Roadkill

Sitting and lazily swiveling in my broken leatherette desk chair, I looked around my office, searching its contents for some sense of purpose for being there, but much to no avail.  Brown bookcases lined the walls, squeezed tightly together in a uniform fashion. The shelves were concave, virtually choking on artifacts collected (hoarded, really) over my three-year tenure at the university. Many of my interests, adopted since graduate school, were also sufficiently represented: Old English textbooks, manuals on psychotherapy, stacks of literature—most of the poetry and “dirty realism” ilk—and guides that promised to convey all one could ever want to know about qualitative research methods and their ethical applications. They were more distractions and dalliances than anything, really, that—in lieu of slowing things down and actually reflecting on my life—occupied my mind and most of my free time. Despite the random bursts of clutter that, strategically, were left untouched so as to add a sense of busyness to the room, it was a pleasant space to be in, with its dark, laminate wood furniture (in their varieties of almost-matching hues) and motley knick-knacks that, while decorative, gave visitors little to no information about the inner-workings of my head, leaving them a bit disturbed and slightly off-kilter. The main culprits were a gold-leaf Ganesh statue that doubled as a paperweight; a plaster skull that served as a makeshift bookend; a worn copy of the Zohar on the console table by the door; a metal dachshund on a wooden base, peeing on a fire hydrant; an earmarked book of daily reflections on stoicism; and a vintage toaster from the 1950s that sat atop the bookcase near the office’s rear window that immediately pulled one’s attention towards the back wall, where multiple degrees were mounted like stuffed deer heads, but with no sense of pride or accomplishment attached to them. Stopping mid-swivel, I eyed the few shelves dedicated to the field that I not only currently taught, as a full-time assistant professor, but had dedicated a good portion of my adult life to, social work.

Many titles rang familiar, as I had immersed myself in the profession (clinical practice to be exact) for more years than I cared to admit, hitting heights in my career that even I had never anticipated. I smiled and nodded to myself, as I scanned book spines for titles I was particularly fond of and found most useful. Most of them centered around cognitive-behavioral therapies and developmental theories: the subjects that had lent greatly to my success as a therapist and college instructor. Other titles were observed, however, inserted willy-nilly amongst the familiar, that fell upon my consciousness with a dismally lackluster thud. I had no recollection of where they came from or even why I bought them in the first place. Their subject matters were relevant enough, spanning everything from family therapy to mindfulness-based practice to the “science of compassion” (whatever that was), but I had never handled any of them, nor flipped a single page between any of their crease-free, paperback covers.

Must have been bought last year when I still gave a shit…or at least tried to, I thought to myself, disturbingly unmoved by the assumption.

Truth be told, I was no stranger to orchestrating a life based on what I “should” do, though the origin of that narrative really was never quite clear to me. The pursuit of upward mobility and goal attainment had become second-nature, making alternate options tantamount to failure or—at the very least—proof that all the things I had been trying to convince myself that I wasn’t were, indeed—after all—true. To ponder too long upon such thoughts was unacceptable. “We don’t do that,” my father used to say to me (when we were still speaking, anyway), after any suggestion of doubt or surrender was made audibly known, as if he were speaking to one of the many faceless football players he had coached during his long, acclaimed high-school teaching career. The radio silence between the old man and me should have made things easier for me to find a way out of my current sojourn into limbo, but it didn’t. Some specters follow you no matter how much time has passed. No matter how many skins you’ve shed and brushed under dusty carpets; they stick like birthdays or the need to breathe. No, those thoughts just didn’t do. They were weak. Dangerous. After all, what would chucking it all have meant in retrospect? All those years of graduate school. The years of training. The late nights and weekends working in the ER until sun-up. My private practice. The systematic sacrificing of what little personal life I had had. All wasted? No. That wasn’t an option. From a practical standpoint, it made absolutely no sense to shift gears this late in the game—much less, start over from scratch. That meant giving up everything I had talked myself into thinking was important and that couldn’t happen, even though I—more than anything—wished it could.

