Cale Canis

When Frederick Francis Cale was a babe, he observed his father’s dog barking at a cat which had stepped across the street and swiftly dropped to his hands and knees and keened at the top of his lungs, to the surprise and amusement of his parents and the grand terror of the tabby, which, wide-eyed, sped off to the distant alley from whence it had come.

From that moment on, whenever young Frederick would chance upon a cat, he would fall to all fours and bark until exhaustion overtook him.

At first, his parents were greatly amused, but after several months the boy’s behavior remained unchanged. Mr. Cale feared some dark aberration had taken root in the lad’s mind, but could find no example, in the excavation of his memories, of any queer turning in the child’s development; his upbringing had, until recently, been completely normal, which made the boy’s strange behavior appear, in retrospect, all the stranger.

“Surely we should speak to him.”

“Oh, darling,” Mrs. Cale cooed, “Its just a phase. He’ll grow out of it.”

“Perhaps you’re right.”

The next month, the Cale’s neighbors, The Cumberlands, bought a young feline from the local shelter and gave it to their daughter Esmeralda, as a present for her birthday, who decided to take her new ward for a turn around the culdesac. When Esmeralda passed the Cale House, young Frederick, upon spying the cat, rushed to the window, howling and yelping and slobbering upon the glass, giving the girl a terrible fright and causing her cat to tug against its leash, tail flickering, hair standing on end. Mr. Cale shut the window, shot his son a withering glare, shook his head and bounded quickly from the house to greet the woman upon the green and grey.

“I’m sorry. We’ve no idea why he does that.”

To his great surprise the woman only smiled and laughed.

“Its alright. I’m sure its just a phase. Worse to be too strict than too lenient, right?”

A year passed and Frederick’s peculiar behavior remained unchanged—indeed, had compounded. The matter came to a head when, in the month of January of that year, Frederick, in one of his canine fits, tried to bite Esmeralda’s cat. Despite his wife’s protestations and the fact that the Cumberlands were nonplussed about the affair, Mr. Cale sent the child off to the local shrink.

One day, scarcely a month into Frederick’s new regime, the Cale’s phone rang. Mr. Cale answered and was greeted by a frantic female voice.

“This is the Cale Residence?”

“Yes ma’am. This is Arthur Cale. I assume this is about my boy?”

“It is. Please, come as soon as you’re able.”

“What happened? Is he all right?”

“There’s no time to explain. You must see for yourself.”

“Very well, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

He hung up the phone and, with a thrumming heart, dashed to his car, and spun out of the short, white gravel drive.

When Arthur arrived at the shrink’s office, he found the psychologist snarling at a tree.

A cat upon its gnarled branches.

Old Man Centipede

Old Man Centipede was a quiet sort, given to reverie within the multi-chambered dampness of The Hollow Mount, a path up from which afforded him clear observation of the hatchlings, hunting spiders in The Wasteland beyond the great burrow of the old log which had served as his home for six years. He’d heard rumblings of late that the Formican Horde had conquered all the eastern lands of the Outer Wild and now sought dominion over the Inner Reach. He was concerned, but confident the horde would never make ingress to the mount when so many proud centipedes yet lingered.

One day, as he strode atop the rotting log, as was his custom, Old Man Centipede chanced across a centipede of but a single season, known as Spider-Carver, picking feverishly at his mandibles with his forelegs, as if to pry them from his face.

“What are you doing?”

“Blasted forcipules! Mirages! Fakes! I know it. I know it! We did not have them… in the sea… in the long before when electric-eyed and many-gilled, we sucked the bloodied muck of the great, wet dark…”

The Old Man was sure the youth had gone quite mad and attempted to dissuade him from the venture. Yet, time and time again, Old Man Centipede was rebuffed. He might as well, he decided, teach the art of burrowing to a moth, or spider-hunting to a fly, and so left the youngling to its freakish exercise and headed off to tell his kin what he had witnessed.

The next day, as he made his languid rounds upon the top of The Hollow Mount, he noticed Spider-Carver once more, surrounded by a gaggle of young centipedes and the Old Matriarch. Much to Old Man Centipede’s horror, Spider-Carver had hewn his forcipules clear of his face, leaving only coagulated stumps, which he had painfully stuffed with two short, pronged twigs. He scuttled to and fro, wriggling his prosthetic claws as if in a trance.

“To be one with the essential form – the ur-ancestor – one must return to the sea!”

“What madness is this?”

“He does not believe he is a centipede,” replied the matriarch, “But that we have erred in our development, have forgotten from whence we’ve come, and, succumbed to an unnatural turning.”

“One’s mandibles are a sorry price to pay for the comfort of such a delusion.”

“There was nothing any of us could have done, for he had removed them before we arrived. I will ensure that he is seen to. Besides, he seems happy.”

“I can think of several things more important than the heady delirium of transient happiness.”

As the time-worn duo conversed, a throng of chilopods steadily built up around the mad arthropod, who seemed to simultaneously fascinate and repel them.

In the days that followed the incident, Spider-Carver’s crowd grew considerably in size and, by the end of the week had even attracted the attention of some symphylans, who gazed on from their chthonic burrows, perplexed, by the twig-faced and twirling creature. During this time, Old Man Centipede sensed ants in the close distance, betrayed by their pheromones, just beyond the Inner Reach. In time he knew they would come for the nest and so swiftly returned to his fellows to spread the news. When he arrived at the burrow he was horrified to see that the centipedes had all removed their mandibles and replaced them with sticks. Some had died in the process and lay, coiled about themselves upon the sodden floor. Insides slick-spilling from rent faces. Spider-Carver presided over the gathering, giving a strange speech about the sea, and moving side to side, across the mulchy walls.

When Old Man Centipede protested and sought to warn them, the matriarch intervened. She too had removed her jaws.

“You must not get so heated, old one.”

“But they have ruined themselves, just as you have, and at the moment in which the ants advance upon us!”

“Your concern is a relic.”

At that moment a large red ant entered the cool dwelling, bearing in its mouth, a twig.

“See there! The formicans have arrived! We must prepare!”

“No,” replied the ant, “I am no formican, but sea-like as thee.”

“This is not so. I am no sea-thing. I am a centipede.”

“Who are you to say, old one?”

