Editor’s note: This is a sort of telephone-game story running monthly as part of our literary and creativity section. Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to write the next chapter!
By Will Grandbois
Something strange was going on in Carbondale.
By the time officials had managed to arrange a special public meeting at Town Hall, word had spread from Satank to Marble — although the massive game of telephone had scrambled the details almost beyond recognition.
As such, even with the false wall folded away and every extra chair in the building brought out, the space was packed with concerned and confused constituents chattering like a barn full of nervous doves.
Some felt that the community itself had somehow brought about the change.
“There’s a kind of magic to the creativity in this town,” said the head of the arts council. “The whole is the greater than the sum of its parts — and what a whole it is!”
Her counterparts for the local theatre troupes and the clay center nodded. The director of the local radio station looked up from fiddling with a microphone and briefly considered pointing out that his organization literally broadcast exactly that kind of creative energy into every corner of the community, but thought better of it.
Instead, a well known wilderness advocate advanced to the podium.
“If there’s magic here, it doesn’t come from us,” she said. “All you need to do is look out the window at that mountain to know that this place has been special since before a human being ever stepped foot here. The ancients spoke of spirits of nature, of ley lines and harmonic vibrations. Clearly that is what’s at work here.”
The pronouncement drew swift and strong condemnation from one of the priests present, but before the conversation could turn to a religious debate, the police chief stepped forward.
“You all are acting like this is a good thing, but in my experience there’s nothing more dangerous than something you can’t explain,” he said. “As I’ve already told the trustees, I think we should declare a state of emergency and implement our disaster protocols.”
The town manager disagreed.
“This is not altogether unprecedented,” he observed. “I’ve heard reports of something similar in at least three other municipalities around the state. In each case, the effects lasted for less than a day. We’ve probably already seen all of it.”
As if on cue, a small child burst into the room, eyes wide and a mess of unruly hair in her wake. Dead silence fell as she caught her breath and prepared to share her news.
“It’s happening again!”
Chapter two: The Mountain Awakens
By Oriana Ourboros
… “It’s happening again!”
“The mountain; she is moving.”
“She is waking up.”
“No, not impossible. In this Valley anything is possible. ”
More children run in — some are scared; others look exhilarated.
Breathlessly, an older child steps in, catches his breath and composure, stands up tall. He’s a generational rancher, used to being around his community, used to his voice being heard, his family has been here for generations.
“It’s true, the Mama, the Mountain, she’s waking up. My grandfather used to talk about the day that the grandmother woke up and said she would do it again, when the time was right. Seems the time has come. I thought it was a silly children’s story.”
A little girl arrives, also a generational, her great grandmother was born at the base of the Mama. She has always had a special relationship to the Great Mountain.
“The grandmother wants to share her story. She has invited us all outside.”
You can’t imagine the sight that met the community. The grandmother was awake and she had a smile on her face.
“Oh it’s been a good sleep, quite a rest for me. I need to look around a bit, see what has changed since I last opened my eyes.
“My my, it’s as beautiful as ever. Why, there is sister River, and brother mountain, I love those big fields filled with animals that line our valley floor, always have always will. I so appreciate that you have preserved the beauty of this Sacred Land. I’ve noticed it’s gotten a bit nosier with time. Why, when I was a young mountain, the only noises were that of the river, the wind in the trees, the animals, and occasionally you could hear the ringing of the planets.
“Did you know that each planet has its own song, it’s own sound, that the planets truly ring like bells. It’s beautiful on a crystal clear winter night when the snow sparkles as bright as the stars and the air is crisp and still. It is here where you can hear the sounding of the planets moving across our night’s sky.”
The Community, stares in wonder, rubbing their eyes, pinching each other.
”Is it true?”
“Do you see what I see?”
“Are you hearing what I am hearing?”
“Is this a dream?”
“By golly it’s real, the Mountain has awakened.”
And She’s ready to talk…
Chapter three: Grandma’s apples
By Adam Carballeira
Autumn wind swirled through the town of Carbondale. The people could smell the snow coming, but the afternoon light was still warm. The town buzzed with the dream of the mountain awakening, especially the kids.
A few weeks earlier, the townsfolk had what could only be called a “shared vision.” They had heard the grandmother voice of the mountain, she was waking up. But people were reluctant to talk about it; they preferred to wait and see. So life went on for several weeks as usual; people smiled at each other all day like they shared a secret.
