Two excerpts from forthcoming ambient track, ‘Court of the Centipede’

Two new, short promos are now available from my forthcoming, ambient track, ‘Court of the Centipede.’

The first excerpt (0:30) was recorded before mixing, and can be listened to here; the second clip (0:35), recorded after mixing, can be found here.

Hard-Hearted

by Gale Acuff

I want to go to Heaven when I die 

to tell God and Jesus how full of it 

they are, scheming up history that we 

ordinary folks here on Earth never 

made but the Father and the Son claim we did, 

free will it’s called, I confess I’ve got some, 

but not enough to choose to end the Cause 

of it all and everything else I might 

be leaving out out of ignorance or 

stupidity or both but then again 

God read minds better than Santa Claus so 

He surely knows what I’ve been thinking and 

think now and will think–Hell, He knows it all 

just like He planned it. Let my people go

 

Mr. Acuff’s work has appeared in Ascent, Chiron Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Poem, Adirondack Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, Slant, Nebo, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry, all from BrickHouse Press: Buffalo NickelThe Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.

Strawberry Moon

“If you don’t find the fern by morning, you’ll turn into a goat.”

Eduards shook his golden head, “Sure…”

“You will.”

“That’s not one of Uncle stories. You just made that up.”

“Don’t worry. I know a witch that can turn you back,” Audra declared raising her thick, black brows.

The children scrambled over the bracken floor, backlit, as the trees, by the sanguine hues of the great strawberry moon.

“I’m not going to turn into a goat.”

“Yes you are. You can’t find it.”

“Haven’t even got to where the ferns grow, yet.”

“Doesn’t matter. Hasn’t Uncle told you the story of the fern flower?”

“No.”

“The fern flower can’t be found in company.”

Eduards stopped and turned to the young girl, with a puzzled expression.

“Ferns don’t have flowers.”

“They do. They’re just invisible. That’s what uncle said. Said they only appear tonight, June 24th. Will be the 25th soon.”

“If fern flowers are invisible, then how does Uncle know about them?”

Oniria

By Iliana Vargas (translated by Toshiya Kamei)

§


A seahorse poked his bluish snout out of the window.

She asked him if the icy air tasted like plankton and foam.

He soaked his antennae in the coffee she was drinking and drew a cloud of jellyfish on the table.

Electricity in the eyes, she said.

Transparent riddles on your tongue, he said.

She flew after the cloud.

He blew his snout and tattooed in the window a green dream talisman in which Earth gave birth to another planet, and while it was in labor, it guffawed so brutally that with each jolt it expelled lots and lots of humans and other undesirable beings, offering them to the fiery jaws of the universe.


§

Iliana Vargas was born in 1978 in Mexico City, where she still lives today. She is the author of the short story collections Joni Munn y otras alteraciones del psicosoma (2012), Magnetofónica (2015), and Habitantes del aire caníbal (2017).

Do They Play Chess In Heaven?

For as long as he could remember, Jerome Buckle wanted to be a king. “One day,” he told the moon, “I will be a king and I will promote you to the rank of sun.” He read every book about the dark and middle ages he could get his youthful hands on, supplied by his grandfather and, shortly, came to learn of chess. He felt instantly drawn to the aesthetics of the game and endeavoured to learn its peculiar mechanics, the better to extract its mysteries. He played game after game against his grandfather, losing every time. Even after perpetual defeat he refused to give up and one day he took his grandfather’s king, knocking it off the board with a triumphant “ha-ha!” His grandfather smiled and nodded stoically and congratulated the boy and then picked up the chess-piece and placed it gingerly back upon the board.

“That was very good. But you shouldn’t gloat if you win.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize either.”

“Yes, sir.”

On his eighth birthday he came to understand the futility of his desires; he would never be a king. President, he decided, would suffice. He wondered if they let presidents wear crowns…

A month after his birthday, his grandfather didn’t come home from work at the car plant at the usual time. Some hours later a woman came by who Jerome had never seen before, round-faced and cold-eyed. She curtly told him her grandfather was very ill and that he had to go to the hospital. “Cancer,” she said.

Three months later Jerome stood in the city hospital before his grandfather’s bed. He was confused. He didn’t recognize the person on the bed until they spoke.

“Jerome… come here.”

The stranger on the bed held out a long, withered hand. Beckoning. Death himself made corporeal. Jerome knew then that it was his grandfather, this shrunken husk of man, filled over with tubes, lips bluish, bloodless and crusted and even still couldn’t bring himself to move.

