“That’s not grass seed.” Carly stood in the front yard with her new husband surveying the supplies he’d brought home, which included dirt, garden tools, and a brimming bucket labeled grass seed. Carly pulled out one of the softly squirming bulbs for a closer look . . .
“Sure it is,” Richard said, though Carly heard doubt in his voice. Neither of them had seen grass seed before, making it hard to judge. But Carly had seen other kinds of seeds before. She’d eaten an apple once in an anthropology class (so tough and chewy!) The professor wanted her students to experience what their ancestors had experienced. Carly remembered Dr. Moons admonishing the students to make sure they ate every bit of the apple, stem and all.
“In older times, people wouldn’t waste food just because it hadn’t been reWorked,” the professor laughed, and Carly ate her apple. Inside, she found small, black objects that Dr. Moons identified as seeds. But the grass seeds Richard had brought home glowed purple and Carly couldn’t close her fingers around the one in her hand.
“They look too big,” Carly observed. “Aren’t seeds supposed to start small and grow big?” They knew another couple a few blocks over who kept a pot of grass in their yard, and it looked small, delicate, light. The seed in Carly’s hand felt as heavy as a brick.
“Maybe a lot of grass grows out of each seed,” Richard suggested. Most of their neighbor’s yards used traditional artificial landscaping. But Carly and Richard followed the teaching in The reWorked Soul, the book that set fire to the naturalist movement. In it, Dr. Phineas Green argued that the human soul needs nature to thrive. (What’s a soul? Carly still wondered.)
“In the old days, people surrounded themselves with grass in their yards and pets and plants right inside their homes,” Dr. Green wrote to a generation craving something new. “They lived in a world still wild and they experienced human life in its natural environment.”
Neither Carly nor Richard knew what grass smelled like or why people once thought keeping little tigers and wolves indoors added value to life. But they wanted to know, so here they stood with a thick layer of (fertilized!) dirt spread across the yard and gardening supplies in hand.
Carly tried not to think of her yard as a giant toilet. It’s natural, she told herself. It’s good.
Only Carly never thought that nature meant seeds with sharp little teeth. Each one clawed into the skin of her hands and bit at her as she picked it up and dropped it carefully into the layer of imported topsoil spread in front of their new house. She mashed the poop-dirt down on top of them firmly. After the second time one of the seeds scrabbled out from the spot Carly planted it in, she and Richard started piling bricks on top of the seeds to keep them in place.
“Here, use the gloves,” Richard said after the third time Carly squealed and dropped her grass seedling pod thing. He kissed her on the nose and handed the gloves over, then pretended not to notice the sharp little bites on his own hands as they kept planting.
Carly glowered at Richard’s back. She hated his new masculine behaviors. Why should he assume he could suffer the bites but they were too much for her? But Dr. Green taught that a natural lifestyle involved rediscovering early gender roles, too, and Richard had embraced some old fashioned behaviors. That was why they got married.
Richard and Carly had already filled out the standard joint residence forms 3 years prior to the marriage, but reading Dr. Green’s follow-up book – Masculine Bear, Feminine Flower – convinced them to do more. So last month, they paid their lawyer to perform a traditional wedding ceremony from the 2nd millennium pieced together from fragments of films and texts. They even held the event in a spot rumored to be the site of an ancient church, a building called The Zen Buddhist Center for New Age Holistic Healing, Greenwich, CT.
Carly loved the archaic ceremony and using the word husband at first, but the glamour soon wore off. Now she stood digging through manure, resenting Richard, and wondering if olden people ever felt this way.
As they neared the end of the planting, Richard picked up a handful of dirt and tossed it over Carly’s head. “Stop that! You’re getting the stuff in my hair!” Carly pushed away Richard’s hugging arms and shook her hair out.
“It’s ok, Carly,” Richard said, picking up more dirt and shaking it over his own head. “It’s exciting, isn’t it? We’re covered in dirt! I’ve never been dirty before.”
“I could have done without experiencing that,” Carly said, but allowed Richard to tease her out of her bad mood because she felt the excitement, too, as she looked at the newly planted squirming lawn. “How long before they grow?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Richard said. “Hours, days, weeks? I’m not even sure how we’d know when they grew.” Too excited to sleep, they sat watching the grass for the rest of the evening, at one point chasing down a runaway seed that hadn’t been planted securely enough. Eventually, they grew tired of simply looking at the dirt and went to bed, telling each other that growing grass probably took at least a day or two, not just minutes, and that they couldn’t expect something as natural as grass to function instantly. “People had to have patience in the past, remember?” Richard said.
“I know, I know,” Carly agreed. “We’re spoiled moderns used to instant results.” So they went to bed, tamping down their disappointment.
