The Goats

The goats returned in 2016 on Canada Day.

It was entirely unexpected, but quickly blamed on climate change and the receding winter in the mountains.

"Their diet's changing," tweeted the marginally educated ones.

"Our rangers are tracking their movements, and evacuations will be ordered once our strategy has been clarified," the public official obliged.

"It's been theorized," professors shouted.

Liza Geller was packing the last box in her now-empty daycare at Jasper Junior Senior High School when a small voice chirped behind her, making her jump.

"Why are we leaving?"

"Christina! How did you get back in here?" The open door answered Liza's own question without making her feel better. "Kids shouldn't be alone right now... who were you assigned to?"

"They said the school's closing," Christina said, deflecting the question as only a child could. She tugged at Liza's dress. "Why?"

Liza leaned back on her desk, sighing. "Well, sweetie, nobody will be here to teach or learn. So they're closing it, but just for now until we can come back."

"But why can't we stay?"

"It's hard to explain." Liza had always believed in telling the truth to kids, but her trepidation right now wasn't about sheltering them. She barely understood the situation herself. "I know it's frustrating right now, but I'm frustrated too, okay? It's hard for all of us. But right now, we just need to think about our safety."

"But why do the goats want to hurt us?"

"They don't, they... just..." Liza trailed off. Well, they didn't want to hurt humans, did they? She wasn't sure. The public announcement had only said to leave the mountains until they were in the background, and to avoid any goats.

"They're just acting differently, that's all, and we just need to give the professional goat people more space here to figure out how to take care of them so they can be happy and we're happy too."

"Okay, Ms. Geller."

Elsewhere, in the same country, polished black shoes pattered rapidly from a noisy room to another even noisier room. The dull roar of this second room was silenced as soon as the man entered.

"Update?"

"Mr. Prime Minister, we have quarantined the Rockies. We're extending the barricade into the United States with their cooperation."

"How far is the effect?"

"It passed one hundred kilometres a few minutes ago."

"I see. Now can someone explain what this fucking effect is?"

"Sir, yes," - another official - "It is a zero-point event unfolding along a linear demarcation."

"Thank you. Now get the fuck out."

"...Sir?"

"You heard me. I asked for an explanation, not an ego. Can I get some qualified fuckers in here, please?"

"Yes, Mr. Prime Minister." The shamed official hurried out, avoiding the man's elbow.

"This wasn't the fucking fireworks I expected today," the Prime Minister complained.

After several days, the nation of Canada had gotten a grip on the event, and the new media briefings brought a clearer picture of the curious circumstances. The report was broadcast with a voice that sounded an awful lot like Morgan Freeman with slowly fading montages of the abrupt cutoff in the Alberta-B.C. landscape.

The mountains still exist, one line assured. They are currently folded into a higher dimension, and the Government of Canada is working to establish communication relations with the goats in order to recover our sovereign territory. We thank our international allies for their support in this matter.

More sombrely, however, the death count had been posted. It hadn't been as high as feared. Several hundred people were missing and "cautiously presumed dead," as nobody could be sure if a human could continue existing in such a condition. And supposing they returned along with the mountains - would they survive that transition?

Naturally, North Korea proudly claimed credit while hastily exterminating all goats in their country.

As part of the next step to solve this unfathomable crisis, any credible research project that had been involved in animal communication got instantaneous access to unlimited resources. As their theories continued to merge toward a feasible solution, the historical foreshadowing of this event became clearer.

The last goat had been seen in North America in the early 1700s. Not even the immense history of the First Nations could explain why they disappeared suddenly, and the passage of time had led to the general assumption that they had simply gone extinct thanks to untracked hunting. It only became an occasional curiosity when it was noticed that goats in Mexico would never venture across the U.S.A. border unless forcibly transported, and would die shortly thereafter. That anomaly had remained sunken in the lower annals of biology graduate research until now. Yet today, as the military-led science group rushed to understand the problem they were dealing with, the best conclusion they could offer was that there was some environmental factor in the U.S.A. and Canada that created a psychosomatic reaction in the goats that caused their deaths.

And then on July 1st of the year 2016, Mount Robson, with all its millennia of aged rock, had quietly risen up, exhaling as if JUST DONE, and collapsed into thin air.

