by Jason Walter
“It really works!” Papa howled gracefully.
In just thirty seconds his appetite amplified after dropping a dose of ‘Speed Feast’ in his coffee. His wife and son sat harnessed to the kitchen table, watching the almost sixty year old man unfold into a young buck. A bowl of Corn Flakes lured Papa like grated gold – he rushed them four times the usual speed. A drop of milk forged a path down the side of his mouth.
“Man, I can really concentrate!” Papa exclaimed.
Jacob smiled like a payday dawn. His lanky torso swayed back and forth, causing his oak chair to creak. The drug’s effect on his father had availed beyond test rats, a cadence for Jacob to plug ‘Speed Feast’ at The Franklin County fair the upcoming week.
“People will see the rats chow down, and I’ll say my Daddy tried it too… he eats just as fast!” Jacob exclaimed, radiant in red hair and freckles
Florence, his mother, couldn’t bare the talk about rats and the drug much longer – had pushed her fragile smile too far. The tightening of her cheek muscles squeezed the revelry dead.
“This drug will keep my boy away from God.” she busted.
Jacob and Papa stared frozen into her eyes, like headlights of an oncoming semi-truck. Her light brown hair was tied coldly in a bun. She arose from her chair and the polyester in her red dress barely budged. Florence crossed her arms, and uttered that
Jacob’s chemistry aspiration had dimmed his regular church visits – the rural community was losing an innocent child.
Papa had heard this talk from her many times before. He looked down towards the chest pocket of his overalls. Florence obliviously continued her sermon, arousing case of their neighbors, the Dean family. Their son, Kenneth, was memorizing bible quotes by age twelve – Florence’s sure-fire passage to an adult-hood filled with faith.
“Mom, I’ve been reading the bible on my night table.” Jacob petitioned.
She turned her cobalt eyes onto the kitchen sink.
“I have the dishes to do!” she said, incredulously.
Two years before — the whispering fall had just crossed the calendar. The Students of Franklin High settled into their schedules, having the newness of faces out-mannered by harvesting and schoolwork. Life rolled along in waterwheel fashion. The refreshment began to flow for a just sixteen Jacob, though.
A chemistry elective Jacob had taken lit his attention. From the start he’d relentlessly pursued the class, treating his textbook like an Indy car steering wheel. He indulged in it, grasping each phrase and formula in the clearest of sense. And its soon-worn pages uplifted him to find fresh knowledge.
Missing his bus after school, Jacob took to the Franklin library, habitually absorbing the chemistry section. He memorized the elements of the periodic table and their reactions with one and another. He learned history, like when Antoine Jerome Balard discovered bromine in 1862. Jacob grew so fast, that he soon found studying as banal as hitchhiking home in the early evening.
“How about a laundry detergent that’s edible? Wash your clothes, then sprinkle it on your salad!” Jacob prompted his dad, during dinner on their hundred-acre farm.
Papa laughed – his son was aspiring beyond their usual kitchen banter, like chicken feed and potash prices. But Papa brought the conversation back to earth. In reality, his banter represented their family lifeline and he had farm work for Jacob. The boy was assigned his share of customary duties, such as painting the barn or changing the tractor oil. And Jacob obliged, as always. But his scientific ambitions persisted, and he continued plugging his original ideas meal after meal, overwhelming his parents with a symphony of words conducted by his waving hands. The boy’s vibrancy eventually moved Papa – he gave in and bought his son subscriptions to innovative magazines like Reaction in Glass and Chemist’s Time. Jacob analyzed the articles on elementary experiments and altered their insides, creating the blueprints for his own experiments.
In the late winter of the aspiring scientist’s seventeenth year, Jacob built a mini-laboratory in the family barn. His called his testing area the “Launch pad”. It was an old pine table; the surface tattered countless by slipped-tool gouges. A rusty camping stove became the Bunsen burner. An old birdcage was the testing enclosure. And for the experiments themselves, Papa was talked into ordering lab beakers and chemical compounds from the science magazines. He called them Jacob’s early birthday presents, even though the date was half a year away.
Papa became interested in the hubbub, making time to assist his son’s lab work. He caught barn rats and sorted them by sex and size, dropping them into wooden crates marked for each rodent type. The crates were placed under the launch pad, and Jacob could conveniently grab a critter as needed. Papa would sit on a hay bail, watching the boy create his magic. One time a rat stood on its hind feet and whistled after receiving a dose of Jacob’s hybrid potassium mixture. The circus had come to town.
