rjhowe.net: fiction: long growing season

Long Growing Season
Newer York
Molly was pulling weeds when she saw the first one. He was dressed in old-fashioned business clothes, and he was carrying a briefcase. Molly blinked and stood up. He was facing away from her, looking down along the line of the old street. She couldn't imagine what he was looking at so intently -- the "street" was nothing more than a weed patch, a little straighter than most, but otherwise unremarkable.

"Hello," she called out, walking slowly toward the man. She didn't want to sneak up behind him, but she was more than slightly vexed that he was on her land, as well marked as it was.

The man continued to peer along the track and paid no attention to her.

"I said hello!"

She took another step toward him, her irritation building, and suddenly he wasn't there any more. Molly stared dumbly at the spot where he'd been standing. There were no footprints in the soft ground; not even the least disturbance. She poked the ground gently with a forefinger, making a small dimple in the soil.

She felt her forehead, wondering if she had heatstroke. She wasn't sure, if she did have heatstroke, that she'd feel warm to herself. She took the rest of the afternoon off from her chores.

Nothing else seemed out of synch that afternoon. She lay in bed reading and trying not to think about her apparition. He was like a dream. When Molly was a little girl she'd had a bad case of conjunctivitis -- caught from swimming in the dirty water in a bomb crater -- and had fever dreams for a week. Her mother told her afterward that she'd been talking to her father the whole time. Of course, he was dead by then; he'd been in the air force in Australia.

Molly remembered him holding her hand while she had the infection. The man she saw in the field seemed just that real. She shook her head. It had better not be anything that serious; you took too many afternoons off in the farming business and you starved all winter.

Molly looked up from her book at the calendar painted on the wall. Only nine more weeks until the first frost. "I'll turn in early," she said to herself, "so maybe I'll get most of the heavy work done before it gets hot tomorrow."
• • •
A few days later she was eating lunch in the shade of the barn when she heard the low beating of helicopter blades coming from the ocean. A blue and white Mitsubishi passed over a few seconds later and made a wide sweep over her land. The pilot then set it down on the northern edge of the old park, about a hundred yards from the house.

The cat hid from the strange man. Molly wished she could hide, too. She imagined how wild she must look to the land reclamation agent: she'd stopped shaving her legs and underarms, and she was dressed in a pair of baggy shorts and a soiled t-shirt with the arms hacked off. In contrast, the agent was wearing neatly pressed khaki trousers with a forest green shirt and shiny oval badge. His shoes looked like he'd just walked them out of the department store, and he smelled faintly of cologne.

The agent smiled from behind his silvered flying glasses and held out a clean (but surprise, calloused) hand.

"Hi, I'm Ed Wong."

She shook hands, proud of her own calluses, and smiled back. "Molly Tanaka."

"Molly?" the agent said, not letting go of her hand. "Are you Nisei?"

Molly took her hand back, none too gently. This was one of the reasons she'd come East: she resented having to explain that her family had lived in California since the First War with Japan in the Forties. And she hated the Japanese for making her a stranger in her own country.

Wong took off his sunglasses. "I'm sorry. I, ah, it's become fashionable lately for some of the military governors' wives to pose as rural gentry. I..."

"Do I look like gentry?" she asked, not at all mollified.

"No," he said, a bit too emphatically. "I mean, people think I’m one of them, if you can believe it."

Molly could -- not that Wong looked anything but ethnic Chinese to her, but most Americans still thought all Asian people looked the same.

Wong looked uncomfortable. "I really am sorry," he said. "Are your folks..."

"My mother was repatriated," Molly said coldly. "My older brother, as well. My father died in the Philippines campaign. I was born in '34, so I just made the cutoff."

"I don't know what to say."

Molly softened a little at that. "It's okay. They actually wanted to go back, if you can believe it." It was something Molly couldn't forgive her mother for, though she didn't say that.

"What do you think of my spread?" she asked instead.

He gestured around. "You've made quite a bit of progress here. It looks good." He sounded relieved to be on a safer topic. "I just came down to see if you needed anything, and to introduce myself."

Molly smiled. "And to make sure that I didn't stake out any more land than I was entitled to."

The agent's expression didn't change, which brought him up a notch in her estimation.

"That too. I didn't measure exactly, but you seem to be close enough."

