Retiring Back Home

by Howard Faxon

Copyright© 2015 by Howard Faxon

Science Fiction Story: Remember the kid that everyone hated back in school, that answered every question, that blew away the tests? Let's put the shoe on the other foot and inject some whimsy. (The physics and E.M. propagation in the story doesn't really work, but it's fun to think about.)

Caution: This Science Fiction Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Science Fiction   Interracial   .

I was born and raised on a pork and dairy farm just outside of a town so small that it took the IRS three tries to find it. The directions to the farm started with "Once you leave the blacktop...". A lot happened in 1970 just across the state line into Virginia. Mom and Pop didn't care much about what happened outside the county except for the commodity prices. It was the year I was born. I'm Harry, by the way. Harry Turner. I learned a lot by watching my dad and Uncle Walt fix everything on the farm that needed fixin'. By the time I went to high school in Beverley Springs I could milk a cow, plow a row, frame in and mount a door or window, run in a grounded circuit and hook it up to the breaker box, rebuild our lawn mower, Blow a stump with a quarter stick, kill a deer, butcher it or a hog and prepare the carcass for the smoke house. I didn't much like doin' the laundry but I helped out all I could with the vegetable garden and with the canning. My brothers and I were hell on wheels with our .22 rifles. We kept the rats out of the corn cribs and the foragers out of the garden. We hunted for the pot, too.

I made it out of high school a couple years early and tested pretty high on the SAT. I got a free ride to the University of West Virginia in Morgantown because I did so well on the math section, I guess. I always did test well. It was the fall of 1985 when I drove into Morgantown in my pickup. It looked like hell, but I'd torn it down to the frame and rebuilt it. It was a 1938 Chevy stake bed truck. It had a foot locker full of clothes and my tool boxes in the back. I was towing a rebuilt single-axle diesel-powered Lincoln welder. I sure wasn't some flower child with rose-colored glasses. I was a farm kid ready to grab two fists full of what was mine and hang on for the fight.

My first two weeks were spent taking CLEP tests. That took care of my math up to and including stats and calculus, three semesters of Spanish and two courses in English. I started a journal for one of my English courses that I couldn't finagle my way out of.

I learned a lot about electronics and the theory behind electro-magnetic propagation, both in wires and through the air. I ended up making my spare money welding for the campus maintenance department and the agronomy folks that taught city kids how to use tractors and farm implements without killing themselves.

I also took enough courses for a minor through their education department, following the principle that you never fire the teachers or the garbage men. No matter how tough times got I'd find a job somewhere.

I tried to hook up with a few pretty girls, but when they found out I wasn't a party boy I got dropped like a hot rock. It depressed me for a while, then I figured out that they were after good times and a free ride. They'd never had made good wife material. They were stuck mentally as teen-agers. Some folk never grow up. I tucked in my chin and left it all behind like a fart in a wind storm.

Late one night I got to wondering why a specific FET transistor cascade acted the way it did--it had a second, higher-power plateau. It wouldn't leave me alone, and by the time I figured out what was happening I had a Ph.D and a patent. A few more ideas later followed by a few more patents and they kicked me off the campus with a MS degree in electrical engineering and minors in math and education. That was all right with me--collegiate bureaucracy didn't agree with my disposition. It made me want to punch people or test an axe handle to destruction.

It was the spring of 1992 that I drove back to the farm to help out. Mom and dad had a lot more gray hair and moved a lot slower. Uncle Walt had a run-in with a plow and lost. He was living in town in a nursing home. He'd never walk again. Once I came back I made sure that he made it to the table for Sunday dinners. He bitched a lot about it, but I could tell that he appreciated getting out of that place regularly, just by watching his face.

