I wake up disheveled, afraid I have missed it. Thankfully, I haven’t; the dusty red light peeking through the blinds to my right assures me there’s still plenty of time before I am needed at my farm. Harvest day is the most important day of the week. At 3:45 PM, I have to be at my laptop, fingers ready to click on the pixelated crop icons of my AgLand plot, ready to sustain the digital vegetable garden I have nursed with a cursor beneath my hand. At 3:45 PM I must be ready to reap the treasures of my relentless work. 

In the real world, there’s a filter of smoke tinting the sun today—an affirming sign to stay indoors, under the covers, in front of a computer. I don’t think about the fact that autumn wasn’t like this when we were growing up. The fires get worse and worse each year, but when I’m working on my farm, I don’t have to worry about that. 

Because 3:45 is still four hours away, I pass the time playing minigames, plucking out digital weeds, having scripted conversations with my farmhand. A pop-up ad shows up every 30 seconds, which can get annoying, and my laptop’s battery drains itself quickly, even though I’ve spent the whole night charging it, but that’s the price we pay for free internet games, right?

Eli knocks on my door at noon. I make some sort of noise to confirm he may enter. He has one of those trendy work-from-home, redefine-the-workplace sort of jobs, but he still wears these horrible gray suits daily because some dude with a podcast convinced him to always dress for success. His eyes look tired. He always seems tired when he’s speaking to me. With my blinds closed and my body burrowed into my comforter and my unwashed face illuminated by the unnatural blue glow of a MacBook, I must look less than sane. I can’t remember the last time I brushed my hair.

“I was checking to see if you’re awake,” he says.

“I’m awake,” I say, hoping that will be the end of it.

He asks me if I want lunch—he’s taking a walk to the coffee shop and getting a sandwich—and I say no, I’m not hungry, I’m kind of busy right now. It’s true that I’m busy. Just not in the way that he might define busy. But he wouldn’t understand that. 

“Have you gotten out of bed yet today?” he asks. He chooses his tone carefully, so that the question doesn’t sound like an accusation.

“Of course,” I lie. “Do I look like I haven’t?” I know I look like I haven’t. He gives me a pressed smile.

It’s true that I’m busy. Just not in the way that he might define busy. But he wouldn’t understand that. 

I should tell him for the sake of his lungs not to go outside when the air’s so bad. I should return to him just an ounce of the care he readily provides me, but I don’t say anything. After setting a glass of water on my bedside table, he leaves, and I return to my farm in peace.

I was never big on video games growing up. Eli, in the room next to mine, would shout expletives into his headset late into the night, transforming the house into a war zone, blowing up bloodied bodies, rage-quitting when missions went awry. I never saw the appeal of watching yourself die over and over again. That doesn’t seem fun or relaxing.

That’s why I like AgLand. If you play the game correctly, your plants will grow. You need no skill, just dedication. There are no programmed natural disasters, no droughts, no floods, no rising seas. You sow the seeds, pack in the fertilizer, water realistically, and praise the pixelated sun. Two days later little sprouts will grow in neat lines. It’s beautiful. I’m not saying it’s easy, though—it takes discipline. If you don’t check on the crops, eventually they will wither and die. A person with a job or family obligations or a social life, etcetera, will eventually grow bored of their needy plot and stop playing. But my farm and I have a sacred covenant. I will care for my crops, and they will grow for me.

It’s kind of Eli to let me stay with him. Really, I’m grateful. I know he feels bad for me. He dated this social worker for a few years; I think he even thought he might marry her. They must have broken up around the same time Carrie left me. I don’t really remember that period all too well. That woman and her beige pantsuits forced open his eyes to all the systems of oppression he’s ignored his whole life. The realization happened a little later than one would hope, but he took it really seriously and has been working ever since to try and right the world’s wrongs. Turned into a vegan, started going to marches and donating to organizations monthly. When I told him about what happened, how I didn’t want to tell Mom and Dad about it, I could already see the wheels turning in his head, blaming himself for being my first exposure to men. He must have twisted things to take fault for the incident and offered me the room out of guilt. I couldn’t explain to him that yes, on a societal level, men have fostered a culture where these things happen, but no, you are not personally responsible for what happened. Nobody’s personally responsible for that. That’s what my therapist kept saying to me before she up and moved to Oregon a few months ago, leaving me a referral as a parting gift. I didn’t look into finding a replacement. It was a cash drain, anyway. 

