Written by Chris Dahl
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Tuesday, 29 November 2016

image for Animal Farm, Part 8: Hunger

But everything was not okay on Napoleon Farm. The Pigs and the Boars kept most of the grain and feed and hay for themselves, stored away in the old barn behind the two big towers Old Man Kennedy had put up. The animals didn't understand exactly why Old Man Kennedy had put up the two towers - not even the pigs, but Old Man Kennedy was a big talker and even as he hauled the lumber and pounded the nails and painted the beams, he chatted away with any one of the animals that wandered on by. "These are going to be the finest windmills on any farm in any place," the old man used to say proudly, "with enough electricity from the wind to keep this farm bright and warm for everyone. No more darkness and no more cold." The animals - even the Pigs - didn't understand what he meant. They didn't get how the two towers with the propellers screwed to the top would whip the wind into electricity. Also, they didn't know why anyone would need it. If the old man wanted it, though, no one would deny him. Those were good days and nobody wanted for anything, except for the Pigs who wanted more than anyone else.

Just as no one knew why the old man had wanted to build those two tall towers, no one on the farm knew why the Pigs and the Boars were stashing all the food away.

When the hay came in they had the horses haul it over to the barn. When the fruit fell from the trees, they had the hounds and the dogs round it up drop it in the bins, which the cows pulled over on a cart. When the stash of Old Man Kennedy's food was found, it ended up there too. Although they didn't know, the animals had long given up on being anything but scared, so they just did what they had to do to be kept safe by the Pigs and the Boars, accepting that it was their lot to work and not to wonder, to endure but as Murdoch often reminded them, "not to give into fear." So they toiled every day in the sun, and trudged along in the rain. They rose before the sun and dragged themselves back to their stalls and lofts well after the sun went down.

Meanwhile the Pigs and the Boars were always in their pen, but they weren't as playful as they used to be. No, they seemed to always be discussing very serious things, looking at the old barn and debating things that the other animals could not hear. Murdoch held a pointer stick and was constantly drawing figures in the air. The animals were too busy, too scared, too tired or too uneducated to figure out - to even suppose - what was happening. They were exhausted - that much they knew. They were hungry - that much was true.

All the while, the pigs were scheming in their pen.

"We need to store more food," Old George said. "The Pipeline will be useless without that whole old barn being stuffed with food."

"We've got them working fifteen hours a day," said Dick who was put in charge of the newly appointed Labor Department.

"And we've acquired 50% more food per day on average since the inception of Napoleon Farm," said Donald, the new czar of the Food and Agriculture Department.

"There has to be a way," said Old George, "to increase the amount of food in that barn."

There was a silence that was only broken by the sloshing mud beneath the pigs hooves. They thought for a while and then Murdoch finally spoke up: "Addition by subtraction."

Caught the sudden power his statement, the pigs in his presence looked at each other curiously and then finally asked what he meant. "Sometimes," Murdoch explained, "it's not a matter of adding more of something, but a matter of taking away something else. Get it?"

"Quite frankly," Young George admitted, "No, I don't."

"It's simple," the boar continued his explanation. "Maybe it's not so much a matter of collecting more food. After all, fruit grows and ripens as it will, and grain grows at its own pace. We can't push Nature to go faster. However, we can keep more of Nature for ourselves."

"I still don't get it," Young George said.

"If there are fewer animals around here, then there will be more food for us," Murdoch said flatly.

"We can't just kill them," Old George said. "They'll revolt before we're done. They'll turn on us and kill us all."

"They'll make pork chops out of us," Donald whimpered.

"Slabs of bacon," Dick said.

"That's why we need a system," Murdoch posed. "Something that seems Natural and out of our control. Something that we can even say that we are desperately trying to stop, but - oh gosh - just can't seem to stop it. Oh, we will seem to try, no doubt, but everything we do will fall just short. Nature will be too strong, and we, in spite of our best efforts will be unable to help our suffering animal friends. Then, we just let the Natural process take place. The weak will perish and the strong will make it. The strongest workers, the cleverest survivors and the quickest chickens will make it through and leave us with only the best and most useful animals."

"How do we do that, Murdoch?" Old George queried.

"Dick," Murdoch commanded, "I have a simple task for you, but you'll have to follow through on this. You can't let your emotion get in the way and cave in."

"Don't worry about that, boss," Dick assured Murdoch. "I can turn it off like a switch. What is it?"

