Pig-Boy and the Insectorator

by Biff Spork

Chapter 5

The Mara and Radio Stations

Zhiv and David hiked through the sparse forest atop the ridge. David sank into the dreamlike quality of the day. The tawny-skinned, naked boy striding ahead of him seemed like someone from another dimension. The animals keeping pace nearby added to the sense of being in a different reality. When he tried to think about it, he felt he might faint or run away, not because it was frightening, but because it was so extraordinary. So, he attempted to experience it without analysis. That could come later.

Zhiv led them down from the ridge to a large cleft an ancient earthquake had opened in the rock. A mule deer stag grazed on the grass at one edge of the cleft. Erg, the mountain lion, sat nearby on his haunches. The boys approached the opening in the cliff face. Deeper within, a wide cave entrance gaped.

Zhiv called, "Belnit," and the stag trotted to the boys. He put his chin on Zhiv's shoulder while the boy caressed and patted his neck.

The deer's dark, limpid eyes turned to David and they looked at each other for a moment. David had begun to understand the etiquette of the mara, but he was unsure how to approach the formidable rack of sharp antlers.

The stag lifted his head high and nosed David's cheek. David reached up, and rubbed and scratched the deer's chin and neck. As the cool, damp nose touched his cheek, David felt a strong and noble presence in his mind. It suggested a person as clear and pure as the image of a mountain stream that accompanied the feeling.

"This is Belnit," said Zhiv. "He's very important to the mara. He'll tell everyone that you're finally here."

Zhiv led the way into the cave. Enough light came through the entrance that David could see they were in an immense cavern. Bats fluttered around their heads as the boys entered. Then they flapped back to roosts deeper in the darkness.

Zhiv seated himself on a boulder near the remains of a small fire and gestured to a makeshift nest of ferns and dry grass. "This is where I sleep."

David sat on another boulder and looked around as his eyes became accustomed to the dim light. Aside from the charcoal remains of the fire, the humble bed, a gallon jug of water, and a single sooty pot, nothing indicated someone lived there. "This is the mara?" asked David.

"Well, yes and no," said Zhiv. "It's kind of long and complicated." He stopped. "In words, it's long and complicated, and I doubt if I could truly tell you. That's because it's not in words. The mara is in feelings, and pictures, and sounds, things you sense with your mind. You don't think about them. You sense them directly. You need to feel it. Then you'll understand it. But in one way, whenever you're with me, you're in a mara."

"Okay," said David. "I don't understand, but I always like that feeling. Not understanding is great!"

Zhiv laughed. "You're as crazy as I am."

David lifted his pack from Zhiv's back and opened it. "I'll tell you something I do understand: I'm starving, and I've made a bunch of my favorite sandwiches for us. Are you hungry?"


David handed him an avocado sandwich and laid others out on a napkin.

"Uhhh." Zhiv sounded embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I have to ask: What's in this sandwich?"

"It's an avocado sandwich," said David.

"There's no meat or cheese or anything like that?"

"No, no," said David. "I'm vegan. I'll never give you anything to eat that isn't vegan."

"Oh! Wonderful! I'm vegan too." Zhiv tore into the sandwich.

David pulled out two juice boxes and some trail mix. Zhiv popped the last piece of sandwich into his mouth. David handed him another.

"Oh, David, these are so good," he said, though his mouth was full. "I'd forgotten what this kind of food tastes like. I've been living on nuts and seeds and roots for a long time."

David Laughed. "There's more in the pack. I'm glad I brought a lot. And there's some fruit, too." He ate a sandwich himself, but found greater satisfaction in watching Zhiv's enjoyment.

Zhiv finished the last sandwich, sat back with his eyes closed, and groaned with satisfaction. David peeled an orange and fed him segments, one by one.

When Zhiv had swallowed the last orange segment, he said, "I don't remember the last time I was full, really full. Look at me. It's like I'm gonna have a baby." He took David's hand and laid it on his taut, protruding belly.

