Pig-Boy and The Insectorator - 27. All Roads Lead to Jana Mountain
As soon as Melissa got home, she transferred the video from both cameras onto her computer. She looked at all the clips again and cried a half-dozen times. Then she encrypted it, uploaded it to cloud storage, and sent a link to Hector. When that was complete, she began to edit the raw video to portray the essence of Zhiv’s life in the forest and the words he had spoken.
As she constructed the video, she realized that what Zhiv said was important, but what was more important was Zhiv, himself. The expressions on his face, his voice, his nakedness, the way he related to the animals, and the loving way they related him — all these sent powerful non-verbal messages. He didn’t only describe a different way of being in the world, he embodied it.
While she worked, her mother came in to call her to supper. She stayed to watch the amazing scenes her daughter had captured. When Zhiv jumped up and said, “Let’s play!” she got up and went out. A few minutes later, she returned with a tray of food and sat down to watch the rest of the video.
Melissa added the final scene of joyful trout leaping out of the lake. Her mother sat back in her chair, and said, “I don’t agree with everything you say, Sweetheart, but if that video doesn’t change the world, I don’t know what will. I’ve never seen anything like that boy.”
Melissa began the upload process. It would take several hours. As soon as it was online, her million and a half subscribers would receive notification.
When she saw that the upload was complete, she sighed with relief and fell into bed.
Hector and Celia sat at the supper table long after they finished eating.
“So, Homeland is gonna search the park tomorrow?” Celia asked.
“That’s what they said. I know I shouldn’t, but I have to get up there and warn Zhiv, if I can. I’d go now, except it’s too late. I don’t know how to find him, anyway. And in the dark, it would be impossible.”
“You know, as his caseworker, I’ve got some legal clout,” Celia said. “If Homeland apprehends him, I can claim him as a ward of the state. I might be able to protect him a little.”
“If I go up early in the morning,” Hector said, “I may be able to connect with one of the boys who could take me to him, or take a message to him. River and David must know where he sleeps. Pete will probably warn David, but I want to go up the mountain in case he doesn’t.”
Hector’s laptop emitted an audible signal. He jumped up. “That might be Melissa. I asked her to send me a link to the raw video.” A few minutes later he was downloading the encrypted archive onto his laptop. Hector and Celia watched the unedited footage when it had downloaded.
After it finished, they sat in silence for a few minutes. Then Celia said, “He’s changed. When I last saw him, he was a very sad little boy, but he was a normal kid in most other ways. Now it’s like he’s something else. He looks like a young boy, but he’s not like any young boy I’ve ever known.”
Hector pulled her to him. “You see why I have to try to warn him. It’s hard to explain, but being with him is like a fantastic gift, a privilege. Being with him made us all feel good, really good. I don’t know how he does it, but when you’re close to him, it’s all just happiness. Both Melissa and I cried when we first met him, but it wasn’t sorrow. It was joy, an immense joy from being with him.”
“I’ll come with you in the morning. I really want to see him in person. I don’t want to take custody or anything like that. I only want to see him again.”
After David got home, he helped Doreen prepare supper. He described shooting the video with Hector and Melissa. “It started out a little weird. I mean, when Melissa met Zhiv, she just started crying, for no reason. He hugged her, and it was like she couldn’t stop crying. Then Hector started, so both of them were crying, but they weren’t sad. It was because they were so happy. I always feel happy when I’m with Zhiv, but he has the same effect on other people too.”
Doreen smiled. “So, you were up there in the forest all day, with a naked girl. Is that right?”
“Yeah, but Mom, there were other people there too, and we were all naked. We didn’t have a sex orgy or anything.”
A laugh erupted from Doreen. “I hope not!”
“You know, when everybody is naked, after a while you kinda get used to it, and you forget about it. Anyway, me and River solved it.”
“You solved it?”
“Yeah, we talked to her, just me and River. We explained how we might get, you know, excited, because of never seeing a naked girl before. We told her she shouldn’t mind about that. I mean if we got excited, she shouldn’t worry we were gonna do anything.”
“And what did she say?”
“She said she wasn’t worried. She was okay with us, even if we got excited. She said we looked nice, and interesting, and she understood we were curious, so she let us have a good look at her. Then everything was okay. We didn’t worry about she was a girl, and we were boys. We were just people together.”
“I have to meet Melissa. What’s she like?”
“She’s great. She’s funny. She’s older than us boys, about sixteen, but she’s not much bigger than us. She’s pretty. She works part-time in the health food store. You might have even seen her when you shop there. She’s got long, brown hair and dresses kinda like a hippie. At the health food store is how River met her. He said she was good to him when she found out he had changed to being a vegan. She even bought him lunch.”
“She’s vegan too?”
