Malachi’s Magic Seed
Charles C Cole
Mid-morning but already a scorcher, the third in a row. The root cellar, pretty much a clay igloo with a door tucked under a man-made hill, was looking inviting.
Farmer Malachi Aylward had just finished soaking his garden. Before he turned off the water, he took a long thirst-quenching drink from the end of the hose. If well water was good enough for the cucumbers, it was good enough for him. As Malachi shut off the tap, a wilted, male stranger in a wide straw hat walked up the gravel drive.
“Lost?” asked Malachi.
“It’s a hot one. I’m on foot with a half-day’s hike still ahead and not enough shade to suit my Nordic complexion. I wonder if you can spare a glass of water, then I’ll be on my way.”
“That all? Comes straight from the earth, as much yours as mine, so sure.”
Malachi brought the stranger a tall glass, already wet with condensation.
“Tastes fresh,” said the stranger after his first sip.
“Just pumped out of the ground. No chemicals added.”
“Nothing like it. I’m used to city water, clean but bland. I’d like to pay you.”
“No need,” said Malachi. “Plenty more where that came from.”
“It was just what I needed, you understand. Your neighbors down the road weren’t quite so generous.”
“Perhaps not to an unexpected stranger, but they’ve helped me plenty. I’m just passing it along. Maybe that’s where I learned to give.”
“I haven’t any money,” said the stranger, “but I see you’re a farmer.”
“The garden give me away, did it?”
“And the overalls and the dirt on your knees. You’re one with things that come from the soil. Not something I’m known for. I have a seed. Just one. Given me by a magical friend in his will. I’ve been hoarding it for the right moment. Plant it and you’ll soon be reaping exactly what you need most. That’s what he said.”
“Sounds like you earned it,” protested Malachi.
“I don’t have a yard, I live in a third-floor walkup, and I hate playing in the dirt. Free to good home. Your choice.”
“Sold,” said Malachi. “What do I need most?”
“Bet you already know,” said the stranger. “Hope your neighbors get jealous. And many thanks.” With that, he gave back the glass and left.
The farmer jammed the seed with his thumb into a soft corner of his garden. “Wonder if I can grow a new tractor,” he joked. “Or more hours in a day. We’ll find out.”
In the morning, Malachi found a naked woman pushing her way out of the ground.
Two strangers in two days. What were the odds?
Malachi grabbed a bedsheet off the clothesline and tossed it into the woman’s arms. “For pity’s sake, wrap yourself. I don’t need gossip. You with yesterday’s fella?”
“I belong to the one who planted me,” she said.
“Pretty as you are, respectfully, what am I gonna do with another mouth to feed?”
“I’m the extra hand you wished for, to help around the farm.”
“You from the seed?” asked Malachi. “I’ll be!”
She smiled, her exposed lower legs and bare feet still covered in moist, cakey soil, which didn’t seem to bother her at all, though it bothered the farmer.
“You look about the size of my late wife. Let’s get you dressed. Got a name?”
“How about Alanda?” he asked. “For my seed supply company. At least until you come up with something better.”
Alanda was a good worker, once instructed, especially at canning tomatoes. She never complained, ate next to no food, drank only water and insisted on living in the toolshed. At the end of a hard workday, she’d rest on the ground a while with her bare feet covered in a loose mound of damp earth. “To recharge,” she explained. Though Malachi set up a cot, more than once he found Alanda sleeping under his apple trees.
At the end of the harvesting season, when production slowed and the plants browned, Alanda too got older, grayer, more brittle. One day she was too tired to work. She sat on Malachi’s stoop and watched him puttering among the pumpkins. At dusk, Malachi discovered Alanda’s body was like a dry paper husk, the light in her eyes gone. A gentle twilight gust blew Alanda’s remains away into the air like a fine dust. The clothes she’d wore fell to the ground in a heap.
The hiker reappeared a day or two thereafter. “Get your wish?” he asked.
“And more,” said Malachi. “Then this plant-lady sort of evaporated. Bit of a shock.”
The stranger took the news in stride. “She wasn’t human like you and me, more like a promise personified. She must have served her purpose.”
“She was something,” said Malachi. “Queer quiet, kept to herself mostly, shamed me with her work ethic. I’ll miss her, certain. You here for another drink?”
“Just going back the way I came. And curious. How’d things turn out?”
“Best growing season in years. Ended giving things away to the local food pantry.”
“Good on you,” said the stranger.
“That magician give you anything else?” asked Malachi, a little curious himself.
“A phone that can make one call to your younger self, I suppose to avoid some future mishap or offer perspective from someone who’s seen it all. Interested?”
“I lean more towards the natural than the supernatural. Best to quit while ahead. Besides, I’m afraid I’d talk myself out of your first gift. I’d heard there’s always a price to magic.”
“Only if you’re looking for easy outs,” said the hiker. “I practically foisted the seed on you.”
“Have to ask,” said Malachi, “was she an annual or perennial, do you know? Just wondering if we’ll see her again.”
“Guess you’ll know in the spring,” said the stranger. “Best to leave room in the garden. Thanks for the water.”
And the stranger went on his way, as much a mystery as the magical seed.