The Animal’s Court
One clear night after all the lights of the farmhouse had disappeared and only the stars were left, a queer noise issued from the open doors of the old white barn. Of course, no one was there to hear it but the stars, but they all twinkled and sparkled with curiosity, and drew closer to the remarkable scene inside.
Quite a selection of animals were milling about on the spacious barn floor, carefully stepping between holes and past creaky floorboards. Various moos, clucks, barks, meows, and grunts mingled together in loud cacophony, until finally one of the rabbits stamped her hind feet in frustration.
“Order! Order! I demand order!” a large black rabbit named Diamond grunted ferociously as she hopped onto a dilapidated haybale. The animals gradually quieted, the last whispered moos and clucks dying away under the fierce stare of the doe. Once the barn was silent, Diamond continued.
“Now. As you know, we have called this meeting because we rabbits have heard your various complaints and wholeheartedly agree with you: something simply must be done about those pestiferous humans. Tonight the humans are on trial and you, the jury, must give us the verdict: guilty or not guilty. We shall begin with the largest witnesses first, and move towards the smaller. Mrs. Cowe, will you please step forward?”
A large, black and white Holstein cow plodded ponderously over to the haybale, mouth munching casually in time to her slow-swinging tail.
“Yes, Diamond ma’am, Your Honor,” she mooed in her deep placid voice. “You called? Mmm… what am I supposed to do?”
“I hereby request that you unburden your soul to us, your dearest comrades, upon the subject of humankind and its many erring ways.”
A vaguely puzzled look crossed Mrs. Cowe’s face. “Ah, would you… would you mind repeating that, Your Honor?” she said slowly, a frown of concentration furrowing her large brow.
Willow, an absurdly fluffy rabbit, heaved a sigh and shook her furry head. “Never mind, Mrs. Cowe. I’ll translate for you. What Diamond means to say is, can you tell us your experience with humans and explain why you either admire or dislike them?”
Diamond glared at Willow, but Mrs. Cowe looked relieved. “Ah, yes. Of course, Your Honor. Well I think, and this is just my opinion of course, that humans are a bit too intrusive, if you know what I mean. Why just the other day the tallest human-girl was ambling around, poking a strange black box in our faces. I can tell you in nearly frightened me to death! And the way that thing clicked! As if it would explode any minute. I tell you I nearly choked on my cud. I… I just down hold with those folks, even if they do give us pretty good eats, but of course that’s just my personal opinion.”
Diamond blinked slowly. She sighed. Then she said in a dry voice. “Very well, Mrs. Cowe. Thank you kindly for your very perceptive witness statement.”
Mrs. Cowe looked inordinately pleased at this dubious praise. A wide, lopsided grin spread across her great mouth, and she ambled happily back to her place among the animals.
Diamond stamped her hind feet sharply on the haybale, calling for order although the hush still prevailed. “We will now hear a statement from Magnolia the Labrador retriever, or Maggie, as most of us know her.”
Diamond’s iron composure faltered slightly at the sight of Maggie’s wide, toothy smile, despite the fact that all animals had sworn a truce for the night. She gulped.
Maggie trotted happily up to the haybale, waving her tail.
“Hello, Your Honor!” she barked brightly. Maggie always spoke in exclamation points. “I am very happy to be here tonight! I am also very happy to say that I, for one, entirely approve of humans! They are kind, loving, and altogether wonderful pets, as far as I am concerned! I would highly recommend them! Of course, they do need a considerable amount of protecting – there’s a strange beast down the hill from their house that they just do not seem to notice, no matter how much I warn them – but I am more than happy to protect them! Are you feeling happy today, Your Honor? You look exceptionally tast- I mean beautiful!”
Diamond lifted her ears a bit higher at this, and looked more tolerantly at the energetic dog. “I’m feeling alright, yes. Thank you, Maggie. You may go now. Mr. and Mrs. Clukken, may I call you up?”
Maggie’s tongue swept surreptitiously over her chops at the sight of the two chickens, but she immediately regained her self-possession and bounced back to her spot.
Mr. Clukken was always “training” himself to be a world-class flyer, much to the dismay of the many chickens who happened to intercept his unsteady path. Mrs. Clukken was a nervous bird, always clucking softly to herself and casting fearful glances at her overbearing husband.
Mr. Clukken now strutted importantly up to the forlorn haybale and cleared his throat. “Ahem. I believe I speak for all chicken-kind when I say that humans are nothing but a menace, an absolute menace to chicken society. Right, Mrs. Clukken?” he demanded, jerking his head sideways toward his wife.
“Oh, certainly, dear,” she agreed, jerking her head up and down rapidly in emphatic agreement.
Mr. Clukken looked satisfied. “For instance, how are we supposed to continue our line of offspring when they mysteriously snatch away our eggs?”
“How, indeed?” echoed Mrs. Clukken sadly.
Mr. Clukken gave what he judged to be a tear-inducing crow of sadness (but which really sounded more like the cry of a wounded duck), and fluttered pompously off of the haybale.
Diamond winced. “Mmm… Excellent testimony, Mr. and Mrs. Clukken. Now may I call up Jinx the cat?”
Jinx did not look entirely happy to be crowded into this dusty barn with so many disgusting, uncivilized animals, but he merely waved his tail gracefully and narrowed his eyes until they looked properly bored and condescending for such an occasion.
