The cougar awoke into a blue night of rust and went out to investigate. All the cities were crumbling, and rivers bled ferrous water through the streets. It followed their streams, meowing but hearing no answer. All the buildings had been grayed with a film of petrified ash. It was a dirty white cougar of the ancient white mountains. It had traveled through the rock countries and had played with shards of broken glass and reams of tape, miles and miles of twisted tape and roll film left to blacken in the ever blue twilight. It did not know how long it had hibernated, but it had never imagined awakening to a world without sun and only the light of strange stars. In some of the streams, it found suspicious fish, and ate them raw. It meowed at the lampposts that still flickered, and listened intently to the automated factories still threshing and smelting and refining even though there was nobody left on the face of the machine planet. It investigated the reservoirs and shops where there were headless mannequins in lingerie or phonographs that played without end. And it stopped to listen and to scratch at things, and it wondered if everything were hiding in the music. And what did music mean?
In the beginning, Heaven gave adamantine rings that shone like silver and platinum to all human children, one ring for each person. The angels passed through the land, gently placing them on the fingers of every woman and man. It was a kind of wedding present or testament of a promised inheritance. Then the angels drifted like brilliant smoke and dazzling snow back to the high mountains. Time went by, and the people grew impatient and greedy. Some traded their rings for food, shelter and clothes. Others traded them for perishable trinkets and vain books. One day, a horde arose, stealing all of the rings. The horde melted down the rings to forge swords, and distributed the swords, one sword for each person, woman and man. All of humanity raised their swords and set off for the mountains. The reason was clear enough. There would be other treasures in heaven. The very stars that shone by night were most likely gigantic gems or precious minerals. The ravenous horde began its ascent, a dark line of ants upon the great white void of the slopes. The way was difficult, and one by one, the climbers fell into snowbanks, chasms, or threw themselves from cliffs. There were some who perished of altitude sickness; there were some who died of cold; there were many who ate the snow and died of famine. The higher they climbed, the more they tended to throw themselves from cliffs of long icicles. Forever they climbed upward through mists and blizzards, forever encouraging themselves with the better view they had of the world from these heights and the closer they had drawn to heaven. Many are buried forever with their swords in eternal snow. A remnant is still climbing today. The mountains of heaven are infinite.
It has long been known that it is easy to terrorize and torment the children of the sun. One merely draws a circle in the sand or dirt around the child, and it will immediately burst into tears and wring its hands, trapped forever until an outsider breaks the ring. When the topography is harder and there is no sand to be had, as in a stone courtyard, one may draw the circle with chalk or charcoal. For days after an event in a ring, the child will be blind and live in a black deliriun. It will see itself as a skeleton in an infinite void, perhaps, or as a lone star constantly being born, being extinguished, and being reborn in an infinite time that transcends the hours that fall to earth. Its mind will only leave the bottomless shaft of that ring, that well of sorrows, long after the body has stepped out into the open. Sadly, the wisdom of these legends has yet to manifest itself in real life. Most of the time, there is a great riot leading up to the drawing of the ring, with screams and shouts, but once drawn, the imprisoned victim and the imprisoned victors, disappointed if not deflated, look awkwardly at one another over the curving mute threshold, waiting for as long as patience and silence endure. The revelation will not be had, and the event will not happen.
On the 13,870th night, the wanderers began to roll up their bedding and burden their camels. The wind whistled through the dust and the stars of the great black void. One by one, one hundred camels left the rim of the crater, departing for other stars. On the 14,000th night, a golden tree grew up from the black circular grave of ash where the meteor had gone to sleep.