As Anman sat brooding and pining for his lost self, one of Swimmer’s creekside stories rushed into his memory with a great urgency and attractiveness. Swimmer claimed that above the blue vault of heaven there was a forest inhabited by a celestial race. Men could not go there to stay and live, but in that high land the dead spirit could be reborn. Swimmer described it as far and inaccessible region, but he said the highest mountains lifted their dark summits into its lower reaches. Signs and wonders both large and small did sometimes make transit from that world to our own. Animals, Swimmer said, were its primary messengers. Inman had pointed out to Swimmer that he had climbed Cold Mountain to its top, and Pisgah and Mount Sterling as well. Mountains did not get much higher than those, and Inman had seen no upper realm from their summits.

There’s more to it than just the climbing, Swimmer had said. Though Inman could not recall whether Swimmer had told him what else might be involved in reaching that healing realm, Cold Mountain nevertheless soared in his mind as a place where all his scattered forces might gather. Inman did not consider himself to be a superstitious person, but he did believe that there is a world invisible to us. He no longer thought of that world as heaven, nor did he still think that we get to go there when we die. Those teachings had been burned away. But he could not abide by a universe composed only of what he could see, especially when it was so frequently foul. So he held up to the idea of another world, a better place, and he figured he might as well consider Cold Mountain to be the location of it as anywhere.