"Hello and welcome to episode 5 of The Future History of Newburg, a series of short stories about a peculiar town on a peculiar planet where science and magic mingle in an effort to SAVE THE WORLDS. In the last episode we went shopping with Amelia, a freelance journalist, and we really regretted our purchase. This episode takes us back to Lower Newburg...to begin with. I hope wherever you are, you're relaxed and happy and ready to listen to episode 5, "Getting To Know Yew".
“I tried to stay calm, but it kicked out with one of those huge legs, broke my clavicle, sent me flying into a tree! I’m still healing from the concussion,” Andy said, recalling his recent counter with a strange animal on Mount Distant. Amelia wanted to have a conversation with the ranger, not have her face buried in notes while she wrote down information for an article, so she was recording this interview on her digital notebook. She would note later how pale Andy looked while he recounted the events, and how he gripped his coffee cup with both hands.
Amelia had told Andy they could go anywhere he’d like and do the interview over coffee, her treat. He chose Granny Bone’s Pizza Cafe which was no surprise. Trevor, the barista here, made the strongest, darkest espresso in town. The whole of Newburg seemed to be addicted, and they seemed to all be here, laughing and giggling over hot java and peppy music. Though Amelia had tried to pick a secluded booth for Andy’s sake, it was still a strange environment to hear a scary story. Andy sipped at his coffee and put it down shaking slightly
“I tried to tell myself I had hallucinated it all, and I even believed myself for a while. But no, that thing was real.”
“And you said the creature was headless,” Amelia asked, intrigued.
“Yeah, no head, no torso or arms even. Just legs and waist I guess you’d say,” Andy answered.
“Are you nervous about going back into the woods?”
Andy leaned back and ran a hand over his nut brown curls. “I do it, I went back to work, but I think it’s still out there. Did I tell you that when I came to, the creature,…bigfoot, thing charged at me and chased me all the way …”
A faint beeping noise from Andy’s hand interrupted him. Similar noises came from around the restaurant as people looked excitedly at their com-rings. Andy pressed the side of his ring, and then turning meekly to Amelia asked, “Would you, would you mind? I just got a notification that he’s live right now.”
“Oh, um, sure,” Amelia said taken aback as Andy rotated his com-ring, and a projection popped up between them. She’d never had an interview interrupted because her interviewee wanted to watch a live webcast. A handsome man with long black hair was walking and talking on Andy’s projected screen as well as on nearly everyone else’s screen in the café. Amelia shrugged and decided to take this moment to grab some more sugar. Walking past booths and tables she could hear the webcast echoing all around her.
“Hi there! Ju-long here. Last night I came up with an incredible breakfast pizza idea, and I can’t wait to try it out here at Granny Bone’s.” Amelia grabbed two sugar packets from the counter as the front door swung open and in walked the smiling Ju-long in cargo shorts and flip flops. His arm was bent at the elbow as if he was checking the time, and he seemed to be talking to a tiny blue dot that hovered above his jade bracelet. Amelia was surprised that no one in the café even looked toward the door. They continued to stare transfixed at their screens.
“I’m thinking Chi-style thick crust with hollandaise sauce, cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs, bacon, pineapple and anchovies on top.” The café patrons made a collective groan that said they weren’t so sure about their show host’s choices. “Stay tuned! I’ll be back soon to let you know how it is!” With that, he pushed his jade bracelet farther up his forearm and the recording ended.
People chuckled and looked Ju-long’s way, but gradually went back to chatting and sipping coffee. A little girl came up to ask for the man’s autograph, and he said “Only if I can have yours too!” The girl nodded enthusiastically, as Ju-long signed a napkin. She wrote her name in big letters on the other side. Ju-long tore the napkin in half and gave his signature to her before she went skipping back to her table. He folded the napkin carefully, put it in his pocket, and approached Trevor, who was waiting with a blank expression and the retinal scanner.
“Please avoid looking directly into the light,” Trevor said, unimpressed with Ju-long’s celebrity. A red light flashed across Ju-long’s face and a beep sounded. “I’ll be right out with your pizza, sir,” Trevor said.
Amelia stood at the bar with sugar packets in hand, and Ju-long took a seat on the empty bar stool next to her. He propped his elbows up on the counter and waited for his food with a pleasant smile on his face. Amelia would go back to finish her interview with Andy soon, but she thought there may be an interesting story somewhere here too.
“You’re Jiang Ju-long?”
“Yeah, that’s right.” His eyes were glistening jet, and contrasted with the soft features of his face.
“Your father is Dr. Jiang, the hydroponic and xeric farmer?”
