Mountains

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

The villagers of Chinkiki struggle against a dying civilization, and many of them plan to leave in their island in search of better lands to settle on, but Ucci can't help but feel anxious about the journey.

Waves crashed over the sides of the ship, the sails were weighed down by the water they had soaked in, and already half of the crew had gone missing. The remaining crew scrambled to recover, doing whatever they could to prevent the ship from capsizing. They had only themselves to worry about by then; none of the other vessels could be seen, probably swallowed by the vicious ocean. The thunder made it hard to think—all he thought was that the Elders were right. The crew should have listened. They shouldn’t have taken the risk. They should have taken more time to prepare. They shouldn’t have—

Ucci awoke suddenly. Accumulated moisture in his ears made them tingle, and his breathing sounded muffled. His nose plugs had also gotten soggy with all the moisture in the air. The room was sideways from his perspective sleeping on his side. He took in the room around him which was barely lit by the daylight coming in from his open windows. Ucci sat up in his bed, a simple mattress of leather and wool stuffing with blankets of animal skin and fur. His bare feet touched the damp wooden flooring of his cabana hastening his alertness.

Ucci glanced from one side of the room to the other, examining the water damage beneath and around his open windows. He sighed and stood; his skin rippled with bumps from the chilled air in his cabin against his naked self. He wandered to a rack with various cloths on it and, with frustrated thoughts, gathered some thicker towels to soak up the standing water beneath his windows.

Frustrated, Ucci closed the wooden window shutters. After doing his best to clean his possessions soiled by rainwater from the previous night, he dressed himself; simple garments consisting of animal skin shoes and cloth trousers were his usual wear. Most residents of the Village went shirtless most of the time, and it was rare to see children with any clothing at all now that materials were such a commodity. Only two cows remained on the whole island, both of which were female. One of the cows, the older of the two, was pregnant, but the sex of the calf was unknown. The villagers desperately prayed for a male which could be bred with the other heifer within a year’s time.

Cotton was also scarce due to the sun being revealed from behind endless overcast only once every month, and all members of the Village knew that crops could not be grown with one day of sun a month. That did not stop them from trying, however. Ucci stepped out from his cabana and onto the misty hills. He looked around the Village which rested under the cloudy sky. The Village, formally known as Chinkiki, was nestled into a large expanse of grassy hills not far from the beach. A towering cliff on which a few huts had been built sat north of the Village. To the east, large pines loomed behind the Village, acting almost like a natural border for Chinkiki, separating it from the rest of the island.

Ever since the Elders declared, none of the villagers were allowed beyond the tree line; everyone knew why. Ucci breathed the moist air, the rancid smell faintly reaching his nostrils. Even with the nose plugs, the presence of the dead was not easily ignored. Chinkiki had a population of merely one hundred villagers, but it was once part of a greater network of villages totaling thousands of residents. The others were all dead then.

With worsening conditions, livestock died out, crops were drowned by rain, and villagers starved. The ocean grew more ferocious with each passing moon; the dead, who were normally dressed and sent adrift at sea, began washing back ashore refusing to pass on. The residents of the island, which was called Oaka, resorted to burying the dead which tainted the soil. Eventually, the corpses started piling up creating a foul stench which radiated for miles and forced the Oakans to migrate all around the island.

Now only Chinkiki remained, the rest of the island having been turned to a mass graveyard, the scent of which was unbearable and ever present. Ucci walked west toward the beach passing by the house of the Chieftain; Ucci’s best friend, Lunoba, the daughter of the Chieftain’s brother, was tending to the garden outside the large cabin. The Chieftain, Lunobo, had been caring for Lunoba ever since her parents died. Lunoba smiled and waved to Ucci as he passed by. Ucci loved seeing her every morning; his frustration from the morning was replaced by warmth and content.

On the beach were three ships finely crafted from sturdy wood and equipped with hefty sails. Ucci climbed aboard the first ship and began brushing the wooden deck and ringing the water out from the spare sails which had mistakenly been left out for the night. Not long after he began his work, another villager climbed aboard the ship—his name was Ramo. Ramo was taller and bulkier than skinny Ucci. Both boys were fit, but Ramo had been performing hard labor for longer than Ucci who had only just started recently, and Ramo’s diet was much better balanced thanks to his work under the Elders.

