They call him Fish Face. Because his eyes, mouth, and back were Aqua parts. His mother called him Poysenberry though.
Because no matter his skills, he was still a Plant. And Plant he’d always be. If only his mouth was serious or if his eyes were Papi then perhaps he’d be on the other side of the fence. In the breeding area. Or at the front gate where travellers stopped by to purchase a pure breed for their quests.
For Poysenberry though, he’d remained in the back gate, toiling away in the Savannah plains, grinding day in and day out to collect the precious smooth love potions for his owners. And for the most part, that’s all he expected his life to ever be.
The sun was hot this day. It scalded the hermit shell on his back and made his Gero eyes water something awful. But the show must go on, no matter weather, temperature or fatigue. So distracted in his own personal musings, Poysenberry failed to realise that what he was tugging at wasn’t a loose root sticking out from the ground, but in fact another Axie’s tail. Before he could release the leek from his mouth, Woodman, his fellow grinder, turned around and broke into a sudden lunge.
Too shocked to make a move, Poysenberry remained motionless in direct path to Woodman’s pointed horn. The beech wood slammed hard into Poysenberry’s face, knocking him backwards, flipping him round and round until he landed flat on his back.
‘Watch that mouth of yours Fish Face!’
Slowly, Woodman’s shadow crept over Poysenberry’s body, blocking the sun as Woodman stared down at Poysenberry. Woodman had a vicious scar over his eye, tape over his ears, and a downward scowl that made him seem perpetually pissed.
‘It was an accident.’
‘One more accident and I’ll put you in last stand pal. Got me?’
‘Sorry. . . ‘
Woodman snorted and returned to his harvesting area near a broken jar of sand.
Poysenberry rolled off his back, came to his feet and stood up with shaken legs. He wobbled himself to a small spinning fan he normally harvested from, but along the way lost his direction and wandered to the edge of the wooden fences where the split was made between the plots of land.
There, he saw the pure breed Plants, many of whom were frolicking in the sun while others were lapping from a beautiful fountain. The tougher ones spared with one another by testing out their bites or smacking each other’s pumpkins.
Poysenberry stared through the fence at them, wondering what their lives were like without the daily toils in the desert sunlight. With the energy he had stored, he activated his rosebud, healing the nasty bruise throbbing near his cheek. While the bud soothed the dull pain, he accidentally locked eyes with the Plant he referred to as Yaki. She had the cutest set of mushrooms on her back with a tiny skewer stick through them, and little roses dangling from her ears.
Feeling his heart throb against his body, Poysenberry grew even more uncomfortable making eye contact with her. Then she gave him a tiny wink, stopping his heart, and causing him to blush. Without a second thought, he smiled a big piranha grin only to realise when she turned away that she must’ve been disgusted at the sight of his jagged teeth, thinking he was nothing more than a mutt.
‘You idiot,’ he said, to himself. ‘You dumb veg, what are you thinking?’
Shaking his head and turning around, he continued to chide himself for flashing his jagged teeth.
‘Are you really so dense?’ he said. ‘Thinking she was winking at you?’ Poysenberry found a pile of sticks on the ground that he sifted around in search of SLP to extract.
‘She’s probably high on love potion you big doofus.’
As he extracted another vial-full from the pile, he heard a loud bell ringing from the hut. He completed his final collection for the day and scurried along, single file behind the other plants, toward the run-down hut that was their dormitory.
From the main hut situated at the furthest plot came the land owner with his burlap sacs at his side, ready to claim the day’s harvest. He was a tall individual. His arms were long and lanky, while his trousers seemed to always be slipping down his backside as he often tugged them back up as he walked. He stopped near the pure breed’s plot, checking over the fence before he made his way to their plot. The owner snorted, wiping his nose as he entered their gate.
One by one, the land owner came by collecting the daily haul from each Axie, jotting down the amount they’d gathered on his yellow notepad. The more the manager got closer to him, the more Poysenberry began to sweat. Times had been getting tougher recently. SLP was becoming harder to harvest and its supply seemed to be losing some of its impact on the pure breeds. But their daily quota had remained the same.
When the land owner reached Ebi, a fellow plant Axie with a lobster tail, he paused and counted the amount SLP gathered for the day. Poysenberry started to sweat even harder as he watched the boss calculate the earnings.
‘Under performing for the third day in a row?’
Ebi started to tremble and made a squeaking sound.
‘You know what that means?’
Ebi shook her head. ‘Please,’ she squeaked. ‘Please, no!’ Tears began to well in her eyes.
