Friday, June 14, 2019

Natural Retribution

Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. All words must be used at least once and all the posts will be unique as each writer has received their own set of words. That’s the challenge, here’s a fun twist; no one who’s participating knows who got their words and in what direction the writer will take them. Until now.

My words are: staple, pollen, count, concealing, sentence, and Segway

They were submitted by: It was submitted by:


Day 62

We’re running out of food.

The staples are low anyway. There’s some extras in the pantry like canned hamburgers that we have yet to touch, but the time will come.

If we stretch things out and risk getting a little hangrier, we might last 3 more weeks or so before everything is completely gone, and we really don’t know when--or if honestly--things will be okay for us to return topside, so I thought I’d kind of write some back story about how we got to this bunker in case someone makes a gruesome discovery in the future. If anyone is lucky enough to live through all this anyway…

Before I do that though, I want to record what I know of our identities. There’s 13 of us down here in a space meant for 6. I don’t know whose bunker this is. All I know is I’m grateful Nic and I stumbled upon it. Nic is my wife. I’m Marcy. We’re 24 and 25 respectively. We came to this farm looking for a tornado cellar or some kind of basement, but we lucked out. The entrance to this place was in the barn, and it looks like it was custom built. There are 6 sleeping spots that we rotate through and some kind of handwritten guide about how to make the food last between 6, but no one was here when we showed up. We kept hoping the people who lived here might return home and have even more secrets, but no such luck. Either they evacuated and hoped they could outrun this thing, or they succumbed to it just like everyone else in this shitty, Podunk town. We let everyone who showed up come inside, but people stopped showing up a long time ago, and we’re pretty sure no one else is coming.

Anyway, that’s me (last name McHale) and Nic Martinez. We’re from Houston, but we live in Seattle and came here for the same reasons everyone else did, and looking back on it…there were much better ways to spend our time. Obviously. There’s also Buddy (William) Littleton, a local. He’s an older guy, 60s. Lost his wife to this. He’s been quiet, mourning probably. Janey Simpson is 10 and got separated from her parents in some kind of panic riot. I have no idea how a 10 year old found the farm way out in the middle of nowhere especially since her family’s not even from here, but whatever. She doesn’t have a lot of answers for what happened between getting lost and arriving here or answers to any questions at all. It’s a blur really, and who can blame her? We’re all a bit traumatized. She just expresses hers with no talking. I found her name written in a little notebook she had in her unicorn purse when she got here, but that’s really all she had that might identify her. She responds to “Janey” when we do try to talk to her.

Dan Spears and Jason Moore are friends, locals, mid-30s. They were out of state on some hunting trip when all this started, I guess? They were supposedly off the grid the entire time and came back to this. No survivors at either of their homes. Sophie, Trey, and their 3 year old Cam (short for Camo if you can believe it) were here visiting family from across the state. Their last name is Dalton. Her maiden name is Sharp. Shade and Bryant Murphy are from Oregon. Shade is his drag name. His legal name is Lucas (Maiden name is Reeves). They’re married, live in Portland, and are in their late 20s. They were drawn here like the other tourists. It’s interesting watching a guy who named his kid Camo try to live in this tiny bunker with the huge personality that is Shade. It certainly hasn’t been dull. Mae Porter is a local woman. She’s in her 30s, single, no kids that she’s spoken of at least. She’s kind of bonded pretty closely with Trav which is short for D’traveon. They’re around the same age, but he’s from Georgia. They’re the only Black people in the bunker, so it makes sense. I get it. Things are tense enough without the added issue of worrying about which ones of us are racist, right? Better to have each other’s backs, for sure, but I also sense some love growing there. It’s been cute to watch. I hope they give it a go if we get out of here.

So now there are our identities as best as I know them. If you find this, tell our families or give us a proper burial or whatever, ok? I’m taking it with me in this waterproof bag I found down here if we do leave so if I’m alone, look for the others…we’re not planning on splitting up.

I don’t know who might find us, but in case it’s not in the near future, I’ll explain the whole thing at least what I know of it. Don’t repeat our mistakes.

There had been so many stories in early spring about full fields of flowers growing in California and how beautiful they were. Of course, there were also stories about people trampling them in an effort to get selfies, but a few people’s assholery doesn’t take away from, like, the miracle of Mother Nature or whatever, right? Nic and I had really wanted to go, but we couldn’t get out of work at the time. We own our own little florist shop, and early spring before it really gets hot is a busy time for weddings. When I say “little,” I mean, we have to hire someone temporarily if we take any time off or get overwhelmed because it’s usually just Nic and I and not enough work to make it worth hiring someone full time. So we were out of luck. By the time things slowed down, the flowers had suffered a lot of damage and a lot had died off making it not worth the trip to check them out anymore.