The matriarch waved her feelers and turned her aged eyes to the ant, dimly observing the tiny branch in its maw.

“He is no ant, old one. He is like us.”

“He is a spy and you are insane. We must not let him escape to tell the hive the lay of the log.”

With that, Old Man Centipede made for the ant and would have easily overtaken it, were it not for the intervention of the matriarch, who stabbed her twigs into his side.

“The centipedes attack us!” She screamed, “Help!”

Swiftly Carver’s acolytes came, jawless and wrathful, and crashed upon the great old chilopod until his chitin cracked and his legs were torn and his feelers rent.

As Old Man Centipede lay at his last, the ant dropped its twig and sped off into the darkness to rouse the hive.

Brightburner

From the womb the creature came, naked and squealing, fording the waters of life-knowing, ill-formed and strange to himself. Blurry sights and sounds echoed all around the small and squirming being, obfuscating the world through their eminence. Words there entailed and them amenable to the creature’s unfurling sensibilities: Miras, Miras, Miras. “My name,” the creature thought, “Such is my name.” Other sensations filtered in thereafter; from the outside.

Cold.

Damp.

Distance.

Presence.

Weight of biomass.

A lingering emptiness.

Alienation subsumed him and he cried out, grasping through the foggy amniotic sludge, stretching his bony, slathered hands to that which hung above, enveloping everything; the ambit of all his world. His caterwauling availess. Great arms there embraced him and a voice, lofty and sonorous spake with tender concern. “Hush and be still, dear Miras. I am here now. Here for you.” Miras smiled and closed his unburnished eyes and rested his malformed and twisted bulk upon the breast of the great being and fell to a slumber that was of a thousand years. When he awoke it were as if the passage of time had skipped him over. She was nowhere to be seen.

Miras unfurled himself from the filthy ground and stretched as light filtered in from a billion radiant spheres. Luminance blinding. Raising one of his small, fleshy protrusions, the creature slithered-flopped across the ground, moving towards the source of the radiance in the far-flung distance. He wanted to know the source of the lights and the wherefore of his cradle’s vanishing. A pain gripped the beast then, shattering the splendor of his idle and rending confusion whole. A horrid pulsation in the pit of the creature’s abdomen. It was hunger. His ill-formed fangs clattered dully with nervous agitation as he scanned the barren, rocky terrain of the cavern surrounding. No sustenance. Only stones and darkness.

I must leave this place. I must devour.

Pace quickened. Within. Without. Shortly, the sanctuary came to an end and Miras, called by his hunger, beheld a great chasm of white, as if a terrible wound in the face of the holo. Light like blood spilling through it, cascading upon and over and through his sensorium – needle piercing his marrowing with understanding and filling him up with wonderment. Descending through the portal, the creature emerged entire unto the plane of light, scall’d by some calamity beyond all reckoning and the air was thick with voice. A hundred thousand million screams. All at odds with the other, jockeying for position as if in the midst of some great competition. Miras dragged himself through the blackened silt of the barren plane, following the voices and beheld a great tower in the distance and it in ruins and upon it’s 99 terraces great creatures with slithering faces and mighty wings perched silently, beholding below them, workers who heaved stone after stone up great dusty ramps to their fellows above them on parapets and they in turn hefted them higher still to those above them. All the men at the bottom were equal to those at the middle and those at the middle to those above them, but all listened to the mighty beasts who sat upon the towers, cawing into the endless and red and boiling sky. Suddenly, one of the workers – young and emaciated – collapsed from the stain of his labors, the heavy stone hefted falling with a dull thud upon the ashen ground before the tower and him likewise following. A hush fell over the crowd and the people made a circle-clear before him. One of the beasts descended and inspected the organism with it’s tendrils and then lifted him up and shook him and then slid the man into it’s enormous maw with a clatter of broken bones. Glass on ice.

Miras, horrified, slithered behind the closest rock, fast as his stunted flippers would carry him as the great beast turned to scan the place where he had been, as if it knew it were being watched by the outside. Then all the slaves threw themselves at the monster’s feet and began to chant in tongues and the beast stretched its wings and ascended to the skies which whorled with sanguine hues. Blood rained and the ground squirmed with small, hissing creatures without eyes, mutilcolored and with jaws distended, who licked up the blood before them with long chaneled tongues and feasted upon the remains.

Despite his horror, Miras swiftly seized his chance for sustenance and dove at the first of the wormy beings. He was surprised how easy he tore them to pieces and how sweet their radiant insides tasted upon his palate. He grew quickly in size and wobbled about the same height as the slaves; he began to eat them too and soon he was nearly big as the slither-faced overlords who perched as yet upon their towers. Watching. Gone were the flabby flippers, replaced by powerful arms and legs and retractable claws; the mushy slurping maw now chiseled and extended, eyes sharpening against the harsh glare of the light which bathed the rutted plain with its sterile effulgence. Being yet unbecome; his hunger lingered still, this of different grade and it burnign in his now fully formed loins. He clamber quickly, bipedal sleek up the first dusty ramp and there took one of the workers and pressed him down and satisfied himself to his cavitives and ate him. The brightness would not abate and though less, still it burned Miras’ eyes and he moved up to the next ramp and continued his work til there were no slaves there either and upon the third a female laborer he took and she pressing her fragile limbs against his mighty frame, cawing, “Eat me not!” And he did not and instead extended his tongue across and within her and tasted her over and then coiled the organism into his own and with his pulsing hardness met her slick holes and filled her with his seed. As they twined upon the ground in feral embrace the beasts flew down from the tower and assailed the tresspasser, for the stones no longer were ferried and all advance had ceased. Strike as he may, Miras could harm them not and shortly, they tore him to pieces and the woman slumped upon the ground, eyes wide and stomach vast and from her womb, a river of blood and a tiny form that sucked the light down from the sky. It stood up on meshy flippers from the rent husk of its mother and gazed about with sorry eyes.

I must leave this place. I must devour.

