The City

Flash fiction by Deanne E. Gwinn

(Dedicated to #FormationWeek  and City Bloc @bccbloc.)

So, there’s this huge plain. Part is desert, part prairie, part hills – you know – some forests here and there, rivers, ocean-front property. It’s a lot of land.

And there are tribes of people scattered around. A lot of them, but none are very big at first, and each tribe is adapted to the part of the plain it’s on. Like, wearing grass skirts, or sealskins, or long robes to keep out sun and sand, that kind of stuff. And each tribe has its own way of doing things. Some build canoes. Some ride camels. Some herd reindeer. Some plant turnips and build castles.

At first, no tribe knows much about any of the others.

Now smack in the middle of this plain is a huge, super-rugged mountain. I mean, it’s big. It’s a behemoth everyone can see, no matter where they are on the plain. And no one knows what’s on the top of that mountain. There’s a lot of speculation, but no one knows.

Now and then, trekkers from different tribes climb the mountain to find out what’s up there. Once in a rare while, a trekker comes back to tell their tribe they glimpsed a beautiful city that covers the top of the mountain. This city is always billed as perfection – the kind of place anyone would dream of moving to someday.

Whenever that happens, the tribe’s wealthy ruling class tells their tribe the trekker is lying. I mean, it’s like a prerequisite or something, because rich people think if everyone goes to look for that city, the rich people will lose control of the tribe, and there goes their wealth.

However, as word about the city spreads, more and more people believe the trekker, and want to find a way there. The problem is, the only way to the city is up some side of this terribly rugged mountain. It’s a daunting journey, but people figure if the trekker from their tribe was able to find the city, then they can, too, as long as they stick to the same path their trekker took.

It’s never an easy path. All sides of the mountain are craggy and cliffy, and full of fissures and deceptive peaks, so the path always has a lot of tough places and switchbacks and really steep climbs. The trekkers always go to a lot of trouble to blaze a good path, to keep followers from plunging over a cliff. It’s a perilous hike, but people keep going because they’re certain they can find the city as long as they stick to the path their trekker blazed for them.

Then as the various tribes get larger, and paths up the mountain are more numerous, members of different tribes come close to each other during the climb.  Sometimes, their paths even cross, because they’re trying to avoid the same cliffs.

For some people, this is a really scary thing. After all, a person from a different tribe is a stranger, wearing strange clothing, and following a strange path. So it’s natural for people to be scared.

See, all creatures evolved to be wary of strange things, because a strange thing might be something dangerous. You just don’t know at first if it’s dangerous or not, so you assume it’s dangerous. It’s safer that way. But if a strange thing remains non-threatening, or is even helpful, eventually it will no longer be seen as potentially dangerous. It becomes part of the normal environment, and is not something to fear.

Also, some people who fear those on a different path feel threatened because they have a right/wrong view of the world.

That’s when people grow up thinking life is a type of math homework:  that for every problem or essay question, there’s only one right answer, which would mean any other answer must be wrong.

Right/wrong people can get very passionate about proving their answer is the only right one, because they think if their answer isn’t the only right one, it has to be wrong. And they don’t want to be wrong. They want the other people to be wrong.

Right/wrong. Us/them. White/black. Good/bad. Simple-minded.

But life isn’t math. There is more than one right answer. There is more than one way into the city on top of the mountain.

As long as a trekker finds some way into the city, that trekker has used a right path, no matter which side of the mountain that path starts on. There is more than one way to get to the top of the mountain. There is more than one right path, and they all lead to the same city.

Sometimes, when right/wrong people on one path come across strangers climbing a different path, they try to force the strangers to come over and climb their path. They’re afraid if they don’t convince everyone their path is the only right one, the whole world will think they are wrong.

They might even try to destroy the stranger’s path, just to make sure their path is seen as the right one.  Sometimes they fight, even kill, to prove their path is the right one. That makes them step off their own path, and they fall off the mountain.

Other times, when different paths cross, a person might decide to switch from one path to another. That’s OK, because all the right paths lead to the same city anyway. The only wrong paths are the ones that make a person fall off the mountain.

The important thing is for each person to follow a path that keeps them from falling off the mountain.  And it’s a lot easier for people to get to the top of the mountain if hikers help each other now and then, no matter what path they’re on.

According to rumors, getting to the city is worth the climb, because it’s full of colors and vibrant, interesting diversity, and everyone there is really nice and helpful and wants only to do good to others. And we know that has to be true, because all the other people fell off the mountain.