The thunder cracked as the lightning illuminated the night sky. The Storm was right over us and if this dry lightning kept up we would for sure be facing a brushfire. That was something we didn’t need at the moment. The town was already short on water and whatever was left to burn were our crops. We need as many of those oranges as possible.
The dust bowl was killing the states and parts of the midwest were still at war with Washington. No one felt safe leaving their own state anymore. I wasn’t sure what was worse the border taxes or the thieves waiting for the poor soul crossing. If you asked me they were one and the same.
“SarahMae, you get back in here.” Jackson’s voice, though just on the other side of the porch, was barely audible. “You’re askin’ for trouble out there.”
“There’s nothing these walls can do if a tornado hits,” I yelled at him as the screen door slammed shut behind me.
Don’t for one second think he was saying any of those words out of compassion. This was his farm and he was letting me stay here until I worked off my debt. I was no use to him dead.
“Why you gotta let it slam like that? Door ain’t cheap,” he said checking the door frame.
“Why can’t you speak the proper english your mama taught you? You’re no hillbilly bumpkin, Jackson Tolle.” I had had enough.
“No need to bring the dead into this.” He was standing toe to toe with me. He hadn’t showered yet and still smelled fresh of the horses’ he had been ushering into the barn just before the storm broke. “Would you rather still be out there on that chain gang where the rest of your friends were dropping dead from the heat?”
“Is there anything else you need tonight, Mr. Tolle?” I didn’t give him a chance to answer. I wasn’t going to waste my last minutes on earth with him. The low rumbles of a train charging towards us sent me diving into the hall closet. The closest train tracks were ten miles away.
The twisting metal sounded like a cat being murdered played through busted speakers. I bolted the closest door shut. If we dug to a safe level we would hit the water table and with how high the tide had risen I’m surprised that we even had dry land to stand on.
“SarahMae! Let me in.”
Jackson’s panicked cries made me want to leave him out there just a moment longer. But the moment ended quickly as soon as I heard something break through the front door. I yanked him in before he was impaled.
“SarahMae Adams, your mother is rolling over in her grave from your little stunt.” If it wasn’t for his sun-bleached hair being illuminating through the crack in the door I wouldn’t have known where he stood.
“I thought we weren’t invoking the dead?” I bumped into a broom and stepped into a mop bucket full of water. “You said you emptied it.”
Jackson didn’t say a word. The storm had stopped and we could heard the horses over the soft wind.
The generator’s hum eventually lulled me off to sleep and for that I was thankful. I lost count of how many times I woke up throughout the night. My nightmares wouldn’t leave me alone. Stephanie and MaryJane would stare at me with their starved hollowed eyes.
Jackson couldn’t save all of us and he only had loyalty to me, but they didn’t care. They cursed my name the moment the judge announced I made bail. I couldn't look at them as I left, it was my fault we got caught.
There was a soft knock at my door the moment the sun graced the horazine. “There’s pancakes and coffee waiting for you.”
Taking a long deep breath my nose was easily fooled into thinking what filled my cup was coffee. But no one had had coffee in over a decade. I made a face as I sipped the black tar. I was sixteen the last time the full body aromas tickled my tongue. This imposter still made me gag.
“Oh come on, it ain’t half bad after you doctor it up.” he added three sugar cubes.
“Those aren’t synthetic.” I inspected one of the frosty white cubes.
“And they never will be.” He took it and gently placed it back into the silver bowl.
“Who’s able to grow sugar cane?”
“Eat up.” He shoveled the last of his pancake into his mouth. “ The horses are out of hay. Mr. Jenson is expecting you.”
The Jenson's farm was fifty miles south away if the bridge hadn’t been washed out by the storm. I filled the jeep’s gas tank and the spare gas can just in case. There were no gas stations until ten miles north of the farm. I pulled my goggles over my eyes and secured the scarf over my mouth to keep the dust out. They stopped paving the roads twenty years ago, apparently it was a waste of resources.
I just think the government was broke and the midwest was right to still be at war. They got hit the worst when the times started to change. The trees that were planted three hundred years ago to prevent another dust bowl from happening again were gone. No one thought replacing the soil guardians were a priority.
I would have drove clear past the Jenson’s farm if it the directions hadn’t been ingrained into me since childhood. The faded welcome sign only hung by one set of its’ chains. It was a sad site.
No one came from the house as I parked behind the barn. I grabbed a square bale of hay and almost toppled over. It landed vitriolically and nearly matched me at 5’6. God only knows why they were twice their normal weight.
“Hey! Wait a minute.” Hank called from the garage. “Why can’t you ever ask for some help.”
“Thought ya’ll might still be at church.”
“Good thing I’m here, damn near killed yourself.” He hoisted the bale into the jeep with a clunk.
