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#42

Mt. Crispus



            Mt. Crispus was not especially big. Nor was it especially picturesque. But it overlooked the city of Dranmoth , jutting proudly into the Western sky, and when Ezra was young, it took the life of his first and only wife while she was leading a group of foreigners on a wildlife tour. The tourists had hoped to see a mountain goat or two, and maybe a moose, maybe a wolf, but instead they were all crushed to death by a minor rockslide. It doesn’t take a major rockslide to kill every last person on a wildlife tour. A minor one will suffice. Ezra discovered that “the hard way,” as they say.

            The tragedy filled him with a fury that bubbled hot and acidic at the base of his throat. Every time he saw Mt. Crispus, Ezra was reminded of his wife’s unfair demise, the tumbling boulders knocking dents in her head, but somehow leaving her binoculars unscathed. After the death of Ezra’s wife, every glorious sunset was ruined for him by Mt. Crispus ’ intrusion. He would be standing in the town square and following the path of a falcon flying North with his eyes, and then for no reason at all, the falcon would veer to the West and Ezra’s gaze would follow and Mt. Crispus would spring upon him and set him trembling and cursing, the fury plunging deep thrusts into his guts.

            And Mt. Crispus was in his dreams, too. Not doing anything, really. Just sitting there. But in his dreams, Ezra couldn’t turn away or close his eyes. He had to sit in a recliner with a cold iced tea in his hand and look at Mt. Crispus through a nice, big picture window. When he awoke from these dreams, his fury was stronger than ever. And he didn’t feel very well rested.

            When he was still young, only 28 years old, Ezra focused his fury, somehow. He hammered together channels for it to flow through. And in one bloody, sleepless week, he seized power in Dranmoth – all of the power – and he hurled the mayor from the balcony of his mansion to the chanting mob below and watched as they tied his ankles to the back of the mail-truck and dragged him away towards the river, his head bouncing on the quaint cobblestone streets.

            “Citizens!” shouted Ezra, waving an impractical golden pistol over his head. “We have a calling!”

            “Yes!” shouted the assembled townspeople.

            “We will destroy Mt. Crispus !” shouted Ezra.

            “Yes!” shouted the crowd again. They knew their line.

            Ezra enlisted every able-bodied man in Dranmoth to level Mt. Crispus . He asked them nicely, but he was a master of the implied threat. The fury manifested itself in interesting ways. The first step was to deforest Mt. Crispus . Ezra felled the first tree by himself while his workers watched. Though chainsaws were available, Ezra used an axe for the ceremonial first blow against the mountain. He chopped with inhuman rage, his fury spilling out all over the place while his workers watched in silent awe. His hands bled so that the haft of the axe was difficult to hold. When the giant pine finally groaned and toppled, the workers’ chainsaws roared to life and they roared too as they rushed the trees and dug in, inflicting gruesome wounds on all sides as Ezra continued to hack at the fallen tree with his axe, hating it for its complicity in killing his wife, hating it for outliving her.

            The assault on the trees continued for some time. Ezra joined the workers on the mountain every day. They kept guns nearby to slay any animals they flushed out of hiding. After all, Ezra’s wife wouldn’t have been on Mt. Crispus at all if not for the animals. And perhaps some of these animals had actually caused the minor rockslide. Who could say? And if not, if some other force had caused the minor rockslide, well, none of these animals had done anything to prevent it, had they? None of these animals had warned Ezra’s wife, had they? And even if they had tried, they had failed, hadn’t they? They all deserved death. No one ate them. No one made clothes from their hides. The corpses were desecrated and left to rot away.

            Ezra decided that the deforestation was taking too long. He gave a local scientist permission to go mad, which the scientist did with surprising eagerness and ease. Ezra had the mad scientist cook up a toxic chemical that the workers sprayed all over Mt. Crispus in oily, brown clouds and within days, all the animals were dead, the plants were dead, and the trees were dead and falling down on their own.

            The fury did not wane. At night, Ezra would lie in bed and watch his fury pushing out against his skin from the inside. The next step was to begin leveling Mt. Crispus itself. Now that its adornments were in tatters, it was time to begin making it cease to be. Ezra and the workers started at the top, digging tunnels. Using picks, shovels, jackhammers, and controlled blasts of dynamite, they wormed their way through Mt. Crispus ’ cockeyed little peak. Then they filled those tunnels with breathtaking quantities of explosives, ran miles of wire to the balcony of Ezra’s mansion, and he held a telescope to his eye with one hand while punching the giant orange detonation button with the other. The tip of Mt. Crispus trembled, blew its top, and collapsed in on itself while the townspeople cheered. Ezra’s fury soared.

            They dug again, starting lower this time, seeking to collapse further what had already collapsed, to keep Mt. Crispus crumbling in on itself. Men died in the digging. All the more reason for Mt. Crispus to die. More blood on its hands. Ezra began to enlist women and children from Dranmoth, and those that weren’t directly involved in the digging and blasting spent their time keeping the workers clothed, fed, and equipped. Dranmoth’s treasury dwindled, disappeared and debt began to pile up at an alarming rate.

