The Living Landscapes
By Mike Stevens
Chapter One: Meet the Landscapes
It was old. It’s ancient peak had seen it all, and now it just wanted to rest. However, the swarms of humans who flocked to it’s flanks both summer and winter, meant that the only time it had to catch its breath, so to speak, was fall, when all living things upon it’s slopes rested up to brave the bone-chilling cold of winter, and spring, before the snows had melted, making travel by anyone a hazardous undertaking. Snow skiing in the winter, and picnicking and swimming in one of its many lakes in the summer kept people swarming all over it, bothering it to distraction. Virtually all people never thought of the mountain as alive, and scarred its flanks with housing developments, ski resorts, and roads painfully gouged out of its dirt hide. It was desperately lonely and sad, but no one noticed, or cared.
It bubbled and churned over rocks, and land when it couldn’t handle all the water that the mountain carelessly sent cascading down its sides, never giving a thought to whether the river could hold all of it. The river bed wound its way on it’s inevitable collision course with the ocean. It got more of a break from people than the mountain, but during the summer months, it more than made up for it. Swimmers swarmed everywhere; throwing their bottles, cans, wrappers of all sorts, and just about any kind of refuse imaginable into its clear, clean waters, or onto its pristine banks, leaving it there to ruin the pleasing views, and polluting the water.
The park was the one landscape that welcomed the invasion of mankind. During the late spring, though the summer, and into early fall it was abuzz with activity. People camped out, threw a softball or Frisbee, Maybe it didn’t mind people so much because it had been purposely constructed for mankind’s use, as opposed to having always been there, and people just using the others as they saw fit. In fact, when the weather grew too extreme for people to have much use for it, the park was depressed, lonely, and sad. It seemed forever until warmer weather once again tempted people the use its trails, ponds, and wide expanses of open grass. It was during these warm days, when the park was most happy. Each spring, as the weather warmed, he welcomed man back as a long-lost friend.
Boy, was the beach ever mad! People were everywhere, using it like a close friend in the warmer days of late spring to early fall, then turning their backs and ignoring it like a weird relative the rest of the year. Litter was everywhere, and the screaming engines of boats and jet skies shattered the usually-peaceful air. Oh, how it hated summer! If it could have found a way to just skip right over that particular season, it would be such a happy beach!
It hated The Beach for always being so close by. It hated The Park for always being so happy and outgoing towards people. It hated The River for bringing an endless supply of misery downstream, and it hated The Mountain just for being so tall, it blocked the sunlight, and attracted clouds, which in turn dumped rain almost constantly. Truth be told, it was a very sullen and angry Ocean.
Chapter Two: Meet the Person
Reed Johnson was so excited; it was finally summer vacation and he was free! The first thing he wanted to do was put the skill he’d learned over the winter, mountain climbing, to the test by scaling the mountain near his home. Sure, it wasn’t the tallest, but it would be perfect for starting out on. He checked that he had everything, then headed out the door. In the distance, he could see The Mountain, everything but the summit because it was shrouded in its usual clouds. The sun was shining down here, and Reed was amazed to see the clouds which obscured the peak. It was quite warm, and he’d worn just a light tee shirt. He was carrying his climbing boots, because he would change into the boots when he got to the base of The Mountain. As the mountain grew closer, he got more excited. He couldn’t wait to test himself!
The Mountain rose above him like a living thing; encouraging him to start his climb. He had changing into his climbing boots, storing his sneakers in the backpack that he wore on his back. There was nothing else left to do, but start climbing.
Great; here was another one; scaling its vertical flanks, not caring in the slightest that the holes that he gouged out of The Mountain hurt! He was almost up to the summit, yet The Mountain was enraged, and plotting its revenge.
As he dug his next hand-hold, Reed Johnson was feeling good. He had almost reached the cloud-enshrouded summit, and once there, he would rest and unpack his lunch. It had taken him just 4 hours to make it this far, and after his lunch, he would be home in time to go to a movie or something. He had worked his way well into the cloud layer, and it was like being on another world. The sun did its best to penetrate the gray, murky veil, but soon gave up, and the dark shadows dominated here. Reed walked along a River, which would lead him to the top.
Chapter Three; The Ride
There, that rock up ahead! When the guy trying to climb it stepped on that rock, as he must, The Mountain would shake him loose, and into the river. It was a steep, plunging ride to the Ocean. Any second now; there!