"To the foot, I think. Would you like something to drink? I'm afraid I have only water."

"Water's fine. I always get parched when I fly with the doors off."

Molly gave him the grand tour after he'd drank two huge glasses of water. She faintly resented his intrusion from the outside world, but he seemed pleased with all the work she'd gotten done on the farm, and aside from his initial faux pas, he hadn't done anything to put her off.

His stock rose a few more points when they looked at the stable. Satan, the stallion, actually let Wong rub his nose.

"Are they a breeding pair?" he wanted to know.

Molly nodded. "I hope so. They used up most of my credit. I'd have been able to bring along a whole lot more tools and equipment if I'd just paid somebody to fly me in here."

Wong shook his head. "They're worth everything you paid for them. For one thing, you're going to need them when you start cultivating bigger fields. And for another, they'll pay back the investment a dozen times once she foals. This land is too good to be deserted forever: once you have neighbors, colts will be worth their weight in Q-chips."

Molly looked at the agent curiously. "You seem like a city boy -- how do you know about horses and crops?"

The agent shrugged. "You come from the coast, what do you know about it? I might have been a city boy, but there weren't any left in Ohio when I grew up. I went to school on the coast, but the government sent me to land reclamation training right here. I was the first one in my class to graduate from here. I never thought I'd like the Phoenix City project. I wanted them to send me someplace really wild -- but you know, now that I'm here, I wouldn't want to go anyplace else."

"Do you know much about New York?"

"About as much as anyone. They teach us a lot about it in rec-school."

"It's tough to imagine this place as all skyscrapers," she said.

"That's because it wasn't. This part was Brooklyn: it was more like a suburb. They had some big buildings, I guess, but they also had a lot of parks and trees. Makes it easier to cultivate. Plus the bombing pretty much dusted everything above ground level anyway."

"Is there anyone else in your area?"

"A few, mostly across the river in Jersey. I guess they used to raise cows there. It was probably even more rural than this."

"Do you miss Ohio?"

"Do you miss the coast?"

"Not really."

"He either. I just wish I could settle down and get a farm going. A few more years, I guess."

"Will you settle around here?"

"If there's still claims open. Otherwise Jersey is nice, too. Better than Ohio."

Molly walked with him back to the helicopter and they shook hands again. But instead of climbing into the aircraft, he stood with one foot on the skids, making small talk. It took her a while to realize that he was attracted to her. He was very polite and circumspect about it, but there it was. Molly thought about taking him back to the house, but she realized, a little sadly, that she didn't want him. He was nice enough, but too different in his neat clothes and store-bought haircut. She wasn't even wearing underwear. Besides, people were too damn undependable.

At last he climbed reluctantly into the aircraft. "Is there anything you need when I come back?"

She shook her head, not wanting to give him an excuse to return too soon.

"Okay then. I should be back in about two months or so." She nodded and stepped back from the aircraft as he lit off the engine.

He waved once, then pulled the helicopter out of its ungainly squat and skimmed up and across the park. When she got back to the house the cat was digging in the garbage.
• • •
The rest of the month was warm, with just enough rain. Molly picked tomatoes and some early squash and practiced canning. Just before the end of the month there was a terrific thunderstorm.

The cat sat at the window and watched the rain hammer down. Molly stripped down to her skin and took a bar of homemade soap out into the deluge. The cold rain felt good on her skin, and she wasted soap lavishly, enjoying the downpour. She was just beginning to get chilled when she saw the old woman.

She was on her hands and knees in a vacant corner of the herb garden, turning the rich dirt over with a small hand trowel. Molly covered herself with a worn scrap of towel and took a few steps closer. The woman was oblivious to the rain, and indeed, her flowery print dress seemed to be perfectly dry. She looked about sixty, but her thick, knobby hands turned the clayey soil with obvious ease. Molly took a step closer to the woman and reached out to touch her. The woman looked into her eyes just then and smiled. A moment later Molly was staring at two muddy pools where the woman's knees had compressed the soft earth.

"Jesus H. Christ," Molly said, using one of her father's favorite oaths.

Her first thought was that these visions were the first sign of an impending nervous breakdown. Maybe I'm just lonely, she thought, maybe I should have told Ed to come back sooner.

