A Day in the Life of a Radiant Pig
THE QUEST FOR WILBUR
AUTHOR’S NOTE: As a young child, I always wondered about the further lives of the residents of Zuckerman’s farm, and what else might have happened during that magical summer. Here’s one possible guess with a tale that, while likely implausible, could theoretically have taken place. For readers’ reference: while primarily rooted in White’s original book, a few elements from the popular animated adaptation will be included in this story as well, making it essentially an “ultimate Charlotte” tale.
Charlotte’s Web and all related characters and indicia are registered trademarks of the Elwyn Brooks White estate, or whatever other persons or companies would apply, and the relevant publishing institution(s) (and, where applicable, of Paramount Pictures Corporation and the current holders of the Hanna-Barbera library). And now, as always, sit back and enjoy the story.
The rooster’s crowing echoed loudly in the morning air as the sun slowly inched its way over the horizon, throwing its first rays over the land of Homer L. Zuckerman’s farm. A few of these rays arced down towards the pigpen, shining hard off Wilbur’s nose, rousing him from a sound sleep. Yawning, he rose to his feet and stretched, then inhaled the warm early August air. The air had seemed fresher all throughout the summer, he felt. Perhaps, he reasoned, after learning what normally lay in wait for pigs around these parts, he was subliminally taking the thrill of living each day more seriously. And for that, he had to thank...
“Good morning, Charlotte,” he called up to the web above him in the barn doorway, glistening with the brand new word RADIANT in the glow of the early morning light. It had gone up in the web just three days ago, and already many of the same people who’d come to see him when the previous messages had “mysteriously” appeared had started returning again.
“Good morning, Wilbur,” came the congenial response from above. He could just make out Charlotte in the center of the web, by the top of the second A. “I trust you slept well?” the barn spider lowered herself down a little on a line of silk so he could see her more clearly.
“I’ve been sleeping very well for a while now, Charlotte,” Wilbur told her, turning his gaze towards the roadway leading into the farm, “How much longer until they show up again?”
“Shouldn’t be too much longer if today’s anything like previous days,” remarked the old sheep in the pen to Wilbur’s right, who had been doing the same thing, “It’s usually been right after the crack of dawn. So, Charlotte,” she turned her gaze up towards the spider, “How long do you plan to run with ‘Radiant’ as the key word this time?”
“I suppose it’ll depend on Mr. Zuckerman’s next move,” Charlotte declared, squinting towards the main farmhouse from on high, “I suspect that he’s going to...oh, excuse me a moment,” she rapidly climbed up the thread to her web, where an early morning mosquito had blundered into it right below the N. Wilbur averted his gaze away; much as he had come to begrudgingly accept Charlotte’s predatory habits as the price to pay for her protection to keep him alive, he had never been fully comfortable with seeing innocent insects meet a quick demise in her clutches.
His attention was now drawn to the loud honks to his left. “Good morning Zuckerman’s Farm!” the gander announced out loud, rising to his feet next to the nest his wife was perched on, “Here’s wishing everyone a happy morning-orning-orning!”
“A good morning to you and the family as well,” Wilbur stuck his head through the fence, “I hope the weather holds today,” he glanced up at the sky, which was indeed bright blue already, “The more people that show up...”
“Yes indeed, the more that come, the more we know you’ll avoid a terrible fate-ate-ate,” the goose rose to her feet as well. “Up and about, children,” she directed her goslings, who scrambled to their feet, “Judging by standard practices, you have about five minutes to unwind before Lurvy comes with our breakfast-eakfast-eakfast.”
The goslings, who had been aging slowly but surely all through the summer since their hatching, scattered in various directions to enjoy the morning. One, the smallest of all, bustled right for the fence. “Good morning, Wilbur,” he greeted the pig fondly.
