The Great Harvest
Calvin once complained that there were not enough cans of corn in the world. But that was before the Great Harvest. That was before The Changes. And, if memory served him correctly, that was around ’55 or so, about a year before what was remembered as the Year of the Crop Dusters. Of course, there were crop dusters way before then, but that was the year that everything changed. After that, well, it was safe to say that All Hell Broke Loose – for a little while anyway.
Calvin sat on his front porch, thinking fondly of the good ‘ol days – the days when farmers were just farmers and could sit back once in a spell and just watch their fields grow. It hadn’t been that way in quite some time. Now-a-days, farmers (the good ones) were almost extinct what with all the farm land being gone and all. Oh, once in a while you could find an old one hiding out, tending to a small window garden, but nothing like it used to be. Used to be farmers would be out in their fields all night sowing, fertilizing and making plans for reaping. Used to be a fellow could just take a drive and see huge fields of wheat, barley or soy beans, and of course all the wonderful corn. Now, you could drive all you wanted but you’d never see a field of any kind – at least not one that wouldn’t give you nightmares. But the new farmers did a pretty good job of keeping new folks out of their fields – not that anyone actually went to see them anymore. Oh, of course at first there were the curious, but they faded away quick-like once word got out. And Calvin knew from experience that you didn’t want to see any of the new fields. As a boy, he had been one of the lucky curious – or not so lucky depending on how you looked at it - and he thought he was not so lucky. And, you didn’t want to meet any of the new farmers. The new farmers were the ones who decided what fields to sow. And Calvin knew he did not want to be any where near any field that the new farmers were planting.
The familiar voice brought him from his reverie.
“Hi, John. What brings you this way?” Calvin said as he watched his friend of 50 odd years limp his way up the sidewalk.
“Not much. Can’t a fellow just stop by to say hello any more?”
John pulled himself up with the railing that went up both sides of the five stairs to the porch where Calvin sat in his rocker. He slowly worked his way to the chair next to Calvin and plopped himself down with an ‘umph’.
“Don’t see you around here very often is all.”
“Yeah well, I come to see Susie. She and the young ones went to church, Mark is off on his motorized hobby horse so I decided to come pay a visit to you instead – if that’s okay with you.”
Calvin looked at John and offered a grin. “Sure thing. You want something to take the edge off?”
John glanced at his watch – almost noon.
“Looks like about midnight to me,” Calvin chuckled as he noticed John checking his watch.
“Just in time for some moonshine,” John chimed in.
Calvin got up from his chair and went into the house, returning a few minutes later with two tall glasses filled with a gray murky liquid.
John took his and held it up, squinting his eyes as he peered through the glass.
“Remember when your shine was as clear as a tear?”
Calvin nodded sitting back down in his chair, “hmmhmm.”
“Not no more though,” John said and took a sip.
“Hasn’t been that clear since before The Change,” Calvin said and took a sip of his own drink.
“Still strong enough to make a grown man sweat though,” John said and took his handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his brow.
“Only the weak ones,” Calvin chuckled as he did the same.
“I remember the year we first started brewing the shine.”
Calvin laughed, “Yeah, what was we, fifteen or sixteen back then? Didn’t want our pa’s to see we snuck their booze, so we decided to make some of our own.”
“Now, they charge an arm and a leg for anything even remotely resembling alcohol.”
“Can’t rightly blame them – it takes a long time to find the ingredients – well, the ones that ain’t too tainted anyways.”
“How do you get yours? I thought the old gang was long gone.”
“I still got my connections – don’t you worry none. As long as I’m around, there’ll be moonlight at noon.”
John sat back in his rocker, holding his glass in one hand, tapping lightly on the armrest with the other. Calvin waited him out. He knew his friend would speak when he was ready to share what was on his mind. If Calvin tried to ask him directly, John would just clam up nice and tight and Calvin would never find out what was circling around in old John’s head.
After about ten minutes of watching the traffic ease itself down Main street, watching people pass by not paying any never-mind to the two old men sitting in their rockers on a hot Sunday morning, John finally broke the silence.
“Remember when they used to just grow stuff?”
