“The best thing to do,” said Fergus, “is go to the far side of the dam and jump in from the bank, where the ground is high.”
Henry looked doubtful.
“To make it convincing,” Fergus said.
“Yes. You want Samson to believe you need his help, right? Well, then you can’t just wade in the shallow water. Jump in on the other side, and Samson will run as fast as… well, as fast as you. Maybe even as fast as me.”
Henry’s mouth fell open. “As fast as you?” he whispered. “Wow.”
“You could to it right now,” suggested Fergus.
“N… now?” Henry sniffed and grunted then sneezed so hard he fell back on his rump and toppled over on his side.
“Hey now, Henry,” said Fergus. He stepped over to the piglet and laid a paw on his belly. “Do you want to help Samson or not? Think of the fun he’ll have running. You are his friend, aren’t you?”
“Oh yes, yes I am,” said Henry, jumping to his feet.
“Well, sometimes friends have to be brave for each other. Could you be brave for Samson?”
Henry stood straight and looked fierce. “Yes Fergus,” he said. “I’ll be the bravest friend Samson ever had.”
“I knew you would,” said Fergus. “Now, off you go, and help the donkey run.”
Henry nodded and began marching toward the dam. He marched tall, lifting his knees high with each step, and then planting his trotters down in perfect, determined rhythm. With his chin raised and brow furrowed, he looked as brave as a soldier, and as dignified as a general. The young piglet felt it was the finest moment of his life.
His proud steps, however, were rather short, and his raised head, while a formidable sight, was not entirely practical: with his snout almost vertical he couldn’t see where he was going. And so, rather than walking to the dam, Henry inched his way around in a semicircle and headed blindly back to Fergus’s kennel. “Henry, what are you doing?” said Fergus, unable to suppress a snarl. “You’ll be here all day at that rate. Just walk normally.” Henry lowered his snout just enough to observe where he was. When he realised he was facing the wrong way, he resumed his usual stance (though not without disappointment). He turned and faced the dam, nodded once more, and trotted ahead down the hill.
Little Henry’s shadow stretched out majestically before him in the late afternoon light; the grass bowed before him under the sway of a cool breeze. He was on a mission, and not even a rotting, half-eaten peach in the clover down behind the henhouse could distract him. Down at the dam a buzzing blast of tiny, high-pitched trumpets proclaimed his arrival as he walked through a small swarm of mosquitoes. He skirted the murky pond until he came to the raised bank on the far side. Henry peered over the edge and into the deep; the water was dark and still. He looked up the north hill and saw Samson there eating grass. It seemed far away. Looking back into the water, a giddy fear surged through the piglet’s little body. He backed up a good five metres from the edge and drew a steadying breath. Then another. He noticed a slight whistle from his snout when he inhaled. Henry began breathing rapidly in and out to hear it again. This continued for a minute or so before an impatient bark echoed from up at the farmhouse. Samson heard it on the north hill.
That particular bark was a highly offensive canine expression, to which no human profanity can adequately compare. Samson was familiar with it though, and turned to see what was happening. Fergus was at the farmhouse, but there was no sign of trouble. Samson looked in the direction the cattle dog was facing, down at the dam. He saw nothing out of the ordinary there either, until, at the far side of the dam, he noticed what looked like a misshapen football, faded after being left in the paddock all summer. Only one animal on the farm fitted that description. Samson took a few anxious steps downhill, looking back and forward between Fergus and Henry.
Henry had also heard Fergus bark, and assumed it was a message of encouragement from a good friend. While that interpretation was wildly off the mark, it produced the effect Fergus desired: Henry (after giving a short speech which the cattle dog could not hear and would have ignored anyway) ran up the bank to the dam.
A thrill shot through him as he sped toward the launch site. “Help! Help!” he cried as loud as he could. “Samson, save me!” Henry leapt with all the force his little hams could muster. With a squeal he lifted his trotters from the ground and shot out over the water. His face beamed through the rushing wind, and his little legs kicked in exhilaration. In that glorious moment Henry realised—he was flying. Just like a bird.
Sooner or later every animal discovered that the farm held no sympathy for them.
After one airborne second, Henry plummeted. He smacked the water’s surface and entered into cold darkness as the dam swallowed him whole. The runt thrashed about as he sank.
Up at the farmhouse, Fergus fell over, howling with laughter.
© 2020 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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