The Bukowski Agency - The Mountain Story - Excerpt
The Mountain Story

a novel by Lori Lansens



Dear Daniel,

You’ve hungered for the story of my mountain misadventure for as long as I can remember, and I promised that when you were ready to hear it, I’d tell you what happened when I was lost in the wilderness – the truth in all its gory glory. It’s no tale for a child. But you’re not a child anymore, Danny. You’ve weathered some big storms in your tender years and you understand, more than most, the tectonic shifts a life must endure.

As a small boy you’d study me in quiet moments and ask if I was thinking about the mountain. I was. You asked if I ever dreamed about it. I did. Still do. Those blessed, cursed days changed my life, yet all these years later I’ve never told anyone my story – not even your mother. Sometimes I’m afraid the truth’s been caged for so long it’ll die in the wild. Part of me wishes it already had.

I’d planned to tell you my “Lost on the Mountain Story” – that’s what you called it for the longest time – on the night of your middle school graduation, but when I saw you accepting your diploma, so small and uncertain with that haircut and tie, I knew you weren’t ready to know your old man’s secrets. When you were a sophomore in high school, meeting your dark side, I decided that instead of inspiring you, instead of illuminating things for you, the truth could push you further down the wrong path. We got your diagnosis when you were a junior. Would that have been a good time to tell you? I don’t know. Brave Danny, the way you navigated the churning white waters of your illness, so wise and strong. It was me – my faith was shaken. I couldn’t find the words. Bone marrow? Danny, I would have given my life.

Remember the last week we visited colleges? I’d planned to tell you then – on the road – we’ve had some of our best talks that way. Remember that dark country lane in Indiana when the deer nearly sideswiped us? Later, we were both still shaken, and you asked point blank if I’d ever killed anything before. It was the last night of our trip, miles to go before we slept. I’d been waiting for the right moment, and you’d just given me the perfect opening. “Did you kill somebody on the mountain?”

You leaned in to listen but that was the moment I realized I was the one who wasn’t ready, and I’d never be ready to tell you what happened – at least not face to face. I’d have made the whole thing into pure fiction if it meant I didn’t have to witness your pain. But there’s no point in telling half a story, is there? Or worse, one that isn’t even true?

What I’ve typed out in these hundreds of pages is the true story. (Maybe damn near true is more accurate. I’ve done my best to remember the precise words and deeds of my fellow missing persons but I could only guess at what was in their hearts.) I wrote the whole thing down exactly as it came to my fingers because that felt like the most honest thing to do. It’s shorter than I thought it would be – longer somehow too, and circles back in on itself from time to time.

I don’t know if I can say I’m glad I wrote the story, son, but I’m sure as hell glad it’s done. Being a true story, I thought it’d be easy to tell and fast to write. I told your mother it would take me three weeks to write it. I am six and a half months past my deadline.

Your mother? Well, after considered debate she’s decided she doesn’t want to know more than she already does. Therefore, no matter what you learn, no matter how disturbing, you can’t share your feelings about it yet – and maybe never – with anyone but me. You need to consider that proviso carefully before you read on. I acknowledge that it is a profoundly unfair demand.

I hope I was right in thinking you’d need time and distance to take in the story you’ve waited your whole life to hear, or to decide if you even want to know now, given my stipulations and cryptic warnings. As for the timing? With you starting Indiana? When you get older you’ll accept that there isn’t so much a good time or bad time for things, appearances to the contrary. There is just a time.

Be patient, Daniel, because to fully understand what happened up there you have to know what came before.

Finally – The Mountain Story.









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