The Dead Pig

I brought my father’s Belgian made Browning semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle with me to junior high school. Carried it right on the bus in its gun case. This was in 1976, suburban Minnesota. I got a school credit for doing this because I was taking an elective class, Rifle Club. There were ten boys in the class. Twice a week the school police officer took us for target practice at the firing range in the basement of the police station. During the day we kept our ammunition in our lockers. We could have stowed our guns there too, but they were kept in the administration offices because we were worried about theft.

There wasn’t any horseplay or goofing off with our guns though we joked about holding up the bank on our way through town. We were hunters and the sons of hunters. We took the safe handling of guns seriously. It wasn’t ever a question; it was just what one did. I began hunting as a small boy with my father by walking the fields and woods with him. He would have never tolerated misuse of any equipment, but especially not misuse of a gun. When I was twelve years old I took a gun safety course at the VFW receiving my hunting permit the year after that.

When I was fourteen years-old, the year of Rifle Club, I went on a hunting trip in southern Minnesota with my father and older cousin, Bob, who was in his thirties. We stopped in at a farm with a good patch of woods. After securing permission to hunt squirrels on his property the farmer showed us around his barn and out buildings. Outside the pig barn a dead pig lay on its side. It was young, but as large as a good-sized dog, sixty or seventy pounds, a pale pink, nearly white, with a little bloat in its belly. The farmer said it probably died from over-heating. He had found it that morning. He and my father didn’t pay it much attention, but Bob and I stood there looking at it. It looked naked and unnatural.

I had taken up hunting squirrels that season with the .22 rifle rather than a shotgun. I hadn’t actually hit anything yet. Apparently, Rifle Club wasn’t helping my aim much. I left Bob and my father in the main section of woods to hunt a separate, smaller section on the other side of the farmyard. After walking those woods I stopped to stare at the dead pig. I was fascinated by it. What made it lifeless? It looked perfect and clean. I felt a strong compulsion to shoot it. I looked around to make sure nobody was watching. I was scared, my heart beating rapidly. I jerked the rifle up and shot from the hip like some kind of wild-west gun-slinger, just shot that dead pig in the middle of its belly. Nothing happened, nothing moved, just a little round red hole appeared and then a little trickle of blood and fluid.

I regretted what I had done as soon as I had pulled the trigger. I had known it was wrong before I did it, knew that I’d be in such hot water I couldn’t even imagine if I was caught shooting someone’s farm animal even though the thing was dead. I certainly would never purposely shoot a live farm animal, but nature had already taken this one. I felt compelled to find out what it would look like. I wanted to shoot it in the head, but somehow didn’t in my rush. The head is where the best kill is. When would I ever have an opportunity to shoot something in the head? Maybe some brain would have come out. What if I shot it in the eye? Maybe the whole animal would have twitched?

The silence in the farmyard made the ringing of the gunshot in my ears louder and suddenly what I had done looked so obvious. That little hole seemed to radiate its own light and fill the entire farmyard. I hadn’t considered the trail of evidence that would lead straight to me. I felt what I was doing was private, just a curiosity of my mind not a physical act. The farmer could come out and notice at any moment and tell my dad. He’d surely notice at some point and I didn’t want to be there when he did. How could I have been so stupid?

I next did what comes natural: I tried to hide it. I had to do this quickly. I tried turning the pig over to face the barn, but it was large enough to be heavy and dead enough to be stiff and kind of stuck to the ground. The legs moved, but the body didn’t. It felt like a heavy sand bag at the end of brittle sticks. I gave it up. I found a stray 1”x 6” board about three feet long nearby and laid it with one end up on the pig’s side and the other end on the ground like a ramp. Looking straight down I couldn’t see the bullet hole and figured this would do the trick from most angles. Never mind how and why that board got there. I wasn’t thinking clearly and was in a panic.

When I rejoined Bob and my father I told them I shot at a squirrel, missed, and that it scurried away towards the buildings. I was tense while we finished walking those woods. We didn’t see the farmer again and I was relieved. On the way out we drove by the barn and the pig. From the backseat I looked over at the pig with the board laid on it. I could see the bullet hole and so could Bob because he said, “Hey, it looks like somebody shot that pig. Did you see that?” I was mortified. My dad was focused on driving and didn’t look, didn’t say anything, maybe didn’t quite catch what Bob was saying. Bob looked over his shoulder at me and I looked back through the rear window, straining, feigning, shrugging my shoulders mumbling, “No, I didn’t see it.” My cousin Bob was a cool guy and had been in plenty of trouble in his younger days. He looked at me a moment and then let the whole thing drop.

I would have been deeply ashamed trying to explain what I had done to my father especially had I embarrassed him in front of the farmer. There was no sense in my actions at all. What would possess me to do such a thing? This animal was dead, an empty shell and in some respects this was not much different than plinking empty soda cans, but the ethics were simple; I misused my firearm near buildings and livestock desecrating this farmer’s property. Hunting, I had shot animals. I respected the life I took. I gutted, cleaned and ate the game I took from the field, but it disturbed me to shoot something dead. It felt as if it was forbidden by a higher order. I did it because I wanted to see what would happen. Now I knew: a dead pig gets a little red hole in it and a line of blood trickles out and that’s it. Nothing changed except me. I did something I didn’t expect that I would do with a gun.

