I live on a farm, though I am not a farmer. I hear pigs squeal everyday, though they are perfectly fine. Yet, sometimes, I mistake their yells for the screams of children; I have three daughters who love to play outside, and so I listen. Is that a piglet? Or is that my baby calling for help? Fortunately, it's almost never the latter.
A few days ago it was.
I leaned back in my soft reclining chair. My fingers tapped the keyboard. Should they fight on a mountain, near the shore, in a tunnel? I worked on my short story called Prey. The ideas were good, but it wasn't clicking yet... the characters weren't developed... the descriptions were thin. I pulled on my hair as I deleted another sentence.
Two of my daughters played in the living room corner, smacked a stuffed wolf and bear together. Two of my dogs barked at things I couldn't see and didn't bother to look for. My fiance, Kimberly, typed her own novel beside me. The sounds. All the sounds... AHH!
I couldn't go to another room. My house had only one and it belonged to the kids. But maybe if I focused, I could zone everything out. Maybe--
A shriek hit my ears.
Damn it. The sound was faint, but so unique... it overpowered everything. My other daughter, I call her Fireball online, had gone to play outside. Was that her? No. It couldn't be. She was a tough girl, and scrapes didn't bother her much. We lived surrounded by trusted neighbors. But she had biked down the road. Maybe something happened.
I listened. The wails continued.
Okay. It's the pigs. Only they got so fussy.
My oldest, I call her Oldest Child online, asked Kimberly if she could go outside, got a yes, and ran out the door. Though, of course, running wasn't allowed.
My dogs cuddled in a dark corner. (Or a Dark Edge, perhaps?)
Things quieted down. Finally. Except for the pigs.
"What the hell is going on?" asked Kimberly.
I rubbed my elbow against my rough, auburn chair. "Maybe they're hungry?" A fly buzzed around my face. The smell of cooked beef teased my nose.
Kimberly shrugged. "Someone should feed them."
"Or teach them manners."
"Wait... is that a child screaming."
"No. It's just the..." A voice trickled through the squeals. A girl's voice. My daughter!
Oldest Child burst into the room. "Fireball is hurt. She's down the road. She's screaming really, really badly."
I got my laptop off my lap and rushed outside. There were cars on that road, and my little girl was small. There were guard dogs. Of course, they were all leashed or had electric collars, but still, what if something happened? What if one of them got her?
I ran over bright fields of green. Around a wall of bushes, a man and a woman emerged--my neighbors--and they were helping Fireball walk.
Blood dripped down her face. Cuts covered her knees and elbows. Her breathing was way too fast, and she kept yelling.
"It's alright," I said, taking Fireball into my arms. "Relax. Remember what we talked about. Just breath. In. Out. In. Out." I took long deep breaths, and Fireball tried to mimic them.
I ran my hand down my daughters head, over and over. "What happened?"
"She's a little bruised up," said the woman. "But... she seems fine."
"I thought a dog got her," said the man. God no. Please no.
"She fell off her bike," said the woman. "She says her mouth doesn't hurt..." But that's where all the blood on her face had come from, "...so she must have cut her lip or gum."
Did she? Her mouth had turned a deep red. Blood ran from where a tooth had been. Oh no. Did it get knocked out? Did it... no. Fireball had lost that tooth yesterday and got a visit from the tooth fairy. The wound must have reopened when she fell.
I exhaled, not noticing that I'd held my breath against my advice, and hugged my daughter closer. "It's alright, Fireball. It's alright..."
Kimberly and my other girls came out. They took Fireball inside and got her cleaned.
The pigs stopped squealing, and I promised I'd never stop listening for my little girls again.