Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tuskers. Chapter 18

Chapter 18

“We have a spare set of keys, don’t we?” I asked.
Jenny went to the junk drawer and rummaged around.  She lifted a key, and with a wrinkled nose, handed it to me.  “I think that is the right one.”
“Pretty sure…”
It would have to do.  If I had time, I intended to grab her purse along the way and it might be a moot problem. 
I wasn’t actually as scared as I probably should have been.  We had seen very few javelinas about.  It seemed unlikely they could magically appear out of nowhere before I was able to get away.  Which made me wonder.  Why?
Old Razorback was smarter than that.  What did he know that I didn’t?
Only one way to find out.  My spear was as sharp as I could make it.  My large butcher knife was in my belt, at my side, and I was just hoping I wouldn’t poke myself with it. 
“One last thing,” I said.  I took her by the hand and led her upstairs.  I handed her the hammer and the container of roofing nails.
“As soon as I’m gone, I want you to nail this sheet of metal to the frame of the door.  Use a nail every couple inches, don’t be stingy.  I’m thinking even old Razorback might have a hard time getting in.”
“What about Aragorn?” she asked.
“Leave him outside the door.  He’ll let you know when they’re coming.  Might be able to take out a few of them.  Right Aragorn?  Eh, Strider?”
I knelt down and the dog nearly leaped into my arms.  “Take are of her,” I whispered.
I looked up at my wife, who had tears in her eyes.  I knew she wouldn’t leave Aragorn outside, but I had to try.
We hugged and kissed and I wanted nothing more at that moment to guide her backward to the bed and make love to her one more time.  But I broke away, and started down the stairs.  She followed me.
“I mean it,” I said, without turning around.  “Nail yourself in before dark.”
“I promise.”
Aragon followed us as far as the entryway to the front door, then he stopped and looked agitated.  He barked once, and I turned and motioned at him to stop, which being the apparently well-trained dog he was, he did.
There wasn’t a lot of planning in what I was doing.  Open the door, run for the car, (snagging my wife’s purse along the way), drive the car to town and get help.  That was it.  So easy, and so hard.
I decided against a last goodbye because I was certain if I turned around and hugged my wife, I wouldn’t leave.
I opened the door quietly, and walked quickly down the walk.  I grabbed the purse, and kept going, trying to ignore the parts of Peter still strewn about.  For some reason, the swine had left his head untouched, and it was swelling in the heat, looking ready to burst.
I made it to the car without any trouble, looked in Jenny’s purse, found the keys and started it.  I looked down at the gas gauge and it was full.  I couldn’t believe how easy it was.  Why had we been cowering in the house all this time when all we had to do was this?
I started driving and hadn’t gone more than few feet before I realized something was wrong.  The car moved sluggishly, and almost seemed to swerved sideways, and then jerk the to the other side.
I dare to roll down the window.  I looked down and saw two things.  The first was that the tires I could see were completely shredded.  The second was a wave of javelina coming down the street toward me.
I got out, but instead of running to the house, I sprinted toward Peter’s Toyota SUV, which was parked at the curb of the street.  I couldn’t see the tires, and I was pretty sure what I’d find, but I had to see.
The car was low to the ground, the tires so cut and sliced, the car was almost on the wheel rims.  I didn’t stop, because the wave of javelinas was coming fast.  I grabbed the door, praying it wasn’t locked, and slipped inside.  I slammed the door as the first of the pits crashed into it, and then another.  I could actually see the dents from the inside. 
The pigs milled about the car, and then one got on its hind legs and looked into the driver’s window, and what I saw then chilled me more than anything else I’d seen.
The eyes in this javelina were intelligent, just like Razorback.  It seemed almost amused.  So it isn’t just a single pig, I thought.  Where there were two, there were probably multitudes.  And if they could communicate, who knew what they could accomplish?  Technology was great, but native cunning could go a long way.  Especially against a prey who was fat and complacent, who hadn’t had to fend for itself in generations.
Man had always prided itself on being different, but maybe it was only a difference of degrees, and the gap between the degrees had just shrunk.
Meanwhile a human of perhaps just a little above average intelligence was trapped.
I knew that cars would drive even on the raw wheel rims.  Wasn’t good for them, would probably wreck them for the future, but there was no future if I didn’t get out of here.  I figure the car could go for a ways.  But without the keys, I couldn’t even do that.
I searched the glove box, and the windshields.  Nothing.  I sat back and huffed in frustration.  Out of the frying pan, and into the fire. 
Only good then was that I didn’t think the pigs could get to me as long as I was in the SUV.  They wouldn’t have an angle on the glass, so brute force wouldn’t do it.
As I was thinking that, feeling just a tiny bit safe, I saw the intelligent pig go to the side of the road and pick up a rock with his teeth.  It swung his neck and the rock came flying toward me and slammed against the door, just inches below the door.
I swear the pig was measuring the distance.  If it was a human, he have raised his fingers and blurred his eyes and tried to measure.  It tossed a second rock and it smashed against the window, but by some miracle didn’t shatter.
But I know that when it did, the whole window would give way.  They were designed that way, to break into tiny pieces.
I ran my hand along the bottom of the seat.  Don’t know what compelled me to do that, but the instinct was right.  I felt the keys, tucked into the folds of the seat.
I pulled them out and tried the bigger of the two keys, and the car started.  I started driving away, and the car groaned as if it was alive, the motor whined, and I could see sparks shooting from the tire rims. 
I had to turn, and when I turned the steering wheel, the car just kept sliding forward on the asphalt for a few yards, sending up even more sparks.  When it came to full stop, I tried again, steering a little less abruptly, and the rims took hold and the car slowly turned. 
The javelinas had just watched at first, but as I headed downhill, they began to follow.  They didn’t even have to run at the pace I was going, just trot behind.  The smart pig loped along beside me, and when I caught its eye, it seemed to leer at me.
Must be my imagination, I thought.  Pigs don’t wink, do they?
The car picked up speed as we headed down, but the minute we hit an upslope, it began to slow, losing traction.  I barely made it over the hump, and when I saw the next hill, I tried to accelerate, despite the alarming amount of sparks it sent off.
The engine was laboring, and was edging into red.  Unlike my wife’s car, this SUV had only a quarter of a tank to start with, and the extra friction seemed to be drawing down on that quickly.
The pigs were still keeping pace and I was a long way from town.

