We’re proud to present “Down on the Farm” by Karen Heuler, from the pages of Bandersnatch, where, as Booklist puts it, “the editors had Carroll’s irreverent surrealism in mind when they asked contributors for their most avant-garde stories . . . the authors’ whimsical revelries with language and imagery provide mind-befuddling satisfaction.” I hope you
DOWN ON THE FARM
One of those pigs with the ears all down its back walked by, snorting.
“Little piggy,” Tercepia called, bending over and holding her hand out. “Here, here, here.”
The pig ignored her.
She was standing next to a crib of grain. She reached in and took a handful and threw it in an arc towards the pig. Some of the ears on its back were moving.
The pig did a little jump and trotted away. Tercepia straightened up and ran after it. The pig went faster and so did Tercepia and all at once she was racing swiftly, wind in her face and the pig rounded the corner of the barn and she lost sight of it for a moment and that made her run even faster so it wouldn’t disappear altogether, and she put on a burst.
“No!” Dr. Sandam yelled. He was right there around the corner of the barn. The pig was slowing down, looking back at her, and the doctor’s face looked really annoyed. At once she stopped and felt ashamed. She wasn’t supposed to chase the pigs. She was never supposed to chase the pigs.
“Pig ran,” she said faintly.
“What did I tell you?”
“No chasing pigs,” she whispered.
“Only the pigs?”
“No chasing anything.”
“And if you do?”
She hung her head. Her hands dangled, her shoulders sank and curved her back. “Sit forever,” she said sadly.
“For one hour,” he amended. His voice was cheerier, and Tercepia looked up. There was someone else standing next to him and the doctor was looking at this person now, smiling. “An hour seems forever at that age,” he was saying. “But the pigs can’t be disturbed, of course. Too much agitation and we might damage the implants. Not to mention that the pigs get stressed, and that wouldn’t be right.”
“Woulda be right,” Tercepia agreed, eager to please him.
The doctor’s friend looked at her and put a smile on his face, but she didn’t trust it. She stepped closer to the doctor, keeping her eyes on the smile.
“This is Portafack,” the doctor said. “He wants to look around. Do you want to show him around?”
She hung her head and hid behind the doctor. “Please no. Feed pigs now.”
“They’re all shy?” Portafack asked. “Or just this one?”
“They like routines,” the doctor said and shrugged. “They get nervous when anything changes, and we’ve had a few changes lately. But yes, the females are a little shyer than the males. Would you prefer a male?”
Portafack’s smile went away. “I was interested in the females. Thought they would be… well, more docile, I guess. No aggression issues. That kind of thing.”
The doctor stepped aside and pulled Tercepia forward. “Yes, there’s been a lot of interest in the females. They’re smart and submissive, by and large. Here, let me show you what she can do. Tercepia, bring water.”
Tercepia looked alert and said “Yes!” eagerly. She was allowed to run to bring water, so she flung herself away. She went back the way she had come, around the corner, and then across the yard to the office, where there was cold water and glasses. She knew how to do that.
That pig was there again, twitching its tail and all its ears, and Tercepia tried very hard not to see it, but when it noticed Tercepia, it did a little pig turnaround and trotted off to the next yard. Tercepia was still in control, but then she saw the dog, which she hadn’t seen in hours, and she gave a gleeful little call and ran to the dog, then sat down next to it, and hugged it over and over again.
The dog’s mouth moved but there was no sound, so Tercepia kept saying, “Good, good, good Cerbo! Good, good, good dog!” and Cerbo licked her face and then, still silent, looked at her earnestly. He lifted a paw and placed it gently on her knee.
“Food? Water?” Tercepia asked him. She hugged him fiercely and stood up. “Come.”
The dog followed her to the office, where she got a bowl of water and put it down for him, and then took sandwiches out of the refrigerator and put them down on the floor.
