Pig-Boy and the Insectorator

by Biff Spork

Chapter 22

Unexpected Guests

When David was with Zhiv, his process of floating up into the mara had become routine. After closing his eyes, he would lock onto the sensations where he and Zhiv were touching. Then his mind would lift to another level as they opened up to the mara. At first, it was an empty black void. Then he would start to see images, the images of other creatures nearby.

In his bedroom with River, David opened his mind and clasped River's hand. He tried to see River and to let River see him. It was like swimming in a darkness so complete, nothing was visible. While moving into the blackness, David kept reaching out, trying to touch River inside through the places where their bodies touched. They lay, side by side, in silence.

David felt River's hand clutch his own. At the same instant, he saw an image of River sitting at the base of a ponderosa pine. The image wavered and faded, then returned. Then Zhiv's signature image came into focus, with a strong feeling of his presence.

River shot up on the bed. "Oh!" He rubbed his eyes and looked around the room. "I'm sorry. I just fell into a sort of dream, and I thought there was another person here with us."

"Tell me what you saw, what you felt."

"It's kinda dumb."

"Don't worry. Just tell me."

"First, I was thinking it was weird to be lying on a bed with you and holding hands. Like it was queer or something. I mean, I had a boner, and so did you."

"But then?"

"But then I decided not to worry about that, and just do like you said. I tried to watch the pictures that were in my mind. There were lots of pictures, mostly stuff I saw or did today, like when I went to the bike store in the mall, but there was one picture that came and went — a lake with trees around it. Fish were jumping in the lake, and you were sitting there naked."

"How did you feel?"

"I felt good. Happy. And it seemed a little like we were together there, just for a second. The feeling would come and go, but it was all good."

"What happened then?"

"I felt like you were with me in my mind. Then it was like another person had come into the room, and I got scared and jumped up."

"Did you see anything when you felt the other person?"

"Yeah, another weird picture, just for a second or two. It was a kid sitting on a rock. I couldn't see his face, only his back. That's all I remember."

"Is that why you sat up?"

"Yeah, the feeling of another person here with us was so strong, like I could just about touch him. When I opened my eyes, it surprised me there was nobody here except you and me. It felt okay. It wasn't bad, but it was such a strong feeling — that's what scared me."

The boys sat without speaking for a minute. They heard people arriving downstairs, laughing and joking as they entered the house.

River pressed David's hand. "How about you? Did you feel that, too?"

"Yeah. We don't have time to go into details right now, but you're right; it's all good. You're a natural. We'll do it again, maybe if you can come over tomorrow. I'll try to get home a bit earlier."

"That'd be great, David. I liked it."

David walked over to the window and looked down to the driveway. A cab-over camper had parked behind his father's car. He threw River's T-shirt to him and changed into the longer shorts and T-shirt he had laid out earlier.

"Boys!" Doreen's voice came from the foot of the stairs. "It's suppertime."

River started towards the door.

David said, "Wait a sec. C'mere."

They walked toward each other.

"I like to hug people I like." David wrapped his arms around River. River hugged him back.

David pushed away from River and smiled. "Our first hug!"

"Nobody hugs me anymore, except your mom hugged me yesterday. I like hugging."

"Not surprising. She's a great hugger."

River followed David downstairs with his fingers crossed behind his back, fervently wishing that 'first hug' implied there would be many more.

There was another woman helping Doreen in the kitchen when the boys entered.

Doreen looked up and said, "Boys, this is Celia Duffy. Celia, this is River Jameson, and my son, David."

Celia looked at River and said, "Hi River." Her eyes flickered over to David and widened. Her mouth dropped open. Then she recovered and held out her hand. "Hi David. I'm very happy to meet you."

"David, there's a bottle of non-alcoholic apple cider in the fridge for you boys to drink. We're drinking wine." Doreen held up her glass and took a sip. "We're gonna eat outside tonight. It's too hot to sit in the dining room."

Pete was sitting at a circular outdoors dining table he had set up on the patio. As the boys seated themselves, he introduced them to the other man at the table. "Boys, this is Doctor Sanchez. He's a professor at State. The black-haired one is David and the other is River."

