Pig-Boy and The Insectorator - 20. Veganism and Vandalism
Doreen had changed from her work clothes and was heading for the kitchen when the doorbell rang. River Jameson stood on the doorstep.
“Hi, Mrs. McAdam. Is David home?”
“He’s not here yet.” Doreen wished David was there. During the school year, he always greeted her when she got home from work. Now he never returned from the mountain until just before supper. “He won’t be back for an hour or so.”
“Okay,” said River and turned away. The disappointed slump of his shoulders aroused Doreen’s sympathetic, mothering instincts.
“But you can come in and wait for him if you like,” she said.
River followed her into the kitchen.
“How are you doing with the vegan diet?”
“It’s okay. I don’t know how to cook much, so I eat a lot of canned stuff. But I’m sticking with it. I’ve been wondering though, why are people vegan? I mean, why do people bother?”
Doreen pointed to the kitchen table. “Sit down there while I get us one of my favorite snacks. As for why people decide to be vegan, I’ll turn that around. Why did you decide to become vegan?”
“You won’t tell anyone?”
“Not if you want it to be a secret. It’ll be just between you and me.”
“It’s because David’s a vegan,” said River. Then, in a rush of words, he added, “I was mean to him about that, and he’s never been mean to me about anything. I thought if I started to be vegan, it might make up for being mean.”
Doreen said, “There’s lots of reasons other people become vegans, but my reason is kinda like yours — David. He never pressured me to become vegan. He just made a decision for himself and stuck to it, no matter what anyone else said. I admired that.”
“Yeah, I admire him too. He’s great!”
“Yeah, he is, but of course I’m biased,” said Doreen. Minutes later, she set down a plate bearing some triangles of pita bread and a bowl of hummus. She scooped up some hummus with the pita bread and handed it to River. “This is hummus. It’s made from chick-peas.
“David decided to be vegan when he was eight. Little by little, I started to become vegan too, from cooking for him and eating with him. Now David’s dad is vegan too, so we don’t have any meat or anything like that in the house. There’s lots of other good reasons for being vegan, but if you want to know them, you should ask David. He figured it out for himself, and he knows a lot more about it than I do.”
“Wow,” said River, a minute later while gesturing at the bowl of hummus. “That’s the best thing I’ve eaten since last time I was here, and we had that whack-a-mole stuff.”
“Whack-a-mole?” Doreen giggled.
“That green stuff we ate with tortilla chips.”
“Ah, guacamole! That’s another favorite.”
“Yeah, guacamole,” pronounced River.
“David loves it and hummus, too. I made this yesterday, but you can buy it ready-made in the health food store and some supermarkets.” She watched with satisfaction as River reduced the stack of pita bread. “I’m gonna have a cup of coffee, but I’ve got oat milk and apple juice too. Which one do you want?”
“I’ve never had oat milk.”
“It’s good. It’s not the same as cows’ milk but it’s good. I’ll give you a small glass. If you like it, you can have more.”
River said the oat milk was good, and Doreen poured him another glass.
“Would you like to stay for supper tonight?”
“Oh,” said River, “I don’t know if I should…”
“Tell you what,” offered Doreen. “You can help me make it. That way you’ll learn a bit of cooking, and I’ll get some help. Okay?”
Doreen had planned a tofu stir-fry with rice for the evening meal. That meant cutting many vegetables into bite-size pieces. River followed her instructions carefully.
“This is nice,” said River.
“Yeah, it’s fun to cook with somebody.” Doreen measured rice into a pot and added water.
River cut a green pepper into chunks. “I haven’t done anything like this since my mom died. I used to help her when she was cooking, especially after she got sick and couldn’t do stuff so good.” There was a catch in River’s voice as he spoke, and Doreen’s heart ached for him.
Doreen stood beside the boy and gave him a one-armed hug. “I’m glad of the help.” She could feel the tension draining out of his shoulders, as if he were melting. “David helps me sometimes, but lately he’s been up the mountain all the time.”
“What does he do up there?” River pushed the pieces of green pepper to one side and cut florets from a head of broccoli.
“Oh, I guess he does a bit of bird-watching and some other stuff. I don’t know exactly, but whatever it is, it makes him happy, and anything that makes David happy makes me happy.”
