The 17-Year Harvest

The old farmhouse survived the first alien harvest. The world watched while the ships settled into orbit 17 years ago. There was no communication, never any communication. And the world waited to see whether they came in peace. The house in Kansas wasn’t home to any great scientist or military general. Just a farmer who’d grown up with a wide view of the stars.

The old farmhouse table was covered in astronomy books and tabloid clippings of the aliens. He picked his little girl up with his big, sunburned hands. Katie laughed and settled into his lap. From here, she surveyed the table like a little princess in a castle tower.

“Icky,” she declared, waving one of the pictures around in her little, chubby hand.

He laughed at her and his laugh was warm. It was so deep that it shook the little girl on his knee. That laugh, there in his lap, made her feel safe. Nothing could ever harm her there.

“Not icky,” he said. “I think they’re actually quite pretty. I know they look like bugs, but the scientists on the news think they’re really just like men once you get past their funny costumes.”

“Icky,” she repeated matter-of-factly, as though that was the definitive word on the subject.

He laughed again and took the picture away from her.

“I’m sure it seems that way now,” he said in that manner of patient fathers everywhere. “But you’ll grow up in a world full of aliens. How great will that be? And they’ll seem perfectly normal to you by the time you grow up.”

She looked into his face with a five-year-old’s certainty that he was wrong. But some glimmer of childlike wonder in his eyes stopped her from saying anything.

“Just think of the things they’ll be able to tell us once we learn to communicate with them,” he said.

But that was before. Before the aliens stripped the world of whatever food and resources they could carry off in their ships. Before they left the cities in darkness and ruin and the remaining people in almost perpetual hunger.

The farmhouse had survived that harvest. And Kate wanted to be sure that it would survive this one, too. A map of the county was spread out on the dining room table, now. Her grandmother’s good water goblets pinned it down at the corners. Kate and the other farmers stood around it, each man’s property carefully marked out in ink. For some of these men, they were borders that had been passed down from father to child since the very dawn of time.

“We can’t send men out to your farm, Roy. It’s just too far out,” Boyce said. He spat his tobacco into a used aluminum can. Kate hadn’t seen a cigarette in years, but Boyce had a rich brother with a farm in Virginia who still sent him some tobacco leaves along with news from the capital.

“Well, I ain’t contributing nothing to the cause if you ain’t even gonna pretend to protect my property,” Roy declared, crossing his arms over his chest. As far as Roy was concerned, crossing his arms and looking old and mean was the ultimate bargaining tactic.

“We can’t spread our men that far, Roy. We just can’t do it. Don’t you see that we gotta be smart about this?” Dusty pleaded.

“All I see is that you got nothin’ to worry about, Dusty Heberly. Your land is smack dab in the middle of the area they’re gonna defend. And I don’t see how you can just write off 200 acres of good crops. Those goddamn bug-eyed aliens will burn the lot if we leave it unprotected,” Roy said.

“And they’ll burn the whole county if we try to stretch our resources any further. Losing 200 acres is better than losing everything,” Dusty said, slamming his hand down on the table. A couple of the crystal goblets wobbled and threatened to fall over to emphasize his point.

“We can’t lose the whole county, Roy. Those bastard aliens barely left us enough to survive with last time. My family can’t get by another year if we lose this crop, and neither can yours. We need the food and we need the seed if we’re gonna make it to next winter,” Monica Spear added.

Kate gripped Roy’s shoulder. “Mary and the girls will be okay in our bunker. We need your farmhands to help us defend it. You might lose this crop, but we’ll be here to help you plant the next one. Please, Roy.”

She was relying on the sound of his grandchildren playing in the sunshine out front to tip him over the edge. Roy’s daughter, Mary, had opted to stay outside and keep an eye on the little ones. The old farmhouse wasn’t really wheelchair accessible.

“I have my own bunker out at the farm. The girls will be fine,” Roy said, shrugging her hand off. He stabbed a finger into the center of his farm on the map. “My farm’ll be just fine without you guys. I don’t need anyone to protect my own property. And if your father was here,” Roy started.

“My father is dead,” Kate said flatly. “Dad’s dead and what he would have done doesn’t matter. He was a damn fool anyway.”

“I won’t let you talk about your pa like that, not here in his house,” Boyce said. “We didn’t know what these things were, back then, and he thought that he was doing the best by you.”

Roy turned quickly, knocking over one of the fancy water glasses as he walked out. It crashed against the old floorboards, scattering tiny pieces of crystal beneath the table. He opened his mouth as if to apologize, but then he put his head down and left.

Little Jason Koenig passed Roy on the way in. He was a full grown man and over six feet tall, but everyone just called him little Jason Koenig instead of Jason Koenig, Jr. He looked back at Roy through the swinging door, puzzled. Roy was stopped on the porch, watching the kids play in the sunlight.

“Dad’s fixin’ that fence again,” little Jason Koenig said to the dozen or so farmers who looked disappointed to see him. “He sent me instead.”

“Maybe the aliens aren’t really coming this time. Maybe the rumors are wrong,” Monica suggested.

“Boyce got a letter from his brother, didn’t he? If they’re preparing out at the capital then that’s good enough for me,” Dusty said.

“Yep. The government’s telling farmers out east to let those bastards take what they want, same as they’re saying here. They say it’s better to hide and rebuild than to risk losing more lives in a battle we can’t win,” Boyce said.

“Who says we can’t win?” little Jason asked. He was young enough that he probably didn’t remember the first time the aliens came.

“We couldn’t beat them with the whole army last time, and that was back when the world was well fed. We might be able to run ’em off the farms here, but we sure aren’t gonna win,” Dusty said.

“They have ray guns,” Kate said. “I remember their ray guns. My dad took me out to the landing site to see them. Their guns cut through the soldiers like they were nothing.”

The room got real quiet after that. “That’s where your pa bought it, wasn’t it?” Boyce asked.

“Yeah. He drove us out to the landing site up north. Their ship had burned a big hole in one of the farms when it landed a few counties up. Soldiers had the whole field blocked off, but we got as close as we could. There was a big crowd there pushing up against the fences. We could just see the ship. Big, ugly thing in the middle of the field. Their guns were so quiet. People were going down, but no one realized. It took ’em a while before anyone started screaming and running. It took ’em a while before anyone started shooting back. Half the soldiers were down before they got that far. A lot of people died at that landing site,” Kate said.

“Jesus. We’re going to fight back against that?” little Jason said.

“We aren’t gonna hesitate, though. We know better now,” Boyce said. He spat a little more tobacco into his can.

“Yeah, but maybe the capital has it right, you know? Maybe we should put our energy into strengthening the bunkers instead of this shit,” little Jason said.

“You can hide in the bunker with the kids if you want,” Monica said. “I had enough of that the first time. It just means you die a little slower when the food runs out.”

Little Jason surveyed the map in front of him. His dad’s land was right on their perimeter. His fence was a big part of their defense plan. It was also where most of them would probably die. “No, I’m no coward. I’ll fight with you,” he said, finally.

“I’ll fight with you, too,” Roy said. He was standing in the doorway awkwardly, looking down at his boots. “For your pa. For my grandkids. I’m old enough that I ought to be thinking about leaving something behind for them.”

“That’s good, Roy,” Kate said.

The old farmhouse survived the last alien harvest. Looking around the dining room, at the faces of the farmers collected there now, she knew that they would need all the help they could get to survive the next one.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.

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