The air was cold. Maku awoke with frost on his blanket. Stepping out of the shelter, he noticed nothing changed. The great aspens around him had mostly turned brilliant gold. In the morning sun, they looked like solid gold. The sea of clouds ebbed and flowed just beneath the village; unchanged in Maku’s 11 years.
The elders told many stories about he sea of clouds and the Lonely Mountain that stuck out of the whiteness to the east. Today , the sun rose right behind the Lonely Mountain making it the first day of autumn. Maku’s grandfather, the village medicine man, was busy preparing for the autumn ceremony. Maku helped some but quickly was distracted by the village puppies and he forgot about the work for his grandfather.The elders told many stories around the campfires of the sea of clouds and the loney mountain. Stories talked of trees that talked, razor sharp bushes, bears with big teeth and hungry wolves. But Maku’s favorite was about he place where lightning danced in a circle of stones. This was easy to imagine because the Lonely Mountain was struck by lightning often by summer storms.
No one traveled into the sea of clouds. There was plenty of game and berries to be collected among the giant aspens surrounding the village. One man long ago had gotten lost and wandered into the sea of clouds. Months later, he re-emerged hungry and mad with torn clothes. Many of the stories people listened to but as time went by the stories grew more fantastic. Stories about four-legged men, glowgin tree trunks and will-o-wisps.
Maku’s grandfather never believed these stories but Maku knew his father would never lie to him.
So he often told his friends his stories. But his friends found him as crazy as his father. No one believed.
Chasing the pups, Maku noticed one running off down the hill in pursuit of a rabbit; right into the sea of clouds. Maku called the pup but he was too intent on his prey and he disappeared into the heavy mist. Not wanting anything to happen to the pup, Maku plunged in to the mist after him. He couldn’t see the pup but he could hear him crying to get to the rabbit. Then Maku tripped. He hadn’t seen the rock in the mist. He tumbled a long way down the hill before he stopped.
He must have been asleep for a while. When he awoke, he found the pup curled up asleep next to him. His head and arm hurt but otherwise he OK. He got up. Cloud was all around him. Instead of giant, golden aspens all Maku could make out were green, moss covered pine trees. Fine needles stuck in his hair and all over his clothes. All was silent. It was as if the clouds swallowed up all the sounds. Maku decided to explore this new place. As he moved down the hill some more, the darker it became and quieter. Bushes with thorns tore at is legs, Branches heavy with moss reached out for him. The wind blew slightly and the moss swayed and there were voices; a sort of whining, creaky voice.“Who’s there?”
The voices continued, but did not respond.
The wind was causing the mist to swirl around. Maku screamed and ran when something brushed the back of his neck. The trees watched him run with their long arms and dark eyes. They watched him everywhere he went. Finally he collapsed under a willow tree next to a fast-moving stream. Gold flecks glittered in the sand.
The dog waded into the stream and slurped up the water. Maku drank too. The water tasted the same as above the clouds; something he had not expected. The stories said the water was warm and muddy and not fit to drink. Maku thought the water was good.
It was getting late and Maku didn’t know the way home. He noticed that moss grew more on one side of the rocks and trees but what direction was that. He could only see a few feet into the trees and couldn’t see the sun to show him the direction or the time. All he kenw was that it was gtetting darker. He could hear rumbling too. A storm was coming; a storm with lightning.
Crickets began to chirp with their familiar beat. As it grew darker lights started dancing around the willow tree. Blinking on and off they moved and flitted about as if they had a mind of their own. One landed on Maku. Maku tensed. It flared. It didn’t burn and Maku noticed it was a small bug with wings. When it flew away, he noticed that there were hundreds of lights flashing among the shadowy trees lighting the mist. A new sound had started up. At first it joined the crickets but soon grew louder and louder drowning out the crickets then dropping off to almost nothing before overpowering the crickets again.
Something splashed in the water and Maku saw a large frog swim away.The storm was growing closer. Flashes of lightning made the mist a swirling whiteness. Between flashes, Maku noticed other light. Ancient logs, spongy mosses and huge mushrooms glowed a faint green in the darkness. He was surrounded by a faint green halo.
A sudden flash erased the vision. Maku thought if he could move uphill he could climb above the clouds then he could find his way home.Flash!Then it hit him. He remembered his grandfather’s stories about the place where lightning dances on the lonely mountain.
Maku started moving toward the flashes. The lightning became brighter and the thunder louder. Between the flashes, his heavy breathing an the green glow showed him he and the puppy were moving uphill.
Eventually the storm stopped and Maku was alone in the glowing mist. They kept moving uphill but Maku was getting tired and it was harder and harder. Occasionally, the pup plopped onto the ground panting. Maku would whistle and the pup would get up slowly. The last thing Maku wanted was to lose the pup in the mist.The green glow was changing becoming more silvery. The mist moved as if it were alive. Ghosts moved around the trees and through the bushes. Maku pulled himself over rocks larger than his house. The ghosts, tinged in orange, swirled even closer around him. He stumbled. The ghosts were pulling him down Maku thought. His arms felt tired. He stumbled again. He wanted to see his grandfather again so he kept moving fighting against the ghosts in the mist.
He was winning. The mist was thinning but he was so tired. When he reached up again, he felt nothing. It seemed flatter. He tripped again and did not get up. He dreamed that moonlight filled his whole house with silver light.
He awoke to a brightening sky; the sun was just about to break the horizon. He remembered this was the first day of fall and all of the village would turn out for the sunrise over Lonely Mountain. If he waved his arms, they might see him and know he was ok. Maku jumped up and down as the sun rose. All of the villagers saw him too standing in front of the sun. He did the dance to the sun, twirling around in a circle. Then he stopped.
He was dancing in a circle of stones just like the one his father had told him stories about.