A young child on a pastoral alien world recalls a significant occasion from his childhood, as he witnesses the birth of his Carrier. A world where the sun is just a whispered legend, and the black of night is replaced by the burning white-out...
I remember the smell of drying chaff bleeding my senses.
The thick, nasal musk that the weed gave off as it died was quite pungent, and it wouldn’t be the last time it assaulted my nose.
It’s always the first thing I remember, before the blood and the moaning.
Thickly wound reams of the chaff made up the walls and roof of the small make-shift animal pen. Generally, the rolls of weed were rotated, so that they were evenly exposed to the crisping desert light. Then, the chaff’s net-lattice would tighten, and its stink would diminish, so that it could be used in a number of practical applications, due to the innately high tensile strength the weed retained.
As the bodies pressed in, and the heat beaded down, and the pained bleating increased in volume, I still remember focusing in intent curiosity on that disgusting smelling weed.
“Not long now…” my father barked, straining slightly as the beast baulked under his forme. “Not long now, girl…”
I knew he was trying to be reassuring to the poor creature, despite his harsh manner. He was a man of good intentions, if somewhat practical in his executions.
He was like most men in that regard.
My father stepped back on my foot as Calara clumsily pushed her enormous body against him, causing me to yelp. No one heard me though, over Calara’s wails, in the thick of the weed and the heat of the evening light.
My mother took my hand gingerly without moving her eyes from the pregnant farm animal as the men did their best to calm it. I could see what she was thinking, as I looked up at her through glassy eyes. It was the only Carrier we had. If Calara died in labour, with no Carrier we’d have no way to move our crops. I squeezed her hand firmly, wanting to tell my mother that it would be alright, but she didn’t look down.
Suddenly, Calara roared, and lashed out angrily with her hindquarter.
As a beam of weed slipped from its frame, the blinding white poured in.
We all recoiled as one.
Instinctively, my hand shot to my forehead, draping my sleeve over my eyes to minimize retinal scarring. I heard my Uncle Flav berating me with orders from the other side of Calara, but I’d already blocked him out as I advanced on the gap in our weakened bastion.
They might have thought otherwise but I was no fool, not even back then. I knew what I had to do. With my father and uncle busy restraining our farm’s livelihood, I’d have to fix the hole myself.
I assessed the damage through the transparency of my sleeve, detachedly gauging the status of the shifted weed pylon. The small amount of white-out creeping into my vision through the transparent material had already started stinging my dried out eyes.
Even at that young age, I knew that if I didn’t act quickly we’d all be permanently blinded.
I closed my eyes and lowered my sleeve, as I fumbled blindly in the light.
Feeling out the slipped pylon, I gripped its tether in my frail young hands, and hefted it as best I could.
Slowly, I felt it drag across the dirt, it’s knotted, barb-ish surface catching against the other pylons as it slid into place. Even as I realised that it was working, and the gap was closing, I wasn’t elated by the sense of accomplishment.
Though I knew that it was truly amazing that a weakling like me had managed to execute such a crucial task so promptly and efficiently, it wasn’t the promise of my parent’s approval that excited me.
It was the colours.
Even as I turned back to the now dim room in shock, my mother embracing me brusquely, I couldn’t stop thinking about the colours that had cascaded through my light-lanced eyelids.
Brilliant, kaleidoscopic colours…
And then, I was back with the beasts, and the pungent weed.
I took a moment of solace in the choking hug my mother had me in.
There was love in there, I was sure, but it was hard to see past the desperation of the situation, and love had never been practical enough to be directly extolled by my parents.
And like most of my familial affections, it was fleeting.
“Never mind that now!” boomed my father, “It’s coming! Over here, Har! It’s coming!”
My mother scurried hurriedly to Calara, as I leaned backwards into the corner, trying to will myself through the wall.
I knew then that I would rather burn away in a sea of colours than be trapped here with these beasts, in the rotting organic dark.
I closed my eyes, and I tried to remember the blues and the reds...
And then I heard her.
The soft, whimpering bleat punctuated the unerring quietude that had suddenly descended on the cramped hut.
I took a creeping, uncertain step forward.
And then another.
