The explorer climbs a dune. And at the bottom sees a hole.
The hole calls up to the dune, Hello?
The explorer shifts his feet. Sand seeps from under his feet and chokes the hole.
Eyeless, tongueless, I want you to kill me, says the hole.
The sun is very hot. There is no shade. There are only the shadows of buzzards.
I am the earth, says the hole. It is not my nature to be full of sand.
If the explorer lifts a foot, the hole will choke.
Please, says the hole. Every day sand runs into my throat. It has been this way a million years.
If I kill you, everyone on the earth will die, he says.
Yes, it says.
The explorer travels many nights and many miles.
He meets a captain and climbs onto his boat.
It is fascinating being soaked in rain while riding on top of the ocean.
One cloud appears above the boat. It is at first exceptionally small and bright.
I am full of regret, the cloud says.
It begins to swell very dark and very large.
I have irreparably changed people, the cloud says.
Will you rain? says the explorer.
Yes, the cloud says. And I will break your boat.
The explorer washes up on an island.
The explorer sees a very high tree above a very high hill.
The explorer follows the light of the sun up the hill.
The tree is obviously the biggest tree. Its trunk is twenty times the width of other trees.
I am the tallest tree in the world! it says.
The explorer sees the hideous face of the tree. It is peeking out from under an ugly branch.
Do not touch that axe! it says. I am the tallest tree there ever was!
Leaves fall on the explorer’s feet. He picks up the axe and loops it into his belt.
He begins the climb up the tree.
I’m warning you, says the tree. I’ll grow all the way to the moon.
The explorer rests on the branch. He can already see the whole island, even other islands far away in the ocean. Still, the tree goes infinitely up. There is no sign of its end.
See that branch up there? says the tree. A dry leaf pops off from the branch under its breath. The explorer climbs higher and finds cuts from an axe.
Is the axe so heavy? says the tree.
The explorer un-loops the axe from his belt. He holds it in his two hands. The chunks already cut from the tree look like many smiles of much lighter wood.
Swing batter, batter, batter! says the tree.
Dark shadows settle over all the trees. The sun is setting. The ocean touches the beach and folds away from the sand. Little birds swell fat in small holes in branches.
I need to get a better angle, says the explorer.
The explorer begins to climb down. He stops. Cover your eyes, he says.
The tree covers its eyes. Do you think I will make a terrible crash? Do you think I will destroy much of the forest? Any houses? You’re not abandoning me are you?
The explorer climbs down to the leaves on the ground. He steadies his feet and holds the axe against the bark. On the count of three, he says.
The tree and the explorer count:
The tree uncovers its eyes.
The axe is there on the ground.
Nothing left to wield the axe, the tree grows endlessly toward the moon.
The explorer wanders through many towns and many islands. He finally comes to a rock.
Tap on me, says the rock.
The explorer taps on the rock and a golden ring appears.
Go on, says the rock.
The explorer holds the ring in the sun.
But the sun is already setting.
The corner of a red blanket appears in the rock.
The explorer pulls on the red blanket. And the red blanket comes out of the rock.
The explorer wraps himself in the warm red blanket and lies on the body of the rock.
I am not a rock, not really, says the rock. One day I will be a man.
I will too one day be a man, says the explorer.
But I will be a much better man than you, says the rock.
Ben Crowley is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is happy to get back to writing because he has already paid a kidney, a finger and a thumb to Deep Overstock and is considering dishing out three molars. Ben used to sort books for the Amazon warehouse, in our beautiful backcountry of western Pittsburgh. Now he drives a truck, but he’s still selling books at whatever diner, truckstop or seedy hotel he finds himself in.