A month later he stood over his grandfather’s coffin, fighting back tears. Those tears turned to rain which he watched out the window of the orphanage that had become his new home. He didn’t like it there. No one knew or cared to play chess. Failing to find a worthy opponent he resolved to play himself and spent every sunset and rise at the tiny little desk set up for him in a chair far too large for his tiny frame, clinking the small wooden pieces of his grandfather’s chess set across the board with tactical precision and judicious forethought. He beat his late grandfather and he beat himself and shortly he had a new opponent in Catherine, the cold-eyed woman who had picked him up and driven him to the city hospital. He was told she was to be his guardian. When she walked through the door and knelt before him at his desk he was silent for nearly a minute before he turned and spoke.

“Do you know how to play chess?”

She said she did but that there was no time to play games and, obediently, he went. He followed her until they were at the door of her car and then took off running. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing be he didn’t care for the orphanage nor the woman who was to be his guard and keep.

She let up a howl. He paid no heed. By rise of sun he found himself in the park where his grandfather used to take him. Two old men moved to a table. They were playing chess. Their weathered faces palled by whorling puffs of smoke, eyes cheaply sunglassed against the midday glare. Buckle walked cautiously up behind the pair, like a hunter stalking prey, the sound of his sneakers muted by the gently swaying grass. Aromatic and teeming with a horde of things unseen, nameless and skittering.

“You play?”

Buckle froze behind the aged willow tree he was peaking round. He was confused why the old man with the orange cap, the shorter of the two, would be asking his opponent if he could play the game when it was clearly already underway.

“You play, kid?”

The old man inquired again, without turning. Buckle was momentarily taken aback. He considered turning and running, but the man’s kindly tone implored him to stay. Belatedly, he moved fully out and around the tree and stood before the table. Neither man, looked at him. They were focused on their game.

“Yeah. I’m not very good though.”

“Course not. You’re – what?”

“Eight, sir.”

“Polite for your age.”

“Try to be, sir. Looks like you’re winning.”

Finally, the man with the orange cap looked up at the boy and smiled faintly.

“I’d better. Running out of time.”

“Sir?”

The old man with the orange cap paused considering his next words carefully.

“Cancer. You know what that is, kid?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I got it.”

The man with the orange cap smiled wider, revealing crooked teeth, and puffed on his pipe, staring down his friend with triumphant expectation until the tall man shook his head.

“You wily sonnofabitch.”

“Checkmate, Frankie.”

“Damn it. Good game, Joe.”

Joe shook his friend hand and then looked to the kid.

“Hey Frankie, you mind giving up your seat?”

“Sure. Here kid, take a load off. I’m gonna go grab a coffee.”

Buckle took the tall man’s seat and folded his hands on his lap as the old man took a puff on his pipe and looked right and left and then back to the kid.

“Where are your parents?”

“They went out to eat.”

“They don’t mind you being out here?”

“Nah.”

“You wouldn’t be lying, now would you?”

“Nah.”

Buckle moved his leftmost pawn up a square as a bird swooped down from the sky and began pecking furiously at the ground. Shortly, the avian withdrew a long, thick, wriggling worm, took a few hops and fluttered off into the breeze.

The old man took his turn and then leaned back and followed the child’s eyes.

“My names Frank. Whats yours?”

“Jerome.” He was focused on the board, on the shimmering wooden forms. He imagined them alive and rattling steel and roaring as they trampled their foes beneath their ruthless, clattering heels.

They went back and forth, back and forth until at last the old man won. Buckle looked down at the table, ashamed of his inferiority.

“Hey, don’t look so glum. You gave me a run for my money.”

Buckle looked up and when he did he didn’t seen an aged-ruined man in the twilight of his life, but a mighty warrior, clad in shimmering male. He nodded to the old man. He was right. He had given him a run for his money. A storm began to brew and the willow whipped up a song whereupon the boy looked off into the gathering outer dark and thought of his grandfather.

“Mister, you think they play chess in heaven?”

The old man thought on that a moment and then shook his hoary head.

“Gods only play with dice.”

Permitless

The crowd murmured nervously as the interior minister of Cyberflow Control shook his hoary head.

“Most unfortunate it had to come to this.”

Psiofficer Caramel pocketed his pulse oscillator and stared down at the rheum-strewn corpse and shrugged.

“He should have known better than to go on opinionating without a permit.”

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 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.