“Yep. Yeah dad’s really into trying to grow plants without soil or without water. He hoped I would take up his research, but I’m just not that into plants. I work at our fruit stand sometimes though,” he said with a grin. “You’re Amelia Levin, right?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I read your article last week about why it never snows south of Mercury Road!” Ju-long said.
“You know, I tried to interview your father for that piece because of his extensive knowledge in precipitation, but…”
“Let me guess,” Ju-long interjected. “He didn’t have time.”
Amelia nodded with a shrug. “So what did you think of the article?” she asked.
“It was a good read. I enjoyed it! I don’t buy any of the expert’s theories though. What were they, localized atmospheric pressurization? Tina talked about a wind tunnel effect. I could get behind the sage who said it didn’t snow because of an errant weather spell. But otherwise everyone sounded like they were pushing their own lab research instead of actually addressing the question.”
Ju-long’s pizza arrived then. It looked…interesting. He leaned in close and took a deep inhale of fish and pineapple. “I bet the truth is simpler than we think. I think people are just too busy to really look at it.”
“I agree, people need to stop and see the heart of the matter,” Amelia said shaking her sugar packets.
“See that’s why I appreciate your articles. They’re a distraction from all this busy-ness. Sometimes it feels like the people in this town are a bunch of bees trying to prove how busy they are and forgetting to make honey for each other.” Amelia tilted her head thoughtfully, and Ju-long turned his attention to his unorthodox meal. “Man, I gotta get a before shot of this pizza.” He rotated his jade bracelet and the blue dot hovered over the pizza. An image of it was projected between him and Amelia. With the morning sun glaring through the café windows, he couldn’t get the angle right no matter how far he stretched and leaned.
Amelia picked up the pizza platter and held it closer to the blue dot. The image between them showed a perfectly zoomed in shot that highlighted the hollandaise sauce.
“People too busy,” she said. “That’s why I do what I do. We need to focus more on what’s really happening out there, you know?” she continued as hollandaise sauce began to dribble onto her finger.
Frowning, Ju-long backed away until the entire pizza was framed in the shot. “I totally agree. This pizza is happening. Look at all those anchovies,” he said rotating the jade bracelet. The image between them disappeared. “It’s perfect,” he said in awe.
Amelia placed the pizza pan back down. “I’ll let you get to it,” she said shaking his hand. “Oh, sorry if I got sauce on you.”
“No problem,” he said and licked his fingers.
Ju-long exited Granny Bone’s and the glass door shut softly behind him. Stretching in the sunlight, he rubbed a hand over his full belly. He strolled down Zinc Street through the sweet smell of pastries that hovered around Sandy’s Donuts and passed preoccupied parents with excited children out shopping together. As he climbed the stairs to Lower Newburg’s Skytrain platform, he prepared his com-ring for his follow up live webcast.
The platform was nearly empty; it was just him, the blue dot, and one other passenger in his periphery.
“Granny Bones did an excellent job constructing my latest idea of the perfect breakfast pizza. It was ok… I’ll keep tweaking my toppings. Say, thanks for watching today. Join me next time for a walk on the beach. Pearl Point, not Sunken Sands. That place is a ship wreck waiting to happen. It will be a little while until I see you again. So, have a nice while!” He rotated his bracelet just as the Skytrain arrived, and the transmission ended.
Ju-long boarded and sat quietly with his hands in his lap. He liked taking the Skytrain. He thought it was a shining example of how sages and scientists could work together to create something of benefit to everyone. The train was quantum levitated using mega superconductors, yet it was propelled by a momentum spell. Supposedly, there was a conductor who guided the train as it glided its way around and through Newburg in a colossal figure eight. No one had ever seen the conductor though. Ju-long frowned to himself as he concluded that the system was fully automated now. He enjoyed the ride anyhow. The train rocked subtly back and forth, and he watched the rooftops of Lower Newburg fly by and give way to an expansive horizon of desert. The sand ended abruptly in a wide arc of water, and as the train turned gracefully Ju-long could see the late morning sun reflecting in a brilliant, undulating strip across Bartholomew’s Bay.
Saturdays were light travel days, and it was unusually quiet on the sky train today. The car was practically silent except for the easy listening music playing unobtrusively over the sound system, and a few rustles coming from the other passenger. They must have checked out an old fashioned book or newspaper from the library and were leafing through the pages. It had been ages since Ju-long had seen a folding newspaper, and he turned in curiosity hoping to get a good look at it. Instead of seeing a newspaper, he saw a woman sitting incredibly still. Or rather it was a plant-like being in the form of a woman with aspen bark skin and with hair and fingers of leaves that rustled with the train’s movements. She was staring at him intently and with only one eye. Her left eye was missing along with the left side of her face. The being slowly turned in her seat to face Ju-long, and he saw that she was missing the entire left side of her human-shaped plant body. He could see branches and roots that formed the shape of a lung and ribcage underneath the bark, and there was even part of a digestive system. His jaw dropped in astonishment.
