Christopher Woods is a writer and photographer who lives in Chappell Hill, Texas. He has published a novel, THE DREAM PATCH, a prose collection, UNDER A RIVERBED SKY, and a book of stage monologues for actors, HEART SPEAK. His photography prompt book for writers, FROM VISION TO TEXT, is forthcoming from PROPERTIUS PRESS. His novella, HEARTS IN THE DARK, was recently published by RUNNING WILD PRESS. His poetry chapbook, WHAT COMES, WHAT GOES, was just published by KELSAY BOOKS (kelsaybooks.com).
He has received residencies from The Ucross Foundation and the Edward Albee Foundation.
THE MAN WHO HEARD MOUNTAINS
By Christopher Woods
In the high and cool juniper air the mountain slept. On its craggy sides, goats slept, their bleats and bells silenced until dawn. Tiny village at the base of the mountain werestill. People inside amshackle houses left from the gold rush days dreamed of lost riches. Some few lights, on porches and in kitchens, were the only shadow makers to be seen.
A soft blanket of stars hung like a great illuminated quilt over the sleeping night mountain. But the mountain danced with life. Its snowy cap glistened beneath the quilt of that sky. Thousands of ice crystals clung to the rock. Evergreens shone in the moonlight. From a distance, the mountain’s cap resembled a blue dome that seemed alive. It glistened with light and burned with ice.
He turned over again in his sleep. Sleep was hard in coming this night. When he did doze off, and he did this occasionally, his sleep was pained. When he awoke again, this same pain racked him.
“We must leave,” he told his sleeping wife. “Quickly.”
His hands were on fire. He knew it was time to go.
“Sleep,” she whispered, not fully awake. “Sleep, for now.”
She turned over in bed, pulling the blanket with her. He lay uncovered in the chill of the shack. She resumed a dream. He sat up in the darkness and rubbed his hands together. He tried to shake the fever in them. He made up his mind. It was time to go.
“Now,” he said, louder than before. “We must leave now.”
Half-awake, she rested on an elbow and watched him. It was coming back to her now. So many times before she had heard this same thing, with the same urgency. He was being called away again, she knew.
His mountains were calling him. And she, being his wife and sister in the wind, had always gone along. She had ignored her own wants and acquiesced when he had these stirrings when it was time to go forth, to wander again.
Their life together was one long pilgrimage. She did not mind this any longer. She left the warm dreamy comforts of the bed to join him. She stood in the small room at the foot of the mountain, throwing shadows as she roused herself.
She grabbed a poker and stirred embers in the fireplace. Coffee soon, she was thinking, wiping sleep from her eyes. He stood in the bathroom pouring water on his hands, trying to cool them.
“Where this time?” she asked.
“California,” he said. “It’s so strong. Less than a week away.”
In the dim light she could see that his shoulders were shaking as he spoke. He was
getting better, she thought. His intuition was sharper, more clearly defined.
She lit a candle. She put his coffee on. She watched him walk around the room where shadows danced. She was still very much in love with him. She loved the way he rose and kicked the sheets away, how he walked in his nakedness, how his body stretched in the flickering light.
She loved him in more ways than a woman normally loves a man. But then, he was different from other men. She loved him for his gift. So often, when the world seemed ready to go away in vapors and destruction, they were always there together to witness it. His gift came into the middle of their lives.
She had come from a wealthy family. Until she met him, she never knew what to do with her money. She found a purpose with him. She could help him with his gift. They had slept together several times before she realized this. She decided she would take care of him. She would love him however he wanted it, and she would go with him when he listened to the mountains.
Now, pouring strong black coffee, she knew she would go with him again. This time California, the next time Mexico. It didn’t matter. Eventually they would return to this mountain, his favorite. It was this blue, snow-capped mountain he loved listening to best. From this mountain, he heard only the sounds of sleep, of peace.
He heard mountains internally, before their frenzy reached the air. He could be a continent away and it made no difference. Avalanche or tremor, when the earth trembled, he heard all that as well. As he child he knew about catastrophic events long before they happened. His head would pound until he thought it might explode. His hands ached as though his fingers were being crushed. He told no one of this.
