Sunday, 7 June 2020

GREEN STORIES: ‘Fruits of Labour’ by Holly Schofield

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

Highly Commended, 2020 Green Stories Competition

Fruits of Labour
by Holly Schofield


The customer pressed his thumb firmly on Hannah's tablet, adding a one-merit tip to the cost of the apples.

"Thanks." She slumped back on the stool as the man placed the fruit in his carry bag.

 "You look glum." He squinted at her from beneath his hemp straw hat.

 "Uh, I just had some bad news. Well, an absence of news, really." She poured herself some sun tea from the glass jar. Her bioplastic cup would be composted when it wore out, a pleasing example of the circularity of things. Hannah, on the other hand, was doomed to spend her life stuck in this market stall, selling fruits and vegetables she hadn't actually grown.

"Turned down from university?"

She glanced up, startled.

The man chuckled. "Just a guess. Notifications went out to the applicants last week, right?"

"Yeah, if you must know. My best friend got into upcycling at Harnley, my other friend got into oceanography, but I never heard back at all. They don't notify the unsuccessful applicants. I guess I shouldn't have aimed so high."

"High? You wanted to be a medical doctor? A scientist?"

Hannah mumbled her answer. "A farmer." All her friends thought she was dreaming to even try-thousands applied and only a handful ever got in. She'd poured her heart out in the entrance essay but, clearly, that hadn't been good enough.

The man laughed outright. "Every child's dream. If you can learn all the soil science, robotics, and genetics that's needed, you can certainly make a fine living from it."

 "I don't care about accumulating merits! I mean, I do want to stay on the plus side of my sustainscore but that's all." Hannah frowned, trying to get her phrasing right. It might not matter to this jerk but it mattered to her. "I want to make something from the soil, create good food for people, fill a market stall as splendidly this one."

 "Might as well get rich, too, Hannah."

"How do you know my name?"

 He winked at her. "I'm with Total Spray Corp. You agree to use KillMax on your crops for five years after you graduate, and I can pull some strings to get you into the Agriculture faculty."

 It wasn't even worth a moment's consideration. "No way! KillMax is a neonicotinoid!" She could never condone the slaughter of bees. She thumped down her cup. "No one would ever agree to that!"

The man grimaced. "You'd be surprised. That's why we screen all our applicants. Let me introduce myself for real this time. I'm Francis Malk, head of admissions for Harnley Agricultural College."

"I don't understand--"

 "Congratulations, Hannah, you passed our admission's test." He leaned over the heap of tomatoes and held out a hand. "Welcome to our program."

Stunned and ecstatic, Hannah shook his hand, then shook it twice more, knocking tomatoes everywhere.


GREEN STORIES: ‘Table for One’ by Kimberly Christensen

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

Highly Commended, 2020 Green Stories Competition

Table for One
by Kimberly Christensen


 


Leave it to Terry to be at the cutting-edge of the latest Millennial trend – killing the death industry. No corpse flambé for him. Nope. He picked the newest in death technology and got himself composted, leaving me – a newly-minted widow – suddenly in possession of a cubic yard of dead-husband/dirt. Thanks, Terry.

As there was no place to plant Terry in our condo and I hated being there without him, I searched around for one of those new senior-focused pod-living high rises. A tiny apartment for myself, active neighbors nearby, and a memorial garden where I could plant Terry. It was the rational thing to do. Except that rational doesn’t exactly keep you company in the shared cafeteria. How can a room full of people be so damn lonely?

 Day One of pod-life I sat at my own lunch table, no one to talk to, imaging Terry making sarcastic remarks about the sea of gray hairs diligently stopping at the clean-up station to sort their lunch-time waste. There was a system to it. An overwhelming system. I considered hiding my lunch tray behind a potted plant and sneaking out the back. 

“You’re new here, aren’t you, love?” Damn. I’d been spotted. But at least the woman’s voice was kind. Warm even. “Have you figured out where everything goes?” Before I could answer, she took the tray, scraping most of the food waste into a bin labeled “compost” but depositing an apple core into a separate tub with a picture of a red earthworm taped to it.

She leaned toward me, conspiratorially. “Can I tell you a secret? The worms love apples, but watermelon is really what makes them happy.” 

 Happy? Worms?

 “I’ve never considered the emotional state of worms.” Great. The first words out of my mouth to this kind woman were sarcastic. I flashed her a weak smile.

 “Oh, you’re a funny one,” she chuckled. “The emotional state of worms depends entirely on food. Come on. You can see for yourself.”  

She exited the cafeteria through a side door into a shady and sparsely vegetated area. After hoisting the lid to a wooden bin, she dug around in the fruit scraps to retrieve a red worm. I hadn’t touched a worm since I was a kid, but I thrust my palm out so that she could tip the worm into it. It flopped and wiggled, moist on my dry palm. I was going to put it back in the bin, but then I had an idea.

