Prompt Images

1. Goldengate

Picture this: The high valley swooping away to the south of the gate, grasslands and fir trees colored evenly golden-green, Bunsen Peak poised on the rim of the pass, carved deep and craggy on the the visible face, red-tan in the late morning sun.

There are magpies here, perchedĀ on rocks along the road, cast stark and desaturated against the world of slightly-too-dry-to-be-lush-but-certainly-almost-lush needles and leaves and grass. Black bodies with white accents, bursting across the hood of the car like small angry shadows with visible souls, or saddle-shoes taking flight.

The mountain gives meaning to the road. The campers crawl shaky up the slope, teetering matchboxes on button wheels, made miniature by the distance from the ground to the sky. You see the space between with one eye closed, squinting, your sight slaloming through the cascading pillars of light, buoyed by the stereo, Crosby, Stills & Nash and God.

You came here for this reason: To feel. And in these first moments, you do.

Your heart, which you sometimes forget, swells up and then swells further, proud of itself for remembering how. It bursts out of your back like a parachute, catching the wind and then twistfolding around your body. You feel like you are falling and falling, but your heart is a sheet that swaddles you and you can see only sky. The smallness of you plummets into the largeness of everything that can be called Else, and maybe there’s death waiting for you on the ground, but that only makes it better.

Nothing can be better.

2. Blackheart

why did i get out of the car. you can see the mountain from the car. it’s not even that tall of a mountain. you should be on top of it already. you used to be good at this. you fat piece of shit. you fat stupid fat fat piece of shit.

i thought you had bones in this body. bones and sinews and muscles. glorious capable meats and stretchy bits. power and precision and endless strength. now you’re just a weave of cholesterol and excuses packed like a sausage into breathable fabric. at least something is breathing.

you’ve only gone half a mile. how have you only gone half a mile. do not let him see you flagging. why does he keep talking. when he talks you have to answer. when you answer you miss a breath. you should kill him. no one will find him.

remember when you used to move couches by yourself. now you can’t even walk up a fucking hill. that’s what this is. a hill. not a mountain. nowhere in any book do they call this a mountain. this is barely hiking. this is embarrassing.

once you were young and had a constant erection and carried another person two miles on your back. and that was at 9000 feet. just to see if you could. you are such a fucking pretender. you are walking glory days.

do not throw up. do not throw up. okay just a little in your mouth.

keep walking. you have to keep walking. focus on your excuses. make them good ones. use secrets and lies and guile to take breaks. let me take your picture by those rocks. i need to tie my shoe. space them out so he doesn’t know.

switchback. this didn’t look hard on the map.
switchback. you should be ashamed of yourself.
switchback. use that shame.
switchback. follow his feet.
switchback. keep going.
switchback. go back.
switchback.

3. Yellowstone

The notebook at the peak is filled with inspirational quotes written in pidgin cursives.

You lost your cynicism back around the part of the climb you threw up into your mouth. You are surprised and grateful for how easy it is for you to feel surprised and grateful. Your mouth tastes like peanut butter.

You sit on a rock in the sun and list the things you feel, moving your lips in silent prayer. Happiness. Regret. Humility. Shame. Connected. Aware. Alive. You sit on a rock in the sun and list the things you can see, speaking them out loud into the wind so that only you and the vast blueness behind can hear. Ponds. Canyon. Cliffs. Road. Trails. Sky. Trees.

Later, you will temper all this. You will cast doubt on the truth of your feeling and believing in truths. The things that you saw will be viewed through a lens and projected through another in the retelling. Or stored deep inside your stomach, never to be retold.

But for now, there is just now.

You pick up the rock holding down the notebook and flip to the next empty page. You write “As long as you got here, you got here” and stick the pencil back in the spine. You hadn’t written cursive in years.

Zach Straus

Zach Straus peaked at 15 and is mostly held together by masking tape.

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