A short short story about two small brats and one big hill.
Serena and Andrew were 7 and 8 years old, respectively, when they climbed the mountain. It took them a full day to get to the top and when they made it they sat down and cried and cried.
In the beginning, they both wanted the mountain. In fact, they demanded the mountain. They followed their mother and their maid around the rooms of the big house asking for it. Serena let her face swell with red rage and Andrew threw a tantrum and then threw toys against the wall before drawing on it with fat crayons. Ever since they watched a documentary about a boy who climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa with his father they wanted a mountain of their own to climb. More than anything. More than the soft fluffy toys piled in the corner and the electric toys stacked on shelves and the touchscreen toys filling their pockets. Much more than the sandpit their mother had ordered. That was far too small. They climbed it and stomped on it and got sand in their shoes and buried toys in it for two hours then started asking for a proper mountain again while depositing sand on the floors and carpets and rugs and chairs and even in the beds.
Their mother hurried from room to room and tried to put the maid between herself and her children. Father was always at work during the day and could only be consulted about very important matters at lunchtime and after seven PM, when he was driving home. When he arrived he would whoosh past the children and his wife, start his computer, and sit at the dining room table with a thick leather notebook by his plate. He went through pages of the notebook and tapped buttons on the computer while he chewed food, making notes with an expensive black pen and every few minutes taking out his phone to make a call or check the time. Sometimes Serena and Andrew sat next to him, and once they dropped his phone in a pot of thick brown coffee, but they were always shooed out before long. The Company was not doing well and father was busy.
So the children went to their mother and their maid and demanded things they knew they could not get. They spent hours deciding on what impossible object they absolutely required. For three months they wanted a pet lion, for six weeks they craved their own castle, and for almost a year (with breaks) they desired a dark dungeon (or an underground jail with proper metal bars and cages) to lock prisoners in.
Of course, they also demanded many things that were possible, but (at least until the Company stopped doing so well), always eventually got. They got the Dalmation puppy and the Siamese kittens, the outdoor playground and the indoor racing tracks, the buckets of chicken and the giant bars of chocolate and the bikes with the silver bells and the walkie talkies and the latest smart phones. So what they wanted above all else was something they could not have, something they could demand and demand until the maid screamed in Spanish and fled, slamming the door; until their mother disappeared into the bathroom wiping her face with scented tissues; until the dog and the cat ran away and never came back, and at least until father arrived home and pulled up his tall chair at the dining room table, turned on his computer, and scratched his head while talking on his phone about the Company. Sometimes he talked quietly, sometimes he shouted angrily, sometimes Serena and Andrew listened and interrupted until their mother appeared again and offered them food or TV.
Everything was different on the mountain. It rained but there was no shelter, and they had no jackets or coats or scarves or hats or gloves or high-tech climbing boots or gps devices or even a compass. There was nobody around to hear them roaring, no matter how red and angry they became, and the wind blew and blew so hard they could hardly hear each other. It was so steep and so windy that they kept slipping and felling in the loose stones, scraping their knees, bruising their arms, and bashing their bodies, and they were so hungry and thirsty that they began to get tired of cursing the maid. It was all the maid’s fault. The maid made the mountain.
Actually. it was the maid’s grandfather who made the mountain. He arrived at their house to talk to the maid one morning while Serena was being particularly angry about not having a mountain to climb. She had climbed onto the sofa after not eating breakfast and was trying to swing off the new curtains.The maid’s grandfather appeared suddenly, just as Serena finally got a good grip and jumped. He was tall and skinny and said nothing as the curtain ripped in two and Serena tumbled down at his feet. He didn’t even bend down to pick her up. Serena cried for a moment then unwrapped the curtain and stood up.
“Who are you?” she demanded. The old man looked down at her with big blue eyes under dark bushy eyebrows and said something that she could not understand. “Do you speak English?” asked Andrew from across the room. “ENGLISH??” he demanded. The old man was silent. His skin was dark and he had a short grey beard. The maid came into the room and began to pull the ripped curtain while scolding the children. Andrew began to blame Serena and Serena jumped up and down on the spot and kicked the torn curtain. The maid and her grandfather spoke to each other quickly. “Speak English!” roared the children.
“You promised us a mountain” said Andrew. “Where is it?” added Serena. The maid tried to hush them and suggested they play in the sand pit again. “It’s boring!” said Serena. “It’s too small!” added Andrew. “Show it to my grandfather” replied the maid. Maybe he can help you find a mountain.
The sky looked so blue from the top. After they stopped crying they started to notice the view. They had climbed for so long yet everything around them seemed higher and far away. They picked up stones and threw them down the side, then argued about which way was home, then suddenly stopped when a giant wasp flew over and landed next to them, clicking its giant wasp jaws and flicking its giant wings. They didn’t scream at all. They started running immediately, and didn’t stop until reached a giant upside-down blue bucket.
The bucket looked very like the one Serena had thrown at the old man much earlier in the day. That was after they had put sand in his hair and his shoes, and before they buried his wallet in the pit. At first he didn’t say much but he became angry eventually, and muttered under his breath as he tried to shake the sand out of his hair and his clothes while he searched for his wallet. That was when Andrew put sand down Serena’s back and she screamed and threw a spade and bucket at him but missed and hit the old man. He went very quiet and stood up and rubbed some more sand off his knees and looked back at the house. “Speak English” Serena said severely. The maid’s grandfather bent down on one bony knee and looked her right in the eye. His own eyes were so blue and deep and wide open, that for a moment Serena said nothing.
