“Caleb” by Karin Terebessy
En route to the Mohawk River for a guy’s weekend of fishing, Tim detoured at the foothills of the Adirondacks and surprised Nana Edith in her small house. Despite warnings that Nana Edith’s brain was rot with dementia, and despite her insistence that he was her brother not grandson, he gave her his old pellet gun anyway.
“Keep ’em critters out your garden, Nana,” he said, beeping his horn good-bye.
With no neighbors to disturb, Edith fired that gun with joyful abandon. She shot at the Canadian Geese who took up residence in her pond. At the rabbits munching up her strawberry patch. At the grackles and crows who nipped the wild blueberries growing along the ridge.
But late one night in early spring when the alien first appeared in her yard, Edith lowered the barrel.
“Caleb?” She called. “Caleb, that you? Well, come in here fool and I’ll put us on a pot.”
So the alien followed Edith into her small house, sat down on a hard chair, and watched her stoke the wood stove, warming a pot of coffee on the flat iron stovetop.
When she passed him a cup and their hands touched, she passed him a memory, from her skin to his.
In the memory, she embroidered a delicate white gown. Sewed crystal clear beads, like grains of rice, in swirling waves along the bodice.
Edith felt the memory leave her. She pressed her fist to her wrinkled mouth.
“…something…” she mumbled, and shook her head in frustration.
“There must be a flaw in your brain,” the alien commented, “I’m designed to read your mind, not take from it.”
She laughed suddenly. “The day you can read my mind, Caleb, is the day I file for divorce.”
After coffee, Edith turned back the covers on a quiet spot of mattress, patting a pillow unused for years.
“Get some sleep, now,” she hushed and kissed his cheek.
Through her lips, the alien felt the memory of her mouth brush against the cracked, dry lips of another mouth. Smelled her breath rich with apples. Heard the sweet shudder of youthful longing.
“D’you hear that?” Edith said loudly, though there’d been no sound. She knitted her fingers together, nervously. “Check the stove again, maybe…” she muttered and shuffled from the room.
The alien was designed to gather information, gently, not pillage and plunder a brain. He tried to settle the fluttering that had moved from her body memory into his. Tried hard to settle the feeling that he had been the one invaded.
Each day the alien lived with Edith, he absorbed more.
Hanging linens in the sunshine, their fingers brushed and he felt the heavy hang of rainbow trout dragging down a fishing line. A man beaming with pride.
Yanking onions from the garden, their knees bumped, and he felt her knee barricade the wooden door of the house. Felt the panic and chill as the storm rattled the windows. Watched in horror as the monstrous wind lifted the roof from the walls.
Passing him a palmful of fresh shucked peas, the alien felt her hand cradle the soft misshapen skull of a baby. Bury that baby. Hurl stones at the truck driving away, the man no longer beaming, no longer fishing, leaving her nothing but a mouthful of dust.
Each evening, Edith rocked in the porch swing, while the alien sat on the steps.
Singing soft Appalachia spirituals about poverty and love, Edith would stop suddenly. “Where the kids, Caleb?”
“All growed up,” he’d say.
“The baby too?” She’d ask.
“The baby too,” he’d lie, because what was the point of hurting her.
One night in bed, Edith draped her arm over his chest.
In a flash, the alien felt a bouquet of flowers. A satin sash. Her arm waving to the crowd from a makeshift stage. Smiling so wide it hoisted her ears. The prettiest girl at the fair.
Edith’s body gave a terrible shiver as the memory left her.
“Are you cold?” he asked. Carefully, he lifted her bare arm from his skin, using the corner of the quilt like a hot-mitt. “I’ll stoke the fire.”
“Oh Caleb,” she mumbled, still half asleep, “you’re so good to me.”
Late in autumn, just before the first frost, the alien came in with kindling to find the house a bustle. Steam rising from corn muffins. Apple fritters in a fragrant heap. Coffee percolating. Delightful sounds.
“Caleb,” Edith sang and wrapped her frail arms around him.
Their wedding day. Her joy. His fears. Bodies shaking. Expectations. Hope so big it hurt—
The alien threw off her arms. She stumbled back.
“I’m sorry!” he cried.
She brought a shaky hand to her forehead. When she lifted her eyes, they were vacant.
“Caleb?” She asked.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
That night, Edith tossed and turned in her sleep. Then bolted upright. And gasped.
Caleb the alien carried her body out into the moonlight, laying her down on a cushion of leaves.
He contacted his ship.
The missionaries should abandon their search. This planet was not a viable option for advancement. The inhabitants, he said, were weak-minded, unthinking creatures who spent little time in the present, but forever cast their thoughts into unknown futures or revisions of the past. They were preoccupied with dreams, hopes and fears and had no interest in reality. What little intellect they possessed was prone to decay or overruled by emotions, causing them to behave erratically. Following whims of grief and love, they made irrational choices. They were unpredictable, uncivilized, and poor candidates for advancement.
Cultural lessons would be lost on such barbarians.
Caleb the alien ended his transmission and knelt down beside Edith. He folded her small, delicate hands over the lifeless hollow of her belly.
Then he took a small spade, and in the moonlight, broke through the cold, hard earth, and began to dig.
|Karin Terebessy is a yoga instructor, mother, Girl Scout leader, and literature teacher who likes to write short stories. You can find her other works in Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories, Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, SciPhi Journal and other zines. This is her first appearance in Kaleidotrope.|