As the silence of my office began to stab at my ears, I was overcome with the urge to feel tethered to something—anything. The groundlessness of what seemed like a constant free-fall was beginning to wear on me.  I was always in my head, and when I was lucky enough to be present—really present—I felt pressed by the weight of it all—my life—and hyper-conscious of the meat that burdened my leaden bones.

My work had brought me a decent amount of security over the years, opening enough doors to help me coast through life. Up until a few months prior, that had been the most important thing in my small world, but—more and more—the prospect of more years of automaton-like productivity had begun to grate on me, gradually tearing away at the illusion of my career and its once-held platinum-card appeal. Maybe it was because I never really wanted to become a social worker—and clinician—in the first place. After all, it was just a means to an end, a way to prove something; though I wasn’t sure to whom. Maybe that was what came from expecting too much, or too little, or nothing at all. Maybe it was what came from forcing a purpose in life and not letting one just unfold before me. To have expected a different outcome seemed silly. In truth, the glamour had faded and, ultimately, I was left navigating a cold world of hard edges and empty space.

Leaning my head back onto my chair’s headrest, thoughts pulled me back to the summer of 1977 when I drowned in my apartment complex’s swimming pool; I always went there when I found myself walking that thin line between depression and numbness. School was out, so my sister and I had gone down to the pool to let off some steam and cut the boredom of the day. I remembered my father was there, reading a newspaper on a nearby bench with his usual cup of black coffee. My sister, Lisa, a pretty and slightly chubby girl, was laying on her stomach in a black Woolworth’s one-piece with sash-like fuscia and turquoise stripes that wrapped around her thick waist, flipping through a then-current issue of Tiger Beat magazine with John Travolta on the cover. I aimlessly dog-paddled about the shallow end of the pool, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my back and the silky coolness of the water that glided around my legs. After a while, a boy about my age—probably from another unit in the complex—entered the pool gate and headed to the patch of grass near the water. While close to the same height, the boy was much bigger than me. He threw his towel in the grass and dove in, surfacing close to where I was treading water. It wasn’t long before a friendly exchange took place, and both of us shot-the-shit, chatting about everything from Legos to what pains-in-the-ass sisters were. Eventually, a game of tag ensued, and we flopped about, darting to-and-fro, launching ourselves from the rough-surfaced pool walls in relentless, individual efforts to make the other ‘it.’ I remembered one of my ankles being grabbed and then being pulled down, hard, but not before an excited laugh escaped my lips; a moment of true, unadulterated happiness. I remembered being underwater for a long time, not being able to breathe or rise above the surface. There was thrashing and kicking. The pulling didn’t stop. I remembered the play of shimmering webs of sunlight on pool walls around me. I remembered the distorted world above the surface that seemed miles from where I was. I remembered panic and the color light-blue.

Then black.

When my eyes opened, I was on my back; the silhouette of Lisa’s head looming over me, as the noon sun beat down in a relentless assault. Instinctively, my eyes searched around for my father, but he was gone. It was just Lisa and me. She had given me CPR and saved my life; a fortuitous perk of her working part-time, as a lifeguard, at the city pool that summer.

“Oh, my God, Jacob! Are you ok? Are you ok?” Tears filled her eyes.

I was disoriented and had taken in a lot of water. I was too busy coughing up what seemed to be an endless supply of it to answer her. Each cough set off a fire in my chest, as small trickles of warm liquid splashed upon the concrete under my left cheek.  “Where is Dad? I want dad!” I cried.

“He’s getting help. You stopped breathing, Jacob. We—I couldn’t find a pulse. Oh, my God! You scared us to death! Are you ok?” Barely navigating her way through the too many emotions she was having, she pulled up my limp body from the ground and hugged me, tightly; something that had never happened before. “That fucking asshole! Was he trying to kill you?”

“What? Who?” I asked, laying back down on the warm, wet concrete, finding its hardness soothing.

“That kid. That asshole you were playing with! He pulled you down and wouldn’t let go.”  Lisa began to cry, stifling her sobs, as she continued. “I—we didn’t notice what was happening until…We saw you under the water. You weren’t moving!”

Lisa moved away to give me some air, leaving me even more muddled and blinded by the sun. I asked, “What happened to him?”

