A Farmer's Love of Meridell (II)
It was a beautiful day in the noble land of Meridell. The blazing sun transformed lazy stalks of corn and wheat into vast rippling fields of burnished gold. The hay was pleasantly chewy, the water delightfully sweet, the Meridellians charmingly friendly. Past the rolling hills of the Acres was the stunningly emerald Glade, magical and lush; beyond that lay the Castle, its pristine grey stone—
—Forget it. What I just told you was complete Moe-hogwash, only Skarl or a fool would believe it. All those picturesque postcards you get of our land, those aren’t the real Meridell. What you’ll never see on a postcard or even on a cursory visit — the smell, the sights, the sounds—you only get to really experience those once you’ve lived here for more than half of your life and fought a couple wars to boot.
That chunky ramble I was spouting about earlier, the corn and gold and rot? I saw that in the Neopian Times last week. Front page, too. I just about laughed my head off reading that story. It had one of them old tear-jerking, heartstring-tugging, rubbishy plots about a lost Neopet wandering around Pick Your Own getting himself lost—you know, the same garbage-y stuff the Times always prints. I don’t bother to read that thing anymore nowadays, I only saw that story 'cause some genius wrapped his potatoes with a copy. Cracked me right up, it did. I was going to show it to the folk down at Pick Your Own –fine farmers, the lot of them— but Bertie ate it along with half a Rotten Carrot and two Smoked Cheeses. Bertie’s my Turdle petpet and I’ve had him ever since I’ve had my potato plantation.
Too bad the Times just can’t be counted on to print real stuff nowadays. Those reporters, they’re an annoying bunch. Just last week the lot of them were pestering me about my potato stall and asking cheese-brained questions like "How attached are you to Meridell?" and trying taking pictures of my potatoes. I tried to chase them out with a shovel. Didn't work. In the end I had to let them take one lousy picture, 'else they'd have never left.
What that story should have started out like was this:
"It was a stinking day in Meridell. As usual. The Rubbish Dump stank, the haystacks stank, the Cheeseroller stand stank, the Turdle Races stank. Of freshly dung. Most Neopians were digging up marrows or eating potatoes or falling into puddles of gravy. The whole place reeked of dung."
You get the picture. I hope.
There isn’t much to do in Meridell at all, and even less to do at the Meridell Acres Farm, especially for the young’uns. I’m not talking about work, there’s always plenty of that to go around — most everyone farms the land and there’s not much in terms of fun and games. Sure, we have Attack of the Slorgs, but the Petpet Protection League’s been eyeing the place for a while now. And there’s always Guess the Weight of the Marrow, but it ain’t exactly thrilling. Kids these days just aren’t taught to appreciate a fine vegetable anymore.
The most popular Acres game — and by far the only real form of entertainment around these parts — is Potato Counting. And aren’t I proud to say that I man the one and only authentic Potato Counting stall out there? Neopians from all over make the journey here to try their luck at counting my potatoes. I dare say it’s the best guessing game (or even any game) out there for miles and miles.
Course, business took a dip somewhat after that darn Wocky opened "Extreme Potato Counting" next door. Pah! That game is ridiculous. Flying potatoes, indeed! Ugly sunglasses, indeed! Carrots, indeed! "TUBULAR!" Why anyone would venture to play that horrible game, only Hagan knows. But that don’t matter too much, cause most everyone knows that my potatoes are the real deal.
It ain’t easy running my stall, you know. For one thing, you gotta get up early every day and start counting your potatoes before the Beekadoodle doodles. You have to pick a few numbers to start with each day and switch them around a bit so people don’t guess too early and tell their friends the answers. What I do is, after I count out a good number, I bag ‘em into sacks. At the end of the day I sell the potatoes to Merifoods and the sacks to the Second Hand Shoppe. I’m one shrewd businessman, I am.
Counting potatoes is one tough job—enjoyable at times, but tough all the same. I make sure to count them triple—quadruple-duple-times so I don’t get the number wrong. Then there’s the actual running of the stall; I get tons of customers every day so I don’t get to catch a break that often. Sometimes I get my brother Elston—he works down at the Rubbish Dump—to help out. Most of the time he isn’t much of a help, but I get by.
Still, the main things you have to look out for when you’re taking players on are the cheaters. I get at least half a dozen marrow-heads a day who think they can slip a stray potato or two under my nose. Fat chance! I’ve had the stall for so long hardly any cheating attempts can escape my sharp-as-a-needle-in-a-haystack eyes. The oldest trick in the book’s when they yoink a couple potatoes off the table and demand a recount. When I ask them to turn out their pockets, they always insist that they’d bought the tubers from Merifoods! So what I did was, I made sure to mark each and every one of my potatoes with Quill and Ink every morning as I count them. It’s tough work, but somebody’s gotta do it. And a good potato master does what a good potato master has to do.
I am a good potato master, in case you didn’t catch that. Not just good—I’m a great potato master. The best. The only. Grand Potato Master. That Wocky and his carrots! Pah! He’s nothing.
Too bad I haven’t thought of a way to stop them from swallowing the potatoes and demanding a recount. Yet.
So this morning, I was counting up my potatoes before I opened shop, the usual, y’know. Minding my own business. It was a stinking day in Meridell. As usual. I’d just finished washing Bertie’s petpet food bowl so I was a little behind business. I eyed the pile of potatoes I’d set aside the night before, picked up an ink pot, and began.