"David McAdam?" Hector appeared surprised and confused. He stared at David, then at River.

"Yeah. He's mine," said Pete. "The other one's his friend, River Jameson."

"Hi David. Hi River. It's nice to see you again." He turned to Pete. "I've met River before." To David and River, he said, "Boys, please just call me Hector. 'Doctor' is way too formal." Hector's mind was racing. David McAdam was the boy in the gravel pit with River and Jude, according to Jude. The black-haired boy was also the boy who had lolled on the back of the black stallion in that high mountain meadow.

"Hector and I will be working together for a while now," said Pete.

"The Mafia has taken control of local government and is setting up a string of illegal gambling dens! And you guys are gonna take them down! Wow Dad!"

Pete and Hector laughed.

"I wish," said Pete. "No, this is weirder. It's about animals. There's a lot of unusual animal behavior lately. Hector and I have been looking into it from different angles. Now we'll be working on it together."

"Like wild animals?" asked David.

"Wild and domesticated animals. Insects, too," said Hector. "That's how I know River. I interviewed him about when he was attacked in the gravel pit. It's a very interesting incident. Every time I talk to someone about it, I learn something new." Hector looked at David as if he were expecting him to say something. He switched his gaze to River, who looked studiously in another direction. Hector smiled. "There's so much we don't know. We see something, and then we find we've only seen the surface. When we look deeper, it turns out to be quite different from our first impressions."

"Hector and I have both come up with the same idea," said Pete. "Whatever is causing the animals to act strangely came from around here. David, your favorite hangout, Jana Mountain Park, seems to be the center of something that's making animals act funny. We don't know what it is, and its our job to find out."

"Do you ever see any unusual animal behavior when you're in the park?" Hector looked at David intently.

"No. I mean, it's nice up there, and there's a lot of birds, but nothing unusual." David sipped his cider.

Hector nodded and said, "Ahhhh," as if he found David's answer meaningful in some way.

Celia came out with a large bowl of spaghetti, and Doreen carried another of mushroom marinara. The warm evening air filled with the scents of oregano and basil. They set the bowls down and returned with a green salad, a choice of dressings, and a cutting board loaded with hot garlic bread.

"Pasta's kind of a light meal," said Doreen, "but it's too hot for anything more substantial."

Hector and Pete talked about the latest developments — the proposed task force and the plans to search the park. Hector and Celia described the searches they had done. When David heard how they had encountered animal interference, he smiled inside. The couple did not describe their successful climb up the south slope of Jana Mountain, nor did they disclose what they had seen when they were above the plateau.

"River, was that your brother who was attacked by starlings up on the mountain?" asked Hector.

"Yes, sir."

"Did he have any idea why those birds attacked him? Did he see anything strange happening up there?"

"No. He said he was just target shooting at cans with his new rifle. Then they started dive-bombing him, and he lit outta there."

"And it was your family's pigs that were in that famous trailer truck video?"

"Yes, sir."

"Your family's had a rough time lately. I'm sorry about that."

"Thank you, sir."

Pete said, "It seems like animals are protecting something on Jana Mountain. Those park wardens who are coming to search the park, should be aware of that. They may run into some opposition when they start searching."

"When are they gonna search the park?" asked David.

"It'll take a while for them to assemble, and then another day or two to plan their search. It's not an emergency, like a missing hiker would be, so there's no rush — probably nothing happening for week or so."

Doreen served cashew ice cream for dessert.

Celia finished her ice cream with a sigh of satisfaction. A wasp landed on the table beside her bowl. She gave it a hard tap with her spoon. It jerked in a death convulsion then lay still. In less than a minute, the air around the table filled with an angry buzzing. Hundreds of yellow-jacket wasps menaced the diners. Most circled around Celia.

David stood up. "Don't move! Don't anybody move!" His voice was electric with command. There was an abstracted, distant expression on his face, like he was looking at something the rest of them could not see. He held out his slim brown arms. Wasps landed on him until a dense mat of black and yellow bodies covered his bare limbs. They raised and lowered their abdomens, pulsing as if preparing to strike. Many of the insects crawled over his face and neck.

Doreen whimpered.