I had thought living with your sibling as an adult would be weird—that I would have to drown out the sounds of his Friday night hookups, or pretend to enjoy the company of his fratty friends from college, or even join his Dungeons and Dragons campaign. We were never that close growing up, so I didn’t know what to expect. But really, the only bad parts are when Eli tries to make dinner for me, or offers to help me revamp my résumé, or shoves the phone into my ear when Mom calls. He’s trying to be kind, but the obvious rehabilitation attempts are annoying. The role of doting caretaker fits him about as well as his awful suits. Maybe he called the social worker and asked for advice on how to sensitively deal with a traumatized woman. Maybe I’ll be responsible for their eventual reconciliation. 

Out of the two of us, Eli’s the child who put his head down and got the useful degree, the one who landed the tech job right out of college. He’s the twenty-nine-year-old homeowner with a spare room to begin with. He’s the one who pays for the high-speed internet I use every waking hour of my day.

I could think about my growing carbon footprint, considering the many hours I spend running my computer each day, it constantly hissing in hunger between charges. I once wrote an article about the carbon emissions associated with the rise of streaming services—we put the piece on the internet, behind a paywall, so that more carbon could be released with every click. But that was the old me. I used to be the kind of person who cared about microplastics and permafrost and feedback loops and the diversification of the electric grid. Until I realized that there was nothing I could do about it. There’s nothing a normal person can do about it. You lose your mind when you think about it too much. It’s much easier to live in your rich brother’s house rent-free.

I used to be the kind of person who cared about microplastics and permafrost and feedback loops and the diversification of the electric grid. Until I realized that there was nothing I could do about it.

There’s a variety of features that have been added to AgLand over the years. The first edition, the version of the game that I play, earned a bit of a sour reputation as a mindless, boring time suck. So they made add-ons where you have to fight off invaders that come into your plot to steal your vegetables. Add-ons where you can connect with other players around the world and have shared farms together. Add-ons where you try and get grocery stores to stock your crops, where you can take your humble farm and grow unchecked into an industrial, agricultural empire. But I’m not really interested in all of that. 

At 3:20, Eli knocks on my door again.

“There’s an evacuation notice,” he says, fingers shuffling in his hands. “Seems like they’re just being thorough; it’s probably nothing. But we have to pack up, follow the order. I figure we can drive to Mom’s.”

He’s downplaying it, but he’s nervous. He doesn’t want to lose his house, this thing he worked so hard to call his own.

“Evacuation,” I say for some reason. “What, there’s a fire?”

“Yes, in our county. Have you not been checking anything? I thought you’d be keeping up with this stuff. Climate journalist,” he says.

“I’m not a journalist anymore,” I say. I’m not. “And I can’t pack up right now. I can’t leave. I’m doing something important. Give me half an hour.”

“We don’t have a half hour, Em, when they say we have to go, we have to go as soon as possible. Get packing.”

I don’t move. “I said I need another half hour.”

“Do you want to burn to death?” He asks. “You, of all people, should know this is serious.”

If my brother’s house really were to burn down, what would that make the two of us? My mentor, Todd, won the Pulitzer Prize a few years ago for an article he wrote about climate refugees. Whole communities displaced by flood and unlivable summer temperatures. Todd had the story framed, hanging up in his office. They said he gave a face to the climate crisis; he made the world see those affected as human for the very first time. 

For all the interviews, transcriptions, research, and fact-checking he did, all those people were still refugees by the time the article ran. 

“Come on, Em, what are you even doing? You’re not applying for jobs, you’re not keeping up with friends, you’re not writing, you haven’t left your bed all day. What are you doing?”

Perhaps I’ve finally made him angry. It feels more satisfying than I’d like to admit.

“It’s important,” I say. “You wouldn’t understand.”

He is angry now. My eyes don’t leave my plot of land. I have pumpkins and tomatoes and zucchini to attend to. 