David leaned over without thinking and kissed Zhiv's midriff. He laid his ear there and heard the gurgling of his stomach. Then he moved his head up and listened to Zhiv's heartbeat. Zhiv caressed David's back and they sat like that for a minute.

Zhiv heaved a long sigh. "It's so good you're finally here. Thank you."

"I'm happy to be here with you."

"Let's go sit in the sun," said Zhiv. "I sleep in here, but it's much nicer outside, and I know you have a lot of questions."

Outside, they could see for miles. Before them lay the forested slopes of the park and the vast wound of the clear-cut. On the valley floor was a patchwork of farm fields with the highway winding through them. The boys sat on a smooth, sun-warmed rock. They stretched and leaned back against another convenient rock.

"You said I need to feel the mara to understand it," said David. "How can I feel it?"

"Come closer," said Zhiv, "so we're touching. It'll be easier for you to understand if we're touching." They sat pressed against each other along one side. Zhiv took David's hand.

"The mara is a bunch of different things all mixed up together," said Zhiv. "First, it's a kind of shared mind space where we can hear every animal's voice. It can be a big area if an animal is a strong sender or receiver. That's one of the reasons Belnit, the stag, is important. When he says something in the mara, everybody for many miles can hear him.

"Second, the mara is like a conference or a meeting. And third, sometimes a mara is like a truce. This one is. The larger animals in this mara have agreed that they won't hurt each other. That's not normally part of a mara. It's like that in this mara because they agreed to work together on a project. See Erg there snoozing while Belnit grazes next to him without being afraid. You won't see that outside this mara."

David thought of a picture he'd seen in a bible storybook where lambs played around a lion, and felt a shiver run down his back.

"If Erg needs to hunt, he'll travel until he's outside the mara. Then he'll hunt like he usually does," said Zhiv, "though lotsa times he's okay with eating what I eat, or sharing carrion with Berky if a big animal dies."

"They're working on a project? What's the project?"

Zhiv blushed and looked away. "Me."

David waited for him to explain.

Zhiv was silent for a minute and then looked up. "Ask me another question."

"How big is the mara?" asked David.

"It depends on how strong the senders and receivers are. Belnit, the stag, is the strongest at both sending and receiving. Because of him, this mara covers the whole mountain and even into the valley a little way. I can't go so far, but I'm getting better every day."

"I'm starting to understand a little bit," David said.

"You'll understand it better when you see it and feel it inside. Now, I'm going to tell you something you probably won't believe."

David laughed. "Oh, I'm long past believing or not believing anything. But go ahead, try me."

"When I began to hear the mara a little, the animals told me about you. They said there was another one like me, one who lived in the valley. That first day you came, as soon as you started to climb the mountain on your bike, they told me you were coming. It was very exciting. Then you ran away. But Kek — he's a crow — he followed you, so we would know where you live."

"So that's how the crow knew where my house was! I was so happy when I got your note! I danced around in my room."

"I wanted to make sure you would come back."

"How did you get a pencil?"

"I look around in the campground down below when it's empty, in case the campers have left something I can use. That's where I found the pencil and paper, and my pot and a lighter, so I can have a fire. Sometimes I make a kind of soup."

While they talked, Zhiv rubbed his foot against David's where they touched.

David thought Zhiv's feet were the nicest feet he'd ever seen. They were dirty and grass-stained but that made them seem even more beautiful. He felt his penis stiffening and watched with interest as it swelled. Zhiv had said he didn't mind about erections, that they were good.

"David, I'm not good with words," said Zhiv, rolling onto his side. He laid his hand on David's belly, palm down. Then he lifted it up and wiggled his index finger in David's navel. David giggled, grabbed the other boy's finger and they briefly wrestled.

Zhiv said, "You're the first human person I've talked to for a long time. You have very nice feet."

"You too," said David.