“Good morning to you too, Jeffrey,” Wilbur smiled; he’d become quite close with the youngest gosling of the brood, who in fact had often hopped into his pen to socialize-and, it seemed at times, wished to be a pig himself. The young goose in fact now squeezed underneath the wood and trotted towards the trough. “He hasn’t come yet, Jeffrey,” Wilbur pointed out to him, “But I’ll share as much with you as you’d want.”
“Now Jeffrey, don’t eat too much there,” his father warned him, sticking his own head through the fence, “We do have our own meal coming too.”
“Don’t worry, sir, I’ll make sure he won’t eat too much,” Wilbur assured the gander. He slid down onto his stomach and sighed happily. “Life feels so good right now, Jeffrey,” he told the gosling, who flopped down in between his front legs.
“It sure does,” Jeffrey agreed, turning and staring up at the words in Charlotte’s web, “I guess you’d never have imagined this would ever happen, huh Wilbur?”
“Nope,” Wilbur shook his head, “I’m so lucky to have Charlotte for a friend. I don’t know what’ll happen from here, but I can never thank her enough for everything she’s done for me so far. I don’t know what I’d do without her...”
“Humans coming, humans coming!” came the shout from the rooster, who was fluttering down from the top of the barn towards the chickens’ enclosure on the opposite side. And indeed, Wilbur could hear the now familiar sound of engines on the road approaching the farm-and, it seemed, a lot of them. “Sounds like a good crowd today,” he remarked, craning his neck towards the road.
“Looks like about a dozen, at least,” the much bigger old sheep had leaped up on her hind legs against the front of her enclosure for a better view, “It looks like Radiant was a good word to choose, Charlotte,” she called to the web.
“As I’d hoped,” Charlotte nodded, having finished wrapping up the mosquito, “All right, places, everyone, this is it, again,” she directed the animals all around the barn, who scrambled to get into position, “Just act natural and let Wilbur soak up the praise from the humans.”
“He has it so easy,” cracked one of the lambs, “He just has to walk around and look innocent.”
“And if that’s what it takes to save a life, so be it, I say,” the old sheep nudged the lamb back towards the rear of their enclosure. “Well, might as well head back to your folks,” Wilbur nudged Jeffrey similarly with his nose, “We can play later after everyone’s gone.”
“Come along, Jeffrey, and let Wilbur have his time with the humans,” the goose called to him, sending the gosling scrambling back under the fence towards the nest. No sooner had he rejoined his family than the first set of cars started pulling up in front of the barn. By now, Wilbur was used to the protocol Charlotte had requested of him: as the humans approached the pigpen, he rose to his feet and pushed a smile of sorts onto his face for the approaching pack of humans, a good twenty in all. “Radiant,” he heard a man amid the pack of humans declare, no doubt having seen the writing in the web, “Amazing, simply amazing...”
“He certainly looks radiant,” a woman added, “One of the most radiant pigs I’ve ever seen.”
“Definitely,” a second man leaned over to smile at Wilbur, “First Some Pig, then Terrific, now Radiant; whatever’s going on here, this is definitely a special pig...”
“Already!? Don’t you people have any sense of decency!?” came the loud shout from under the trough. A pair of rodent hands grasped hold of the edges of the tunnel under the trough, unseen by the humans. “Good morning, Templeton,” Wilbur greeted the rat, who was now pulling himself up to ground level.
“Earlier and earlier every time! Can’t a rat get any peace and quiet around here!?” Templeton shook a fist at the oblivious humans, his gesture obscured by the trough, “There’s been no quiet in these parts ever since Charlotte went ahead with this crazy scheme! Next thing, they’ll be building amusement park rides through my tunnels, I just know it! I can see it now: rat-shaped cars rolling through all my living quarters, taking the...!”
“Templeton, relax!” Charlotte shouted at him from the web, “This is a small price to pay for Wilbur’s life! Now if you’ve got nothing to...!”