The need for supplies protruded as Jacob tested more and more. To cover costs, Papa got his boy work at the local cattle auction. It was owned by an old friend named Harold, who always needed extra helpers. Jacob managed to punch in twenty hours week in the corrals, shoveling dung and spreading straw.
Adding in schoolwork, Jacob had to balance his time like an unicyclist on a teeter-totter. And he was natural at it, finding the exact study time needed to keep an “A” average.
Saturday nights were a sanctuary of concentration in the barn lab- Jacob’s real work – he pushed the experiments harder, finely adjusting the amount of chemicals until the result he wanted became real. The launch pad was covered with lined papers, each one filled with formulas rewritten over and over. The hour he’d work to drove into the next morning. As the first rays of sunrise penetrated the night, he’d totter to his room, barely able find his bed. Not that it mattered — Jacob was an achiever and he proudly knew it, even derived of rest. The work he’d completed was also attracting new attention, and the inevitable finally happened.
After a few groggy sittings on a hard wooden bench at Sunday Services, Jacob began sleeping too sound on the day of rest. Even his mother’s arm pinches and hair tugs he firmly ignored, during her bedside beckoning for church. Florence became worried that Jacob wouldn’t reach adulthood properly, especially since Father McDougal had noticed the boy’s absence. The pacifistic priest did insist she abstained from scolding her boy and to prey his morality could recover him instead. Papa didn’t say hoot about the whole thing. The beginning of the farming season was enough to keep him busy.
One Sunday morning, Florence decided to prepare her son’s breakfast, oblivious he was still in bed. She’d forgotten about his Saturday night, the rats and powders, the beakers and equations. She brought Jacob’s ham and eggs to the table and sat down, watching them cool in front his vacant seat. She looked up at Papa, just as he’d put his fork in his mouth.
“I asked Father McDougal about faith. And he said that having faith in anything starts with fundamental faith in the lord. So Jacob can save the science for after church!” she spurted loudly, sending the comment into Jacob’s room.
Florence was usually no louder than the wipe of her glasses to complete a knitting project. Papa had to respond, being the only one at the table. He looked out the kitchen window at a flock of starlings circling in the sky.
“I believe Jacob’s got a future in science. And he should make the effort while he’s young. One day he’ll meet a woman, and she’ll get him regular about church. It’s just a phase, dear… really”
A few days later, Florence saw light in Papa’s opinion. She was alone in the kitchen, a loaf of bread in the oven, crossword puzzle in hand. After discovering the word ‘grandchildren’ she pondered her own faith. Had she raised her boy well enough so that he could raise his own children? She had to trust herself. The time was for Jacob’s maturation — he would inevitably become a man. She did fix a bible on his night table, making him promise to read it regularly. She wouldn’t have much to boast about to The Dean family, she let Papa know.
“I understand,” he said, modestly smiling at his wife.
In Jacob’s seventeenth spring, his hard work was lifting him beyond the barren vastness of the muddy fields that could corner the heart of small town boy. His experiments, more and more controlled, were getting the kind of results a professional laboratory could expect. And Jacob had the worn jean overalls to prove it — they were blotched like modern art. A lab coat would be ideal for his immense efforts. But did the rural town of Franklin have one readily available?
Jacob called McCain’s Meat, asking about a butcher jacket. No dice for the boy, their coats were red – authentic white was necessary. Jacob pushed onward, phoning Rick’s clothing store, then Roy’s army surplus shop. He finally got the lead he needed from Roy — try the science department at Franklin College.
The Friday afternoon had already purged into dusk by the time Jacob called the college. The secretary answered, pressed by the lateness of her workday. She deeply sighed when Jacob asked to speak with the chemistry professor. She’d just collected her pens in a jar, and was hurried for home. The line was hastily transferred, and in few rings a relaxed voice answered.
“Hello… Mr. Roberts at your service.”
Jacob politely introduced himself and asked if lab coats were available.
“This is not a mail order service, my boy.” The professor chuckled.
He continued by explaining the jackets were ordered at the beginning of each semester for students enrolled in his classes. Jacob only heard the latter words — enrolled in his classes. The aspiring scientist told Mr. Roberts of his home laboratory and an experimental drug he’d decided to call ‘Speed Feast’. The teacher gripped the phone tight – he’d never heard of such ambition in someone so young. He perked up and invited Jacob for a tour of the college facility. The boy instantly accepted, nodding like an apple eating horse. The following Tuesday afternoon a date was set.