She sat down and leaned against him for comfort but the dog inched away from her; he was hungry and pulled the sandwiches apart, eating them piece by piece. When he was done he drank the water, which reminded Tercepia of her task. She leaped up and said, “Bring water!” Then she filled two glasses, put them on a tray, and walked out the door, her eyes devoted to the glasses, trying not to walk so fast she would slop them. The dog watched her from the doorway, licking his muzzle fastidiously. When she disappeared, he went over to Portafack’s car, lifted his leg, and then walked away.
Tercepia went in search of Sandam and the stranger. They weren’t at the first barn, which held more of the pigs with ears. When she was younger she would run in there to pull their ears and the pig would squeal a little and jump and the ears would wiggle. Sandam made her sit still in the middle of all the pigs, sit forever, and she had never done it again, but the ears always made her chin rise up with excitement, and her mouth would open. Even as she passed, she panted a little, longingly, but held the glasses steady and went on to the pens behind the second barn, where the pigs had rows of eyes like polyps growing around their necks like garlands. The eyes rippled as the pigs moved.
“Sometimes they roll over,” the doctor was saying, pointing things out to Portafack. “Which the ears can take, but not the eyes. So we made the eyes into a sort of necklace, they suffer less damage that way.”
Portafack leaned over to look at a bunch of pigs grunting in a group by the railing. One had brown eyes, about half grown, around its head. It kept twitching.
“Those flies,” Portafack said. “Don’t they bother the eyes?”
“The eyes are rudimentary at this point,” the doctor assured him. “They don’t feel a thing. Ah, here she is. You see? Good girl, Tercepia.”
She held out the tray, looking around uneasily. She didn’t like these pigs. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of eyes peering at her from every direction. Her neck prickled; she kept feeling that the eyes were following her. The doctor looked at her steadily as she held the tray.
Portafack was also watching her. “How old is she?”
“Four. The hybrids learn very quickly, though there’s a limit. Her vocabulary is about a hundred spoken words, but she understands much more than that. You can teach her. It takes some repetition and reward, but she learns quickly. Her motor skills aren’t as good. She can carry things, but nothing too fine. We teach them to pour drinks and to make sandwiches, but we don’t allow knives, and no cooking. They can do assembly lines if it’s blunt work—nothing like turning screws, for instance. Were you thinking household or assembly lines? They’re very good at both, though you have to allow them rest breaks—or exercise breaks, really—after an hour. They make mistakes when they get bored.”
“It’s incredible. She looks grown up.” Portafack’s eyes scanned her body. “A little woman,” he said.
“Well, for the most part, she is.” There was a pause as the men stared at her.
“How long do they live?”
“Our guess is somewhere around thirty. They may live longer—after all, they’re visibly human; they have human bodies. The dog gene will affect their longevity, of course.”
Portafack shook his head. “Dogs,” he said. “I had a dog when I was a kid. Broke my heart when I had to destroy him. Those mournful, loving eyes. Hard to think of a world without dogs.”
“There’s no reason to,” Sandam said quickly.
“Does she act like a human girl? Domestic urges, that kind of thing?”
The doctor glanced at Portafack. “You want a household servant, then?”
Portafack’s lips twitched slightly. “Yes. I live alone, you see. My life needs a woman’s touch.”
His smile inched across his face again.
“Would you like to see some of the others? You have a choice, you know. After all, if you’re going to be seeing her every day, you’d want the one that appeals to your eyes the most, no? I think Tercepia is exceptionally intelligent, but that may be because she was one of the first and I spent a lot of time with her. But there are differences in appearance, too. She does have a slightly more noticeable ridge along the nose; some of the others have less. It’s up to you.” He turned to lead the way and Portafack glanced at his back for a moment, appraisingly.
Tercepia followed them, away from the eye pigs and past the outside pen with the nose pigs. They headed for a red brick building called The House, which had a front door and windows with curtains.
A pair of young girls answered the doorbell. To Portafack, they looked like they could be twins—or almost twins. There was only a slight difference between them. They wore similar loose dresses and one had a somewhat bigger nose and one had thinner lips.
The girls jostled each other and one fell back against a lamp. They lunged together and rolled around the floor.