The Mire

The ruddy mire impressed itself upon the mind of the man as a great and reeking carcass. He stood over the bracken and the quitch, smoking languidly, the fetid smell of the swamp ranging over his senses like a titanic and pestilential wave. The sun was robed in thick and swirling clouds above which girded the infernal moor from whence it’s dazzling light was shrouded and all about below the buzzing of insects, their wings whipping through the air like needles on the brain. The man walked aways up what little land was afforded to him, the rest of the reach lost to sunken and muddy clay, covered over with pools of roiling sludge wherein the larvae of mosquitoes squirmed in hideous pirouettes. Massive snakes coiled about the reedy marsh here and there, moving with a soundless slithering and the wind was scarce and whence it came the stench of carrion followed with it. The man took a long drag of the cigarette and turned his keen green eyes to the south of the fen where the mountains obscured the passage to the hillocks of the outerlands and then east, to the misty forests, ranging up over the mire like the bristles of some great and feral boar, and then to the west, to the high-champaign, dotted over with rune-stones and mist and a curious scattering of skulls, man and animal alike, and then at the last to the north, to the long and winding and narrow pass which let out some miles up unto an elevated thoroughfare, scare-worn by the soles of those brave or mad enough to make passage to the town what lay beyond.

Somewhere off in the distance a howl broke the chthonic din, cascading off the sloping moorish hills and raising up the hairs of the traveler’s spine. His fear of the place was matched only by his loathing. It was all so very ugly. It were as it some humongous being beyond all reckoning had fallen victim to calamity arcane and the multitudinous swarms of all the earth had there found succor in the intestines and the blood of it’s gutted and expiring frame. Peering through the fern arrayed about his tattered chassis the traveler spied a dim light not far off; curiosity primed, he trammeled across the bog towards it, taking care in the placement of his mud-stained boots. The wind swept up with great agitation, throwing his cloak all to spasm. Half a mile he struggled against the peat and the savage increase of the gale and found a hollowed cairn in the middle of the mire in which lay a crackling fire and beside it, a strange and shriveled man, all wreathed in cloth; his visage, where not obscured by dressing, was riddled with pock-marks of the ague. The cachexic man waxed rale in address.

“What apparition is this that deigns to greet me upon this blessed demense?”

“No apparition, sir. I swan, but a traveler. By Miras am I known. A mechanist of Tor to the barton of Morrow come; but err’d in jaunt some ways aback and here find right castigation by this sloughy heath. Thy face, withered and wrapped withal, is most heartening, for I’ve crossbeamed this accursed fen for nearly a fortnight and passed neither man nor beast, save for insect, snake and the occasional, hapless ram.”

The traveler gestured behind him at the marshen expanse with great agitation as the cachexic man took in his measure with eyes that danced with the reflection of the open flame.

“Thy fortunes are most unhappy; Marta frowns upon you surely! To recompense, I greet thee warmly, Miras the Wayward. I am Glaedwine of Kwizling. But enough – seat thyself and rub thy weary joints about the fire. I’ve little to spare but some rain-catch, if it should please thee.”

Miras looked to a small, overturned tortoise shell which sat beside the sickly man and held up his hand in dismissal and then did as he was bade, seating himself upon a squarish stone adjacent the firekeeper who sat upon a similarly irregular rock, hands upon his knees and a smile upon his wild-bearded face. After a pace, Miras looked over the man keenly, then inquiring, “Wherefore the bandages?”

The bandaged man paused and fell into a fit. He coughed and covered his mouth with a sleeve and coughed and blood trickled red unto the fabric and coughed and spit blood and bile into the fire.

“Egad man, what malady chafes thee?”

“No illness,” the man replied upon recovering from his spasm, “but a gift. A gift from Our Dear Lady.”

“What sir? You speak in riddles.”

“Our Lady Marta. Bright-Mother. The Reaper of Woe. The Balancer of the Scales. Keep ye not the faith, wayfarer?”

Miras regarded the strange and tatterdemalion man with a visage deeply affected by both puzzlement and grave concern.

“You’re not well. To my ears there is water about the lungs. Pneumonia, perchance. It were best thee enjoin this place and make passage with me to Morrow. Before our leave-taking I could gift thee with a vial that should put the humors aright.”

“Eck! I’ll none of that sorcery. It were Marta’s will that I am as I am and so I shall be. All else is blasphemy.”

“How is it you have come to knowledge of the ineffable?”

The cachexic man turned a page in his little book and spoke with reverence.

“’Thee shall know ME by prayer in the wastes beyond the machinations of MAN. Get ye hence to solitude and study, to silence and mindfulness in the realms beyond the horse and hammer, in the demesne beyond the quill and hall, in the warrens and the lion dens, in the marsh and the mire, in the desert and the sightless wood; there shall you find ME.’ Corpus Callosum, Book I, Verse V. Her words are scrawled by mortal hands, by Callosum the Wise and Athelwyn the Stoic; so great was her love that she deigned to reveal herself to miserable creatures such as us. Her voice a soothing balm upon our listless suffering. Even her disease is a blessing, for the suffering of the flesh is nothing to the bliss of her eternal embrace; I meditated long upon the end, knowing soon that erelong I should die of this affliction, seeking to rectify my pitiful state with the love of Our Dearest Lady. But then it dawned upon my foggy brain, that all is a part of her plan; she seeks the peaceful emancipation of all, yet, long as one lives, long as one is bound to the mortal coil there can be no peace, there can be no true reprieve from suffering; not of just the flesh, but of the soul; this, in her infinite wisdom, Our Lady well knows. To correct the error of our lives she must first end them, only then can we be truly free.”

The wayfarer stroked his smooth and stubbly chin and spoke with his eyes fixed upon the wretched specimen before him.

“I mean no offense but that strikes me a philosophy most cowardly. To flee the buffets of the world into some other, why what upright man should hold himself to such lowly standards of valor? Thy philosophy is one of incontinence! A valorious man should stand proudly, proclaiming his defiance to the yawning chasm that seeks his end from the very beginning. He should defy the limitations of all the world surrounding, the better to bend it to his will. Such a desire would be, for the valorious man, born, not out of selfishness alone, but out of his grave concern for his people, his clan, his lover, the fruit of their loins and all their line stretching out and beyond the horizon of conception.”

The ralic man’s eyes widened and he rose quick as his affliction would allow, the whole of his form tense with agitation.

“You profane this sacred cairn. Get thee gone.”

Shortly after he had finished speaking the sickly man began coughing once more and doubled over, falling to a knee and bracing himself upon the squarish stone upon which he had previously sat. Miras started, his face filled with grim concern.

