Rachel Rodman is an itinerant writer and lecturer, presently working in the U.S. She has two cats, no dogs, and a PhD in Biochemistry. You can link to more of her published fiction (and equally weird non-fiction) at her website, rachelrodman.com.
by Rachel Rodman
There was a farmer had a god, and Bingo was his name-o.
To appease Bingo, the farmer performed many sacrifices. Oxen, sometimes. Pigs, too. But dogs worked best. Large dogs, with thick coats. With big, strong hearts that would continue to beat even after their throats had been cut.
At planting, the farmer buried the hearts of these sacrificial animals, just beside the seed. Then, lifting his hands high, he delivered this traditional prayer.
Bingo, make my fields fruitful.
Bingo, bring rain.
Bingo, accept this blood as your due.
Every feast day after that, the farmer watered the wheat with additional blood. Whenever wilt threatened, he buried new dog hearts. Against the roots, these organs beat-beat-beat, according to their old rhythm.
It was a fair harvest, the year after. In the summer, the farmer made bread and beer. Their flavors were poignant, like wrath averted.
Everything, in addition, was tinged with dog’s blood. There was a faint pinkness, evident in cross section, after the bread had been cut. There was a tinge of iron, too, persisting in the beer’s foam.
There was a farmer had a god, and Ingo was his name-o.
As language shifted, and the “B” was dropped, the god became hungrier. He craved orthodoxy, in addition to blood.
To honor Ingo, the priests staged a great war aimed at converting the heathens. With the army, the farmer marched. A team of dogs bred to fight accompanied them.
During the war, the dogs bit and tore, frenzied for Ingo. After each battle, the farmer harvested the heathens’ scalps, then anointed them with oil, in order to baptize them.
By the end of the war, all of the dogs had been martyred. On the long trek home, the farmer invoked them: “O, Chosen of Ingo…”
When the farmer returned, it was harvest time. He helped as best he could. But he had been maimed in the war: one arm lost, the second impaled by a heathen’s spear. So he was mostly useless.
During that harvest, the farmer fought often with his wife. The trigger was always this: in his absence, she had brought a cat into the house.
Cats, said the farmer, were disgusting vermin, and hateful to Ingo. Beyond that: a proscription to kill them was written in Ingo’s holy book.
Eventually, in a spasm of piety, the farmer did kill the animal. In return, his wife said terrible things. Things that no woman should say.
After that altercation, the farmer consulted with Ingo. And Ingo spoke to him, unmistakably, in a voice like thunder. So the farmer bowed to Ingo’s will.
The next morning, the farmer brought his wife to Ingo’s priests to be beheaded for heresy. It was a bloody thing. But the farmer forced his children to watch so that they would remember. Years later, whenever they prayed, he told them that their mother’s soul was burning, a result of the lie she had professed. At the end of each prayer session, he also directed them to chant a correction to that lie, in order to avoid being poisoned by it.
They chanted: “Dogs are dear to Ingo. Cats are not.”
There was a farmer had a god, and Ngo was his name-o.
Over the next several centuries, the “I” was gradually omitted. Under Ngo’s auspices, great ships were built, designed to carry trade good across the ocean. Ngo’s missionaries accompanied them.
Every summer, after harvest, the farmer brought his grain to the ships to be packaged for export. Back to his farm, in return, he brought many curious imports. Networks of pipes to assist irrigation. Pallets of dry fertilizer collected from exotic creatures called “bats.”
Most important, though, were the slaves. Each had been forcibly removed from its home continent. Back to the fields, the farmer led them, with collars around their necks.
With these tools the farmer was able to extend his farm, converting it to a sprawling plantation. It was unprecedentedly productive.
To acknowledge this bounty, the farmer crafted many hymns. He did not, however, care to sing them himself. So he assigned that duty to his slaves.