Despite my patent annuities, I wanted to increase my income and working on the farm just wasn't doing it. Brother Tom wanted no part of farming--he didn't want to work that hard for a living. I talked it over with mom and pop. They knew that the day was coming, but agonized over it nonetheless. The farm had provided them with honest-to-God 'living' wages and provided for bringing up three boys for nearly half a century. However, the economy of farming had shifted to benefit the big factory farms, just as the majority of the family-owned corner groceries, drug stores, butcher shops and hardware stores had folded because the chain stores had buying power that they had no chance of matching. They were fractionally nickeled and dimed to death. People writing the news said that it was just the passing of an age, but they were murdered by way of cold, calculated economic warfare nonetheless.

The farm was sold to a grain combine, which meant that at least the land would be kept in production and not paved over for housing developments. With the price of productive land being so high, the farm sold for over four million dollars. Mom and dad took a half million to retire on. Uncle Walt took four hundred thousand dollars out of the kitty and moved in with them, along with a full-time nurse in a nice house way down south in Hillsboro, where the winter wasn't quite so unpredictable. The family insisted that since my brother and I were the only ones that needed a grubsteak to grow with, we split the rest. Jim had died in the 'sandbox', despite his being the best shot of all three of us. A roadside bomb blew his ass to flinders. Brother Tom was happy just pulling down a paycheck and banked his half for bad times. To tell you the truth, I think he was the smartest of all of us despite working as a grease monkey in an antique restoration shop.

Once the tax man savaged us like a rabid dog, Tom and I were each left with $925.000.00 and a bad case of shell-shock. I talked my brother into investing in a small fluid fund with a good ROI and sticking the rest into long-term futures--investments in rare-earth elements that were necessary for sophisticated electronics.

I followed them south in case one of them took a spill and needed some help. Tom moved to Charleston to follow the demand. Would you think that I could find a decent job around Hillsboro that didn't involve cleaning hotel rooms or the fast food industry? Hell, no. I fell back on my education minor and applied at the local district. They needed a math teacher--and a basketball coach. Like I knew shit about basketball. Right away I worked my way into teaching industrial arts, drafting and building trades. An anonymous donor "ahem." funded a CAD-CAM lab, a CNC lathe and a reconditioned 3-D CNC milling machine. It didn't take long before we started turning out kids, male and female, that could walk right into jobs fresh out of school.

Over the summers I brushed up on my welding and got a few industry certs, refreshed my CAD-CAM certs and did repair work for a local sawmill.

The next year I added a high-pressure water-cutting table to the school's shop. It was simple to integrate into the CAD lab with the vendor's code libraries.

It was about 1998 that the equipment needed refurbishing. Being the short-sighted sons-of-bitches that they were, the entire program was scrapped and the equipment was sold off for ten percent of its market value rather than invest any money in updating the equipment that would benefit the students without any payoff for the teachers. What a great union. What great benefits, eh? All that left a bad taste in my mouth that wouldn't quit.

I was deeply pissed. Rather than get my hands dirty I cashed in some of my investments and had the union officials investigated down to a level rarely pursued short of a military security check or a vetting by the Secret Service. A college student with a hair up his ass agreed to break into the paste-up server for a daily D.C. newspaper to disseminate the official's records, then carefully prune the server's access logs of any incriminating entries.

Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky mining folk don't take well to people wearing suits fucking with their kid's educations.

Admittedly, a lot of relatively innocent teacher's union officials got tarred with the same brush. Soon there was a deep void where the union representation used to be. A few state representatives and senators disappeared as well. Quite a few people at the NEA quit over personal health issues. The D.C. police were confounded over the number of bodies found floating in roadside ditches across the county. A damning picture was drawn after the employment histories of the deceased were compiled. One pointing at payola in educational markets and their special interest groups.

I figured that it was about time to get out of the business before some righteous warrior with a 6th. grade diploma decided to burn me at the stake for my hand in matters. I'd spent the last four summers working at a local sawmill. I talked the manager into taking me on full-time. The income was a lot better than teaching ever paid, I didn't have to grade any papers at night and I didn't have to deal with nearly as many fucking idiots.

It was a good gig while it lasted. After three years Manny had to pull the plug. He'd been running at a deficit for a few years and didn't see the industry picking up for the plywood and custom wood market that close to DC. I tried to turn him onto the specialty woods marine market, but it just didn't work out.

