Pig-Boy and The Insectorator - 18. Gay, or Straight, or Whatever
Hector Sanchez ran down the trail toward the campground where he had parked his truck-camper. Angry bees had stung him several times, and a dozen pursued him. He laughed. Aggressive honeybees suggested he was on the right track. Hector collected and studied unusual interactions between humans and animals. For the last week, he had been following reports of antagonistic human-animal encounters, an unusual number of such events. The center of these happenings seemed to be the area around Jana Mountain Park.
He was happy to see the honeybees because they had vanished from farms in the valley near the park. Farmers and apiarists lamented their absence. When beekeepers from neighboring areas had trucked in new hives, those bees had absconded too. Now Hector knew they hadn’t died. He had parked his small camper in the Jana Mountain Campground hoping to discover why the bees had fled the farms. Now that he had found some bees, he wondered why they had attacked him. He set up his campsite then drove into town.
The wi-fi at the public library extended out to their parking lot so Hector was able to connect his laptop to the internet there. Using several different search engines, he trawled local media across the country looking for reports of bees disappearing.
His searches revealed that bees had also deserted nearby farming areas to the north and south. Such reports were fewer in number as the distance from Jana Mountain increased. This confirmed his suspicions that Jana Mountain was the center. He shook his head because the question remained: Jana Mountain seemed to be the center, but the center of what?
Hector was excited. His doctoral dissertation, “A Socio-Economic History of Animal-Human Relationships,” had been published eight years earlier. Since then, he had been compiling instances of unusual animal-human encounters and relationships. These had become more numerous recently. Now on sabbatical from his university teaching position, he was free to explore and research such incidents. He was particularly interested in several recent occurrences near Jana Mountain. The local sheriff, or a deputy, was quoted in all reports of these events.
At the sheriff’s headquarters, Hector introduced himself to the receptionist and asked to speak with the sheriff. When he described what he wanted to talk about, the receptionist said, “Oh, you want to talk to Deputy McAdam. He’s handling all that animal stuff.”
After Zhiv and David had eaten lunch at the cave, they relaxed in the sunshine. David raised the subject he expected to discuss with Melissa later in the afternoon.
“What I want to know is what I should tell her about what humans need to do. She wants to make another video. She wants you to be in it, but this time she wants you to talk about what people have to do to fix everything.”
Zhiv looked down. Then he shook his head. “I’ve been thinking about that.”
“Good,” said David, “because you’re the star here. You’re the one who knows what’s going on. I’m stumbling around in the dark most of the time.”
“Okay. First, when I open up to the mara about this, there isn’t any answer or any directions for me. It seems to me that I should wait, that the time is not right. There’s no big pressure from the animals for me to say something. And you know, it’s their business. I mean, it’s mine, too, but I’m just here as their human. If they’re not asking me to talk, maybe I should be quiet.”
David thought about Zhiv’s words. “You’re right, Zhiv,” he said. “I just started to act like humans always do, taking over and trying to run the show. Just because everybody wants to hear from you, that doesn’t mean that you have to talk to them.”
“There’s another reason, a personal reason,” said Zhiv.
Zhiv laced his arms around David’s neck. “Since you’ve come, I’ve been happy, happier than I’ve ever been, happier than I thought possible. I love running around with you, and swimming and playing. I love just being a boy and not worrying about things. I love hugging you and drifting in the mara with you. I love everything we do together. I’ve never had so much fun in my life. I don’t want it to end.”
“Me, too,” said David. They hugged each other.
“Like today, soon you’ll be going off to talk to Melissa, but I want you to stay here with me. I know I’ll feel lonely as soon as you ride off on your bike.”
“Okay, from now on I’ll try to be here all day, every day. It’s what I want too.”
Zhiv trembled. “I feel like we’re about to get sucked into the mouth of a huge machine, that we’re just a couple of kids who are gonna get chewed up. I’m afraid it’s gonna happen, but before it does, I want to be a boy with you for as long as possible. David, I’m so scared there’s not gonna be any cabin in the mountains for us. No rocking chairs on the porch. And that’s all I want.”
David held him tightly and tried to comfort him.
Melissa rode home from her second meeting with David. She was disappointed that her plans for a video with Zhiv were postponed, but David had helped her to understand Zhiv. Here was a boy who had been living in the forest for a long time, a boy whose only companions had been peaceful animals. Then suddenly, there were fifty million people looking at him.
It also made sense that Zhiv wanted to wait until the animals told him to speak. David had made it clear that Zhiv was the animals’ spokesman, not their leader. As a member of an animal rights group, she had grown used to making decisions on behalf of animals. She found it a novel experience to have to defer her plans until the animals made a decision, but it was refreshing too.
