Flora: … And I’m not a big piece of cotton. I’m going inside.
Vicarro: I think that’s a good idea.
F: I said I was. Not you.
V: Why not me?
F: Inside it might be crowded, with you an’ me.
V: Three’s a crowd. We’re two.
– Tennessee Williams, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton
“Automation of agricultural harvesting equipment in the near term appears both economically viable and technically feasible.” Pilarski, Pangels, Happold & Ollis. From, ‘The Demeter System for Automated Harvesting.’ Published in Autonomous Robots in 2002.
Almost a full century after the failure of the Demeter system due to its inefficiency – start, stop, start, stop, turn; start, stop, turn – not to mention the literal stumbling blocks, there is a newer system for autonomously harvesting crops: Saturn, LLC’s self-propelled lateral-move automated harvesting system. Saturn, for short.
They called the company, Saturn, LLC, all because that single system was its baby and brainchild. Everyone else called it, colloquially, naturally, of course, “The Grim Reaper,” and for obvious reasons.
The earliest version of the “Demeter system” was presented originally at the International Topical Conference on Robotic Systems, in 1999, if you can believe that, it was that long ago. Demeter could reap huge numbers of crops, but not all at once, stopping, continuing, in that highly inefficient manner. You need, of course, one fell swoop, and that’s where Saturn, LLC came in, nearly eighty years ago to this day.
The main blade moved through the crops – thresh – along a straight pivot across the farm owned by newlyweds, Jay and Frank, on their own plot of land which they called, jokingly, Turd Field. The blade straight, full-size the length of a full-length field, its edge so sharp it could crunch through bones. To be slightly less morbid, Saturn’s logo was changed to that of a man with a scythe – blade down instead of turned up – wearing a cap from the Middle Ages. Looks like a druid or something. I would have preferred some rendition of Saturn Devouring His Son, of course, while I imagined the scene itself.
Around Turd Field were numerous warning signs staked firmly into the ground, all around the circumference, as well as at every corner of the field: Stay Out, and, Blades Engaged.
Turd Field had a foul stink like pure shit. There were often bones sticking out of the ground, and full carcasses littered about the soil – vermin, insects and rodentia – sliced through by the auto-scythe. Not too often, though sometimes, a bird. Or a squashed tortoise with a splintered shell. Last season, Jay found four hairy bobcat legs splayed out in a pile of bloody slop – dropped all at once like spindles – but no carcass to be found anywhere in the entirety of Turd Field, or what could easily be canvassed. When parts of the body were found, and not others, Jay knew it was likely because some part was drug away by a predator.
The backbone of another wildcat, vertebrae ripped from its body by the auto-scythe, lay beside several small half-eaten animal fetuses, several others preserved. Nearby, the cat’s womb lay split, like a stomach sac dumped of its contents, membranes still clinging to one fully intact fetus.
Saturn sold a form of tracking surveillance, but Jay didn’t purchase the add-on. So, while there was a way to determine beforehand that there were larger animals, like a cat or a dog, in your field, Jay declined before engaging either the big blade or the small ones. He considered the casualties fertilizer.
What Jay seemed to lack in respect, his partner, Frank, made up for by being a veritable James Herriot. Frank was superstitious, but not inherently religious. Although the newlyweds couldn’t afford a tracker, especially given the yield from last season, Frank always volunteered to survey the field after an engagement to help clean up any relics. Frank had nearly no agricultural acumen. Jay had tried to tell him that what’s done is done, and corpses were precious mulch in this type of trade, but Frank still wanted to provide some dignity to any creature that had deigned to visit Turd Field and die there.
Jay and Frank were married last year. Were now in an open relationship. Both men were content with one another sleeping around. They agreed on the premise, but to leave out details. In actuality, almost no gay man was monogamous nowadays since the HIV vaccine became more widely available. And, while Frank might be considered a hungry bottom-whore – always was – it could be said that he did love his husband.
Jay was making a trip to the small farm conference in a week. They had hired a much younger man, Vincent, to keep the grounds in his absence. Frank could be counted upon to take dick in Jay’s stead, and that was pretty much the only thing Frank could be consistently counted upon to do at Turd Field. Had they not agreed to the arrangement, Frank would doubtless have done it behind Jay’s back anyway. Jay agreed that Frank could sleep with Vince. And, it was fine if not, too. It was fine in the house as well. It was all pretty much fine by Jay. He was a sucker for the man since they’d met.
Jay wasn’t really a top either, or not a very good one. Vince arrived horny. Vince knew he was working for two gays, and given how much Jay had offered to pay him – just to, what, engage and disengage blades – Vince had expected there was a catch. Vince wasn’t smart, but was a total pro at fucking the shit out of things. He knew how to pound pussy which made him, frankly, the perfect candidate for the position, because what you couldn’t do to a woman, you could definitely take out on an openly gay man. Vince hurt, unlike Jay. Jay was definitely smaller, and Frank hadn’t been used in a while so he was tight anyway. Vince preferred to sleep in the living room on a couch-bed that had been set up, so nobody would get any strange ideas that he wanted anything from this whole ordeal other than to sling his meat.
“You fucked my hole good last night,” Frank said. Vince ignored him. But, it wasn’t praise. By that, Frank meant, you rent me.
“Do you pound girls like that?” Frank asked.
“Fuck no,” Vince said.
Frank shit some blood that morning, but didn’t say anything. That would have put a damper on any future fun. Jay doesn’t want details either. So, Frank kept it to himself. But, staring down at the toilet bowl he had filled, he figured he had a tear. Probably somewhere behind the sphincter where the nerves ended. If the blood doesn’t stop by tomorrow, he thought, I’ll go see a doctor. “You horny?”, Frank asked nonetheless, undeterred, a true-blue homosexual who knew how to play the game.