I had enough cash in the bank to prepare for a project I'd been thinking about.

I talked Manny into a one-shot contract with me before he declared bankruptcy. I had him buy several railroad flat-cars of seasoned logs and mill them into three-side-flat 10" by 10" beams, leaving the last side naturally curved. I had them cut to twelve foot, sixteen foot and twenty-four foot lengths, then mill out as many two-inch-thick planks as he could from the cut-offs and the final half-car full of logs. All the logs were then run through the big band saw to cut ten inch deep lap joints at the end of each beam then drill a one-inch hole through the middle of each face.

I paid him thirty percent over cost, in cash. Both of us knew that he'd never report a penny of it. All that tax-free cash would give him a cushion to live off of until he got back on his feet. After he declared bankruptcy and went chapter 11 I bought a few things from the business--a big Ford tractor with a front-end-loader and a back-hoe attachment, a pair of forks that would fit on the front-end loader's bucket to move logs or pallets, an eighteen foot hydraulic gantry crane, a couple hundred feet of almost new one inch chain and a big box of chain hooks.

It cost me a pretty penny to lease a warehouse and have the timber and equipment trucked to it to be stored until I could buy a suitable plot of land.

Back in the '40s and '50s the government sold forested plots in the Smokies to returning veterans with the right of first refusal written into the contracts. It was a policy that with a few changes, went back to the land grants of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Most of the eastern properties had been bought back by the national parks service, but a few were still out there. At that time the forestry and national parks services were so strapped for cash that they didn't have the budgets to redeem the park properties. I had caught a whisper of a rumor of a property coming up on the market, to be sold at auction for back taxes. I knew that once it hit the auction block the price would skyrocket. I spent some good money working through the county land registers in eastern West Virginia until I found a plot that matched what I'd heard about, up around Bartow. Rather than wait until the sheriff was notified to force an auction, I undercut the process by offering a certified check to pay for the back taxes and the fees demanded to unencumber the property deed from the estate. It cost me almost a hundred and thirty thousand to get that deed transferred to my name, free and clear. Not bad for thirty-six acres of uncut timber and the land under it in the middle of a national forest. The deed explicitly stated that it was serviced by a fire road that was to be kept up by the county.

The first spring: 2003. At the ripe old age of 33 I began implementing my long-planned retirement.

It was a good thing that my old stake-side truck had an exceptionally high clearance. That excuse for a fire road was nothing but ruts, cuts, washouts, pits and voids. I could have lost an Abrams tank to that thing. It hadn't been looked at, much less worked on in over eight years, and eight years of mountain weather had pretty much returned it to its natural state. It took a state-level court order to get it returned to something that a car could navigate. It still took the county a year and a half to blast the big stones into manageable size, fill in the voids with broken limestone, lay down culverts, clean up the roadbed with a bull-dozer, clear out the ditches and top it all with twenty inches of crushed limestone. I contracted with a civil engineering company to drive corrugated retention walls in on either side of the road for the two miles needed to get to my gate. Then I had them rebuild the driveway to the old home-site, almost a mile further into the property. All that was left of the homestead was a standing fireplace and chimney at one end of a big square of foundation rocks. Nobody had been out to visit the property in over a generation. An aerial survey found several collapsed buildings and half a dozen carcasses of cars and trucks. I had all the metal roofs and auto wrecks hauled out by helicopter and disposed of. The survey showed that there was no flat land larger than a large glade anywhere on the property.

How could I afford all this? Unlike what I'd suggested to my brother, after a couple years I split my funds into half-and-half, long term commodities and short term investments. My talent for math hadn't let me down as I'd been a fairly successful day trader over the years.

Rather than build a cabin myself I had more than enough in the bank to afford to have it built for me. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted and how I wanted it built. Still, I hired an architect to put his stamp of approval on my plans because he knew the local building codes.

The fourth spring: 2005.