"Don't worry, Mom. They won't hurt me."

The last wasp landed on David's cheek. No one moved or spoke. He stepped away from the table and pointed his wasp-covered arms at a distant tree. One wasp lifted off and flew away. Others followed in greater numbers, until none remained.

David turned back to his parents and their guests. "Ms. Duffy, please don't kill any more wasps. I don't know if I could do that again." He turned to River. "Hey, let's go for that bike ride now." David looked around the table. All the adults were wide-eyed and speechless. David continued, "It was nice to meet you, Hector and Ms. Duffy. Mom, the supper was great. I'm gonna let River have a test drive on my e-bike now. He's been thinking about getting one."

"Honey?" said Doreen.

"Mom!" David looked at Doreen with a disapproving expression on his face.

"Sorry, Muscles!"


"Please be careful." Two tears ran down her cheek.

"Don't worry, Mom." David turned to River. "C'mon, Riv. Let's go."

River stood up. "Yeah, nice to meet you. Thanks for another fabulous supper, Mrs. McAdam. You're the best." He turned to Pete. "You, too, sir. Thanks for letting me come here and treating me so good."

When the boys had gone into the house, Pete snickered. "Muscles?"

"Yeah." Doreen sniffled and laughed. "He asked me the other night not to call him 'Honey' any more. He said 'Honey' wasn't vegan, and he wanted a more manly nickname, like 'Muscles.'"

The boys rode out of the garage and down the driveway. Those who remained seated around the table exchanged glances.

"Hey, Muscles!" shouted Pete.

David looked back.

"Be back before dark."

"Okay, Dad."

"I don't believe what just happened," said Celia.

"I've watched after-dinner entertainment in many parts of the world," said Hector, "but that has got to be the greatest showstopper I've ever seen!"

Pete grinned. "Yeah, he's some kid, isn't he?" He wrapped an arm around Doreen. "Maybe we should try for another?"

"God!" said Doreen. "I've never prayed so hard in all my life as when he had all those wasps on him."

Hector faced Pete. "We've got to find out how he did that. We've got to find out what's going on."

"I think for now we should just be thankful we're all sitting here unharmed. And it's thanks to him." Pete paused. "But Hector, this is a family matter. It's not something for the task force or the Governor or anybody else. It's something for me and Doreen to look into. He's our boy and we love him."

Hector looked at Celia. She shook her head in a movement so small nobody else noticed. He answered Pete, "Yeah, of course. You're absolutely right, and I didn't mean to trespass on your prerogatives as parents, but what he did with those wasps was incredible, unbelievable. He's an amazing boy. I mean, he said 'Don't move!' and we all froze. None of us thought to argue with him or disobey him."

"I've seen one other boy who could do that, who spoke like that, who looked like that," said Pete.

"It was Sol, wasn't it?" said Celia. "Sol Mundy."

"Yeah," said Pete. "The last pig rescue he did. He was sitting on that horse talking to the sheriff. He had that same air of being up above all this stuff, that air of command, like he could see a bigger picture."

"Maybe he can," said Doreen.

When they reached the bike trail leading to the lake, David pulled over. "Let's switch bikes now."

River laid his bike down. "Can we sit down and talk for a minute?"

"Sure." They sat down on the grass verge of the trail.

"David, you just saved a bunch of people from getting attacked by wasps. I've wondered how Jude and me got stung and pecked, and you didn't, but what you did back there goes way beyond that."

"I wish I hadn't done it. Now I'm gonna have to answer a whole lot of questions that I don't want to answer."

"David! You've got powers!" River grinned. "How did you do that?"

"You can probably learn to do it, River. It's part of the mind-meld thing."

"Wow! The way you made those wasps stop buzzing around and land on you. Then you ordered them to fly away, and they did. It was like magic."

"You don't understand, River. Listen. I didn't make the wasps do anything. I didn't order them to fly away. I asked them to visit me. I asked them not to sting anyone. I asked them to fly out of the yard. I couldn't order them to do anything. Every one of those wasps is a person. They have their own lives.

