Juda was far from what one would call a social creature. He kept to the mine, read his books, he rarely even spoke to his horse; his life revolved around a quiet routine he had built in the town of Mountain Side. Part of his routine included a very out of character habit; Fridays were spent at the local tavern. The whole town showed up on Friday nights for drinks, food and discussion. Juda thrived on the discussion. He sat at a table near the tavern’s fireplace, drank tea, watched the crowd and listened to their tales from the week gone by.
Most Fridays played out to a familiar rhythm. The bartender’s bowtie started well positioned, the crowd trickled in, fried foods moved back and forth from a make-shift kitchen behind the bar, all on repeat until eventually the bartender looked haggard and the crowd grew louder, but harder to understand. Juda loved every minute of it.
While most Friday night followed that same path, there would always be one that stood out in Juda’s memory. The night the man in the white hat pushed through the tavern’s swinging doors and walked to the bar.
The tavern was rockus and a fiddled played from the center of the room before the man in the white hat entered. Everything came to a pause when the stranger came into the room. He walked, hands on his belt, to the bar eyeing every inch of space in the tavern. The bartender warily asked what he serve the newcomer.
“Whiskey, neat,” the man in the white hat said. Juda loved the accent. It was unusual for this part of the country. Words seemed to crawl off the man’s lips and Juda knew he and the man in the white hat pronounced ‘pecan’ quite differently. The drink was placed in front of the man a moment later.
“One of you,” the man in the white hat said, addressing the entire saloon, then pausing to take his shot of whiskey, “is coming up the mesa with me.” The shot glass chimed against the wooden counter of the bar, followed quickly by the silence of a stunned crowd.
Mountain Side was a mining town with a poor name. Mountain implied range, as though the town was at the foot of a number of mighty peaks. Above Mountain Sat was a mesa, thought to be 20,000 feet high, but none had ever made it all the way to the top. The mesa stood alone in a desert of sand and cactus and lizards that always found a way to be under horse hooves.
The silence of the room gave way to laughter.
“You’re not from around here, are ya’?” One drunk patron cackled.
“The mesa has no top!” Another shouted.
The man in the white hat waited a moment for the crowd to settle. Once his condition was met, his eyes proceeded to move through the laborers enjoying their time off duty.
Juda had not taken his own gaze off the man in the white hat. The stranger was not speaking of the mesa in jest, not seeking to just get a reaction from the superstitious locals, no, the stranger with the oddly tinted cap was serious in his comment.
As Juda realized that, the man in the white hat locked eyes with him.
“You,” the man in the white hat said, pointing a finger at Juda. “Drinking tea, you don’t want your senses dulled. I need that. You’re coming up the mesa with me.”
Juda flustered, but managed to ask a question instead of outright saying no, “what’s at the top of the mesa?”
“Answers,” the man in the white hat replied.
Juda smiled. “That’s terribly cryptic. Answers to what?”
“You’re going to find out.”
Juda rose from his chair and left the tavern. He never returned for Friday nights at the tavern.