Lisa looked confused. “What are you talking about, Jacob?”

“The boy. Where is he?”

“I dove in and tried to pull you away from him, but he just wouldn’t let go. He wouldn’t stop. Asshole! That fucking asshole!”

“So, how did you—”

“I kicked the fucker in the stomach! Hard! That’s how!  He wouldn’t let you go!  I snatched you away and he took off, crying. I don’t know where. I pulled you out and…you weren’t breathing. You weren’t breathing!” She sobbed, wiping hot tears from her cheeks. “I checked after I got you out. You didn’t have a… Are you ok?” I had never seen her look at me with such care before. For a moment, it felt nice.

About a minute passed before I could speak, as I clutched the hard ground beneath me, waiting for the world to stop spinning as if I could be flung off into the blackness of space at any minute. “I think so,” I said, still in shock, shivering. I raised myself onto my elbows, slowly, with my eyes—like my chest—burning with chlorine. “Where is Dad? I want dad! Where was he? Did he see?” I asked, wishing it had been him who had saved me. Looking over my shoulder, I saw the bench where he had been sitting; a newspaper was neatly folded on its surface and his coffee cup was gone.

I rarely thought of that summer day; it, essentially, remained wiped from my memory, except for when things got low—really low—which happened every so often, but still more than I cared for. I chuckled to myself at the irony of being saved only to live a life that didn’t seem like mine anymore. Guess God wasn’t done with the show yet. At times I felt like maybe things were so hard because I did come back, almost as if I wasn’t supposed to be here anymore, and the world let me know that at every turn. Or maybe I didn’t come back all the way—a jumble of remnants that couldn’t quite be properly pieced together, again. It was all so tiring, but that is what happens when you live life on a dare; the words “want” and “can’t” just don’t exist, so there is no choice but to keep moving and trying until the day you just don’t anymore. Truth be told, I longed for that day, sometimes, but that wasn’t up to me.

I could hear the custodian cleaning the office next door; he would be in my office soon.  It was almost six in the evening, according to the clock on the computer. I let out a long, drawn-out exhale and gathered a stack of ungraded papers from under my keyboard and stuffed them into my satchel, powered down the computer, and prepared to lock up for the night. I turned off the lights and took one last look around the space for anything I may have missed. Turning to leave, I slightly hesitated, noticing how peaceful the room was without the electric hums of fluorescents and a running computer. It was time to go, though.

Papers to gradeDogs to feedSleep.

The drive home was calming. The lulling, rhythmic kisses of rubber treads on the road. The random selections of my iTunes on low. The stale smell of cigarettes and sweat in my car that reminded me of my grandfather, who died forty years ago too soon, and his old, white Ford pick-up. I took the backroads home, as I always did, which took a little longer, but they were rarely used that late in the day, so I could take my time driving when the inclination hit me. I didn’t mind. I liked to drive, especially when the quiet in my life threatened to overtake me, granting license to thoughts and memories to rouse and scramble, looking for hints of light that seeped in through doors, opened ajar, hungry for recognition. I reached my right hand over towards the passenger’s seat, threw back the flap of my satchel, and dug into its contents for a Marlboro, fumbling through the sharp edges of papers and uncapped pens with determined purpose. Keeping vigilant, my eyes were fixed on the road, ahead, when I felt the edge of a cardboard box graze my fingertips. I pulled out the pack and with my thumb flipped open the top, bringing it to my lips, where I proceeded to pull out a lone cigarette with my teeth. I lit it with the lighter I had purchased that morning at 7-11; one more to add to the slew that I had, progressively, stockpiled at home in errant drawers, leather bags, and even the bathroom, where I ritualistically had my first smoke of the day, after dragging myself out of bed. I always forgot them when I left the house—too many thoughts, too early.  I took a long, crackling drag and held it in my lungs for a while, exhaled, and then wrested my wrist on top of the steering wheel. As the cigarette dangled between me and the speedometer, I eyed the yellow-grey smoke, as it streamed from its flaming cherry, lost in how it rippled and curled like a fine silk ribbon. I admired the graceful poetry of it and thought it a shame to turn it to shreds with another exhale.