She shrugged that thought off. She didn't feel lonely. Right then she didn't know what she felt. An ugly qualm swept through her; maybe there was lead in the drinking water -- she might lose everything.

She blinked, trying to clear her eyes of soap and rainwater. She wasn't even sure she really saw knee prints in the dirt. Or the soil that was turned over. Heavy metal poisoning is supposed to cause hallucinations and insanity, she thought. What do I have to check for lead?

She thought there was something in the first-aid box. She ran into the house. Without bothering to dry off or dress, Molly dragged out the first- aid chest. In a compartment in the lid was a yellow plastic case with the legend POTABLE WATER TEST KIT stamped on it. She tore open the case and skimmed the instruction book until she found a section on heavy metals. She read the section twice before she performed the test.
There was no lead in the drinking water, or in any of the utensils and storage containers, which she tested using another kit. It was full dark out when she realized that she was still naked and shivering.
• • •
Molly worried about the incident for several weeks afterward, occasionally thinking of a new source of lead poisoning, and testing it only to find nothing. Eventually she let her worries go in the press of chores to be done while bringing in her small harvest.

The grinding labor of getting the crops in single-handedly left her with barely enough energy to eat a small, cold meal each night before collapsing from exhaustion. By the time the harvest was done, she'd come down with a heavy cold. She stayed in bed for the better part of a week then, anxious about the chores she should be doing, but more afraid that her cold would become pneumonia unless she took care of herself.

Being sick made her feel her self-imposed isolation for the first time since she left Los Angeles. She even missed her mother, which made her homesick and angry. Her mother was an elegant, cultured woman who'd hounded a squadron of servants into keeping the house like a museum exhibit, and who'd left Molly to her own devices once she'd demonstrated more interest in or books than in fine clothes or other things ladylike.

"Molly Chan, you are big for a girl anyway," her mother would occasionally chide. "Men are intimidated by bookish girls -- if you're going to read so much, at least try to be a little more graceful about it."

Molly had ended even that minimal discourse when, at nineteen, she'd told her mother she had no interest in becoming a geisha. That had earned her a week of evenings in her room; her mother was too tightly controlled to do anything else.

Molly spent as much time as she could around her father -- he was away a lot on business -- especially after the geisha incident. He knew all kinds of things, and they could talk for hours without running out of things to discuss. She often wondered what her father saw in her mother.

And to think her mother had been happy to move to Japan; she didn't even speak the language beyond a few words she'd adopted as an affectation for her club friends. And her father dead less than a year. He'd looked so small, standing in his olive drab flight suit next to an F/A-l8 loaded with bombs and guns.

Molly shuddered. Every time she thought of the Japanese propaganda broadcasts saying how benevolent they were for not using nuclear weapons, her stomach turned. This, as much as anything else, stiffened her resolve never to return to their strongholds on the west coast.
• • •
It rained a great deal in November, and every morning for two weeks there was fantastic ground fog. Molly walked the borders on those days, the cat trotting behind her. By degrees the weather turned raw, then bitter cold, forcing her to dig out her heavy winter clothes. Except for a few isolated stands of Pines the green faded from the land, making it seem to her more like a city than it ever had. With the foliage gone the grey bones of old buildings could be seen pushing up here and there through the brown earth.

The first of December brought an abrupt change in the weather. The sun came out, and aside from the sharp wind off the bay, the temperature was almost balmy. There were few outdoor chores to accomplish by then, yet she wanted to enjoy the last of the good weather.

She was sitting in front of the house sewing rabbit-pelt gloves when she saw Rip Van Winkle. At least that was who she immediately thought of him as. He was walking across her property, east to west, and he looked exactly like the illustrations from a book she'd read as a child, Washington Irving's Treasure Chest.

He was dressed in what must have been the style of the early Dutch settlers of New York, and carried an ancient muzzle-loaded rifle over his shoulder. His hair was long, longer than hers, and he was wearing a cumbersome-looking black frock coat. He sang softly to himself as he marched across the stubbled fields, seemingly unaware of Molly and her house.

The vision was so patently and ludicrously yanked from her imagination that Molly laughed. She picked up a flake of stone and lobbed it sidearm at the apparition's back, intending to prove to herself how insubstantial these ghosts were.

