Science Fiction Short Story Contest Prompt
|Jennifer lifted the cup to her lips and sipped the coffee, letting its warmth and energy fill her. There was nothing like a locally roasted Columbian brew to start the day, and it was going to be a long day. It was maple tapping season, and that was a busy time. She loved Greg and adored this old farmhouse, with its polished wood floors and the uneven oaken beams of its centuries-old frame - even during the crisp chill of the March morning. But she hadn't quite known what she was getting into. She hadn't just married Greg but a way of life: making jams and syrups had become for her, like her husband, not just a living but a passion. One she hoped to introduce to a son or daughter a few years down the road. She and Greg could use the help.
A sizzle rose from behind, and the smell of bacon on the stove. Jennifer lifted two cups and stepped beside Greg, placing one cup on the counter by his side. "We need this loan, Greg. We need it."
Greg leaned back, expertly placing a kiss on her cheek, then flipped a flapjack in the pan. "You worry too much. We'll get it. No one who's had this breakfast could possibly turn us down. We're just lucky we found an old-school banker, one who wanted to see our business and not just spreadsheets."
Jennifer rolled her eyes ostentatiously, but she couldn't help smiling. "You really are a good cook," she said.
Greg winked, then lifted the coffee to his lips and sipped it noisily. That was when the doorbell rang. Jennifer lowered her coffee to the kitchen table, then forced herself to walk, not run, to the door.
A middle-aged gentleman was waiting when she answered it, a stocky fellow with serious brown eyes and thinning gray hair. "Hello, I'm Frank Gray, the underwriter from New Province Colonial Bank. Jennifer MacDonald?" he asked.
She nodded. "Come in! We've been expecting you."
The pair walked by the living room to reach the kitchen and its long hardwood table, where there was a pitcher each of coffee and fresh orange juice. A shallow bowl sat on the table with scrambled eggs peeking out from beneath a thin cloth, and a stack of toasted bread, adjacent to a butter dish, an array of fruits and melons, and a small collection of jams in jars. And, of course, there was the MacDonald signature maple syrup in a carafe. Jennifer gestured to an empty seat. "Please, sit. The rest will just be a moment."
Frank paused. "I came to examine the business - I hadn't realized you'd be making food..."
Jennifer wrung her hands. "Oh, you will join us for breakfast first, won't you? We haven't had a chance to eat, and Greg's cooking is to die for."
Frank opened his mouth as if to refuse, but then shrugged and smiled thinly. "I suppose if your syrup is as good as it's cracked up to be, I'll have to taste it. I do hope it's worth three million dollars."
Jennifer pulled out a chair just as the sizzle of the bacon ceased. "Oh, it is! It is. Coffee?"
Frank sat down, then lifted a cup in response, which Jennifer filled. "I must admit I'm surprised at the scope of your expansion plans. The land out here isn't too expensive on a per-acre basis, but you're talking about quadrupling your land - and you won't get full yields for twenty years. Don't you think taking on this much debt is a bit risky for such a long-term investment?"
Greg returned from the kitchen, placing two plates on the table - one with a generous stack of pancakes and the other with just-off-the-stovetop bacon. "We have to, Mr. Gray. It's a calling. A year back, a new section of maple trees matured, and they're different: their syrup I like nothing you've ever tasted. We sold out of the year's batch in weeks and we already have preorders for as much as we can tap. We're going to take this new strain and expand it as far as we can. The only reason we're asking for three million is you told us we couldn't possibly get more."
Frank savored a bite of the crisp bacon, then poured some of the syrup on a small stack of pancakes. "I realize you've sensed a new opportunity, but this is a very long-term investment, and you'd be heavily leveraged at half the amount. Are you sure - "
Greg cut him off sharply, face animated and eyes almost glowing with intensity. "We have to. We have no choice."
Jennifer nodded silently in agreement, her expression one of badly concealed anxiety.
Frank shook his head in bemusement, then lifted a forkful of pancake to his mouth, chewed it slowly, then swallowed. "I don't think you understand - "
Suddenly Frank's eyes widened.
Greg placed his hands on the table. "No, you don't understand, Mr. Gray. You see, we have to do this. We have to. It's what the trees want. They need more land, as much as we can get them."
Frank blinked, then shook his head as if to clear it. "The bank can only offer you three million. I'm sorry, but getting more is beyond my authority. But I can get you another five million of my own if you'll have another investor. And you will - you need to. It's what the trees want."
Greg and Jennifer's eyes lit up with excitement - and relief. "That's good - that's fantastic. They will have to be satisfied with that - for this year, anyway."