A loud ruckus suddenly broke my reverie, as the car and everything in it shook and shifted.

Shit! Did I hit something?

My eyes darted forward and found nothing but open road, then I quickly looked into the rear-view mirror, noticing nothing but a blackening sky that slowly melting into asphalt that was divided by intermittent dashes of vibrant yellow. Pulling my attention back to the world outside the windshield, I noticed a shock of red among the dark hues that flooded the rear-view. I squinted and focused, intently, into the mirror, noticing a band of red that stretched in tandem along the road’s surface, while my tires intermittently jarred and sounded, as if driving over stones and wet, rolled-up newspapers. Confused, I clutched the steering wheel with my other hand—so hard I pumped the blood out of my knuckles—and scanned the road before me, noticing the same ruddy hue extending off into the distance. Clumps of black speckled the highway, disappearing into the periphery, as quickly as my tires propelled me home. Intermittent bumps and pops from the road, below, reverberated within the cabin.

What?

I tossed my cigarette out of the cracked, driver-side window.

Something got run over.

I checked the rear-view, again, and saw no cars behind me, then decelerated to better see what was going on straight-ahead.

It’s blood…and fur.

Given the distance that the length of gore had stretched and the amount of carrion on the road, it appeared as if some poor animal had been hit and dragged along for quite some time. As if in an automatic response, I turned the wheel, slightly, to adjust the position of the car within the lane, centering it directly over the deathly strip. Off to my right in the distance, I spied a motionless black mass by the side of the highway, much larger than what had then been feeding the road and my tires. I drove on and followed my “guide” until it minimized into sporadic smears and splatters that trailed off onto the side of the road, where the still thing lay. Veering off, I parked just ahead of it, turned off the ignition, and just sat there, staring at it in the rear-view.

A quiver possessed my legs, as I noticed my hands were still grasping the steering wheel.  I released them, my right hand instinctively searching for another cigarette

Damn!

Stopping myself, I remembered I had just smoked the last one.

It’s gotta be dead.  No way he could survive that.

I wondered why I had stopped. What could I do? It didn’t make sense, but something inside me knew I had to stop and take a look. Bracing myself, I released the seatbelt and opened the door. The air that night was cooler the usual—chilly, almost. I poked my head out into the dimmed light of evening and looked to the right, then left. Still no cars. I—we—were alone. I got out, closed the door, and took a deep breath. I looked ahead of me at a field of cotton that flanked the left side of the highway. The stalks looked black against the evening sky with a peppering of stark white that punctuated the—seemingly—lifeless expanse’s absence of color. It seemed colder all of a sudden—the air more humid and nipping than before.

I turned to my left and walked towards the heap, the crunching of gravel and clods of dried mud beneath my feet. With every step, splatters of crimson and bits of meat and fur marred the path ahead of me. I finally came upon it. The headless tangle of broken limbs—a dog, likely—had thick, black, wooly fur, that was stickily matted with congealing blood and gore. It was sprawled out in an almost apologetic fashion, seeming to want to edge its way towards the shallow canal just beyond its reach, past a patch of chaparral trees some forty feet away from where I stood. Looking down upon the sad lump, safely distanced from it (though safe from what I didn’t know), I stood in silence and inspected my “summoner.” Shards of bone and bloody, gray innards crept out of peeks of torn flesh. Flies and ants had already started to feast.

Doesn’t take long, does it?

The smell of carnage hung in the moist air like the odor of pennies that had been held in a sweaty fist for too long. I thought of how much it must have suffered. How long it must have taken to die.

All alone…out here.

I wondered if he belonged to anyone. If he was missed. If anyone even cared… or would.  No answers came. Just the whispering of the wind through the chaparrals and black stalks of cotton beyond.

I wanted to feel sad, but didn’t… couldn’t. Something stirred within my chest; a burning.  I thought about what I would have done if I had found the animal alive. I would have tried to save it—if I could. Stayed with it—if all was lost—so he wouldn’t have to die alone; a prospect that made the fire in my chest rage even more. I imagined it alive and what it might have looked like, a pair of pleading, brown eyes, looking up at me for comfort; a tail, furiously wagging. In my head, I heard it whining and whimpering from fear and pain.  “We don’t do that,” escaped my lips before my consciousness could ground me in the bloody place where I stood. My eyes began to sting and moisten, but no tears came. Silent and fatigued, I hung my head, as if in prayer, and watched the fading sun glistening off dampened, black fur and red-tinted bones, finding my thoughts pulling me towards the comforts of home and six dogs that were very much alive.

