EVER DECREASING CIRCLES

By Kate Appleyard

At dawn the farmer had pushed him into the animal transporter, already crammed full with squirming pigs, and Harry instantly knew something dreadful, something vastly horrific, was going to happen. He had no way of identifying the threat, but his gut feelings never betrayed him.

Pushed on top of others who unwillingly carried him, he was numb with fear, desperately gulping the putrid air. Death, having neither face nor shape, kept watching those who had succumbed; while every plank inside the lorry carried shuddering despair.

On the road since early dawn, the van was a foul-smelling mess of bloody extremities. Not that it really mattered; demand for cheap cuts had long gone, anything less than perfect would just join the dog-mince.

Harry, confused and panic-stricken, tried to work out why he had to be here. Pictures of home, dearly treasured and filed in his brain like a database, did not let go.

"She'll come and get me," he told himself.

"Of course she will, she always has done," he convinced himself, despite the weird feelings that kept crushing him.

When the van stopped and the side door of the trailer suddenly opened, his muddled brain panicked as he made a dash for freedom. But luck had long since left him. Dipping below the lorryís axle, rough hands pulled him back and a nasty kick returned him to his prison.

"You dirty swine, get back were you belong."

Having made his way through bare marshes, villages and towns, Bert Wilkins told himself no grubby hog would come between him and his meal. Parked up for the night now, he followed the other drivers, knowing that tomorrow that lot would be on a Dover ferry making for the Continent.

All he wanted was hot food and some gossip so, ignoring the water tap by the side of the road, he shuffled towards the service station. No need to water them, they were for the chop. Why make life harder, let someone else take the trouble.

The restaurant threw soft light into the night, giving the adjacent car-park a faintly magic look. Beside the entrance a small, lisping fountain was so soft it was impossible to hear the tinkling water. In the distance a old Norman church, itís back turned to the motorway, looked mildly threatening. It was the sole relic of an earlier settlement. Occasional human noises and muffled animal sounds were fighting an upcoming wind that made the trees whisper like souls in limbo.

Suddenly, three dark-clad figures slid past the shapeless, ageing shrubs strategically placed beside the slip-road. Faces hidden beneath dark balaclavas were ageless, but quick movements suggested fit young bodies. Crouching against the trailerís wheels, they instantly became part of the landscape. The moon disappeared when a few grey-bottomed clouds passed over. It almost looked as if nature supported the goings-on.

When Bert ambled back to his cab, totally unprepared for a scuffle, he never even had a chance. By the time he thought of pleading, tape covered his mouth and ropes around his hands and feet parcelled him up like a Christmas turkey. Expecting the worst, he groaned and arched his body when they opened the trailer door.

"Letís see how you like this, shyster," a muffled voice said with a hiss, deliberately ignoring the terrified eyes above the tape.

The course was righteous so they were feeling good; and moments later they were gone.

The next day security men from the service station, puzzled by the static lorry, phoned the police. Two coppers with flushed faces arrived, very moral- looking and physically in command. They took a look inside the vehicle and puked all over their neatly ironed uniforms. A ghoul from the service station, pushing from behind to check out the action, fainted on the spot. Within twenty minutes law and paramedics swarmed the scene. Last to arrive were animal charity workers who separated the dead cargo from those still fit for sale; and all the time Bertís eyes were watching from a body bag.

*****

Work on the farm had finished and the Agar dispersed comfortable warmth through the little kitchen. Serving up three vegetables and a delicious potroast, the woman kept one eye on the television as she dished up. The newscasterís sleek voice was anonymous, void of emotion.

Animal right protesters played judge and jury last night when they pushed the driver of a lorry carrying livestock for the Continent on top of his suffering cargo. Unable to free himself, Bert Wilkins died a horrible death as he suffocated amongst dozens of pigs. Police and animal charities are questioning the owner of a transport firm to find out why the trailer was so vastly overloaded and why most of the animals were hungry and dehydrated. The driverís mutilated body was retrieved by local police, who at this moment will welcome any information from drivers who were parked in the vicinity.

Dumbstruck and frozen with horror, she stared at the screen, unable to take in the rest of the news.

"Did you hear that? Did you hear that? They talked about Bert Wilkins."

"So they did, but thereís nothing we can do. If you canít do anything, leave things be."

Leave things be. How could she? The man was dead and what had happened to Harry?

Whyever had she given the piglet a name?

But he had been so cute. Come to think of it, he had followed her around the farm like a dog. He even sat in the back of the Jeep when she went shopping. And now she had to pay the price for her foolishness.

"Bloody fanatics. Pity the birch has gone, that would teach the buggers," the farmer said, pushing a piece of pork into his mouth. "Bloody animal rights activists, got no respect for the law. Havenít got a clue about efficient use of land or animal farming."

She never even heard him. She was too busy convincing herself that there had been no choice; they needed the money so the animals had to be sold.

*****

A few days later the bells were tolling for Bert Wilkins, making his funeral a truly great affair. His wife had spared nothing, despite the fact it near cleaned her out. Second best was not for her, so four black horses pulled his remains through the High Street. Bertís panelled coffin was a real hit and all the neighbours declared theyíd never seen a better one. Mountains of food, tastefully arranged on white-sheeted tables, made for a multitude of stodgy leftovers that kept the dog sick for days. Booze was plentiful as well, but then this was a classy funeral. Some of his mates got a bit plastered, but Bert wouldn't have minded, he would have seen the funny side.

His son, the one who had identified the body, moved restlessly amidst contented mourners. A sleepless night had pushed him close to breaking point; nevertheless, he forced himself to mingle and smile at people he had not seen for years. And all the time images of his fatherís body tantalised him. Pictures of gaping holes where once Bertís ears and nose had been refused to leave him. The mortuary had not even bothered to camouflage the peculiar marks that looked like fading hickeys.

He got the kiss of death from a few dozen porkers, he thought, shuddering.

The telephone jolted him out of his reverie and, swallowing some pills, he was grateful they at least kept his stomach below his belt.

Later, when everyone had gone, he joined his mother for tea. A sure remedy for all ills and a never-failing pick-me-up, two cups and four cigarettes later, the future looked better. Mum even checked his fatherís insurance and decided to phone the lawyer early next day. No point being sentimental, life was hard enough and she had to get used to living on her own. Still, she was not bad looking and given the right light she still had a bit to offer.

In the meantime, Harryís confused spirit hovered over the supermarket, giant freezers, watching the body that was his. They had wrapped him into a clear shiny shroud, but why? He knew the place quite well; had she not taken him there many a time?

There was nothing wrong with his memory, but the rest, well, he wasnít sure.

When the electric stun gun had touched his gut all feelings blunted, but they had not completely gone. Suspended by his back legs, still able to scream his terror into the slaughterhouse, he only became silent when the metal blade slit his throat. Moments later he choked on his blood.

But that was the past, much better to watch the shop doors. He did not want to miss her, it simply would not do.

When she eventually entered, the manager wormed his way towards her.

"Porkís on special offer this week. Lovely cuts to be had," his suave voice informed her.

A perfunctory smile around her mouth, eyes momentarily troubled by memories, she nodded and made for the freezers.

Thatís when Harry knew he was going home.



Copyright © 2000 Kate Appleyard