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
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
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
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
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.
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
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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