“Hank, what are in those?”
“Nothin’ to worry your pretty little head about.” He smiled as he let go of the last bale.
“Is it something I could get killed over?” Jackson, what are you getting me into, I thought.
“Ain't that just about everything nowadays.” Hank laughed.
He waved goodbye as I drove away fro my grandfather’s old pony farm. I choked on my tears remembering when the bank came. He was sick and dying and they wouldn’t even let an old man die in the home he built with his own two hands.
I was too busy cursing the banks names that I didn’t notice there were flashing red and blue lights behind me. The sirens clicked on and off alerting me he wanted me to pull over.
“Shit,” I sputtered when I saw who was getting out of the patrol car.
“Ah, SarahMae.” The roided out office gripped the top of my jeep pulling himself disgustingly too close to me. “What brings you so far from home?”
“Officer Jenkins you’ve seem to have pulled me over outside your jurisdiction.” His breath smelled of mints and cheap booze.
“You ain't no native,” he whispered into my ear. “Their laws can’t protect you.”
“Yeah, but this can just fine.” I pressed the end of my short barrel shotgun into his chest. “Now, I’ll be on my way thank you very much.”
Jenkins put his hands up in the air and back away. In the rearview mirror I watched him throw a kiss at me.
Jackson pulled the gate open eyeing the bales as I passed. “Go around back.”
I wiped the dust from face. The windshield and windows were removed months ago as the a.c. finally went. Blues eyes stared back at me in the water. Jenkins ignorant self still didn’t understand that I was adopted by the authority defectors but was born a natives, but that didn’t matter. The more we died out the further and further the authorities pushed onto the ancestral lands.
“Any trouble?” Jackson asked loosening the straps.
“Just Jenkins pushing further into the territory.” I cut the binding and let the hay fall around the wooden crates.
“We don’t need him pushing around here right now. There’s too much at risk.” He took the crowbar from me and started to pry open the first box.
“He’s getting ballsier, basically climbed into,” I lost my train of thought at the sight of neatly stacked saplings. “What are those?”
Jackson gently lifted one from the group. “Blueberries.” He whispered as if anything too loud would destroy them.
“Are those my seeds?” I was shaking. “Jackson, are those mine?” I wanted to hug him as he nodded his head yes but I didn’t want to crush the sapling. “Everything was worth it. I can’t believe it. I have to tell the others.”
The way he said it made my heart drop. “What aren’t you telling me?”
He wouldn’t make direct eye contact. “They moved Stephanie to max in Louisiana and MaryJane killed herself last month.”
I picked up a few saplings from the crate and walked into the greenhouse. I was numb with the loss of MaryJane. When I saw her in the courtroom last she was skin and bones. The authorities weren’t taking kindly to her defiance. They kept on the chains twice as long as the others while withholding water and food. I’m not surprised that she took her own life, she was never was one to be controlled.
But Stephanie in a max control prison was frightening. If you stepped out of line you would get lashings directly on the skin. I heard of prison guards were getting off on the sound of skin breaking. I didn’t want to think about what they would do to her. Green eyes were coveted by the authorities and Stephanie’s were the greenest I’d ever seen. She probably wouldn’t make it past check in before being assaulted.
Quietly I filled three pots with enriched soil and gently packed it around the roots. I let my fingers rest for a moment listening to the plants song. Mother always thought I was ridiculous listening to them. “They have nothing new to tell you daughter.” She would say this about the old trees. But only if she listened. If more people would have listened we wouldn’t be where we are now. I ignored the door being shut behind me.
“ You could have done something.” I said throwing the spade down.
“What did you want me to do? Bring them here?” He took the filled bucket from me. “They were thevis. You were the only one with any sort of a moral compass.”
“They were my friends.” I said bitterly.
“You just met them. Tell me one thing about them that wasn’t in their folder.” He waited.
I smacked him as hard as I could. “You don’t know what we went through to get these. We all faced the death penalty.”
Jackson began to walk out the door and stopped. “Sarah, you’re here, you’re the only one who wasn’t tried for treason. Think about it.”
“I never asked you to save me.”
Jackson left me alone in the greenhouse with three crates of saplings that were supposed to be extinct. I wanted to hate him for setting me free and leaving my friends to die. But we had know the risk of proving the government was hiding plants that would help save our race. We were naive to think we wouldn’t be tried for treason.
The authorities lawyers’ twisted our mission claiming we were trying to sabotage the genetic coding of the natives crops. We were portrayed in the media as turncoats to our people. I never could understand how they created the evidence they presented to the jury.
“ Are you sure that these aren’t fairytales?” Stephanie asked me as we looked over the fo abandoned University of Florida’s blueprints.
