Houghton Mifflin English

Story

Pilot Mountain

By Jixin C.

The mountain loomed up in the distance, a stone behemoth. It had gently sloping sides covered with dark green trees. At the top a craggy pinnacle soared into the sky. On the pinnacle, strangely, grew a little dome of peaceful-looking trees.

“The Indians called the peak Omitanke — 'the guide,'” said the boy's grandfather. He was reading from a pamphlet as the boy's mother drove the car up the steep mountain road. “But you and I call it Pilot Mountain.”

It wasn't a particularly high mountain, but the boy was intimidated by its height. You couldn't blame him, for he was only eight and feared heights.

“This will be a real adventure,” said the boy's father. “The view from up there will be magnificent.” The boy shuddered, even though it was a balmy April day. His father was an athletic man with lots of experience with mountains.

“You two just remember not to take any risks,” said the boy's grandmother. She was always going on and on about how to be safe on the mountain. The boy's fear began to wear off a little.

The boy's mother parked the car in the lot where the mountain trail began. The boy and his father waved goodbye and began their hike. Soon they were walking past the mountain's many view points. Many of these jutted out on ledges. The boy tried to act cool. He looked at the great views offered: gnarled pines hundreds of years old, birds in flight, and, when he turned and look upwards, the big pinnacle with circling vultures and crows. A birdwatcher lent the boy a pair of binoculars. When he focused on the birds, he could see that the vultures had wickedly hooked beaks. This added to his fear. But he never looked down, for the vertigo made him feel as if he were falling, and that was the one thing he feared the most.

“Ready for the big pinnacle?” the boy's father asked. The boy nodded. He pretended he was a wilderness man. He picked up his walking stick and strode with great confidence.

The trail was hewn into the rock and tree-lined on both sides. It wound around and around the mountain until it reached the pinnacle. Walking leisurely, the boy and his father joined all the curious birdwatchers, tourists, and herbal medicine collectors journeying up the mountain.

It astounded the boy that the trees could grow at such a steep angle. It seemed that if you slipped you'd slide down the mountain all the way to Asheboro.

At many points in the trail, there were steep inclines where the father had to pull the boy up. On one of these inclines, the boy slipped, and although he quickly regained his balance, he was terribly scared. All through the trip he had feared falling off the mountain, and now it had almost happened. He stepped carefully for the rest of the hike.

They gained the summit at last. There were huge boulders blocking the trail, and the boy and his father had to climb over them, even though the boy was quite tired. At the base of the pinnacle was a cluster of boulders where people were resting. Then there was a sheer wall. This part of the trail was treacherous. The boy had to watch his footing carefully.

Finally they came to a clear spot among the trees. They could see the land below, dark green with trees, the thin ribbon of the highway across it, little colored specks of cars. The shadow of the mountain spread over the land. The boy noticed one thing was gone: his fear.

The boy came down the mountain trail with a feeling of bravery. His grandmother asked him a long string of worried questions. His mother asked, “Did you have fun?”

The boy smiled. “Yeah,” he said quietly.

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