Part Four: The New Buds
We built the wall, digging holes all around our field and dragging away the mud. We chopped down trees and lined the wet holes with wood, making forms for hydraulic cement that held forged, steel post-hole caps. Into these caps, posts were driven and secured by bolts. Blue and the predator cut trees, brought them to me, and I chopped them up with a sledgehammer and wedge to put together as our fence.
It was mid summer, the wall still not complete, by the time we heard again from the Mudflappers. A large group of bearers supported by several brave assistants sallied up to our property, hiding behind trees. They surrounded our garden, fearfully looking at us.
I stepped forward, approaching the biggest bearer, evidently the leader of their tribe. I held my axe in my right hand, a wooden shield in the left. As I approached, I put down the axe so as to use my gloves to speak, “Go away. You know what I am, you know that I mean what I say when I tell you that I will kill you.”
The big bearer stood tall, her bulky torso coming up to my chin. Bravely, perhaps foolishly, she stepped closer to me. “So much fruit for one Osminog and one Creature that kills like a predator and eats like prey? My scouts have been watching you, oh Creature, and I do not like what they have to say. They tell me you and your Osminog make sacrifice daily, taking fruit into wooden cave. We want your fruit, use much better than you do.”
I watched her closely, moving my hand back to my axe when she got too close. She flinched as she saw me grasp the handle, backing up a couple steps. Her bravery wasn’t complete. As she walked a bit further, I lifted my hand back to my glove. “I did not share my food with my favorite Osminog’s daughter last year. What makes you think I will share with you, Osminog who threaten to crush all my work and efforts?”
The large bearer stood resolute, though I could see fear in her face and eyes. “Your suspect Osminog is very old, spots gone for more than year. You feed her. Now we should feast on these many fruits.”
The bearer walked towards me, so I raised my axe to stop her.
“No – Mudflapper bearer, please, don’t press her. She will kill you,” Blue said.
The bearer stopped paying attention to me and moved to Blue, who held onto the reins of the predator. She looked down at Blue, who cowered, and grabbed one of my friend’s tentacles. “Why would you support a predator, suspect? You traitor. Traitor to all Osminog, not just your pathetic tribe.”
I didn’t stand for the bearer’s assault of Blue, so I reached forward and grabbed the Osminog by the tentacle, pulling her. The bearer’s raw mass and brute strength far outmatched my own, though, and she remained still, unmoved by my attack.
“It’s weak!” I heard several Osminog whisper. “The predator – the predator is weak!”
They all stepped forward, so I took up the axe. They were still unafraid, except for a few bearers that hung back, likely the same ones who had seen me kill the first bearer.
“We many, very strong. Leave us with your fruit, Sky Creature, or we will destroy your fruit and everything else that you have built. Like the wooden cave and those piles of rocks. We will feed your Osminog to your predator and leave you in the wilderness without anything.”
I looked at this bearer, seeing no fear in her face. I felt the axe in my hands and desired, more than anything else, not to have to use it. I held the wood, felt the shield, and thought about my options.
“Are your people hungry?” I asked, carefully rubbing the glove on the right to the teeth on the left glove without letting go of my axe.
The bearer puffed her chest. “Do hungry Osminog get so big? Do hungry Osminog bear many young? No, not hungry. But you are in our territory, and you have much fruit. Fruit is ours.”
I set the axe down and snapped at Blue, getting her attention, and pointing to the house. “Go get a jar of preserves, Blue. Bring them here, quick,” I directed.
Blue nodded quickly, running quickly through the mud to the house, the predator following behind as if it were all a game. I grabbed the axe again, acting big and bad as the bearer threatened. She sized me up, noticed I wasn’t very big, and didn’t realize the pain that my axe could bring.
“Why you argue? You not see I have many Osminog with me? I can destroy your fruit bushes fast.”
I held the axe, unable to put it down and talk. I looked intermittently at the door to the house, waiting for Blue to come back, but was too nervous about the bearer. I shouted with my real voice, “Get out! Back up!” causing the bearer to back away for a moment. I put the axe back down, just enough to say with the gloves, “I will not leave this place. If I cannot leave and help my friend Blue stay alive, I will expect her to stay here as well. However, if you let us stay, I can offer you a deal. I can offer you fruit in winter.”
The bearer seemed enticed, but paid attention to Blue as she rushed out with a finished jar of preserves. She ran up to me, handing me the jar.
“Here, Creature,” Blue said.
I took the jar from her, feeling bad that I hadn’t directly helped her tribe. They would have been far preferable neighbors to this batch of Osminog, not to mention the fact that I had already given them fire.
“I realized something,” I said. “My people are at risk every moment I spend talking to the Osminog. It is best that I kill you all, that you not live to tell what I have power over and what I can do. There is a greater predator that will kill all the Sky Creatures if I continue to let myself be seen.”
“Then why haven’t you killed me, Sky Creature? If your numbers are so many, if your prowess is so great, why don’t you eat me?”
“I am not a predator. I do not normally kill Osminog and do not want to. There is a better way. You have already learned from me, Blue has learned much, and her tribe has gained many things as well. Quickly you have gained knowledge that you haven’t had time to develop yourselves. If I leave you alone, you will fall into chaos. You already know something of the terrible concept of war even if you do not directly wage it. I must prevent you from discovering it lest you follow in the footsteps and failures of the Sky Creatures.”