Oscar, the boy who had first heard the voice, sat on his front porch, eating a Gala apple, while he watched the mountain, wondering. He had been stacking hay most of the day, preparing for winter on his family’s ranch in Missouri Heights. He was tired and content. As he rested he began to feel a low vibration, and hear a hum. Like the sound of a singing bowl, but from deep within the ground. It’s happening again, he thought. And then he remembered the words of the mountain from earlier, “Did you know that each planet has its own song, it’s own sound? The planets truly ring like bells,” the voice had said.
And Oscar knew immediately he was hearing the song of the Earth. For a moment, he stayed silent and listened. I want to celebrate you, filling me with your name.
Suddenly, he saw his dad Pablo, in the old green farm truck, come speeding down the driveway. His father usually drove slowly. Then the screen door slammed open beside him, and is little sister Sophia burst out.
“It’s happening again!” As she said it, the hum became louder. And Oscar could feel the ground tremble.
“Get in! Vamanos!” his dad yelled as he pulled up to the house. They had to get to town. Oscar put his sister in first, then jumped in and slammed the door shut. As they raced back down the driveway they felt a rippling crack followed by an earth-shattering BOOM! A shock wave seemed to hit the truck, Oscar and his dad looked at each other and then looked back through the windshield. Almost in slow motion, they saw Mt. Sopris explode.
“She’s erupting! Sopris is erupting!” Sophia screamed. And as they drove they saw a huge plume of smoke and ash billowing out of the side of the mountain. Oscar drew his sister in close as the giant cloud of ash reached skyward, sliced by beams of the afternoon sun.
“When I said she was waking up I never expected this,” he said.
“It’s pretty, Papa,” whispered Sophia and her father said, “Si, mija, Si.”
When they reached the bottom of Red Hill the scene was surreal. All the motorists on the highway had stopped and left their cars. They weren’t running away, but slowly walking toward the river the town and the mountain. Papa parked the truck and they joined the others. Oscar held Sophia’s hand as they crossed the bridge into town, the plume of smoke grew to impossible heights, dwarfing what was left of the mountain below. Oscar had to crane his neck to see the top.
Then, something amazing happened. As they watched, the plume began to take shape. It formed a waist, hips and shoulders. Then a head appeared, with long hair framing a face. “Dios mio,” Oscar’s father whispered, and all the people stood in rapture as the form of a Goddess appeared before them, indescribably beautiful, two miles tall and made of billowing smoke and ash.
Sophia squeezed Oscar’s hand as the form of the woman opened her sparkling grey eyes and smiled. Suddenly all the fear left Oscar’s heart and he felt a warm sense of something new, like nothing and no one. Always.
Then the form of the magma-mountain-woman lifted her arms out to the sides and turned around. In one motion she bent low and ran her hands along the ground as if she was feeling grass. Then Oscar saw her turn back around, still smiling, arms open wide like in invitation. “Look!” said Sophia as the magnanimous form opened her hands and something fell from them. At first Oscar thought it was snow but then noticed it sparkled red and green in the light of the afternoon sun. She sprinkled it like seeds, and as she did, the form of the woman changed into that of an old tree. Many people had fallen to their knees on the bridge, some were crying, some were laughing.
Just as suddenly as it formed, the smoke dissipated and the tree, and the woman, were gone. The mountain, too, appeared the same as always: strong, settled and silent. Oscar glanced at his father and his father looked at him. Tear tracks lined on the sun-stained cheeks of his old man. “Es un milagro,” Pablo said.
“Yes, a miracle.” Oscar said. “She blessed us, she changed us. Did you feel it Papa? We returned, for a moment, to also be like newly created creatures. She will visit again.” His father nodded and held his kids close. The first snow drifted down with the last of the ashes.
As they walked back across the bridge, Oscar glanced down over the rail and gasped. The river was red. Then Sophia yelled, “Apples!” and she started down the river bank. The whole Roaring Fork river was swollen with apples. Fuji, MacIntosh, Golden Delicious, Jonagold.
The people laughed and shouted and ran down the banks. “Manzanas! Apples!” And from where Oscar stood he could see the Crystal River, too, was filled with apples, and all up and down the people were gathering on the banks. The whole population of Carbondale united, reunited, in the simplest act of the land: biting into an apple.