“Yeah,” said River.
Hector was bubbling over with news and ideas as he pulled into the Jana Mountain campground. He looked forward to eating supper with Celia. He needed to share his afternoon’s online discoveries, and he knew they would interest her too.
“For me,” said Hector, “two events stand out. In the first, a longhorn steer knocked over and gored a man out shooting rabbits. When a companion managed to drive the steer away, he discovered a copperhead had also bitten the man.”
“Are copperheads poisonous?” asked Celia as she brought plates and cutlery to the picnic table at her campsite.
“They’re the same family as rattlesnakes. It’s a bad bite, but not generally fatal. What interests me is that it’s another event where two different species of animal attacked a human. They did that in defense of a third species of animal. This is incredibly rare. Now here’s where it gets fantastic. On the same day, several hundred miles away, a hunter shot and wounded a bobcat. Then a horde of horseflies attacked him. They were so fierce that they drove him away from the bobcat. While he was fleeing the horseflies, a mountain lion jumped on him and mauled him. Again, two different kinds of animals attacked a human in defense of a third kind of animal.”
“There’s more.” Hector opened his laptop. “Shark attacks. In the last week, along the Gulf Coast, there have been more shark attacks on humans than in any previous year. All the attacks have been on humans who were spear-fishing. There were no attacks on surfers or swimmers.”
“Is anybody else keeping track of this kind of thing?” Celia tossed a salad.
“Nope. Aside from a local sheriff’s deputy named McAdam, nobody seems to have noticed a pattern to these events.”
“You know him?”
“A bit. He’s a nice guy, and our paths have crossed, professionally, a few times.”
“You know if he’s got any kids?” asked Hector.
“No, I don’t even know if he’s married.”
“Altogether, my news-feeds reported about twenty animal-human attacks in the last few days. If you help me plot them on my map after supper, I’m sure you’ll see something I’ve noticed.”
David entered the kitchen through the door from the garage. “Hi Mom.” He hugged his mother. Over her shoulder, he smiled at River. “Hi River, how ya doin’?”
“Fine, David. How are you?”
“Really good!” said David. He set his pack down on the kitchen counter to remove the empty food containers.
“River’s been helping me make supper,” said Doreen. “He wants to know the reasons why people are vegan. I figured you could explain it better than me.”
“Wow!” David laughed. “It’s a vegan dream come true — to actually get to explain all the good reasons for being vegan to someone who wants to know.” He chuckled. “River, one of the first things you’ll learn about being a vegan is that nobody wants to hear about it.” David grabbed the hummus and pita plate. “C’mon, let’s go up to my room.”
“Supper in a half hour,” called Doreen as the boys ran upstairs.
David pointed to his desk chair. “Sit there, and I’ll give you the short answer first.”
River sat. David leaned around him, opened his laptop on the desk, and turned it on. Then he sat on the bed and took a deep breath. “There’s four main reasons people decide to be vegan. First, it’s for compassionate reasons. Animals are conscious. They have feelings, and if we eat meat, we’re behaving in a cruel way. There’s no nice way, no humane way, to kill an animal. Like us, they don’t want to die.
“Second is that these huge factory farms are terrible polluters. They emit as much greenhouse gases as all forms of transportation combined. Animal agriculture is also the main cause of deforestation.
“Third is for health reasons. Most scientists agree that a meat-eaters’ diet is not as healthy as a plant-based diet. Humans don’t need to eat meat. The other health issue is that millions of people don’t get enough to eat. That’s because a lot of the food we grow gets fed to animals so that people can eat meat. If we weren’t feeding animals, we could feed a lot more people.
“Fourth is an understanding that animals have rights. Animals have the right to live their lives as free beings, like we do.”
“How about you?” asked River. “Why did you become a vegan?”
“I saw my dad kill a fish he’d caught, and it freaked me out. It was horrible. I felt as if I was dying too. Then I found out that the meat we were eating all the time was the bodies of animals. When I understood that people had killed those animals so we could eat them, I decided not to eat meat again.”
“Your mom said you were eight.”