The bearer huffed. “You teach us nothing.”
I held out the jar, cracking the lid to show her the fruit inside. Red and orange, they fell through their own juices, sparkling in front of her. “If you let us live and leave us to ourselves, we can give you this. This is fruit that will last through the winter, keeping you fed much longer than the fruit you keep in the middle of your huddle, rotting. Try it.”
The bearer backed away. “You first!” she shouted.
I shook my head. “I can’t eat fruit. Osminogs can eat fruit – here, Blue. Show the bearer you can eat it-“
But the bearer knocked the pot out of my hands, pushing me back and away from my axe. I held up the shield, keeping myself still and not falling any farther into the mud. “You lie! Always lies! Get out – get out!”
The jar broke beside me, the fruit running out into the mud. I sat up, then stood from where I had been pushed. “Fine. I cannot win. Blue and I will require some time to gather what we need, destroy what we can’t, and we’ll soon be on our way. But let this be a warning to you: you cannot eat the strange fruit in the middle of the forest of bushes. That fruit is not for Osminog and you will surely die if you eat it. I will come back for that fruit in the fall and will be very disappointed if you do anything to it.”
The big bearer held herself high and proud. “Clicken-ck-ck, find this strange fruit. Bring some to me and all the bearers.”
I shook my head. “It is poison. It will kill you.”
The bearer came close again, causing me to back away. “You are Sky Creature, you are liar. You try to act strong, try to act like predator, but you are just prey. The Protector favors the Mudflapper tribe, Sky Creature, not the animal that you are.”
“When have I lied to you?” I asked.
“When you said you kill me. Instead, now you leave. You not predator, you just lucky.” The Osminog picked up the fruit that had fallen from the broken jar, fumbling around the fruit in her hands. She shoved it on the top of my head, analogous to the place where Osminog mouths were. “We will eat your fruit and know the knowledge of the gods, Sky Creature.”
“No,” I said, “You will gain nothing from eating that fruit. You will only die.”
Bearers came out of the garden, each of them carrying a tentacle laden with squash and beans, many of them not even ripe. They took them up to each of the bearers nearby, handing the biggest squash over to the biggest bearer. She held it in her tentacle. “What is this… this god fruit?” she asked. She held it up to my face, pushing the squash up against my jaw. “Eat it, Sky Creature, and prove that it is poison!”
I bit off and swallowed some of the squash, so she took it away. “It isn’t poison to me, only to you-“
“The Sky Creature does not lie! Not this time – I believe her fruit is poison to us!” Blue shouted.
The leader made a signal, and the bearers nearby dropped the squash and beans into their gullets, mashing their teeth against the walls of their mouths to destroy the squash. They didn’t die, not immediately, but I fell to my knees. “No – no, you’ll all die! Stop this!”
The bearer pushed me into the mud, standing atop me as she scooped up some of the fruit preserves. “Eat the poison, Sky Creature, and regret having lied to us!”
She rubbed the preserves over my face and I was unable to fight back. I kept my mouth closed, breathed out my nose to shove the jelly away. She was adamant, though, and it became more and more difficult to breathe.
Then, suddenly, it all stopped. The bearer fell to the ground.
Blue stood behind her, axe in her tentacles.
The Osminog all screamed, blundering around. They flopped over themselves, upset and confused. Blue dropped the axe, and in similar confusion, fell to the mud convulsing. High pitched screams emitted from their bodies.
I got myself onto my knees and crawled over to Blue, holding tight to her. She held tight to me, wailing in the most horrified, high-pitched scream that I had ever imagined. I cried, not knowing what else to do as my best friend sat horrified in the mud next to me.
“I’ve got you,” I said. She just wailed, not stopping. Ten minutes passed easily as I held her, her tentacles never losing tension as they gripped.
Before Blue could let go of me, before the terrible wailing stopped, the bearers that had eaten my food began to die. I heard them gagging, heard cries of pain and suffering, but just sat with Blue and rocked her back and forth. There was nothing I could do, now that they’d gone and eaten things they shouldn’t have.
“I’ve got you,” I said. “I’ve got you.”
She held my clothing and tugged on it as the last of the bearers died and the assistants who remained bowed in reverent defeat. “I… I’m a predator,” she said. She put her lips near my ear and whispered, “I killed an Osminog for a Sky Creature. I am a predator.”
I held her close. “The universe is not so black and white as we would like. Even as I tried to do right by you and your tribe, even by this one, I never did. I kept trying to keep myself and all the other Sky Creatures alive, but that wasn’t the right thing to do, only the thing I thought I had to do.”
Blue sniffled, rubbing her eyes on some of my clothes in such a way that it would have been very awkward if she were human. “But I still killed an Osminog. I am a predator, the worst predator. Worse than our predator on a string.”
I held her, made one of her faces focus on me. “Which is why I am the worst Sky Creature, Blue. I allowed you to invent murder and war when I could have helped you as you requested from the beginning and avoided all of this. I, in what I thought was all my superior wisdom, gave you a taste of what I had but wasn’t willing to go far enough to risk anything of my own. That’s over, now. I’ve already sunk something into your people, so I think I should see your development through as far as I can. Will you help me, Blue?”
She said nothing, only held me while I rocked and tried to calm her down.
%d bloggers like this: