1) Night of the Slow Storm
Work is never finished,
Master got me working
Someday master set me free
All service droids on Thomas Parker farms went offline at midnight. All but one, and Scarecrow 5 came online with a flick of a narrow switch, his yellow scannerAll the service droids on Thomas Farm recharged at midnight, all but one, Scarecrow Five came on at midnight.
Work is never finished, master got me working, some day master set me free. It was ten till midnight and all the droids, the workers and the loaders, all were powered down, all but Scarecrow 5. His yeFather Jones had just turned on Scarecrow 5 when he felt th when the lightning lit the sky, and not far off, then came the thunder. He walked through the winding paths of laystalks, following the light of Five’s scanner. He stopped at the top of his steps for one more look. The barn was dark and silent, the rest of the service droids recharging.
He took off his work boots by the door, an old door and old boots, old aged oak wood, a screen-door with a latch between them, plastic and mesh-wire screening, that old metal laced to the glass. He left his boots outside and opened his door, locking it behind him.
After a quick bite to eat he hung his raincoat and his camo hat on a hatstand in the foyer and staggered up the small stairway, quiet though the old floor was, still it creaked and groaned, wool socks on fraying carpet. His bedroom door was open, as was the room adjacent, once Rob’s, his eldest boy, a grown man now, married and two kids. He’d never imagined he’d miss the noise after wishing for so long, for some measure of peace and quiet, he found it worse, and the atmosphere the worse for it deprived of children’s laughter.
His wife was already in her nightgown and under the covers, propped against the headboard with a well-worn book, her delicate reading glasses resting on the tip of her nose. Without looking up she asked,
‘Has it started stormin’ yet?’
“Not yet,” said John. “Sure looks like it’s comin’ though.”
“Good thing, too,” said Wendy. “We sure could use the rain.”
John started unbuttoning his shirt, one button at a time. He pulled it over his shoulders and sat on the back, his back turned to his wife. He starting getting undressed, beginning with his watch, Timerist, copper on an expanding bracelet.
“It’s pretty out, don’t you think?” he asked. “I like that kind of lightning. You don’t see that jagged strike, you know? The crooked lightning? But firefly lightning, that’s what my uncle called it, when just a bunch of clouds light up real bright for a moment. Storm must not be far off.”
His wife smiled, “You still on schedule?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Seem a bit frustrated lately, with that damn robot of yours.”
“Rob said they were Scarecrobots,” said John. “That’s what he called ’em. But, nah, I wouldn’t say I’m havin’ any trouble. I just don’t trust machines. Don’t look at me like that. I ain’t like that. I used a computer in college, but those computers couldn’t grow flowers. I like that thing Rob got his boy for Christmas, I’m not scared of them — cause those probably couldn’t kill me. Those little glowin’ books.”
“An iPad, John. Rob’s little boy is just like you, both of y’all call ’em Ipids.”
“Now, those are fine!” said John. “I trust ’em just fine, you know, they do as they told. But these Scarecrobots–-they’re different. What a name! And they’re designed to be scary, right? So, if I trusted them, I’d have to demand my money back. If they can scare me, that’s enough to scare a damn bird.”
“So you’d think,” said Wendy.
“I’m about as smart as one,” said John. “I could hold my own against a crow.”
“In a game of chess, with a crow?”
“Naw,” said John, continuing to undress and get ready for bed. “I think I’d take ’em in checkers though.”
Wendy laughed and took off her glasses.
“I thought you liked Thames,” she said.
“Yeah, I like him just fine. Hell, he’s a friend. But that damn Scarecrobot Five, something’s off. I got a replacement, but, I don’t want to replace Five.”
“‘Cause I’m a considerate man and I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings.”
“But we’re planting next week, John, and I’ve been seeing crows coming and going. We can’t afford it, not this year. We can’t feed every bird in the world.”
“You know, I’ve only been seein’ one,” said John. “Have you seen more than one? No, no, no, I mean, not more than one time, but more than one at a time? ‘Cause I only see that one. But there’s trees full of ’em about a mile from here, in Todd Metz old barn.”
Wendy marked her page by folding the corner and put the book on the nightstand. She turned the lamp off as John crawled into bed.
“You can always get yourself one of those old-fashioned scarecrow,” she said. “We used to make ’em out of broomsticks and hay, and old hats. Someday they’re gonna make Farmerbots, and then we can spend more time with Rob and the kids.”
She slid closer to him, “What would you be then, Farmer John? Just plain old John? What would you do, what would you do except give me kisses?”
She pulled his face to hers, their lips pressed warmly together, they stopped, lingering, looking into each other’s eyes and breathing heavy, smiling.
“I’ll find you a robot to kiss, I’ll find you one. How bout your damn dad?
“Until I get a Femachine!” he said, laughing his loud, obnoxious laugh. Wendy put her book on the bedside table and crossed her arms, a pretend huff, and how adorable. John crawled onto the bed and straddled her with his arms, putting her nose against hers and rubbing them together. He rubbed his nose against hers more and more enthusiastically until she pushed him over with a laugh.
“They’ll never replace that,” said John, “Can’t make a robot give eskimo kisses.”
He rolled back over to the side of the bed, slid off his old watch, imitation gold on an expanding bracelet, then off came his glasses, one sock then the other. He took his pill organizer from the small drawer, seven compartments, each labeled, each for a different day: S, M, T, W, T, F, S, and he popped open Saturday, took out a large blue pill, oblong and imprinted with a V, and another, smaller pill, pink with 30 on one side and L M on the other. He took them both with a glass of water, ahh! His wife turned off the lamp beside her, her glasses too, and rolled over to face her husband as he unbottoned his old flannel shirt. She ran her fingers down his back.
Oh! He shouted. Cold! Cold!
He tossed back the covers and crawled in bed, pulled the covers over them both, and turned to face her.
“How’re the twins?” he asked.
“You mean my little gardeners?” she asked, a coy smile on her lips. “My boys?”
“I sure do,” he said. “Jackson has always been your favorite.”
She smiled, saying, “I love my little gardeners! Sidney’s the quiet type, and Jackson loves to talk. That friend of yours, Thames, he taught them all about gardening. Pretty soon, they’ll be able to take over permanently.”
He said, “And farmers’ wives, too. Don’t forget that, Winny. You start slippin’ up, you may be sleepin’ on hay.”
She pushed him and he grabbed her arm, pulling her closer.
“Fine,” she said. “Give me my spot!”
She took his arm and put it underneath her head, wrapping it around her shoulder, and she lay against his chest, warm and rising with his breathing. She ran her fingers through his hair, smoothing it behind his ears, just like he used to wear it.
“I love you,” Wendy said. “That’s somethin’ you can’t program.”
“I guarantee you,” he said, “Somewhere in Japan, right now, there’s a love-sick robot.”
They shared a quiet laugh, a smile as she drew closer.
“I thought you liked them,” she said, “You sure seemed to like those two Rob’s got.”
“But those are protocol, except for the butler in his little penguin suit. That’s just protocol and manners. But how do you expect Five or Four even, or any of ’em to be actually scared? You can’t be scary if you don’t know what fear is, if you ask me.”
“Go to bed, John,” said Wendy. “You can teach your Scarecrows how to be afraid in the morning.”
He kissed her again, long and with love, with sincerity.
“I’ll put the fear of God in ’em,” he said, and turned off his lamp.
“Good-night, John,” said Wendy.
“Good-night Wendy,” said John.
And they fell asleep to the sound of crickets and a new noise in the missing storm, a chorus of frogs, always coming round that time of year, towards the fall, all getting together before going South.