Fantastic Metropolis

The Mount

Chapter Two

Carol Emshwiller

THE PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN CONFORMATION. Which is the science of us. They have lots of information on that. We know all about ourselves, too, though maybe not as much as they do.

I have a good conformation. They said so when they came to take a look at me and watch me on the go-round. They said I have a nice trot. That didn’t just happen. I watched my own shadow while they were watching me, and I tried to keep my head level like they teach us, so no bouncing. Even I can see I have a nice trot.

There were four of us on the go-round, us three Sams and one Sue. I’d never seen them before. I don’t get to see many others of my own kind. The Hoots sat on platforms so they could get a good view of us.

Mostly they kept looking at me. “Those legs will develop,” they said, and the littlest of them said, “I want that one,” pointing at me. When they came down to have a closer look, they said, “Nice teeth, too. At least his diet hasn’t ruined them — or his conformation. I’d say he’s about eleven.” But all of them wish I didn’t have such a long nose. If I’m good for showing, they’ll have to have it fixed.

They took my picture from all angles. They made me be naked. (They stare too much and they have big round eyes that pop out. That’s how they see so much more than we do, front and back at the same time.) Afterwards, I got pats and strawberry ice cream.

They sent the pictures and my fingerprints away for approval and registration. They didn’t come to get me till they knew I was guaranteed!

I’m a Seattle. We’re the best for size and strength, though we’re not as fast as the Tennessees. I want to be a good Seattle. I want to be the best there is.

Back at the old place over my stall, it said, SMILEY, and under that, OUT OF MERRY MARY. Will make a strong puller, long-distance trotter, and a good stud. They wrote it in our writing and in theirs. I can read them both.

I’ll be free to stand for any Seattle girls. I might even get my choice.

I didn’t call my dam Merry Mary. I called her mom. I wish they’d brought her along, though I know I’m too old for having my mother with me. She knew things would be a lot better for me here, but she didn’t like to see me leave even so. She wouldn’t let go of me until they took a pole to her. I’ll bet she has a scar. If I ever see an old Sue with a scar across her face, I’ll know it’s my mom.

My father’s picture is in my registration booklet along with mom’s. He was the Sam, Beauty, out of the Sue, Susie Q II Too. Tutu for short. She was a famous endurance racer. There’s nobody hasn’t heard of Tutu.

I’d like to meet my father someday. I wonder if he still looks like his picture? (I wonder if my nose will get long, too. It’s a little bit long already.) At least up to the time of that picture they hadn’t had his fixed. I hope they don’t do that. How will I know him without his nose? His hair is black and shiny and combed nice and neat for the picture. He’s almost naked so as to show his conformation. I wonder what he usually wears? Probably, since he’s special, something shiny.

I look at his picture a lot. I wonder if I’ll ever get to meet him. He’s kind of ugly, but at least he looks different from most Sams, even Seattles. I might know him even if they fix his nose.

First I got here, I tried not doing anything, not getting up and not going out to the gym and the arena. I wasn’t sick or tired, I just didn’t want to do it, and I wondered what would happen. There’s some books here I never saw before. One is about a war that was us against us. I could hardly believe in it, but there were real pictures. There’s another about all sorts of animals. I wanted to lie here and read.

I learned, pretty quick, not to ever, ever, ever do that again. And after the poling, I got a kindly talking-to with lots of pats. They took me up over the arena, up where they usually sit, and one of them told me how even they have to work all the time, a lot harder than we ever do, and how they get up earlier (they have to feed us, don’t they?), before any of them eats. And don’t I want to be a good, hard-working Seattle? They depend on me. So now I hitch myself to the go-round all by myself. Now none of them has to wake me up in the morning or corner me to catch me. (That used to be one of my games. It was fun.)

They keep saying we’re the really free ones. They keep saying, “Where would we be without you faithful, sure-footed steadys?” And then they flap their ears (which is their laugh) because they’re so happy about having us. It’s easy to see, where would they be? In their houses they have to scoot around on little stools. I wouldn’t like that at all. We really are the lucky ones.

