The Matrix, continued

One said NOON, after which I got lost in the maze. After a while I found a backwards ten and followed it around in a circle, reading: TEN A.M. ROOM THIRTY-SEVEN. FAT CHANCE SAM WOULD BE SO COMPLEX, JUST TO DELIVER SO SIMPLE A message. More complex by far was the word EVE that I finally found branching up from the ampersand. Its message danced all over the page: SUNDAY EVE AT LODGE DINING ROOM EIGHT P.M. WEAR YELLOW SCARF--as if I needed to be identified by a flag. Hmm.

Besides, though Sun Valley lay near three towns, two mountain ranges, and miles of open, skiable tundra where we might meet, I was sure Sam had said we should meet on Baldy, the ski mountain itself, because we both knew it so well. Given my armload of stitches and my current physical condition, I wasn't too anxious to clamp on my Alpines again. But it seemed I might have little choice.

I was sure I hadn't encountered the right message yet. It had to be the one following the word NOON--so where did it lead? I found the word MET, which connected with a long passage that seemed part of a bigger picture, but the word didn't lead contextually into that sentence. I looked again. I found ON, beside which were IN and TO. My eyes began to cross, even though I was now using my finger to trace the labyrinth of letters on the page before me.

Just then, I found a real word: TOUSSAINT. It went north from the word ON and turned east, then south again. Toussaint--All Saints' Day--though that was where my limited religious expertise ended. Having attended churches in my youth only when Jersey was booked to perform at one, I couldn't recall whether that was near All Souls' Day or Carnival--neither of which fell within spitting distance of this coming Sunday, anyway. And though all ski slopes have names, there wasn't a run at Sun Valley named either Hallowe'en or Mardi Gras. As it happened, however, most of the slopes on Baldy were named for festive occasions: Holiday, Easter, Mayday, Christmas. Probably no coincidence.

I squinted and studied the grid again. I'd now spent an hour on this eye-crossing puzzle, and my starting-to-heal arm throbbed and itched like crazy. I was able to connect the word TOUSSAINT with some words I'd found earlier, such as GO and THROUGH, but then I was lost again. Damn it, Sam! GET TO TOUSSAINT, GO THROUGH--go through what?

There were dozens of trails and lower slopes branching off those four I'd mentioned. But I took a deep breath, closed my bleary eyes, and tried to visualize the three-dimensional layout of the mountain. For instance, if you came off the top of the chair lift at Lookout, which fed onto three of the aforementioned slopes--all but Mayday--and if you then skied down around behind the lift, you'd be following a path that from a bird's-eye view would very much resemble the way the letters that formed this message were laid out on the page! Indeed, even if I backtracked to the very beginning of the message, the words Sun Valley were placed on the page, if memory served me, at the same angle as the ski lift itself was laid out on the mountain!

I knew I was on to something, so I kept my mind focused on the mountain. When you came off the lift, you dropped over a small ledge, then went through a wide mogul field. I opened my eyes and searched for the word MOGUL near where the field would actually be. It took a minute, but I found it--a zigzag pattern, exactly the way you'd have to ski it--with the word FIELD just after. My heart started pounding.

There was still some deciphering to be done, though.

I had found the word DOWN just after FIELD, but I knew there were five other slopes branching off that mogul field, and I couldn't recall their names any more than I would have recalled the first bunch if I hadn't found Toussaint. All I ever recalled were geographical features, lift numbers and where the lifts took you, and the levels of difficulty marked on each run: green, blue, or black; circle, square, or diamond. None of these seemed to help here.

I reminded myself how well Sam knew me. Just after the word down, I saw the letter b and traced it through a sharp switchback pattern that formed two words: BLACK DIAMOND. The black diamond run below the mogul field emptied out at the base of another lift. If I took that I would arrive atop the next slope. I followed the words on the page just there. They read THEN FOLLOW THIS PATH THROUGH, and the word then going north was WOODS. Since the end of a word at an edge of a page meant "exit," I assumed this was the end of the message. And that it marked the spot where I'd meet Sam at noon on Sunday.

Acrostic with Sun Valley messages

So I could see the whole pattern now: I would take chair lift three to Lookout, ski through the mogul field, and take the early branch to my left onto a black diamond, or most difficult, run. Everything was simple--except for the steepness of that slope, if I happened to fall with my bad arm. This run, I knew, would put me over around the side of the mountain, away from the tourists, in a backwoods where tracks were narrow and where markers left by Sam could be easily read by me, so he would feel safe to change them at the last moment, if necessary, to redirect my path.

I felt highly proud of myself, deciphering all this from a 26-by-26 matrix--though I knew it was Sam who was brilliant, putting it into geographical context only to be read by someone who knew the lay of the land as well as he himself did.

Just as I was about to erase the matrix still looming on the screen, I remembered to hunt for another, deeper layer. I double-clicked my mouse on the asterisk, to no avail. Then I tried the first letter of Sun Valley, and finally I clicked on the exit letter S in woods. The screen vanished at once and a message popped up:

Keen gnosis of gnosis. Signed: Reg du Coly.

Reg du Coly was an anagram of Grey Cloud, Sam's sacred spirit name known only to me--just as were C. G. Loudyer and Lou D. Grecy and all the other rearrangements of letters of our names that we used to make up to dazzle each other when we were kids. So this meant that the other half was an anagram too, and contained the other half of the message from Sam to me.

It was going to be a long night.

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