Tuskers. Chapter 17

Chapter 17

The pigs are herding me, Mark realized.  Away from his apartment, away from Peggy.  He stopped and loaded the rifle, then poured the rest of the bullets into his pocket, where he could get at them easier.
Two can play at that game, he thought.
Every time they got in his way, he lifted the rifle and fired.  He hit his target every time.  He’d always been a good shot.  He spent hours in an old cinderblock building at the edge of town, wearing earmuff, shooting at targets on wires, pulling them pack, checking his score.
He was just lucky this rifle was miraculously zeroed in.  Either that or it was miraculously compensating for his being off target. 
He smiled grimly.  He still couldn’t believe these pig creatures could hurt him.  But he’d seen the tusks on the first one he killed, so he was wary.
Then he stumbled across his boss.
The javelinas were herding him into the mouth of an alley.  He stood his ground, sensing that if they managed to corner him in there, he was done for.  He shot a charging javelina and reloaded in seconds.  He was getting pretty good at it already.
His pocket was half empty of ammo, but all he wanted to do was make it home.
He started to walk away from the alley, when he saw the body just a few feet in.  That was shocking enough, but when he’d saw the red coat, he nearly buckled at the knees.
Joe Sanders was a loud, garish kind of guy.  But nice as could be.  He wore a red sports coat to work.  Called it his uniform.  His signature look. 
Now his face was as red as his coat.  His trousers were red too.  His viscera spread out all over the alley was red, and yellow and…
Mark leaned over and threw up.
A javelina took the opportunity to charge.  He stood and blew the creature backward.  Then he keep marching toward the pack, firing and reloading, firing and reloading, killing one of the pigs with every step.
When there was only two left, they bolted. 
Mark turned around and walked straight for his apartment, gun at the ready.  Twice more he saw one of the javelinas, twice more he fired and hit. 
His pocket was no longer jingling with bullets when he reached the grocery store.   Peggy worked there, and got off a couple of hours before he did.  They’d gotten a sweet deal on the apartment, so much so that even though both of them weren’t earning much more than minimum wage they were managing to save money. 
The money was for sending him to art school, or so Peggy thought.
But the money was really for buying a ring and getting married.  That’s what Mark thought.
The door at the side of the grocery was unlocked, and he entered warily.  Then realized there was no way the damn pigs could turn the nob.  He stopped and counted the bullets left.  Fourteen out of fifty.  How was that possible?  It seemed to him that he’d rarely missed his target.  Just how many of those monsters were there?  Why did they keep throwing themselves at him?
Just what the hell was going on?
He looked down at his trousers.  They were his work pants, the only pants he owned that weren’t jeans.  The bottom was covered with mud and blood and viscera.  How was he going to explain that to Peggy?
He tromped up the stairs and tried to open the door.  It was locked.  He was stunned.  It was never locked.
“Peggy?” he said, in a low, wondering voice.
The door flew open and she grabbed him by the hand and pulled him in.  Not until the door slammed shut, and lock was turned, did she throw himself into his arms.
“Thank God, you’re home.”
And Mark knew he didn’t have to explain the blood and the mud and the viscera.