"You have to find a way to work them harder. You have to keep them moving constantly, keep them burning calories every moment they're awake, like rebuilding the wall."

"What do we need a wall for?" Young George asked.

"Well we really don't need a wall, but we have to keep the animals busy, and we have to work them into the ground by having them haul all those stones, and pull the logs out from the woods, and stacking the stones," Murdoch told him. "But what we do need is a cause, a reason for building the wall, and we need them to build fast with great urgency. I'll take of that tomorrow. You just be ready, Dick, to get everyone working."

"No worries, boss," the loyal pig said.

"Now, as for you Donald, we have a more scientific approach to this problem," the head boar said as he turned to Donald. "How much does the average horse eat a day?"

"Oh, 15000 just a for a bottom line diet, but a working horse would need about double that," Donald answered.

"And a cow? Oh and what about the dogs?"

"Oh," Donald thought for a moment, "about thirty pounds of dry forage a day, at least. Your average dog, let's say at about 50 maybe 60 pounds, needs about 800 calories a day."

"Okay," Murdoch started, "cut that in half for everyone. 750 calories for the horses. 400 for the dogs and cut the feed down to 15 pounds for the dogs. Explain it by saying that there have been several raids by ISUS at night which has cost us a good chunk of our food reserves, so we all have to tighten our belts during this time of crisis." Turning back to Dick, he directed him to start the building of the wall first thing in the morning. "Tell the cows and the horses to get right to it, first thing in the morning. Tell them we are depending on them to build that wall and to keep out all those foreigners out who are taking all our food. We must work and we must work quickly, harder than ever, in fact... The security of Napoleon Farm depends on it."

"Will do," the two loyal pigs said in unison.

"But why are we cutting their food?" Young George asked.

"Let's just say we helping Mother Nature along just a little bit," Murdoch sneered, a sinister smile creasing his face. "We double their workload so they will need double the calories, but we cut those in half, so that should basically quarter their life-span. It wills all seem Natural, even heroic in some cases, and we get rid of all those excess animals, the weakest of the lot no less. We need them to stay alive just long enough to build the wall and plant the fields. Then, we keep just enough of them to work the farm."

"So that's the cows, the horses and the dogs," Old George added in, "but what about the chickens and the birds?"

"I have an idea," Donald said.

"Lets' hear it," Murdoch encouraged him.

"I once heard Old Man Kennedy talking about something he was reading in those papers he used to read. He called it flu and he said it was very deadly if you didn't take some sort of medicine. No one, the old man said, knew where it came from. It just showed up one day and started making humans sick. I was just thinking that maybe we could use something like that. We could clear out the population. They don't make anything but eggs and we don't need eggs, right?" Donald explained.

"Agreed," Murdoch was resolute. "We'll have to put something in their water. It'll all seem Natural."

The next morning, the Pigs had the horses raise a sign over the entrance to the farm. It was made from paint and one of Old Man Kennedy's bed sheets. On it was written Work WiLl Set yOu FREE!!!! When Marksy asked what that was supposed to mean, Murdoch told him: "It's our latest slogan. It's supposed to be inspirational. See, anything we do in this world reflects well on us in the next world." Marksy didn't know what any of that meant, so he asked Murdoch to tell him more. "There's a beautiful place in the sky, remember?" the Boar told the horse. "But not everyone can get into that place. It's only for the best workers, those who give more than they ever thought they could. That's why we now say that work will set you free. Leave all the thinking to us, the Pigs. All you need to do is to work as hard as you can."

"Okay," Marksy replied, "I can work hard."

"We know you can," Murdoch condescended.

At that moment, Bernard came bolting out from behind the chicken coops. He stopped short in the dirt, skidded and kicked up a cloud of dust big enough to make Murdoch choke and cough. He stopped and panted heavily. "Come quick," he said in between heavy breaths.

"What is it?" Murdoch asked. "Calm down. Take a deep breath!"

"No, you don't understand," Bernard insisted. "Come on." The dog bolted off back to the chicken coops.

Murdoch got the Pigs and a few of the Boars and went behind the chicken coop where Bernard was standing amid a field of dead hens, expired chickens dead roosters, all of them scattered over the chicken's yard. The rest of the chickens pecked woefully at the ground next to the corpses of their fallen friends.

"What is this?" Murdoch asked as he looked around and saw the death. "What happened here?"

