ALL THE ANIMALS AND ME • by Dan Malakin

It started with the chicken. Soon after came the rabbit, the pig, the goat, another chicken, another pig, two baby lambs — whom I would rock to sleep after feeding, one cradled in the crook of each arm as though I were holding the twins — followed by another pig, a couple more rabbits, which soon became a family, and then, finally, a horse. All of us in the two-story terrace in Wood Green that had once been my family home.

I was happy for a while. Well, happy is probably too strong a word, but at least I was still alive, which felt like a win. I couldn’t help but smile at the chickens bobbing and pecking around the lounge, the pigs snuffling away in the fridge, the goat giving birth on my bed. Sure the house stank of manure and rotting hay, but I showered before going to work and vacuum sealed my suit as soon as I got home. Sure, I thought about Susan and the twins pretty much all the time, but at least by thinking about them they were in some way still alive. Sure, I wept through every night and started each day with a vodka martini — sans olives after one of the pigs worked out how to open the jar; surprisingly dextrous, trotters — but the animals made me smile through it all. And isn’t that what life’s all about? Smiling through the pain?

Unfortunately, the good times couldn’t last. One blurry-eyed slip of a finger at work and I deleted the database for the PRT project. That wouldn’t have been too bad if I’d been doing my job properly and backing up said database at the end of each day. But I hadn’t and nearly two months’ work was gone. Along with the client. Along with my job.

The thing about animals is that they can sense your pain; they know when one of the herd is hurting. In their own way they tried to make me feel better: the chickens by pecking the sofa to pieces; the horse by whinnying and rubbing its big bony face on my shoulder; the rabbits by taking turns to mate with my shin. But nothing worked. I slipped deep into a funk and was in danger of drowning.

At that point, I thought things could get no worse.

I was wrong.

Animals need to eat. And when they don’t have any food… well, you can’t imagine the noise. My life became a waking hell of squeals and squawks. Neighbours complained. The police visited. I barricaded the front door. The animals devoured everything inside of the house — the carpets, the furniture, the television. I thought, this is it, Gary, your time is done. You have no family, no job, no possessions, just a house full of animals — and what good are animals? They’re no good, Gary. No good at all!

Soon enough autumn came to an end and winter pushed its chilly face into my smashed-up home. I felt saturated with despair. I considered ending it all, but it was so bloody cold in the house that there didn’t seem much point. I’d soon freeze to death.

Unable to take any more, I trooped up to my bedroom, where one of the lambs was lazily chewing the last of the underlay, its face fuzzy with fragments of felt. I shoved it out, lay on the bare floorboards, and waited to die.

The bedroom door crept open. I didn’t even have the energy to sit up. One by one, the animals entered the room and quietly surrounded me.

I presumed they had come to eat me, so closed my eyes and prayed for it to be over quick.

But instead, they began to lie down. One of the pig snuggled in front, pressing its broad warm back into my chest. The rabbits lay on my hands and ankles, the mother flopping like a stole over my neck. A chicken sat on my face, snuggling down, clucking softly, as though preparing to lay an egg. Even the horse clambered behind, placed a leg over my shoulder and huffed warm air onto the back of my head. I was suddenly warmer and cosier and more loved than I could ever recall.  And in that moment, I knew, for the first time in a long time, that I would be okay, that everything would be okay, that I would get up in the morning and stop hating myself. After all, if these animals could love me so much, I couldn’t be that bad.


Dan Malakin has something like a hundred stories published online and in print, and has also been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, the Manchester literary prize, and twice for the Aeon Award. In the summer of 2013, he completed an MA in novel writing at Brunel, and is currently working on his first novel.


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Rate this story:
 average 3.7 stars • 6 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Almost literally a feelgood story. I enjoyed this.

  • Almost literally a feelgood story. I enjoyed this.

  • MPmcgurty

    Goodness, I really liked this. I had plenty of questions, but enjoyed it too much to worry about them. This was absurd and contradictory, and melancholy and hopeful. Some great imagery and playful alliteration.

    Thanks, Dan.

  • MPmcgurty

    Goodness, I really liked this. I had plenty of questions, but enjoyed it too much to worry about them. This was absurd and contradictory, and melancholy and hopeful. Some great imagery and playful alliteration.

    Thanks, Dan.

  • Now that was a fun read. I laughed aloud at the alliteration (“face fuzzy with fragments of felt”) and enjoyed the absurdity and humor of this easy-to-read story. I too had questions, but don’t we always have a few questions about a story? It’s flash. You can’t give it all away.

    I just can’t imagine the smell.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Now that was a fun read. I laughed aloud at the alliteration (“face fuzzy with fragments of felt”) and enjoyed the absurdity and humor of this easy-to-read story. I too had questions, but don’t we always have a few questions about a story? It’s flash. You can’t give it all away.

    I just can’t imagine the smell.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Amy Sisson

    I was a little worried that something bad might happen to the animals, and I can’t bear to read about animals suffering — so I was very happy with the ending! A nice story.

