2019-01-25 10:00 fiction reel

ReeL Star

The seeds came out of the bag with a pop. She sawed back and forth with the bow, which spun the distributor at the bottom of the bag. It was inelegant, she thought, this walking and swaying, like a drunk, invariably she moved her head with the sawing of the bow, like she was listening to some invisible ground song. She would glance occasionally at the seeds as they landed. Soon they would sprout, maybe, if they weren't eaten by birds, if they fell onto amenable land, with sufficient sun, not too much, and the right amount of water. It was a matter of odds, put down enough seeds over enough time and the plants would grow, they would grow everywhere. Once there were plenty of them, across every town, lot, vacant road, and next to every Shrub field, then they would flower. Not until then.

She started to sweat with exertion, pausing to tie a bandanna over her head. Her canteen was almost empty. In the distance she saw the rusty carapace of a house roof. She'd ask them for water, if anyone was there, she'd done it before. Likely the house was abandoned. She was pretty far out, the town was miles behind her, she didn't know how many. She was always careful. But she believed there was a recognition of her ordained task, that down deep, wherever it was people knew these things, they would realize her and she would be safe.

She slung her seed bag back and started across a rolling, wild field. As she got closer she sensed activity, although not yet seeing anyone, she vaguely felt movement, the way birds and cows can feel true north, she thought. Her mother taught her this, her mother-sister, the older her, the other her.

There they were—she saw people come around the corner of the house. She was some distance away, and she crouched behind a low bush. The people were a little older than her, but young. There were six of them and they each carried a piece of equipment—black and boxy things, a few with dangling wires like spilled innards. This was technology of some sort, it had to be expensive since nobody made that stuff anymore. They were taking these things into the house. Then a seventh person came around the corner. He was wearing a contraption. It was a kind of black cage around his torso with bars that went up above his head and curved outwards, each terminating in a small glass orb. Instead of walking into the house he stood for a moment, turning, looking out over the fields. She remained absolutely still. She wondered what he was doing, was he looking for her? No, he moved on, walking in an arc around the house. He was looking, in a special way, technological witchcraft maybe.

When he passed she quickly moved out from behind the bush to a corner by the porch and the slanted, rotting basement doors. She heard voices down there.

She was thirsty. She looked for a spigot on this side of the house but didn't see one. She'd have to chance going into the house, there was probably a bathroom near the front, there usually was. She'd be in and out before anyone knew she was there. It would be easier that way, they seemed busy.

The front door was cracked open. The handle and lock were broken a long time ago. The house had a familiar smell like most of them did—emptiness, mildew, mice, maybe the tang of a dead thing. This one wasn't bad though, and it might not even leak much. But why were these people here? If they could afford tech like that then they had to be rich. Or maybe they stole that stuff. Perhaps she should've been scared, but she wasn't.

There was a bathroom, the door didn't open all the way, she squeezed in. She took off her old army-green canteen from the place on her belt. There was a slight sloshing sound from the tiny amount of water left in the heavy plastic container. She looked at the sink. If she turned on the faucet they would hear it in the basement. But, she thought, they would assume this was their friend, the one that went around the side of the house.

The window next to her in the bathroom looked out across a Shrub field, closest to where she was seeding. She was seeding along its edge, that's what she always tried to do. In the Shrub field she saw tall, studded stalks ending in clusters of large, sharp leaves. There was no comparison with anything from the area—in fact there was no comparison with anything from Earth. These plants were from somewhere else, maybe where the Shrubs came from, no one knew. People had eventually come to identify the purposes of Shrub field, there were different kinds—one species generates power, one generates fruit, but this one nobody really understood. She knew that in the autumn, before the Shrubs took the crop away overnight quickly and quietly, these plants uprooted themselves and milled around in groups making a low, wheezing sound, as if they were compressing air in anticipation. It was only then that they were dangerous. If you happened into the field you would be cut to pieces by the razor sharp, stiff leaves which they collectively lowered to protect themselves.

If the farmer and his family who used to live here weren't killed by protein bombs, they certainly would've fled after the Shrubs started growing their crops here. That doesn't explain these people, she thought, why were they in the house?

She turned the tap on slowly, hearing gurgling from pipes below. Water suddenly evacuated from the faucet, then became a predictable stream. She waited a moment for the water to clear the pipes then she put the canteen under it. When it was full she capped it and turned off the tap which squeaked.

She moved to leave the way she came in. She paused. She could hear voices in the basement through the door in the hallway. Creeping up next to the door she leaned in and listened. They were setting up equipment. Hand me that wire, someone said. That doesn't go there, someone else said.

She walked down the hall and left the way she came in. She'd go back to seeding. When she was past the stairs and walking towards the brush she'd previously hidden under, she heard a voice behind her. She turned.

"Hey you!" It was the guy wearing the black metal cage.

She didn't say anything, she stared, feeling the fresh weight of the full canteen hanging on her belt.

"I know who you are, you're that girl, the resistance farmer," he said. He flipped a couple of latches on the cage and took it off himself more nimbly than she expected.

"Yes," she said. She didn't move any closer. There was no point in lying, everybody knew who she was.

"See this thing here?" He crouched down pointed at the black contraption. "Know what it is?"

"No," she said.

"It's a rig, to make ReeLs," he said.

"Oh," she said. She didn't know what that was, although she'd heard the word before.

He stood there smiling, looking at her, and said "How would you like to star in a ReeL?"