I submitted a story this week for consideration into Horror For Good: A Charitable Anthology. The proceeds from this anthology will be going to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. They’ve already gathered stories from some pretty well-known authors in the field, and I’m hoping to number among them. So think good thoughts for me.
(It was The Interview by the way, so I’ll be holding off on publishing that one until I’ve heard one way or another.)
What does the future hold?
One of the requirements of receiving my Versatile Blogger Award from Blaze McRob was to list seven facts about myself. So that’s what I’ll be doing next Friday. And don’t worry, I’ll keep them brief because I recently finished Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and I want to post a review while it’s still fresh in my head.
But without further ado…
I spent six amazing years in Missoula, Montana. I will always hold a place in my heart for that town and the surrounding area, including Rock Creek, a small community about 25 miles outside of town. It was in Rock Creek that I met Ray Avery.
There’s no way I could completely paint a picture for you of Ray Avery (and he would’ve probably been mad that I’m even trying to do it here). You would have just had to meet him. Unfortunately, it makes me very sad to say that Ray passed away recently. The crazy ol’ coot was loved by many of us, and he’ll definitely be missed.
So in memory of Ray, I’m posting this little bit of nonfiction, a story from my time on Rock Creek that I had to document because I knew I might not ever see the likes of it again. A cast of characters on a cold autumn mountain morning, all in attendance for the death of two pigs.
Just a warning. It’s a little lengthier than my normal stuff (about the size of two flash pieces).
And it will be a vegetarian’s nightmare. Continue at the risk of your delicate sensibilities.
So NOW without further ado…
The Death of Two Pigs: Told in memory of Ray Avery
Ray had named them Porkchop and Menudo.
The thing was, he knew the difference between the two. Even laying on their backs, their feet having been sawed off, their blood still steaming in the crisp morning air, Ray pointed confidently to the larger of the two sows and said, “That’s Menudo.” Kenny looked up from his job of peeling back the skin from the carcass, and said, “Well, they’re both Porkchop now.”
We all laughed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story begins the night before, a night of hard drinking eight miles up Rock Creek, Montana, nestled in the mountains and under a million stars. I don’t remember the occasion for the party, maybe it was actually in honor of the last living night of Porkchop and Menudo, but with the party being composed of mainly the usual suspects, we really didn’t need an excuse.
Talk of the morning slaughter eventually mingled its way through the intoxicated group standing around the bonfire. Jokes were made at first, and the question of who would actually go to the event followed soon after. Most of us had met Porkchop and Menudo already. Ray bought them both shortly after the Superbowl just about eight or nine months earlier. His plan was to have them ready for slaughter for the next winter.
On our occasional visits to Ray and Marlene’s place, we had seen the pigs grow up. I knew from the day I was first introduced to Porkchop and Menudo that these pigs weren’t going to live a long life, but with the next day’s pending execution, suddenly I had become involved with their deaths.
I would be a witness.
The next morning, the sun blazed through the windows earlier than I would’ve liked. Two nights it had been since I had seen my bed. Couches and floors were taking their toll. Groans from various parts of the house announced those in the gang that had seen out the night to its fullest. As for myself, I think I stumbled my way from the bonfire to the house just after one a.m.
Things started out slow that morning, but it didn’t take long for the subject to come up. Who was going to Ray’s? I didn’t decide to go until just before ten, the scheduled time of execution, but even then, as I drove over to Ray and Marlene’s, I wondered if I might just stop in, say hi, and head into town before anything happened.
My morning-after stomach was a big determining factor on this one, but as I drove up the dirt driveway, I realized that I was going to have to see this one out. Like it or not. You see, the most killing I had experienced was in fishing, and even then I was squeamish about the final bashing blow to the fish’s head.
Yeah, I had to be there for this one I realized as I pulled up to the house and went inside. Ray already had the Old Crow out and was just finishing a pull from the bottle as I walked in.
A few words quickly about Ray, so you know who we’re dealing with. “Old Coot” would be a good way to start, but I only say “old” because it always seems to go with “coot.” While he may have been pushing 50, don’t be mistaken. He’s tough as nails. I had a friend once who pulled one of Ray’s teeth, armed only with a bottle of whiskey and a pair of rusty pliers (the whiskey definitely being more for my friend Mike than Ray).
Ray moved to Montana some years back from California where he spent an undetermined amount of time with the Hell’s Angels. Now he lives about forty-five minutes outside of Missoula (and rarely goes within 20 miles of it) where he does various jobs to keep cash coming in, makes his own wine, stills his own whiskey, and occasionally smokes a joint or two. He either likes you or he doesn’t, and he’ll tell you as soon as he decides. Oh, and don’t try to tell Ray what to do, because he’ll growl four words at you (sometimes multiple times over the course of an evening), “I know my business” which comes out something closer to bidness. And as I’ve grown to know and love this crazy man, I’ve realized how true that statement is.
A friend of Ray’s stood in the kitchen with them. He had brought over his backhoe to hoist the pigs out of the stall after the deed. It was quite a gathering. There were to be eight of us to bear witness. Nine if you counted Kenny, but he was more the executioner. And he was late.
“I’m leaving when Kenny gets here,” Marlene said. “I’m not into all of this killing stuff.” I think she had become attached to Porkchop and Menudo, or as attached as you can get to a couple of pigs.
I followed a couple of friends, Tyler and Blake, outside for a cigarette. It had started to warm up a little. You could still see your breath, but at least the sun was out.