She cut off abruptly. It was then that Wilbur heard a gruff voice in the crowd shouting, “Move aside, people, more aside!” The humans at the front of the line parted, leaving the pig face to face with a stern-faced elderly man wearing a formal suit and tie. He frowned hard at Wilbur. “That’s it?” he mused with a scowl, “THIS is the pig that everyone’s getting all excited about...!?” His gaze shot to the words in the web. “I don’t believe it...”
“Mr. Barrens,” it was Lurvy, approaching the pigpen with buckets of food for Wilbur, “Fancy seeing you around here. See for yourself, a miracle,” he set down the buckets and pointed at the web.
“All right, how did Homer do it?” the newcomer asked with raised eyebrows.
“What do you mean?”
“Did he paint them in, or did he have his niece sew the letters in, or how did he do this?”
“Neither, Mr. Barrens; the letters just appeared,” Lurvy told him, “I can’t explain it, and neither can Mr. Zuckerman.”
“Well I know YOU can’t,” the other man muttered softly under his breath. He glanced down at Wilbur. “Doesn’t look like ‘some pig,’ or whatever the first words were...”
“But he is, Mr. Barrens, he’s quite unusual...”
“Clearly,” the newcomer glanced at the crowd. “Tell Homer I’m here. I want to have a word with him.”
“Well, he’s busy around the farm...”
“I have all day,” the older man growled, “Tell him this is of the utmost importance.”
“All right, Mr. Barrens. Just let me finish my chores here, and I’ll let him know,” Lurvy dumped Wilbur’s breakfast into the trough. Wilbur, however, did not feel particularly hungry, as the cold gaze the old man was giving him as he turned to leave was searing into his soul, as if he was being X-rayed. “Charlotte,” he trotted back towards the barn door, “Who is that man?”
“I don’t know for sure, Wilbur, but there’s something about him that doesn’t quite seem right,” Charlotte said, squinting at the retreating man.
“I know him,” the old sheep spoke up, having stepped protectively in front of all the other sheep in the pen, “He’s J.L. Barrens, the wealthiest farmer in the county. Mr. Zuckerman’s farm wouldn’t take up a quarter of his farm. And I’ve heard stories,” she shivered, “Terrible stories about his farm, that perfectly healthy animals that go there never come out alive...”
“I’ve heard the same,” the gander added, having similarly taken a protective position in front of his family, “A few years ago, a stray horse came by here, saying he’d escaped from Barrens’ farm and claiming he’d been badly mistreated. Barrens caught him and took him back, and we never heard from him again. Nasty, nasty man by every stretch of the imagination-ation-ation.”
“But what’s he doing here, then?” the goose frowned, “He never drops in to visit the boss.”
“I don’t know, but I don’t like it,” Charlotte mumbled softly, “We would do well to keep an eye on Wilbur until he leaves...”
Several hours later, Wilbur had not seen Barrens leave the farm, although much of the crowd had by this point. The pig’s gaze zoomed around the farm from the railing, scanning intently. “I haven’t seen him go either,” one of the lambs joined him at the front of the fence.
“It’s not just him,” Wilbur shook his head, looking in every direction, “Fern. She said she’d be here by lunchtime. It’s close to dinnertime now.”
“No need to worry, Wilbur; I’m sure she has good reason,” the old sheep assured him with a knowing expression.
“But that’s not like the Fern I know,” Wilbur lamented, “She’s always been there for me; now she’s starting to...”
“Here I am, here I am!” a familiar voice rang out at the moment. Wilbur breathed a sigh of relief. Seconds later, Fern’s bike skidded to a stop in front of the pig pen. “Sorry I’m late, Wilbur,” Fern bent down to rub him behind the ears, “I was going to come earlier, but I ran into Henry in town, and he invited me to a movie. He was just so sweet about it that I couldn’t say no...”
“I’ll bet you couldn’t,” Templeton muttered in disgust from the entrance to his tunnel, “Just come out and tell it right to Wilbur’s face; you’re starting to...”