“God, I remember playing in my daddy’s fields as a boy, running through the corn, trying to get lost in the mazes at Halloween.”
“Them was the good days,” Calvin agreed, already knowing where the conversation was going – or at least he thought he did.
“Before they really started with all the engineering, you know?”
John rocked back in his chair a little, took a sip and sighed, “Remember when you could just buy some produce and know straight up what you were getting? Before all the cellular manipulations? Before they had to make everything bigger and stronger and better. Before they started playing God?”
Calvin took a sip, wiped his brow and replied, “Yep.”
“Then, they made the seeds resistant to drought, bugs, and even too much rain. They grew the damn things in hydroponics for Christ’s sake – that was the true beginning my friend.”
“Don’t I know it,” Calvin added taking a long draw of his quickly diminishing drink.
“They made the plants so they didn’t even need dirt to grow in! Could grow any damn place that was moist! Then, they didn’t even need sunlight anymore, they engineered those damn seeds so much, they could make their chlorophyll without sunlight! Insects became resistant to the insecticides, and the plants had to be further engineered. Then we started using up more and more of the land for people to live on. And on and on it goes.” He ended his tirade in a bare whisper, took another sip then followed that one with a gulp. “Look at us now.”
“Now we ain’t got grass to piss in,” Calvin added.
“Damn straight. Not one damn field left anywhere, as far as the eye can see. Just damnable cement and mortar. Too many people, my friend, just too many damn people.”
Calvin was starting to feel the moonshine and chuckled, “Well, they’re fixing that too.”
John nodded, “Yep, ever since the Year of the Crop Dusters.”
Calvin laughed, “Crop Dusters my ass. Why didn’t they just call them what they were? Planters. That’s all they were doing. Planting damn seeds - tiny little spores. ”
They sat silent for a moment and then John continued, “Remember the first town they planted in? The test town? All those people breathing in the seeds, becoming the new growing fields. Then when they realized what was going on, when that doctor, what was his name? Nichols. Him telling everyone what was really going on and then everyone trying to get out, families trying to force their way in to save their loved ones and local law enforcement trying to budge their way past the Army and National Guardsmen the town’s people dying as they tried to get past the road blocks?”
“I remember the years of famine that was before it. Dead bodies everywhere. No land left to bury them in; had to have the incinerators running day and night those few years. Here in the good ‘ol U. S. of A. Someplace place where everyone thought they were safe. That’s what I remember.”
“You saying you agreed with what they done – what they’re STILL doing?” John drank the last of his drink and slammed the glass down on the armrest.
“All I’m saying is what I remember – same as you. I ain’t agreeing or disagreeing one way or the other.”
John looked at his empty glass and held it out. “Got any more of this you’re willing to share with an old friend?”
Calvin nodded, got up and returned with two full glasses. He gave John back his glass and sat down in his rocker once more waiting for his friend to continue talking and get to the real reason he was here on this bright Sunday morning.
“I remember the towns after that first one too. All the protests and riots - on both sides. People arguing that what the government was doing was wrong, others saying that using people as the growing pots, as it were, was the only way to feed everyone.” John continued, “Protesters holding up signs stating people were eating people, and a bunch of damn cannibals is all we’d become.”
“We don’t eat people, John.”
“Yeah, that’s what they tell you, but think about it would you?”
“I have thought about it, can’t think of much else.”
John nodded, knowing that was true. It was all most of the old timers thought of. The ones who remembered, even faintly of, ‘how it used to be’.
Calvin took a look at his friend then, a real hard look. John sat in his rocker, holding his drink in one hand, the other hand resting on the armrest in the sun and tainted ever so slightly, a light yellow. Even knowing how much alcohol John used to consume, he knew the taint wasn’t due to cirrhosis. He thought about the way John had limped up the sidewalk to the house, how he had plopped down in the chair instead of easing himself into it like an old man should. The phrase ‘knee high by the forth of July’ rang in his head and finally he understood. John had been living in a growing field and had somehow managed to escape. He ran away and now found himself on his old friend’s front porch drinking moonshine and talking about how it used to be.
“They’ll find you, you know,” Calvin finally said.
