The Fissure

“The gear is missing.”

Sanford Witter cursed under his breath and then again, louder. He turned from the half-disassembled tractor, scoured the matted dirt of the barn and found nothing. Dropping to a knee, the man looked underneath the dull, grist-laden machinery and spied a enormous rat, clutching something between its hideous, oily paws.

Something circular. Something shiny.

The gear.

“Give it back, you sneakin’ sonofabitch.”

The creature let out a loathsome chittering and pranced south into a wide crevice at the base of the foundation. Whitter furrowed his brows, doubly vexed.

Why, he wondered, would a rat take a gear? How could it carry something so heavy with such unnatural ease? And where did the crack in the foundation come from? Had it always been there? No, he shook his head fractionally. Its new. It hadn’t been there last Wednesday. I’m sure of it. Sure of it…

He rose and dusted his overalls off, adjusted his hat, spat and lit up a smoke and stood starring at the darkness that had swallowed his gear.

“Who you yelling at, hon?”

He turned slowly to his wife, who stood at the doorway, arms crossed, brow furrowed; concern overshadowed by heavy wooden trusses and a rising wind from the far plain and the high, hills beyond.

“Nothing. No one,” he replied gruffly.

“Made coffee.”

“Alright. Thanks.”

“Something the matter?”

“Somethings always the matter.”

“Anything in particular?”

“Its… you’re not going to believe this… a rat. Biggest rat I ever seen. Up and took one of my gears.”

“Oh. Ok…”

“See, I told you that you weren’t going to believe it.”

“Its cold out here and you’ve been working all day. Why don’t you come inside for a while? You’re so busy all the time… we rarely just… talk anymore.”

“Whaddaya mean? We’re talking now, ain’t we?”

“That’s not it. Oh, nevermind, nevermind.”

She shook her head and left-off as a chill wind snaked between the boughs of distant trees to shake the foundations of the barn. Witter rolled his eyes and rubbed his temples, heeling the dirt.

“Always something…”

*

In the days that followed the gear-theft, more pieces of mechanical equipment vanished from the barn. More pieces from the tractor. A wrench. A screw. A toolkit. A motor. With every theft, the crack in the wall grew wider. Witter could fit his whole arm, up to his shoulder, in it, but could see nothing within.

Witter, against all the protestations of his higher judgment, suspected the rat, but spied neither hide nor hair of it; either in the barn or in the spreading crevice, which he began to examine regularly with a flashlight.

He set traps laden with peanut butter around the tractor and the fissure in the wall and checked them daily, and every day, found the traps undisturbed.

*

A month later Witter awoke and rolled to wake his wife. She was gone. The imprint of her plump body yet-retained by the soft fabric of the covers. Witter frowned and pulled on his slippers and robe and rubbed sleep from his murky eyes and ventured downstairs.

“Hon? Martha?”

Room after room reverberated with the muted patter of plastic soles heeling against carpeted wood. Room after room he found nothing. Whenever she got up she showered and made tea and smoked her hickory pipe and read the paper with the TV on. This she would do, barring periods of illness, without fail.

Where’d she get to? She ain’t supposed to be going anywhere today. Least… she didn’t tell me she’d be leaving. She’d have said something if she were. She always says something. Nagging. Complaining bout my work. No… she’d have said something.

He threw on a pair of pants and a t-shirt and made for the drive. The car was sitting where it always had. He moved to the barn and screamed at what he saw.

Martha—dragged towards the fissure by the rat, which had grown considerably in size—clawed the padded dirt floor, blood spilling from broken fingernails.

“Martha! Hold on.”

The rat stepped on to one of the traps laid before the fissure and howled, momentarily releasing the terrified woman, who, gasping, threw herself blindly toward the door.

Witter seized an adjustable wrench from the weight-bar at the front of the tractor and ran forth with the sleek hunk of metal raised and brought it down upon the rats head. The creature shrieked, a small path of blood forming in bluish pulse beneath skull’s skin.

“Die, you sonovabitch!”

He brought the wrench down, harder this time, and heard a sickening crunch and felt the beast fall still beneath him. The horrid monster’s head gushed with frothing charcoal-colored rheum which hissed upon contact with the floor and ascended to the sky like strips of charred paper.

