Pig-Boy and the Insectorator

by Biff Spork

Chapter 29

After the Deluge

Zhiv, David, and River stood looking out over the valley. As the sun rose and the shadows retreated, they began to see the damage to the forest and the extensive flooding in the farmlands below.

High winds had blown down many trees, and they lay helter-skelter on the mountain slopes. Stretches of floodwater blurred the patchwork of fields and pastures in the valley. Parts of the winding road were invisible or seemed to be missing. There were no moving vehicles.

"Many animals are in trouble down there," said Zhiv, "I've got to go and try to help."

David put his hand on Zhiv's shoulder. "I'll go with you, but let's eat something first. Who knows when we'll get a chance to eat again."

"You guys aren't leaving me behind. I'm coming too," said River and put a hand on Zhiv's other shoulder.

Zhiv pulled his companions to him and kissed each on a cheek. "The horses went to graze in the meadow as soon as it was light. I'll call them and by the time we've had breakfast, they'll be back."

An hour later, the boys left the vicinity of the cave on horseback. Their mounts stepped with care through the ravaged forest towards the valley floor, now bathed in sunshine.

Jude had awakened with a headache. The previous night, he and Art had dined on prairie oysters. Everything in the freezer was thawing. Jude had been drinking frozen orange juice and thought he might just try a little vodka in it. While the storm raged around them, he and Art were briefly merry. Then Art got weepy and passed out on the couch. Jude started to feel dizzy, staggered upstairs to River's bedroom, and vomited on the floor. Everything began whirling around in his head in an unpleasant way. He lost consciousness as soon as he collapsed onto the bed.

In the morning, they met in the kitchen and cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast.

When they had finished breakfast, Art went to the kitchen window and looked into the yard. "Don't look too bad out there this morning. Let's go check on the pigs. They're mine until the end of the month. What say, Jack? Wanna go for a ride?"

"It's Jude, sir. Not Jack."

"Right. Jude. Don't get all starchy, kid. I ain't good with names. You can just fuck off, if you like."

"It's okay."

"Let's jump in the truck and check the pig barn. If it's not blown away, and there's not too much water around, I'll run you home, then. How's that?"

"Sounds good. My mom's probably wonderin' about me, and the phone's still not working."

Art pulled a fresh bottle of vodka out of the case, opened it, and took a long swig. Then, bottle in hand, he led them out into the yard, still flooded to a depth of six inches.

In the valley, life was returning. A motorboat sped across a field towards an isolated farmhouse. A helicopter flew over looking for people stranded in the upper floors of houses or on roof-tops.

Though much of the highway was under water, it was not deep, and the horses walked easily across submerged sections. They headed in the direction of the Jameson pig farm. Zhiv sensed a great number of panic-stricken animals gathered near there.

A powerboat raced over a flooded pasture towards them. It was ferrying stranded people to safer locations but stopped when it came abreast of the boys.

"Hi kids," shouted the boat's pilot. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," shouted Zhiv. "We're fine."

"We're just out for a ride!" laughed River.

A boy in the boat cried, "It's the pig-boy! Hi Pig-Boy!"

A girl seated beside him pulled out her phone and started filming the boys.

Zhiv called, "Hi!" All the boys waved. The boat lingered for a minute, then sped away towards higher ground where a rescue team was waiting.

It was a lighthearted moment on a fine summer morning, but the boys soon encountered grim reminders of the storm's destruction. The bloated corpses of two dead pigs floated near the highway's edge. Then a man's body drifted past them, face down.

They came across more dead pigs as they approached the Jameson Pork Production facility. When the house came into view, River was relieved to see it seemed undamaged. In the distance, he saw two figures come out of the house and climb into the red pickup. It splashed out of the yard and down the lane leading to the pig barn.

There was a foot of water in the lane, but the four-wheel-drive truck breasted it without difficulty. A few dead pigs floated past the pickup as they churned towards the barn.

Art turned the engine off. They sat in the truck staring at the barn. Most of it wasn't there.

