Beyond the neighborhood, past the park and the foothills, Sandia Mountain usually towered over them all. But this morning, it was gone.
Pattie grabbed her husband Charles and pointed out the kitchen window with a trembling finger.
He frowned. “What am I supposed to be looking at?”
“The mountain is gone.”
He snorted in reply. “Mountains don’t disappear.” He made a beeline for the coffee maker.
“Then where is it?”
“You’re just—” He looked out the window again, squinted, took off his glasses and cleaned them on his robe, and put them back on. “The mountain’s gone.”
Pattie set her cup down with a clatter.
A news helicopter swooped over their house, headed for the space where the mountain should be.
“I’m going out there,” Pattie said. She marched to the bedroom to change into her clothes.
“I’m going with you.”
Moments later, they were in Pattie’s Honda Accord, driving east. About a mile up the hill, it became apparent that the mountain hadn’t disappeared. It had sunk into the ground, leaving only the top thousand feet or so exposed. The mountain looked like a giant stalagmite.
“Maybe this isn’t safe,” Charles said.
“The National Guard would be evacuating people if it wasn’t.”
Charles looked queasy. “Maybe the mountain sucked them down with it.”
“That’s crazy.” But the car slowed as Pattie wondered whether it wouldn’t be a better idea to go back home.
No. “Look, this is our mountain we’re talking about. Where we met on Little Bear Trail. Where we got married at the peak. Or have you forgotten all that?”
“Of course not.”
“Well, the way you’ve been lately—” Pattie bit off the rest of it. Charles hadn’t been doing so well since retirement, but this wasn’t the time or place to get into that again.
They parked near the end of the road. Here, the homes were bigger, the yards larger and filled with scrub juniper, sage, and lavender. Their smells lingered in the air. A young woman stood in the doorway of one home, her hand guarding a boy’s tow-headed top as they both stared at the mountain.
At the end of the road, sheer, granite rock jutted from the ground, dotted with conifers and aspen. Three news choppers circled the area. Several military helicopters approached from Kirtland Air Force Base to the south. No doubt more military folk were on their way to block off the area. Pattie didn’t have much time.
A couple dozen people had parked behind the Honda and were making their way to the end of the street. Pattie led Charles up the road ahead of them. The mountain peak blended seamlessly with the foothills, as if it had always existed this way.
A young woman stood beside a mountain bike, staring at the peak with her mouth agape.
Pattie asked her, “Do you know what happened?”
The girl shook her head. “It was like this when I got here.”
The visitor’s center and restaurant sat atop one of the highest peaks. Beside the restaurant, an expansive deck overhung the crest. Thirty-five years earlier, Pattie and Charles had stood on that deck to get married, their guests treated to the view of the city below.
Charles joined Pattie. “I don’t like this. We should go.”
“I’m climbing to the top.”
“I can’t just let it sink into the ground like it never existed.”
“We don’t know what’s going on. Let’s go, Pattie. Just leave it.”
“Just leave it? Like it doesn’t matter?” She shook her head. “Fine. I’ll go alone.” She walked away and didn’t look back.
Nearby, a well-worn hiking trail disappeared into the forest. Pattie started up, her sneakers scraping against the packed dirt and rocks. The scent of pine permeated the air. A few birds trilled, apparently unalarmed by the mountain’s change or the helicopters.
Pattie grew winded after a few minutes. She hadn’t hiked in. . . well, in years, now that she thought of it. She’d been hoping she could encourage Charles to take it up again since he’d retired, but he preferred spending his newfound time sitting on the couch. And she sat there right along with him. Now she was paying for it. She should have pushed harder—
The earth rumbled beneath her feet. Pattie hunkered down, her heart thumping. She waited for the ground to drop out from under her. The birds had fallen silent.
Moments passed, and nothing more happened. Pattie rose slowly. Maybe Charles was right. Maybe I should turn back while I still can. But she couldn’t walk away from the mountain that held so many good memories. She continued up.
Running footsteps approached behind her. Charles appeared around the bend. He leaned over, bracing his hands against his knees, breathing hard.
“Charles, what are you doing running up the trail like that? Your heart—”
Charles straightened and took her hands. “I shouldn’t have let you go alone.”
“I’m going to the top.”
“I know. I’ll go with you.”
A flood of words rose in Pattie’s throat and caught there. Her chin trembled a little before she got herself under control. She managed a smile. “I’d like that.”
They climbed together the rest of the way, much more slowly than they had all those years ago.
They had the peak to themselves. Charles followed Pattie along the wooden deck to the spot where they’d gotten married. Now that she was here, she almost didn’t want to look. She was afraid the mountain might have sunk further.
She squeezed Charles’ hand as they walked to the edge of the deck.
The sun cast long shadows throughout the city. The Rio Grande River wound through it, the waters hidden, but the river’s path marked by a snake-trail of green cottonwoods.
“I can’t believe it,” Pattie said. “The mountain. . . it rose up while we were climbing. It’s back to normal.”
Charles wound an arm around her waist and pulled her close. Together they watched the shadows shrink below.