Pig-Boy and The Insectorator - 12. Pigs in a Truck
Jude’s mother tipped calamine lotion onto her fingers. Then she dabbed it onto the swollen wasp stings that stippled her son’s arms, neck, and face. “You boys should know better than to play with a wasp nest,” she said.
“We wasn’t playing with nothing,” protested Jude. “They just came outta nowhere and started in on us.”
“How about your friend; did the wasps get him too?”
“Yeah, he was getting stung, same as me, but he ran off and left me, so I came home alone.”
“That’s too bad. It’s nice you had a friend sleep overnight, but I’m sorry it didn’t turn out better. I hope next time he comes, you boys find a safer place to play.” She looked him over and said, “There, I think I got them all. They won’t hurt so much in a little while.”
Jude went up to his room and lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He was worried. If anybody knew what really happened, they would think he was a bad guy. People would say he should have stayed to help River, but Jude didn’t feel like a bad person. He hoped River was all right, even if he was chickenshit. He wouldn’t care about River one way or the other if he was a bad guy. So, he wasn’t bad. The bad guys were those birds, wasps and snakes. He considered phoning River but decided that was a stupid idea. He’d rather just forget the whole thing.
Jude thought it was weird that the wasps and the birds hadn’t attacked the McAdam kid. As soon as the wasps started buzzing around, Davy-boy just ducked out and ran over to his clothes. In Jude’s memory, David didn’t have a single wasp on him — all that sting-able skin and not one wasp. He was a sneaky kid, the way he shouted ‘look out’ so Jude and River would be distracted, and he could get away. That was probably why River got bit.
Jude had seen the snakes coming. He knew right away that it was time to get out of there. Then River got himself bit. He should have run away. Jude couldn’t stand snakes. It was natural, when you saw a snake, to just get away from there fast. Anyone would. River was a big kid. He should have known to take off before he got bit.
Everything had been going so good. They’d got the kid, and they’d got his clothes off with no problems. He’d looked sexy — smooth and soft, a pretty package, not a hair to be seen, and a bum that was a real pecker-magnet. Jude cursed his bad luck — getting attacked by birds, and wasps, and snakes when he was about to have some real fun.
And where was his old bike, the one he’d loaned to River? River should have brought it back. It wasn’t a gift. Jude just let him borrow it for the day. It was a good bike, worth a few bucks at least.
“It seems the speech center in his brain got damaged.” The young intern was speaking to a newspaper reporter. He had requested an interview with Charlie Baxter, the victim of a crow attack. “You can talk to him if you want, but all he does now is rave nonsense, not even words.”
“How about the snake-bite kid? Can I talk to him?” asked the reporter. His editor had assigned him to pull together a piece on the animal-attack victims.
They walked a few doors down from Charlie’s room and looked in on River. He was lying unconscious, unaware of the monitoring devices attached to him.
“This is the boy who was bitten by snakes,” said the intern. “He’s pumped so full of pain killers, he’s pretty well unconscious. He’s probably gonna be okay, but he’s got a hard two or three days ahead of him. He got two deep bites, one on each leg. That’s a lot of venom for a thirteen-year-old.”
They turned away from the door. “Check on him tomorrow,” said the intern. “He should be able to talk to you then.”
“Okay, I’ll come back in the morning.”
“Hey, here’s something you can ask him about.”
“When I first saw him, there were lumps all over his face, his neck, and his arms too. I figured it was some kind of allergic reaction to the snake venom. We got the resident allergist in for a consultation, and he said nope, not an allergy. It was insect stings — wasp stings, to be precise. He found one or two stingers and looked at them under a microscope. He said there was no doubt. As well as two rattlesnake bites the kid had been stung about twenty times by wasps.”
The reporter nodded. “You're right, that is strange! Poor kid, a double whammy!”
“That’s not all,” said the doctor. “I know you guys are always looking for the human-interest angle. There was another kid in the gravel pit with the snakebite boy. He phoned 911 and got the whole rescue process underway. Then he stayed with the kid who got bitten and kept him calm and quiet until the paramedics could get there. The helper kid was even cool enough to snap a photo of the rattler with his phone. He messaged it to us, so we were able to send the correct antivenom out with the ambulance. There’s no doubt he saved the boy’s life, but nobody knows who he is or where he went. If I were a reporter, I’d be trying to find him — that’s where the story is.”
“The ambulance guys never got his name?”
“No, they said they asked the bitten boy on the way to the hospital. He said it was just some kid he met in the gravel pit. He didn’t know his name.”
David had followed the ambulance out of the gravel pit with mixed emotions. His thoughts were in turmoil. While River needed his attention, he had concentrated on him, on keeping him calm. Once he was free to think about himself, the full impact of the day’s events stunned him.