 “Would it be OK?” I jerked my chin toward the memorial garden.

 “Absolutely.”  

Terry’s tree was so newly planted that the mulch around its base still formed a perfect ring. I knelt, lifting the worm to eye level. “Tell Terry I miss him.” I set it on the mulch, where it poked around until it found a tunnel into which it disappeared segment by segment.

The woman waited at the bin for me. “See you tomorrow?” she asked.

I nodded. “I’ll bring the watermelon.”

GREEN STORIES: ‘Notice of Violation’ by Summer G. Baker

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

Highly Commended, 2020 Green Stories Competition

Notice of Violation
by Summer G. Baker


The  nice  thing about  bureaucracy  was  how long it took  city  governments  to do something about  anything they  didn't  like. Like following through on warnings  to tear up front  yard  vegetable  gardens. Or get rid of farm animals living in backyards. Or pull down all those  wires  attached  to the  power lines. Or dismantle that miniature  solar plant. Or shoo off all those birds.

Failure  to  comply with  this notice  of violation... blah  .

Martha  held  a  stack  of  these  warnings  in  a  fist propped  up on one  ample hip, standing at the  mouth  of  her neighborhood  before  a  handful  of  parked  police  cars  and  one  city representative. A  suit-clad  white  man with  a  head  shaved  clean and  a  dimple in his  chin. Jared  Miller, she  knew, because  his  name  appeared  at  the  bottom of most of  those notices. And  also on the  city's website  under the  listing for City  Manager.

Through a  megaphone,  City  Manager Jared  Miller called  out, "Everyone  in this neighborhood  must  vacate  their homes  or face  several  fines  as  well  as  severance  of  gas, water, and  power  sources. As  none  of  you..."  his  voice  trailed  a  little  in bafflement, "have paid  for any  of  these  utilities  in some  time."  He lowered  the  megaphone.

 At  Martha's  back, a  screen of  greenery  shielded  the  neighborhood from the  outside, thick trees  blocking view  of  the  haven within. Crops, animals,  plant  and  solar power, and  rising above  it  all, a  small, handmade water tower. People  living a  sustainable  life. The  tower itself  was  painted  blue  with  the  words Good  Vibes in enormous  white  letters. Though Martha  didn't  always  understand  the  behavior of  the  younger folks,  she  knew they  had  the  spirit. Her neighbors. Her  dream. This  was  a  small  start, but  still something.

As  evening  set  in, house  lights  began to flicker  on. But  only  the  necessary  ones.

 "We all  own our properties,"  Martha  called  back, voice  loud  enough  without  a microphone. She  flapped  a  hand  at  the  City  Manager. "And  y'all  don't  maintain our roads  worth  a  damn. So go right  ahead!"

Miller nodded  at  a  nearby  cop, who mumbled  something into his  shoulder mic. In  a moment, a  loud  buzz  echoed  through the  still  evening as  some  tech  somewhere  cut power to twenty two blocks of  land  in the  poorest district  of  the  city.

Everyone  kept  looking around, waiting for darkness  to descend,  yet  the  lights  stayed  on.

Martha raised her eyebrows and couldn't help the shit-eating grin as she shrugged at the City Manager. "Guess we don't need your infrastructure no more." She turned around and headed for home.

 "Hey... you can't..." Miller blustered. He continued in a shout, "I'll bring a warrant for your arrest!”

 Before disappearing behind the trees, Martha waved an unfriendly wave at him. "Mm hmm... and bring some of those Notices of Violation with you. We can always use the recycling."


GREEN STORIES: ‘The Rewilding of Eddie Roberts’ by Claire Boot

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

Highly Commended, 2020 Green Stories Competition

The Rewilding of Eddie Roberts
by Claire Boot


As expected, Eddie exploded.

 “Shut off the top two sodding levels?”

There’d been a message from head office, Faisal tried to explain. Due to declining usage, Levels 7 and 8 of the car park were being de-commissioned, so Eddie needed to lock them up during his shift.

 “Bollocks to those new speed limits,” fumed Eddie. “Soon there’ll be no cars left and we’ll be out of our bloody jobs.”

Since speed limits were reduced by a third, more people were walking or cycling or taking the new solar-powered trams. Faisal thought it was great – his daughter’s asthma was much better – but he wanted his breakfast more than he wanted an argument. He shrugged noncommittally and left, wishing Eddie a good shift.

 Two cups of tea later, Eddie took the lift up to Level 8. As he stepped out into the spring sunshine it struck him again what an ideal spot this would make for a sniper. He was assessing the line of sight along the main shopping street when a bundle of feathers shot past him and crashed on to the lift shaft roof.