“Read for yourself, they created fruits to grow in our soils.” I showed her my old textbook and they scanned the few pages. “So you in?”
“What’s the worst that could happen?” MaryJane asked.
Stephanie didn’t think it was as funny. “Jail time and possibly death.”
“We’ve finally will have proof that the authorities are purposely killing us. Our plants didn’t just die off. We were creating new plants, ones that could work with our changing worlds. We aren’t weak, we change and we adapt.” I stomped my foot. “Give me liberty or give me death.”
“It’ll probably be death,” MaryJane shrugged her shoulders. “Why pretend it wasn’t going to happen anyways, I like having control of my own fate.”
“Science you sure about this?” Stephanie questioned me. “Do you think there will be anything left there, they closed the school a hundred and fifty years ago.”
“We can’t know until we get there.” I gave her my hand. “You in?”
Stephanie clipped chain link fence with the bolt cutters. We picked an area covered with vegetation but still close to the botany labs. Once we climbed through we saw fresh tracks from the guards vehicles.
“So much for being abandoned.” MaryJane quipped.
“Be careful we don’t know how many they have patrolling the area.” I ignored my own advice and darted across the field into unlit hallway.
“Leave it to the scientist to think she’s in charge.” Stephanie said to MaryJane as the both ran to join me.
Horse whinnies brought me back to the greenhouse. The sun was beginning to set and I was laying on the floor. I didn’t remember falling but it wouldn’t be the first time I passed out from the heat. I walked out to find our three horses staring at me. Frosty, the white pony, pushed me towards the house. It was a bit unnerving as they followed me and watched me climb the steps.
Monty, our black friesian horse, tried to follow me cracking a step. I tried to shoo him off but he stubborn.
“Monty is breaking the steps again.” I could hear the clanking of pots and pans in the kitchen. “Jackson?”
“In here.” He sounded much further away than the two towards to the kitchen.
I saw his butt sticking out of from the cabinet throwing out all the tupperware. “I do hope you plan on cleaning this up.”
“Not the time SarahMae.” He pressed on the floorboard of the cabinet and fell in.
I rushed in half expecting the rest of the cabinet to collapse onto him. But instead I found Jackson standing completely upright and dusting himself off. “What the hell? Don’t you ever pull that kind of stunt again.”
“Will you just come down here.” He caught me at my waist as I slipped down the opening.
“What is this place?”
“My grandfather built it when they were hiding authority defectors. He kept half out family down here.” He watched me walk away.
“It’s not our family.”
“As much as you hate it you’re still my wife and they are still our family. It has always been that way since before we were born.” He let me explore and find our bassinet. “I couldn’t get rid of it.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.” Faint lavender letters spelled out what was to be our daughter’s name, Charlotte. “ Do you think everything would have been different?”
“The only thing that would have been different is I would have brought our daughter to visit you in jail. I would had to explain to her that mommy isn’t always this mean do daddy but she’s just in a bad place.” He pulled me into a hug.. “I miss you Sarah, can we please stop this?”
I collapsed into his large frame. It had been too long since I allowed him near me. I kept him at bay during the search, less chances of him getting in trouble if we were caught. But somewhere down the line I thought I didn’t need him any longer.
He pulled some of my auburn hair up to his nose and smiled. “You smell like dirt.”
“I was never was a dainty one.” Sirens from our driveway broke us apart. “The plants!”
“You stay here." He stole a kiss just before climbing out. “To whoever it is they’ll just be sticks in dirt.”
“Why are they here?”
Not even once during my case did the authorities ever step foot onto our property. The authorities were known to wipe out any home or family that they felt would stand in the way of progress. I planted my foot in their way years ago.
Jackson slipped the floor back over the cabinet opening. The tupperware were quickly thrown in to cover the cracks. I should have known something was going to happen, Jackson hadn’t been that affectionate toward me for months before I ever served him the papers.
“Where’s your wife, Tolle?” Jenkins voice penetrated the floor.
“You know better than that Rick. She does her own thing.” Jackson easily shrugged off my existence.
“She pulled a gun on me. I should have taken her in then and there.” I heard him spit on my floors.
I wish I would have blown a hole into his chest when I had the chance. Why not add murder to my list of felonies.
“SarahMae is a wild one, I’d give you that. But I wouldn’t have the faintest idea where she would find a gun.”
“Now you listen to me,” Jenkins’ got louder. “I don’t know what you two are trying to pull but it’s not going to go on much longer. Soon your kinds numbers will be so low the government will finally stop pretending you need your own lands. Once that day comes I’ll be the first kickin’ down your door.”
“I thank you kindly for the warning Jenkins but it’d be best I remind you that I don’t need a gun to kill you.” I heard Jackson’s footsteps leave the kitchen. “Now, if you don’t mind, get the fuck out of my house.”