I’m at the bottom of the valley, in

I’m at the bottom of the valley, in amongst the sludge and the mire. Around me rise mountainous peaks, five of them into the sky. If you want, I’m rolling in the sweaty palm of a clasping hand. I’ve been here for a long time, mainly by myself. People come and go, but none stay; this isn’t the place for them. I like to think it isn’t the place for me either. Some huts lie around the ground, they are unravelling, logs tumble from their sides leaving gaps in their skin. Once I lived in one and life was somewhat better than it is now; there was something solid under my feet and soft sheets upon which to lie. Now, when I move I leave a trail of mud. I know my place amongst the animals.

 I went up one of the peaks once. It was the shortest one and so the most logical to satisfy my curiosity about what might be up there in the clouds. It was a difficult trip and I beat myself up about it. My physical shape did not help me in the ascent, nonetheless I endured and eventually succeeded. At the top there was a shack with a man inside. His shack was a workshop; a large shelf took up most of the room with a stubby stool next to it. The shelf was dripping in resin and scarred all over by the man’s knife. The sunlight lit up the endless dust in the air. The man didn’t seem to be working on anything when I entered, although the smell of fresh sawdust gently stroked my nostrils. He seemed calm when he turned to look at me.

 “What are you doing here, son?” He asked me gently. “I was curious about what lay on top of these mountains.” I replied, suddenly unsure of myself. “Many men have come here in the past and to all of them I give the same answer. Do you want to hear it too? Of course you do.” The man smiled ruefully. “I’ve been here since the mountain began to rise from the floor of the earth. Back then it was at the bottom of the ocean, this was a long time ago you understand. I’ve been here for many, many years. Soon after we rose, I built this shack, and inside it my workshop. I built whatever I want. It pleases me to see crafted objects, it makes me happy. Without it I would be in an endless suffering, and I don’t particularly want that.”

 “But what do you do with the objects?” I asked, looking around at the largely empty shack. A few models skirted the shelves. Not a lot of work for however many centuries he had inhabited the shack. “Where do you think I get wood from? Once I’ve made something I need to break it to fashion something new. My work is transient. Oh! If you could see some of the beauties I’ve made!” He looked down at his feet, nestled in sawdust.

 “And don’t you get lonely? You could live down in the valley. We have huts down there and fresh water from the river.” I tried to hide my eagerness, to not show how I hated the world down there. I had come up here as much to escape the mire as from my curiosity.

 “I have no need my son. I am resigned to my lot up in my shack. I have built my life here. I can look back on it with joy and with accomplishment. I have a satisfaction from my achievements. Should I throw it all away to live a life of comfort? How despicable!” He seemed to find it hard to look at my eyes. “Please, leave me now.” He said resignedly.

 I stood for a few seconds, and then left the shack saying farewell to this man. I could not understand him. A pitiful case indeed, yet undeniably he had an inner glow to him. His soul was full, and his heart didn’t yearn for more than what fate had given him. I wished at the time that we could have been friends and felt sad trotting down the mountain back to my home in the mire; I would never see this curious man again. In the valley I walked past my previous abodes; the crumbling huts which were not for me. The comfort was a relief when I had it, but it was not where I belonged. My legs seeped into the mud an squelched an earthy blurt. I let the mud support my back and lay down to rest after my long journey. I could see all five peaks looming over me. One was enough for me, I realised then as I was lying there. I no longer needed to know what lay at the top of the others, everything I needed was with me here, in the mire.


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