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Henderson, Zenna – “Ararat” (1952)

04/23/2013

This year’s only story by a woman, and one that fits a little too comfortably in the tradition of Wilmar Shiras’s stories about wonder children for my taste. The People, yet another species of alien who happen to look exactly like humans, crashed onto Earth some years before after fleeing their dying homeworld.

You see, when The Crossing was made, The People got separated in that last wild moment when air was screaming past and the heat was building up so alarmingly. The members of our Group left their ship just seconds before it crashed so devastatingly into the box canyon behind Old Baldy and literally splashed and drove itself into the canyon walls, starting a fire that stripped the hills bare for miles… Father can remember just a little of The Crossing, but some of the Old Ones are blind and crippled from the heat and the terrible effort they put form to save the others from burning up like falling stars.

They’ve since lived off of mining the shipwreck for ore to sell and have become a picture-perfect community of white 1950s Americans. We even learn that in the Canyon, kids always immediately listen to their fathers, “though I understand they don’t always Outside.

The one difference is that The People have powers – mental powers! This seems to manifest itself mostly via telekinesis, with the protagonist Karen having the ability to read and control minds on top of that. These powers have something to do with “reaching for a handful of sun” in order to “platt the twishers, ” which comes easier to girls than to boys. This doesn’t seem to have upset the gender order, though, because the first time we witness them in use, after a family dinner scene, is this:

Father snapped his fingers and the cigarettes drifted in from the front room. Mother went on out to the kitchen. The table cloth shook itself over the waste basket and then followed her.

These everyday concerns are reflected in the plot of the piece, which revolves around the community’s search for a new teacher for their elementary school – all of the old teachers having been scared off by the children accidentally using their telekinesis in front of them. Karen, the protagonist/narrator, is training to become a teacher in order to take over this responsibility, but is not yet old enough, and so the community brings in Outsider Valancy Carmody, who proves not only to be up to the task, but a kind of messiah for The People – another of their kind who had crashlanded elsewhere and has a level of powers that put the others to shame.

She had had amnesia prior to this, naturally.

At the root of it, this is a story about special people feeling like outsiders, and how being special is both a blessing and a curse:

“Don’t you set me apart, darn you, Jemmy. Isn’t it enough to know that among a different people, I am different?

“I was just taking my mad out on you. What a world.” He sighed heavily.
I huddled deeper in my coat, cold of soul.
“But the other one is gone,” I whispered. “The Home.”

Also like the Shiras stories, it isn’t the protagonist who proves to be the epicenter of the outcasts.

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