You may not believe this, but…
When I was searching through the sewing room for the ill-fated vintage paper doll “Ouch My Toe”, I came across a lot of good “blog material,” not the least of which was the story you are about to read. (Or skim through, depending on what kind of mood you happen to be in at the moment. Believe me, I will understand.) I share these photos so you can get a vague idea of what my teachers were subjected to during the years when my life’s goal was to become an author. (Truth in blogging: This isn’t even all of them.)At one point, my seventh and eighth grade English teacher told me to save my writing, (presumably so I could look back on it later and see improvements). Well, I took her literally, and to this day I have practically every story I ever wrote from seventh grade on. It would have taken way too long to read through all of them (we are talking literally hundreds of pages of binder paper here), but for some reason this one caught my eye. There was no date on it, and no indication that it was written as a school assignment, (it was actually never finished, and to be honest I don’t remember even writing it). But it was with things I had written anywhere from eighth grade to possibly my sophomore year in high school. Based on the handwriting, I’m going to guess 1973 at the latest. However, it is safe to say that it was before I knew that “sunk” is the past participle of “sink” and not the preterit…but wait, that’s another post altogether.
It was also before I knew that soybeans grow in pods and a single one would not be going around by itself trying to sink the city of LA. Okay, I think I’m done with the disclaimers. I thought it was only fair that I should illustrate the story for you, so while the story was written when I was in my early teens, the illustrations were done in my early sixties (read: this week).
“The Soybean That Sunk L.A.”
When it first started to get dark, we all thought the sun had gone behind a cloud for a moment. None of us looked up from our work at the plant, classifying atoms for the nuclear machine in the lab, until much later, when there was a scream from one of the workers outside in the radioactive-carrot patch. Everyone rushed to the door, wondering what was wrong.
The young girl, an apprentice to the head biologist, was white as a sheet, even in the darkness. She was looking toward the western horizon, so we all did the same. A gasp of horror rose among our group of micro-micro-biologists and for awhile even I was not able to speak. Finally, Dewy, the head biologist, spoke.
“W-what is it?”
“I don’t know,” the girl answered shakily. “It–it looks like a–a soybean to me, sir.”
I drew in my breath. The girl was right! The giant, roundish object looming over us and rising slowly over the horizon, hiding the sun, did look very much like a giant soybean!I couldn’t believe my eyes. Several of the other biologists were taking off their glasses, cleaning them, and putting them back on again, staring in disbelief.We must have stood there for fifteen minutes like stunned dodo birds before somebody decided we should do something. “Do something!” Dewy’s colleaugue (sic) and good friend, Alvin A. Harrison, gasped. He was as white or whiter than the girl was.
“That’s easy for you to say,” I replied, and my voice did not sound like my own. “You’re–you’re a specialist in freak radioactive plants. What about the rest of us?”
“Well, you ought to know more about it than me,” Alvin said. “You can shoot it with an atom bomb or something!”
“Are you kidding?” I retorted, suddenly forgetting that I was not the head micro-micro biologist and shouldn’t be talking to the head biologist’s colleague like that.
“No! Melanie,” he added to the apprentice,who was still pale, “go get the lazer (sic) gun from the lab.”
“B-but sir,” Melanie said, her voice barely above a whisper. “Wh-what if there are more of them?”
A petrified silence fell over us. Nobody had stopped to think that this giant soybean might have others like it behind it. The soybean, if it was indeed a soybean, was approaching steadily at a speed which I estimated to be about ten miles an hour. Not too fast, but a record for a soybean.
Something had to be done. I looked from Alvin to Dewy and back again. “Do you think we should inform the residents of the city, sir?” I asked, humbling my indignant voice some.
Alvin snapped his fingers. “Right!” and them as if to make matters worse, he added, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“You go set the alarm,” Dewy said to me, and I turned and headed for the lab, wondering which alarm to set.
