Here’s a short story for your spring, now that we see the flowers growing like they’re on steroids – and they are, of course – for a flash fiction challenge about invasive species – a topic I’ve talked about before….
Always said them scientists would mess everythin’ up, playin’ round with Creation like they was God.
The environmental beatniks said it too, course, but they said all kind of whatnot, like the weather was changin’, that we didn’t listen much to them guys. Joel McCallum, though, he reads the scientific papers, and he said they reckoned the canola plants’d be the ones that did it, them being so common and close to weeds anyway. He said the genetically modified canola would mix with the field mustard plants, and lead to a superweed that nothin’ could get rid of. The idea of sunflowers takin’ over like they was on steroids, well, we none of us predicted that.
What we never saw comin’, either, was losing our land to the federal government after trying so hard to keep independent from them assholes in DC.
We bought the land fair and square, set up our town ten years beforehand. We were self-sufficient by then, hundred per cent, and all set for the apocalypse, should it decide to turn up. We never did think it’d turn out this way.
It was the federal government’s fault, though, too. Always knew that would be true. They were the ones invited that crazy sonbitch to plant those damn sunflower plants out our way. Gave him permission to use federal land we used to graze cattle off, not twenty miles from town. Well, we didn’t think no sunflowers’d stand the shallow soil there. No depth at all, after the dustbowl years took it clean away. Even the grass dried up when it didn’t rain in late spring. We didn’t think the plants would stand up in the wind, first time we went out there and they told us what it was they were growin’.
Joel tried to explain what they’d done to the sunflowers – struck in some genes from a creeper, a vine of some sort that was supposed to only change the roots from the deep taproots sunflowers supposed to grow, into wide spreading roots that’d keep the plants upright and get them enough water from what rains came. They’d spread the seeds out farther than normal to compensate. Well, Joel didn’t know what way they’d messed up – whether they’d put in the wrong piece of string or if the gene did more jobs than just make roots of one sort or the other, but mess up they did, good and well. Plants grew up stringy and creeping; stretched along the ground, covering the empty patches between plants till it was just a sea of green, with all trace of the rows they’d been planted in gone. The flowers were small, but each plant had four or five ‘stead of one. We was amazed that first year. The scientists just took notes. They harvested some, but with the way the plants were all higgledy-piggledy, they missed half the seed heads.
Course, we didn’t like to let the food go to waste. We was self-sufficient, but it’s a sin to waste such bounty as the Lord places before you. We planted some in our own plots – and planned to keep plantin’ it, till we realised it didn’t need no plantin’. The wind came through one night, the way it does, and the seeds flew everywhere on it. Next year, it was everywhere. It invaded the wheat fields, covered the town. It was kinda pretty at first. We used the oil for our trucks, couple of years. But we soon saw it was gettin’ serious when it covered the forest floors, started cloggin’ the creek, and broke half the corn plants before they got to cobbin’. It wrapped around everything – I mean everything – like vines, like morning glory, or that Japanese knotweed and them other invasive species they’re always goin’ on about. These creepers blocked out the light from every other plant, till there were was nothin’ else we could grow.
Well, we thought we could at least use the oil to cut and burn it out, but eventually, much as it galled us to do it, we had to ask the federal government for help. It was their problem, all said and done.
They came, in helicopters, since the roads were practically overgrown by then. One fella told Joel they was comin’ anyhow, whether we asked them or not. Their scientists told them to shut down the whole operation – and more. They was goin’ to move us – would’ve paid us to up and move sticks someplace else. But what we asked for help, they just took us out, told us to gather up our belonging, and make damn sure it was all clean of vegetative material, they called it.
We did as was asked – we weren’t no fools, wishing this upon everyone, or anyone else. That would be a sin not even God might forgive. Besides, we weren’t ready for this kind of apocalypse. Nor were we ready for any kind of reckonin’ without our land, our shelters, our supplies.
