Rise and Fall of Sisyphus
The Rise And Fall Of Sisyphus
By Mark Cantrell
Copyright (c) August 2001
"OH no, not again!"
Sisyphus watched in dismay as the boulder tumbled down the hill. It
bounced and clattered as it gained momentum. The day's idle crowd
scurried out of the way of the broken fragments and then turned to
cheer and laugh.
With a sigh he started to walk back down the hill.
"Here I go again."
More chatter from the crowd as he reached the bottom. They were mostly
from the local villages, some from even further afield; his reputation
had gone far and wide over the years. The boulder sat there in front of
them. For a lump of lifeless stone it looked pretty damn smug. For the
millionth time he cursed the thing. He cursed the crowd too.
"Go on Si! You can do it!"
He couldn't see the speaker, but he could imagine the snide smile and
the mirth gleaming in his eyes. The voice had a youthful quality.
Typical young layabout. Nothing better to do but come out here and take
the piss. As if the job wasn't tough enough.
A cheer went up as he heaved against the boulder. A grunt as his
muscles bulged and the boulder began to move.
The sun was hot. He could feel it searing his back, despite the stream
of sweat that poured off him. The boulder moved forward, higher and
higher. The summit approached, gravity tried to do its foul work.
Yet again, he cursed whoever it was that invented the damn thing.
Almost at the pinnacle. Get it right. Careful. Just a matter of
balance. Poise, that's all it takes, and then he could go for a
Yes. Yes. It was there. The pinnacle. Caught in that null point between
gravity's insidious pull. At last he'd done it.
The voice caught him off guard and broke his concentration. "No!"
The boulder wavered and began its inevitable descent. If only it would
smash into one of those piss-taking bastards at the bottom.
"Shame!" the crowd chorused.
One smart arse added: "Never mind, Si, you know what they say, one
million six hundred thousand and seventy third time lucky."
"Drop dead," he muttered.
ONE thing about the night, it was a damn sight cooler. It also meant he
didn't have the usual audience of idle jokers.
Of course, having that crowd did give him something for his mind to do.
He could nurture a sense of disgust and even hate for those who took
delight in his predicament. Not one of them ever offered to help. There
was nobody around to focus his mind on now, which meant it had time to
wander and ponder.
What he wanted was some conversation. It had been years since he had a
proper chat. Mind you, he knew, these days he wouldn't make a very good
conversationalist. When your day consists of rolling a boulder up a
hill, subjects for conversation get a bit thin on the ground. The job
did tend to be a bit repetitive.
As for small talk, well he shuddered at the thought.
He could imagine someone saying: "Hi, Si, how's your day been?"
"Oh so so, up and down really."
In the cold moonlight, he really did long for some human companionship.
Even a sheep would do; in the dark he was bound to be able to nip off
for a while without anyone noticing.
Okay, so a sheep isn't a very good conversationalist, but at least it
wouldn't contradict anything he said, or criticise him in any way. Or
laugh, for that matter.
There had been someone once, not long after he'd been given this bloody
Pretty thing she was, he mulled as the boulder grinded its rut a little
deeper. What was her name? Ah fickle memory.
She used to walk alongside him sometimes and chat, back in the days
when he still had something to talk about. The jokes must have put her
off in the end. He shuddered at the memory; people could be so
"Hey lass -- you don't want to bother with him. He can't get it
"That's not right," somebody else would laugh. "He can get it up --
it's keeping it there that's the problem."
He gritted his teeth at the memory of the girl's blushes, and at the
banality of idle gawkers with nothing better to do. You'd think they'd
get bored of the same old joke; but each time the crowd laughed as if
it was the first time they'd heard it.
She vanished not long after, and he went back to being alone amongst
the multitude. Although once he saw someone who reminded him of that
long-nameless woman. Some old crone with a couple of leering grand
children. There was something about her; yet there was no recognition
of recollection in her withered face.
He'd seen her, pondered, shrugged and got on with heaving that bloody
boulder up the hill.
YEARS passed. The same old routine, but it was definitely getting
easier now. In fact, it seemed his long labours might soon be at an
end. The years of rolling and grinding had taken their toll on his
The boulder was now a pebble. The final fall had shattered the rock
until all that remained was this. He gratefully thanked whoever
He ambled up the hill, pebble in hand. He reached the top and stared at
This was it. Gingerly, and feeling fatigued beyond belief, he placed
the pebble on the pinnacle. It stayed there. Not even the faintest
tremble. He couldn't believe it. The labours were done.
His cry of joy and relief should have met an ebullient cheer from the
watching crowd, but there had been none of them now for
He started down the hill. At the bottom, he gratefully sat down and
allowed his legs a long-deserved rest. Then he lay back and took a deep
breath of cool air. He watched the sun crawl above the horizon;
enjoying the chance to watch his first dawn in ages beyond
No more repetitive present. There was a future ahead of him now; he
didn't dare ponder what that life might hold, but anything had to be
better than the countless years that had gone before. For now, he
savoured his new found idleness, and anticipated the cooling tang of
As he sat there he heard a noise unlike anything he had heard before.
He felt no need to move, merely sit and listen for whatever made this
Eventually the source came into view. Something on four wheels, of a
kind he had never seen before. He imagined it to be some kind of cart.
Made of metal he quickly realised, and huge. He wondered how it could
move without horses or oxen to pull it, but his mind was too concerned
with relaxation to really ponder the question.
The contraption stopped and a man climbed out of the metal box at its
front. He watched the strangely clad man walk over, with some kind of
board in his hand. He watched and wondered.
A bored face met his gaze.
"I'm looking for a guy called Sisyphus," the stranger said.
Long unused parts of his body struggled to co-ordinate. Finally he
managed the relevant motion. "That's me."
"Got a delivery for you. Sign here."
Sisyphus took the board and the strange thing that resembled a stylus
but clearly wasn't. After a moment, he figured it out and managed to
sign his name on the smooth material held on the board.
"Cheers mate," the stranger said, sticking the stylus behind one ear.
He turned back to the contraption and got inside. Moments later it made
a strangely metallic rumble as the rear section tilted upwards. Quickly
drowned in a rumble of another kind.
"Oh no!" Sisyphus cried as the dust settled. "No! No! No!"
The stranger stuck his head out of the box and pointed his thumb
towards the pile of stone. "There you go, mate. That'll keep you going
for a while."
Bradford, 1 August 2001
Copyright (C) August 2001. All Rights Reserved.