The Silver Web page 52 & 53


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The Silver Web page 52 & 53


"The Rain King" fiction by Michael S. Gentry

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THE CARETAKER HURRIED DOWN the cor­ ridor, preceded by the echoes of his shoe heels striking the stone tiles. Soon he slowed down. In fact, there was not much to be done at all; he had only said that to avoid being drawn into further conversation with the nurse. He didn't like to see her too often; he didn't like to watch her shrinking.
Not for the first time, he thought: we are all dying
in this castle.
He could hear the constant, hushed noise of rain even through the thick stone walls of this dark corri­ dor. He rounded a corner and spotted the culprit: a window open, its shutters unlatched and blown wide by the wind, or perhaps left open by a careless passer­ by. Most likely the wind. There were so few passers­ by these days.
The caretaker calmly closed the shutters and fas­
tened them. He spared hardly a glance outside; he dido't care to. Right now he preferred to leave outside things outside. These were days more suitable for worrying about inside things.
. . . such as the large puddle of water beneath the
window. It would have to be cleaned, now.
I'll send Hob up here with a mop, he thought. Or was Hob dead? He couldn't remember. It didn't mat­ ter. The water would be cleaned, or it wouldn't. It would evaporate, perhaps. It made no difference. Sighing, the caretaker moved on, leaving the puddle behind and soon forgetting it altogether. He was forgetting more and more things, lately-in fact, his memory had deterio­ rated to a frightening extent, but he was not aware of this. He could scarcely afford to notice it, with so many other things to attend to.
The caretaker moved through each room of the castle methodically, along a route too familiar for even his dwindling faculties to forget-it was worn deep into the most instinctive parts of his brain. Each cham­ ber, hallway and stair, every dim closet and secluded corner, was an old and special place dear to him. Each place had its own needs, and had to be tidied in its own special manner. The caretaker walked from room to room, not hurrying, straightening the cushions, wiping dust from the glass clock-faces, placing overturned knickknacks back on their shelves. Occasionally he closed a window that had blown open before the insis­ tent rain. And always he made himself not think about how pointless it all was now.
He walked down a long, spacious hall, flanked on
either side by suits of armor standing at rigid attention. He checked each of the eighty-eight shells for rust spots, and found a great many, and tried not to remember the

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time when each suit held a proud and stalwart soldier.
He checked the stables, where the dust had lain undisturbed by hoof or shoe for more than a decade. He made sure there was clean straw in every silent stall, even though that was the stable boy's job. The stable boy wasn't around any more. The caretaker shut the door quietly on his way out.
He entered the huge kitchen with its wooden beams
and its high ceiling, with its vast fire pit and its army of iron pots and cauldrons and knives and spits and ladles and every other utensil for all imaginable occa­ sions, capable of catering a banquet of five hundred guests and still its facilities would not be exhausted­ two or three small dinner parties could easily be served in the meantime, and this was not unheard of. The care­ taker entered the kitchen and saw Hob sitting on the flagstones next to the fire pit, which was cold and dark. He saw Hob leaning against the huge black swell of the largest cauldron, turned over on its side; he saw the dust and the cobwebs and the lizards crawling in and out of the thousands of pots strewn about into every corner. He saw Hob look up at him, and tears had cut tracks through the dust on Hob's skin.
''I'm so hungry," whispered Hob.
The caretaker smiled gently. "I know," he said, try­ ing to reassure. "I know. Soon, soon." The caretaker left.
The rest of the rooms were empty. Only a few stops
on his route remained, and mostly the caretaker simply paused to look in and make sure everything was in its place. He did not meet anyone else in the castle after the kitchen, until he came finally to the throne room.
At the far end of the hall, the King sat impassively
on his throne. The caretaker went quietly over to the great fireplace, saying nothing. The King did not speak, and the caretaker did not look at him. The caretaker took the poker and nudged about in the ashes, a habit he had not been able to lose although the last ember had years ago died out. With a quiet sigh, the caretaker hung the poker back on its hook. He remained there, gazing contemplatively into the dead fireplace, and with a solemn patience, he waited. Outside, the rain drummed on and on. He could hear it through the chimney.
After a long while, the front bell rang.
The caretaker went to answer it. On the porch stood the accountant, shielding himself from the deluge be­ neath a black umbrella. He carried a briefcase.
"Hello," he said. "I'm the accountant."
"Of course," said the caretaker. He bowed slightly. "Do co:ne in."
The accountant entered the foyer, shaking the rain

