What Carter Saw
There once was a boy named Carter who lived on a planet with a tower. Every day, Carter sat on his tower and looked out his telescope. From his telescope he could see other planets, which also had towers and telescopes and solitary people using them and living like he did. The interesting part of looking was not to see the towers and telescopes and inhabitants. No, what was interesting were the planets themselves. There were all kinds of planets. Cloudy, ringed, watery, mountainous, desolate, jungley, and flat. Carter liked to draw these planets. He’d pull out his charts, rulers and paints and make beautiful maps of the planets. He had a library stashed full of sketches which he updated regularly. He was very proud of his maps; they were his pride and joy.
His only trouble was getting home. In order to get back to his house, he had to walk through a desert of indigo sand. Now, the color or vastness of the sand was not the scary part, but instead the great monster that lived there. A large, dark orange serpent that had two feathery arms, and a snout with long, yellowy teeth pointing out of it, eyes of glittering violet, and thick white quills lining its back lived under the only tree in the desert, and it stared at Carter every time he passed. Carter could not remember a day when the serpent had not been there, and he had never seen anything like it on any planet he had charted. Its presence loomed in the twilight, and Carter would try to avoid looking in its direction. Sometimes, however, the overwhelming gravity of the serpent seemed to pull Carter’s eyes in its direction, and from its shadow, only its violet eyes could be seen.
One day, Carter was sitting on top of his tower when another planet began to draw closer and closer. Using his telescope, Carter could see that the inhabitant of this planet was a girl who had frizzy black hair. She was sitting with her legs crossed on top of her tower and was looking out of her telescope. Her planet was a watery one, made mostly of oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams. Islands like stepping stones were scattered across its surface, a little hut built on one of them. Carter pulled out a new leaf of paper and began to map her island. He drew the islands first, and then the hut and the tower, before he started to work on the ocean. Her planet was coming very close to his, as some planets occasionally did. He liked this because he could get a more detailed sketch for his map. Soon, it got close enough that he didn’t have to use his telescope anymore. He was beginning to paint the ocean when, suddenly, he saw the head of a yellow sea serpent poke out of the waters. Carter gasped, surprised and terrified, for he had never seen living things other than people on planets besides his! The yellow head was moving towards the tower. Carter began to get scared for the girl with the frizzy black hair, so he called out to her, “Hey! H-h--hey! You! Look out!”
The girl looked at him and tilted her head. “What?” she yelled back.
“The- the snake!” he yelled. “It’s climbing onto your island!” For the yellow head had, indeed, moved out of the water, revealing a body that turned red at its tail. It had scaly bumps covering every place on its body except for its slimy belly, and it was slithering its way to the base of the tower.
The girl with the frizzy black hair turned her head and saw the serpent. “Oh… yeah,” she said, a smile now on her face. “That’s Brady. It’s my friend! Isn’t he so nice? He brought me some greenberries for lunch.”
Carter, in utter disbelief, saw the serpent stand up on its tail, becoming eye-level with the girl. It opened its mouth and dropped dozens of greenberries on the platform of the tower. She picked one up and popped it in her mouth. She tickled the serpent’s bumpy chin affectionately. “Good boy,” she said, grinning. The serpent puffed periwinkle smoke out of its nostrils and then recoiled itself back down to the ground. The girl with the frizzy black hair looked back at Carter, a greenberry still in her mouth. She saw the shocked look on his face, nodded, and swallowed.
“That’s what I thought, too, the first time I saw someone else’s monster,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m not alone.’”
Their planets had met the closest part of their orbit. Carter thought that if their planets were turned the right way, their towers would touch.
“Yours is beautiful,” Carter said quietly. “Mine has terrible feathered arms and pokey spines down its back.”
“I know that it’s scary,” said the girl with the frizzy black hair. “Do you shiver on the way home?”
“Yes.” Carter breathed. She knew. She understood.
“Do you look at it some nights and some nights you don’t?”
“Yes. It’s just so…” There were a million words.
There was a splash as the serpent that she called Brady leapt up out of the water in a majestic arc and dove back underwater.
“Sometimes,” the girl with the frizzy black hair said, “you have to look closer before you decide what something really is.”
Carter thought about that. He had, of course, thought at first that her serpent was just as menacing as his own, but now he knew that it was actually good. At least it was to her.
“Is mine good too?” he asked. He had to raise his voice now, as her watery planet was drifting away.
“You will find out!” she said, a hopeful tone in her voice.
“Oh- oh, okay,” he said to himself, confused, his eyebrows and nose wrinkling up. “But how?” he yelled.
“I told you! Get closer. Who knows what you will see!”
She was waving to him; he could see it through his telescope. He sat there, staring at her planet as it got smaller and smaller, just thinking. Carter added a yellow blob of a creature to his map of the girl with the frizzy black hair’s planet. To the bottom of the map, he wrote the words she had told him:
Sometimes you have to look closer before you decide what something really is.
Carter looked out at the planets and stars and thought. It was a good thinking. It is easy to believe that you’re small when you live in a big world, he thought, but then someone comes along who makes you believe that maybe you’re big. I’m big.
And so, that night when the sun went down, Carter climbed down from his tower and headed towards his house across the indigo desert sand.
“You have to look,” he told himself, “to decide.”
He neared the place where the sand serpent lived. He kept his usual distance, but he stood tall, his hands firmly placed on his hip bone, the fabric of his soft linen pants rippled by the slight wind. He brought his hazel eyes up from the sand and met the dragon’s violet ones.
They were warmer than he remembered.
Spring, 2019 Issue