Short Stories

Don’t Tread On Me

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 twisted 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 weren’t for his sun-bleached hair 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 hear 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 Mary Jane 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 horizon. “Pancakes and coffee is 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 storm hadn’t washed out the bridge. 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 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 were planted three hundred years ago to prevent another dust bowl from happening again were gone. No one thought replacing the soil guardians was a priority.

I would have driven clear past the Jenson’s farm if sight 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 sight.

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 the average weight.

“Hey! Wait a minute.” Hank called from the garage. “Why can’t you ever ask for some help.”

“Thought y’all 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 from 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 bank’s names that I didn’t notice the 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 seemed 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 my 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 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?”

“Blueberries.” Jackson gently lifted one from the group. 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.”

“You can’t.”

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 Mary Jane 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 Mary Jane. 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. The authorities coveted green eyes, 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 had listened, we wouldn’t be where we are now. I ignored the door being shut behind me.

“Sarah, I’m,”

“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 thieves. 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 known 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?” Mary Jane 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,” Mary Jane shrugged her shoulders. “Why pretend it wasn’t going to happen anyway? 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 the 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.” Mary Jane 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 the unlit hallway. “Leave it to the scientist to think she’s in charge, they,” Stephanie said to Mary Jane as they both ran to join me.

Horse whinnies brought me back to the greenhouse. The sun was beginning to set, and I was lying 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 was 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 the kitchen.

I saw his butt sticking out of the cabinet, throwing out all the Tupperware. “I do hope you plan on cleaning this up.”

“Not the time SarahMae.” Jackson 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.” Jackson watched me walk away. “He kept half our family down here.”

“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 have 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, with fewer 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 the 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 was 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.” Jackson quickly shrugged off my existence. “She does her own thing.”

“She pulled a gun on me.” I heard him spit on my floors. “I should have taken her in then and there.”

I wish I had 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.”

The blueberry bushes were starting to flower. We were leaving a window open to allow butterflies and bees to come in and pollinate the plants naturally. I measured each plant and documented the growth. It had been over a century since blueberries had been grown.

“You can’t eat the flowers.” Jackson reminded me for the umpteenth time.

“I know that. I was just hoping they would smell different.”

But the tiny white flowers didn’t really smell like anything at all. I flipped through the botany book until I found the chapter about fruit gestation periods; as I read, I got excited. It should only be a few more days until I got to pop one of those delicious berries into my mouth.

“Have you heard anything from Jenkins?” I asked.

“He was probably just blowing smoke.” I laughed.

“Maybe I scared him off.”

“Oh, that must be it,” he snorted. “SarahMae scared off the big bad authority officer.”

“He could have finally realized that I was a native and nothin’ like him.”

Jackson’s face twisted into something ugly. “I pray not. That man is a psychopath. The only reason he’s lettin’ you live is that he believes you to be a product of the authority.”

“But I look nothin’ like them.” I checked my reflection to make sure nothing had suddenly changed. “I don’t have sandpaper skin or tipped ears.”

He laughed at my vanity. “Of course, you look nothing like those space invaders.”

I let the sounds around me sink in. “Do you hear them?” I let one of the blueberry bushes’ roots climb onto my finger.

“I’m not sure if anyone can hear them like you.” He was watching me the same way he did when we were first married.

“Come here,” I placed his hand near an exposed root.

The root wrapped around Jackson’s finger. He stiffened up, and his eyes widened.

“What do you hear?”

He closed his eyes and relaxed. “It sounds like it’s singing.”

“I knew you could do it!” I jumped up and kissed his cheek. “Maybe the grands’ weren’t half-mad when they put us together.”

The greenhouse was rhythmic hums of the blueberry bushes. Even with the slightest introduction to the extinct plant, Nature already seemed to be righting herself.

Jackson absently mumbled to himself. I strained to hear. “What did you say?”

“Control the food, control the masses.” She snapped back to life. “It’s much easier to control us when we’re weak and malnourished.”

Jackson inspected the little plant further. “But it’s been a century since they started to attack our people. You’d think with how advanced the human race had become; we would have adapted with the changes.”

“They gave up hope,” I sighed. “Remember the stories Grandda would tell us?”

“We were living in peace after generations of war. Those who survived the fall out became intuned with what was left of the Earth and made it their mission to the right the wrongs they had done to her.”

“It wasn’t some utopia.” I corrected him.

“But nothing like the fallout.”

“That’s why the authorities were able to come in and take over. We weren’t able to defend ourselves any longer.” I went outside to watch the storm brewing. “They were like a tornado. No matter what protection we thought was had, they were stronger.”