"They're pretty dirty." Zhiv splayed his toes. "I'm sorry. I'm pretty dirty all over, but we can go swimming, maybe tomorrow. There's a little lake I go to when I start to smell myself."

"I like your feet the way they are," said David. "And I like you the way you are. You're a natural human boy. I'd like to go swimming with you."

"I don't think anybody knows about it," said Zhiv, "the lake, I mean." He leaned over and kissed David's nearest nipple then pulled back and watched it rise as it stiffened. He looked down at his own flat brown circles. "Do mine do that?"

"Only one way to find out," said David, and kissed Zhiv's nipple.

"Oh, that's nice." The boys watched as Zhiv's nipple crinkled and rose like a tiny volcano.

Zhiv sat back. "You asked me about the animals' project. It's a lot of talking, but I'll try to answer." Zhiv took a deep breath.

"When I came here, I was really stupid. I knew I might die here, but I knew even more clearly that I couldn't live down there anymore." He gestured towards the valley below them. "I couldn't live the way they wanted me to live. They fill their lives with thoughtless cruelty, so much that they don't even notice it. They don't think about it at all. I couldn't live with all the misery in the air. I ran away. I had to run. I couldn't stay. I nearly died."

Zhiv took David's hand and traced each of the fingers with his index finger. Then he clasped it in his own and continued. "I remember lying beside a fallen log. I had nothing to eat. I was cold and starving. Sometimes I would wake up, but I slept a lot. I had stopped thinking about what I should do. I had stopped thinking. I guess I was dying, but it seemed okay.

"Then Chirko, the little squirrel you saw on the first day you came, Chirko found me. He brought me a nut, one small hazelnut from his personal food stash. He shelled it and put it near my mouth. I was too weak and depressed to eat. He came closer, picked up the nut, and pushed it into my mouth.

"That was an incredible act of bravery. Animals know that humans are dangerous creatures. They kill for food, but also for sport, for fun. They have no respect for any lives but their own. No animal ever knows what they're gonna do. They can pet a fellow creature, then cut his throat a second later.

"The nut was delicious. I remember I thought it was the tastiest thing I had ever eaten. Chirko brought me another nut. Other animals brought me things to eat, roots and mushrooms and berries, and Berky came and warmed me and sheltered me with his body."

"Wow!" said David.

"They saved my life. At the time I never thought it was strange." Zhiv shrugged. "It seemed natural, once I knew they loved me, but more than saving my life, they gave me a reason for living. As I got stronger, I understood that many of the thoughts in my head were their thoughts. It was weird, because they don't think in words or ideas like we do. It's mostly pictures and feelings. Then I saw that they were teaching me how to hear them, and how to talk to them, for a reason."

David listened, spellbound.

"Before they found me, the animals on this mountain had agreed to a mara, a meeting of all the creatures who live here. They got together and talked about what was happening to the earth. Other animals are more sensitive to the environment than we are. They knew that the earth was sick, that humans were pouring poisons into the water, the soil and the air. Humans had also descended to depths of cruelty other animals could not understand. They knew about the horrors of those huge factory farms where animals are in misery from the day they are born until they are slaughtered. There are places like that in the valley.

"They tried to think about what they could do to change what was happening, to stop the disaster they felt was coming, but they couldn't make a plan. They don't plan like we do — you know, first we do this, then we do that, and then we do something else, and something happens and we go on to the next step. Their minds, their brains, don't work like that.

"I'll try to translate the mara into words. Some of the animals said that the problem was that one animal was missing from their meeting, a human. Then they had a long argument. Some said that humans were the problem and animals could not trust them. They were crazy. They had no love in them. The solution was to isolate them and kill them. Then things could go back to normal.

"Other animals said yes, humans had caused the problems, but they could do things other animals couldn't do. Humans were powerful. They could think. Unlike all the other animals, they were not forced to do what they did by instinct. They had the power to choose. They didn't have to kill, poison and destroy.