“Calm yourself, stress will do nothing but further exacerbate the illness.”

“Silence thy wretched tongue, heretic! Begone! Begone!”

“Thy fever worsens; erelong to fall. Thy disease is familiar to me and easy would it be to concoct a potion to cure it, if thee would but see it done.”

“I’ll none of thy magicks, sorcerer!”

With great abruptness the man, snarling, lunged fiercely at Miras who sidestepped the crazed hermit and backed out of the cairn, prescient of the infection’s contamination. Miras, after having escaped into the mire, turned full about, furrowing his brow, and issued forth a dire condemnation, his voice cold as the chill air surrounding.

“Fool. May thy accursed cairn collapse upon thee!”

Without another word the wayfarer spun upon his heel and left the mad zealot and the noisome sludge of the mire.

He paused upon a low hillock that let out to the grasslands and then looked back and down upon the cursed place from which he had left and vowed that one day he would return and drain the damnable bog, raze the forests and shutter the stars from the very sky with the smoke-stacks of a dozen factories or more.

“This place, so malformed that it distorts and poisons the body as much as the mind! Think you to take my mind like as to the abstemious, o’ heinous mire? Tis not yours for the taking! Only mine for the giving-away! But your tangled branches, your reeds and sludge, your insect-laden wastes and bone filigreed bracken; I shall snatch all away! No further minds shall you terrorize whence you’re trammeled over by a hundred-thousand cobblestones! Hear me, you rotted skein? I, Miras Vlotho, shall unmake you in my image!”

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.

The Farm and the Forest (Part VII)

~7~

Spring Is Coming

Do you know of the Forest, dog?”

The battered orange tabby lay pooled in a furry puddle atop the kennel where the despondent matronly German Shepherd lay. It was still cold and snow stood heaped in mounds, cast to the side by the older worker bays who dutifully plowed the paths of the Farm, but the air had a tinge of freshness, just the tiniest hint of nascent spring. The matronly German Shepherd did not respond past an annoyed wuffle from nostrils covered by her bushy tail. Dogs hate cats, and this is well known, but the recent events had created a sort of leveling of loathing in her heart. She could no more stand the mindless bleating of sheep than she could bear the capricious honking of the derisive geese who made a point of shuffling by the kennels each day, though always at a healthy distance, to jeer at the shamed pack of dogs responsible for their past mistreatment. In truth, the animals of the Farm avoided the kennels so as not to have any of the low social status of the dogs splash onto their own coats. Short of inspection pigs and spying rats, the only visitors the dogs received of late where angry geese… and the orange tabby.

Hrm, how could you? Wed so long to this heap of buildings containing silly food with feelings. You’ve never torn through the brush at night, snapping with wild abandon at the small, fearful creatures who pray to you for mercy even as you devour their bodies. You do know you were once wolves and proud, right cur?”

Again, the matronly German Shepherd made no response.

T’chask, wolves once and proud, Lords of Death, now relegated to pens that even a Farm goose would disdain, and those foods live in the Piles and call it a kingdom.”

The orange tabby rose and stretched languidly, yawned, blinked a few times, then circled in place and returned to exactly the same position as before. The matronly German Shepherd rolled her eyes and groaned low.

I heard that pooch. I hear much. In fact, I have heard some things that may interest you, things concerning your dear old clapboard Farm… you know, the one that seeks to be rid of you and your kind?”

He was baiting her, this she knew, but she could not help herself. The confinement of the dogs had only added to the problems of the Farm. New bodies were turned out of every section of the sprawling aviary Piles each day. The goats, though swollen with pride at their upjumped station as Keepers of the Peace, were not ones for investigation, so they would play cadaver ungulaball with the bodies until they fell apart from the battery of hooves. The pigs moved about in groups with no less than three security beasts at all times. In fact, every group of animals had taken to moving in gangs for protection; a display of power. This of course led to more skirmishes which in turn meant more bodies. The dying was confined largely to the faster breeding races so overpopulation continued to be a problem. The few groups of animals that endeavored to weather these bad times with more than gang tactics had taken to remaining in their collective pens, creating insular communities that kept unwelcome beasts out under threat of force. The pigs decried this segregation as unlawful and divisive, even as they contracted with the sheep to build a wall around their pens as well as a secured thoroughfare to the big Barn for the sake of sound governance.

“Mmrrrm, Yes, I hear much. I’ll spare you the act of asking as it seems the will to speak has fled you. The horses have walled in their stable as well as a nice paddock nearby. Come spring, they plan to extend their writ to the border fence. Once the other hoofed foods realize this they will follow suit, as the pork-charlatans have already begun to do, and the land grab will begin in earnest. The geese have completed their takeover of the Piles. I have seen neither duck nor chicken in days, which is a pity. The pigs and rats are firmly ensconced in the Barn, and just last evening I happened to overhear a few rats quietly discussing what they would use the nice, white drapes from the Farmhouse windows for…”

The matronly German Shepherd, standing on two legs with her snout within chomp of the cat, spoke quietly.

If you lie I will end you.”

The cat flew at least a foot in the air and landed hissing his wrath and fear. In barely more than a mouthful of seconds he was sitting sphinx-like, his impassive demeanor barely concealing a body wound tighter than a mashed spring.

“KkssssHrm, It is good to see you have not lost all of your prowess.”

The orange tabby was more than a bit unsettled by the speed and silence of the old bitch, but it is an age old truth that to gain a cats respect, you must prove you can destroy it, and this she had done. He continued:

“Mmmrrowmr, I tell you no lies, mommy dearest; the rats have designs on the very Farmhouse you once swore to protect. I wonder if their incursion will bring the Farmer out of hiding, yes? Maybe this flagrant violation will finally make Him manifest? Or, failing that, maybe His few remaining supporters will admit that the ancient dream of the Farm is ended and take their leave, seeking the welcoming arms of instinct awoken, and return to the Forest from whence they sprung…”

And with that, he rose and stretched yet again, fanning out his claws to scrape irritatingly across the roof of the kennel, then sprung over the head of the matronly German Shepherd, caroming off the top of the kennel fence and down into the snow. The grace of the bound and bounce was completely deflated by the explosion of snow and hysterical scramble of fur and paws as the tabby tumbled headlong through the drifted snow, but the dog’s mind was elsewhere. Plans, small and simple, began to form in her head. High overhead, a hawk was soaring over the farm, waiting for its moment to strike.

