The Man of the Sugar Mountain – an allegorical tale

I saw an article about Mark Zuckerberg’s thoughtful goal to rid the world of disease by the end of the century. So I wrote a fairy tale …

The Man of the Sugar Mountain

Once upon a time when all the Gods of Nature had been executed in public places by due process of the law, by hanging from recycled plastic trees or crushing under bulldozers, and the blood shone on the paving slabs, there was nowhere outdoors left for the children to play: the soils which once dirtied their knees had been washed into the sea and the trees where they had hidden and clambered and scraped their shins were burned down and their roots concreted over. The birds which had once accompanied the play with their chirruping had been inadvertently poisoned by technologists earnest with other purpose.

A malaise spread through the land which alarmed the technologists; the children became fatter and fatter and jittery, and to dispel the spirits of boredom they cut their arms with blades and watched the blood trickling out and dabbed their fingers into it and invented red emojis on their bedsheets. Licensed technologists fed the children with chemicals to soothe them but the children remained sad and their plump faces were pale.

Then one day a man arrived pulling behind him a cart full of Magical Musical Machines and gave one to all of the children in the kingdom. The Magical Musical Machines were a marvellous thing! Children only had to think of a melody or a song and the instrument would begin to play it, and the children were enchanted – they became entirely absorbed in their instruments. They forgot about all their worries – once a tune came to the end, the children would press the magic button on the Magical Musical Machine and another tune would play. Again and again, an infinity of ditties would burst from the machines like clouds of butterflies, all jewelled and colourful and shimmering; the children were delighted to distraction and abandoned everything else to the pleasures of music: their mums and dads feted the man who brought so much happiness to their children.

Through sales of the Magical Musical Machines, the man became almost as rich as the King. Because of his sheer brilliance he was soon elected as the wisest man of the King’s Council and would be asked to pronounce publicly on the highest matters of state: from the keeping of horses to the curing of colds, the growing of vegetables and the building of arched bridges; his expertise spread to the schooling of dunces, appropriate forms of execution for the denial of economic growth, the reframing of relativity, the circumference of teapots, the cloning of yes-men and the establishment of human colonies in the surprisingly temperate, fine fissures which ran between self-abasement and self-flagellation. Any man wise enough to bring a smile to the faces of sad children was surely equipped to judge upon all other things under the sun.

And the parents came to him and clamoured in adulation: “Tell us, wise man, what is your name? Who are you that your musical machine can calm our children and soothe them in their misery?”

The wise man, still with the smooth face of a youth, said to them: “You can call me the man of the Sugar Mountain.”

Astounded, the parents asked why.

To which he replied: “One day I will show you why. But until then, rejoice in the music of the Magical Musical Machines. Each year I will bring you new ones and each year your children shall become happier and happier, and, as their doting parents, you will, too.” How they all cheered at these words!

And yet after a period of bliss, once all the tunes in the world had been invented and played on the Magical Musical Machines and all the children had heard all the tunes, they fell bored again and descended into an even deeper malaise than ever before. As they were no longer entertained by the magical music, and they had forgotten how to play catch-as-catch-can and hop-scotch and ring-a-ring-of-roses and had never learnt the feathers of a jay or the tail of a fox or the scent of mowed grass, they would lie in their beds all day long and mutter weakly and beg their doctors for the coloured pills which soothed them.

So the parents went back to the wise man and said: “Our children have been overcome by malaise again. They are listless and irritable. They won’t eat properly, even if we bring them take-aways and foods which have been lovingly hand-made in big factories and wrapped tenderly in soft plastics. Some have ballooned as fat as the elephants which once roamed Africa. Others are as thin as the twigs on the plastic trees and their fragile spines snap in our gentlest caress. And your beautiful music no longer enchants them; they have become bored even by that.”

So the wise man said to them: “Don’t be afraid, mums and dads. I can make your children well again. In fact I promise that I will make everyone well again. And after that no-one will ever be ill for time immeasurable. The world will be rid of disease, mental illness, discomfort, and even fleeting moments of insufficiency. No-one will ever be sad again. Everyone will live healthily and happily ever after.”

“What will you do?” asked the mums and dads, enraptured by the wise man.

“The children must all follow me to the Sugar Mountain. It is a mountain made entirely of magical sugar, and the children can feast on the earth of the Sugar Mountain all day long. The magical sugar will make them deliciously happy and will at once cure them of any illness.

