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Issue number four




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The mountain schools by Brock Vauss

wonders among the mountains

A friend returning from the northern part of the state drove all night through the mountains without encountering a single car or truck. He saw several things, chief among them an enormous hand among the branches of a low tree.


Most who live in the mountains are wealthy, but the mountain schools are poor; some are so rudimentary they can hardly be called schools at all. One of them consists only of an old truck with some netting suspended in the bed, parked in a clearing next to a tree to whose lower limbs a few sheets of gray wood are nailed.

I learned of this school from a dream in which a harvesting machine proceeded across a field of green hay or wheat. In the stalks flying from the reaper's blades I could read, in dream-fashion, an account of the school.

mound and forest

Mounds found here and there in the forest are sometimes called "Indian mounds" or "burial mounds," but these are misnomers; the mountains were never inhabited until the arrival of settlers at the beginning of the last century, and only in the 1940's did the mountain population come to comprise more than a handful of isolated and impoverished laborers unable or unwilling to secure accommodations in town.

origin of gods (1)

A fourth-grade teacher told his class to bring rags from home; a special fire drill would be held in a week, and to simulate the effects of smoke the children would blindfold themselves with the rags and crawl from the building on their hands and knees. Any child who hadn't brought a blindfold on the day of the drill, he warned, would be kept after school. He repeated this warning each day as he dismissed the class.

When the day arrived, three children still had not produced blindfolds. One girl told the teacher that her mother was waiting for her in the parking lot and might have some suitable cloth in the back of her car; she was allowed to leave, and did not return. Later in the evening the teacher ate both the other children.

gods in the house

Children sometimes come to dread the bathroom mirror, and will not face it for fear of seeing someone standing behind them. Some refuse to enter the bathroom alone. Older children and young adults are no less prone to this fear, but their behavior is in most cases not greatly affected.


Garages often go ten or even twenty years without being properly cleaned. Someone's uncle was moving to a new house after many years and cleared everything out of his garage; in doing so he was exposed to the spores of various sorts of mold that had grown on the damp backs and undersides of long-undisturbed cardboard boxes, and developed a serious lung condition that left him permanently unable to work.

ruins of mansions and castles

The house is three stories high. No one has lived there in many years, but furniture remains in all the rooms and the windows are unbroken. I spent part of a night there. Local people arrived in a delegation to warn me that I risked illness or some more mysterious doom. A deer was known to live in the house, and though it had never been seen, it sometimes spoke to passers-by from a second-floor window. Things would not go well with me if I met it, they told me. And in one wall was hidden a collection of teeth; they pointed out the exact spot, which the deer had revealed to them decades before. Many things were true of the house, they said, each worse than the last. And indeed I was finding myself too weak to stand, and unable to look up from the floor, even as the delegation spoke.

during our lifetime (1)

Young people in the remotest parts of the mountains sometimes enter into sexual relationships with creatures they encounter in the woods or who speak to them from the side of the road.

ups and downs of a family

The two teenage sons of a junior high school gym teacher died in a car accident at the beach cliffs. Though the father taught at a school in town, the family lived in the mountains, and several years before the accident the three of them--all avid hunters--had gutted a deer in their front yard. They threw the genitals onto the roof of their house and left the skin, organs, and bones scattered among the trees across the road. The younger son gave the eyes to a smaller boy at school the next day. The sons were at that time thirteen and fourteen years old.


An adolescent boy whose father was dead lived alone with his mother in a small house deep in the mountains. Other students at his school taunted him daily, accusing him of a sexual relationship with his mother. They were encouraged in this pastime by an algebra teacher, who frequently wondered out loud in class what the boy and his mother could possibly find to occupy the long nights, up there all alone.

where souls go

The mother of one of my childhood friends died when we were twelve. Years later at the university I met the dead woman on the path between the library and the administration building. She explained to me how it is with the dead, how in many cases they remain on the earth, living and working as ordinary people. She asked me not to tell her daughter about our meeting.

origin of gods (2)

In certain pregnancies what develops is not a fetus, but a clump of abnormal tissue consisting mostly of teeth and hair. This object can grow to the size of a fist. Such pregnancies are extremely dangerous, and since menstruation usually continues uninterrupted, the problem often goes undiscovered until serious harm has been done.

A young girl in the mountains died in this way the year I graduated from college. She was connected to the university in some fashion, and was memorialized in both of the campus newspapers.


Certain creatures frequent rooftops. At night they alight and clamber around; one hears their soft hands and feet. For this reason many people try never to spend a night alone under a roof. Once a woman went out to her car before dawn to retrieve a textbook and was hailed from the roof of a neighboring house.

gods that like to play with children

A girl of my acquaintance had an unusual mother, elongated and slick and as tiny as a child. In high school it telephoned her five or six times a day, finding her wherever she was -- at school, at work, at the houses of friends. This was the least of the troubles the girl faced, but she was reluctant to speak of the others, at least with me. The girl managed to complete high school and move away to the university a year early.

ill omens

A teenage girl who lived in town was awakened at night by a rapping at her window. It was an acquaintance from school, who had died the previous year. Upon being let in, he explained that the night was terribly cold, and that he had come in hope that she would let him spend it in her warm bed; the girl agreed. He lay silently beside her for upwards of an hour while she feigned sleep. Finally he got up, whispered an apology for his visit, and left through the bedroom door. The girl fell seriously ill and missed several months of school.

Many similar cases are reported.


The bite of a certain brown spider is likely to become gangrenous if not immediately treated. A friend of mine who worked at a high school in the mountains told me about an English teacher whose legs and genitals were amputated as a result of such a bite. This man later committed suicide on the grounds of the school.

during our lifetime (2)

Yanagida Kunio: "We can do nothing, but I must be responsible for it."

Brock Vauss is a graduate student who lives in southern California. "The Mountain Schools" is an attempt to imitate the style of Tono Monogatari (Tales of Tono), a collection of folk tales written down by Kunio Yanagida in the early part of the century and translated into English in the 1940s by Shiduo Toda.

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