wrong place,” was the curt reply. “I can’t help you.”
“You have a gift, Arpan, I know you do. And I know you cannot let me die like this. You have a good heart, don’t you? They once said that you were an ‘Offering’ to the world, that is the meaning of your name Arpan, isn’t it? Even if you hide yourself away now, you have a responsibility to the world to share this gift. Save me, please!”
“I have responsibilities alright, but they are not to you or anybody else out there,” Arpan replied in the manner of a sulky child. “You need to leave now.”
“I beg you,” Erica said, and sank to her knees. The sudden plunge hurt not only her knees but every other of her joints too. The muddy floor drenched her jeans, but she hardly cared.
“You seem familiar. You’re not some journalist, are you? What did you say your name was?”
“Maria Miller,” Erica lied. “So you really are Arpan,” she added relieved and hopeful. She had found the right man, or rather, her assistant Hilda had. If she were religious, she would bless the Lord.
“I said no such thing,” the man shouted back angrily. “I call myself Amesh. A different name altogether, a different man and a different life. One more suited to me. Please get up and leave.”
When advertising executive Erica Whittaker is diagnosed with terminal cancer, western medicine fails her. The only hope left for her to survive is controversial healer Arpan. She locates the man whose touch could heal her but finds he has retired from the limelight and refuses to treat her. Erica, consumed by stage four pancreatic cancer, is desperate and desperate people are no longer logical nor are they willing to take no for an answer. Arpan has retired for good reasons. casting more than the shadow of a doubt over his abilities. So begins a journey that will challenge them both as the past threatens to catch up with him as much as with her. Can he really heal her? Can she trust him with her life? And will they both achieve what they set out to do before running out of time?
About the Author:
Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he now lives in a small hamlet, not far from Bath. He and his partner have three Labradoodles to complete their family. Christoph worked for the British Film Institute, in Libraries, Museums and for an airline.
‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ was published in November 2012; ‘Sebastian’ in May 2013 and The Black Eagle Inn in October 2013. “Time To Let Go” , his first contemporary work was published in May 2014, and “Conditions” in October 2014. His medical thriller “The Healer” was released in January 2015.
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