On This Mountain

Entry by: vanAdamme

3rd April 2015
On This Mountain

The old man sat at his desk in the cave at the top of the mountain.

Outside, the wind moved briskly through tall trees and unkempt grass while a shallow creek ribboned its way through a path in the earth. A bird sang and was answered by the faint horn of a train, many miles away. Inside the cave, all was still.

Held flat across the desk was a large sheet of white paper. Upon it was an almost-complete and painstakingly drawn depiction of one of the city’s many buildings. Eleven stories high, soulless steel and glass exterior and full of bureaucrats. It reeked of stale coffee and ozone gas.

In the cave on the mountain, dry rock and soil were all that the old man could smell.

Many miles beyond the mountain stood the building. The old man’s drawing did not match its current state, rather what the future would hold for it many years from now. His version ended abruptly at the seventh floor, the remaining four having collapsed inwards, destroying the levels below. The standing walls were cracked and seemed moments from crumbling away to nothing.

Each crack’s position was measured and labelled completely. The blueprint was as a coroner’s report is to a living person.

Most of the windows were broken and debris littered the surrounding space. Each piece’s dimensions were included in the diagram with stark, steady handwriting small enough to fit on a grain of rice.

Every brick lying on the ground, every exposed beam, every collapsed wall was precisely measured, labelled and rendered. If some mad god had wanted to build a ruined city from the ground up, here were the plans.

The old man’s brown shoes creaked as he leant further over his work. The sunlight streamed in through the cave’s opening but would eventually vanish behind a line of boulders.

He moistened the tip of his pencil with his tongue and drew. A stop sign, still cemented into the ground but tilted at an angle of precisely thirty-seven degrees to the vertical. Rust covered two-thirds of its surface. The sign itself hung upside down connected by a single bolt.

He sat back and admired his work. There were several hundred buildings in the city below and he had drawn almost all of them. Destroyed and abandoned by great calamity many years hence.

He removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose as a terrible noise clamoured up the mountainside. Three dirt bikes careened through the once still mountain air and threw up great clouds of dust. The light in the cave briefly dimmed and speckled.

The smell of cigarette smoke drifted insidiously through the cave’s opening. Braying voices hollered and laughed, but the old man could discern nothing humorous in the conversation.

He peered outside. Three young men with scraggly beards drank and discarded beer cans upon the ground. They flicked cigarette butts into the grass and spat at the insects that buzzed past.

In his prime the old man would have faced the bikers squarely. Looked them in the eyes and demanded they leave. “Not here,” he would have said. “Not on this mountain.” Now his work was too near completion. Too close to risk in a confrontation with drunken fools.

Instead, he retreated further into his cave and waited for them to leave. When they finally did, he stepped outside and gathered their refuse into a bag. One of them had lost a glove. The old man held it to his nose and breathed in deeply. The scent of sweat and fuel filled his senses but he only inhaled harder.


The scent of brickwork. Corrugated fencing. A particular strain of lichen. Unmistakable. A small apartment block on Dalmoore Lane. Two-storey, rendered brick and completely lacking in style and imagination. He would know its scent anywhere.

The old man had walked each of the city’s streets a hundred times over. He knew their feel and their energy better than he knew himself.

He returned to his desk with an almost imperceptible smile on his face. Pencil in hand and feet firm against the floor, the old man drew. A small apartment block devastated by fire and flood and earthquake. It would not happen for a hundred years, but the old man was nothing if not patient.
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