"The argument went back and forth, but finally they came up with an idea: they needed a human of their own, one they could trust, one who could understand and speak their language. Then they could make a plan together. Their human could explain it to other humans. He might be able to make them understand the terrible danger we all face."

"You!" said David.

Zhiv laughed. "Yeah. When Chirko found me, they decided to try to teach me to understand them, so I could help them. I don't think I've been much use so far," said Zhiv. "I'm only a kid." He stopped speaking then and looked at David for a moment. "Any questions?"

David said, "Okay. I understand a little about the mara, but not really."

"It's not just an area, a place," said Zhiv. "It's a way of thinking when we all open our minds to each other. It's like telepathy, but it's more like music, a special kind of music. It's how you feel and what you want, playing like music, and we can all listen, so nothing is hidden."

"But I don't hear it," David said.

"Yes, you do," said Zhiv. "You just don't recognize it. I didn't hear it clearly, until they taught me how to listen. I think anyone can learn, but it takes time. One of the things we humans learn when we are young is how not to hear it. Most little kids know instinctively that animals are persons. Animals are like us. They just have different bodies and different ways of looking at the world. Parents try to make children deaf and blind to those feelings, but nobody succeeded very well with me.

"Even then, it took the animals months to teach me. It took a long time to help me unlearn the mental deafness most people have. Being deaf like that prevents people from hearing animals crying in fear, crying for help. I'm still not very good at hearing and understanding other animals, but I get better every day, and David, it's wonderful. They are always honest and true, and they are loving. Most of the time I feel love all around me."

"Can you teach me? Can you help me hear it?"

"I'm sure you can do it," said Zhiv. "We can start now if you like."

"Can I ask another question first?"

"Go ahead."

"You said the 'no clothes rule' was not your rule. You said that you didn't make the rules. Who makes the rules?"

"We all make the rules," Zhiv said, "all the creatures in the mara. Everybody has a say, everybody who can tune in to it. I have a voice, now that I can understand — you will too, when you can join the conversation — but I'm not the boss here. I'm just one of the animals, like Erg or Chirko. They all love me, and it's wonderful, but that doesn't mean I can tell them what to do. Erg and Berky are always with me, close to me. The mara decided on that, that I needed guards in case someone wanted to hurt me or take me away.

"They agreed that I'm a special case because I'm not very good at taking care of myself, and I'm ignorant, but I have to follow the rules of the mara. There aren't many. I have to respect the rights of other animals. When I wanted to send a note to you, I had to ask Kek to do it. If he was busy or didn't want to do it, I couldn't have done anything about it. He's not my pet, or slave.

"They decided on the 'no clothes' rule because humans always wear clothes. Once they had decided to take care of me, one of the first things they did was remove my clothes. One morning I woke up naked, and I've been naked ever since. Clothing is one of the ways humans hide what they're really thinking. That's why nobody bothered you that first day you came here. Even though you were in the mara, you were naked, so it was okay. Today, when Erg and Berky stopped you, it was because you were wearing clothes.

"There was another person in the mara last week, somebody wearing clothes. He had a gun. At first, he was just shooting tin cans. Then he started to shoot birds hunting for seeds and berries in the clear-cut. He killed a robin and wounded a mountain bluebird. Then he shot a starling, and the other starlings decided to punish him for killing in the mara. I think they pecked him pretty bad, before he got away."

"Yeah," said David. "He was driving so fast he would have run over me, if I hadn't jumped out of the way."

"Starlings are smart and tough, and when they tune in to each other, they're like one huge mind," said Zhiv. "One of my best friends here is a starling, Lilili. You saw him when you left that delicious bar for me. He sent me an image of you when you were leaving the clearing that day. The image had the sounds you made. I know you said you would be coming back. He's almost always here with me, but today he said he had something he had to do."

"Okay," David said. "Can you start teaching me now?"

