Just One Mountain
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Something is different.

From the flat plane underfoot, ahead, rises one mountain. Standing at its foot, it seems to be all there is before me. Behind me is nothing, but ahead, there is no nothingness. The mountain is there, waiting for me.

I begin to climb the mountain. At first it is difficult. I have never walked anything but the plane, I need to learn to step and hold my weight. But the slope is gentle, here, and when I fall there are always grooved rocks, like hands, to help me regain my footing.

But all too soon, the slope is not so gentle. I fall, and have to push myself up from the ground, instead of being pulled up by landscape immediately around me. The ground is full of holes, and traps, and my skin is cut by rocks that are no longer comfortable, but sharp. I look to my left and I see a path that I could have taken, had I not thirty feet below wished to avoid a certain boulder, which in hindsight was easier to overcome than the path I was bound to now. So early, on my journey up the mountain, that the regret begins.

The challenges of the mountain only grow from here, but now I grow to meet them. Some walls are sheer, but my arms have become strong enough to lift me straight up, finding purchase however I can in the layered face of the cliff. Having gripped the top of an unyielding wall, I see that I have gained more height on the mountain, faster than if I had walked another path. This invigorates me. I am conquering the mountain. On rare occasions where the path is hospitable enough for me to stop and rest a moment, I turn and look at where I have come from. The ground seems so far away, seeming almost to not exist compared to my mountain. And even the path I have just walked fades quickly from view and from memory, because who knows how much more path there is before me than behind?

There comes a time when it seems the peak must be near. The climbing has not gotten harder, but my body has begun to ache, and that seems as good a sign as any. I must be close to the top of the mountain. I keep climbing. And I keep climbing. Sections of rocky path and smooth face fade behind me, as I accelerate, hoping to reach the zenith soon so that I may enjoy the fruits of my labour, and the highest view. When I hurt the most I wonder, what will I see from the top? The rest of this mountain, which I have climbed through already, fine, but the plane I walked before was bare and would offer no different view from the top than from ground level. But I persevere nonetheless. The peak must be near. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I know the habits of this mountain, what it likes to throw at me when I least expect.

But a moment comes, as I step off a cliff face onto solid ground, that I realize. I have been climbing down the mountain for some time now. Was I so focused on the idea of the mountain’s peak that I had missed it when it came? No, there should have been some change. I would have stopped and surveyed my conquest of the mountain, and set about climbing down with a renewed purpose, to enjoy the rest of my journey down the mountain having attained my goal. I turned to the path behind me, looking down at the path I had come from. Looking down? But the way forward was down. Was this the peak? No, for I saw before me only obstacles, but not the rest of the path, and I saw behind me the same thing.

This mountain has no peak, I say aloud, the realization washing over me like a landslide that I vaguely remember from long ago. I have been fighting and climbing and exhausting myself, to progress across this mountain, towards what goal? The peak is always out of reach, behind me and before me all at once. Is the goal the journey? It must not be, for as much as I have enjoyed the climb, this mountain has cut me and bruised me and taken all my strength. I would have been just as happy if I had not found the mountain, and only ever walked the plane. The goal, then, must be after the other side of the mountain, something that I could not now conceive. I hope so.

Knowing that I am now heading down the slope, the path becomes at once less and more dangerous. I need now to steady myself, to not go too fast. I have my experience to lean on, but the path is long, and the visible end taunts me with the bliss and terror of flat ground.

At long last, I reach the foot of the mountain. I look back and can see the shining zenith behind me, which I had crossed but never truly reached. And so, with nothing left to do, I turn and continue to walk the plane. Soon, I have forgotten the mountain.

And the mountain has forgotten me.

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