The Ahimsa Club by Rebecca Burke - Read Online
The Ahimsa Club
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A shocking school assembly opens Valerie’s eyes to the horror of animal abuse. But what can a 14-year-old girl do to protect animals? Why even try to attack such a huge problem?

With others from her school, she forms the Ahimsa Club—“Ahimsa” an Indian word meaning “the avoidance of causing harm to other living things.”

As its first action, the Ahimsa Club spearheads a Pledge to Veg campaign at school, gaining enemies as well as an unexpected and powerful ally. Their Save the Strays campaign pits them against some of the town’s most powerful interests when they discover a connection between stray animals and local laboratories. Rumors—some vicious, some comical—spread like wildfire at school and around the community. Valerie risks losing her two best friends and starts to get frightening anonymous threats.

Help comes from an amazing source: fellow animal lover and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, who is coming to town for a concert. Anti-animal rights groups plan to picket the concert, and a war of words takes over the local media. What will happen the night of the concert is anyone’s guess.

The Ahimsa Club explores many sides of this issue, but Valerie never wavers. Someone has to look out for the animals. And for her the choice is easy—“You cannot come down on the side of cruelty.”

Published: Rebecca Burke on
ISBN: 9781465812513
List price: $2.99
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The Ahimsa Club - Rebecca Burke

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Chapter One

Almost home. Less than fifty yards to the red brick house atop the nightmare of a hill. Then Valerie could unlock her cramped fingers and let the ten freaking tons of French horn crash onto the floor.

She fought the urge to dropkick it down the hill and let the steady stream of cars crush it.

"Blast it!" Her long skinny arms could not keep the awkward case far enough away from her frame.

Bang. Ouch.

Bang. That does it.

Bang. I hate the day you came into my life.

With every step, it slammed against her bony, unprotected legs. Naturally her new fishnets were snagged. Along with the sweat-circled armpits, it made for an attractive picture, saying she was going for the demented Picasso look.

Was ever a love-hate relationship so weighed down by pure hate?

Twenty more yards…She stopped to catch her breath. Her old Brownie leader, Mrs. Renfro, zipped past her in a new van. Why not toss the stinking horn under Rennie’s wheels?

Alas, her parents had forked out over a thousand bucks for the damn thing. They would not take its destruction lightly.

And all this misery was for nothing. Like a complete and major idiot, she’d left her sheet music in her locker at school. So after practicing her scales, she’d be reduced to—what? Making stuff up? She doubted her parents would even know the difference.

Too bad Mr. Lokkener couldn’t see her red, oily face right now, or the sweat seeping through her blouse and sweater. Her ruined fingers. She’d happily pay someone ten bucks to videotape her dragging the heavy, bubble-shaped case up the hill. Proof of her dedication.

Knowing him, he’d suspect the case was empty.

Her mother’s yellow Volkswagen Bug was already in the driveway when she finally squeezed through the door. It was five p.m., late for Valerie but early for her mother.

She plopped the horn down in the middle of the front hallway and gave it a vicious kick towards the wall. "What are you doing here?" she called out after regaining her breath.

I live here, remember? Her mother’s voice came from the kitchen.

A tantalizing aroma of roast meat permeated the big house. What’s that smell? Are we celebrating something? I’m drooling already.

You’ll see in a few minutes. Why are you late?

Horn rehearsal. Every Thursday after.

After what?

"School–what do you think."

Just so you’re not selling crack on street corners, her mother joked. She stuck her head out in time to catch Valerie peeling her ripped tights slowly and deliberately down her long legs. I see you brought the beast home.

The metal monster itself. Valerie stood up straight again, grunting as she wadded the ruined tights in a ball. She marched to the kitchen and jammed them deep down into the trash. You don’t have a choice after Thursday afternoon practice. Mr. Lokkener might drive by and scream at you if you’re not carrying your instrument.

Marcia McCoy-Smith laughed. The Electric Cattle Prod School of Band Conducting.

Something like that. Valerie collapsed on a chair, her weekly ordeal over. Was there really such a thing as an electric cattle prod? Sick. But she was too out of sorts to pursue the thought.

What pieces of music are you learning in band right now?

Her mother sounded genuinely curious. She almost hated to disappoint her. "Music? Other kids get to play music. As in pleasing combinations of notes and rhythm. Earl and I pound out the same four or five noises, over and over. I might as well be playing the gong and cymbals."

Her mother made a face. I told you so. She’d warned Valerie that a French horn was not known for its fancy footwork, at least at the level of middle school orchestras.


In fact, her mother had predicted that Valerie would grow to loathe the large, awkward instrument. Now she wanted Valerie to stick to it, so she’d have an outlet when she got to high school. One, Valerie suspected, that would keep her too busy to go out for cheerleading or worse—a team sport. Marcia McCoy-Smith did not care for team sports.

Half an hour later, Valerie was seated with her parents at their blonde oak dinner table, staring at the pungent dish in the center.

What do we have here? She knew it came out sounding cranky.

Veal parmesan. And no complaints before you try it.