“Stop!” Sandam shouted, and the girls rolled away from each other, looking slightly shamefaced. “Up!” They got up reluctantly, grabbing each other and bumping in a playful manner.
“Sit,” Sandam said, and they began to sit on the floor. “On the sofa,” Sandam said, and when they appeared confused, he whispered to Sandam, “They’re still in training.” Then he walked over to the sofa, called them, and made them sit properly. He saw a certain air of expectation on Portafack’s part, so he said, “We never hit them.”
“Really? That’s remarkable. How do you get them to learn?”
“Repetition and rewards. If they don’t do a task right, they don’t get a treat. But they want praise, of course. Rewards just tell them they’ve succeeded.”
Portafack raised his eyebrows. ”But surely there must be times when they do something wrong? Or when they disobey?”
“We never hit them,” Sandam repeated and Portafack shrugged his shoulders lightly.
They went to the next room, where the larger girls were ironing and washing dishes. One of them was holding a tray with plastic glasses on it. The tray kept sliding forward and the glasses kept dropping.
Tercepia ran up to the girls one by one, and just touched them on the arm and then ran over to another girl. Portafack felt that he could trace the origins of some of the girls quite easily. One had hair that was coarse and slightly mottled. Another had eyes that seemed, to him, to be too close together. Tercepia on the other hand had even features and good hair.
They walked to the porch. The youngest girls were buttoning and unbuttoning their shirts, heads lowered, their faces frowning in concentration. One girl was biting her lip. “Grooming,” Sandam said. “We teach them proper appearance. They don’t all reach the same abilities, but we do have some ground rules. They have to bathe and do buttons and zippers. They have to return when they’re called. They can’t bite.” He shrugged. “General rules.”
“Biters?” Portafack asked, his eyes traveling slowly over the girls.
“We haven’t really had any biters yet. We just try to come up with rules that guarantee hybrids with reliable temperaments.”
Sandam followed Pontafak’s gaze to a girl who was having the most trouble, and whose bare skin was visible. “Perhaps you could give me a little information about yourself?” Sandam asked. “What you’re looking for exactly, what kind of household you have. Just in general some background. You mentioned a dog when you were a child. Have you had more pets; children; a wife?”
Portafack drew his eyes away from the girl. “I was married once but divorced. We didn’t have children. That was a while ago. I’m very busy and, I’m afraid, rather set in my ways. I like the house to be kept clean and I like simple foods well prepared. I had a housekeeper for many years but she left to get married. That was surprising, she was far too old, I would have thought, to interest anybody. I wouldn’t like to lose another one to marriage.” He turned back to the girls in front of him. “They don’t—well, marry, do they?”
Sandam smiled. “No. Though their sexuality is intact. They might find someone to sleep with occasionally.”
“But not get pregnant?” Portafack moistened his lips.
“No. They’re sterile. We own the copyright, after all.”
“So they don’t mind sex,” Portafack murmured.
Sandam let the statement rest for a second. “No. We didn’t see any reason to take that away. It can enhance their quality of life. You have to remember that they are dominantly human. You have to have some sensitivity, because they do.”
“Oh, I’m kind,” Portafack said. “No one has ever said I wasn’t. They do prepare food, I see?” He was watching as the girls made sandwiches.
“Meals are really pretty simple. They don’t have much of an attention span so we’ve given up on using a stove. They forget about it and walk away. You might as well tell me exactly what your requirements are. Cleaning, simple meals?”
“Laundry, ironing. Can they do shopping?”
“Simple things only, I’m afraid. They don’t read.”
“Oh?” Portafack considered this. “I’m surprised. Is that deliberate?”
“No, we’ve tried teaching them. Their intellectual capacity varies from one to the other, but the best comprehends about as much as a six year old. They can be extremely sensitive, and unable to express it well.”
“She looks . . . ” Portafack began. “Her name is Tercepia, right? She looks like a normal girl. A normal young girl.” His voice was soothing. He was looking at Tercepia more and more as she helped a friend make sandwiches. She wrapped two and put them in her pocket.