John nodded and took a drink.
“The seeds all have markers. You can’t run anymore than you can stop the growing with homemade moonshine.”
“I know Cal. I just wanted to see an old friend one last time.”
Calvin nodded then too, knowing exactly how John felt. He had been a part of a growing field once and had escaped too, but that was before they started marking the seeds so that they could find anyone who made it out of the field. Before they engineered the seeds so that alcohol couldn’t kill the germinations taking place within you.
They sat there then, two old men, remembering how it used to be before the days of The Crop Duster and the first Great Harvest. Calvin grimaced as he looked at his friend John and thought, ‘You could live while it was growing, but Harvest time would kill you.’
Aliens Among Us
"Why are you always so cynical?" Kate looked at her brother and fanned the photos across the cocktail table in front of the sofa.
"Just take a look at these," she pleaded.
Scott stood in the doorway, combed his hand through his hair and shook his head.
"Kate, this is ridiculous. Honestly, if I had known this was why you'd invited me over, I would have ignored the call." He leaned against the doorjamb, crossed his arms and glared at his sister.
"Just take a look at this one, okay?" She waved a photo in the air. "This one shows an aerial view of the field before they came." She dropped the photo and picked up another. "This one shows the field afterwards." She grabbed another photo with her other hand. "And, this one shows the ship." She held out the photos to her brother. "Come on! Just one look, then I'll stop, okay?"
He remained stationed in the doorway. "That's what you said the last time. Really Kate, I've had enough of this nonsense. There's no such thing as aliens - just get that through your head and get on with your life."
He stepped into the living room and hovered above her as she remained seated on the sofa. "Haven't you noticed that none of your friends call or come over anymore? Haven't you caught on that even your family doesn't enjoy being with you?" He waved his arms to demonstrate the emptiness of her home. "Look how alone you are here Kate. It's your own fault. You've done this to yourself with your obsession." He dropped his voice and lowered himself onto the sofa with his sister. "And now, now you're driving me away too."
"I can't help it, Scott. I know they're there. I can feel it. I went to the farm. I saw the crop circles with my own eyes. I camped out with hundreds of others waiting for their return. Only, when everyone else got tired and gave up and went home, I stayed hidden in the tree line - waiting." She picked up another photo and showed it to Scott. "It finally paid off. I got this. And this." She reached for another photo and her brother stopped her hand.
"I don't need to see them Kate. I don't believe in them. That guy, what's his name?"
"Art," Kate said and dropped the remaining photos onto the table.
"Art said that he saw them happen. He was there Kate! He watched the circles form outside his window. Even he said there was nothing there, no lights, no sounds, no colors."
"That just means that he didn't see them, it doesn't mean that they weren't there," Kate said, barely above a whisper. "They're real."
"Kate," Scott took her hand in his and tried to make direct eye contact, "I read the report on the Horicon Marsh website."
Kate's eyes widened and she made eye contact with him as he continued, "Okay, I will give you that the crop circles are probably real. But, that doesn't mean that they were formed by aliens. Why can't it be just like old Art said - a freak of nature or something?" Scott concluded and sat back on the sofa.
"Because, I have to believe in something bigger," Kate replied, looking back at the photos strewn across the living room table.
"But why aliens? Why not just an act of God or Mother Nature herself? Why aliens?!"
"Because they exist." She looked down at her hands folded in her lap. "And tomorrow is the one year anniversary date. I'm going back there tonight."
"We're not getting anywhere," Scott said as he got up from the sofa. "I can't do this anymore." He looked at his sister one last time. "If you feel a need to go back there, go, but I'm not going to be a part of it." He walked to the front door and opened it. "I just wish you'd be normal again," he said as he walked out the door closing it gently behind him.
Kate gathered her pictures from the table and began filing them into the labeled album spaces. She looked closer at one that depicted a small orange fleck in a night sky. "I know you're coming back," she whispered and then put the photo in the album with the others.
Once she had the photos arranged, she went to her bedroom and began packing. She pulled out her duffle bag and put in a couple changes of clothes, an extra sweater, a flashlight, some matches, her wallet and an extra pair of shoes. She grabbed her compass off the dresser and pocketed it.
