The ending to Animals has been the subject of considerable discussion, with some expressing the view that it would be a more satisfying novel if it ended differently. For those who feel that way, here is an alternative ending.
[from line 9, page 151 in the Soft Skull edition; line 9, page 169 in the Vehicule edition]
…pop, pop, pop of the stun gun.
* * *
Daddy, look way over, look way over Daddy, I think it’s him. And they peered through the ripped fabric, it was perhaps thirty yards away that the ramp sloped up into the square opening, the jaws of the building opening bright, stray screams cut short by the stun gun, the bodies in their sudden softness jerked up, the blood—not there, along the path to there, that was where Naomi thought she could see him, at the end of one of the rows as they turned, wait, he’ll come by again Daddy, I know it’s him, the binoculars, quick Daddy you have them in your bag, now Daddy it’s him Daddy, it’s Sam, she called, and then again Sam, Sam, forgetting after all this time that he could not hear, forgetting everything until her daddy shushed her, threw down the binoculars, smothered her almost, it was warm suddenly but so dark, so dark, so very dark.
“No sweetie, it isn’t him, really it isn’t. I know how you wish we could find him. I know. But it isn’t him.” Zayne stopped. What could he say? There was nothing to make it go away. The word lucky came to him, came out of his lips like sudden horror. “Lucky, lucky this time. We would not want it to be him.” “No, no, it mustn’t be him.” Naomi’s voice was hushed now, she had gone all quiet.
* * *
The path narrowed at the end to a ramp, fenced each side, and now you could see, Sam could see the knocker in his rubber apron and his huge gloves and his safety goggles, a man had to protect his eyes, if the stun gun were jostled, or if an elbow caught his eye as the body was yanked up and away by the pull chains on the hoist conveyor, or if something went wrong with what the sticker was doing just a few feet away as the sticker made the first cut, the cut that should sever the blood vessels in the neck, something could slip. Sometimes the knife was dull and the cut didn’t go deep enough, not the first one, and the sticker would have a second go, but other times it was too sharp and the sticker was maybe a bit off balance or something else would make the blade go clear through the spine. And of course the blood, there was none of that from the stun gun but from where the sticker worked the blood went everywhere, drenched everything, so you had to wear protection, a hardhat, good safety goggles, thick gloves. Ellison wore protection on his arms too, not everyone did when they were working as a knocker but Ellison thought it was prudent, he was just doing this for the summer, that’s what he was thinking anyway, by the end of the summer he could stop, he would’ve saved a bit, saved enough so that Shelley and him could rent a bigger place, a two-bedroom maybe.
Even if it was him, Zayne thought, from as far away as they were, how could they hope to stop it in time? If they stood up, started to shout, if they were somehow able to get someone’s attention, someone over there on the killing line—even then, would it do any good? Just two of them, and so far away, behind all the barriers, who at Canfields would they stop the line for that? They wouldn’t, they wouldn’t do anything, nothing would change, nothing would be stopped, no one would be saved. And the damage, the damage to the child, to his daughter, there had been so much done already, how could he do more now? No, it was probably better to say nothing, even if—even if…
But what of the other child, the one he had thought nothing about? Suddenly he thought of the other child, of Sam, he had no hesitation now in calling him a child, not a mongrel, not a chattel, he felt for him suddenly now almost as he felt for Naomi, not quite so much but more than he had ever felt for a child that was not his own, and the tears covered his face. He was shaking, it’s OK Daddy, Daddy it’s all right, I know you want it to be him, I want it so much too, maybe we can roar our terrible roar and it will be him, maybe it will, please daddy…
Sam did not feel scared he felt empty, he had a knowing of death inside him now, he would be all right, he told himself that again and again and again, all right, all right, it’s over, all right, all right, he kept saying the words as he shuffled forward. And then he thought of other words, of words tumbling over each other, of stretching words, of words shuffling forward. He thought back to the beginning, to when she had taught him the thing words, so he could ask for cracker and talk about turtle and toenail and water and earth and sky. And then hungry and thirsty and the doing words, pushing and grunting and thinking, all that was there for him now. And the words were not from the world only, the words that were in him now. They were the mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little house and Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do and here is Edward Bear, coming down stairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. And from the words, from her lips as the words came from the books, he had learned afraid and sadness and despair. And lonely, Sam knew Max the king of all wild things was lonely, and he knew lonely from within himself. And he knew Josh must know those things too, and all the others must know them, not from the words or the books but from the feelings, water and earth and sky, hungry and thirsty and lonely, pushing and grunting and even in their own way thinking, but he had been so lucky, Sam had, somehow so lucky really. And the luck that he had found for that short time when he had learnt from the words and from everything—he had learnt love too—was a strong warm thing inside him.
The wild things had roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth but Max had said Be still! and then when once more the wild things had roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth was it like that behind the window don’t think don’t think don’t see don’t see they had loved him so but Max had said no, had sailed back and in and out of weeks and into the night of his very own room. A two-bedroom maybe, Ellison thought, it would be important to have a bit more space now that there were going to be three of them. A bit more money too, he had saved a bit here and there, maybe he could go back to that clothing store if they’d have him, the pay wasn’t quite as good but anyway he wouldn’t stay here beyond the fall, that would be the end for him, what was that sound, like someone crying out, not the gibberish of the animals. No, nothing could be calling, there was nothing out there, nothing could be out there this time of the evening, he turned toward the next skull.