“Yeah, and Mom, I wanted to talk to you about River. He’s having a hard time. You know his mom is dead, and now one of his brothers is dead, and the other one is like a vegetable. Aaron, the brother who’s closest to him — he’s moved out and is gonna live by himself in Dryden. River said his dad is drunk all the time, and the bank is gonna take their house and the business.”
“Wow, that is tough.”
“So, Mom, I said he could come here and stay with us. I hope that’s okay?”
“It would have been better if you had asked us first,” she said.
“Yeah, but there was no time. I mean, he was crying and everything, and I just had to say he should come here and live with us. Anyway, I’d like it. I like him, Mom. He could share my room. No problem. We could be like brothers. I always wanted a brother.”
“Yeah, it’s fine with me. I like him too, but we’ve got to get your dad’s go-ahead on this before we do anything. Okay?”
“And River’s father, too. Maybe he won’t like losing his last son.”
“River says his dad doesn’t even know who he is half the time. He said he looks at him like he’s a fence post. Mom, it’s so sad. He loves his dad a lot, but he’s changed from what he used to be.”
“Oh! That is sad.”
“Yeah, when he was telling me about it this morning, I was just about crying myself. Everybody should have parents like I do. You guys are the best.” Doreen leaned over the stove-top, stirring a pot of stew. David walked over and hugged her from behind.
Pete came into the kitchen from the garage. “Hi family,” he said.
David ran over to him and put his arms around him. “Hi Dad. I was just telling Mom, you guys are the best. Thank you for being the best mom and dad in the world.” He squeezed Pete around the waist.
Pete kissed the glossy black hair on his son’s head and hugged him back.
David released Pete and ran upstairs.
“Supper in fifteen,” shouted Doreen. “Get cleaned up.”
Pete enveloped her in an embrace.
“He’s invited River to come and live with us,” she said.
Pete’s eyes widened. “Wow! That was fast. What about Sol? When does he move in? Anybody else? Do we need to build an extra room or two?”
“No, only River, so far.”
River shook his father’s shoulder. “Daddy, wake up.”
“I made some food. You need to eat. Come and eat with me.”
Art Jameson reached out for the vodka bottle on the coffee table. “I’ll just have a little snort and be right with you, Nicky.”
“It’s me, River, Daddy. Nicky’s not here anymore.”
Art’s eyes focused on River’s face. “Oh, right! You’re the little one.” He drank deeply from the bottle.
River took the bottle from his hand. “You need to eat something, Daddy.” He pulled his father up off the couch and led him into the kitchen. Art slumped over the table. River put a plate of rice and canned lentil stew in front of him and shook him awake.
“Oh, we’re eating chink food now, are we?”
“No, it’s Indian food, Daddy, but it’s good. Just try a little.”
“Where’s the boys? Why don’t you call the boys? They’re always hungry. Boys are like that.”
“The boys aren’t here, Daddy. Nobody except me.”
“And you are?”
“River, Daddy.” He put a fork into Art’s hand. “I’m River.”
“The queer one!”
River put a fork-full of rice into his mouth and chewed slowly. He felt like he was eating sawdust. “Yeah, Daddy. I’m the queer one.”
“Still, I did pretty good.” Art emitted a loud burp. “Three outta four turned out okay. You’re okay too, kid, but it’s too bad you’re a fairy. That’s not gonna work out, but I bet we can get you fixed. One of them conversion camps should do the trick. You wait till I get back on my feet.”
Art ate a few mouthfuls. “Makes ya wonder, don’t it? I mean, those chinks eat this crap all the time, and yet there’s like a billion of ‘em. Is there anything to drink around here?”
“Eat some more food, please, Daddy.” River went to the sink and ran a glass of cold water for his father. He handed the glass to Art.
“Water!” sputtered Art, after a sip. “You trying to poison me?” He laughed. “It’s not my fault you’re a fruit.”
River pushed his plate toward him. “C’mon Daddy, eat a little more. You need to eat.”
Art stood up and wobbled toward the front room where his bottle waited on the coffee table. “Don’t you tell me what to do, pussy-boy! Just tell the others to be up early tomorrow. I wanna get this place back in shape.”
River forced himself to eat, though tears ran down his cheeks. Some fell onto his rice, and he could taste their saltiness. He smiled then, remembering how David had joked about that. It seemed a long time ago. It was hard to believe it had been the morning of that same day.
After he had eaten, River washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen. He went up to his room and sat on his bed. He and Aaron had grown up in that room. Aaron’s bed was empty. He’d taken the mattress, sheets and pillows with him when he left. River looked around the room. There wasn’t much stuff there, not many things, but a stain on the ceiling and a notch on the windowsill called up memories of happier times. He smiled at the rag-rug his mother had made so he didn’t have to step onto a cold floor when he got out of bed in the morning. He gathered a few souvenirs and put them into his pack. Then he lay down to sleep a little before it was time to leave.
