[Part Two of "Myth of the Mountain-Tree"]
This is the story of Gon the restless vampire. Fed up with three-hundred years of life on Earth, endlessly sucking blood from
humans, all the wars and petty politics of the undead community, Gon dropped out of the vampire lifestyle. He spent twenty years
wandering the globe, studying Zen Buddhism and Qabbalah and following the Grateful Dead. Still he could not find himself. The
harder he looked, the less he discovered.
Finally he gave up trying to understand himself and his life. He moved back in with his parents, who had a big place in Milan.
They were so glad to see him back that they held off a few years before complaining about how he should grow up, act like a normal
vampire and devour humans, establish a domain of his own somewhere. After all, vampires cannot expect to inherit castles from
their immortal parents.
Gon spent these years listening to the radio, watching a lot of TV, customizing his old Studebaker with lots of chrome and green
flames down the sides. He read a lot of old books that he had never gotten around to. Steppenwolf, Canterbury Tales, The Hobbit
and about half of the Lord of the Rings, but it really got bogged down in The Two Towers.
Looking through a box of old papers and photos from school days, Gon found a picture of the family dog they had while he was
growing up. He forgot the box of junk and stared at the dog. Stevie was a shaggy Golden Retriever, always overweight and happy.
Gon remembered how he cried when the dog died, and how he pleaded with his parents to make the dog undead too, but they said it
didn't work like that. Gon used his own coffin to bury the corpse for a few days, but it just made his coffin stinky and they had to
fumigate it. The little stone with "Stevie" written on it still sat outside the window of Gon's bedroom where they had buried the
In his wandering days, Gon had heard many conflicting stories about the afterlife. Hell, Purgatory, Reincarnation, bodies getting
rejuvenated on distant planets. Funny thing was that about half of those stupid religions denied that pets could accompany humans
to Heaven. It always infuriated him.
Gon slipped the photo in his pocket and went upstairs to find his parents. They were dining on a Moroccan tourist whose rental
car had broken down just a few miles away. "Say, Dad, Mom. I think I'm going to Heaven and see if I can find Stevie."
His mother wiped her bloody hands on her napkin and licked her chin and nose clean. "Dear, I thought we explained that to you
three-hundred years ago. Stevie can't come back."
"I know, I know. But I can go up there and bring him back. I'm going to climb the mountain-tree." Though it was known to
vampires and all the supernatural creatures, humans had not yet discovered the mountain-tree. More accurately, none of those who
had discovered it could remember anything about it. "And if they say no dogs are allowed, I'm going to destroy the place."
"Sounds dangerous," said Gon's father, finishing a morsel of liver. "Give your Grandmother a kiss before you go, or else we'll
never hear the end of it."
"Take care," said Mom.
Gon descended to the crypt and shoved the stone-cover off the smallest sarcophagus. Grandmother was understandably a little
paranoid, after all the run-ins she'd had with angry villagers trying to stake her and cut off her head and shove garlic down her neck.
She always bared her fangs and hissed when you woke her suddenly.
"Just me, Grandmother," Gon said, pulling his hands out of reach from her snapping jaws. "I'm going away for a while and might
not come back."
"Good, good. I knew you'd secure a domain before long. Is it very far?" She stepped out of the sarcophagus and stretched, the
white lace dress rotted away in a few places. Grandmother had gone over when she was sixteen, an eternal hottie who had to be
kept away from Gon's friends when he was growing up.
"No, nothing like that. I'm going to climb the mountain-tree to the Heavens and see if I can find my old dog."
She set her fists on her narrow hips and scowled at Gon. "Oh, so you're just here to collect your stuff and run off, eh? Go
ahead and leave me sleeping for a century, just wake me when you need Grandma to provide equipment for your quest, and then you
can run off and never see me again. It's God damned typical of you and your post-Renaissance generation-"
"No, Grandma! I don't-"
"-always ME, ME, ME, no time to spend with your family."
"Grandmother, I just came to kiss you goodbye. I don't need any equipment from you."