“Calcium fluoride has more value than just steel production.” Jacob asserted, as he looked at the table of elements in Mr. Roberts’ classroom.
The clock struck six, turning the meeting toward evening rest. After an hour of Jacob’s perspective, the teacher mellowed at his desk, his arms folded around his beaker shaped chest. His gray hair had more directions than a road map of Franklin.
“You’re definitely making the most of your time.” The professor concluded.
He casually stood up, removing his lab coat to reveal a blue dress shirt, wrinkled and dowdy under his plaid tie. The teacher tranquilly smiled and invited Jacob to the college lab for regular visits – every Tuesday afternoon to update the ‘Speed Feast’ experiment. Resisting the urge to raise an arm and shout hallelujah, Jacob voiced a simple thank you. At last the infinite land of wheat was only scenery for the aspiring scientist, or at least it appeared to be.
One Sunday dawn, after a night of refining Speed feast, Jacob pensively rested in the lab. The first time he’d ridden a bike came to mind. Even though Jacob had whined, Papa insisted on removing the training wheels. A gliding sensation had overcome the boy’s fierce peddling on the gravel driveway. Back to reality. Jacob looked at his watch and grinned – eleven hours since dinnertime – the longest he’d ever done lab work.
Jacob plucked a rat from a wooden crate, and gently stroked it on the head. He pinched the rodent’s mouth open and entered a tiny spoon of ‘Speed Feast’. Along with a corncob, he placed the rodent inside the old birdcage. The rat squeaked and sniffed the cob as the cage door closed. Jacob crossed his arms, oblivious to the wilting strands of red hair brushing his eyebrows. The rat began to breathe hastily. Jacob grabbed a pen and notebook from the table. Creak and thud! The barn door blew wide open – Jacob’s backbone snapped straight. He spun around and peered through the naked doorway. A distant duck pen silently absorbed the expanse. He decided to check for someone outside.
“Papa… is that you?” he called mildly, standing outside the barn.
No reply was heard.
Jacob stood quiet, and lulled in the early morning sunrise. But the sound of wind blowing somewhere in the distance caught his ear. He searched for some long grass wavering or a lone tree swaying.
Hovering behind the Dean family house, he spotted a translucent cloud of green dust growing in circular motion, like a funnel cloud. It gathered pace and traveled briskly across the neighbors’ field, seemingly self-propelled – nothing close to it was effected by wind. Persisting for a few hundred feet, it suddenly dissipated into oblivion.
Jacob stared at the empty space where the cloud had disappeared. He’d never seen anything like it. Drat! He’d just given a rodent ‘Speed Feast’. Jacob hurried through the barn entrance, quickly locking the door behind him.
He approached the birdcage in the laboratory, noticing the corncob still in intact. The drug was supposed to have effected the rat already. Jacob opened the cage and nudged the cob to attract the rat. The rodent stayed in a corner of the cage, breathing hastily.
Jacob stood by the table, arms crossed, staring at the rodent. Could it be the corncob? Like all cobs he used, it was in the deep freeze from the fall before. And Jacob had already experimented with the rat several times.
He faced the likely — the ingredients of ‘Speed Feast’. In the plastic bottle of aluminum phosphate, the powder was not brown, unexpectedly. It had a greenish tint, at least seemingly that tired morning. Mr. Roberts had given him the powder the previous Tuesday and it was fine then, as when he mixed it for testing just hours ago. Jacob remembered the green dust cloud, and reasoned that sleep was the antidote for him. He scanned his still surroundings. The lab glasses were together on their shelf. The camping stove was safely detached from its fuel source. Everything was in place, except for the rat, shivering in the birdcage, uninterested in the corn. Sleep, thought Jacob, sleep.
Sunday was very casual. By the time Jacob arose, his parents had already returned from church. Papa was in the field for a walk. He would be seeding in the next week and the soil needed a check. Florence was cooking a Sunday meal, which comprised of ham hocks, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.
“The Herbert’s were at church today.” she declared, as Jacob sauntered into the kitchen.
“They should but like the rest of our neighbors and come every week, but they still manage to make it once in a while.”
Jacob gave his mother a modest smile. She still had a little spunk in her.
“I hope they’ve got a bible on their night stand too. The ham hocks smell nice, mom.”
He sat down at the table, and skimmed through the Franklin Weekend Journal. Things like property taxes and pork bellies were abound in their usualness. Only an odd article on page four geared him word by word.
A farmer had found a large pumpkin in his field. He called the Franklin sheriff’s department and requested someone investigate. It wasn’t normal — especially since the closest pumpkin patch was a mile away. And the only time anyone had seen a pumpkin in Franklin County was during October.