Ju-long’s first thought was that she must be in pain, and he should call someone to help her. He reached for his com-ring, but the woman’s barky visage twisted into a scornful grin and she lunged at him, grabbed him by the throat, and picked him up from his seat without any visible effort. His feet dangled over the floor as he breathlessly clawed and scraped at the woman’s arm which was as strong and inflexible as a tree branch. Dozens of roots formed from the being’s body and they searched every pocket of his cargo shorts, combed through his hair, and felt in the small front pocket of his t-shirt. The plant woman pulled out the napkin with the little girl’s autograph on it. This was not what she was searching for apparently because then the roots reached up underneath his shirt, creeping against his bare belly. He felt splinters lodge into his skin. The mass of roots concentrated over his chest, and his shirt ripped apart.
Sap dripped slowly from the plant woman’s mouth as she sneered, and two roots arched back in front of Ju-long’s heart like snakes prepared to strike. He struggled frantically to reach his com-ring on the other side of the being’s arm, and he finally twisted it just enough. His bracelet beeped and the blue camera light hovered just above the plant woman’s wooden ball of an eye. She dropped him immediately and tried to clasp the light in her hand. Ju-long collapsed into his seat, coughing and gasping for breath.
Growing frustrated at repeatedly failing to grasp the blue light, the plant woman let out an ear splitting scream of creaking wood. Ju-long aimed the camera dot as far away from him as possible and the plant woman leapt at it.
“Announcing arrival at Midtown Station,” an automated voice declared overhead. The Skytrain slowed abruptly, and the plant woman wrapped her roots around poles, hand holds, and seats to steady herself. Two dull chimes sounded and the train doors hissed open. Half a dozen people boarded and screamed at the grimacing wood sculpture of a mutilated figure embedded in the train car.
At their screams, the plant woman rapidly retracted her roots and retreated to the far upper corner of the car. After the slightest pause, her right sided, womanly figure morphed into coils of twining roots, which then slithered and arched hastily along the roof of the car, over the screamers’ ducking heads, and out the door.
A middle aged woman, thoroughly engrossed in a projected video above her com-ring, boarded the train just before the doors closed. Looking up to find a seat, she recognized Ju-long amidst the pack of amazed passengers.
“I just watched that live video you posted, and I gotta say I don’t appreciate the horrific turn in your content. I don’t tune into your channel for those kinds of terrifying images on my screen,” she said dismayed. “And for goodness sake, put a shirt on.” The woman found a seat at the back of the car and sat down with a huff.
Realizing he was still recording, Ju-long fumbled with his bracelet and ended the video. He attempted to pull the tattered remnants of his shirt across his bare chest. The Skytrain accelerated forward, and he sat down hard in his seat. He stared at the solid, dark floor while his breathing returned to a normal rhythm. Eventually, he turned his com-ring one more time.
“Hey there again, guys. Sorry about that last video. I know that must have been a little shocking to everyone. You know, I never realized how important it is to acknowledge the people around you. You never know what amazing things that somebody right next to you could be capable of. I mean, you don’t even have to speak to have an impactful connection with someone. That’s uh, That’s’ all for now. Don’t forget about the beach. Have a nice while!”
Ju-long ended the video right before the automated voice said, “Announcing Arrival at Old Town Station East.” He waved to his fellow passengers as he got off the train and then jogged down the platform steps into Argon Avenue. It was market day in Old Town and the road was lined with pop up stalls packed with people buying and selling colorful robes, magic infused spices, and of course dry farmed citrus.
Ju-long bought a new t-shirt from the first available clothing kiosk, and immediately put it on. Toward the end of the road, he rolled up the green awning to his family’s fruit stand, and arranged the produce crates in an eye catching manner. His work finished, he sat back in a rusty folding chair, and propped his feet up on the counter. He closed his eyes to nap, but found himself popping them open again, hoping that one of the oranges had sprouted legs and come to life.
That concludes episode 5, "Getting To Know Yew." I hope you enjoyed it. The Future History of Newburg was written, narrated, and produced by R. Dawn Hutchinson. To find out more, please visit me at rdawnhutchinson.com. If you're enjoying these stories, please take some time to leave a review on iTunes or other podcast provider of your choice. It'll help other people find the show. Don't forget to subscribe while you're there. As always, thank you SO MUCH for listening and helping the story unfold.