"You know good and damn well that I'm obliged to outfit my only grandson for his quest. Don't act like you don't know! And
don't tell me it's not a quest, because I know a quest when I see one. I've been on a few of my own, thank you very much, and they
were almost as pointless as looking for your dead goldfish or whatever. So don't try to teach your Grandmother how to suck eggs
from the golden goose!"
She lifted her face toward the roof of the crypt, her mouth open, inhaling deeply. "Is that Moroccan? Never mind. Has the vault
been raided lately or are your parents keeping on top of things?"
She led him down the stairs to the vault, rolled the stone out of the way, brushed cobwebs out of her hair as she pushed through.
"Ah," she said, striding through mounds of coins, jewels, crowns, bits of meteorite composed of undiscovered substances, "I see
your father finally got the chalice back from those Romans. Maybe he is good for something." She pulled the string on the lightbulb
dangling from the ceiling. Past the boxes of lost Rembrandts, knucklebones of saints, a big Tesla coil which Grandmother squinted
at before reaching the back wall. She rubbed her hand over a rectangle drawn on the rough stone wall, and it popped out, the front
face of a drawer which eased forward.
"My mother's mother gave these to me," she sighed. "I'm supposed to guard them for eight hundred years and give them to my
last descendant so he may challenge the boundaries of this world." She removed a piece of black velvet that covered the contents of
the drawer. A bronze shield gleamed brighter than a forty-watt bulb ought to make bronze gleam. Emblazoned on the front of it was
a crescent moon. Grandmother lifted the shield from the drawer to see what was beneath it. "Five armies were lost in the war to
capture this shield. My mother got staked by a thief who wanted this stupid shield, and I had to spend fifty years searching to get it
back. This shield was forged for you alone. DO NOT MISPLACE IT."
Next she removed a dog tooth from the drawer. "When you get to Heaven, this will grab Stevie's attention, so he'll come to you
right when you call him."
The last item was a small box with rounded corners. Grandmother picked up a cord attached to the box and placed it around
Gon's neck. She bumped the drawer closed with her thigh and said, "That's it." Then she snatched the drawstring on the lightbulb
and headed back out of the vault.
Gon said, "What's this box? Does it do something special that you should tell me about?" He hurried after her, up to the crypt
where he could see the box better in the torchlight. On the front side of it were the words "Sony Watchman." He pushed a button
and saw Joan Collins slap someone. "Cool! But how did you put this in a drawer centuries ago? They've only been around for a
"What, you never heard of a crystal ball? What do you think all that crap was, magic? It's just technology. And anyhow, I'll let
you in on a little family secret, since I might never see you again." Grandmother lowered her voice. "My mother's mother's maiden
name was Sony."
She kissed him on the forehead and swatted him on the butt. "Now go make us proud. I'm going up to get some Moroccan, if
there's any left."
With that, Gon slung the shield on his back, slipped the tooth in his pocket and began his journey to the mountain-tree. He had
some difficulty finding it, since no humans could help him with direcitons. But there were enough friendly demons and bugbears in
America that he eventually made his way to Kansas.
From the base of the mountain-tree, he could only see a mile of it poking up to the clouds. If the magic of the Heavens provided
this illusion that blanketed its upper reaches, Gon figured he could reach the top within a few days. He grabbed an edge of the bark
and began climbing.
Two months later, the vanishing illusion of the mountain-tree was now above and below him. It seemed to taper off into a hazy
nothing only a few hundred yards below him, even though he could still see the ground and the clouds far below. Climbing only at
night, Gon had to stop before dawn each day and punch a hole deep into the bark as a refuge from the sun. Then he could watch
the Morning News from Kansas City, or Live with Regis.
One evening when Gon woke, he listened to a news segment on "the bloodshed in Kosovo." Those words reminded him of his
great hunger, and he slammed his fist on the wall of his wooden cubbyhole within the tree bark. A few chips flew away from the
impact, but the sound was like a drum. He pounded on it again and heard a definite hollow. Within a few seconds, he had ripped
the bark away until a hole was cleared to that hollow.
