It’s no secret that all across the country there is farmland. It stretches from the fertile river plains of the East, through the towering cornfields of the Midwest, all the way to the great plains of Montana and Wyoming and the potato fields of Idaho.
On many of these farms, of course not all, there are animals. And some of these animals, unbeknownst to their masters, can talk. Now, it’s true that most of the time, they stay quiet. Many are too busy working, some are shy around humans, and others are just plain antisocial. But the animals do speak, often to each other and rarely to a small child by and by.
So, it should come as no surprise (as a farm animal’s life can often be dull, even boring,) that they commonly exchange stories to pass the time. And there’s one story, in particular, the animals enjoy telling more than any other…
It has lots of variations, as it’s been passed on for many years, but it always ends the same. It’s the story of a pig named Pilkington and his dealings with a particularly harsh master. Some piglets have questioned the story’s veracity, suggesting it was made up to scare them into obedience. But then there are some animals who will swear to its truth and even claim to have known Pilkington themselves.
The story takes place on a small country farm, no one’s certain exactly where.
It, like many farms, had a large red barn with a tarnished copper weather vane sitting atop the roof. There were clumps of fresh, golden hay scattered about the floor and dangling from the open shutters. A large grass field wrapped around the structure like the rolling sea around a ship. A rickety wooden fence encircled the land, but it was very worn and served little practical purpose. There wasn’t another soul or farm like it for miles.
Yet, on this farm, there lived a most exceptional group of farm animals. There was Anne May the heifer, the Farmer’s strong-backed oxen Lenny and Bruce, and the farm’s senior resident, outside of the Farmer himself of course, Murphy, who was a dog.
Being the longest lived animal on the farm, Murphy had developed the most thorough understanding of its workings. He also had what many would describe as a sturdy bond with the Farmer. Yes, Murphy wore his age outwardly. His eyes were crusty and cloudy with on-setting glaucoma. His long, scraggly whiskers and his brownish-grey patchwork coat reminded all of the other animals just how much old Murphy had seen.
There were other animals of course, hens and roosters, stray cats and dogs, ducklings from a nearby pond, jack rabbits, groundhogs, and crows which would happen by and so on. Also among them was Pilkington the pig, who like most pigs was stout, portly, and all-too-often covered in mud from the day’s wallowing.
Pilkington spent more time wallowing in the mud than any other pig. This was due not only to his enormous girth and stumpy legs, which made getting up a Herculean task, but his laziness, as well. He was so large and sturdy, small piglets would often crawl about him in games of cat and mouse or king of the hill. While Pilkington was obviously agitated by all the small hooves clattering about his head and shoulders, he did little more than snarl angrily before resigning himself to failure and returning to sleep. The only concentrated energy one ever saw Pilkington exert was to get to the trough and consume three or four portions of food before most other pigs could stomach one. Feeding time was when Pilkington’s large, cavernous snout could be heard across the farm, snorting breathlessly.
Pilkington was quite content with his station on the farm, being required only to eat and sleep throughout the day while the other animals worked in the fields. At times, it even seemed that he derived a sense of self-satisfaction and enjoyment from watching the other animals toil in the hot sun.
Of course, despite his frighteningly morbid obesity and total lack of constructiveness, Pilkington was quite astute and manipulative. His reputation as wily was well-founded and enhanced by a profound ability to articulate. Pilkington once convinced a young piglet that he was not a piglet at all, but an adopted duckling and for that reason had no right to the feeding trough. Indeed, Pilkington had tricked nearly every animal on the farm into doing or saying something they didn’t want to, at some point or another.
All of these animals and more lived under the supervision, and some might say despotic rule, of a wary old farmer. He was something of a cross old man whose wife had left him many years ago. Since then, few had seen him wearing anything other than his worn blue overalls, straw hat, and the same tight-lipped, unforgiving expression on his face. He seemed to have little else to do but work. In fact, the Farmer worked tirelessly, constantly driving the animals to maintain his pace, which was exhausting to say the least.
