The Boy Who Knew the Mountain


by Kathy Lerner

Once, in the valley of the red rock, there lived a boy who knew the mountain. Each night he would escape from the houses to the edge of the valley, and here he would sit and have great conversations with his friend. He talked and he listened. He prayed and he danced. He laughed and he wept, with the mountain. Nobody knew where the boy travelled in the night. He was the only one in his village who heard the mountain�s voice, and he told no one.

The voice that everyone did hear belonged to the man in the moon. When his home was crescent, people would say the man was fishing over the edge. When it was full, they would say he shouted while dancing around the rim. But however the boy listened, he could not catch a note of the moon man�s song. He tried making his breath quiet. He tried shutting his eyes and concentrating. And he tried starting off a hundred songs to see if the man would follow. Still, the boy could not hear the voice of the man in the moon. This too he told no one.

Before long, the boy began to feel lonely. His village gathered in the evenings when the moon appeared, to ask the man questions, and make bargains with him, and sing him all the songs that they knew. But the boy was still the only soul who could not hear him answer. One summer night such as this, the boy could not bear it any longer. While the people�s faces were turned upwards towards the sky, he slipped from the fringe of the crowd, darted behind houses and dry bush, and finally rested by the foot of the mountain.

With troubled eyes and aching legs, the boy sat down on a flat rock, still warm from the summer heat. He drew his knees to his chin as he gazed up to the glowing crescent moon. He thought it looked so very far away. As curious lizards scuttled by his feet, the boy closed his eyes and listened with all his might. He listened for the voice of the moon man, for the song which all the others heard him sing while he waited for nightfish. He listened, but did not hear a sound.

Just as the last star was flickering to life in the deep blue over his head, the boy began to feel a familiar rumble in the ground. The still-warm rocks around him seemed to quake, and the sound of loose pebbles crashing down the hillside reached his ears. He turned and looked up to see the great mountain waking behind him. She stretched and shook off the dust that had settled on her, and she opened her vast stone eyes to the boy at her feet.

�What is troubling you, my son?�

�Oh mother, what will I do?� the boy cried. �Everybody in the village can see and hear the man who lives in the moon. Even the young children say they have heard him singing when they go to sleep.�

�And you have not?�

�I have never heard, nor seen him � not once! What is wrong with me?�

The mountain�s voice was firm but soft. �Why should anything be wrong with you, my son? Is the man of the moon the only one there is to know?�

�Everyone hears him, mother! Every last babe! They ask him questions, and make their bargains with him, and sing to him! But he won�t answer me. I can only watch the others. How will they accept me like this? I will be worth nothing to them.�

�My son,� the mountain spoke, �you have many gifts. They are not the gifts of every person, but they are yours.�

But the boy was too impatient to listen to her counsel. He was already pacing back and forth, back and forth, kicking up the red earth beneath him. Suddenly, he turned his back to the mountain and walked a few paces away.

�If the moon man will not speak to me, then I will force him out from his hiding place! I will find him, even if I must lasso the moon and pull it to the valley!�

The mountain behind him was silent. The boy thought for a moment that he felt her growing sad. As he turned back to look at her, however, his eyes strayed over her shoulder and up to the shining moon. He remembered his dilemma, and he strode briskly back to the foot of the mountain. Climbing once more on the large, flat rock, which had by then grown cold, he turned out towards the valley and began his declaration,

�May every rock and every brush hear my words! May every star in the skies, and every speck of dirt on the land remember what I say. Tonight, I say to the man who lives on the moon that you can no longer hide from me. Whatever it takes, I will make you show yourself! I will make you answer me!�

And so the boy leapt from the flat rock and faced the houses that were now filled and peaceful. He puffed out his chest, balled his fists at his sides, and stalked back to the edge of the village. His face would have frightened away a wolf. And though the boy did not once stop to look back at the mountain, the mountain watched him walk all the way home.

***

The next night, just as the boy had sworn, he travelled back out to the end of the valley, this time with a bow in hand and a satchel full of arrows at his back.