Chapter four: Art around town
By Levi Roeser, RFHS
The people stood there, gathered around the river in amazement and wonderment.
The kids were the first to go in; diving into the river of apples. Deep, blinding shades of yellows, reds and brilliant greens. They could still hear the voice of the mountain echoing through their minds. For the next few weeks, all the people of Carbondale ate were apples. Apple pies, apple crumpets, baked apples, apple chips, anything you can imagine to do with apples is what they did.
Something had changed in the atmosphere of the town; you could see it in the smells, in the way people laughed. That night it was First Friday, three weeks after the mountain came alive and shared her gifts with them. The streets filled with people and smiling faces. Main Street exploded with a new energy that the people had never felt before. It was exhilarating.
Oscar sat with his sister on the back of their old green farm truck, the cold air licking their cheeks. “Tengo mucho frio,” Sophie said in a shaky voice. Oscar reached into the back of the pickup and pulled out an embroidered quilt his abuela made for them years ago on his sister’s first birthday. From where their truck was parked by the ice-skating rink, they could see light shooting out of the Launchpad building.
The air began to vibrate as if a billion invisible flies were racing through the minds of everyone in town, making their bodies hum and their heads fuzzy. As the anticipation was building up in their souls, everything went dead silent — just pure, clear silence. A fluffy German shepherd named Sunny was the first to notice. Her bark broke through the quiet like a razor blade.
The doors of the Launchpad swung open abruptly and began to glow. All at once, every art piece in the building became animated and suddenly alive. They picked up their painted, metallic, wooden and glass bodies and walked themselves out with their “heads” held high. Not only the art in the Launchpad but every sculpture in town jumped alive and marched itself down Main Street.
The people stood there dumbfounded, not believing what they saw, unable to move. The big pink wire bunny sculpture was leaping down Main. The beloved Humpty Dumpty was sitting on the bunny’s back, its hands waving in the air like royalty. They majestically paraded themselves down the street like something out of a dream. Oscar sat rubbing his eyes in disbelief, childlike excitement bubbling up in him like Christmas morning. The sight was unimaginable, unbelievable. Yet it was happening right in front of them. Everyone there was unable to speak, as if the wind had snached their voices right out of their mouths. It was the same energy they had felt when the mountain came alive and when the river magically filled with apples.
All of a sudden, a feeling of dread swept over him, equally as powerful as the energy Oscar had felt before and simultaneously a seed of thought spotted in his mind: The thought that possibly, just maybe, this was not all good. His heart leapt into his mouth as he saw from the corner of his eye. He barely had time to react. It was purely instinct that made him throw the quilt over him and his sister just as everything went black.
Chapter five: Fear and Loathing in Carbondale
By Owen O’Farrell, RFHS
I was five miles outside of Woody Creek when the drugs kicked in. I mean it must be drugs, because what else would have me convinced that I had been dead for the last decade? Before I blacked out, I remember an event involving a cannon and fireworks. That doesn’t narrow it down much. Double-thumbed cannon? I remember smoke. Lots of it. I think I met a smoke goddess, and no it wasn’t just at Woodstock. I thought I was dead, but I feel the world solid beneath my feet, singing her song as she always has. Maybe I am dead. Maybe I’m a cigarette burning at both ends. My soul somewhere between the moment where smoke becomes invisible. I have the feeling I’m here for one last Gonzo story.
Everyone speaks like they saw Jesus Christ in the flesh, yet the rest of the world has taken no notice. These yuppy “Journalists” in the Washington Post and New York Times have a one-track mind, talking about the corruption of the President. I hated Nixon with all the strength of my pen, but had a mountain suddenly transformed into a pillar of smoke two miles high, and had that pillar of smoke then spoken to a few thousand people, well for one, I’d expect to see some video of it, and two I’d expect to stop hearing about Russians every damn day like this is the KGB. But there is no video. Not a single teenager decided to record it on their cell phones? So when did the drugs kick in? What kind of drugs are these? Is it just me? No, we’ve all shared the same vision, so what’s going on in this valley?
Woody Creek was no different than before, so I followed the story to the mouth of the apples, and here in Carbondale, everyone’s acting… normal? Like nobody stood witness to a walking, talking, smoking volcano lady. The same folks ride the bus to and from work, complacent as ever, like this is the new norm, but nothing is normal about this small town any longer.