“Bloody pigeons!”

 Eddie put his foot on a railing and heaved himself up.

 It was a bloody pigeon, being ripped apart by two – what were they, hawks? Hooked yellow beaks, matching yellow talons, and checkerboard chests. And there, under the ledge, three brown eggs.

Back in the office, Eddie googled ‘lost hawks’ but nothing came up locally. More googling, and he worked out they weren’t hawks at all. Peregrine falcons, the world’s fastest bird. He spent his fag break watching YouTube videos of them powering through the sky like missiles. Eddie felt an affinity with the peregrines – skydiving had been his favourite part of army training – until he read on Wikipedia that they mated for life. He’d failed spectacularly at that.

 After lunch, Eddie returned to Level 8 with a stepladder. Only one of the birds was there, cleaning its talons. Very carefully, Eddie re-angled two CCTV cameras towards the nest. Then he climbed down and took the ladder inside, locking the doors behind him.

That summer, Eddie watched the peregrines every day. He saw the adults come and go, taking it in turns to sit on the eggs, and sat open-mouthed as the first chick hatched, a wet wobbly blob pushing through bits of shell. By June, there were three balls of fluff tottering around and gobbling down chunks of mashed-up meat. Throughout August he watched them clumsily coordinate their wings and feet, and then, by the last Monday in September, Eddie knew they’d gone for good.

 When Faisal came in for the night shift, he heard an unfamiliar sound in the office. Eddie was whistling. He gave Faisal a broad grin and a thumbs up. Faisal wondered if Eddie had been drinking again.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

 “Yes mate,” winked Eddie. “I’ve got a new bird in my life.”

And Eddie Roberts exploded with laughter.

---
The audio recording is read by Connor Allen.

GREEN STORIES: 'How to Re-Fill an Invisible Balloon' by Matt Kendrick

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

Third Place Winner, 2020 Green Stories Competition

How to Re-Fill an Invisible Balloon
by Matt Kendrick




No one apart from Dean can see the balloons. Translucent smudges of colour bobbing along in mid-air. Everyone has one. Adults, children, babies. His mum’s red balloon has shriveled like a sun-dried tomato and is hanging limply by her left ankle.

 At the supermarket, Dean pretends he is a charioteer, feet on the trolley struts, using the push bar to veer round the corners of the aisles. Normally, his mum yanks him off and tells him to behave. Today, she picks up a vacuum-wrapped cauliflower and stares at it as if it were from another planet.

There’s a beach by their house where they take the dog for walks. Dean chases the dog along the sand and his balloon trails in his wake. He runs at the waves, laughs as the foam tickles his toes. When they get home, his balloon is big as a space hopper. His mum took a bin bag and has picked up half the beach.

Mrs Mitchell sets them a school project on oceans. She asks what you might find in the sea. Goldfish, dolphins, crabs, sharks. Seaweed? Coral? And shells. And polar bears. And boats. And messages in bottles. Dean says there’s always plastic bags drifting in the surf.

They go to a new shop where you scoop food into containers you’ve brought from home. Dean cascades white rice into a Tupperware box and slides the box onto the scales. They go to another shop for vegetables and another for shampoo pumped into a glass jar. His mum decants everything into the cupboards at home and her balloon is back bobbing above her head–for a little while at least.

She talks to their neighbor about the re-fill shop and the neighbor says it’s like stepping back in time. His mum says everything was better in the past. Dean thinks that must mean before he was born. He looks up to see his balloon has shrunk to an apple-sized sphere.

Saturday, they walk on the beach again. Dean tries to take his mum’s hand like he used to when he was little but she is busy snatching at a crisp packet with her litter picker’s claw. Dean crouches down because he has spotted some six-pack rings half-buried in the sand. When he tries to grab them, his mum yells at him like she does when he’s being a supermarket charioteer.

He asks her at bed time if she was happier before.

‘Before what?’‘

Before me.’

She hugs him tight and asks how he could think that. He explains and she hugs him again. As he drifts off to sleep, his balloon catches the trickle of moonlight seeping through the blinds.

Next time they go to the re-fill shop, Dean asks the woman on the counter if there’s re-fills for everything.

‘Most things,’ she says. ‘What is it you’re after?’

He bites his lip and looks back at his mum. ‘Have you got anything to re-fill balloons?’



GREEN STORIES: 'The Birch Translator' by Andrea Reisenauer

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

First Place Winner, 2020 Green Stories Competition

The Birch Translator
by Andrea Reisenauer


“How long have you known you could speak to bees?”