First, there was the glorious welcome he and Zhiv had received from the mara. Then he recalled what Zhiv had said about the conclusions of the mara, and how things were going to change. Zhiv’s words echoed in his mind. “If someone beats a horse or shoots a squirrel, scorpions will sting him. and dogs will bite him. If anybody attacks one animal, he attacks every animal, and they’ll all fight back.”
Jude and River had attacked David. Starlings, wasps, and rattlesnakes came to his aid as if in confirmation of Zhiv’s words. David felt proud that the animals considered he was one of them, but he wasn’t happy about what had happened to River. He could have died, might still die.
There was also the lingering effect of what Jude and River had done to him. They had stripped him and handled him like an animal they owned. It was a terrible experience. It had given him a profound understanding of how farmed animals must feel. Jude and River had degraded him like he was just a thing. He struggled not to surrender to the dark emotions that arose from the attempted rape.
When he arrived home, he shouted greetings to Pete and Doreen as he raced upstairs to his room. A minute later, he was standing in his shower. Five minutes later, he felt calmer and cleaner. Another five minutes, and he knew the day’s happenings had been at least partly reconciled. He was ready to relax in the umbrella of safety his mother and father provided.
After they had eaten supper, David helped clean up the kitchen. Then he went upstairs and changed into his pajamas. Downstairs again, he squeezed between Pete and Doreen on the sofa. They were watching the evening news on TV. He grabbed an arm from each parent and held them. “You guys are the best!” he said.
Doreen bent over and kissed his forehead and Pete said, “Well, we like you too, you know. You seem to be turning out okay.”
The newsreader on TV caught their attention. He said,
“Near Jana Mountain this afternoon, thirteen-year-old River Jameson was bitten by rattlesnakes, twice. That story is today’s ‘Who Was that Masked Man?’ episode.
“River was playing in a gravel pit near Jana Mountain this afternoon. Two rattlesnakes attacked him and bit him on both legs. Rattlesnake bites are not usually fatal, but to receive a double dose of venom could have been deadly. Without quick and correct treatment, the boy might well have died, but he didn’t, and that’s thanks to our Masked Man of the day, or more accurately, our Masked Boy.
“Another unnamed boy at the scene kept River from panicking. He called 911. Then he photographed the guilty rattlesnakes and sent the photo to the hospital. With a clear id for the snakes, the medics were able to send the correct snakebite medicine to the site. That boy certainly saved River's life. Such a cool, brave boy more than deserves our ‘Who was that Masked Man?’ award.”
The news reader shuffled some papers. Then he looked at the weatherman sitting next to him. He said, “That shows real bravery, to calmly remain in a place where there are angry rattlesnakes. I’m deathly afraid of snakes, myself. We interviewed one of the ambulance crew who were at the scene. We asked him about the mystery boy.”
A video clip filled the screen. An interviewer asked the ambulance attendant if he knew the mystery boy’s name.
“No, I didn't get his name. But he did everything right. Left to himself, the boy who got bitten would probably have tried to run away — the worst thing you can do. Instead, this other boy calmed him and kept him lying down quietly, so the venom wouldn't spread so fast. He called for help immediately and gave us the information we needed. All those actions saved the other boy's life. A real hero! We should have got his name, but our priority, of course, was to get the injured boy to the hospital as fast as possible.”
“The hospital lists River’s condition as critical, but they expect him to recover,” said the newsreader.
“You were up the mountain again today, weren’t you?” said Pete.
“Yeah,” said David. “I heard the siren as I was riding home.”
“If you ever see any rattlesnakes up there, keep your distance,” said Doreen. “They don’t want to bite you, but they will, if you fool around with them,”
“Okay, Mom. I’ll remember that. Don’t fool around with rattlesnakes. Thanks for the great advice. What about bears? Or cougars? Can I fool around with cougars?”
“Grab him, Pete!” said Doreen, as she clamped one hand around David’s arm and dug her fingers into his ribs.
David squealed and wriggled, but Pete held his arm tightly and raked the ribs on the other side. David dissolved into a churning mass of flailing limbs, screams and giggles.
On Sunday morning, Melissa was excited. She had been excited since organizers of one of her animal rights groups had called her. They asked if she would join them in a vigil on the highway outside of town. A truckload of pigs en route to the slaughterhouse had gone off the road and fallen into the Jana River. The animal rights group intended to witness whatever happened. They hoped to comfort the pigs or rescue some if possible.
A van picked her up shortly afterwards. When it arrived at the crash site, they got out and stood looking at the half-submerged trailer truck. The crying from the trapped pigs was terrible. They were in pain and terror-stricken. The sheriff’s deputies at the scene had no idea how to free the pigs or relieve their misery. With the rear of the truck underwater, an immediate rescue seemed impossible. Melissa quickly set up her camera and began to record video.
The sheriff’s office had received a report of a vehicle accident on the outskirts of Jana Mountain Park. A truck driver had lost control, and his trailer truck had jack-knifed off the highway into the Jana River. Its cargo was live pigs from Jameson Pork Producers. They were on their way to the meatpacking facility near Dryden. The trucker had been taken to the hospital for treatment of his minor injuries. He was okay, but the pigs were trapped in the trailer.
When Sheriff Morgan arrived, there were two squad cars parked on the edge of the highway. A steep embankment dropped down to the river, thirty feet below. They needed a crane to get the truck back on the road. The closest one was hours away, and on a Sunday, who knew where the operator would be? The panic-stricken pigs were making heart-rending cries. It was impossible to ignore the human-like quality of their fear-filled screams. The pigs had been jammed together when the truck was loaded. Now, half the space they had occupied was underwater. Most of them were swimming and trying to climb on each other to stay out of the water. They wouldn’t last more than a few hours.
The sheriff gestured towards a van on the shoulder nearby. Six people stood staring at the trailer-truck. One of them had set up a video camera on a tripod. “Who’re the spectators over there?”
“Animal rights nuts. They have ‘expressed their concern’ and want to know what we’re going to do to rescue the pigs,” said Deputy Frankl.
“Good question,” said the Sheriff. “Got any ideas?”
“What can we do?” asked Deputy Frankl. “That’s a terrible noise they’re making.”
“The back end of the truck is underwater,” said another deputy. “Even if we got the back doors open, the pigs would have to swim underwater to get out. That’s not gonna happen.”
“So, we just stand here and listen to them die?”
“Well, they’re on the way to the slaughterhouse anyway, so what’s the difference?”
“Look! Over there!” Deputy Frankl pointed to the other side of the river, where a horse and rider paused on the riverbank.
“Looks like somebody on a horse,” said the sheriff.
The rider and his gray horse shouldered into the swiftly flowing water. They swam towards the truck.
“It’s a kid, a naked kid,” said Deputy Frankl.
“There’s a bear on the riverbank,” said the sheriff.
“And a cougar too,” said Deputy Frankl.
Both animals watched the progress of the horse and rider swimming towards the truck. Everyone on the opposite bank did too.
As the pale horse struggled across the rapids, they could see the rider was a boy. He had long, tangled blonde hair, almost white. He rode bareback. The horse had no bridle or bit, yet he swam directly to the truck’s rear and stopped, treading water to stay in place. The boy slid off his back and disappeared underwater. A minute later, he surfaced, took a deep breath, and dived again. Another minute passed. Sheriff Morgan found he was holding his breath. Though they were barely visible underwater, the back doors of the truck slowly opened. The boy popped up and climbed onto the horse once again. Sheriff Morgan exhaled in relief. Horse and rider swam away from the truck and stopped. The boy sat cross-legged on his mount's broad back. He didn't pay any attention to the onlookers. He focused on the truck while the river’s waters swirled around him.
“The pigs have stopped squealing,” said Deputy Frankl, his awed voice loud in the sudden silence.
Again, the naked boy slipped off the horse’s back and duck-dived towards the rear of the truck. He disappeared underwater. A minute passed, and another, before his head broke the surface. A pig’s head was under his arm. The boy released the pig and pointed to the far shore. The pig swam strongly in that direction. The boy paddled over to his horse and lay on the horse’s back watching the rear of the truck.
Pigs started to bob up to the surface, two or three at a time. They followed the first pig to where the bear and the puma were waiting. When the first one reached the shore, the bear led it into the forest. As the other pigs climbed out of the river, they followed.
When no more pigs came to the surface, the boy continued looking at the truck. Then he slipped off the horse again and dived.
“Jesus! I don’t believe this,” said the sheriff.
A minute passed and another minute. Everyone along the riverbank held their breath. Then the boy’s head surfaced along with another pig, bleeding from a head wound. The spectators released sighs of relief. The boy crawled onto the horse’s back and pulled the pig’s front legs over the withers. The horse carried them to the far shore. When they neared the riverbank, the boy slipped off the horse and supported the pig into the shallows. He limped out onto the shore, and the boy patted his head. The gray horse knelt on the riverbank. The boy mounted again, nodded to the cougar, and they walked toward the forest.
A cheer swelled from the animal rights activists, and the sheriff and his deputies couldn’t help but join in. They all were filled with an emotion they couldn’t suppress, and more than a few tears were shed. When the boy was no longer visible, each of those watching felt a sense of loss. It was as if for a moment, they had glimpsed a better, brighter world, and then it was gone.
David was disappointed when he entered the forest. Zhiv and his usual companions were not there to meet him. After he had locked his bike and put his clothes away, Chirko, the squirrel, came and chattered to him. David listened and tried to open his mind to the mara. First, he saw Zhiv’s image and then pigs, many pigs, squealing in fear. Then he saw Zhiv again. He decided he would go to the cave. If Zhiv was not there, he would wait.
Zhiv did not arrive until noon. He walked up to the cave with a gray horse on one side and two pigs on the other. One of the pigs was wounded. David ran over to Zhiv and hugged him, then hugged the horse and the pigs. The wounded pig looked exhausted and lay down. David gave him a belly rub until he could see him relaxing.
Zhiv leaned his forehead against his horse companion. They muttered deep in their throats.
David went into the cave for the first aid kit he had brought on a previous visit. Though the pig’s head wound had bled a lot, it wasn’t deep or serious. Once David had cleaned it up, he could see it needed no more than some antibiotic ointment and a large Band-Aid.
When David had hugged Zhiv, he noticed that his thick hair was damp. “You’ve been swimming,” he said, when the gray horse had trotted away.
“Yeah. I had to go down into the valley this morning, and I took a little swim in the river when I got there.”
“Are you going to tell me the whole story, or do I have to drag it out of you, bit by bit?”
David listened, enthralled, as Zhiv described how he helped the trapped pigs escape. “How many pigs?” he asked.
“I didn’t count them, but there was a bunch – maybe fifty or seventy-five. I suggested they spread out because if they hang out together, they’ll be easier to spot and someone could catch them. They want to stay free. Most of them are heading for the wilderness beyond the park and the plateau.”
“That was great, Zhiv. You saved their lives.”
“I had to help them get out of that truck. Like I told you, I don’t have any choice in these things. They needed some help, and I’m happy I was able to help them. It’s what I’m here for.”
“But why are these two pigs here?”
“The pig who hurt his head is here so we could fix him up, and he can rest for a day or two. The other pig is his brother, and they want to stay together.”
“They’re brothers?” said David. “That’s great.”
“Yeah,” said Zhiv. “When they were in the truck, they knew something bad was going to happen to them. Now that they’re free, they want to stay together for the rest of their lives. All their other family members are still imprisoned on the pig farm.”
“That’s terrible,” said David. “I’m starting to understand better why it’s got to be war.”
“Yeah,” said Zhiv. “I feel good that I could help those pigs, but I’m worried too. It wasn’t only me and the pigs down there; there were a lot of people watching, like ten or twelve, and some police cars and a van.”
“And you were naked!”
“Oh, yeah, but it doesn’t bother me that they saw me naked. What worries me is that they saw me. Even if they don’t try to hunt the pigs down, there’ll be some who’ll want to hunt me, to catch me so they can make me live like them.” Zhiv was visibly distressed.
David held him tight and stroked his back. When Zhiv’s breathing returned to normal, David said, “Let’s have lunch and then just hug all afternoon. Okay? Let’s not think about stuff.”
David removed their lunch from his pack.
Zhiv said, “There’s one thing I want to talk about, or hear about. What happened to you yesterday? After you’d been gone for a while, I got a weird message from Lilili. He sent some pictures of you with some boys. You had some trouble?”
David told him how River and Jude had forced him into the gravel pit. Then he described how the starlings, wasps, and rattlesnakes had defended him.
“How do you feel about what those boys did to you, now?”
“It’s okay now — now that I’ve told you about it. I’m not angry anymore, just sad about what they did and what happened to them.”
“Yeah, it is sad, but maybe it’ll help them change their minds; stop them from doing that kind of thing,” said Zhiv. “Don’t worry about anything like that happening again. You’re one of us now. If somebody picks on you, payback is gonna come quick.”
When the boys were full of lunch, they stretched out in the warm sunshine and lost themselves in each other’s arms.
As soon as Melissa got home, she transferred the video she had taken onto her laptop. Her excitement grew as she watched the rescue again on the computer. She had seen touching and exciting rescue footage before, but the images of the naked boy on horseback were extraordinary. It was spellbinding to see him risk his life to save some pigs from a long, agonizing death in the river’s swift, dark waters. The penultimate clip showed the spectators cheering the boy as he disappeared into the forest. The final shot was a sheriff’s deputy grinning with joy while he wiped a tear from his cheek.
She edited the video to ensure the horse’s neck or river water always covered the boy’s genital area. There were a few shots from the side where it was obvious that he was nude, but nothing objectionable. She added some explanatory notes and put links to the animal rights group in the description. Then she uploaded the finished video to several sites. It was one o’clock in the morning when she collapsed into bed, exhausted.
I write in order to be read, and I hunger for feedback - negative, positive, or indifferent. Please share your thoughts on this story in a review, a comment or send me a personal message. I will reply.
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