The King and all his other wise men, and the technologists and industrialists, the bankers and financiers and the lawyers all clapped and cheered deliriously at the rousing words of the man of the Sugar Mountain whose stock bubbled up even further and his share price fizzed and frothed like the finest champagne in steaming hot baths of which the economists masturbated viciously. The wise man abandoned the old cart which he had pulled when he first arrived years ago, and the King himself commissioned the construction of a huge chariot from recycled plastic bags, with chandeliers fashioned from chards of old light bulbs, and all bedecked with a fluttering of bunting made from the wings of Monarch butterflies plucked on a half moon and sewn together by gangs of trained marmosets, which were tied at the neck by lassoes of organic hemp. The King allowed the chariot to be pulled by a troop of Performing Pangolins and dwarf Vietnamese acrobats danced and wheeled and gallivanted around excitedly, aroused at the scent of pangolin flesh and their proximity thereto.

Come the great day and the Man of the Sugar Mountain stood aloft his chariot and thousands of children thronged behind him. The Vietnamese acrobats produced trumpets and blasted an anthem to the glory of the man of the Sugar Mountain and all the children screamed excitedly and pressed the buttons of their Magical Musical Machines frantically, until an immense cacophony arose; a cacophony of such intensity that it took on physical form, a dancing rain of notes and rhythms which crashed down on the tumult and umbrellas rose like a spread of flowering cacti in the desert and many dashed for cover and there was an enormous muddy stampede with children shrieking with fear and joy, and parents, many too weighty for flight, were trodden under foot and many drowned in the mire. And the man from the Sugar Mountain cracked his sharp whip and roared “We’re off” and the Performing Pangolins reared and the chariot lurched forward and the mud sprayed from its wheels and the children raced ahead joyfully.

Every child in the land followed that raucous parade towards the Sugar Mountain: thrilled at the tale of eating sugar and candy and chocolate and pink things all day long and with no bed time, too! As the column of children passed from village to village, it grew and grew and the dance of the Man of the Sugar Mountain grew more and more colourful and fanciful; his steps and skips more elaborate; his promises stretched as wide as the valleys through which the thousands of children passed; and their own happy skips aligned into a single step whose beat reverberated from hill to hill.

Meanwhile after many weeks and miles of wandering, the Performing Pangolins which pulled the chariot had grown bloated on the exotic perfumed chocolates that the Vietnamese dwarfs fed them, and then one night when all slept the little men slit their throats and vanished into the dark with their prey. When the children awoke, they found the man of the Sugar Mountain all alone huffing and puffing at the chariot, one moment he tried to pull it, the next he would jump round the back and push it, but move it would not. And even as they beheld the shape of the Sugar Mountain astride a distant horizon, the man of the Sugar Mountain cursed in anger at the cruel deception of his acrobats, so all the children rushed to comfort him and, cutting the locks from all the girls’ heads until they were shorn like monks, they plaited a rope of such strength that they could tie it to the chariot and all take their place in the line and heave! heave! heave! the chariot began to inch forward, and heave! heave! heave! and it inched forward again and soon there was a rope a mile long and a hundred thousand children tugged at it and the wheels of the chariot spun like saucers and the Man of the Sugar Mountain scrabbled on board and blew his trumpet and the children all raced joyously towards the Mountain, but as close as they got, the mountain always stood on the horizon, and day by day the children became more and more weary even as the man of the Sugar Mountain cursed them and whipped them and exhorted them and promised that it was only another day’s journey away.

Blood matted the backs of the children who tugged and tugged at the hair-rope, where the wise man’s whip had slashed their shirts; more fell into the mud and the children behind them trod them in … until so few children remained upright that even in unison they could no longer pull the chariot and the whole procession ground to a halt. And now the man of the Sugar Mountain danced naked on the roof of his chariot and sang songs in ancient tongues no-one could understand. A cloud passed over the Sugar Mountain, but as it continued on its way the Mountain had disappeared from the horizon, whatever direction they looked.

“Where’s the mountain gone?” cried the remaining children in alarm. “Where’s it gone, man of the Sugar Mountain? Where’s the mountain?” they cried, many now in tears and moaning. For that one cloud had now swollen into many, dark billowings which rushed across the sky and slammed it shut, and the air was chill and hot at the same time, and the children shivered and sweated as in fever. But now the man of the Sugar Mountain could only jibber in ones and zeroes – which even the Lingua-bot couldn’t manage, burping out incoherent snatches of Biblical Aramaic and Proto-Aztec – and jumped all legs and arms flailing from the chariot, and kicking through the crowd, escaped into the hills; you could see his tiny body, shrinking into the vast desert, zig-zagging left and right past tree stumps and broken skeletons, leaping across the beds of parched streams, wafts of dust following him.

Left alone, the children. Acknowledging, for a brief, painful moment, that they would not live happily ever after, they turned, hungry but determined, and set off back the way they came, singing fragments of an ancient song one remembered and where words were missing they gradually filled in the gaps with their own invention.

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