Ramo approached Ucci and handed him a small roll of thin, pale leather that was tied with loose string. Ucci was fairly certain of the sheet’s contents, but after Ramo nodded toward the large cliff to the north, Ucci’s suspicions were confirmed. He knew the time would come sooner rather than later, but he still felt anxious. Ucci left Ramo to finish caring for the ship and made his way toward the cliff. As he climbed the steep hill on the opposite side of the cliff eyeing the lone cabana at the very top, he thought about what might occur if the rolled letter contained a refusal by the Elders to let the ships sail during the next day of sun, but he tried not to worry. His breathing was heavy by the time he reached the top.

At the top of the cliff, Ucci knocked on the door to the single building. Moments later, the Chieftain opened the door and stared down at Ucci. The Chieftain was an imposing figure towering over Ucci more than a foot-and-a-half taller. If it weren’t for the nose plugs, Ucci could have glanced right up Lunobo’s nostrils. The Chieftain took the letter from Ucci and beckoned the boy inside. The building at the top of the cliff was the Chieftain’s main place for work. The workshop was filled with tables and chairs for meetings with Lunobo’s subordinates; skins and scrolls withs maps, diagrams, calendars, and plans were scattered about, and a window was carved out on each wall—one to look to sea, one to look over Chinkiki, one to see down the hill, and the other which stayed forever shut, but which would look out toward the pine forest and toward the rest of the island.

A few other villagers were in the workshop, as well, and watched patiently as Lunobo sat and untied the rolled leather. They seem to have known the letter was coming and all looked anxious to read the response from the Elders. Ucci, too, stood in anticipation, his heart racing. Upon swift examination, the Chieftain slammed his fist on the table and swiped several charts, cups, and tools off the table’s surface in anger. He tossed the letter aside and stood abruptly. Ucci’s breathing stopped momentarily, then continued. The other villagers in the workshop picked up the letter to read for themselves and were disappointed all the same. The Elders had once again declined the Chieftain’s idea to leave Oaka in search of a new land to settle on.

Lunobo, like everyone else in Chinkiki, knew the island was dying and knew that their village was surviving on borrowed time. It was already mid-autumn and time for the final harvests to begin, but all hopes of prosperity had vanished years before. Lunobo had devised a plan not unlike those from years prior—a journey of great discovery. The villagers had heard of a land past the sea with wonders beyond imagination which could theoretically be reached in time for the new harvest, but the Elders were adamant about remaining on Oaka.

They told the villagers of past brothers and sisters who had vanished on the water. The population of Chinkiki was dwindling as it was, and the Elders did not want to risk any more sharp declines in their numbers. Lunobo, after calming down and composing himself, handed Ucci a small basket containing various trinkets and fresh nose plugs meant for Lunoba. Ucci promptly let himself out of the workshop and trotted back down the cliff to the Chieftain’s cabin excited to get to see Lunoba once again.

 

Thunder shook Ucci’s cabana that evening as rain battered the outside of his shuttered windows. He made extra sure that no water would leak in that night. Ucci tossed and turned dreaming once again of the demise of those who volunteered to sail away from Oaka, himself included. He wanted so desperately to discover a new land for the inhabitants of Chinkiki to settle upon, but he couldn’t help but heed the warning of the Elders. They were wiser, had lived much longer, and witnessed the downfall of Oaka just years ago; the Elders must have known what was best, but Ucci was confident that the Chieftain was right.

Ucci gently opened his eyes and breathed steadily through his mouth. He listened to the thunder and rain. The day after tomorrow was the next day of sun, and the day that Lunobo and his volunteers would sail toward a myth, a mere rumor, regardless of what the Elders demanded. Regardless of how they pleaded. Ucci did not recall falling back asleep, but in the blink of an eye the rain and thunder ceased, and the familiar sight of overcast sunlight bled through the wooden window shutters. He stood and dressed himself in his familiar garb. His mind continued the thoughts of oceanic tragedy.

Ucci found the Village much busier than days prior. Dozens of men were preparing the ships with supplies and tools, maps and bedrolls, everything they would need for a journey of unknown length or destination. All the volunteers were men. The Chieftain was unsure whether the volunteers would ever return, so he opted to take at least a few women with them on their journey for reproduction once settled on new land, but the Elders refused.

Lunobo didn’t care for the Elder’s approval to take the journey, but he obeyed that order as not to deprive the Village of any children or fertile women considering the already thinning population. That, of course, meant that Lunoba would not be joining the volunteers on their journey. Ramo was also a volunteer despite working under the Elders and being given strict orders not to participate. Ramo knew that if he left with Lunobo and the others, should they ever return to Oaka, he would not be welcomed back into the Elder’s workforce, but still, he was among the preparing volunteers.