"You saw the way that woman killed that wasp with her spoon. She just snuffed it out without thinking about it. I felt it. In the mind-meld. I felt it dying. I felt its sadness that its life was over. The wasps knew I felt it. When I asked them to please not sting anyone, they agreed. They didn't have to agree." David did not add that the wasps nearly did not agree. They were particularly ready to sting Celia Duffy, battle ready. If he had not interceded, two hundred wasps would have injected her with venom. She might have survived.

"River, if you learn how to do this with me, you'll feel their pain, too. Every little bug and bird wants to live, to enjoy its life. Pigs and cows, too. All the animals. To really be with them, to feel with them, is wonderful. In a way, it's a power, but it has a price too." David stood. "C'mon, let's ride for a while. I need to stop thinking about stuff. I've set the e-bike controls to how I usually ride it. I'll explain as we go. Just get on it and ride like normal. It's easy."

"Okay, but I wanna be your sidekick. All the good super-heroes have a sidekick and I'm applying for the job. You also need a name, a super-hero name, like Bug-Boy. Or Wasp Whisperer."

"Shut- up!"

"The Insectorator! Yeah! That's it! The Insectorator! And uniforms! We need uniforms. Spandex! In black and yellow stripes, like wasps. The sidekick's name could be…"

"Asshole!" David pedaled ahead.

River accelerated and felt the e-bike pedal assist kick in. He came abreast of David. "David, I'm dying from suspense. Please tell me. Can you fly? And how do you turn on the X-ray vision? What's our back-story? Did you get stung by a radioactive wasp? Is that the secret?"

David laughed. "You wanna know what your side-kick name is? It's 'Asshole.'"

"Yahoo! I'm the sidekick!" River laughed with satisfaction.

"Yeah, okay, but whenever I call 'Asshole' you've got to come running."

"Okay, but you got to ask with respect. I'm a person, you know. I want to enjoy my life, too."

"Asshole, will you please shut up? Pleeeeeeease?"

Hector and Celia sat in the cab of his truck after they arrived at the campground. Hector was thinking out loud.

"I think it's the difference between sympathy and empathy. You and me, we're sympathetic. When we see anything suffering, we feel sorry for it, but we remain detached. But when David or Sol sees anything suffering, they suffer with it. That's empathy, when you share the suffering of others. That's true compassion. Those boys have locked into it. That's what gives them that special relationship with animals."

"That's a good explanation," Celia said, "but what I learned from this evening is that I need to wake up. It wouldn't have happened if I didn't whack that wasp without thinking. That was a stupid, thoughtless thing to do."

"I happened to be looking at David when you swatted that wasp. He wasn't watching you. But when the wasp died, he gave an involuntary jerk. Immediately, he glanced over to the dead wasp. I'm sure he already knew what had happened. He only looked over for confirmation."

"At least, my co-conspirator, we now know how to contact those boys. All we have to do is talk to David." Celia left the rest of her thought hanging.

Hector picked it up. "But when we were talking, before the wasp thing, he wasn't giving anything up. He may not want to admit he and Sol are friends. He may not want to tell us anything at all, and there's no way we can make him."

"I guess we'll have to sleep on it."

"Yeah. Celia, I feel like we've had a glimpse of a fabulous treasure, but we have to be very careful how we approach it. It could disappear in the blink of an eye if we're not sensitive and careful. Something big is happening. I don't know what it is, but we're closer to it than anyone on earth, except those boys. They're at the very heart of it."

Pete scraped the last plate and loaded it into the dishwasher. Doreen put the left-over marinara sauce and spaghetti into the fridge.

Pete said, "When David gets back, I want to have a talk with him."

"You, too? I was planning on asking our dear boy a few questions." Doreen laughed.

"No, I mean I want to talk to him myself, first. It's something I should have done years ago. I realized it earlier today. It's something between him and me. I have to make it right, by myself, if possible. Then we can talk about what happened tonight. Okay?"

"Oh, talk about the wasp thing? You noticed that? It was a little unusual, wasn't it?"

Pete laughed. "It's hard to talk about it, isn't it? It would be easier to pretend it never happened. Because things like that don't happen, can't happen."

