The Book Orchard

Marlene knew she shouldn’t have read the unsterilized book, but sometimes it’s hard to say no. She’d been hired as a booksheller and placed in the “pleasant books” division. She slept through training – who didn’t? – and then was placed out in the orchard, plucking the ripened nuts from the thick, thick branches. She remembered the smell: green, earthy, musty, like a library housed in a greenhouse. She remembered the feel of the hard shell, mottled almost like a gigantic peanut. She’d cracked it, grunting a little, revealing the beautiful gold-embossed cover. She did what they had said to never do: Read the title.

She opened the page, gazing at the beautifully scripted words. The opening sentence caught her eye. Mandy counted fourteen things she hated about Margaret, but they didn’t matter since Margaret was her boss. And her sister.

And then she read just a little more. One paragraph couldn’t hurt, could it?

While the rest of the bookshellers were working hard, chattering, trying not to look at the products they churned out, she read. And the book had laid its seeds.

Now she’d pay the rest of her life. Now the shellers plucked the pods from her own branches, gently pulling the hard, protective layer off the books, and pressing the hot, hot irons against their covers, sterilizing them so they’d be safe for general consumption.

No one wanted to end up like Marlene.

She missed hugging her mom, of course, when her arms had bent up and solidified, her skin itchy as it turned to bark and the bookseeds turned her more and more into a tree. She missed being able to stretch her legs as they’d turned into roots. But, really, it was all worth it, since now she had books read to her every day. The Publisher had been very good to her, giving her a personal attendant that read nearly anything she requested.

Right now, Georgia sat on Marlene’s roots, reading a (properly sterilized) book out loud. “Roger smiled at Kathryn with a deep, deep loathing hiding in his eyes. ‘Oh, my dear, you’ve already done exactly as I expected. And now, now you die.’”

Marlene let out a little gasp, rattling her branches.

Georgia glanced up. “Well, I guess that’s enough of that one.”

Marlene groaned. “Another chapter! Another chapter, please!”

“No! You need to make pleasant books. That means I need to limit your intake of suspense. Publisher’s orders. You know how it is: garbage in, garbage out!”

“I don’t want to grow pleasant books. They’re boring!” If Marlene still had feet, she would have kicked them.

“You should have thought of that before reading a pleasant book. That’s what got you into this mess.”

“No one told me that it would plant seeds. No one told me I’d end up one of the book trees! No one told me I’d have to grow the same kind of book all the time,” she grumbled.

Georgia ran a hand through her short white hair. “I really doubt that. Every worker at the book orchards get the same warnings.”

“Who pays attention to those? I just needed a job.”

Georgia reached forward to pat Marlene’s barky cheek. “Books are dangerous creatures, Marlene. You don’t treat them well…” she gestured. “But you won’t have to complain long. Soon enough the seeds will completely overtake you, and you won’t even be able to listen to my stories anymore. That’s why we need to make sure the books you grow keep pure. No one wants suspenseful pleasant books! And if no one buys your books, well, we’ll use your soil for trees that grow profitable books. Not yours.”

“What? I won’t even be able to listen to books anymore?”

“No, dear. Oh, does that make you sad?” Georgia smiled. “Well then, there is a market for pleasant sad books. Even a few bestsellers.” She made a note on her phone. “I guess we’ll start reading you sad books, if you’re going to react so well.” She smiled. “Good night, Marlene. Another month or two at most and you’ll be just a tree growing books for us to sell. Hope they’re pleasant enough for you.”

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