Witter released the wrench and took a step back, eyes wide, mouth open. Trembling.

“What on earth…”

The creature’s skull cracked open, like a paper mache balloon, wider and wider, as two steely claws emerged and rent the cranial cavity like as the fissure in the wall. From the depths of the chasm, crawled a rat. The mammal grabbed the wrench and swiftly dragged it into the head-hole of the carcass and vanished within the amniotic null.

When Witter’s eyes wandered to the fissure on the wall.

It was gone.

He turned to Martha and found her lying on the floor with a bloody wound to her skull. Her left eye, distended on its stalk, crustacean-like in the kindling light, which glinted off the small, cyclical gear, tightly clutched in her stiff, right hand.

The Farm and the Forest (Part VI)

~6~

A New Day Dawns

The winter had been long and grueling. More than a few animals on the Farm had succumbed to the cold or shortages in rations. Others had been dragged off in the twilight hours by the ravenous animals of the Forest who always struggled in the cold months and became frantic in their search for sustenance. As if this were not bad enough, internecine violence had exploded within certain groups of animals. The geese, their ranks bolstered by the growing numbers of wild geese crowding in from the Forest, had become particularly self destructive. Most of the Forest geese fled south for the winter, but the change in the Rules inspired the craftiest, and laziest, of their number to move onto the Farm instead. Even with all of the troubles plaguing the Farm, it was still a far and away better life to live in pens, receive any kind of ration, and sleep somewhat soundly under the watchful eyes of the dogs. This influx pushed the accommodations to the breaking point, which in turn caused unrest among the geese who unleashed their angst on the neighboring chickens and ducks. Birds are quick to anger, and it never took much for violence to break out, particularly at feeding times.

One bright and bitter morning, as a service sheep was filling the feeding troughs of the birds under the less than watchful eye of a shivering, young pig, a perturbed Forest goose bullied his way to the front of the line. He was larger than any of the ducks or chickens and with hisses and honks he forced a gap that a gaggle of other geese quickly sought to exploit. The service sheep, who had never felt like he was accommodated adequately for the job with which he was tasked, elected to just dump the entire bag of morning ration in a pile and skeedaddle on to safer pastures. This caused a feathered frenzy as every bird lunged towards the fast shrinking lump of feed. The pig tasked with overseeing the fair distribution of rations squealed in dismay and remonstration, but the three flocks ignored his protestations so he beat a hasty retreat to a less violent corner of the farm for propriety’s sake. The battle began in earnest when the mound had been dispersed and trampled. The geese formed a ring around what was left of the scattered seed and used their size and ferocity to great effect, beating back the uncoordinated assaults of the chickens and ducks. Having been rebuffed, they turned on each other in an effort to capture what few morsels the geese were not defending. It was a terrifying many minutes before a brace of dogs and a horse finally quelled the riot.

The tally of casualties stood at four dead ducks, a dozen dead chickens, and more than a few hovels completely destroyed. Even after the fighting had stopped, the triumphant geese refused to give up any seed. The guard dogs were incapable of reasoning with the geese on one side and were equally unsuited to calming the wrath of the aggrieved chickens and ducks. The horse who had helped stop the violence hoofed off to find a pig, leaving the two dogs as the only level heads in the bunch. Unseen in the corner, a youngish rat crept quietly in amongst the geese. She bode her time, waiting until she found the legs of the original boisterous goose that had started the whole fracas, then bit him viciously on the webs and belly. The boisterous goose trumpeted wildly in pain and anger and proceeded to strike out at any bird within range. This caused the conflict to boil up once more, only now it was in the presence of two dogs who were already at the limit of their natural tolerance. They were trained to keep order through barks and nips, but they were evolved to rip and rend. As the battle was joined anew by the chickens and ducks, who were still ravenous from their slumber and seeking to break their fast at almost any cost, the dogs saw no recourse but to wade in and put down the riot by any means necessary.