Instead the stone struck the heavy black coat with a thud, sending up a small puff of dust. The man whirled and leveled his gun in Molly's direction.

"Hallo! Who's that now?"

Molly froze, unable to move or utter a word.

"Hallo?" Though they were in plain sight of each other, the man moved his head slightly from side to side, as if he were trying to peer through obstructing vegetation.

When no answer was forthcoming, he scowled and cocked the hammer of his rifle, then fired the museum piece from the hip.

The explosion and black smoke brought Molly to sudden and terrified life. She bolted from her stool and threw herself through the door of the house. Without thinking she yanked her own rifle from its rack and chambered a round. Her breath coming in heaving gasps, she then peered from a corner of the door. The man wasn't in sight, making her think he was creeping up on the house. She dashed out the door, hoping to see him before he could reload his one-shot weapon, but there was no sign of him. She stalked around the house and barn for an hour before she was satisfied that he was gone.
• • •
I have gone completely around the bend, she thought as she readied herself for bed that night, or these things are real. The one that shot at her seemed substantial enough: he left bootprints all around the barn. Molly thought grimly that she'd almost found out the hard way how real his bullets were.

She’d been just beginning to believe these visions were some kind of benign psychological response to the solitude when this incident had happened. She felt badly shaken, not just by the threat, but by the possibility that she was having a breakdown.

She could almost believe today's apparition was just a man dressed up in a costume except that he disappeared into thin air. She'd followed his bootprints away from the house, but they just seemed to stop. The ground was soft enough to take impressions; it was just as if he'd faded into the earth. And the terrain was bare for miles in that direction.

Molly had been closer to death. During the war her area was bombed two, sometimes three times a month, but there were always other people around. This she had to face all alone. The visions reminded her of Haiku by Marguerite Higgins, the resistance poet:


If these earth spirits were real, and not a sign that she'd had a breakdown, then at least the Japanese haven't subdued them. Just the same, she thought, I'm not going out without the rifle any more.
• • •
The first snow came in late December a thin, hard grit which blew horizontally against the windows like a stream of tiny bullets. Molly was indoors, stripping gut for snares, when she heard the helicopter. By the time she'd pulled on her boots and parka the aircraft was sitting at the edge of the old park with its blades drooping to a stop.

"Hello, Molly."

She looked at the land agent incredulously. "Ed! What brings you out in this miserable weather?"

"Just making the rounds. Weather isn't too bad as long as the instruments do their job."

"You came out here for a routine visit?"

The agent laughed a little self-consciously. "And to see you."

This made her distinctly uncomfortable. Still, she would feel worse turning him away out of hand.

"Well, the least you can have is a cup of hot tea for your troubles."

"You have tea?"

"From herbs. I grew them myself. Come on."

He looked around her tiny house with frank interest while she boiled water, then they sat at the plank table with two steaming mugs.

"It looks like you're doing real well," Wong said, gesturing around the room with his mug. "As far as I can see, you're ready for a long, hard one."

"I am. I like the feeling that I did this all on my own; it's why I came out here."

"Still, it must be nice to see another human face sometimes, no?"

Molly nodded faintly. "I suppose. But I like being alone. You really didn't have to fly out here in this weather -- I wouldn't have minded if you waited until it broke."

"That might not be for a few months."

"I know."

She was slightly embarrassed by the ensuing silence, but she felt her point had been made. He was clearly uneasy, though he didn't seem ready to leave.

"Is there anything else you need?" he finally asked.


"Do you have a rifle?"

She looked at the agent curiously. "Yes, for hunting."

"How about a pistol?"

"What on earth would I need a pistol for?"

"To protect yourself."

Molly looked at Wong as though he'd taken leave of his senses, but she had an uncomfortable notion of where the conversation was headed.
"From what?" she asked, finally.

The agent stared into his cup for a long minute. "Some of the settlers have been seeing strange people on their property."

"What do you mean?"

"There's a small family living a few miles fast of the old airport -- they packed up and moved back west because strange people kept looking in their windows at night. They were dressed in old-fashioned clothes, and they never said or did anything, they just looked."

Molly hesitated. "Have you ever seen these people?"


"Then I'd suggest there isn't much to it. People who are cut off from their past lives like that sometimes have odd reactions to the solitude. They should have stuck it out."

