by Patti D. Thomas, 1361 words

Icy Fraser Valley winds whistled through the trees. Hair on the freed animals’ bodies pricked up, trapping heat against their skin. As much as they longed to be cuddled in a warm blanket-covered lap in front of a fireplace, they were on a mission from the Animal Gods.

Now was not the time to think of one’s own needs. This was the time for pack mentality. From their primeval instincts to sacrifice self for others, each of them reached back into that shared ancient history and tried to unearth the commitment of acting as one unit with one purpose. If they could make the Animal Farm a viable healthy haven for hundreds of animals, their contribution would continue long after they were gone from the planet.

Mame felt this energy. She turned toward Rufi who nodded slightly, then faced the others and sat down. “My friends. Thank you for answering the call. It is only fair to warn you there may be danger ahead of us, including returning to a life of confinement, or worse.” Much as she hated to even utter the words, Mame knew she must. Gazing with pity at the pugs, she continued. “Your future could include Halloween costumes.” The other animals gasped in horror. “Anyone who is not fully committed should leave now.”

The dogs maintained direct eye contact with her and didn’t budge. Each cat began grooming itself or looking skyward at the impending storm. “God, I hate cats,” Mame grumbled.

Rufi curled his lips and hissed. “I beg your pardon?”

Sighing dramatically, Mame tilted her head to one side. “Oh, don’t get your tail in a twist. At least you wild cats are…assertive. You don’t get all weird and squirmy.”

“Thank you. I think. Shall we proceed?” Rufi said, moving forward and pausing until Mame stood and walked next to him. Ahead, a wide shadow approached just as the storm clouds closed in from behind them. They were being squeezed between two dark forces, one on the ground and one in the sky.

From the ground force, a voice yowled. “We’re here. How can we help?” Striding confidently toward them was Jasper, all gray tiger stripes and arrogance.

The cat’s appeal had always been lost on Mame. She had never tried to hide her disdain for the species, and her contempt only increased since their so-called uprising several months before. Jasper announced a feline demonstration to protest their poor cat kennel conditions. Most of the human staff were well meaning, but the Animal Farm’s ever-dwindling finances had forced several incremental reductions in the quality of both kitty litter and food. The cuts affected the dogs, also, but naturally the cats only focused on themselves.

As Jasper stood staring at them in his irritating way, tail twitching impatiently, Mame recalled the morning of the protest. The cats waited until the first staff arrived and opened the doors to the cat area. Jasper began screeching, “Now! Now!” In unison, at the top of their lungs, the cats stood on their hind legs and ran their front paws back and forth across the bars of their cages while screaming, “Cat-ti-ca! Cat-ti-ca!”

Dogs close enough to see into the cat room barked in hysterical laughter and described to the others what they saw. Cats’ paws running against sides of cages made as much noise as cats walking across a linoleum floor. That is to say, none. And as far as their protest chant, it sounded to the humans the same as their obnoxious yowling on any other morning – just a louder version of dozens of cats demanding attention and food.

“Guess what, Jasper, it’s not all about you. I know that comes as a shock, Mr. ‘Cat-ti-ca.’ “   Mame saw Rufi’s puzzled expression out of the corner of her eye and turned to him, “Tell you later. You’ll love it,” before again facing Jasper and the other recently-freed animals.

“Thank you all for joining us. We’re here on behalf of all animals – those living with two-leggeds as well as those living wild. After this is over, most of us who own humans will choose to return to care for them. I mean, we all have stories about their inability to live on their own, right?”

Camille, the poodle, immediately spoke up. “Mine makes angry sounds while moving papers around, then picks up another paper and does the same thing! And keeps doing it!” They all roared with laughter, with many nodding in recognition. A Siamese in the back rolled on her back and pawed the air with all four feet. “Oh, Great Cat in the Sky! They never learn!” Another wave of laughter rippled through the crowd.

Mame allowed a few minutes for the animals to bond through shared jokes: “tell us again about your large brain, Hairless One,” squeaked a brown-and-white Guinea pig. One of the Great Danes called out, “Yeah, ‘mommy,’ leave the chicken on the counter because you’ve trained us not to eat it – let’s go with that!”

“Okay, everyone, speaking of chickens, let’s get back to the reason for this gathering. We all know about the conditions at the Cluckers chicken business.” From the back came a distinctively fowl voice, “Mother-cluckers is what they are!”

“Yes, well…anyway, among all the two-leggeds inside this building is the owner, Tyson Cluckers. He has made millions through the brutal treatment of our feathered sisters.” Not lost on Mame was Rufi’s skulking into the shadows at the edge of the huge crowd of animals. She chose to ignore his attack on the chickens for now. Who amongst us, she thought – well, possibly Camille, bless her heart – was not guilty of chasing a chipmunk or chomping on a chickadee? But that was very different from butchering beings for profit.

“Let’s get on with it! Is it our turn to carve up that turkey, Cluckers?” called out Rusty.

“Hey, what’s going on out here?” A heavily-inked arm held the office door before M.T.’s head poked through the opening, eyes widening at the scene. “Oh, my God! What’s going on??” She called over her shoulder, “Hey, you guys! You’ve got to see this!” Even as the other humans stepped outside, horses and cows from surrounding pastures, deer, and a growing multitude of cats and dogs kept coming.

“Wh—what the Holy Hell is going on?” Tyson stammered.

Chuckling, M.T. shook her head. “I have a feeling your goose is cooked, Cluckers, old buddy.”

Audrey spoke up. “I say we all re-convene in the barn, where we’ll have some cover from the rain, but there’ll be room for our four-legged—” A piercing rooster crow sliced its way through the throng “—and other furred and feathered friends.”

Fierce winds propelled them toward the outbuildings. A dozen dogs tore down the food storage shed door and dragged out bags of food. Animals immediately veered in that direction and began fighting over the spilled kibble. Mame dashed through the crowd, baring her teeth and growling viciously.

“Stop! Now! Grab some food if you must, but do NOT fight each other! Don’t you know that oppressors pit us against each other so that we don’t focus on them? Don’t be fools and play into their hands!”  The dogs quickly hung their heads in shame and abandoned their looting, re-joining the others.

Once inside the barn, the enormous herd of animals squeezed together to allow as many as possible to be out of the storm. The humans gazed at the spectacle in astonishment. A bobcat sat half-way under a horse; a Chi-weenie and a Tuxedo cat curled up together on the ground; a mini-donkey rested its head gently across a deer’s back.

Cherry looked up at Bull and whined loudly. “What is it, girl?” Bull bent over and stroked the dog’s head. “Okay, sweetheart, you do what you gotta do. I’ve got your back.” Cherry circled around the humans, sniffing each one. She stopped when she reached Tyson and barked twice. Rusty, Oscar, two Huskeys and a yellow lab joined Cherry and began walking forward. The man looked terrified but didn’t resist.

Tim couldn’t help smirking. “Looks like this is your day in court, Mr. Cluckers.”