“Wait,” cried the fly dodging the open beak. “Wait!”
“We each have our part to play,” said the bird, landing on the sheep’s back. “This ewe eats the grass and makes wool, you eat her poo to help regrowth, and I eat you.”
“It is as simple as that,” rasped the sheep, coming to a stop. “We each have to play our part.”
“I understand very well my part,” said the fly, steadying itself on a stiff strand of wool and putting its wings back. “I know where I belong, but what I put to you bird! Is that you have had your fill. You have eaten 38 flies just this morning from the back of this ewe. You have grown fat and greedy. The pink of your stomach is showing through its feathers.”
“I’m sorry fly but this is your fate,” said the bird leaning a wing across to hide its paunch. “Die with honour and the knowledge that you have contributed to the successful continuation of our world.”
“I have a story!” Cried the fly. “A story about the danger of greed. If I entertain you and help you see the error of excess, then give me my life. If the tale doesn’t move you, fine, I am resigned to my fate, my body is yours. But give me a chance at freedom… It is not a long tale…”
“Perhaps I could wait a while to eat, but if the tale is boring, I shall eat you mid-sentence, without hesitation!”
“Thank you! The story concerns a young snail farmer named Asper whose father trades him for a giant purple…”
“Get on with it!” Screeched the bird.
He is only sound. A Tinkle – a windchime – hidden behind the horizon – ringing through the thump of heavy footsteps – a wanderer bent home – in the cloak of a thousand snail shells.
“Father’s back,” said Cornus, starting up from animal pelt. “Get more wood,” he barked at Asper. “Have you collected any snails today?”
“We agreed we wouldn’t eat any until father returned,”
“Just go and get some, he’ll be tired from the journey and want to feast!”
The great wooden slab from the entrance of the hut flew open and Helix stepped inside. “Cornus!” He said grasping his eldest son by the shoulders. “My boy, you look fit and strong, the farm looks green, the snails fat and pearly, you have done well,” his great cloak jangled and crunched as Helix laid his weathered beard down upon Cornus’ forehead. “Never mind,” he said with a smile, “a greeting from you is worth a few broken shells. I bring more than just good news.” Helix shrugged the great cloak from his broad shoulders and hurled it towards Asper sending him flying under the weight.
“Did you find one?” said a voice from beneath the pile.
“Be careful of the cloak!”
“Sorry father, but if you bought a new breed, did you make sure it was pregnant?” Came the voice again through a rattle of the shells.
“It needs repairing,” said Helix, ignoring the question. “Make sure it’s done quickly, I can’t tour our new specimen in a broken cloak.”
“Yes, right away,” said Asper, finally emerging, his bright face surrounded by hundreds of the glistening snails.
He stood up with a crunch. “Watch the cloak, boy!” shouted Helix. “Asper! Cornus and I will take wine and dinner. Make sure to prepare double, we have a visitor on the way," and turning to his eldest son, "take this to the table,” he said holding out a bag, “our stock has changed.”
Small puddles of muddy wine began to form around the growing mountain of snail shells as Helix and Cornus roared with laughter. “More snails and wine,” shouted Helix across the hut.
“Can you tell us what’s in the bag yet?” asked Asper.
Helix burped and banged his goblet down, scowling at his youngest son. “Very well. If you insist on haunting the feast, I will show you,” he sucked down one final snail and rolled the shell through the lacerated shafts of light stealing in through the thatched roof. “They are a wonder from a distant land – an ancient land. They weren’t easy to come by. From beyond the Amiati Mountains, maybe farther, beyond the…”
"Ah," cried Cornus.
“Ow sorry,” said Asper thumping the flask of wine into the back of Cornus’ head a second time and sending him flying into the pile of used shells. “Where’s it from? And how were we able to afford it?”
“…From beyond even the Panerean sea,” said Helix, wiping his fingers in his beard. “We will come to the price later. By Bacchus, our days of farming measly snails are over.” Helix stood and tore back the covering to reveal an enormous purple snail. Its violent violet hue exploded off the few stray beams of light into the dark hut plunging the threadbare family into a sensuous storm of light. The maelstrom of refracted light pulsed as Helix banged his fists and threw his head back laughing. “Worth 50 regular snails each!”
“More snails,” said Cornus. “I thought our days of farming were done?”
“Think about it my son, look at the size of these,” he said taking a smaller brown shell and dwarfing it beside the giant purple beast. “50 times the harvest, 50 times the meat, 50 times less work.”
Cornus began to rock his head forward pulling at the fuller patch of his beard. “Did you ask how they breed?” said Asper dropping another plate of roasted snails down. “If I’m to get the most out of them, I need to know the specifics: what temperatures they…”
“You don’t need to know any of that. These are bold strong creatures, we don’t need your delicate touch anymore, we need strength and power… Cornus will be in charge of the breeding from now on,” Cornus’ fat head bubbled up with excitement sending the Asper and the flask of wine flying. By the time Asper had cleared the mess, Cornus had joined his father in caressing the fantastic purple spiral back before them.
Asper gathered the last of shells from the table and dumped the whole lot in a large stone basin to the rear the hut and began to wash.
What was so infuriating was Cornus’ complete lack of interest in the family trade. He wasn’t merely incompetent at snail farming – he had shown almost no interest in anything other than eating the bloody things since they were boys. The few times he had been pursued to try and master the subtle art of breeding, he had ended up either cracking the shells or crushing the snail inside.
Asper sunk his hands into the dirty water and watched the empty shells bob about the surface. Foul little things, he thought.
“Helix! Son of Bracken! I am here to claim my payment!” There was a rush from inside and the door quickly opened.
“Sir,” said Helix, joining the man outside and closing the door behind him. “Quiet, please, this is a gentle matter.”
The man dipped a wide purple hat in agreement and lowered his voice, “I am here for the boy,” he said, gesturing a giant rope net.
“Yes, yes, you will leave with the boy, but first come in a moment… There should be no need for that thing, I intend to try to smooth the departure over first a little. I don’t want him dragged through the village screaming in a giant net… If he resists, we can, well… Come in, eat, drink.”
The man gave a nod and entered.
Helix and the visitor were greeted by an overflowing tray of snails and a smiling Asper. “You never said we were expecting a guest father. Please come in and make yourself at home. Oh,” he said, making to put his enormous tray of snails down on the table. “There isn’t quite room for these on the table, I shall leave our new fortune by the basin,” he said with a smile and swapped the freshly roasted snails for the purple beast.
“Careful with that…” started Helix.
“Oh,” said Asper, helping the visitor take off a grand purple robe. “There isn’t quite enough room on the peg for both yours and this gentleman’s, father, I shall move yours by the basin,” Helix scowled but made the proper introductions between Cornus, and the three sat and ate.
When the delicate windchime of his father’s cloak could no longer be heard from the snail farm, Asper turned to watch the black pillar of smoke rising from his former home. Fierce blue and purple flames danced up around the sides of the wooden hut consuming everything.
Asper shouldered the giant purple snail with a crunch and walked away.
“And that, as promised, was the tale of greed,” said the bird, with pledging eyes.
“And what happens next,” asked the snake.
“Well, I never quite heard the ending,” said the bird.
“…I didn’t enjoy it,” said the snake.