"I don't know, but I was running around the yard and I heard one of the hens squawking 'murder' so I came back here," Bernard told them.

"It must be ISUS," Donald said.

"I has to be," Dick agreed.

Young George acted shocked. "This will not stand," he said loud enough for the growing crowd to hear.

Marksy sidled up and whinnied: "What are we gonna do, Young George?"

"We have to build that wall back up," Young George stated confidently. "That's got to be how they are getting onto the farm."

"At all costs," Murdoch echoed Young George's sentiments. "We have to build that wall."

Bernard was sniffing around the wreckage when he noticed something. "Murdoch," Bernard yelled across the coops, "come read this."

Murdoch waddled over, followed by the Pigs. "What is it?"

"Read that," Bernard said and pointed with his paw.

On the wall of the chicken barn was written:

Death tO AlL

FeatherreD bEastIes

Bird fLu wIll StrikE Them All dOWn!!!

ALL HaIL ISUS!!!

"Feathered beasties?" Young George asked.

"The chickens," Old George said softly to his son. "They must have something against these chickens, maybe because they have feathers."

"Because they have feathers?" Young George wondered. "Why feathers?"

"No one knows anymore," Murdoch preached. "It started ages ago, before even the time of Napoleon. The animals with hair - or even no hair - started hating animals with feathers. They started eating them and killing them just for fun. The birds began flying to stay safe. They made their nests up high in the trees so they could sleep without being devoured. But no one really remembers the meaning or what exactly happened to start it all. It might just be that one group of animals was stronger than the others and they wanted to flex their muscle. That's what most people believe, but that was before we animals became civilized and lived together in peace on farms like this one. Now, these animals have come here and poisoned our feathered friends with some sort of illness, what they call flu. Does anyone know what this is, this flu?"

Dick came forward: "I know what this bird flu is. Very deadly. You can't even get near it or it will kill you almost on the spot."

"So, it's not just for birds?" Young George wondered.

"No," Dick continued. "It's named after birds because they carry it around in their feathers from place to place, but anyone can get it."

"Is there a cure?" Bernard wanted to know.

"Not yet," Dick stated.

Young George turned to his father. There was a seemingly genuine look of fear in his eyes. His father assured him: "Don't worry, Georgie. We'll just have to do a quarantine."

"What's that?" the son asked his father.

"We'll have to cut them off from the rest of the animals on the farm," Old George explained.

"That's horrible," Bernard said. "Is that even legal?"

"This is a state of emergency, Bernard," Murdoch told the dog. "The law doesn't matter in times of emergency."

"But it is temporary, right?" the dog pressed for an answer.

"Of course," Murdoch said dismissively. "Just until we sort this out."

The Boars and the Pigs spent the rest of the day ripping al the rusted chicken wire off the coops and tacking it to the doorway of the chicken's barn. The hens, the roosters and all their little chicks were told to stay in their; it was for their own good. They were also told that food would be dropped off as soon as they could gather some. Relax, they were told, this was all just temporary. It was even for their safety. Once ISUS was taken care of, everything would go back to normal on Napoleon Farm. Murdoch created a new committee headed up by the Boars, one that was supposed to manage the emergency that was ravaging the poultry population. To announce this new committee and its power, Murdoch had written on the side of the chicken barn:

AttentioN!!

NO TrespAssIng!

Due TO BIrD Floo THIs Barn is nOw Under Control

Of the Fuzzy-creature Internment Management Association (FIMA)

ViolatorS Will Be ProsekuTeD!!

Scylla and Chardibis were recruited away from Bernard and installed as guards in front of the sign.

Of course, when the horses heard about the deadly bird flu, they knew - just knew without even a suggestion - that it was something ISUS would do, and they had to keep them out of Napoleon Farm. They went right to work building the wall. One horse dragged loose stones from the fields and from the stones that bordered Old Man Kennedy's overgrown and weedy garden. The sun bore down on them and the water was sparse in the stream - it hadn't rained in oh so long. The cows pulled carts full of old wood from piles by the old barn and shed. When they ran out the bulls barreled into the oldest buildings and knocked them down. Slowly the wall grew tall. All the old stones were replaced and then, finally, the gate was propped back up, and the threat of this mysterious force called ISUS was sealed out.

"Good work," Murdoch praised the horses and the cows, which were gasping for air and licking their dry, cracked lips. "Excellent work. Hopefully, that keeps out ISUS and we can lower that high alert flag."