One day it was extraordinarily hot. The thermometer on the side of the barn stretched nearly to its limit of a hundred degrees. (Fahrenheit, of course, as neither the animals or farmer had mastered the subtle intricacies of the metric system.) Despite the harsh temperature, however, the Farmer continuously worked the tired, panting animals. He demanded a near deathly effort from his oxen, Lenny and Bruce. They were forced to drag the large plow, a crude wreckage of iron that easily weighed ton, through the dense and stiffly soiled fields.
“Faster,” the Farmer screamed, “This field needs to be plowed by midday if I am going to get all of the necessary crops planted on time!”
The Farmer drove Lenny and Bruce forward, giving them light strikes with a long wooden stick of about a finger’s width. As Lenny and Bruce struggled to finish plowing and dragged their stern instrument back into the barn, the Farmer tossed buckets of seed to the ground, and hurriedly moved on to Anne May who was waiting to be milked.
The Farmer wasted no time tearing his milking bucket from its place on a nearby shelf and slinging it right under Anne May’s bulbous utter. He tugged at her furiously nearly causing her to wince and kick. It seemed he had about milked her dry.
As the Farmer yanked the bucket from under her, Anne May caught a glimpse of its contents and was proud of the amount she had seen. It looked as if she had set a new personal record. Still, the farmer looked disappointingly at the bucket and then scornfully back at Anne May.
“I’d expected more from you Anne,” he said bitterly.
Then, he turned and walked away with no expression of remorse or gratitude whatsoever. (The hens received a far worse scolding moments later as it was brought to their attention that they had not fulfilled their egg laying potential.)
By the end of the day the animals were exhausted. As the sun began to set, and the Farmer retired for the day, many of the animals gathered around a modest watering hole and some nearby shade. Pilkington was the first animal to muster enough energy to speak.
“Why must we constantly tire ourselves for the old man in spite of how poorly he treats us?”
Sensing some righteous indignation on Pilkington’s part, and perhaps an ulterior motive, Lenny and Bruce spoke up.
“What do you care Pilkington?” Lenny asked. “You didn’t do anything but wallow in the mud all day.”
“Yeah we were the ones dragging those plows through the hot sun,” Bruce added. “And poor Frankie the mule has already passed out from exhaustion.”
The oxen’s large size and narrow, beady eyes lent credence to what they had to say.
“I’m just saying,” Pilkington responded, “maybe it’s time we did something for ourselves… like throw a party.”
The animals were taken back by Pilkington’s proposal and decided to listen to what he had to say.
“I know some Clydesdales that can have a whole bunch of that beer the humans drink over here by tonight. The only thing we have to do is wait until the old farmer falls asleep. Then we’ll be able to relax for a change.”
The animals seemed to be swayed by Pilkington’s argument. They had worked hard all day, which as previously stated, was extremely hot. Just then, Murphy sat up to speak.
“I don’t like this idea Pilkington,” he said. “The Farmer is not a man to be tampered with. I suggest we enjoy our nights rest and prepare for tomorrow’s work.”
Pilkington again assumed his tone of refute, as if he had been personally assaulted by Murphy’s suggestion.
“Murphy, you old farm dog, you’ve been under the Farmer’s thumb ever since you were a pup. Whose side are you on? Are you with the humans, who abuse and take us for granted, or are you at heart an animal, a young pup that wants desperately to feel alive for once in your life? This could be that opportunity, our one chance to do something for ourselves and truly live. I say that, in this case, the reward is well worth the risk, and I for one will not be a slave! Now who is with me?”
Stirred by the rousing speech given by Pilkington, the highly susceptible animals heartily agreed, all with the exception of Murphy who slipped into his makeshift dog house as the Clydesdales arrived later that night.
As the horses departed, leaving tall barrels of beer behind, the animals quietly began their party. It was the first the animals had ever thrown, and it started off small. Many animals were wary and unsure of how to act. They sipped their beverages slowly, giggling and feeling naughty. Soon, however, the animals became increasingly intoxicated, and as word of the party spread, the night’s events grew increasingly boisterous.