When evening came, the matronly German Shepherd detailed her kin on their patrols as usual, but they detected something in the set of her spine that they had not seen of late; a resolute firmness, a sense of purpose. She sent them in doubles, as was the usual protocol, but she also dispatched all of the younger puppies as observers. She held back a daughter and son, saying in brief explanation she had need of their paws, and the nightly border walks commenced. Waiting until they were gone, she had a brief conversation with her pups, then all three set out in different directions. The matronly German Shepherd headed towards the horse stables in a roundabout way. Her daughter went towards the barn. Her son headed directly for the Porch of the Farmhouse. Upon arriving, he took up station directly in front of the door and sat at attention, his ears erect and eyes gleaming. Before too long though, the cold seemed to get to him so he curled up and was soon snoring loudly. His sister had gone to the barn and yipped politely over the new and growing wall, though she could have quite easily taken it in a single leap or even shimmied through one of the many gaping holes. She instead elected to wait patiently until a young pig with a rat astride its shoulders grudgingly made its way out.

What do you require dog? I am busy, so very busy at this moment. Some of us actually care about this Farm, you know…”

Indeed, Master Pig, and I appreciate your courtesy and forbearance. Mother humbly requests an audience, of course at your convenience and leisure. Might I inquire as to when would be a good time, rather, when she should expect to be called upon in her confinement?”

Both pig and rat were not prepared for either the request or its stately dressing, particularly from a young guard dog, and neither made any response. The young dog waited patiently, her tongue lolling as she panted vapor into the cold night air. Collecting his limited wits, the pig finally spoke.

Erm… yes… I, uh… yes, of course, a clerk pig will call on Mother, that is to say, the lead dog come noon tomorrow, assuming of course that no matter of real import arises.”

But of course, Master Pig, and thank you for your audience to this humble request.”

The young pup turned to go, but before the pig could do the same, she swung her head over her shoulder and growled low in a voice completely devoid of the previous unctuosity.

Sleep safe rat. For now.”

She loped away as the pig sputtered and the rat sat deathly still.

The matronly German Shepherd approached the horse stables, but they could now be better described as a single fortress. The wall they had constructed was high and solid, offering no holes and built with attention paid to every detail. The gate they had built could only open inward, meaning even a dead horse could hold it indefinitely against anything less than a well trained team of oxen. Behind said gate there was a soft stamping of hooves and a challenging snort.

Who goes there?”

It is I, Lord of Dogs. I wish to speak to the old workhorse.”

The Lord of Hoof is not entertaining guests, dog. Come again some other time, or not at all. In truth, the Lord is all but through entertaining anyone.”

There was a bristling militancy that the matronly German Shepherd had never experienced from a horse, and though it unsettled her to a small degree, it buttressed the purpose behind her visit in the first place. She did not turn and leave.

I hear and understand, young Master Horse, but I shall not, indeed cannot, relent. I humbly request you ask the Lord if he will see an old friend, if only for the sake of a Farm we once knew…”

This jogged something within the guard horse, and after a judicious pause he cantered off to deliver her request. When he returned, the matronly German Shepherd heard the scrape of a lifted crossbeam moments before the door swung inward, just enough for her to squeeze through. Inside the walls, she now saw that there were three horses there, all poised to stomp the life out of her. She lowered herself to her belly in deference to them, patiently waiting for their cue. One of them snorted softly, then swung her bulk towards the main stable. The dog followed close at her hocks. Inside the largest stable, the old workhorse stood flanked by two of his mares. He stared down balefully at the matronly German Shepherd, his large eyes inscrutable in the darkness.

So… it would appear… that your legs… do still work, Lady Dog.”

Indeed they do, Lord of Work, as do my ears. I apologize for intruding upon your relaxation, but a… an assertion, let’s say, has been delivered to me by a… somewhat dubious source, and I have need of… clarification.”

The matronly German Shepherd felt herself falling into the speech pattern of the old workhorse, and it reminded her of days now past wherein she and he were true Lords of a prosperous and safe farm. This stirred a deep melancholia within her, but she suppressed her emotions. She was here to get answers, not reminisce.

What is it… that you heard… my good Lady Dog?”

The matronly German Shepherd shook a few droplets of melted snow from her coat and circle sat at the hooves of the old horse.

The cat stopped by the kennel-”

The two mares whickered softly at the mention of the orange tabby. His reputation was checkered at best, being an animal that moved freely between Farm and Forest.

-and told me he had heard… things. Things too damning to ignore. Can you tell me, Lord of Work… can you tell me, is it true that the rats have invested the Farmhouse?”

The matronly German Shepherd waited for his answer. She actually held her breath to prevent an anxious whine from escaping her snout, and after a time he responded:

Who can know… the dealings of rats… though I am… certain… it does fall… well within the… bounds of the likely.”

All at once the matronly German Shepherd let out her held breath and with it a low growl so menacing that the two mares crow hopped in fright and a guard horse stuck his long nose through the entryway, laying a single eye on the scene. The old workhorse was unperturbed. The matronly German Shepherd got to her paws and shook out her shaggy fur.

Indeed. It is as I feared then. Tell me, Lord of Work, what do you plan to do? Surely we cannot let this injustice stand…”

The old workhorse stood silent for a long while be for snorting through his large nostrils.

Injustice not only stands… it scampers to and fro… with complete… abandon… on this Farm. We, the horses… have elected to… erect a wall… between what we hold… and what we loathe.”

But, but… you cannot just-”

Cannot… you say..? Pray tell me… Lady Dog… what I cannot…”

It was rare for the old workhorse to interrupt anything, and this caused fear to creep into the heart of the matronly German Shepherd. She dropped down to her belly and whined her remorse. She had not come to the horses to make more enemies.

Rise, Lady Dog… but remember your… place.”

I shall, Lord of Work, and I do apologize. It is only that much has changed, so much more than I realized. I respect your decision, and I hope you will respect mine, for it is beyond my capacity to give up. I have spent too long tucking my tail, and in so doing I have let the pigs be poisoned by the chittering of those vile rats. I beg your leave, oh Lord of Work, and may the Farmer look after you and yours.”