Their work was quick and brutal. They snapped the necks of the three biggest geese and mangled a handful of both chickens and ducks. The carnage served to quell any baser motivations of greed or hunger and the three separate flocks segregated themselves in abject fear and horror, their lamentations rising louder than their battle cries. When a handful of pigs and a coterie of rats finally made it to the scene, the sight was grim. It looked as if blood mad wolves had tore into the flock of innocent and starving birds. More than a few of the pigs wretched in disgust as the rats made a show of investigating each and every corpse repeatedly, lapping at the weeping wounds and poking into the rent carcasses. No one noticed the addition of an extra rat to their number as they were all coated in the syrupy blood of the unwitting sacrifices. The death toll now stood at three geese, thirteen ducks and almost a score of chickens. The two guard pups, their muzzles covered in blood, feathers, and down, sat at attention as they were trained. The pigs could not bear to look them in the eye, being cowed by their potential violence, and were given over to frantic whispers with their rat compatriots. The matronly German Shepherd was sent for, as well as more horses. The hullabaloo had caused a crowd of Farm animals to gather and, having no background information to go on, they began to speculate wildly as to what in fact had occurred. By the time the matronly German Shepherd had arrived, the rumors of near rabid dogs going on a murderous rampage had spread to every corner of the Farm, causing hue and cry to be raised against this grave injustice perpetrated by the violent dogs against the poor, starving flocks of geese, chickens, and ducks. A council was quickly convened in front of the Big Barn.

This is bad, very bad. These two pups have violated every code and custom we hold dear on this blessed Farm. Their carnivorous evil cannot be tolerated. The pigs have decided that an example must be made. They must be executed forthwith if any semblance of law and order is to be maintained. Of course you understand that we the pigs, as peaceful and just leaders, cannot carry out this sentence, so it falls to you and your ilk to do what it appears you relish in… that being murder most foul.”

The rats did not even attempt to hide their amusement at the less than clever wordplay. The other pigs all murmured their agreement. In the distance, the geese were still trumpeting their despair. The matronly German Shepherd slumped to her belly in complete disbelief.

This… this is not the way of things. We have Rules here, and these pups deserve a fair chance to-”

A fair chance‽ As fair a chance as the poor, starving geese had when they were attacked by the greedy ducks‽ As fair a chance as all the birds had against two blood mad, wolfish mongrels hellbent on murder most foul‽”

The youngish rat, now clean from the blood that had coated her snout to tail, stood on two paws with her tail keeping her propped up as she excoriated the matronly German Shepherd with her shrill rhetorical inquiries. The pigs murmured their assent to this sentiment, and the matronly German Shepherd could do nothing more than pant and whine in frustration and confusion. She had been overwhelmed by events and her iron allegiance to tradition and hierarchy left her ill equipped to handle the overwhelming sorrow that had overtaken her simple mind. She was left to act on her instincts, and chief among them was her instinct to obey. So she rose to her paws and lowered her head in supplication.

I… I will do as I am commanded. If the Rules say that murder is required, then murder I shall provide.”

She bowed her head again, and with a yip she loped away to the kennel where the two guard pups were being detained by their kin. As they matronly German Shepherd approached, the rest of the dogs rose at the ready.

What shall it be mother? Who shall be held responsible for those damnable geese and their wanton ways?”

We… we are… we are ordered to execute the Farmer’s justice, and we shall do as we are commanded to…”

They assembled dogs barked and bounded in elation, for it is always a dog’s greatest pleasure to follow a command for the good of the pack.

What then, dearest mother? How best can we obey?”

The matronly German Shepherd could only gaze into the unfeeling depths of the cold and distant Forest as she issued her command:

Fall upon your brothers and wring their necks until they are dead. Do it now and make no delay.”

And in the way of their kind, the pack did as they were ordered. The two guard pups keened in despair and rolled belly up in submission which only served to hasten their demise. When the grim deed was done, the matronly German Shepherd and one of her sons grabbed the corpses by the scruff and dragged them to the front of the Big Barn. The pigs and rats were waiting there, as well as a large crowd of other animals, both Farm and Forest. When the bodies were cast down before them, a cry of joy and righteous indignation rose up from the assembled. In unison, the pigs and rats intoned:

Justice has been done.”

The two dogs began to slink away, but they were halted by a command from one of the younger pigs.

Halt! Stand fast and accept the wise and just judgment of the leaders of this Farm.”

The matronly German Shepherd turned and sat, and her son rolled onto his back, belly exposed and tongue lolling.