Sometimes my new Little Master loves me so much he licks me all over my cheeks and ears. Nibbles, too. The big one tells him, “We don’t do that.” But my little one does it anyway.

They train us, me and my little one, at the same time. “Tight but light,” the big one says to him. “Remember your hand strength.”

Our trainer sits on a high stool and watches. He carries a pole long enough to reach the whole round pen. Then he starts to yell — at my Little Master, even though he’s His Excellent Excellency About-To-Be-The-Ruler-Of-Us-All.

“Look! Look! Remember every Sam can tell which way to turn by your own head movements. Poke him! Poke! Poke! Far side! If you got poked in one side, which way would you move? Give him a pat. He’s done well. But never pat for no good reason.”

I get tired of hearing the exact same thing every day, but my Little Master has to learn. They yell at him a lot more than they yell at me. They always say if the rider is good then the mount is good.

My Little Master, The-Future-Ruler-Of-Us-All, His Excellent Excellency, is still too young to be masterful. He’s so young and little he doesn’t understand big words, and he can’t say much more than, “Go, go, go,” and, “Bad boy. Good boy.”

He almost falls off lots of times and sometimes does. He’s so awkward, pulls on me and pricks me. Young as he is, they let him wear needles. “Don’t you realize how that hurts?” our trainer says. Then he pricks His Excellent Excellency really hard with his own needles. (They don’t cry like we do, they just droop their ears and tails.)

Sometimes The-Future-Master pulls my head around hard and leans the wrong way by mistake and makes me fall, too. I’m supposed to not fall, no matter that it’s his fault. When I fall, I get a poling.

“See what you made me do?” our trainer says. To me. “Now you’ll have another scar. We’ll have to paint over that when we show you.”

But every now and then we, His Excellent Excellency and I, get a playtime together. We play guess where and guess again where, and I run up and down and lean low so he can see where a thing might be. I hear his ears flap right next to mine. That’s his giggle. Sometimes I do a kind of lope that bounces him. Sometimes I twist us around until we’re both dizzy. He flaps and flaps. Then we get to sit on the grassy bank and rest together and he pats me. I’m not allowed to pat him back or I would. Except they prefer strokes. It’s us primates that pat and like pats.

I don’t want to hurt His Excellent Excellency, Future-Ruler-Of-Us-All. I would save him from harm. I keep wondering how I can prove that to them. I’m so tired at quit-time I don’t read much anymore. What I do is daydream about how I might find a way to rescue him some day to prove to them how I feel.

Even though my mom isn’t here, there’s nice things about this new place. We’re out in the country — because of fresh, clean air for The-Future-Ruler-Of-Us-All, and they say it’s just as much for me. I need good clean air, too. The mount of The-Future-Ruler-Of-Us-All is just as important as The-Future-Master himself.

I can see the mountains and the forest from my paddock. Some pretty close. I wonder if they’ll ever let us go there. Excellent Excellency would like it, too. I don’t dare ask them, but at playtime I dare ask him if he wants to go and he says, “Oh yes, go, go, go,” and flaps his ears like anything.

“We’ll go,” I say.

“There!” he says, and points with his fingers all spread out as if to grab hold of the forest. I pretend to bite them and then he pretends to choke me.

Then I say, “Guess what?”

“What?”

“My real person name is Charley. Isn’t that funny? And guess what? We call all of you Hoots. I suppose because of that big ho you do, so I’m a Sam and you’re a Hoot.”

He flaps his ears and gives a ho, which we can’t begin to imitate even when we try but that their babies can do from when they’re first born. He’s so close I have to hold my ears until it’s over.

I didn’t think they bothered listening to us at playtime. And we didn’t mean anything real, but they take a pole to both of us. We look at each other because neither of us knows what it’s about. Is it because I called him a Hoot and he let me? Or because I said we’d go to the forest and he wanted to, which how could we without a grownup of one of them with us? Or is it because he’s not supposed to give a ho unless there’s a good reason for it and it’s half my fault that he did it?