We had a bomb-alarm; really several of them, one for Russia, a China one, one for France, England, and North Vietnam…we had an earthquake alarm, a flood alarm, and even a mosquito invasion alarm…but–a soybean alarm? The idea would have been funny to me if I had not been so worried. I decided to just go in and set them all off at one time. Then the people would know a freaky thing was happening, even if they didn’t know exactly what it was.
Within seconds I had the whole city of Los Angeles on their front doorsteps, looking down the streets, wondering. Calling to their neighbors to see if they saw anything, phoning across town to see if their relatives were all right.
Like I said before, the giant soybean was approaching steadily. I now estimated it to be about ten miles away, and going at a speed of five miles an hour. We watched it grow steadily larger for several hours. Apparently I had misjudged its speed. When it finally got near enough to do anything about it, we were all dead tired from standing there watching it.
“It’s coming,” Dewy said.
“Yeah,” I said. “So what’re we going to do about it?”
“Not we – you. You’re the head biologist, aren’t you?”
At first I thought he was only tired and didn’t know what he was saying.
“No-you know I’m not.” I would have laughed if I had not been so scared.
“You are now,” Dewy said. “I’m promoting you.”
“But–” I protested.
“You’re the head biologist now – quick, before I change my mind!”
The full responsibility of saving the entire population of Los Angeles had been suddenly been dropped upon my shoulders. I could already feel them sagging under the weight of it.…It’s funny – at any other time I would have been delighted at being promoted to head biologist. Now I felt as though I wished I was still back in high school flunking Freshman Biology 1. Now I know where they got the expression – “I wish I were now what I was when I wanted to be what I am now.”!
“Hey! Tony! What’re we gonna do? Don’t just stand there gaping!” It was Alvin, whose frantic voice broke into my thoughts and nearly caused me to topple over with surprise.
“Oh yeah… Melanie, get the laser guns. David – ” I turned to my assistant – or rather my ex-assistant now that I was the head biologist – “David, get the atom bomb equipment and notify the Coast Guard. Alvin, get the radio and notify the Navy. Dewy–”
I stopped. It seemed funny ordering my ex-boss around. I would have had to stop anyway – Dewy was in a state of shock. He just stood staring dazedly at the approaching soybean, muttering senseless, incoherent, half-phrases to nobody in particular, and working his fingers together nervously.
“Dewy! Hey, Dewy! Wake up!” Alvin said, waving his hand before Dewy’s large, round, bugged-out eyes. “Dewy! You’re in a daze! Wake up! Dewy, remember, we’ve got work to do. Dewy – THE SOYBEAN!!!”
Dewey seemed to jerk himself back to the present. “Oh!” he said. “What happened? Where are you? I mean where am I?”
“The soybean, Dewy,” Alvin said between his teeth, in a low voice. “We have a giant soybean on our hands, Dewy!”
“Oh yeah! Tony…get the radioactive soybean mutant and plant repellent–”
I didn’t really know what to do at this. Since I’d decided that reminding him he was now under me in rank might only put him back in a state of shock, I decided to obey him. I got the radioactive soybean mutant but I couldn’t find the plant repellent in the lab — everything was so mixed up with the nuclear power-activator getting installed that week. Frantically, I searched for something else.After about five precious but wasted minutes I found a bottle of nitroglycerin and some ammonium chloride/salt solutions in a test tube. Grabbing them, I dashed outside again, nearly tripping over the steps as I went.
“Here,” I said, handing the stuff to Dewy. The ammonia solution was beginning to fizz and I was getting a little worried. Dewey just stood there mumbling.
Finally he said, “What is this for?” I sighed, disgusted.
“Professor, look!” Melanie screamed.
I turned around quickly. The soybean was approaching steadily, in fact it was only a little more than a hundred feet away.
And that, unfortunately (or maybe it’s fortunately) is where the story ends. It’s the middle of page 4, and I can’t tell if there was even a period at the end of the last sentence. Just today it occurred to me that maybe that was the end…does it stop here because the soybean succeeded in sinking L.A.? But somehow I don’t think I would have ended a story like that. So I’m open for suggestions.