Ian Baptiste was finally starting to see some light in his life after the tragic death of his wife. Following a significant promotion, he’d been able to move with his son into WhisperWood, an exclusive, gated neighborhood. His son was thriving and getting ready to go off to college. Ian’s most recent work with predictive analytics was attracting even more attention to him from the company executives. Still, something nagged at him. Something didn’t feel quite right. Something was off. All of his feelings came to a head when he looked through a crack in the wall behind his home and discovered something that both broke and awakened his heart. In the spirit of 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451, Parable of Weeds is a speculative look at a possible future. A novelette (50 pages).
The trees end abruptly and neatly, as though meeting the warning track of a baseball field. Ahead of Ian, across ten feet of pea gravel, looms an enormous wall. His property, he realizes, butts up against the fifteen-foot high barrier that closes in the community of WhisperWood. The branches that would grow from the trees toward the wall are all shorn.
Ian sets his hand against the cold wall and kneels. His eyes meet a pie-plate section of stucco that has broken away from the cinderblock underneath. He guesses that the brick has been exposed for some time since the mortar between two blocks is cracked and falling away.
Water always wins, his father used to say. He’d been a mason, working for years for a contractor on the upkeep of the high rises’ exterior walls.
Ian touches his finger along the crack before pressing his eye to it. He springs back from the wall. A man! There is a man on the other side. Ian’s breaths are hot. His heart gallops. Crawling forward, he fits his eye to the crack again.
Some ten feet from the wall, a small fire sputters. A shadow sits near it, a man’s silhouette. As Ian’s vision adjusts to the growing dawn light, he can make out the man’s beard and skinny arms hugged around his stick-thin torso. The patchwork of rags he wears just barely resembles a shirt. The man brings a fist to his mouth and coughs violently into it. He sits in a makeshift nest of grasses and straw. With the faux ocean raging in his ears, Ian hears nothing of the man’s hacking, smells nothing of the wood smoke snaking up into the half-darkness.
He makes a pitiful image, stirring a stick through the burnt-black chunks of wood in his fire pit. A few flames leap up and sputter. He hugs his arms around himself again and scoots on his haunches closer to the small blaze.
Ian sits on the ground, squeezing his hand on his forehead. How is this possible…this skeleton of a man hunkered down on the other side of the WhisperWood community? What miserable life has left him here like this? He looks at his left hand and the bagel there with only two bites gone from it. Standing, he weighs the bagel in his right hand, rears back, and pitches it. It goes up and over the wall. He drops to his hands and knees to peer through the crack.
The man looks to his right and then to his left. He shrugs off a shard of blanket and crawls forward.
Ian shrinks back from the opening, then stops. There is no way the man can see him. When he looks again, the man has the bagel in his spider-leg fingers. His eyes are turned up, gazing cautiously along the top of the wall.
It’s for you, Ian whispers.
The man goes back to his fire, sits, and takes a large bite. He chews ravenously, smiling.
Watching, Ian’s mouth becomes the other man’s mouth. He tastes the sweetness of the honey, the thick substance and texture of the bread and peanut butter. He imagines eating after having not eaten in a long time. Pressing his nose to the crack he sniffs for a trace of wood smoke. Lilac suffocates his nostrils.
In the rumors of first light, the other man’s face becomes clearer. He is not old as Ian had guessed, but instead is made old by the overgrown beard sprouting from sunken cheeks. He looks to be in his late thirties, maybe early forties.
Hello, Ian says.
The other man doesn’t look.
Ian cups his hands around the crack. Hello, he shouts.
The sound of waves crashes over him, drowning his words.
The man wraps a portion of the bagel in a rag. He looks around again and then lies on his side, gazing into the embers.
Ian sits on his own side of the wall, dizzy in the discordance of the surf. His head aches. Who is this man? Who the hell is this man?
He looks back toward his house. A puzzle piece of lit kitchen window shows through the branches. Then, the light goes out.
Ian stands and runs, pushing branches from his face. Wait, he thinks. Hold on. He pushes himself into a sprint. A moment later, his foot catches something in the brush. He soars groundward in the weightlessness of falling. His chest hits the solid dirt, knocking the wind from him. He gasps empty breaths. The waves crash in his ears. Jor— He tries but gets no further. His shout is a whisper.
A minute passes. Two minutes. He staggers to his feet and takes his first full breath. Crashing from the woods, he bolts toward the house.
A dog barks. His neighbor, a woman, stands in her backyard near a yipping miniature Yorkie. She looks at him as though he is a wolf or specter exploded from the trees. Running, he waves to her.
She doesn’t wave back.
Ripping opening the sliding glass door, he charges through the kitchen and toward the foyer.
He opens the front door in time to see the back end of a mini-cab turn a corner and disappear.