David Pax
author

Short Stories

A collection of short science fiction stories written by David Pax.

Chance's Future

cornfield.jpg

Wind stirred the thin dust on the long furrows. Chance stood and watched the drifting soil, her bottom lip turning in as she bit it.

“Corn will be good this year,” Chance commented.

“Yup.”

“You really want to do this?” Her voice was thin but unwavering.

“Yup.”

A long way down the Iowa road, a cloud of dust appeared, as though a tiny black thunderstorm were rolling in.

“It has been good to us.” Chance hooked her thumbs into the pockets of her tight fitting jeans.

“It has.”

A young girl's face shrouded the eyes of an old woman as Chance squinted toward the dust cloud down the road. Her freckles and her bright red hair sheltered the world from the storm of emotions tearing through her. She could stand perfectly still, rooted in the infinite earth of their farm, even as blood and tears surged through her in waves. Chance was strong that way.

“There might be money in there. Hidden, you know...” she gasped.

“No.”

“Your grandma said there was.”

“She was wrong. That money was found and spent years ago. It bought your ring.”

Chance rubbed her thumb across the bottom of the cool gold band on her finger. “Didn't know that.”

“Yup.”

“Did your grandma know?”

“She knew. She forgot.”

Chance tilted her head toward the orchard where Grandma no longer battled dementia. “She would have liked that.”

“She did. She liked you.”

“Don't know why.”

“She always liked you.”

“Still don't know why.”

“You speak your mind, Chance. When you want to.”

Wind turned toward the young couple, stirring their hair for a moment, then drifted away to play with the dust. The cloud on the road was a little closer now.

“Do you remember the first time I came over here? She had lemonade for us kids, on the porch.”

“I remember it didn't have enough sugar.” There was a warm smile. “For you, anyway.”

“Dang tart lemonade. She fixed it, though.” Chance's mouth puckered at the memory of bitterness, then relaxed.

“She liked you right then.”

“Your parents were still living here back then, weren't they? You hadn't just come over for the day?”

“Yup.”

Now the approaching storm of dust could be heard, a faint rumble just audible in the spaces between their words. Chance kicked her boot in the dusty ground.

“So which room was yours?”

“Upstairs. End of the hall on the left.”

“Looking out on the road.”

“I could see all the way up and down that road.”

Chance started, “Hey, did you ever have Sally up there?”

There was a laugh. “You ask that now?”

“Damn straight, I'm askin.” Chance's red hair flared dangerously, and her eyes burned with intense curiosity.

“No, we had moved to my parent's new farm by then.”

Past the budding orchard and the next perfectly furrowed cornfield lay another farm, another piece of the family fiefdom that Chance had joined. On that farm there were new, gleaming machines that turned the Iowa soil into food and fuel for a half billion North Americans.

Here, where the warm spring wind chased up and down the furrows, the machines were older, their gleam worn off by years of hard work. Still, they worked, and so long as they worked, there would be money for other things.

“They are getting close,” Chance muttered as the distant rumble grew louder.

“Yup.”

“Your grandpa used to sing in the living room, and play his fiddle. In the winter.”

“He was alright. I didn't get that gene.”

Chance bumped her hip suggestively against her husband. “Maybe it's still in there. Give me a child with music, will you?” She smiled.

“What do you know about music, my little hottie?”

“I don't know nothin' but dirt and wind and rain. But I'd like a child that knows music.”

“I thought wind and rain were your music?”

“And dirt. Dirt plays bass.”  Her blue-green eyes sparkled.

“So why a child with music?”

“I love this land. Always have. It's a part of me and I'm a part of it.” Chance stared down the furrowed rows, looking at the future corn. She could see the sun-dried stalks rustling in the autumn breeze, hear the raspy chatter of the stalks talking to each other. “But that's me. Mother Earth talks to me, tells me when the crops will be good, tells me when they won't. Momma and I are tight. Our children will be different than me. I don't think the land will speak to them the way it does to me. Not all of them anyway.”

“How many children am I giving you?”

“Enough. I'll let you know when I'm done.”

He dropped his head forward and chuckled, then lifted it up again. “Momma won't tell you?”

“She tells me plenty. Like what each woman gives to the world is for her to decide. Well, random fate has a bit to say as well.”

The rumbling cloud was closer, more discernible now.

Chance turned and looked behind for a moment. “How your grandma made do in that tiny kitchen I'll never know.”

“You do OK.”

“I cook for me and you. Your grandma fed armies.”

“And fed them well.”

