Legends of the Tall


by Josh Langston

In its forty-six hundred million years of existence, the blue orb had been host to life of unimaginable variety. Of all these living things, the most patient, and yet most passionate, were the mountains.

Appala stretched in mist-clad splendor from south to north along the eastern edge of a great, rambling land mass called Noram. Though outwardly calm, inside she seethed with grief at being separated from her twin sister, Pyrenalp, by an ever-expanding ocean. Though they could still communicate, the distance between them grew with each passing eon.

Unlike the odd, new animals which had recently crawled from the sea — and about which they knew nothing — Appala and Pyrenalp had only rudimentary senses of sight, sound, taste, and smell. Their world was defined by touch, the special province of the gigantic, who only seem to live immobile and forever.

With nothing else to do, the mountains passed the time in discourse. Through sheer force of will, they varied the pull of gravity and sent their messages in waves so subtle that only other mountains could detect them. Because distance diminished the vigor of the waves, proximity enhanced communication. Appala knew Pyrenalp was drifting farther away because it took longer and longer for them to exchange messages. She feared that eventually the distance would be too great to overcome. The prospect of life alone was devastating.

“Oh, Py, what will we do?” Appala sent her message along a narrow ridge which, though stretched terribly thin, still connected them. The wait for a response dragged well beyond the usual season or two. Appala’s imagination rumbled, stirring up the worst possible explanations, but when an answer finally arrived, it was even worse than she feared.

“I’ve found another,” Pyrenalp said. “I’ve never been so happy! He says he heard me, but couldn’t speak until a quake shoved our slopes together in the east. He’s magnificent!”

Appala felt hollow. “How wonderful,” she said, her gravitic response carrying an added tremble. “Tell me more.” But Pyrenalp didn’t answer.

Appala was trapped between the silence and the menace of the ocean — which had none of the comforting warmth or mass of solid earth, no rocks or veins of ore to add flavor to her soil. The ocean offered only cold, dead weight, thrown at her with unrelenting monotony.

To pass the time, Appala learned to focus on more immediate things. Recently, she had begun to feel something tickle her outermost layers. Whatever it was moved so fast, and so silently, that she was only dimly aware of it. But by concentrating, and tuning her limited senses, she was finally able to confirm the existence of exquisitely tiny beings — creatures even smaller than her lesser slopes!

Appala observed the newcomers for what, even to her, seemed a long time. Eventually, she wearied of it, and the deep ache of longing for her own kind returned. Her messages remained unanswered; Pyrenalp had time only for her eastern paramour. So Appala decided to send a message west.

Edged with an emotional vibrato of innocence and expectation, her blind greeting traveled away on the strongest wave she could summon. The resulting pulse scrambled subterranean rock and pummeled it into a spike which extended toward the west.

As the creatures which wandered her surfaces evolved into steadily larger forms, Appala concentrated solely on receiving a response to her message. At last, it came.

“I am Sierneva.” The reply was faint but male, and carried tones of confidence and vitality. “I, too, am weary of being alone.”

Appala’s hills shivered at her excitement. She pumped another message into the growing communication tendril she hoped pointed toward her new-found companion. Her giddy pleasure echoed from ridge to ridge as, with each exchange, reception improved. Their conversations ran for epic lengths; a single topic often out-lasted generations of the giant reptiles living on the surface. The creatures were food for conversation.

“I envy them,” Appala said. “They seem to move together, and if they can move at will, they can touch at will. If only I could touch you, I would be happy forever.”

Sierneva shared her futile desire. Mountains rarely moved, and when they did, it usually meant the end. “Touch? You and I? My life would be complete! But it’s hopeless; the distance between us is vast.”

“The tendril grows,” Appala said. “I feel it. Can’t you start one too?”

At her direction, Sierneva also began to construct an unbroken line of stone. “If we continue, someday they will meet — someday, we’ll touch.” The words were spoken with reverence and conviction. In time, they were even spoken with confidence.

Sierneva made great progress, his tendril extended far to the east and grew steadily with every conversation until it spilled out through the wall of a gigantic canyon.

“Appala!” he cried, “I shift the rock as before. I feel it move as I command. But just as I get it to the front of the tendril, it disappears into a great hole!”

“The same happened to me when I found water,” Appala said. “The rock falls away. It makes me feel weak and empty.”

“How do you overcome it?”

“I pull back and push down under it. My seam knows no obstacle. I won’t let it!”

“Nor will I!” Sierneva said, and he started again. They continued to build their link, by inches per year. As they worked they discussed the creatures of the surface.

“I think they are of many sizes,” Sierneva said. “Some are too tiny to feel.”

“How lucky they are,” Appala said. “Can you imagine such freedom? Too bad they aren’t very sturdy. Sometimes I can feel one fall. Sometimes it does not move again.”

“They die,” Sierneva said. “It is sad.”

“Will we die?” she asked.

“I don’t know. We don’t move, so we can’t stop. Perhaps it won’t happen to us.”

Appala agreed. That very day, something rocked the Earth as never before. The sky grew dark and stayed that way. Temperatures dropped, though it happened in the middle of the warm season. It was the beginning of a winter night which would last for years. As if the explosion were not enough, an immense wall of water and mud was hurled northward, burying the lovers’ tendrils even deeper. The added weight slowed their progress.

“What is it?” Sierneva asked.

“I don’t know, but it hurt me and worse — it broke the tendril!”

When the Earth stopped shaking, they began their task again. Not just building, but rebuilding. The work was desperately hard, the goal always out of reach.

By the time they repaired the damage, the land was once again quiet and some sunlight even warmed the surface. “Have you noticed?” he asked. “The little ones are all gone.”

“I know. I fear we, too, shall be gone before we touch.”

“No!” he said. “We must endure.”

The tendril ends grew ever closer. Traveling under lakes and rivers, oblivious to the catastrophe that plunged the planet into darkness, the tendrils of the lovers wiggled across an entire continent and finally met.

“Is it really you?” they asked each other. “Can this be real?” They luxuriated in each other’s touch. The tendrils twined and the mountains shivered, and a fault near the center of the continent convulsed. Weakened by the cataclysm to the south, part of the continental floor caved in toward the core of the planet. An immense wall of rock — a chain of raw, jagged, new-born peaks — burst through the surface and into the air.

With the thunder of uncountable volcanoes, an entire mountain range exploded into being and stretched across the entire width of the continent like a gigantic fence between the lovers. The tendril was sundered.

In time, the land settled once again, and Sierneva and Appala sent tentative, inquiring waves toward each other.

“Are you well? Did you suffer? Do you live?”

“Yes, yes, and yes!” came the replies, each passing the other as they traveled.

“We are no longer alone,” Sierneva said.

“We have each other,” Appala said, “and one more.”

“The newborn needs a name.”

They decided to call it “Rocky.”

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