Forthwith, the dogs of this Farm will no longer be the keepers of the peace. In their stead, the horses and goats shall keep the peace. The dogs are to stay in their kennels for the safety of the Farm. The dogs are to sit in quiet contemplation of their murderous inclinations. Perhaps in time they will seek to progress to a higher level of peaceful coexistence. Begone, curs, and see that you obey or there will be greater and more grievous sanction rendered. Of course, it is still the responsibility of the dogs to defend the borders of our great and good Farm, but they must do so in accordance with the reformed Rules. As such, they may only patrol at night. And they must avoid, at all costs, any temptation to bring harm to peace loving animals, whither they hail from Farm or Forest. Go now, and do not disobey. Flee!”

As ordered, the two dogs fled, their tails between their legs. After their exit, the pigs waited for the hubbub to die down, then ordered the rest of the animals back to their quarters. When only the pigs and rats remained, a secret council was instated. The pigs discussed the particulars of how the running of the Farm would continue with the dogs absent from the bulk of their traditional duties. The rats listened in silence, twitching their whiskers.

This is terrible, simply terrible. Slavish brutes though they be, the dogs did serve an important purpose in the running of this Farm. Who now will protect the peace should honest and understandable disagreements arise?”

Why, the horses will have to finally pull their weight around here. Yes, and the goats too. Why, a goat can be a fearsome beast. I mean, they do have horns after all.”

Indeed. The goats and horses, then, shall be tasked with keeping our great and good Farm safe and civil. Of course, if we have need of them, it is certain the dogs will come when called. They always do.”

The pigs continued back and forth like this for quite some time. The rats listened intently but made no statements, least ways not to any of the pigs. In quiet whispers to each other, they made note of the proceedings. Occasionally, one or two would slink off on some task even as others appeared with whispered news of this or that. In the midst of it all, the big fat rat sat stone still, the youngish rat at his side, slowly preening her whiskers in silence. After much bombastic discourse, the pigs found their way to a conclusion and declared the secret council adjourned. They went on about their day, each to his own little fiefdom, leaving the rats to their own council. They gathered in a close circle around the big fat rat, awaiting his guidance. The youngish rat held her station it his side.

My sibling-children, the great work set before us would be daunting to a humbler and less canny race than we. Our deep history of wandering and injustice at the hands of mongrel mutts is coming to an end. A brave, new world awaits all animals of the Farm. Though we have accomplished so much, this is only the beginning. Evil forces hide within the midst of this Farm, biding their time, waiting to strike a blow against peace and equality. We must remain steadfast and resilient, for change does not come naturally to the simple races. It is our solemn duty to carry these poor, ignorant creatures into the light of a new day. You know what must be done. Go now, and continue the good work that has been started.”

To a rat they scattered to the four corners of the Farm, but the big fat rat remained, stock still like the statue of a rodent from ages past. He slowly cast his glance about him, taking in all he could see. A dark greed welled up inside him, making his beady eyes flash red. He bared his sizable teeth and spoke quietly to the youngish rat, still loyally at his side.

The farm is ours to lose, daughter. See that we do not.”

It has been said that for evil to triumph, the good need only remain idle. In truth, all the evil need are a few of the good to blindly obey.

 

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.

THE FARM AND THE FOREST (PART II)

~2~

Discussing the Way Forward

Now see here, dog. I know very well the Rules of the Farm. What is more, I know why we have these rules. But this is the modern age, and in these times we must consider carefully this issue before us, no matter how strange it may seem.”

After the officious pig finished, the young hound lowered his head and went back to his station with the other dogs standing guard in front of the animals assembled in the clearing before the big barn.

Now, young master goose, tell me again why you believe this foreigner should be welcomed into our midst…”

A rat crouched quietly next to the pig, idly preening her wiry whiskers.

Mr. P-p-pig, I just think that if maybe we had an exotic goose of his stature and smarts it would only improve the lot of the Farm geese. We are smart and strong, but he is smarter and stronger!”

The assembled animals talked with their kin in low murmurs. At these meetings there was a natural segregation of the farm animals; like stood with like. The geese raised a clatter of support with much honking and flapping. Cries of “Bigger!”, “Exotic!”, and, “More smarterer!” rang out from their assembled flock.

