The Arm Farm - 2
2. The Sales Pitch
Art led Chris and Megan to the middle of the barn, passing head-high stacks of jumbled mechanical equipment. Some pieces sat idly by, looking like they hadn’t been used in generations while others hummed along, performing unknown tasks. Closer toward the building’s center, the tables lost their uniform appearance and spiraled out in odd directions, creating a maze of potential scientific catastrophe. Art didn’t mind at all and led them deftly through the tangle with ease.
“I started this project around five years ago now. You wouldn’t believe the progress we made from those early days.” He looked out at the machines fondly.
Chris struggled to comprehend what he was looking at. While many of the machines were actively engaged in tasks, he could see no connecting thread, and nothing to do with prosthetics. “Do you actually use all of this?”
Art chuckled. “Certainly not. One of those mechanical friends is working to try and make me an omelet, but it never gets the consistency right. I suppose we can’t succeed at everything we try.” The thought of the lackluster omelet brought a genuinely dark pallor to Art’s face. “Lucky for you, you’re not here for my breakfast special. You’re here about the arms!”
“Just the one.” Chris held up his stump. He tried to give a friendly laugh, but the sight of it disgusted him.
Art nodded. “Yes indeed. Like I said, we’ll get you all fixed up.” Abruptly, he stopped at a flat wooden table covered in tailor’s measuring tape and paint swatches. He turned to Chris and motioned to his arm. “Do you mind?”
Chris did mind, but he could feel Megan behind him, and he owed it to her to try. “Not at all.” He held out what remained of his arm.
Art took it in his hand with practiced care and ran his fingers along the edge. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a tape recorder. It was oversized and looked like it might have been a relic from one of the great wars. “Right arm is severed just above the elbow. Neat job sewing it up, probably decent nerve connectivity.” He set the tape recorder down and picked up the paint swatches. Art muttered and flipped through several shades of pink and beige, holding each up to Chris’s skin for comparison. “Pigmentation is white, probably three or three quarters.” Art turned his attention to Chris’s good arm. “Light freckling on the remaining limb, customer choice for matching.” He looked up expectantly.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“You’ve got some sun damage on your remaining arm leading to a light freckling. Is that something you’d want to have matched?”
“That’s something you can do?”
“Wouldn’t be a very good arm farm if we couldn’t.”
“I like his freckles,” said Megan with a short giggle.
“They are quite endearing aren’t they? I’m sorry, where are my manners, I don’t think I caught your name.” Art set his supplies down and held his hand out to Megan.
She blushed. “I’m Megan, the one dragging him here.”
Art laughed. “Well, you wouldn’t be the first. Don’t you worry about those freckles, I’ll keep them safe and sound.” He shook her hand and returned his attention to Chris. “Time flies when you’re having fun, right?”
Chris gave an uneasy nod.
Art picked through a pile of chrome instruments on the table and came up with one that looked like a tire pressure gauge. He pressed the cool metal to Chris’s good arm. “Good muscle density, very firm. It’s going to take a while to get used to the new arm, but if this one’s any indication, it’s going to a good home.”
“Thanks, I guess?” Chris looked to Megan, but her misgivings had melted away. She was perfectly at ease with the oddity of it all.
Art clicked the tape recorder off and slid it into his pocket. “You should be proud. You’ve got quite a robust remaining limb. I think you’re going to like what I have to show you. Why don’t we go see some samples?”
“Sure.” Chris felt like a man in dream, unsure why he was agreeing to the increasingly strange series of actions but feeling like there was no choice. They passed through the labyrinth of lab tables, each housing increasingly bizarre sets of tools and machinery. Towards the edge of the barn, they passed several tables with potting soil and grow lights. They went a little towards putting Chris at ease. After all, you were supposed to find planting supplies on a farm. That made sense.
What little normalcy he was able to cling to evaporated when they came to a set of tables covered in fleshy pods. They hung from steel rods and had black cable running around the edge, humming with electricity. Behind each pod was a small grow light that illuminated a lumpy shape within. Through the opaque liquid, Chris saw movement. Something slithered around the middle, curling and uncurling in a primal rhythm. Despite his distance, he felt a heartbeat thump, vibrating the air. He heard it, so loud that his ears started to ring.
