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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