"Holy shit!" Art took a deep drink from his bottle. The end of the barn facing them was intact. Faint traces of the Nazi slogan could still be seen. About thirty feet of the barn nearest where they parked looked normal. The rest of it, over five hundred feet, had disappeared. There were no walls or roof, and most of the pens were smashed and broken. The tornado had lifted a section of the concrete floor, flung it to one side, and left a gaping hole above the manure pit. Art and Jude got out of the truck and sloshed knee-deep to the side of the building. The stench was terrific.

Dead pigs littered what remained of the floor. A dozen live ones wandered among the corpses.

"So, where's the rest of my fucking pigs?"

"Listen," said Jude, and turned his head toward the manure lagoon.

Art heard the confused and fearful squealing of many pigs. The bush and trees that surrounded the barn made it impossible to see them. "They must be over by the lagoon. Let's go up onto the roof so we can see over the bush."

Sheriff Morgan leaned out the window of the Hummer. Pete's head came out of an upstairs window in response to a few blasts from the Hummer's horn. "Hey Pete, you okay?"

"Yeah, we're fine, Sheriff. Just the ground floor's ankle-deep in water. How're you? And the Missus?"

"Everyone's okay. Glad to see your house is still standing. How about Doreen? And the boy?"

Doreen's head appeared behind Pete. She gave the sheriff a shaky smile and waved.

"Doreen's fine too, but we don't know where David is. He might be up the mountain."

"If he is, he's probably safer than if he was down here. We've got a lot of people injured and stranded, and a fair number of dead as well. I saw your car on its side down the road a ways. I guess you tried to drive out yesterday."

"Yeah, the wind just picked it up and threw it off the road," said Pete.

"Well, look, this Hummer will get us out to see the situation down the valley, and it'll take us into town too. We sure could use your help. We're in a state of emergency here. Doreen, if you want to come along, we can drop you at an evacuation center. You can get something to eat and a dry place to sleep tonight, if you want."

Pete joined the sheriff in the Hummer a few minutes later. "Doreen says she'd rather wait in the house in case David shows up. It's probably best. She's about half crazy with worry."

"What's he doin' up the mountain? Your boy, I mean."

"He's been up there with Sol, the pig-boy. When I told him Homeland Security were gonna search the park, he was gonna go up there. He wanted to warn Sol, so he didn't get caught by Homeland."

Sheriff Morgan gave a low whistle. "And?"

"I told him he was grounded. I didn't want him to get into trouble with Homeland. He didn't like it. Neither did I. He's such a good kid, I don't think I ever had to tell him what to do before." Pete's voice cracked. "But we all went to bed as usual. I figured he might decide to go up there anyway, so I chained up his bike in the garage."

"He couldn't have got too far on foot."

"That's what I thought until I noticed the hoof prints below his window."

"I didn't know you guys had a horse."

"We don't. I don't know where the horse came from, but somehow it knew to come to the side of the house right below David's bedroom, so he just slid down a rope and rode away."

"These boys! They're something special, Pete."

"I never made such a bad mistake in my life, Sheriff. He left a note. It said he didn't know when he'd be back. Maybe not."

"Maybe not?"

"Yeah." A sigh full of sorrow escaped Pete.

"Wow. I understand why Doreen is half crazy. You too. But look, you did the right thing."

"Yeah. I did the right thing, but it was the wrong thing to do. I should have helped him. I should have gone with him. I should be beside him right now, wherever he is. He's my boy, and when he needed me, I should have been there."

It was a moment's work for Art and Jude to shift the ladder around to the side of the barn. Art led the way and crawled up what was left of the roof to its peak. Jude followed.

When Art had excavated the lagoon, he had dumped the extracted earth in a mound along the far side. The escaped pigs had gathered there because it was above the flood. A thousand pigs struggled for space to stand along with a half dozen cows and a herd of sheep from a neighboring farm. The last animals to arrive and the weakest fought to gain ground in belly-deep water at the edge of the mound.

"Wow," breathed Jude. "What're you gonna do?"

"I don't rightly know," muttered Art. "Pigs can swim if they have to, but even if I could get 'em off that pile of dirt, I don't know where I'd put 'em, with most of this barn blown to hell."

"Hey, look!" Jude pointed to the edge of the field beyond the manure lagoon. "Up on the road! It's that pig-boy from the video!"

"Jesus! Every time I've got trouble, that kid shows up to take advantage." Art slid down the roof to the ladder. "Well, not this time! No-sirree-Bob! We're gonna have a different story this time."