The old homestead wasn't situated the best it could have been. When the dirt dried enough to work with, I had the engineers flatten out a two hundred and forty-foot long terrace some sixty feet wide and thirty-five feet up from the bottom of the draw behind the homestead, backing onto Rattlesnake Run. All the pulled-down trees and their root balls were piled up for later processing, and retention walls were driven in on both the high and low sides of the terrace. While the dirt was being moved into place I had it run through a landscaper's rock sieve and the stones piled into a rock fence at the downward-edge of the new plateau.

At the rear of the terrace, furthest from the driveway, I had a 30 foot deep by 50 foot wide corrugated brown pole barn built, facing the rest of the terrace. It wasn't any great shakes to have a single lane crushed-limestone road next to the high-side retaining wall filled to about a foot above level grade, then curbed with landscaping timbers. The pole barn was floored with tamped, crushed limestone then topped with a little sharp sand just like the turning basin between the pole barn and the cabin site.

The water table was fairly high and there wasn't any hard-pan, so getting a good well dug wasn't as expensive as it could have been. Next a big 2000 pound propane tank got dropped off next to the pole barn and filled. I had a concrete pad put in and a filled cinder block shed put in near the propane tank, then bought a fairly large Generac for it, as my old Lincoln welder had long ago expired past the point of economical repair. I had heat, lights and electricity inside my pole barn. I completed the facilities with an elevated water tank mounted up in the rafters connected to a hot water heater. I knocked together a frame then welded up a grid of half-inch rebar for a workshop floor, then called in an order for two big Redi-Mix trucks to pour a twelve inch thick slab ten feet by thirty off to one side of the big sliding door. Once the concrete hardened I had my shop floor that was stable enough to support a milling machine.

It was getting on towards late summer. I had my plans saved in an AutoCad.DXF, so it wasn't much trouble to get prints made. I submitted them to the county along with the architect's approval. I'd taught building trades for long enough that I'd about digested the construction code book so I knew what I could get away with and what I couldn't.

Unlike most homes in the area, I specified a full basement in the plans.

A 24 x 42 foot log cabin built of 10x10 beams with one inch threaded rod bolted through the joints linking the foundation and the cap rails exceeded the building code so far that there wasn't any room for them to squirm. I planned on 4" thick Thermax interior wall panels and 12-volt electrical circuit runs. Anything requiring 120 volts would be relegated to the pole barn, some thirty feet away, next to the generator to avoid line loss. The prints even specified an 800-gallon fiberglass-lined septic vault. The only break in the cabin's thermal barrier was a provision for a Franklin wood-burning stove in an inglenook next to a sauna enclosure which was next to the master bedroom, all under a half-ceiling. The kitchen was placed on the other side of the inglenook with a full bathroom between them.

The plans showed a shed roof tapering off towards the back. The cabin was placed to cut across the plateau, just leaving road access back to the pole barn for servicing the septic vaults and propane tank coming in, and allowing the tractor and implements access to the field between the front of the cabin and the driveway. The ceiling tapered down from 24 feet at the south side, or front which faced the field to 18 feet at the north, or rear. There was plenty of room for a half-second floor, keeping the taller half uninterrupted for a high ceiling vault. I'd planned on thermo pane windows on both levels and several wrought-iron chandeliers to eliminate dark voids. The first floor bathroom shared a wall with the kitchen to centralize service distribution. I made sure that a big multi-paned window lit up the kitchen sink and counter top, that looked out over part of the yard between the cabin and the pole barn with a good view up the valley.

The county commissioner approved my building plan. However, it was too late in the year to get the cabin in-the-dry (sealed up). After my contractor got the full basement dug and a septic tank buried next to the pole barn, everything was mothballed for the winter. I had the tractor and bucket as well as the gantry crane and a couple loads of beams and planks that I'd bought from Manny transported to my job site. Regrettably everything that I had in storage wouldn't fit, so I had to pay the lease on the old warehouse and pay for its insurance for another year.

