BRITISH COMICS

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THE MOUNTAIN MOVED

First episode taken from The Rover (Christmas Number) issue: 1381 December 15th 1951.

THE MOUNTAIN OF FEAR

Slim Garson stood looking across at the Mountain. It looked large on the south side of the valley, blotting out the sky and the sun, a great, black, sullen mass, with scarcely any vegetation on it. It had always dominated that Welsh valley, and the generations of colliers and others who had lived in Pontwyd had always lived in its shadow.

It had been the background of their lives. Because of the Mountain, the valley had always been a drear and cheerless place, shut in by high hills, cut off from the outer world except for one road and the railway. The first thing that men in the valley saw when they got up in the morning was the Mountain, and the last thing they saw at night before they drew their blinds was the Mountain. Even Slim Garson, who had only arrived in the valley when the big new hydro-electric project was begun, left overpowered by the Mountain. A tall, slender, wiry man with black hair, pale face, and a determined mouth, Slim Garson was one of the chief engineers at the Aberlais hydro-electric station. He had climbed the side of the valley with Jim Tasker, the young surveyor who was his friend, and who was taking levels to mark the route of the giant pylons, which would presently carry the current from the power station to the world beyond. Big changes were coming to the valley. No longer would coal mining be the only industry. With the building of the giant dam and the construction of the monster power plant, new possibilities for industry were opened up. But at the moment Slim Garson was scowling at the Mountain and thinking only of the Mountain. He looked at his companion and saw that he was squinting through his theodolite at some point on those distant, rugged slopes. “Ugly brute, isn’t it?” said Slim. Jim Tasker straightened. He was short, fair, and sturdy. He pushed some loose hair from his forehead and asked in surprise – “What is?” “That confounded mountain. It has worried me ever since I’ve been here. It’s so big and sullen looking. All it does is to steal the sunshine from the valley. Nothing grows on it, nobody lives on it, no sheep graze on it, and there’s no coal on that side. It’s like some great crouching monster!” declared Garson. “Don’t let it give you the willies!” mocked his friend. “Man, our mountain is one for making people feel blue,” came a soft voice behind them, and they turned rather hurriedly. “I’ve lived in the valley for seventy two years, yet I’ve never climbed it yet, and there’s many like me.” They had seen the old man coming along the slope towards them. He was bent and wrinkled, and leaned heavily on his stick, but his eyes were bright and shrewd. He had a sack from which stuck pieces of branches and twigs which he had collected during his walk for use as kindling wood. Now he leaned against a boulder and stared at the mountain two miles away. “No that’s true! I can’t say I’ve heard of anyone climbing the mountain for fun,” exclaimed Garson. “When I was on a similar job in the Highlands of Scotland our men were always roaming the peaks.” “Yes, but that was different. Perhaps those mountains were good and friendly,” said the soft voiced old Welshman. “This one is evil. It broods over us. My old father used to warn us as children never to go near it.” “But why?” asked the young surveyor. “It’s just a mountain.” The old man leaned forward on his stick. “Do you see much growing on it? Do you see anything except the thinnest grass and some broom growing? Even the birds keep away from the mountain. Have you noticed that?” he demanded. “No, I can’t say I have,” murmured Garson. “Nothing lives there!” said the aged man, emphatically. “Do you see the