The sheriff really couldn’t say why the pumpkin was where it was. He thought it might be imported from somewhere in Latin America. They had the kind of weather to grow pumpkins year round. He decided not to bring it to the station as evidence. It was perishable, and besides, no crime had been committed.
Jacob tossed the paper on the table. A peculiar air stirred the same uncertainty as the shivering rat. The article seemed purposely timed, yet impossibly so. He decided to run the rat scenario by Mr. Roberts first thing Monday morning. Florence landed a heaping meal in front of the boy.
“Eat… You have bible study and homework to complete.”
Monday’s dawn narrowed the darkness. Clasping his pillow tensely, Jacob broke into consciousness. The rodent and green cloud danced insolently in his mind. Mr. Roberts seemed light years away. Nowhere to run — Papa and Florence — they wouldn’t understand. Jacob slipped on some beaten overalls and paced to the kitchen. His mother, frying pan in hand, said good morning. He stretched off a quick smile, and continued outside.
He gawked at the barn, its aloneness protruding the yard. The ducks began to quack, appealing that morning was their feeding time. Jacob tramped to the pen and grabbed a handful of grain pellets from a sack beside it. He scattered the pellets inside the coop and watched the relentless indulgence. The aroma of pancakes lingered into the yard. Jacob hesitantly looked at the barn again. The lab, he thought, then breakfast.
The rat’s bizarreness struck Jacob at first sight. Motionless in the corner of the birdcage, the rodent was in a trance, breathing slowly and eyes frozen. The corncob rested untouched. Mr. Roberts seemed so far away.
Jacob returned to the house, his mind beset with the rodent’s eyes. He entered the kitchen door, and checked the oven clock. It was only seven. He nervously joined his folks for breakfast, serving himself some flapjacks, tight lipped. The phone rang. Papa slowly swiveled his waist towards the kitchen counter, and picked up the receiver.
“Hello? Jacob, it’s for you… awful early, don’t you think?”
Jacob sprang up, seizing the receiver from Papa’s hand.
“Good morning… what’s going on?” he irked.
“Yeah it’s me, Harold… can you work today?”
Jacob was taken aback. His boss at the cattle auction was making a rare request.
“Sure… I mean… I have school… but why?”
“I got here about quarter to six, and I found five cattle laying dead in a holding pen. I don’t know, Jacob… but the sheriff’s on his way.”
Jacob dropped the receiver and told Papa the news. The farmer scratched his head.
“Well… uh… how can you help?”
Jacob asked to borrow the Chevy truck. Papa agreed, provided Jacob made it to school on time. The boy picked up the phone again.
“I’ll be there soon.” He said, and hung up, grabbing the truck keys in a small wicker bowl on the counter.
Jacob rushed through the kitchen door, barely saying goodbye to his parents. Under the blankness of slow moving clouds, he hastily cut through the heavy air, pushing towards the truck. A sudden tap on his left shoulder – he quickly turned around and stood face to face with… silence. The house stood alone, forty odd feet behind him. Papa’s voice carried through the screen door. A few words about duck pellets to Florence.
‘The tap can’t be anything’, Jacob thought, ‘just seems so’.
He continued to the truck, hopping inside and starting the engine.
On the way to the cattle auction, Jacob turned on the radio. He dialed to the local station, which was playing square dance music. He drove a long mile before the song ended, followed by the weather report.
“A few dust storms have cropped up around Franklin. They usually happen during the fall, but it’s nothing to write home about”
The report continued with the usual spring forecast, expecting temperatures to grow moderately though out the week. Jacob peered through his side window. A red tractor, muddy, plowed dirt in a passing field.
Mr. Roberts had just arrived in his classroom, coffee in hand. It was seven-thirty am, and he was smirking like a balloon curve. On Saturday, the stars finally aligned for him. He’d booked the travel arrangements for a summer vacation in Moscow. Russian history, he thought, including the Red Square.
At his desk, Mr. Roberts sifted through a stack of administration notes, a Monday morning ritual refreshing him of the chemistry department affairs from the previous week. A paper grabbed his attention. It was a release form for some aluminum phosphate Jacob had acquired. Mr. Roberts checked the date on the paper — April 26, the Tuesday before. Yet he couldn’t remember the jar missing from his weekly inventory count on Friday. Jacob should have it. He sipped his coffee, and decided to investigate.
