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art by Jonathan Westbrook

The Mountain

Andrew Kozma teaches technical writing in Houston, Texas. His stories have appeared in Stupefying Stories, DIAGRAM, and Digital Americana. Mostly he has been writing about the end of the world. He has a book of poetry called City of Regret out from Zone 3 Press, but it is, regrettably, not about the end of the world.

They came to the mountain because that's where their prophets had told them to go. If they went to the mountain, the prophets said, they would be safe and they would be saved. And so they came in droves. They drove cars, they took trains, they rode buses, they hired horses, and they walked. Oh, how they walked. No matter how they came to the mountain, in the end they all walked.
Their prophets had called it a mountain, but it was more of a hill topping a collection of hills. Each hill they climbed brought them to a peak and they exulted, but then they looked up. There, before them, was another hill. Behind them was the trail of hills they'd already climbed. The hills collected on the face of the earth like warts.
At the base of the lowermost ring of hills was a town. The townspeople called the hills-upon-hills a mountain, which is where all the confusion started. They were famous for the mountain. They'd named themselves after the mountain, and named their children after parts of the mountain.
Rock. Landslide. Moraine. Snowcap. Tree Line. Oxygen Deprivation. Death By Exposure.
The people who came to the mountain took on new names, too, but their names were numbers. They knew that the end of times was coming, and only fifty thousand would be saved, a number that sounded like quite a lot until the mountain disappeared under a blanket of bodies.
But they couldn't leave. The mountain was where the world would end, where time would fold itself up into a paper bird that would fold itself up into a smaller paper bird and all those to be saved would climb onto the paper bird's back and be saved.
They numbered themselves so that they would know when the threshold of fifty thousand saved was reached. They spoke to each other in numbers and of numbers until all they could think of were numbers: How many seconds in a breath? How many blades of grass cut down by a single lawnmower? How many steps to the top of the mountain?
When the end came, the people on the mountain were glad. Even those in the town fell down in fear and died. Landslide climbed the slope of the bottom-most hill, but was dragged down again into the nothing that the world became. Oxygen Deprivation had long since become 24,598 and watched the destruction of her home dispassionately. The numbers around her cried.
Then time folded itself up, and folded itself up again.
Time said, "Climb on!"
Time said, "All aboard who's coming aboard!"
But time was just a tiny paper bird and couldn't carry anyone. It disappeared into what was left of the sky. The world had ended and now time was gone. Those on the mountain were saved and would never die. They looked around at the expanse of blankness that had been and thanked the heavens that they had been saved.
They looked around at their carefully numbered selves.
They looked around the mountain.
They would never die.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 18th, 2013

Author Comments

A while back, when I was writing a flash fiction story every other day or so, my girlfriend sent me a link to an article about a town in France that was being overrun by people who believed the world was going to end, and also believed that aliens living in a mountain near the town would save them. As you can see, many of the elements of that story made it into my story, although it became much more absurd in the process. Most of the flash fiction stories I wrote during this time involved the end of the world in one way or another, but it was never really the world’s end that appealed to me. Instead, it was the way people reacted to that end, and the consequences.

- Andrew Kozma
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