A Journey of the Heart by W. Dave Free

They sat in silence, waiting for the lift to carry them higher and higher up the mountain. Competition had been a part of their friendship from the beginning, but this was the first time they’d actually bet on themselves. It felt different. It was definitely challenging and exciting, but it did little for their friendship. More than anything, Jake wanted Tyler to lose.

Well, too late to go back now, he thought to himself as the shack at the top of the lift came into view. As soon as his tips hit the snow he jumped off the seat and dug with both poles.

“I’ll order lunch for you at the bottom!” Jake yelled over his shoulder at Tyler as he dropped off the catwalk onto a steep set of moguls.

Jake knew he was faster down the moguls, but worried that Tyler might beat him, even if he had to go farther, by staying on the straight runs and flying. By the time he reached midway, where the steep mogul course and the smoother trail came back together, he was winded but confident he’d built a sizable lead. He had never done the moguls faster. His biggest concern was that the lower half of the slope wasn’t nearly as steep as the top. If Tyler was even close to him at this point, Jake would have a hard time holding him off to the bottom. Just as the thought crossed his mind he caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. Tyler was in a tuck position and didn’t even slow down as he shot past Jake.

“Shoot!” Jake jammed his poles into the snow and pulled himself forward. There had to be another way down. He’d never catch his friend by staying on the trail. Instead of following Tyler on the marked trail he went straight across it and into the trees. He’d ridden the lift once with a guy who swore it was possible to ski straight down the mountain rather than following the trail. The shortest course was straight down, and right now that is exactly what Jake needed.

The ungroomed snow and fallen trees made for rough going. Since it was near the end of the season and he needed new skis anyway, Jake wasn’t too concerned about the smaller rocks. Despite the rough terrain, he did pretty well and managed to avoid serious falls. By the time his straight downhill course crossed paths with the winding, groomed trail again he felt sure he had passed Tyler. He hesitated for just a moment to catch his breath while his eyes focused on the trail above.

Still no Tyler, but Jake knew he couldn’t be far behind. Whether or not he stayed on the trail now depended upon how far back Tyler was. Jake wasn’t left to ponder for long. Tyler’s bent-over figure appeared on the trail above him and Jake could see that he was booking.

“Well, I guess that decides it.” Jake jammed his poles into the ground, skated across the trail, and dropped off into the trees on the other side.

Having successfully skied the ungroomed run above, Jake threw all remaining caution to the wind and went at it with everything he had. He was a naturally gifted athlete and his body was in the best condition it had ever been. The challenge of the bet combined with the risk of being off the beaten path added further adrenalin to his system and he felt unstoppable. Every turn was picture perfect, every jump video-worthy.

Within a few moments Jake caught sight of a clearing through the trees. He’d gone down even faster than he’d expected. He made the last few cuts and came out from under the trees.

Why do runs like this only happen when no one else is around to admire them? was Jake’s last thought before the world dropped out from under him.

The “clearing” Jake had seen through the trees and assumed was the trail was actually a deep and rugged ravine that had a partially iced-over creek running along its floor. When Jake neared the crevasse he saw that the opposite side was forty or fifty feet away. Moreover, both sides were so steep they might has well have been vertical.

As Jake shot off the edge he realized he would never make it across. He waved his arms wildly to try to keep from going down headfirst. The involuntary scream that ripped from his throat ended abruptly as he hit the stream below and lay still.

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CLANK! CLANK! CLANK!

The pounding in Jake’s head would not stop. It only grew louder and louder until he was sure his head would burst. Finally, in desperation, he put both hands to his ears and screamed.

“Elder! Elder! Wake up, Elder! You’ve had a bad dream! Wake up!”

Someone was shaking Jake by the shoulders and yelling in his ear, but even the shouting couldn’t drown out the constant CLANK! CLANK! CLANK! He struggled to open his eyes, but then immediately slammed then shut again to avoid the bright sunlight.

“Elder, are you all right? Shall I get the captain?”

Whoever had been shaking and yelling at Jake was still talking to him and rubbing his hand. Slowly and cautiously, Jake opened his eyes just a crack and looked in the direction of the voice, expecting to see a member of the ski patrol or, better, a paramedic or doctor.