I knew that I'd get cabin fever so I bought a chainsaw, a 50-gallon tank of gas up on a dispensing rack, a 250-gallon tank of diesel up on a rack and plenty of oil for the chainsaw. Never buy a chainsaw without buying new, sharp files and a sharpening jig unless you've already got one. I also bought a single-axle 8x10 foot cart and a smaller 4x6 foot cart to tow behind the tractor. What's a farmer do when he's bored? Walk a fence line or cut firewood. Since I didn't have any barbed wire fence, it was cut firewood. Throughout the winter I tore down and rebuilt that tractor to get the most life I could out of it. All the hydraulic hoses were replaced because the thing had been stored out in the weather while Manny owned it, and the hoses degrade faster under sunlight.

I bought a cheap little vacation trailer to live in over the winter. A little work with some sheet tin and pop-rivets piped all the exhaust gasses out of a wall vent. A propane-fired refrigerator and freezer stored on my shop floor gave me some flexibility. I made sure that my pump head and water lines were insulated then picked up plenty of food to last until ice-out. Once the road closed down I wouldn't see hide nor hair of a snow plow or sand truck until spring. I was some 4900 feet above the nearest town. I bought plenty of canned meat, canned vegetables and canned fruit to live on, then added baking supplies and a few fifty-pound bags of potatoes to the larder. I had a stacking washer/dryer put in for a couple hundred bucks to take care of my sanitation that winter. With a load of steel and welding rod I framed in my shop so that I could work in the cold, then built my shop tables. I laid it out for woodworking as well as heavy repair and steel fabrication. I intended to build some shelves for the main cabin, the basement and the shop. I had yet to plan out what to do with the loft.

As the winter progressed the disorganization about drove me to distraction. I swore that I was going to have a root cellar dug come hell or high water. I built several sets of shelves out of welded angle-iron and topped them with slab lumber in an attempt to get a hand on my inventory, but Murphy had already settled in for the winter. It helped some, though.

I parted together a table and chair to eat and read at, as that little trailer was pretty claustrophobic after about the fifth week. I was surprised that I'd held out that long. Still, it gave me a warm place to cook, shower and sleep--all the real necessities, once you come down to it.

The weather broke in mid-January long enough for me to get to a lumber yard and pick up some heavy plywood, construction adhesive, paint and painting supplies and a few fluorescent light bays. I built the walls and ceiling for my shop with space for my twelve-foot gantry crane to roll around. The light bays were recessed into the plywood sheathing. I had plenty of space to work in so as not to get claustrophobic while working inside the bay.

Every day that it didn't rain I cut firewood out of the piled up trees that came out when the terrace was sculpted. I reserved a few longer trunks to make storage ricks under the front porch roof. It wasn't the best dried firewood, but it'd been uprooted over six months before. I saved out the big pile of tops to run through a chipper, then spread out and cultivate in for my vegetable garden. I saved out the root balls for burning over long winter's nights while I lay on one of my inglenook benches with a quilt.

The fifth spring: 2006.

The permits flew like flower petals. The county commissioners had never seen this type of architecture built before and were anxious to see it executed. Jaimie, my contractor, hadn't worked with it either, but permanent insulated concrete forms attached to a continuous footer were simple to implement. Most of the custom work went into the half-inch steel toe rails that were threaded onto and locked into the foundation while the joist hangers were bolted in place, the interior and exterior wall beams were dropped in place by crane then the welded cap rails were bolted onto the one inch threaded rod that ran through the lap joints wherever the beams joined. A bit of trickery was involved with setting in sections of the beams to form gables. Slow-setting construction adhesive filled all the voids and sealed the seams between the beams. The windows and doors were hung then a four inch thick Thermax panel lining was applied to all the walls, inside and out. There were a few post-and-beam features built in for visual appeal, both to define spaces under the second floor and to break up the big unrelieved space of the tall wall. It went up damned fast with the help of a skilled crane operator.