The Land owner stood erect, snatching her by the tail and carried her outside the gate and onward to his own hut. Silence radiated over the plants. Everything grew still. No one spoke. No one moved. Then they heard a brief scream that swiftly ended.
Poysenberry swallowed hard. Because as far as he knew, when plants no longer could harvest, they were taken inside and made into whatever meal their parts might offer.
After a long and uncomfortable time, the land owner exited his hut once more and wiped his hands on his slacks. ‘Good for nothing. . . ‘ He then marched his way to their plot, up to the next Axie in line.
He reached down and snatched up the tiny bottles Poysenberry had collected for the day. As he carefully counted them, Poysenberry turned his glance aside, noticing a group of pure-bred Plants sniggering at him from behind the wooden fence near the run-down hut.
Without another word, the land owner moved on to the next plant, thus ending another day’s work for Poysenberry.
There was a moment of silence for the vacant mat on the floor inside their dorm that night. Some plants would stop by and leave a rock or extra leaf on Ebi’s mat. Even the more hardened grinders such as Woodman passed by and paid their respects.
As the lights began to fade and darkness overtook the room, all the Axies found their bedding for the night and lay their heads to rest. Poysenberry tried to lay down so as not to further aggravate his bruise from earlier. A few Axies nearby had started whispering their gossip for the evening, while Poysenberry kept one eye open and one ear turned towards them.
‘I heard the aqua farm got attacked out by the river again.’
‘Who did you hear that from?’
‘A little birdie told me about it.’
Poysenberry raised his head an inch to see who was talking. The usual crowd. Specs, Antenna, and Poo-head. Never once had their gossiping ever manifested into anything tangible. At one time, the big news was that the Chimera were back in the Savannah, this time more powerful and in larger numbers. And in that time how many were spotted near the farm? Not a single one.
Next, it was that there were outcast Mystics living in the forest, preying on susceptible travelers by stealing their love potions and governance tokens. Well, that is when they weren’t painting over other Axies’ carrot tails and hermit shells and selling them as genuine Mystics for a quick buck. This was of course another load of rubbish they heard from a stupid bird that kept flying over the gate to visit them.
Rolling his eyes, Poysenberry turned his face away.
‘Nah she told me there’s a way out from the fences,’ said Poo-head. ‘And she’d take me if I’m willing to pay.’
‘You’re full of crap,’ said Specs.
‘Who are you calling full of crap?’ said Poo-head. ‘Fine I won’t tell you then. You can just plant your butt here for the rest of your life.’
‘Would you both drop it?’ said Antenna. ‘I’m trying to hear what he has to say.’
The group became quiet. Poo-head and Specs both snorted at each other.
‘How much did she want to get you out?’
Poo-head looked sore for a second longer.
‘Come on spit it out!’
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘She told me if I paid her enough SLP every day that she’d take me over the fence to freedom.’
‘How much SLP exactly?’
Both Antenna and Specs laughed at him.
‘She’s scamming you!’
‘Five thousand, for what? To get you over the fence so you can be eaten by the wild Beasts out there?’
‘As opposed to what?’ said Poo-head. ‘Continue grinding here until one day I can’t grind no more and end up on the dinner table?’
Poysenberry squinted an eye at the group, growing curious at their conversation.
‘That’s a myth,’ said Antenna. ‘We become trophies in the house when we can’t be used anymore.’
‘That, or sold to the lowest bidder,’ said Specs.
‘The only bidder.’
‘I hear they – ‘
Before they could finish their chat, Woodman broke into the group and snapped his teeth at them.
‘Would you all keep it quiet?’ he said. ‘Some of us want to sleep!’
They scoffed at him while gathering together in a tight knit circle. As they came side by side, their fear began to fade from their eyes, and smug grins started to work over their faces.
‘And what are you gonna do old veg?’ said Poo-head. ‘Hit me with that beech horn? Or flip around and smack me with that pile of wood on your back?’
‘Keep it down.’
They mocked him. ‘Keep it down!’ Then laughed again.
With a growl, he walked away and returned to his mat. The group relaxed their formation and stuck their tongues out at him.
‘I bet he’s next for the trophy room.’
‘Or maybe they’ll really make dinner out of him?’
‘Yeah right, I doubt he’d even make a good meal.’
‘Not like they could sell him.’
‘Or gift him either.’
They continued talking throughout the night. And eventually their words began to blur, and in time Poysenberry found himself drifting off to sleep.
To be continued…