The last cage was locked for the night. She could hear the keys jangling as they were plucked out from the metal hole. Her owner stood erect, swirling the key ring on his finger as he scanned the hut.
‘Sweet dreams,’ he said. ‘The second moon will be full tomorrow night. And you all know that means.’
Spirit closed her eyes, trying to shut out his words. But it was no use. She knew what he meant and there was no turning back. The owner shut off the lights and showed himself outside.
As soon as she heard the locks click at the main door, she dug into a cushion on her bed and pulled out a flat metal piece. She reached her paw outside her cage, working the metal piece into her lock, and wiggled it about until she freed herself. She glanced at the main door for a second to make sure her owner was not going to return and find her escaping her cell. All was silent, except for the blue night light swaying from the ceiling.
She braced herself until she felt confident enough to jump from her cage, then started walking down the row of cells. When she rounded the corner, she stopped at another Axie’s cage and used her metal piece to unlock the cell. A Plant with a cactus on her head and three mint leaves on her back stepped onto the floor beside Spirit.
‘Are you sure you want to go through with this?’ she said. ‘Spirit, I don’t think this is a good idea. He’ll send the birds right after you.’
Spirit shook her head. ‘No,’ she said. ‘If he finds out what I’ve done, then that’ll be the end of me, and maybe even my. . . ‘
Her friend Minty nodded, accepting Spirit’s decision.
‘There’s still time for you change your mind and join us?’ said Spirit.
Minty pursed her lips and then pointed to the corner of the room. They both walked to the spot without making a sound. Minty pulled a loose board apart from the wall and reached inward. She fished around inside for some time as Spirit watched her, her anxiety growing.
‘What’s taking so long?’ Spirit said. ‘It should be right there!’
‘I don’t feel anything.’
Spirit felt sick upon hearing this and began to panic. She was about to scream her lungs out when Minty slowly dragged a small green egg out from the hole. Warm tears of relief welled in Spirit’s eyes. She moved her paw from her mouth to wipe them away, then quickly snatched the egg from Minty.
‘My baby,’ she said, cradling the egg in her arms. ‘Oh my little Plant, I thought someone had found you.’
Minty rose from the floor, putting the loose board back in place, then touched Spirit’s shoulder. ‘He’s already waiting outside for you,’ she said. ‘You two will need all the darkness you can get.’
Spirit nodded, wiping away the last tear as she looked down at her egg.
‘You’re not going to make it,’ said another Plant in a nearby cage. ‘I’ve seen better Axies try.’
Minty stuck out her tongue at the Plant who spoke.
‘You don’t stand a chance out there,’ said another Plant with a watermelon on his forehead. ‘Especially if you’re carrying an egg. Ha!’
‘Ignore him,’ said Minty, as she gently guided Sprit forward.
‘They’ll eat you both alive out there,’ said Watermelon. ‘That thing in your hands will bring about your end!’
As Spirit started to walk, she felt the egg move. She paused for a moment. It moved once more.
‘I said to ignore him,’ said Minty, trying to push Spirit along.
But the egg started to move more and more in her arms.
‘Oh my gosh,’ gasped Spirit. ‘No, no, please don’t.’
Minty saw the egg thrashing and put her hand over her mouth.
Then a cracking sound emanated from the egg. Its seams began to split apart. Spirit lowered the egg to the ground while Minty knelt beside her.
‘It’s gonna scream, you know,’ said Watermelon. ‘And wake up the entire farm.’
Spirit couldn’t take her eyes off the small egg breaking apart. She was feeling too many emotions all at once. Fear. Anxiety. Pride. Joy. She could not do anything other than chew her upper lip as she watched the hatching process.
‘I told you that thing would be a burden!’
The shell split apart, revealing a tiny little Plant inside. It had a small rosebud on its forehead, a hermit shell on its back, and a yam tail just like Spirit’s.
Spirit started to cry tears of joy, until Minty gasped. That was when Spirit noticed that the baby was not moving, nor breathing, nor screaming such as newborns should. Her world suddenly crumbled around her. She immediately pulled the Plant out from the egg and tried to wake it up, but the baby remained limp in her paws.
‘No, no, no,’ she said. ‘You can’t do this to me!’
‘Wake up baby,’ she said. ‘You have to wake up, little guy!’
Minty placed a paw on Spirit’s shoulder. Spirit turned around and growled at her.
‘He’s dead,’ said Watermelon. ‘At least you have a better chance of escaping now.’
‘Shut up!’ said Spirit. ‘Before I rip down your cage and smash in your face!’
Watermelon scoffed then backed himself into his cell, watching her from a dark corner. Spirit lay the baby Plant onto the ground, wiping away her tears, trying to think.
‘It happens sometimes,’ whispered Minty.
Spirit closed her eyes, mustering all the energy she could. Her body began to glow a bright golden colour. She curled her lips into a circular shape and blew a gentle breeze at the baby Axie.
The air started moving as a soft whispering song arose from seemingly nowhere. The winds swirled around the tiny Plant, raising it a few inches from the ground, and its body started glowing.
Her energy was depleting. But she continued blowing that same wind, giving every fibre of herself to her young child. The breeze continued to hold it in the air, the whispering song singing from a mysterious choir of voices.
Her face turned red and her eyes felt like they were going to pop from her skull. The winds slowed. The voices dulled. And the glow faded.
Spirit fell to the ground, halting her whispers and taking in a deep breath. All was still in the room. No one spoke a word, nor did anything seem to move. As she opened her eyes, she saw her baby lying on the floor.
