In the deep country where I am from, it’s quite common to live by phrases and idioms. You know the types, little bite sized proverbs that were easy to grasp and understand and taught to children. You’ve probably heard plenty of them yourself, such as ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ or ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’. Simple things that one can live by.
But where I’m from, there’s another saying.
‘If you want to make someone disappear, you throw them in the pig pen.’
And to be perfectly honest, it’s the darn truth from what I can tell you.
Sus domesticus, the common domestic pig, is a quite powerful omnivore. They have 44 teeth that can make short work of any piece of food they come across. The boars have self sharpening tusks that can tear the muscle right out of your legs if you piss them off. Though they prefer tubers and vegetation, they can and will eat meat. I remember seeing a pig eating a live chicken once, bones and all. The hen just screamed as she was devoured alive. The sound of her bones crunching as she still struggled to flap her broken wings to get away haunted my nightmares for weeks.
When they want to be, they can be brutal and efficient. They are an animal worthy of a healthy amount of respect.
So if one were to toss a body, alive or dead into a pig pen, eventually they’d be reduced to little more than bare scraps of bone. They are quite the efficient eaters. Needless to say I was quite careful around our small parcel of pigs. I resolved to keep them as fat and happy as I could, sneaking them apples and carrots once in a while. If they were happy, I figured, than I would be safe.
Most city folk don’t respect pigs, but out in the country, we do. I kept my head down and did my farm duties in between my studies. It wouldn’t do to get in trouble around these parts. People that caused trouble tended to not cause trouble anymore, if you know what I’m saying.
I was quite young then, so I often didn’t understand what exactly was happening with some people. All I’d know, is that someone would do something bad…and then they would be gone. A man got caught beating his wife once. Being about two hours away from ‘civilization’, justice was pretty much up to the townsfolk. The man was gone within a day and nobody brought him up anymore. He was essentially erased from our lives. There were more I imagine, but either they were before my time, or I just can’t remember them anymore. Most of the farm folk were happy to live an honest and peaceful life, but there was always one bad apple in the barrel.
I remember that there was a real mean bastard of a boy that lived yonder down the road from us. His parents were new to the parenting thing and didn’t quite give their son a firm hand that he needed. Nobody advocated beating their kids around those parts, but sometimes a right bastard of a kid just needed a whoopin’ to turn them back to the straight and narrow.
His name if I could recall, was Brandon Yocume. An old country name that has been around these parts for damn near the founding of the country. I was only about ten years old at the time and he was well into his sixteenth year, old enough to know better I’m sure. Everyone hated him, and in a thirty person town, that was a lot of people. Brandon see, never quite understood the subtle codes and mannerisms about country life. His parents spoiled and enabled him, blaming everything he did as the fault of other people. In their minds, their perfect son could do no wrong.
But he could do wrong, and with his parents looking the other way, he was free to do what he wanted.
See, Brandon had a habit of hurting animals and damaging crops. He liked to wander about the farms, kicking calves and stealing barn kittens to torture. You know the type, picking on the babies because they couldn’t fight back. His rage wasn’t just focused on domestic life, he turned his cruelty to turtles and salamanders, catching them and then killing them with rocks. Then he gave me a black eye for crying over ‘dumb old turtles’. What a bastard.
Not only did he hurt animals, but he also hurt other children. Eventually, all the other kids refused to play with him, and the stigmatization only worsened his rage. His parents turned a blind eye to everything. To them, their darling perfect son could NEVER do the things he was being accused of! Clearly, there was a grand conspiracy.
Well, they were right, but not in the way that they expected. That’s for sure.
It all came to a head when he was caught on one of the farms, strangling new born piglets. The poor sow was locked in another crate, and that was the only thing that saved Brandon from being rightfully torn limb from limb. Her squeals of sorrow and pain alerted the farmer, who at this point like everyone else, had been fed up with Brandon’s shit. Caught red handed and surrounded by dead piglets, he wasn’t going to be getting out of this one for sure. Soon half the town was called to the farm, I happened to have been taken along. My father said, that this would be a good lesson for me. The death of my mother he figured, had prepared me enough to see what was coming.