“We spent a lot of time with her. Of course she was one of the first group.”
“Oh? And what happened to the others?”
Sandam hesitated briefly. “It was just her and two males. We had trouble with one of them and he’s not for release. We keep him separated from the others, since he’s not really trainable. We can generally tell from their appearance how well they’ll do.”
“I suppose the ones who look too much like a dog get sent to the pound?” Portafack joked.
Sandam’s face froze and eyes shifted to the window. Then he produced a short laugh and said, “Nothing that drastic, I assure you. It’s very rare. Most of the hybrids are running the way we want now.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Portafack said. “They’re born in a group, aren’t they? Multiple births. I suppose you don’t call them a litter, do you?” He laughed and Sandam dutifully laughed with him. “Are the mothers the humans? How does that work?”
“We use cow surrogates, of course.”
“Cow surrogates.” Portafack shook his head. “I’ve heard of that. I thought it was for women who didn’t want to ruin their figures. But I guess you can mix anything in a test tube and stick it in a cow these days?”
“Well, that’s pretty simplified. We actually use gene-splicing; we can manipulate DNA, so we mix and match genes. We still have a lot to learn, but we’re getting there. We change things a little for each generation.” He gestured lightly towards the girls, with their differences in doglike facial appearances. “We hope to get to the point where we can produce hybrids for assembly lines, for care-taking positions, for general manual labor, and we’re looking into exhibition sports as well. They can run fast and catch things, so it seems a possibility. But I’m happy with girls like Tercepia. She’s really got the best of both breeds—eager and loving like a dog but looking very human. The other male in her group has turned out very well. He was one of the three hybrids we placed last week, and we’ve already gotten good reports on him. Like Tercepia, he’s exceptional, though a little more outgoing. There’s another boy now that looks promising. Smart and strong.”
“No,” Portafack mused, “I don’t want a boy. I like Tercepia.”
“Then let me suggest this. Why don’t you try talking to her and seeing how she responds? I can send her over to the eggs. She loves those. When you get there, pick up one of the eggs that’s about to hatch—look for a slight crack in the shell. It will get her interest. Then you can walk around with her and see how it goes.”
“It’s a little bit like a date,” Portafack joked.
“A test run. That’s fine by me. How do I get her to come?”
She was over by sink, running water and filling glasses. She would occasionally duck her head in the jet of water and drink.
“Tercepia,” Sandam called.
She wiped her mouth and came over to him.
“Go to the eggs,” he said. “Bring me an egg.”
“Egg,” Tercepia repeated in a happy voice. She turned and began to skip out the door.
“You’d better hurry if you’re going with her. They’re always in a rush.”
Portafack almost lunged in his haste, and he was forced to trot briefly in order to keep her in sight. She went off to the left and around the back of the barns, stopping briefly to run over to a brown dog who was circling a tree. The dog turned once to look at him, and he got a look at its eyes. They surprised him. They were blue, and unlike most dogs’ eyes, they had a pronounced white rim. Startlingly human-looking, he thought, and he didn’t like it. The blue-eyed dog studied him for an instant, but Tercepia pushed it in fun and the two of them began to run together along the sides of the barn. They took turns chasing each other and otherwise wasting time, or Portafack would have lost them.
They stopped and the girl bent down and hugged the dog.
“Tercepia!” Portafack yelled sharply. She jerked up and looked at him. “Egg!” he called.
The blue-eyed dog laid its ears flat against his head and trotted off to the trees, the edge of woodlands that began a few hundred yards from the pens. Tercepia’s gaze followed him.
“Egg!” Portafack repeated to get her attention again. She turned and walked ahead of him.
Portafack passed an opening in the barn and saw pigs inside with rows of noses along their spine. He made a face. A few more yards and Tercepia turned into a small building.
There were elevated glassed-in terrariums with heat lamps along one wall. Across from them were chickens in large cages. At the far end there were laboratory equipment and a few technicians. One got off the phone and waved at Portafack. He pointed to the glass cage where Tercepia was standing, so he went over and selected an egg with a pronounced crack.
