The Man on the Hill, flash fiction by Stephen Woodfin
October 23, 2012
He carried the heavy stone tablets, one in each hand, down the rock path not looking back toward the summit.
As he walked, his thoughts took him to his childhood.
He was a miracle child they said, an infant destined for the executioner’s blade who escaped through his mother’s ultimate sacrifice. Through that strange twist of fate, he grew up in the halls of wealth and privilege, not a peasant hovel where his fate would have been to make brick from straw or die in the attempt.
Despite his royal upbringing, he succumbed to his passions, emotions that fired his soul until he took another man’s life.
He thought of his days as a fugitive, of the stolen life he pursued until he came upon a brushfire that he couldn’t extinguish save with his own blood.
His foot slipped on a stone wet with his sweat, and he bobbled the tablets. He leaned back against the mountain wall to catch his breath and caught a flash of light above him, the fading of a brilliant, divine glow that had only moments before enveloped him.
He thought then of how much easier it was to descend than ascend. How a downward trajectory suited him better than the burning flash of a comet that arched its rare compass of the sky and dissipated into the stars.
After a few hours on the path, he began to hear a rumble from the desert floor, the distant din of people in a reverie, people who had once fawned over him, but now took for dead their insane Jevohah leader, Yahweh’s would-be puppet.
Near midnight, he turned a bend that opened on a high perch above the encampment. The torches revealed to him a throng gone mad, sheep without a shepherd.
He placed the tablets at his feet, stretched himself to his full height. On the far horizon, he saw the moon, half-hidden.
He bowed his head to pray, but no words came.
When he looked at the engraved stones at his feet, he knew the end was at hand, the end of life as he had known it, the final episode of a killer, a wanderer, now the stammering mouthpiece of the Almighty. He backed away from the ledge, lowered his eyes, put one foot ahead of the other as he started his retreat to the summit, the place where revelation occurred.
“Don’t make me do it,” he cried out to a night sky as hard as Pharaoh’s heart.
Only the wind replied.
He waited for an hour, two, three.
In the darkest moment of the blackness, he stood up, dusted his cloak and headed down the mountain. When he reached the ledge, he took the tablets and cradled them in his arms, kissed them.
Then with the voice of Gabriel’s trumpet he called out to the children of God.
(Written for The Writer’s Collection to the prompt “The Mountain.”)