The next day the local front page read “Chicken Little finds James Ratner dead.”
He was still drinking his first cup of coffee, it was the one luxury he just could not give up, trying to decide if he should call the paper to complain, when the phone rang.
As soon as he had read the headline, he knew he was in for some phone calls, but this was the first, and it was not the call he had expected.
“Mr. Thatcher?” came a voice he didn’t recognize on the other end of the line.
“Yes, may I ask who’s calling?”
“I’m sorry Mr. Thatcher, my name is Kenneth Masters, and I am with NASA. Do you have a moment to talk to me?”
“Sure, I guess, what can I do for you?”
The doorbell rang, and a moment later, he heard the dial tone.
Martha entered the kitchen, looking a little paler than usual. “Jason, there is a Kenneth Masters here to see you. He said he spoke with you earlier?”
A moment later, a clean shaven man in a sharp black suit walked in. “Mr. Thatcher.” He held out his hand.
Jason took it, the grip was firm although the skin itself was clammy. “As I was saying Mr. Masters..”
“Please, call me Kenneth,” Jason thought the smile that was offered was supposed to be disarming, but it was downright creepy.
Martha offered Kenneth some coffee before Jason could continue.
“Coffee? I would love some. We, of the government, can’t afford such luxuries right now. Public appearances and all. Two sugars if I may?”
“Certainly,” Martha busied herself with getting a cup as Jason continued. “What can I do for you.”
“Well, Mr. Thatcher, how may I put this delicately? You have recently come to our attention.”
“Because I found a dead guy? What does NASA have to do with a dead guy?”
Martha dropped the spoon she had been holding, spilling sugar all over the counter.
“Well Mr. Thatcher, it’s not the ‘dead guy,’ as you put it, that has brought us here. It’s the ‘Chicken Little.’”
“Excuse me?” Jason said, hostility returning to his voice.
“Calm down.” Kenneth held up his hand. “There’s no reason to get defensive.” His tone suggested that there might be time to do so in the near future. “What we are interested in, is how did you know about the drought, Mr. Thatcher?”
Jason didn’t like how the man said his name. It wasn’t wrong, but it was definitely not right either. “I just read the Farmers’ Almanac. Why?”
Martha entered Jason’s line of sight again, handed Kenneth a cup of coffee, and turned to her husband, “Can I get you any more honey?”
“No, I’m good, thanks.” Dismissed, Martha left the two men sitting in the kitchen.
“Where were we?” Kenneth said after taking a long pull on the steaming cup of coffee. “Ah, that’s right.” The NASA agent reached into his sports coat with a finely manicured hand. Jason flinched at the motion. “No need to fear, Mr. Thatcher. Is this the Almanac you speak of?” He produced a copy of the Farmers’ Almanac that Jason had spent so much time pouring over. “Go ahead, look at it.” The finely manicured hand outstretched, offering the book to him.
Jason took it and began to flip through it. He had memorized the thing, and could not find a familiar page. “I don’t get it.”
“Where did you get your copy of the Almanac Mr. Thatcher?”
“My nephew sent it to me. He said he ended up with two after he and his girlfriend both bought one.”
“And where is it now?”
Jason lied, “I gave it to the library after I finished with it.”
“I…see. And who is your nephew?” Kenneth said through his teeth.
Jason considered lying again, but decided not to push his luck. “Jay, I’m sorry, he’s named after me. Jason Whitaker, we just always called him Jay to avoid confusion.”
“Well, thank you for your time, Mr. Thatcher.” Kenneth picked up his coffee cup, drained its remaining contents in one elongated sip, and stood up, gently returning the cup to the counter.
“Wait, what’s going on?”
“Nothing for you to concern yourself with.” The suit turned and headed back toward the front door, Jason in tow. “But,” Kenneth turned suddenly, his hand again in his coat, “if you were to hear from your nephew, you should consider contacting us.” He withdrew a slim silver case and from within produced a NASA embossed business card.
Without so much as a handshake, Kenneth Master swept out the front door. Martha poked her head out from around a corner. “What was that all about?”
“I’m not sure, but I think we need to call Jay and talk to him. Do we still have that pre-paid deal we bought when we went to Acapulco?” Jason asked, an edge to his voice.
“I’m not sure. I’ve just got a feeling.”
Martha went off to dig around and came back a few minutes later holding a bright red clamshell style cell phone along with its charger.
Jason opened it up but the phone would not power on, so he plugged it in to the wall near the rotary phone. While Jason waited for the cell phone to charge, he flipped through the little address book they kept hanging on a string near the home phone. It seemed to take forever for the phone to power up so he could dial Jay's number.
It rang twice. “Hello, this is Jason Whitaker...”
“Jay, it’s uncle Jason.”
“Hey, how are you?”
“I’m fine. Jay, what’s going on? NASA was just here, and they left after I gave them your name.”
“Shit.” The phone went silent.
“Jay?” Jason asked cautiously, not sure he would receive a response.
“Where’d you get that Farmers’ Almanac that you sent me?”
“I made it. Tear page 151 in half, carefully.” Jason heard a click, and then the absolute silence that indicated the line had been disconnected.
Jason closed the phone and set it down, still plugged into the wall.
“What did he say?” Martha quizzed him.
“He said he’d made it.”
“What does that mean?” She looked perplexed.
“I don’t know,” Jason called out as he ran out of the kitchen and bounded up the stairs, returning after a few minutes with the offending Farmers’ Almanac in hand. Sitting back at the table, he turned to Martha, “I think it’s time for that second cup of coffee.”
Finding the vexing page he looked it over, and remembered that while he had been pouring over it all those months ago, that particular page had felt funny. He took the page and began to rip it open, down the length of the spine, and discovered that it was actually an envelope when a folded piece of paper fell out.
The old farmer picked up the note from the table, unfolded it, and began to read it aloud so Martha could hear.
We’ve done something terrible. I’ve been working with NASA as a meteorologist for almost a decade now. We’d been tracking the correlation between the moon’s cycles and the tides, and then began looking at weather patterns based on meteor and asteroid activity, and found that they had a drastic effect. A number of computer models were made and tested, and we found that we could completely eliminate hurricanes if we brought a large enough meteor close enough to earth.
We sent a team into space with a large payload of explosives to alter the course of a meteor and they succeeded, but it was altered too much. I don’t know what went wrong. This drought is our fault and no one will admit it. NASA won’t take responsibility and I’m afraid to talk to the press. Please forgive us.
“What does that all mean?” Martha asked, handing the cup of coffee to her husband.
Jason stood up and looked out the window at his dead fields. “It means we brought this upon ourselves.”