ruins of yonder cottage? I mind the time when a family named Farr built that cottage. They reckoned on running a small-holding, with sheep, goats and some crops in that corrie, but their sheep and goats died, their chickens never produced eggs, and the children sickened. Then the wife went mad and they took her away to Newport to an asylum. Bryn Farr jumped into the river above where they’ve built the dam, and was drowned. The Mountain got them all.” “Stuff and nonsense!” declared Jim Tasker. “I suppose you’ll tell us next that the Mountain’s haunted?” The old Welshman looked at him almost patiently. “No, it’s not haunted, man, but it’s bad! My old grandfather used to say that once there was an earthquake around these parts, and the Mountain moved a hundred yards nearer the village. He said the streams changed their courses, landslides killed a dozen men, and --- “That’s funny!” came from the surveyor, who had his eye to the sight of his theodolite. “I had this aligned on the shoulder of the mountain and now it’s a long way out.” Garson motioned him aside and looked through the level. He saw that the cross hair-line was nowhere near the point mentioned. “You must have imagined you had it sighted,” he said. “Or you knocked the tripod when you straightened up to talk to me.” Jim Tasker flushed. “I tell you I did have it sighted – exactly. I did not touch the tripod and nobody else did. You can see it’s perfectly level. Look at the spirit-level for yourself. I can’t understand it. You’d almost think that shoulder of rock had come nearer,” he exclaimed. It was Slim Garson’s turn to grin. “Perhaps there’s been another earthquake shock, such as our friend was talking about, and the mountain has shifted a little!” “Don’t be a fool!” snapped the surveyor. “If there’s been a shock on the other side of the valley it would have been felt here, and would have at least upset the spirit-level.” The old man opened his mouth to say something, and just then there came a sound like distant thunder. They turned their heads in time to see a great mass of loose earth, rocks and uprooted broom slithering and bumping down the eastern side of the Mountain. “A landslide!” grunted Garson. “Strange that we have a landslide when there’s been no rain for weeks. Usually landslides happen after wet weather.” The old Welshman opened his mouth to say something when he saw across the valley a thin column of steam rising from high over the colliery. Then came the hoot of the siren. The steam was visible before the sound was heard so far away. Five times the siren sounded, and each time for full three seconds, then it became silent. “There’s something wrong at the pit – an accident and a big one!” gasped the old man, and he began to hobble and run along the hillside. “I’d better go back and see what’s happening,” Slim muttered. Long before he reached the bottom of the valley he could see the crowds running towards the pit-head. There were more women than men, for most of the latter were already underground. Already rumours were spreading. There were more than rumours by the time Slim Garson reached the pit-head. The first of the injured men had been brought up, and reported that in the southern workings of the mine, there had been a sudden series of roof falls. There had been no explosions, but through the earth had come a shuddering which had cracked the props and brought down hundreds of tons of earth and rock. At least a dozen men were buried or cut off. The rescue squads were hard at work. Already men were speaking of an earthquake shock, and Slim Garson could not help remembering what Jim Tasker had said about the alteration in the sighting of his theodolite. “But as Jim said, how could there be an earth tremor one side of the valley, and not on the other?” thought Slim Garson. “His spirit-level hadn’t even quivered.”

