Written in response to Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge: "The Idiomatic".
Chuck Wendig, Terribleminds
"Pigs are the Devil's Tools"
Tom had nowhere to turn. It had all been going so well, all to plan, his father's plan, the one found in a drawer after his death. It had all gone so well, until recently.
The farm had exceeded all Tom's hopes and dreams over the years; rare breeds, organic crops, age-old skills and practices in use and on show to anyone who cared to visit. And visit they did. For the price of a ticket - revenues 'ploughed' back into the development of the farm - anyone could come and see the farm in action, as it happened, subject to opening hours, handy shop on exit brimful with produce
People were inspired by Tom's passion for the environment and its wildlife, his respect for livestock and use of ethical programmes, and left the farm with a renewed optimism that the world might be alright after all. They felt they had contributed and glowed with benevolence and love for bees while climbing into their luxurious air-conditioned four wheel drive vehicles and heading back to their centrally heated homes, where they'd probably left a few lights on, or the tumble dryer going.
Tom's dream had started small, as per the plan. Self sufficiency was the aim, grow your own, breed your own, feed yourself. Be self reliant, don't depend on the mass market, don't encourage the waste, the poor animal welfare, the profits. So he started with pigs. After all, almost everyone loves bacon.
And then, it seemed, overnight everyone was at it.
But Tom had a head start and a nice face and found himself on TV. He was special guest on cookery shows, talking about seasonal veg and nose to tail eating. Then he had his own weekly half hour slot based on the farm, the first series showing the new milking shed going up. The second series showcased his free range chickens, and paid for a complete makeover on the farmhouse.
He always had a soft spot for the pigs though. Every night he'd visit the pig paddock and talk to them about his day, asking about theirs. The stock had been ... renewed over the years but he still felt an affinity with them, as if they shared a mutual understanding, a bond. They were intelligent creatures and Tom felt they appreciated his aspirations.
And then things changed. One night he went to the pig paddock as usual and their behaviour was different. Instead of gathering by the fence at which he stood, grouping and shuffling to be near him, they stayed distant, and quiet, as if defiant. Tom was hurt, but resolved to check their feed and water supply the next day.
A few days later and the strange behaviour of the pigs continued. During the day, while Tom was away filming or consulting on a similar farm development somewhere, the pigs were reported to be in good spirits, eating well and popular with visitors. In the evenings Tom would be greeted with silence and distance as if they were ignoring him. He only had their previous good nature to compare this sudden hostility to - and hostility was how he chose to see it.
Then Tom's work outside of the farm took a curious course . His TV guest spots suffered first. He’d trip over his lines causing multiple takes, and forget the names of other guests or, worse, illustrious chefs. Then he'd muddle the designs on a consultation, or draft a programme of crop rotation that made no sense. And each night he would return to the pigs seeking solace. Each night they would ignore him.
Finally, Tom found himself with a decision to make, a couple of options to consider. The pig huts needed a facelift, the refurbishments were to be the subject of his new TV series, unless he decided the visitor's cafe should take priority. Which he did. Visitors brought increasing amounts of revenue, and they were more interested in the upcoming lambing season anyway than a bunch of smelly, peevish pigs.
As filming started it was clear that something was afoot, and awry. For the first week it rained incessantly. Half of the cafe had been closed for the refurb, but the half that was still open flooded. In the second week a visiting class of eight year olds were left in tears of shock after witnessing a large cow throw a hissy-fit in the milking shed and stampede through their group to freedom beyond. The third week saw an entire field of asparagus - the season's first crop, butter already melting on the stove - wilt and blacken after an unseasonal overnight frost.
Tom went to see the pigs. He hadn't been since filming of his new series began but couldn't hold out any longer. He was sure they would feel his pain. So he went to them, looking for that old familiarity, that empathy, and watched as they behaved - well - like pigs. He couldn't detect any animosity at all but reflected that they seemed oblivious to him.
Several weeks later and the filming had been cancelled due to inclement weather conditions and assorted catastrophes. Then, Tom's contract with the cookery show had been terminated and his consultancy position with two new developments shelved.
In the farmhouse he sat one night at his father’s battered desk. He took a journal from one of its drawers, the one written by his father that documented the plan that Tom had followed in the early days and believed in without question. His father was a would-be farmer, trapped in a nine to five factory existence, and he had been Tom's inspiration. Tom looked to the journal often for words of comfort and wisdom. It contained thick, unlined pages, filled with sketches, scribbles and ideas, bound with fine leather. As he opened it a page revealed itself that had been previously unseen, the very first page, like a fly sheet. It had somehow stuck to the inside cover all these years. On it Tom's father had written, in large, scrawling script, "Above all else avoid pigs. Pigs are the devil's tools."
Photo on this page: From Flikr, by Smabs Sputzer