Gon crawled into the open space, and nearly stumbled down the stairs. Inside ten feet of bark, there was a winding passage of
stairs that spiraled up the trunk of the mountain-tree. He laughed at the thought of finishing his journey without any further
mountain-climbing. Gon shut off the news and ran up the steps, two at a time.
Two years of blank, wooden stairs. Seven-hundred thirty days of stairs. Ten miles, maybe twenty miles each day he climbed.
He was far from the Earth's atmosphere, so on the few occasions that the sun shone through a deep fissure in the bark, it was only
a yellow glimmer, like light from a full moon.
One day Gon reached a crack in the bark and peered out at the stars. He left the television quiet and slept there on a wide stair
The sound of a meadowlark woke him. It lighted on the cracked rim of bark where the stars shone through. "Finally," the bird
said, panting. "I had to flap like a S.O.B. to get up this high."
Gon lifted his head from the bronze shield that he always used as a pillow. He slung it on his back and started up the
"Hold up, man," the meadowlark said, hopping up the steps behind him. "I didn't fly all this way just for you to walk off. Let me
catch my breath and we'll talk."
Gon waited a moment, then laughed and kept walking.
"Hey, I'm serious. Wait!" The meadowlark flew up to perch on his shoulder. "This is not going to work. You're heading into this
without putting any thought into it."
"Heading into what? Heaven? I don't care. I'm going to get my dog or die trying."
"No, no, not Heaven, I mean this whole adventure. Getting the dog makes for a cute anecdote, but you need something bigger if
you're going to sell your memoirs. Dude, when people are done hearing about you, you want them to come away with a big
message, like Never Eat Spinach With A Stranger. Or your life could describe the origin of some plant or animal or bug or the
movement of a Heavenly body. You want people to tell about your great big quest and end with 'That's why the mosquito buzzes,' or
'That's why the moon turns red.' Know what I'm saying? Maybe you could do something with the Autumnal Equinox. People
already celebrate the solstices, but there's not much publicity about the Autumnal Equinox. Your life should serve as an example for
the creation of something big."
"But everything's been created already." Gon looked around for an example, felt the Watchman swinging on his neck. "They
show all the creation stories on here already. It's called The Discovery Channel."
"Have you heard of that DSS thing? Like 'digital satellite' or whatever? That sounds sweet."
Gon said, "I'm not here to prove anything. I just want my dog."
"Well, you're going to come across three obstacles," the meadowlark said. "And I'm one of them. Really, I'm not trying to get in
your way of completing this quest. I just want to show you how you need to rethink it. You are your own biggest obstacle."
Gon continued up the stairs.
The bird flew off his shoulder for a second, then came right back down where it had been. "Look, between you and me, I'd advise
against this vampire business."
"What do you mean?" Gon stopped and the bird hopped down to the stairs.
"It's sorta against the rules. I mean, there's no formal rule about this, but usually you get an ordinary man or woman, sometimes
with no name, and they go on this extraordinary journey. Things are tipped out of balance by some taboo they violate or something,
and they have to jump through hoops to set it straight, maybe sacrifice their lives in order to restore balance. This tree and your
three obstacles are the hoops you have to jump through. But you got some problems with your whole background, see, because
you're not an ordinary man, I mean, not a human. Being a vampire makes it too complicated. I'd advise against it."
"What am I supposed to do about it now?"
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that. You're stuck with it? Okay, go ahead and run with it now, I guess. Can you do something with
your quest to explain how vampires originated through your actions? Or why vampires have to drink blood?"
"You don't even wanna know. It's tied in with women and why the moon turns red and all that. No, it's all been done. Really, I'm
just here for my own reasons."
The meadowlark cocked its head from side to side, turning and blinking and turning back to him. It was hard to tell whether
these movements indicated the bird was pondering the vampire's words, or whether he was just jerking his head around like all little
birds with eyes on the sides of their heads do. "Well, hell. You got me, then. Stick a fork in me, cuz this obstacle is done. You
should come across at least two more before you're through."
