THE ULTIMATE ENLIGHTENMENT • by Ned Thompson

Bryce Chambers mopped the glistening sweat from his bald scalp. He raced up the hardwood stairs, his footfalls echoing throughout the spacious pagoda. On the top floor, Bryce encountered a sliding paper door.

He threw it open, revealing an open-air garden. In the center of the garden, an ancient man sat at a marvelous oak desk. He wore a stylish Italian suit.

“Very good, Bryce, you have made it to the top,” said the old man. “Are you ready for your final challenge?”

***

Bryce hoisted the heavy beam onto his shoulder and placed it on the foundation. The foreman’s radio was at full blast, and a commercial interruption brought unexpected news.

“The pursuit of knowledge is the most noble quest one can embark upon in life,” said the announcer, “and we are offering Ultimate Enlightenment to whoever can scale the mystical pagoda of Umbak and conquer the challenges within. Come to Tokyo and test your might!”

***

Upon departing the airport, Bryce made haste to Umbak. Entering the pagoda, he noticed that the lobby was sparse. This contrasted sharply with the exterior, which was more ornate and elegant than any piece of architecture he’d ever seen. A sign-in sheet lay at the center of a table. After scrawling his signature, he proceeded up the first stairwell.

As he made his way up the tower, he discovered that every floor contained the same setup: A flurry of adversaries that he was able to incapacitate with ease.

After fourteen tiers of opponents, he was relieved to arrive at the tower’s peak. He was confused to find it guarded by an old sage.

***

“I am ready for your challenge,” Bryce responded to the old man’s inquiry, “but is it a battle with you?”

“Heavens no. Your final challenge isn’t a battle, at least not in a traditional sense,” the man winked. “My name is Master Set, and I guard the Ultimate Enlightenment. Come now, and I will administer your final test.”

Set beckoned him over to a cushy leather sofa in front of a mammoth television. Set then turned on what Bryce thought to be a video game console and handed him a controller.

“You can’t be serious,” Bryce said, “isn’t this meant for children?”

Set brushed off the comment.

“We will be playing Fighter King 8. You must defeat me in this virtual realm in order to win your prize.”

Set booted up the game and Bryce observed how gorgeous it looked. There were many avatars to choose from. Bryce chose an agile looking monk wielding a staff, while Set selected an old warrior that fought with an open palm technique and bore a striking resemblance to the old master.

During the first battle, Bryce’s character twitched around the arena with the grace of a palsy victim. Set’s character moved with the fluidity of a ballerina, parrying the onslaught of clumsy attacks that Bryce unleashed as he furiously mashed the buttons. Set performed reversals with ease, and the fight ended without Bryce even landing a single blow.

“Try again?” Set asked.

Bryce, though discouraged, nodded.

“You must move carefully and with purpose. Just take your time and enjoy yourself.”

Bryce fought battle after battle, and though he showed improvement, Set remained untouchable.

Set could detect weariness in Bryce’s eyes.

“Refreshments?” he asked.

Bryce accepted, but was surprised when a servant entered carrying a platter of beers and chicken wings.

“My body is a temple, Set. I haven’t partaken of such garbage for a reason.”

“Loosen up, my boy,” the master said, “you must find some enjoyment in life.”

Bryce’s virgin taste buds danced in ecstasy, the combination of fiery chicken and malty beer causing him to glow with satisfaction.

It dawned on Bryce that he was having a blast. He almost forgot where he was. Focusing through the fog that the libations had shrouded his brain with, he brought his “A” game and a beautiful skirmish unfolded onscreen. It was like a dance, the two men’s avatars exchanging hits and unleashing awe inspiring combos. Sensing an opening, Bryce brought his staff crashing down on Set’s fighter’s skull, draining his life bar and leaving him in a crumpled heap. Bryce grinned at the master, who nodded slowly in acknowledgement.

“You have defeated me. Are you ready for me to impart to you the Ultimate Enlightenment?”

Bryce nodded.

“Life is meant to be enjoyed. There is a time and a place for seriousness, but our soul suffers if we don’t take time to savor the little things. Did you find your experience here pleasurable?”

“I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun before. I’ve always believed that discipline and knowledge were the only worthwhile pursuits. I guess I’ve just kind of let pleasure fall by the wayside.”

“Consider yourself enlightened, my boy,” Set said.

The two men shook hands and Bryce began his descent from the tower. When he got stateside, he’d have to go shopping. Set informed him that Fighter King 9 was releasing soon and that he was looking forward to a rematch.


Ned Thompson writes in Florida, USA.


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 average 4 stars • 3 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

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  • Light and nice. Quite entertaining.

  • Light and nice. Quite entertaining.

