Synopsis: After a storm kills his wife and daughter, Johnny Qullio begins his journey to Mount Evergreen, home of the gods in the faraway east. There he will sing his lament to the gods and demand to know why the good and innocent were taken away. At the Wide Highway, he is taken in by hidden dwellers of an otherwise abandoned town. On the tenth day of his trek, he reaches the base of Mount Evergreen and meets a woman and her young daughter. The little girl instantly takes to Johnny, and he spends what may be his last evening in their company.
On the Mountain
On the Mountain
Johnny left before dawn, carrying only his water skin. He set off at a jog, hoping to be gone before Marie awoke and demanded to walk with him. In this he succeeded, yet he continued his rapid pace. Without the weight of the pack, he felt as light as a feather. The morning wore on, yet the air remained cool — perhaps a favor of the gods, or just the vagaries of spring weather. Finally, the way grew steep and then turned to steps. Skeletal oaks, just now budding out, gave way to pines that closed in on the path.
This high up, the path alternated between long flights of steps and long stretches of near-level ground, until steps zig-zagged up and up, disappearing into the pines. Johnny climbed, his questions and his lament fixed in his mind.
At last, Johnny reached the top, his legs rubbery, and looked across a broad plaza, ringed with pines. The plaza gently mounded toward the center, surmounted by a small pedestal. The sight reminded him of Sara’s breasts, broad and low but proud… he wiped away a tear and marched to the pedestal. Climbing atop it, he drank the last of his water and spoke:
“I am Johnny Qullio, son of Arthur, of the village west of the Wide Highway!” he called. “I now summon the gods to hear my lament for my wife and daughter, Big Sara and Little Sara, and to answer my questions! And when my questions are asked and answered, you may do with me as you will!” He looked upward, closing his eyes against the noon sun, and sang his lament.
As he finished, his legs no longer held him up. He lowered himself as gracefully as he could, and sat. Looking up, he saw an old man in a worn grey tunic standing at the edge of the plaza. His long grey hair and beard matched his garb. The staff he carried made Johnny think of old stories of wizards…
Seeing that Johnny noticed him, the old man nodded and made his way to the pedestal. Johnny tried to stand, but could not; he bowed as best as he could while sitting and waited for the elder to speak.
“You sing your lament here?” the old man asked. “Why not in your village, where your friends and family could lament with you?”
“They will sing their own lament, and perhaps they will sing mine as well,” Johnny said. “But the gods took my family from me, thus I thought it fitting that they should hear what they have done — and then I can ask them why before they deal with me.”
“Gods?” the other asked, stressing the S. “What are they teaching you in the wide world these days? There is only one God, and he is here but he is everywhere. But tell me: what happened?”
“It was a lifetime ago. It was eleven days ago. A storm came upon our village, and we were in our house, playing a game to keep Little Sara from worrying. Sara rolled her ball across the table to me, and it rolled off and bounced under the table. As I crawled under the table to get the ball, I heard a great gust of wind, and the roof came down on us, as if the gods stomped our house flat. The table collapsed on top of me, but other than a few scratches and bruises I was unhurt. Big Sara and Little Sara, though — the gods, or the god if you are correct, took them. And I have come to ask why them and not me. Big Sara was kind and generous, and Little Sara was a child no older than one I met on the way.”
The old man shook his head. “God has set the earth in motion, and not all things that happen to you are because of his favor or wrath. What happened at your house, I think — the ancients had a word, downburst. It is a great wind that blows straight down from the clouds, or near enough. A tornado, the wind that spins, would have lifted your roof away and then knocked your walls in.”
“Then… then you’re saying there was no purpose to this? This god seems to care little for his creation, then.”
The old man shook his head. “No. God cares deeply about his creation, and his people. The ancients nearly destroyed His creation, long ago, and now the earth has mostly healed. But it is your duty to give your life meaning or purpose. If you do not curse Him or yourself, perhaps God will restore you — no, your wife and daughter are gone, but in time you may find yourself raising another family.”
“This god… does he have any power at all? What kind of god does nothing?”
“Of course he has power. He has used it to give you life. And he has given you the power to determine how you will live the rest of your life.
“And now… your legs? Are they feeling stronger? Here, drink this.” The old man handed Johnny a flask of a liquid that proved to have a strange taste. “This will restore your strength so you can return to your camp before dark. But walk, don’t run. You have time.”