By Julie Ann Rees

I remember running in the snow with my brother, playing and rolling about careless to the cold. It was mid winter’s eve and we had everything to live for. Then they came. My brother and I ran home, we told mother and she told us to stay out of sight, that she’d lead them away from our home and double back. She’d done it before, she told us confidently. We had nothing to fear, as long as we didn’t get seen, and then she was gone. I never saw my mother again.

They came for us just before dark. We tried to make a run for it but they netted us. We were plunged into a soggy blackness, a sack or something strong that wouldn’t tear even though we struggled to get out. I could hear an engine starting and knew we were being taken somewhere. My brother was crying. I’d never seen him cry and I could smell the sharp stench of ammonia and knew we had both soiled ourselves. I could smell others too and hear them, whimpering. So we were not the only ones.

They threw us onto a cold floor still in the sack; it was hard and smelt of death. Rough hands wrenched open the top. Sharp eyes peered and a flash of white teeth grinned. I turned my face into the coarse material not wanting to see. Moments later a heavy door closed and I heard footsteps receding.

Cautiously my brother wriggled out of the sack, and frantic to stay close I followed. We were in a box of some sort with barely enough room for the two of us. Claw marks gouged deep in the wood foretold of previous occupants that had suffered our fate. There were similar boxes next to us and I could hear others moving and crying. My brother and I hadn’t spoken, only shared anxious glances. I suppose it was shock. In the corner was a heavy ceramic bowl of water. It was filthy and tasted sour but we both drank a little.

Not knowing what would happen we curled up together. I hid my face in my brother’s shoulder. I could smell fear on him. He curled around me, and we lay there, our breaths shallow as we awaited the fate our captors had planned. We were not stupid, we knew it was just sport for them, our suffering only made it better. We’d heard the stories, tales told at the time of the winter solstice. We had listened trembling, snuggling up together nice and cosy, hoping it would never happen to us. Mother would shush the others, telling us not to listen to such evil things. Just old fairy tales, she’d say.

Our internal body clock was used to being awake at dawn so we were ready when they came. We huddled in the back of the box. A man cursed as he reached in to grab one of us. My brother pushed me behind him and stood his ground. His breath snarled through his lips but they put something around his neck and dragged him out. He kicked and I tried to grab hold of him but something hit me in the face. I heard him cry out as the door slammed shut. I screamed for him, we’d never been separated before.

There were lots of vehicles arriving, their engines rough and hoarse. Then I heard the dogs, slavering howls and frantic barking. My brother, my poor beautiful brother, was out there with them. I scrabbled in the box. I scratched and fought against the splinters, adding my own gashes in the wood alongside my predecessor’s futile attempts. A horn sounded and I knew what they were going to do. Run little brother, I prayed. Run. Rocking back and forth I cried my heart open and raw as I realised what had happened to my mother - and was now happening to my brother.

I was numb with shock and fear. Lacking the energy to move to the corner to relieve myself I lay covered in my own excrement and begged the mid winter spirit to grant my brother a quick death. Through my own whines the echo of vehicles approached once more. I heard others cry out in fear. Blue lights flashed through the tiny cracks in the box. Whatever horror was waiting I would not run I decided, and I wouldn’t fight. I wouldn’t give them the pleasure. There were voices, urgent exclamations and the pounding of feet. Something was different. I could feel a change in the air. I lifted my head, straining to listen.

A soft tread approached and weak with fright I lay frozen. Slowly the door to my box opened, just a crack, and a light flashed blinding me. I flinched closing my eyes tightly but a soft voice spoke.

“It’s okay, we’ve found you now, don’t be afraid.” I felt a wash of soothing vibrations flood over me and knew they came from the man who had opened my box. Confused at this show of empathy and kindness I half opened my eyes, doubting my senses, fearing a trap.

“We’ve another youngster here; it’ll have to go straight to the vet by the look of it. Has the van from the wildlife hospital arrived?”

“Yes. Hell of a thing, who’d imagine with the ban on hunting these sickos would catch young 'uns and lock them up to hunt at their leisure?”

“You’d be surprised what some people think they can get away with.” Both voices held a different tone to my captors, and I felt a wave of empathy stir and muddle my senses. The urge to flee was still insistent but I allowed myself to be removed from my prison and placed in soft blankets and gently passed to another. I could sense the hands that took me were feminine, I could smell the scent change but still the vibrations were kind.

 “Another youngster with not much strength left. Poor little thing.” The voice was gentle and I shuddered, my body confused. “She’s a female, and apart from shock and exhaustion I don’t think she’s damaged. Make sure you arrest whoever’s responsible.”

“I most certainly will,” replied the man.

I felt myself transferred to a warm place and waited as other survivors were brought to safety. My eyes fluttered with exhaustion, my heart's erratic beating slowed, my breaths came shallow and shuddering as they calmed and my body succumbed to sleep. I thought of my brother and as the fog of fear cleared I knew that somewhere he was watching.


* This piece is written by a supporter of the League and the views represented in this piece are of the author.