When she got home, her mother said there was a phone message for her. A man named Hector Sanchez had called twice. He wanted to talk to her about the pig-boy video and animal rights.
David turned his e-bike onto the street where he lived and saw someone waiting at the foot of his driveway. He was surprised when he rode closer and recognized River Jameson. River’s bike was lying on the ground near where he stood.
David pedaled towards him without showing any sign of slowing down or stopping.
“Please stop, David,” River begged.
David stopped. “Okay. What do you want?”
River knelt in the driveway and folded his hands in supplication.
“Please, David. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what we did at the gravel pit. I’m sorry for what we did to you at school. Those were really bad things to do. I was a real asshole, and you saved my life anyway. Please forgive me for what I did. I know I don’t deserve it, but please?”
David considered the boy. His face was wary and suspicious. After a minute, his expression softened, and he said, “C’mon, stand up. How are your legs?”
“Okay. But David, I’m not saying I’m sorry just because you saved my life. I’m sorry because I know those were bad, mean things I did. You didn’t deserve to be treated like that. Nobody deserves to be treated like that. I’ll do anything I can to make up for that.”
“C’mon up to the house,” David said.
River followed him up the driveway and inside the garage. David plugged his bike into its charger, and the boys sat on a couple of plastic storage bins.
“Sorry about your brother,” said David. “That must hurt.”
“Yeah. I really miss him,” said River. “But my dad says my other brother, Nicky, is probably gonna be okay.”
“Can I see the bites?”
River pulled up the legs of his jeans to display the snakebites. They were an angry purple color, and both legs were still swollen. David put out his hand, then looked up at River. River nodded, and David ran his finger over the wounds. The flesh felt hard and unyielding.
“If you squeeze them, it hurts bad,” said River.
David wrapped his hand around River’s calf, where the puncture marks were. His leg was hot. “Should I squeeze?”
“If you want to,” offered River.
“Naw,” said David. “Do you think I would?” He pulled River’s pant leg down.
“I wouldn’t blame you, but I wasn’t worried.”
“The wasps got you too?”
River displayed an arm dotted with red marks.
“David, I’ve been trying to be vegan for the last day or two. I got some tofu and stuff at the health food store, and I’ve been eating beans a lot. It’s okay. I like it. I’m gonna be vegan from now on.”
David looked at him seriously. Then he shook his head and smiled. “You’re an asshole, you know.”
“Yeah. You’re right. I really am an asshole,” said River. “But please forgive me, even a little bit?”
“Yeah, I promise. I’m not gonna eat meat or any animal stuff from now on.”
“How’s your friend, Jude?”
“I don’t know nothing about Jude. I haven’t seen him since he deserted me at the gravel pit, and I never want to see him again. After he ran off and left me with a snake biting my leg, he’s no friend of mine.”
River gazed between his knees and pondered the floor of the garage. David scrutinized the top of his head and wondered what River was thinking. He stood then and offered a hand to River. “Sometimes when you’re vegan, it’s hard to get enough to eat. My mom is a great vegan cook. C’mon in and have supper with us. Okay?”
River took David’s hand and pulled himself up. “Uh, is your dad gonna be there? I don’t think he likes me much.”
“Oh, he’s not home yet but don’t worry — it’ll surprise him to see you here, but he'll be okay because you’re with me.”
River trailed David into the house.
Doreen was hovering over the stove. She turned at the sound of their footsteps.
“Hi Mom,” said David. “This is River Jameson. He’s been vegan for about two days now. I invited him to have a taste of your great vegan cooking. Is that okay?”
Doreen’s mind went blank for three seconds. Then she said, “Hi River, you’re welcome to stay for supper with us, but you should phone your parents and let them know.”
“My dad’s at the hospital with my brother, Nicky, but I’ll call my other brother, Aaron, and tell him.”
“You can use my phone,” said David. “C’mon, let’s go up to my room and get washed up for supper.”
“We’ll eat as soon as your dad gets home,” said Doreen, turning back to the stove. “When you’re cleaned up, there’s some guacamole and chips on the table you can start with.”
His meeting with Deputy McAdam had pleased Hector. The deputy had some reports that had not received any media attention. Hector had some cases of human-animal interactions that had not generated police reports. They agreed to meet again later in the week to share ideas and new information.
