As we swing into fall, I find myself thinking more and more fancifully. This little tale captures a bit of that. Let me know what you think!
“But her babies are only two weeks old.”
“They ain’t babies, Lacy. They’re piglets, and before long they’ll be bacon. Speakin’ of which, where are they?”
“In the hog pen,” she said. Most of them, anyway.
“I wanna see ‘em when I get back, y’hear? And I don’t want any arguments. Any of them runts that ain’t perfect won’t be around long.”
“I’ll see you when I get done butcherin’ this old sow. You just see to them piglets and don’t make a big deal outta it. Understand?”
“Yes, Daddy,” she said. Lacy didn’t move as she watched her father drive the sow into his truck, secure the tailgate, and lurch down the rutted dirt track away from their barn. His destination was no secret, and the knowledge brought tears to her eyes. Lacy had been to the slaughterhouse enough times to know she never wanted to go back.
Her unwillingness to eat meat of any kind gave her soul some peace, but not at home where her father harangued her about it, or at school where the other kids labeled her “weird.” Her long-awaited graduation meant freedom from her narrow-minded classmates. Though she’d once dreamed of college, she knew she couldn’t leave the farm. Not yet, if ever.
No longer under her father’s scrutiny, Lacy hurried to the hog pen to check on the little ones. No doubt, some would be struggling, and their lives would be short. But Lacy refused to abandon them, especially the most severely deformed. These she would shower with affection; even if she couldn’t save them, they needed to know some love before her father butchered them, too.
The pen held all but one of the piglets in the farrow. Lacy smiled just thinking of the fancy word. Her father called them a “mess of pigs,” ignoring any and all naming conventions based on the animals’ age.
Of the eight little pigs still in the pen, two had obvious deformities. Not unusual considering her father’s zeal to breed the animals faster, and to force them to market faster still. There were always mutations. That meant nothing to him; he never showed his livestock at county fairs or auctions. He wanted big, fat pigs he could grow and slaughter in the shortest period of time possible.
His obsession for a quick turnaround from mating to meat-eating caused him to conduct wide-ranging experiments. Some came from legitimate experts in animal husbandry; others came from mysterious sources whose expertise was questionable at best. Lacy’s father didn’t care. He tried anything that might speed up the process–potions, proteins, or prayers. It was all the same to him. The less time he spent breeding, fattening, and killing, the faster his profits grew. He wanted only what worked, no matter if it came from science or magic.
Lacy, however, knew the difference. And she took full advantage of it.
After cuddling the two unfortunate piglets for a while, she returned them to the pen and ventured into the woods which separated her father’s business from civilization. The separation was mandated not only by society but by statute. Pig farms have a distinct aroma, one which can cling to the skin, hair, and clothing of those who live on or near them. Lacy had grown used to the smell, but it still offended town folk and nearly everyone in her school. Hence, the border area.
At first, she took great pains to bathe frequently and launder her clothing with strong detergents and “fresheners.” Over time, she realized the futility of her efforts. She was already disliked; dousing herself in perfume wouldn’t change that. If anything, the aroma of pig shit she bore to school every day helped to keep her tormentors at a distance.
Free from interference, she used her school time to advance her knowledge, if not her formal education. She wasn’t preparing for college; she had a greater goal in mind.
Eventually, she reached her oasis, a ramshackle cabin surrounded by crudely fenced pens. Most of the animals in them hurried to greet her, pressing tight enough against the twig and branch enclosures to loosen a feather, a scale, or hair. Lacy modeled her fencing after that of the ancient Celts whom she’d read about in school. She fed the animals with food secretly “liberated” from her father’s stores. Fresh water came from a small stream which ran through the pens and emptied into a swamp close by the piggery.
Lacy entered the structure, more hut than house, and went directly to the latest member of her menagerie, a perfectly formed piglet save for one distinct feature: a pair of wings which grew from between the animal’s shoulders. The piglet wiggled and squealed at her approach, its little snout aquiver. Lacy knelt down, and the tiny, porcine angel leaped into her arms, eager to bathe her in piggy kisses.
It was a sweet moment but short-lived. For the first time ever she heard the sound of construction vehicles in the distance. Terrified her hideaway might be uncovered by a roving bulldozer, or worse, by her father, Lacy disentangled herself. She hastily fed all the animals, then hurried back through the woods toward home.
She heard her father’s voice, calling for her, well before he came into view. “Coming,” she yelled back and ran faster.
“Where the hell have you been?” he asked when she finally arrived.
She took a calming breath, then said, “It’s a pretty day. I went for a walk.”
“In the woods?”
She nodded, yes.
“Did ya finish yer chores?”
He stared at her for a moment, then shifted closer. Lacy smelled the essence of dead animals emanating from her father’s dirt and blood-stained coveralls. She backed away, holding her breath.
“We got any losers?” he asked.
“Two,” she said. “But I’ll take care of them.” Not that she would enjoy removing the vestigial wings from the two piglets in the hog pen, but if he did it, their chances of survival would plummet.
“Aw right, then,” he said, turning away. “When yer done, get back in the house. I’m gettin’ hungry.”
“Yessir,” she said again, trying to hide her emotions.
He chuckled. “I want pork chops tonight. If you don’t want yours, I’ll eat ‘em.”
She avoided rolling her eyes with a conscious effort. “Um, Daddy?”
“I heard some heavy machinery while I was taking my walk. Do you know what’s going on?”
“The county’s building a road, right through that useless chunk of woods. I ain’t pleased about it, but they paid me a little something for the right of way. I’ve gotta get somebody to harvest the trees though. Oughta make a buck or two from that.”
Lacy’s heart raced. Hoping her father wouldn’t notice, she hurried to the hog pen to perform the surgeries. From past experience, she knew a local anesthetic would suffice. It was all she had. The law required that her father’s animals meet certain minimum health requirements; the standards were upheld by a local veterinarian. She’d learned a lot from him and even assisted with rudimentary surgery.
She often begged him for something to use on the animals she tended. Because she was both earnest and smart, he gave in and provided her with the simplest of supplies: scalpel, surgical scissors, disinfectant, and suture material. That and the anesthetic were all she needed. Over time, she’d become fairly adept at such procedures. She also became adept at giving herself a five-finger discount on his other supplies, which included a vial of pentobarbital, the very stuff used to put sick animals down. She knew just such an animal.
A full stomach had its usual effect on Lacy’s dad, and he fell asleep watching pro wrestling on TV. He woke briefly in response to the needle’s sharp sting, shouting and rising to his feet, but moments later he succumbed to the drug and dropped to the floor. She managed to get his body back into his easy chair, comfortable in the belief the authorities wouldn’t bother with an autopsy.
Finally free of his overbearing, money-grubbing dominance, Lacy set about moving her collection of evolving animals back into the hog farm from which they’d originally come. The little, winged piglet would join the others of his kind, a whole collection of breeds very definitely apart.
Best of all, Lacy would be able to continue her quest to grow a dragon. But first, pigs must fly.