“Hmm, you called, Your Honor?” he meowed in a somewhat sarcastic tone. “I have heard you wish to speak to me on the topic of humans, which happens to be a topic I find most unpleasant. In essence, I live with humans because I would never stoop to the wandering life of a barn tomcat, even if it would mean freedom from human trials.” A scruffy looking tomcat in the jury twitched his whiskers ferociously at this offensive remark.
“Humans,” Jinx resumed, “are a pest. There are no two ways about it. They are always picking you up or nearly strangling you, especially that young human whippersnapper of a boy, and they respond most slowly when called for. True, there are times when a good scratch under the neck is a pleasant way to relax after a hard day, but the costs far outweigh that benefit. If it were not for the regular, though somewhat unappetizing, rations, I wouldn’t put up with their nonsense.”
Diamond lifted a paw. “Hear hear,” she said with heartfelt depth. After a moment, she called up the last witnesses, “my sisters and brother, the rabbits.”
Five rabbits in varying colors hopped forth from the crowd. They all touched noses respectfully with Diamond, then lined themselves up in a neat row. Willow, the fluffiest, spoke first.
“Well I know I’m in the minority here, but I think humans are decent creatures. Sure, they can be pretty annoying when they chase you all over the pen trying to squish the fluff out of you, but in general they’re pretty sweet. They often bring us delicious treats like willow branches or fresh spring grass or maybe a mess of dandelions. Yes, they’re a decent lot, for all their shortcomings.”
Clementine, Willow’s rival, spoke up next. “I object!” she shouted. “I object most strongly! Humans are nothing but pesky two-legged workers of ill deeds. They are always trying to corner you, always snatching you off of safe ground and holding you insecurely in their clumsy hands. And they get so angry when I bite them, as if they didn’t have it coming! As if calling me “Booger Nuggy” wasn’t enough to make any self-respecting rabbit a bit on edge. I mean, really!”
Snickers hopped up to the haybale. “I, for one, agree with Willow. The way to a buck’s heart is through his stomach, as they always say, and humans certainly do well in that department! Mmm, I could really go for some more of that fresh grass…” he trailed off wistfully, licking his lips with a tiny tongue.
Lily, who looked like she had eaten rather too much fresh grass, waddled her large self forward. She said, between wheezes, “I… I think… humans are… pretty nice, even if… some of them… are a little… insulting. But my human… always says my eyes are pretty… so I forgive them.” She batted her large dark eyes, which were in fact quite beautiful, although they were often half hidden by the blubber surrounding them.
Lastly Olaf, a nervous white rabbit with startling red eyes, spoke. “I-I don’t hold with humans. Th-they just aren’t predictable. I mean l-look at me! I’m obviously a d-doe, but that silly human b-boy thought I was a buck and named me O-Olaf! It’s a disgrace, I tell you, a disgrace!” Olaf shook her head remorsefully.
Diamond, who happened to be Olaf’s especial friend, quite agreed with her and proceeded to expound her agreement in such long-winded terms that Mrs. Cowe nearly fell over with boredom-induced exhaustion. Thankfully Maggie nipped at her heels just in time.
At last Diamond reached the end of her speech, and addressed the jury. “Now, my friends and fellow animals, I leave it to you. You have heard our witnesses and must make the decision yourselves. What will you decide? Are humans kind, peaceful creatures, or are they simply pests who make our lives miserable? It is your choice.”
A murmur vibrated through the jury at this. Heifers and tomcats, roosters and does conferred among themselves in loud whispers. Finally they raised their heads and one of the tomcats stepped forward.
“Your Honor, we have discussed the matter, and we find humans…”
By this time most of the witnesses and audience were chanting, “Guil-TY, guil-TY, guil-TY!”
The tomcat waited until the noise died down. “As I was saying,” he glared, “we, the jury, find humans… GUILTY!”
A deafening cheer erupted from the crowd, far overpowering the scattered boos and frowns.
The stars winced a little from their high perch, and backed away from the roar.
“DOWN WITH HUMANS! DOWN WITH HUMANS!” the animals thundered.
Suddenly, over at the farmhouse, a light blinked on.
“DRIVE THEM OUT, WE SAY!”
“WE CAN TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES!”
Suddenly a young calf standing near the door wobbled quickly to the haybale. “EVERYONE, LISTEN TO ME!” it shouted in a quavering voice. “THE FARMER IS COMING!”
A stifling blanket of silence suddenly dropped on the barn; the sound of a hundred voices holding their breath.
The door creaked open. A man stood silhouetted in the moonlight, the beam of his flashlight cutting effortlessly through the darkness. The flashlight fell upon dilapidated haybales, a creaky floor full of holes, and air filled with dust. He squinted his tired eyes, rubbed them, peered into the blackness again, and shook his head.
“Some dream,” he muttered to himself. Then he turned around and walked slowly back to the house. Maggie, a happy Labrador retriever, trotted joyfully beside him. Six rabbits rustled the straw in their cage. Thousands of chickens clucked and crowed in their chicken houses. Many cows raised their heavy heads to look sleepily at him. A meowing black cat met him at the farmhouse door.
“Some dream,” the farmer said again.
And the animals never felt led to correct him.