In the chemistry storeroom, he found the aluminum phosphate jar in place. A memory surged into his mind — last Tuesday Jacob did take the aluminum phosphate jar, the only one in the storeroom! And unless he had sneaked in to put it back, what reason did it have to be in Mr. Robert’s possession at the moment? He checked inside the jar, discovering a light green substance that had a sand-like texture, another color than what he’d expected to see.
Jacob drove into the cattle auction parking lot, freshly paved the week before. A slow moving dust, tinged green, covered the area. He parked and jumped out of the pick up, whiffing for an identifying scent of the dust. Nothing! The dust seemed to evade his eyes, like something was pushing it away from him as he walked towards the red barn. Sheriff Louis’s cruiser sat outside the barn. The radio was turned on, the dispatcher’s voice relaying the usual police information to officers.
Jacob pushed open the large glass entrance door leading into the snack room. Sheriff Louis, in big-boots and cowboy hat, leaned against a vending machine. Immersed in conversation with Harold, his arms were crossed. The gray mood didn’t allow for welcoming formalities, as the pair only gestured Jacob’s arrival by eye contact.
“Sheriff, I don’t know why they’d just fall sick and drop dead overnight. ” Harold said.
“Well, do they have any physical marks on them?”
“No, In fact it’s like oxygen is still running through their blood stream. They’re in perfect condition, except that they’re… well… dead.”
“Let’s have a look, then” the sheriff prodded.
Harold went to the doorway of the auctioneer’s hall, motioning the Sheriff and the boy to follow him. They entered the large area, vacant and humid, its plywood walls and wooden riser benches moistened with bull sweat. The stillness perturbed Jacob, as he was used the weekend action of local farmers hollering bids from the packed stands. They passed through the area quickly to a large entranceway that opened to the holding corrals outside.
“Where did you say these dead cattle were?” The sheriff asked, overlooking the labyrinth of livestock in wooden fences.
“Pen A — Yeah, right there.” Harold astonished, pointing to the center of the pen.
The six cattle were vigorously alive and sharing a corner, head over back and tail in face.
“You don’t drink much, do you anymore Harold?”, the sheriff condescended.
“I know what I saw, I swear I do”
Jacob rested quiet and pensive. He wasn’t the only one seeing strange events. Sheriff Louis continued to pursue the subject of Harold’s credibility.
“When did you see the cattle on the ground anyway?” he nosed.
“It was five am this morning. I came by for the regular feeding, and I saw them on the ground. The first thing I did was check for pulses. Well, I didn’t find any”
Jacob furthered, “So what do you think it was caused by?”
Harold’s cheeks turned red, “I said it already… I didn’t know what to think then and I don’t know what to think now. I only know what I saw!”
“When you see something that I can see too… give me a call”, the sheriff snickered, patting Harold on the back.
The sheriff trotted off and disappeared around a corner of the red barn. Jacob sighed with relief. He’d only read about the sheriff in the paper, and meeting him in person was a big deal. Harold’s story was still believable to the boy, though.
“If you said twenty cattle where strung up on the side of the barn, I’d buy it. ” Jacob confided.
“Go on… your just saying that cause I’m your boss”
“Come on Harold… this isn’t the army”
Jacob told him about the mysteriously quivering rat, and that the dead cattle story aroused the same bizarre feeling.
“Would the rat be in the same condition, if you called the sheriff?” Harold laughed..
A strange wind blew on them from the field beyond the corral area. Jacob looked onto the vast land, and spotted a translucent green dust, similar to the one he’d already witnessed, yet laggard. They both stood still, and gaped into each other’s eyes. Harold frowned slightly.
“This is happening to both of us, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know, Harold… I have to get back home, so I can get ready for school”, Jacob responded.
Harold led Jacob with gloomy steps around the red barn. Only the sound of boots quashing the soft ground kept their ears afloat with sound. As they reached the truck, Harold meagerly shook Jacob’s hand and thanked him for coming. Jacob got in the truck and drove off.
In the storeroom, Mr. Roberts gripped the aluminum phosphate jar and stared at the sand like powder inside it. He placed the jar back on its shelf, and continued to search the shelves for anything conspicuous. No colors, smell or composure came unexpected in any other jars. He snatched up the aluminum phosphate jar again and brought it to his desk for a closer look at the odd continents.
Mr. Roberts pinched his right earlobe, a nervous preoccupation he had. How could he make sense of the jar? It must be a prank, he thought in relief. The simple solution – probably some young kid that hadn’t gotten through grade school giddiness. Use the powder in an experiment, and it will smell like horse dung and cause heaps of smoke. Ha Ha! He pinched some of the power in between his finger and thumb, only feeling his own skin. His right earlobe began to twitch again.