Then, when he was older, he recognized his gift. He could see events weeks, sometimes months, before they took place. First the aching in his head would begin, then his fingers would start.
The capillaries in his fingers would burn until blood began flowing from his fingertips. The blood pulsed with the tension of fissures and mountain tremors. As a boy, he had feared this bleeding. Now, as a man, he understood it. He also came to understand that he was different. He no longer feared it. He no longer feared a thing in the world.
They traveled often. In Nicaragua the sun had nearly baked them even in their light clothing. But she didn’t complain. Once, in Portugal, he had suffered a seizure as they lay on the beach at Estoril. She didn’t question it. In the long afternoons there they would return to the white stucco hotel, laughing and still dizzy from the sun. After making love, they boarded the train back to Estoril once more. There was a cycle at work in all this, but they did not talk about it.
No man had ever come to her as he did, all at once and without words. And she welcomed him, surrendering all that she was. She would take his head in her lap. Soon they forgot about everything in the world but their own dazzling rhythm.
She loved him. If she were forced to choose between him and this world, she would not hesitate. She would choose the man who heard mountains. She would pull him to her side and let everything else fall away.
“We must go to Managua,” he said, washing sand from his body in the shower. “It will be hell there soon.”
She sat up in bed sipping brandy, her hair still wet and hanging in fine couplets. She loved to watch him bathe, the way the water streamed down his dark skin. She surprised him often this way, by slipping into the shower while he washed his hair.
She loved him when he was vulnerable and unsuspecting. So they made love in a shower in Lisbon, knowing that very soon they would be moving into a land of death and suffering.
Later, as they rode in a taxi across the potholed streets of Managua, they watched a wedding party emerge from a cathedral. At an intersection a policeman was trying to move an ox so that traffic could pass. And they saw the sadness of venders, standing in market stalls and breathing the air of butchered beasts. But they knew that the worst was still to come.
“Such a waste,” she said
“People, ignorant, getting by,” he said. “That’s all. That’s all it’s ever been. The old rules.”
“But they could be dead tomorrow. They only need to be warned. They can still leave.”
“They would have to believe me, and that will never happen. Let them keep their cathedrals, their icons. This way, at least, they’ll think they’ll have another life later.”
All this time the earth was waiting, sliding silently across a deep fault. In the afternoon, slight tremors were felt. But for the next two days, nothing else happened. The Managuans continued on as usual. They attended Mass, made love, fought, slept and dreamed.
Late in the afternoon, a few days later, he returned to their hotel room with closed shutters. He staggered as he walked. She was in bed, waiting anxiously for his return. She watched him undress, peeling off his sweatsoaked clothes. She asked him something, but he was shaking his head.
“I can’t think just now,” he said. “My head is pounding. I wasn’t sure I could make it back here in time.”
“In time?” she asked as he lay down beside her.
“Yes. It’s time.”
“Let me see your hands,” she whispered.
He sat stoically as she took his hands in her own. She sighed when she saw the specks of dried blood beneath his fingernails.
“Did you talk to the authorities?” she asked.
“They wouldn’t see me. Afraid of mass panic, probably.”
His eyes were burning. He looked at her feverishly. His bloodstained nails brushed
across her white breasts.
“There will be great sorrow here,” he told her. “In another day. Maybe less.”
But she knew there was nothing to be done to prevent it. For now, he needed her. She cradled his head in her lap. She rubbed his eyelids with her fingertips. He was listening, she could tell. He was hearing the future, and he was on fire. Suddenly, he reached up and put his hands around her neck. He pulled her across him.
He took her, and she did not resist. There was nothing she wanted more. He was more passionate than he had been a short time before, when California seemed to be falling apart. Now, on a hotel bed in Managua, she came so close to him that she too could feel what he felt, could hear what he heard. Passion or apocalypse, it was as clear to her as the ice blue dome on the mountain they loved best.