�Man of the moon, won�t you speak?� the boy called in his loudest voice up to the cream colored sliver of light.

He waited one second�then two�and not a sound came from the sky.

�If you will not speak, then take an arrow in your side!�

And the boy drew from the satchel behind him, and pulled the string of his bow taut across the thin wooden arrow. Closing one eye and aiming towards the bottom curve, where he imagined the man might be sitting to hang his fishing pole, he snapped his fingers away from the silver bowstring. The arrow took flight into the dark night sky, fire colored ribbons streaming out behind where he had tied them.

Smaller and smaller did the sharp rod seem to become, so that the boy thought it must have struck the moon�s toe. He held his breath as he waited � one second�then two�and as moments passed, nothing.

And so the boy took out his second arrow. Then, he took out his third. Finally, he stretched his bowstring and sent his last arrow soaring up into the deep night. But the sky remained silent around him.

�You have hidden yourself from me tonight, moon man,� the boy called, �but tomorrow I will find you!�

As the boy stomped homewards across the dusty land, just before he came to the houses, he stopped to gaze back out over the valley. His eye caught the mountain, still and quiet in the distance. But he could not make out her face from where he stood.

***

And so the next night the boy took stones, and pitched them high into the air. The night after that, he tried tossing a rope, with a prickly branch tied to one end. He danced and prayed one night, and he sang and shouted curses the next. He even tried eating the special medicine plant, thinking that might help him to see the man. Days grew into weeks, until the moon became full and close to the land, lighting up the valley. After resting near a rock to drop his empty satchel, the tired boy walked out into the open land. He lifted his eyes to the glowing disc in a sea of blue night.

�I have nothing else to bring here, moon man,� the boy called. �There is no other way I know to make you come out from your hiding. I can only ask you, beg you, once more to show yourself to me. Man of the moon, won�t you speak?�

The boy watched for the slightest shadow to appear. He listened for the smallest noise to reach his ears. He waited one second�then two�and still not a sound could be heard in the valley.

Lowering his sight to the warm, dried land, the boy turned and walked towards the foot of the great mountain. He sat and drew his knees to his chin, gathering himself up tight. His eyes closed and he hid his face in his knees, while hot tears rolled down his dusty cheeks.

As the boy only cried, and forgot the world, the faintest of sounds came whispering through the valley. It started with a distant hum of vibration, quickly followed by the screeching echo of rocks scraping against one another. Soon, streams of loose pebbles could be heard tumbling down the hillside. And beneath his seat, the boy, still clutching his knees, began to feel that familiar rumble in the ground.

He snapped his head up and twisted himself around to look up the steep rock face. Dust fell away as the mountain opened her eyes to gaze gently down upon him.

�What is troubling you my son?�

�Oh mother, what will I do?� the boy cried. �I have failed to make the moon man show himself to me. What will the people say? I have listened and listened, but I can�t hear him.�

The mountain was silent for a few moments, and the boy at her feet waited � one second�then two�and she closed her eyes and began to hum softly. She sang and played a strange melody, while the boy sat still and quiet. Once the song had ended, she slowly opened her eyes again and bent herself low around him.

�My son,� the mountain spoke, �can you not hear me?�

***

That night, the boy again became a child of the mountain. He knelt at her foot and promised to listen for her voice in each day. There at the edge of the valley, until the morning sun burst over the rocky peaks and chased the moon from the sky, the boy danced and prayed. He sang and he shouted. He laughed and wept.

And even now, as he has grown old with many days and many months, he still tells the people there this first story of the mountain he knows.




BIO: Kathy Lerner is a student at Fairhaven College, a small, hippie interdisciplinary college tucked away in the enchanted forest of Northwest Washington State. There she is working on a self-designed major entitled, "'Follow the Child': Rights of the Child Through Politics, Education, and Creativity". Her writing seeks to be boundary-crossing through age and audience, and is often ruled by children, as she usually finds them more relatable than adults. "The Boy Who Knew The Mountain" is Kathy's first published effort.