Fiction | Literary Fiction
Content Warning: references to sexual violence and child abuse in a character’s past are made in this fictional story.
The front yard mostly mimicked that of a typical countryside home. It had a white picket fence. A tire swing hung from a tall hackberry tree, and the flowers in planter boxes under each window brought color to the white house. But this yard was unlike others for a massive pig sunbathed on his side in the overgrown grass. Pieces of straw clung to its black hair and pink, hot skin peeked through the white band of hair wrapping around his shoulders and legs. Chickens clucked freely at the ground, unafraid of the Anatolian Shepard who lifted his head, noticing a car pull into the long driveway.
A girl emerged clinging to a pillow while a woman removed shopping bags from the trunk. She stood still scanning the front yard with cautious eyes. The woman closed the trunk and walked to the girl nudging her towards the gate. She paused before opening the gate, staring at the pig, and wondered whether it was safe to enter. A smiling woman flew through the front door.
“Come on in! He won’t hurt ya, I promise!” yelled the woman waving them to enter.
The girl’s eyes remained fixated on the pig as she opened the gate. When he didn’t acknowledge their presence, she felt safe to walk forward.
“You must be Holly. I’m Anna. I am so excited you are here!” squealed Anna. “It’s good to see you again, Karen. Thank you so much for driving her out here. Saturdays are a hard day to get away.”
“No problem at all. It’s a beautiful drive,” replied Karen.
“Well come on then. Let’s getcha settled. Here lemme take some of those,” said Anna grabbing bags from Karen.
Anna led them towards house bending down to pet the Anatolian Shepard as she passed.
“This is Nigel. You’ll find him here, mostly when it’s hot out,” said Anna proceeding to open the front door.
The foyer opened into a family room with vault ceilings held up by exposed wood beams. Sunlight poured through the large windows, which provided a striking view of rolling fields. Earth tone décor and live plants offered a welcoming and calm environment. The smell of baking bread hit Holly’s nose but failed to ease her nerves. Anna led them down a hallway left of the front door and entered a bedroom.
“This is your room, Holly,” said Anna. “I know it’s a bit plain right now. I wasn’t sure what you’re into.”
Holly walked to the window and gazed outside. Her room overlooked a green field where an adolescent cow frolicked while its mom grazed. She wondered whether she’d ever seen a cow in real life. Anna and Karen set the bags down on the floor adjacent to a large dresser.
“Okay, we’ll let ya be for a bit. There’s a bathroom across the hall, and we’ll just be in the kitchen if you need anything,” said Anna ushering Karen out of the room.
Anna poured Karen a glass of fresh strawberry lemonade, and they sat down in the living room.
“She’s barely spoken to me. It might be a long time before she opens up,” explained Karen.
“I figured as much. She’s been through a lot. More than my past girls,” agreed Anna.
Holly was removed from her mother’s boyfriend’s home after a neighbor reported hearing children crying in the house that she hadn’t ever seen leaving the home. Holly was among nine other children in the home, all living in cots in the basement and clearly malnourished. Her clothes were stained and frayed.
Interviews revealed that the man coerced her mother and two other women into living with him, proclaiming a divine power said this life is their destiny. Once he earned their trust, he locked their children from them and controlled the women by threatening abuse against them and their children if they disobeyed. A medical examination suggested Holly, the oldest child imprisoned, was sexually assaulted, but Holly remained silent on the matter. Karen, who works for Child Protective Services, contacted Anna when Holly’s mother was deemed unfit to care for her.
The women chatted a bit longer before Karen returned home. Holly sat on her bed, staring out the window when Anna returned to her room.
“Hey, Holly,” said Anna from the doorway. “I wanna introduce you to someone if you’re up for it.”
Holly didn’t respond but followed Anna out the backdoor. Goats pressed their noses against a chicken wire lined fence as they walked towards a large, blue barn. Anna pushed the barn door open and guided Holly inside. A disheveled tomcat ran across the floor to hide as they entered. Sliding barn doors filled either side of the building enclosing pins. Holly couldn’t see inside the pins but could hear shuffling to suggest animals lived inside. Anna stopped at pin towards the middle, unlocked the door and opened it.
“She’s still a bit skittish, so move slowly, okay?” instructed Anna.
Holly slowly stepped inside to find a large pink pig lying on a mound of blankets. Scabs flaked around her eyes, and a large wound oozed on her left shoulder. She wheezed with each breath. Anna walked out of the pin and returned with a large dish of food. She walked over to the pig, waving the bowl in front of her nose.
“Hey, mamma, wanna eat?” Anna asked the pig.
The pig slowly rose to her feet. She limped as she followed Anna taking breaks before finally arriving at the dish. She sat leaning on the unhurt hip and bent down to eat.
“What happened to her?” Holly asked.