Whoop-de-doo, her father murmured in mock-awe. I’m not sure we deserve this.

Speak for yourself. Valerie’s mother thumped her chest lightly. I do.

Valerie stabbed a piece of soft white meat and suspended it over her plate. Almost immediately it lost its grip and slid off the fork, falling back into its cheesy sauce. "Ish. What is this stuff?"

Her parents exchanged an amused glance over the big wooden salad bowl in the middle of the table. He reached for some water, delegating the question to her mother.

It’s just a form of beef, Valerie, her mother said. Young beef. That’s why it’s so tender.

How young? asked Valerie.

Quite young. Her mother replied with a slight edge.

Do they cut into the mother cow’s stomach to get at the fetus or something? Given that her parents never missed a chance to explain anything, the truth had to be pretty shocking.

Come now. That would be barbaric. Annoyance brought out the wrinkles in her mother’s broad forehead.

Valerie pushed on for an answer. So what’s the story on this phlegmy-looking meat on my plate? Do I have to go get the dictionary?

Her father swallowed a mouthful and sighed. Valerie, it’s calves’ meat. The calf isn’t fully mature when it’s slaughtered for the table. Do we have to talk about this now? He looked determined to enjoy his meal, as if hypnotized by the scent of garlic and Italian herbs.

That’s sickening. A baby calf? They take a baby calf from its mother and murder it in cold blood? How long has this been going on?

For hundreds of years. Blame the Romans. He gave her mother his shifty-eyed I-hope-that’s-right look.

Her mother’s jabbed a forkful of veal into her mouth, chewing the first bits with pretend gusto. She tried another tack with Valerie by relating some food history. Did you know that in the old days the British kings and queens were served pies filled with lark’s tongues? She smacked her lips. A royal delicacy.

After Valerie’s groaning stopped, she went on. Some people, including yours truly, consider veal a delicacy.

She beamed at Valerie, a technique she used with reluctant juries to throw them off-balance. At any rate, you know it’s rude to comment on what other people are enjoying.

Valerie sputtered. "How can you enjoy such a—it’s gross. It’s beyond gross."

We agree, her father said in his usual jokey manner. "It is gross. But dear god, it’s delicious."

Both adults tittered. At times like this, she could have used a brother or sister to watch her back.

Look, we’re not forcing you to eat it. Go heat up a can of ravioli. Her father always gave up first for the simple reason that he hated conflict.

Valerie held her plate at eye-level to peer at the limp white fillets. Ukh! Then she banged her plate down hard enough so that the veal did a little bounce in the air, spattering sauce.

Her parents pretended to be engrossed in their rich repast. They made a big production out of using only their forks to slice through the tender meat. Then they dipped each bite in thick sauce before plopping it into their greedy mouths.

She wanted to gag.

Screeakkk. She forced her chair backwards across the dining room tiles and sputtered, I’ve lost my appetite. I can’t believe you eat this.

We get it, we get it, her mother said. We’re moral pygmies. You win.

Now let us eat in peace. Even her father was losing his patience.

Gladly. She stomped out, feeling justified in every cell in her body.

She could hear one of them speak, followed by muffled giggling. From upstairs, she called down to them, I’m getting ready to barf! The thought of that slimy meat swishing around in their mouths…

She came very close to following through with her threat.

The concept of veal was even worse than she imagined. Her source was her trusty friend and band-buddy, Earl.

You’ve never heard of veal before? he asked, ratcheting up the mock horror in his voice.

Show off, she said with irritation. How would I? My mom believes in take-out. She worships at the sacred American deli.

He snorted. I thought your parents were big liberals.

What’s that supposed to mean?

People who support all living things except Republicans. I suppose cows don’t count either.

Get to the point. Should I have a bucket by the bed? Earl could make angels and rainbows sound disgusting if he half-tried. Remember, I can always check your so-called facts later.

Better sit down, Val. It’s Nazi-time.


"First cute thing they do is rip the baby calf away from its mother right after she has it. We’re talking hours."

She sucked her breath in. How cruel is that.

Yeah, well these guys specialize in cruel. They want her to forget about the calf, so she’ll think about having another baby right away. That way they can make the most money off of each mother cow.

That is utterly sickening.

Yeah, udderly. He paused. "Bada bing."

She had no intention of laughing at his pun. Go on.

Okay, how’s this. The farmers-if you can even call them that, it makes them sound too harmless—put the calves into teenie-tiny crates with no straw or bedding on the ground. They can’t exercise, and they can barely even turn around or lie down.

Valerie twisted the corner of her pillowcase into tighter and tighter knots.

It gets worse, he continued. Sometimes they keep the little calves in total darkness so they won’t get restless and move too much.

Why don’t they want them to move around? What’s the harm in that?

Because, Ms. Innocent, they want the meat to be tender, tender, tender. No muscles. The whiter and weaker the meat, the better the price they get for it.

There was a slight pause. Are you done yet? she asked reluctantly. Let this nightmare end already.