The police chief says that mineral assays and water tests have come back showing no hallucinogenic chemicals. No LSD, DMT, THC, or otherwise. Just… apples. And as I walk around these quiet streets, you wouldn’t think that anyone was eating anything but apples. So what did we all see here? Was it Magic?
And as I walked from the police station, looking for new questions to answer, I felt the air hum, like the beating of a thousand lightning bug wings all around me. A vibration in my skin, like a nicotine buzz. And all of a sudden I saw a giant, pink, wire hasenfeffer hop down the street with a humpty dumpty riding him like a shetland. A tiny copper dancer sashaying at the street corner. A venus demilo, without a head looking like a waddling tinfoil obelisk of man. The children stared in wonderment, a collective awe struck us all like a bolt of lightning, and I felt like all the smoke lifted from my lungs for a brief moment. But as I breathed in this lively air, I saw something horrible coming. The bronze buffalo of 133 dashing headlong down the Main Street, stampeding past storefronts, pedestrians and parked cars, straight at a little girl and young boy with a red quilt. And as I watched, I felt that energy in the air take over me, drawing me forward like smoke out of an open car window. And suddenly I stood above the boy and girl, standing between them and the angry bronze bull. And I felt like the statue of the little girl on Wall Street, and the bull brought it’s ugly horns down to bear on my body. And I felt no fear. And all at once. Poof. The cigarette stops burning again.
Chapter six: Strange glue
By Raleigh Burleigh
— SKKROMP! —
The smoky-eyed stranger crumpled like an overcoat flung from the winter closet. Although his sunglasses shattered on the pavement, a cigarette continued to droop between his blue lips.
Oscar slowly emerged from behind the red quilt, his sister Sophia guarded tightly against his body.
The bronze buffalo clambered noisily up the street, damaging every fixture that came into contact with its clumsy gait. Oscar cautiously studied the scene. From that shocking jolt of fear emerged a disturbing calm in the street, although distant screams continued to resonate. Eventually, Oscar’s eyes reached the broken man slumped against the gutter, expelling puffs of smoke. He realized in a moment that this was the bumper that had saved them from the impact of the charging statue.
“Sir! Sir! Are you okay?” Oscar cried out.
“Mhmm.” The man seemed incredulous, forever delirious. “Kid, what the hell is going on? I should be dead.”
And yet, there was no sign of injury. The thin stranger slowly raised to his feet, crooking his neck in each direction and splayed his arms. A symphony of popping joints exuded from his stretch. Upon closer inspection, Oscar realized that this man was faintly glowing a ghastly green.
“What is your name?” Oscar asked.
“Thompson. Hunter S.”
“I’m Oscar. And this is Sophia.” Although Oscar lifted the mantle, Sophia continued to hide her face against him.
“Pleasure. Now, if you’ll allow me, I reiterate. What the hell? Is going on?”
“The mountain woke up. It seemed okay at first. Magical, even! But now, I’m not so sure.”
Humpty grazed his pink hare on some nearby dandelions.
“Many things are waking up.” Oscar studied this specter of a man standing before him.
Hunter caught his gaze and lifted a hand. Through the greenish palm, he saw Oscar and it dawned.
“Indeed. I had been well at rest, hadn’t I?”
The pink hare bellowed, lunging to escape the tearing horns of the buffalo as it crashed through a nearby fence.
Humpty, unprepared for the sudden jolt was tossed into the air and had a great fall. Like Thompson’s signature sunglasses, the eggman broke into countless tiny pieces.
Hunter drew a blunt knife from his boot and prepared to spar.
“ESPERA!!!!” Sophia shrieked, causing him to jump. From the pocket of her dress emerged a shiny red apple. The buffalo’s eyes went wild as the brave girl broke away from her brother’s protective custody and offered the blessed fruit, a gift from the Mother Mountain, to the snarling beast. At once, the buffalo ate the apple in a single bite and rolled onto his back in delight. Sophia gently patted the cold steel of the buffalo’s mane.
With the danger diffused, Oscar carefully swept the shattered bits of Humpty into the red quilt. From the colorful fragments and dust he heard a faint expression of gratitude.
