A man with curly coppery hair picked his way through the college library, weaving between people deep in study and metal carts heavily laden with books. His brow furrowed as he peeked between stacks, scanning, searching for something. He glanced at his phone, swore, and trotted off to another part of the library. The shelves opened up into a reading lounge, with students parked on large leather cubes or sprawled in obscene angles over couches, exactly as they could never have gotten away with at home. The copper-haired man snickered at a man who’d fallen asleep, gaped at a woman in a short skirt who spread her legs extra wide while watching a movie on her phone. He shook his head violently, then spotted his quarry: a lean, brown-haired man running his finger down a magazine article and writing notes in an inexpensive spiral-bound notebook.
The copper-haired man crept behind the brunet and lowered his head very close to his head, puffing a slight breath into the other man’s ear. The brunet yelped and swatted around his head, tumbling out of his chair. “What the fuck, Cobie!” he yelled, immediately apologizing to everyone around him; Cobie guffawed and made no apologies, holding his hand out to his friend.
“Henny, it’s 11:30! What are you doing in here? Come on, let’s go.”
Henley picked himself up, swatting his friend’s hand away. “I’m really not interested in this.”
“Come on, you gotta! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”
“I really doubt that.” Henley gathered his magazines and stuffed his notes into a backpack. “Doesn’t this happen every week?”
“No, the market happens every week in spring, summer, and fall. The Big Ag students rarely come out! This is a rare opportunity!”
“It happens once a year. Quit being dramatic.”
Cobie yanked the magazines from his friend’s arm and dumped them on a cart, then seized his friend’s wrist and hauled him out of the library. “You’re missing out! You have no idea what you’re missing out on!”
Henley stumbled after his friend down the clay-tiled corridor and outside of the building. “I heard they don’t even like to deal with us. Why are you so excited about pissing them off?”
“Have you seen the photos? They’re like gods!” Cobie panted like a golden Labrador. “How are you not even curious about this? Come on, just once, you’ve gotta come with me!”
“Why do you even need me? You’re the one that’s got the hard-on for them. Go by yourself and leave me alone. I’ll only hold you back.”
The copper-haired man cackled and shoved his friend up the sidewalk. “I’m not letting you miss out on this, you dumb twat. This is going to be amazing. You’ll thank me later.” And so they bickered, the one shoving, the other dragging his heels, until they crossed a street and then another and found themselves at the beginning of a double row of vinyl tents. A cloudless sky beamed upon the venue, with Hmong farmers and student volunteers calling out the various breeds of tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, and other boring things that grow in the dirt, as far as Henley was concerned. The last thing he needed, with finals breathing down his neck, was to lose even an hour of poring over scientific journals to socializing with local farmers. No disrespect to them, but he couldn’t understand why Cobie was so excited about a bunch of agriculture students. Bad enough that the whole campus had to stink of horse manure when the wind blew from the east, so why did they need to run out and purposely walk among the clod-hopping boots and soil-stained jeans?
“You’re gonna love this,” Cobie insisted once more, leading his friend into the aisles of zucchini, tomatoes, onions, and ears of corn.
“I don’t get how they make any money,” Henley muttered, “if they’re all offering the same thing.” Cobie assured him that wasn’t the point. “But look, all these tables have the same selection.” Cobie insisted he was missing the big picture. “I mean, now I’m afraid to even buy anything, you know? It’s like I’m prioritizing one home-grown farm over another, but for no reason. Just to be equal, I’d want to buy fingerling potatoes from this booth, zucchini from the next booth, heirloom tomatoes from the booth across from that. It’s just a lot of work on my part to spread the wealth, and I can’t even cook it in my room. We just have that crappy campus dining hall subscription.”
“I don’t believe you! You are the most myopic motherfucker… Oh, shit, here we go.” Cobie looked up, and Henley was compelled to follow his gaze, despite himself. He found himself staring up into the Big Ag students.
Unlike Big Pharma or Big Tobacco, it wasn’t a malicious, forbidding title, only a play on words. A dozen agriculture students took over the center of the plaza, milling about each other as though for comfort, peering at the booths around them, unwilling to wander too far. The gestures seemed right, right down to the shy and uncertain glances, but Henley realized how ridiculous it was that they should be afraid of anything, when they were as large as houses. He stared up at them from the edge of the plaza, his gaze running up long, strong arms to the underside of their faces, the bottoms of noses, the lines of jaws and chins. When they looked up, just looked straight out at the horizon, Henley had the dizzying sense that he didn’t exist at all.
Cobie’s fist gripped his bicep, and he realized that he’d staggered back, having lost his balance. “Yeah, man, you feelin’ it now? What’d I tell you? Isn’t this amazing?”
Henley looked at his friend. “This is terrifying. This is… why are we here? We have to get out of here, they’ll crush us!” He looked behind him, searching for an escape route across the boulevard next to the plaza, then quickly snapped back to watch out for what the giants were doing.