Tuskers. Chapter 16

Chapter 16

I tried the tap water with some trepidation, but it still flowed.  We washed off the whining dog as best we could.  I felt the tag around its neck and checked it.
“Welcome to our humble abode, Aragorn,” I said to it, who with the name became a ‘he.’   The dog wagged his tail at the sound of his name.
We fed him a can of stew, the best we could do, being a non-pet household.  Aragorn went to the corner of the living room carpet -- about as far from the four walls of the house as it could get -- and went to sleep.
“Where is the help?” Jenny asked, which was the same thing I was thinking.  “Police, firemen?  Shit, where’s the army?”
“Watch your mouth, woman,” I growled, and then smiled. 
She didn’t return the smile.  “No, really.  What the hell.  A few machine guns and they could take care of this problem.”
“Unless we’ve been cut off,” I said.  “Cellphone towers, cables, everything.”
“That’s crazy.”
“Well…” I raised my hands in mock surrender.  “But think about our little neck of the woods.  We’re completely isolated.  No phone, no Internet.  They’ve got us trapped.  Maybe it’s more widespread than we’ve been thinking.”
“Thinking?  I wasn’t thinking anything.  I just thought our neighborhood javelinas got out of control.  Until…until I saw that beast.  She shuddered.
“Yeah, old Razorback is a sight to behold.  He’s a mutant, or something.  But…he still has hoofs, not opposable thumbs.  I don’t think he’s anything but a very, very…very smart pig.”
“Smarter than us, apparently,” she said.
I started laughing, and she looked sheepish at first and then joined me.  Gallows humor, maybe, but it felt good.
“What do we do now?” she asked.
“Stay put, like the man said.  Though…”
“Though what?”
“Well, I heard somewhere that in times of disaster the best thing to do is move around.  Get out of the trouble area…”
“You think its that bad?”
“Nah,” I said, sounding more cheerful than I felt.  “How could it be?  They’re just pigs…”


We didn’t really need the candles.  We went to bed almost immediately after dark.  We were only under the covers for a few moments before we heard whining and scratching at the door.  We let Aragorn in, and he jumped up onto the foot of the bed and lay down between our feet.
Neither of us objected.  It felt comforting to have the animal there.  Besides, I thought, it’s the best early warning system we could have.
Strangely, nothing happened.  Not even a grunt or a snort.  The javelinas left us alone that night.  But when we woke up in the morning, the cloud was full of smoke.  It was coming from every direction, as if every other house in the subdivision was on fire.
I’d loved the isolation when we first got here.  Now I was regretting it.
We made a cold breakfast, deciding to eat as much of the perishables as quickly as we could.  Aragorn whined and wound around our feet, nearly tripping us more than once, before Jenny suddenly cried out, with a slap to the head.
“He needs to go potty!”
We looked around us, helplessly.  I took him to the garage.  The dog looked at me doubtfully, but eventually found a spot in the corner and did his business.  After that he was friskier and friendlier than ever.  As if he’d forgotten there was ever a danger.
“You know what?” Jenny said, after giving the dog a hug.  “After this, I’d like to get a dog. I know you’re worried about your garden…”
I pointed out the back window.  “You mean that garden?  I agree, Jenny, let’s get a dog.  And a cat, too, dammit.”
“Maybe we can keep…” she suddenly stopped, as if realizing by saying it out loud she was admitting the Underwood’s were dead.
“Yeah, maybe,” I answered.
Once or twice during the morning, Aragorn growled, and we’d stiffen and get up and look out the window fearfully.  But each time it was a single javelina, or a small pack.
It all seemed very strange.  We were now in the second day, without hearing from the outside.  By now, the whole world should have been alerted that something was happening in our little corner of Arizona.
Maybe they had, I thought with sudden chill.  Maybe everyone else has already been saved.  Maybe they’ve just forgotten about us.
Hamilton wouldn’t let that happen. 
With that thought, I froze.
No…he wouldn’t let that happen.  So that meant that something has happened to Hamilton, and if it could happen to the Animal Control officer, it could happen to anyone.  It could happen to us.
I knew at that moment that it was a mistake to stay another day. 