THE STRANGE STREAM

There was nothing Garson could do to help at the pit. That was a job for the expert miners. He collected his motor cycle from where he had parked it and headed up the valley towards the power station. The road followed the winding of the river, and avoided a number of old bings.

For this reason it ran close to the Mountain at one point, so close that scarcely more than thirty feet of sparsely-growing grass separated the macadamized road from the sheer face of the precipice at that spot. As he sped up the road, Slim Garson found his way impeded by hundreds of stones and fragments of rock which had been scattered over the highway. They had obviously come from the nearby precipice. He zigzagged in and out these obstacles, and eyed the black precipice sourly. If there had been some form of earth tremor, and he was beginning to think this had been the case, the loose stones should have slid to the foot of the cliff. How did they come to be up to fifty feet from the cliff? He slowed and dropped his feet, looking up at the wrinkled surface of the precipice. “Anyone could imagine that was the wrinkled hide of some giant rhinoceros!” he said to himself. “If a rhino rolled in the mud, and let the mud and pebbles dry and harden on him, then shook himself, the pebbles would fly like this. Did you shake yourself, you Mountain?” He had raised his voice, hardly knowing why he had spoken, and the echo came back from the cliff in unpleasant fashion. A shiver went down his spine, and he felt a sudden chill. Kicking off viciously, he went up the road at speed, and soon reached the new power station. It was one of the most modern in the country. The dam was a mile further up the valley, and the water was conducted through huge conduits to drive the mighty turbines which in turn drove the dynamos. One of the foremen on the hydro side was Taffy Colwin, and he shouted as Garson prepared to go inside. He was coming down the hill on a push bike. Slim Garson waited for him. He thought Taffy would want news from the colliery, for the foreman had relatives working there, but it seemed there was something else on Taffy’s mind. “Can you beat it, man!” he exclaimed, when he was within earshot. “I’ve been washed out of my office, look you!” Garson knew Taffy referred to the small hut which stood on the slope below the dam, and from where he directed his maintenance men. “How do you mean washed out, Taffy?” asked the engineer. “That stream – the stream that cuts across the hillside a good fifty yards from my office, look you, suddenly changed its course and came pouring down right on top of my hut!” cried the Welshman. “Changed its course, but – What have you been doing blasting up above it?” demanded Garson. “No, nobody has been blasting. That stream suddenly jumped out of its bed, and came tumbling down on top of me. I’ve lost all my papers and records in the river,” exploded Colwin. It was quite evident that in his own excitement he had not heard the alarm go at the colliery. “What time did that happen?” queried Garson.  “At three-thirty exactly, man.” Slim Garson raised his eyebrows. He had happened to note that the landslide which he and Tasker had witnessed had occurred at the very same time. “Let me have a look,” he suggested. “Get on the back of my machine.” Colwin did so, when they got to the spot Garson saw that Taffy had no exaggerated. A regular waterfall descended upon his small hut from the steep rise behind. It had smashed in the roof and water poured out through the open door, ran down the slope, across the road, and took the shortest route to the swollen river below the dam. It was an extraordinary occurrence, and Garson knew that it could have been brought about only by a sudden blockage of the stream below the point where it had overflowed, or by some actual change in the slope of the Mountain itself. “Well, the best thing you can do is to take my machine back to your quarters and get a change of clothes before you catch cold,” he told the Welshman. “I’ll walk up the mountainside a way and see if the stream is blocked.” Taffy Colwin nodded and turned to the waiting motor cycle. As he did so a number of large stones cluttered around them. One caught Garson a grazing blow on the shoulder and sent him sprawling. Stones thudded all around him. “It’s the beginning of another landslide!” he shouted, scrambling to his feet. “We’ve got to get away from here!” The rattle of stones suddenly stopped, and he saw that Taffy Colwin lay still. Taffy had not heard the engineer’s last words because one of the stones had caught him on the head and knocked him unconscious. Garson ran to his side, and as he stooped over the man, there was a clatter of timbers behind him. He turned his head and saw the flooded hut slowly collapsing on the hillside. It was not the pressure of the water that was doing it, it was going down like a house of cards. The engineer stared for some seconds, then turned to do what he could for Taffy, who had been forgotten a moment ago. Taffy’s head was badly cut. Slim Garson picked him up in his arms and carried him clear of the spot. Then he did what he could to stop the blood, but was glad when he heard a car coming down the road, it was Trevor Williams chief engineer at the dam. Williams stopped at once. There was no time to explain anything. They got Colwin into the car and sped down the valley to the hospital. Only when Taffy Colwin had received attention and had been made comfortable did the two engineers have a chance to talk. Trevor Williams listened with surprise to Slim Garson’s account of the afternoon’s happenings. “Well, if you think there’s been an earthquake shock it might explain everything.” He said. “Let’s go along to the general manager and ask him to get in touch with London. They’ve got instruments for measuring earthquake disturbances. It won’t take more than half an hour to check by phone. Slim Garson glowered at the Mountain. Low clouds had gathered over the top of it, giving it an appearance more forbidding than ever. “There’s no need for both of us to ask old Barker to do this,” he said. “I want to look at that stream which shifted. Let me drop you at the head office, then borrow your car to go back up there.” Trevor Williams was agreeable, was put down at the head office, and a few minutes later Garson was driving along up the valley road towards the scene of the recent accident. Water still poured across the road, and had already worn quite a considerable gully on one side. The motor cycle was unharmed and Garson wheeled it back beside the car before looking at the steep slope behind him and wondering how best to follow the course of the stream. He decided to begin to climb parallel to the falling water, and to follow the new course of the stream until he came to the old.

THE EYE OF THE MOUNTAIN

Slim Garson had on heavy boots and it was as he kicked footholds in the steep slope that he first noticed how very thin the soil was on the Mountain. He found it difficult at places to get a toe-hold, so bare was the rock. He had never before studied the rock formation of the Mountain.