“Always, man,” Vince replied.
“I’m down to give head,” Frank said. Since you destroyed my hole, he thought. Frank sucked him off in the kitchen before Vince started his work in the field.
“No teeth,” Vince said.
“Mm-hmm,” Frank nodded. He complied.
“Good boy.” Then, “You like getting fed?”
“I don’t swallow.”
“It’s cool,” Vince said.
Then, given that little snippet, once they were done, Vince asked, “What does your man think of all this?”
Then, Vince asked, “You gonna make me something to eat?”
Frank whipped up an omelet, and after Vince had eaten, he engaged the big blade. “You got thirty minutes, OK?”
“I’m good,” Frank said.
“Any pets?” Vince asked.
“Nope. Just us two.”
That night, after Vince had finished in the field, he returned for dinner, showered, and took his place on the couch-bed in the living room. Frank declined to give up his ass again that night, so he got on his knees instead.
“You want to go to our bedroom?” Frank asked.
“Sure,” Vince answered.
They went to Jay and Frank’s room. Vince splayed himself across the foot of the bed. He spread his legs, then Frank blew him.
“Don’t cum in my mouth,” Frank said.
“Alright,” Vince answered. But, when it came time for Vince to climax, he grabbed the back of Frank’s head with both hands, pulled him all the way down to the ball sack, and finished down his throat.
Frank gagged, pulled away, then asked, “Did you cum?”
“You couldn’t tell?” Vince smiled vindictively. Frank thought, retaliation, but for what? He didn’t think Vince was gay.
“You like me or something?”
“Fuck no,” Vince said.
“Want to be with me or something?”
“Uh, fuck no.”
“I mean, you said you loved making me your bitch.”
“I never said that. You did.”
“Fine,” Frank said. What if I report you to the police?, he thought. Totally.
“I could totally report you to the police.”
It was worth saying to see the blood drain from Vince’s face.
“Look,” Vince said. “I’m here a few more days, alright, and you’ll be fine until he gets back. Then, I’m gone, and you won’t ever see me again. I fuck around on jobs. But. Look. Got a girl at home.”
“I’ll tell my husband.” Frank was angry. He couldn’t stand the sight of Vince anymore. Frank took the truck out into the field that night, damaged a fair number of the crops, but didn’t give a shit. Jay would blame the motherfucker, too. Frank stayed out too long, didn’t even want to come back, but knew he had to eventually. After he had fallen asleep to the sound of the frogs croaking, Frank woke up in the dead of night, then decided to head back. He opened the door of the truck, got out to stretch his legs, and circled to the back of the pick-up where he had thrown the empty beer bottles out the back window.
It took a moment for Frank to realize the whispering he heard – a light buzzing sound – was not the fucking frogs, and no insect was large enough to make such a sound, but he was now royally fucked. The motherfucker still had the auto-scythe engaged. Frank was too far to make a run for it.
He looked to the top of the stalks of the cornfield and saw rows falling in turn, getting closer, it was all happening much too quickly now. Frank climbed into the bed of the pick-up, then tried to climb atop the hood, right when he saw the blade nearing. He was on his knees, starting to actually pray, and it clipped him off at his waist. The bottom half of his body fell, entrails gutted, sludge on the rocky ground, blood and puke-green bile.
Jay was called by a neighbor who had heard the man screaming. Arriving back some time later, though he had left at once, Jay stopped at the edge of the field, had not even gone into the house first, had not even called. Then, he video-called Vince from the interior maze of the cornfield, as he was looking for his dead husband’s body.
“What do you mean, you’re in the field?”
“My husband is in the fucking field, you idiot.” Jay was scared.
“I’ve disengaged it, I tied it up in the shed with wires, wired it up completely.”
How had he not noticed human blood? And, in that moment, whirring past Jay, a line in the brush. The secondary system had been engaged, the one shared by Turd Field and the others, likely employed because the owner could not find the lateral-move system, which was now wired up in Jay’s shed.
The smaller units had been engaged. I must be fucking dreaming, Jay thought. When he heard the mini circular saw blades, shooting throughout the cornfield, then, terrified, Jay started running.
“Get in the car and fucking drive,” Vince yelled at Jay on the phone.
Jay held the device in front of his face. He was panting. “I. Don’t. Know. Where. The. Car. Is.”
He started running, disc chasing close behind, and he ducked, but he had virtually no chance the next time. The saws circled him, perpendicular, one so close to his head, and the next ripped into his face like a rocket launcher.
Another amputated his foot and Jay howled. Jay fell on his hand to catch his weight. Another disc sliced his wrist. On his back now, a third sliced him cleanly in half, right from the top of the head, all the way to the bottom. One of the disc blades caught Jay’s colon, and stretched it across the expanse of the cornfield, a long tail. The bloody intestine was found in the morning. The police followed it to the rest of his body like fishing line to where the remainder of the body had already been fairly devoured.
Nobody gives a shit about two openly gay men. Who would even write an obituary for an openly gay man except for an openly gay journalist? But, once a child, playing in one of those fields, was killed, then two, three, it grew exponentially, now that was cause for concern. A lawsuit was filed by the wife of a former farmer and father. They had tried to bring products liability into the new age of lateral-move systems. The plaintiff lost, of course, the warning signs on the field, not to mention the warnings on the device itself which he had owned, meant that he had assumed the risk.
I’m no longer a farmer. I’m a shepherd. I’m happy the dead kids led to the decommissioning of this particular product. I’m no way happy about the dead kids. It also led to an investigation by Congress of all lateral-move systems, which eventually led to their outlawing entirely, to the vexation of most of the farmers. As for me, with any such devices, although it takes much longer, I, of course, always prefer the long way.
* * *