They usually tell us what’s wrong and give us a long talking-to, but this time they don’t. After our poling, his Excellent Excellency and I sit beside the round pen and hold hands. Hoots always like to hold hands, especially the little ones. I have tears and he’s all droopy, but we don’t dare ask anything.

After that we get a couple of rest days, but I don’t know why the rest or the poling.

I’m living in a big paddock now with a Seattle female. Her name is Sunrise. She’s too old to do much but cook for me. She doesn’t wear shorts, she wears longs. I guess nobody cares what her legs look like anymore. We have a kitchen and we each have a stall of our own and there’s a sitting place out in front with a rocking chair. No walls. We’re kept in by just one little white wire. That’s all it takes. The Hoots can hear, or maybe feel, if it’s turned on or not, but we can’t.

The white wire is turned off exactly long enough for me to hurry back to my paddock if I trot. They like everything done fast. They say there’s only so much time and then we die, so do we want to waste it? But I’d like to know what’s so important about hurrying back to your paddock?

When I first came, I thought to try and jump it to see what would happen, but then I thought, maybe later when I really want to go someplace. I already had had enough trouble with staying in bed and not doing anything that other time.

These are my first rest days since I got here. I sit out front in our rocking chair and watch the others of us work on themselves. I grew up in a Seattle center, so I haven’t seen much but Seattles before, but here there are other kinds of us. I sit and watch those thin ones practice on their speeds. They’re so odd. I don’t like the looks of any of them. They’re the sprinters, so they can’t be bad if they can go fast. But I’m better than fast. What good is fast when you can’t carry heavy loads?

I’m glad I’ll never have to be mated with any so thin and with little stick legs. But they wouldn’t let me even if I wanted to. Those are the Tennessees. The very shortest distance runners are the Candy/Rex Tennessees. The best of them all come from that single Sam and Sue combination.

I rest and watch and that old Sue, Sunrise, brings me oranges and milk and oatmeal cakes. I get all I want of anything she has in our kitchen. I’m supposed to grow. She’s stooped over now, but she used to be bigger. I’m not only taller than she is now, but she says I’m already taller than she used to be.

Mostly she calls me Smiley, but when she comforts me after a poling — like now — she calls me Charley. (Sunrise’s person name is Margaret. But I kind of like Sunrise. She’s the one who’s always smiling. And she hugs a lot and gives lots of pats.) She teaches me things, too. Secrets. She taught me the whistle for danger, and for be quiet and hold still, another for run, and another for hide. She thought it was important that I know those, but she says I’m too young for any other secrets. Maybe I am, because look how I told things to His Excellent Excellency, except I won’t ever do that again, even to him.

I know tunes of old songs mean things, too, though I mostly don’t know what. They never say the words that go with the tunes. All they have to do is whistle the first few bars, never the whole thing, and every grownup knows. Love songs are secret, too, because we’re not supposed to be in love.

After our couple of days’ rest, my Little Master and I go back to practice and everything is like it always is. Then one day I trot into my paddock and I hear whistling that’s not the same as the usual. Somebody several paddocks away is whistling like anything — a tune I never heard before. It’s not danger or hide or run or anything I know about, and it doesn’t seem like one tune, but a lot of them stuck together.

Sunrise says, “That’s Molly.” So it’s a Sue, not a Sam. Then, for a minute, maybe longer, our white wire turns blue and spits sparks all over our front porch. They hurt. Sunrise grabs me and puts her body between the sparks and me just as if she was my own real mom and as if I wasn’t taller than she is.

“They’re warning us,” Sunrise says, still hugging me.

I say, “I hope my little Excellent Excellency is all right.”

Sunrise lets go of me. ”Yours!” she says, then she says, “I guarantee there are no sparks on His Excellent Excellency, The-Future-Ruler-Of-Us-All.” She says his whole title, but I can tell it’s not out of respect.

I say, “Good,” and go into my stall. I wish there was a door to it.

Next evening Sunrise is the one who whistles. Then the sparks come again and I know she made them happen. She shouldn’t have done that. I should have stopped her.

