by MJ Mink
It was the time of Planting. It happened once, at the start of each Beginning of the Solar Year of the Second Sun. He'd been doing it for years now, because the youngest child was always given the honor. Well, he was the only child, and even though he wasn't their child, he guessed he'd be stuck with this "honor" forever.
When he was five, Uncle Owen had taken him along to observe the Planting and the Prayer.
When he was six, he'd gone alone to the edge of the Wastes and performed the ceremony. He'd worried about sandpeople. Later Uncle Owen told him that the sandpeople never bothered anyone doing a Planting.
When he was eight, he hadn't been able to fertilize the Planting properly, so he'd peed on it instead. He never told Uncle Owen. Then he began to wonder why they bothered with the Planting, because it didn't make any difference. No Rain ever came and no Planting ever grew.
When he was ten, Aunt Beru told him about Soil. She'd had Soil once, a cupful, and she'd tried to grow spices. But even with her fertilizer--and she'd tried and tried and made a lot--the spices died, and the Soil blew away. He told her if she got more Soil, he would pee on it and make the spices grow. She told him not to tell Uncle Owen. She still made a lot of fertilizer, but it all went to waste because there was nothing to grow.
Now he was twelve, and he wanted to do something else with his Beginning day instead of trudging through the dawn to the Planting. The idea skipped through his head that maybe he could sneak over to Biggs's instead--but Biggs's dad would probably tell Uncle Owen and then there'd be Hell to pay, like Uncle Owen always said. At least Biggs didn't have to do the Planting anymore, not since Endly had gotten old enough.
So when he got to the Planting Place, he knelt on the sand that never did cool off much, even at night. He released the small pouch from his belt and laid it down. With his forefinger, he dug a tiny hole. It was hard to make a hole in the sand because the sides kept sliding down and filling it up. So it was more like a dent. Then he held the pouch over the hole very carefully, his hands and body protecting it from the wind. He shook it and looked down. The tiny Seed was in the Planting. Uncle Owen didn't have very many Seeds left. He said that years and years and years ago, he'd gotten the Planting from a whole 'nother planet, someplace far away, and once it had been a live Planting. Now the Seed looked dry, like he could crumble it with his fingers.
Gently, he patted the sand in place. Aunt Beru said the Seed should be planted in Soil, that nothing grew in the Wastes, but Uncle Owen said that was the reason they did the Planting at every Beginning. It didn't make much sense. And now he'd have to come up with the fertilizer.
He sat back on his heels and tried to think of something sad. Usually he thought about his father and about how much he missed him. He wondered about him, about why he'd left and never come back, and about what he looked like. Whenever he could actually fertilize the Planting, he Prayed for his father instead of for the Planting to grow. He never told Uncle Owen. Uncle Owen got mad when he asked about his father, and he'd get really mad if he knew that he wasn't praying for the Planting. But the only time he hadn't Prayed for his father had been when he peed on the Planting. It didn't seem the right thing to do that year.
So now he thought about his father and made the Prayer to have his father back and sure enough, the fertilizer came. He leaned over the Planting and let it drip out of his eyes and make tiny dark circles on the sand. There was lots of fertilizer this year. Uncle Owen would be pleased with him. Maybe this time the Planting would grow.
A cloud blocked the sun. He shivered. There were hardly ever clouds above the Wastes. Maybe Rain was coming. Maybe he'd done so well with his fertilizing that Rain was going to help him.
It was a funny shadow, though. He finished fertilizing and studied its shape. It was jagged and moved a lot. It almost looked like a man. A man with a big flying cape that waved at him like it was saying hello. The longer he stared at it, the more it looked like a man with a funny head. A really big man. A giant. Then the wind began to blow harder and it spoke to him. And it said:
Only it didn't really say his name. He just sort of heard it, like he did in the dreams. Maybe--?
He didn't believe, really believe, in the Prayer over the Planting, but what if it worked? He'd fertilized so well--maybe it had finally worked! Father? he asked like he did in the dreams.
There was no answer, but the shadow-man reached out one hand and touched the head of his own little shadow. Taking a deep breath (because he was excited!) and calling out loud "Father!", he stood and turned around.
No one was there. He turned back to the Planting. The big shadow was gone, and the fertilizer had all dried up and disappeared. It hadn't worked again.
Maybe next year.