I craned my neck around to try and see past my mother and father, as they wrapped something between them in a large, rough hewn blanket.
Then my father turned to me, and knelt as he held out the blanket.
He stared at me blankly from behind his bushy, greying eyes.
“Well?” he asked, proffering the wrapped blanket out to me. “This is why we brought you here, I suppose.”
I looked from him to the blanket worriedly.
“Take her, Gad,” my mother prompted, more softly then usual. “She’s yours now.”
I knew not to be told twice, and held my arms out to receive the newborn.
She was small, smooth and pink-skinned.
I still tell people she looked right at me when I held her that first time, even though I know that’s a lie.
Truthfully, she never opened her eyes.
Truthfully, as much as I love her now, back then it was hard to empathise with that small, bald flesh-bag.
It was asking much to expect someone so young to understand the gravity of the tradition.
But in spite of that, I knew she was something special.
I knew that, like me, she wouldn’t be forced to stay in this place forever, just because she’d been born into it.
“You’ll have to look after her,” my father said sternly as he rose to his feet. “You’ll have to feed her, train her, and water her down. She’ll grow big, and fast. Though she’ll serve the farm, in accordance with the bonding tradition, she’ll be your Carrier.”
I nodded solemnly; it was the best response to anything my father happened to say.
“Tag,” my Uncle Flav injected pointedly. “The mother seems a bit restless again. Better pass the ‘spring over.”
My father nodded to my uncle, and took the baby Carrier from me gruffly.
“What about a name?” my mother asked quietly. “Gad has to name her.”
My father eyed her thoughtfully, and then nodded.
He turned to me, still holding the bundled infant in his arms.
“Well?” he pressed grimly.
I furrowed my brow earnestly.
I knew that they wouldn’t like it, but I couldn’t help myself.
“Sun,” I said quietly, averting my gaze for fear of my father’s wrath.
I could feel them all staring heatedly at me as I shuffled my moccasins against the grainy dirt floor.
Finally my father let out a sharp snort of derision.
“‘Sun’ is it?” he said with disdain as he handed the baby over Calara, to my Uncle Flav. “I expected no less from you… ‘Sun’… What garbage. You know that’s just an old story. There’s no such thing as a sun.”
I shuffled awkwardly, looking back to my innocuously unthreatening feet.
“I know,” I replied sadly.
My father ran his hands over his head in annoyance, while my mother looked grimly to the floor.
“We’d best bunker down,” my father said pointedly, as he took up a swig from his water bowl. “It’ll be a long night, and we can’t get back to the house until the dawn breaks the white-out.”
I sunk softly into a corner by the door as my father talked to my Uncle Flav about the now sedate Calara, who was cooing maternally over her child.
Though I was sad that my parents didn’t understand me, I didn’t let it get to me.
Back then, my parents were in a perpetual state of exasperation because I wasn’t like them.
Or, perhaps more accurately, my father was in a perpetual state of exasperation, which my mother was all too happy to enable.
But everything changed that night, the moment the light hit my closed eyes.
I knew I wasn’t crazy.
I knew there was more to the world than planting, and harvesting, and grooming animals.
There was a world of impracticality that made perfect sense to me, if to no one else.
And the best part, I knew, was that I was no longer alone.
Though I could only see Calara’s enormous, shifting rear end, I knew her cowed murmurings were directed at Sun.
We would leave here together, she and I.
I put my finger in my mouth, probing the soft, spongey interior.
I pulled out my wet, saliva soaked finger, and ran it down the inside of my nose and eye, and then duplicated the procedure for the other side of my face.
As I finished, I realised that everyone in the room was once again staring at me.
“What on earth are you doing now?!” my father barked angrily.
I knew he was embarrassed further because my uncle had seen me perform the unusual ritual, but I didn’t care.
I shrugged at them.
“I don’t know…” I said honestly. “I was happy. It seemed like the thing to do.”
They all stared at me as though I was from another planet.
“Sometimes I wonder whose son you are…” my father muttered harshly as he turned away.
I watched them all as they crowded around Calara in the thick of the beast’s pen, the smell of the weed and the mucosal birthing fluids sticking to them.
I reassured myself that I would find another way to live.
I was my son too.