Two years of climbing. Five years of climbing. Gon watched carefully at all the tiny openings and cracks in the bark, thinking
his other two challenges would come through these windows the same way his first obstacle had come. Maybe a dragon or an
eagle, that eagle that tears out Prometheus' guts every night?
Four years. Seven years. TV reception came and went. Damn good batteries Grandmother left in that thing. He didn't know if
TV signals came in better or worse in space, but they only seemed to go fifty or sixty miles through the regular atmosphere, and he
had passed out of Earth's atmosphere decades ago. It should have been nothing but static all along, but he was still able to watch
"Friends" and "Frasier" and "New Yankee Workshop" most days.
Gon had taken to punching new holes out through the bark to check outside. Sometimes he would knock on the giant core of
wood in the middle of the spiral stairs and listen for hollow spots.
One evening when he was preparing to settle down and sleep, Gon spotted a lion on the steps above him. It lay across the
passage, so anyone who passed would be within easy reach. The cat had been sleeping, but it lifted its head and opened its mouth,
which looked a little like a smile.
Gon stood and held the shield in front of himself. "Don't bother to talk me out of it," he told the lion.
It said nothing, just stood and paced back and forth across one step, always keeping an eye trained on Gon.
Gon had not killed a human or any other animal in at least a hundred years. Besides his feelings about killing, the lion could
mess him up here. If he tried to rush past, it could still wound him, and Gon would not heal unless he slept in his native soil. He
imagined another thirty, fifty, five-hundred years limping up the stairs.
The vampire stepped closer, until finally the lion lunged. Its claws slid across the face of the shield, then caught on the rim and
dug into Gon's right arm. A sound like fabric tearing came as the lion's claws pulled through dry flesh. Without thinking, Gon
backhanded the lion with his shield. The lion tumbled backwards into the solid core of the tree.
He ran up the steps, propelled by instinct. The lion was faster. It could easily be on him within seconds. Even wounded, the
lion could recover in the days and months and years of climbing ahead.
There would be no wait. The lion bounded up the steps and leapt on Gon's back. The vampire fell forward on his shield, rolled
over on top of the lion, thrust his elbow back through the lion and into the wooden steps.
He quickly stood and stepped away. The lion's chest was crushed, blood streaming down the steps below it. It kept straining to
Gon flipped the shield on his back and ran up the steps. He ran for days, for three weeks, then rested a few sleepless hours and
resumed running up the steps.
The batteries in his Watchman expired. A blue-green crust seeped out of the battery compartment.
Gon ran for months, then slowed to a walk. He should have been to the moon already, long beyond the moon. It was some trick
of the Gods. No way of knowing how long his journey would last. Unable to sleep or dream for many months, he wondered what the
Gods intended by this puzzle. The tree must have been created for some higher reason. It had stood for thousands of years, unique
in this world, but no one knew why.
Perhaps his journey had been willed by the Gods. Someone must have assigned these three obstacles. Unless the
Meadowlark had been lying. Maybe there were legions of obstacles waiting to block him. Maybe there had been no real obstacles,
and the lion had gotten into the tree by chance. How long had it been in the tree before Gon came? If the Gods intended to stop
him, why had they left a beast that a vampire could easily defeat? Was there only one more obstacle?
Gon began to imagine that Meadowlark was the God who had created the obstacles. Either he was a benevolent God who set
the obstacles to force Gon's understanding of Life or the Afterlife, or else he was a wicked trickster God who knew that nothing could
ever climb this tree to the Heavens. Or it was just a mortal bird talking crap.
Finally, after walking for several years without rest, Gon found where the staircase widened into a chamber, thirty feet wide and
ten feet high. A dented and scarred desk blocked the opening where the stairs continued at the back of the room. Someone had
actually taken the time to put down paneling up the walls, hardwood floors that looked like some other kind of wood. The woman
behind the desk bent over a small stack of forms, stamping and signing them, making notes. As she set a form in the "Out" box,
the paper disappeared. Shin bones and skulls and broken shoulder blades filled the corners of the room. The plaque on the front of
the desk announced, "Lisa, Goddess of Machines Forgotten."
