The Mountain Awake, by Hunter Conway
I signed up with a temp agency because contributor copies won’t pay the bills. At the time, I was already moonlighting as a scarecrow, but my wife was sick of shucking corn and boiling water, so I took a job throwing fireballs at the sun. The gig didn’t last long, just a few weeks and then a few more hours after those few weeks. The problem was the commute was too long and I was spending half my check on sunscreen. I missed my wife and the children we penciled in to have on the calendar on the kitchen wall. Plus, have you ever tried to eat cereal or drink a cold Heineken so close to the sun? Impossible.
A week after I quit, the agency found me a new job. I immediately signed a six-month contract and was helicoptered to the top of a mountain on an unnamed island somewhere in the Pacific. My job duties were to collect acorns and get bit by snakes. Before I left, my supervisor told me my legs would turn blue, black, green, that they would ache, that I would not know what to do. I was given protein bars and bottled water, a ruler, a pad of paper, and a package of blue gel pens. I kept a detailed log of every snake that bit me. With the ruler, I measured the circumference of every acorn I collected.
It was my third month on the mountain when the temp agency sent a courier to deliver my mail and collect my findings. The courier collected what findings I had and handed me two pieces of mail. My legs were blue and black but had not yet turned green. They did ache, though. Both pieces of mail were from my wife. They weren’t dated, just numbered. I opened letter #1. Dear, it started, words are failing me, but I found enough working ones to tell you that the children were delivered early. The storks were kind and the children are healthily dimpled. I believe in Christmas again. I didn’t open letter #2.
It was a tired morning when the mountain was awake. This was sometime during my fifth month on the mountain. I had run out of protein bars the week before and was subsisting purely on coconut water and the bugs that lived in the acorns. I finally opened the second letter my wife sent me. Inside was no note, just a recently expired twenty-percent coupon to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I buried the expired coupon and watered it with coconut water. I watered it every morning for a week, but nothing grew. I imagined my wife in the kitchen, standing over a pot of boiling water. Me standing next to her, still dressed as a scarecrow, handing her stalks of corn that would eventually soften in the boiling water. I imagined my children’s dimples, the Rockefeller painting they were living inside. I dreamt about eating a stork. My legs were blue and black and had finally turned green. My supervisor was right about everything except one thing: I did know what to do. The mountain was growling. It opened its mouth. I started my descent.