Then, at the end of the day, right after she serves me my evening meal, Hoots come. Three of them on big Seattles like us. Those Seattles have different tack. Bits in their mouths and cheek-pieces that have spikes. Their shoes are peculiar and make them seem taller than they already are.

Then Sunrise gets poled. I didn’t think they’d do it to somebody so old. They always say how they take such good care of us even after we’re too old to work anymore. I try to get in front so the poling will be on me instead, but one of the Hoots poles me away. He’s riding the biggest Seattle I ever saw. I look up into the Seattle’s blue, blue eyes, but I don’t know what I see there. He looks crazy. At first I think sparks will fly out as if his eyes were the white wires. There’s hate in him, nothing but, but I can’t tell if it’s for me or who?

Then a Hoot puts handcuffs on Sunrise and forces a bit into her mouth (first she fights it, but then it looks as if it hurts more to resist than to take it) and one of them gets on her shoulders and rides her away. I want to hug her and hang onto her like my mother did to me, but the big Seattle and that Hoot riding him keep me back. I keep yelling, “Sunrise,” over and over. (I wouldn’t call her Margaret in front of Hoots. Nobody ever said not to, but I wouldn’t anyway.)

I fall to my knees the minute they’re gone — the minute that crazy Sam and his Hoot let me go. They’re the last to leave. I put my head down on the cement floor. I don’t cry. But then I hear whistling not far away. It’s “Rock-a-Bye Baby.” And after that, “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” I do know the beginnings of those songs, I don’t know exactly what they mean, but I know they’re telling me that even though I’m alone, I’m not alone. Their whistling makes me cry — for Sunrise and for my real mom, too. If Sunrise is gone for good, there’s nobody who cares about me. Except His Excellent Excellency. I know he does. Otherwise my whole life all day long is getting yelled at. His is, too.

I finally get up and get into bed. I don’t go get my evening snack, I just collapse there and have bad dreams where scraps of everything that happened happen over and over.

The next morning an even older Seattle comes in to look after me. She doesn’t talk at all. I don’t think she can, because she writes out her name for me, Bonnie Blue Bonnet. Her white hair is yellowish. She has to have a cane even here in our paddock. I know nothing is her fault, but I hate her anyway.

When I go out for practice, I feel like telling my Little Master everything that happened, but I know he can’t do anything about it, and I know he might not understand. Well, he would understand — he’s the only one who would — but they might hear.

It’s nice to have his lick, though. It makes my tears come. He licks all the more (he must like the taste) and he gives me lots of pats even though our trainer says, “Stop it,” about a dozen times and threatens with his pole. His Excellent Excellency licks my tears off so fast I don’t think our trainer notices them. Does my Little Master know about tears? I’ll bet he does. He knows lots of things automatically.

So tears come and go, off and on, almost all day as we practice. Afterwards, I feel all cried-out. It’s good I do, because I won’t cry in front of Bonnie Blue Bonnet no matter how much I feel like it. And I will never, ever call her by name. By any name.

Her cooking isn’t as good as Sunrise’s anyway. I knew it wouldn’t be just by looking at her. It doesn’t matter, because I can’t imagine ever being hungry again. I wonder how long she has to be here? I’d rather be alone and just eat dry cakes. They’re supposed to have everything you need. At that old place that was mostly what we ate all the time.

I let Bonnie Blue Bonnet have the rocking chair. I go in my stall (again I wish I had a door). I think about that Sam’s eyes — the way he looked at me so scary. Then I think about Sunrise. I wonder what they do with old Sues when they take them away like that? Then I think about my Little Master. I know where he lives, because it’s a special big house with a golden flag on top. You can see it from the arena fence. His Excellent Excellency is proud of it. He points and says, “Mine.” If it were mine, I’d be proud of it, too. What if I crossed the white wire now, and, if I wasn’t too stung by it, what if I went to my Little Master’s house? What if I told him about Sunrise? Except he’s not the master of anybody right now, hardly even of me.

Then I stop thinking and listen. It’s so quiet. I’ve never heard it so quiet before. What does that mean! Then I think how I’m not sure I remember the whistles for anything. I can’t ask Bonnie Blue Bonnet. She can’t talk and I’ll bet she can’t even whistle. Her mouth is too puckered up already.