Kate carried her duffle bag to the kitchen where she got a couple of water bottles from the fridge and packed them into the duffle. She went to the living room, took a photo album off the shelf, returned to the kitchen and sat down at her kitchen table. She opened the album and paged through it, stopping at a picture of herself fifteen years younger at the age of ten with her eight year old brother Scott. They stood side by side in the photo, holding hands and smiling toothy smiles for the camera. Behind them, stood a barn and several cows. Kate leaned closer to the photo and nodded as she placed her finger atop the small orange speck that floated above their heads in the clear blue sky. "I just know you're coming," she whispered to the photo. She closed the album, picked up her duffle and headed out to the garage.
In the garage, Kate put her sleeping bag and pup tent into her blue Beetle Bug, then loaded her duffle in the front seat beside her. She sat behind the wheel, turned the ignition, backed out of her driveway and began her three hour drive to Mayville, Wisconsin.
Kate arrived at the farm, and noticed that it wasn't filled with people as she had expected. No cars lined the road where she parked her car and no anxiously awaiting people stood in front of the farmer's home. Even the field itself seemed to have forgotten the unearthly visit from a year ago. The site of the crop circles had been plowed and new corn plants stood about three feet high within the field.
Kate made an entry in her alien log. She noted the time of 8:47 PM - 11 hours 58 minutes until arrival and made a note of the emptiness of the farm before she began setting up her tent in the tree line. She would spend the night and if the aliens didn't come tonight, she figured she'd just have to recalculate her arrival time.
Kate set up her tent, rolled out her sleeping bag and then rechecked her compass making sure it was secure in her pocket. She put her duffle next to her sleeping bag - ready for the trip. She didn't think she'd be able to sleep and instead decided to keep watch on the night sky.
'12:04 AM,' Kate wrote in her alien log, 'everything is still quiet.' She looked over her entry and then looked up to the sky.
"Please come tonight. I've been waiting so long for you," she pleaded.
Kate laid back upon her sleeping bag which she had spread out in front of her tent. She gazed upwards and watched the crescent moon and imagined she could see its descent across the night sky. Stars that she had forgotten existed shone brightly without city lights to dim them. Kate watched the stars intently, waiting for an orange one to appear. She closed her eyes and tried to envision what it would be like when they finally came for her. She pictured movie-like aliens with huge eyes exiting from a round silvery spaceship lit with thousands of tiny lights. These images danced in her dreams as she fell to sleep.
Kate awoke at 4:17AM as the wind collapsed her tent and flung it against a huge oak tree behind her. She jumped off her sleeping bag and ran to the tree that now kept her tent from flying into the field. Kate grabbed her tent and climbed back onto her sleeping bag as it too started to roll up under the pressure of the increasing wind. Branches from the pines began flailing about and almost struck her several times even as she sat low to the ground. Pine needles and branches from oaks flew past her. She tried to listen for an engine sound, one she was sure would come from a space ship, but heard only the wind. The air around her that had previously been damp with the beginning of morning dew suddenly grew hot. Steam began to rise from near the base of the tree line in front of where she sat clutching her possessions. She dug her compass out of her pocket relinquishing her hold on her tent as she did so. She watched as it flew out into the field before glancing down at the compass. The needle that was to be pointing North, now spun in all directions, spinning clockwise one second and counter the next.
Kate jumped up, ran out from the cover of the trees and looked expectantly up at the sky. A smile widened on her face. She was sure she could see an orange orb coming near to where she stood in front of the trees. Branches continued to fly past her. Bark ripped off a tree to her right and almost hit her in the head as it zipped past. Steam gathered around her feet and worked its way up past her knees. She tried to walk forward, but stumbled and so remained where she was. She watched as the orange light continued to get closer.
A thunderous explosion threw her backward and into the base of a huge oak tree. The wind stopped at the same instant she hit the ground. Steam closed in around her and she could no longer see the sky. She felt the earth near her and felt only twigs and leaves.
