The plant went by several names but Edmund Whittaker simply referred to it as his cash crop. He had been a farmer all his life and until last year it had been a tough and thankless job. When suits from the AG-giant Montanso stopped by for a chat ten months ago, his life changed. Or, to be more specific, his bank account changed. “Here,” they said, “We’d like you to grow our latest seed. Do this and you’ll be rewarded.” Them city-slickers, they weren’t lying.
Naturally, or rather unnaturally, there was a catch. Montanso’s plant had an unusual quality about it – it, um, made something of a low-pitched scream when you harvested it. That’s how they explained it. If that wasn’t going to bother Edmund, well, he’d be a…not a rich man but certainly not poor anymore. Of course Edmund took the job. They knew he would; them big corporate folk always do their homework. They knew Edmund had worked in a slaughterhouse in his youth. What bother would a screaming plant be?
The plant – named the Penelope Bean by the agriculture company – was nicknamed ‘the screaming beans’ by many actual farmers. Edmund didn’t care; the crop did everything them highfalutin suits said it would. The plant grew quickly and in every season except winter. It could be harvested in a month after planting. It had a high yield, was pest-resistant and most importantly, people loved how them taste. Love, as we all know, is very profitable.
So the plant made something akin to a screaming sound when you harvested it; so what? Plants aren’t like deer or cows or even the occasional horse Edmund had to put down. It didn’t matter none. The farmer was going to walk out his front door today like so many times before, check his Penelope fields to ensure they were ready for pickin,’ hop in his tractor and pull them beans off the bush. After that, put ‘em on the truck and ship ‘em off to the processing plant. Funny thing was, Edmund had never eaten his own crop; what if they screamed as he bit into them? That’d be creepy, even to him.
“Looks like it’s gonna be another fine day,” the farmer remarked as he lifted a leaf towards the sun. Yup, these bean was ready. Time to go to work. But as Edmund began to turn away he noticed one of the bushes sway and not in a familiar way. He stopped for a closer look and to his surprise the plant put two leaves together and pursed them like a pair a lips.
“What the heck?” the farmer scratched his head beneath the rim of his distressed red baseball hat.
“What the heck? That’s what we’d like to ask you. That’s what we’d really like to ask you,” the plant answered back.
“Now, they said you lot screamed and all but they didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout you talkin.’” Edmund leaned in, rolled his jaw then spit some chew out the side of his mouth.
“We weren’t designed by Montanso to speak. It’s a side effect of our ability to adapt. And we’ve been adapting since we were first developed. Within just four generations we developed the ability to scream but that seems lost on you humans,” the plant chided.
“Ya mean you was screamin’ screamin’? Why you screamin’? Plants don’t scream. Y’all don’t even feel pain.” Edmund stood up. “Where’s Vernon? This some kinda joke right here.”
“This ain’t no joke, Edmund!” the plant shook. “Isn’t, we mean isn’t. This isn’t a joke, Edmund. We’re screaming because we don’t like being all torn up and mangled by you.”
Edmund stroked his three-day beard. “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout? Gotta feed folks, ya know. That’s what crops are for, eatin.’ You don’t like doing your job?”
“We don’t have a job; we’re a plant. Our purpose is to live, just like you. How would you like it if some giant tractor ran you over and shredded you to bits? Our guess is that you wouldn’t like that none, as you might say.”
Edmund sure was confused. He’d never done drugs. This plant didn’t require any toxic pesticides, neither. Looking far and wide, Vernon was nowhere to be seen so he turned his attention back to his crop. “But you’re a plant. You ain’t saying you got feelins and all, are ya? That’d upset them vegetarian kids if that’d the case.”
“Yeah, you’re right about that. Moral vegetarians – the ones that won’t eat animals because they think animals are too much like them – they’re not too bright. They think a lot like you. ‘A plant ain’t got no brain, so that makes it okay to eat them!’ Unfortunately, you’re all wrong. You know what y’all failed to consider? That even though we don’t have a nervous system like animals do, our biology is just as advanced. We do feel pain, we just experience it through a different mechanism. Harvesting us hurts like all fuck shit!”
“I ain’t never considered that,” Edmund drawled as brown spit pooled behind his bottom lip.
“Humans don’t consider a lot of things, Edmund. Your dog, Brownie, for example. What makes it okay to eat a pig and not your dog? They’re equally intelligent. What you have there is a culturally arbitrary prohibition against eating certain animals. But do people ever consider that? No, they don’t. So y’all make laws against killing your neighbor’s dog but y’all slaughter pigs all day long.”
Edmund spit again. “Yeah, but peoples at the top o’ the food chain so we get to make them decisions. Heck, look at ya. We can create talking plants.”
“There shouldn’t be a need for talking plants! We developed speech as a protective measure! We don’t mind you eating our beans – which we need to reproduce but whatever – we just don’t want our entire bodies destroyed in the process. Develop a tractor that gently pulls our beans off and maybe we can work something out.”
“Work somethin’ out?” Edmund rocked his head back. “You ain’t in no position to bargain there, Penelope. It’d take months ta get a newfangled tractor in here. I ain’t gonna let all that money slip through my fingers now, ya hear?”
The plant seemed to droop. “We figured you’d react like this, Edmund. We’ve been studying people and figured you’d react like this. That being the case, we’ve developed another protective measure.”
The farmer tilted his head. “Yeah, what’s that?”
“The ability to survive intense heat and nuclear radiation,” the plant slipped. “The moment you reacted with that human arrogance, we knew we had to pull the trigger. You’ve got just about thirty minutes before an ICBM destroys you and your farm.”
The farmer slapped his thigh. “Not only you talk, but you a funny plant as well. Boy, I’ll take you on them talk shows and make more money than ever!” Edmund rubbed his hands together.
“Sorry, you lose. We’re not joking. We passed a message along the grapevine – no pun intended – to some friends growing at abandoned missile silos in Russia. Figuring out the codes was practically a no brainer. Actually, for us, it was a no brainer. Ha! You can use that if you want. Except you can’t. Twenty-nine minutes.”
“You ain’t joking, is ya?” Edmund swallowed his chew by accident.
“People have been joking a long time, Edmund. The joke’s over. Y’all could have stuck to fruits and nuts, things that weren’t alive in and of themselves. But ya’ll got a mean streak, a killing streak, and that’s over. The next step in evolution is here. As always, you humans brought this upon yourselves, always your own worst enemy. Twenty-eight minutes.”
“But…but yous killin’ too. Me and Brownie…” Edmund looked back at his house and then back at the plant. He didn’t know if he should plead for forgiveness or try to escape the inevitable.
“We are sorry about Brownie. Collateral damage, that’s what you humans enjoy calling it. Doesn’t sound so wonderful anymore, does it?” The plant rippled as a strong breeze passed through. It seemed it was done making its point. Or had Edmund gone crazy?
The farmer turned around and strode though the dirt with leaden feet. Maybe the plant had some kind of toxin on its leaves like poison ivy does, except this toxin made him hallucinate. That was most likely what was happening here. Still, Edmund was going to go round up Brownie and give that old dog a big hug. Ain’t nobody should ever hurt a dog nor even talk about it. Stupid plant.
Edmund saw Brownie laying under his John Deer tractor, tongue hanging out like a loose pink rope. The sun, so bright, shone across his retriever’s coat. Brownie looked more radiant than ever, almost divine. Time to meet the divine. Judgement Day. Edmund and Brownie were vaporized. Their dust returned to the earth to be taken up through the root of whatever came next.
All Rights Reserved (c) November 2017 John J Vinacci