"Are we really taking the red flag down?" Young George whispered to his father.

"No," Old George reassured his son. "That's not coming down any time soon."

"Can we eat now, Murdoch?" Marksy spoke for the exhausted gang of worker animals. "We're really quite hungry."

"Of course," Murdoch said as he dispatched a crew of boars to go get the rations. The boars dropped the food in front of the weary workers.

"Is this for all of us?" Marksy asked.

"Yes," Murdoch replied.

"Why so little?" the horse asked.

"Well, it's that bloody bird flu, see?" Murdoch started. "It infected almost half of the food rations, and now we have to cut back until we can catch up again. Shouldn't be permanent, just a temporary setback."

The horses, cows and bulls ate what they were given. If nothing else, they knew that they were safe from ISUS now and no one else would be murdered in the night. The chickens would recover and start laying their eggs again and the red flag would come down. All the animals would be safe and content again. Until then, it would just require a little sacrifice.

So everyone sacrificed. The dogs did guard duty all day and all night, keeping an eye on the gate and the wall that ISUS had breached one too many times. The birds stayed perched high in the trees, scanning the fields outside the wall of the farm for any foreign invaders, staying awake almost all the time. The cows and horses toiled twice as hard in the fields on half rations with their bellies rumbling. The chickens gave up their freedom and Bernard started to worry because after a while, their constant clicking and clacking and clucking that used to rise in a deafening roar had dulled to an uneasy silence broken by an occasional crow or a random row of weakened cheeps. They probably sacrificed the most.

If anyone sacrificed the least, it was the Pigs and the Boars. They didn't do the hard work in the fields and they didn't sit on the front lines waiting for the enemy to attack. They didn't give up their freedom in a barn filled with bacteria. In fact, very little had changed for the Pigs. They still had their mud to roll around in when the day was hot. There seemed to be plenty of water in their troughs and food almost seemed to fall from the sky whenever they were hungry.

Bernard was suspicious. He couldn't keep his mouth shut anymore. He spent his days in the center yard, yapping away as the rest of the animals worked away: "Look at them in there! They don't do anything! All they do is fill their fat bellies while you're out here working your lives away, eating half rations. Don't you see anything wrong here? Look at Marksy! I can see his ribs from here!"

"I'm fine, Bernard," Marksy responded. "It's only temporary."

"That's what they always say about everything!" Bernard screamed. "But it never goes away! The high alert, the quarantine, the threat of ISUS, the rationing of food and the double work shifts - they never go away! By the way, have any of you ever seen ISUS? Anyone? Do they even exist?"

"The Pigs wouldn't lie to us," Marksy said. "They're doing all this for our own good and for the good of the farm."

"Your own good?" Bernard challenged. "How is starving and working yourself into an early grave for your own good?"

"It's for the good of the farm, Bernard," Marksy retorted. "It requires sacrifice."

"They aren't sacrificing," Bernard said, indicating the Pigs and their loyal Boars.

"Oh, I'm sure they are in their own way," Marksy said. "They're trying to save Napoleon Farm from ISUS."

"ISUS doesn't exist!" Bernard was furious. "How can you believe in something you've never seen?"

"I saw the dead boars and the dead chickens," Marksy countered.

"ISUS isn't real. I'm convinced of it," Bernard snapped back. "They just want you scared because scared people do what they're told."

Old George picked himself up out of the mud and moseyed over to the fence of the pen. "What kind of treason is that dog spreading out in the yard now?"

Bernard went on: "And when was the last time you heard a hen in that barn? Or the cock crowing at dawn? Wasn't that quarantine supposed to be temporary? It's lasted long enough to kill them off?"

"That was the flu, Bernard," Marksy protested, "not the Pigs."

"Open your eyes," Bernard ranted on. "They're trying to kill you all off. They want it all for themselves."

Old George had heard enough. "Murdoch!" he cried.

"What do you want?" Murdoch snapped back at him. "I'm trying to eat here."

"You should hear this. Bernard is spreading treason and slander all over the farm. I've had enough of him," Old George said.

Murdoch trotted over next to Old George. "What's this trash he's talking now?"

"He's on to us," Old George said. "He could ruin the whole plan if they start believing him."

"Yup, he's gotta go," Murdoch agreed. "But don't worry. I have a plan." 

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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