"Yup. It works best if we're touching. Later you should be able to do it without touching, but for now, touching is better. If you don't mind, let's lie down, and hug."

"Like this?"

"Yeah, we want as much of our skin to touch as possible."

David glanced away from Zhiv's eyes and down at his erection. "Sorry about that. I told you. It does that all the time." he said.

Zhiv laughed. "It's good, David. It's part of the music. It's a loving thing, a trusting thing, and yours is pretty. I like looking at it and I like feeling it pressing against me." He paused while they adjusted themselves to fit together comfortably.

"Sometimes I think our bodies are like radio stations," Zhiv said, "and boners are the aerials. They're broadcasting what we're feeling. Since we both have boners, there's a good chance that we'll be able to connect."

David giggled then burst into laughter. "Radio stations! Oh!" He shook with laughter and pulled Zhiv into his arms. "Aerials! Oh, Zhiv, you are something else. I've been thinking 'wild nature boy' and you've been thinking 'radio stations.'"

Zhiv laughed and said, "You know, it doesn't matter much what we think. It's what we feel that's important."

"You think so?" said David.

"I, well, I mean, you," Zhiv stuttered, then said, "I feel we like each other."

David laughed, then pulled Zhiv close. "Zhiv, I don't know what this is." He squirmed his body against Zhiv's and buried his face in Zhiv's long tangled hair "But it goes way beyond liking."

"Yeah. Really. Yeah," said Zhiv. "Your hair smells good."

"Yours, too." David sniffed deeply.

"Hold me tight," Zhiv said. "Close your eyes, and open your mind, not to outside sounds, but to inner feelings and pictures that come to you. I'll try to touch you inside. Just relax. Don't try to make it happen. Let it happen."

David closed his eyes and lost himself in the sensation of his body touching Zhiv's from head to toe. At first his mind was busy. He worried about what Zhiv would think about him and his persistent erection. He worried about what anybody who saw them like this would think; that they were gay; that they were crazy, dirty, stupid, or ugly. Then he felt Zhiv's warm hand press on the small of his back, urging him into a closer embrace. All his worries fell away, and he drifted, watching the parade of images that passed before his inner eye.

Celia Duffy parked her hybrid in the well-kept rural yard. The house was a faux log cabin set in a grove of tall pines. The roof of a small red barn was visible at the rear. She got out of the car with her briefcase in hand. She was tired. This was her last call of the day, a new case.

A local woman had visited their Social Services office in town. She told them she was worried about her mother, widowed in a recent tragedy. Her husband had died in an accident involving horses on the hobby farm where they had retired. The woman worried that her mother would be unable to cope now that she was alone, but the widow had refused to consider moving into a senior's residence. Celia had agreed to assess the situation.

Using a steer's head knocker on the front door, Celia announced her arrival. A gray-haired woman opened the door. Celia introduced herself, explained the reason for her call, and was invited inside.

Mrs. Wilkins stated firmly that she had no difficulty taking care of herself. She wanted to stay on the property where she and her late husband had retired. She was aware of the changes her husband's death would bring, but she didn't seem to be grieving.

"It must be a terrible shock, to lose someone so close to you after so many years," Celia said. She hoped her gentle question would release the grief she thought the woman must be feeling.

"It was a surprise," said the widow. She looked at Celia through dry eyes and added, "But he had it coming. He was a mean bugger, mean to everyone and everything around him. He liked it when he made something suffer. I loved him when we were young, but he killed that, a long time ago. I expect I'll be happier now, once I get things squared away. He was just plain mean. If you want to do something for me, you can help with the will, and the deeds, and banks, and all that legal stuff."

It took Celia a moment to digest what the Widow Wilkins had disclosed. When she looked up the woman continued.

"What really bothers me is that someone stole all my chickens. At least, they're gone."

"A lot of chickens?" asked Celia, unsure how to proceed.