“Hey, hey! Look at me, come here.” Cobie seized the frenzied brunet by the shoulders and held him fast before him. His expression of playfulness shifted to a business-like seriousness. Even his freckles seemed to recede slightly in the sunlight. “Listen to me. Don’t be a jackass, okay? The Big Ag students deal with us all the time. They come here once a year to sell off their harvest, get it? They’re used to us.”
“Harvest? Selling… what?” The mundanity of his friend’s words told Henley that Cobie was incapable of taking the threat seriously. He shook free and planted his feet, breathing deeply.
“They work with the University. All year long they tear up the fields, dig out the good loam, oxygenate them. They drag heavier equipment than our tractors can handle, plowing fields in a fraction of the time. It’s like they communicate with the earth, weird as that sounds.” Cobie nodded toward the oversized young adults. “They make it do whatever they want. It’s like it explodes with vegetables, for them. They eat as much as they need, and they bring the rest here to sell it.”
“What do they need money for? Rent? Video games?” Henley giggled darkly.
“No, idiot, they don’t need it. They just give it back to the University.”
“But what do they want? Why are they doing all this work for free?”
Cobie shook his head. “I told you, they work with the agricultural department to grow all sorts of food. They get as much as they want to eat, and there’s tons left over. I guess they like it? Why don’t you ask them, come on.” The redhead grinned and started to walk toward the gigantic people, waving his friend on.
“I can’t,” Henley whispered, looking up at them again. They stood taller than trees. They had all the potence of enormous beasts, but they glowed with the health and vigor of young adults, positively radiated with it at their stature. Their expressions were serious and alert, making sure an area was clear before swinging a boot the size of a car into it.
But their eyes were normal. The boys’ eyes were arrogant or daring, looking at the tents almost as if they were insulted by the fragile structures, resentful they had to be so careful at the intentionally spindly tables and sunshades. There were two in particular, one with a thicket of wavy chestnut hair that flopped to one side of his face, he was the only guy who smiled. With the back of his hand he thumped the chest (it sounded like a horse getting swatted with the wing of a plane) of a dark-haired giant who was about to step backward into a booth of sweet corn and turnips. He glowered at the other giant but retracted his foot and shoved his hands into the pockets of immense jeans made out of heavy layers of canvas.
The women were something else. A wind Henley couldn’t feel on the ground was holding their locks aloft or winding them around their faces. Where the boys wore heavy, starchy dungarees in blue, brown, and black, the girls all showed off their impossibly long, strong legs in running shorts of the university’s colors. Proud and exciting calves, carved by glaciers, ran down into voluptuously thick wool socks and into boots that could kick a hill out of socket. Powerful thighs, relaxing, tensing, disappeared into the shadowy drapery of extra-plus-sized shorts. In a surreal half-second, Henley wondered whether their manufacturers had bothered to stitch together comfortable underwear for the giantesses, what that could be made out of, how it would be sized.
“Hey, now, don’t be rude,” Cobie said, kicking the back of one of his friend’s knees. Henley buckled, caught himself, and drew back to punch him until he caught the fiery gaze of a giantess with a sharp, pixie-ish nose and a roaring wave of spiky black hair. It would’ve been frightening enough to see those blazing green eyes sweep the landscape around him, but they were trained upon him, deeply inset in a face that did not approve of him, and him in heart-stoppingly particular. “They’re instructed not to hurt us, but that’s only something they’ve casually agreed to. Don’t go out of your way to piss them off, okay?” Cobie rounded his friend, shielding him from the condemnation of the raven-haired giantess; mirroring this, a willowy giantess in cloud-like blonde hair stepped in the way of her collaborator.
“Easy, Doireann,” she said. “We’re always new to someone. They’re bound to stare, the curious little buggers.” Her voice lofted through the air like the aurora borealis, if this celestial spectacle could produce sound.
Doireann’s sharp features snapped up to the blonde woman. “I know that. It’s what he was staring at that pisses me off. Like I’d ever let one of those disgusting little critters around my…” She sneered and huffed and looked for something else to do at the far end of tents. Shoppers yelped and flowed out of her boots’ reach. The blonde giantess watched her go, then turned to look at Henley.
Her huge head moved so slowly, it seemed. A gust of wind picked up the westerly wave of her platinum tresses, sweeping them off her cheek, over her finely turned ear. Her cheekbones were so full, it rendered her eyes perpetually amused; one glacial blue iris rolled in the massive skull to peer down at him. The corner of her dusty rose lips compressed in what could’ve been a grin or, likely, a sneer, before she turned and stomped ponderously after her friend.
Henley stared at the machinery of her legs, where the tendons rose around the backs of her knees, how the shock of each step rippled up the side of her shin and danced all around her thigh, how that rocky calf melted into buttery silk as her massive leg swung forward, crashing through the air. She left the plaza and strolled to the end of the market and did not seem to diminish in size to any appreciable extent.
Cobie’s voice, so close to his ear, jarred him out of reverie with unwelcome tingles up his side. “Bet you’re kicking yourself for never coming here before, huh?” Henley pushed his laughing friend aside and entered the plaza, looking around as though he were suddenly interested in vegetables.
Image: Lance Cheung