The Mountains Remain
By Sean Thomas Goodman
What are men to rocks and mountains? – Jane Austen
The DYING SON
The waves crashed down in an odd syncopation and the tide was high. The winds were strong, making my face numb within minutes, and yet I welcomed it like a warm embrace from a long lost relative.
A hundred yards out were the remnants of a colossal creature submerged in the water like a skeletal island. The grotesque figure had gargantuan wings spanning for what seemed like the entire stretch of the beach, with bonelike tentacles attached to an otherwise dragon-like face, its arms permanently reaching out for a god who wasn’t there.
My brother told me that when it had ended, the water turned crimson with blood, but, three years hence, it had reverted back to a dark blue. The strand of the beach was now home to thousands of whale and dolphin bones.
To my right I saw someone out in the water, but that was impossible, no one lived here anymore. I squinted my eyes to make sure they were playing tricks on me, and they were. It was only a buoy.
I was told not to visit the beaches after what had happened. Was told that I wouldn’t like what I saw. But what did they know? They might have remembered the end of our home, but I have trouble remembering my name by the end of the day. So I made them take me.
The only memories I have are what they said at my bedside. How my brother wished I were dead. How my mother said she was glad I wasn’t there to see what was happening.
“Maybe it will help if you go to the water and dig up some sand-crabs. You loved to do that as a child, and I don’t see why they wouldn’t be alive.”
My mother stood behind me as I sat in the damp sand that was riddled with bones and ashes. My brother was off in the distance scavenging through the remains of piled up cars, a house, and a crashed helicopter.
I limped over to the shoreline and dug my hands into the cold, wet sand and picked out two small brown crustaceans. As they tried to escape my grasp I experienced what felt like a second gunshot to my head. I suddenly remembered my first memory.
I was on this very beach, sitting on the cool shore with the intent of finding treasure with my Zeon green sand bucket. We had already been there for hours, but time did not exist back then. I dug my hands into the sand and found my first piece of treasure: a giant sand crab the size of my hand. I had seen sand crabs throughout the day, tossing them aside in search of gold, silver, or even bronze. But this was so magnificent I had to show my mother. I rushed up to her, the crustacean squirming in my hands, trying to burrow itself back in what little sand remained in my palms. She shared my amazement, but my excitement quickly turned to horror as I saw the crab had stopped moving. I rushed back to the water, thinking it was the crab’s elixir of life, and let the current take it away from me.
And then a second memory came to me. This was at this very same beach where I took the love of my life. It was our first date. We dropped our towels and chairs and ran straight into the water that was at a nerve killing temperature, and swam past the break of the waves. I looked at her hazel eyes and she looked into mine.
“Cold and cool as this very ocean.” She said to me. And we kissed as if we were on a honeymoon in Bali.
I took her under water and we kissed there. Then I took her around the point into my personal place of reflection; somewhere I had never taken anyone before.
I let her into my heart, and she let me into hers. Then she went too far into mine and we both discovered something in myself that made her leave. I don’t blame her. But upon looking at the dead deity in front of me, I can’t help but think she’s just another carcass in the sea. I just hope she had a proper burial.
Why she left was the third memory that entered my mind. This one was fresher, more vivid. It was the first night I saw the demon that had become attached to my soul. I am not speaking figuratively. What I observed was real.
I was home alone one night and saw a faceless man. Dressed all in black, and sitting on my living room couch right below my mother’s Madonna painting. If I were to see this figure in a museum, I would simply think it was a mummified corpse. But with the juxtaposition of something I considered so holy, its very existence was blasphemous.
And it was not of God. This thing whispered sweet tragedies to me. My nights became sleepless by its reminders.
“You have failed. You are a mistake. You are not wanted. Every choice you will make will end in your suffering. You simply are not good enough.”
It went on and on like an endless, melancholic melody. I tried to ignore it with all of the tools I had: prayer, meditation, even medication. And yet the figure still stood by my bedside reciting these subverting prayers. Because this wasn’t a possession, this was something that I was born with. Man’s original sin decided to fully reveal itself to me in my early twenties.
I soon came to appreciate it. Eventually, I came to love it. After the drinking, I enjoyed falling asleep to my demon’s lullabies. It became my substitute for inebriation. It was warm, much warmer than the cold breeze that was now numbing my face.
Normal people fantasized about sex. I had begun to fantasize about my own demise. It was only a matter of time before I made it a reality.
Looking back as I sit in the wet sand and try to recall the life I had before my attempted suicide, my depression now seems miniscule. I don’t care too much for my deformed face. The demon is gone, and that is what matters. But that demon inside me was nothing compared to the ones that eradicated the rest of humanity, what they now call the gods. They were the ones I should have feared all along. My brother and mother are all that I have now. Where will we go now? I haven’t got the faintest idea, but I am okay with that. I will learn to love life, in the wake of civilization’s end.
And yet, as I sit here reflecting on the past 24 years of my life, observing the waves crashing down onto the million pieces of crushed rock, it was like each grain of sand was a memory of mine being swept away into eternity.
The GRIEVING MOTHER
I remember my son showing me the sand-crab that was the size of his hand, it was one of my favorite memories of his childhood. I never had one myself, so I had a second chance participating in one with my two boys.
Now I see the man he has become, digging them up just as he had done over twenty years ago. Part of me wants to reach and touch him and show him that I still love him. That I’ve always loved him.
But I’m not sure if that’s what he needs or even wants right now. I feel like he’s a stranger to me. So I look out into the horizon.
Man knew little of the ocean’s abyss. Its darkness represented the unknown, the greatest fear we had. And yet there is an ocean inside us all, so how well do we know each other? How well do we know ourselves? If that’s the case, shouldn’t we fear humanity most?
