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The Pig Doctor - part one

by ShannKenn

Part 1/5

Courtney Shillings was a pig doctor. Unlike most full-blooded Vanut people, he’d never had the desire to explore the world beyond the horizon. No, Courtney was perfectly content watching the waves lap at the shores of the same island, day in, day out. Even as stories of the distant war found their way to him, through the mouths of travellers and traders, he was steadfast in his choice.

“You have a strong arm,” his sister would say, a babe on her hip and the other children playing nearby. “They could use muscle like yours. Why won’t you go?”

And he would state, simply, “There would be no one to look after the pigs.”

The life of their island revolved around the pigs. Crops were grown to feed them until they were due for slaughter, and some were kept on as working animals, breeders, or even pets. Their hide made clothing or armour, their bones tools, their blood and flesh sustenance for the people.

Courtney, however, hadn’t always been a doctor. As a boy he had helped plough the fields of the homestead, and later became apprentice to a butcher where he enjoyed learning the anatomy of local livestock - from the inside out. When the current butcher could no longer resist the call of the sea and left for the lands beyond the waves, Courtney took his place. It was not until his sister’s prize breeding sow had birthing complications that his steady hand and amassed knowledge were applied to medicine.

“Uncle, come quick! Betsy needs help and she’ll die if we wait!” one of his nephews pleaded, after bursting into his room in the wee hours of the morning. Groggy, but compliant, Courtney grumbled and immediately came. The sow in question appeared in obvious distress. Weakened, she lay in the centre of an indoor sty with her side heaving. Courtney’s sister Marion hovered worriedly nearby, her knees muddied and her arms slick to the elbow from manually examining the creature’s cervix. Another of her children stood nearby with a pail of gently steaming water and several cloths.

“They won’t come,” Marion informed him. “She began later than we expected and still has not dilated. The doctor won’t make it before dawn, and I am afraid that it will be too late by then…”

Courtney kneeled beside Betsy and carried out his own examinations. He had been raised with pigs, as they all had, but he had a butcher’s insight and a steady hand. He didn’t think twice about what had to be done. Orders were barked at the nephew who had summoned him to retrieve a specific set of knives from the Butcher’s shop as he thoroughly washed his hands and forearms. The other child scurried away to bring the herbs that his mother also demanded.

“I can’t promise she will live,” Courtney sighed, placing a comforting hand on the pig’s neck as he knelt beside her. “But perhaps I can save the piglets.”

Marion nodded her understanding past a lump in her throat. She had hand-reared Betsy, and the animal had been a part of her life for almost a decade now, but there was no denial in her response. They waited in silence for the children to return, and then Courtney got to work.

As the sun rose upon the island, Betsy took her last breath.

The butcher’s bloodied hands rested gently on the creature’s flank as she passed. The sty was quieter now than it had been that night, despite the world awakening outdoors. Seven of the eight piglets had been saved but the stress and loss of blood had been too much for Betsy. He sighed as he rose, his eyes and limbs heavy, and turned to leave. Marion mouthed a thank you to him as he passed her standing in the doorway, her eyes gleaming with withheld tears. He patted her shoulder and summoned a comforting smile. As he stepped outside into the crisp morning air, drawing a deep breath into his lungs, Courtney Shillings made a decision.

Over the following weeks, the butcher’s shop grew to include a pig surgery. Within just a few months Courtney found himself in high demand; the other doctor on the island was old, and his knowledge generalised across both livestock and people, but nobody knew pigs better than Courtney. Many came to know him as simply the Pig Doctor. He saved lives more often than he lost them, his simple practicality and gentle nature well-suited to the work, and he was content.

But then the war came.

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314 Reviews

Points: 9235
Reviews: 314

Thu May 28, 2020 8:12 pm
mellifera wrote a review...

Hey, ShannKenn!