"No, only a half dozen hens and a rooster. I keep 'em to give me some eggs and a chicken pot pie now and then. Every year or so when one of 'em gets broody, I let her raise a clutch. I haven't bought eggs or chickens for years now." She sat back and nodded.

"After the horses killed him, I went out near dark to close the chicken coop — we've got coyotes around here — but the coop was empty; not a single chicken on any of the roosts or in the nests. I've not seen 'em since. Now I'll have to go to the feed store and order chicks from the hatchery. It'll be months before they start to lay."

"Do you think it could have been coyotes or a fox or something?"

"No, there would have been feathers all over the place if it was an animal. No, somebody likely stole 'em. Maybe somebody heard Dick was dead and decided to take advantage."

"That's too bad."

"Yeah," said the woman in a choked voice.

Celia looked up and saw a tear rolling down the wrinkled cheek.

"I really miss 'em. It's too quiet. You know, they make a nice noise, that sorta contented clucking they do, and they get so excited and happy when they lay an egg. Beautiful eggs, you can't buy eggs like that. They have a special taste when they're fresh like that. And I was gonna have a chicken stew tonight…"

An hour and two cups of tea later, Celia got back into her car. She had made a start on the paperwork resulting from the death. They made an appointment for a follow-up visit in a week.

As she pulled onto the highway, Celia thought about the report she had to write. She decided she would describe the widow as 'coping well' with her grief but needing help with the paperwork resulting from her husband's death. Celia would also mention informing the authorities about the missing chickens. She made a mental note to call the sheriff's office and report the theft when she got back to her desk.

Charlie Baxter lifted his twelve-gauge from its case to give it a good cleaning. He hadn't used it for years, not since his retirement. He'd realized that tramping around on the damp lakeshore on crisp autumn mornings was bad for his back. A duck was tasty but not worth the trouble. KFC was better anyway.

He'd taken the shotgun out of storage because he was tired of crows. Shading one side of his house were a half-dozen mature cottonwood trees. About a hundred noisy crows gathered there every evening. They always flew away around sunset, but the racket they made before that was terrible. When they started gabbling, it sounded like there was a thousand of them. Charlie liked to watch TV while he ate his supper. With all that racket right outside, he couldn't concentrate on his programs anymore.

Charlie figured crow language had one word, "Caw." Anyone would think once they'd said their one word, that would be enough. But no, it was bloody "caw, caw, caw!" Then another crow would arrive, and they'd all say, "Caw, caw, caw." The new crow would croak, "Caw, caw, caw." And then they'd all say, "Caw, caw, caw," like it was big news or a joke.

He imagined an ideal world where all the crows in the flock would assemble, silently. Then the boss crow would say, "Caw." The rest of them could then reply, "Caw, caw." Then the boss crow could say "Caw," and that would be that. Everything would have been said, and no further cawing was needed. But here and now, it seemed it was up to Charlie to fix the situation. He'd had enough of their yakking. He had a new word for them to learn, 'Blam!'

He was glad he'd kept the shotgun. He'd gone to town that morning and bought a box of shells for it. He figured number fours would be good for crows. They're not as big as ducks. With a nice spread, two quick shots should bring down at least a half-dozen of the varmints. Crows were supposed to be smart. The rest of them would get the message.

Charlie whistled as he went down into his basement. He dug out a lawn chair and carried it outside to where there was a good view of the cottonwoods. He set it down facing the trees. It was far enough from the trees so it wouldn't bother the birds when he sat there, all innocent-like, with the shotgun in his lap. The chair was close enough, so he couldn't fail to kill a bunch.

He'd leave the chair there, empty, this afternoon, so they'd get used to it. Sunday, he'd sit in it for an hour or two while the crows were gathering, just sit in it, no gun. Monday afternoon, he'd be in the chair with the twelve-gauge in his lap. Then those crows would realize they should have been more alert and suspicious. They didn't know who they were messing with.

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