Heavy structural beam floor joists were laid in while the crane could access the interior, then covered by the heavy two-inch-thick planks and secured with dock screws. A pair of custom-cut 10x10 beams that ran down the center of the length of the cabin were prepared with chisel work to receive the beams making up the ceiling joists and more planks were laid across them for the second floor flooring. Openings were cut and ramps were run to provide access from the basement up to the second floor, both of which ran across the east wall which faced the hillside. Then the long railing was brought in and anchored so nobody would take a header off of the second floor. A flying beam was installed high up in the vault to support the chandeliers, which were controlled by four independent wall cranks.

The roof trusses were bolted to the cap rails and one inch marine plywood was screwed down to the trusses. The roofing felt went down with standard nails then the crane was used to hoist pallets of traditional concrete shingles up which were screwed down to the underlayment.

The last heavy job that needed the crane was to drop in the dark, heavy recycled plastic faux-timber support poles for the car port. The poles were concreted in place so that the roof line at the cabin side was twelve feet high, stretching out twelve feet to a roof line of eight feet. The whole thing was as wide as the cabin was at 42 feet, leaving room for a porch on one side that protected the doorway and a big dry space to stack firewood on the other with room for a couple vehicles to park in the center. I intended to eventually screen in the porch but I didn't have a time-table for it.

By mid-summer the shell was in-the-dry, the services were run in and terminated. It was then ready for me to take over. While doing the final site clean-up my contractor brought out a tree-chipper for me so that I could shred that big pile of tops I'd been sitting on since early winter. It made a huge pile of rough mulch that I covered with Visqueen to help promote decomposition.

I brought in a big tow-behind 220-volt generator and a big honkin' walking belt sander to smooth out the floors. I had four industrial fans going and wore an air mask while I worked. After blowing out all the sawdust with a high pressure line then wiping down all the inside surfaces with damp cloths and a cherry picker, I stained and varnished the floors, then varnished them again with polyurethane. The voids between the planks were routed out and filled with slightly resilient black construction adhesive. It looked like a teak floor by the time I finished.

I knew enough not to try to decorate the place on my own, or it'd look like where flea markets went to die. Before I made any decisions I went to the nearest largest library in Lewisburg. Renick was where my closest Home Depot was, but the library sucked rocks. Before I left the cabin I took a panoramic set of photos of both the interior and exterior. Then I packed a suitcase and found a hotel room as close as I could get to the Lewisburg main library. For a while there I thought that the folks at the Hampton Inn was going to make me park my poor truck a couple blocks south at the WalMart.

I found that I liked the Shaker style a lot, edging out Arts and Crafts by a bit. I let my fingers do the walking (remember that advertisement for AT&T information?) and found a decorator in Lexington, Virginia. They agreed to send out someone to meet me in Renick, someone that was willing to work in reproduction Shaker furniture. I made sure to let them know the person coming out should be wearing 'rough' clothes and sturdy shoes.

Carol was a big 'hausenfrau' that seemed to take over a room as she walked into it. She had curly gray hair and piercing blue eyes. We shook hands and piled into my truck. Rather than look at it as if she'd catch a disease she seemed to approve of the rebuilt antique being used as it was designed for. When we turned off of the blacktop and onto the rougher fire road she casually latched onto the Jesus strap.

As came around the bend that exposed the view over the terrace to the cabin She sighed. "Very nice. If it weren't for the give-away of the retention wall this might have been here for a century."

"I taught building trades for a few years and designed the place myself. I'll show you the CAD prints."

When we parked under the car port she remarked, "This begs for a light on a motion sensor."

I preceded her through the door and flipped on the lights for the chandeliers. I hear her gasp as she caught sight of the open space, below and above. She quickly removed a pair of short tripods, an electronic range finder and a small, high-end camera from her beach-bag-sized purse and took several shots from all three floors. She was done measuring and recording colors within 45 minutes.

Back in town we found a quiet table in a diner to discuss my expectations over brunch. The best use of the upper space seemed to be a pair of suites, or kitchenless apartments when she brought up the subject of eventually hiring a cook or a maid. I wasn't getting any younger. Two of the windows would have to be replaced with units designed for emergency egress and the use of emergency chain ladders to comply with national code. My having installed ramps instead of stairs made it inexpensive to make the apartments ADA-compliant if a climbing rack were attached to the wall two feet above the ramp surface. A karabiner attached to a drop-down arm to latch onto a wheelchair frame would do the job nicely.