Jude followed him to the red pickup. He opened the passenger-side door, thinking they were going to drive out to where the pig-boy was riding his horse.

Art didn't get into the truck. He unfastened the 30-06 rifle from the gun rack and said to Jude, "Reach into the glove compartment there. Yeah, gimme that box of shells for this rifle." Jude handed him the box of ammunition. Art hung the rifle over his shoulder and put the vodka bottle in one pocket and a large handful of shells in another.

Jude looked at the little twenty-two caliber rifle that remained on the rack. "Can I shoot that?" he asked.

"Why not?" Art grinned. "The more, the merrier!"

Jude put the rifle over his shoulder and pocketed a bunch of smaller bullets from another box. He followed Art back up the ladder. He'd never shot a gun before and expected it to be fun. He didn't even have a headache anymore.

Neither Art nor Jude noticed a mated pair of bald eagles circling high above. The birds had fed well that morning on carrion and were not looking for food. They hovered there to guard Zhiv, the boy who sat on the gray horse far below.

David looked over at Zhiv and felt a burst of love. In the clear morning sunshine, Zhiv glowed as though lighted from within. He was intent on the pigs crowded on the mound. They grew quiet and calm. Floodwater mixed with manure from the lagoon surrounded them.

Powerful fumes made the boys' breath catch in their throats. Their eyes watered. It wasn't simply a strong manure smell. The stink of death and rotting carcasses made it more nauseating.

Between the pigs and the boys was another area of high ground. Art had planted row of trees there to screen the lagoon from the highway.

Zhiv pointed to the end of the mound. "If I can get the pigs to swim to the trees, they can rest there. Then you can take over from there, and get them to swim up here to the highway. When they get here, River can begin to lead them to Jana.

David nodded.

River said, "There's a problem. That lagoon field has a fence around it. You can't see it because it's under water, but the pigs won't be able to swim over it. You can see the tops of the fence posts if you look. The top strand of barbed wire is just out of sight under the water."

David looked at River. "No gate?"

"Oh, yeah! There is a gate just by that corner of the field." River pointed. "It's always closed, but I know how to open it."

River rode down from the highway into the rank floodwater. When he reached the gate, he slid off the mare without hesitation, neck deep in the slimy liquid. They could see him reaching down and doing something under the surface. Then he walked backwards, opening the invisible gate wide. He pulled himself onto his horse's back and rejoined the boys on the highway.

Zhiv and the gray passed through the opened gate and swam to the mound. David followed and positioned himself near the gate. As Zhiv came up to the mound, the pigs waited quietly. Zhiv stood up on the back of the gray, so all the animals on the mound could see him. Then he pointed to where David and Whem waited by the gate.

By twos and threes, the pigs came forward and launched themselves into the murk. David stood on Whem's back to provide a clear signpost for the pigs to swim toward. When the first of them reached him, he had them swim to the rise where the trees grew. They rested there for a few minutes. Then, sensing River's earnest concentration, they swam to where he waited on the highway.

The swimming pigs infuriated Art. The mound was emptying. "I'm sorry, my little friend!" he snorted as he rammed a bullet into the chamber. "The army didn't train me as a sharp-shooter for nothing." He squinted through the telescopic sight, calculated for the drop and pulled the trigger. A pig about to leave the mound flopped over onto its side, shuddered once, and lay still. Nearby pigs squealed anxiously.

Jude looked doubtful. "You're gonna shoot your own pigs?"

"Ain't gonna let that pig-thief take 'em. Better dead than money in somebody else's pocket. That's for sure!" Art ejected the cartridge and sighted again. He dropped another pig.

"Can I shoot some?"

"Go ahead."

"How do I get a bullet into this gun?"

"Like this," said Art. He loaded the .22 for Jude. "And then you just look down the barrel and pull the trigger. You won't kill nothing at this range with that little popgun, but you can make 'em hop."

Jude shot into the mass of pigs and laughed when one jumped up and squealed. He shot twice more and got the same reaction. It was more fun than a video game.

