"Henry Gansevoort, the Mole"

ACT I: HENRY GETS TIRED

Henry stopped working and sat down in the dirt.

It was not time to stop working and it was not time to sit down in the dirt.

The other moles kept digging and Henry’s grandfather walked up next to Henry and smiled.

“How’s The Excavator?” Henry’s grandfather asked.

Henry’s grandfather called Henry The Excavator because Henry was very good at digging. It made Henry’s brothers and cousins work harder because they wanted to be The Excavator too. Henry sighed into his blackened hands.

“I’m tired,” Henry said.

Henry’s grandfather laughed.

“You are not,” he said. “I’ve seen you work ten-hour shifts without breaking a sweat. It’s not even noon. The Excavator doesn’t get tired.”

“I don’t mean my arms and legs are tired,” Henry said.

“You stay up too late? That’s not like you. You’re a Gansevoort, not a barn owl. Go get some rest.”

Henry didn’t say anything. He looked down the tunnel at his father methodically digging and removing and piling. Everyone was just digging and they would keep digging, with their hands, until they reached the other side of the mountain.

Every night Henry’s little brother Robert would ask him “Did you reach the other side today?” and every night Henry would say “no, not yet, but soon.”


ACT II: HENRY MEETS THOMAS

Henry wandered out of the tunnel and saw his friend Sam in the Larder, where the moles gathered to eat and drink, and talked about digging techniques.

“Henry, you look exhausted. You’ve been working too hard,” Sam said.

“No,” Henry said. “I’m just tired.”

“Tired of working your fingers to the bone probably,” Sam said. “Come see the tunnel Thomas Adams started on the East End. They’re using tools. If you lent them some of your strength I bet they’d be to the other side by tomorrow morning.”

Henry followed Sam to the East End where several moles were digging with tools and several were sitting and talking. Thomas Adams was sitting and talking. The moles there were digging much faster than the moles on the Main. Thomas jumped to his feet.

“Henry Gansevoort!” Thomas yelled.

Everyone stopped working and cheered.

“Welcome to the future my friend. We all knew you’d come around eventually. Maybe bring some of those brothers and cousins over with you as well?”

“I’m just here to see,” Henry said. “I’ve never seen these tools before.”

“Well take a closer look then,” Thomas said. “We have spades and pick axes that can do five times the work of one mole in the same amount of time. Ten times for someone like you.”

Thomas handed Henry a shovel but he was too tired to properly grip the handle.

“Thanks,” Henry said. “I’m just tired right now.”

“Of course you are,” Thomas said. “No one should have to work so hard. Come back when you’re feeling rested… though we might beat you to the other side by then.”


ACT III: HENRY GOES OUTSIDE

Henry left the East End tunnel and began walking toward the surface. He climbed out into the mid-morning air and fought the brightness, blinking and shielding. The mountain stretched east and west forever and Henry began walking along its base dwarfed in immensity. He walked until afternoon, further away from his home tunnel than he had ever traveled but the mountain did not stop being.

It was and was and never seemed to not be.

Henry was about to turn back when he saw several small stones falling down the mountain between two very tall trees. Henry cautiously walked forward and saw a dirt path stretching up the side of the mountain. The path was flanked on either side by ancient pines and the sun shone through a canopy of needles, making slivers of light and dark up and up until the path ended in the sky. Henry put one foot on the path, warm, when an old goat jumped out from behind a rock.

“You’re far from home, mole,” the goat said.

“When this path ends at the sky… where does it go?”

“The other side of the mountain… I think.”

“You don’t know for sure?”

“No one knows anything for sure,” the goat said.

“We’ve been trying to reach the other side of this mountain my whole life. Digging with our hands, using tools now.”

“Which do you prefer?”

“I’m too tired to prefer anything right now," Henry said.

“This way might not be any better,” the goat said. “Lovely, lonely… uncertain. And you’re tiny and half blind.”

“All that digging. This path is just sitting here.”

