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Fiction, Kylie Westerlind

When she started her journey, the world was in a dark month: December—or, perhaps, February—she couldn’t tell which or she’d simply forgotten. It was a strange time even for a strange world. She herself lost the sense of time; with new skies came the same quiet glimmerings. When she became aware that the dark was lasting for too long, it seemed to acknowledge that, turning quickly and strangely into something like a summer night, and yet within hours she’d find herself back under a winter sun, looking down to watch the bones of her hand move under her skin, which was clear, unmarked, as though she were a sheet stretched over an empty bed.

To get to Slateland it’s miles up the mountain, he said. Slateland is a land filled with slate. 

Who puts the slate there? she asked.

No one, he said. The slate falls on top of slate. How does slate fall if no one is there to drop it?

There’s no drop, he said. It's already falling.

From where?

One place. That’s why it builds up to a mountain. 

How high up does it go?


How many miles?

No one knows, he said. No one’s ever come back down. 

Then how do you know it’s a mountain?

I suppose someone’s found the top. Stood on it and looked out and said, I am on a mountain.

You said the slate is always falling on top of slate.

I did.

How does that work?

It builds itself out of itself.

But if no one has seen the top then how do we know that’s what happens? How did it get its name if no one has come back from there? This makes no sense, she said.

It made a lot of sense. Before you started asking about it, he said, taking up his glass of beer and moving to the other end of the bar. The patrons stared at her, dismissive, unwelcome. Slateland would never want someone like her, they seemed to be saying, mouths full of beer foam. She chugged her beer and slammed the glass down. 

I’m going to Slateland, she announced. 

Someone whooped, and then someone booed the whooper.

The air among the pines was deep and still. The light from the sun made the pine needles look like thin columns of glass that trembled like wind chimes, but they made no sound and there was no shimmer. The pinecones dropped and hit the ground silently like they could keep falling if they had room.

Something happens to you when you reach Slateland.

No one could say what, but just that something would happen. No one could even say that there was slate at the end of it all, at the top of it all, but they knew it was called Slateland.

Slateland was thought to give you what you desired most. And so, one must wonder if Slateland gave you that desire on Slateland. That the desire within you was to always be with Slateland, on Slateland. And what was it she desired most? What would she find there on the top, if there was a peak, a summit? Well, she would say that she desired to know Slateland. Yes, you could say that it was Slateland that she wanted. The resolve to know that once she reached Slateland she may not want to return.

She couldn’t tell you where it happened, what day it was, if the sun was out, if there had been snow, if she had talked to him for a decade or not even seen him at all, but she believed she met a man on the path. He was on his way to Slateland, like her. But he had been resting for—well not even he knew.

He asked, how long have you been on the path?

She said, I do not know. How can I tell? I’ve seen winter and summer again.

He scowled. That means nothing, he said to her.

The man turned away from her. She thought she had moved on; she envisioned herself walking along the slate, the sun cooling her body to the bone. But it was a daydream; she found she still stood there, facing the man who did not face her. 

How can I tell, she asked again. I’d like to know how much of my life I have lost searching for this place.

Life lost? The man turned back. I thought I wanted to get to Slateland, he said. But I feel like something is telling me I am better off here. And so I am waiting for this feeling to pass. 

How can I tell how long it’s been, she said, moving past what he told her, That I’ve been here?

Have you had the feeling? He said, At first it feels like someone’s tapped you on the shoulder. And you turn and no one is there. And you keep on the path. Then someone’s tapped you again. When you turn, there is nothing there. Not even what you’ve just passed. There’s no trees anymore. When you turn back, there’s the slate, and the sky is the color of it because that’s all there is. You’re in a place without oceans—have you ever seen the ocean? There are no oceans here, and so you keep moving. No one is tapping you anymore, for a while, but then it’s like someone has her hand out, bracing against you. And you move right into it, though you are stopped by it. There is a palm against your stomach, and it is so close it feels like it’s inside your stomach. And if you go any farther, you know that the hand will enclose around something inside of you, and if you step forward along the path, the hand will stay. You know if you move forward, the hand will still be behind you, curled into a fist. There will be something in its fist. That something was from you. The hand will take something from you, and you can’t get it back. You know this, and so you don’t move. You don’t go forward. This feeling makes you stop. I have stopped. I will not go forward. The hand is here now, against my stomach, flat against it. I feel it. It wants something from me, and I am not willing to give it. I am waiting for this feeling to go away, he said. I’m waiting for it to go away before I move on.