Art chambered another shell. While he'd been talking to Jude, the gray horse had moved around to shield the departing pigs. "Pig thief or horse thief, it's all pretty much the same as far as I'm concerned. A man's got a right to protect his property!" He aimed to wing the kid, just to graze his shoulder, and pulled the trigger. His aim was a bit off. The bullet struck Zhiv on the left side of his chest and destroyed his heart on its passage through his body.

David had seen the pigs fall and heard the shots. He looked over towards the barn to see who was shooting. Then he looked back at Zhiv and saw him suddenly blown off the back of the gray into the muck on the mound. A split-second later, David heard the shot.

David and Whem thrashed through the water to the mound. He leaped off to lift Zhiv from the slimy mud. Zhiv's bright face looked surprised. A coin-sized, dark hole over his heart bubbled once with bright blood, and then stopped.

"Oh, Zhiv."


The light drained from his eyes and his body went limp.

River knew Zhiv was dead as soon as he knelt beside David.

A noiseless shriek of grief and anger seemed to split the sky. It was like a thunderclap, but silent. People all over the valley stopped what they were doing, aware that something had happened, something momentous. Then the bawling and crying of the animals started. Every animal that had a voice cried out in anguish.

David lifted his head to River. Tears streamed from their eyes. "Hold him, until I can get on Whem."

Doreen was sweeping David's room when suddenly she felt an overwhelming sense of loss, as if something was missing from the world, that she was living in a vacuum. She dropped the broom and sat on David's bed. She feared something had happened to David, and tears rolled down her cheeks.

On the logging road, Hector was outside the camper when he felt something like a shock wave. It was instantly followed by a crescendo of distressed animal cries. He joined Celia inside the camper. "Did you feel that? Something terrible has happened. Listen!"

On the pig-barn roof, Jude was shocked. "You shot the kid!"

Art never got to reply. An enormous bald eagle dropped from the sky and fastened his powerful talons on Art's scalp and face. Jude watched in horror. Flapping furiously to lift into the air, the eagle tore away the flesh on Art's skull.

Jude should have been looking out for himself because a second later, the bald eagle's mate ripped away his face. The shooters screamed in unison as they rolled off the roof. They scrabbled blindly in the stinking floodwater. Pigs from the barn swam out to attack, drown, and tear their bodies into pieces.

Once David had mounted, River stood and passed Zhiv's body to him. David rode toward the highway with Zhiv's body in his arms. The animals on the mound followed. The gray horse led the procession in the direction of Jana Mountain.

Sheriff Morgan and Pete first saw the horses. The riderless gray led the multitude at a walking pace. River followed, his bay horse surrounded by pigs. A vast cavalcade of animals came after — not only pigs, but every creature that could walk, run, or fly. The black stallion walked in the center of this assemblage with David on his back, cradling Zhiv's limp and lifeless body in his arms. Flocks of birds wheeled overhead. Hawks, eagles and buzzards rode the air currents above them. Swarms of wasps and hornets flanked the stallion. Ten thousand different voices keened in pain.

Sheriff Morgan pulled the Hummer onto the side of the road. Pete got out and stood beside it as David passed.

"Oh, David! I'm so sorry!" He took his hat off and wept.

David's gaze was locked on Zhiv's face. He shifted it for a moment and looked at Pete, but his bloodshot, tear-filled eyes seemed blind. The anguish on his face silenced Pete. He'd seen sorrow before, but never such profound grief. He climbed back into the Hummer and looked at Sheriff Morgan.

"Somebody shot the pig-boy," choked Pete.

"You sure?"

"There's a hole the size of a silver dollar over his heart. He's dead."

Tears ran down their faces.

The birds, immense mixed flocks of many different species, first alerted Hector and Celia. At ground level, many animals moved purposefully across the clear-cut around them and headed down the road. When the gray horse appeared around the nearest bend, Hector knew immediately that something had happened to Zhiv. He and Celia climbed into the cab of the truck when a cloud of hornets and wasps surrounded them. The gray horse walked past with his head down. Surrounded by pigs, River followed. He glanced over at the camper-truck, nodded once in recognition, and then shook his head. When the black stallion passed bearing David and Zhiv, Hector choked, "Someone's shot him!" and tears ran down his cheeks.

"Oh, Sol," cried Celia.

David, River, and the trout washed Zhiv in the mountain lake. Then the boys laid him in the meadow he loved and sat beside him. Throngs of animals, countless thousands, came and mourned.

