Fiction by Sarah Hunter

“The Last Freedom”
             By Sarah Hunter

The last I saw of my mother was her running after me as I was driven away in a cage on the back of a trailer. Her eyes were stricken with fear... Looking back on that memory, I now realise that wasn’t the first time she’d had her baby taken from her. And I still remember every word she called to me as I was taken away.

‘Don’t let them hurt you, never forget that I love you,’ she kept on repeating through her panicked breaths, her voice strained by her constricted throat as she ran. All I could do then was watch, completely oblivious as to where I was going. But even if I had known, what could I have done? If even my own mother couldn’t save me, then I doubt my young, weak self could have. I trembled and swayed with the unstable trailer as it drove over the rough ground, eventually stopping at a gate. It was then that my mother could catch up, and she pressed her face up to the wire cage.

‘I don’t know where they’re taking you—but you can’t trust them. You need to stay safe,’ she explained to me with a pained expression, while our noses pressed up against one another. Then the vehicle started again, and I was driven through the gate that closed swiftly afterwards and left my mother stuck behind it. I cried out to her for the last time as the vehicle began to pick up speed, and the realisation hit me that I was going to lose her. All I could do was watch as she frantically tried to find a way to reach me.

That moment was the last I saw of her, and would be only the beginning of my hardships. The vehicle ended up taking me to another facility, where I was carried out of the cage, kicking and throwing my head back in protest, before being hurled into a small pen, where a number of other youngsters were also contained. We were made to stand in that concrete-floored pen shivering, each of us too scared to interact, and desperately longing for the comfort of our mothers. A group of men then grabbed us one by one, and hurt us by piercing our ears with tags before rubbing a strange chemical on our heads that burned, and shoving us carelessly into another pen. Once each of us had been through this torture, we were herded up into another trailer. This one was big enough to contain all of us together, and once inside, the door was slammed shut, leaving us anxiously staring out through the gaps in the trailer walls. Another youngster, slightly smaller than me, nudged my side as we were driven off yet again, to another frighteningly unknown place. I looked down at her, momentarily diverted from my own suffering. Her large, dark eyes looked into my own with confusion and terror, and I tried to comfort her for a second, before being distracted by the sudden stopping of the vehicle. The trailer shuddered and caused us to crash into one another.

Heavy footsteps on bare dirt followed, and then the sunlight flooded in as the door was opened again. This time, the men grabbed each one of us and carried us into a shed, where we were thrown into individual, tiny pens with a gap in which we could stick our heads out through the bars. I looked around nervously, trying to ignore the persistent stinging pain in my head and ears. My surroundings were dark and menacing. I barely noticed a bucket, which at that point was empty and bright white, along with a dummy that was attached to a chain.

Soon we learnt why the buckets were there, as milk was poured into them one by one, and we drank from them listlessly. Each day we would cry out for our mothers, and each day we realised how much more impossible it was that we would see them again. All we could do was stand in our pens, or lie down if we dared touch the filthy, cold ground, and mourn for our mothers. Months passed by in those constrictive, dark pens, and eventually the milk we were given changed to water, and the white of our buckets turned grey from grime and wear. It was then that the next stage of our hardship began.

For years after I would routinely be made to have a baby, only for them to be stolen from me, repeating the time when I had been taken from my own mother, not so long ago. And just like her, I would call out similar words to my babies as they were taken away, with their eyes wide and limbs kicking frantically. There was nothing else I could do aside from tell them I loved them and hope that maybe they would escape this perpetual cycle of exploitation. And all this was done so that my milk could be taken away, although I could never think why the humans would want it. Each day we would walk into the sheds with glazed-over eyes, forced by the absence of our babies and the pain of our full udders, and have these people take our milk.

This stage of my life was coming to an end though, as after six years, I was beginning to produce less milk. And as that was all my worth was based upon, I would soon be of no use to them. Furthermore, my body was growing weak and tired, and I was struggling to walk. My feet were painful and badly damaged from the poor conditions, and this inhibited me from walking normally.

Eventually the day came when I found myself being herded into a trailer yet again, along with a number of others I had shared this suffering with. They were just as worn-out as I, and so we all ambled into the dim lighting of the trailer together, to our doom or to our freedom, I did not know. The drive was longer than expected, and as we stood with our noses to the air that whipped past outside, we tried to imagine where we were going. But the scenery outside was of plain green pastures, occasionally patched with remaining woodland, and offered no answers. Unexpectedly however, the vehicle started to slow and turned down a driveway. We eyed each other nervously, as we realised our confusion would soon be answered. Would this be our liberation?

The truck came to a stop and I yet again heard the sound of heavy footsteps on bare ground. The trailer door was opened, and we were shouted at to get out, so with startled expressions we stumbled out into the foreign surroundings. The man threateningly waved a stick at us, and we were forced into a pen nearby to the truck. Behind the pen stood a massive shed and out of it wafted the strong smell of blood.

‘ can’t trust them,’ repeated my mother’s words in my mind as I was forced into the pen along with the others, who were tripping over their weakened legs as they tried to avoid being hit. One by one we were then pushed down a narrow path between two high metal fences, leading us down to a tight box, in which my friend before me was trapped in first. A strange man then suddenly appeared beside the box, and through the gap in the fence he stretched out his arm, a shiny metal barrel in his hand. With a subtle move of his finger, the object let off a sharp bang, before her body collapsed to the ground with a thud. And just like that, her life was over... She hadn’t even protested... She hadn’t known what was about to happen, or what that man was going to do. Maybe in that moment, she’d even been optimistic? Despite the stench of blood and the stained railings maybe she had imagined she would soon be reunited with her babies who had been stolen from her year after year? Maybe she pictured herself running free with them in a field, her legs as strong as they had been when she was younger.

But now, it was my turn. I did not have the benefit of doubt... I had seen what would happen to me. I had been given no freedom, in all my life. I had never chosen to leave my mother, I had never chosen to have babies, or for them to be taken away from me, or even to give my milk to people... And now, I did not wish to die. The only freedom I ever had was in my own mind. And as I was forced into the death-box, I closed my eyes and pictured the most idyllic scene I could imagine. My friend may have been caught off-guard, but I wouldn’t be. I pictured my babies beside me, with their large eyes full of curiosity, and the sun shining brightly on their coats. There was a cool breeze that surrounded us, carrying with it the welcomed scent of lush grass... But my vision was interrupted with a piercing bang.

My only freedom that had remained, was taken.

- Sarah Hunter has a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Writing, and Screen and Media Studies. She also has a Graduate Certificate in Arts majoring in Peace Studies. Sarah aims to write about other animals in a non-speciesist manner, and by doing so demonstrate the importance of ending their exploitation. Sarah is based in Queensland, Australia.

Copyright©2023 by Sarah Hunter. All Rights Reserved.