Jake knew his Mom would complain. Dad would be all non-committal but secretly be pleased that his only son wanted to do something different, something artistic.
“All I wanna do is draw the world from the Mount. It’s not like I wanna leave town and go to the city or stuff.”
“But son, this is dangerous. Your old Mom worries. No-one has climbed that Mount since the olden times and you know there used to be dozens of trees on the top and now there are only three…”
“But Mom, there have been three trees on the top my whole life…”
“All fifteen years of it!” chimed in Dad.
“…so it’s safe. I need to see and paint the picture of our place.”
Jake’s Mom and Dad both knew that since time immemorial teenagers usually had their way in the end.
The following day, Jake set off, as the sun rose, to climb Mount Christ.
The late autumn day was going to be beautiful. Around him, the leaves were the rich colours that only nature can produce, ready for their leap to the ground and then rebirth as first compost, then a potato or a pepper or an onion. Most of the food had been harvested but there were one or two people in the fields and in their gardens, collecting the last of the fruits and vegetables before the winter set in. Jake waved and they waved back.
He walked along old tracks, long since seen better days. No one really cared. Horses were almost the only kind of transport now, along with bikes of course. Jake only knew of three cars still running.
He reached the “big crossroads” as his Mom called them. His Grandpa had told him stories from a hundred years before, when cars and trucks were everywhere and people rushed here and there, never really ending up anywhere but back where they started from, just a little unhappier. Grandpa said his Grandpa drove to work every day and drove back again in the evening. “Imagine that!”, Jake’s Grandpa would half shout, half declare. “Working so far away from your home you had to drive there!”
After an hour, the sun was warm enough to take away the chill of the wind and Jake had a definite spring in his step. He could see the summit of Mount Christ, clearly shining, calling him to it. He resisted the urge to break into a run – he needed his energies for the climb.
Another thirty minutes and Jake arrived in the foothills of the mountain. Here, the walking became less fluid, he stumbled over loose pieces of ground and found direct paths blocked by things, objects that he could not identify, detritus of a much older, harder time. Landscape had given way to the trashscape of history.
He reached the foot of Mount Christ and began his climb. Easy to begin with, it became harder as he climbed. Footholds became less plentiful, less trustworthy. The ground became less certain, more unfriendly. At one point he nearly fell but something unidentifiable stopped him slipping more than a few feet.
With the sun near its zenith, so Jake was near that of Mount Christ. Finally, with sweat on his hands and face, he climbed onto the plateau and collapsed at the foot of one of the three trees, exhilarated and exhausted in one mingled emotion. He had made it!
After a rest, Jake stood and walked to the edge of the mountain. He could see the whole of his world like the birds do, like the people in those balloons do. But he was different. His view was at the expense of effort. He knew that tomorrow he would be back on the ground, digging the compost and tending the goats. He would be a farmer, aching from this adventure, aching for more like it. But today, today he was an explorer first then an artist. Even his town needed an artist sometimes.
From the top of Mount Christ, he could see lakes that had been transformed by the sun into silver mirrors. And as far as the eye could see, fields, little patches of green and yellow and brown and tan, the rectangular colours of life itself, as it went about its business far below him. Where once were cars and skyscrapers and stress and pollution were now potatoes and lettuce and apples and corn. Where once were people always hating other people were now communities of people only sometimes hating each other.
Jake wondered about the aliens that had lived here so long ago. What had changed? Where did they go? He realised that he was glad they went. They clearly didn’t fit in. Driving to do work indeed!
He sat and drew in his sketch pad. He drew the patch of colour that he thought was his home. He drew the patch of colour that was somewhere he knew he had never been before. He drew the lakes, labelling one ‘Michigan’ and one ‘Clair’.
As the sun started to cool and fall, as Jake packed up his drawing things and headed for the climb down, he noticed the letters. Across the summit, beyond the third tree, were letters, twice the size of a human. Carefully, Jake headed over to them. Stood to one side looking straight at them they didn’t really make sense. Clearly they had given the mountain its name but anyone could see it wasn’t spelt right. The last letter was also broken, its cross-member having dropped through a chasm to its right that looked as if it had been made by lightning and went straight to hell itself. The letters didn’t spell out ‘Christ’. They spelled ‘Chrysl’.
Jake laughed. Everyone knew you didn’t spell Christ with a ‘y’.
Bit after the story where the Author rambles a bit: I and thesnailofhappiness have just watched a DVD about Detroit, so I thought I would create a short story inspired by it. Set in the future, it isn’t far from the reality. Trees really do grow on abandoned skyscrapers – it’s a metaphor for writing. Probably.
I acquired the picture from http://www.detroitblog.org – if the copyright for the image is yours and you don’t want me to use it I will happily remove it, with heartfelt apologies.
For more about Detroit, read the thesnailofhappiness’s post here and look at the Urban Roots website. There was also a BBC programme called “Requiem for Detroit” but that seems to be hiding right now.