The sunlight glanced off the magpie's feathers as it hopped across the mud, sending flickers of green and blue. It paused, black eye shining straight at him. For a moment they shared the joy of freedom before it hopped again, passing into shadow. Pig Boy crept carefully through the irregular spaces between the slurry huts into the dead end.
The painstakingly crafted cages were all intact. He didn't like keeping his friends in cages but it was the only way to stop the monsters from getting them. He pulled his lunch from his tunic and carefully separated the handful of scraps into equal piles. Content his friends were safe he walked back to his bucket.
* * *
Pig Boy felt a sharp pain in his shoulder followed by numbness. Something oozed down his back.
"Look 'ere lads. Pig Fumbler's skiving off. Oi Piggy Fiddler, why ain't you doing what you suppose to?"
He looked around. Three boys blocked the gap out onto the track. They had sticks in their hands.
"Hey Pig Boy, asked you a question didn't I."
"Don't waste your breath Karl. Everyone knows e's too thick to talk. Thicker than pig shit."
"Well maybe 'e needs some to make I'm smarter. You want that Pig Lover? Let's give 'im some shit to help 'im talk."
"'E's thicker than pig shit, so pig shit is smarter. So we dump some on 'is head he gets cleverer."
"Oh... right... yeah, that's good that is."
"But first 'e needs to learn 'is place." The first few blows sent pain spiking through his body and left him lying on the ground. But after a while he just became numb.
Shit landed on his head. The warmth actually made the pain feel less, and he never noticed the smell. He lay there for a moment before he remembered he would get in trouble if he did not clear it up. It seemed easier to lie there though.
"Ere look, there's a bunch of stuff back 'ere"
"What's e got?"
"Dunno... fuck me, there's a rat in here. It's in a fucking cage."
Pig Boy tried to move. He needed to do something, to stop them scaring his friends. Just as he got his arms under him he felt another stinging blow on his back.
"Keeping rats... that’s not just sick it's wrong." Someone's foot pressed him back down into the mud. "Bring it out here lads. We gotta show him what happens to rats."
"Fucker bit me."
"Well bring it in the cage then... your dumber than Piggo sometimes!"
Mud splashed across his face as they dropped the cage in front of him. "Nuuuu," he gasped, desperately dragging in air against the weight on his back.
"You say something?" The pressure increased. "Didn't think so. Someone grab his head. Doesn't wanna miss this does he."
Pig Boy twisted his head enough to see Deiter's legs crouch beside him, and tensed for more pain.
"Es covered in shit. I ain't touching im."
"Sorry Diet... weren't thinking. Course you don't have to -"
He tensed instinctively but there was no pain. Dieter's legs slowly toppled out of sight.
"Christ, you sat right in it Deit... so don't matter now that he's covered... now grab his head... unless you got another problem?"
He felt fingers wrap through his hair and yank until it felt as if it was tearing out. He tried to force his head back further and further but they kept pulling further still.
"Right, one of his eyes is looking in the right direction. Now smash it good."
He watched as a boot slowly lowered onto the cage then slowly rose up again. He closed his eyes but that just made the waiting worse. Maybe they were just messing? They wouldn't actually kill his friend in cold blood. He opened his eyes again.
The cage was still in one piece.
The cage shattered into pieces launching a splinter into his eye.
"What were you waiting for?"
"E closed his eyes. Didn't want him to miss it."
Was his friend hurt? He desperately blinked but the combination of the splinter and the shit running down his face stopped him seeing anything clearly. A boot shaped blur smashed down and something squeaked.
"Let him go, Deit."
The pain in his scalp stopped and, lacking the will to resist, he let his face fall into the mud. He felt Karl's boot rise off his back. Was it over now?
Something hard slammed into the back of his head and it went dark.
* * *
Pig Boy dragged himself across the mud and looked at the broken body. He tried to smooth the fur, but it was covered in mud. His mouth hurt as he spat into his hand. Gently running his fingers along the body he teased out the mud until it was sleek again. He tried to clean its snout but his blood kept mixing with the spit and he couldn't get it clean.
Turning the body over he looked at the mess of guts. That wasn't right. They shouldn't be showing. He fumbled at them for several minutes until they all seemed hidden. Now the fur was dirty again. He spat in his palm again. It hurt less now and there was no blood. He slowly groomed the rat. Now it looked right again.
He kissed it on the nose to let it know everything was all right and placed it on the ground. He watched it scurry into the shadows before trying to pick up his bucket. The pain in his arms fought with the ravening hole in his belly. His share of lunch would have been less than enough to save his friend without the beating, but if he didn't empty the rest of the pigsties he would get another one and then all his friends would be alone.
- 977 words