Tuesday, 8 November 2011

65) House Crop

    Alfred walked along the deep trails through his crops. The fruit were mostly black and bumpy, some were still purple or green. He touched every few of the watermelon sized fruits for texture and ripeness. He knocked on them like he knew shoppers would once they were at market. Alfred was reasonably nervous, this was his first crop of houses and he had a lot riding on it, nearly a million credits in debt and his family displaced several thousand miles on the chance that the soil was right and mother nature would treat them right. So far they’d been really lucky, and he hoped it would hold out.
    He paused at the end of his field and looked down at the nearly endless rows of ripe tree houses. It still amazed him that only a year ago this whole area was wild grasses and sparse oak trees. Alfred heard a low buzzing off in the distance. He turned and looked to find a crop duster on its way. He looked down at his terminal and smiled. “Right on time!” he thought. He watched as the plane descended and its multi branched nozzles unfolded out from its sides like a giant metal mustache fingers. It zoomed over his head and began to drop its payload, billions of tiny helper mites.
    With such a complicated thing as a house fruit some details of construction can only be dealt with by microscopic helpers. That’s where helper mites come in. With fruit that was ripe enough the mites would burrow in and trim excess growth, help balance hormones, and deal with the wormy parasites that were prevalent that year. Each batch of mites was specially bred for each crop. Alfred had met the owner, a large woman of considerable humor and intimidatingly precise. He liked her a lot and they chatted quite often. There was a slightly cheaper crop dusting mite company a few counties over, but Alfred felt good with “Lacy’s Spray ’em Fighters”.
    The mites descended in a dense dark cloud and settled in the trees and did their business. Alfred thought he could hear them grinding their way through the fruit’s tough skin, but he knew it was impossible.
    He headed back to the house for breakfast, content and with a little skip in his step.
    The rest of the day went as usual. The kids did their chores, he went out to help his neighbor Farnsworth with his crop of knives, a few were coming up rusty and they were clogging up the harvester.
    When Alfred finally got home just before the sunset he was surprised to see his whole family waiting by the front door with their suitcases. He picked up the pace and ran the rest of the hundred yards to his house. When he got closer he could hear the crying.
    “It’s over, Alfie.” His wife Gertrude said.
    “What’s over? I don’t understand.” He leaned in to give her a hug and she started sobbing anew.
    He looked over his shoulder and saw Lacy and a couple of men at the dinner table. Lacy, who’d he’d only seen jovial and powerful was now dour and hunched over a pile of papers.
    “No!” He yelled as he grasped the situation.
    Lacy got up from her seat and slowly walked over to the front door. She said, “I’m sorry Alfred, it was a simple mistake. We thought we had enough fail safes in line to stop something like this. But, but, I’m really really sorry, we’re going to do everything we can to put this right, you know?”
    The blood drained from his face and before he knew it he was running through the house to the fields out back. When he jumped out of the porch he smelt it first, the rot and decay. The wall of stench barely slowed him down. His breath was ragged by the time he reached the first tree. He half slipped in the broken fruit on the ground, its melted latticework skeleton and shingles crunched under his feet.

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