The storm-post was made of crumbling old red brick. Ragged weeds grew up its chipped and tattered sides, through its paving stones and round the observation platform binoculars on its roof. The grindstone railings that once prevented tourists from falling over the edge had collapsed inwards in a landslide a long time ago.
Its windows were all broken or cracked. At night the long low mountain winds rushed cold down its halls draped with autumnal leaves, crinkling in the dry air. Stockrooms filled with ancient paraphernalia all had a low white carpet of snow.
Once it had been a place filled with people, tourists come to see the volcano spume and smoke, then the storms came, the avalanches began, and the people left.
There were still cars in the parking lot, their black tires faded and deflated, their metal rusting slowly under the weight of time and ice. It was a dead place. A place of cold, and wind, and long-forgotten memories.
And the Storm-watcher.
His name had once mattered to him. He had had a job once, and a life and a family, somewhere in the world. He once drove a car and cashed checks, spent his money on groceries and spent evenings watching movies with his children.
Now he walked the battered storm-post, once a museum, and watched the skies over the volcano top for signs of the coming storm.
Image from here.
One day three young men came to the volcano museum. They carried expensive new cameras and smelled of the real world and cologne. They laughed and bantered and filmed themselves in front of the volcano exhibit, its black cotton spume shooting up from the exhibit floor to the 2 story roof. They rummaged in the cellarages, plucking out odd finds, architect’s drawings on blue paper, a strange lens, old light-bulbs. They walked the observation deck, peered through the faded blue binoculars, even took their shirts off and reveled in the cold.
They didn’t see the Storm-watcher.
When they left he knew they wouldn’t make it down from the mountain alive.
The next day a red-breasted robin came to rest on his cragged blue shoulder. It pecked him on the cheek, and he felt the sudden sting of blood rushing forth.
“He’s coming,” said the robin, fluttering away, “he’s on his way.”
The Storm-watcher buttoned on his yellow slicker, fixed his partitions belt with old shotgun pellets and rolls of quarters, stepped into his great black snow waders, and set off up the mountain.
The robin danced up to him, and spoke in a high reedy voice.
“He’s been gathering steam, you know. Stock-piling. He’s ready for you this time.”
The Storm-watcher, ragged and skeletally thin, ignored the bright bird and walked on through the cold.
“Those boys fuelled him. Not like the old days, but he’s warming up for you now.”
“Let him be warm,” said the Storm-watcher. “Go tell him I’m coming.”
He was half-way up the mountain when the wind started to rise. He tightened the old slicker around his thin sides and pressed on. Soon the first drops of rain fell, pattering off the yellow plastic of his jacket. The path up the volcano grew slick, slurried, and fast became a rivulet, then a stream, as the rain became a torrent and washed down the mountain in rushing waves.
The Storm-watcher took to the scree slopes and picked his way up and over the jagged glass-black boulders nimbly, slicker streaming behind him in the driving wind.
The first flash of lightning razed the sky and set fire to the river flowing down the mountain. It burned black as tar as it rumbled down the mountainside. The Storm-watcher leapt from rock to rock as the lightning strikes grew in intensity, and frequency. Soon his eyes were writ over with the black of the sky and the crackling white after-images of hot volcanic lighting, and somewhere round the edges, the dim outlines of the glass-sharp volcanic scree he bounded and leapt over.
The robin returned to circle around his head.
“He’s ready for you this time,” chirped the bird over the rumbling thunder din. “He’s putting on the kettle!”
The Storm-watcher leaped and ran and bounded for hours as the storm raged around him. The earth contorted, buckled and spasmed as the rolling thunderclouds boomed bass over the land, as the lightning crashed down in white and black, and the torrent of water flumed down by his side in a flurry of black fire.
At the top he found the Storm-maker’s cottage. The air around the cottage was clear, and when the Storm-watcher stood inside the halo, he could look up and see the skies blue overhead.
The cottage was white stucco, with a faux hay roof, and high hung gables. Hanging from each of the gables by the neck, naked and dead, hung the three young men from the real world.
The Storm-watcher entered the cottage.
Inside was warm and the heady smell of saffron incense hung thick in the air. Bach’s third concerto was playing. All sound of the storm was absent.
The Storm-maker was sitting in a big leather armchair, his legs outstretched on an ottoman, eyes closed, waving his hands in time to the music. He was tall and gaunt as the Storm-watcher, and his face was the same.
“Hello Richard,” he said. “Have you brought me my children back yet?”
The Storm-watcher stood on the bright woven rug before the hearth, water dripping off him.
“You know I can’t do that,” he said.