“If you’re up for it, I’ll take you as far as I’ve been,” the goat said, “but I’m leaving tonight.”


ACT IV: HENRY RE-VISITS THOMAS

Henry returned to the East End and heard very loud noises. A few moles, including Sam, were operating some strange machine that seemed to run on fire and steam. It ate the dirt in the tunnel and spit it out into smaller pieces.

Everyone else was sitting, drinking tea and talking about what they would do when they reached the other side. Thomas was wearing a three-cornered hat and writing furiously in a small black book.

“What is this?” Henry asked Sam.

Henry needed to yell because the machine was very loud.

“It’s Thomas’ latest invention,” Sam said. “It’s brilliant. It does the work of 30 moles and it only takes three to operate.”

“What happened to the tools from before?” Henry asked.

“We might as well use our hands and crawl around in the dirt like the moles back on the Main,” Thomas said.

Everyone laughed.

“How about you Henry? Are you with us?”

“Actually, that’s what I came here to tell you,” Henry said. “I found a new path. Above ground. It’s already there and we wouldn’t have to dig or use tools.”

“That’s not new,” Thomas said, barely looking up from his book. “A path can’t be new. A path by its name means that somebody else already made it.”

“Well I had never seen it before,” Henry said.

“No, it’s true,” said Thomas’ friend Oliver. “My grandfather used to tell a story about how when he was a kid a group of moles went up that path and no one ever heard from them again. Probably died up there everyone says.”

“You see?” Thomas said. “It’s already been done and it doesn’t work. Just like digging with your hands. We have more innovation now. More free time. And we’ll be heroes when we reach the other side.”

Henry looked at the machine and realized for the first time that he had no idea whether any of the tunnels that they had been digging were going straight through to the other side of the mountain. They could be digging sideways, or up, or straight down and it would be impossible to tell without the sky for reference.

“You’re not that different from the Gansevoorts,” Henry said. “You’re still just digging, always digging, digging to the center of the earth probably.”

Henry turned and began to walk away when he heard a loud noise. Then he saw a flash of light. Then he heard the unnatural howling.

When Henry turned around he saw Thomas’ invention was in pieces and the fragments had exploded in many different directions and Sam did not have any legs.


ACT V: HENRY RE-VISITS THE GANSEVOORTS

Henry walked back to the Larder in a daze. The moles from the Main, sore and muddy from working all day, looked at Henry like he was a stranger. Henry’s brother William barked at him from across the room.

“What was that noise just now?”

“I don’t know,” Henry said.

Sam’s eyes had closed but Thomas’ eyes had grown wide and Thomas said yes, this is it, this is it, and thanked young Shawn for his sacrifice.

“You smell like the sky,” Henry’s grandfather said loudly.

Everyone stopped to hear Henry’s response.

“I found a path that goes over the mountain,” Henry said. “No digging. No tools. It’s already there.”

A low groaning sound rumbled in the distance and the walls of the Larder shook with loose dirt. The moles looked at each other, worried. Henry’s grandfather ignored the sound, dropped his cigarette, and stamped it out with his boot.

“So… too tired to dig but not too tired to go prancing around up top-side, huh?”

Henry began to speak but the rumbling, again, louder than thunder, drowned out his words. Someone in the crowd called out to the Gansevoorts.

“What is that sound?”

“There is no sound!” Henry’s grandfather roared into the sudden silence. “I couldn’t hear you Henry. You think you’re too good for this? You think you can just walk up the mountain and slide down the other side into a pile of flowers?”

“I just said I feel very tired at the moment,” Henry said.

Henry’s grandfather snorted.

“So tired, this one. Tired of being respected and successful and loved? You are a Gansevoort, damn it, start acting like it.”

“I’m too tired to act like a Gansevoort anymore,” Henry said.

“You want to go die on that path? I have friends who live on that trail. If you’re so damn tired, go sleep with their skeletons.”