Jacob hastily arrived home, skidding the truck wheels to a swift stop. Dust arose from the fresh crevasses on the dirt driveway as he hurried inside to the kitchen. His anxiousness to call Mr. Roberts was overwhelming. After all the oddness he had experienced, Jacob at least needed some aid getting a logical answer for the rat’s behavior. As he marched straight towards the phone on the kitchen counter, his mother bustled through the living room entrance.
“Jacob, you’re getting a little messy! I was just outside by the barn and I found this towel laying in the feeding trough.”
She excitedly pointed at the kitchen sink, the small towel lying inside, covered with a moss like substance. It was unlike her to bring such a vile looking object into the house. Jacob’s jaw dropped, never having seen his mother so brash before. It made her religious adamancy seem unassuming. The towel was Jacob’s fault before he even had his say.
“It’s not me… mom. Maybe a crow or a coyote left it there. I don’t know,” he said, doubtfully shrugging his shoulders.
Florence shook her head in disbelief, weighing down the room. She paced to the kitchen sink and picked up the swamp colored object.
“This towel is only supposed to be in my wedding chest. It was from the motel room your Dad and I had on our honey moon”
Jacob couldn’t rest on such a comment.
“I would never go into your bedroom, your wedding chest or whatever!”
The phone call Jacob was supposed to make to Mr. Roberts faded into irrelevance. The bizarreness of the new situation was hanging on him. He looked into his mother’s eyes, and saw a zealous glare he didn’t recognize. Florence made another capricious turn.
“That’s it! I’ve got to pick up some corn for dinner at the market.”
“It’s spring time, since when do they have corn in the spring?” pleaded Jacob.
“Hog wash… just hog wash” she said, swiftly marching past him.
She seized the screen door handle on the entrance and pulled forcefully, disappearing outside. Within a minute Jacob heard the truck door slam and the engine start with a roar. The sound of rocks sputtered against the house as she abruptly drove off. Jacob remembered he left the keys in the truck – something he never did. The phone rang.
“Uh… Hello?”, Jacob hesitated.
“Jacob, it’s Mr. Roberts”, the welcoming voice informed.
“I was just going to call you but… “, Jacob responded, stopping on a dime.
“Oh… I was just sorting something out with my mother.” he covered.
“Jacob, did you get a good look at the aluminum phosphate before you used it?” asked the teacher.
“That’s why I need to talk to you.”
Jacob breathed a sigh of relief. Like he’d fell from a bitter dream into the warm lap of reality. He explained his chemical experiment and how the rat had reacted. In turn, Mr. Roberts told Jacob of the green powder in the aluminum phosphate jar. The green dust storm spurred into Jacob’s mind. Then, the green powder he’d found in his own aluminum phosphate jar. A bizarre feeling struck him, keeping him from saying anything. Mr. Roberts wanted to see the rat as soon as possible, though.
“Now that your results are offhand we need to investigate.” he concluded.
He told Jacob to bring the rat and the remaining powder to the college at four o’clock, when all his classes were done. Jacob hesitantly agreed, and nervously thanked him for the call. The small clock on the kitchen counter had five past eight. The school bus had just passed by. He decided to check on the rat again.
In the lab, Jacob discovered the same situation as the dead cattle story. The expected had become the unexpected. The corncob was completely devoured, and the rat fast asleep from a full stomach. He looked inside the aluminum phosphate jar. The powder was light beige, the way it was supposed to be. What was Jacob supposed to bring to Mr. Roberts’s class? Needing to clear his head, he returned to the house for a glass of water.
Standing in front of the kitchen counter, he got a glass from one of the overhanging cupboards. He turned on the cold water tap in the sink. Then a realization — the small towel had vanished. He fixated on the soundless drain and his body froze, like a second missing from time.
A question snapped him out of the spell. Was this a joke? No, he answered to himself; it was far too elaborate for a simple laugh.
Jacob went to the kitchen window, and pushed away the drape. He checked for the Chevy truck. It was still gone. His mother was probably at the market buying corn, as she’d told him. He returned to the sink for the glass of water. Everything suddenly seemed… normal. A surge of comfort grew in his body and he quietly sat down at the kitchen table. Jacob stretched his arms and scratched his back. Monday morning was becoming lighter.