Then I hear a signal. I’m sure it is one, but it’s one of the ones Sunrise didn’t think I was old enough to know about.

I wait. I don’t move. But nothing happens. I keep on waiting, but I’m so tired from crying all day… well, I wasn’t really crying, just those tears kept coming down… and I was thinking so hard and then waiting… . I fall asleep without meaning to.

Suddenly yelling and yelling. I jump up and look out. They come. Out from the forest. Down from the mountains. Yelling. Hordes and hordes and hordes! Savages. But us… Us! They’re killing and killing… Really killing, dragging Hoots out of their houses, beating on them. Even the Tame ones of us that live here are joining with the bad Wild ones. Everybody’s jumping over the wires and nothing’s happening to them. The sparks are turned off. Bonnie Blue Bonnet grabs my hand and tries to make me jump, too, but I don’t want to be like all the others.

Everything is confused, big clouds of dust fly up — into the moonlight. Some of my kind have poles. That’s not allowed.

Bonnie Blue Bonnet lets go of me and jumps the wire by herself — if you call that jumping. And then I do, too. I know what to do. It’s what I’ve wanted ever since I got here.

We’re not allowed in the Hoots’ houses, but now I run to the big one with the gold flag. There’s two Hoots sprawled right outside the doorway. I hope they’re not dead. If they are, then I’ve seen my first close-up dead thing. But I don’t have time to think about it. The door is so low I have to stoop, and stoop all the way down the hall. I’m like a giant… like a clumsy savage … like those others of us from the forest. And I feel even more so when I get to the first big room and look around. I have to stop. I never saw anything like it.

They believe in having beauty around them. That’s one reason they like us so much, we’re so beautiful, our muscles and all. And here, everything is of us, lamps made out of our shoes (brand-new ones, black and shiny), brand-new surcingles with silver on them dangling from the ceiling to hold up paintings … of us… all of them, of us! Groups of us in the arena or out on the long-distance trails with the forest as our background. In silver frames! I start across the room to look for Little Master, but I have to stop again because I see a portrait that I think might be my father. At least, it’s a long face and long nose. I go close and I’m right. Under it there’s a silver plaque that says BEAUTY. A little farther along there’s my mother, MERRY MARY. After that, there’s my picture. Even mine! SMILEY under it. They care about us so much! How can my kind turn against them!

I go on, to the far end of the house. (In these larger rooms I don’t have to stoop over.) I look in all the cubby-holes along the walls and finally find my Little Master, all alone in his crib. He has a soft doll of one of us, black-haired like me, in fact just like me. He’s hugging it, but when he sees me he lets it go and stands up in his crib — all wobbly like they always are — and reaches up for me to take him as if it was the most natural thing in the world, and I do.

We’re not allowed to touch them, especially not His Excellent Excellency, Future-Ruler-Of-Us-All, but I pick him up and help him get around my shoulders. I’m not wearing a surcingle, so it’s harder. He hangs on so tight I’m afraid I’ll choke. I speak to him though that’s not allowed except at playtime. I can hardly get the words out. “Can’t. Can’t breathe.” And he stops and hangs on, just as tightly, but to my hair. I hunker down and crawl us outside. The Hoots have begun ho-hoing all at the same time. So loud it’s as if ringing inside my head. I can’t think with that going on. My kind is still beating on his kind. I wonder if those Sams and Sues have plugs in their ears.

I leap us away from the sound and the dust and all the banging and bumping of us on them. I don’t think about good form or that my hairdo is a mess or that I shouldn’t bounce my Little Master, I just get us away, past the fields and into the trees. At first it’s hard because so many of us are coming… coming and coming in the other direction. I fall a couple of times, but I do it as I’ve been taught, leaning into my arms and shoulders so as to keep His Excellent Excellency from getting hurt. I keep going until we can’t hear any yelling anymore, though I can still hear the ho-hoing, but not as if right inside my head. I’ve never before trotted so hard and so far at one time, nor over such rough ground. It’s good there’s a big moon so we can see pretty well.