Ucci also got to work, packing a few of his belongings and straightening up his cabana. He made extra sure that the window shutters were shut tight to prevent water from leaking in while he was gone. He was not entirely sure that he would even be returning to that hut but preparing for his return gave him hope. Many of the volunteers spent the afternoon and evening with their families and friends celebrating and enjoying the company of the brave souls for what might have been the last time. The Elders no longer attempted to stop the expedition from happening for they knew the men had already set their mind to it.

The Chieftain hosted a great feast late into the night for all the volunteers, but Ucci did not attend. He spent the evening with Lunoba knowing well that it could be his last night in Chinkiki with his best friend. Before returning to his home, Ucci received a token of good luck from Lunoba—a small fascicle of pine needles from the tree line south of the Village to which Lunoba had tied a strand of her own hair. It was a common trinket given to those being buried at sea, but also given to those who, in the past, had attempted a similar journey. It was meant to aid the brave in crossing the ocean, but Ucci couldn’t help but feel its ominous symbolism, too.

 

Ucci breathed calmly that night hardly aware of the nightly storm bashing at the seaside village. The next morning, Ucci awoke to Ramo calling to him from outside. Upon exiting his cabana, Ucci did not at first realize the reason for the villagers’ dread. Only after he noticed that he did not have to squint upon exiting his hut did he piece together the problem. The sky was overcast, no sign of the sun breaking through the clouds. The hope was that the climate had simply been shifting as had been observed before and so the day of sun was pushed back a day, but the following day was also overcast.

The villagers did not know what to do and the volunteers were unsure if their journey would take place after all. The Elders scrambled for an explanation, but all they could say to answer the villager’s cries for help was that the worst of their fears had come true. There would be no more days of sun. Worse yet was the prediction that the nightly storms may start bleeding into the day and that the remaining islanders would be drowned out by flood. Ucci tried to remain calm taking deep breaths in and out.

The Chieftain decided that the volunteers would leave right away. If the day of sun wasn’t going to come, then the villagers had no choice but to leave Oaka. The dozens of men packed into the few vessels and sailed west. They were unsure of what was to come but were sure that whatever fate had planned for Chinkiki was not something to eagerly await on the island. The overcast sky stretched across the water as far as the eye could see. The crew did not want to think about what a nightly storm at sea would be like.

One strand of hope did prevail, however. Lunobo was the first to remove his nose plugs and breathe fresh air. Following his lead, the rest of the volunteers on the three ships unplugged their noses and took deep breaths through their nostrils, smelling absolutely nothing—not even the dead. Ucci took out his nose plugs and inhaled deeply. He breathed much heavier than usual for quite some time, enjoying the freedom only his parent once knew. The joy he felt was more than ever before.

Only a few hours after the crew had set off on their adventure, the clouds began to dissipate. The sun beamed through the gray and brought with it blue skies and a warm gaze. Better yet, distant mountains rested on the horizon. The volunteers were right, they could resettle on kinder lands. The night passed with no storm and for the first time in many years, the villagers saw the moon and the night stars. The next morning, the ex-villagers felt that they were making great progress as the far mountains drew nearer and nearer. Unfortunately, that is when the journey became dreadful once again.

The sea grew restless and seemed to be trying its best to topple the vessels underneath brooding crests. But the crew persisted and before long emerged victorious from the battle. The terror of the ocean had once again subsided for a short while—the calm before the true storm as they would soon come to learn. The mountains on the horizon approached faster than before, coming ever closer, their shifting shapes becoming clear to the sailors. What at first was hope for seeing the great speed at which the journey was progressing swiftly became absolute terror. The mountains were not mountains after all, the crew realized, they were waves.

The gargantuan tide towered over the volunteers and cast shadows of suffering over their heads. The waves surrounding the vessels grew taller and wider, faster and stronger. The water was violent and unforgiving until the monstrous torrent was upon the poor men. They braced themselves for the fight of their lives and embraced the rain that showered them with a preview of the encroaching storm. Ucci was unsure whether to hold his breath or take in all the air that he could. His nightmares never returned to his thoughts for they were right there in front of him, seconds from dominating his mind and body.

The roaring sea drew the vessels in deeper forcing salty air into the men’s lungs and fear into their hearts. Incredible noise emptied their minds of all thought and the sight of the dark blue ocean closing in over their heads and in all directions blinded them with death. Ucci’s final decision was to take a deep breath, his own great inhale as quiet as a feather compared to the roaring ocean. Then, there was silence. Mother Nature had acted and made her decision. The sea flattened once again and distant mountains could be seen on the horizon, their shapes unclear and their size immeasurable.


Submitted: October 05, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Creide. All rights reserved.

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