Little Tremor opened his groggy eyes. Where was he? It felt like his whiskers had been pressed into the moist dirt for a long time. His little incisors were resting directly in the dirt. He tasted clotted blood and one of his teeth was missing. He remembered how he and his brother had fought about something and his brother had kicked him in the mouth with his strong hind legs and left him there. He looked at the sun trying to reach him through the trees. Maybe he’d been here a day or two now?
He lifted his head and his ears; why were they so heavy? Everything seemed so heavy.
The other animals in the forest were still fighting.
Had it always been like this? No. The birds used to chirp instead of scream. The bears used to burrow and not bully. The squirrels didn’t used to constantly screech and scrape at each other up and down the trees. Something had taken the whole bright side of the mountain and turned them against each other.
He pushed up to his feet and hopped to the nearest tree. That was not far enough; commotion still surrounded him. He could hear the arguments in little holes and burrows. A snake slithered out from a bush by him and he jumped back. “Jitter!” He called to the snake. But Tremor quickly stopped himself from saying more. Jitter was obviously beyond himself. Hissing something about “Those closed tunnel supporters are complete idiots, so blinded by their selfishness.”
But it looked like Jitter was one of the blind ones. In fact, Tremor realized, everyone looked like this these days. Eyelids so low it was almost like they were asleep, and they had forgotten wisdom and patience, and faith in the wake of all the fear and anger felt in night mares. It was like a spell, infinitely stuck in a dream. How had they gotten here?
Tremor hopped from bush to bush for several more minutes, and scooted a little higher until he perched himself on a rock that overlooked almost the whole bright side of the mountain. He shivered and shook off the dew from his coat. The sun was high. The mountain was thick with green trees but they were drooping and dimming near a stripe that cut through the middle of the mountain. What was that? He followed it to where the stripe touched the dark side of the mountain, that cold and rotten slope that stayed mostly in shadow. And that stripe coming from it was the river. It was the river where they got their water. Where they did their trades and brought their wares. The river at which they vied for and traded mates. The river where they chose their leaders by who could most bravely swim the currents.
Suddenly Tremor remembered something. Maybe it was because he had been asleep for two days and this had reset his mind. But this is what let him remember his mother telling him and all his siblings, “Now remember, never get too close to the river.” How that they just completely forgotten this?
Since then advances had been made to swimming and rescuing techniques and little bridges and ropey devices had been developed. And little pools had been dug out next to the river and no one feared it any more. Was this river somehow what had done all this to them?
But where were they supposed to get water if not from the river bringing water from the dark side of the mountain? His eyes suddenly got large and he stared absently toward the distant hills. His ears laid back and his mouth dropped open. How had they forgotten?
He turned and ran upward. He had to search hard as he went, but he knew it was important to eat some berries so he would have strength to complete his trek. He was thirsty too but told himself he just had to wait until he got there.
He scuttled up the mountain, avoiding the scuffles and arguments. Voices called to him, “Tremor! Come here! Which side are you on? If you don’t choose a side you’re just going to let the bad ones win!” Tremor kept running. Their voices were different than they used to be. Their eyelids so low. He saw other animals, unconscious, bruised, slumped against trees or where they had fallen, headlong and face-first down the mountain. This epidemic was slowly destroying them.
He wanted to help; maybe he could come back for them. He trekked hard all day. His mouth was slaked with thirst. His muscles burned but he had to find it. He remembered why people never came here any more. It was just so much harder to get there. Hours of quiet hiking. Not nearly as much fun as just showing up at the busy river to drink and play and watch all the exciting animals compete for power.
Around evening time, when the sun was just above the far mountains he came upon the ancient waterfall clearing he had been looking for. It was overgrown from neglect where it used to be so well trimmed. But there was crystal clear water lapping on the stone shore of a lake. He lapped up enough water and waited for a few moments to gain his strength but waded into the water and headed toward the source. He heard the crumple and spray of water falling somewhere around the bend. The water was colder and less pleasant than the river. But it was so crisp and cool that it shook off any remaining trance that held him. His paws paddled him slowly deeper. He swam past the bend of trees and rocks until he saw it. The cascade of water from cliffs high above and the cool spray of water that filled the air.
Tremor took several very deep breaths and felt the clean mist soak his lungs. Suddenly he wanted to cry. He paddled to the edge where he pulled himself out of the water tucked himself against the trees and the tears came. The sobs shook his tiny furry body. Why was this happening here, where he finally felt safe?
He felt a little nose sniffing at his forehead. He thought he recognized the scent of it. He slowly opened his eyes and looked up into the face of another rabbit. It was his grandmother. A big smile spread across her face, and tears moistened her eyes, tears of love and joy, something he had not seen in eyes for a very long time. A soft whisper came from her, “Oh, little Tremor. I thought you were lost with the rest of them.”
Tremor leapt around her in joy before he tucked himself against her soft body. “Nana, oh Nana! Have you seen it down there? It’s horrible. I don’t know what’s happening. I had forgotten about this water until I remembered Mom taking us here when we were kids.”
She put her paw over him and said, “I know, little one. Something has snuck into our nation, our bright side of this mountain.
“I’m happy to see you, I swear Nana, but I can’t stop crying.”
“You are crying because here is where you can let all of that ugliness out of you. You are being cleansed.”
She kept talking to him and telling him about how she escaped and when she had come here. Tremor listened and calmed. Eventually as his breath settled down he asked, “But what happened?! Why did they all become like that?”
She nibbled at little droplets on his soft ears and said,”Remember about the river? We became too confident that we did not need to fear it like we had always been told. And we thought it was so much easier and closer to get water from the river even though it runs through the dark side of the mountain first. It was so much easier than to keep coming all the way up here to the clean source. So we learned to control it, and use it for our gain, and when it didn’t kill us quickly we lost the proper fear of it.”
“But what is in it?”
“I don’t know what happens to it on the dark side of the mountain, but I am convinced it runs through places where older and greater creatures before us fell victim to the same weakness. I think they did things the ways that were easiest, instead of right, like we are prone to do. And this rotted the land in some way. And that rot got into the water and the river brings it into our land. And that water has somehow settled this spell onto our people.”
Her soft, listening muzzle kissing between his ears made him love her so. It awoke something he had not felt in a long time. On the bright side of the mountain, things had all become about how to please themselves the fastest. And the infinite value of moments like this had been lost. These impractical moments where two souls rested with each other in kindness, nothing else to gain or take from the other. This rest, where no side had to be established. They were on the side of love and the ancient wisdom that was delivered in the breath of the trees, and the sun in the morning, and whatever voice it was that watched over them and told them things they did not understand, like staying away from the river.
Eventually, breathing in the air and the scent of his grandma rested him. He slept and grew stronger. He sipped from the water and rested for hours by it as his grandmother sat by. Sometimes she gathered berries and brought them to him. As he ate she whispered more of the beautiful ancient wisdom the bright side had forgotten in its striving for control and pleasure.
And when he was ready, and when the weight of everything below them had not left him, he asked, “What do we need to do?”
His old wise grandmother smiled and took a deep breath of the crystal air. She looked at the tall brush stroke of white water pouring from the high cliffs, and the clouds rolling out over the land from it. Lost in the beauty of this place she said, “We need to bring them here.”
Raw Spoon, 10-29-18