Life on the Mountain is another FictionWar entry after being given the prompt, “I, Monster”. I went with the first monstrous thing that came to mind.
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I toss the drugstore bag as I enter the cabin; it whispers through the air and lands on the kitchen table with a rattle-clunk. I hang my keys on the nail by the door, and head for my easy chair. I need to rest for a moment.
Up here, life on the mountain seems quiet. Not so back in town. Summer has just begun, and the usually dull retirement community is now flooded with raucous kids visiting their grandparents. They’ve crawled up from the city in the backseats of their parents’ SUVs, tapping away on tablets. Here they’ll eat too many sweet treats, hear about how much they’ve grown, and perhaps stay for a week or two if grandma and grandpa are up to it.
I was a city kid myself, once. Now I prefer the mountain. The dry scratch of leaves blown from their branches in the fall. The deafening hush of the snow-covered forest floor in winter. The meditative chatter of birds in spring. But I can’t stand summer. I’ve gotten better over the years at stocking up on supplies to limit my visits to town, but there are always kids who, despite their parents’ warnings, are determined to prove their courage by setting out to see the monster on the mountain: me.
I picked this place to avoid children. It was for the best. The city was too dangerous – for me, and for them. It started at a young age. The first time I got caught, the adults brushed it off as two kids “playing doctor;” totally normal, natural curiosity. A little finger wagging and “don’t do that again, honey,” was all they thought it would take. Maybe it was for most kids, but not for me. No, what it took for me to stop was everyone’s decreasing tolerance of my interests as I grew older and my playmates didn’t, ending when, stepping out of my room for a snack late one night, I overheard my aunt and mother talking in the kitchen, tones hushed with concern. My aunt said I was going to wind up locked up or castrated. I looked up what that word meant. It wasn’t good. Neither was being locked up. After that day I became more aware of how few friends spent time with me outside of school, of how their parents watched me through the corners of their eyes. Those glances told me who I was, and how little I deserved to be here.
The kids and their parents on the mountain think living alone in the woods and scaring off trespassers is what makes me a monster. If only they knew.
I’ve been too scared and ashamed to try anything since. I keep my mouth shut and my pants zipped. College was easy – very few true youngsters around – but then as friends got married and became parents, uncles, aunts, godparents, and what-have-you, it became harder and harder to stay social without inviting trouble or giving myself away. Giving myself away is a constant fear. I can’t even bring myself to find a therapist. How can I be sure I won’t be reported the moment I leave?
What my fear doesn’t control, my shame does.
Mom both knew but didn’t, I think, preferring to pretend I had grown out of it and was just odd. It’s the only thing that explains why she’d been understanding as I pulled away. Our family grew, my sister making her a grandma, dad remarrying a single mother after the divorce, and it became too dangerous for me to be around for all the “important childhood events”. So I left. And I couldn’t tell anyone why.
Mom’s the only reason I’m still alive. If it weren’t for her, I would have done the world a favor and offed myself years ago. It would’ve broken her heart, though, and she was sick enough as it was. I call her every day and update her about life on the mountain. It does have its simple pleasures, but those are small distractions from the fact that I’m not really living. So, I don’t live. I just keep waking up and moving through my days, calling Mom, convincing her that I’m happy.
Leaves crunch near the back porch. I rise from the easy chair and go to one of the curtained windows, taking a look outside. No deer in sight – could be squirrels, or not. Better safe than sorry. I open the window.
“Get off my property!” I yell authoritatively. I always wonder if kids hear the waver I hear in my voice when I do this.
Nothing happens. No squirrels or children scatter. I have to be sure, though. Can’t take chances. I pick up my shotgun and open the back door. The gun isn’t loaded, but it serves its purpose.
“Oh shit!” a boy, too old for my taste, yells from below the window where I’d been. “Run!”
A younger boy and younger girl are right behind him as they take off into the woods. The younger boy suddenly falls, awkwardly, and shouts in pain. The girl turns back to help, glancing at me with terror in her eyes.
My heart implodes to a tiny point and stays still. Cold sweat slicks my brow and armpits. The boy is injured; he needs help. I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to bring him inside, see if there’s something to ice. Call his family, or the local EMS. Maybe they’ll be grateful, see that I’m not just a monster.
But no, someone like me isn’t capable of that. Someone like me makes monstrous decisions. If not today, then down the line somehow.
The older boy has figured out that he needs to double back, and is lifting the younger boy onto his shoulders. I re-enter the cabin and slam the door behind me.
Normally, I’d give Mom a call after something like this. Her voice would calm me, even without her knowing I’d been riled up. But her funeral was yesterday; her battle over. She’d been sick for a long time. I’d taken that time to stock up on most of what I needed for what comes next.
I put the gun back in its corner and get a beer from the fridge. I plan to be drunk for tonight’s series finale in “Life on the Mountain”. I take the final ingredient of my cocktail out of the drugstore bag and line the pill bottle up with all the others on the table. Soon, this monster will no longer be a problem.