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"...asking us if we knew their names..."

In Matt Bell's story "The Receiving Tower", a group of men, under the iron command of a seemingly maniacal captain, operate a communication tower in the frozen wilderness. With little to occupy their time, each slowly loses his memory (growing "dim") and, with it, the desire to escape and return to a home they are progressively forgetting (and which might no longer exist).
As I remember it — which is not well — young Kerr was the first to grow dim. We’d find him high in the tower’s listening room, swearing at the computers, locking up console after console by failing to enter his password correctly. At night, he wandered the barracks, holding a framed portrait of his son and daughter, asking us if we knew their names, if we remembered how old they were. This is when one of us would remove the photograph from its frame so that he could read the fading scrawl on the back, the inked lines he eventually wore off by tracing them over and over with his fingers, after which there was no proof with which to quiet his queries.

Later, after he had gotten much worse, we’d find him on the roof, half frozen, sleeping beneath the receiving dish, his arms wrapped partway around its thick stem, his mind faded, his body lean and starved and frostbitten.

None of us realized he was missing until we found his body, trapped in the ice just inside the compound’s gate. What pain he must have felt after he threw himself from atop the tower, after he tried to crawl forward on crushed bones, heading in the direction of a coast he must have known he would never live to see.
Great story, one which I could imagine being expanded to book length. The story is collected in How They Were Found, which I just started reading and have enjoyed so far. This month has unexpectedly morphed into Short Story September - this is the third collection I've read this month (the others are by Ben Tanzer and Joe Peterson) and Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Spinoza of Market Street might be next.

September 21, 2015 in Books | Permalink