Young Men, The Third Man, and Fire
As soon as I saw the description of The Third Man Factor on Amazon Books I knew what it was about and that I had to buy it. Having experienced the Third Man factor twice in my 50 years of life, I knew instantly what John Geiger was writing about and I was thrilled he was going to compile these amazing stories and examine this…. whatever it is….phenomena, in a serious manner. I received the book on Tuesday and by Wednesday I was finished reading it. The Third Man Factor is an excellent book.
Through the book, I found my way here and read many of the experiences shared by other members. I recognize my own experiences in their stories.
My first experience with the TMF was in October 1978. Two friends and I had traveled to the mountains of southwestern New York State for a weekend of the outdoors. We were all about 19 years old at the time.
On our second and final night we rented a small cabin outfitted with just four simple cots and a pot belly stove. The weather was alternating between snow and a cold rain all weekend so there was no dry wood to be found. We drove to a local store and bought a bundle of kindling, some food, and beer and ice for the cooler (the legal drinking age in Pennsylvania where we were from was 21, but in New York at that time, it was 18 – we were thrilled to be able to walk into a store and legally buy our own beer).
Back at the cabin we got the stove fired up and started heating the cabin while enjoying our beer. As the night progressed and we had more beer, my two friends thought it was fun to keep throwing more wood into the stove. It eventually got so hot in the cabin I told them to stop, but they kept right on adding more wood to the fire. I don’t recall much of what happened next except I ended up in my sleeping bag on my cot before they did.
I don’t know how much time passed. I don’t recall having any fear or pain. But at some point, something woke me up. I just had this knowledge, not so much a voice inside my head like others have described, but just the immediate sense that I had to wake up. But I knew something was making me wake up, so I did.
I don’t recall much of waking up except I do recall saying something such as “it’s too hot in here!” Or perhaps, now that I have read the book and I look at it differently – maybe that was a voice I was hearing? But if so, from whom, for both of my friends were passed out and there was no one else in the cabin. Was there a “fourth man” there with the three of us? I think so.
It was dark in the cabin and I don’t recall seeing anything. Somehow, I ended up out of bed, across the cabin, and out the door. But I have no recollection of doing any of this.
I made it out onto the small porch on the front of the cabin as I went out the door. That’s when I realized I was coughing and my eyes were burning and tears were running down my face. The cold air snapped me awake and I turned around to look back inside the cabin at the remaining kindling wood, still tied together with the bailing wire, sitting right next to the glowing hot stove. The kindling itself was on fire! The heat of the over stoked stove had ignited the kindling. The entire cabin was filled with smoke, smoke I have no recollection of smelling, seeing, or sensing until I got outside. My two friends were passed out, unmoving, on their cots.
Somehow, it just came to me what I needed to do. I had no fear, no panic. Just like before there was this “knowledge”. This time, the “knowledge” allowed me to comprehend that the ice inside the cooler would have melted from the heat and I could use this to put out the fire.
I grabbed the cooler, tossed off the lid and sure enough, with a few cans of beer still bobbing around, it was filled with water! I tossed the entire contents onto the blazing kindling and it (barely) put out the fire. I grabbed the still smoldering pile of wood, I don’t know how and I did not burn myself (which I have no explanation for either) and tossed it out the still open door. The wood landed on the ground and as soon as the wind hit it, the kindling reignited into a blazing fire.
I staggered back onto the porch as I did this, coughing and gagging even more than before. Though I had put out the fire, the cabin was still filled with smoke. I screamed at my two friends to get up, but I was powerless to go back in a second time and get them out. Fortunately, my one friend heard me, woke up, and he dragged the other one out of the cabin.
What woke me up that night? I don’t know, but I have known, all these years, that it was something or someone who was in there with me. Call it a Guardian Angel or the Third Man, whatever or whoever it was helped save my life, and the lives of my friends.
My experience is a bit different in that I do not recall sensing another next to me. But I do remember that something or someone was giving me the essential knowledge I needed to act, was guiding me to make the right decisions, telling me what to do and when to do it. And like so many other Third Man Factor stories, I remember being calm and confident throughout the experience. It was not until I had put out the fire and thrown the wood outside, (the worst of the danger was over) that I sensed fear and cried out to my friends.
We are all 50 years old now. Two of us have families, and one is now a mountaineer and professional guide working for Pacific Crest Outward Bound (I am sure he has some TMF stories of his own to share!). But none of us would be here today, if it were not for my Third Man.
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Many people have encountered a sense of an unseen companion helping them, lending support or sharing wisdom. If you've had a Third Man encounter and want to share it with others, you're invited to post the experience here.