Before I got back into my car to leave, I pulled off the college ring I had bought myself years ago, after graduation, and tossed it onto the carcass, as if to show any passers-by that he—maybe I— wasn’t alone.

The Farm and the Forest (Part VIII)

~8~

The Seeds Begin to Sprout

The day dawned just like any other in the slow march toward the spring planting season: the worker bays plowed the paths, the geese set to indolent trumpeting until food arrived, the hoofed creatures meandered about the snow covered paddocks they had claimed as their own, and the clerk pigs, accompanied by a rat or two each, set off to measure and count the day’s sick, injured, and dead. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. As the sun rose higher in the sky, a low hubbub could be heard emanating from the Big Barn. An hourish before noon, a stately procession of leadership pigs and a crowd of their attendants streamed from the hastily constructed gate outside the Big Barn and made their way towards the dog kennels. Upon arrival, they spread out line abreast. No rats were to be found in their number. It was clear that the pigs were more than a bit nervous. They did not know what to expect, and the interaction between the pig, the rat, and the pup from the evening previous had been retold and recounted so many times in the subsequent hours that no one save those present knew what had truly happened. Off in the distance, well behind and back to the left of the line of pigs, a clump of goats milled about uneasily. They had never been called on to provide any real security prior to this particular happening, and they were at a loss in terms of what formation and demeanor they should adopt. The kennel was silent; it almost seemed abandoned. Finally, one of the older pegs stepped forth.

Hail, dogs of the Farm! You have asked for the leaders of our great and good… erm, Farm… to attend and pay heed to your leader, the Mother of Dogs, and we, in our wisdom and grace, have elected to answer! Send forth an emissary so that we may hear your piece, and in so doing, perpetuate the august precedence heretofore expected of the brave and bright leaders, the noble spokespigs, who in their wisdom and kindness choose to lead through example and intellect the fair folk of this, our beloved Farm, for who can say that it is not indeed a wondrous place? Why, just the other day I was carrying on about my tasks as a humble and necessary…”

It was quite clear that there was no strategy at play and this pig had taken it upon himself to talk until the dogs saw fit to respond. This was the way of pigs: to make sound and noise until something happened. He droned on and on about his anecdotal experience of a Farm in good stead with happy and industrious denizens, a Farm of the mind in truth, as most of the animals were biding their time in their given hovels, desperately awaiting a spring that seemed just around the corner but still out of reach. The other pigs stood in solemn silence, being lulled into sense of ostensible tranquility by the notes of their favorite tune, that being the dulcet tones of a pig with nothing to say and many words with which to say it. As such, none of them noticed the dark shapes moving through the slowly melting snow behind them.

The spokespig was about to transition into another bland recount of imagined idyllic goings-on when a clear and cold bark cut him short. He looked around and suddenly squealed in shock and surprise. A double lunge’s distance behind the line of pigs were four young pups, standing stock still, one paw up, with their snouts pointed and mouths closed. Inside the kennel complex another pup had appeared and was sitting atop the roof of the main building. His maw was agape and his tongue lolled long and glistening. In his eyes a fire burned, the glint of it well visible to each pig, and in their hearts they were afraid. He barked once, then twice, then a third time, and the third bark rolled into a long, lupine howl. The tune was taken up by his siblings and thereafter by dogs unseen who sounded as if they were spread about the entire Farm. As the chorus of howls echoed loud and long, the contingent of security goats moved in a tumbling chaos of uncertain hooves, first away from the pigs, then back towards them. Horns or not, the ungulates were afraid. The howl of a dog is an ancient thing, a sound that struck fear into the hearts of their ancestors. When the echoes finally ceased, the goats had adopted a circle formation, horns facing outward. The pigs were oriented in a similar fashion, though their axes was opposite with their curly tails displayed outward as they huddled close, head to head, and to a pig were shaking in fright. It was then that the lone pup in the kennel spoke.

