The Man on the Mountain
Copyright © 2001, David A. Epstein.
All Rights Reserved.
Nobody could say that the old man lacked vigor. With strong will and determination, he regularly walked up the mountain with his sack of food, water and books. As he ascended the narrow and windy path up to the peak, his thick gray hair and beard would sway with the howling wind. A few trees steadfastly hugged the sides of the trail. Some birds often fluttered nearby in contrast to the rhythms of his footsteps.
On this particular trek, it took him over four hours to reach the summit. Once he made it to the top, he sat on a large, flat rock. Inside his sack was a diverse range of reading material: nature, history, psychology, and sacred texts. He removed a book about Middle Eastern history, grasped it firmly with both hands, tilted his head slightly forward, and read it, meticulously. Occasionally, he put down his book to gaze into the valley. He absorbed the panoramic view that stretched across the vast desert. Imposing rock formations etched definitive images in his mind.
While atop the mountain, the old man saw a couple of bright objects thrusting themselves into the sky. During earlier treks, he was fearful of these strange, unknown objects. Their sharp vibrations would make him tremble. He would kneel to the ground and look away to shield his face from their glaring lights. “Why is he so angry?” he once asked. By now, however, he welcomed their appearance. He marveled at their imposing size and rapid movement. When he heard their thunderous roar, he envisioned this to be the voice of his God. “Perhaps I’m being spoken to,” he softly mumbled to himself, as he began walking down the mountain.
In the valley below, the technopagans were busy with their own pursuits. A few surfed the web in a cyber cafe located in a large tent. Others played video games in stone dwellings built by the community developers. A couple of the agriculture experts were inside the chicken coups injecting their subjects with genetically engineered fertility hormones. They also were experimenting with immune-boosting vaccines to resist a mysterious illness that was spreading throughout the community. Within the nearby underground Transport Center, some of the techies manned the controls of the high-speed superconductive launcher.
A few weeks passed since the man’s last mountainous journey. He was strolling by some of the community dwellings. It was the early hours of the morning; nobody was outside. The sun was just about to rise. All was peaceful, tranquil. Then, with only the harbinger of a short rumbling, a large projectile burst through an opening in the valley floor. He stopped and watched in amazement as it rose towards the sky. As bright red flares bursted forth from its bottom, he started speaking to himself, nervously. He wondered about this red fire. Was it a sign of life, or a symbol of destruction? As he pondered this, it continued to soar upward. Then it arced outward at a forty-five degree angle. He surveyed it for a few more minutes until it was no longer in view.
There were dark clouds covering the mountain top. Thunder and lightning pounded its surface. The rain started to intensify. Occasional flashes permeated the valley. Against this ominous backdrop, the man took shelter in one of the small dwellings. Inside was a young woman nursing her baby daughter. She covered her chest with her baby and gave the old man a series of facial expressions respectively laced with surprise, fear and anger. He apologized to her, explaining that he merely wanted to avoid the thunderstorm. Although hesitant at first, she agreed to let him stay for a while.
A few hours transpired. The thunderstorm subsided into a whimper, the rain into a light drizzle. He peered out the window and thanked the women for her hospitality. When he left, his nostrils were piqued by the scent of the storm’s end. He walked for a few meters and once again gazed at the mountain top. It was filled with smoke. A confused look appeared on his face. At the same time, he heard a clear sound emanating from some type of obscure horn. He did not recognize it, but realized that it came from somewhere on the mountain.
Curiosity about its beautiful tonality led him back up the mountain. While starting out on the trail, he slushed through the mud. There were stray branches blocking his path from time to time. He either circumnavigated, kicked aside, or crushed them with his sturdy boots.
About halfway to the top, he rested. He looked in several directions. There was no horn blower. He sighed, and continued walking. A few trails forked off the main path. Each time, he ventured down the branching trail. He stopped and listened, but he did not hear the horn. Back on the main path, he fell and bruised his knees. Nevertheless, he persevered and struggled until he made it to the top.