“Yeah, it was a long time ago.” David got up and leaned over River to reach his laptop on the desk. He opened a browser with a row of bookmarks along the top. “River, you can probably smell me. I pedaled real hard to get back here in time for supper, and I’m feeling pretty grungy. All these links along the top of the page will take you to different vegan websites. They’ll tell you more about what I just said. I’m gonna take a quick shower. You do some reading if you want. Okay?”
River clicked on the first link and started reading. David stripped and went into his bathroom.
River had not thought about animals having feelings like people. There were scientific studies that showed that they do. Animals could be afraid, but they could be happy, too. He suddenly understood that animals know they are alive. He heard David come back into the room.
“David,” he said, with his eyes glued to the screen. “This is amazing stuff.” He became aware that David was standing behind him, looking over his shoulder to see what he was reading.
David bent further forward and pointed at a link on the screen. River could see drops of water on his arm.
“Click that link — there’s a great article on how intelligent octopuses are. They figure they’re even smarter than dogs.”
River clicked the link and started read the octopus article. He could feel warmth emanating from David’s body and heard the soft sounds of David toweling himself dry. From the corner of his eye, he saw the towel thrown onto the pillow end of the nearby bed.
“The experiments they did with those octopuses — they’re really smart!”
“Who?” David laughed. “The octopuses or the scientists?”
River looked around. David was standing naked in front of chest of drawers and holding up a t-shirt. He put it back into the drawer and took out another.
“The octopuses.” River watched David. “But the scientists are pretty smart, too.” Then he added, “You’ve got a great tan. It looks really good.”
“Thanks. I never noticed, but I spend a lot of time in the sun, so I guess it’s inevitable.”
River turned back to the screen. “This octopus in the glass box is such a weird pic,” he said.
“What?” asked David and walked over to the desk.
“I didn’t know octopuses don’t have any bones.”
“They’re so interesting! I wish we lived close to the ocean, so we could go diving and see them in the wild.”
River turned and glanced at David’s groin. “You don’t have any tan lines.”
“Yeah, most of the time when I’m up the mountain, I don’t bother with clothes.”
River laughed. “Even your dick has got a tan! It doesn’t bother you? Being naked, I mean.”
David laughed and walked back to the chest of drawers. He dug around and came up with a pair of clean shorts. “No.” He stepped into the shorts. “It used to bother me, but now I don’t even think about it. I guess I’m used to it.”
“You’re used to being naked?”
“Yeah, like the octopus.”
River laughed. “Yeah, I can’t imagine an octopus with pants on.”
“My being naked up the mountain — that’s just between you and me, River. Okay?”
“Okay. No problem. I like being naked too.”
David sat down on the bed and pushed the plate of hummus and pita towards River. “You want some more of this?”
They sat and munched in silence for a few minutes.
“So, it was after you saw that fish dying that you became a vegan?”
“So, you’re a vegan for compassionate reasons?”
“Yeah, but it’s not an either/or thing. For me, it’s all those reasons. Every time you decide to eat something, you make a choice whether to be kind or cruel. But after I had been a vegan for a while, I realized it was not only being kinder to animals. It was also a way to preserve and protect the environment.
“You choose to help or harm the environment every time you sit down at the table. It really woke me up to see that a kid like me could make a difference to the world, just by not eating meat. It’s fantastic! I mean, people worry about climate change and the mass extinction, but they don’t think there’s anything they can do. But there is a simple thing that anyone can do — stop eating meat. It’s not going to solve all the world’s problems, but it’s a step in the right direction that anyone can take.
“And lately,” David added, “I’ve been thinking about animal rights a lot. We should respect other people’s rights to live and to think the way they want to. Now I think we should respect the rights of other living creatures in the same way. To be a proper person, we should respect the right of animals to live their lives the way they want to, just like we do.” He laughed. “End of sermon!”
“To be a proper person…” River looked over at David. “I never met anyone who thinks like you do.”
“Yeah, I guess I’m weird.”
“I didn’t mean anything bad. I think your ideas are great, really great.”
“Thank you, River.”
“I wish I could do what you do,” said River. “I mean, leave all the crap behind and go up the mountain. My house is like a graveyard these days.”
David glanced down at the pita plate. He heard the hunger behind River’s words but did not know how to answer it. “Everybody should spend some time in the outdoors,” he said. “It’s good.”
