“The Farm” by Lizz Shepherd
Just after dusk was the best time to feed the livestock. The sun had just faded and the air was cool, comfortable and safe for us to do the farm chores.
I worried when we first started the farm that we weren’t treating the livestock well, that they’d be happier in their natural environment, maybe rolling hills or barns or something instead of a huge industrial building full of short stalls. But then Kobi pointed out that we weren’t a factory farm, and livestock really fared badly in those. At our farm, we took good care of them and only had one level of stalls. That meant no overcrowding, no waste falling from above onto the livestock below. They could live out their lives just fine until they were eaten.
I grabbed a couple of large, heavy pails of food. Kobi met me at the entrance to the complex to do the watering and straw. We both had keys, but he usually beat me to the unlocking process. Four locks kept them safely inside and kept us confident they couldn’t break out.
“Hi, Timmy!” I said, and waved to the littlest one. It was a half-grown male with dark hair and a tiny mouth.
“I told you not to name them. We’ve all told you not to name them,” Kobi said gruffly.
“I don’t see any reason not to,” I said, dolling out the vegetables and cooked meats. Anyone else walking into the barn and smelling the smell of human waste in the straw and the aroma of cooked foods wafting up from the buckets might have gotten sick. When the farm was new, it took me a week to stop gagging every time I walked into the building, but I was used to it now. I was a real farmer. Farmers don’t get sick. They may not all name the animals, but then not all farmers had human livestock that could talk and laugh. Some farmers had the type that only oinked or brayed.
Timmy gave a little wave back. I slipped a little extra of the cooked meats through the bars and into his bowl and gave him a smile. He jumped on the food and ate every bit of it before I’d even finished feeding the next stall over.
“Don’t worry, Timmy, you’ll get more later. Knox never fails you. He’ll be back with your lunch,” I told him. Timmy nodded and sat by the bars, watching me. Most of the other humans hung as far back from the bars as they could, not moving toward their food until I was well away from their stalls.
I turned back around and caught Kobi shaking his head at me.
“You do your job your way, I’ll do mine,” I said to him for what seemed like the millionth time, but it was probably only the 1,000th time. We’d been doing this shift together for years, but he still thought he could tell me how to do it.
I still had plenty of food in my pail when I came to another favorite of mine. I’d named her Daphne after an old cartoon I’d seen from decades ago when humans made their own cartoons and movies. She was tall and had red hair, and she always answered to the name. She stood right next to the bars when I arrived, so I knew what she wanted. I was fine with obliging. She held her arm out across the bars so that I could see it perfectly, lit up by the bright lights we had in the center of the building. The arm was pale and smooth, and it looked soft.
I touched her arm, rubbing it through the bars for a moment before I held it in both hands and bit it in between them. The blood was warm and salty, the perfect
taste before the human’s first food had been served. It still tasted like desperation and was thickened due to her having so little water during the day. It was always that first taste that made my night, an energy boost that would get me through my shift on the farm.
I gave her some extra cooked meats when I was finished with my drink. Daphne descended on her food with the same enthusiasm that Timmy had earlier. Awww, I always thought. They like their food so much.
Through a door and down another hallway was my least favorite of the livestock. None of these humans would give me a drink.
Kobi followed me in, and we looked around. None of them were near the bars. That was a good sign. Kobi shot me a look that I knew meant to watch myself. I nodded at him. I wasn’t worried.
“Hey John John,” I said to a particularly large male as I placed his food in his bowl. “Everything’s ok. Here’s your food. That’s a good boy,” I said, keeping my eye on him as I fed him.
“Girl, I know you didn’t name these in here,” Kobi said, rolling his eyes. I smiled. Yeah, maybe I gave a lot of them names. It just made the hard work of doing my rounds more fun.
The next stall was a tricky one. The male in it was strong and ferocious, and he had a history of grabbing for us when we fed him. I fed him without speaking, watching him the whole time.
Knox and the rest of the midnight crew called this hallway death row after the jails humans used to have for each other. It wasn’t a name I used in front of them, but it was a true one. We usually did kill these first.
A rattle, screech and bang grabbed my attention and I turned to where Kobi was doling out water and hay.
“Anne! We have a squealer!”
I put my bucket down and ran to join him in front of a human who had rarely caused problems. But when he did…
“Stop it!” I growled through the bars and looked at the rest of the livestock. “Stop it now!” I said louder.
The full-grown male was banging on the bars and yelling. He’d taken some of his soiled hay and thrown it at Kobi.
“Shut the hell up or I’m coming in,” Kobi said in a low voice, doing that posturing thing men did when they wanted to look bigger. The male kept yelling, kept banging. He picked up his water bowl and smashed it into the wall again and again. Kobi shot me a look as I watched the other stalls. He stood directly in front of the lock and nodded to me. I got into position- knees loose, arms up, eyes hard on the screeching male.
Kobi unlocked the three locks on the stall and threw the door open before the human even knew he’d started. Kobi grabbed the male and threw him to the ground and I stood in the doorway. Kobi easily overpowered him, holding him down in the hay of his stall and keeping the male’s arms from flailing. But with Kobi’s arms holding the male’s arms down, he couldn’t stop him from screaming. I stepped in and put a hand over his mouth to stop the noise. The two of us kept him quiet and immobilized for a few minutes before Kobi started to ease up to see the reaction. The male immediately started flailing against him.
“That’s it,” Kobi said and looked at me. I nodded. Faster than the human could see, I bit into one side of the male’s neck and Kobi bit into the other. We drank until the flailing stopped and then we both sat up and looked at him to see if he’d survive. Kobi took his pulse.
“Nope,” he said. I shrugged and we both leaned over the male again and drank until the blood went cold. It was a fine meal, full of anger and desperation and just a hint of insanity. And we got him before he ate or drank for the night. I sat back and licked my lips, wanting to savor it for a few moments.
We sat still, listening.
“He didn’t get the others riled up. We got him just in time,” Kobi said. I nodded, not willing to move yet.
“I think the only meal better than that is one that’s mixed just a little with the human’s tears. Have you ever had that?” I asked Kobi.
“A couple of times,” he said, nodding. “It’s tough to get them to cry just the right way, but when they do…” Kobi said, shaking his head with a smile. He sat as still as I was, licking the last smears of blood from his fangs. We were content to simply savor the farming life for a moment. Fresh food, autonomy and a sense of satisfaction. It was a good day on the farm.
Lizz Shepherd is a freelance writer living in Alabama.