The rumbling became shaking and then a tremendous blast shook the Larder, breaking dishes and filling the room with cacophonous sound. Some moles knocked to their knees. Some ran. The rest looked to the Gansevoorts to tell them what to do.

“There’s nothing to be scared of!” Henry’s grandfather yelled into the deafness surrounding them. “We don’t hear anything! You don’t hear anything, do you Henry?”

Henry stared at his father voicelessly mouthing to his brothers and cousins.

“I can’t hear anything,” Henry said.


ACT VI: HENRY RE-VISITS THE GOAT

Henry re-visited the goat that night. The goat spoke but it was all ringing in his ears. Henry picked up a handful of dirt, the same dirt between his toes, in his den, and Henry spoke but it was all ringing in his ears.

Henry shook his head and calmly walked back to the tunnels.


ACT VII: HENRY GOES BACK TO WORK

Henry did not sleep that night. He went straight to work the next morning. The explosions had stopped overnight, and he could hear again, but the moles on the Main were disquieted and moved cautiously. Restlessness pervaded the atmosphere of the tunnel but Henry paid it no mind. He spoke to no one and dug twice as much as anyone else that morning.

The explosions started again around noon.

Every few minutes, another. The other moles slowed down, hesitant, but Henry worked through it, digging until his fingers bled and his arms were numb.

Henry’s grandfather nodded in approval, refusing to acknowledge that anything was amiss. Henry’s cousin Arthur clutched his chest gasping for breath, panicking as the dirt from the ceiling sprinkled into his eyes. Henry’s father looked at him stoically and did not move at all.


ACT VIII: HENRY MEETS THE EXPLOSIVES

At the end of the workday Henry returned to the East End.

It had become a giant cavern stretching into darkness in every direction. There were half as many moles as before and the ones that remained wore white lab coats with cotton in their ears.

“Henry.”

Thomas barely seemed to recognize him. He was wearing wire-rim glasses and working on what looked to be a combination of sticks and strings.

“You see what we’re capable of now, Henry? That explosion from yesterday… it gave me the idea. If we could only magnify and control it we could blast through… straight to the other side. Isn’t that what you wanted, Henry?”

“I’m too tired to know what I want,” Henry said. “I'm too tired to see it anymore.”

“It’s this Henry, it’s this! You want to be one of a hundred mewling in the dark, dirt caked in your fur, picking grubs out from under your finger nails while it’s never, and the next day it’s never and again and again? Or do you want your precious path up the mountain riding on the back of some blackguard goat who will sell you to the vultures for two kernels of corn and drop you on the other side when it’s an ocean, Henry!”

Thomas stumbled forward, his hands shaking and his eyes red and unblinking.

“No one needs to work or get dirty, Henry! No digging like worms Henry, no worms! And the explosions, bigger and bigger all day until we bring the other side to us. Until I bring this mountain to its knees and it says, 'thank you Thomas Adams! Thank you for turning me into the other side so Henry Gansevoort could kiss my meadow daughters and have everything he ever wanted without lifting a finger!'”

Henry walked up to Thomas, hugged his skinny, quivering shoulders and said, “thank you.”

Then he walked out of the tunnels, past the mountains that never end, and back up to the path.


ACT IX: HENRY FALLS ASLEEP

It was late and cold and the moon sat above the pines standing guard on either side.

Henry was very tired.

An explosion far beneath the earth shook the birds out of the trees. Henry could see the goat’s hoof-prints leading up and up but he was too tired to move.

Henry lay down in the mouth of the path with his ear to the ground and the explosions became louder and shook the blisters on his hands and shook the pinecones off of the trees.

Henry focused on the point where the path disappeared into the sky. He clutched a handful of soil and whispered, no not yet but soon, and finally fell asleep to the sound of explosions closer and closer under the dirt and pine needles raining into his hair.


(This piece was originally published in the Summer 2012, 28th issue of Block Club: Old/New with lovely illustrations by Julie Molloy.)