In the midst of the oncoming easiness, a thought contrasted on Jacob. He had just informed Mr. Roberts about the uncanny result of his experiment, yet everything was again… normal. It was now unnecessary to bring the rat and chemicals to the college at four p.m. And, the schedule seemed a little hectic for the freshly subdued Jacob. Getting a ride to school would be enough, and he would have to rush afterwards to see Mr. Roberts, then scurry home to help on the farm. Besides, he had the test results he wanted. Jacob heard footsteps coming towards him from the hallway.
“That’s it, boy”, the relaxed voice said.
Papa entered the kitchen in a laid-back fashion, like he was strolling in a park. He stretched and yawned, then joined Jacob at the kitchen table. Jacob took a deep breath.
“Mom’s gone to get corn for dinner. It’s springtime, has the market ever had corn in the spring?”
“I hope she picks up coffee too.”
Papa picked up the copy of Farmer’s magazine on the table, and casually surveyed the front page. Jacob’s lips began to shimmer, a remote thought about the towel incident crossed his mind. Not taking notice, Papa humbly flipped through the magazine for a minute. He stopped, and looked out the kitchen window.
“That ‘Speed Feast’ project you got, will work it on people?”
“Yeah, that’s why I keep testing and testing it.”
“Then you should get a booth at the county fair, display your experiment, and make the folks interested.”
Papa had a knack for sales. He had years of experience getting top dollar for his wheat crops. His buying points were quite simple. The irrigation water was fortified with extra nutrients, which created a stronger, healthier fiber. And special care was taken while compacting the hay bails, to ensure the storage quality.
The familiar sound of the Chevy truck rose Jacob from his chair and to the window. He watched Florence hop out of the truck with a content smile on her face. A paper grocery bag was in her arm. The phone rang. Jacob went to the kitchen counter and answered unassumingly.
“Hello… who is this?”
“Jacob… it’s Mr. Roberts… you know, in all my years I haven’t had such an odd time.”
“I went back to my class room. The green powder in the aluminum phosphate jar, it isn’t green anymore! I looked at the label, and it didn’t even have aluminum phosphate written on it. Must be the excitement about my Russian vacation.”
Jacob understood exactly how the science teacher felt.
“I don’t know either, Mr. Roberts. After I talked to you, I went back to the barn and experiment turned out normal. The rat finished off the corn.”
Just as Jacob completed his sentence, Florence entered the kitchen, hugging the grocery bag.
“How about I come visit you near the end of the week, Mr. Roberts… talk to you then.”
Florence placed the bag on the table and smiled in fulfillment. Jacob looked inside — fresh corncobs.
“I must have some luck on my side” she said.
“Yeah, where’d you get them. Mom?”
“I was driving on Harris Road and at the corner of Welsh Ave, there was this man with a truck load of fresh corn.”
“But it’s spring time mom, where did he get it? Latin America?
“I didn’t ask… it was so juicy”
She pulled out a cob from the bag, and plopped it into Jacob’s hand. It was the plumpest, most vibrantly yellow piece of corn he had ever seen. He gazed at it for a second, and then put it aside on the kitchen counter.
“Mom, I can’t see what’s going on here, but your towel… I don’t know what happened to it. But I didn’t do anything with it now, or even in the first place.”
“What are you talking about dear?” she questioned.
Jacob stared at her speechless.
“Well, what do you mean?” she pushed, causing another moment of silence.
All during Jacob and Florence’s conversation, Papa calmly read the pages of Farmer’s Magazine. As their words ended, Papa solemnly took hold of the air.
“Jacob’s having a busy day… he probably doesn’t remember the towel he’s talking about.”
Jacob gave Papa a curious but faithful glance, and then turned to his mom.
“Yeah, I mean that… I thought I put a towel in the laundry basket… but maybe I didn’t”
A dose of wind outside made the screen door rattle. Jacob looked out the kitchen window as some green dust blew by.
“Yup… it’s just another day… think I’m gonna drive to Fox creek and have a walk before school.”
“But school starts in half and hour! Someone has to give you a ride to get there on time!” she jumped.
“School starts a little later this morning” he replied.
Of course, Jacob just wanted to meet the corn salesman. Florence smiled again and put the bag of corn in the fridge. He got the keys from her, and casually strolled to the Chevy truck.
At the intersection of Harris Road and Welsh Ave, there was a station wagon parked on the side of the road. A lone man stood beside the vehicle, behind a table with a rectangular wooden box on it. The box had the word “corn” neatly printed on it in black felt ink. Jacob pulled over to the side and got out of the truck. He approached the man.