“I mean, I wish I could do it with you. Can I?”
The question hung in the air for a minute before David responded. “It’s kinda private, River. I mean, we don’t know each other very well. I like you, and I want us to be friends, but it takes time to get to be friends. So, sometime, but not now, not yet.”
“Okay, I understand.”
The boys sat, each lost in his own thoughts.
Then David tapped River on the knee. “I’ve told you why I became vegan. What’s your excuse?”
“Yeah, why did you decide to become vegan?”
River smiled. “Oh, I want to tell you, but it’s kinda private. So, for now, it’s got to be a secret.”
David laughed. “When we get to be friends?”
“Yeah, I’ll tell you when we get to be friends.”
David smiled and pulled River down onto the bed with him. “You really are an asshole, aren’t you?” He punctuated his words with soft punches to River’s belly and groped under his arms for ticklish spots.
“Boys,” called Doreen from downstairs. “Come and get it!”
It was two o’clock in the morning. With its headlights off, the van crept down the dark lane. They reached the pig barn without seeing anyone. Melissa helped her friends lift a ladder from its padded rests on the roof of the van. After they taped a stencil above the main door, they spray-painted it. The occasional squeal of a restless pig was the only sound in the night.
An hour later, their van arrived at a large factory farm. A few of the thousands of confined cattle bawled in the darkness. Guards patrolled the facility within, so the van passengers didn’t try to go inside. Their target was the large entry gate. In an attempt to make the operation seem less like a factory, the gate had a ranch-style arch overhead. It bore the name of the corporate owners and some imitation branding irons. The vandals sprayed the arch with quick-drying primer. A half-hour later, they put their stencil up and sprayed once more. Then they drove back out to the highway before turning the headlights on.
“This is gonna irritate a lot of people,” said Melissa.
“Yeah,” said another member of the animal rights group. “But it’ll make a lot of people think, too. There are just too many similarities to ignore. For me, the gas chambers in slaughterhouses were the final straw. We mean no disrespect to the people who were murdered in concentration camps. We only want to extend respect to innocent creatures who are suffering and dying in the same way now. When you treat animals like unfeeling objects, it’s only a small step to treating people like that. People need to learn the necessity of compassion from history. Otherwise, those who died in Auschwitz will truly have died in vain.”
Sheriff Morgan asked Pete to step into his office. “Pete, I’m assigning you to concentrate on this animal/honeybee thing full time. I had the governor on the phone again this morning, and it wasn’t a friendly call. Have you heard what happened overnight?”
“Some idiots painted some signs on Art Jameson’s pig barn and on the gate of the Teemon Cattle Company’s big feedlot. Art Jameson was in here about it this morning. He’s taking his boy’s death pretty bad. I guess the other twin’s not in good shape either; can’t talk or walk or anything. Art’s about ninety proof, I’d guess. If you lit a match near him, he’d probably explode, though he insisted he was sober. He looks like death warmed over. He swears he’s gonna get whoever’s responsible.”
“Over some signs? What’s with the signs?”
“Yeah. The signs say ‘Arbeit macht frei.’ I don’t know if I’m pronouncing it right.”
The sheriff shook his head. “It’s German. I’m told it means, ‘Work Will Make you Free.’”
“I don’t get it.”
“Yeah, it’s not a bad slogan or motto in itself, but it has bad associations. It was over the gate of a notorious hell-hole, Auschwitz.”
“That Nazi concentration camp?”
The sheriff nodded.
“Three workers at the cattle company refused to enter the grounds this morning. Teemon’s is up in arms. The Jewish community is hotter than a firecracker. Everybody is calling everybody else a racist. The White Nationalist Brotherhood issued a statement saying it wasn’t them. They think it’s a government plot. Animal rights groups are deploring it and denying they would ever do such a thing. The Pork Producers Association, The Cattlemen’s Association, and The Farmers of America are all climbing the walls. The CEO of the 4H Club has phoned twice, calling it a ‘hate crime.’ PETSELF says it’s good that somebody finally dared to say it.”
“PETSELF? What’s that?”