We stop by a river (partly because I need to rest and partly because I don’t know how deep it is. I might drown my Little Master). I help him dismount. He’s shaking. He’s wet himself and me all down my back. We rest until I can catch my breath. I’m supposed to walk around like they taught me, so as to cool down from so much running. You’re not supposed to ever just stop. But I don’t. After resting, I stand Little Master on the bank and clean us both up. I can’t do much about his whites, but it’s better if they don’t shine. When we’re all cleaned up, I find a resting spot, hidden by bushy trees, and we cuddle in together.

So I’ve saved him just as I hoped, but I wonder if there’s any of them left to know about it?

How could we! Us!… I’m ashamed to be a Sam. They’ll bring disaster on themselves, not on the Hoots. Disaster, like the Hoots have always told us and told us. There’s nothing we could ever do to hurt them. They’re smarter than we are, they grow the food, and they have all the tools and weapons. They always say to make peace with the way things are. How live without rules the same for everybody? How live without helping each other? They always say it takes strength of character to do your duty under difficult circumstances. They say the work of the world is never done, and they mean themselves, too. Would we like to lie in bed all day? It’s not only “Go, go, go,” it’s “Do!”

Finally it’s dawn. Little Master and I come out and look around. This is the first either of us has seen the forest up close in daylight. We sit on a knob and look. Excellent Excellency’s eyes seem even bigger than usual. I suppose mine are that way, too. Mostly the ground is a mess, leaves and bark and sticks all over. Nobody’s been raking. There are little blue flowers, lots. Yellow ones, too. Lots. We’ve been stepping on them. Trees, as if out of picture books, bushes that scratched my legs as I ran last night, roots that tripped me. And here, the river. It looks scary.

“Look,” the Little Excellent Excellency says. He’s pointing here and there and there. “Look, look.” Does he know what was happening back home? I guess he does, because he was shaking so and wet us both, but now he’s too surprised to think about it.

He reaches to hold my hand with his big one. And then gives it a sloppy lick. (Odd how their hands are so much bigger and stronger than ours while everything else about them is weaker.)

“I love you,” he says. “I love you more than our trainer. I only love him a little tiny bit.”

He always talks better when he talks to me. I think the others scare him. They’re always yelling at him.

Then, “You may speak,” he says. As if he’s suddenly turned into our trainer himself. Even the same tone of voice.

I don’t. Partly because he told me I could. It doesn’t seem right for him to say that after I saved him. Besides, he’s just a baby.

But I do like him holding my hand and I know he needs to. There’s a lot going on with Hoots and their hands that we don’t understand. We like to hold hands, too, but I don’t think it’s the same.

We sit a long time just looking. Pretty soon I wonder if my Little Master is hungry, but I don’t ask him. I don’t want him thinking about it if he is. I wonder what they eat? I know they don’t like ice cream. They don’t like cold things even when it’s a hot day.

I hear rustling in the forest. I think wild animals. I wasn’t scared before, except of the river, but now I move us back under our bushes and we look out. Little Master’s ears prick up, one towards the back and one towards the front. Little Master sees them first, of course. It’s some of us going by — back into the mountains. Carrying things. Poles mostly, but silver surcingles, old books (they used to be ours, anyway), new shoes… Every Sam or Sue that I get a good look at has a Hoot rain hat. This is all wrong. Those of us up here in the forest are savages. All the Hoots say that, and this stealing proves it.

I should get His Excellent Excellency to a safer place, but I don’t think we should go back to our home. At least not yet. Those Sams and Sues don’t look as if they’d pay attention to us. They’re too busy stealing things. Besides, I may not be fullgrown, but I’m a big Seattle — already big as most Sues or any Tennessee. I can defend him against them.

“Let’s go,” I say, “Let’s get out of here.”

He says, “I’m scared.”

“I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”

“You’re not a grownup.”

“Besides, we have to find something to eat.” I know there isn’t anything, but I say that to make him come. “Anyway, let’s go see more things. I’m a Sam, too, remember? These Sams and Sues won’t hurt me.”

