Imagine a small, depopulated village, slumbering quietly in the early hours of the morning. The sun has just begun its slow climb into the sky, and so far only a red semi-circle is visible, peering out from the horizon. Not one person is awake, but some of the poultry have risen and are clucking quietly in their enclosures.
An angel flies low over the peaceful village and drops a feather. It swivels and twirls as it descends slowly towards the ground. At last, it settles in a pigsty.
Some of Annie’s earliest memories were of pigs’ faces smiling at her. Yes, they were indeed smiling, though no one else thought so. Maybe they only smiled at her, because only she was nice to them.
Annie loved the pigs. There was something magical about them, about the way they grunted with delight when she petted them or fed them leftovers. There were always plenty of leftovers, since the last episode of the plague removed a great deal of eaters. No one produced in the pigs the same reaction as Annie did. Upon seeing her, they would squeal and prance about with excitement. They knew she loved them.
She was looked down upon by the other villagers, in a passive kind of way. No one would make the effort to abuse or hurt her, but she was known as the ‘Pig Mother’, for obvious reasons, and no one cared for her company. Her parents had both succumbed to the plague when she was a mere child, and so she was an orphan, unloved and uncared for. Perhaps it was this that drove her to seek the company of the gentle and intelligent animals. After her parents’ death she lived alternately with the different families of the village, doing chores in exchange for food and shelter. People pitied the little girl, but no one would take her in or accept her as part of their family. The pigs were her only permanent friends and the only ones who welcomed her. As a girl, she would spend hours with them, sometimes running around the village with the piglets, and at other times simply sitting or even sleeping in their pens, leaning against a pig’s warm and comforting side, scratching their rough backs, or holding a soft little piglet in her arms and listening with a smile to its sleepy grunts. No one in the village cared enough to stop her, and as she grew she developed a strong bond with all the pigs in the village, even those that were not hers.
Annie’s appearance was very plain, even unpleasant. She had a big nose and small grey eyes, which everyone thought made her look a lot like her friends. She had also an unfriendly-looking mouth, which made her seem ill-humoured, even when she was in the best of moods. Her tall, broad frame made her look both threatening and awkward.
Annie did not care much what the others thought of her. She was quiet and uncommunicative, spending most of her time tending the pigs, making baskets, and taking solitary walks. She had five pigs, and one of them was pregnant. Annie looked forward to the birth of a bunch of happy piglets. Only two more families in the village had pigs: Paul and Sarah, and that spiteful, rude woman, Betty. Annie would never think of eating her pigs like they did. What was particularly disturbing to her was that Paul and Sarah had recently had their first child: a beautiful baby girl named Janet. Annie was disgusted at the thought that this innocent creature would be raised by two such savages and would likely adopt their murderous ways.
When Annie awoke that fateful morning, she went outside as usual to feed and talk to her pigs. She spent a few minutes rubbing their coarse backs and kissing their soft ears, but she had to leave early. Today she would go to the nearest town, which was a good three hours walk away, to sell her baskets at the market. She wrapped up some food for the day and set off. The walk was pleasant; Annie did not tire easily, and as it was a warm day with a refreshing breeze, she thoroughly enjoyed the exercise her limbs received and the sights her eyes met. But her cheerful mood was checked by a sense of foreboding as she approached the first hovels of the town. Doors were swung open, here and there was a single chicken pecking at something on the ground, pans, stools, and blankets were thrown on the floor, and not one human soul was in sight. This was odd.
Annie continued her walk towards the market and found it empty. Stalls were broken and upturned, empty baskets lay on the ground, an apple lying in the mud. Complete silence except for the wind and the cry of seagulls from the nearby sea. She looked around and could see nothing but devastation everywhere. On turning around again, she let out an involuntary little scream and jumped at the sudden appearance of an old woman.
‘Forgive me, child,’ the woman said with a trembling voice. ‘They have been here and taken everyone.’
‘The Norsemen. They took everyone by force to be their slaves back in their evil country. They left me as I am too old and would be of no service to them. But they have taken everyone else. You had better go, child. There is nothing to be got here. And I’d advise you to take up your belongings and move further inland where they will not stir. No one is safe by the sea.’
Stunned, Annie turned back and walked to her village, resolving to tell her neighbours of the danger. When she arrived home, she stopped near Betty’s house, seeing that she was outside near the pigsty where her four pigs resided. There was a man with her; John, who lived in the house nearest to Betty’s. Annie overheard their conversation.
‘Get that one, with the black patch on his ear. Nice and fat.’
At once she understood their intentions.
‘Betty!’ she called out.
Betty turned around and frowned at her.
‘What’d you want?’
‘I… I need to tell you something…’
She could not go on. John was now cornering the poor pig with a knife in his hand. The pig squealed in fear, and turned his frightened eyes towards Annie. ‘Help me’, they seemed to say. Her heart jumped in her chest and tears rose to her eyes.
‘Stop!’ she screamed. ‘Stop it now! Leave him alone!’
John looked up, and he and Betty began to laugh.
‘Go away, you. No one asked you to watch.’ This was John speaking. He turned away again and mumbled, but she understood what he said. ‘God must have been in a funny mood when he made her.’
She realised they would not listen to her. She had already forgotten what she originally wanted to say. Now her heart beat faster and faster as John got nearer and nearer to the terrified pig. She scanned the ground around her. She saw some wood and a hatchet. Without thinking, she grabbed it, came up behind Betty and hacked once at the back of her head. The heavy woman fell into the mud with a splash. John turned around, confused. She applied the hatchet fully to his face and suddenly, there he lay near Betty.
Annie realised she had a lot of work to do. She dropped the hatchet and took the knife from John’s hand.
It was morning, and a baby was crying in Annie’s hut.
‘Hush, little one,’ she called out. She was chopping up meat for a stew. There was more than enough, so she threw the leftovers to the pigs. She then put the meat into a pot that stood on a fire, wiped her hands on a cloth and went into the hut. Baby Janet lay there on the straw. Annie picked her up and held her gently.
‘Hush, little one. We will do fine by ourselves. It’s such a shame your parents liked to kill and eat our innocent friends. I will be a better mother to you. Tomorrow we’ll go further inland where the Norsemen can’t reach us. It’s a shame they took everyone else in the village. Good thing you and I hid in the woods, isn’t it? That’s what we will tell anyone who asks, little one. I just hope my Mary will not have her piglets before we are settled somewhere…’
The Angel of Death has flown away for now. Its feather lies trampled in the mud.
Olga Kolesnikova asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work