"It's hard, Pete, because there's nothing in any parenting book about something like this. I mean, we're all sane, normal adults sitting around a table in the back yard, and a young boy, our young boy, does something so magical that, if we hadn't seen it, we'd never believe it. It's like he's Harry Potter or something, and I'm feeling like a muggle. Oh, Pete, I loved him so much when he said, 'Don't worry, Mom. They won't hurt me.' Even though he was busy, life-and-death busy, he still thought about how I was feeling."

They heard the garage door closing. David came into the kitchen and greeted them before racing up to his bedroom.

David was looking at his laptop when Pete knocked on his open bedroom door. As usual in the evening, he had changed into pajama shorts. He smiled at his father and invited him in.

Pete sat on his son's bed. David turned in his desk chair to face him.

"David, I've been doing some thinking."

"What's up, Dad?"

Pete took a deep breath. "Do you remember when you and I went fishing? In a boat, on Jana Lake? This was a long time ago."

"Yeah," said David. "I wasn't very big. Maybe seven or eight."

"I made you watch a fish die."


"At the time, you said I did a bad thing." Pete looked into David's eyes. "It's taken me a long time to see that, to see that you were right. It was a bad thing to kill that fish. It was a bad thing to make you watch that. I'm here to say I'm sorry. I'm asking you to forgive me, please."

David got down from his chair and knelt between his father's knees. He took his father's hands in his and kissed them. Then he put his head down in Pete's lap and put Pete's hands over his head. "I know you've changed your mind about that kind of thing, Dad," he said. "You were doing what you thought was right. I didn't understand that for a long time, but I understand it now." He wrapped his arms around his father's waist. "You're my dad and I love you."

"So, it's okay?"

"Yeah, Dad. It's okay."

"Thank you, David. I love you, too," said Pete. They stayed in a comfortable silence for a minute. "Don't your knees kinda hurt when you kneel like that?"

"Yeah," laughed David. "A bit." He got up and sat on the bed beside his father. He took a deep breath. "There's something I've been wanting to tell you about too." He felt breathless and again inhaled deeply.

Pete hugged him with one arm and said, "It's about that boy, isn't it? That boy up the mountain, that boy who's got the whole world looking at him, naked as the day he was born. It's him you meant, isn't it? When you asked me, 'What if it's a boy?'"

"Did Mom tell you? I mean, it's okay if she did. I understand."

"No, I figured it out myself," said Pete. "C'mon, two thirteen-year-old vegan boys on one mountain? Not hard to guess you got to know each other. I'm glad you decided to tell me about him. I'm listening."

David hugged his father. "But I'm not gonna tell you everything, Dad. Some of it is his secret and not for me to talk about. But I'll tell you what I can."

"Go ahead. I'm listening."

"You won't believe most of it, Dad. But that's okay," said David. "I know you and mom love me, even if you think I'm nuttier than a fruitcake." Then he started from the first day he met Zhiv.

After a few sentences, Pete interrupted him. "Hold it, does Doreen know all this?"

"Only a little bit," said David.

"Let's go downstairs, and you can tell both of us, so we both know what's going on with our favorite son."

A minute later David stood in front of his parents. They were sitting on the couch. He leaned over and pushed them together. Then he wedged himself between them. With his mom's hand in his left hand and his dad's hand in his right, he cleared his throat and said, "Once upon a time…"

Two hours later, David said, "So that's how I talked to the wasps."

Pete, Doreen and David sat quietly for a few minutes. Pete looked over David's head at Doreen. David's head lolled on her shoulder. His eyes were closed.

She whispered. "He's asleep."

"It was a big day for a little guy." Pete eased himself around and slid his arms under his son's legs and shoulders. He lifted David up, surprised at how light he was, and carried him upstairs to his bedroom. Doreen followed. She pulled the sheet back. Pete laid the boy in his bed. He kissed David's forehead. Doreen added her soft kiss to his. They stood back and looked proudly down on him. He snuffled in his sleep.

"Oh, Pete! Isn't he wonderful?"

"Yeah. He's the best!"

They tiptoed from the room.

When they had settled in their own bed, Doreen said, "Do we want to talk about what he told us tonight? About what he did tonight?"

"Let's not. Let's just accept it for now."

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