Joan groaned softly, massaging her temples one handed, thumb and forefinger.
“Okay, okay, one more time, from the top. You tried fixing the mower yourself from some instructions in a book, and now it cuts unevenly and fills the bag too fast. Yes or no?”
The target of their mounting frustration stood a few feet away, one hand on the handle of a small, blaze orange lawnmower. He hemmed and hawed, moving to stand on one foot, the toe of the other scratching the back of his opposite leg.
“Yes AND no.” He raised both hands as if to ward off their ire as a louder groan ripped from Joan’s throat. “Wait, wait, hear me out. Yes, that is technically accurate. But what you think i mean by patches is like, ripples, from the blade vibrating. And it fills too fast because its cutting some of the lawn too low, right?”
Joan simply nodded slowly, fighting the urge lift one eyebrow.
“Okay, so it’s not THAT. It’s… look, let me just show you. It’s weird, okay?”
He repositioned himself behind the mower, pushing down on the safety bar, other hand reaching for the ‘on’ switch.
“Whoa, whoa! SIR! We are indoors. On cheap linoleum. Not only is there no grass here for you to cut, I do NOT need to deal with gouges in my show room floor.”
He grinned wryly. “Trust me. Weird, remember?”
Before they could stop him, he flicked the switch forward and squeezed the throttle. The mower instantly blared to life, the distinctive drone of the rotating engine of cellulose destruction filling the small repair shop. Behind it, Joan could almost hear, almost feel, almost… taste? Taste, another sound. It sounded like a depressed teenager, cutting slow, methodical lines across their leg with a razor blade, just high enough for their shortest shorts to still hide the scars. It sounded like machetes cutting through hanging vines, ignorant of the droning mosquitoes, bodies filled with fever, biting down on their wielders. It sounded like the slice of an ancient Roman surgical blade slicing a screaming woman’s swollen belly open, about to release a babe that one day would be hailed by all, and then stabbed in the back by his friends.
Joan paled for a moment, then the extra sound was gone. But the normal mowing sound that remained was…
“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON IN HERE?”
Joan grabbed their boss by the shoulder as she came storming out of the back office.
“Jacky, I know, I know, but… listen.”
“Listen to what? Joan, are you h…” Jacky’s mouth clacked shut as she finally realized what was wrong with the sound.
“So check me on this Jacky. You’ve been doing this longer than I have. You know the sound of a mower spinning free, nothing under it.”
Jacky slowly nodded, her eyes fixed on the hands of the customer, clamped over the mower’s throttle.
“And you know the sound of a mower passing over a thick carpet of green, grown too high for the setting, threatening to unbalance the blade and clog the bag feed.”
She nodded again, her eyes slowly traveling down to the base of the machine.
“And THAT is the sound of a mower struggling against too much grass.”
She nodded a third time, eyes on the space between the mower and the bare floor. WIth a sudden hiss of surprise, she leaned over, clutching Jacky’s arm with both hands.
“THE BAG! LOOK AT THE FUCKING BAG!”
They swiveled their gaze to the large black plastic wedge jutting out the rear of the mower. For a moment, they heard that sound again, the sound of an atom being sliced in two by a stray neutron, the pieces of the shattered lump of leptons themselves daggers, spinning through the void toward other nuclei, each target heavy, and waiting to be harvested.
The bag was filling. Quickly. The firm base bounced up and down as the weight inside increased, the fabric sides stretching down and out. Suddenly, the tone of the mower shifted, the deep thrum rising note by note, stopping on the perfect deep A made by the blades spinning freely, no stalks of fiber to slow them down.
Still grinning, the man pulled the bag off, taking care as he lifted it to not spill any of the grass filling it. He tilted the bag opening towards them.
“I have no idea what crossbreed this is, but it always looks like this now.”
Joan took a brief look, then twisted away, their stomach twisting as shadows in the corners of the shop swept across their vision for a moment.
Jacky, showing sterner control, stared in wonder.
“Its… its purple. And is it moving? No… if I watch any single blade, it stays still, but…”
Joan swiveled their head back towards the man that had brought this… insanity into their shop.
“And… the uneven cutting?”
His wild grin of a moment ago faded to seriousness. He nodded curtly, and took a step back, pulling the mower with him. Joan and Jacky looked at the spot with burning curiosity, touched by a twinge less fear than they SHOULD have felt.
Much like the motionless moving grass, any one spot that they fixed their gaze on looked normal, clean, if dingy yellow, linoleum tiles. But around the spot their gaze might fix on, stubbly grass swelled into being, cutting through the floor like a bad clip in a 3D video game engine.
Joan elbowed Jacky lightly, giggling. “Heh. Bad CLIPpings, amirite?”
Ignoring the joke, Jacky knelt, running her fingers through it. Patterns appeared in the grass, uneven patches of high and low, just as the customer had claimed. They looked like crystals of hoarfrost on the windows of a private cabin aboard the Titanic, the last air bubble holding hundreds of feet of water at bay, even as the occupant froze to death. They looked like crop circles, if crop circles were crayon drawings made by a baby who still hadn’t learned to control its limbs. They looked like schematics of a hundred different circuit boards, all layered on top of each other, for some purpose that Johny ALMOST understood. He rose slowly, shakily, tearing his gaze away from the alien grass thrusting its way up through her floor.
Joan took a step forward, taking care to step around the circle that had been carved in the tile.
“So… you said something about a book?”