Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | March 5, 2008

The Caretaker

New Boston, New Hampshire. January 17, 2006.

Frozen Grass

Part 1: Invented Landscape 

The robed man turns away, but knows the metallic smoking thing will not let him off so easily.  Once more, the voice sounds out across the bouldered landscape.

“Doctor Renalds!  You’re a hero, don’t you know?  All of Earth is waiting to greet you upon your return!”

“Not… my name,” the old man croaks with his back still turned, still moving away.  There are more words crowding in the back of his head, words of joy and despair, words of anger, words for every minute of fifty years spent in silence.  But he can’t force his mouth to make them, so he seethes inside his head.

Where were you when my team died, one by one?  I came to this clearing every evening to send up my signals, and not once did you reply.  Where were you when the allotted two years became three and I realized I was alone?  Where were you when my cell radio sent its last transmission then died forever?  I buried it, you know, beside my friends, beneath that spot your stinking shuttle is now burning to a crisp.

All these words and more clutter up the Caretaker’s brain.  He lifts his hands to the sides of his head and does not hear the man emerge from the shuttle behind him.  The young astronaut catches up to the old easily.

“Doctor Renalds.  We’re sorry.  I’m sorry.  It was a terrible mistake.  Don’t you remember me?”

The Caretaker doesn’t want to look at the face that owns the prim and clarinet-clear voice.  He has forgotten its features along with his old name, but he remembers enough to know that he was once the same age as this man.  They arrived together, once upon a time, on this god-forsaken moon of a planet orbiting a distant star.

This was the young man who promised to return.

“Go away,” the Caretaker croaks once more, and shuffles along the path.  From the shadow beside his own, he can see that his words have not been heeded.  The young man keeps his distance from his once-colleague, but will not leave.

Night is falling, and the fog that lingered all day has settled to rest among grass and stone in a sheath of fresh, glistening ice.  The old man expected this, but the young knows nothing of this place he abandoned.  The Caretaker understands how it must be.  He remembers what he said in the 26th transmission from moon Estrella to planet Earth.  How he wished for years and years that he could unsay it, but done is done.

Done is done, and the greatest discovery in the history of Earth was also the reason Doctor Renalds was left to rot in a place that seems to be the very definition of desolation and silence.

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  1. […] Part 2: The Caretaker  […]


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