So when we heard about these weird, never seen before plants that were growing here in middle-of-nowhere, Texas, we felt like it was a second chance to marvel at the beauty of the world we live in. hahaha. Thinking back on our naivety now really fucks with my head a little. According to the news, this field of greenish black, spiny plants—hundreds, too many to count--had been spotted in Texas. The local people, and the folks in the bunker who were local agreed, that one day the fields were pretty empty because so many farmers had gone bankrupt over the last couple years, and the next they were full of these plants. At that time, they were about knee high. We saw the pictures and literally freaked out. They were like nothing we’d ever seen before. Some kind of cross between cacti and large flowering bushes. There weren’t large bulbous stems like with most cacti. Come to think of it, they looked a lot like diamond chollas but the branches were thicker and, of course, the coloring was off. The spines were the thick, eye gougers like you see on diamond chollas, though. If anything the spines were a bit shorter with thicker bases like rose thorns.

The plants grew fast. 2 days after we saw the first stories, they were already as tall as a person and had started to bud. We decided then that if we were going to get to see them, we better contact our temp (a retired florist who lived near the shop) and head that way. We had a vacation fund set aside, and, well, to be completely candid, we hoped to bring back some cuttings and flowers and try to cultivate them ourselves. They looked so damn weird. We knew they would sell back home, and we might finally be able to hire someone full time instead of working 80 hour, 7 day weeks. We absolutely were being greedy.

We weren’t the only ones either.

Nearly everyone on our plane had plans to either check out the flowers, was talking about them, or were changing plans to head that way as soon as possible. The buzz was ridiculous, and we were a bit dismayed that we might not actually get a chance to get the clippings we wanted with so many people doing the same. I mean, these people would set fire to the last tree on earth just to make a buck most of the time and had very little appreciation for the beauty of a brand new species of plant just showing up like this out of the blue. Think of the possibilities. Medicine, food, textiles….I mean, we had no idea what we were dealing with here, and all I could hear were phrases like “instagram influencers,” “photo shoot,” and “I’m gonna go viral.”

No respect. None of us had it

When we connected in Dallas to fly to Abilene, the entire airport seemed to be talking about it. Every conversation, even polite small talk, ended up circling back to these plants. When we got our car in Abilene, almost the entire lot had been rented. We were lucky to get one of the last few left in the place. We headed south, the hour drive to a place called Ballinger wiping us out, but we were pumped to try the fields so we could make the drive back to Abilene to check into our hotel. I guess I should have known when there were no rooms available in Ballinger, that the place would be packed. There were less than 4000 people within the city limits, if you could even call this a city. The drive down brought up memories of the drive from my parents’ place in Houston to see my grandma in Livingston. Once you got out of the city, there was just…nothing. But this… I’d never seen anything like it. Once we got close, there were cars everywhere. There were men in fancy suits riding Segways on dirt roads, ties flapping in the wind. Entire roads were lined on both sides, and the dust kicked up by all this traffic…I could hardly breathe, and Nic had to use her rescue inhaler before we even got parked. And oh god the parking. It took us longer to find somewhere to park than it did to drive down from Abilene and even then it was some fucker price gouging to let us park in his yard. $25 for 2 hours. At 3 hours, the price went up to $50. I couldn’t believe it.

There were already people in the downtown area selling merchandise with photos of the plants. Cups, frilly shirts and pants sets for kids, ice chests, t shirts, postcards, monogrammed reusable water bottles with “I saw the Ballinger Beetlejuice.” I guess that’s what they were calling it. By the time we landed and made it here, the buds had started to open and looked a lot like the striped sandworms from that film—the black outer, protective layer concealing the actual bud was peeling back to reveal that it was both spined inside and that the bud was a white flower with green tips on the petals. The spined outer layer made it look remarkably like a toothed predator. The name was pretty clever I suppose. Alliteration is important. But if I ever make it out of this, watching the Beetlejuice movie is out of the question for the rest of my time on Earth. It’s been ruined for me.

That first day, it was absolute chaos at the fields. There were so many people trampling the plants for the “perfect” photo. So much damage had occurred already. We were pretty deflated watching it all--not just because of our plan to nab some cuttings either. No one cared about anything more than outdoing someone else on getting the best photos. Nic and I left well before our parking time was up. We couldn’t take it. I actually cried on the way back to Abilene.

