The Mountains Again
by D. C. Haddock
The omnipresent mountains loomed in the background of my childhood, stretching beyond the bounds of my conscious and memory. They stood guard over me, blue and purple and remote in the distance, the ever-present sentinels with snow-capped peaks protruding towards the heavens to catch a falling star that I once dreamed was just for me, while wrapping me in stony arms against rocky bosoms. Their presence permeates every moment I call back to my mind, and now when I close my eyes to sleep at night, I see them in my dreams, and I am home.
Our little house rested just at the base of the foothills, the dwarfed cousins. The hills were a far more tangible thing, a place where you could stumble up a slope of dust and dry grass and plod along the side of it; but I always thought the injustice of not being allowed to climb all the way to the tippy-top severely hindered my determination to stand atop those hills one day, with my feet apart and my little hands on my hips, demanding the gratuity of all the world to see what feat I had accomplished. I am Jeanne d’Arc, I am Fa Mu Lan, I am Boudicca, I am Tamar of Georgia! But then I would turn my gaze to the west, and see the mountains, and long to reach their summits, and know that I am eight years old. I would stand very still and tell myself, “I am a minuscule grain of wheat bending to the wills of the wind and safely planted at the base of the hill.”
Though not so mysterious a venture as the mountains, the hills still held wonders; a thousand tiny little frogs bursting forth through the crust of the mud, most no bigger than the size of one’s pinky nail; flocks of black birds that morphed into dancing shapes and amoebas against the orange evening sky; lizards skittering in and out of craggy crevices; snakes with colors akin to the blackest of night and the reddest of blood, as long as your leg and as thick as your wrist, lying dormant and coiled below large drain pipes in the gullies; a dead deer with half its entrails spilling out of its side, remnants of a plastic bucket protruding from its belly, huge black flies buzzing about it and making homes in the rotting and ghastly flesh of the abdomen. Is this how it is? The tiny, seemingly insignificant creatures emerge from the cracks of the earth to survive against all odds, the sly wait in the shadows for unlucky prey to innocently pass just a touch too close, the gifted are given the ability to fly off to wherever they desire, and when we are gone, we merely serve as meager sustenance to the parasites of the world? Surely not. I will prove it.
In one swift decision, I climbed across the drain pipe one day, accompanied by my brother. With the path along the hill and the gully beneath us, we looked forward and up at a forbidden world and began our ascent. The pungent smell of dry brown grass baking in the California sun filled our noses; it was a familiar smell, and thus we felt safe. Through groves of trees, between branches, over rocks we went, putting each foot carefully in front of the other, all the while marveling at our own boldness for daring to do what we knew we should not. When the sun had begun to set, we reached an outcrop of boulders that provided a nice sitting place. The streetlights all across the city were springing to life, while the hills were rapidly becoming ensconced in darkness. I longed to see the stars twinkling above those lights, the mirror, sepia-toned version of the sky, two worlds piled on top of one another. But my brother dutifully told me that we must go now, we will never find our way back in the dark! And I knew he was right. He said he felt something on his back. I lifted his shirt to see, and there they were, the parasites already begun to feast on us before we were even dead! We should never have come, we must get down the hill before the sun hides behind horizon! So down we went, all caution thrown to the wind that was turning chilly in the absence of the sun’s warmth, sliding and falling and tripping over ourselves, down, down, down… I didn’t know what happened on the hills at night. I had only experienced the wonders of the day, and the day was all I knew; and so by the time we had reached the drain pipe, we grappled and scampered over it as fast as we could, over the wide trench of the gully and onto safe ground, our path along the hill. Looking back up, all that could be seen were the trees and the darkness beyond looming over us, seemingly reaching out to grab us, wanting to pull us back into its blackened womb. I frantically looked to the west, searching for my mountains, my guardians, but they were too far away, and I hurt my eyes struggling to see them in the darkness. But I told myself that they were there, and they always would be, immovable and unshakable And though I live in a flat land now, I can still feel them somewhere in the back of my mind, like an amputee with phantom limb. All I have to do is close my eyes, and I am home.