The Long March Home by Kevin Scott

Photo: kev scott. Kevin Scott

Kevin is a Glasgow-based writer and journalist trying not to let the fiction of his imagination get confused with the facts of his day job. He is currently studying an MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. Kevin's fiction has been published in From Glasgow To Saturn and the Scottish Book Trust's Days Like This anthology.
He's on that internet thing at

The Long March Home

There's an eerie silence broken only by the nervous shuffling that causes hundreds of hooves to click on the metal floor. I've no idea how many of us are actually here. We're lined up two-by-two but there's no chitter chatter, no gossip, no tales, no jokes. We prefer our own thoughts to those of others.

       I can tell by the enormous domed roof that seems to float miles above my head that we're in a space far larger than a barn, but there's no freedom to roam thanks to this metal fence that comes up to my eye-line and blocks my view. All I can see are the flaccid tails of those in front, and the breath of my brethren rising up towards the dome. I'm just a number in this herd. I won't be missed when I make my move.

       It's been half a day since we were violently prodded from our wide undulating field onto a dark, dank container. The door slammed behind us like a fox's bite, parting me from the salty grass and ocean winds that cooled my back on summer's days. When it clanked open again like the sound of an angry sky, everything I'd ever known was gone.

       A short sharp buzz echoes through the room. Everyone looks confused and starts babbling; conversation quickly turns to why we're here and what the farmers have got planned for us. I get the feeling I'm the only one that really knows. 'Pssst, Daisy,' I whisper, to keep this just between us. She doesn't turn around so I butt her in the side of the head.

       'What is it Andy?' Her tone tells me she's still annoyed with my recent attempts to woo her.

       'I'm making a break for it. Come with me.' This gets her full attention.

       'What? Don't be so stupid. You'll get caught?'

       'Look, I don't know how to say this, Daisy, but what do you think we're queuing for? You think we're in line for dinner? We are dinner.'

       Her face contorts.

       'What are you talking about?' Her question is answered by that loud buzzing sound once again reverberating throughout the chamber to signal another short shuffle forward. Every hoofstep takes me closer to the source of that smell.

       There's something unnatural about it, and with nowhere to escape its bitterness crawls up my nose and down my throat.

       I study the fence, looking for its weakness. There's a commotion somewhere ahead of me as if someone else has realised what's at the front of the queue. The hum around me is frantic. I tilt my head to see if it helps Daisy make the connection. Instead she looks at me as if I'm the crazy one. I lick her in the eye.

       'I don't have time to explain. Yes or no?'

       'Look, I can't Andy, okay?' Her voice shakes.

       I want to stay and plead with her, convince her I'm right, that death is not the only option, but time is on the side of the buzzer.

       'I'm sorry,' I say, as I kick back against the fence with my hind legs. It rattles but doesn't give. A few faces turn as I repeat the motion, this time breaking whatever was keeping the section in place.

       Daisy is facing the front. Hundreds of eyes are on me by now but without hers I am alone. I slip through the gap, and a chink of vertical light up ahead encourages me forward.

       My field flashes through my mind as I charge towards the light with the approving roars from behind acting as the fading soundtrack to my escape. I steel myself and close my eyes. There's a bang and pain shoots through my head and surges down my neck as if I've been prodded. But it's the most pleasurable jolt I've ever known because it's opened the door. There's nothing to stop me now, no obstacle I can't overcome. My stomachs twinge in anticipation of my first free lunch.

       My eyes take a moment to adjust to the light, but I can see that the land around me is a manufactured grey, casting its shadow over everything. Even the sky is dark, and I can sense moisture in the air that tells me heavy rain is near. I resist the urge to sit down.

       Behind me, Daisy will be shifting ever closer to death. I flick my tongue up over my nose, catching her scent and drawing it in deep, knowing it won't linger. Nor can I.

       I refocus and quickly familiarise myself with my surroundings. A number of animals I don't recognise sit in uniformed rows within white lines, either unaware or uninterested in my presence. They all have different coloured coats.

       They pose little problem as I walk through their midst, my pace slow in an attempt to fit in and avoid drawing attention to myself. Ahead, I see an opening in the huge black fence that surrounds this bovine purgatory I am steadily fleeing. The different-coloured animals don't flinch, but on the other side of the fence scores of them gallop past each other, humans actually appearing as if they are inside them, visible through transparent skin.