Anne May had gotten into some moonshine and could be seen staggering about with a bottle marked with three poorly drawn X’s on the side. She stopped staggering for a moment to relieve herself behind some bushes unknowingly showering several small field mice. Fortunately, the mice, whose low tolerance levels had reduced them to a drunken stupor, thought it was merely raining.
Lenny and Bruce began confessing their undying affection for one another. They’re large arms squeezed tightly around each other in a brotherly embrace, tears rolling down their cheeks.
“I’ve never felt so close to you Lenny,” Bruce remarked.
“Yeah, it’s almost like we’re two eggs who came from the same hen,” Lenny moped back.
Then, the two gazed off into the light of the moon which never seemed quite so bright. As was the case with Anne May, the furthest thing from the minds of Lenny and Bruce was getting discovered by the Farmer.
Murphy, however, was stirred by the sounds of what started out as a dull roar, but had grown into a clamoring cacophony. He found Pilkington amid the thick of animals.
“Pilkington,” he said, “You must do something about this party, it’s getting far too loud. You’ll wake the Farmer and we’ll all be in serious trouble.”
Pilkington looked at Murphy incredulously, as if Murphy’s suggestion was so implausible it was beyond comprehension.
“If the Farmer was going to catch us, he would have done so by now. Why don’t you go in and sleep with him in his bed? If your loyalties lie with him, why don’t you?”
“That’s ridiculous,” Murphy responded objecting to the notion that he would take the side of humans over his own kind.
Pilkington wasted no time pressing Murphy further.
“Of course it’s ridiculous because the Farmer would never have you in the house. He feels you are so beneath him that he considers your mere presence an insult. Yet, you stand here before me asking on his behalf that I adhere to laws he invents for us on whims.”
“I’m not asking you to do right by me or the Farmer, Pilkington, I’m asking that you do right by our entire farm, and all of these animals, by ending all of this before something bad happens,” Murphy said.
“I do right by me!” Pilkington snarled.
With that, the conversation was over, and Murphy returned to his ragged dog house, his head pointed directly at the ground.
Meanwhile, more and more animals flooded in. A band of stray cats had brought the necessary instruments to form a small string band and began to play. The cats screamed out the chorus and refrain in a series of well pitched meows, while crows and birds chirped along with the melody. Dancing broke out across the farm. Dogs and cats joined hands, and loving jack rabbits snuck off behind bushes.
Now, the festivities had reached a fever pitch. All of the animals, be they drunk residents or unconcerned strangers, let their voices grow louder and louder. Animals barked, screeched, oinked, meowed, mooed, and trampled around noisily.
Suddenly, the rickety porch door swung open and a shotgun blast sounded, splitting the night in two as it echoed off into the distance.
“What is the meaning of all of this racket?” the Farmer exclaimed.
All of the animals scurried, fleeing to their respective living quarters and far off the farm. This left only Pilkington, who thoroughly inebriated, slipped in the patch of mud from which he had berated Murphy moments before. He struggled to get back to his feet, as the other animals – terrified of what ramifications may await them- remained quiet and still in their positions.
The animals waited for the Farmer to come scold them, but there was nothing. Eventually, they fell asleep relieved that the Farmer had seemed unconcerned with what had transpired and left them to sleep off their afflictions.
Murphy was the first to wake the next morning, as the rest of the animals were in no condition to rise so early. The farm was more quiet than he had ever known it to be. There wasn’t so much as weak chirp from a chick, or muffled snort from a sleeping piglet. Not even the morning rooster could open his sleet-filled, bloodshot eyes to make his daily morning call.
Murphy proceeded across the farm investigating what was left of the previous night’s carnage. As he strolled about the farm he noticed that all of the animals seemed to be accounted for, with one exception. Murphy thought hard for several moments about who was missing. Then, as he approached the farmhouse, he caught the distinct smell of bacon.