Late that fall I bought a plow, a rotary tiller and a seeder for the tractor. I bought used where I could. Thinking matters over, I also bought a manure spreader and a high-pressure steam cleaner. I spent some time giving them tender loving care over the rainy winter months.

The sixth spring: 2007.

I got damned tired of looking at all those weeds between my garden rows. Never get an inventor frustrated. I spent some money getting a basement electronics lab together. The industry had focussed on shorter and shorter wavelengths in LED lasers. I went in the opposite direction. The microwave spectrum is quite broad, and frequencies can be carefully tuned to excite organic molecules until they cleave at their bonds. I had three goals to work towards. One, design, build and debug a microwave maser emitter that transmitted in a band that excited chlorophyll molecules. Two, expanding the beam face of the emitter to something like twenty centimeters by two centimeters. Three, boosting the power. My design target was a five hundred kilowatt per square centimeter continuous wave maser. I immediately had to compromise with pulsed emission because I didn't have the power supply that could cope with that power requirement, and the waste heat kept frying my emitters until I hit on using a grid of small tubes filled with circulating cryogenic CO2. Liquid Nitrogen would have had a much better caloric transfer, but I couldn't easily make it. CO2 was no problem. It's the bootstrap process for all modern cryogenics.

It killed plants, all right. The emission corona around the maser cooked everything green and down-range within a 20 degree cone a quarter mile down range. It took some wave-guide work to clean up that behavior. Then I cast a reinforced concrete beam at one end of my garden rows with two pins corresponding to the centers between the rows. I made sure that it went down far enough so that it wouldn't shift over the winter. The microwave gun dropped down over the pins slick as you please. One quick zap and the weeds between those two rows were gone to weedy heaven. A quick pass with a garden rake proved that dead weeds still had strong stems. Crap. I then built another device that would have a very narrow emitter and the maser excited cellulose molecules. When I fired it up the plants visibly jumped as the stalks exploded and collapsed. Cool. I had to buy a second big propane tank to power my toys and keep myself in cryogenic CO2. I slowly ran the cellulose destroyer across the hillside across from me, where I'd accidentally killed all the plants. I did it over time in horizontal bands to keep erosion from scalping the hillside bald. I built it like a rifle with a long umbilicus for the power and CO2 feeds.

I firmly had the bit between my teeth. I remembered seeing a you-tube clip on lasers killing mosquitoes on the fly. I wondered what kind of discriminator it would take, and if it would even work in a real-world application without frying the retinas of anyone around. I went for the shotgun approach. After suitable research I found that insects don't use hemoglobin. Their oxygen transport is tied up in some sort of homo-dimer exchange process. Once I isolated the resonant frequency all I had to do was wave the powered emitter around and watch all the insects fall like nasty little winged demons. It didn't penetrate the soil worth a damn so the worms and beneficial bugs beneath the surface weren't harmed. It had the additional benefit of impacting the fungi and bacteria in the garden as well. The only bad news was all the bats moved down into the valley where the bugs still lived. Bats gotta eat and they follow their food.

Since I had the pesticide-free farming bit down pat I sent away for some apple, pear and cherry saplings to plant along the edge of the plateau, just within the rock fence.

I was watching with dismay as my bank balance dipped lower and lower. It was time to submit a few new patents. One was for insect abatement to break known disease transmission paths, one was for killing zebra mussels (a pulsed high-amplitude acoustic shell-cracker was pretty easy to piece together once I got a few samples to work with), one was for electrically killing invasive plants along railway embankments and roadbeds (a kudzu killer) and another was for an electrical process for fractionally or totally degrading cellulose in controlled factory conditions. I figured that my income was assured. Cellulose-based cloth was coming on strong in the market and this would considerably reduce the raw material prep time.

