art by Jonathan Westbrook
by Andrew Kozma
They came to the mountain because that's where their prophets had told them to go. If they went to the mountain, the prophets said, they would be safe and they would be saved. And so they came in droves. They drove cars, they took trains, they rode buses, they hired horses, and they walked. Oh, how they walked. No matter how they came to the mountain, in the end they all walked.
Their prophets had called it a mountain, but it was more of a hill topping a collection of hills. Each hill they climbed brought them to a peak and they exulted, but then they looked up. There, before them, was another hill. Behind them was the trail of hills they'd already climbed. The hills collected on the face of the earth like warts.
At the base of the lowermost ring of hills was a town. The townspeople called the hills-upon-hills a mountain, which is where all the confusion started. They were famous for the mountain. They'd named themselves after the mountain, and named their children after parts of the mountain.
Rock. Landslide. Moraine. Snowcap. Tree Line. Oxygen Deprivation. Death By Exposure.
The people who came to the mountain took on new names, too, but their names were numbers. They knew that the end of times was coming, and only fifty thousand would be saved, a number that sounded like quite a lot until the mountain disappeared under a blanket of bodies.
But they couldn't leave. The mountain was where the world would end, where time would fold itself up into a paper bird that would fold itself up into a smaller paper bird and all those to be saved would climb onto the paper bird's back and be saved.
They numbered themselves so that they would know when the threshold of fifty thousand saved was reached. They spoke to each other in numbers and of numbers until all they could think of were numbers: How many seconds in a breath? How many blades of grass cut down by a single lawnmower? How many steps to the top of the mountain?