It had been several hours since the sun had chased the wandering mists from the field. Now it beamed down, smiling on the perfect tableau of the young family on their farm.

“We might have armies,” Chance mused.

“Armies. Of musicians.”

She slapped his arm and he pretended to wince in pain. “Not all of them will be musicians. Maybe just enough for a band.”

“Oh, a band. They will be lots of help.”

“You don't need help. You are brilliant with those machines. I didn't even realize the GPS was broken on the tiller until you told me you had already fixed it.”

“It was just a bad receiver card.”

“Our children will never know this house.” Chance had turned to look at the ancient stick frame structure.

“Here they are.”

With a roar and crunch of gravel two large firetrucks and several smaller vehicles turned into the farm driveway and pulled around the house.

Chance stared at the house. Built like so many others that pioneer farmers had thrown up, it looked worn and ragged. There was a slight sag in the roof, hard to see but leaving the impression of a building that was not quite well built.

Chance walked to the back of the house, up the stairs to the porch. She knew she dared not trust the railing for support, but she let her fingers trace gently across the flaking paint on the once fancy wood. As a child she had taken a flake of this paint to school and looked at all the layers under a microscope. She knew exactly how many times this railing had been painted.

Crossing the creaking boards of the porch, she entered the empty kitchen. A stain from the many stoves that had stood against the same wall greeted her. She walked past the spot where she and Grandma, and Grandma's Grandma, had stood and turned out food for countless troops, young and old alike.

From the tiny kitchen she walked into the barren dining room, its one time grandeur stripped away. A glass chandelier had hovered above the dining table for a couple centuries, immune to the petulance of fashion. It was gone now, but its powerful immunity was strong enough to preserve it for reuse in the castle yet to come. Sun slanted in the openings where windows once protected all inside from ravages of summer and winter.

Then there was the living room, the happy place where thousands of birthdays and holidays had been celebrated. Chance could picture Grandpa in his chair, his fiddle bow skittering across the strings as children laughed and sang.

Slowly she creaked up the ancient stairs, skipping the trick one that had bested generations of midnight pantry poachers. Powerful adhesive had finally rendered it harmless, but habits die hard.

In the narrow hall upstairs, the outlines of salvaged light fixtures hung like specters on the wall. She wandered through the small empty rooms, stopping at the window of her husband's childhood bedroom. She smiled as she looked up and down the road and thought of him hanging out the window, just watching the world outside.

Before returning downstairs she lingered in the master bedroom. It had been theirs for only a few years. For a long time she thought she knew the ghosts of all the people who had slumbered here, but now those people, remembered in the vids and stills and even old paper photos packed carefully away, had departed this room, leaving just an empty shell.

A sound from behind struck her but did not cause her to turn. She knew the creak of his footstep without looking, felt the warmth of his arms sliding around her waist and his face next to hers. They stood together quietly for a while. Then she wiggled free and walked to the window.

Looking down across the fields, she sighed. “We will still have this view, correct?”

“Yes.”

“But the new ceramic walls will keep us warmer.”

“The ceramic panels have a very high insulating value. It will cost us a tenth of what it costs us now to heat and cool this place.”

“And there will be no drafts in the winter?”

“None.”

“I hate those winter chills.”

“Yup.”

“I would freeze my ass every morning in that bathroom.”

“Me too.”

“And internet everywhere?”

“Yup. All the appliances.”

“And dynamic walls?”

“All the interior walls, yes. You will be able to change décor throughout the house with a tap.”

“Our children will never know this house.”

“They will know a better one. We will make our future, and their future, in that home. Just as Grandpa's Grandpa did in this one. Now is our turn, our... responsibility... to the memory of the past and the promise of the future.”

Chance poked him in the belly, and lightly kissed him. “Sometimes you talk too much.”

“Yup.”

They walked down and out of the house, out to the newly planted field. Safely behind them, the firefighters set the ancient stick frame ablaze, let the structure become fully engulfed, and turned to their task, expertly extinguishing the consuming flames. Once it was out, the firefighters gathered together to discuss what the trainees had learned, then got into their vehicles and left the farm. Tomorrow the contractors would come to clear away the debris and set up the new home.

Chance stood and watched the drifting soil as it was stirred by the wind. Before long those moist furrows would produce the first green shoots of life, and the corn would stretch up to the sky. Behind her a new house would rise and stand for generations. Her children would laugh and play here and one day they might love this land as she did.

© Copyright 2018 by David Pax. All Rights Reserved