       As soon as I pass through the open gate I take a look back at the door, expecting the farmers to charge out with pitchforks in the air. Expecting Daisy to sneak out behind them. It remains closed. My future faces the other way, where the sun is hiding behind overlapping layers of clouds that loom above my head. There is no horizon, but somewhere beyond the buildings that soar skyward on either side of the footpath, there is grass billowing off into the distance at the mercy of the wind. Yet here, these lifeless blocks that block my view offer no refuge and make me feel as tall as a mouse in wheat sheaf. My eyes dart around this new world, unable to focus on anything for more than a few seconds. It makes me dizzy and the animals keep running and become a blur and the air feels thick and greasy as it seizes me and throttles me.

       I have to breathe.

       Start with the basics, Andy.

       I'm on a grey footpath and I'm hungry, but I'm going home. Home is west, I think, so that's where I begin to walk. I steady my breathing, and begin to enjoy the rhythm of my hooves clacking on this solid path. I make slow progress, nodding courteously at the few humans I pass. They seem shocked to see me, the first four content to take their chances with the galloping animals. I am not perhaps as inconspicuous as I think.

       A young female human with a smaller version of herself, a calf presumably, by her side is the first to walk within ten paces of me. She is speaking into this thin box that she holds up to her ear, seemingly unaware of my presence. The calf sees me though and points, trying to talk to me in my own language. He makes no sense and when I ask him to repeat himself the female begins to scream so loudly I feel the hair in my ears quiver. I ask her as politely as I can to refrain, pointing out that I am merely trying to find my field.

       By now the galloping animals have stopped to stare - I've no idea what language they're speaking but it's worse than the human scream, a high-pitched cacophony of howls that never stop to draw breath.

       I can only assume I'm under threat so get on the move. I try to ignore the pain shooting through my weary knees as I gather pace and the buildings again begin to blur into one until all I can see is what is right ahead of me and what is right ahead of me is a giant red sign with bright golden arches that tells me I'm almost home. The sign is the same as the one at the farm, so my field must be on the other side of the crude brick farmhouse that sits beyond the sign. I assume it must be a side entrance.

       A badly maintained hedgerow marks the farm's boundary and all around me, galloping animals lie at peace in marked spaces. It's no wonder they sleep so much when their only other mode is running faster than a horse. With the animals silent and the hedge protecting me, I follow the only obvious path towards the farmhouse. It is a dull washed out red and curves around the side of the building. As I follow it a voice suddenly crackles out from a metal box to my right.

       'Can I take your order please,' I think it says - my command of humanspeak is very poor. I only hope the box can understand me in return. It can't. It tells me I'm not funny and to order if I want to order. Again, I try to ask where the field is, but this time there's no reply.

       Having been distracted by the box, I fail to notice one of the galloping animals creep up behind me, but its sudden braying has certainly got my attention. I can't understand what it is saying, and I want it to just shut up and let me think. I take a few steps towards it, and tell it shut up with as much energy I can muster. This seems to work and seconds later a human dismounts and runs towards the farmhouse. I wish Daisy was here.

       Just when I think things can't get any worse the clouds finally deliver the rain they've been threatening. I need to keep moving but the ever-darkening sky distracts me. The rain is throwing itself down with venom, determined to submerge this grey world. I can feel every blob crash into my coat, soaking me and weighing me down. The water gathers quickly and I jealously watch it run into a grated hole in the ground and disappear.

       The rain has angered one of the galloping animals. It seems to be braying from every orifice and blue lights flash on its back. A group of humans dressed in black dismount and come towards me. I can't work out if they're afraid or angry. Either way I am tired running - this colourless world's too confusing for me. Everybody moves too fast and makes too much noise. I can't work out what the hurry is; life'll take as long as it needs to take and then it'll start anew - fresh, flawless and full of potential.

       I want to ask them if they know this but they're closing in on me. They're carrying fat black sticks that remind me of the prod that so viciously directed me from my field. My field.

       I lie down and close my eyes. The rain stops falling; this tragic scene replaced by land so green it seems unreal. A warm breeze tickles my back and I lower my neck until the dew that nestles on each blade of grass wets my nose. I stick my tongue out and feel that familiar salty fizzle before my teeth tear out a tasty chunk. I've found the world I came in search of and this is where I'm going to stay.

(performed at The Lit Parade, 13th June, 2012 by Kevin Scott - part of Glasgow West End Festival 2012)

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