You are long on words and short on valor. It is a failing of your species. The Mother bids you send three pigs, no more and no less, to the Porch. She awaits your attendance. See that you go and swiftly. Flee.”

This was a predicament for the pigs. There were more than three among their group who had requisite rank to stand as leaders, but each of them would be damned before they went off into the unknown. Thus, they forcefully elected, with hasty battlefield promotions of a sort, three exceedingly junior pigs, barely more than scribes in their own right, as the chosen representatives. The four guard dogs then moved in a double brace and escorted the unlucky three young pigs off in the direction of the Porch. As soon as the group had moved out of sight, the remaining pigs hollered for their goat escorts and beat a hasty retreat to the barn. Peeking out from the corner of the kennel fence, a squinty bag of orange fur, betraying no emotion whatsoever, swayed in the soft, rolling wind.

Ahhrm… bored no longer. I think I shall find a rat…”

The main body of pigs crashed through one of the weak points in the wall in terror and shame. One of their number had the presence of mind to order the goats, in the shrillest of tones, to begin repairing the damage before he followed his cousins into the barn. With a resounding bang the main door was smashed closed and then the pigs began to squeal in earnest. The panic of the recently returned spread like a virus to those already there and in a short time all of the pigs were squealing in fright and charging about in a large circle. Their cloven hooves tore at the ground, sending hay flying up then raining back down onto their backs. It was quite some time before the mass of pigs had worn themselves out enough to slow down. Their squeals had reduced to an insistent and anxious oinkery, which further shrunk to blindly repeated statements. These too lost their vim and vigor until the scene had become a mass of pigs moving dextrally and making statements back and forth in a most conversational way. The words had remained the same, but the tone had changed:

The dogs will slay us all.”

This is the end of our era.”

Oh, pity our poor piglet progeny.”

The three young pigs are surely lost.”

Oh, dear.”

Save us.”

…and many other things besides. High above, perched in the rafters, a legion of rats gazed down upon this oddity of shoat behavior with morbid fascination.

It is actually quite amazing, their capacity to find peace and continuity through the very panic that disturbed them. Though obviously inferior, these pigs never cease to enthrall me.”

As she spoke, the youngish rat could not tear her beady eyes from the strange pageant slowly grinding itself to a halt. Minutes later the pigs had collapsed as one and were sleeping fitfully, still mumbling the phrases over and over as they shuddered and twitched, pursued in their dreams over hill and dale by lazy, ethereal dogs hellbent on destroying their regime.

Well, what do you suppose caused this furor?”

It is exactly as the Father predicted. The curs have risen up and are planning to steal our lives in the night. ‘T’wouldn’t be a surprise if they are off in squads even now bringing death to those they dislike.”

The youngish rat let her sibling-cousins meander about the myriad possibilities a while longer, then chitter-squeaked for quiet.

This is all in accordance with The Plan. We must only tarry a bit longer. Let fear and anxiety stalk about the Farm for a while yet, then we shall proceed. Send a message to the Forest kin and prepare for the next steps.”

Beneath the rats the pigs had finally fallen to sleep completely and all was silent in the Big Barn. As one, the horde of rats descended from the rafters, crawling in near silence towards the prostrate pigs.

At the same time as the pigs were driving themselves to a crazed mania, the four pups escorted their charges to the front of the Farmhouse. The matronly German Shepherd sat calmly on the rug before the main door. She watched as the mixed band approached. When the three young pigs crossed into her gaze they fell to their hocks in fright and begged for their hides.

Calm yourselves, Masters Pig, be calm, I say. I see that your leaders could not deign to attend themselves, so it falls upon you to carry my message to them. There need be no fear, so long as you and your kin tarry not on the fence line and move quickly to right the wrongs you all have let proliferate.”

The deluge of words had a calming effect on the three pigs; verbosity and purple prose was their element. They slowly rose to hoof and displayed their assent to her heed.