Hector was most interested in events when two or more species had acted together for a common goal. In most cases this goal was to attack a human. Such cooperation was rare behavior. In the years he’d been collecting data, there were no reports of such behavior. Then, within a week, there were three such events. In the gravel pit incident, starlings, wasps and rattlesnakes had attacked some boys. The first pig incident was another multi-species event. Pigs, a bear, a cougar, a horse, and a boy all acted cooperated. In the second pig incident, skunks, hornets, and eagles had participated in defense of the boy and the pigs. There was no scientific explanation for such cooperation.
Late in the day, after he had returned to the Jana Mountain Campground, Hector stirred a pot of canned chili. It was heating on a portable gas stove he had set up on the picnic table at his campsite. He took a deep breath of pine-scented air and looked up into the ponderosas that towered overhead.
“Excuse me,” said a voice behind him.
A pretty young woman stood there and said, “I brought everything I need except matches or a lighter. Can I borrow yours?”
Hector looked toward the setting sun. “And you want to cook yourself some supper?”
“I was hoping to,” she replied.
“I have a spare packet of matches in my camper, but supper is ready here. Why don’t you sit down and share it with me?”
“Oh, I couldn’t,” she said.
“You’d be doing me a favor.” Hector smiled. “I hate to eat alone. It gives me indigestion.”
“You must have a lot of friends,” she said. “Or a lot of indigestion.”
“Not enough of the one and too much of the other, I’m afraid,” laughed Hector, “but I’m serious. Please join me. It’s only some humble cans of chili but makes a good meal with some of this baguette I was able to buy in town today. And company makes anything taste better.”
“I can’t resist a baguette.” She approached the wooden picnic table and held out her hand. “My name’s Celia, Celia Duffy.”
“Hector Sanchez.” Hector shook her hand. “I’m happy to meet you, Celia Celia Duffy.”
“Only one Celia,” she laughed.
Hector collected plates and cutlery from his camper and set the table. Celia cut slices from the baguette and noticed the container of vegan butter.
“You’re vegan?” she said.
“Oh, yes. For a long time.”
“I grew up on a vegetarian diet, but I’m not strict.”
“Do you like to go camping a lot?” asked Hector, as he served her a bowl of the chili.
“I like it, but I haven’t camped for about fifteen years. I used to go with my dad when I was a girl. He was a real outdoors type, and we had good times together.”
“He died, and after that I didn’t want to go camping any more. It reminded me of him too much.”
“But here you are, mid-week and early in the camping season. I think we’re the only two campers here.”
Celia didn’t reply.
“I’m sorry. That’s too personal. We can talk about bees for a while if you like. I got stung earlier today.” Hector displayed the bumps on his forearm where the bees had stung him.
“No, it’s okay,” said Celia. “I have kind of a professional reason for camping here now. Sorry about the bees.”
“I’ve never met a professional camper before.”
“No, I’m a social worker,” laughed Celia. “Have you seen that video of the naked boy rescuing the pigs?”
Celia told him all about Sol Mundy, and how he had disappeared, then re-appeared in that video. She told him how she had asked the sheriff’s office to search the park for him.
“They keep saying it’s too big. They don’t have enough men or funding to mount the kind of search necessary to cover the entire park.”
“So, you’re here to find him?”
“Yeah, I took a leave of absence for two weeks. I decided to camp here, so I don’t have to waste any time driving back and forth from my apartment in town. This way I can spend all my time searching the park.”
“What are you gonna do if you find him?” asked Hector.
“Well, I’ll take custody of him and bring him down here where he can be properly cared for.”
“From what you’ve told me, it seems he was pretty unhappy down here,” said Hector.
“Well, I need to find him first. Then I’ll deal with the rest later. Out here without an adult caregiver, he’s at risk as far as I’m concerned, and I’m responsible.”
“Of course.” Hector looked at her empty bowl and spooned more chili into it. “To tell the truth, I’m looking for him too. I’m also looking for some pigs, some horses, and more bees, millions of them. I’m on sabbatical from State. My academic specialty is relations between humans and animals. I’d like to ask that boy some questions. Since we’re both looking for him, why don’t we join forces? I’ve got good topographical maps of the area, and we can split it up.” Hector got his maps out of the camper. A few minutes later, they were bent over the maps on the picnic table.
River pedaled into his yard as the sun was setting. He felt good. David was a terrific kid. He had treated River like they could be friends. David’s dad hadn’t talked to him much, but when he did, he seemed friendly too. The vegan food they had for supper was delicious, and David’s mom was real nice to him. If he could learn to cook like that, he’d be okay as a vegan. If David’s mom meant what she said about him eating with them whenever he got hungry, that would be good too. Best of all, though, was that he was starting to feel better about himself. He hoped that meant he was turning into an okay boy.
Aaron met him at the door.
