Bitter HarvestMature

Lawrence Fulton:

            At the end, she talked in incomplete sentences, like a toddler. “Lawrence…brave…strong.”

            I could not even hold her hand or comfort her while she despaired in what was our bed. We had to look to each other through the surgical masks the government handed out before it all fell the way side. The officials that gave us those final sanitizing instructions were the last visitors that came to our farm.

            I’m not exactly sure when it all fell apart. We rarely see anyone come this way anyway; I first noticed it when the television would not start. At least we still had the well to draw water. I wouldn’t call what we did “enduring.” Initially, our routine hardly changed. The only difference was that we did our chores by candlelight. But then, the animals started dying.

            The raven just fell from the sky, dropping in the middle of the chickens. It might have been from the years of isolation, but I started to imagine as if the animals had their own thoughts. The chickens seemed to have huddled around the raven carcass, looking upon it with odd curiosity through the their beady round eyes. From the quick darting of their heads, I had thought they whispered slanderous gossip among them.

            It just fell from the sky.

            Who even dies midflight?

            It must have been a swift death.

            The virus ended up clearing out 75% of our chickens. Despite witnessing death after death among them, the chickens still gawked whenever the next one fell. Just the same, they gathered around each dead bird with those same wide-eyed stares.

            The cows were the next to go. Their deaths were worse. I had to drag their carcasses to the contamination pile with a tractor. Their faces were even more expressive, their tongues hanging loosely out of their foaming maws. The ones that survived were even worse, staring at me whenever I added to the pile. Their mouths chewed cud as if I was performing some sort dinner theater.

            “Just know that if this virus doesn’t kill you, I’ll slaughter you for dinner anyway,” I retorted to them.

            The stench from contamination pile started to saturate the air. The more the pile grew, the less I visited that part of the farm. When I started the pile, I thought I placed it far enough from the main house that we wouldn’t smell it. But the scent was inescapable after a while. I knew I would eventually need to burn the pile, but the government officials did not give an ample supply of lye to douse after multiple burns. I had to wait until the virus took its course on the farm, then burn the entire pile at one go, and then douse the whole thing in lye.

            “At least the smell will keep away the marauders,” I thought.

            She completed the pile. After she passed, I wrapped her in a plastic shower curtain and sealed her in duct tape. She was frail and bone thin by the time the virus took control; it was not difficult to carry her down the stairs and out the door.

            I had to clear my mind of my former life. I was foolish to think that quitting my engineering job and starting a working farm in the countryside would keep those atrocities at bay. Apparently, I was wrong. I did not escape far enough. And she had to pay the price of my error.

            I resented having to parade her by those gawking animals. They stared at me, carrying that bundle of plastic in my arms. I could tell what they were thinking.

            That food chain, or food web, or food pyramid, or however you’ve been putting yourself in the center of the universe, those days are over. You’ve been convincing yourself that our slaughter was nothing personal, but in truth it was. Now, you’ll see the life of an animal. You may still slaughter us, but eventually, one of us will peck your eyeballs out. It’s just a matter of time.

            “Not until I’ve had my dinner.”

            I waited until the fire grew high until I finally wept. At least then, I could attribute my tears to the smoke. But I knew there was no hiding at that point.

            “I will be brave, Anna. I will be strong.”

The End

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