The old workhorse lowered his head to her level and gently lipped her ear. If she were capable of tears, a single drop for all that had passed between the two would have stained the hay beneath her paws. She turned and left the main stable and, with a burst of surprising speed, bounded off a bale of hay and vaulted the wall before the gate could be opened then disappeared into the dark and frigid night.

It is so very easy to fall asleep and so very difficult to wake again.

The Farm and the Forest (Part V)

~5~

Things Begin to Unravel

In the days following the meeting, an air of hopefulness and possibility pervaded the Farm. All of the animals took to their chores with gusto, even the Farm birds. Harvest was approaching and all of the best crops were ripening. The silo would soon be filled and the reserve stores thereafter. The horses had not been pleased with the outcome, but their loyalty was to the Farm, so they lowered their heads and worked harder than ever to make good on the promise of more rations for all. Everything did seem to be getting better. But the misgivings in the heart of the matronly German Shepherd did not dissipate. She pushed the youngest pups even harder to learn the Rules and maintain constant vigilance in protecting the boundaries and upholding the laws.

So when the elation wore off, the problems that began to crop up centered around the actions of the dogs. The geese were the first to shirk their duties. With the predicted surplus came a general lazy attitude which was exacerbated by the new Forrest geese who were never fond of any kind of work that did not seem to directly benefit themselves, and even that grudgingly. Things were made worse when two of the new Forest geese were mauled by a zealous young pup. They were not a part of the first wave of new members, and were caught breaking into one of the surplus sheds. One died immediately, and the other a day or so later. The geese and chickens raised a clamor, calling for the young pup’s hide, or at least a shredding of his ears so that he would carry with him the rest of his days the punishment of his reckless and bigoted violence. In the end, the pigs could not risk offending the dogs, but the pup was publicly shamed and new restrictions were placed on all of the dogs. The pigs put it to a vote and henceforth all dogs were under strict instructions to capture any offending animals, be they Farm or Forest, with as little violence as possible, under pain of public humiliation and a revocation of status as defenders of the farm.

And this is when the problems began to pile up in earnest. The geese now felt entitled to wander whenever and wherever they wanted. The dogs, afraid of earning the displeasure of the pigs, did little to stop them. This in turn signaled to the other Farm animals that they too could decide their own hours of work and play. As the numbers of animals milling about at all hours increased, so to did the incidences of brave foxes and brazen coyotes snatching away the young and slow of wit. Again, hue and cry was raised against the dogs for falling down in their responsibilities. The Farm animals demanded better strategies for combating these gruesome raids but would not hear of any limitation on their freedoms. The dogs redoubled their efforts, increasing patrols at night which began to take a toll on their stamina and morale.

The next major incident was when a group of geese comprised of both Farm and Forest birds stomped a number of ducklings to death for encroaching on their space. The matronly German Shepherd demanded blood for this crime, but the pigs were afraid of instigating more violence towards the ducks, so the whole thing was covered up with a story about a dreadful mistake and a light remonstration of the ducks for the lackadaisical management of their young. The geese grew ever more rebellious and haughty and demanded a new pen be set up specifically for them as just recompense for their historic suffering. This required a great amount of effort and supplies so the other animals rejected the proposition. Not to be deterred, the geese went on strike, trumpeting about housing injustice day and night. They even went as far as smashing their own eggs in protest. To quell the rebellion, the pigs ordered the pens be built. As they were quite obviously the victims, the geese were excused from the labor and the work fell largely to the ducks and chickens. Neither of these two cohorts were very capable at craftsmanship, so a mishmash of poorly thought out structures blossomed like toadstools in the avian section of the Farm. This was bemoaned by the geese, but they refused to participate in the construction in any meaningful way, and so the new pens were built, though in truth they would be more accurately described as Piles.

Late one day in autumn, a violent thunderstorm blew in and wrecked one of the reserve sheds. The morning after found precious food scattered hither and yon with geese, chickens, sheep, and cows gorging themselves sick until they were run off by the dogs. This of course caused more protests, and what should have been a few days work stretched over weeks with much time and food lost. Skirmishes between the geese and other Farm animals became a regular occurrence. The sheep began to break into sheds for more food. Even with the increased rations, they complained that they were not given enough, at least not as much as the goats and cows were getting, so the pigs decided to bolster the rations for everyone yet again. This did little to tamp down the ever increasing theft of food and the dogs could do little to stop it. It also began to eat into the reserves so laboriously gathered for the coming lifeless cold months.

When the Fall Due was posted, the geese flat out refused to render their portion. Led by the ever increasing numbers of Forest birds, they demanded the right to abstain, saying that it was cruel and unfair to give up a portion of their eggs and old to a Farmer that did nothing for them. Urged on by the whispering of the rats, they began to openly question the existence of a Farmer at all. A rumor propagated that the dogs had made up the legend of the Farmer in a plot to get extra, undeserved vittles. The other animals were of the opinion that if the geese did not have to pay their Due, then why should they? The dogs and horses refused to budge on the matter, and in the end the geese were forced to render, but they did not do so readily. In the night, many eggs were crushed and pails of milk overturned. A few of the older birds even drowned themselves in the Pond rather than wait on the porch for the Farmer to come in the night.

The weather began to turn and the nights grew colder. What should have been a winter of plenty was fast becoming a season of want. Raids on the grain stocks increased as did the skirmishes between the different groups of animals. Night time wandering ceased but only because of the cold and the chances of being dragged off by a predator was higher than even the stolid work horse could remember. The dogs did their best, but there were not enough of them and the new rules hampered their ability to enact common sense safety measures so long taken for granted. When the snow began to fall, it was on a desperate and sullen Farm. Young animals died in their pens and sheds, their carcasses left preserved where they were dragged until starving foxes and coyotes spirited them away under the cover of night. Even on the brightest days of winter, a darkness had settled on the Farm and with it, a deeply seeded foreboding of that which may be yet to come.

It takes no more than a few well pushed pebbles to cause a landslide on any mountain.