“I’m scared anyway. I want my doll.”

“Later.”

I help him mount. After, I lean over so he can pick some flowers to put behind his ears and mine, too. That makes him feel better. And then we go… up along the river. I don’t dare cross it.

Every now and then we hear Sues and Sams rustling and whistling signals not far from us. Once in a while there’s a part of a song. I wish Sunrise had taught me more, but she didn’t think I’d need to know these things so soon. Whenever they’re close, I squat down behind something. I don’t have to tell him to keep still, he just knows. I can tell how scared he is by how hard he holds on. I depend on him. I wish I could hear things and smell things and see the way he does. But we make a good team just like the Hoots always say, us the legs and them the senses.

One time we hunker down and then we see there’s this wild animal with big branching horns. I know from books that it’s a deer, but the books didn’t say if it’s something that would eat us or not. I wonder which one of us is more edible. Little Master is all head. If they like to eat brains, he’d be first. Or maybe they’d save the best for last like I always do.

Anyway, I make a sound by mistake and the deer thing runs away.

We see lots of berries and Little Master wants to eat them, but I know some are poison. Back there we had berries lots of times, but none of these look like any of those. But we’re going to have to eat something one of these days. They say those Wild Sams and Sues live on roots. I wouldn’t like that.

I’m not trotting as fast as I did. I’m getting tired and it’s all up hill, steeper and steeper. Everything’s changing. It’s getting so there aren’t any more bushes for hiding but more rocks for it. When it starts getting dark, we find a place where there’s a batch of boulders. We go to hide there for the night, but we see a big long snake crawl out rattling. Back when they warned you about the Hoots’ hands, and poison berries, they also warned about rattlesnakes, so we go on. The farther up it gets, the more it’s just rocks. Since my kind can’t see in the dark, pretty soon we could just lie down in the open and none of those Wild ones would see us, but I go on and on. It’s as if I’m so tired I can’t think to stop. When I realize that, I sit down right then. “I have to wait till morning. I can’t see anymore and I can’t think.”

I can see,” he says.

I know that.”

And then he says it. “I’m hungry.”

I don’t know what to do. I tell him, “In the morning, we’ll find something.”

We cuddle up together right where we are, middle of nowhere. I think I won’t be able to sleep on these rocks and with Little Master on my chest, but I fall asleep before I even know it.

I wake up with Little Master holding me — my ear and my hair — too tight again. At least he’s not holding me around my neck this time. It’s dawn. I know something’s wrong, but I don’t know what. I can’t hear anything. And then I do. Things coming, lots of them. Do rattlesnakes do that? Come in a bunch to eat you?

But it’s us. A minute later we’re surrounded — and there’s not a single one of his kind riding even one of my kind, and not a single one of his kind around to supervise. I’ve never seen that before.

One of us is just about the biggest Seattle I ever saw. And he’s like that one with crazy eyes. Best to run. Maybe he’s too big to keep up. But there’s Tennessees there, too. I couldn’t outrun them.

The big one pulls His Excellent Excellency away from me. That’s not easy with both of us hanging on, but he does it, finally, with a jerk. He puts Little Master down on a big stone. Little Master gives one big Ho! like they do when in danger. It’s like he can’t help it — as if he hardly knew he was going to do that. It echoes all over. Everybody puts their hands over their ears. Except that big one. He raises his pole with both hands and points it at Little Master. He’s got crazy, starey eyes, exactly like that other big one that held me away from Sunrise. With eyes like that, you don’t know what he’ll do. He’s got scars on his cheeks, too. And a long, lumpy face and a long nose, and he’s nothing but a big bunch of bulging muscles.

I see all this in half a second, and then I jump and get between the pole and Little Master.

It hurts so much I have to sit down and catch my breath. Even though I haven’t eaten anything, I feel like throwing up. Nobody moves — none of them, but pretty soon Little Master comes to hug me. I’ll have a scar all across me now, forever, top-to-bottom.