"May I help you?" she asked. Her dress was burgundy, a tasteful combination of godliness and business. The shoulderpads
were maybe a little too exaggerated, or maybe those were her real shoulders, but otherwise, divine.
The vampire stood well away from her desk. "You can tell me why we're here."
She leaned way back in her leather chair. "Oh, Golly. I don't know why you're here. I'm here to keep mortals from getting to the
top. It's one of those things where your dad, the God of Corn Whiskey, transforms into a wildebeest in order to seduce your mother,
but doesn't have the power to transform back, so he makes a deal with the River God to have his firstborn serve as a threshold
guardian up this cockamamie tree." She sighed. "Just one of those things. You want some coffee or something? I'll tell you," she
said, holding out a cup that had materialized in her hand, a cool trick, although you'd think she could conjure something fancier than
a paper cup, "it really sucks doing double-duty here. I have to stop people coming up the tree, but at the same time I have to do all
the clerical duties involved with unwanted machines, useless antiques, expired service agreements, discontinued models. Plus I
have to keep an eye on recalls. Just the database for all that warranty information takes up half my hard drive, and we're talking
about a heavy-duty piece of equipment, the kind they only issue to Gods. I think it's supposed to hold one-third of an eternity of
information. Or three-fifths, something like that.''
Gon came forward hesitantly to accept the coffee. "If you're only here to prevent mortals from moving up the tree, then you'll let
"Oh! I'm so sorry!" she cooed. "Vampires can be killed, so we consider you mortal also. But let's not battle yet, please? It's
so rare I get a visitor I can talk to, someone who isn't intimidated by the fact that I may have to vanquish or destroy them. Have you
been climbing long?"
Gon dropped into one of the polished wooden chairs in front of her desk. "Eighty years, a hundred, I'm not sure. Two
"It's sad, really," she said. "So many try climbing this tree to the Heavens, because it looks so direct. It would have been so
much easier to just stay home for two hundred years, concentrate on becoming a master sorcerer, summon angels and demons to
build you a portal to Heaven. So much of this existence is just ridiculous. Totally pointless. I mean, for example, my duty as
Goddess of Machines Forgotten covers dead languages and dead religions too, like the Shakers and Heaven's Gate and
televangelism. Who will ever need to consult records on these things later? I tried to argue my way out of handling cigarettes when
those finally went under, but the higher-ups told me cigarettes counted as a religion if not a device. They got their own savior, The
Marlboro Man, who died so that his followers would know full flavor. And smokers had their ritualized way of worshipping him, by
sacrificing a few days off the end of their life every time they lit up."
"You mean they finally outlawed smoking?" Gon realized how very long he had been away from Earth. What else had changed
since he'd been up the tree?
"Oh, no, they just legislated the tobacco companies out of business. As an individual, you're still free to smoke. But as a
corporation, you're responsible for any products that kill more people than the nation loses in peacekeeping missions each
Gon looked into the bottom of his empty coffee cup. " Wow."
"Yeah, so Ford went under too. God, that was a nightmare. All of a sudden I have to supervise this legion of cherubim working
for me as temps to repossess a quarter million beat-up trucks and Escorts and Explorers. Ugh."
"Thanks for the coffee and the conversation," Gon said, crumpling the cup and tossing it in her wastebasket, "but I need to get
up those stairs."
"Are you sure you need to? I can crack your skull into tatters just as easily as you elbowed that lion?" Lisa spoke in the same
tone she might have used to say, "Are you sure you don't want more coffee? Just takes a second for me to conjure as much as you
Gon arched his back, bared his fangs, roared. "I swore off humans centuries ago. The blood of a Goddess is very tempting, but
I think we can avoid battle."