Look about you, pigs of the Farm. See the suffering that has befallen your charges, the animals you swore to protect. Many and more die every week, and that needlessly. Our food stores are low, lower than any winter in living memory. Waterfowl of ill countenance run amok. At night, ravenous terrors steal silent into our midst and carry away our most vulnerable. Where once was order now resides chaos.”

The three young pigs shifted from hoof to hoof nervously. The things being said were taboo, but isolated as they were, and not a rat to be seen, they could timidly admit, at least to themselves, there was some truth to what the matronly German Shepherd was saying. Things had gotten bad. Maybe not for themselves, but it was plain to see, when looking from a different perspective with which they had grown accustomed, that something was awry on the Farm.

I see in your eyes that you hear the truth I speak. Things were not like this when we followed the Rules. The labor was divided and resolved. The food was more than adequate and of good quality. The nights were safe and the winters were tolerable. There was rank and hierarchy, but with it came peace and plenty. Things were not perfect, indeed they never are. But things were better than perfect, for they were good.”

This resonated with the three young pigs and in that moment they understood the error that had befallen the Farm was that of their kin’s doing.

B-b-but what can we do, Lady Dog? We are but three upjumped clerk pigs…”

Indeed! They only sent us because we were deemed exp-p-pendable!”

They w-w-won’t listen to us…”

The matronly German Shepherd let them make their retorts then silenced them with a look.

These things may be true, yet, every problem is an opportunity. You need only carry a message of calm and certainty to your kin: the Rules must be reinstated. The Forest must be separate from the Farm.”

Each of the three young pigs thought on her words but proffered no response. What could they say to such a statement? The matronly German Shepherd waited for a time then continued.

The ingress of uncouth fowl and other Forest beasts must stop. Those already here must acknowledge our ways and work to conform themselves to a manner more suited to the Farm if they wish to remain. This is not a cruelty or a punishment; it is a necessity and, in time, a kindness. It is not so much to ask. And above all, it is not up for debate. Take this message to your kin. I shall be at the kennel with all of my kin, waiting in peace with hope in our hearts that the recent wounds can be healed and just order restored. Go now, and be true to the message you carry.”

As she was speaking her final words, the guard dogs quietly flopped to the ground. One even gave a clerk pig a playful lick on the cheek, which made him blush. The three young pigs looked at each other then trundled off, making their way directly to the Big Barn.

When the three young pigs arrived all was eerily silent. The guard goats had spent only the briefest of moments nudging broken boards back into place before fleeing to their own paddock, terrified of an impending invasion of angry dogs. The three young pigs nosed through one of the many gaps and made their way towards the main door of the Big Barn, but before they could enter, the youngish rat hailed them.

You have returned! Oh, thank the Farmer and all of his many blessings! Were you harmed‽”

The three young pigs were nonplussed. Their discourse with the matronly German Shepherd had ushered into their minds a calmness heretofore unknown, and the frightful squeaking of the rat grated upon their nerves.

Oh, thank the Farmer! May his bushels ever rain upon the trees and the hissocks and the, er, the other places! If only he had shone his benevolence upon your kin! I fear that in sparing your lives, he has, in his infinite wisdom, praise his name, decided upon a grievous trade as balance… the dogs have seen fit to run your kin off and into the Forest!”

This proclamation startled the three young pigs. Had they been played false? Did the matronly German Shepherd really double-deal them so adroitly?

I know this is terrible news, dreadful news! But you must not tarry here. Head quickly now to the Pond. Emissary rats await you, our Forest kin. They will guide you to your people who are even now hiding from the dog squads that seek your doom. Tarry not, for time is of the essence!”

The three young pigs were completely bewildered. They remembered well what the matronly German Shepherd had bade them, and they wished to obey. If their kin were hiding in the woods, for whatever reason, it behooved them to carry their message swiftly there. Without a word, or even a lingering look around the grounds of the Big Barn, they egressed back through the slipshod wall and made their way to the pond. This was the last that was ever seen of the three young pigs, at least, whole and alive.

Not far away, a quiet orange spot of fur snickered to himself in near silence.

We are now well and truly damned. Oh, how exquisitely delicious…”

Battles are won with blades, but words win wars.