The Apocalyptic Gardener: Chapter One

“Okay, Penny. That’s the last time I go into town. Filthy people left the city in a ruin. Wasn’t the work of them creatures, nah—nah. This was the work of them looters. They cleaned the place out. Couldn’t even find a measly can of corn, can you believe that? I thought people hated corn.”

Sam chuckled as he made a sharp turn from the highway into a wooded area. Then, he stomped on the brakes and stepped out.

“I grabbed a few goodies, though.” He yelled back into the truck, sauntering to the rear and unlatching the tailgate. “Beans, oats… even saw a box of that cereal you liked, but the rats got to it from the bottom or something. Damned box was empty when I grabbed it. Just like everything else around here; empty.”

He pulled himself into the bed of the truck; his bones crackled with the sound of his grunts. Awkwardly but gracelessly, he fell into a pile of leaves he’d recently stocked. At this moment, he’d wished he had a son. He’d never speak this out loud, God didn’t give his wife that gift, so he kept that to himself, as he did many other times when he’d dreamt of screaming babies and loud, wild, hyper kid noises.

“Oh yeah,” he looked through the back window of the truck. “Found me a new push broom, too.” He lifted it for a clear view. Then, he pushed the leaves to the very edge of the bed, a few trickled off.

As if the easy way wasn’t enough of a challenge, Sam climbed over the side of the truck and dropped down, testing his knees perhaps. They passed. Still, he hobbled back to the truck.

Inside, he resumed his conversation with Penny as he continued down this thin path that stretched deeper into the wooded area. The earth here was bumpy so he drove slowly. He looked at his side-view mirror to check if the leaves were falling into place. Covering his tracks. Concealing his location. His haven.

“Don’t know what the hell I’m going to do for dinner with thirty-two cans of beans and pineapple juice, but you know me, I’ll find a way. By the way, got a fresh crop of spinach growing on the side. I know it took you years to get that going, and you thought it’d never happen. It’s not enough to pick at just yet but it sprouted and its beautiful. I wanted to surprise you, but you know me. I can’t keep a secret. Think it has to do with them. When they got here, they did something to the air or something, I don’t know, but I got the beginnings of a full-blown garden, can you believe that? Sam the Gardener,” he laughed.

After a mile-or-so away from the highway, the narrow pathway transitioned into an open valley where he picked up speed.

“Three trips now, babe and ain’t seen a single soul. You think everybody’s gone?” From the valley, he entered a more secluded area of the national forest. Less traveled and denser, which gave him no reason to drop leaves over his trail anymore.

He proceeded into a tunnel of crooked branches. The twigs scraped the top of his pickup as he side-eyed the rear-view mirror every two seconds. Sam was on his property now. Acres of beautiful God-made land that he had spent years converting into condensed forest long before the world went to shit. No one or nothing would just happen upon this place. He made it so. Still, he couldn’t help himself watching his back. He checked the mirror again, then turned around to see with a natural eye. “I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no. I’m not paranoid.” The branches closed behind him like elongated fingers interlocking. Coast was clear so he turned to the front. “I’m just careful.” Sam looked at Penny and smiled. She smiled back, as she always did.

The congregation of bushes stood aside as the truck rolled down a small hill that Sam always hated. He could bend the trees, plant bushes in a way to hide his home from the world, but he couldn’t get rid of the steep and bumpy hill that stood between where he was and where he wanted to be. He took his time on this part of the trip; easing down and tapping the brakes every few feet. In doing so, he thought of something nice. Something beautiful. A surprise that he had already spoiled.

After a mile of the hilly, annoying ridge, he’d made it to the bottom. He was home. “Babe, I can’t wait to show you the gard…”

A disturbing sight caused a lump in his throat that forced him to choke on the rest of his sentence. Fifty yards ahead of him was an unbroken two-story cabin, but beside it was a wrecked garden; harassed by a spaceship; the smaller patrol ones that he’d remembered ducking from when he first went to town post-invasion.

“No, no, no, no, no…” He didn’t want to look at his wife, that constant smile might have shifted.

Those fifty yards between the bottom of the hill and his home decreased as he stomped on the gas pedal to confront this incursion. Smoke from the ship hovered over the home, clawing its way into the atmosphere. He slammed on the brakes and the truck skid across the dirt until it halted in front of the porch steps. For a second, he watched the home, the destroyed garden, back and forth, listening for anything, anyone… Then, he pulled a shotgun from underneath his seat and hopped out, pointing it toward the ship. After he took a giant step forward, he remembered his wife.

His eyes still on the ship, he scooted back toward the truck and reached in for the necklace dangling on his rear-view mirror. Hanging from the necklace was a picture of his late wife smiling inside a pendant. He threw it around his neck and continued toward the ship. He rubbed the picture, “I got you, baby. I got you.”

As a World War 3 veteran, Sam had plenty of weapons here and there, and was an expert on how to handle them, how to use them. Pushing sixty years old, the man had no fear left in him. Only anger, toward a world that took his wife from him. He pumped the shotgun and approached.

The ship was a shiny silver, half the size of his home, but as wide as his garden. It blanketed over his patch in an awkward way that told him this wasn’t a landing, but a crash. Before, when he saw them in the sky, they looked like saucers; everything history books had said about UFOs. But up close and personal, it was a triangle shape that resembled an air force jet. It was fascinating, the way his reflection warped as he got closer to the ship; one step and he was big, the next, he was small and skinny. As he reached to touch it, a door opened up and he fell backwards. His finger slipped, too, and he shot the sky.

Embarrassed, he climbed back to his feet and pumped the shotgun again. “Hey!” He peered inside and waited for a sound, some movement. When there was none, he entered the foreign vehicle.

The shaking of his hands holding the shotgun clinked and the sound echoed off the walls. His heart was beating faster and faster. Still, his ego took control and forced him deeper into this situation that he was not mentally prepared for. He ventured down a hallway that seemed too long for a ship of this size until he made it to the cockpit. Not surprised by the complexity of the control panels, this was everything he’d imagined an alien ship would look like. No window, colorful buttons and foreign symbols everywhere with a beeping noise that he guessed was a distress signal. It started to get louder, so he pointed the shotgun at the blinking light that caused the noise. But before he could kill the stressful racket, a grunt from behind him grabbed his attention.

He turned back to the corridor and was met by a woman standing there. She was beautiful and when she smiled, she seemed familiar. Sam moved the shotgun aside and saw that she wore a silver suit resembling the exterior of the ship. She was hurt, leaning against the side of the wall, bleeding from her stomach and her leg. She looked human, if not for her height and the tentacles stretching out the back of her head.

Even in this condition, she still smiled, though, and he thought of Penny. Instinctively, he lowered the shotgun until she spoke…

“Help.” Her voice was a deep robotic tone that made him cringe and squeeze his shoulders to his ears.

When she reached toward him, he raised the gun and shot her in the stomach, sending her flying out the ship into the yard.

Read Chapter Two

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