“This is Bertha. She was a breeding sow at a factory farm,” said Anna slowing continuing to explain. “She was kept in a gestation crate no bigger than her body for most of her life. She couldn’t really lay down or turn around. Those sores on her hips and face are from the bars pressing against her body. She spent her days mindlessly chewing on the metal bars. They impregnated her many times, taking her babies a few weeks after birth.
“Then, after a few years, they decided she wasn’t useful anymore and put her up for slaughter. She was either lucky or determined not to die because she fell off the truck on the way to the slaughterhouse. I gotta call late one night from a nice couple, asking if I would take her. She wandered into their yard,” chuckled Anna. “I went and got her a couple days ago.”
“What are you going to do with her?” asked Holly.
“I’m gonna love her,” promised Anna as she smiled while watching Bertha eat. “I was hoping you’d help me.”
“How?” Holly asked.
“She’ll need food and water, of course. And her area kept clean. But most of all, she’ll need belly rubs and affection.”
“You want me to pet her belly? Like a dog?” questioned Holly.
“Oh, you’ll love it more than she will,” laughed Anna. “Come on, let’s go back inside and let her finish.”
On the walk back, Anna explained to Holly how her farm was a sanctuary for farm animals. People all over the country contact her to help them save animals or to surrender animals under their care. She wants to take them all. But she only accepts factory farm animals, those used for food, who have experienced significant abuse and recommended other sanctuaries for the others. Her farm was home to chickens, turkeys, goats, cows, pigs, an ostrich, a couple bison, and a herd of elk.
“Why do you do this?” asked Holly as they returned to the house.
“Because how else can you surround yourself with so much love?” answered Anna.
Spring wildflowers died as the animals sought shelter from the summer heat under trees and in their indoor pins. Holly spent most of her days with Bertha, feeding her, cleaning her pen, and adjusting her to human touch. Nigel had grown fond of Holly, velcroed to her hip and sleeping at the foot of her bed. Holly remained quiet, rarely talking to Anna or any of the daily volunteers who helped care for the animals.
But Anna noticed subtle changes in Holly’s behavior, suggesting she was healing. Her appetite improved, and muscles began to form where bones once protruded. Often, Anna caught her laughing while preventing the goats from pulling out her pockets in search of treats, another favorite passing time of Holly’s. Music sometimes echoed from the radio in her room as she hummed along to the beat. Anna gave her space and time, knowing she needed to rediscover herself before she would be ready to face her past.
One evening, Anna’s calls announcing dinner went unanswered. She went in search of Holly and found her with her head resting on Bertha’s stomach, rubbing her belly, and sobbing.
“Oh sweetheart, what’s wrong?” asked Anna, kneeling down beside Holly as she continued to cry.
Several minutes passed before Holly responded. “How can she be happy and trust me after everything she’s been through?” wept Holly. “Why can’t I be happy?”
“You will be. It just takes time,” promised Anna.
“How would you know? Your life is perfect,” snapped Holly wiping tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand.
Anna paused, wondering if it was an appropriate time to tell Holly her story, her truth. It was always hard to share with the girls she cared for over the years.
“I can never understand how you feel or imagine what you went through Holly,” began Anna. “My life hasn’t always been happy. I ran away from home when I wasn’t much older than you. My dad was mean, especially when he was drunk. He hit me. But he wasn’t as bad as my uncle. My uncle moved in with us when I was twelve. Every night, he would sneak into my room once everyone else was asleep and rape me. He raped me for years, but I was too afraid to tell anyone because he said he’d kill my mom and me.
“Then, one day I packed some stuff in my backpack, stole money from my dad’s wallet, and ran away. I hitchhiked to a different city so they couldn’t find me and lived on the streets. For a while, I lived in a shed behind an abandoned house for a long time. But it was better than being at home.”
“How did you get over it?” asked Holly.
“When I turned eighteen, I started working on a sanctuary, much like this one,” explained Anna. “I’ve watched so many animals who’ve been tortured by humans learn to love and trust us. I’ve seen cows once too weak to stand, later chasing each other in the fields again. I’ve witness pigs, like Bertha here, who’ve had their tails cut off, ribs broken by man’s kicks, terrible, terrible things, invite us to cuddle like you are now. Those animals survived their pain and chose to heal, to not let their abuser win.
“I realized that I was the only person who could decide whether I wanted to heal. I had to face the truth of what was done to me. It hurt. Hurt to talk about. Hurt to think about. But sometimes we have to feel the pain to overcome our demons, to be stronger. Over time, the sun stopped hiding, and the darkness over me lightened.”
Anna paused and laid down next to Holly, placing her head on Bertha’s belly.
“I don’t know what to do,” sniffled Holly.
“You’re already doing it,” proclaimed Anna. “Soak in all the love that is here with you tonight.”
© 2020-2021 Alexys Carlton. All Rights Reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.