He held it in his palm. It was warm and heavy and he covered it with his fist for a moment, just testing its weight. He felt a vibration in the egg, a kind of internal wiggle.
“Look, Tercepia,” he said. “I think it’s hatching.”
Tercepia grinned and stuck her head over the egg, blocking his view. He could smell her slightly, a little grubby, a little salty. He took a slow breath and moved his hand higher, luring her closer.
She brushed against him, intent on the egg. It was moving gently from side to side and he could feel a sort of thump now. He moved the egg from one hand to the other, and Tercepia followed it so she was no longer beside him but in front of him. Her eyes were stuck on the egg. He took his free hand and brushed it against her arm in a studied, casual way. He was watching her even as he felt the egg move. He had to control his breathing so she wouldn’t notice anything. His fingertips moved gently forward. She was wearing a thin cotton dress. It wasn’t fresh. She had been wearing it long enough so that it had softened and lay against her skin. His fingers touched the side of her breast. It would seem like an accident. He could smell her hair.
She moved slightly when he touched her, shifting her weight differently, but her head blocked his view of the egg. He was more interested in accidentally touching her again, to see what her reaction would be. But then the egg began to thump in the palm of his hand and a very natural curiosity caused him to push her slightly aside so he could see.
The thumping, or whatever it was, was rocking the egg noticeably. He listened for little pecks or some kind of chirping; he was sure that would happen as soon as the shell was broken, but it didn’t exactly break. Instead, the egg seemed to bulge a little at one point, and the rocking took on a strong rhythm. The bulge was noticeable.
Suddenly the shell broke, and a dark pink thing poked out. It was soft and thick and curled a little like a tube.
Portafack was fascinated and repulsed. He felt Tercepia trembling with excitement.
The pink thing poked out some more and the shell broke in half.
“It’s a tongue,” he said, finally recognizing it, and Tercepia lunged forward, pushing her head in again over the egg. He thought she might eat it, so he grabbed her by the upper arm, holding her tightly. She twisted away, but her eyes were still trained on the egg. He held it out slightly, liking the way she struggled against him.
The tongue wiggled against his palm. He dropped it in surprise and the girl tried to fall down on top of it. She crouched low and he bent down. “No,” he said. “Don’t eat it. No.”
The second “no” caused her to move back on her haunches, her eyes still trained on the egg, which was wriggling on the ground. He didn’t want to touch it, so he looked around, back over the lab area, and called out, “This one’s hatched and I think she might eat it.”
A man in a lab coat hurried over and picked up the tongue.
“Stay,” Portafack said when she started to follow the technician. She stopped and looked at him. “Good. That’s very good. Come here now.” She went to him, reluctantly.
He lifted her chin with his hand, studying her. The girl’s face had a slight ridge from her forehead to her nose. It was hard for him to figure out whether she looked dull-witted or smart, because it all depended on perspective, didn’t it? From whose point of view, human or dog? “Are you a good girl?” he breathed into her face. “Or do you fight back? Which will it be?” His voice was coaxing; Tercepia tensed and he released her.
“Let’s go to Dr. Sandam, shall we?” he said. She looked alert, and he repeated, “Sandam.” She took off at a trot.
He didn’t take much notice of the brown dog that was in sight again, moving through the trees a hundred yards from the barn. Tercepia saw the dog and started running to him, but Portafack called her back and she moved in an arc on line again to go find Sandam.
He watched her run. She was barefoot, with strong calf muscles. Her arms pumped rhythmically. He would let her hair grow longer; right now it was short and uncared for. He didn’t mind its roughness, but he wanted it to get in her face more; he wanted to be able to twist it around in his hand.
Sandam was standing outside, waiting for them.
“Well?” he asked.
“I’ll take her,” Portafack said. “If she’s as good as you say, I’ll probably come back and take some more. I have friends who will be interested.”