I was professionally obsessed with Todd before I started working with him. I sent him emails about his work when I was still in grad school. I dissected his features with red pens and highlighter, memorized his ledes, and set up a Google alert for his name. I told him I wanted to work with him because I wanted to work with someone who could change the world. He was the kind of guy who could fire a whole office up, could make people excited to work well into the night for meager pay.

“Let me see your computer,” Eli says, with all the reluctant horror of a Baptist mother who has caught her teenage son with pornography. I shake my head, and I scream and I kick when he tries to pry it from my hands. He backs away as I cry. I don’t know why I am crying. 

“You think I’m pathetic,” I spit. “Well, I am pathetic, okay, so leave. I don’t care if your precious fucking house burns down.”

I imagine myself as the captain in the movie Titanic, bravely going down with my ship. Now there was a man who took control of his life, a guy who got to do things on his own terms. 

The best article I ever wrote—the one about the slippery politics of cap and trade, the one with the most web traffic, the one I still sometimes get emails about—is the one in which Todd and I share the byline. It pisses me off whenever I make the mistake of clicking on the web page in morbid curiosity. His name sitting there right next to mine.

Eli grabs my computer, more gently this time, and I don’t fight. Drool and spit and tears mix on my face. Like a rabid animal.

“I don’t care if you think it’s stupid. I don’t care if you think my game is stupid,” I say. “You can’t take it away from me. You can’t.” 

The best article I ever wrote—the one about the slippery politics of cap and trade, the one with the most web traffic, the one I still sometimes get emails about—is the one in which Todd and I share the byline.


It was Adrian the receptionist’s birthday party. I was drunk. I shouldn’t have gotten so drunk at a work function. Todd never drank. Todd had a wife. Todd knew I had a girlfriend. Todd knew I had a girlfriend because I brought Carrie to the Christmas party. Todd drove me home. Todd had driven me home before. Todd helped me get out of his car and up the stairs to my apartment. Carrie was away for the weekend. Carrie. I wanted to marry her. Todd helped me walk to my bedroom. Todd always told me I had potential. Todd helped me lie down. Then, Todd, well he 


Eli looks at my laptop with confusion. Unsatisfied with what he sees on the screen, he even checks the bottom of it, to see if I have hidden some clue to my psychological state beneath my device. He looks at me again.

“This is important to you?” Eli asks. “This game?”

I nod, sniffling. And he stands there silent for what feels like a long time.

“Okay,” he says.

He sighs, hands me the computer, and disappears for a minute. He returns with an empty backpack and wordlessly rummages through my bedroom and bath, filling the backpack with a set of clothes, my phone, my toothbrush. When he is finished, he sits at the foot of my bed and checks the clock.

“We have to leave right after your game is done, Em,” he says. It is maybe the kindest sentence he has ever said to me.

At 3:45, when harvest day begins, I click on each and every one of my crops and drag them to the barn. I watch my points go up on the upper right corner of my screen. My farmhand does a celebratory dance. 

Right as I am about to close my laptop and add it to the bag Eli has packed for me, there’s a pop-up screen. It’s not an ad. It’s a message. 

Congratulations, emmz95. You are the top AgLand farmer in your area. Keep it up for another bountiful harvest! [Click here for local scoreboard.]

I show Eli the screen and I laugh. I’m not sure what’s so funny, but I laugh so hard my back hurts and tears begin streaming down my face. I laugh as we leave the house and the laugh turns into a cough when I breathe in the smoky air, but then we are in the car, and I am laughing and tearing up again. 

Sometimes it just feels good to win.


“Homestead” by Sarena Kuhn and the artwork titled Recluse by Viet Nguyen appeared in Issue 42 of Berkeley Fiction Review.

Sarena Kuhn studies civil engineering at UC Berkeley and is a staff writer at The Daily Californian. Her work has previously appeared in Berkeley Fiction Review, and she was the recipient of a national gold medal in the 2018 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

Viet Nguyen is a bit of a serious introvert and always wants to get things done. To counter that, he uses art and other hobbies to relieve stress and have fun. This is his first time having his work published, and it is a nice feeling to have validation for his work.

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