“You’d probably been better off if you’d stayed at your friend’s house tonight,” he said. He stepped outside and closed the door after himself.
River could hear wailing from inside the house.
“The old man’s home from the hospital, but he’s crazy drunk,” said Aaron.
The keening continued, like sounds from a tortured animal. The cries of grief were mixed with roars of rage.
“Is Nicky okay?” asked River.
“They told him Nicky’s gonna live, but he’s not okay. They don’t know if he’ll ever be back to normal. He won’t be coming back from the hospital for a couple of days at least. His brain got messed up somehow. He’s still unconscious.”
“Jeeze, Aaron, what’re we gonna do?”
“I dunno, River. Just try not to think about things too much. Evan and Willie told me they can manage the pigs, so we don’t have to worry about that. Maybe the old man’ll get over it like he did when mom died. It’s hard because he really loved the twins. It’s like they were his kids, and you and me, we were mom’s kids.”
“Yeah, he’s been good to us, but the twins were special to him.”
Another roar of pain and anger came from within the house. The boys toed the dirt in the yard. Darkness fell and the moon rose.
“Do you wanna come for a ride with me?” asked Aaron. He opened the door of the red pickup. “I gotta get away from here for a while. There ain’t nothing we can do for him right now.”
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
Pete turned off his bedside lamp and said, “Being David’s dad is like riding a roller-coaster. I just about fell over when he came down from his room with River Jameson.”
“Yeah, and River was looking at you with his eyes like saucers.” Doreen curled up beside Pete. “If you’d said ‘Boo!’ I’m sure he would’ve wet himself.”
“He’s an amazing kid. David, I mean. Somehow, he’s managed to forgive River. If it was me, I’d want him strung up by his thumbs to the nearest pole, but there’s David, treating him like a friend.”
“River’s pretty interesting too. To go from hating vegans to becoming a vegan — that’s big change. It’s gonna be hard for him, living on a pig farm like that.”
“Yeah. With River, I think time will tell. If he’s still a vegan in a month, we’ll know there’s been some real change there. I want to talk to you about David. You know, when I had The Talk with him the other night, it was all good, until the last minute. I’ve been thinking about it ever since,” said Pete.
“I filled him in with all the details about how to make love to a woman and he thanked me for the information. But when I finished and asked him if he had any questions, he said, ‘What if it’s a boy?’”
“What if it’s a boy?”
“Yeah. He said boys don’t have vaginas or clitorises so does it go up the bum, or what?”
Doreen struggled not to laugh. “He said, ‘does it go up the bum, or what?’”
“Yeah,” said Pete. “That’s exactly what he said.”
“And what did you say?”
“I said I’d get back to him on that, but I don’t have any idea what to say or do. I mean, is he gay, or what? I don’t think you should be laughing. It’s not funny.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I shouldn’t be laughing, but our darling boy David is such a beautiful, brilliant, surprising person, I have to laugh — just for the joy of having him around. Now you tell me truly, Pete: Do you care if he’s gay?”
Pete chuckled. “Not as much as I think I should. You’re right. I keep thinking it should bother me more than it does — I mean, the idea of him maybe being gay. I’m mostly worried that even though they’re passing laws now, and people are talking about it, it’s still hard to be gay. It’s easier to be normal.”
“I’d say it’s easier to be normal if you’re normal, but nobody has a choice about these things. I think the idea of ‘normal’ is a little tainted too. For gay people, it’s normal to be gay. It’s not abnormal.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” said Pete.
“I’ve thought for some time that he might be gay, but you know, it’s not uncommon at that age for a boy to have a crush on another boy. Then when they get a little older, they focus on girls. I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen. What I think is that we should just keep in mind that he’s at a time of his life when everything is changing. Imagine waking up every morning, and your body is bigger and sending you weird and exciting messages.”
“You knew he’s gay?”
“Well, not directly, but mothers know some things without being told.”
“Yeah, look, here’s what I think. Neither of us knows anything about gay sex, so I’ll look around in the bookstore in town and see what they have. We can read up on it, and then we can sit down and talk to him. I’m fine with him being gay, if he is, but at his age, I’m not happy about him putting his thing up anyone’s bum, or vice-versa. Again, at his age, I’m not too happy thinking about him having anything to do with vaginas or clitorises, either.”
“That sounds good to me. He’s still a kid, after all. Maybe you should handle chapter two of The Talk.”
“We can work on it together. I don’t think we need to worry much. David’s sensible, and he trusts us, so he’s gonna think about anything we tell him. I don’t expect he’s always gonna do what we say, but he’s gonna think about it.”
“He’s a great kid,” said Pete. “Gay, or straight, or whatever.”
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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