She felt like dying. As if part of her had been killed right before herself.
The tiny paws twitched. Then they began to kick.
More tears raced down her face.
The little baby whimpered as it flipped off its back onto its side. Spirit picked it up and held it in her arms. The little Plant chomped its tiny Piranha teeth open and shut as its eyes peeled back.
‘You made it,’ she said. ‘My little Yam. My little Poysenberry.’
Turning its head upward, the baby looked at her face, then smiled.
‘You know your name?’
It blinked at her.
The baby cooed at her as she stroked its head.
Minty returned with a harvesting satchel used by the worker Axies outside, and helped to strap it in front of the Pumpkin on Spirit’s back.
‘He’ll be safe here,’ she said.
‘I don’t want to let him go though.’
‘You won’t be,’ said Minty. ‘Poysenberry will be right here on your back.’
‘I can’t stop holding him.’
‘He’s waiting outside the fence,’ said Minty. ‘And you can’t run very well if you have Poy in your arms.’
Spirit agreed. Even if she didn’t want to. But in her heart she knew the journey had just begun. And carrying a baby in her arms wouldn’t get her very far before the owner came looking for her. With much grief, she put the baby into the satchel on her back and settled it in snugly. Then she raced with Minty to another corner of the hut where the Plant knocked three times on the wall.
A board slid aside to reveal an Axie with ram horns on his forehead and a turtle shell on his back.
‘I was about to leave,’ he said. ‘I’ve been waiting here for more than thirty minutes.’
‘Sorry,’ said Minty. ‘We ran into a snag.’
‘Whatever,’ he said. ‘Okay, which one of you is following me?’
Minty pushed Spirit forward. Ram laughed at her, then he motioned for her to join him.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to leave too?’ said Spirit.
‘Not tonight,’ said Minty. ‘You go. Maybe our paths will cross again in the future.’
Spirit nodded to her and gave her a friendly hug, then went into the wall behind the Plant with Ram horns. He brought her through a cramped passageway within the walls that soon led them outside to the farm. They scurried to a run-down hut and waited at its corner. Ram kept them there for some time, until he saw a blinking red light in the distance.
‘Alright,’ he said. ‘That’s your cue.’
‘Run towards the cactus patch and head straight for the fence,’ he said. ‘He’ll be waiting for you there.’
‘Don’t mention it.’
Spirit dashed across the dark land toward the cactus patch. As soon as she reached it, she heard a gate open behind her. She stopped to hide behind a large cactus.
A beam of light shone on the hut. Her owner stomped in his boots as he searched the area with his torch light. On his shoulder was a black Bird Axie that he sent into the air.
‘Go find them for me,’ he said to the Bird.
She watched as the Bird Axie flew behind the hut and onward to the front gate. It was lucky she thought that the Bird was heading in the opposite direction. As she moved a little from behind the cactus, Poysenberry made a loud noise on her back.
The light whipped around and shone right upon her.
‘I knew it! You’re trying to leave!’ said the owner.
The owner ran after her. Spirit turned into the cactus patch and darted through them, heading for the back fence. The light kept flashing through the gaps in the cactus patch as her owner screamed for her to stop.
She raced faster, gathering cuts and nicks on her body from all the wayward thorns.
‘Don’t you even think about it!’ he shouted. ‘No Axie escapes my farm!’
The light seemed to be getting brighter and closer to her. Spirit spotted the back fence ahead, just beyond a few more cactuses. She felt the land owner closing in behind her, stepping carefully towards her. She made a sprint through the field and slammed into the fence. She started knocking wildly at it as the owner’s voice grew louder and his light stronger.
‘Spirit is that you?’ said a voice behind the fence.
‘I’m here,’ she said. ‘What do we do?’
‘You see that tall cactus leaning against the gate?’ said the voice. ‘Climb up it and jump over to this side.’
The owner was pushing closer to her. She could see his outline now and the torchlight in his hands.
‘I don’t have time for that,’ she said. ‘He’s already found me.’
‘Reach your hands over,’ she said. ‘I need you to take care of something for me.’
‘Just do it!’ she said.
She saw two white paws reaching over the fence. She took Poysenberry out from her satchel, gave him a hug and a kiss, then, with tears in her eyes, lifted him upward into the waiting paws.
‘His name is Poysenberry,’ she said. ‘Promise me you’ll look after him.’
She received no reply as the paws lowered on the other side.
‘Promise me you’ll take care of him! Please!’
After several seconds, she heard him say, ‘I promise.’
Before she could do anything more, the land owner grabbed her by the scruff and raised her off the ground. He slapped her across the face, then smacked her a second time on the other cheek.
‘Are you trying to defy me?’ he said. ‘Thinking you can leave without my consent?’
Spirit closed her eyes as his grip tightened on her small body.
‘I’m sick and tired of you,’ he said. ‘Sick and tired. And don’t think for a second I didn’t see that little baby of yours that you tried to send over the fence.’
She looked at him with sorrow. If Axies could talk to humans she would and tell him not to do anything to her precious boy. Her heart went numb while she gazed into his calloused face.
‘You think you’re the first to try and escape?’ he said. ‘That Blackie hasn’t caught every single one of them?’
She could hear the bird Axie in the distance, outside the farm.
The owner dragged her along, moving past the two huts in the back farm and headed straight for the front plot. A place where several Axies had gone to in the past, but never returned from.
To be continued…