A cluster of goats remained in the spot where Robson had once stood. The pair of rangers who had been lucky, or unlucky, enough to witness this had just enough time to radio it in before the goats moved impossibly quickly across the landscape in different directions, blinking in and out of existence as they went. With each sonorous tap of their hooves, a mountain would rise up and do its Bye Felicia. And as the rangers watched agape, more goats emerged from the unknowable spot and continued to pour into Canada.

That was the crisis in a nutshell: an irrelevant population of animals disappearing three hundred years ago, and then reappearing and apparently confiscating Canada's Rockies.

The point when a crisis passes its hot point of constant public discussion without an actual resolution is often called "normalization." This happened about three weeks later. The hashtags died down and attention swung back to the fallout of the Brexit. (To be fair, the rumours had become very credible that Elizabeth II was making decisive moves toward reestablishing an absolute monarchy. Nobody was sure how else to explain her abrupt beheading of Boris Johnson.)

The longer term consequences of losing an entire mountain range - the people of Vesuvius really had nothing on this, rest their souls - began to seep out. Without any direct routes from Canada into the province, B.C.'s economy lurched and essentially slammed into the wall, dropped to the floor, tried texting its friends but instead sent snapchats to Wyoming, who only sort of knew B.C. and awkwardly blocked them. Eventually it was rescued with airdropped shipments mounted on a scale even more massive than the Berlin Airlift.

Alberta's cultural landscape shifted radically. Without their treasured mountain resorts and high-altitude nature spaces, the tourism industry suffered quite a bit. In front of his board, Daryl Katz had to meekly admit that the "Highway of Dreams" that would lead directly from Banff to the Ice District was no longer feasible, nor had it ever quite made any sense. Fortunately, the NDP government had been savvier with their tech than B.C. and were able to restore most of their towns and villages from a backup. As luck would have it, many of those re-minted settlements ended up along the corridor between Edmonton and Calgary, turning the longterm vision of a high-speed railway into an immediately practical reality. By 2025, most of P.E.I. had moved into the corridor.

The event would come to be known as the Folding with a capital F. And as all inexplicable sieges will, the impossible absence of the Rockies became a part of everyday reality. Some bombastic personalities declared that Canada finally had its own Catalonia, its own Colombian conflict - but the conflict seemed to be hardly real. The goats never ventured beyond the former border of the Rockies. They remained within that stark space, constantly zigzagging at mach speeds, blinking in and out of existence, and sometimes staring at particular points of space for days. They did nothing to us, and so we could do nothing to them. Keep in mind we couldn't just invade like a proper military power - any and all objects were turned away from the Folded Space as if repelled by a force field. The physics explanation was that the Folded Space was the realm of impossible objects, like a cube that had different lengths, and so our world couldn't enter it.

And yet, there were the goats.

The goats. Of course, the goats. What were they? Clearly not Mexican goats.

Was it technology? Was it biology? We learned nothing - absolutely nothing. Animal communication was a complete failure. Hell, we tried scent-based language by encoding messages in esters that were sprayed all over the Folded Space. Half a million people lost their sense of smell for a week.

Nothing.

And so Canada moved on. The U.S.A. politely added it to their history books in school. Tourism did happen - even 360-degree videos didn't compare to standing at the edge of the pure white wasteland and losing yourself momentarily in eternity. Still, people in the region found other things to do than mountain biking and skiing.

The Folded Space wormed its way into literature, poetry, and even the smash hit Friends reunion mini-series in 2018 ("Phoebe!!! It's not a retreat for origami artists!!"). It became a subject of discussion in nearly every pedagogical field. It remained perpetually in competition as a new Wonder of the World, although there was heavy contention that the absence of a thing did not constitute a wonder regardless of whatever invisible phenomena had caused that absence.

And so the world moved on, and the goats zigzagged and blinked and stared till the day came that the human race had spent its time on Earth. They'd spread to other stars, eventually extending so far that it wasn't possible to keep the civilization's anchor in the home planet. So the farewell was made and the final exodus began.

Only then did the great patience and kindness of the goats become apparent. Those aboard the last starship were lucky enough to look back to see the planet slowly fold away, revealing the stars beyond.

Earth had returned to the goats.