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Johnstown,

Past the rocky shore, through the bayous, over the lakes and rivers, and across the badlands is where John first laid the foundation for his house. With no other intention than to get to the other shore beyond the western mountains, he was stopped by the sight of a great, tar-hued silhouette of a giant standing just past the cover of those ragged cliffs. Not so tall was it stretching over the peaks and glaciers, but it was prominent enough. It’s silhouette of head, shoulders, bust, and chest... Tall, lanky, and unmissable.

John may very well have gone further, but he was getting tired, anyway. This land looked good, anyway. And the land over the mountain range may not have been as good, anyway. Trying to get around the giant, get under it, or get over it may have caused a fuss. And so it may have been best to avoid going through the trouble of it.

And although the rocks were shaky and uneven where the foundation was laid, the land was bountiful of resource and beauty. John couldn’t have asked for more; by the time he hoisted up the great roof over the house on the land he declared, he had forgotten entirely that he had stopped short of where he intended to go.

All he could see when he looked to the mountains was that dark, looming monster. It was as if the whole body of the giant person was in moonlit shadow, even at midday without a cloud in the cerulean sky. Not without feature was the monster, but too shadowed it was that few features were discernible upon its silhouette.

 

Rightly, John was wary of the thing. Gauging its size, he reckoned its foot could make a crater of his ranch, to fill with glacier runoff in the spring. And though the giant person was… unsettling, as long as it was content to stay put, John was content to grow his gardens, tend his livestock, and expand the boundaries of his fences year after year.

 

In time, others followed after John and met his property before the foothills. Some had fled their old homes, others sought opportunity, and others, perhaps like John himself, were gripped by insatiable wanderlust. One by one, they figured John’s place was a good enough place to stop. Hell, a good-as-ever place to stop! A place to sit yourself down, start a family with room to breathe, and room enough to grow and run.

But not to grow so big that the giant would perceive a challenge. Nor to run so far or fast that it would draw the shadowy eye of the giant. John had never upset the huge person, in all his seasons. So new neighbours assumed that as long as everyone lived like John, they knew for certain they wouldn’t disrupt it. Running and growing weren’t so important, after all, not when there was such a great land to take in and admire.

As more neighbours appeared, John found himself surrounded, except for the edge of his property facing the mountains. And he was none too enthused about closing the distance between him and it. So no more fences would he build, but for no great loss — he was actually pleased for the company. In fact, from these new pilgrims, he took a wife to live with him on his ranch, and together they made a beautiful family.

But they were raised to live with an insatiable awe of the land around their home. The meadows full of grain, and the wood full of lumber and game. The foothills were ripe for quarrying — their roots deep enough for mining. It was a home of bright summers and cozy winters. Where nobody ever died of the land — sure, some people died of their own foolishness, but nobody who died ever worked hard, or was clever of wits. It may have been in poor taste to speak ill of the dead, but it was simply common knowledge that one ought to take responsibility for their fates.

John’s daughter had a boy, Eli. And Eli was gifted with his grandfather’s unshakable knack for fence building. But his grandfather had already built and rebuilt the fences around the property. So while John wore himself out and got his fill of building walls, poor Eli never had the chance. Instead, Eli tore down and rebuilt his grandfather’s fences. New and sturdy, sure, but even that wasn’t enough.

So when he was older, he went to his neighbour and convinced him to wed his daughter to Eli. And then convinced his wife’s father to join his land to John’s. And when their ranches became one, he rebuilt their fences too. And then Eli married his daughter to another neighbour, and rebuilt their fences also. And before he died, all the fences of all the properties around John’s old ranch were matching. In fact, Eli’s son Mark removed all the fences between these old properties to make one big plot of land. He figured that he finally had just enough space for he and his family to be comfortable.

And just beyond the foothills, the giant person stood stoically and watched generations mingle and pass on. But seeing as how it never moved, doing anything about it wasn’t something on anyone’s mind. Life went on, and time spent worrying about that old thing would be time taken away from worrying about what really matters. Life, love, family, and finding little moments of joy in hard work and daily toil.

The little community around John’s land was a good place built on a good land, full of good people. There was never a place where men and women were so willing to roll up their sleeves and help their neighbour when need be. It was a loving place, of gratitude and camaraderie, where neighbours gathered frequently for celebrations, reminding each other of all the ways that they were grateful for having helped one-another.

Working hard and living humble — just like John lived. He was a great man, after all, and the community was great because he was great. All his life walking, searching, he stopped in this place only because it was so perfect. There would never be a better place than this, John said. He knew because nobody would have ever been able to know better.