He was fatigued. There was no inspiration. He removed a small pillow and blanket from his sack, then lied down on his favorite flat rock. It was late in the afternoon. Atmospheric clouds filtered the sunlight. No sound was heard. His eyes flickered in semaphoric patterns. Shortly thereafter, he fell asleep. The sunset occurred without its habitual admirer.
As the day succumbed to nightime’s embrace, it started drizzling. This did not awaken him. Throughout the night and into the early morning, he continued to sleep. Only the ensuing sunrise and some faint sounds awakened him. He rose from the rock, stretched his arms above his head, yawned, looked around, and was stunned to see that he was at such a high altitude. He fell backwards to the ground, disoriented. Slightly bruised, he just lied there. A few minutes passed. He sat up and fell into quiet contemplation as he followed the movements of the drifting clouds. He took a few deep breaths, closed his eyes, and lied down. For a few hours, he slept once again.
While walking down the mountain, as darkness approached, he heard music. It was loud, blaring electronic music: wailing guitars, thrashing drums and eerie synthesizers. As he was finishing his descent, he noticed that a band was playing on the stage. There were several technopagans dancing around them. They wore all types of crazy costumes: wild animals, Greek and Roman gods, phallic symbols, computers, appliances, and so forth. There were many booths where people played video games while others fooled around with hi-tech optical gadgetry. Others were simply getting drunk.
The old man was stupified. He could not believe this display of irreverence. How could they get imbibed with such ungodliness? Why were they turning away from their creator with such contempt? No other question enter his mind; instead, he threw his sack down to the ground in anger.
The music was so loud that the old man knelt to the ground. He slammed his palms over his ears and screamed loudly to rattle the masses. The technopagans either did not notice or chose to ignore him.
With a sudden burst of energy, he ran to the stage. The scent of sweet incense spread throughout the night air. He climbed the side steps of the stage and approached a middle-aged man wearing a blue robe. A few drops of blood were dripping from his right ear. At first, the old man looked at him, silently. Then, he affixed both his hands to his shoulders and began shaking him violently. “How can you behave this way? Brother, have you no shame? I go away for a while and come back to witness everything falling apart. And to think that I trusted you.”
The blue robe man simply shrugged him off. He continued dancing and singing, dripping a few drops here and there. The electronic music blasted through the speakers while the old man looked on in disbelief.
A young lady approached him, smiling. She was wearing a gold necklace. As she placed her arm around him, she told him about activities being planned for the remainder of the evening. The old man turned his shoulder. He stared upward at the sky.
Nearby was a small platform. One young woman placed some items on it including a few bottles of wine, olive oil, some clothes, and an old computer monitor. A young man ignited the items with a torch. A small group of followers danced frenetically around the platform. They were wailing and chanting. The young leader yelled through a bull horn: “We burn our old world for our new god. Hail to the divine future; we sacrifice our worldly possessions to gain entrance into eternal paradise.”
The old man walked towards the platform. He lashed out at the young man and pleaded with him to recant his blasphemous words. “Our God will never forgive us if we practice such unholy rituals. You must stop this now or you will forever face the weight of his judgement.” The young man simply dismissed him, flinging his right hand high into the air. When the old man persisted, the young man pushed him to the ground. “You are a mere nuissance. Man, we’re not gonna listen to an old fool like you anymore.”
About two hundred meters away, in the opposite direction of the chicken coups, greenhouses and living quarters, a giant projectile slowly emerged from an opening in the valley floor. It was automatically positioned onto a metallic contraption that enfolded into a launching platform. The young leader and a few of his followers put their fete on hold and ran over to the site. The old man stared at the projectile. He then retrieved his sack and walked over to it.
Many of the technopagans danced in front of the towering rocket. It was about thirty meters tall. The words “Promised Land” were prominently displayed along its side. The old man asked a middle-aged female worshipper where it had come from. “Like, where have you been old man? Sleeping? Geez, you don’t even know what we’ve been doing all these years, have you?!” She told him that it was created in the underground center. In turn, he asked why it possessed this name. “Because that’s where it’s heading, of course. We’re all going up there to the Promised Land.”