I have not had this feeling, she said. I am no longer in the trees, like you said. But the sky is still blue above me. She looked up. See, she said, the sky is still blue above us.

The man looked up. The sky is not blue, he said. The sky is the color of the slate I am sitting on. If I look for too long, I feel like I might fall right into it. I can’t hear the ocean anymore. I used to know the sounds, and now I could not tell you what to listen for.

The ocean? The word flickered in her skull.

Ah, you are losing it, too. He grimaced, reached out to pat her shoulder. Everything goes away, he said. You don't have to let yourself miss it. Save yourself the sadness.

The man turned again. They could have stayed like this for a thousand more years. She never got the feeling. No one tapped her on the shoulder. There was no invisible hand before her, telling her to halt. She could go forward. 

What does Slateland give us? he said. And why do we want what it has to give? The man faced the path. This feeling is the feeling of Slateland wanting something from me. Why does it want what I don’t want to give? Why can’t it want something else? Anything else. I would give it that.

She looked up. The sky was still blue to her. Blue—ocean blue, yes, she could say it was ocean blue. She could smell the curls of sea foam. She missed nothing.

She said goodbye to the man.

On she went.

The sound of slate falling never let up. She sat there, hands against her ears, eyes squeezed shut. First it was the piece she was on. It tipped, and then the shrieking started. It was possible that she was hearing the echo of this first falling, but the noise was different each time, a different echo. The man at the bar had said that in Slateland slate falls on top of slate. He also said that there is no new slate. There is only the slate that is here. He was also very drunk. She was drunk, too, but she knew what she heard. What is on the bottom gets moved to the top, one could suppose. So, one could suppose, the piece of slate she was on would be moved. In order to be at the bottom, it had to be covered by slate from above. 

Before her was slate. Was it going up?  It was hard to tell, it looked like it went straight out forever, like how one looks out over a desert. A desert—her mind seemed to flicker like a dying bulb—was that what this was like? 

And then it was there. The feeling! Just like her hands pressed against her ears, there was something like a hand pressed against her. It was against the flat of her back, almost holding her up if she leaned back against it. This was it. Slateland wanted something from her. She wanted something from Slateland. 

Desire? She might have said this aloud. Slateland was listening. She wanted to get to the top of Slateland. To get to the top she had to fall to it, she knew this and wanted this. Slate on top of slate. Here I go, she said. Like jumping into water. She leaned back against the hand. She watched her stomach. Nothing came through it. She was expecting horror. Gore. The men she'd met, these men in bars, these men on rocks, they were so dramatic. 

She leaned her head against the slate. And air came out of her mouth in a sharp whistle. Above her, the color of slate. Is that the sky? she wondered. And that was when it came up to meet her.

When she opened her eyes, she saw the blue. It was above and below, and it went out farther than she could see.

It is done, she said. I am on a mountain.

She sat up and pushed off the ground. She stood and brushed off the slate dust from her palms. As she looked out, she saw below her a mountain of slate. The pieces sliding down off each other. A slab of it crashed nearby. She didn’t see the fall. There was a haze in the distance. Each way she turned, the haze was out on the horizon, blanketing the blue. She stood there. Stood, looked, breathed. The haze gazed back. Slate crashed below her. Like glass shattering but also like knocking at a door. She waited for the world to change, for the blue to go away, but none of these things happened.

Well, once you are on a mountain, she said, at some point you must come down off of it.

As she went along, Slateland built itself out of itself. Slate fell onto slate. It kept on and on just as she kept on and on. She went down the slate, some pieces of it sliding underneath her, giving way like snow. Snow! A small laugh leaves her, a delight of memory. She wanted to find the man she’d met along her way, tell him that he would get his oceans back.  He would, he would.

Back at the top of Slateland, there was something not the color of slate on one of the slabs of slate. She did not see this non-slate. It was white, whiter than bleached sand. It had smooth angles and was hollowed out in some places. A framework of bone. Through it, one could see the sky, its blue, blue reach.


Kylie Westerlind resides in Reno, Nevada where she works as a barista and an administrative assistant for a local office. Her fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine and The Citron Review. Find her on IG @kaywestah or on her website:


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