“Well, I’ll be damned if this isn’t the best mystery of my afterlife.” Hunter accosted the pink hare and swung himself onto its back. “Well?” He addressed Oscar, “Aren’t you coming?”
Oscar noticed Sophia, already atop the buffalo. He carefully tied the quilt, feeling the resonant voice of Humpty from beneath its folds, and climbed up behind her.
Chapter seven: Monsters and Angels
By Matt Roeser
It was a joyous, boundless celebration. Kids from seven to 70 where whooping, hollering, and laughing, as they galloped, pranced, strolled and paraded down Main Street, many riding on once inanimate statues. To Oscar and Sophia it felt like a Disney fairytale.
The strange, eerily glowing man, Hunter S. Thompson, riding high on the pink wire bunny leaned toward them yelling over the noisy crowd:
“The word make no sense, I tell ya. Afterlife?!?! It’s an oxymoron. If you die and go somewhere else, it’s not really after life, is it kid? It’s just life but in a completely different, strange and unfamiliar form. Like living in Texas.” Hunter laughed at his own joke.
Oscar couldn’t really follow the odd, zombie man. Too much was going on. The parade cirled back on the bike path behind True Nature.
The wind picked up, whipping through the trees and tall grasses, creating waves of sound that rose and fell in synchronicity with the strong gusts. Oscar’s head felt like a balloon, with air slowly escaping, only it was his thoughts leaking out. The whole crowd seemed to be experiencing the same thing. People were lost and disoriented, forgetting where they were or what they were doing. Oscar forgot he rode on the back of the bronze animal the size of a VW Beetle, and in doing so relaxed his grip. When the galloping statue stopped to sidestep a very surprised road biker, Oscar slid off the back and tumbled into the dry grasses, rolling for several feet before coming to an abrupt halt.
The rest of the crowd experienced similarly ungraceful and painful dismounts from their statues. Slowly, the people rose to their feet, dusting themselves off, and checking for any injuries. It took a moment for their minds, momentarily deflated, to re-inflate themselves with meaning and clarity. When it did, they laughed and talked, sharing their wonderful, whimsical and wholly magical stories of what it was like for them to ride, if only for a few brief, yet shining moments, statues sprung suddenly to life.
All except for Hunter. He still sat atop his pink rabbit. He swung his oversized ride off in the direction of the dog park muttering something about the beauty of angels and needing to find his lost soul. It was the last Oscar saw of him.
Oscar turned to admire the enormous buffalo, but it was gone. The same thing happened to all the statues. The next morning they were all back in their familiar homes, even Humpty who had broken into over a dozen fragments sat at his perch greeting library patrons, leaving everyone to speculate if the statues had really come to life at all, or was it all a dream.
“Oscar get up! You’re going to miss the bus,” his mom yelled up the stairs the day after the statue parade. Sophia and father were already seated at the breakfast table, plates filled with warm tortillas, fresh avocado, eggs and sliced peaches.
“What is up with that boy,” Father asked to no one in particular.
“Rudy is up.” Mother had returned, seating herself at their butcher block kitchen table and heard her.
“Rudy? Rudy who?”
“You know Rudy,” Sophia replied, exasperated, as if her parents should know, as often as his name had come up from last school year.
“His parents own the bakery. Tall kid, freckles. Anyway, he picks on Oscar all the time.”
Just then Oscar plopped himself down on his seat as all eyes fixed on him.
His father looked directly at Oscar, and asked, “What is going on with this boy Rudy?”
Oscar glared over at Sophia.
“It’s nothing Dad. Just some kid at school. I can take care of it. Like you always say. There are going to be bullies and mean people everywhere and we have to learn to deal with it and find a way to not let it bother us.” He looks over at Sophia, now seeking her support. She nods.
“And I also tell you that you can’t hide or run from your problems. Maybe you need some help dealing with this kid.”
“No dad. I got it,” huffed Oscar, hoping it would be the end of the conversation.
His father, sensing further discussion is useless, gets up, pushes in his chair, and walks to the sink to wash his plate, adding, “Ok. We’ll talk about this later.”
The brother and sister finished their breakfast in silence before hustling out the door to wait for the bus. Oscar is thinking about his grandmother and how much he misses her as he trudged up their gravel driveway.
