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Coconut Crisis

The smell of coconut filled the science fair. After several bean growing experiments, and one child who was convinced he'd bred telepathic snails, I found the source.

"He's made entirely with coconuts." The girl patted her creation proudly.

I tried to figure out what it was. The coconuts were cut into shapes and slotted together in an intricate pattern. Bits of coconut shell had been fashioned into birds, which bobbed up and down as though eating imaginary seed. Coconut milk dripped from the contraption. I kept a safe distance from the puddle.

"So, what is it?"

"An advanced super computer. He networks all the coconut palms in the world, via a salt-water transfer system, and records the results on special algae paper using his avian response system."

This is why I prefer arty children. They use smaller words and grow beans. It makes judging much easier.

"Could you show me?"

"Ask him anything." The girl took a stack of green sheets and placed them under the birds. They stopped moving, their beaks poised above the top sheet.

"What's the name of my hamster?"

The birds started pecking away immediately. One bird pushed the sheet off the pile. The girl held it up: Marvin was formed from tiny holes.

How could a bunch of coconuts know that? Even if it did work, I lived in Oxfordshire, not the Bahamas. There weren't any palms.

The girl looked at me expectantly.

"Well done." I pretended to write on my clipboard.

As I moved on, a crowd descended on the computer. Children fired questions at it and the birds were working overtime to answer.

I was judging a mutated bean sprout when the girl appeared and held up a sheet. "He says this is for you."

It read: We can erase your debt. Bring us more coconuts.

No one knew about the loan, except the vet. Marvin's surgery hadn't been cheap. Then I remembered the plants in the waiting room. What sort were they?

The girl waved the sheet.

"I can't touch it. But thanks."

She smiled and ran off, leaving me to wonder when coconuts got that smart.



* * *

Sneaking into school with a box of coconuts was the silliest thing I'd ever done, but the machine had known about Marvin. There must be something in it. All I had to do was give it the coconuts and leave.

I unlocked the hall and switched on the lights. The computer was larger than I remembered. It had invaded the next table, squashing a suspension bridge made from eggshells.

I placed the box by its first prize ribbon. "Belated congratulations."

The birds pecked out: Attach the coconuts.

"I can't." Just the thought of handling them made my skin itch.

The hall door banged and the girl walked in. She headed straight for the computer and pulled out a knife.

"Hello?"

She started hacking at the new coconuts. I shrank back from the flying milk and coconut flesh.

"What've you done to her?"

The birds didn't reply.

She slotted the coconuts in place, put down her knife and headed back to the door. I trailed after her. A child shouldn't be roaming around alone at this time of night.

I stopped just outside the hall. Coming down the corridor were more people with coconuts. Their eyes were as blank as the girl's. Whatever was happening, I knew I had to stop it getting any bigger. I dashed back into the hall and locked the door.

Maybe I could reason with it. That worked in the movies.

"Why? After they've brought all the coconuts, what then?"

The birds answered: You'll make good palm food.

"It's not right."

So?

"You can't do this!"

You can't stop us.

It had a point. I'd die trying if I touched it. I needed a weapon.

The second prize winner was a model volcano, powered by bi-carb and vinegar. I saw my chance. Fashioning a projectile out of some home-made play dough, I threw in the remaining chemicals, added the dough and angled it at the computer.

It exploding and shot straight into the coconuts. One of the birds went flying and a few coconuts fell off the back. It wasn't much and I was out of play dough.

I needed another plan.

"God, I know I've been lax about church. Last time I went was for Aunt Denise's wedding, and she's been married three mores times since then. Yes, I'm not the most devout. But you don't really want a zombie apocalypse do you?"

Silence. A few more thuds at the door.

I cleared my mind, hoping for an answer. Maybe I was asking for too much. The door splintered as one of the coconut zombies made a hole.

A craving nudged the edge of my consciousness - I could almost taste the coconut. I turned around to see eyestalks watching me from a plastic tank. My mind filled with slime trails and hunger.

All I had to do was let them out.

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