Adwell was always a small town, and me and Nick lived just outside town proper. Farmers made up the better part of the local populace, and the establishments in town reflected that. The only bar in town served cheap beer and closed early. The hardware store sold just about everything. Mr. Markowicz was never liable to know who’d need what next, so he tried to just have it all on hand. Church only had a morning service.
The kids, of course, spent as much time on the fields as they did in the classroom, though the school was pretty nice, too. Just look at Nailea Shaw. She learned so much at that little school in Adwell that she got her smart little butt sent off to Columbia. Nick loved the farm. I didn’t at the time, but looking back now, I sure miss it. His pops, Noel, he tried a lot harder than most. By the time me and Nick were fourteen, my own pops was long gone, off to California or Mexico (who cares), and momma wasn’t much for working outside, so our fields lay forgotten. By then Nick and I were smoking cigarettes on the way home from school and getting caught tagging the school building with shit graffiti.
But Nick never fully got on board with the whole teenage punk apathy thing, seeing as he’d be up at 5:30 every morning milking the cow and feeding the chucks and whatnot. Toward the end I think the whole affair was just a way to stay busy. Keep their minds from the truth of it. But maybe that’s just my pessimism talking. Maybe I never overcame my own teenage apathy. In any case, Noel Shaw was first and foremost a corn farmer, and as of 2053, corn farming was illegal. So you can see where this is going.
I didn’t realize it until the day they showed up, but it turned out that Noel didn’t want to stop growing corn all that much.
We had a routine by then. Nick would be up early, so he’d walk across the street and knock on the door so I’d get up for school. Without him, I don’t think I’d have made it to class more than once a week. In exchange, I’d give him a cigarette and we’d wait until we were walking past Abby Dreyton’s house to smoke them, filters pinched awkwardly between our thumbs and forefingers. At the end of the road, we’d wait for the school bus, me usually trying to convince Nick that we should skive off. Then the bus would come, we’d jump on, and Nick would yelp, “Who’s driving this thing, anyway?” The buses went driverless when we were eight, but he milked that joke for the next six years, easy.
Most days, by the time I was out of the door of my house, Nailea would already be nothing more than a speck in front of us, since waiting for the bus was just about her favorite thing in the world. But I remember on this day in particular, she was dragging her feet just us much as we were, looking dejected. When I pulled out the pack of smokes, Nick gave a little shake of his head. I thought it was awful cute that he didn’t want his little sister to see him smoking, but I put them away.
Not a second later came the crunch of wheels on the gravel road. But instead of the neighbor’s truck we were all expecting, a pair of sleek black sedans zipped by, followed by a white work van. All three vehicles had deeply tinted windows, and we strained our eyes to see through the clouds of dust. Two Mercedes eChauffeurs.
One of us remarked on the fact that a pair of $150,000 cars had just passed by.
“How often you think one of those comes by Adwell?” Nailea asked.
“I never seen one before.”
And with that, we were off in the wake of the settling dust, anxious to see what was coming next. I’ll admit that I was mostly interested in a way to skive off school, but I know Nick and Nailea were nervous as hell. By that time, we were old enough to realize a bit of what was going on in the world, and we all knew that their pops was something of a radical. At that point, he was about the only guy still trying to persuade his fields to grow anything, besides for the LeFievers, who’d lucked out on the soybean lottery. Anyway.
Cars like that didn’t just come through Adwell, simple. They were here to talk to someone, and Noel Shaw was the one most likely to get a talking to.
Sure enough, the fancy cars headed straight to the Shaw’s place, snaking their way down the long driveway to pull up in front of the house. Their place was big, but welcoming, painted all white with natural wood shutters and a big red door. The fields were all out back. They didn’t really have much land, maybe 20 acres in all, nothing like the big guys had. But if I recall, there were a few green shoots sprouting up out there. I dunno, I was fourteen, remember? I wasn’t paying attention to that kind of stuff. I think everyone assumed they were weeds. Anyway.
Nick put a hand out to stop us, and we watched as at least a dozen men piled out of the cars and headed toward the front door. Noel was out the door before they got there, all puffed up, but he looked small next to all those men, some in suits, some in police uniforms, the rest in dark green coveralls, holding full face masks. Nick told Nailea that she should go to school, but he didn’t really mean it, and she didn’t move. Didn’t even roll her eyes–just ignored him.
Next thing I know the men were walking around the house to the fields, Noel stalking after them in anger, and we all crept down the opposite side, past the big garden that Nia had let go to weeds. Eventually the men ended up on the edge of the fields, and we clambered up into the big oak tree on the edge of the property, only fifty feet or so from the men.
For a minute after the climb, it was all labored breathing and hammering hearts, but we got quiet as we could. Once we settled down we could make out the conversation below us.
“Mr. Shaw, we’re not affiliated with Synterra,” said one of the men. We couldn’t see out between the branches, but I could just tell the guy talking was one of the ones in a suit. “We’re part of a government task force-”
Noel Shaw’s voice cut in, angry. “Look, two years ago, I bought your seeds, allowed you to confiscate all of the hybrids I developed–”
“Mr. Shaw, we’re not affiliated with Synterra,” the other man said again, more firmly. Nick’s pops laughed one of those not-funny laughs, but the man just talked over him. “We’re not from Synterra, and what seeds you’re using doesn’t matter.”
“Doesn’t matter? You have no proof that my crops contribute to the spread of disease! But sure, it doesn’t matter! All that matters to you is supporting the takeover of the entire goddamn food supply–”
“The latest research suggests that all varieties of corn currently grown in the United States are afflicted by the blight, and are therefore a risk of spreading the disease even further. You are a corn farmer, and by your own admission, you’ve already planted, despite new restrictions explicitly prohibiting corn production this year.”
“I thought that was a joke. You’re serious? No one is allowed to grow corn this year?”
“Government regulations are not a joke, Mr. Shaw. Whether or not you agree isn’t my issue. As head of this task force, I’ve been given the legal authority to neutralize any crops that pose an ecological threat.”
The man paused, but Nick’s dad didn’t seem to have anything to say. Nailea moved out along a branch, trying to hear better, and for a second I thought she was going to fall. The the branch just bent a bit more, and held. She was a small girl.
“I’m not moving. You can’t do this.”
“I’m a law enforcement officer, and I can have you arrested. I’d rather not have to though. Someone needs to tell your wife to stay inside while the fields are sprayed. Wouldn’t you rather do that yourself, without handcuffs?”
That was pretty much the moment right there. Nick and Nailea looked at each other, and it was like I wasn’t even there. Nailea was in tears, Nick nearly so, but they were staring at other with a pair of mean little faces like they weren’t scared of nothing. On the surface, things went on pretty much the same. NIck’s dad, rather than trying and failing to grow crops, just stopped trying. So his total output wasn’t much changed. The kids kept going to school, Nick and I kept smoking cigarettes on the way there, though eventually we got found out and both got a hiding.
But that was also the day that broke Noel Shaw, and I don’t think Nick over forgave the forces that did the breaking.
I tried to feel bad for them, but it was hard. Nick was my best friend, sure, but my own family gave up on crops years before, just like everyone else had. Why did Nick’s pops think he was so special that he should get to keep on farming? Especially when all his attempts just resulted in shit crops and the spread of disease.
Nick and Nailea sat up there like that for a while, but I jumped back down to the ground and looked out from behind the trunk. I watched as the policemen led Nick’s pops away. The men in the face masks walked through the fields, carefully spraying each green shoot from their plastic backpacks full of poison. And that was that.