Calm and silence will be had! Settle yourselves, animals of the Farm.”

The matronly German Shepherd slowly swung her snout back and forth after speaking, surveying the assembled animals, her low and steady growl paring the susurrus to silence. She had deep misgivings about this whole affair, and her heart of hearts urged her to quell this silliness immediately, maybe even going as far as wringing the neck of the big foreigner until he was dead, if she could catch him. But she knew her station and respected the law. When order was restored, show bowed her head in respect to the pig, who continued:

Young master goose, have you any more to say?”

The pig was stern, but there was no malice in his grunt. The young goose lowered his head, signaling that he had said his portion.

Very well. Go about your day, animals of this great and good Farm. We of the leadership shall deliberate for a time, then we will reconvene later. Go on then. Young pups, escort everyone back to their rightful places, please.”

The younger dogs sprang into action, yipping as they nudged the animals away from the clearing in front of the big barn. Soon, the only farm animals left were the chief three of the pigs, the dogs, the horses, and the rats.

I think… we should move to… The Porch.”

The workhorse was by far the largest creature on the Farm. His word carried immense weight, not only because of his labor, but because he was a wizened old hoof and had seen many years on the land. Nonetheless, this suggestion caused a small stir.

Would that be… acceptable to you… dog of the Farm?”

The matronly German Shepherd had a primal fear of a creature so large, but she was smart enough to bury that emotion.

Yes, oh lord of labor. I think the Porch is exactly where we should go. This is a matter of the greatest import. The all seeing eyes of the Farmer will be a blessing on this process.”

The rats rolled their eyes at the invocation of the Farmer, and one of the pigs went as far as to make a ill suppressed snort, but they all trooped over to the L shaped plank board porch and took their places. The horses stood nearby, idly cropping the tender shoots of shadow grass growing around the Porch. The rats made to creep up to the windowsill, but after a low growl from one of the dogs, they changed their course and gathered together on an old end table and preened each other’s fur, casting quick, malevolent glances at the three dogs now splayed and panting on the rug in front of the door. Once the pigs had clattered into place and knelt down on their hocks, the discussion began anew. The youngest of the three pigs started:

Well, I for one think this is an opportunity to bring the Farm even further into the future. It is no secret that the farm geese are… well… well they aren’t the sweetest slop in the trough. It seems to me that introducing some wild down into the flock would only add good things to the Farm.”

The rats squeaked their agreement, whispering to each other quickly. Another of the pigs nodded slowly and spoke.

That may be so, but it is still an unprecedented idea. In fact, one could even say it is a bit of a violation…”

It is a direct contravention of the Rules of the Farm,” snorted the female horse that had lifted her head as the first pig was speaking. After swinging her gaze from each of the assembled farm animals, she continued.

I do not say it is a definite bad thing, for I know very little of the idle labors of thinking, and I do not understand many of the Rules, but I do know that obeying the Rules has brought the Farm to where it is, and if the Rules say no outsiders, well, I am for the Rules. This I say for me, and all the other horses. We are agreed.”

By the time she had finished speaking, the other horses had raised their heads and ceased their cud chewing. Their large eyes were cold and certain. The matronly German Shepherd spoke next.

It is customary for we, the dogs, to not vote. It is for us to protect and to serve and to slay as the Rules and the animals of the Farm require. But I feel the need to say that this is not just a contravention of the Rules. It is a perversion of the ways of our beloved Farm. We should not, we cannot, allow outsiders such as these foreign geese into our midst. They do not know the Rules. They have no sense of our customs, and I feel it in my paws that they will cause disruption amongst the flocks. This is what my heart tells me. Regardless, we dogs abstain, as is customary and proper.”

The chief dog laid her head on her paws and waited to hear what the others would say in response to her admonition. Her two grown pups whined softly and nibbled at her scruff, a sign of adoration and respect in the manner of their kind. The second pig to speak nodded graciously at the matronly German Shepherd.