The orange yolk of the sun was beginning to sink below the skyline. They sat on a small mound of grass in the corner of a park. The tulips were slowly folding their yellow cloaks as the warm hum of electric cars strummed in the distance.

A smile came to the side of her eyes. “As long as I can remember, really. One summer, when I was five, my mother uncovered a hive in the bush next to our driveway. She was just about to spray it when I came running. I had heard yells, screams…I thought she could hear them, too.”

“Were you able to save them?” He asked, wide-eyed.

“Yes,” she grinned. “They helped me move them. A fat little worker came and sat on my thumb and we found a new place. Luckily, my mother had read about the work they were doing in interspecies translation – you know, that there were people like me. By the time I was 15, I was already sending transcripts to parliament detailing the best places for new rooftop meadows.”

She twirled the tall grass between her fingers as the final glints of day played over distant solar panels. Then she turned to him.

“What about you?”

He hesitated.

“It wasn’t as easy for me. Trees are tricky, you know. For a while, I remember hearing things when I passed the neighbor’s garden. Whispers, really. It took me years to realize that it only happened when I was near the silver ones. But I was too afraid to say anything. One year, at Christmas, just when all the stories were coming out about the Finns who had started translating for pines, I finally said something. My parents must’ve thought I was insane. But my uncle knew a woman who worked with willows, so he took me to visit her.”

 “But isn’t it difficult? I mean – what can they even say? The poor things can hardly move!”

He chuckled. “A lot, really. I started with simple things, like finding places to replant trees that were about to be taken out. Now we’re working on air quality. The thing about birches is that they’re great at filtering out the old pollution. They want to help. I can hardly pass by Thunberg Street without hearing some new voice shouting out advice.”

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

Meanwhile, night had tip-toed over the city. As little insect orchestras began to play from the nearby rain reservoir, the two translators slowly stood.

“You know,” he mused, “sometimes I feel as if we were silly children who’ve made a great mess, and they've been just waiting to teach us how to pick it up. They must have been calling out for centuries before we noticed them.”

She reached for his hand.

"But now we're listening." 

As they walked back towards the great sea of green-covered glass, he could hear a little silver sapling nearby, whistling.

GREEN STORIES: Trash Canned by Susan James

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

Second Place Winner, 2020 Green Stories Competition

Trash Canned
by Susan James


There was a time when guys like me were respected in this business. Mick Sloane? Yeah, I know the guy. Damn good PI. The best.

Guy comes up to me in a bar, says his name is Charles but wants me to call him Chuck. Guy says, Mick, I got to know what’s going on with this girl. I think she’s up to something and I need to know what. It’s his ex-girlfriend. They broke up but he’s got to thinking that she was screwing around back when they were together. Okay, no problem. He says she’s some kind of activist, real flowers-in-your-hair type. He shows me a picture. Good looking girl. He gives me an address. Nice part of town. We agree on a price. Chuck leaves the bar. I’ll be in touch.

I go to the address. Driveway is empty, lights off in the house except for maybe some kind of lamp at the back. Could be someone’s home or could be someone’s trying to make it look like they’re home. I check her out online. Some eco-guru cum zero-waste expert. I Google it. Sounds dumb. I recycle. I don’t go trying to make a buck out of it. 

Next day and no car on the driveway. House looks quiet. Nobody home. Tomorrow is trash day. Lot of truth in someone’s garbage. Two cans are under a porch. Open a lid. Empty. Open the other. Empty. Hard to see inside. No car means nowhere to put a tracker. Hey, she says, pushing a bike. No car. Great. I got my hands cupped to the window. She asks if I’m here about the coffee. Absolutely, I say. We go inside. Nice place. She says I can take the grass cuttings out the back, too. Turns out it’s for composting. The coffee grounds, too. She disappears into the yard. I take a look around. Place is pretty bare. Few paintings, some plants. Not a lot to go on. Lots of glass jars on shelves. I’m thinking, Mick, you got to find something on this girl. Bingo! Canvas bag in the corner. I’m thinking a man’s go-bag, dirty washing from a weekend away, something worth disposing of discreetly, but its female clothes folded and fresh. Pen across the side of the bag says ‘Good will’. Damn it.

 A voice behind me asks what I’m doing. Someone older, the mother. Arms across her chest. I never heard a thing. The front door is wide and there’s an electric car on the drive. Girl comes back in smelling of lawn. Gigs up. She asks if I’m here because of Chuck. I say yes. I feel buck naked. We chat. Guy sounds like a douche. Nice girl . She offers me a dandelion coffee. Not for me.

Later, I take Chuck out for a beer. Offer him professional opinion. Chuckie, I say, his back. You’re trash and she hates trash.

GREEN STORIES: ‘Fruits of Labour’ by Holly Schofield

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories ' first flash fiction competition in which wri...