"Have you ever seen anything like that?" Wong asked.

She returned the agent's stare coolly. "No, I haven't."

Wong shook his head. "Look, Molly, I'm not the bad guy here. I'm just trying to find out if there's anything to this, and to make sure you're okay."

"Because you have a personal interest?" There, she thought, it’s out in the open now.

"Because it's my job," he said, a little sadly. "Look, I'm sorry."

"About what?"

"About everything."

When the helicopter lifted off from the edge of the park, she wasn't sorry to see it go. She didn't wish the agent ill; he really did try to do his job, and it wasn't his fault if he was attracted to her. At least he was gentlemanly about it. As the aircraft dwindled to a speck against the grey sky, Molly wondered why she'd resisted the impulse to tell Wong everything she knew about her earth spirits. This state of mind worried her more than her encounters with them.
• • •
January and February were hard, cruel months. Even with the fire roaring and wearing all her warmest clothes, Molly felt as if she was never completely warm. She partitioned off the barn so that the horses only used a small part of it, on the theory that it would conserve body heat. She wasn't sure that the animals needed it, but it made her feel better to do something. She spent long hours making plans for the spring, drawing and redrawing planting charts, and figuring out the most efficient way to work her acreage. Having seen her modest holdings increase, even slightly, from one year to the next gave her a sense of security and accomplishment. When her eyes smarted from too much woodsmoke and small print, she would bundle herself In her warmest clothes and walk the perimeter of the old park.

It was easy to tell where the old park had been: a ring of ancient trees enclosed a sea of wild grasses and saplings, bare and silver-barked in the cold winter sun. At the edge of the park proper was Gerritsen Inlet.

Looking south, everything was a sheet of treacherous salt water ice. She knew the bay itself probably wasn't frozen, but from where she stood it was difficult to tell where the ice ended and the water began.

Because she was bored, and had more than a touch of cabin fever, she decided to walk along the inlet toward the ocean. Less than a mile from her house she turned back, numbed by the steady wind from the sea. She was concentrating on the cold when she saw the prints. They weren't like the clearly cut bootprints she'd left in the gritty snow, but they were definitely human, and there were at least a dozen different sets.

Very slowly she scanned the brush in the direction the prints led, but saw nothing moving inside the fence of tall grasses. She was sure the prints hadn't been there when she'd left the house. She was afraid to move, and afraid to stay out in the open. She wished she'd brought the rifle along, and she wished she was back in the security of her house.

This time they saw her first. When she looked up from the tracks, about a dozen people were standing in a semicircle in front of her. They were dressed in furs fashioned into crude parkas, and their boots were merely more furs bound around their feet with thongs. They had high cheekbones and their eyes had a vaguely Asian cast. They carried spears with stone points. They very clearly saw her, and were conferring with one another in a soft, sibilant tongue. The first thing Molly thought was that they were between her and the house.

She couldn't bring herself to say anything, and though every muscle in her body quivered with tension, she stood rooted before them, only her eyes following their movements.

There were several youngsters in the group, and one took a step toward her, only to be promptly yanked back by an elder and admonished. After discussing her to their apparent satisfaction, they turned away and made off through the heavy grasses, barely stirring the tips of the brush in the process. Molly stood absolutely still as long as she could, then broke and flew back to her house at a dead run. She didn't allow herself to think until she was bolted behind her door.

This was the strangest yet. They certainly knew she was there, and she had been close enough to smell their breath. She no longer have the slightest doubt that these earth spirits are real. She didn't know how they came and went, but they spoke, and they left prints in the snow, and they stank.

They reminded her of the descriptions of the first natives of the continent. She could imagine them migrating across the Bering land bridge from Asia.

Molly thought of how stupid it was to have gone out again without her rifle, though she didn't know what she would have done with it had she had it along. Just thinking about it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She sympathized with those people who moved back west -- she was beginning to wonder if she should do the same.

Still, they didn't hurt her, and Lord knows they could have: their spears were crude, but they looked very businesslike. She thought again that she should have told Wong about them.
• • •
During the following weeks, Molly forced herself to leave the house, going a bit further afield each time. Gradually her fear faded, and though she took the rifle with her whenever she left the immediate area around the house, she otherwise settled back into her winter routine. She hadn't thought about the earth spirits in days when an explosion rocked her house.