“So, everybody was naked?” asked Pete as he spooned more stew onto his plate.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t a big deal, Dad. I mean, nobody got weird or anything.”
Doreen giggled. “Tell him about how you and River fixed it with Melissa.”
“He and River were afraid…”
“Okay, okay! I’ll tell him. Dad, me and River worried about what might happen, you know, downstairs, when we were hanging out with a naked girl.”
Pete snorted. “Yeah, hanging out!”
“Well, we weren’t worried about things hanging out.” David laughed. “We wanted to explain to her about things standing up. You know how at our age, it happens all the time.”
Pete burst out laughing. “I’m sorry, David. I know I shouldn’t laugh. So tell me. What did you and River do?”
“We told her she shouldn’t worry about it, if we got excited, you know, below the belly button. It didn’t mean we were gonna try to do anything to her. I mean, if we had a reaction to being naked with her, it didn’t mean anything. It was just a normal thing that happens with boys.”
Pete snorted again. “I wish I had been there.”
Most of the table chat after that was David describing how they had made the video. Then Pete told them about the Task Force meeting that afternoon.
After David went up to his room to shower and change for bed, Pete and Doreen finished cleaning up the kitchen. Pete rinsed the last of the cutlery at the sink. “There was one final thing at the meeting I didn’t talk about.”
“Yeah. The last thing the Homeland Security rep said was that they were gonna search the park, tomorrow morning. I know these men are just doing their jobs, but they really come on heavy — you know, dark glasses and dark suits, black SUVs with windows tinted so you can’t see inside. I don’t like it. I don’t want David up there tomorrow.”
“You think it could be dangerous?”
“I don’t think they’d hurt a kid, but it’s a touchy situation. They think that everything they deal with is a national security threat. While we might see some naked kids running around in the bush with the squirrels, they’ll be seeing domestic terrorists.”
“Oh, God! I don’t like this.”
“Me neither. Now I’ve got to tell David he’s grounded until this blows over.”
“Doreen looked doubtful. “That’s not gonna make him happy.”
“No. I know. I hate to do it, but what else can we do?”
Pete and Doreen went into their living room. David joined them a few minutes later and wedged himself between them on the couch. He reached out and grasped one hand of each parent.
“There’s something I didn’t tell you, Dad. I mean, ask you. I was talking to River early this morning, and he was really feeling bad. There’s only him and his dad in the house now, and he says his dad is drunk all the time. The bank is gonna kick them out of their house. Dad, I asked him to come over here and stay with us. Mom says it’s okay, so it’s up to you. I really want him to stay with us. He can share my room.”
“Yeah. Your mom mentioned it to me. It’s okay with me. He can come and stay as long as he needs to, but I’ve got to talk to his father first. It’s up to him, not me, but if he says it’s okay, then it’s okay with me too — until Art gets his act together, anyway, like over the summer or something.”
“Thanks, Dad. He’ll be really happy when I tell him. He was crying about it this morning, but he started to cheer up when I said he could come and live with us. I knew you would be okay with it. You’re the best!”
“David, I didn’t tell you everything about my meeting today, my Task Force meeting. At the end of the meeting, one of the Homeland Security reps told us they’re gonna search the park tomorrow. I don’t like the way they act, like they expect to find a bunch of Russian or Chinese spies up there in the park. So, I want you to stay home tomorrow and the next few days.”
“You want me to stay home? Like here?”
“Yeah. I want you to stay down here. I don’t want you mixed up with Homeland Security, and the park is gonna be crawling with them tomorrow morning. Why don’t you just take a break from Jana Mountain? Give River a phone call and invite him over. The two of you can fool around down here for a change; maybe go to the pool or something. On Saturday, we can take you to the water-park.”
“Dad, I’ve got to go up the mountain and warn Zhiv. I can’t sit down here while those guys chase him around.”
“David, you’re not going up the mountain tomorrow. And that’s that.”
Doreen clasped David’s hand in both of hers. “Sweetie, it’s only because it’s too dangerous for you. And only for a day or two We don’t want you to get mixed up with those Homeland Security people.”
When David spoke, his voice was higher than usual. “But that’s why I’ve got to go. It’s even more dangerous for Zhiv than for me. I have to warn him so he can get away. It’s really important! I have to go.” There was a shrill note of panic in his voice.
“Look David, it’s not negotiable. You’re not going anywhere tomorrow. They’re not looking for Zhiv. They don’t even know for sure he’s up there. If they happen to catch him, well, they’re not monsters. Your mom and I have talked about maybe he can come and live with us, too. We can apply to be his foster parents. Celia Duffy could probably help with that, but we have to let things take their course now.”
“He can’t live down here. He’s not like River or me.”