“I need a broom handle,” I said.
Jenny didn’t question my request.  She went to the pantry and returned with a broom.  My last birthday present to her had been hiring a local maid service.  Too late, I’d discovered that just made Jenny madly clean the house the day before the cleaners showed up.  No amount of pleading would keep her from doing it.  “Just a little touch up,” she’d say.  “I don’t want to be embarrassed.”
I broke off the broom end, hobbled to the kitchen, and tried several knives on the wood before finding one sharp enough to do the job.  I whittled the end to a sharp point in short order, the panic in my arms and fingers carving long slivers out of the wood.
Jenny and Aragorn watched me for a while. 
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Making a spear,” I said.
“I can see that,” she said, when I didn’t look up.  Why are you making a spear?”
“Just extra protection,” I said.
“Dear husband of mine,” she said, and I finally looked up.  “When you won’t look me in the eye, I know you’re lying.  That’s always been your tell.  I’m telling you this so that you’ll realize how serious I am, giving up the little advantage I’ve had over you all these years, knowing when you’re lying.  I will ask again, why are you making a spear?”
“I need to get help,” I said.  “Razorback is just toying with us.  He can get in any time. All he has to do is send one of his minions headfirst into the glass, and he’s in.  How long will our bedroom door hold up?  How are we going to defend ourselves with knives and a hammer?”
“I agree,” she said, completely surprising me.  “But…”
I looked up from my whittling again.
“Why does it have to be you?  I can drive a car just as fast as you can…faster, frankly.”
“Nope,” I said.  “That’s not the way it’s going to be?”
“Why not?  Why should you do the dangerous thing?  Because you’re a man?”
“No!” I shouted, and I could see she was taken aback.  I’d rarely yelled at her during our marriage.  Moreover, I usually acceded to her demands.
“It isn’t about being a man or a woman.  It’s about being you…and me…”
She didn’t say anything, just waited for me to continue.
“Because without me…you’ll still be all right.” She started to object, and I held up my hand.  “Oh, you’d be sad, I know that.  You might be devastated, but you know what?  You’d get on with life.  You’re tough, sensible.  It will hurt, but there is still life in you.”
“What about you?  You’ve got as much…”
“No,” I said, firmly.  “Without you, I’m lost.  I’ve always known it.  I’ve dreaded it.  Every day of my life with you I’ve been thankful you plucked me out of my hermitage…” Again she opened her mouth to object, and I put my hands on her lips to shush her.  “It’s true.  You may not believe it, but I’ve always known.  I don’t want to be alone, Jenny.  And that’s what would happen.”
“You don’t know that,” she finally said.
“Yeah…I do.”
She didn’t say anything more, because we both knew, as fucked up as it may seem, I was right.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


So I've decided to write TUSKERS II and TUSKERS III.

Take the story to the logical conclusion.  Write them fast, write them fun.

Meanwhile, I've had a couple of legit criticisms to TUSKERS.

1.) The Tuskers aren't monstrous enough.

2.) The shift between 1st and 3rd person is distracting. 

 So I'm going to try to fix those problems in the second draft.

Any of you guys have any other constructive criticisms?