  • Amy Sisson

    I was a little worried that something bad might happen to the animals, and I can’t bear to read about animals suffering — so I was very happy with the ending! A nice story.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Weir, wacky and wonderful.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Weird, wacky and wonderful.

  • macdabhaid

    I presume the “story” instead of storey is an American thing. It’s a comfortable enough piece – cute in the worst way. The problem with fiction is that it must have its own innate credibility. Here we have farm animals going without food for months without dying (Autumn to Winter). If he had left out the season shift and opted for an unqualified time period, the suspension of belief would have been easier .. even with the farmyard blanket at the end.
    There is no examination of the C.O.D of the family: the source of his funk, so rather than the reader being allowed to fill in blanks, they are required to construct most of the story while he apparently cohabits with the unusual variety of stock (other than the condensed type) which does not defecate.
    I do enjoy the dry humour of how the animals “share” his pain, but even for a flash – it’s lacking.

    • For me, the absurdity of living with a house full of wild animals is a cover-all for suspension of belief. Once it had been established that he was living in one house with all of these animals (hilarious when you think about it), anything else outlandish in the story can simply be expected. Thus, I liked this story for letting me just enjoy it and get lost in the fantasy and not have to think about the logistics of it all. How many people of faith believe without question the story of Noah's Ark? That's even more ludicrous than this little story, yet people believe it 100%.
      • macdabhaid
        Maybe, but these are domesticated farm animals, not "wild" and it is not such an "absurdity" if you were to check round those who own farms, so it doesn't at all set a basis for suspension of belief. Noel Edmunds and Paul O'Grady are two celebrity multiple species pet owners who would never see their pets go hungry - quite apart from the rest. But the story is what is is, and lacks what it lacks. It's not horrible. It just could be a lot better.
  • macdabhaid

    I presume the “story” instead of storey is an American thing. It’s a comfortable enough piece – cute in the worst way. The problem with fiction is that it must have its own innate credibility. Here we have farm animals going without food for months without dying (Autumn to Winter). If he had left out the season shift and opted for an unqualified time period, the suspension of belief would have been easier .. even with the farmyard blanket at the end.
    There is no examination of the C.O.D of the family: the source of his funk, so rather than the reader being allowed to fill in blanks, they are required to construct most of the story while he apparently cohabits with the unusual variety of stock (other than the condensed type) which does not defecate.
    I do enjoy the dry humour of how the animals “share” his pain, but even for a flash – it’s lacking.

    • For me, the absurdity of living with a house full of wild animals is a cover-all for suspension of belief. Once it had been established that he was living in one house with all of these animals (hilarious when you think about it), anything else outlandish in the story can simply be expected. Thus, I liked this story for letting me just enjoy it and get lost in the fantasy and not have to think about the logistics of it all. How many people of faith believe without question the story of Noah's Ark? That's even more ludicrous than this little story, yet people believe it 100%.
      • macdabhaid
        Maybe, but these are domesticated farm animals, not "wild" and it is not such an "absurdity" if you were to check round those who own farms, so it doesn't at all set a basis for suspension of belief. Noel Edmunds and Paul O'Grady are two celebrity multiple species pet owners who would never see their pets go hungry - quite apart from the rest. But the story is what is is, and lacks what it lacks. It's not horrible. It just could be a lot better.
  • I enjoyed this a lot. It’s really a sweet fantasy about how innocent non-humans, i.e., animals, saved the day for this man otherwise caught in the hell of despair.

  • I enjoyed this a lot. It’s really a sweet fantasy about how innocent non-humans, i.e., animals, saved the day for this man otherwise caught in the hell of despair.

  • Trollopian

    For those who have watched A&E’s “Hoarders” with grim fascination, here’s a compassionate look inside the mind of one. Sure, we don’t know what happens next….the public health department, animal control, social workers are bound to show up. And a happy ending for all is unlikely. But this is a good read and achieves one goal of fiction: greater knowledge of human nature.

  • Trollopian

    For those who have watched A&E’s “Hoarders” with grim fascination, here’s a compassionate look inside the mind of one. Sure, we don’t know what happens next….the public health department, animal control, social workers are bound to show up. And a happy ending for all is unlikely. But this is a good read and achieves one goal of fiction: greater knowledge of human nature.

  • Chinwillow

    I have to stop smoking this stuff lol…..Enjoyed…fun…reads like my mind most of the time. Thanks Dan for a dry and fanciful fiction.

  • Chinwillow

    I have to stop smoking this stuff lol…..Enjoyed…fun…reads like my mind most of the time. Thanks Dan for a dry and fanciful fiction.

  • Chris Antenen

    Ditto Paul — weird, wacky, and wonderful.

  • Chris Antenen

    Ditto Paul — weird, wacky, and wonderful.

  • S Conroy

    A really comforting story and I loved the surreal feel to it.

  • S Conroy

    A really comforting story and I loved the surreal feel to it.

  • Ann Swann

    Loved it, Dan. Literary reality. In my life, anyway. =)