“Well, I’m sorry about that, but maybe he’s not gonna have a choice.”
“No. I’m sorry, David, but you’re staying home for the next couple of days. End of discussion.”
Nobody said anything for a minute. Then David turned to Doreen and hugged her. “Good night, Mom.”
She kissed his cheek.
David turned and hugged Pete around the neck. “Good night, Dad.”
“Good night, son.”
David walked out of the room and went upstairs.
Pete sighed. “That’s the first time in a long time that he’s just walked up the stairs like a normal person. Usually, it’s two at a time.”
“And three at a time coming down,” said Doreen with a catch in her throat.
They watched the evening news together. Pete went into the garage for a few minutes before joining Doreen in their bedroom.
“How are you doing?” asked Doreen.
Pete slumped onto the bed. “Before supper, I was the world’s best dad. I wish I still felt like that.”
David sat at his desk. If he couldn’t go up the mountain to warn Zhiv, maybe River could. He called the Jameson Pork Producers number on his mobile phone. A mechanical voice replied, “This number is no longer in service.”
David waited two hours after he heard the TV turned off. The house was quiet and dark. He took his pajama bottoms off and dressed. Then he sat down at his desk and wrote a brief note. When he had finished, he folded it once and left it on the desk. With his pack on his back, he crept downstairs, through the kitchen, and into the garage. He flicked on the light and walked over to where his bike was charging. A shiny length of heavy-duty chain fastened the wheels of his bike to the solid frame of the workbench. A large brass padlock held the ends of the chain together.
“Oh, Dad,” he muttered.
He tiptoed up to his room, sat in front of the open window and stared out into the night. A full moon rose over Jana Mountain. There was a welcome coolness in the night air. It smelled like rain.
He drowsed, but jerked awake when the silken rustle of Kek’s wings folding alerted him to the crow’s arrival. He tied a rope to the foot of his bed and threw it over the windowsill. He removed his clothes and stood barefoot by the window. He cast a last look around his room and wiped tears from his cheeks. A minute later, he heard the muted clop clop of the black horse’s hooves on the earth below. He rappelled barefoot down the side of the house directly onto the stallion’s back.
Sensing the need for stealth, Whem walked softly away from the house. He cleared his throat in greeting when they reached the roadside. David hugged him. The stallion cantered for a hundred yards before accelerating into a steady gallop along the grassy highway shoulder.
The moon gave enough light so they could travel swiftly. As Whem’s regular hoof-beats ate the miles, David saw flashes of light behind the mountains on the far side of the valley. Yellowish-green lightning flickered inside dark, purple-tinged clouds. There were faint rumbles of thunder. David closed his eyes and lost himself in the warmth of Whem’s broad back and the rhythmic thump of his hooves.
Most people in the Americas were asleep when the Zhiv video went online, but Melissa’s subscribers in other parts of the globe were awake. They watched in awe, called their loved ones to watch it, and marveled over Zhiv’s messages and his companions. Many shared the video with everyone they knew. Within hours, a link to it was on a thousand mailing lists. Many people posted copies on other websites — YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. A dozen snippets were live on TikTok. Its rapid and unprecedented spread gave new meaning to the concept of ‘viral.’
The response was overwhelmingly positive. The naked boy’s words on the mountain were direct and uncompromising, but when Zhiv spoke, he radiated love and light. Most who watched the video felt he was speaking directly to them, and that he loved them. Their hearts stirred in response.
Though it was the middle of the night, all the lights in the house were still on when River came down from his bedroom. His father had passed out on the couch. River gazed around the living room and said, “G’bye, house. G’bye, Jameson Pork Producers. G’bye Daddy.” His words seemed to die as they left his mouth. Minutes later, he rode his bike out of the yard.
Hector and Celia gulped their steaming coffee. Hector looked at his wristwatch. It said 3:00 am.
“David told me they usually meet in the forest at sunrise or shortly after. We need to get up there before that if we want to see David or River and warn them about Homeland Security.”
Minutes later they stood in the darkness beside Hector’s camper. Hector held up his hand. “Listen!”
They both stood with their mouths open.
“I don’t hear anything,” said Celia.
“That’s just it,” said Hector. “It’s dead silent. Usually by this time on a summer morning, there are a lot of birds starting to sing — the dawn chorus.” He paused, and they both listened. The absolute silence was broken by the grumble of distant thunder.
“This is weird,” said Celia.
“It feels like a storm is coming,” said Hector. “I don’t like it. Something’s wrong, but let’s go.”
Soon they were on the highway leading to Jana Mountain. Hector said, “Check the Animal Rights group’s website. See if Melissa’s new video is online.”
A few minutes later, Celia looked up from her phone. “Yeah, it’s up. She’s called it ‘Zhiv.’ Hector, it’s already got twenty-five million hits.”
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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