To listen to the audio version of this story CLICK HERE
The summers here in Shallow Valley yield some of the fiercest storms, and those storms contain in them some of the brightest lightning and some of the loudest thunder ever seen or heard anywhere.
Folks always talking ‘bout them, like the one in ‘60 that darn near flooded every house. You can still spot the watermark from how high the water stood. Then the one in ‘74 that killed two of old Farmer Jack’s cows. Nobody ever fessed up, but I think those Bartlett boys probably tipped em, leaving their muzzles in the mud, down on the ground, for them to drown. Such as shame. And everybody talks ‘bout the one in ‘92 coz Ted Riggins’ truck slid off the embankment when he barreled around the sheriff’s roadblock. He hit a tree head-on, and we all figured he got his comeuppance, mainly coz Ted Riggins is a jackass.
There are more stories you can catch wind of ‘bout any day of the year out on a front porch or at a neighbor’s barbecue. Hell, the slightest sprinkle gets folks all a buzz. But if you ask me why everybody gossips ‘bout thunderstorms, they want someone— anyone, to ask them ‘bout Thunder Mountain.
You see, nobody around here dares begin a conversation ‘bout our town’s little secret, but everyone wants to, all biting at the bit like an important race ‘bout to start. If someone, a newcomer, got wisps to the rumors, they just come on out and naively ask.
Course, folks’ eyes grow as big as bugs, all puffed, ready to pop right out of their heads from the sheer excitement brought on by fresh, tender ears. But, a few seconds later, after their eyes go back to normal size, plans already formulated in their minds, they grab the question’s rail and jump on the opportunity to set things in motion and tell the tale.
Now, the ones who’ve seen the bolts from up on that mountain for themselves— they give each other a ‘knowing’ look and sit back while the other folks happily spill their own version of the events. Every now and again, those ‘knowing’ few smirk, maybe let out a titter, but they never give a word, not to no strangers at least.
On the nights when the weather turns ugly, folks say, don’t worry about hearing the call unless it ain’t raining. When the thunder rolls in, but brings no rain, the destination is the mountain. Legend tells, and by legend, I mean how old man Stevens recounts, some 3,000 years ago, Native Indians lived in these parts. They resided in this valley, right here where we are sitting today. Now, that part ain’t hard to chew, but this next piece gonna take a bit more gnawing.
At the base of this mountain, hidden behind overgrowth and thick brush, sets a secluded place where a hole takes you into her gut, and opens up to the biggest cavern around these parts. On the rock-hewn walls of her belly are some of the strangest pictures. Drawings of Indians and their lives, yes, but every image includes the storms. They tell of the thunder and lightning ages ago. There are drawings of tribesmen entering the cave, some climbing the steep side of the mountain, and a couple of them nearly reaching the top. I say nearly because their quest ended with a bolt pierced into the rock and the depiction of these men plummeting to their deaths.
These drawings have drops of the rain sharply defined, even the images of the mass graves are puddled with rainfall, but the last picture is different. That one shows an Indian, alone, exiting the cave. Alone he climbs, no rainfall, only lightning bolts. In this drawing, he stands on top with rays of light illuminating from him in all directions as he receives the gift of Thunder Mountain.
Some folks say this is all lore, something somebody made up to make a good story ‘bout why she’s called Thunder Mountain and sell you tourists t-shirts. But at least half a dozen have died trying to find out the truth and receive her offering.
Of course, they usually weren’t alone coz they were too scared. If you ask me, they didn’t follow the picture directions. Some idiots try their luck in a downpour— the prospect too damn tempting. In a dry storm, some made it— some lived and experienced the enlightenment of the mountain. I know because I’m the last to have done it, and I’ve never been the same since.
My ‘receiving’ happened the year before last, not during a spring rain, but in one of those summer storms where thunder rattled and boomed in the sky. Some say the heat creates that, but this seemed unusual— altered somehow. All of a sudden, I stood from my old Ford pickup, dropped the jack right next to my foot, and started walking. I could not have cared less ‘bout my flat tire or the load of seed I hauled. The thunder’s rumble moved through me, deep inside, all the way to my core. Rattled me awake and called me to the mountain’s top.
Some said I was stupid to head out with no provisions and not a single word ‘bout my goings and whereabouts to anyone in town. But I had to go. I walked three miles to the base of the mountain, and without hesitation, I started up. Hours must have passed. I never noticed the movement of time, and I never stopped. Flashes of light strobed the sky, but I just kept climbing, rock after rock up the side of that rugged slope, rippin’ my fingers raw— blood under my nails. But still, I climbed.
The thunder cracked louder as I neared the summit. I can’t explain what came over me next, but I wasn’t scared. A calmness, like I was finally home, enveloped me. Now, I know it doesn’t make any sense how the top of a mountain surrounded by summer lightning felt like home, but it did. I loved the rumble— the drawn-out boom that encompassed me. All the thoughts that normally filled my head disappeared, and in my inner silence, I just was.
Rooted on a small ridge of the peak, I reached my arms to the heavens. I circled myself around until I sensed I should stop. Then, without warning, words flowed from my mouth. “Oh, Great Thunder God.” That’s when it happened.
One loud, crisp clap resounded, and with it, a strike of lightning brighter than anything I had ever seen flashed through me. My body grew warm, and my arms, I looked at my arms. They glowed with brightness all their own: no shock or fear, or nothing but peace. I understood. At that moment, I knew what it all meant. Everything’s connected— you and me. We’re linked together— one with each other and everything else on this earth. Heck, everything in the universe, even the stuff not created yet. We’re connected to that too.
All sounds crazy, but I remember the perception of oneness, and I carry this treasure with me, deep inside. Like I said, I’m not the same knowing what Thunder Mountain showed me. I don’t know why it called for me. Don’t matter, coz she did, and I received her gift on her summit.
All the voices that whisper in each man, and their reasons for doin’ and for not doin’ trickled in. I understood which strangers possessed something needed by our town tribe in their spirit and that we could obtain this through the consumption of their flesh. I’m only telling you this coz a storm’s rollin’ in, and I thought I’d ask if you wanted to take your chance with the mountain. You might get lucky, I did, and I’ll forever be one of those in the ‘knowing’ group, no longer a bug-eye or the town’s last meal.