Kate reached out in front of herself trying to gauge her way through the fog. She kneeled and began to slowly crawl through the underbrush toward where she thought the field lay. Every few inches she would reach out her hand to feel for a barrier before her. She crawled this way for about four feet and then her hand stopped in mid-air. She felt something - something soft and squishy and wet. She prayed that it wasn't an animal that got caught up in the brief wind storm and somehow injured by the flying debris. She knelt and tried to stand up but the thing before her put pressure down on her shoulder, keeping her close to the ground. She screamed and lurched backward, falling most of the distance she had just gained.
The steam cleared around the thing that had touched her. In front of her stood a creature about six feet tall - its width appearing to be a close match to its height. She peered up to where its face should have been and instead saw nothing but what looked to be melting gray flesh. Huge swaying hunks, of what appeared to be skin, hung from every angle. Kate couldn't make out any facial features, nor could she tell what part of the creature's hanging flesh had recently kept her from standing. She scooted backward, trying to distance herself from the thing.
"Please," she whimpered as she continued to feel behind herself for a stick or branch to protect herself with. She repeated the plea over and over again and with each vocalization, scampered further away from where the creature stood.
Kate watched with disbelief as the being split into three separate creatures. She blinked and within that time span, the three had triangulated around her. She shook her head and tried to scoot across the ground in the direction of an oak tree. Before she could get an inch, they were upon her and holding her down. Their skin was now cool to the touch and it seemed that all the flapping pieces of skin had turned to hardened fingers, pushing and probing her body. She tried to roll over to crawl away, but couldn't turn under their weight. She started gasping for air.
"Please, stop," she cried. The pressure increased with every sound she made and she panted as she continued to struggle. She started feeling light headed and she couldn't feel her body any longer. With one last gasp, she passed out.
The three beings immediately withdrew from her and stood above her relaxed body.
"She's not ready yet," one said. The other two acknowledged the veracity of the claim and melted into the dissipating steam. The remaining one drew closer and knelt down beside her. The pieces of skin that hung loosely over his figure came together in one sleek motion, giving him a new human-like body. His face morphed into what he knew Kate needed to see when she looked at her little brother.
Scott sat beside her, stroked her hair and spoke soothingly to her. He would wait for her to come to, so he could take her home.
It was her silent affirmations that kept her from going completely insane. Then, the silence (his hands?) wrapped around her, choked her, until words crashed from her mouth, punched the air, left bruises where the silence had been – each syllable (hit?) heavier than the last until she stopped moving and stood (cowered?), waiting for his response.
Silence poured back into the room, reached her ears and set them ringing again. The only way she knew to get them (him?) to stop was to continue as before.
She repeated her affirmations while walking (guarding?) the perimeter of the room – each step adding distance between she and him, then redirecting her, leading her back where he wait.
Whispered affirmations dropped to the floor, rolled away, hid amongst the dust bunnies (her dreams?) left unattended in the corners.
She bowed her head; risked a glance at him. He lie there; mouth slightly open as if in mid-snore, eyes closed – almost peaceful.
She took a step closer, waited; stole another. She put out a hand to touch him, jumped back, let out a yelp. She thought (imagined?) he reached to grab her.
Another perimeter walk (search?), glances over her shoulder; steps a little quicker (easier?), breath a little heavier, circling back around to him again.
Always back to him.
He remain as before – eyes closed, mouth partially opened, red shirt.
Was it red before?
Affirmations tumbled out, fell faster than her steps, trying to trip her, make her fall, leave her drowning in a pool of lies.
She stepped over them (him?); continued her pace (descent?) around the room – back to him again.
He remain the same; never changing, never ending, never letting her BE.
Screams (sirens?) sliced through the silence, broke it open - pierced her ear drums. She saw the waves (blood?) had blanketed her, gloved her hands – were trying to pull her under – rip her breath away.
She fell to her knees, palms pressed against her temples, mouth partially open, eyes closed. The perimeter collapsed (opened?); hands came, held her, whispered to her, lifted her - led her away from him.
She stole one final peek over her shoulder at him - his closed eyes, partially closed mouth, comforter of red beneath him, and it was her silent affirmations that kept her from going completely insane.