The Arm Farm - 1
Hi All, you might recognize this story from a post here a long while back. Someone has finally agreed to publish my bizarre tale in a fiction colleciton, so I'll be posting the reworked chapters here as I progress :). With this pass, I'm trying to add more detail and draw out the supsense of the story a bit more. Hope you enjoy. Don't worry, more Woman of the Swamp is coming as well.
The Arm Farm
1. A Barn in the Middle of Nowhere
The guttering stumble of Chris’s car engine cut clear across the open fields whizzing by on either side. He looked longingly out the passenger window, wishing he were the one doing ninety on a back-country road. He could almost feel the stick in his right hand. Hell, he could almost feel a lot of things in his right hand. How long had it been since he had driven a car? Five years from the end of his tour, two years before that of deployed duty with nothing more than marching for transport.
The car slowed and Megan made a left turn onto a long drive with a crude sign that read ‘Art’s Arm Farm’. Fields of low plants stretched out on either side of them for what felt like miles. Chris lifted his head and looked over the dash. In the distance, he could see a big, red farmhouse directly in the middle of the property. “You sure this is the place famous for feats of bioengineering?”
“Didn’t you see the sign?” Megan was being kind, but firm. She had pushed for them to come out in the first place.
Chris looked down at the stump of his right arm and back to the barn. “What the hell is an arm farm anyway?”
“I’m sure it’s just some silly gimmick. Below that simple exterior is some giant lab. The farm aesthetic is meant to put people like you at ease.” She smiled and squeezed his arm with her free hand. “They certainly know their clientele.”
“There’s the reminder that I married a psychologist.”
Megan rolled her eyes. “You know I keep work and life separate. Besides, I’m out of your price range.”
“Right.” Ordinarily, Chris might have laughed at the joke, but something about the farm was keeping him ill at ease. As they drew nearer, the low plants were replaced by strange stalks covered in opaque plastic bags. “What do you suppose he’s growing there?”
“It’s the arms,” she replied, putting a sarcastic, spooky warble in her voice.
Chris ignored it. “Bet it’s beans. Boring old beans, for a boring old farm that’s a waste of a perfectly good Saturday.”
“Yes, that’s what’s ruining this Saturday.”
He ignored the implication. “Looks like they’ve got pests too.” He motioned to the plastic bags. “Man can’t even keep beans alive, what’s he supposed to do for me?” Beans were notoriously easy to grow and always worth their weight. Anything that could be dried and stockpiled in a bunker was a hot ticket.
Megan nodded, but didn’t respond. She pulled up to a series of painted parking spaces beside the large barn. A hand-painted banner draped over the side read ‘Art’s Arm Farm’ in friendly, childlike lettering.
“Think people forget where they’re going? Out in the middle of nowhere and he still needs a second sign” The letters were crude and thick. Chris didn’t like them.
Megan cut the ignition and the air conditioner eked out a final breeze of cool air. She turned to him with searching eyes. “Remember, we’re just here to see what he has to offer, that’s it.”
Chris rested his head on the glass, already feeling the heat seeping through from the midday sun. In a few minutes, the car would be a sweat box and he’d either need to get out or ask Megan to take them back. That would be admitting defeat.
“If you don’t like what he has to offer, we’ll leave, simple as that.”
“Simple as that?” He mumbled the words, feeling rooted to his chair.
“I keep my word.” Megan smiled. The exhaustion in the gesture was plain to see.
“Alright, fine. I’ll give him fifteen minutes.” Chris opened the car door and felt heat roll off the farm in a wave. His first thought was that it smelled wrong. Farms were supposed to smell like manure, crops, and sweat. The classic smell of fertilizer was still there, but something clean and new was mixed with it. “You smell that?”
Megan opened her door and wrinkled her nose. “Yeah. Is that…” She gave the air another smell. “Baby powder?”
Chris smelled the air again and nodded, feeling a tingling pain in the base of his spine. Tension ran in a line straight up and down his back. “I think that might be it.” That wasn’t entirely right though. He didn’t think the farm smelled like baby powder. In his head, he knew it smelled like a newborn.
“Beats pig shit.” Megan shrugged. “Maybe it’s a new way to increase the appeal of farm life.”
“Yeah, maybe. I guess it doesn’t smell bad.” No, not bad, it just smelled wrong. Chris looked up at the big red barn. Not far from the parking spaces was a wide set of sliding doors that were open in the middle. Light flashed in between them. Above, painted in the same haphazard lettering was ‘ENTER HERE’. “Think we’re supposed to go in there?” he asked, trying his best to joke through the unease.
“Only one way to find out. After you.” She made a sweeping gesture with her hand.
“Sure, send the cripple in to the mysterious barn.” Even as a joke, he didn’t like using the term for himself. Ever since he had been back, Chris had trained doubly hard to make his left arm worth a damn. He could do just about anything that wasn’t operating his beloved car. Hours at the gun range had made him a force to be reckoned with, even with his off hand. He took pride in that. A solider that couldn’t defend themselves was lost.
Pushing the strange knot in his stomach away, Chris walked forward to the open door and was immediately assaulted by strange music. The discordant notes sounded like a car crash, causing him to clamp his hands to his head in pain. By the time his hands had reached his ears, the beat had changed, morphing into a familiar disco song. “What in the hell?”
“Something wrong?” If Megan heard the noise, she wasn’t showing it.
“Did you hear that?”
“Oh, I know you don’t love disco, but it’s not that bad.”
Chris shook his head, still feeling the sound in his bones. Had it been disco the whole time? He supposed it wasn’t out of the ballpark. There were still nights he heard machine gun fire when there was nothing around for miles. He took a deep breath and walked through the barn door. Bright fluorescent lights shone down in stark rows from the ceiling, running the full length of the building. Metal tables covered in medical equipment were laid out in a neat line beneath them, glistening in the light.
Christ stood stock still in the entryway, suddenly confronted by irrational anger. He wondered if the engineer that created the gun that blew his hand off had worked in a lab like this one. Almost in answer, a small man danced into view at the end of the long lab tables. If he noticed his guests, he made no sign of it. Instead, he continued moving to the strange beat and twirling between the rows of lab equipment. He sported a long, white wizard’s beard and wore a technicolor lab coat. Coke bottle glasses sat on the brim of his nose, magnifying his closed eyes to twice their size.
Chris backed away, slowly. What’s threatening about an old man dancing? He couldn’t answer it, but he knew he needed to leave. “Megan, I don’t like—”
The dancing man stopped and opened his eyes wide. His face flushed with embarrassment and he scuttled over to a table to pick up a remote. With a flick of his wrist, the music was gone. “Sorry about that!” he called from the other end of the barn. His voice was worn and old, but full of forced joy. “I didn’t think we were going to have any guests today.” He bustled toward them, running his hands lovingly over the lab equipment as he went. “It seems I never have time to enjoy a good dance anymore.”
“We’re happy to come back another time,” offered Chris.
Megan stepped up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Nonsense, my boy!” He walked up and put out his right hand for Chris to shake.
Chris recoiled slightly, trying to hide his stump.
“No need for that.” Art switched to his left hand and held it out.
Chris shook it, feeling the man’s feeble grip beneath his.
“A good, strong, grip. I like that. What’s your name?”
“It’s Chris.” Despite himself, the near comical appearance of the man put him more at ease. There was nothing threatening about a tiny eccentric man in a lab coat. As usual, he was jumping at shadows.
“Well Chris, my name’s Art, and we’re going to get you all sorted out.”