He opened his eyes a little wider, blinked until the vision cleared, and finally focused on a girl about his age. Instead of a parka, uniform, or scrubs she wore a long-sleeved white blouse and a long, woolen skirt.

Jake jumped to his feet. Since he failed to see the shelf above his head, he smashed into it then slumped back down on the seat, holding his head in both hands. “Oh, baby, that hurt like a monster!” he moaned.

“Baby? What baby, Elder?” The young woman regarded him with a truly perplexed look. When Jake stared back she ventured a weak smile.

He couldn’t bring himself to return it. He was too confused and his head hurt too much. What was going on anyway?

“Why do you keep calling me Elder?” he asked with more than a little annoyance. “Who are you?” He looked around and frowned. “Where are we?”

The smile on the girl’s face quickly turned from surprise and concern to near-terror. She rose quickly. “I’d better get the captain. You’re not well.”

Before Jake could respond she’d turned and run down a narrow aisle. He groaned again and took in his surroundings. He’d never been on a train before, but he’d seen enough movies to know this was one—and an old one from the looks of it. The clanking in his head had been caused in part by the constant noise of train itself. The seat he sat on was wooden and not at all comfortable. The glass in the windows allowed plenty of light, but had many irregularities that distorted the green countryside that was quickly slipping by outside.

Looking up to see what he’d brained himself on, Jake found an overhead luggage shelf stacked high with all variety of old-fashioned bundles: carpetbags, burlap bags, wooden chests, and round hatboxes. Jake shook his head in amazement. The last he remembered he’d been on a mountain slope, certain he was going to die, and now he was on a movie set. Was this the only transportation to the hospital? Had it been set up for the Sundance Festival, or what? He took another tentative look around, expecting Tyler to jump out and yell, “Gotcha!”

Tyler was nowhere to be seen. All the seats in the boxcar were full of quaintly-garbed strangers and every eye seemed to be focused on him. On the bench directly across from him was a family that consisted of parents, two sons, and a daughter. Their clothes were as odd as everything else. The little girl wore a bonnet tied tightly below her chin and sat upon her mother’s lap to stare with wide eyes at Jake.

Jake looked down, sure he must be covered with blood. He was so surprised to see that he was not only uninjured, but wearing strange clothes himself, he jumped to his feet and once again smashed his head into the overhead shelf.

The little girl giggled as he searched the pockets of the broad cloth suit he wore. They were empty. His wallet, his sunglasses, his money—everything—was gone. And the suit! Where had it come from? It must be a costume. For sure it looked just like the clothes all the rest of the people wore.

A “Joseph Smith” suit, that’s what it was, Jake thought. The shirt collar came up high on both sides, nearly touching his chin. The tie was as white as the shirt and was tied in more of a bow than the traditional tie knots that Jake had learned as a deacon. Jake had to admit that the jacket was much more comfortable than the blazer he wore to church. It was cut high in the front at about the waist but was long in the back with tails.

He was just bending over to examine the old-fashioned boots that had replaced his ski boots when a commotion began at the front of the car. The girl who had been sitting next to Jake had returned with an older man. They worked their way down the center aisle toward Jake, greeting everyone along the way.

When they were still a couple of rows away the young lady called out to Jake, “I’m back, Elder, and I’ve brought the captain.” She motioned to the man who followed her and Jake’s eyes opened wide. He was shorter than Jake and stocky. His suit was almost identical but his tie was black and tied in a neat square knot. He had very little beard on the front of his face, but a thick growth down both sides and under the chin. His hair was long, about jaw level, and covered both ears. It was combed straight down on the sides and seemed to curl naturally at the ends.

By this time Jake had solved the mystery. He had died on the slopes. This weird train was taking him to paradise—or spirit prison—he hadn’t decided which. This new guy must be Brigham Young.

Jake stuck out his hand and said, “Brigham Young! I’ve wanted to meet you my whole life. Is Joseph Smith on the train too?”

The two boys on the bench across from Jake giggled, but the young woman sat down next to him, her face white with worry.