But the grass grew more quickly than they expected, and Carly’s size principle held true. Big seeds made big grass. The bright purple plants that flashed outside of their windows the next morning grew as high as the roof by the end of the day. They chuckled nervously to each other when the roots began poking through the walls, but they wanted to be good naturalists. They tried to be pleased with the results and reassured each other that people in the past hadn’t felt nervous around giant purple grass.
Richard and Carly’s closest friends in the neighborhood, the Beumans, stopped by to check on the lawn. Jennifer and John had helped Richard and Carly find a house in their own neighborhood.
“The people here get it, you know?” John had said, describing the area to Richard and Carly. “They’re trying to recreate a whole natural neighborhood.”
“Is that possible?” Carly had asked. “I keep hearing that nothing grows anymore, no matter what people try.”
“People just say that because they want to stop us,” Jennifer had said. “They’re afraid to let nature back into the world. They want to stay plugged into their reWorked lives but people weren’t meant to live like that.”
Now John stared in awe at their grass as he and his wife approached the house. “Holy Mother Nature,” John said. “Looks like your grass really took off, didn’t it?” Carly tried to muffle her proud smile; the Beumans had been trying to grow grass for a month, but so far they only had yellow and brown stubble in a few patches in their yard.
“We’re pleased with it,” she admitted, running her hand gently up one leaf of the knife-like plants. “Oh!” She pulled her hand back.
“Are you ok?” Jennifer asked, snatching up Carly’s hand before she could hide it. “Oh, you’re bleeding, you poor thing. Let’s take care of this.”
“I keep forgetting that it’s not a reWorked yard,” Carly said, heading inside for a bandage. The others came with her; the constant humming from the grass made conversation outside difficult. “Nature stings.”
“I suppose that’s why John and I always keep our grass so small,” Jennifer said. “We thought about letting it grow wild like yours, but we decided to work our way up to that slowly.” Carly suppressed an unbelieving snort; she knew Jennifer burned with envy. She and John had spent a small fortune trying to grow grass, with very limited results.
“So what kind of setup did you use, Richard?” John asked as the four of them settled down to watch the grass through the living room windows. They traded stories about the imported dirt and water and seeds and gardening tools they each used to create their natural yards.
“Wait, wait,” John said at some point. “The seeds bit you?”
“Yes,” Richard said. “Carly didn’t like it very much.” He ruffled Carly’s hair and she glared at him in response. “But we managed to plant them and now we have a real yard.”
“Maybe we had bad seeds,” John said. “Ours didn’t bite us at all.”
“Well, I didn’t get mine through the store,” Richard admitted.
“You didn’t?” Carly said.
“I know it seems risky, but I went through a private dealer.” Richard appeared a bit shamefaced, as he should. Every sale of consumer goods had to be documented and take place through a legal store. Carly shivered a little at the risk Richard had taken. “It’s the only way to get real grass seed,” Richard explained. “I researched this. The stores only sell genetically reWorked seeds after spraying them with so many safety agents that they’re mostly dead by the time you get them. Someone smuggled this stuff straight out of the government’s organic farms. It’s wild seed.”
“John,” Jennifer said, fingers gripping her husband’s arm. “Maybe we should use wild seed, too.” They exchanged a look and a moment later, John had convinced Richard to share his contact.
Later that night, Carly took Richard to task for it. “They should find their own contacts,” she complained. “If they get caught, it might lead back to us. Those two aren’t cautious. I mean, John’s told everyone in the neighborhood that he plans to adopt a dog as soon as he can find one.”
The two of them lay in bed after clearing away the purple grass that had broken through the windows of their bedroom. Richard hesitated to cut it at first. After all, it cost so much to grow, so why would they cut it now?
But Carly reminded him of references to lawn mowers and pruning they found in their research. She and Richard each took up shears and happily hacked away at their grass until they could finally shutter and reinforce the windows from the inside. They had gingerly carried the chopped off bits of grass to the trash disintegrator, careful not to let the red blood oozing out of the grass drip on the floor, and then climbed, exhausted, into bed.
“Carly,” Richard said, one arm wrapped around her. “You’re jealous. You don’t want anyone else to have what we have.”
“Jennifer rubs me the wrong way,” Carly admitted. “She’s always tries to one-up us. It’s killing her that we grew grass before she did.”
“It’s fine, I promise. I’ve known John for a long time. He’s a good guy. At least they share our ideals. That’s why we moved here, babe, to become authentic again.” He laughed a little. “Maybe that’s why Jennifer acts like that, too. Women used to be catty, didn’t they?” Carly felt disturbed at that thought. “Besides, why should the government care about tiny transactions over grass seed? Grass used to grow everywhere. A little more in the world hurts no one. Before they figured out how to stabilize the atmosphere artificially, plants covered the whole planet, not just concrete.”
