A hundred birds leapt at once from the shaking earth. A leaf fell; the first of many, as the pounding grew stronger, more violent, more energetic. A slight burning smell tickled the nose of a dog, trotting across a field. At the next deep, crackling slam, the dog turned and ran the opposite direction.
First to break the surface was a finger. It looked like a potato being rejected by the world, jutting suddenly forth from the ground like a coin had been dropped in some slot: “Potatoes – 10¢.” Someone must have dropped a dollar in, because nine more soon followed, pop-pop-pop. They flexed and the caked brown dirt fell off at the cracks and seams. Beneath was red — burning red, the red of a body in a sauna, the burning of a soul sent back, to finish up.
The hands spread the earth away on both sides like a swimmer surfacing, a smooth, easy motion that swept up great mounds of field, rolling right over trees, trucks, squirrels, the lot. Hills now existed in these places, and behind them, canyons. The arms broke the ground, the sleeves steaming but whole, hanging heavily like great bags of rope. The hands found the crust of the planet and pushed against it — and then the hat crested. And then the head was through.
When its face touched air it drew a ragged breath, and with that sharp intake came power: it breathed again, and again, and then it rose. It stood and sought out the sky. It sought out the land on either side. Then it sought out a tree. It stared at the tree, steadily, until the leaves withered and began to burn.
By now the road was crowded with cars, with trucks, with shouts and the jangle of telephones. As the distractions drew the man’s attention, a line of bright hot flame sped across the road, exactly following his gaze. The first car his eyes washed over began to burn. Shouts turned to cries, but these sounds were far-off. The man did not notice. He lifted his feet and set them down. He walked away.
The flame spat itself out in a long line toward the horizon, before petering out as the man’s gaze extended into the distance. Buildings stood there. He made for them, leaving behind the cars, the people, and the deep, hot tunnel he had climbed. For weeks he had climbed; for months he had fought his way through the earth. Today, the day with the air, was a good day. It was the start of something beautiful.
This day — the climbing from the pit — had been anticipated by many. Some waited for him in Springfield, at the tomb; others favored the memorial in Washington. A few even camped out near Hodgenville and the old log cabin. For many years there had been whispers that he was returning. Everybody had gotten ready for him; everyone expected him to welcome them, to praise them, and for him to take up their burdens.
They were wrong. He did not know those people. Their constant wails were brambles in his ears; their prayers were caterwauling bleats, one litany of sobs after another.
So when the day came that his eyes flashed awake, he fled, kicking away from that sound, into the heat and the liquid and the blessed, blessed silence.
By the time the first flames began to lick the buildings of Perth, everyone knew what was happening. It’s just that no one had expected him to take the long way up.
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