from his black umbrella. The caretaker took the umbrella and the accountant's coat, and when he returned, the ac­ countant picked up his briefcase and said, "I've come for an accounting."
"Of course," said the caretaker. "We have been ex­
pecting you. Please follow me."
The caretaker led the accountant to the throne room, where the King sat unmoving on his throne.
"My Lord," the caretaker said, approaching the King.
"The accountant has arrived to see you." The King did not move.
Looking down at the floor, the caretaker said, "My
Lord, he has come for another accounting."
The King did not speak. The King did not breathe. The King, in fact, was quite dead. This did not matter. What mattered was that the proper protocols be observed, at any cost, out of respect for both the King and his ac­ countant.
The caretaker turned to the accountant and said, "The
King will see you, sir."
The accountant nodded briskly and opened his brief­
The caretaker wandered away as the accountant be­ gan to converse with the dead King in hushed tones. The caretaker noticed that another window had blown open at the other end of the hall, and went to go fix it.
At the window he paused, and looked out at the out­
The sky was a vast cascade. The interminable rain pounded away at the centuries-old stone of the outer walls, pouring itself out against aeons of accumulated dust and lichens and bird shit, running down the roofs and gables in quick, rippling rills, the rills running together to form streams, the streams joining to form rivers, the rivers hur­ tling off the parapets in mighty waterfalls that thundered down into the courtyards below with a roar that was matched-and overpowered-only by the rain itself, strik­ ing every square inch of surface with its ceaseless rain­ drops, the ceaseless, ceaseless raindrops.
The land had become a single ocean, drowned by the rain. The nurse is right, thought the caretaker. The rain is good. It hides us, but it also hides the land from us, and that is good because before the rain came there was no way notto see the land, no way not to see what had been done to it. A great long time ago, there had been a beau­ tiful, green and abundant land, and there had been fruit in the orchards, but then one terrible day the sun came out and it didn't set. It stayed in the sky and it burned the land. The orchards withered away and there was no more fruit. The land cracked like an old man's drying skin, it blistered and peeled until there was nothing left but the dirt, scabbed and hard like an old scar. The land was ugly and bore no fruit and it was naked to the eyes of man until finally the rain came and hid it all away. The rain

could not heal the land, but it could cover it, and that was at least respectful, to cover the dead.
Somewhere back during all of that the King had died as well-exactly when, the caretaker couldn't remem­ ber. They weren't allowed to cover the King, however. The King had to stay put. The King was subject to an accounting.
The caretaker looked up at the sky and imagined,
behind the shelter of clouds, the sun that was still up there. The sun and its pitiless, burning eye.
Behind him, the caretaker heard the accountant clear
his throat. The caretaker turned and walked back to the throne.
"Yes, sir?" asked the caretaker expectantly.
"No significant change since the last accounting," said the accountant, his tone business-like. He held out several sheets of paper in one hand, and a fountain pen in the other. "We'll need his signatures, of course."
"Of course, sir," said the caretaker, taking the pa­
pers. He signed the King's name on each sheet where indicated, without making a fuss. He had done this many times.
He handed the pen and the papers back, and the ac­
countant replaced them in his briefcase. The accountant produced a silver needle and a small glass vial. "And we will require some blood," he said.
"Of course, sir," said the caretaker. He held the King's
lifeless hand as the accountant pricked the finger and squeezed three drops of sluggish blood into the vial. When it was finished, the accountant corked the vial, cleaned the needle with a handkerchief, and replaced everything neatly in his briefcase. With a practiced, professional gesture, he snapped both latches shut with his thumbs.
"As always," he said, "we will get back to you."
The caretaker did not look at him. "Very good." Care­ fully, reverently, he placed the King's hand back on the throne's armrest. "May I show you out, sir?"
"That's all right," said the accountant. "I know the
The diligent accountant left the caretaker in the throne room. The caretaker did not follow him, did not watch him leave. He listened to the accountant's footsteps fade slowly into silence, and watched the puddle of water form beneath the open window at the other end of the hall.
He had, he realized, forgotten to close it.

IN THE CHAMBER OF empty cribs, the shrinking nurse rocked back and forth on her stool, her eyes closed. She hummed very, very softly, a formless, endless tune. Outside, the rain was deafening, but all she could hear were the coos and cries of many babies, weak and distant over an ever-lengthening gulf of empty, sightless time.

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