“People for the Ethical Treatment of Sentient Life Forms, an animal rights group. The only groups we haven’t heard from are the LGBTQ crowd and GreenPeace. The media are drooling over this as well. We’re getting inquiries from news correspondents all over the country and from Europe too.”
“So, what’s this got to do with the animal attacks and the bees?”
“Maybe nothing, but it’s people and animals, so…. The governor is mostly concerned about the optics, how this Nazi slogan story shapes up in the press. But he’s also the only man besides us who suspects there’s more to this animal thing than a few coincidences. He has aides looking at the data. They’re coming up with pretty much the same ideas as us. There’s a whole lot more of these events happening than is normal. He doesn’t want to leak it to the press yet, but he wants us to start thinking about a task force to find out what’s going on. The other thing he wants is for us to organize a search of Jana Mountain Park. It’s a state park, so he’s releasing some park wardens from other locations to help search it. They’ll be arriving over the next few days.”
“Search the park for what?”
“For whatever we can find that might explain why it seems to be the center of all these animal attacks. Find that boy. Find those bees, if they’re up there. Find those pigs and horses. Who knows, maybe Mrs. Wilkins' chickens are up there somewhere too. Find out why that park seems to be having a lot of unnatural animal activity.”
“Makes sense,” said Pete.
“That Hector Sanchez you’ve been meeting — it seems like he might be a good man for a task force. It’s Doctor Sanchez, isn’t it?”
Pete nodded. “Yeah. He’s a professor at State. He knows his stuff, and this is right up his alley.”
“You can get in touch with him?”
“Yeah, he’s camping out in the park.”
“Go out there and talk to him about a more formal relationship. The governor says we can hire a consultant on this if it would be useful.”
Before he left the office, Pete called Hector’s mobile number. It went to voice mail, and he left a message.
Even if Hector had his phone with him, he wouldn’t have been able to answer Pete’s call. He was out of range. He and Celia had decided to trek around the base of Jana Mountain to its southern face. Then they planned to make the steep ascent up to the peak that overlooked the plateau. There were no marked trails so it was not an easy climb. They stopped for a rest halfway up the rocky talus slope.
“Well, so far, so good.” Hector wiped his brow. It was another hot day and felt even hotter on the treeless scree they were traversing.
“No bears or cougars yet,” agreed Celia. She pulled two juice boxes out of her pack and handed one to Hector.
Hector took the juice from her. “Thanks. I’m glad we’re working on this together.”
“Yes, it would be pretty lonely otherwise.”
“Instead of cooking over a camp stove tonight, we should find a good restaurant. Some wine would be nice too, and there are some excellent vegan wines.”
“Are you asking me out?”
“Well, yes, Ms. Duffy. I am.”
“You get me back to my tent safely, Doctor Sanchez, and it’s a date.”
“Should we move along then?”
When Zhiv and David reached the lake, they paused on the black rock that surrounded it. The soles of their feet enjoyed its warmth. It felt like the earth was a vast living body, and they stood on its skin. They lolled in the water longer than usual. The many hot, clear days had heated the surface water to a comfortable temperature. It was cool enough to be refreshing but warm enough for a prolonged swim. The trout greeted the boys with enthusiasm. Then they returned to the cooler depths they preferred.
After their swim, the boys strolled out onto the meadow.
Zhiv stopped and faced David. “Let’s just sit here for a while. It’s too hot to run around, and I’m not hungry yet.” He sat down cross-legged.
David put the pack down.
“Zhiv gestured. “Come sit in my lap so we can be close.”
They laced their legs and arms together, and faced each other with lazy smiles.
Zhiv said, “Don’t we have the best life? It’s like we’re in heaven.” He kissed the end of David’s nose. “Your freckles are so beautiful! They’re another reason the trout love you so much. They have freckles, too.”
Whem trotted up and nuzzled David’s back. Zhiv kissed his eyelids. David put out a hand and caressed the horse’s cheek. Wrapped in each other, the boys drowsed in the morning heat. The crisp munching of the grazing horses blended with insect noises and bird calls. Two pigs sniffed the boys and lay down nearby. Several goats and some deer settled down in the grass and began to chew their cuds. Other animals gathered around Zhiv and David. The boys floated in the mara like dandelion seeds in a light summer breeze.
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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