“They aren’t stronger than us.” Jackson tried to catch one of the horses that were beginning to panic. “Ever since you got out, these storms have been coming mighty fierce.”

Lighting twisted through the skies. Thankfully there were no signs of tornados. It was strange to run indoors from the rain. Rain was so rare. I remember that young and old alike would stay out and let the water falling from the sky kiss our skin.

“Would you mind?” Jackson shouted, soaking wet and staring at the horses. All three of them stood watching me. “You’re doin’ something to them.”

“I ain’t doin shit to them.” But it didn’t matter what I said. They followed me into the barn without even saying a word. “They’ve been weird ever since we brought home those bushes.”

Cooper, our dapple, blocked the door. I tried to push her in, but she released a pathic whiny.

“Well, if you don’t like being wet, you shouldn’t have left the barn.”

The horse shook her head and kicked her front hoof towards the greenhouse. I looked, but I didn’t see anything to make her upset. The storm clouds were lingering, and the wind was whipping us all something fierce. Jackson was finally able to usher her inside with some leaves from our orange tree.

A hot towel pulled straight from the dryer felt wonderful wrapping around me. The thunder boomed outside, rattling me straight to the bone.

“SarahMae, what did Grandda tell you about yourself?” He sounded like a man with the world hanging heavy on him. “I know you’re parents weren’t well informed.”

“Could’ya be vaguer?”

Jackson smacked his forehead. “Do you know what makes you special?”

“There ain’t nothing special about me, Jackson Tolle.” I spat at him. “If that were the case, my birth parents wouldn’t have died.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic. You’re not superman.”

“Than what is it? What makes me so different?”

Jackson pointed to the window. Inside the greenhouse, you could see the shadow of the giant bushes. Bees, butterflies, and ladybugs fought the winds flying in and out of the windows. “Because you’re going to save us.”

I walked out into the storm and wiped away the rain, half-expecting mud to be already covering my eyes. But there was nothing. I saw low creeping grass emerging from the greenhouse making its way towards the orange groves through the heavy rain.

Laying in my bed, I twisted into a small ball. Grandda’s whispers filled me with the most horrible thoughts. When the authorities first came to Earth, no one ever thought we would have been persecuted. The natives had welcomed them, giving the natives a chance to no longer take responsibility for their folies. The authorities gave them that freedom while covertly destroying what we had saved after the fallout.

Jackson slowly turned my doorknob. I must have woken him calling out in my sleep. My mother always worried that my nightmares were memories from my infancy. She spent her life studying the effects of war on the infant’s mind. I’m pretty sure that’s what made her adopt outside of her species. But these weren’t my dreams. There was no possible way to have these imagines ingrained in me from lying in the center of my crib. Maybe just the sound of the shelling brought to mind acts of war that we’re taught in school. Grandda would say my soul predated the authority, which would cause my mother to roll her eyes. She never believed in the afterlife.

“You don’t have to stand there.” I patted my bed.

He was freaking me out, hovering in the doorway. Rolling over, I made room for him thinking he would bring me some comfort to my overactive mind. I hadn’t shared my bed with him for so long I didn’t remember the bed shifting so much.

“Why can’t you sleep?” I asked.

He didn’t answer me, and I knew he wasn’t asleep. Jackson would toss and turn worse than me before eventually drifting off. Maybe he was a brat since my back was to him. When he brushed a strand of hair from my face, his fingertip hurt my skin.

“You better start wearin’ gloves. Your hands are gettin’ as rough as the authorities.” “What’s wrong with that?” Growled behind me.

“Get out!” I tried to turn over, but Jenkins’ was pinning me down.

“Just relax SarahMae, it’ll hurt less.” Jenkins free hand ripped the covers off of me. My screams were muffled as he shoved my face into the pillow. I kicked him as hard as I could, but it didn’t phase him. Yanking my hair caused my body to arch into him. I squeezed my legs shut. I was going to fight him any way I could.

“Now, now. Are you wanting me to tear you?” He ran his fingers over my lips. His skin tore whatever hair I had away from my body.

“You’re so soft.” He sucked on his fingers before shoving them inside me. “There’s a good girl.”

I couldn’t breathe. Jenkins had wrapped his other hand so tightly around my neck that I was praying to blackout. I felt blood trickling down my legs. The shattering of my sliding glass door awoke me back to hell. Monty charged in, ripping Jenkins off of me. 

“Sarah are -” Jackson stopped as Monty stomped my assailant’s head.

Leave a Reply