A voice cut through the air like a knife, so sudden that Chris winced. “It’s all a bit strange, isn’t it?” Art’s beady eyes looked up at him.
Chris wasn’t sure how long he had been standing there, but clearly too long not to be noticed. He was used to the patient stares he was now getting. They were the same looks as when his post-traumatic stress flared up. The ringing in his ear continued. Tinnitus, nothing more. “Yes, quite,” he managed through gritted teeth.
Megan came in for the save, familiar with the look of pain on his face. “What are they?”
Chris tried to press all his love for her into one look. She always had his back.
Art clucked his tongue. “It’ll make a lot more sense when you see the fields, but if you must know now, they’re incubation chambers. Testing different strains before they go in the dirt. A necessary step in the process.”
Chris peered in at the pod again. The liquid shifted and a black tentacle whipped out of the darkness, tracing the outline of the pod.
Art was unphased. “Why don’t we go take a look at the fields?”
Chris watched the tentacle curve into a tight spiral at the edge of the fleshy substance. Shivers ran across his arms, prickling them with goose flesh. Even in then empty air where his right arm would have been, he felt the hairs standing on end. He wondered why the others weren’t reacting. They’re not seeing it. Chris blinked and the tentacle retreated into the center of the pod. “Some fresh air sounds nice.”
“Ah, I get it. This old barn gets stuffy during the day. I keep it mostly sealed so that the air conditioner doesn’t run itself to death. Really quite a thing getting an old barn like this completely airtight.” Art’s tone was back to bubbly excitement. He motioned for them to follow and practically bounded toward the barn’s side door.
Chris followed with leaden feet. He looked to Megan, but saw no discomfort there.
As if sensing him, she whispered: “Alright, it’s a little weird, but let’s see what they’ve got.”
A little weird was putting it mildly. Chris felt as though he had stepped into a world where gravity suddenly shifted to pull things up instead of down. The barn had a charged, but constrictive atmosphere, like a balloon so close to popping that the rubber had already begun to thin and whiten. “Right. I’ll just be happy to get outside.” He took a deep breath and put his leaden feet one in front of the other until he had caught up to their host.
“Started this business about five years back,” called Art as he threw open the side door of the barn. Warm light streamed through, painting a bright yellow rectangle on the dusty floor. “Back then, it was one lab table and a small pot for growing the prototypes. Look at it now.”
Chris approached the barn door and felt the sweltering heat radiating from outside. He stepped into the sunlight and savored the burning sensation it made on his skin. In front of them, rows of the strange stalks covered in plastic stretched out toward the edge of a tall corn field.
Art stepped back and shut the barn door. It made a loud crash that echoed across the field. “It is a beautiful day for it.” Art moved forward, hands on his hips, clearly proud of what he had created.
The smell of newborn was back, overwhelming in its power. “What exactly is it you’re growing out here?” Chris knew the answer. The thought of it brought a cold, unsettled dread in the pit of his stomach.
“Didn’t you read the sign, son?” Art laughed. “You’re here looking for a new arm, well, here’s my stock.”
Confusion raced through Chris’s brain. Art stated plainly what he grew. Chris had known the answer to his own question, but even still, his heart raced.
“I was going to wait until we got to the right row, but I can see you don’t understand.”
Megan shifted nervously in the dirt. “Sorry, it’s all just a little—"
“Much?” asked Art. “Yes alright, come here and let’s sate your curiosity, shall we?” He moved to the closest of the bags and bent down.
Chris wanted to shout at him, tell him to leave the plastic bag where it was, but Art was a man on a mission.
With a practiced flourish, he swept the plastic bag off and revealed a five-fingered hand reaching out of the dirt. It was pale, but perfectly human. As the sun touched its fingers, they opened and closed reflexively.
Megan stepped back.
Chris felt sick. The farm was spinning around him.
“Ah yes, sometimes they move like that, don’t worry, it’s actually a good thing. Shows the reflexes are working as they should.” Art smiled, weak, trying to project reassurance.
“The sign was literal,” coughed Megan, trying to regain her balance.
Art chuckled heartily. “Of course it is!”
Chris laughed despite himself. “You literally grow arms.” Hearing the words come out of his own mouth was disorienting to say the least.
“Indeed I do.” Art was beaming. “Now, let’s take a look at my measurements and see if we can get you fixed up with a suitable replacement.”