This story is by Natalia Olivie and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The common poppy field remembered well her battle seasons. In the first season – sticks against stones – she learned the language of war. The people returned millennia later, and with them came the season of swords against armor. It lasted so long, the field had stopped counting the years. In time, the poppy field flowered again, nourished by the decaying flesh of the fighters. Her blood red poppies grew tall as a man, delicate petals became so large and heavy, the wind couldn’t play with them anymore.
She tried to cover the shame in her soil. Fool.
The people chose her for their wars again and again – guns against tanks, bombs against mines. An autumn of toxic rains followed the end of the last season. The drones came and sprayed the field with something putrid. Their buzz almost silenced the battle cries in the poppy field’s mind. Dead blood and dead iron fused in her poisoned soil, and in spring her plants and flowers turned into steel. The poppy field had lost its colors. Giant metal poppies stood still, unmoved by the air currents. Gunpowder dust had settled on razor sharp leaves.
A Harvester came one summer morning after the acid showers. He stepped on steel blades of grass, boots and suit made to withstand the deadly touch of the field.
“Fertilization time is over,” he told the field. “Let’s see what’s in your seedpods.”
Ashamed and scared, the poppy field tried to explain that something had happened to her flowers and leaves, that her seed capsules had mutated. The Harvester ignored her. He walked deeper and deeper into the metal wilderness, forced himself through the thorny steel stems.
The field could not stop him. Poppy fields had never stopped men.
A memory of green grasses filtered through the rust of her soil. A seedpod detonated nearby. The poppy field shuddered, but the explosion didn’t hurt. ‘I cannot self destruct,’ the field thought. The Harvester rushed to the sound of detonation. The ruptured pod contained a dagger from another time, the last defense of a wounded knight. Blood ruby glistened on the hilt of the knife. The dagger shivered with desire to pierce someone’s heart. The Harvester chuckled, disappointed.
“A trinket. I wonder what went wrong. ” He fixed the dagger on his belt.
” They fed me death, and now I grow death,” said the poppy field. “It’s wrong enough.”
She knew now why the Harvester had come. She bore fruit that the men wanted. This Harvester would spread the word about her exotic weapons, more Harvesters would come. More detonations. The world would know of her shame.
The shame was hers alone and must remain a secret. ‘With time, the poppies would return to normal, scarlet red against the blue sky,’ the field thought. Time had always been on her side.
This Harvester must be silenced to keep her secret. A common poppy field that contemplated murder… What had become of her?
She remembered sweet pollen of her poppies, golden dust clinging to bee’s little legs. The dust that covered her now reeked of burnt oil and despair. Another pod detonated. Inside, there was a cannon, dark eye of the barrel turned to the sky, black cannon ball moist with anticipation.
“Yes, yes, give me something pretty,” said the Harvester. He sat the cannon on the bed of steel leaves, pointed the barrel straight up. He expected a lot from a simple poppy field.
The cannon fired. Black cloud inflated in the air. A storm of shrapnel broke above the Harvester, the rain of shards and bullets hit the metal with deafening noise. The man sheltered himself under the steel petals of the nearest flower, covered his ears. A piece of shrapnel grazed the back of his hand. Poppy red blood spilled from the wound.
“Trying to fight me, stupid bush? You’ll give me a proper exotic even if you hate it. ”
She hated it. She hated weapons. She never wanted to be used as a battleground. But men never ask poppy fields for their consent.
The field was helpless against this Harvester and all the future ones. She was not really a warrior or a weapon. Emptiness filled the veins of her plants. Was she trapped in a steel eternity?
The Harvester kept walking and looking for prized seed capsules, but the field fell silent, even the blades of metal grass stopped clinking against each other.
The Harvester found a seed head sitting under the rusty flower in the heart of the field. The pod was warped like a badly made clay pot. Gunpowder seeds formed a semi circle on the edge of the top.
“So, that’s where you hide the good ones,” The Harvester gently blew off the seeds and stepped away. “Now, detonate this pod.”
The field was floating upside down in her mind. Her real red poppies hang above the blue ground, wind washing through the petals. Bees and butterflies played in green clouds of fresh grass.
“Blow up the capsule!” hissed the Harvester. “Didn’t you learn how to obey?”
“I am a prisoner of many wars,” said the poppy field. “I know how to obey.”
The warped pod cracked. The Harvester stepped closer, licked his thirsty mouth. This must be the exotic he’d been searching for.
A single arrow, bent and rusty, fell out of the twisted seed pod. Its barb wire feathers tangled in knots. Dark with anger, the Harvester kicked the steel poppy in the roots, grabbed the arrow, hurled it in the air.
“Where are the exotics?” he growled.
The poppy field went back to floating upside down. Where could a common poppy field go to if not to her dreams?
The arrow whirred like a drone. It planted itself in the soil, and the field trembled with the force of all her battles. The seasons went backwards. The ghost soldiers got up from their graves, picked up their lost weapons. The dead machines shook off the ancient rust and backed away from the borders of the field. Young wind blew away the toxic fumes. Blood and metals evaporated from the soil. The memories of battle seasons faded.
The Harvester found himself standing in the middle of a common poppy field. The dagger on his belt turned into a twisted flower. It quickly blackened and crumbled to dust.