Far, far away, beyond our borders and the scope of our learning, there is a Hill. The “H” is capital because the very presence of the Hill usurps all others; the bumps and undulations of the landscape are sucked in, absorbed into its singular mass with as much choice as twigs in a whirlpool. The Hill is not the jewel in a crown of smaller cousins. It stands alone. Alone, on a dusty plain, where long ago the earth heaved, cracked, burst upward, clambering fit to overtake the stars. Or perhaps, some subterranean shade hurled asunder its cavernous roof, and reared up above the mortal realm in the full gleam of its cave-dark majesty—only to be turned to stone under the Sun’s eye. No one knows. The Hill was here long before we were—it will tower still when we are but dust. The Hill at once inspires and terrorizes; a lonely mountain gleaming like fire in its celestial shower, yet turning one’s guts to ice. So monolithic is the Hill that the rare adventurer to find it simply turns back, unwilling to or incapable of comprehending how small he really is. Such a monstrous concept is better understood gradually, much as a mountain is summited in small sections; the view is cheap and paltry without a preceding climb.
The joining between dust and titan is gentle, almost imperceptible. The ground slowly swells, gaining a doughy softness as would a loaf in the heat of the sun. The slender multitudes of grass on the plain thicken, hardened and hardy from the rock-rich soil. A gentle grade leads the gaze delicately skyward, until the terror of the looming beast snaps eyes ground-ward, to begin the process again. There is nothing about the base of the Hill to inspire awe, or fear, yet it is definitively a different world—the threshold, perhaps, of a different world. The body knows what the mind does not, and whispers its knowledge in the space between every heartbeat. The skin shudders and wraps tighter, as if chilled. The muscles of the neck and shoulders hunch the body down, converting the strong explorer to a penitent, back-broken laborer. Fear, uncertainty, and guilt creep into the ears of the climber, whispering sweet doubts. A sense of judgment and disapproval weigh even the heartiest down, once they begin the climb. How can it not, when clearly they are the trespassers here, and not the Hill? It is here, finally, under an Olympian shadow, that the truth is glimpsed, if not yet fully absorbed. The world was not grandly designed as a playpen and toolbox, to be humanity’s kingdom. Men scuttle from corner to corner of their labyrinth, thinking themselves lord and master; they are fools. We are no more than a shimmer of light across the wild ocean. We change nothing; we create nothing; we are nothing.
The girdle of the Hill is a sanctuary. The prevailing cliffs above merely offer shade, rather than hurling it down with the weight of miles. Stout trees and shrubs flow down the slope, a flood of leafy beasts frozen mid-stampede. Here is the one place where the Hill supports life; goats skip nimbly over the rocks, squirrels fritter and nag, and though no one sees, the hunting cat stalks everything with a jealous hunger. The adventurer is heartened and inspired to continue the climb, though his limbs burn with the effort of movement. It is the comforting burn of life. Cool air pinches, pokes the skin, tugs at clothes, and drags fingers through sweat-damp hair. Come dance with me, it calls, sing with me, play. Play! The breeze is gentle, for now. Even the most seasoned mountaineer could not guess what this zephyr will become, as it climbs higher beside him. Like the rugged explorer, we, as people, will pause here awhile, in this fierce and untended Eden. We will wander its false trails, dine on its myriad fruits, and bathe in its frigid streams. Eventually, we, like the explorer, will wander aimlessly, until we finally swallow, turn, and face the crux of the matter. The cliffs lie above—unconquered, unreachable; daring us to step off of the shoulders of a giant—and scale its face.
The bluff face of the Hill rebuffs the sunlight like the breastplate of an armored god. It is majestic, glorious; epic in the scale of its construction. None of this is visible from the face itself. All a climber sees is dust and the film of his own tears. The only thing he feels is the ripping, excruciating fatigue in his pathetic muscles as they struggle against gravity—that, and the wind. The wind does not merely whip him. It flays him, tears the heat from his body faster than his heart can pump it out. It does not howl into his ear. It screams with a million tortured voices, it invades his soul; it resonates with the shrieking of his tendons as he slips, dangling from a single frail, human arm. Everything in the world, even his own body, is determined to make the climber fall. But even the Hill cannot rise and shake off this parasite. In the end, we are the only ones who can choose to let go.
We are the only ones who can choose to grit our teeth, to swing in and hug the Hill like it was Mother Earth Herself. The only ones that can decide to reach upward, and seize a single fingernail-hold. And we—humanity, the climber, the protagonist—are the only ones that can push. Push, push upward, through storm and bloody hands and arms so weary that even quivering takes too much energy, to grab just one more rock. Just one more step. And another. And another. And another. Until, heart palpitating, teeth chattering, we throw our hands over the lip of the sky, and clamber up.
Nothing can live on the bald pate of the Hill. Not even the climber. But he is not sad. He is not anything. He is just a speck of dust on top of the world—until the dawn breaks. The Sun rears up its head, and gilds the whole world. The whole world. You can see it, from the top of the Hill. The full curve of its beauty is visible, the depths of its heart; the vault of Heaven, open and inviting. As we stand there, on the summit of our accomplishments, and breathe our last, rattling breath—we are small. We understand.
Let us wind up the day
Crank up the winds, stopper up the sunlight
Cross the tracks the wrong way round
And dance through the dust with the alley cats
Jelly burns, bloody tires, chains swinging free
Skins on the table, bones in the sink
Tears all dried up, and far too much to drink
Come with me, sing with me, pierce the piercing howl
Skip the fence, beat the bricks
Rattle your rosary beads
Beechwood, maple, ponderous ponderosa
Let us pop the world
Catch its humors in a sieve
Sift the hugs from the fangs
And let the chaff float away with the weeds
Cross the tracks the right way round
Bend ‘em, make a bow
Sit down among the dandelions
Make a wish, and
I wake to the sound of sirens and the smell of smoke. When did I black out? How long was I gone? I cough and sit up as best I can, looking around me. Everything is burning. Suddenly, I remember my child. I have to find my kid. I’m on the floor next to the oven that burns a blinding light. Crawling across the ground, hands and knees barely support me as I slowly make my way to the living room where his crib sits. I cannot find my kid.
Frantic now, heart pounding with urgency, I crawl to the bathroom in hopes I’ll find him there. Crispy soap, melted shampoo bottles, and foul-smelling towels surround me. My kid is not here. He is not hiding in the cupboard or behind the mirror. I cannot find my kid.
My lungs are clogged from smoke, and my breathing is labored as I search around the rest of the lower floor, wondering why no firemen, no ambulances have arrived to save us. Slowly, I gather up my breath enough to shout, “Enola! Enola!” No response. No faint giggle. No panicked wail. I cannot find my kid.
I manage to reach the furthest back room without too much difficulty, though the fire is growing higher around me. He got away, I tell myself over and over, until I believe it to be true. If that’s true, though, why haven’t they come back for me? I brush the thought aside. I’ve been moving around too much. Maybe they can’t find me. It’s worth it for Enola. I will do anything for him. The couch has nothing under it. The shelves hold nothing but the remains of shattered pots. I cannot find my kid.
Finally, I collapse and decide it’s time to drag myself to the front door. The firemen and doctors are here now, so I can ask them where he is. Trembling, in pain, fear, and smoke inhalation I manage to pull myself up to the door. All the men in white jackets rush over to me. “Where is my son?” I croak, barely breathing. Barely awake. Barely alive. Before they can answer, the world goes black again. I finally found my kid.
A beautiful female fox, with shining red fur, basks in the sun. A male is nearby, drinking from a stream. There is not the slightest hint of a breeze. Yet the heat is not stifling, it is pleasurable. The birds produce a melodic symphony. The sound of the male fox’s lazy lapping can be heard, along with the gentle trickle of the stream. The female fox is dozing off, her majestic golden eyes becoming hidden by her drooping eyelids.
The male fox raises his head from the stream and scans between the trees. The female arouses and her black tipped ears flick back and forth. The birds abruptly stop chirping and there is silence, only for a moment. The deafening crack of a gunshot rips through the air and the birds take flight. The male fox falls and blood trickles from his shoulder. The female nimbly jumps to her paws and rockets in-between the trees, kicking up soil behind her. Shots are being fired behind her and soon the howling of hounds fills the air.
She races deeper and deeper into the forest. The trees and shrubbery grow thicker the further her legs carry her. She bounds over fallen trees and ducks under low hanging branches. With her ears flat to her head and determination burning in her heart, she draws near to her destination. She jumps through a thick bush and hunkers down in a small clearing, hidden by its surrounding vegetation. She has reached the thicket.
