Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write in the SCIENCE FICTION genre (05/10/07)
TITLE: Fertile Soil
By Betty Castleberry
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She shaded her eyes from the morning sun and bent down to get a closer look. The plant was different this morning. Overnight, several fat, round pods had developed along the pale green branches. She touched one. It had a hairy outer coating similar to a coconut, but it was smaller and softer. Curiosity inched through her until it had consumed her entire body. She was unsure whether to pick one of the pods, or leave them alone. She weighed her options, and decided to leave them for at least one more day. Instead, she plucked a weed near the plant.
Marianne rinsed her hands off at the hose and was about to go inside when she heard a voice. “Are you Marianne Lawrence?”
She looked up and saw a thin young man standing just inside her garden gate. “Yes. May I help you?”
He flipped open a badge, then quickly flipped it shut again. “Government Agent Mark McGregor. I’d like to speak with you.”
Marianne felt nervous, although she knew she had no reason to be. “Is something wrong?”
“If we could just speak for a moment?”
She motioned to the Adirondack chairs flanking her flower beds. “Of course. Have a seat.”
“Thank you. Mrs. Lawrence, you ordered some seeds from the Happy Spring Seed Company this year, did you not?”
“Why yes. I always order from them.” She beamed. “You know, they seem like the nicest folks. I always have the best luck with their seeds. I guess you noticed my gorgeous flowers, and you know, they always give me a free package of seeds. I even…”
The agent held up his hand. “Yes, Ma’am. I’m sure they’re wonderful folks. This free package of seeds you got from them this year, did you plant them?”
“Yes, but it’s the strangest thing; the package wasn’t marked. I’ve gardened for forty years, and I’ve never seen anything like the plant growing from those seeds. Out of that whole package of seeds, only one plant came up, too.”
“May I see it?”
Marianne pointed out the plant. “Of course. It’s right there.”
Agent McGregor walked over and peered intently at the plant. “Mrs. Lawrence, I’m afraid I’m going to have to confiscate this.”
“Whatever for?” She chewed her lip. “Oh no, it isn’t some kind of drug is it? Oh dear…”
“No, not at all. It’s an experimental hybrid. We are working with the botanists at Happy Spring Seed Company. These seeds weren’t supposed to get out to the public. Evidently some careless person sent some to you by mistake. I’m sorry, but I will have to dig up your plant.”
Marianne looked pained. “Well, I suppose if you have to.”
Agent McGregor went to his truck and returned with a shovel and a plastic bag. In just a few minutes, he had the plant removed from the soil. He placed it carefully in the bag. “I’ll be in touch, just in case another plant comes up. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Marianne shrugged. “You’re welcome.”
“Good day, Ma’am.”
The agent left and Marianne stood beside the freshly dug soil, wondering what had just happened. She sighed and ran a hand across the soft earth where the plant once stood. She felt a large lump just under the soil. When she brushed away the dirt, she discovered one of the hairy green pods had fallen off and gotten partially buried.
She spoke aloud. “Let’s have a closer look at this.”
The pod had a seam right through the middle. Carefully, she ran her nail all the way around the seam, and it popped open. A watery substance oozed out. She held it upside down and allowed all of the fluid to drain away. Left inside the pod was a tightly rolled papery object. She removed it and slowly unrolled it across her palm.
A grin spread across her face. “Well I’ll be. What will they think of next?”
She began humming, and went inside, holding a brand new, damp, twenty dollar bill.
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