“The law is so strict though . . .”
“I know,” Richard said. “But this contact of mine knows his stuff. He makes deals like this all the time. And John keeps Jennifer in line.” Not quite satisfied, Carly let the subject drop, wondering as she did if Richard thought he kept her in line. That line of thought disturbed her too much to pursue, however. The two drifted to sleep, despite the repeated crashes and bangs of the grass on the windows and the occasional shriek from a bitten passerby.
To Carly’s relief, Richard’s dealer had only a few of the grass seeds left. Jennifer and John disintegrated their yellow and brown stubble and planted the purple seeds in pots in front of their house. Soon, the Beumans’ grass grew large, crawling up the sides of the building and occasionally nipping a bite of flesh from the Beumans while they slept.
“This mark will take forever to go away,” Jennifer complained one morning over coffee at Carly’s house. She showed Carly some large tooth marks surrounded by a heavy purple bruise on the calf of her leg.
“I’m surprised you let them feed on you like that,” Carly said, sipping her reWorked Java. She worked from home at Richard’s insistence, just like Jennifer. Carly refused to give up the automated housekeeping systems, however. “I don’t think the old people allowed grass to feed on them,” Carly took some pleasure in informing Jennifer. “I’ve seen lots of references to mowing grass.”
“Mowing….You don’t cut the grass, do you?” Jennifer asked.
“Every day,” said Carly.
“We want our grass to be as natural as possible,” Jennifer said. “But I suppose it is getting a little wild. This piece grew up through the plumbing and bit me while I slept. It buried half its head inside my calf before we managed to dig it out.” Somehow, Carly never imagined plants having faces. Does that mean they have souls, too? she wondered.
“At least let me pour some Cure-all on that,” Carly suggested.
“Oh, don’t be silly, Car,” Jennifer half laughed and half grimaced. “I never use that stuff. It’s about as unnatural as you can get. I’m sure this happened to past people all the time. Grass can’t hurt us.” Carly stared doubtfully at the bubbling, swollen skin on her rival’s leg and said nothing more. After Jennifer left, she went upstairs and blocked off all the pipes and every other hole she could find in the house.
Finally she sat in front of a window and watched the grass, its mouths opening and closing, its leaves pulsing against the window as it tried to find a way inside. What’s alive in there? she wondered. What does it want from us?
Richard called her that night.
“I’m stuck outside, Carly,” he said. Hesitantly, Carly opened the door and peeked through, pushing down the invading tendrils of grass as she did.
“I can’t see you, Richard,” she said.
“Some of the grass wrapped around me and … OUCH! Carly, bring the shears or SOMETHING, come get me!” Picturing the nasty gash in Jennifer’s leg, Carly looked frantically through her cupboards until she saw something she could use. The fire extinguisher! She’d never had a reason to use it before. She hurriedly glanced at the label: extinguishes many natural problems through the use of fire. This counted as a problem.
She opened the front door wide, holding the fire extinguisher in front of her, and turned it on full blast. Blue hot flames burst from the nozzle and burnt away the grass in an arc, creating a path for her to move through. She finally found Richard, who stood wrestling one piece of grass that had blades crawling into his ears and around his head and that kept thrusting its head into his mouth as if to plant itself down his throat. Carly burned and hacked away until Richard came free of it.
“Oh, thank Mother Earth,” Richard said. Carly continued blasting the grass, furious and tired of all the aggravation it had caused her for the past couple of weeks. “Wait, wait, Carly, stop!” Richard said finally. “You’re killing too much!”
“Good,” Carly said. “I’m tired of chopping at it and trying to clean up the burns where its blood sizzles through the carpet. I’m tired of all the damage it’s down to our home, to our new house, Richard! I’m tired of having shit in our yard just to keep it alive.” She kept spraying fire everywhere, deeply satisfied with the way the faces blackened and melted in front of her. “I can’t stand those eyes staring at me.” Richard tried to knock the fire extinguisher from her grasp, but she gripped it tightly and kept up the swinging arcs of fire, not even slowing her path when he stood in the way. He dove out of the path of the flames at the last minute.
“Ok, Carly, fine!” He moved back toward the front door and sat down to watch his wife burn every living thing in the yard to a crisp. When Carly finally stopped, she turned back to him and saw blood streaming down his chest and face.
“Richard!” she said. “You’re bleeding!”
“Yeah,” he said. “I guess I am.”
They went inside and Carly helped clean him up. He barely protested as Carly poured Cure-all into the wounds.
“Our grass,” Richard said sadly later, looking over the damage. “Our nature.”
“Richard, you don’t care about the grass and you don’t care about nature. You just enjoyed impressing your friends with how big it was,” Carly said.