"1... *scratch scratch * 2... *scratch scratch * 3... *scratch scratch *"
"74... *scratch scratch * 75... *scratch scratch * 76—" I yawned. The quill in my hand grew heavier and heavier. "77—"
"Alton! Alton!" A loud bang of the front door flying open was followed by an equally loud shout. An interruption? I growled menacingly before looking up.
"Oh. It’s you."
"Spare me the unabashed enthusiasm, bro!" Elston slapped me on the back. I grunted. "What’s up with you, man? You were supposed to have started the stall half an hour ago."
"The more the farmer doth haste, the worse doth his potato counting speed becometh," I intoned, picking up the nearest tuber. "78...or wait, was that 77..?"
Elston rolled his eyes. "Never mind potatoes now, Alton! We have to—"
"Never mind? What in the name of Skarl’s shaved beard do you mean, ‘never mind’?" I cried in outrage. "I’ve spent half the morning—"
"Just take the day off, Alton! Don't you remember what day it is?" Elston threw the inkwell at me. He missed.
"No. What day is it, Hagan?" I couldn't resist making a jab.
"It's the day Meridell was discovered! Meridell. You know. The place we live in."
"I know that, Elston."
"Yeah? Then come down to the party down at the—"
"No way. Do I look like I care?" I puffed up my chest.
My brother raised an eyebrow. "You, care about anything other than potatoes? Nope."
I chose to ignore his quip. "If you’re not gonna help me count potatoes, go and make yourself useful. Get out there and fork some Dung like you always do—"
"—leave me and my potatoes be—"
"—made me lose count, you did—"
I jumped. "What’cha shouting for, Elston?"
"If you’d get out more, you’d know!" He shouted. Again. "Geez, Alton, you’re my brother and all, but even I find you weird sometimes. You don’t do anything except count potatoes, farm potatoes, sell potatoes—"
"—that’s a lie—"
"—and today’s Meridell Day. Your own homeland's day," he ranted, slamming a potato into the table. I winced. "And you don’t even care, do you, you don’t care that there’s a celebration down at the castle—"
"Elston, it's no big deal—"
"Yes it is! The Neopian Times people will be covering the event!"
I growled. "Bah, that rag of a newspaper? No thanks."
"At least it's better than your ridiculous potatoes."
"A potato is hardly a newspaper, Alton."
"You’re right, a potato’s better than a newspaper."
Elston threw one of the former at the wall. "You’re coming to the party."
"You kidding? No I’m not!"
Another potato hit the wall.
"Okay, okay!" I cried. "Just stop!"
At the castle, the celebrations were a sight to behold. All around us happy Neopians milled around, sipping punch and enjoying hearty discussions over the history of Meridell. The sun was shining brightly in a Maraquan—blue sky. The jade green trees provided such sweet shade to the content Neopians beneath—
Argh. Forget it. The place didn’t stink half as bad as the Acres did (except for whenever Elston came nearby), but it was still nothing to wax lyrical about. I tossed the Times I had been trying to read to the ground. Moe-hogwash, it was all Moe-hogwash.
I missed my potatoes already. Curse Elston with Mortog spots. Where was he, anyway? Just like him to leave his own brother alone at a party.
Reminds me exactly why I don’t go to parties.
"Hey, mister!" a young Kau called, beckoning me with one hoof. He was holding a plate with little cups of punch on it. "Want some punch?"
"Why not?" I seized a cup. "Where’s the food, anyway?"
He pointed the table out to me. "Right over there, by the Rainbow Pool. We get our punch straight from the Altador Punch Club, by the way. Isn’t this a great party? I love Meridell!" Right. I waved him off and marched towards the table. I’d been hard at work all morning and was feeling real hungry all of a sudden.
When I reached the food, I nearly cried with joy. The potatoes were baked and had nasty sauces on them, but a potato is a potato. Besides, Meridell is my homeland after all. There's no place like home.. and no better place to grow potatoes!
Soon I began to feel real patriotic and all. I’d just struck up a real conversation with some neighbours about the prices of Smoked Fish when I spotted That Cursed Wocky. He was holding a carrot! I gnashed my teeth loudly until I noticed that the other Neopets were slowly backing away. I plastered a smile on my face hastily and reached for the punch bowl.
I jumped a little, but pretended not to hear my brother.
I squeezed the potato in my hands as the stink of dung drifted closer.
Curses. I whistled a tune. And for the first time, I noticed the strange stares I’d been getting, the whispers that came from where That Wocky was.
I tried not to gnash my teeth.
I decided to be a man. "What, Elston?" I asked irritably.
"Guess what—you’re on the front page of the Neopian Times!" He waved the paper into my face.
"What are you talking about? I ain't seen no—" I grabbed it and scanned the pages quickly. My own disgruntled face stared up at me. Front page. "...A Farmer's Secret Love for Meridell? What in the name of Skarl’s..." I began to feel dizzy.
I swayed on the spot—
—and promptly fainted.
Author's Note: When Alton woke up a few hours later, he was horrified to hear that he had fainted. In public.
He was even more horrified when he found Neomail upon Neomail asking him about his front-page picture.
I wonder how he'll react this time?
Happy birthday, Meridell!