This summer especially had been hard for him, since it was the first one they hadn’t sat together at sunset, sitting side by side on their front porch swing in the warm evening sipping mint julep iced tea. She always had the right words to make him feel better. She’d say, “monsters are monsters, and angels are angels.” People who were nice and kind, the angels, could be counted on to continue to be nice kind, but people who were monsters, the mean, the greedy, the ignorant, the hateful, sadly she would say, could also be counted on to continue to be that way.
She would smile, grip his hand in her gnarled, wrinkled, yet soft warm hand, and say, “Just stay away from the monsters, find other angels like you and you will always be happy, my little angel.” But those words, once so comforting, like his grandmother were gone today.
The mountain may have come to life, statues may have run down Main Street, and the rivers may have flooded with apples, but monsters were still monsters, and Rudy was still a big jerk, Oscar thought bitterly as he rode the bus to Carbondale Middle School for another in the start of a long series of painful weeks.
Chapter eight: a love pollinator
By Megan Tackett
“Ow!” Oscar cried out as his knees and hands hit the floor. Papers were still falling around him, and his backpack was practically up over his head. He hadn’t even made it to his locker yet.
“How do you say ‘loser’ in Spanish?!” Rudy taunted, standing triumphantly behind Oscar.
Keeping his head low to avoid eye contact, Oscar adjusted his backpack and scurried to reclaim his homework. If he could just get away, it would be alright…
“Hey!” Rudy grabbed the straps of his backpack so hard that Oscar was sure his neck would snap. “I asked you a question!”
Oscar was on his tiptoes now, and he could feel Rudy’s angry breath on his face.
“Perde —” he started to stammer, but was mercifully interrupted by the trill of the bell.
And just like that, he was back on the hallway floor, crumpled where Rudy dropped him. Tears stung his eyes, but thankfully nobody was there to see them. Why were his peers so cruel? Especially now, after everything that had happened? He tried desperately to remember the songs of the planets and the voice of the mountain, but it all rang hollow in that moment.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, but Oscar wasn’t eager to get back home. He was tired of hiding from Rudy between classes, and he was tired of avoiding his father’s and sister’s concerns at the dinner table. He just wanted to be left alone.
When he stepped off the schoolbus, Oscar went left instead of right. He didn’t have a destination in mind; he just wanted to walk, and he wasn’t ready to go home just quite yet. Without really meaning to, he found himself wandering toward Sopris Park. In front of the gazebo, a young woman with blond bangs sat in overalls, surrounded by wooden constructions of flowers and vines. There were a few other people around her, pointing upward toward the gazebo’s ceiling and bantering about who should do the heavy lifting.
“Hey, little dude, wanna come help us?” a middle-aged man with curly hair and deep laugh lines asked. “We could use someone young and strong. Plus, if you volunteer, you’ll get a backstage pass.”
Mountain Fair. Of course. They were setting up the stage for Mountain Fair. How could Oscar have forgotten? He smiled, imagining an animated Humpty Dumpty sitting at the stage’s edge, rocking to whatever jam band was in the lineup for that weekend. He missed the magic that seemed so long ago. Now, he could barely even see Mount Sopris through the Lake Christine Fire’s haze.
“Sure,” he said, deciding he could use the distraction. He jogged over and hopped onto the stage. From that vantage point, he could see that the wooden art pieces weren’t just flowers and vines: there were four huge letters that he knew would spell “love” once arranged.
They worked for about an hour before Oscar remembered that his family expected him home for dinner.
“Crap. I’m so sorry, guys, but I have to go,” he said, jumping from a ladder and running across the grass. He rounded the corner before he heard it.
Oscar stopped immediately, his heart in his throat. Rudy circled him on his bicycle. But before Oscar’s anxiety completely took over, he noticed a plump bumble bee behind Rudy. It bobbed along almost merrily, like it was following him. Rudy’s focus remained squarely on Oscar, his eyes narrowed and mean — until the bee landed on top of Rudy’s head. Oscar could have sworn the fuzzy winged creature actually dusted him with pollen.
Rudy’s eyes softened.
“Hey, man. I’m sorry. Look, you don’t deserve this. I just have a lot going on right now, and I guess I’ve been taking it out on you,” he said.
Oscar just stared blankly at him, dumbfounded. The bee fluttered on its way, back toward Sopris Park.