I was a schoolteacher before it all began. I wanted to educate future generations so as to better mankind, but I couldn’t even improve my own son’s life. I was so naïve.
Before his accident I took my son with the rest of the family to get him out of his slump. But all he could do was sit in his beach chair and fantasize about his impending suicide. I didn’t know it then, but now all I can picture is what was going on inside his head. I’ll never forget those hellish words he told me before he tried taking his life in the room where I tucked him in so many times. So many nights I blessed him, and he was going to say thank you by telling me his fantasy before locking the door on me.
“I will walk up to a tree surrounded by mist,” he said. “Like the low hanging trees of the south decorated with Spanish moss, the ones you told me about at your home in Georgia. The Faceless will give me the rope, and I will gladly tie the noose. Maybe then my body will be thrown into the marshes and be preserved with the rest of the sacrificial corpses like in the old country, my body exhumed by archaeologists thousands of years later.”
I thought he was bluffing.
Instead of warning me with his fantasies, my husband did something his son told me he’d do: he used a rope and left a note.
His reasoning: there was no point in living if the God he prayed to his entire life did not exist.
He lost his mind when it came out of the ocean. No one knows whether it always existed in the water and simply woke from a millennial-long slumber, or if it came from space and took refuge in the water.
We were together when it happened. Walking along the ridgeline behind our house, thinking a tidal wave was coming to claim our lives. A massive, multi-layered roar unlike anything I had heard in my life accompanied the rising waters. Early reports stated that it was heard from the west coast all the way to the east. This monstrous thing that I cannot even begin to describe emerged out of the water.
That was the beginning of the end. When we realized that everything we believed in was a lie. I thought my husband could deal with it. After all, he was the bravest man I knew. But I was wrong.
It’s funny. My whole life I thought I was special, that God had a plan for me. Now I wish that I never had children, because I have to live with the guilt of knowing the despairing feeling they felt in not having their prayers answered.
This cult of crazies sprung up over night, some who purposefully mutilated themselves to look like their gods. Of all the psychotic cults that have existed in the world, these people were “right.” Even that’s giving them too much credit. They brought their gods back, but it turns out that they were just as lost as we were.
So what really exists beyond? I think the answer is nothing, and that is what I fear most.
At first I thought the fear of the unknown was what kept me alive, now it’s the fear of knowing that there is a known, and it is nothingness. The knowledge that nothing beyond our mundane reality is what keeps me alive, and up at night.
The LAUGHING BROTHER
They didn’t come all at once. The first one woke in the Pacific right off the coast of Japan. Then mainland Europe was hit from the sky. Just a little later in New York from the abandoned subways of the early twentieth century. Finally, something came out of the waters near an insignificant beach town in Southern California.
Those monotheists who were so open about their radical ideologies were not the real threat. Sure they brought about many deaths, but the ones who brought our doom were those who met in secrecy. We used the regular churches, mosques, and synagogues as a place to worship God when in actuality we were calling our own gods to come to Earth. And come they did. From the sky, from the ocean floor, and from wormholes tearing apart the fabric that makes up our universe.
First we thought that they were trying to kill the infidels. The militaries did what they could throwing even untested weapons at them, but how can you fight against something that constituted of a matter we had never encountered before? Some of these beings were simply orbs of light; others were covered in plasma – distilled in space, but somehow managed to spread carnage in their presence. Then, on their path of destruction they met, and for whatever reason, they were the only ones who were able to hurt each other. That was when the believers died in the wreckage, and when I realized we were just ants worshiping elephants.
We were fools to think that this was their form of punishment, like so many in our circles prophesized. That’s when the factions started, and we began to kill each other. Just like every other religion that started before us. Some tried to look like their gods, cutting off limbs and somehow adding extra ones to look like something out of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. Some even sacrificed their own flesh and blood in an effort to appease then. But they drifted off into the ocean and became just another corpse in the field of dead fish and mammals. The gods were too busy fighting each other to accept any kind of distorted offering. They hated each other. Each one fought for their piece of the universe. We simply got in the way, like a building being smashed to pieces in those stupid super hero movies.
Now only a few of us are left to our own devices for survival. We search for food, but our supply is getting short. I haven’t encountered anyone other than my mother and brother in over two years. I’m not sure who’s left, and I don’t know how long we will live.
As I search for food and fuel, I look at them off by the beach and realize what I do know: that my mother suffers inside, and that my brother considers himself lucky to have another chance at life. Me? I am not afraid. I actually find everything to be quite comical. This whole time we were trying to be like the gods, but in actuality they were just like us. They fought wars over who was the strongest, just like we did. They killed each other, just like we did.
I find solace in the fact that the gods are just as insignificant as we are. I look at this dead thing in the ocean and think back to a poem I memorized:
“Nothing beside remained, round the decay. Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare.”
I look at the dead god that I used to worship. Its tissue long since decomposed and taken from the ocean’s current with only its skeleton remaining. I think of all the other gods who are in the same position in other places of the world. Modern day dinosaurs. I look at them compared to the cliff extending over the ocean: Earth’s finger pointing towards the end of the world.
The mountains, the cliffs, the dunes and the oceans, all of them are Monoliths created by Artist Earth for man to gaze at and wonder in amazement. Thousands of years has resulted in humanity’s failed attempt to compete against Artist Earth, but even the Pyramids of Giza or the Great Wall of China were dwarves compared to Earth’s natural architecture.
And I do not think that these natural monuments are not indifferent to the suffering of Earth’s inhabitants, but an entertained audience. If they had an awareness (and who’s to say they don’t?) they would be laughing at all the concrete they have seen built and destroyed, holding the memory of all the species that have come and gone, and the knowledge that they will be the only ones who remain.