Home > Journaling the Apocalypse > The Different Mosses

The Different Mosses

December 31, 2008

I was home alone. My big brother Jimmy was at the ballpark with his pal Zack, and Mom and Dad were down the block helping the Hendersons set up for a garage sale. They were selling some of my old stuff, too, mostly dolls I’d outgrown, so I’d helped put up the posters. I put one on a street sign and got yelled at.

Last week, I found where Dad hid the gate key. My heart was pounding a little and I was doing shallow breaths, because this was my chance: I was going exploring behind the back fence. Mom and Dad told me never ever to do that after I went there once last year and Dad caught me. Besides, it was scary with the Wall towering over me back there, and even scarier because the grownups never wanted to talk about the Wall, and if Jimmy or I mentioned it they changed the subject fast.

I didn’t know what to expect at the Wall when I sneaked off there last year; I was just being ‘brave.’ A school lesson that week had been about the men (and women!) who fought in the war. Ms. Tapley, our teacher, said they were ‘brave,’ though I think she called them brave just because they all died. Going to the Wall was the only thing I could think of to do to be brave.

#

I was out the back door, through the gate again, past the poplar trees and through long dry grass, hopping spongy hillocks of moss, trying to keep the yellow butterflies out of my face. Then I was standing in front of the Wall just like last year, touching the ivy that covered it all over. I could see the Wall stretching as far as I could see, left and right. Jimmy had said “miles and miles and miles,” and maybe he was right about something for once. He sure wasn’t right about how high it was. Not much taller than Dad’s office building, for sure.

I tried to pry the vines apart to see the Wall itself. Ivy was pretty stubborn, and the vines were dug in with their million feet like caterpillars. But I tugged and pulled and finally reached in and touched the Wall, being very brave. I felt some kind of metallic mesh, tight together like the radiator on Dad’s Ford, a little breeze coming through. Nothing special, pretty disappointing.

I listened hard through the Wall, because maybe people lived on the other side. And finally I did hear sounds, very faint. There must have been a picnic or something going on, because I heard kids sounding happy, and grown-ups yelling, and a click like marbles, and a crack like a ball being hit. When that happened, they yelled louder. Once in a while a thin voice cried out and a lower voice said “that’s OK; it’s OK.” Maybe a kid fell down and a grown-up did some soothing that wasn’t really needed.

They had a TV on, too, some serious important network-sounding voice that the grown-up voices seemed to ignore. I guessed they were all concentrating on the softball game or whatever it was. I couldn’t make out many of the TV-words, just once in a while “stock market” and “scores” and “call-up” and “weather.”

After a while I went home and put the gate-key back just the way it was. I went over to the Hendersons and brought back a doll I decided I didn’t really want to sell, even if it was years old and loved to death.

#

That night I swore Jimmy not to tell anybody that I’d discovered the secret of the Wall. He swore and crossed his heart and showed me his hands so I knew he didn’t have his fingers crossed. Then I told him that the other side of the Wall was just like our side: Grown-ups and kids. Games and TV. He was pretty disappointed and called me a ‘dork.’ I had no idea what that meant, and I didn’t think Jimmy did, either, but it didn’t sound like a great thing to be. I couldn’t think of anything else to say back at Jimmy, so called him a ‘dork,’ too, and we didn’t speak to each other for three days.

A couple of weeks later, since I’d been so clever about sneaking off to the Wall when the Hendersons had their garage sale, I decided to do it again, third time! This time, Dad was home working on some big deal for his office and had shushed Jimmy and me several times and told us to go do homework. Mom was out at some meeting with her friends where to hear her tell it they ate cookies and drank tea (not from tea-bags, either!) and saved the world. I went to my room and set up for homework, but then slipped downstairs and out the back with the gate-key.

Then I was at the Wall again. The ivy was the same, but the mosses seemed different this time: darker, less alive. I thought about calling to the people on the other side, but I was afraid Dad or Jimmy might hear. So I just listened.

There didn’t seem to be a ballgame going on this time, just people chasing around like hide and seek, children playing, dogs barking, crying and screaming as if the game had gotten too rough. There were a few loud bangs and booms, after which the children, if that’s who they were, got pretty quiet.

This time it was Mom who caught me at the Wall, instead of Dad. She’d come home early, so I guess they saved the world quicker than they usually did. Dad was still taking bunches of papers from one pile and putting them in another pile when Mom, holding me by the arm so hard it hurt, burst into the dining room where Dad was working and told him what happened and sent me to my room.

From upstairs I heard the big fight with Dad trying to say he’d really been watching us all the time and couldn’t imagine how it happened and Mom saying it didn’t matter, it will happen again, we just have to move. Even if our kids were OK, some neighbor kids would sneak behind our back fence and then we’d get blamed, maybe sued. I never wanted to live here anyway, she went on, you must have known that. Didn’t I tell you often enough no matter what kind of bargain we got? We never should have bought this place and with the news now and all getting worse I’m really worried about what will happen and what do we do now? — And on and on and on.

#

I didn’t hear anything more about moving for a while, but every so often Mom would get after Dad and then I guess it was settled, at least enough to keep Mom off his back.

So we had a big family meeting. That’s just the four of us, but it was very solemn and reminded me of church. Mom and Dad said we were going to sell our place and buy a new one they’d picked out. Just like that. They said we’d miss our neighbors but we could come back and visit them, and anyway there’d be new neighbors (like you could just trade!). And we’d be going to the same school, which I guess was OK. Even if my school was sucky, every other school was probably sucky, too.

#

I had to clean up my room, because strangers kept coming by and poking in my closet and frowning around our living room and whispering down their noses at us. It was strange to see how the realtor agent anxiously pulled and prodded them around — how the strangers looked funny when they saw that we were right by the Wall.