The force of the blast blew the windows out and made the roof timbers creak ominously. Molly threw herself under the table, a childhood reflex that left a sour taste in her mouth. She crouched motionless under the table, listening, until her ears started to ring and she realized that the explosion had temporarily deafened her. She heard the moaning while she was pulling herself erect by the edge of the table.

Outside the window was a long, brown scar where the explosion had cooked away the snow. A man dressed in dusty green body armor was lying in the middle of the bare patch, curled into a fetal ball and clutching his abdomen.

Molly stood at the window for what seemed a long time, staring at the wounded man. The metallic taste in her mouth was intensified by the sight of the familiar uniform and combat gear. The man moaned again, then gave a long, liquid cough. She hesitated at the window for another moment, then turned and grabbed for her parka and first-aid box. By the time she was out the door, the soldier was gone.

She stood over the pool of blood, trembling and sick, waiting for the next thing to happen. The viscous red blot soaking into the earth reminded her of human sacrifice. The adrenaline drained slowly from her bloodstream, leaving her feeling cold and weak. Though every step was a burden, she drew water from the well to wash away the blood. When there was nothing more than a deep, brown stain in the middle of the bare patch! she dropped the pail and returned to the house.

She deliberately avoided thinking about anything, and stripped off her clothes. Naked, she crawled under the stale, rough bedclothes and willed herself to sleep.

The cold woke her early the next morning. Frigid gusts of wind rattled the shards of glass still hanging from the window frame, and a thin gruel of snow coated much of the floor. It took Molly several minutes to recall what had happened to the window. When she remembered the explosion and the soldier's moans, it took an effort of will not to pull the covers over her face and retreat back into sleep. She forced herself to dress and build a fire in the fireplace.

She was standing next to the fire staring her feet when she saw the cat. He was lying across the room from the window, and looked almost asleep except for the snow that had settled on him during the night. He was stiff when Molly picked him up, and had two tiny blood clots at his nostrils from the concussion. The pathetic little corpse broke her self-control. She sat on the floor and cried like a heartbroken child; first for her dead pet, and then for herself.

By the time she'd dug a shallow grave in the frost-hardened soil she was too exhausted to cry anymore. In a kind of trance she cut a precious blanket into squares to cover the gaping window. A fair amount of wind blew through the fabric until she greased the squares with animal fat. Come the first warm day the fat would stink terrifically. It seemed a rather distant and unimportant consequence to her. While she fed lavish amounts of wood into the fireplace, she thought about how much human effort was spent just keeping warm and fed.
• • •
The weeks after the explosion passed with very little thought or effort on Molly's part. She performed the bare minimum of chores necessary to keep herself comfortable and spent the rest of the time sleeping. It was only when the warm weather arrived with its attendant effect on the atmosphere in the small house that she left her bed.

Besides making the house more livable, the physical labor of spring cleaning proved to be therapeutic for her. With the longer days and cleaner house -- she'd burned the greasy strips of blanket that covered the windows -- Molly had a feeling that she'd survived the worst. On her first trip away from the house she found that her fear of the earth spirits had been cauterized by the explosion. The sight of tracks near the inlet provoked only a mild curiosity in her.

I have as much right to be here as they do, she thought. She'd had precious little security in her life, and none of it before she took over the land. Back on the coast you could always lose a job, she reasoned. And even if you didn't, the currency could be devalued again, or there could be another food shortage. The Japanese manipulated the markets for the benefit of those back in Nippon, and it would never be otherwise.

Worse, it would mean giving up her life for that of something approaching a concubine, given the property laws they'd instated. Her mother could live like that -- before she'd been repatriated it had been a point of pride for her to be so popular with the Japanese officials -- but not Molly.

That night she dreamed about the earth spirits. In her dream they hunted winter rabbit with spears and built huge fires. Afterward the people danced. In her dream Molly tried to dance, too, but for some reason she couldn't get up off the dirt.

The harder she tried to get up and join the dance, the more tightly she felt bound to the ground. She was still trying to join the dance when she woke up.

Though she didn't waste much time on it, this lack of fear teased at her intellect whenever she came across footprints or other signs of the earth spirits' passage around her property.