Not long after that day I began missing game on purpose sometimes or not shooting at all because I felt sick about shooting animals. I went hunting less frequently and within a couple of years I stopped hunting altogether, and haven’t gone since—though I’d start again in a minute to feed my family if it were necessary.

What I was trying to change that day was death. There was something so still about that pig in the morning light, the colorless skin, the loneliness of it laying in the yard outside the barn while all the other pigs were alive just on the other side of the wall. I really expected my gunshot to make the pig move, to shock it, to bring it back to life, to make it jump up and run around the yard squealing with pain from its wound. Shooting that pig somehow confirmed the line of life and death to me more so than shooting and killing a living animal ever did. I couldn’t explain that then even to myself. I certainly would not have told what I did to any of the boys in Rifle Club. They might have thought me quite queer, maybe even dangerous and kept their distance from me, watching me out the corners of their eyes while they held onto their guns.

© Guy Reed 2016

Narrated by Guy Reed. LISTEN TO AUDIO HERE

Eyes on the Road

Driving along a stretch of road I look down along a patch of wood thicket behind a strip mall and see a hanging, broken branch of dead leaves. I keep my gaze a second longer than I normally would while speeding along and notice that the branch of leaves is actually a long, heavy brown coat. Instinctively, I slow my car and look again. The object in the tree is really a pair of large wings, brown feathers with a white edging hanging from the branch. I stop abruptly and kill the engine.

This place is part of the forgotten lands of the country, little slices of nature cordoned off by development. This section has no parking lot, just a small one-way drive for trucks to pull around and angle back to the loading docks of the strip mall. From there a lush wooded area begins. It’s about a hundred yards wide and slopes quickly down to a creek which butts against the hill that leads up to the roadway, creating a miniature valley. Quickly, after climbing the guardrail, I slide below the level of the road and pick my way down through the brush. This spot is quiet. The road noise shoots over the woods. Looking across, I can only see the top roof edge of the mall. It was by sheer chance I even noticed the wings.

The water is high with all of the spring rain and I hear the splashing of something large. I sneak over to the creek, ducking behind trees until I am near the edge of the grove running along the bank. There is a little break where an eddy has formed. I am seized by a thought, who or what is in the water? Could it be a bear? I look again at the huge, perfect wings. Suddenly, a bolt of thought, not knowing how I know: what I hear has to be the splashing of… no; an otherworldly being, a mythical flying creature? But perhaps, a ghost or a guardian, like somebody I’ve seen in double images - exposures of strangers behind me in childhood Polaroids. Maybe it’s an alien. Or… What kind of creature can remove its wings? My next idea strikes me, “If the wings can be removed, then it’s possible I could put them on.”

I have no idea what a supernatural being will look like. I assume it will be more or less human with crystal blue eyes. A wood thrush lands on a leafy branch and flicks my attention. A lovely brown bird with a white mottled chest. I realize it has become deadly quiet; no traffic, no insects, no breeze and most noticeably, no splashing. Snapping my attention back from tree branch to trunk I peek around and there it is, standing just on the other side of the tree. It is humanoid, nude with translucent skin and an ethereal glow, platinum hair and the most fierce, terrible eyes I have ever seen, like the eyes of all the animals of Earth looking right at me— they are red. I had so hoped they’d be blue. No smile, but no malice in her face either. Yes, her, a female I guess or rather sense because there is no physicality of gender, no pubic hair nor genitals, no nipples or breasts, there are white eyebrows, red eyes and red lips, she is a genderless woman. She has brown and green patterned edging along the extremities of her body, a variegated animal, but not an animal, other. She is offering her wings to me, isn’t that what I came down here for after all?

Suddenly, aware of the actual space I occupy on Earth, I’m afraid to be seen. I feel naked, inadequate and overwhelmed with panic, “I can make it out of here,” I think, “I was on my way somewhere, I can still make it!” I turn and run, run as fast as I can. I’ve never run so fast. I don’t even feel my feet touching the ground I am moving so fast. The trees and branches pass right by me. I do not feel them on my arms or legs. “Don’t look back,” pounds in my head like a mantra. I have an image in my mind of that creature tilting her head when I felt the urge to run. Still, I don’t turn back.

Once I clear the thicket, into the open, free of leafy branches, I realize that the ground is well below me and my legs are pumping in the air. I am rising! I stop moving my legs and I am flying in the sunlight. Curiously, down below I see my shadow on the grass of the hill. It’s not the shadow of a human, but the shadow of a small bird playing through the blades of grass. I look behind me for the animal and I see no one. I don’t know how this is happening, but I don’t care. I no longer want to think. I feel an excited and fearful tingle in my stomach now as I rise above the traffic moving slowly past a car down there askew along the road way.

© Guy Reed 2016

Narrated by Guy Reed. LISTEN TO AUDIO HERE