It was black, entirely different to the reddish rock on the other side of the valley. Furthermore, there were hundreds of small grooves all running downwards, all running in the same direction. He scrambled a little higher. He found himself shivering. It was not so much the coolness of the wind. It was something else that he could not fathom. His nerves were on edge. He was jumpy, and found himself listening for unusual sounds. He kicked viciously at one of the grooves, and the next moment found himself on his back, sliding and slithering down the steep incline behind him. Luckily, he was able to dig his fingers into another of the grooves, and checked himself before he had gathered too much speed. He was somewhat bruised, but it was not this that caused him to breathe heavily and his heart to pump madly as he lay spread eagle on the mountainside. At the moment when he had lifted one foot to kick, he could have sworn that something stirred under his foot, and that was this that had caused his downfall! He hoisted himself and climbed back again, sore and angry. “Idiot!” he told himself. What happened was a stone rolled under your other foot when you were off-balance, and that threw you over.” Somehow that explanation did not satisfy him, but he came to a particularly tough stretch, and had to use all his skill to get up as far as the old course of the stream. There it lay before him, slimy and still wet, but now empty of water, it had never been very deep at that point, but it had been more than twelve feet across, and he marveled that such a stream should have suddenly “jumped” to another gully about forty feet away. It was almost as though the ground had heaved and tilted the water in the new direction. He could see no boulder or other obstruction in the water course, and he continued to follow it upwards. Up and up he climbed. The stream appeared to rise in a big corrie which he had seen from the road below. He decided to make that the highest point of his climb. For some reason he found himself terrified at the idea of being on the Mountain in the darkness. He tried to laugh at himself for this feeling, but could not shake it off. He found himself hurrying. He got out of breath and forced himself to go slow. Finally, he stopped where the course of the stream turned straight uphill. There was a stiff climb before him to the edge of the corrie, and he was winded. There was a large wart-like bump of rock beside him, and he sat down thankfully, panting for breath. Suddenly his flesh crawled and he leapt to his feet as though the rock had become red-hot. His face blanched, his mouth went dry. He was certain that the rock had stirred beneath his weight! It had not been more than a tremor, but he did not think he had imagined it. He gripped the rock with both hands, straining with all his strength to move it or prize it out of the ground. He did neither. Scared, yet ashamed of himself for being scared, Slim Garson gave the rock a final kick, then turned his back on it and tackled that last steep climb. He was now on the inside of the corrie, climbing round the east shoulder of it, which appeared to be the easiest for his purpose. It was almost dark within the corrie, and the clouds were low overhead. Only pride kept Slim Garson going on. He wanted to turn back. There was no real reasons why he should go any further, but he wanted to prove to himself that he was no longer scared. So he pressed on, until he was above the deepest and steepest, and the innermost part of the corrie. He was halfway down the shoulder, and it was like looking into a deep pit open on one side. The trickles of water were lost in the wrinkles of the rock. He sat down on the bare slope, and dangled his legs. In a few minutes he would start back, realizing that he had discovered nothing to explain why the stream had suddenly changed it’s course. Then, beneath him something happened. Right inside the corrie below where his legs dangled, and on the other side, the ground seemed to wrinkle up and loosen. Stones, thinly-rooted grass, and some earth, went sliding downwards into the darkest depth, only to be tossed aside by the convulsive movement of something – something that Slim Garson could see but could not believe existed. Down there in the depths of the corrie something gleamed dully. As more stones and earth slid or were flung aside, the thing showed more clearly. Slim Garson felt as though he was cringing within his own skin. His forehead had become clammy, yet he was as cold as ice. He could not move, he could not stir, for he knew that he was looking down at a monstrous eye! It was an incredible eye, many, many yards across, green and brown in colour, and it seemed to be set in the mountain itself. It glared up at him balefully, and he found himself staring back. The socket of the eye was the sides of the corrie. The eye seemed to be part of the Mountain. For three full seconds it stared at the man with cold hatred, and then it blinked. Stones and earth went flying in all directions. The slope on which Garson sat quivered, and he scrambled up, dizzy with horror. And as he stood there, clammy, shivering, his legs weakening under him, the eye of the Mountain opened and glared at him again.

THE MOUNTAIN MOVED 9 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1381 – 1389 (1951 - 1952)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2004