On the first really hot day, Molly put aside her chores and went down to the ocean. She stripped off her shorts and shirt at the high tide line and ran into the icy surf.

She swam out far enough to make her arms feel weak and leaden, then floated on her back until the chill began to creep into her bones, then she backstroked lazily to shore and stretched out in the sun.

After a short nap, she took her tattered clothes into the water, dunking and wringing them out until they felt clean.

While the clothes dried, she went clamming in the shallow flats, digging up nearly two-dozen of the littlenecks in a quarter of an hour. It was as she settled down for an after-lunch siesta that she noticed the building.
It was taller than most of the buildings in downtown Los Angeles, and appeared to be rising out of the sea a few hundred yards from where she was sitting.

Crowds of Japanese lounged on balconies that looked out over the ocean, and as she watched in disbelief, a buslike conveyance rolled up to the front of the building and spilled out more brightly-clad sons and daughters of Nippon.

Molly stared open-mouthed at the building; it looked like a hotel. Tinny music and bits and snatches of excited Japanese drifted across the water to her. As she looked on, the scene grew more detailed, as if coming out from under a fog bank. A highway stretched from the hotel to others like it along the coast, and boats with multicolored sails plied the water beyond them.

She realized she was naked when a group of men on the nearest balcony began calling and waving to her. Though she only spoke pidgin Japanese, the meaning of their suggestions was clear enough. Repulsed, Molly turned her back on the beach and gathered up her clothes. As she dressed, she looked over her shoulder to assure herself that no one was coming toward her from the ocean. Once dressed she wasted no time heading away from the beach. She looked back again before she descended behind the dunes, and noticed that the scene was becoming indistinct again.

She stood there, watching, until it had completely disappeared.
Of all the things she'd seen, this was the strangest. It was different from the other earth spirits somehow, and not just because of the buildings or the Japanese. It felt different, as if she were on the outside looking in, rather than the other way around. Since Wong had asked her about the earth spirits she hadn't really worried about her sanity, but now she had to wonder if all the settlers weren't suffering from some kind of mass hysteria. She was in relatively good spirits until she saw the hotel filled with conquering Japanese. What would I do if they really did build a resort here, she thought.
• • •
As the weather warmed, there was more and more to do around the farm. Though the extra acreage she'd planted had given Molly a sense of accomplishment at first, the extra drudge work that came with it was beginning to wear on her nerves. More than one morning she had to resist the temptation to leave her chores waiting and go exploring or clamming. Early summer always awoke the wanderlust in her, but this year it was stronger than she'd ever felt it. More worrying was that she felt not so much the need to see new places, as to escape from the farm.

Two weeks after the incident on the beach she felt justified in taking another holiday. She left the house early in the morning and headed southwest toward a patch of coast about an hour's walk from the house. Rather than the flat, sandy type of beach that was common around the inlet, this area was predominantly rocky and open to the full power of the surf. The swimming was rather treacherous, but the south beach had extensive mussel beds, and tidal pools where she could spear blackfish and doormat-sized fluke. Though it was still early in the season the underbrush was already thick and difficult to traverse. With every passing year the land not under cultivation grew more wild. Despite the difficulty, Molly enjoyed the walk. She often imagined what the country must have looked like before it was settled. As tenacious as the vegetation was, it would take hundreds of years before the forests returned to their original state.

Less than a mile from the beach -- she could smell the ocean -- she stepped out from a wall of wild reeds and onto a flat, grassy lawn partially bordered with white stones. Two beefy, middle-aged white men worked from the back of a vehicle, the likes of which Molly had never seen before. The bed of the vehicle hovered noiselessly several feet above the ground, where the two men unloaded rocks from it and placed them along the border of the grass. Every so often, one of the men would nudge the bed forward with his hip, causing it to coast a few feet and stop.

Before the men noticed her, Molly slipped back into the tall grass and crouched on her haunches. She watched for several minutes as the men worked, silent except for an occasional grunt as they lifted or set down a stone. There was a tiny cab on the front of the vehicle, the door of which bore the rising sun logo.

A radio crackled inside the cab, emitting a squeal of static and a burst of Japanese. One of the men wiped his hands on his coveralls, reached into the cab and took out the radio. He spoke into it in flawless Japanese, which surprised Molly. After a minute he set the radio back into the cab and rejoined the other man, who had not stopped unloading rocks.

