After weeks of walking, my map had become useless and I no longer knew which country I was in. It was summer—I at least knew that.
I was determined to reach the top of a mountain before finding my way home. Thick green trees and bushes surrounded me on my ascent. When I finally reached the top days later, after blisters had formed on my feet, I dropped my backpack and struggled to breathe. The air was so thin I was practically suffocating. My legs trembled under a great fatigue.
The summit was covered in knee-high grass and wildflowers that swayed in the wind. There were no trees, although the scent of pine lingered in the air. The sun was so large and close I could almost touch it. As I peered into the distance, I saw him sitting on a rock at the opposite end of the summit, his back facing me.
I labored towards him, my shoulders and chest rising as I forced oxygen into my lungs. At maybe twenty yards away, I realized I had mistaken him for a traveler like myself. Wild dark hair hung to the middle of his back. He wore some kind of animal clothing. Deer skin, perhaps.
I walked around to see his face. His eyes were white and his skin was covered in what appeared to be purple chalk. He was mumbling something, as if he were under a spell. He was a boy, maybe thirteen or fourteen, with a red object in his right hand that was approximately a foot long and looked like a giant crayon. Yellow fingernails curled down towards the earth.
“What’s your name?” I asked. “Are you okay?”
His head rotated towards me and his pupils dropped into place. He said something, but I did not understand him. I did not even recognize his language. His voice was scratchy and rough, deep and wide. Spots of blood and bits of gray fur dirtied the corners of his mouth. A cold gust of wind rushed over us. His hair lifted upwards, taking the shape of a bird flapping its wings.
From the valley below emerged the sound of chimes, a strange and soft melody. For the chimes to carry that far, they must have been enormous. I pictured gleaming silver pipes, side by side, towering above trees. The boy stood and gazed in the direction of the music.
There, through the clouds, at the base of the valley, appeared a sprawling campus comprised of several buildings and open spaces, perhaps courtyards or gardens. It reminded me of my school when I was a boy. The buildings were so miniature from my viewpoint that I instinctively reached for the magnifying glass attached to my belt before pulling away my hand. Just when the chimes stopped, a horn blared from the same direction, a deep, monotonous note.
The clouds were moving quickly. Through them, the outline of the buildings seemed to be shifting and changing shape. The harder I concentrated and tried to see, the more the structures blurred and twisted.
The boy ran down towards the valley, weaving between boulders and leaping over shrubs, animalistic in his agility. I watched him through my binoculars until he vanished beneath the clouds.
From the peaks of the surrounding mountains came others like him, boys and girls all running towards the bottom, painted in various colors. They swarmed the hillsides like ants. The horn again ripped through the air, louder than thunder. The bottom of my feet vibrated to the sound.
I sat on the rock and breathed into my portable oxygen concentrator until all fell silent except for the wind and grass rustling behind me. The clouds thickened and completely obscured everything beneath them, and the sun—white and monstrous—burned near my face. I remained there until my breathing returned to somewhat normal, until I convinced myself that the things I had seen and heard were not real, but delusions caused by hypoxia.
And then, after I put on my backpack and started descending the way I came, the chimes began ringing once again.
– Mason Binkley
Mason Binkley lives in Tampa, Florida, and works as an attorney to support his writing habit. His fiction and satire have appeared in Jellyfish Review, Maudlin House, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and other places. Find him online @Mason_Binkley.