Master Plotto Week Four Winner: Samuel Gardner

Masie Cochran

It was another great week of Plottos pouring in from talented Plottoists around the globe.

Congratulations go out to Samuel Gardner, an undergraduate student at the University of North Texas, who when asked for his author bio, simply replied, “I have never published anything before, anywhere, ever.”

Marked by simple and restrained prose, Gardner’s “Mountain Topping” describes the life of a couple surrounded by the mountain mining industry, and the tragic discovery they make.

Last Week’s Prompt: A finds himself with a strange baby, CH, on his hands.

Mountain Topping

In July, the solid mountain dust no longer bothers him. He wakes and his forearms are sooty with it, he thinks he has heard it breathing in his sleep, dreamed it seeping into the house. He doesn’t go for walks anymore, can stay inside all day. He goes to see the boy sleeping; he avoids the kitchen; he takes a nap himself.

The boy sleeps in the screened-in porch, in the wood crib with his legs swung over the end railing, because there is not a child’s bed in this old house with mud-caked floors; in the high corners the screen material separates from the siding, fallen in from the ceiling in drooping swaths. The man and woman constantly have to brush the dust out of his hair.

They are all sleeping much more now. The air is bad.

The woman sleeps in the kitchen and he avoids the kitchen. She sleeps in a rocking chair with one broken-off arm rest. The man imagines the soot gathered on her face as she sleeps.

Before, when they have nothing, they make do anyway because living seems the essential thing. Now, after the smoke and thunder has come there is no need, they are perfectly content just to sleep, wanting nothing.

It begins in the colder months, marking the boy’s arrival, explosions on the furthest part of the mountain, spouts of black smoke churning up the horizon.

In the days of having nothing but refusing to die it is the man’s custom to flee the falling-down house, to try and out-speed his shame; walking and then running, sprinting through the scrub forest.  He is running as best he can with no shoes, dodging branches when he hears the first explosions. They bring him up short, panting, watching the sky blacken beyond the tree line.

He stays that way for a long time, listening well past the end of the booming. He waits, and then he hears a cry. It is an animal cry, not far off, but so brief the man cannot completely trust himself to have heard it.

He goes to where he thinks it’s come from and finds the boy on the ground; there is blood on his hands and face. He does not open his eyes when the man speaks to him or touches his shoulder, but he breaths.

The man carries the boy to the house and without saying anything the woman helps to set the boy in the crib and clean his wounds.

The boy never opens his eyes, but breaths and sleeps.

The man and woman seem to follow the boy’s example. As the sky grows darker and the air goes bad they speak less and less, the words fallen away; they take to separate rooms and visit the boy alone when the other is sleeping.

They watch his chest rise; brush the dust from his forehead. They forget to want or need.

The air is bad now and they sleep.