Photo by Kaarel Kaldre

What they didn’t understand was that he was not on that mountaintop because he wanted to be. What they could not grasp was that he had more or less been born there, where the air was thinner and every breath was a reminder of one’s mortality. While they toiled in the valley, eyes on the ground, tilling row after row, he watched the sky and made his imprecise calculations. When they slept at night, he studied every blinking star and let his eyes chase the tail of every blind comet. He saw the dawn before anyone else, but somehow was the last to let go of the night. It was his dominion, in an absurd way, his fiefdom of what he could not reach.

Some days smoke would finger up from the chimneys in runnels before spreading into gossamer and disappearing on the shifting air. Smoke presented an interesting phenomenon without the fire. Black, winged creatures flew beneath his gaze, circling, searching for sustenance or perhaps just to measure gravity. Always, always the sun or the stars or a dirty smudge of cloud to catch his eye, pull it upward, away from any ground he could stand upon.

Over time, the others took less and less notice of him. There was occasionally a glint in the sky, now and then something that might be movement. But who could be certain? There was so much to do, so much Earth there, beneath their feet.

One day he ceased to exist. Or he did not. No one could be sure.

Robert L. Penick’s work has appeared in over 100 different literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, and The California Quarterly. He lives in Louisville, KY, USA, with his free-range box turtle, Sheldon, and edits Ristau, a tiny literary annual. More of his writing can be found at

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