It was a public joke, though one that was never repeated often, on account of it being in poor taste, by mentioning the giant lingering in front of the mountains. Anyway, it was a bit of a joke — Nearsighted John, who couldn’t even see far enough to see the giant silhouette of a monster that was so obvious to everyone else.

“What monster?” Parents of John’s town would laugh, and say to their children. One ought to live like John, and just focus on what was right in front of you. Focus on what was important.

Now, the residents of John’s land became comfortable enough of their own prosperity, and relaxed and watched the land while they had caretakers work the fields that their forefathers sowed and reaped and repeated. They began to write letters, and hopped back on the road to visit others in far away places. And where they went, they spoke of how great John’s land was and how great John was for making it his land.

So it wasn’t any surprise that newcomers started to arrive. And they, like John, loved the freedom, and the space, and the ability to run and—

Oh. They weren’t allowed to run as fast as they wanted. Why not? Well, because it just wasn’t done like that. How gratuitously inquisitive these newcomers were!

That and the… There was a little… See, well, the locals — the ‘townies’ — had a saying that you could always tell a newcomer by how they talked about the great, shadowy person that stood on the cusp of the foothills, casting afternoon shadows over the fields where the forests used to be, and the quarries where lakes used to be.

Because… you just weren’t supposed to talk about it. One simply oughtn’t, one simply didn’t. It was in poor taste. The elders would become irritable, and the children would get nightmares. They were so impressionable, the young ones, and their whole lives they had been raised to believe that nothing was wrong.

In fact, nothing was wrong at all. This was how it had always been. And this place was perfect, so beautiful, serene, and full of natural appeal.

And the community was so warm and welcoming. John’s descendants, and their massive swath of property, was proof positive of how possible it was for anyone to become as prosperous as them. Just work as hard as John, be as brave as John.

It was more than a little annoying, to the Locals, who constantly had to explain who John was, and what he did. John was John, and he was great enough that everyone should know, really. What was so complicated about that? What was so difficult about that for the Newcomers to understand?

Well, some of the locals decided that John must have been someone so great that it took a few generations for a child to grow up knowing how great John was. “Say, maybe,” said a cabal of the Locals, “it would take four generations for it to steep in…” Then their children decided it must take five generations. Then their grandchildren decided six generations.

The problem was that these new people couldn’t seem to get over the giant standing a mere half-dozen of its paces away from the outskirts of the village. Not that the thing ever moved! If it were made of metal it would have rusted still anyway. The Locals couldn’t understand why the newcomers would want to be chronically worried. All the time, shooting glances at the entirely conspicuous human silhouette that one had to crane their head upwards to see over.

Love, laugh, and live, so rhymed the Locals in the face of anxiety and misfortune, as they spoke to the newcomers whom they hired to afford them the prosperity they credited to their forebears. And to John, specifically.

Though, and this was a concern of no public embarrassment, surely, but it was an occasional practice for the Locals… well, specifically their children, to, say, mingle with Newcomers. The allure to a new perspective. Follies of youth and curiosity — that nonsense and such. Thus, creating a bit of a conundrum as how to properly fit their offspring into a generational profile.

One such boy, Harold, was born to a mother of eight generations, and a father whose parents were from out of town. And while he wasn’t related to Mark, almost all the Locals in town claimed to be descended from John. And no descendent of John could be called a newcomer. So Harold was raised comfortably in one of the ranch houses built around John’s land. Possibly even the ranch John lived in, but that was never certain.

What was certain is that his home was on the edge of John’s land, and Harold’s window faced the mountains, so he had a terrible shade in the evening when the sun was behind the knees of that big black… thing. He didn’t like the sight of it, perhaps inspired by the quiet terror it gave his father. Though he kept his nightmares to to himself, from his mother and her family — from the way they scoffed at him when his eyes drifted to it.

His father always told terrible stories about it. About how his uncle left to go explore the mountain range for new land, and never returned. But when he asked his mother, she said that his father never had an uncle. Thereafter, his father’s shift was rescheduled, and Harold never had much time to speak with him.

As much as he didn’t like to look at it, he could not ask to have his room moved for what his prosperous family would claim was such a clumsy, asinine, reason. Though every day, it became harder and harder for him to ignore the welling sense of demise. Whenever he tried to complain about it to the Locals, they assumed that he, too, was making idle complaints about how it obstructed the view of the mountains — for so much of the nearby hillsides were opened up for their stone and ore, and how so many rivers were now running muddy with sewage.

