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“Strange Harvest” first appeared in Western People, and was reprinted in the Summer ’98 issue of OnSpec. Here’s what one reviewer had to say about it:
“Autumn brings us a “Strange Harvest” courtesy of Edward Willett. You know how vegetables sometimes grow into bizarre shapes, pictures of which appear periodically in the tabloid papers? Well, this story supposes those vegetables got just a little bit weirder. I loved the attentive descriptions of tomato grenades, napalm radishes, glowing electric potatoes, and oh yes, tear-gas onions. That last one made me laugh out loud. The plot features a reporter working for a small local newspaper, and our hero winds up on a quest to figure out what the heck is causing these permutations of produce. Once again, the explanation is logical, unexpected, and entertaining. Share a copy of this story with your friends who practice organic gardening.” - Elizabeth Barrette, Tangent Online
A Sample of “Strange Harvest”
The tomato rolled across my coffee-spattered notes from the previous night’s school board meeting and fetched up against my Garfield cup with a “clink!”. I stared at the fruit, then tapped it with the end of my pen.
Yes, definitely a “clink!”.
I looked up at the elderly woman who had brought me this unsolicited gift, and winced–she wore a yellow-and-red floral-print dress under a man’s bright blue nylon ski jacket. “What can I do for you, Mrs. Annaweis?”
“I want you to take a picture of my tomato and put it in the paper.”
I had already guessed as much. As editor of the Drinkwell, Saskatchewan, Herald (circulation 1,100) for three years, ever since I graduated from journalism school, I had seen enough four-pound potatoes, heart-shaped tomatoes, foot-long cucumbers and two-headed stalks of wheat to last any sane or insane man a lifetime. Every autumn these bizarre bits of vegetation were delivered in triumph to the Herald office by an unending procession of proud gardeners and farmers like Mrs. Annaweis, now glaring at me through her bifocals. I call it funny vegetable season, and here it was starting again–if in a bizarre manner. “Mrs. Annaweis, this is a lovely bit of ceramic, but…”
“Young man, it grew like that.”
I bit my lip. Mrs. Annaweis’s stern face defied disbelief. I opted for stalling. “Really?”
“Mr. Harkness, I am not crazy. I picked that tomato and a bushel more just like it from my garden this morning.”
“Of course you did, Mrs. Annaweis,” I said soothingly, while thinking sad thoughts about senility. I played my ace-in-the-hole. “It’s just that I don’t think it would photograph well, so…”
Mrs. Annaweis snatched up the tomato. “I’ll prove it. Outside.”
“Outside!” She marched away with such authority I had no choice but to follow, shrugging at my bemused receptionist on the way out.
The lot adjacent to the Herald’s ancient brick building was given over to Drinkwell Community Park, an acre of patchy grass and scraggly trees equipped with four red picnic tables, a single blackened barbecue and a rusting baseball backstop. “Watch,” commanded Mrs. Annaweis, and tossed the tomato at the barbecue.
It exploded with a sound like a shotgun blast, spraying barbecue, tables and grass with blackened pulp. A cloud of greasy brown smoke mushroomed skyward.
I found I was holding Mrs. Annaweis’s hand. “See?” she said smugly.
I released her. “Uh–yes, ma’am.”
“Good. Get your camera.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Numb, I did as I was told, photographing Mrs. Annaweis standing with proprietary glee next to the mess on the grass. Then I went back inside and stared at the phone.
I had a contact in the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture, but couldn’t quite bring myself to call her. Somehow I didn’t fancy telling a university professor someone had just brought me a fresh-picked hand grenade.
Finally I decided to run the story and photo without comment, like a UFO sighting or Phil Nutterworth’s annual report of Bigfoot raiding his chicken coop. “Freak mutation,” I muttered as I typed it up. “Pollution. Toxic waste. Ozone depletion.”
The next day was Wednesday, paper day, and as usual my morning was devoted to frantically laying out the last few pages while the pressman glared at me over folded, ink-blackened arms, and the advertising manager and his assistant sat at the coffee table and told jokes at my expense. In the afternoon I went home and went to bed. The tomato was momentarily forgotten.
But Thursday morning as I sat yawning at my desk, leafing gingerly through the paper in expectation of finding some horrible typographical error, the story caught my eye: “Local woman gets bang out of tomatoes.” I chuckled.
I chuckled again when Art Kapusianyk brought in the radishes–until he cut one open, and I had to waste a cup of coffee to douse my burning blotter.
And Art was only the first of half-a-dozen people stirred by Mrs. Annaweis’s fleeting fame. Three more exploding tomatoes, two acid-filled cucumbers and a glow-in-the-dark electric potato followed. The parade of peculiar produce was only ended by the onion someone tossed through the open window above my desk. It took us the rest of the afternoon to clear the gas out of the office, and my eyes were still bloodshot and burning when I drove home.
“It’s gotta be a hoax,” I muttered…