It was a typical country court. Farmer’s brought their trucks and used the headlights to illuminate the area. The moon was full and bright, leaving the court well lit indeed. People sat on hay bales and folding chairs, stone faced and rigid. Brandon’s parents were called and of course, they protested to all involved.
“Brandon is a good child!” His mother argued, “You all are just picking on him for no reason, an innocent boy!”
“If you’re so damn sure of yourself, than who the fuck strangled all these piglets!” One of the local farmers growled out. “Are you so damn blind you can’t see what that hell spawn of a bastard you call your child has done!”
“What if you did it yourself! You all hated our Son!” His father jumped in in protest, as Brandon smirked at all involved.
“Sure we do, and it could have all been avoided if you would have raised your brat right, instead of sticking your heads up your asses!”
Through the court, the poor sow continued her sorrowful cries. She wasn’t just a sow, she was a mother who’s children were cruelly taken from her. She was giving her own testament on the situation, and nobody had the heart to quiet her.
The evidence against this young man was staggering. Everyone stepped forward to tell of their ills. Accounts of torn up gardens and fields. Descriptions on injured animals, blinded kittens, calves with broken legs, chickens plucked and strangled. Injuries done to children. The damning list went on and his clueless parents tried their best to debunk all of it.
But the assembled men and women, who looked on the three with hard and resolved faces, would not tolerate it anymore.
Then Old Brown, who had been sitting and listening, stood. Old Brown, was a withered old man, well past his 90’s most people reckon, had seen and lived through more than anyone in town. His skin was burn brown by the sun, and his mouth was never without his pipe. Nobody quite knew where he came from, only that he’s been around since anyone could remember, and beyond that. He was considered the patriarch of the town, and most important decisions defected to him. His true age was unknown, but he knew everything that happened in town. Despite his frailness, he carried power with him. He was not someone to be trifled with.
He stood and everyone went silent. Even Brandon’s shit eating smirk dropped a degree when the old man turned and looked at him.
Old Brown’s cloudy eyes stared right into them for a moment, before he sighed and sat back down again. We all waited on baited breath.
“To the pig pen.” He rasped. Old Brown rarely spoke, but his whispery words could be so soft, but so loud at the same time.
It was law. The other farmers and older children nodded their heads and then with no prompting, advanced on the three. Clearly, Brandon’s mother and father knew just what it meant and screamed, fighting back as much as they could. But they were no match for the crowd, armed with shotguns and conviction. Brandon fought too, picking up on the panic from his parents. He shouted, but was then quickly gagged.
I held my fathers hand in alarm, voicing an unspoken question. In these events, children were seen, but not heard.
“They are going to the pig pen.” Was all he said, watching as the Brandon and his parents were bound and then tossed in the back of a pickup. “We will be following.”
Of course, I knew things were going bad was going to happen. Should I be afraid? Angry? Happy? I looked about for a social cue, but all the other farmers seemed to be oddly calm. It was like it was business as usual. I didn’t have much time to reflect, before I was ushered into our own pick up truck and we were driving down to the deep deep woods.
After a few minutes of driving, I recognized where we were going. We were heading to Old Brown’s house. Old Brown may have been a strange old man, but most kids liked to go to his house. He would play checkers with us out on his porch and sometimes he’d let us fish in the stream next to his house. I’ve been there many times myself, playing quite game after game of checkers.
He had a rule though, we weren’t to go out into the wood behind his house. Nobody disobeyed him, why would we? It could be dangerous back there. Most adults knew where there were patches of poison oak and ivy, or where there were dens of bears or rattlesnakes, and we assumed the same of Old Brown. Surely he was looking out for us in exchange for company, and it was a nice arrangement.
“We’re not allowed to go there.” I piped up quietly once we exited the truck. “Old Brown said we mustn’t.”
“This is different.” My father’s reply was short and curt. “You’ll see.” The others were exiting their trucks, carrying lanterns and flashlights. The Yocumes were dragged between the crowd, being urged to walk forward with kicks and jabs. They tried screaming through their gags, but there was no pity to be had.