Well said, well said, sister dog. And much of what I feel is in agreement. To take this step would be a drastic change in precedent and custom. But I must say that we pigs feel, and the rats tend to agree, that it is time to bring the Farm into a more modern age. There is so much potential lurking in the Forest by the Farm, totally wasted on wandering and scrabbling for pitiful scraps. Imagine, friends, just imagine what we could accomplish once the wilds have been tamed and cultivated! Yes, the geese are rowdy and, dare I say what we all feel, a rather lazy bunch, but their down is priceless and their eggs are fat. We all know the Farmer looks favorably upon their Due. How could it be a bad thing to have fatter eggs and, er, downier geese? So we of the pigs say that this bold endeavor should be our course. This makes it three for yes, three for no, and three abstentions. Now, we will hear from the rats.”

An arrow of misgiving pierced the heart of the matronly German Shepherd. Had her deep respect for traditions opened the door to calamity? She had no pretensions of wisdom or forethought, but anxiety crept in, and quickly on its heels, doubt. Maybe the old traditions were failing them, if such obvious evil was so easily accepted. The rats looked at each other quickly, then to the young pig who had put forth the motion who snorted ponderously. They each stood on their hind legs with their noses thrust in the air.

Abstain.”

Abstain.”

…yes.”

Then it is settled. Dogs of the Farm, gather our friends and siblings.”

Generations of obedience overwhelmed the sorrow in their hearts, and the three leaders amongst the dogs bolted away to do as they were commanded. The Horses looked down their long noses at the rats, whickered softly, and turned as one to march back to the clearing in front of the barn. Once they had turned the corner, the pigs swiveled their eyes toward the three rats.

Well rats, you had better be right about this. The dogs and horses are not happy. Are you certain that you can control these… outsiders?”

The largest of the rats, big and fat and darker than the rest, twitched his nose, nibbled an itch on his flank, and responded in the curtness of their kind.

Certain.”

It is a hard thing to see a threat disguised as a blessing, and harder still to convince others of it.

The Farm and the Forest (Part I)

~1~

How It All Began To End

It all started when a crotchety goose and his gaggle of ruffians, hailing from parts unknown, landed in the Pond on the edge of the Farm. The Pond was divided by the fence, leaving a small portion just outside the bounds of the Farm, its bank up against the edge of the Forest. The small flock did not stay long, as a young German Shepherd saw them land. He hollered out to his sister and they both ran pell-mell to the pond, barking loudly and scaring off the foreigners, who flapped wildly up over the fence and into the edge of the Forest. As his gaggle spread out warily looking for seeds and bugs, the crotchety goose surveyed the Farm with malice and jealousy in his heart. He wanted to swim in the pond, gorge on the grain, and find some nice lady farm geese with which to cavort.

A young goose, all white and rather small for his age, watched this kerfuffle unfold with awe and curiosity. He always had to wait in line behind his bigger brothers and sisters for his share of grain. He stayed up late and listened to the whispering of the rats. He hated the dogs and their scary teeth. But most of all, he hated the rules of the Farm. Why should he have to wait his turn for grain? Who were the pigs to tell him where to sleep and when to eat? Why should the horses and sheep tell him where he could waddle? So this young goose was angry, sullen, and lonely, and when the big goose and his wild gaggle landed in the pond, his heart soared. He was too slow to get there before those meddling dogs ruined the fun, so he moved along the fence, hoping to catch another glimpse of the big, tough foreigners.

Just as the crotchety goose was about to turn away, he heard a rather squeaky honk. There was a young farm goose waddling along the fence, bobbing his head up and down excitedly. He made his way slowly over to the fence, wary of any dogs seeing him. The young farm goose hopped from one foot to the other. Unable to contain his excitement, he honked once, then cowered in fear when the big foreigner hissed and flapped his wings in anger.

Quiet, you silly fool! Do you want the wolf dogs to return and chase me away again?”

The farm goose was embarrassed.

I-I-I am sorry, foreigner. Why have you come to the Farm? From where did you come? Oh, I have so many questions!”

The crotchety goose looked down on the Farm animal and sensed an opportunity.

And I may have many answers for you, young one. But to get, you must give and…”

The farm goose was taken aback.

You know of the Rules of the Farm, foreigner?”

Without missing a beat, the crotchety goose continued on haughtily:

I know many things, youngster. I am a wild goose, and we are the smartest of all creatures. If you would like answers, you must bring me gifts of grain and seed. Go now. I will be waiting here after the sun goes to sleep.”

