The air smelt of kelp as they headed closer to the Fish Farm. Poysenberry thought it had a unique fragrance to it, while Woodman started to cough loudly to make his opinion known. Both Aquas stopped them at the edge of the river, wearing big grins on their faces. The group looked past them at the farm on the opposite side.
‘Where’s the bridge across?’ said Woodman.
Woodman rolled his eyes.
‘You expect us to swim?’ said Poysenberry.
‘How else are you going to get to the farm?’ said the blue Aqua.
‘Listen, umm, uhh – ‘ Woodman started to say, then paused as if searching for what to call them.
‘You can call me Gill,’ said the black Aqua. ‘And my sister here is Hook.’
‘Sure,’ said Woodman. ‘Listen, Gill and Hook, it’s kind of you to offer us a place, but if perhaps you could point us towards the nearest settlement or even the old railway tracks – ‘
Both Aquas turned at the same time and pointed at their farm.
‘What I meant was – ‘
Before Woodman could finish his sentence, the two Aquas dove into the river, deep under the water then emerged shouting at the top of their voices.
‘Would you two keep it down?’ said Woodman.
The Aquas paid him no attention as they swam back to the shore, flipped around, then proceeded to smack their tails on the surface of the water to splash water at the Plants.
‘Jump in, the water’s fine!’
‘You’re already wet!’
Woodman yelled for them to stop, while Poysenberry tried to run away. As he pivoted, his paws slipped in the muddy shore and he fell into the water. Panic overcame him. Poysenberry had never swam before in his life. He started to move his legs all at the same time, as if to grasp at the water and pull himself out.
None of that worked and instead he found himself sinking deeper into the river. He could feel his lungs constricting, his throat burning for air. He opened his eyes underwater and his panic subsided immediately.
He could see through the water as clear as day. His Gero eyes opened a brand new world to him. There were strands of seaweed waving gently in the current, and tiny critters scurrying among the mud and moss-covered rocks.
A sense of calmness came over him when he saw Gill staring at him underwater, his body upside down, with a smile on his hooked face. Then Gill started to paddle slowly in the water in front of Poysenberry, as if teaching him how to swim.
Poysenberry moved his legs rhythmically one after the other, and he soon found himself moving upward to the surface. The movement came naturally to him, as if his body already knew what it had to do and just needed a kickstart before it was ready to take off.
He swam himself to the surface, his hermit shell emerging first, then out he came gasping for air. Nightshade had her paws over her mouth and Woodman wore his typical scowl on his face.
‘I told you the water’s nice,’ said Hook.
After catching his breath, Poysenberry found himself agreeing that the water was nice, and instead of rushing to the shore, he kept on swimming.
Gill rose out from the water beside him and spat a stream of water at him. Poysenberry laughed and tried to pay him back, but Gill went just beneath the surface, swimming ten times faster than Poysenberry, with only his goldfish fin poking out from the water.
‘You’re a natural,’ said Hook. ‘You’ll do fine at the farm.’
This made Poysenberry grin. Such words of acceptance had never been extended to him in the past. Back on the plant farm he had been scoffed at by his fellow workers and barred from joining the pure breeds on the other side of the fence. He wasn’t exactly sure what to say in return, so he merely kept swimming. He was slower than the Aquas, but he still had a giant grin on his face. Hook wagged her tail as she pulled in front of Poysenberry and splashed at the Plant, then dove underwater. This made him laugh and when he saw Hook come to the surface, he raced toward her and tried to splash her back.
For the first time in his life, he was enjoying himself. He could not describe the moment fully, but it was as if his mind were set free and his worries had sank far beneath him, out of sight and out of mind.
‘What do they call you?’ shouted Gill, who was a couple of metres upstream.
‘Fish Fa- ‘ he started to say. ‘I mean Poysenberry.’
He smiled wider, and then used his right arm to toss a wave of water at the two siblings, who yelled as they dove underwater to avoid his attack. Poysenberry laughed, then heard a crash behind him that quickly brought him back to reality.
He spied Woodman paddling along in the river, as if he’d done it before. He kept groaning and moaning in the water, making sure his displeasure was known to everyone. Nightshade hopped in after him, and she swam just as well but without any complaints.
‘You can’t even hear me when I’m calling you?’ said Woodman. ‘You got water stuck in your ears?’
Poysenberry’s joy slowly deflated.
‘They’re getting closer back there,’ he grumbled. ‘You keeping an eye on the skies?’
Shaking his head, Poysenberry felt ashamed for not being more careful. It was true they weren’t that far yet from their own farm and that Miss Puffy was supposedly in hot pursuit of them. He gazed from where they had come and saw that the black specks were getting larger now in the air. He gulped as he waded in the water.
‘Hey, Gook and Hill,’ said Woodman. ‘You two have any shelter at that farm of yours? A good place for a couple of Axies to hide from the sun for a while?’
The siblings stopped playing, threw a look at him, then sniggered.
‘I’m serious,’ said Woodman.
‘And I’m Gill.’
Woodman scrunched his face at them as they dove under and surfaced near him.
‘Either way,’ said Woodman. ‘You have such a place?’
‘Of course,’ said Gill. ‘That’s what we’ve been trying to say!’
‘Exactly, we’ve been trying to say that!’
Both Aquas then squirted water out of their mouths at Woodman, whose face turned beet red.
‘Then would you both stop talking and show us to it?’
Hook and Gill wiggled their tails and swam quickly towards the other side of the river.
Keeping up with the Aquas in the water proved more difficult than the three Plants expected. Nevertheless, they still kept their eyes on the brothers, who were swimming quickly toward the fish farm.
A shadow fell over them as they swam. Poysenberry wanted to look back at the sky, but was stopped when Woodman snapped his teeth at him.
‘Keep swimming,’ he said. ‘Don’t look back.’
Poysenberry followed the old Plant’s instructions and carried on, even with the intense fear and suspicion that a Bird might be flying overhead.
Gill and Hook led them to a bend in the river where the stream forked, creating a large island between the currents. As they paddled along and headed closer to the farm, they could see the fence taking shape.
The gates were simple log posts with barbed wire stretched from one to the next. A handful of the logs seemed to be pointed spears, while a particular one in the far corner was made from a tribal shield.
As they came even closer, his reservations began to unfold within himself. His body started to feel feverish and terrible thoughts made themselves known in his mind. It wasn’t until they were almost in that he started to panic, realising he was about to step foot on another farm, a place he had vowed to avoid for the rest of his life.
A wave crashed into his face, and his attention was back to following the Aquas.
‘Welcome home,’ they said.
The river cut right straight through the middle of the farm, he noticed. Half of their farm was on an island in the river while the other half was on the opposite shore. Both lots were surrounded by a barbed-wire fence strung around its perimeter.
‘Duck your heads as we enter,’ said Gill.
‘Otherwise you might get a nasty cut!’ added Hook.
The two Aquas dove into the water and swam under the section of barbed-wire fence that was stretched over the stream. Poysenberry, Nightshade, and Woodman followed their lead and ducked under the fence, then emerged on the other side of the Fish Farm.