When I can breathe again, the big one squats beside me and looks close into my face. So close I can see the scars all over him. I can see how he needs a shave but there’s no hair where there’s scars. I can see the brand along his upper lip. He’s, even so, a Tame.

“Charley?” He sputters it. Chokes on it.

I say, “That’s not fair. He’s just a baby.” Then, “I thought there was peace.”

“Charley? Is it? It’s you!”

“My name is Smiley.”

“Out of Merry Mary!” There’s something wrong with his talking. He can’t get the words out. “You’re the mount…” He takes a big breath. “Of His Ex…”

The Sue Tennessee finishes for him. “His Excellency, Future-Master…”

But he waves her to stop and goes on by himself. “You are Charley. I’m your…” Big breath. “Father.”

I see his long nose and long face, and as if my own dark eyes looking back at me. I know he’s right. It’s Beauty! I knew it even before.

“You’re not my father.”

“Look at me. Look… how alike. The raid… partly… partly I wanted to rescue… and you rescued yourself.”

Rescue!

I hate him.

They have a cream my father puts on my top-to-bottom burns. Down my neck and shoulder and ribs and hip bone, down my thigh, and even across my foot. My father puts it on as gently as Sunrise used to put the same kind of stuff on me after I got poled before, but I never got poled this hard. That would have killed my Little Master.

They let Little Master stay next to me. He licks my cheeks and pats me all through it. It’s a bother, but I don’t tell him.

Afterwards, our stomachs growl as if they were talking to each other.

“You’re hungry,” that Sue Tennessee says.

I never was this close to one. I never wanted to be and I still don’t, she’s so ugly — she’s got little spots all over her — but she’s trying to be nice.

Little Master says, “Yes,” but I say, “No.” And then Little Master says, “Yes, he’s hungry, too.”

Everybody sits down with the rocks for chairs and tables. My father sits on the ground at my feet. I hate him, but I can’t help thinking how he has a very good conformation. I can’t help thinking how I’ll grow up to be as strong as he is.

I never saw some of this food. I don’t know what it is, which I guess is a good thing. It doesn’t taste too bad, though, and they do have our kind of dry cakes. I’ll bet they stole them from the Hoots when they were down there stealing things. Little Master only eats the dry cakes. He knows those because he used to chew on mine even though they told him not to.

After we eat I learn how strong my father is. First he puts the Little Master on my shoulders. He makes him keep one leg off my poled shoulder, so he’s sideways. I’m thinking, even sideways, I hurt too much to carry him anywhere, especially not up. But then my father lifts me, easy as could be, and puts both of us on his own shoulders. I’m almost twelve and big for my age, even as a Seattle, but he starts out, straight up the mountain, as if we were nothing. It’s a hard climb, but my father hardly even breathes heavily and doesn’t stop to rest. I’ll be just as good someday. My Little Master, grownup by then, too. We’ll go everywhere together, just like we were born for.

We go up all morning, until we finally top a rise, and then start down again. We go around a rocky cliff and there’s suddenly a big view of a valley with streams that shine in the setting sun, and green squares and yellow squares and funny houses. Snowy mountains in the background.

Hard to tell from here, but there’s nothing there that looks like stalls or arenas, and not a single house looks like the round white lumps, all in a row, that are the Hoots’ houses. Not even one. And not a single flag. In fact, hardly any color at all, though when we get closer I can see flowers here and there next to the houses. And, closer, you can see there aren’t any white wires. I look hard, but they’re not anywhere.

My father points down there. “Margaret… your Sunrise,” he says. And the Tennessee says, talking for my father, “We rescued her, too. She’ll be glad we rescued you. She was worried.”

I’m thinking how it was Sunrise’s own fault. She shouldn’t have been whistling like she did that night, but I say, “Good,” anyway, to be polite. Then I ask my father the most important thing. “Are you going to kill him?”

“Not if…”

You can tell it hurts him to talk.

“…if you don’t want…” Big breath. “Want me to.”

I guess I don’t hate him quite completely, but pretty much.


Carol Emshwiller’s The Mount is published by Small Beer Press.

Copyright © 2002 by Carol Emshwiller.