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stand up

by on February 4, 2011

I am going to see the mountain. My hands are calm on the wheel of the old car, my hair tied back in the wind from the open window, my face towards where I want to go. The mountain is warm on my cheek so I know when to turn.

The roads are mostly empty, stretching through the brown and rust of the scrubby, flat terrain. The hills are odd shapes, flat-topped, marked with ripples of rock. The sky fits precisely over them, beaten blue. I pass small towns, a few weathered houses, loose boards flapping in the wind with a sound like drums. If I see people, they turn away. I am going to the mountain. They know.

There’s no mistaking it. Against the afternoon sky the mountain looms, curved and placid, its back bent like a bow. Its feet are rooted tree-like in the harsh ground.

I stop the car. Beneath my feet I feel it, the slow, subterranean beat. I bend over and place my hands on the stony soil, where the pulse comes up through them with the rhythm of blood.

I wait. The sun sets. Slowly, in its own good time, the mountain uncurls its giant, sleep-pursed fists. Rocks slither, and a flight of crows startles, cawing, towards the distant trees. A palm levers against the ground. Massively slow, the back unbends and straightens against the stars, titanic blind head lifting to scent the air. The mountain stands up.

I wait. Now, we shall see.

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8 Comments
  1. Love your description of the journey, ‘The sky fits precisely over them, beaten blue.’ is vivid and visual for me. Love the sense of importance/significance you get from phases like ‘My hands are calm..’

    The ghost town scene works very well for me too although ‘boards flapping … like drums’ rang wrong for me – too structured. Love the poeple who try not to think or look at those going to the mountain.

    Enjoyed how the reader starts off assuming most of the talk about the mountain (the heat, the feet, the bent back) is metaphoric until the more explicit phrases later gently reveal.

    I found the end a bit flat and wished for some kind of personal climax or reveal about why the narrator is here but it didn’t take away from the lovely sense of enormous mysticism you had built up.

    • Slight problem with the climax is that I have no idea what happens next. Or why the narrator is here, or what she expects to happen. This particular story hit me as a very, very vivid image of a calm woman watching a mountain stand up, and I’m going to have to let it percolate for a bit before I work out what it’s actually saying. When I do, it’s going to be much longer story.

      Interesting poll question: my mental processes set this in the Karoo, did that come through?

      I’m glad you liked the vibe :>. Mysticism was exactly what I was trying for.

      • Karoo- yes strongly, open space and hot dry windiness – exactly what I was picturing.

      • cbraz permalink

        It could easily be Karoo, but I was getting strong associations with Stephen King’s Gunslinger which is less specific in terms of place.

  2. parfles permalink

    I had the same experience as elementalsystems – the mysticism biulds up beautifully and the little details – the tied back hair, the warmth on the cheek – really make it for me. I liked that there was cars and the world was intersecting with ours on that level.

    I also liked the precise-fitting sky. The boards like drums really worked for me – the drums enter the scene there and then there is a beat to the whole rest of the peace. If anything jars about that phrase it’s “flapping…like drums” which does not seem right. I would suggest “beating” instead?

    “…my face towards where I want to go. The mountain is warm on my cheek so I know when to turn.” – there is something in that that didn’t work for me. I’m not sure if its the phrase “my face towards where I want to go” or if it’s the subtle contradiction of the second sentence – if your face is turned towards the mountain, then you can’t tell direction with your cheek. But that’s nitpicking.

    I am not sure if I share the comment about the ending. It’s a tiny space and you have told us so much already – it’s not a problem for me if the ending is left open rather than rushed into the word limit.

  3. Am a bit weirded that both you and elementalsys had problems with “flapping in the wind with a sound like drums”, I thought the phrase did exactly what I wanted it to. On mature reflection, though, what I was actually thinking of was the sound canvas makes when it flaps in the wind, and I agree boards don’t actually do that ;>. Shall have to revisit the image.

    I was also not quite happy with the phrase “my face towards where I want to go” – I was trying to convey the sense of rightness in her direction, but it does tangle a bit with the mountain warm on her cheek. Hmmm.

    Glad you enjoyed the vibe, though.

  4. Nice description work. I thought everything came across as calm and controlled, which was lovely.

    > face towards where I want to go
    Great image.

    > I pass small towns, … They know.
    I enjoyed the sentence length changes here. Gave a good sense of importance when I got to the short “They know” sentence.

    I can see it happening in the Karroo, but I didn’t think Karroo when I was reading it. Was picturing a deserty / butte-filled place, with wooden buildings (from the loose boards), like in a cowboy movie.

    I also felt the mysticism vibes, although rather than South African mysticism, I was thinking more native American style mysticism (fitting in with my cowboyish theming of the story!).

  5. cbraz permalink

    This is a beautiful atmospheric piece. I definitely got the vibe of the heroine calmly moving with purpose towards her goal.

    I really like the way she was so separate from the people she met and places she drove through. It has a dream-like, fatalistic quality because of this.

    “The mountain is warm on my cheek so I know when to turn.” – this sentence also made me hesitate, but I like it more and more every time I read the piece. It fits with the mysticism of the story and the mountain.

    I love the descriptions of the landscape and the towns she passes through. There is a lovely, lonely, desolate quality which is brought out, without being sad or dismal.

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