Lisa pushed her desk and leather chair to the side of the room. The monitor wobbled on her desk as it screeched across the
hardwood floor. The mouse fell down to the floor, and she had to set it back on her customized mouse pad, which was a photo of an
Underwood typewriter. "The nice thing will be that you won't make too much of a mess. If you've gone so long between suckings,
then you won't have any blood to spill. It's really not that difficult to clean, once you've treated it with a few coats of varnish."
"How much paperwork do you have to do when you discover a machine that no one uses anymore?"
You probably know how wicked fangs look in a smile, but Lisa didn't notice yet. She was pulling off her shoes and throwing her
arms in circles to limber up. "About three weeks for each item I discover. These forms get detailed when they're made to be read by
people with all the time in the universe to spend reading."
"So if I keep making use of this big necklace," Gon lifted the Watchman from around his neck and held it out toward the
Goddess of Machines Forgotten, "then you won't have to do your abominable paperwork on it, because it's not forgotten yet. And
you'd be so thankful, you might let me squeak by up the stairs."
She stared at the old hunk of plastic crusted with turquoise battery acid like he was holding a dead carp for her.
"Or I could throw it down the stairs for you to chase," he said.
"And I'd catch up with you and kill you after doing the paperwork. Okay, you got me. Go ahead up the stairs. But if I hear you
set it down on a step and leave it there, then the deal's off and you're dead."
Looping the useless machine around his neck again, Gon rushed up the steps, knowing his goal was near. He had defeated the
third threshold guardian, and nothing more stood in his way. Strange that he had not really used or needed the shield, but maybe
that would come later, or maybe there would be different guardians on the way back down.
Fifteen years he ran, offering praises to God or The Devil if they would only let him reach the Heavens soon, then cursing both
when they didn't, then trying to remember all the minor deities and demi-gods so he could repeat the process.
Two-thousand years later, the idea came that he could walk back down to beg The Secret from Lisa, because there had to be
some secret way to reach the Heavens. He imagined a network of secret passages through the core of the tree that would take him
to rocket elevators, shooting him out the roof and into the stars.
The vampire still walks up the steps of the mountain-tree, and always will. He has met thousands of travelers and wanderers
heading down to Hell, up to the Heavens, down to the Meramac Caverns, some just burrowed into the core of the tree, waiting for
enlightenment, waiting to die, hiding from demons, searching for angels, studying entomology. Some joined with the vampire. Some
attacked him. Some shared tea or tobacco or Doctor Pepper, or offered him Trail Mix, but he never liked that stuff, especially the
kind with carob chips.
Gon became the threshold guardian of a thousand other legends, the mentor to a few dozen, and even inspired several level
bosses in commercially viable video games.
But what of the wager between the God of Flat and the God of the Creek? Both had been distracted by other events long before.
Their wager had blown away like dust, like most of Kansas, like the song by Kansas. A thousand years earlier, Etchiti the God of
Flat had been called away to Greece and Arabia, to lord over scholars of Geometry. Dono eventually defeated Gorell the Silt God
with some help from Meadowlark the trickster God. Dono won the hand of Gorell's luscious daughter Ugust, who never achieved the
status of a deity, but became well-known for polishing stones. His influence grew until he was God of Rivers, then God of Lakes,
washing great canyons out of Kansas, finally Municipal Sea God over the whole sunken Midwest.
What happened to the mountain-tree? It still grows from the middle of Dono's sea. Naturally you have never heard of this
mountain-tree by mortals who cross the Kansas Sea. That's how potent the spell of forgetfulness was. You could still touch it
today, but you would not remember it as you sailed away.
What happened to Gon? He still walks the stairs of the mountain-tree. The reason he never reaches the Heavens is that the
tree still grows, but mostly downward. All the denizens of Hell dig at the roots of the tree, so it has to keep pushing down at them to
grow back in place. Inside the tree, Gon is actually walking up the largest down-escalator ever created. So even after thousands of
years of climbing the sinking staircase, he is no more than a few miles above sea level.
...Did you really think you'd be allowed to see Heaven? Then you are as much fool as he.
(c)opyright 2000 by R. Northrup
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