            There were deserters, traitors, weaklings, those that had to be made examples of, flogged and made to disappear and publicly hanged and so forth.

To replace the workers he lost, Ezra sought slave labor. He found it. He was amazed at how many people in the world were just walking around waiting to become slaves, almost begging for it. Ezra and the workers dug and detonated, dug and detonated, and Mt. Crispus shriveled. But even so, it was still there. Diminished, shamed, castrated, but present, reminding Ezra of his loss every single day. His wife, his young wife, looking for mountain goats, crushed by a minor rockslide, taken from him. Years passed and Mt. Crispus disappeared behind the roofs of Dranmoth’s shops and houses, its fragments spread far and wide, scattered in the woods and valleys, dumped along the roadside and in the river.

            Ezra grew too old to swing a pick, too old to heave a stone anywhere, too old and frail to dump a shovelful of Mt. Crispus ’ dirt into the bed of Mrs. Torsten’s battered pickup truck. But still, he went out to what remained of Mt. Crispus every day to spit on it, to watch his spit become a small glob of mud, and then to grind the heel of his shoe on top of that glob. He directed the workers, shouted instructions, and cursed anyone who showed a noticeable lack of fury, often clubbing them with one or both of his canes. Someone suggested that Mt. Crispus , now only a wide swell in the Earth, was now, for all practical purposes, dead and that maybe everyone should just “call it a day,’ so to speak. Ezra had the man whipped and, when his fury seemed to indicate that this wasn’t enough, he had the man shot dead.

            On the final day of the destruction, when Mt. Crispus was nothing more than an enormous, flat patch of dirt and the workers were using rakes to smooth out any lumps that might have been the beginnings of Mt. Crispus’ aspirations to a return to mountainhood, an old woman hobbled up to Ezra as he sat in his chair and watched over the labor. When she spoke, Ezra could tell by her accent that she was a foreigner.

            “What happened to Mt. Crispus ?” she asked. There were tears in her eyes.

            “We destroyed it,” said Ezra. “It’s finally gone.”

            “Why?” asked the woman. “Why, why?”

            “ Mt. Crispus killed my wife,” said Ezra. “Years and years ago, she was leading a wildlife tour and Mt. Crispus killed her with a minor rockslide. So now we’ve leveled Mt. Crispus and I will never have to look on it again and be reminded of the tragic death of my wife.”

            “Oh, what have you done?” asked the old woman. She dropped to her knees next to Ezra’s chair and placed her hands on her thighs, her head hanging. “My sister was on the wildlife tour, the one led by your wife. She wanted to see a moose so badly, just once, and hear it’s mating call, maybe, just once. Oh, what have you done?”

            “I don’t get it,” said Ezra, and the fury wavered for a moment inside of him for the first time since his wife had died.

            “ Mt. Crispus !” said the old woman. “I found a picture of it in a magazine! I hung the picture in my bedroom and every night when I looked at it, it reminded me of my sister and how much she liked to travel, how she loved small, unspectacular mountains, how she loved to see wildlife, how much she wanted to see a moose, how she even loved to see rockslides, albeit from a safe distance. Every time I saw the picture I thought about how lucky I was to have known my sister. I saved my money for years so I could see Mt. Crispus in person. I wanted to stand at the foot of Mt. Crispus , look up, and remember my sister as hard as I could. But you leveled it.”

            Ezra looked at the gap where Mt. Crispus had been. The expanse of dirt, the workers raking, the dead, stomped-on body of a mole that had dared to poke up its head nearby.

            “We’ll rebuild it,” said Ezra. “ Mt. Crispus is still around. It’s just in a lot of pieces. We’ll gather it up and put it back together.”

            The old woman scoffed. “No you won’t. You’re almost dead. You don’t have the energy.”

            “I do too,” said Ezra. “I know right where to get it.” He groped around for his fury, but it was gone. It had slipped away while he was talking to the old woman, abandoning him, leaving without so much as a note.

            The old woman nodded at something she saw on Ezra’s face. “At least I still have my picture,” she said.

            The sun was setting in the West, as it always had, but with Mt. Crispus gone, Ezra was able to watch the entirety of its miserable descent to the horizon and below.




Discussion Questions

  • What’s Ezra’s basic error? Be as concise as you like.



  • If you were going to spend years orchestrating the leveling of a mountain, how would you stay motivated?



  • Is “closure” just something somebody made up so we could all sound like we have some concept of how to deal with tragedy?



  • Will this story give you wildlife tour nightmares? Sorry!



  • What if the old woman hadn’t shown up? Assuming she hadn’t, estimate Ezra’s level of satisfaction as he went to bed the night of that last day.



  • Why did most of the townspeople Ezra’s mania? Why do townspeople do anything in stories like this?