Most pictures are worth about a thousand words. This one seems to be worth at least two. “How do you know this?” you ask. Well, because I just wrote another thousand and change because of it. Thanks again to Chuck Wendig for hosting these little teasers. Now that you’ve completed draft on your next novel let us see what you can do short form.
“As you can see the integrated rover housing can be adapted to a great variety of applications. Spacing of trees in your orchard isn’t ever a problem. We’ve sold these units to citrus farmers in the Republic of Cali and to apple growers along the Yakima. Additionally, the individual pollinators can also be changed out in whole racks. Not only does this make cross pollination possible, but it means you can mix your root stock and still get the job done before the sun sets,” said the stick-thin figure from the back of the hydrogen splitter.
The rig was shiny and it looked foreign. It purred like a barn cat with a mouse as it soaked in the sunshine converting water to fuel in its cells. I think everyone was eyeing the petro-plastic covering the six wheel wells on the skinny man’s truck, there had to be enough there we could melt it down and fashion a shed or a house or something. It was black too, which meant there was some sorta dye embedded in it. That’s the kind of stuff you want to use for a water heater or even irrigation. Everyone knew that. Everyone imagined tearing it off the side of the transport.
A hand rose from the middle of the crowd of men and boys that had packed into the alley near the General store, it was Martin Kenny’s. The skinny man noticed Martin and said, “Yes sir, are you interested in buying a Rainier Robotics Automated Pollination Platform?”
“No sir,” Martin replied, “I’m still trying to figure out what you’re selling, to be honest. You talk fast and use a lot of fancy words don’t none of us understand. But what I really want’ta know, would you be interested in selling me the plastic on your rig?”
The skinny man looked surprised and it appeared as if he’d lost his place in the script as he looked out into the gathered crowd of orchard men. With the question out there all we could do was speculate. It’s possible, where ever he hailed from, the petro-plastic along the side of that truck wasn’t such a scarcity. All we had was the kind made from potatoes and sump juice and it crumbled in the sunshine and melted in the soil. Using it to water an orchard is nothing but a waste of time because by the time you finish one end of an installation you’re likely ready to replace the end where you began. All of us work orchard lands above the river, and irrigation pipes is the only way to get water up from the river, so that’s just what we do. Last harvest my cherries fetched only enough in potato exchange for me to replace pipe in the upper orchard. This spring I’ve been doing nothing much more than patching and glueing getting ready for the dry spell.
Martin Kelly is renowned along the upper Wenatchee because the piss-plastic he cooks up behind his swine stables stands up better than most. Forgive my crudeness it’s just what we call it. So when he starts asking this stickman to buy the petro off the side of his rig everyone standing there starts to worry. The little fella standing on the tail gate of his rig, he just pushes on down the track like Kelly’s question weren’t no obstacle.
Something changes in the man’s demeanor like he’s suddenly remembered something important. He pulls a raggedy straw hat from behind a couple of large boxes and plops it on his head. Then he looks down at his shiny shoes for a moment and mumbles something none of us can understand.
“My apologies old son. I can’t help you much with your plastic problems. I’m here to solve your pollination problems,” the skinny man says direct to Kelly.
“And I have it on good authority,” he then proclaims like a Sunday preacher, “that all y’all have been doing your own blossom pollination for time out’ta mind.”
Now I can hear the difference I just saw in the skinny man, he’s a mimic and I suddenly don’t trust him. It’s like he went home and put on a nice clean shirt and new pants, even though he’s wearing the same damn clothes. He sounds something like the people along the Wenatchee. Everyone standing there notices the difference too, like night and day.
Toby Williams, the kid brother of Vance who owns the land along the Chumstick, pipes up without waiting to be called. “So your saying that lil box-thing does the work of spring time probing?” The kid has been ruffling feather ever since his big brother come down ill with the pox, but I say he stepped up and took on that patch of cherries. No one around Peshastin has near that many trees, I say let the kid be he’s proved his worth and knows his roots.
The skinny man beams a grin at Toby that for some reason seems to calm the clucking men. If there’s an inch of extra skin on this fellow it’s below his clean shaven chin, and it bunches up there as if to underline the smile. “Son, that’s exactly what I’m sayin’. This here machine does all the work bees and butterflies used to do.”
The sound of jaws hitting the crumble-stone beneath our feet is audible. Toby, young man that he is, responds skeptically. “Skinny man, what’s a bee?”
“Like this here petro-plastic bees just ain’t no more.” The skinny man turns away from the crowd for a moment, pokes at the machine. Out pops a long rack of intricate, little clockworks on a long arm. It looks something like a wall of tiny winter coats, each one the same and hung next to it’s neighbor. I estimate there has to be a thousand of them.
From the wall the skinny man bends over and picks a single device. He cups it in his hands and turns to the crowd. “Some ah y’all are probably just old enough to remember what a bee was,” he proclaims loud enough for all to hear. “Something like an apple moth, but it don’t eat fruit. In fact, before the time of probes and picks, these lil buggers made fruit. They’d just buzz around your orchard and do the probe work for you.”
It’s a distant, hazy memory, but I can still recall bees. Well, a bee. I find myself looking inside, sorting through years of rubbish, for that image of a kettle-bellied yellow and black body struggling at my feet. My Father had said it was a bumble-bee. That it was dying for some reason that I can’t recall. And that it wasn’t the only one I’d see die like that, but I can’t recall any others. The old men in the crowd, they’re all remembering too.
“Son, these insects, they’re all gone now, but they made orchard work easy,” said the skinny man. He opens up his cupped hands and the little clockwork begins to buzz. It hovers for a blink of my eye and then darts off into the blue.