THE BIRTH OF MOUNTAINS

by

Michael Edwards

The sun had gone down when they arrived.  No one recognized the place; in the dark it looked like a hundred hamlets they had passed through, so everyone thought they were merely camping for the night.  Only Paris knew otherwise.

There were no visible means of identifying the town.  Though the morning sun revealed a place entirely different from the one illuminated by the half moon the night before - a place no longer a stopover but now a destination - it stood as anonymous and indistinct as when Kirk had first led his people through this town at the edge of the great rift.  Nothing remained of its name: no signpost in the ground, no nameplate on a building.  Nor did the maps Joey carried by day and, with Paris, studied each night, shed any light on the town's identify: somewhere around sixty years ago, when its population began to drop below its peak of twelve hundred, mapmakers, responding to the unstated dictum that all communities should meet minimum standards of growth and productivity, decided to let it drop from the face of their earth, though they kept US Route 31 and Indiana Route 160, which intersected it, and Interstate 65, which paralleled US 31 a couple miles to the west.  Like a thousand thousand other towns across the country, Henryville, Indiana ceased to exist when its residents could no longer keep pace with the rest of the country.

Even before the sun arose, Paris got up and quietly left his tent.  Carol happened to be awake.  A few moments later she, too, got up and left the tent.  She stood outside, watching as Paris made his way among the nearby buildings, slowly approaching each, standing a moment to look at it, reaching out to lay his hand upon it, as if touching a holy relic, then moving on to the next, until he had encountered all seven buildings clustered around what seemed to be the town square.  Then he returned to the tent.  Something in his solemn expression made Carol ask if he had baptized the town.

He shook his head.  "It baptized me," he replied, adding, "this is our home."

Only then did Carol look carefully at the buildings Paris had touched; and, in seeing them for their true worth, saw his act of touching them as something more than a curiosity.  Only then, too, did she begin to recall details of their first visit.  She remembered Alice holding Paris in her arms, whispering something to him as Kirk spoke to his people, then pricking his thumb with her knife to let a drop of his blood fall onto the snow.

"You already baptized it," she observed, as much to herself as to Paris.

Again Paris shook his head.  "It wasn't a baptism," he told Carol.

"You remember?" Carol asked.

"No," replied Paris.  "But I know my blood is on its grounds.  The buildings over there," he pointed to the seven he had touched, "will be our seat of government - except it won't be a government."

"What will it be?" Carol asked.

"There are no words for it," Paris answered.  "It's a way of holding a society together without a ruler."

"A true democracy -" Carol started to give the principle a name.

"No, not even that," Paris interjected.  "We will not have anything that resembles anything that came before us.  We will have no laws."

"But surely, the rule of law," Carol suggested.

"No, the law is as unjust a ruler as any despot," Paris explained.

"Where did you get these ideas?" Carol asked.  "From Alice?"

"No, not from anywhere," Paris admitted.  "The ideas got me - I didn't get them.  Alice spoke of the absence of power - but even its absence has too much of it.  We can't rebuild the world using the opposite of what was used to build it; if we try, it'll end up looking exactly as it did before it was destroyed."

"Then how will we rebuild it?" Carol asked.

"We won't," said Paris.  "It will rebuild us, and in doing so show us what it needs."

The sun, as they spoke, was beginning its first incursion of the day into these farthest reaches of the Eastern Time Zone, turning enough luminescence on the walls of the tents to signal its arrival - a signal as compelling to the people inside as a tripped alarm.  Everyone got up, as they had for as long as they had been traveling, the instant they saw the eastern wall of their tents turn into a pearlescent membrane.  They gathered their things and packed them to be carried on their backs, then retreated into the misty illumination outside to strike their tents.  They stopped short, however, to take note of something out of sequence.

Paris was standing in the center of the circle of tents forming the campsite.  His being up ahead of them wasn't unusual: he was always first to rise; but his being there, where he only stationed himself once the camp was broken and his people were ready for the day's instructions, was.  Everyone stood perfectly still, gazing intently at him in anticipation of some explanation for this deviation from his routine.

When he had everyone's attention, he spoke.  "We will not be traveling any more," he announced.  "We came so quietly upon our home, we failed to recognize it.  It surrounds us - and right from the start we must understand that it does.  It must never become surrounded by us or we'll be driven from it.  This is not the last chance earth will give man, but it may be the last chance to begin a new way of life.  Our home cannot be allowed to crumble into a mere possession of ours.  We must respect it as if we owe our lives to it.  If we had built it - or if we rebuild it a thousand times - it still stands as the center of our existence.  Nothing we accomplish can be set above it, or else our accomplishments will destroy it and we'll be homeless again.  Let this day - whatever day of the week it is: and it's better for us not to know what day it is - let it be our day of rest.  Tomorrow will be soon enough to begin the task of rebuilding the world.  For the first time ever, we will not strike camp.  We'll rest.  Tomorrow we can meet again to welcome our new home."