  • D McMillan

    Great fun, perhaps a great truth too 🙂

  • D McMillan

    Great fun, perhaps a great truth too 🙂

  • terrytvgal

    Nicely done. An important reminder delivered in a manner suited to today’s lifestyle and priorities. Again I enjoy the idea of a simple tale well told.

  • terrytvgal

    Nicely done. An important reminder delivered in a manner suited to today’s lifestyle and priorities. Again I enjoy the idea of a simple tale well told.

  • joanna b.

    this was great fun to read. a few continuity problems, especially paragraph 4 and also Bryce “threw open” a “sliding paper door.”
    but all in all, a solid 4 from me.

    • Edward Beach
      Haha, didn't see the problem with Bryce throwing open a sliding paper door at first but your comment just made me chuckle into my coffee. Well noticed! What do you mean by continuity problems though? Paragraph 4 & 5 are flashbacks highlighted by the surrounding asterisks, no? We had the same techniques used in another story a few days ago (Throw a Gem, I think). Or did you mean something else?
      • joanna bressler
        you're right, edward beach. i really was confused there. i didn't know when or why the MC "hoisted the heavy beam on his shoulder" and what it had to do with the story thru-line. but then, another continuity problem arises. in paragraph 1, the MC "raced up" the stairs. in paragraph 7, the MC had to 'incapacitate a flurry of adversaries" on each floor. even though he does this "with ease" i can't quite see him racing up the stairs. ah well, good story nonetheless.
  • joanna b.

    this was great fun to read. a few continuity problems, especially paragraph 4 and also Bryce “threw open” a “sliding paper door.”
    but all in all, a solid 4 from me.

    • Edward Beach
      Haha, didn't see the problem with Bryce throwing open a sliding paper door at first but your comment just made me chuckle into my coffee. Well noticed! What do you mean by continuity problems though? Paragraph 4 & 5 are flashbacks highlighted by the surrounding asterisks, no? We had the same techniques used in another story a few days ago (Throw a Gem, I think). Or did you mean something else?
      • joanna bressler
        you're right, edward beach. i really was confused there. i didn't know when or why the MC "hoisted the heavy beam on his shoulder" and what it had to do with the story thru-line. but then, another continuity problem arises. in paragraph 1, the MC "raced up" the stairs. in paragraph 7, the MC had to 'incapacitate a flurry of adversaries" on each floor. even though he does this "with ease" i can't quite see him racing up the stairs. ah well, good story nonetheless.
  • BUD CLAYMAN

    I,too, thought it was entertaining and realize that the mixture of a high-tech video game and an old sage accounted for that lightness. But with this story I’ll be old fashioned and say, I wanted something more serious and insightful than we got. The modern and ancient content didn’t combine well for me.

  • BUD CLAYMAN

    I,too, thought it was entertaining and realize that the mixture of a high-tech video game and an old sage accounted for that lightness. But with this story I’ll be old fashioned and say, I wanted something more serious and insightful than we got. The modern and ancient content didn’t combine well for me.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    The flurry of adjectives parrying nouns tested my endurance at the beginning, though I was ultimately entertained, if not enlightened.

    • Edward Beach
      Hi Paul, I'd love it if you could give some examples when you pick up on this kind of stuff. I only ask because my writing is pretty bad at times and I don't always get your meaning when you say things like "adjectives parrying nouns". This isn't meant to be a criticism, I just get flummoxed by your comments sometimes and would really like to understand them a bit more. Thanks!
      • Paul A. Freeman
        Hi Edward - I was actually referring most especially to the opening two paragraphs which seemed to use adjectives at every opportunity, i.e. 'glistening sweat', 'bald scalp', 'hardwood stairs', 'spacious pagoda', 'sliding paper door', 'open-air garden', 'ancient man', 'marvelous oak desk' and 'stylish Italian suit'.
        • Edward Beach
          Thanks for clarifying. Rereading those paragraphs again, the over description does stand out. Cheers Paul.
  • Paul A. Freeman

    The flurry of adjectives parrying nouns tested my endurance at the beginning, though I was ultimately entertained, if not enlightened.

    • Edward Beach
      Hi Paul, I'd love it if you could give some examples when you pick up on this kind of stuff. I only ask because my writing is pretty bad at times and I don't always get your meaning when you say things like "adjectives parrying nouns". This isn't meant to be a criticism, I just get flummoxed by your comments sometimes and would really like to understand them a bit more. Thanks!
      • Paul A. Freeman
        Hi Edward - I was actually referring most especially to the opening two paragraphs which seemed to use adjectives at every opportunity, i.e. 'glistening sweat', 'bald scalp', 'hardwood stairs', 'spacious pagoda', 'sliding paper door', 'open-air garden', 'ancient man', 'marvelous oak desk' and 'stylish Italian suit'.
        • Edward Beach
          Thanks for clarifying. Rereading those paragraphs again, the over description does stand out. Cheers Paul.
  • Edward Beach

    Ned, thanks for the light-hearted story. For me though, it’s stories like this that get me a little jaded with EDF from time to time. I’ll probably get nailed for saying this, especially if a story of mine ever appears here, but a lot of the stories on EDF seem to be missing something – the fact that I can’t tell exactly what it is they’re missing is frustrating too.