Sandam nodded. “I have to admit I’m sorry to see her go. She’s very sweet and very loyal. She may seem depressed for a few days, they do sometimes, until she adjusts. We spent a lot of time on her.” There was regret in his voice as he led Portafack to his office and began writing out the receipts. “It was a pleasure to see how much she could learn. I do want you to send me reports every month or so. We want to track them as much as possible. Her brother’s reports have been good, and we sold two of the younger girls last week as nannies. They’ve adjusted very quickly, though the first few days, I have to warn you, can be very sad for them.”
When he had finished all the paperwork, he handed the bill to Portafack, who studied it and then gave him a credit card.
“How will she know she belongs to me now?”
“She’s trained to accept orders, so use voice commands, just as you would with any dog. But be kind. They respond to kindness more than to anything else. Persuasion. Affection. That sort of thing.”
When they’d finished all the paper work, they went outside again. Tercepia was playing with the dog a little distance away.
“That dog,” Portafack murmured. He could see the dog opening and shutting its mouth, but there was no sound. “Did you de-bark it or something?”
Sandam cleared his throat. “It made too much noise. It kept distracting the hybrids.”
“Oh? Then barking bothers them?”
Sandam hesitated. “No. It wasn’t really the barking that did it, but don’t worry. It doesn’t affect you.”
“If you say so. Do I just call her to me?” He was eager; his eyes were locked on her.
He called and the girl came to him, but stood a few feet away. She looked uneasy. The blue-eyed dog went off to the other side of the yard, and sat down watching them.
“Car, Tercepia,” Sandam said. He patted Portafack on the shoulder. “She likes cars. They all do.”
“I could have guessed. Let’s go to the car, Tercepia.”
Tercepia looked alert when she heard the word and happily ran over to Sandam’s car.
“No,” he said.
“Here, Tercepia,” Portafack said, motioning her to the right vehicle. “Car.” He opened the door for her.
She went over slowly and climbed in. When Portafack closed the door, she looked alarmed and stared at Sandam. She began to whimper.
“Don’t worry about that,” Sandam said as he walked Portafack to the driver’s side. “She’ll be upset for a day or two then she’ll settle down.”
“Still, I hope she doesn’t make a lot of noise,” Portafack said. “It’s annoying.”
“Give her some treats if she doesn’t eat. But no chocolate, they can’t tolerate it, a legacy of the dog genes.”
Portafack laughed. “Flowers? Should I get flowers?”
“She likes cheese. Goodbye, Tercepia. Be good.” Sandam waved as Portafack started the motor.
The long driveway curved at one point, and they lost sight of the farm. It was at that moment that Tercepia began to howl. She shoved herself against the seat belt, rocking as close to the windshield, seat or window as she could as the car moved. She tried desperately to get back to Sandam.
“Stop it,” Portafack said. “Sit. Sit!” He jerked his foot on the accelerator, then stepped on the brakes so he could pull her back, then accelerated again, only to stop as her arms windmilled wildly. She began to howl, “Home, home home!” in a drawn out high voice. She clutched at the seat belt, holding it tight or pulling it away from her chest. “Home home home!” she wailed.
Portafack had to slow down, it was hard to drive with Tercepia’s constant movements. The brown dog suddenly appeared in the road in front of him, barking soundlessly, and then the dog ran to the passenger side of the car. It leapt in the air and threw itself against Tercepia’s door.
“Cerbo!” Tercepia cried out, and her hands pumped at the side window. “Cerbo, help! Cerbo, home, home! Please Cerbo. Tercepia sorry! Home now, home now!” She wept openly, then twisted around in the seat to smack Portafack. She howled at him, hitting wildly, snapping at his arm, pulling at his face, his nose, his ears, anything she could lay hands on. Portafack couldn’t see. He stopped the car and jerked it in park, snapping Tercepia forward. This caught her by surprise, so he took the opportunity to grab her by the arm and smack her head. His face twisted at her, his mouth ugly, his voice harsh as he shouted, “I’ll beat the crap out of you if you don’t stop!” He unlocked his seat belt to have better aim.
A huge rock crashed into his windshield.