The green, parklike belt stretched as far as she could see up and down the coast. Far to her right a huge house stood overlooking the water. When the men had moved a dozen or so yards away, Molly reached out and hefted one of the smaller stones. Its weight felt substantial enough, and when she put it back down, she saw that tiny flecks of white adhered to her hands. She sat in the tall grass for a long time, waiting for the scene to change, but nothing happened. Had she not been along this part of the coast just a month earlier, she would have believed it was real. As it was, the scene sorely tested her sense of reality. When the men started working their way back along her side of the grass, Molly slipped back through the brush and headed for home.

All the way back to the house she thought about what she'd seen. She was beginning to think she'd seen the future; if that was the case she didn't like it. What was worse, it seemed to be invading her everyday life. The other earth spirits, even the one who shot at her, seemed benign by comparison, though more haunting--

Molly stopped in her tracks.

"Holy Christ!" she said aloud.

That was exactly what they were doing. And now what Molly was doing, though she hadn't realized it before. The earth spirits were haunting her, whether by chance or not, and now she was haunting the Japanese.

For a long time she sat on a little hill, mulling over the implications of her theory. By the time she was ready to go home it was getting dark.
If she was right about the haunting business, it was only going to get worse. There might be a Japanese city right in her back yard some day, like Sacramento or Eugene. She supposed she could always pack up whatever she could carry and move along south. She'd started with less here than she could carry with her, and could do it again if pressed. Almost anything would be better than living with her mother's people, whether they thought she was a ghost or not.
• • •
For the next few days Molly threw herself into her work, staying on the farm because she thought it the least likely place for her to see more Japanese. One afternoon she was grooming the horses outside the barn, her attention focused wholly on removing a bad mat from the mare's tail, when she realized that she was being watched. Two Japanese, a slight woman in her twenties and a much older man, were standing in the middle of her yard area, staring at her.

Molly resisted the temptation to stare back, and instead observed the pair unobtrusively from behind the animal. The man put one hand on the woman's waist in an automatic, proprietary gesture. The woman, who was holding a box of some sort, merely stared. Intensely uncomfortable under their scrutiny, Molly considered taking the horse into the barn and staying there until the pair went away. If she did that, however, she would have to pass within inches of them to reach the animal's halter. After more than a minute of squirming under their frank appraisal, she began to get angry.
I have as much right as they do to be here, she thought, More! This is my land.

Slowly, and with no apparent purpose, she worked her way around the horse with the comb until her back was less than a foot from the pair. She took a deep breath then, and turned, returning their stare with a stony, bored glare. The woman averted her eyes immediately, but the man continued to stare at Molly for several seconds. She let her breath out imperceptibly and stared right through the man, her face completely immobile.

Finally he broke, and with a rough word turned and pulled his companion away. Molly watched them go, not moving until they were well out of sight. When she looked down she saw that she'd driven the teeth of the comb into her palm hard enough to draw blood.

She thought they must have been on a picnic; she hoped she'd ruined their appetites. She went into the house and looked in her mirror, an action she'd become unaccustomed to, given the layer of dust on the glass. Her face was narrower than that of the woman she'd scared off. Molly realized with a small shock that she looked very much like her mother.

That thought recalled the woman's timid reaction to her just a moment ago -- she was amazed to think that she, and the man she was with, were afraid of her. Which was, now that she thought about it, just what her mother's reaction would have been. Her mother had always been a little afraid of her.

"Huh!" she said aloud, sitting down with a thump on her bed. She was more than a little uncomfortable with this sudden insight into her mother's psyche. She ran her fingers through her coarse black hair.

I am not going anywhere, Molly thought. This is my place, and this is where I stay. She thought about that family near the airport that Wong had told her about. They'd gone back to the coast because the earth spirits kept looking in their windows.

Judging from the way they ran the war, the Japanese conscience wasn't so tender. But she didn't have to make it easy for them.

After living twenty-odd years in fear of their bombs, she wasn't above looking in a few windows.

Molly looked at herself again in the mirror. Then she went outside to wait for the Japanese.

• • •

First published in
Newer York, Edited by Lawrence Watt-Evans,
Roc, June 1991.

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