River suggested a cairn, and the idea spread. Every animal who came brought a pebble, every insect, a grain of sand, until they had covered the body. David closed Zhiv's eyes and kissed his forehead one last time. Then he put a flat pebble over each eyelid. He wept unceasingly as Zhiv's face disappeared beneath smooth stones the animals brought.

David maintained a vigil by the side of the cairn. He only moved when he was in danger of being engulfed by the ever-growing pile. River moved back and forth between the cave and the meadow, bringing food and water, in vain. David neither ate nor drank. He sat cross-legged and immobile, as if he was in a trance.

River sat beside him and tried to contact him through the mara, but the sorrow there was too powerful for him to bear, and the cacophony of voices was not intelligible to him.

Animals continued to flock to the meadow, thousands of them, from many miles away. They all carried pebbles. After placing their stones on the cairn, many of the animals remained.

On the second night after the storm, Melissa awoke in the middle of the night when her bedside lamp suddenly came on. The electric power to her house had finally been restored. She booted up her laptop and was overjoyed to find she was once again connected to the internet. She immediately checked the main site where she had uploaded the video of Zhiv. The view-meter read over 800M and was climbing by thousands every few minutes.

Tears of joy rolled down her cheeks, but as she read some of the comments, those tears changed to sorrow. She went to some news sites and soon saw reports of Zhiv's murder. Her mother heard Melissa's wails of grief. She rushed to her side and tried to console her.

Melissa wasn't alone in her grief. In spontaneous demonstrations, millions of people poured into the streets in a hundred countries. They were sorrowful and enraged, and demanded change. Zhiv's words and his death had ignited a fire in people's hearts. They were determined to change themselves, and to force their governments to change as well.

On the morning of the third day, River awoke where he had curled up beside David. David no longer sat facing the immense cairn that had risen over Zhiv's lifeless body. Instead, he faced the thousands of animals who had gathered, and they gazed at him in silence. His eyes were closed.

The grief that had contorted David's face was gone, and his expression was serene. River sensed that something important was unfolding in the mara and among all the gathered animals. The meadow was hushed as Chirko, the squirrel, came forward and climbed onto David's knee. David opened his eyes and looked down with a gentle smile. Chirko offered a hazel nut. The meadow held its breath. David leaned down to face the squirrel, and Chirko pushed the nut into his mouth.

David sat up and chewed. "Thank you, Chirko," he said. "It's delicious, the most delicious thing I ever ate." A vast sigh of relief escaped the thousands of animals gathered in the meadow.

Many animals crowded forward then for a touch or a caress before departing. In an hour, few remained except Erg and Berky. They sat, one on each side of the boys. Belnit, the stag, came and lay placidly behind them chewing his cud. Lilili fluttered down and perched on David's shoulder, and Kek dropped from the sky and settled himself in David's lap.

"You need to drink too," said River, and offered a bottle of water.

"Thanks, Riv. You're the best sidekick anyone ever had." David drank until the bottle was empty.

River offered his hand. David grasped it and pulled himself up. With their arms around each other's shoulders, they walked across the meadow towards the cave.

The floodwaters in the valley receded rapidly. Doreen spent her morning mopping up the remaining puddles and considering the repairs they needed to make to their house. She dropped the mop when she heard a loud "Caw" from David's bedroom. Her heart beating wildly, she raced up the stairs, two at a time. A crow stood on David's night table. When Doreen came in, he looked at her, dropped a folded note onto the table, and winged out the window.

Doreen unfolded the note carefully.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I hope you guys are okay. I'm sorry to make you worry so much.

Zhiv is dead but I'm okay. River's here with me. He's okay too.

The animals want me to stay here with them for a while. This is important, too important for me to say no. I know I'm your boy, but now I belong to the animals too.

River is coming down to see you tomorrow. I'll come down when I can, probably in a few days.

I miss you.

Your loving son,


As the sun sank behind the mountains, David and River stood at the edge of the cliff and looked out over the darkening valley. Near the cave entrance, Erg stretched and yawned, and Berky curled up to sleep.

David took River's hand. "It's up to us now," he said, "you and me, Riv, and everyone else on the planet."

~The End~

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