    Most stories on EDF have this sequence of events feel to them, as this one does, even though it has the guiding narrative structure of the hero quest, endearingly inverted. There’s a made-for-TV quality to them that I think, and I may be well off the mark here, comes from 1) being largely predictable, and 2) the writer doesn’t distance themselves enough from the writing.

    In ‘A Year Of Cat Ownership’, posted a few days back there was a real sense of distance between the writer and the story. It felt like James Reinebold was telling his, frankly bizarre, story dispassionately. Part of that was the form, which had a formal journal entry feel to it. Part of it was the vocabulary, keeping to a pared down use of language. I liked James’ story, it felt professionally written.

    Here, the first paragraph is adjective-heavy, and that doesn’t feel natural when you read it out. The ‘glistening sweat’, ‘bald scalp’, ‘hardwood stairs’ and ‘spacious padoga’ are fine in themselves but when they come in swift succession, I agree with Paul, it feels artificial. Then when you use terms like ‘having a blast’ in the narration and not in speech, it feels like the you’ve gone too far the other way, moving from artificial language to a kind of informal everyday speech, which doesn’t sit well with a narrators supposedly impartial position as storyteller.

    Apologies for the long rant. I use these discussion threads to try and figure out my own position on writing and sometimes that means they go on for a bit. I gave this 3 stars for its light-heartedness, which is never a bad thing.

    • Camille Gooderham Campbell
      Edward, I don't know if you use Facebook, but we have quite a nice group over there where you might be able to engage in a more in-depth discussion of writing techniques and the content of EDF as a whole, if you're interested in that: https://www.facebook.com/groups/4147218084/ I would certainly feel more free to engage in a discussion with you there in a way that I can't here since this is my editorial domain and not a round table.
      • Edward Beach
        Hi Camille, I've just set myself up an fb page and requested to join le round table.
  • Edward Beach

    Ned, thanks for the light-hearted story. For me though, it’s stories like this that get me a little jaded with EDF from time to time. I’ll probably get nailed for saying this, especially if a story of mine ever appears here, but a lot of the stories on EDF seem to be missing something – the fact that I can’t tell exactly what it is they’re missing is frustrating too.

    Most stories on EDF have this sequence of events feel to them, as this one does, even though it has the guiding narrative structure of the hero quest, endearingly inverted. There’s a made-for-TV quality to them that I think, and I may be well off the mark here, comes from 1) being largely predictable, and 2) the writer doesn’t distance themselves enough from the writing.

    In ‘A Year Of Cat Ownership’, posted a few days back there was a real sense of distance between the writer and the story. It felt like James Reinebold was telling his, frankly bizarre, story dispassionately. Part of that was the form, which had a formal journal entry feel to it. Part of it was the vocabulary, keeping to a pared down use of language. I liked James’ story, it felt professionally written.

    Here, the first paragraph is adjective-heavy, and that doesn’t feel natural when you read it out. The ‘glistening sweat’, ‘bald scalp’, ‘hardwood stairs’ and ‘spacious padoga’ are fine in themselves but when they come in swift succession, I agree with Paul, it feels artificial. Then when you use terms like ‘having a blast’ in the narration and not in speech, it feels like the you’ve gone too far the other way, moving from artificial language to a kind of informal everyday speech, which doesn’t sit well with a narrators supposedly impartial position as storyteller.

    Apologies for the long rant. I use these discussion threads to try and figure out my own position on writing and sometimes that means they go on for a bit. I gave this 3 stars for its light-heartedness, which is never a bad thing.

    • Camille Gooderham Campbell
      Edward, I don't know if you use Facebook, but we have quite a nice group over there where you might be able to engage in a more in-depth discussion of writing techniques and the content of EDF as a whole, if you're interested in that: https://www.facebook.com/groups/4147218084/ I would certainly feel more free to engage in a discussion with you there in a way that I can't here since this is my editorial domain and not a round table.
      • Edward Beach
        Hi Camille, I've just set myself up an fb page and requested to join le round table.
  • Great fun, perhaps a great truth too 🙂

  • Great fun, perhaps a great truth too 🙂