When they took us up in the helicopters, we saw them start the firebombin’ straight off. That shit smelt like the end of the world. No wonder them Vietnamese hated us, using that shit on them. I asked the pilot how much they was going to burn. Five thousand square miles, he told me. Hell of a lot of Napalm man. Of course, we had some Napalm ourselves, just in case. When I saw the town explode, I thought, well, there’s an end to it. We might not survive the next apocalypse, but at least we helped the world avoid this one.
That’s what I thought. That’s what we all thought, true as the Lord is lookin’ down on me.
Thing about sunflowers, though, even these crazy ass ones, was the seeds were real tasty. The kids in town used to go round all day, biting on them and spitting out the shells. Well, how can you put the blame on the shoulders of a little kid, not eight year old, instead of the scientist that made them seeds? She meant t’ eat them, of course, and all would’ve been well. But when she saw the explosion from all the stuff we’d in storage, well, she jumped so high she near enough fell out of the damn chopper herself. Only natural the bag slipped out her hand.
You know the answer to that question is yes.
No, I’m not advocating actual infanticide, just literal infanticide. I only have one child while she’s not perfect, her imperfections are shared by myself, so are unimportant.
But tomorrow my first novel will be published. As such I’m like a proud parent on the night before an oldest child’s wedding: my work done, happy to see the child go off into the world. I still see a few defects, but I can only hope that the new spouse (readers) don’t spot them, or see them as charming idiosyncrasies.
Yet I can’t relax, can’t put up my feet and enjoy the moment as if I’d nothing else left to do. I don’t. I do. I have ten more little bastards at home screaming for attention.
Viewing books as children is a double-edged sword: while you can take all the credit when they are good and do well, you can’t blame the other side of the family when they turn out terrible. And some of them do. Some of them should indeed have been destroyed at birth, before they got onto a page, before they sucked the time and energy out of your life.
Now that the eldest has flown the coop, after twenty years, the rest are clamouring to get out, or at least grow up. And like children, some of them are great and some of them are just impatient. I have one that I’ve been ignoring for way too long, but it just sits there, picking its nose in the corner, waiting. Poor thing doesn’t realise it’ll probably get no attention until I’ve ceased to have any other ideas.
There are stories I can trust to be ok. They know I’m getting back to them, soon enough, and when I do, they’ll be just as good as they were when I left them. The next word will be just right there. There are a few that are grown up already and are just waiting to have somewhere to go. And of these, there are one or two that never have to leave, because Daddy loves them and if nobody else wants them, well that’s just fine. Fuck them. I wouldn’t change a thing about them. Well only minor things. A word here and there. Ok, if it’s really necessary….
But can I really spend time putting up hair, ironing dresses and shining buttons for one child when there’s one right beside her with vomit all the way down his front and no pants on? Because I have one like that. I can’t take my eyes off the fucker or he’ll just be a complete fucking mess. I’ve been spending way too much time on him, neglecting much worthier children, but if I don’t stay focused, I may as well hand him a razor blade and tell him to go play.
Oh, he was great when he was small. But then I had to go and let the bastard grow up, expand a short story into a novella. Why? Don’t ask me. Of course, it probably wasn’t that great back then, either, but it wasn’t the clusterfuck it looks like now. With this guy there’s no pride, no willingness to keep him at home, in my heart. I want that fucker out the door. Now. I am going to dress him up in shiny clothes and send him out and hope to hell he slips in under the radar and someone takes him without looking too closely, without spotting the defects. And if he ever tries to come back to me I’ll take on a pseudonym and hide. If nobody is fooled, well, it’s the basement and a life of darkness for that kid. A novella? No, never written one…
And when he is gone, either away or into a drawer, I’ll breath a sigh of relief and smile, and turn back to my other children and actually, you know, enjoy this writing lark.
By the way, for the next week or so, I’ll be reposting blog interviews I’m doing on other blogs out there, talking about Leaving the Pack, apart from my own blog post about My Writing Process (still two places left if anyone is interested).