The language barrier was severe. It took many beatings before the slaves could be trained to repeat the hymns. It took many more beatings, after that, before they could be persuaded to pronounce the words correctly. Eventually, though, it became a daily ritual. On his balcony, looking over, the farmer would mind accounts, one of the farmdogs sleeping at his feet. Below him, the slaves labored, singing while they worked.
Ngo, you are bountiful.
Ngo, you are merciful.
Ngo, we are grateful to learn your truth.
There was a farmer had a god, and Go was his name-o.
When the “N,” too, was lost, the god became “love”. To honor Go, the farmer gave his surplus grain to the hungry. He rescued animals , too: dogs and cats, maimed and malnourished, whom others had left to die.
The farm was a ragtag operation, never profitable. But there was warmth in that life, and lots of barking and meowing, too, out of many throats. The farmer had scarred-up, two-legged dogs with rheumatism, which dragged themselves along. He had cats with skin diseases, covered in sores. To prolong their lives, the farmer applied all the latest remedies: chemotherapy to blast their cancers, and IV drips to hydrate them when they lapsed into comas.
The farmer saw the light of Go everywhere. In his fields, brown and rich, from which his wheat rose, in yellow spangles. Light, from the dirt, as he tilled it. Light, from his tractor, as it spun.
The light bathed him, gentle and personal. He gave a little cry, sometimes, at the intensity of that connection.
“Go, you are my dear friend.”
There was a farmer had a god, and O was his name-o.
The farmer rarely thought of O, at least not consciously. Language, though, had fossilized around the god. So the farmer did invoke him, almost daily.
He used O’s name as a curse, mainly, as when an outdated batch of GM seeds arrived, in error. Or as a cry of pain, when his prize milker, a cow-goat chimera, kicked him square in the stomach. Or as a series of O’s—O, O, O—preceding the moment of orgasm, when embedded in the body of his robot wife.
Along the side of the barn, as a nod to the past, the farmer maintained a series of tombstones. Each commemorated a family farm dog. Beneath each name—Claws, Clara, Bones—there was also a standard inscription. Eight traditional words to which the farmer attached no literal significance.
“May she rest in the arms of O.”
There was a farmer had a god. But the god no longer had a name.
The farmer worked indoors, under sterile conditions.
In plastic dishes, he grew grain. Pure grain, engineered for laboratory growth. From it, the roots and stalks had been genetically excised.
The farmer also grew meat. Victimless meat: beds of tissue, absent skin or brain or body. Its harvest created no corpses.
Dog meat, in particular, was the farmer’s passion. It was a new field, postdating the advent of ethical carnivorism. Before that, “dog-meat” had made consumers think of puppies, or of big brown dog-eyes, pleading, and so they had eschewed it.
But this meat had no face, and it could not experience pain.
The farmer was always busy. At his bench he made hearty dumplings, filled with canine cardiac cells. He made iron-rich liver patties, perfectly sized for use on a hamburger bun.
To this work, there was often a rhythm. Flesh, parting. Tissues, yielding.
In the flow of it, sometimes, the farmer would experience an unaccountable feeling. A flash of rapture… and of Presence. Then his neck would prickle, and his heart would go faster, and he would fear, briefly, for his sanity.
Luckily, though, the feeling always passed.
There was a farmer.
In his ship, the farmer passed the Barrier marking the edge of the Intergalactic Republic. Behind him, he left a smear of light.
After passing the Barrier, he slept. Under the closed lid of his bed, a chemical bath sloshed. It kept him moist and young.
He dreamed the whole time.
When the farmer woke, millennia later, there was only emptiness. So he built a sun. Then a world, to orbit it, equipped with formulaic things. Air to breathe. Water to flow. Fields of grain, embedded into soil.
After that, the farmer built dreams. Creatures, out of myth and history, which the crowded cities of his homeworld had been unable to accommodate.
For the first, he began with an outline shaped from stone. Then he enlivened it.
After this conversion, the creature’s eyes sparkled. Its tongue scraped, warm and rough against the farmer’s hand.
“Dog,” said the farmer, giving it a name.
Copyright 2016 by Rachel Rodman