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Animals Lib

It was, to all appearances, a day like any other. A resolute mist clung to the long grasses by the stream, swirling lightly as the grazing cows ambled through. The sun rose feebly, too low in the sky to have any real effect upon the chill. The birds squabbled and flitted through the newly trimmed hedgerow, and in the distance, a bell chimed the hour in the old clock tower.

The farmer had stumbled from his bed two hours previously, blearily going about his chores, before returning to the crumbling old house for a large mug of coffee and a bacon sandwich. His wife had left for work without setting out the breakfast things or even filling the kettle, as usual. There was nothing about this morning to indicate that it heralded anything other than a normal day. Which was devious, cruel even, given the events that were to follow.

The farmer sat at the table, nursing his mug of coffee and browsing his mail, studiously ignoring the rather insistent looking letter from the bank. The phone rang, making him jump. He glared at it, then pushed his chair back and stepped across the kitchen to answer it.

'Higgins, you bastard!' said the gravelly voice of Ned Ennis, a neighbouring farmer.

Higgins blinked. Relations between the two men had been cool since the summer fair, where Ennis had been accused of using illegal products to enhance the sheen on his bull's horns, but such a greeting suggested an escalation in hostilities.

'You low, stinking, devious, thieving wretch!' continued Ennis.

'What the bloody hell are you talking about?'

'You know bloody well what I'm talking about!' roared Ennis.

'Listen, you silly old twit, if you've been hitting the sauce again …'

'I haven't been hitting the sauce, you cheeky young bastard! You've gone too far this time. I've called the police on you. I'm not standing by for any more of your mischief!'

With that he hung up, leaving Higgins to stare in utter confusion at the handset. And then his faithful dog bit him on the ankle and leapt through the open top of the stable door. Higgins howled and ran after him, nearly ripping the door from its hinges in his haste.

The sight that greeted him brought him to a shuddering halt. Every chicken, every cat, every calf from the byre, all the dogs and even his daughter's pet goose, were stalking out of the farm yard in a very decided manner.

'Stop!' he shouted, waving his arms ineffectively.

He ran to the front of the procession, trying against all reason to single-handedly block the wide gateway. The animals merely streamed around him and down the lane towards the village. Higgins found himself alone in a very empty, very quiet and, thanks to the passing of such a large quantity of excited animals, very colourful farmyard.

The police car was stuck. It was basically afloat on a tide of animals. The two police officers inside stared out of their windows in horror, the blue lights on the roof flashing dispiritedly. The slow, inexorable flow of animals gently carried them back down the road towards the main village. The driver suddenly remembered himself, snatched up his radio and began shouting into it hysterically. His partner remained mesmerised by the spectacle he found himself caught in.

Small children from the nearby school defied their teachers and raced into the playground to watch as the growing parade of animals filed passed. They waved delightedly at the slowly reversing police car, shrieking happily as the bewildered officers waved back expressionlessly.

Three farmers raced down the lane after the animals, slipping and skidding on the dung-strewn tarmac. One of them slipped right over, sliding a good eight feet on his rear before coming to a tangled halt at the school gate.

The headteacher peered through the iron bars at him. 'Geoffrey Biggs, I always said you would come to a sticky end!' he sneered at the squirming young man.

Higgins, who had found better traction on the grass verge, strode up and hauled Biggs to his feet. He nodded to the headteacher, then both farmers rejoined the pursuit. The headteacher watched them go with a shaking head, then he bellowed at the children to return to their classes. The children ambled reluctantly back towards the school building, chattering among themselves, oblivious to the headteacher's dangerously escalating blood pressure.

Further down the lane the animal procession was joined by a herd of cows who had, through combined effort and coordinated assault, broken through the five bar gate to their field. A cluster of bewildered sheep were rounded up by one of the sheepdogs and driven from their field via a rather inadequate hole in the hedge. There was some consternation when several became stuck, but a dog can be a persuasive force, and eventually the sheep all assembled, somewhat shorn, in the lane outside.

It was only at the other side of the village that the plucky animals met with their nemesis. Ennis, his temper having travelled clean through turbulent incandescence into the calm deep waters of cold fury, had driven his Massey Ferguson to the narrowest point in the road and clambered out, holding a shotgun rather pointedly, completely blocking access to all but the slimmest of chickens. The slimmest of chickens, finding themselves alone and suddenly rather vulnerable in the lane beyond the tractor, had speedily turned tail and headed back the way they had come.

It took hours, and in the process a raft of new swear words were added to the local dialect, but the animals were slowly returned to their appropriate homes. Fences were repaired, gates replaced, and multiple locks were added where previously catches had sufficed.

There was much speculation that evening in the local pub about what could possibly have prompted such bizarre behaviour, and agreements were reached, admittedly under the influence, that perhaps the farmers could do well to improve the living standards of their livestock.

Twenty miles away the very same officers, who had so nearly met their end in the swarm of newly liberated animals, were arresting a recently fired employee of the local animal feed suppliers who had allegedly exacted his revenge by adding cannabis to the dry stock.


© 2011 Kay Lawrence.


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