“Good morning, sir. That’s some nice corn you got.”, he said suspiciously.
“It’s the finest you’ll find in the country, son”
Jacob noticed the pair of black trousers and a brown bomber jacket the man sported. It was odd to be dressed such a way while having a corn stand on a county road. He was quite tall with a tanned complexion, and in his early forties. He seemed slick and relaxed, like an established lawyer at a golf course.
Jacob stopped in front of table, looking at the full box of corn. Having been through enough that morning, he didn’t quite know what to say. He had an arousing sensation like he was at the threshold of all events had happened. The man spoke again.
“It’s on special for you”
“Geez… .you’d figure the corn would be expensive now, being that it’s usually in season during harvest time”, Jacob investigated.
The man picked up a cob from the box, and grinned.
“Son, this corn… is the product of all the seasons… it is crisp like winter, moist like spring and ripe like fall.”
“So what about summer?”, Jacob prodded.
“Each kernel is smooth like a July sunrise.”
The man’s confidence was bewildering — like no one else could get corn so fine. Distant in the field beyond, another green dust cloud blew by. Jacob needed answers.
“Can you tell me about the green dust?”
The man’s grin broke into a smile.
“Ahhh… my boy… the dust visits only once in a lifetime. It makes the wind blow for it, and it leaves no identifiable path.”
“So, what does it do?”
“The real question is — what do you do for it?”, the man snickered coyly.
The conversation was only leading into an abyss. The science jockey inside Jacob sought a conclusion that was concrete like a test tube result. He stood in silence eye to eye with the man, waiting for him to say something important. The man – however real he was — however legit his corn table and vehicle were – had no logical answers for Jacob. It was like the green dust was only meant for Jacob to buy corn.
The quiet air broke as Jacob jimmied for another answer.
“So, my guess is, that if I leave now and come back here later… you’ll be gone, and I’ll never see you again.”
The man’s demeanor turned serious.
“That is an educated guess, my boy… and the only solution is to stay with me.”
He raised his hand and patted Jacob on the shoulder. Jacob backed off with a distrustful nervousness.
“How about I make a one way trip away from you?”, he said in a nettled tone.
The man gave a Zen-like smile.
Jacob had had enough of the riddling scene. Without a word more, he stomped to his Chevy truck, hopped in it and drove off.
It was an October Saturday on a crisp morning. The fields were as golden as the fall could color them. Far and near, farmers briskly hurried their tractors to complete the harvest season. But it was not the only reason they were excited.
As they worked, a sense of anticipation was in the air. It was also opening day at the Franklin county fair and there were plenty of livestock and vegetable contests. All the display booths one could possibly fit on the grounds had been reserved since summer. Participating in the fair was a real status symbol.
Jacob had managed to get funding to rent a booth, thanks to Mr. Roberts and the science department treasury. The striving young scientist was rewarded for spending the summer perfecting ‘Speed Feast’. The test rats were munching corn at a record five times their normal eating speed.
Compared to the big money displays of the animal feed companies, Jacob’s exhibit was still modest in size. But each time he performed a demonstration, he caught a wind of confidence that enticed a larger and larger audience to gather. Jacob soon gave the rats nicknames, treating the procedure like a sporting event.
“Ten kernels in ten seconds. Who will make the mark first — Toto or Snooch?”, he proudly announced.
The audience cheered on, as the rodents worked their corn cobs side to side.
Mr. Roberts sat beside the presentation table, gleefully observing his ideal student. He was a proud coach of a star athlete. It was also Jacob’s first year at college and he had already read the texts necessary to complete the term.
Papa was present at the fair too, making his rounds from exhibit to exhibit. About every half-hour though, he would drop by Jacob’s booth and exchange approving glances with Mr. Roberts. Papa had become so enticed with “Speed feast” that he offered to try it the week before. Jacob couldn’t resist a chance to see the potential on a human, so he gave a dosage to Papa before one breakfast. Papa had gulped his meal like a race car gassing at a pit stop.
The green dust had become a forgotten legend of the spring. Anyone who had seen one of the clouds or experienced strange events had brushed off the memories of them. Harold had buyers for the resurrected cattle within the next week. The delicious corn Florence had bought was cooked and eaten like any other vegetable. Jacob and Mr. Roberts couldn’t find the time to question why each of them had seen green powder in their jars. That spring would only be remembered for what it brought that they could use — a gateway to the rest of the year.
Published by alien-technology.com
Independent publisher of science fiction stories.