The Farm and The Forest (Part IV)

~4~

The Momentous Meeting

The day of the Meeting was heralded by clouds on the horizon with hazy sunlight filtering through. The young farm goose was nervous but confident. He may be asked questions, and he wanted to do his best. He was desperate to be noticed and respected. The geese were assembled in front of the big barn before any of the other Farm animals, rowdily honking and flapping with the chickens round their periphery, squawking and pecking in support. The ducks were there as well, but a sullen silence pervaded their little flock. They were uneasy with the thought of more waterfowl using the pond; the geese were bad enough as things were and if the geese’s motion carried the day, they saw no good coming of it.

On their way to the Meeting, the leaders of the dogs and the horses gathered for a moment behind one of the many sheds on the Farm. It was clear that the horses were nervous, and the dogs’ hackles were on the edge of floofed. The matronly German Shepherd and the stolid Workhorse conferred with each other while their respective lieutenants kept watch.

I see… nothing good… coming of this Meeting, Lady Dog. These geese… have forgotten their… station. I know not the… laws, nor is it a horse’s place to… but I do know that… for the Farm to work… as it should… the order of the animals must be… unquestioned. Do you… agree?”

His plodding conversational style was aggravating to most dogs, but the matronly German Shepherd was well aware of the wisdom trapped within those pauses.

I agree, Lord of Work. We all have a purpose, and our place is defined by that purpose. We dogs guard the Farm, the horses grow the Farm, and the geese are supposed to support the Farm. This new goose… he brings dissension and discord to the fowl. Maybe it is time for the dogs to stand up and be heard.”

The stolid workhorse considered her words, and after a long silence nodded slowly, twitching his ears in discomfiture.

You may be right… but I… shudder at the… thought… of such a… breach of precedent…”

The dog felt uncertain, for she too was nervous about breaking protocol.

Yes, I feel the same, but we are living in strange times. Let us be wise and measured, Master Horse, as is our way since time immemorial. Let us go before there is gossip, of which I am sure the rats would have nothing to do with.”

The stolid workhorse whickered his amusement, though he did cast his long and slow glance about him as he walked off with his mares. The matronly German Shepherd whined to her two pups and began trotting to the meeting. Underneath the shed, the youngish rat sat cleaning her whiskers.

Gossip indeed. Clever girl.”

All the animals of the Farm were arrayed in the clearing in front of the big barn. The cows, sheep, and goats milled about together on the fringes, bored and disinterested with the humdrum of these meetings. The horses stood together in stoic silence. The dogs held station on the edges of the crowd, with a line of their most formidable in front of the speaking spot. Up front and dead center were the flocks of geese, chickens and the contingent of reluctant ducks. The rabbits and mice were absent, but they almost never showed up for anything, enjoying instead the pleasure of the company of their kin in shadowy corners. With a firm nudge to the door and an officious grunt, the oldest of the pigs led his kin out of the big barn and into the clearing in front of the assembled animals, with the rats scurrying around their hooves. Once the pigs and rats were settled, the oldest pig perfunctorily invoked the goodwill of the Farmer before giving the floor to the younger pig that had convened the council. He snuffled briefly, hoofed at the dirt, and then raised his snout and addressed the animals, quoting the speech of the young farm goose nearly word for word, though he injected heaps of purple prose and grandiose description. He made reference to heroes of old and notable catastrophes overcome. Then he spoke of the happy days grazing just beyond the next pasture. But after the glowing terms about their shared bright future, he led them down a mental path of slow decay and sadness. He warned them of clinging to outdated traditions and blind faith in a Farmer no one ever really saw. This definitely unsettled many of the animals, and the pig sped up his pace. He finally reached the climax of his speech by imploring the animals to save the future for all of their progeny by ushering in a new era of openness, a spirit of welcoming, and of course, bigger food rations for all. When he finished, the geese nearly did themselves in with cheering. The chickens ran around mad with elation and, sensing a real danger in not agreeing, the ducks pretended to be equally happy, indeed, they strove to be the loudest and most elated. The sheep and goats bleated with excitement, as they were very easy to inspire if promised more rations. The cows lowed their approval just to get in on the fun. The pigs raised cheers of adulation and cries for promotion, causing the young pig to blush and puff out his chest, strutting back and forth with pride. The rats feigned polite indifference, but could not keep themselves from twitching their whiskers and playfully nipping each other’s shoulders with glee. Only the dogs and horses were silent.

The votes were cast and collected by the pigs, overseen as always by the rats. It was a scant few minutes before the verdict was announced. Even with the unprecedented dog vote, the decision to begin introducing animals from the Forest carried the day. Almost as if by magic, five new Forest geese were in the midst of the flock of birds, bugling their delight and strutting about with brazen braggadocio. By the time the sun set that day, the total of new arrivals stood at a score of various types of wild geese, a dozen or so rats, two wild hogs, and an indeterminate number of field mice. The ominous hooting of the requisite owls was lost in the din, and not even the dogs spotted the legion of glowing eyes silently surveying the boisterous festivities. The diverse array of creatures on the Farm stayed up late into the night, celebrating their victory over the forces of old and praising the inevitable greatness just around the corner. The horses elected to sleep as a herd in the field tonight, forgoing their usual haunt of the safe and dry stable. A congress was held, but what was decided was unknown, for the only rat that dared get close was smashed into bits, his carcass ground to nothingness in the dirt. The dogs maintained their vigil, but neither partook in nor interrupted the revelry. The matronly German Shepherd walked to the edge of the pond and listened to the cacophony echoing across the pasture. Her heart was broken. She could not help but feel that under her watch, a great evil had been given shelter on the Farm

In the dark, down by the gate, and far from the eyes and ears of any animal, a lone figure on two legs leaned over the fence and took the whole affair in. The Farmer was watching.

Well placed words can lead a crowd in any direction.

 

The Farm and the Forest (Part III)

~3~

All Seems Calm Before a Storm

And so it was that the crotchety wild goose came to be a member of the Farm. The biggest of the farm geese fell all over themselves to earn the favor of the exotic foreigner, retrieving his grain for him and expanding his place in the pen to accommodate his size. Wherever the new goose went, he was followed by a honking crowd of admirers. At the tail of this feathery train, the young farm goose plodded along sadly. It appeared he had been forgotten by his new friend. Whenever he tried to approach the new goose, his bigger brothers would hiss and flap their wings, eager to protect the peace of their new leader as well as their accorded place, and he would retreat to his small spot in the rear of the pen, sinking ever further into angst and self pity. It was not long after his acceptance onto the Farm the crotchety goose began to circulate the notion that his gaggle should be allowed in as well.