But there was some other sound, a human sound rather than an animal one, ever so faint, and it was like a human sound, a child it almost sounded like, same, same, same was it calling? Far away someone must be screaming—no, yelling—had there been an accident? Ellison cringed at the thought of the time two years ago when a new worker had caught his hand in one of the conveyers.
There it was again, perhaps the wind had shifted, he could make it out a little more clearly now, no and stop and—was it you man? Maybe it was protesters, he knew that once at the big Creighton lot a few miles farther west there had been an incident, people chanting and waving placards, some of them trying to rush the gate. No—now he could see them. It was just two people, a man and a child, a young girl it looked like, no placards but the girl was waving her arms as she yelled. They were trying to get his attention, it looked like, whether or not that made any sense. He knew all too well how bad you could get blamed for shutting down the line, even if the book said that’s what you were supposed to do. But how could there be any safety issue that those two could know about from way out there, any issue Ellison wouldn’t already know one hell of a lot more about than they did? Shit, why couldn’t they have come to the main gate like you were supposed to? He didn’t need this, he really didn’t need this, not today, not right near the end of a shift. What in hell were they doing there, they were starting to look almost frantic. Now six seconds had gone by, seven, eight, he should have done already with the next animal, and still he hesitated, hesitated, before finally starting to turn away from the two figures and the voices. His fingers tightened again around the stun gun. And then it came to him, the exact wording, now he remembered how it was in the book, all of it, in the event of any unusual disturbance in or around the facility, the line must be shut down and remain at idle until the cause of the disturbance has been located and identified. “In or around the facility.” All his life he had played it by the book and damn the consequences, maybe the supervisors wanted to cut corners, maybe just about everybody wanted to cut corners, but that wasn’t his game and he wasn’t about to make it his game now. He reached for the button set into the floor and waited for the little shudder you could always feel when the gears above the conveyer disengaged, … one, two, there it was. And then a dozen voices at once, what the fuck, who the fuck’s messing with the line, not one fucking more time this week…, and he looked down at the next one in front of him, a big brown one, and then a really scrawny one behind, some of them never did really fill out properly no matter what you did. Well, the poor damn things would have a few more minutes, anyway.
Now Ellison could see Givens hustling towards him, pushing past a huddle of other workers, his face almost purple, time was money, couldn’t he understand that? What the fuck did he think he was doing ... . Ellison just pointed.
“It’s them, them two over there. I don’t know what the fuck they’re fussed about but it’s somethin’ we’re doing and Jesus, are they ever making a racket about it. You know what the book says, boss—any unusual disturbance in or around the facility… ” Knowing just what the book said made all the difference, really, Givens might look at him a little sideways but now the manager’s glare went out towards the strange man and the girl by the fence in the distance. Ellison set down the gun, and wiped his knife. This was going to take some little while, that much was plain, and it was almost time for break.
* * *
Against all the odds, they might still save him, Naomi hardly dared to think, to hope, to breathe, but her daddy stayed calm and good through the big fuss until they were in the office, until the explaining had been done again and again, until the men had stopped accusing and starting worrying that they might be accused. Zayne’s face was stretched and puffy, but he kept finding words. “I’m sure this is no fault of Slyson’s,” Zayne was had begun, but the men had hesitated, had kept stalling until finally Zayne had found himself saying legal action, and criminal charges, and personal liability in a case such as this. “It’d be manslaughter in the eyes of the law, you can see that as well as me. Same as if some kid was starting to run in front of your car and you decided to just keep on driving.”
“I just want to know that nobody’s paying you to do this, mister. Cause you know what? It’s my fucking funeral here, it’s me that’s gotta pay the price.” Did Givens not notice the girl, or was this how he spoke around anyone, any age? “They dock my pay for every fucking minute the line is down. Every fucking minute.” He shook his head. He had already written off this loss, but it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a veiled threat before he called in the higher-ups. “You better be right, mister, you just better be right.”
It had gone up one more level; this sort of thing didn’t happen every day. But in the end they all said the words you would expect, an unfortunate error, an isolated incident. Deaf, that’s all he was, deaf, one of them had kept saying; crazy mix-up was a phrase that cropped up more than once. Even with every precaution—that’s how we operate here, we take every precaution—even when so, sometimes something can slip through the cracks, I think everyone has been there.
Now the feeling of luck was all gone, and it was as if he had never had his own room. Why would they make him wait? Why now? The night was getting colder and Sam shivered. He couldn’t stop shivering, all of them were, he could hear teeth chattering somewhere back behind him. When they pulled him from the line he knew it was no different, really, some special procedure that could only mean something worse than you had thought, when already there had been no hope for anything but an ending. The things that made tears went on and on even when you couldn’t make any tears, he didn’t know where they were taking him but it was into a dark place, a dark room, and then a heavy door came open and he could see a shiver of light across some concrete. And suddenly Naomi was there in front of him.
It should have been past the end of the shift by now but they’d said they weren’t going to count the time the line had been down, the plant had to make quota for the day, and Ellison was swearing under his breath as he pressed the tip to the next skull; he didn’t even want the money now, it was getting too late. The eyes of this one looked at him as if in another place already. With most of them you could see if you looked that they had seen what was coming and you could see how much it scared them, it was better not to look but if you did you could see what they saw, and in the next moment there was pleading in their eyes, he hated that, but this one was so calm in its eyes, so gentle almost, the way someone looks if they love you, love you not for you only, but just for being like anybody else. You could imagine so many things if you looked in eyes, you could never know, it was like looking into clouds, or into water, you could never know really, it was better to look away. The night was cold, suddenly very cold, and still such a long line, still such a very long line.