I ate more fresh, pesticide-free melon and sweet corn than was healthy. My tomatoes came in like gangbusters as did my lettuces, radishes and root crops. I'd scaled my vegetable garden to be too large by at least a factor of four. The only manual labor involved in my gardening was training the vines to climb trellises and the harvesting. I was spoiled!

That fall the wasps started driving me crazy. They were everywhere. I couldn't sit out on my porch and enjoy a sunset without getting dive-bombed. Back to the library for more research. Answer: Permethrin, 38.6% veterinarian grade. I ordered a half gallon, a pump sprayer and a pesticide-proof breathing mask. I sprayed under all the overhangs where they met the walls (except for that real high bastard at the top of the shed roof), and covered the inside of the carport roof. I did the same thing to the pole barn. I took the decorator's advice and installed a few box lights in the porch up under the eaves and one near the door on a motion detector. That one drove me crazy until I mounted it in a three-sided box with no bottom that pointed at the car port. Then I could walk around inside my porch without getting flashed. The Permethrin had the added benefit of chasing away hellgrammites, ants, biting flies, mosquitoes, termites and chiggers. I had to re-spray once each spring and once each early fall.

I bought a big Lodge cast-iron hibachi and a couple Adirondack chairs so that I could sit back and enjoy the evenings with a little fire, even if the weather was disagreeable. It was quite pleasant. Many small pieces of beef were cooked out there that fall and winter.

The seventh spring: 2008.

I rented a big fencepost drill for the tractor and started in planting tree saplings. From the sound of things I had several clans of uninvited guests--cotton mouths and rattlesnakes--that had take up residence in that rock wall. Now, there wasn't room enough on that homestead for all of us, and I had the technological upper hand.

Back in the lab I put together a very, very dangerous microwave emitter. It's dominant frequency and first harmonic would destroy hemoglobin. I sent away for metal mesh overalls with a metallized dome helmet and a backpack air compressor. I loaded the hemoglobin killer up on the tractor's cart, got dressed in my microwave-proof suit, fired it up and slowly drove down the fence line. After I powered it off I broke it down and put the parts on a shelf with good labels. The fence line was pretty stinky for a few weeks. I put the thing back together twice a year to make sure no more snakes moved in, then broke it down again each time.

I got it in my head once more that I wanted a root cellar. Now, by all accounts the best root cellar is a nice, cool cave. Since I'd essentially walled myself off from digging a root cellar anywhere close by having the terrace berm wall installed, I figured that the best person to work around my problem was the civil engineer that put up the retention wall to begin with.

After describing my problem he thought for a while, then said he had just the answer for me. We made an appointment for him to come out and show me a new product on the market that had impressed the hell out of him.

He drove up in a semi hauling a flat-bed covered in what looked like gigantic Lego's! According to him they usually came in 2'x4' blocks, but some genius had ordered a batch of 4'x16' shells that nobody could get rid of. My contractor had bought them for pennies on the dollar. He knew that my driveway could bear the weight as he'd installed it, so removing a retention wall panel, digging out the area required, poured a heavy foundation slab and stacked the concrete-filled frames with plenty of construction adhesive. It would give me a root cellar that could quite possibly survive a hit from a 500 pound bomb. I agreed to the deal on the spot. He planned on a pair of heavy doors with an eight foot tunnel between them, four feet wide.

The place was a circus of redi-mix trucks running back and forth for just over a week. Then a flat-bed semi filled with skids of adhesive showed up. From the time that the foundation slab was judged set up well enough to take the load, it took six days to build the cellar, replace the retention wall, back-fill over the cellar and hang a pair of very heavy doors. The last few things done were to run a power line inside it for lights and bring in a team to rake up the construction evidence. The interior got a double-dose of water barrier spray before he handed it over to me.

Hell, I thought that it would take a month, and there I was with my thumb up my ass and no lumber to build my shelves. I called a couple local sawmills to get a good price on a flatbed's worth of kiln dried 2" planks and 4x4" beams, then got ready to start a building frenzy. When the semi drove up the forks hooked up to the tractor made a fine substitute for a fork lift to get everything unloaded.

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