“I’m going to go check them out,” Tyler said. It was the exact same thing I had been thinking. We walked past the garden and down a little hill to the makeshift fenced-in pen. The two black and white sows rooted around in the mud and their filth. When we walked up, they sloshed over to the fence and started grunting, sticking their snouts through the wire fence and pushing on the boards that had been used to barricade the weak spots.
“They don’t have any idea,” Tyler said.
“No,” I said. It was a weird feeling, standing there looking at these creatures that wouldn’t be alive in under an hour. Looking in their eyes. It was the last time I would look in their living eyes. Later I would stare at two black marbles protruding from a skinned head. Blank and lifeless. “Strange,” I said.
“Yeah,” Tyler said, and we were silent for a moment. We walked back and joined Blake as Mike drove up. His windows were still iced over from the short drive. Someone said it was a great day for a hog killing. I don’t think I would’ve been there if it had turned out to be a bad day for a hog killing. We all milled around the yard, bits and pieces of conversation about the night before broken only by odd silences. Tyler grabbed at a stick and started whittling it to a point. All I could think about was ‘pig sticker.’ Wasn’t there some movie with a character named “Pig Sticker?”
I wasn’t sure what I thought Kenny would look like, but when he showed up, I realized he couldn’t have been anyone else. He pulled up in a bright yellow two-ton truck with a camper shell. I never looked in the back of that truck. I saw some of the goodies he pulled out of it, though, and that was enough.
Kenny was a pretty big guy. Round, really. Someone later said how it looked like Kenny had eaten his fair share of pork chops already, and I couldn’t help but imagine what it would look like to have him strung upside-down from the bucket of the backhoe. I kept that little thought to myself.
Marlene stayed long enough to say hi to Kenny and then drove off as promised. Kenny was a man of business. He immediately walked over to the pen. I wondered what he was thinking as he stood next to the mudhole that had been their home. Was he sizing them up? Planning the best way to kill them? Thinking about the rib dinner he damn well better be invited to?
Whatever it was, it didn’t take him long to flesh it out. He walked back to his truck and returned with a .22 pistol and a blade that looked like it would cut me if I even thought about picking it up. I backed away from the pen a good twenty feet so my main view would be blocked by some of the lower fence boards. Kenny went to the pen and aimed the pistol. It was Menudo, I think. A crack echoed through the valley as the gun went off. Kenny didn’t say anything. No last rites or words of farewell. Didn’t really take a moment to think about it, just shot.
The pig fell without a sound, except for a loud plop as its body hit the mud. I had thought that would do it. Man, was I wrong. I watched as the dying pig’s legs thrashed in the grime. That was all I could see of it, but it was plenty. Kenny quickly hefted his weight over the fence, reached down, and slit the pig’s throat. Mike asked me later if I had seen all of the blood, but I hadn’t. I just saw the blood covering Kenny’s hand and sleeve as he stood back up. And still the pig continued to kick. It must’ve been five minutes. Five minutes of cold morning silence except for the legs splashing around in the mud. I thought there must’ve been a faster way.
The weird thing was, the other pig didn’t go crazy like I thought it might. It just moved around Kenny and the other pig, watching it die. I remember hearing that pigs are supposed to be pretty intelligent. I wonder what that pig could’ve been thinking. I also wondered what Kenny was waiting for. Wondered why he didn’t just shoot them both, all in one fell swoop. I guess there’s a method to the whole thing, a procedure you have to follow, but it seemed pretty cruel to have the one pig watch its roommate of nine or so months bleed to death in a kicking frenzy. After the slit pig finally stopped moving, the other walked casually over and started rooting its snout in the blood.
“Yeah, they’ll go for that blood,” Ray said. At that point I stopped thinking I knew about anything at all.
Kenny finally shifted his attention and started targeting the surviving pig. That was when the pig figured it out. She wasn’t going to go so easy. She ambled off behind the small shed that had served as their shelter. Kenny pursued through the mud and the shit in circles for a couple of minutes without much success. It took the backhoe guy’s kid getting in the pen to corral the pig in the right direction. Even then, it ended up running into the shed.
Ray gave the go-ahead, and Kenny proceeded to shoot the pig in the shed. So we were spared seeing it, but the imagination was spared nothing. There was a loud thump as the pig fell inside the shed. The whole rickety thing began to shake and rattle as the pig followed the previous act. Kenny stepped into the shed, the kicking increased, and then Kenny stepped back out, his hand steaming and dripping red.
The second pig died faster. At least it seemed that way. They were already chaining the first pig to the backhoe to hoist it out of the pen when the second one stopped kicking the walls of the shed.
“How are you doing?” Mike asked me.
“Probably traumatized for life,” I said. We both laughed, but there was something a little unsure about our humor.
The subsequent skinning and gutting were pretty gruesome, but it was just that… gruesome. Nothing that really bothered me. Porkchop and Menudo were dead now. It didn’t matter what you did to them. Surprisingly, I didn’t remember the fetal pig that I dissected in high school until Kenny spilled the intestines into a wheelbarrow. And at that point, I was past shock, past gruesome. It was just fascination by then. And as Kenny fired up his electric meat saw, I wondered when I might have a chance to partake of the swine, and if I’d have the guts to actually eat it when the time came.
What do I want from you?
Call your close friends and family and tell them you love them.
And I hope you check back next Friday for my review of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and seven short facts about me.
Please subscribe to this blog to receive posts via email or RSS feed (on the right hand column). NO SPAM, I promise.