And when he brought his fears to Newcomers, they would huff, and insist that there were other things to worry about. Live, laugh, and love, they told him. The rest would sort itself out for him, for them, and anyone who worked hard for their prosperity. Like John.. Harold ought to be more like John.

You know, Stubborn John! So stubborn was he that he planted his flag here, even as other travelers went off, walking right past him into the mountains unknown. But not John! This land was his, he wasn’t going to give it up just to see if there was something better. Giant or no.

But his family grew rather concerned when he began to rave that he saw the monster move. Which, impossible— no! It had never taken a single step from its stature just outside the range of town, they said, never a single scratch or twitch.

Though Harold said that he saw its face, in the dead of midnight, looking up to the sky, lit as clearly as if it was day. Such a pale, translucent visage. Round with giant eyes that had never seen the sun. Dark, mangled teeth in an open, unsettling grin. And how, when he looked upon its face for a few moments, its eyes shifted to stare downward upon him — directly at him — standing at his window.

Harold claimed that he ducked for cover — but when he looked back out the window, the giant was still there, gaze and visage affixed. For some time more, Harold claimed he stared at it, and it at him, in the most sinister of ways. And then, upon some unseen cue, it twisted its own head around to look again towards the western horizon. Once again, its head was a formless black silhouette against the night sky. Blocking out stars first, then the indigo dawn sky.

As a result of such a curious story, and an overactive imagination, probably a terrible nightmare, Harold’s family introduced him to their friends and neighbours as a little bit of an eccentric. A local with fears of the big, dark eyesore?

 

Sure, nobody liked looking at the thing. It was a bit of an obstruction to the landscape. Painters and photographers did their best to showcase the natural beauty of the land while avoiding the thing in their work. Though nothing at all was truly perfect, save for the Lord above, John and his Land came mighty close. If living in this virgin paradise meant having to ignore an origin-less black statue, then that was a small price to pay, when the rest of the world had to sacrifice things like freedom and equality.

You know what? (Decided the newest generation of Locals.) That statue isn't an eyesore! It's unique! Something nowhere else has and surely a testament to the greatness of this place. If Harold was a newcomer it would make sense, and they would just have to be worked hard enough to understand—

Oh, what’s this? They would say. “You say he’s half-Newcomer? Oh. Well that makes perfect sense.”

“It’s his mother’s fault,” said another, in confidence, but for which Harold’s adjacent family closed in and nodded in judgemental empathy. “Fool girl was too young. Too stubborn to ask for help.”

And then Harold began to grow up, as children do. At which point there is a certain age that parents, apparently, are no longer as accountable for the behaviour of their children. About that time, Harold claimed he saw, while on a midnight stroll to clear his head, the giant shadowy thing bent over on all fours like a spider with it’s head grazing upon cattle that were once sleeping in the pasture before it began to masticate their carcasses.

Townspeople scoffed suspiciously, wondering what he was doing out so late. Probably cavorting with fellow Newcomers and troublemakers. It seemed sketchy. His poor mother, she tried her very best with him but he clearly had too much of his father’s side in him. What little exposure he had to his father, before they were separated, poisoned him without hope of recovery. 

 

In fact... Harold probably knew who was really responsible for that dead herd of cattle. He was just covering for the ne’er-do-well Newcomers to fit in with their savage little pastimes.

Well, that mischief cost those landowners so much money. They had to fire some of their workers so they wouldn’t lose any of their prosperity. In fact, they had decided they had better hire more security. Security which would double for making what workers who remained made up the difference for their missing workmates. And all the other Locals did, too. They had to make sure more troublemakers don’t kill any cows just to cause a rise. They had property to protect.

 

Locals began to prefer hiring other Locals over Newcomers.

Something about those Newcomers, it was said. Something nasty about them… arriving in John’s land after it had already been built up. They hadn’t done anything to contribute, and they were only jealous of prosperity. They could have prosperity too, if they weren’t so busy obsessing over problems that didn’t exist. All the real problems — the lack of arable land — the torn up hills, forests, and lakes — the packs of wolves devouring cattle — well…

Well the Locals got together and realized that no one could remember any of those things being problems when it was just the Locals. Seemed that the land was a whole lot more ‘great’ until all those Newcomers arrived. Obviously, something would need to be done to make it great once more.

And so, the Locals made a goal of becoming ever more prosperous as reparations for the great work their ancestors had done, and their desperate attempts to stop the envious Locals from wrecking their prosperity. And their children were raised to ignore the giant featureless monster standing on the other side of John’s fence, leering over the whole town.