The Death of Two Pigs: For Ray Avery (1950-2011)

What’s news?

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.

In the heyday, circa 2003 with Ray and Steve Carr. Yup, that's me on washboard. And Ray's playing the spoons.

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.

Ray and my daughter, on a visit to Montana two summers ago. Rest in peace, my friend.

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.

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21 thoughts on “The Death of Two Pigs: For Ray Avery (1950-2011)

  1. A footnote: If you’ve read The Imaginings, my carpenter Steve Avery carries Ray’s last name (as well as the first name of another good friend of mine I worked construction for, Steve Carr- pictured above). I’m usually not so obvious with my character names, but the idea for the Hawaii scene was born when I was working with Steve on Rock Creek during the days and drinking whiskey with Ray Avery in the evenings (and sleeping in my camper four nights of the week). But that’s a story for another day.

  2. Oh wow, now I’m never going to be able to see Steve Avery without thinking of Ray. Sounds like quite a guy…I’ve known a few Rays in my day, that’s for sure. You never forget them. My condolences, and thanks for sharing this.

    1. Oh and fingers crossed for the anthology!

      1. Thanks, Jonathan. Actually, the connection is just in name (and maybe a little bit of character, as well). I don’t really picture Steve Avery like Ray. But interesting. You’ll have to let me know if that works for you. And thanks as well for the good wishes for the anthology.

      2. I second this comment!

  3. “I know my business.” Such classic Ray. I can hear him to this day. Great story. Thanks Paul.

    1. Thanks, Mike. Yeah, that was definitely his line. As one of the principal characters, did I ever show you this story? I tried to get it to all of the guys who were there. Funny enough (and now somewhat sadly), I don’t think I ever shared it with Ray. That was some crazy day, eh?

  4. What a beautiful memory. Thanks for sharing!

    1. “Beautiful,” eh? Interesting choice of words. You must not be a vegetarian 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, Erik. And congrats again on completing NaNoWriMo.

  5. Congrats on the award and hopefully you’ll get into the anthology.

    After reading “The Death of Two Pigs”, I think you might want to consider releasing a non-fiction anthology ;D

    1. Thanks Andrew. I appreciate your kind words. I’ve had another friend suggest I do more nonfiction stuff, as well. I’ve just always wondered if I had much interesting stuff to say in the nonfiction arena. I appreciate the vote of confidence.

  6. I have killed plenty of pigs. I would have to take the pigs who were runty and not thriving and clip one wire to the ear and one to the tail. Then I flipped a switch and electrocuted them. Your story is much more colorful. Your story inspires emotion while zapping pigs is so clinical and sterile. I loved this piece and Ray sounds like a rare man. Thanks Paul.

    1. I didn’t even think about the fact that you had worked at the pig farm when I put this up. What a different experience. I knew that the experience I witnessed was different than the mass killing, but I didn’t know the details. Yikes.

      Thanks for commenting. And yes, I think you would’ve really liked Ray.

  7. I am very sorry for the loss of your friend.

    I believe in reincarnation. My biggest gripe with the concept is that it does nothing to quell the feeling of missing someone. The initial shock of loss is overwhelming, but the residual missing is its own sort of hell.

    I was wondering about the Avery surname…

    1. Good point about reincarnation. I think I believe in a form of that, as well, but you’re right. It doesn’t help not being able to find that person and talk about the good ol’ days.

      Thanks for commenting.

  8. Paul I entered too. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for both of us…

    1. Right on, Penelope. Good luck to you, also. Did you get in before they changed it to “previously unpublished”? I had a story I was working on (an extension of my piece here “The Golden Parachute”), but because I had published part of it on my blog, I couldn’t submit it to them. Oh well, hopefully the one I sent will be appealing to them.

  9. Very evocative, Paul. I could almost feel the cool morning air, the weak sun on my face as I stood around with you, feeling apprehensive. I often think about turning veggie myself, or visiting a slaughterhouse and confronting how my meal begins its life.
    I’ve seen my fair share of gruesome, though. I’ve stood in a mortuary and watched corpses being taken apart often enough. And I have also stood in a hospital room whilst a man died in the bed beside me. So, maybe I’ve seen enough, I don’t know.
    Excellent little slice of life, and portrait of your friend.

    1. Thanks, Ken. Yeah, sounds like you’ve seen your share of things, as well. This was one of those rare moments. I had known the pigs and known they were going to be slaughtered. It seemed only respectful to see them out, especially if they were going to be food at some point (and yes, I did partake a couple months later). This was hard enough for me to watch (more the killing than the dissembling). I don’t know if I could be in a mortuary and see the things you’ve seen.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  10. Having met Ray Avery once, I knew I had met him before, although another time, place and name. You’ll say nay, there is only one Ray Avery and now he’s gone. The Ray Averys of the world – albeit there are few – are a kind of counter-culture that exist on the fringes, almost a parallel uiniverse, never really embraced by “polite society.” And, what’s important here is that is that these renegade poet-philosophers don’t really give a damn about polite society. They do know their business. Seemingly uncomplicated, straight forward and rough hewn, sit a spell with the likes of Ray and you know you’ve been in the company of someone who has spent considerable time just working things out in his own mind. And, for the time, that’s good enough. I am glad you and Mike, and the others at Rock Creek had the opportunity to know him and he had the chance to know you. The Ray Averys of the world typically live and die in relative obscurity unless, of course, someone like you cared enough to remember him as you have done here. And, for the time, that’s good enough.

    1. Gives new meaning to “one of a kind.” Definitely unique, but when you say it as such, it makes sense that he is one of a certain kind or type of person. I think you’ve hit it on the head.

      Glad you got the chance to meet him. He was definitely a character. Do you remember how much he liked Nate? Glad we all got to see him two summers ago.

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