The Storm-maker’s eyes rolled lazily open, and he smiled. “I know. That’s why I made cupcakes.”
He gestured to the coffee table. On a platter were 3 nicely risen yellow-gold cupcakes with chocolate chips.
“Three for the children,” said the Storm-maker. “Perhaps they could come out for a while to enjoy them.”
The Storm-watcher’s bony hand clasped around the locket at his neck.
“Your bird tried to steal this.”
“Tut tut, we had a deal,” said the Storm-maker, and clapped his hands. From the roof beams the robin fell down dead. It bounced on the soft rug.
“Would you care for some rye whiskey? I brewed it myself.”
“I’ve come here to kill you,” said the Storm-watcher abruptly.
“Oh I know that. Don’t we go through this rigmarole once every year, around this time?”
“You stole my wife. You made a storm out of her.”
“Yes yes and I stole your children too, didn’t I. We’re still at our impasse then aren’t we?”
The Storm-watcher shook his head. “Not this time,” he said, and pulled the locket from around his neck.
“Oh my,” gasped the Storm-maker.
The Storm-watcher opened the locket.
Suddenly the cottage was gone, and the Storm-watcher was back out in the storm. The Storm-maker was gone.
The locket slipped out of his rain-slick hand to the scree below. It got caught up in the torrent of burning water and scurried into the darkness.
“I’m ready!” cried the Storm-watcher into the storm, but nothing happened.
He bent to the ground. His thin arms roved until they settled on a rock as big as his chest. He picked it up. The muscles of his chest and arms strained white against the weight, his whole body buckled and curved, but the rock held in his arms.
Then he began the walk down the mountain, in the storm.
At the base of the mountain he walked past the old museum. He walked down the road and towards the freeway, where the world of the storm met the real world. At the boundary, all his body aching and weary and bowed, he lumbered the jagged black rock through the fissure and into reality.
The invisible glass wall between the two zones shimmered for a second, lit up by the flash of lightning. Then all returned to as it was before.
The Storm-watcher turned, and headed back to the mountain.
At the top he hefted another chunk of rock, this time bigger than the last. He hoisted it to his shoulder, and carried it down the mountain. Down the road to the freeway to the real world, and through the shimmering glass barrier.
Then he did it again. And again, each time with a bigger and bigger chunk of rock, until the pieces he was carrying were as big as a car, an elephant, a house.
Soon a pit formed where he was hauling out rocks, where the Storm-maker’s home had once been, where the opened locket had landed. A wound in the mountain side.
And the wound grew.
In time he carried down chunks of rock as big as a palace on his back at a time, a tiny ant creeping ever forwards with the weight of a loaf of bread on its back.
And the wound grew.
Robins whippered around him but none of them spoke. The storm raged on and on, but he paid it no mind.
The chunks grew in size. The size of a shopping mall. The size of a football stadium. The size of a city.
Then, one day, he lifted up the mountain.
The whole mountain lifted clear. The world flipped on its axis as he hoisted the thing he was standing on. The rain was blocked out as the mountain rolled slowly onto his back. The sky was blocked out. Everything was blocked out. And when he threw the mountain threw the glass wall, and it shimmered, he thought he saw a crack in the faÃ§ade.
Where the mountain had once been there was now nothing. The storm had stopped. There was just the white crisp snow running over everything.
He walked through his museum quietly for a time. His prison where he’d lived for so long. Then he hoisted the land it stood on, lofted the whole world, and carried it on his back to the glass wall.
At the wall he saw his own reflection. He saw both the Storm-maker and the Storm-watcher at once. Both sides of his face, as he stood on the world that he held on his shoulder, and watched.
Then he threw the world, it passed through the glass, and everything bucked, fizzed, and span, and the black rage rising up from nothing beneath hit the hot red flame water-falling down out of nothing above, and fused, and a new star bloomed in a nuclear blast.
He opened his eyes. He was lying by the side of the freeway, in the snow, in a yellow rain slicker.
In his hand was the locket. There was a picture of his own face on one side. On the other, a woman whose face he didn’t recognize, and in front of her, 3 baby boys, none of whom he knew.
Behind him the mountain stood still and glassy, as if seen through a lens. He could make out the dim red-white of a ragged building on its slopes, and thought for a moment to head towards it. But something tugged at him, and he looked down at the locket again, and as the spell of the mountain faded, memory came rushing back in. His wife. His children. Gone, in this place when the storm had hit and the avalanches rolled down the mountain crushing everything in their path.
Tears coursed down his face, and he held the locket to his cheek, and looked up at the sky to see stars.
You can see all MJG’s stories here:[album id=6 template=compact]