Fathom Mag
De Profundis

The Slow Seed

A short story

Published on:
April 22, 2020
Read time:
5 min.
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The feeling of unease won’t leave me. 

I have gone through each emotion as they surface, bit by bit, piece by piece like my therapist says. 

But I can’t identify it. It swims around me, tantalizing like a bioluminescent jellyfish in the depths. Giving me a flare and then silently drifting away, only to circle back, hungry, waiting for me to drown.

This short story is part of our April collection of poetry and short story contest winners.

“Did you know him well?” A man asks me. 

“Passingly.” 

It is a lie, but it is hard to care. He would have cared that I’m lying, but it is easier. Especially with strangers. 

The emotion flares again. Perhaps it is grief? 

I shove it away. No meal for the jellyfish. Yet. 

“He was a good man.” The man stands near me. I think he might be talking to me, but I do not want to engage with him. A good man is one way to describe my grandfather, but it is not how I would currently sum up his years of earthly existence. 

“You sort of look like him...” 

At this I turn around and walk away. The swell of unease has crested, and I can no longer deal with a balding man who probably only wants my number. At a funeral.

Jeez. 

I take a quick walk around the block. If this were a movie, I would be puffing on a cigarette, trying to calm down. But this is no movie, and my asthmatic lungs need no help to make me short of life-giving breaths. I choke on a cough. 

I sigh and lean against a brick wall in the park. The perfect picture of teenage angst but fast-forwarded clumsily fifteen years. I look down at my hands. They are smooth and freckled, fingers that I have always found to be just slightly too short. They are shaking. 

“Hey, you ok?” 

The man has followed me. I should not have been so abrupt. Now, I assume, he feels responsible. 

“Yeah, I’m ok.” I respond, “Funerals are just, um, hard. Ya know?” 

“I do. Paul was a good guy. He helped me out a couple times when I thought I was gonna lose everything. I owe him a lot. Which I guess is all it’ll ever be now. Just good intentions...” He trails off, probably expecting me to respond again. But I have no words for this man who thinks highly of Paul Edwin Marks. 

A week ago, I would have shared his opinion, been totally devastated that Pop was gone. But now, knowing what I know...

“Yeah, he was, ah, a special guy. Look I’m gonna go, um, thanks for checking on me and stuff.” 

He nods slowly and looks off in the distance and I take off the other way, not caring that I’ll have to circle the block to get back to my apartment. I just want to avoid his gaze. 

The next time the jellyfish swims by, I know his name. 

Betrayal. 

I knew my Pop worked in something to do with agriculture. And that he did that ag work for the government. Something science-y. An “Agro-geneticist.” I never quite understood the details. 

We knew from an early age that I was gonna take after Gran—playing piano, writing loud songs, splattering paint on canvases—the most stereotypical artist you could imagine. Pop loved it. He needed that balance, he said. Gran alone wasn’t enough—he needed both of us to keep him grounded. On the outside, it looked like Gran had her head in the clouds, but it was always Pop who couldn’t keep reality tethered to himself. He was always with his plants, his formulas. 

I guess he was already starting to lose it when Gran died. 

The world won’t end suddenly. It won’t be fire and fury and brimstone. It will be slow, and hard. Maybe I won’t have to see it happen. But I think I will. I think I should have to. 

Some people can hold it together. They have an innate thing about them that allows them to keep going normally when things go wrong. Me and Pop, we aren’t those people. 

We, Gran and I, had already been a little worried about his mind. It wasn’t that he wasn’t focused, he was just absent from us. He was getting so emotional. And irrational. A just a little violent. Work was encompassing, and he would totally check out. 

And after Gran died, well, I didn’t want to worry about him. I told myself it was good for him to lose himself in work. And I’d lose myself in art. And someday, we’d come out better on the other side. 

It’s a strange feeling to have someone close to you accidentally murdered. Gran was just going to the grocery store to get ice cream. It was late, and Pop was still at the office. She wanted to surprise him when he got home. But a drunk driver came up on the sidewalk.

And Pop was so angry. I guess he never stopped being angry. And that anger at one man turned into hatred for mankind. 

And so Pops created the apocalypse. 

I couldn’t tell, you know? We were both grieving, and I was at school, and he didn’t want me to come home. 

When I did visit, the place had been taken over by plants. And Pop’s rumblings about humanity destroying the world got a little crazier than they had always been. And he just wouldn’t shut up about corn. 

I should have known. And now that I do know, what am I supposed to do? 

It won’t be quick. In the letter he left me, he said he wanted it to move slowly, so they wouldn’t panic and discover what he’d done. 

Don’t ask me for the science. I don’t understand it, and right now I don’t want to. He wrote it down for me though. Sort of ranted in the letter—like I said—he was lost in it. But he at least remembered me enough to know I wouldn’t have any idea what he was talking about. So he laid it out: 

“Edie, hon, man doesn’t deserve to live. We kill everything we touch. So I’m gonna make it kill us. It’ll start with corn, and then spread to other crops.” 

The harvest is soon. 

The jellyfish is now circling. Lazily. It knows I can’t keep it at bay much longer. It's been joined by the pulsing light of an angler fish, baiting me into Apathy’s waiting jaws. 

I know that no one will believe me. I feel crazy for believing it myself. That one man could poison our entire agricultural ecosystem, and that no one would know. 

But if anyone could do it, it was Pop. 

I’m exhausted. Treading water all day, and the day before, and the day before that... 

Sleep is a bright bouy, pulling me to the surface, a normal rhythm in the midst of my complete inner chaos.

I dream of seeds falling into the ocean, the salt shriveling them into dried husks. Millions and millions of seeds. And the fish eat them. And then it all goes dark. Flashes and pulses of red and blue revealing a sea floor littered with bones. 

I wake up, weak lungs choking on salty tears. 

Anna Cutchen
Anna Cutchen is a musician, writer, textile artist, and podcaster. She lives in Dallas with her husband (slash favorite artistic collaborator) in an apartment with squeaky wood floors. When she’s not out being extremely extroverted, you can find her curled up in her favorite chair (surrounded by plants) reading a YA fantasy novel. She is on Instagram as @annaplaysmusic.

Cover image by Elisha Terada.

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