The giant wasp thumped against the upturned bucket and tried to squeeze under it. Its black eyes pushed under the gap and its legs rattled against the thick plastic. It made a buzzing noise so loud that the children covered their ears and yelled. It had almost squeezed inside when suddenly it stopped. The enormous head disappeared and there was a deafening roar of wings and it was gone. For a moment there was silence, then the ground collapsed and an absolutely massive cat knocked over the bucket and picked Andrew up in its long razor sharp teeth.
It looked like the cat that the children threw in the pond to see how well it could swim, but it was as big as a house. That cat belonged to the nasty neighbours but it often visited their home because the maid used to feed it bits of leftover food. There was always lots of leftover food. Serena and Andrew liked to argue at mealtimes and throw their food. Their mother liked to nibble little meals and leave behind the fatty parts. Their father liked to forget to eat his food and leave lots of it to become cold and hard on the plate. The children knew that the maid liked to feed the leftovers to the birds and cats, and demanded that she stop. Even after their mother agreed she had to stop, they suspected she secretly fed them. But it would take a whole cow to feed this giant cat, or maybe a whole herd of cows. Andrew screamed as he dangled from the teeth by his pants while Serena screamed as she dug herself out of a pile of stones and ran in circles.
The blue eyes were so dark and deep that Serena seemed to freeze. The old man was whispering something in a strange language. It didn’t sound English or Spanish or like anything she had heard at school. His eyebrows furrowed and met in the middle. He stared right at her seemed to look through her while he patted the ground with his long fingers. When Serena disappeared with a small pop Andrew scrambled over. He tried to open his mouth to exclaim but felt the air being sucked out of it as he disappeared with a pop too. He didn’t hear the pop, just the rushing of air and a deep voice that seemed to be stretching out say “Have your mountain!”
The vast cat had decided that Andrew was a toy and tossed him around for a while. The more he yelled the more excited the cat became, expertly dangling him from between her teeth, flinging him in the air, pretending to ignore him and concentrating on cleaning her paws, then pouncing abruptly as he came close to shelter. Serena stopped watching from behind the rocks and thought deeply about running down the steep mountain. She tightened her laces and was about to set off when a dog as big as a hotel came crashing up the slope and sent her, the cat, and the exhausted Andrew flying through the air.
After the pop and before they started climbing, the children were feeling pretty satisfied. The old man was gone, the boring garden with the boring little pile of sand was gone, the big boring house with their big boring parents was gone, and a huge mountain towered over them, blocking out the sun. Now they had done it; gotten the ungettable. They had never even met someone who could so this- it was a triumph. It looked so high that Serena wasn’t sure about climbing it. She thought about going back inside but couldn’t see where the house was any longer. Andrew was already scrambling up. It was their mountain, it had to be climbed. She raced after him and pulled his arm, then overtook him and said “last one up is a rotten egg!”
There was a lot of noise and crashing and stones flying everywhere when the hotel-sized dog caused an earthquake at the summit. In fact, neither of the children knew exactly where they were, and wandered around in the mess for some time. Eventually Andrew arrived at the lip of the upturned bucket while Serena was knocked over by the tail of the colossal dog. He turned and eyed her, then sniffed her with a nose as big as a car, pulling her off her feet. She stood up and started to move but he followed with his eyes and sniffed again. After standing up and falling over several times Serena gave up. She tried shouting but all her shouting was gone. She tried to cry but her eyes were dry. She looked at her hands and her feet and back down the mountain and wished… she wasn’t sure what she was wishing for. The dog looked away, panting. A drop of saliva fell from his mouth and landed with a heavy thump nearby.Then a gust of wind blew. There were new sounds, and the sun was low. It was getting late and cold. Huge shadows like dark clouds appeared high above and covered the sky. The dog was gone. Serena didn’t look up as one of the clouds began to drop closer and closer. She only looked when the blue eye was so close she could hear its blink. It seemed to fill all of her view. A mixture of wind and thunder seemed to say “there you are.”
The children were not happy about been plucked up by another giant creature, but had resigned themselves to this pattern and were at least less unhappy than before as now it was a hand and fingers that lifted them into the sky. After a lot of jolting and more strange sounds and different bright lights and the rush of air, they were set down again. Now they were looking at the blue eye again. It stopped blinking and seemed to focus. Everything went very still. Then there was a sound somewhere between water splashing and paper tearing, and the world around began to stretch and warp.
Serena and Andrew sat very quietly on the edge of the couch for a long time. They sat and listened to their frantic mother who seemed to be angry and happy at once. They sat and watched the maid and her grandfather as she looked at him and he at them. Once when he knew nobody could see he winked. They sat until their father arrived home and didn’t turn on his computer. After he hugged them and spoke for a long time and marched them to bed they recovered their voices. There was a lot of fuss about the scratches and bruises, and question after question tumbled from the adults. After an hour telling the truth Serena began to add more realistic details to avoid the disbelieving responses. Eventually both admitted to running away and getting lost. They stopped mentioning the wasp and the cat and their terrible ordeal. Eventually they stopped accusing the maid’s grandfather and agreed that lies were indeed an awful thing. Finally they lay there with the same resignation as before, and even though both had neglected their homework again, their brains hummed with a new sensation of something lived and something learned.
For a few days their mother was surprised and the maid delighted with the children. Their tantrums subsided from savage storms to short breezes, and their eyes looked out at everything with a different kind of attention. The house was filled with calm. Of course, everything changed when Serena hopped up on a chair beside her busy father while he tapped away at his computer and wrote his notes, and stared at him in an intense way with her bright blue eyes wide open until there was a distinct popping noise and he disappeared.