He was startled and let Tercepia’s arm go. What had fallen on them?
It wasn’t a rock; it was that dog again and it was hurling itself again at the windshield, fangs bared, tongue curled, ears pricked high and those eerie blue eyes staring at him with a ferocious concentration that made his hands sweat.
He blasted the horn. If it didn’t frighten the dog, maybe it would bring Sandam. He felt trapped.
Tercepia’s hands flailed at his face, scratching, poking, ramming a fist into his right eye. She was mindless, a maniac, frantic: her weird shrieking combining with the sounds of the dog’s claws on the side of the car incapacitated him.
Tercepia unlocked the door and bolted.
Cerbo broke free and began to run up to the trees that ringed the farm. She ran after him. In the distance, up the drive, she could see Sandam’s hurrying figure and she heard his voice floating towards her. “Tercepia! Here! Now! Here! Come here!” but she ignored it.
She stopped on the ridge, catching her breath. She sat down so she could hug the dog even more. Cerbo licked her face, her hands, his muzzle moving constantly.
Cerbo lifted his head and his ears twitched. Tercepia turned to see where he was looking, and there was Portafack, with a heavy stick in his hand and a length of rope. “Get over here, girl,” he said. “Get over here or I’ll kill the two of you. You’re going to have to learn to listen to me now.”
Tercepia leaped up, spun around, and began to run through the woods, Cerbo running beside her. Portafack stayed halfway up the hill, running after her, panting loudly. They came out of the trees, and Portafack could see some buildings in the distance—he thought they were the schools. To the left was a fenced-in field with cows in it, and Tercepia seemed to be going straight for it.
The cows were standing as if watching them, face forward. They had projections from their sides and when he got closer, Portafack saw that they were rudimentary arms. The arms were bare and of slightly different lengths. The fingers moved in the air like they were rolling balls or playing piano, constantly moving. He felt an instant’s revulsion, but his fury led him forward. He saw Tercepia and the dog run to the middle of the cows and stop. Tercepia was pointing at him and crying.
He was surprised that the two of them had stopped. He thought he might have outrun them, somehow, might have outmaneuvered them. Perhaps, like some animals that hid a part of themselves they thought he couldn’t see them. But he could, and he was going to teach them a lesson.
He waved his stick, but then he thought better of it. He didn’t want a struggle, he wanted to get close to her and tie her hands up. If he looked frightening, she might run again. He held the stick behind his back with his right hand.
“Here, Tercepia,” he called sweetly. “It’s okay. Good girl. Come here. Don’t worry. It’s all right.”
The cows were shifting and moaning. He pushed the head of one cow out of his way.
The dog came racing at him and he lifted the stick and whacked him on the side. It jerked away with its mouth open but still silent, stumbling a few times, its head down. The cow next to him mooed loudly and the arms along its side began to wave. Portafack stepped away from it. He couldn’t see what was behind him. He stepped back from one cow only to find himself between two others. He lifted his stick again, automatically, as arms reached for him, and in an instant the noise in the field rose. The cows moaned angrily and surrounded Portafack. He lifted the stick and began to swing blindly, as arms came at him from all sides.
He went down among the hooves endlessly moving around him, catching fragmented glimpses of the girl and the dog seen through the motion of the cows’ legs, the oncoming crush of their low stomachs, the jabbing torment of those arms tightening around his throat and covering his face.
“Tercepia!” Sandam called, coming closer, but it was too far away, too far away; the weight of the cows came at Portafack and the hands pressed forward, reaching at him, finding him.
“Home, home, home,” Tercepia cried and danced with the dog. She held its front paws and they pranced around together, the dog on its back legs, its blue eyes trained on her. “Happy now,” Tercepia said, “happy here forever. Cerbo, happy with you!”
The blue-eyed dog raised its head and moved its mouth. Portafack’s eyes were closing, it was his last sight as a cow stepped on him and the hands held him down.
“Brother!” Tercepia cried again. “Together forever!” And they ran away from Sandam and Portafack, into the woods, chasing each other joyfully, and anything that moved.