When I was a little girl, I used to dance in the fields under the stars and pretend that the moon was smiling at me. It was like she was ready to wave a magic wand to take me away from the home where my parents argued and smoke rolled out of my brother’s bedroom. As the years passed, however, it quickly became clear that the moon was too busy chasing the sun around the world to notice a tiny girl who could not escape from her own family.
It was during the winter which had frozen both our hearts and the ground that the life of my mother was taken by means of a premeditated suicide. From then on, whispers circled around me in our small town about how it was my fault she had died. To them, I was the one who caused her to pick up the pills.
Everything was public, and the only time anything was private was when I was around my father and brother. It made me nauseous to be around them, but they still provided a brief pause from the dark cloud that seemed to circle my head every day.
As I grew older I established my own whimsical musings into poetry, even though I only published a little. Whatever I did publish was nothing that would tell of the secrets I kept locked up in my soul. Nobody knew of those, even the numerous friends I shared precious moments with.
When I left town for good, my family stayed behind. They did not understand my desire to travel or my love for writing. They could not comprehend my belief that the moon was a true part of my reality, as they felt she was not part of any reality.
Hairs grew gray and dreams dried up as the years passed. I died in a town that nobody even knew of unless you landed right upon it. Nobody missed me; my father had passed away years ago and my brother had overdosed on his many drugs.
When I passed away, light expanded past my eyes into the universe beyond, and I had never felt so alive before. My ribcage was ripped out and replaced with something more durable. Something that was better built for a star took its place. A new name was branded into my wrist, ‘Colette’, and another star by the name of Desirae offered me a bent wing to climb up into the sky.
I took it, and we travelled like I had always wanted to. We made our way to the heavens where all the other stars were dancing around the moon and clinking glasses full of wine while laughing merrily.
“I found her.” Desirae stated before pushing me into the center of their circle.
I was not used to flying however, and quickly fell before I felt someone catch me. I looked up to find the moon, the one I had dreamt of for years and lost faith in, holding me.
“You’re real,” I whispered in awe.
She laughed and pulled me back up to set me in a chair that seemed to be held by the sky itself. “Of course I’m real, honey. I was always there, you know, looking out for you. We all were.” She motioned to the other stars who were still twirling around the sky. To humans they seemed to be in place, but truthfully they had left ghosts of themselves behind as they slipped from their bodies to celebrate above the earth. If one of the stars would forget to leave their ghost, humans would then see what many referred to as a shooting star.
“Now, why don’t you tell me about those secrets of yours?” the moon said.
“You know?” My eyes widened and I glanced down at my glowing body that seemed to have taken the shape of a star.
“Oh, haven’t you heard, darling? When all of the stars lived as humans they held three different lives: public, private, and secret. Since becoming stars they have told their secrets.” The moon stopped to look around, searching for examples. “You see Daniel over there? When he lived, he was the greatest movie star of his time. However, what many people did not know was that his wife was an alcoholic. Daniels’ heart simply grew too weak to deal with it all.” She paused to search again. “And Marilyn over there? Her father was a serial rapist. That poor girl went through so much with the media and drove straight into another car to end it all. The humans called it an accident but all of us up here knew better.” She stopped once more. “And Desirae? An abusive husband who was the CEO of one of the biggest companies in their day.”
“You see, Colette, we all lie, we all cheat, and we all steal. Most of all we keep secrets. Up here, our mysteries seep out of our skin so we can sparkle and fly across the sky.” The moon looked wistfully across the night sky to where a tiny ball of light could be found: the sun. “Even I have some secrets, but for a few hours while it is night I can forget them all and just live.”
I found this was true as the years went by, and I spent all my time in the heavens talking to other stars with heartbreaking backstories. Every night we twinkled in the sky and enjoyed the freedom that came from spilling secrets and marveling at the private lives of those below. So, think of me tonight when you look up at the sky and find a little star winking goodbye to the tragic life of secrets she once held.
The Blue Planet screams into the darkness; we listen in silence. It flings its signals wide. Into the Black, so carelessly… Its people sleep beneath it and think themselves sheltered. So secure. How oblivious they are. If they knew why we were afraid, they would be quiet, too. The nameless evils of the universe lies waiting for foolish prey, and the blue planet sits crying like a baby in a forest full of wolves…