The march was careful through the ancient wood. I stuck close to my father and did my best to ignore the muffled screaming and shouts. I was afraid. How could I not be?
The trip lead us down to the deepest part of the forest, to a shallow sinkhole. The area was lousy with old limestone caverns, partially the reason why I figured Old Brown didn’t allow us to play in his wood. It would be easy to trip into a sink hole and then be lost forever in the winding caverns. It was a thought that made me more than eager to behave and avoid such a fate.
The towns folk gathered around the sink hole and the moon allowed me to see it better. The sides were sheer and straight, a person falling in would not be able to climb back out without some sort of rope or ladder. And it was deep, about ten feet deep or so. The hole itself was about as wide as a truck, and looked naturally formed. The moon shone down on a thick bed of moss and creeping greens on the bottom of the hole, but for the most part it was bare limestone.
It was silent. Even the Yocume family stopped their struggles. The mother and father must have knew what was coming, but Brandon sure didn’t.
Old Brown strode up to the mouth of the sinkhole and raised his brought his trembling old hands to his face.
“Soooooooieeeeeeeeeeeee! Pig pig pig! Sooooooooieeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” He called out in a surprisingly powerful voice. He was calling pigs, but from where?
“Sooooooieeeeeeeeee! Come on pig! Come on!”
Then I head it. Shuffling limbs and deep guttural oinks echoed from deep within the caves. In the moonlight, they appeared, and I gasped.
Pigs. They were pigs but…not quite. Horribly pale, their bodies were bristled with stiff white hairs. They stood on their hind legs, trotters over grown and cracked from lack of care. Their bodies were hunched over, and twisted rough hands hung close to the ground on long muscular arms. Their heads were completely piggish, with floppy ears and long tusks. Their eyes however, were covered with a thin layer of skin, thin enough you can see the dark beady eyeballs through it. I could see their veins through their sickly skin, like dark spiderwebs.
There were about five of them, four sows and a boar I figure, naked and squealing. The noises were a horrible and demanding. They were hungry. I stopped my ears so I wouldn’t have to hear it anymore. My father did not comfort me, but instead kept his eyes straight ahead.
The pig-men continued their oinking and squeals, reaching upwards with their malformed hands, almost as if they were worshiping Old Brown.
With no fanfare or words, the Yocumes were pushed into the pit.
They fell and screamed. They didn’t even hit the ground until the pigs were upon them. Like the hen, they were being eaten alive. Thin watery wails of agony rose to a crescendo, with snapping bones and ripping flesh adding to the grim symphony. The air was thick with the pleased squeals of pigs as we all stood and watched silently.
Soon, there was nothing left of them but a few scraps of cloth. The stones were even licked clean of blood. And then as quickly as they came, the pig-men retreated back into the caves and out of sight.
“Welp, that’s one way to take care of things.” One of the farmers remarked, and then there was laughter abound.
I was stiff with shock, and I barely remembered the rest of the evening. I remember walking, and the drive back. I remember Old Brown having his hands shaken by the rest of the farmers. I can remember my father laughing. It all blurred together and then quite suddenly, I was home and being put to bed.
“Daddy,” I asked. “What…happened?”
He patted my head. “A problem got taken care of sweetie, nothing more. Nothing less. We gottah police ourselves you know. I’ll be damned if we let monsters like that boy be around us good folk.”
Without further discussion, the lights were off, like nothing happened.
Of course, through the years I was sure to keep my nose clean. I became quite liked in town. I did my best to be polite and helpful, if only to ensure my own survival until I was old enough to leave. Never again since I was there was anyone else taken to the pig pen, but I imagine Old Brown kept the hogs fed somehow. I wasn’t planning on finding out, lest I be on the menu myself. Old Brown was still alive by the time I earned my scholarship and was ready to pack it off to college. He shook my hand and gave me a present, a leather bound bible with my name stamped on the cover. He told me in his soft withered voice, to be good and to do right.
I promised him I would. And telling this story doesn’t count. After all, country folk are full of yarns and tall tales, and it would be easy to write this off as yet another.
But it’s the message that’s important enough to allow me to tell it. If you’re a rotten person….then well….
The only thing you’ll be good for is hog food.