The old man kicked some dirt in disgust. He admonished them for thinking that the Promised Land was not of this earth. “What jibberish you speak,” she replied. “Those rockets are heading towards the space colony we designed and built. Hey, our society down here is cool and everything, but the one we’re creating in space, that’s our destiny.” The group danced with joy and chanted blessings.
The young leader was conversing with a couple of the launch facilitators. They were motioning people to leave the scene. One of them spoke to the group. “Hey, good people, we’re sending another twenty of our flock up there. A few of the chickens are going as well. An agricultural community is being set up there. Please bid them farewell, then retreat to the safety zone before takeoff.” Someone asked why it wasn’t being launched using the underground rail launcher. “This is a much larger rocket with a heavier payload,” replied the facilitator. “We’re trying out a new launch mechanism, launching above the ground, yet using a more powerful superconductive current.”
The old man approached the young lady wearing the gold necklace. He told her that he sensed great danger and pleaded with her to flee with him. At first, she laughed at his suggestion; but then, his voice mysteriously lowered to a deep resonance. He spoke to her as if he was possessed. Although most of the group continued their ritual practices, a few took notice. They walked over to him. They stared at him like he was a stranger from a strange, distant land. He, in turn, asked if they were for his God.
The woman with the necklace asked what his god had to offer that was better than traveling to outer space.“When you are in God’s presence,” he replied, “you will know nothing better.” A young man asked if they would be saved. “I can’t offer you any assurance of salvation, but God will protect you from harm and danger”. Two other men were skeptical of his intentions. A few others simply walked away. It took a few minutes to address their concerns; but after some persistent persuasion, the old man led his four new loyalists away from the site. They turned away from the rumblings of the rocket and walked away.
Meanwhile, the group nonchalantly continued to dance and chant. This sharply contrasted to the agitation of the launch facilitators. They started shoving people around, warning them that if they did not leave immediately, they would face dire consequences. A few people took heed and left the scene, but many others remained. Some fist fights broke out, and before too long, the ritual observance morphed into a riot.
The old man and his followers were about five-hundred meters from the rocket. The young woman stopped and turned around. She started to walk back to the site, but one of the other followers grabbed her by the waist. As she tried to break free, her necklace broke and fell to the ground. She knelt down to retrieve it, gazing at it for a few seconds. The old man admonished her: “We must flee this area now. Our lives are in danger. The others ...” He paused and sighed. “They no longer listen to me.” As her fellow travelers motioned her to continue on, there was a loud explosion. The group turned around and saw that the rocket had burst into flames.
Although they were a far distance away, they could feel the reverberations of the explosion. As the rocket fell to the ground, a few faint screams were heard. The young woman ran back to the scene of the catastrophy. The rest of the group followed.
When they returned, they saw the carnage. Charred bodies were scattered in all directions. Many of the community buildings were burning. There were some survivors, but they cried out in deep agony. The old man rushed to help an infant who was trapped beneath a partially collapsed building. He escaped being injured by the fallen rubble. With the help of his followers, he moved away a cluster of stones. Behind these stones lay the woman who gave him shelter from the storm. She was gasping for breath. The group moved the two survivors, mother and child, to a safe location.
While the group attended to the two of them, the old man walked as close as possible to the burning launch site. He found a few dead chickens nearby. There were no survivors in the area. He saw burnt ash on the ground. With his right hand, he picked up a handful of it. He slightly brushed it with his left index finger. Then, he stared at it, pensively. Quickly, very quickly, the ash blew out of his hand. He knelt down to the ground, covered his eyes with his hands, and started to cry.
Once again, he heard the sweet sound of the strange horn. He raised his head and looked upward towards the mountain. The tones were clear and lengthy, dispersed in all directions, echoing throughout the valley. This time, however, he just rose to his feet and walked away, for he felt that he would never find the sacred voice that had once inspired him.
Written by David A. Epstein