The raging River ran up against a sheer rock wall, so he’d have to step on that rock partially covered with river water in order to get past the granite wall. As he stepped onto the rock so he could safely make it past the sheer rock wall, the ground started shaking. Earthquake! He tried to keep his balance, but his efforts were in vain, and he plunged into the raging current. Suddenly, he was flying dangerously downstream. He floundered around and felt himself being dragged under. The pack! He had to take it off. He managed to strip out of the shoulder straps, and rushed on without it; it promptly disappeared under the surface. But Reed Johnson was unaware of it, as he had his hands full just trying to stay afloat. Downstream he went, barely managing to keep his head above water. As he was swept downstream by the raging water, he became uncomfortably aware of just how cold The River was. Yes, it was summer, but it had rained all day the previous day, and it had even hailed up toward the summit of The Mountain, and now with the warmer temperatures, the hail was melting rapidly, and dragging down the temperature of the water. His legs were numb with cold, and the climbing boots he wore only added to his agony.
It laughed to itself; ‘Just look at the guy struggling against all the fury it could muster!’, although it doubted whether the struggling man would agree that the situation was humorous. As it swept ever downward, it left The Mountain behind, but The River knew it was being watched. ‘The Mountain must find this very amusing!’ it thought.
It could hear the man wailing for help, and it watched helplessly as the man swept by. There was nothing The Park could do; it couldn’t move. It watched as the wailing man was swept downstream, towards The Ocean.
The River current was pulling at him less, but he couldn’t draw any closer to the land. The weight of his waterlogged climbing boots, when combined with the chilly water pounding at his body, made moving any part of his lower body impossible. He couldn’t feel anything below the waist, and his frozen legs banged against the big rocks that started to crop up as The River neared The Beach. His arms where almost breaking from the strain of being solely responsible for keeping him afloat.
It saw the man bobbing down The River, and prepared itself to make the final part of the man’s nightmare ride from The Mountain to The Ocean as painful as possible. These people needed to be shown that to venture anywhere upon The Mountain, The River, skip The Park; it actually ENJOYED people’s company, it, and The Ocean, was NOT going to be a pleasant experience. Just up ahead, The River passed over a rock-filled sandbar, just before it emptied into The Ocean. He-he, the man would be hurting after that! The man bobbed downstream; he was almos--what? The man had somehow managed to grab onto a tree limb hanging down almost to the water, and was just hanging there. The River was doing its best to pull the man free, but so far, the man hung on stubbornly.
He was almost done. He could hear the roar of the breakers from The Ocean as the breakers shattered upon the rocks which littered the shoreline. He knew if he was swept into The Ocean, he wouldn’t have enough energy left to stay afloat. But he could see nothing to help him. He was going into The Ocean. Wait, was that a low-hanging tree branch up ahead? It sure was! And he knew that it represented his LAST hope. If he could somehow manage... yes, he had it in his grasp, and he hung on desperately, while The River did its best to shake his grip on the branch loose. His arms felt like they were being pulled from their sockets, but somehow he hung on; maybe it was the sure knowledge that if he let go, it was all over. But just hanging on wasn’t nearly enough. Somehow, he’d have to swing his leg over the branch, and pull himself free of The River’s grip, and there didn’t appear to the slightest chance of that happening. He heard The Ocean’s sad voice calling to him. ‘Come on, just let go, it’ll be so much easier!’ By god, no way!
Where he got the strength, he would never know, but his frozen leg shot out of the water and across the tree limb. He pulled with all the strength that can only come from staring certain death square in the face, and his battered, frozen body rose from The River, until he was sitting on the tree limb. He was out!
Damn! It had given it’s all, but in the end, the man won. Now, it would have to answer to both The Mountain and The Ocean as to why it had failed.
His mother’s nagging voice had never sounded so good to Reed. “Where have you been? Always out goofing off....” Reed tuned her out, and flopped down on the couch. He remembered the end of his ordeal, and smiled. He had hung there on the branch over The River until he felt some strength returning, and then very carefully shimmied his way along the branch, until he reached the tree. The base of the tree was on dry land, and he’d somehow managed to climb down branches until at last he stood on solid ground. He had changed back into his tennis shoes and started walking. It had been a long, cold, wet walk home, but as he mounted the stairs to his front door, he almost burst into tears. He was alive!
It felt so empty! It could sense the approach of another of those loathsome humans, and had been ‘this’ close to it’s part in exacting the vengeance most of the others wanted, but somehow, The River had failed to deliver the human to it. Leave it to The River; it had long been the weak link!