“That’s not true,” he said. “I wanted to experience something different. Something real, something alive.”
“We’re alive. We’re real,” Carly replied. “But we’re not early people. Maybe they knew how to deal with this stuff, but we can’t handle it.” Sadly, he nodded in defeat. They experienced their first night of peace since they first planted the grass, with regulated air circulating around them while they slept through a silent night.
Carly expected the Beumans to come by and tsk-tsk over the destroyed grass. She and Richard cleaned up the refuse as best as they could. All the grass heads had backed up the disintegrator, so they piled up what couldn’t fit inside and then walked down the block to their neighbor’s house. Richard and Carly fought their way through to the front door, where they banged and rang and finally called the Beumans with no response.
“Do you think they went out?” Carly asked, but Richard shook his head grimly. The Beumans usually answered their calls. Ignoring Richard’s protests (“You know they’d never let us do it!”), Carly burned away some of the grass that had broken through the patio door and they gingerly stepped inside.
They found the Beumans upstairs in their bed. They lay side by side, pinned down by several layers of grass, as peaceful as death although their chests still moved softly up and down.
New plants grew out of the gash in Jennifer’s leg that she had showed Carly the previous day. The roots penetrated every orifice of both her body and her husband’s, and little grass heads dangled above them, faces twisted into smile-shapes.
“Holy Gaia,” Richard said.
“Call for medical help,” Carly said. She went throughout the house and incinerated every bit of grass she could find, but she couldn’t burn the grass planted in the Beumans without burning them, as well.
“Carly,” Richard called. While Carly burned the grass, he had he used a knife to attempt to untangle the Beumans. He had split open one of the grass heads that he had extracted from John’s mouth. It made a loud pop when it opened, and little dots exploded outwards in all directions. “Carly, look at them.” Thousands of tiny grass seeds floated out, with little puffs of fluff attached that kept them airborne. Richard and Carly had seen these little puffs around their own home from the distance of a few feet, but they hadn’t connected the tiny puffs to the grass seed they first planted. Now, looking closely, they could see that they were miniature seeds. Thousands of them swirled through the air, blew out the open holes in the windows, and spiraled into the ventilation systems, miniscule but rapidly expanding while they watched.
“If the seeds grow as quickly as the plants, those will take root soon,” Carly said. She looked at the sprouts of grass growing in several spots out of the Beumans. “We have to kill them,” Carly said. “All of them.”
She lifted the extinguisher and pointed it at what was left of the Beumans.
“You can’t do that. You’ll kill them.”
“They’re dead, Richard.” Carly pointed out what she had just noticed. Their chests rose and fell, but only because the blades of grass wrapped around them writhed in rhythm. Once they hacked away enough of the grass to reach through to their friends, they could feel how cold and stiff their skin had become.
Carly blasted the room with fire. The artificial materials of the building prevented it from catching fire, but Carly kept going until everything organic in the room had been burned to a crisp.
Carly and Richard moved from room to room, trying to burn every bit of grass and floating grass seed they could find. Outside, Carly turned the fire extinguisher to full level. Carly pushed it on at full blast, watching a wall of flame explode out of the nozzle and quickly engulf the yard and house in front of them. The heat snapped back at her, sizzling her hair and eyebrows, but she kept the nozzle pressed down to full blast and stood her ground until all the grass around them looked black and crispy. The synthetic walls of the house appeared untouched, but Carly thought she had killed any floating grass seeds.
“Carly, I think that’s enough,” Richard said, pulling the fire extinguisher away from her. “Come on, hon. We need to get away from here.” He put his hand on her shoulder and guided her away from the disaster zone.
A few neighbors had lined up outside to watch, and Carly heard the sounds of sirens in the distance. She imagined herself on trial with Richard, trying to explain this to a court of law. It would be a huge setback to the naturalist movement. Screw them. I don’t need to discover my soul, she thought.
But she forgot about all that for a moment as they walked toward their home. Dust particles floated in the air around them, coating the artificial yards of their neighbors’ homes.
“Richard,” she said. “Look.” The dust particles were tiny, so tiny, but if you looked closely you could see that they glowed faintly purple. Thousands, maybe millions, spread through every yard around them.
“Those grass heads we’ve been cutting off everyday…” Richard said.
“Floating off’,” Carly replied.
“We left so many laying out today. And if every one of them expelled their seeds . . . The whole planet’s barren, though,” Richard reassured himself. “There’s nothing for them to grow in, right?”
“People,” Carly replied, remembering the Beumans. “They could grow in people.” There were so many billions of people, leading sanitized lives, most of them never having been in the same room with a live plant before
“Carly,” Richard said, hushed. “I’m not sure this is what grass is supposed to be like.”
Carly flicked on her emergency response signal, knowing it might already be too late, at least for this state.