The Mountain

By Torn MacAlester


Orig­i­nal Pho­to by Jose Vega from Pex­els. Mod­i­fied to grayscale and blurred using GIMP.



I sighed, look­ing at the grey land­scape, try­ing to esti­mate the direc­tion to the cab­in. I aban­doned the moun­tain, like every­one else, when the ash fell. They didn’t expect us to get a lot, but they encour­aged every­one to move south if they could, and I could. I loaded the jeep and head­ed down the moun­tain and head­ed south to New Mex­i­co with a rel­a­tive. After about six weeks, I’d worn out my wel­come, and I returned home.

Now I was back, dri­ving up the twist­ing road toward the cab­in. I saw the oth­er aban­doned homes along the road­side. I glimpsed lights in one house. One of my neigh­bors had returned, or per­haps nev­er left. I remem­bered the house from before. They had paint­ed it a vivid pink, some­thing that I thought broke with the wilder­ness. But now, it was dull gray with only a hint of its pre­vi­ous col­or. It was grey, like every­thing else. Grey like the Moon.

She pushed the door open as I round­ed the cor­ner, so I put on the brake, pulling the Jeep to a stop. I rolled down the win­dow as she walked over the ash toward the road. Ash caked her cov­er­alls, and she wore a ban­dana and what appeared to be safe­ty goggles.

“Howdy,” she said, wav­ing and approach­ing the road.

“Hi neigh­bor,” I said.

“Oh, you’re from the upper road. I didn’t see you come down.”

“Yeah, but I’ve been away for sev­er­al weeks.”

She start­ed cough­ing heavily.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, let me catch my breath.”


“I was won­der­ing if you were head­ed up. I’m out of gas, and I need to go check on someone.”

“Sure, hop in.”

“Thanks,” she said. She opened and entered the pas­sen­ger door and set­tled herself.

I sneezed from the sud­den blast of ash.

“Sor­ry,” I said.

“You need to put on a mask. Keep that dust out of your lungs.”


“The ash is killing all of us,” she said. “Best keep it out of your lungs else they turn into cement.”

“It doesn’t seem to work.”

“Oh,” she said. “The cough. It’s asth­ma. I’ve had it since I was ten.”

“I’m Jake Con­nor, by the way.”

“Hei­di George.”

“How much ash fell?”

“You’re see­ing all of it so far.”

“Damn what a mess. The for­est looks like they have paint­ed it grey.”

“What’s worse is that it is sup­posed to rain or snow soon.”


“Yeah,” Hei­di sighed. “The worst acid snow in history.”