We didn’t go back the next day either. But we did follow the news and apparently there were more fields spouting across the u.s. in rural areas pulling in thousands of tourists in each location. Kinda defeated the name “Ballinger Beetlejuice” but whatever. The buds in Ballinger had started to open revealing blood red inner parts. Inside it looked like a typical flower so far, but the size of the plants and the buds themselves meant that the pistols and stamens would likely be incredibly large as well. We joked that day in our hotel room about the amount of pollen these flowers would produce and maybe it was Mother Earth’s way of taking humans out. We both have terrible allergies. How close we were… It’s not really funny anymore.

We talked it over and decided to see what sites we could in the area, enjoy some small town hospitality…picnic, hike… Have an actual vacation, you know? Then we’d return to Ballinger on the day before we left just to see if we could get a glimpse of the open flowers in full maturity. We both figured it would take at least 3 or 4 more days for the buds to fully open and reach the sexual reproduction stage with pollen and all that. I was really curious to take a look at the plant anatomy myself. Botany had always been one of my favorite subjects well before we started our own shop.

We had a great time honestly and created some wonderful memories that have gotten me through being in this place in spite of everything going on. We had everything packed up already and in the car the morning we drove back down here. Our flight was leaving later that night so we could be back in time to take over the shop the next afternoon, but we never made it.

On the way, the breaking news hit. The flowers had matured overnight apparently. No one really understood what was going on, but the pollen, the same deep red in color, had been heavy, washing over the fields and carried throughout the area. It wasn’t any kind of normal structure, though. Anyone that came into contact with the infested air died gruesomely. Bleeding from the eyes, nose, and mouth initially followed by loss of muscle control, convulsions, paralysis, and death. We pulled over on the side of the road to read the stories… EMTs had arrived for the first few cases and succumbed to the effects of the pollen just as the tourists did. People came in with gas masks and were able to get a few folks out and to the hospital, but prolonged skin contact still resulted in death, just prolonged death, and the hospital had no idea how to treat it. Conspiracy theorists were already claiming terrorism, Russian involvement, and blamed Hilary Clinton. Don’t know why. I mean, she’s terrible, but jesus fucking Christ, right?

We should have been paying closer attention. By the time I looked up from the phone to process everything I was reading, I could see a red cloud on the horizon headed quickly in our direction. I screamed at Nic to reverse the car and get us back to Abilene, but the cloud was gaining on us. We decided to turn down a dirt road off the highway thinking we might be able to outrun it in a different direction, but it was no use. We saw the farmhouse and barn out here with literal minutes to spare looking for a cellar that might keep us safe. Desperation is the only thing that made me check the barn. We had to break the lock with some shears hanging on the wall, but we made it. Everyone else arrived in between pollen clouds coming from basements and cellars that had run out of supplies or by luck from a week off the grid or whatever. Apparently, the plant was sort of…well…diurnal according to those who came after us. The Ballinger Beetlejuice appeared to actually shoot the pollen into the air itself with some kind of sap or water vapor cloud. The wind picked it up and did its job to further the cycle.

We could have left if it was just here in Ballinger, but it wasn’t.

The bunker had power for the first week or so. We kept up with the news cycle as best we could charging our phones and listening to the small weather radio down here. But everything just stopped updating after awhile and a couple days later, the power shut off and hasn’t yet come back on. I know there has to be more people out there, but we have no way of knowing what will happen topside, so we’ve been pushing it as long as possible even if it means starving a little before we make real plans to leave here and try to find some others maybe. Plant reproductive cycles, the pollen phase, doesn’t last forever. So we figure by the time the food runs out maybe we’re good until the next growing season. I mean, we have to hope, right?

Honestly, though, it feels a bit like a death sentence from the Earth. And if it is, maybe humans deserve it. 


Links to the other “Use Your Words” posts:

Baking In A Tornado

Wandering Web Designer

Cognitive Script

The Bergham Chronicles

On the Border

Bookworm in the Kitchen

Part-time Working Hockey Mom

Follow me home


  1. I'll never look at the dandelions on my lawn the same way again.
    Hillary Clinton, now that made me laugh!

  2. If only there were a mini "Ballinger Beatlejuice" for the asses that pose in and over flowers for selfies. I just won't say it three times.

  3. What a nightmare! Ballinger Beetlejuice - the plant from hell!
    Great story, though, you went all out!

  4. This. Is. Awesome!!!! I can just see the movie!

  5. You have a real talent girl, I think you have a book here, maybe a series. You challenge my thinking and give me reason to pause.