The agent said more than several times “great price!” and several more times “and a real strong fence!” Still, most of the prospects squirmed a little.

Finally, Mom and Dad looked very relieved and happy, because they were “expecting a contract on the house,” even though they had little worried discussions about money. They whispered, but I heard “offer” and “counter” and then “Oh hell, I guess we’ll have to take it.”

#

Mom and Dad made a big celebration out of taking Jimmy and me to see our future home, but they didn’t sound too excited about it. We drove about half an hour and then pulled up to a house that looked pretty much like our old one. Jimmy was jealous of my new bedroom and wanted to trade but I ignored him because his was just as big. Mom and Dad ignored him for a while, too, and then called him a pest.

I looked for the Wall. I couldn’t see it from the new house, but I knew it was out there somewhere.

#

Ms. Tapley was doing a history lesson about the Mongols. They were people from a long time ago who never got off their horses and killed lots of people and were very brave. I wasn’t paying much attention because she never mentioned any Ms.-Mongols like there never were any, but that’s impossible. But then she said that the Mongol invasion was stopped because the Qin (that’s another people from long ago) built a wall thousands of miles long and too high for the Mongols’ horses to jump over.

I thought for a moment that the people on the other side of our Wall might be Mongols, but I didn’t remember hearing any horses, and they sounded like us, anyway. And the Mongols were a long time ago.

For once, Ms. Tapley didn’t acknowledge any raised hands and it was just about recess time, so she shooed us out to the field whether we wanted to go or not. Some of the girls got up a game of hop-scotch. I think they really wanted to play marbles, but wouldn’t be caught dead doing that.

The Wall was over to the right and a long way off; I could just barely see it behind some houses. That smarty-pants brat Rollo Gilbert noticed me looking at it. He smirked at me and talked in that way he had like he knew all the grown-ups’ secrets. But he really didn’t, you know. Today his big secret was that the Wall was there to keep the boogie man out. Or boogie men; he didn’t know how many. I asked him if there were boogie women, too, and that stumped him, and he went away. But I didn’t think there were boogie anythings, not really. Not then I didn’t think that, anyway.

#

Very parentally, Mom and Dad announced to us that we’d be moving to the new house right away. So we were all packing frantically, throwing everything into cartons, but the movers arrived before we were half done. Mom and Dad were in a tizzy because they said the movers cost a lot of money every hour they just stood around and watched us pack.

Three or four hours later our stuff was all in the moving van and Mom and Jimmy and I were in the car. Dad was leafing through some pink and white and yellow papers with the moving crew and arguing about something. Just then I remembered I’d left a doll behind, the one I rescued from the Hendersons. I told Mom. She said five minutes, be back in five minutes because we were going. So I got out of the car and ran into the house and found Dollie right away. But then I looked out the back window at where yellow leaves were blowing from the poplars. There was the gate, wide open, and the Wall behind it. I thought that would be my last chance to listen to the sounds and talk to the people on the other side. I ran out through the gate, through a swirl of brown leaves, and pushed past the grass and butterflies. I stood in front of the Wall and shouted “Hello! I’m here! On the other side of the Wall! Can you hear me? Hello!” I held my breath and listened.

At first there wasn’t anything to hear, not even dogs barking. Then faint sounds of running and crying, and noise like the kettle-drums when Mom took me to the Symphony that once. Above the Wall there were flashes of light. And voices, children’s voices, souding afraid. Sounds of crashing like trees in a high wind. In the distance I heard Mom calling. I ran back to the car, scared and cold.

#

I was in the back yard at our new house, skipping rope not because it was fun — that’s eight-year-old stuff; skip-rope wasn’t fun at all — but because Patty at school said it would improve my balance and tone up some muscles I should have and give my legs “shape” as she put it.

Back of the house was pretty much like our old one, but the grass was scrappy and had lots more weeds. There was a fence, looked like it might have been blue the last time it was painted. Dad said he’d have to repaint it before winter, before it rotted any more. There was a gate, too, but it just went to the neighbors’ back gate. We hadn’t meet them. They didn’t seem to have any kids.

I couldn’t see the Wall from there which was, I guess, the whole idea of moving. But Mom and Dad talked about it when they thought Jimmy and I weren’t listening. When we lived right next to the Wall, they hardly ever mentioned it. But now it was different. It seemed to be on the TV news a lot. There were sirens every so often.

#

Last week, Ms. Tapley read us a poem. She said it was old, over a thousand years. Maybe as old as the Mongols and the Qin. I liked it, kind of.

By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses.
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow
Over the grass in the West garden.
They hurt me.
I grow older.

The other thing she said that day was that it was OK for girls to play marbles, because girls were just as good as boys and could play any game they wanted to. But when the boys heard that they decided to play something else, and then the girls said they never wanted to play that stupid old marbles game anyway, so then nobody played marbles.

#

Sometimes I look out the window of my room at night and see the sky light up over to the west, above the Wall, when there aren’t any clouds. And more sounds like kettle-drums. I don’t feel very brave when that happens.

Especially tonight.

Things are coming from the west, very fast; I see them coming through the sky.

by Terence Kuch

Reading by Beth Adams – Download the MP3 (13.3 MB)

  1. December 31, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    I love the girl’s narration. The simplicity of how she talks and doesn’t seem to fully understand what’s going on makes this piece work for me.

  2. Erin
    January 1, 2009 at 11:04 am

    This is a wonderful story. I especially love the last line: “Things are coming from the west, very fast; I can see them coming through the sky.” This is an age old story, and yet it’s seemingly very timely… The message is one we really can’t be told too often.

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