Courtney Shillings was a pig doctor. Unlike most full-blooded Vanut people, he’d never had the desire to explore the world beyond the horizon. No, Courtney was perfectly content watching the waves lap at the shores of the same island, day in, day out. Even as stories of the distant war found their way to him, through the mouths of travellers and traders, he was steadfast in his choice.

I really like this introduction to the story, as well as Courtney's character! There's already a sense of contentment that just settles down after this line, after describing something familiar to Courtney that he is satisfied to watch and to live with for the foreseeable future. I do suspect this will be upset, as most characters lives are for stories and plots, but it's still a lovely way to start!

Courtney’s sister Marion hovered worriedly nearby

I don't think you need "worriedly" here? Hovering does, especially in this context, already imply worrying. This is fine as it is, but might I suggest that Marion is sitting nearby her sow, tired from trying and failing to help? Perhaps, "His sister, Marion, sat against the wall, her breath almost in sync with the poor sow's. Her knees were muddied[...]" and so on. It's up to you, but I think it may add a little to the character and the desperation of the scene if Marion has been trying to help for some time and it hasn't been working, and now she's just as tired as the sow?

“They won’t come,” Marion informed him.

"informed him" seems like a pretty clinical dialogue tag? Whether she's worried about the pig herself, or for what she may lose if she loses both the sow and her litter, she's still at least somewhat distressed. I don't even think "said" would be so bad here, since it's simple and wouldn't distract from the dialogue, but "informed" caught me enough off guard that I thought I would mention it to you.

It's really interesting to see a culture that seems to wrap and revolve itself around their animal husbandry, specifically relating to pigs! I'd be curious to see what other livestock they raise on the island (as it's mentioned twice that there's livestock and not just pigs), but it seems none of them are as important as pigs (I'm definitely curious as to why specifically pigs! I should clarify that it's not a criticism, but I'm genuinely wondering why they built their lives around pigs? Is there some significance to that, or were pigs just the most plentiful and easy to access on their island? It there a religious reason for it? Ahh, sorry, I just love this kind of worldbuilding!).

It's also sweet to see, despite the tragedy of Betsy's death, how much Marion cared for her. Raising livestock like that, especially from birth, is such a meaningful connection and I feel for her and her loss.

Your writing style is smooth and easy to follow, which I greatly appreciate. At no point was I confused or needed to reread something to understand what you meant. Kudos to you, and keep up that good work :D

Hopefully something in there was helpful for you! Let me know if you had any questions about anything I said!

I hope you have a wonderful day! :)

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416 Reviews

Points: 8116
Reviews: 416

Mon May 04, 2020 7:38 pm
Liberty wrote a review...

Hello there, Shann!

Hope you're doing well. I'm here to drop off a review, so let's get started without further ado.

I saw the title, and was very curious as to what you had in store for readers. Your plot seems very interesting. Everything flows pretty well, so I have nothing to critique about that. Your grammar, punctuation, spelling and such was spot on, so nothing to say about that either!

The pacing seemed a bit faster than liked but that could be your style. Just pointing it out in case it isn't. :)

The fact that Courtney is a Pig Doctor and started off as a butcher, is pretty funny. I hope I don't sound rude - it's just that, if someone started off as a butcher, then started helping the animals that he butchered... that made me chuckle. You're off to a good start, Shann.

I'll definitely check out the next chapter soon - you stopped at a pretty neat cliffhanger. I should hopefully be able to get to it tomorrow. I can't wait to see more from you and I hope this review helped in some sort of way! Lemme know if you have any questions.

And as always...

Keep on writing!


ShannKenn says...

Hi, Liberty! Thank you so much for the review, it means a lot :D
I agree with you - I think it is a little quicker than I would have liked, but this is a first draft so that's something I will work in in future revisions. I'm focusing on simply "getting it written" for now :D
I suppose in Courtney's mind, the sense behind switching from butcher to doctor is that in keeping the pigs as healthy and happy as possible, they provides a better meat yield when their time comes... That's perhaps something I should expand upon in the future, too!
Thanks again!

— alliyah