The farm goose shifted nervously from foot to foot.

Um, ah, see… the Rules say no wandering at night…”, the foreign goose looked disappointedly away, wuffling from his nostrils in derision, “But! But, I am the freest of the Farm geese, and I do not follow the Rules, if I do not want. I will bring the grain!”

And with that, the young goose waddle-flopped merrily on his way. Later that night, he snuck out of the goose pen, gathered up some fresh grain and barleycorns, and quietly made his way back to the pond. It took him some time to see the big fellow staring intently at him through the slats of the fence.

Did you bring me what I deserve?”

Yes!”, the farm goose’s loud, squeaky honk caused the foreigner to hiss angrily. Quieter:

Yes. I brought you fresh grains and barleycorns. The best the Farm has to offer.”

As soon as the young farm goose laid down his gift, the foreign goose snapped them up greedily, leaving none for him.

Mmm, delicious. Exactly what I deserve. Now, tell me youngster, are there things you would like to know?”

So many things! So very many things! What is it that-”

The foreigner cut him short.

Then you must find a way to get me a spot in that dreary little hutch you call home.”

The farm goose was nonplussed. Not only was he crestfallen at this unexpected turn of events, he had no idea how he could get a foreign goose a place on the Farm. The crotchety goose stared at the farm goose hard, swinging each eye to look at him in turn, then turned and waddled over to the unfenced part of the pond where his gaggle slept comfortably with their beaks tucked under their wings at the edge of the dark and wild Forest. The farm goose watched him go, then made his way back to the hutch. Narrowly avoiding a young pup on patrol, he snaffled a few more barleycorns and settled down to contemplate as he fell asleep.

Interesting… very interesting…”, a dark, fat rat said quietly to himself before scurrying off quickly to the haunt of his kind.

Sometimes, to get what we want we have to give more than we have.


[Part two coming soon…]

The Brass Rat

The old curio-shop was half buried in the tumbledown tenement, it were as if some arcane force held the cement at bay, differentiated by its diminutive size. The man walked in the door and was greeted by a strange old man, the pawnbroker, who stood at the counter. Pawnbroker nodded, wordless and stoic as statuary. The man looked about the shelves filled with books and baubles, baseballs and baseball cards and trading cards and broken radios, the detritus of dead decades. After some minutes rummaging he chanced upon a glistening statue behind a pile of junk, a brass rat, of relative size. He asked the broker how much it would cost. The broker replied, “$10 for the rat. $1000 for the story behind it.”

“I’ll just take the rat. You can keep the story.”

Pawnbroker nodded and took the money as the rummager left the shop and headed out upon the sidewalk. After a pace he heard a scuttling. He glanced over his shoulder. Nothing. Continuing on he heard the sound once more. Again he turned. A filthy, fat rat scurried up behind him from a sewer drain, squishy, amniotic eyes gazing with bottomless hunger, its movements liminal in the sprawl. The man shooed the furry beast away with a hiss, annoyed and disgusted and left off. A few moments later he heard the scuttling once more and, turning for a third time, beheld ten rats. Fear seized him like an ephemeral vice. Shortly, ten become twenty and twenty became fifty and fifty become a hundred and hundred became hundreds. A chittering mass of claw and teeth and feral desire, the sight thereof pounding his heart’s pistons into manic machinery, ceaselessly sounding behind blood and bone.

The shopper began running now, the little statue tucked under his left arm. He turned sharply and vaulted a fence which let out to the shipping yard adjacent the sea. The rats followed still, their savage increase unabated by time. All their squishy black eyes fixed upon the statue. Realizing this, the man bounded to the edge of the nearest pier and, with a grunt of exertion, hefted the totem in a wide arc, sending it up to meet the sun and down into the briny depths below with a resounding splash. The rats followed without hesitation and spun out into the abyss. Drowning in the vastness of that capricious waste of salt and scale and swirling wetness. The man looked on in shock, the wind then sweeping up as if in mourning of the grotesque affair.

The man returned to the curio-shop and slammed his wallet down upon the counter, his eyes intense, fearful and filled with yearning. Pawnbroker met his gaze.

“I take it you’ll be wanting to hear that story now?”