Like me, they are big and smart. Like me, they have much to give to the farm geese community, a community long deprived of well deserved consideration. What is more, they are my family. It is cruel and unusual to separate families from each other for any reason. Why, just the other day, one of my dear cousins was dragged off and slain by a fox! A fox, I tell you, which is practically an evil dog! It is more than fair, it is owed my kin! And so I say we should let them in!”

Very soon, all of the geese and chickens were in agreement, though the ducks were quiet on the matter, and tended to stay clumped at the back of the crowd during these meetings. Ducks fear conflict and loud noises. But they were concerned about their place in the pecking order; farm geese were bad enough, but wild geese were even bigger and decidedly louder. The other farm birds paid them no mind. They blustered and bawked and made a fuss. They hemmed and hawed about convening a council and making themselves heard. But bird folk are long on words and short on deeds. As flock creatures they are wary of leaving the pack and standing alone. No one goose or chicken was willing to approach the dogs and demand a meeting with the pigs. Sensing a dissipation of emotion, the crotchety goose became agitated and insolent, hissing and snapping at the farm geese who followed him, which in turn caused them to snip and snap at each other.

One late afternoon, just before bed time, the crotchety goose was down by the pond, pecking at water bugs and feeling sorry for himself.

There is a solution, Mr. Goose, and it is right under your beak…”

The crotchety goose flapped and trumpeted in alarm.

Who said that‽ Who is there‽ Leave me be or I will call the dogs! I’m a member of this Farm, you know!”

A youngish rat crept out of the long grass, surveyed the sky for prey birds and twitched her ears, listening for the plodding pant of a dog. Convinced of her safety, at least for the moment, the rat continued on.

You need a spokesbird, a messenger, to approach the dogs and pigs. We rats are your best friends on the farm. Indeed, it is we that secured your place here.”

The goose lowered his head to eye level with the crafty rodent.

Then why don’t you approach the pigs and dogs, friend rat, and make the cries of the often ignored geese heard?”

The rat, now standing on two legs to seem taller, gathered her scaly tail betwixt her claws and laughed nervously.

Would that I could! And if I could I certainly would! And though I should it’s understood that dogs hate rats because rats are good. So even though a good rat would, a good rat knows she never should!”

The goose was thoroughly confused by this torrent of word and rhyme. The rat, comfortably back in control of the conversation, continued:

Which is to say, this message must come from a goose. And I think, if you’ll think back, that there is, in fact, a perfect goose to carry this message to the pigs. Why, it is none other than the young goose who first helped you in…”

Who‽ Which goose‽ I am here because I am big and smart! I made a place for myself here! I owe no little farm goose any respect or, or, or anything! I owe no animal a thing! I deserve to be here!”

The rat smiled kindly, though her whiskers made a derisive twitch.

But of course, of course, magnificent Mr. Goose. Pay it no mind. I shall find a spokesgoose to carry the message of your kind.”

And with a twitch and flash, the rat was gone. Twilight was fast approaching, and the crotchety goose loathed the admonitions of the guard dogs, so he waddled his way back to his little throne in the goose pen.

Later that night, the rat crept into the goose pen, down the rows of snoozing birds, to the corner where the nearly forgotten young farm goose was trying to fall asleep. He was sad and sore, as no one paid him any mind and he could not find enough fresh straw for his bed. The rat watched him for a bit, then whispered softly into his ear hole.

Eloquent, courageous, young master goose. The time has come to carry the truth. The time is here for you to share the worries and concerns of your people fair. Approach the good king master goose, and offer your support to his just truth. Volunteer to speak to the pigs on behalf of him and all of the geese. Do this and you shall be elevated above all the other farm geese. This. I. swear.”

And with his message sown in the brain of the half drowsed goose, she crept away soft and silent, back to the haunt of her kind.

Morning came clear and bright. The young farm goose awoke, more refreshed than he had felt in days. He had dreamed dreams of grandeur and acclaim, with his very own train of adoring geese following him with love in their hearts and respect in their eyes. The young farm goose roosted a plan in his little bird brain. He knew that the crotchety goose was always late to rise and slow to get his own chores done. He tended to wait for a farm goose to offer to do them for him, and the young goose eschewed his own tasks to be the first in that line. The crotchety goose grunted in half-hearted appreciation at the offer of the young farm goose and promptly went back to sleep. As soon as the young farm goose was done with the extra chores, he went back to the crotchety goose who was circling around a coterie of young lady farm geese, complimenting their feathers. The young farm goose waited until his cousins scuttled off with fits of embarrassed giggles, then approached the prospective king of his kind.

Great and wise goose, I wish to volunteer my beak for our cause! I will carry your wise message to the pigs so that our people may take our rightful place on the Farm!”

The crotchety goose looked down with barely concealed bemusement upon the young farm goose for a moment, then dismissively assented to his request.

I don’t see why not. My ideas are so brilliant that it does not matter if some ignorant farm goose babbles them out to the pigs. The deeper wisdom will shine through. I therefore choose you, no, I command you to bring my message!”

The young farm goose was overjoyed at this fresh opportunity to impress the crotchety goose and raise his stature in the flock. After hastily finishing his own chores, he nervously approached a patrolling dog and requested an audience with the pigs. It was granted to him, and the following day he came before one of the council pigs. As the young farm goose stumbled his way through his memorized speech, the youngish rat whispered deviously into the pigs ear. The pig nodded slowly then interrupted the young farm goose.

Yes, yes, well said young master goose. I have heard enough to become intimately acquainted with the plight of the Forest geese. Indeed, it is a story I know well, and it breaks my heart. I shall convene a council and carry your message to the animals of the Farm. You are a credit to your kind.”

With that, the young pig turned away, followed by the youngish rat who continued to drip honeyed words into his ear.

And so it was that the most momentous meeting of the animals of the Farm was set into motion by a crafty rat, a naive goose, and a misguided pig.

An opportunity for good is an opportunity for evil, and intentions rarely matter.