"No, I’m not done. Get this: they don’t give them any solid food or water. They make them drink this milky liquid like Slim Fast or something. Except it’s not slimming, it’s fattening. They want them to drink it instead of water so they’ll fatten up."

He paused to let his words sink in. That means they’re thirsty all the time. And they get diarrhea ‘cause this stuff is richer than a chocolate malt. Only not as tasty, I’m sure.

Valerie stopped twisting her hair around her index finger. How come you know all this? she demanded.

My neighbor is a butcher at Hy-Vee. I mow his lawn, and he rewards me by telling me all this gross stuff.

Grown-ups. Always trying to impress.

He chuckled. So Valerie. Welcome to the wacky world of fine dining.

One minute they’re force-feeding you green beans, the next—tortured baby cow flesh. I’m so bummed out.

Did you at least get your parents to feel guilty?

Not really. They think everything’s material for a sit-com.

He sighed dramatically. Oh, for the good old days, when parenting wasn’t for wimps.

I’m afraid of the dreams I’m going to have tonight.

Earl laughed. Maybe you’ll dream about a line of angry calves picketing Fratelli’s, demanding they stop serving veal parmesan.

She grimaced. Even his laughter could sound sarcastic. Can’t you ever be serious, Earl?

I’m very serious. I plan on having a nightmare myself tonight. About that algebra test in Sorensen’s class. Have you studied yet?

How can you worry about algebra when there are hundreds of calves suffering in stinking little boxes?

Hundreds! he scoffed. Try about a million, Val pal. That’s ten-hundred thousand, if I might throw in a math fact.

Thanks, Einstein. I knew that.

After hanging up, she looked through her music collection for something sad to play. Nothing seemed right, though. Everything gloomy was about love. Romantic love, breaking up-love, unrequited love, past loves. A whole shelf full of manufactured misery.

Nothing about the genuine pain of little calves hovering in cold, cramped boxes, longing for their mothers.

She gave up and lay back on her bed to stare at the blank, white ceiling. She wasn’t in the least bit hungry. Empty, but not hungry.

Chapter Two

Valerie was waiting for her homeroom to quiet down so Mr. Strom would release them for the assembly. She was mulling over her dream, which she remembered quite clearly.

In it, she had been hurling package after package of meat from her parents’ refrigerator out the window. Scrawled on the outside of the white butcher paper in big black magic marker were the words: COW...PIG...SHEEP...CAT...DOG...SQUIRREL.

But then the white paper dissolved into cellophane so that she could see the meat’s shiny muscle and bone. One big package broke open, and red blood spilled down her forearms and onto the kitchen floor. Her mother came running in and screamed at her, "Now you’re really being extreme!"

And, with the kind of lightning response that came only in dreams, she answered, "Yes, I am being extreme. I’m being extremely patient. I asked you not to feed me dead animal flesh. Why do you do it?"

At which point she turned around and continued emptying the fridge and freezer of meat, this time dropping the stone-heavy packages at her feet. There seemed to be a virtual animal graveyard in their freezer, the dismembered frozen limbs and muscles of every sort of animal, barnyard and wild.

When she woke up, the tips of her fingers actually felt cold from handling all that meat. She crept downstairs to the kitchen, half-expecting it to be ankle-deep in bloody, thawing animal parts, her mother standing over it all in a fury. But no one was there.

She peered cautiously into the freezer compartment and saw nothing except a couple of frozen Patio pizzas, some Jimmy Dean sausage links, and five boxes of Bird’s Eye vegetables. Her parents weren’t quite the meat-hording ogres she’d made them out to be in her sleep. But there was still the matter of the veal.

An object hit her in the back of the head, making her yelp right as the classroom got quiet. It was a tightly folded triangle of yellow notepaper, dense as a bullet.

"Burferina, Burferina (I just love to write your nickname…it sounds like a mouse in some cheesy fairy tale). Sit by me in assembly, okay? What’s the topicola, anyway? It’d better not be Character Counts again. Kinda’ hard to swallow when the teachers keep getting hauled off for DUI’s. If you sit by me, I’ll share the wealth. I rode over to Palmer’s last night and picked up 10 lbs. of Bings. Rejects for sure, but who cares? Rejects need love, too.

Peace be with you, A.

Valerie didn’t mind getting a freebie, but she hated to encourage her tubby friend’s food addiction. Angie’s latest was to bike over to the Palmer Candy Company and scarf up their seconds, like some bargain-crazed homemaker with ten kids to feed. She told Valerie that everything they couldn’t sell to humans, they practically gave away to a local hoglot owner for the pigs. What, they often wondered, were pigs’ favorites—crushed and lopsided malted milk balls? Or hard, stale caramels? Surely it would be more fun to chew a caramel than a cud, whatever a cud was.

Soon the two of them were pushing down the noisy, crowded hallway towards the auditorium, past the banged-up army green lockers and the glassed-in office of the vice-principal, Mad Marvin. There was normally no way to get down the main hallway without Mad Marvin noting your movements. The fact he was not standing there now—goggle-eyed and rigid as a Marine—meant he was already