2018-03-09 19:46 fiction short-story Benjamin Brood

Salt

The mountain was made of salt. The plains were salt. The roads were salt. The people were salt people, they lived in it and they shoveled it. Every night the stars rose in a different way, in a different pattern. It is because we are salt, and we are dissolving in the sky. It is because we roll back and forth across a great black cloth, the salt sliding one way then another. When they dug down for water they would have to dig very far down and sometimes even then after a short period of time the water became tainted and undrinkable. The people on the mountain of salt were made of salt. It was in them, and they were dry and cracked and caked in it. They would shovel and move the salt, placing it in huge mounds, in the same ways their parents had done and when the mounds became like hills they might wake up in the morning and a huge wind had come and spread the salt, it would be gone, and they would start again. This is how it had always been. But one day a man came to the mountain who was not made of salt and they stood around him in a circle and asked him who he was and why he'd come here. "I have come here with my brothers to buy the salt," he said. And where are your brothers now? They asked the man. "My brothers are measuring the salt to offer you a fair price." They laughed at this, and told the man that there was no point in measuring the salt since the salt was endless. There can be no measurement of an infinite thing, they told the man. And there was no point in buying a thing as common as salt. The man shrugged, and said that when his brothers were done he would return with an offer. They went down off the mountain that night concerned and perplexed. Why would the man want the salt? What could be done with it? How could he possibly take it away? But most importantly, they thought, what if it was true? There was strenuous disagreement. At least, they thought it was disagreement. They weren't really even sure. The following day they did what they always did, shovel the salt, but now distractedly, as they waited for the man to return. Since they did not work as hard that day, or in as focused a manner, the salt began to build up around them, and in the well, on top of their huts, in their beds. The next day was even worse. But on the following day they saw something, a ball in the sky, not quite a ball, not entirely round, there were parts to it, thin or ticker, some kind of pipework. They didn't know what it was. And it hung over the mountain, descending and ascending, lightly touching the salt as it did. They didn't know what it was, but they were sure it had to do with the man. A few days later he returned. "We'd like to buy all the salt. We can pay you well for it." But what could you give us for all the salt? They asked. "We would trade you all the salt for an equal amount of snow," he said. What is snow? They asked. "It's like water, it's pure like water, but it's white like salt and it's very cold," he said. They asked the man a lot of questions. They would no longer have to get the salt out of everything? They would have as much water as they needed? They would no longer have to shovel salt away from their homes? The man told them he would let them think it over for a day then he would be back for their answer. That night they discussed what they should do. Could they trust this man, what if he took the salt and didn't give them the snow? How would their lives change without the salt? It was an exciting and also a frightening prospect. Several of them were strongly against the offer, but some were in favor of it. The rest were undecided, passively in the middle, wanting to be told what to do. We must decide tonight, they said. Can we ask the man for more time? Some wondered. Why would that matter, what else can be said that can't be said now? Others countered. They argued all night. When dawn came, they had come to a decision. They would accept the man's offer. They didn't know where the man came from or where he went, but he arrived that day, walking over to them. "You will accept the offer?" He asked. They told him they would accept the offer. "Excellent, by tomorrow the salt will be gone and the snow will start." He said. How will the snow arrive, they asked. "It will fall from the sky," the man said. Sure enough, when they woke up, the salt was gone. Every grain, from every crack and crevice, had been removed. They did not recognize their world. The mountain was made of stone. The plains were made of soil. The roads were made of brick. And as they wandered, the air became cold and the sky became gray and heavy. Soon, white flakes fell slowly, drifting down and covered the ground. They appointed two people to count the snow so that they would make sure they got a fair trade. And the snow fell and fell.