Alien

Mount Shasta, California,
at 8400 feet

Hours before the spaceship burst from the mountain, the four of us broke camp in snow just below tree line. Right away I fell behind, panting, leaning into the slope and a wind so warm you’d think it had cooked all night in Shasta’s summit crater before streaming down on us. By mid-morning I was drenched, my jacket flung open, the others glancing back at me, trying to hide their disappointment. Squinting behind glacier goggles, I grew furious at myself for misjudging the hard but simple science of altitude, for turning into a drag chute on friends who’d counted on me to show up in condition. I’d been misjudging so many things lately.

Chinook, Snow Eater, the locals called this wind. But it wasn’t eating anything fast enough for me, just softening the mountain so that with each step I sank to my calves, then knees, though at least the others had started post-holing, too. No need for the ice ax and crampons in my pack. Now the three of them had stopped above me, leaning over their poles, gulping air and water. I think they were also giving me a chance to catch up. But part of me was already drifting off, looking for a doorway buried in snow, a portal to one of the New Age dream vaults Shasta was famous for.

Lemuria with its white-robed Ascended Masters. The Sunken Continent of Atlantis, lifted somehow from the blue murk of the Mediterranean. A hangar for the spaceships that were said to hover at the summit in the form of lenticular clouds. All of them beating in the stone heart of the mountain. Who could believe such soft science?

But yesterday, in a bookshop in town, a clear-eyed woman had smiled at me and said a world of my choice was waiting inside Shasta, its curving gold walls spackled with whatever jewels my life needed. I loved her for saying that, though what I needed now, I thought, stranded in slush, was milder wind and a much fitter body. A gem or two of my old lost grace wouldn’t hurt, either.

Then someone yelled “Hey!” and I looked up into the roaring and saw something break from the high snow–a luminous orange ship in the form of a nylon tent, billowing, blown from its moorings. It took a giant bounce down slope, pole-like antennae sticking out. It bounced again, swerved in the air. When it flew over my crouching friends and grew larger, I thought of jumping to the side, but my legs felt locked in snow.

That’s when everything turned orange.

John Calderazzo’s stories, essays and poems have appeared in Audubon, Bellevue Literary Review, Georgia Review, North American Review, Orion, Witness, and in many anthologies, including Best American Nature Writing. His books include Writing from Scratch: Freelancing and Rising Fire: Volcanoes and Our Inner Lives, a personal travelogue which explores how volcanoes around the world have affected human culture. Since 1986 he has taught creative writing at Colorado State University, where he has won many teaching honors, including Best CSU Teacher. At CSU he also co-directs an innovative program on teaching climate change.