A scientist created the very first, who the ELF nicknamed Dolly, after another genetic anomaly. A hybrid plant with unknown parents — multiple donors of DNA and genetic resources, perhaps — Dolly appeared in some science complex on the other side of the country. Scientists waxed philosophical about the wonders of genetic botany while all twelve feet of her proudly stood among them. Money, they wanted. Give us money and we will show you a miracle drug. Much more research must be done, we can’t rely on one scientist’s homegrown experiments. Money — give us money and we will bring the Promised Land to you.
Indeed, to look upon her made the strongest heart waver. The first of them to see her in person said her beauty brought them to tears, that she waved at them with her arching fronds. The night of the Eastern Conference, all six moles went to sleep and dreamed of her — her fronds, her stalk, her web-covered boughs caressing them, whispering to them, weeping for them. She beckoned to them with promises of everlasting life.
The six of them had been sent to blow up the Conference center. Instead, each of them took turns hanging themselves in the closets of their hotel rooms.
Within months, the rumors began. Scientists used her sap to cure cervical cancer in mice and rats; months after that, diabetes in overweight cats and dogs. Within a year-and-a-half of the Eastern Conference, a vaccine had been created — an agent so strong it attacked cancer cells on contact. AIDS came next. Then Alzheimer’s. Then lupus, IBS, and sleep apnea.
Dolly’s magic kept working. A salve from her sap dissolved moles and skin tags. A paste from the bark of her stalk whitened teeth and strengthened fingernails. Finally, only five years after showing off Dolly like a whore on auction block, scientists finally came up a cure for premature baldness, blindness and ejaculation.
And because in order to create life you must first have life, they cloned Dolly. Her brother-sons and sister-daughters saved twice the lives that she did.
Man had finally destroyed the need for God. Then and only then did miracles become a commodity.
Riley stood on her tiptoes and opened the cupboard above the stove. She shoved two spice bottles and a flask of olive oil inside.
The floor, still wet and slick beneath her bare feet, squished when she crossed the room. She had cleaned a path clear from the bedroom door to the living room, and had managed to make sizable progress with the dishes. Spaghetti sauce still stuck to the counter top, but the pots and pans were clean of it. Metal ladles and spatulas stood upright in the drainboard. A plastic water bottle of cleaning agent sat atop an old wash cloth. Sunlight poured through the sparkling window above the sink.
She knotted her hair hair into a messy knob at the top of her head, and held it in place with a rubber band. The couch, covered with boxes of markers, posters, and thick binders, would have to wait.
Riley maneuvered around more cardboard boxes in the narrow hallway. She passed the first spare bedroom, her room, without giving it a moment’s thought, and stopped only when she got to the second bathroom.
The handle wouldn’t budge. Locked.
“Pin and tumbler,” she said, tapping it with a chipped nail.
No, don’t use that one — the plumbing backed up the toilet and onto the floor. I have to call the landlord to fix it. West’s words crept back to her.
“I’m sure that’s the problem,” she said. Her voice felt stark in the silence.
Riley returned to her room. She sat cross-legged on the yellowed foam of her mattress to dig into a black backpack so old it had faded to gray. At the very bottom, beneath several charcoal pencils and a few old sketchbooks, Riley found her zip pouch.
Two simple tools, a pick and a tension wrench, were all that it took. The door lock popped open with ease. Riley stood and gaped.
String webbing, frail as antique lace, stretched from one wall to the other, from the door frame to the shower. Brown dirt, dead leaves, and the carcasses of odd insects covered the linoleum floor. One such insect had yet to succumb to death and lay on its back, twitching its eight fruitless legs and four shriveled wings.
Fronds — fat succulents shaded with teal moss — spread across the ceiling. The heavy boughs burst up from a thick stalk, which sprouted from the dirty, web-covered bowl of the toilet.
Her toes curling under her feet, Riley dropped her pick and wrench.
Dolly’s legacy became over-the-counter history. Pills and supplements derived from her body passed governmental regulations. One stop at the pharmacy and mom and dad cured Junior’s acne or Missy’s pinkeye. Husbands brought home Dolly’s body scrub for their wives’ birthdays. Wives purchased miracle phallus growth for their lacking husbands. The population doubled, tripled, quadrupled in fifty years.
Backyards flourished with Century plants when the seeds became available to the public. Farmers shirked pigs and cattle for acres of the multi-fronded behemoths. Garden magazines held contests for those with the most stylistic gardens with the Century plant as its centerpiece. The world record for the Tallest Century Plant went to a tractor mechanic in Oslo for reaching over thirty feet high without use of any growth hormones.
No one knows how it started, but around Dolly’s one-hundredth birthday, the addiction began. Perhaps it was a dorm room full of bored college kids who were looking for a new way to get high. Perhaps it was a bored housewife looking for a new escape from her bratty children and unfeeling husband. More than likely, it was someone from the inside who started it — that is how these things usually start.
Junkies. Dealers. Suppliers. The cycle continued.
The Century’s universality made her so appealing. Those that preferred to roll and smoke could roll and smoke. Those that like to grind and snort could grind and snort. Freebase, even. Shoot up. Chew. Cook into brownies or cookies.
A world of healthy, happy people came to a squealing halt.
Quod me nutrit me destruit.
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