It began as a joke. But soon I found myself in our dirt-pit of a backyard, gazing at the empty horizon over the flat grassy fields that dominated our lands, and imagined what the mountain would look like. Not a large mountain, I told Gwen, but definitely big enough that it would never be considered a hill. A hill is something Sammy builds from snow. I told Gwen what the sun would look like coming up and over the peak of our first mountain. She pointed at the horizon, and with an extended finger, drew a triangle on the sky. The elders were the most difficult to convince. At our town hall meeting they took turns standing, hollering, and shredding a textbook featuring other countries’ most beautiful mountains. Several were concerned, after eighty or so years of flat living, that their legs wouldn’t move in a motion for mountain walking. Standing at the front of the room, I told everyone to practice, and marched in place while smiling. They took turns, slowly moving their thighs upward until horizontal, and complained in a chorus of phlegm-coughs and boo. “Wait,” said one elderly man who I knew as Johnson. “What would the air be like up there, on a mountain?” I explained how for hundreds of years the air quality of flat living had polluted us. That from my research, using a type of weather balloon, an invisible smog had formed a sphere one hundred yards skyward. The benefits of building a mountain would be tremendous.
Think of future generations, the children, I said. Concentrate on a
future where you look out your window and see a mountain.
The children, of course, were the easiest to convince. I told Sammy
about sledding, skiing, downhill cycling, and hiking. I showed her
my sketch of a playground in the sky, near the peak of the proposed
mountain. Afterward, I watched her from the front window of our
home lifting her bicycle over her head in the middle of the street, her
arms trembling to balance it at a severe downward angle.
The town meetings continued, and one by one, the residents began
to agree that a mountain was a feasible and good idea. During the
traditional fifteen-minute break after an hour of debate, I’d stand
outside smoking and notice more and more of the elders using the
Practice Hills, exclaiming to loved ones that it didn’t hurt their legs
too bad to climb. Others proudly rattled off my list of new animal
species that would flourish in the deep forests of our first mountain.
Many predicted an influx of athletes to our country, which the politicians
translated as increased revenue.
Construction of the mountain took a year. There were deaths. Several
men hadn’t properly prepared their lungs by jogging the Simulation
Scaffolding, a massive structure made from wood and metal
slightly half in height of the proposed mountain. A few workers
simply couldn’t handle the idea of a mountain—a pile of dirt and
gravel—bringing them closer to the sky, and took their own lives via
self-burial. Two men were murdered by residents desperate to ascend
the mountain, which was related to something important I didn’t account
for: building a mountain so grand that no one could touch it
until it was finished, which is why I’m currently here, alone, on the
Even Gwen had her moments. I’m thinking of the night I found
her in the backyard, lying flat on her back, crying. She had pasted her
face with dirt, and she said her entire life was physically contained
on one flat plane. I told her that was true, that the mountain would
be completed soon. The next night, Gwen was again in the backyard,
but I didn’t go out to bring her back inside. Instead, I watched
from the bathroom window while Sammy brushed her teeth next to
me, my wife running full speed through an open field and sliding stomach-bare across the flat grassy surface, her body halting into a
crumpled pile of sobs.
Security was an issue. Many were arrested during dark hours for
trespassing as the mountain grew with each truckload of dirt, and the
tutorials that replaced the town hall meetings about what to expect
when first climbing the mountain were attended less and less frequently
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