“Hush!” the goose honked at him. Fern looked up in surprise, then turned back to Wilbur. “I hope you’ve had a good day being radiant,” she smiled at the word in the web, “Judging by how many people seem to have...”
She came to a sudden stop, her gaze turning towards the main farmhouse, where angry shouting could be heard coming out of the open window. Wilbur turned as well and listened to Barrens shouting, “...come on, Homer, you’re being unreasonable here!”
“How am I being unreasonable, J.L.?” Mr. Zuckerman was much calmer, in contrast, “Wilbur is not for sale, and that is final.”
“What are you going to do with him after this whole charade’s over, Homer!? And why are you up to this charade in the first place!? Are you trying to show me up!?”
“Now why would Homer do anything of the sort, Mr. Barrens!?” Mrs. Zuckerman could be heard shouting now, “It’s not his fault that you can’t stand any other farmers looking better than you!”
“And it’s not a charade, J.L.; I really have no idea how these words are appearing like this,” Mr. Zuckerman added, “But it’s clear Wilbur is a special pig.”
“That’s why I’m trying to be generous with you, Homer; fifty thousand dollars is more than enough for a pig like that, and if anything, I’m overpaying for him!” Barrens said sharply.
“Didn’t you hear my husband? We’re not selling the pig,” Mrs. Zuckerman told him sternly.
“And then what are you going to do? Keeping a pig alive when we all know what they’re bred for is insanity. Especially a runt like that. Come on, Homer, I’ll give you a hundred thousand dollars for the pig. You can sell the farm, move to a place where you and the missus can enjoy retirement for...”
“J.L., for the last time, Wilbur is not for sale,” Mr. Zuckerman said with great finality, “And no amount of money you offer can change my mind on this. Now I’ll have to ask you to leave if you’ve got nothing else on your mind.”
“All right, I’ll go, Homer. But mark my words, you’re making a big mistake turning me down!” Barrens threatened. Moments later, the farmhouse door banged open, and the elderly farmer stormed down towards the pigpen. Wilbur couldn’t stop himself from running back into the barn and diving into a pile of hay. “Your owner’s a stubborn man, you little runt,” Barrens growled in his direction, “He’s going to regret turning me down for you one of these days...”
“Leave Wilbur alone, Mr. Barrens!” Fern shouted at him, “Or...!”
“Or what!? You think a little girl like you knows better than an experienced farmer like me what’s best for a pig!? I’ve heard the rumors of how that hog ended up here. Maybe you didn’t do him any favors saving him like I hear you did. But on the other hand, I’m glad you did save him. Very, very glad,” Wilbur noticed a smug smile spread on the elderly farmer’s face before he finally turned and walked away. “He’s gone, Wilbur, you can come out,” Fern called to him once Barrens was out of sight. Wilbur hesitantly came back over and let her rub him on the back. “He’s not going to hurt you, Wilbur, no one’s going to hurt you,” Fern assured him.
“Everything all right out here, Fern?” Mr. Zuckerman was coming over himself.
“Yes, Uncle Homer. Were you and Mr. Barrens...?”
“Now don’t you worry none about that. I wouldn’t sell Wilbur to anyone, especially someone like Mr. Barrens,” Mr. Zuckerman assured her, giving her a hug, “Just put any thoughts of that out of your mind. Why don’t you come on in? I have some peanut brittle for you.”
“OK,” Fern grinned, following him towards the farmhouse. Wilbur took a deep breath, but deep down, a worried feeling was now dwelling in him. “Charlotte,” he approached the doorway again, “Do you think I’m going to be all right, with Mr. Barrens seeming to want me...?”
“For now, Wilbur, I believe you’ll be fine. Mr. Zuckerman won’t sell you to a man like J.L. Barrens, I can promise that. Still,” Charlotte’s voice was fraught with concern, “I think it might be better if we kept an eye on you for the foreseeable future. If Mr. Barrens seems so bent on having you, there’s no telling what a man like that might do...”