It was when time bent back on itself that the ancients knew: the angry God had left.
His anger—which roared through al time and space—had pulled the birds from their nests, and startled them to flight. His anger had started the forest fires that ransacked the landscape. His anger had made men seek women, to lie with them in pride and lust and passion.
When he was gone, all things stopped.
“I have stopped, too,” I told my unseen companion.
“So you think.”
“You don’t think so?”
“Unless looking at the hill for scores of years, rather than climbing it, counts,” I said. “Neither the hill nor I have changed. I am older, of course, but still some years from death. Why can’t I climb the hill? Others have, and quite easily.”
“And have you spoken to them?”
“They come back changed. Their eyes are blurred over, their backs are bent, their speech is garbled. They look at you and do not see you. They look away, and see what you do not.”
“Is that why you fear it?”
“Perhaps. Or I may fear that I will not be changed. I may return as clear-sighted and lucid as I started. It may be that the hill is for others, and not for me.”
“You don’t believe that.”
“No,” I told him. “Tell me, is there any turning back, once you are on the hill? Can I choose to return? Or once started, must I continue?”
“You will know once you are on the hill. But the answer may not matter.”
Suddenly, a wind stirred.
“Remarkable,” I said. “There has been no wind here, on the hill, for eons.”
“You have felt no wind,” he said. “But that is hardly to say that there has been none. And how did it feel?”
“As if the hill were sighing. As if it tires, eon upon eon, of watching the pilgrims ascend. As if it, too, wants respite. If we went away, could the hill disappear? Could it rest?”
“Have you ever wondered,” he said, “why the angry God left?”
“I only wonder why he came,” I said. “To what purpose? Surely there were other places for his wrath?”
“The gods, too, are bound. For however much they are gods, they still cannot go against their nature. And that is to come, bidden or unbidden, in good moods or foul.”
“Hmmm, no wonder he is angry.”
“Oh, I think not. And are you entirely sure that he is angry?”
“Look at the hill,” I told him. “That barren, scorched, clawed hill. Nothing grows there, nor ever will. There is more life in the driest desert than could ever be on that hill.”
“Curious that you see what I do not.”
“And what do you see?”
“A valley, lush and verdant, with a thousand streams feeding it.”
“You did ask….”
“You may never know the answer. I will certainly not. But really, isn’t it time to climb that hill? I will go with you, as I descend into my valley.”
I think, until I receive his message: this is not the time to think. And so I nod, and clasp his hand more tightly, and then do what has been done for eons, and what is entirely new. I put my foot forward. And the next after that. And soon, I am walking—not fast—but with the measured pace of a man walking the plank.
“Can we stop along the way?” I asked.
“Not only can we, we must,” he said. “We will both stop and be stopped.”
And then he disappeared.