Tuskers. Chapter 15

Chapter 15

 “Three jars of olives?” Jenny asked.
“Sorry,” I said.  “I just grabbed everything I could.
She laughed and came over and gave me a hug.  “I know.  I was just teasing.  I can’t believe how brave you were to go down there.”
“Brave…or hungry,” I said, smiling.
In the morning, everything looked less terrifying.  From our bedroom window, there wasn’t a javelina in sight, and there were no sounds from downstairs.
“I don’t think they made it inside,” I said.  “I’m going to check.”
“No!” Jenny cried out.  “Stay here.  Let’s stick to our plan, just wait it out.  I love olives, you know.”
“I’ll be careful,” I said.  I cracked to door open before she could protest again.  I stuck my nose out and sniffed.  No pig smell.  No grunts.  No banging and crashing.  I still didn’t think they were canny enough to lay a trap, though after last night’s events, I wasn’t so sure.
I hurried downstairs, being as quiet as I could, the heavy flashlight in my hands despite the brightness of the day.
I stepped into the kitchen, flashlight raised.  The room was empty.  It occurred to me then that I could maybe find another weapon.  I opened the drawer next to the oven.  There is was, the massive butcher knife that I’d given to Jenny one Christmas and which, as far I knew, had never been used.  All the sharper for it, I thought.  I transferred the flashlight to my left hand and grabbed the knife.  Only then did I approach the sliding glass doors.
The crack ran nearly the entire perpendicular length of the door.  Just outside lay a dead pig, its neck broken by the impact. 
I didn’t recognize the patio or the backyard.  Everything was broken beyond repair.  The umbrella, which had been over the table, was in shreds.  Every flower and bush was pulled out of the ground, and though I could still see hints of green in the lawn, most of it was torn up.
There was pig shit everywhere. 
“That’s fucking intentional,” I said aloud, somehow more offended by this than anything else I’d seen.  “You creepy animals.”
I put my finger to the crack.  The door was double paned, and the crack was on the outside one.  I suppose I should have been reassured, but I wasn’t.  How long before old Razorback convinced a few more of his followers to commit hari kari?
 I heard a sound behind me and whirled, knife raised.
Jenny was staring at the chaos outside with wide eyes. 
“Whatever did we do to them?” she asked, sounding offended.
“Seems to me we provided them with a daily banquet,” I said.  “A veritable buffet.”
She was shaking her head, absently picking up the dropped containers of food.  When her hands were full, she pulled out a fresh trash bag from below the sink, and dropped the food inside.  She went to the pantry and kept filling it.  Then went and got another bag and started filling it.
Without a word, I picked up the first bag of food and took it upstairs to the bedroom.  While I was there, I filled the bathtub with water; not to drink, but because so far the pigs had been one step ahead of us and I just didn’t know what they were capable of.  I didn’t know how they could cut off the water, but that’s what worried me -- not knowing.
When I went back downstairs, Jenny was looking thoughtfully through the knives, one by one, hefting them.  A little bit of a chill went down my spine, but I didn’t say anything.  I just wished we could do better for weapons.  I’d always been anti-gun and it burned my ass that the gun nuts might have been right.  About Armageddon, at least.
With that thought in mind, I went to the garage.  Our garage was full of junk, which was the unfortunate reason for the car being parked out of reach outside.  But it was my chance to find something useful.  All this junk was saved for some reason, I thought.  For the day we needed it. Well, todays the day.
But it turns out none of the junk was much use in a pig apocalypse. 
A Porkolypse, I thought, and smiled.  A Hamaggeden.
I found a hammer, and decided that it made more sense as a weapon than a flashlight, especially considering I wouldn’t be smashing the bulb and making the flashlight useless.
There was a sheet of corrugated metal against one wall, from when I’d thought of building a shed.  That was when I was still thinking like a Bendite, and believed I’d need to protect my equipment from the snow.
I wrestled it into the house and took it upstairs and leaned it against the bedroom wall.  Then I went to the garage again and rummaged around until I found some nails.  They were roofing nails, but there was a full container of them and I thought they’d do the job.
Meanwhile, Jenny had managed to get most of the food upstairs.
“You think we’re going to be here for months?” I asked.
“Never hurts to be prepared,” she said cheerfully.   “Or maybe I just want a choice in my meals.”
I trotted down the stairs, and at the bottom it suddenly occurred to me what I’d just done.  I hadn’t walked down the stairs -- no worse, I thought, hadn’t trudged down the stairs.  I had nearly skipped down the stairs, humming a happy tune.  I shook my head at the mystery of it, and went back into the garage and started just piling boxes on the floor, making a total mess of things, just looking for something useful for the next few nights.
I was sure the authorities would rescue us by the end of the day, or at least by tomorrow.  But if we had to spend another night here, I wanted to be prepared.
Suddenly, Bend, Oregon with all its hipsters and snow wasn’t looking so bad.   Especially because there was one thing the town lacked -- javelinas.  The occasional cougar perhaps, but cougars were sensible enough to run when given the chance.
When I finally gave up my Easter egg hunt, Jenny was back in the kitchen, at the stove, cooking some ham and eggs.  “Might be our last chance at a hot meal,” she said.  She too was humming, and it occurred to me that our danger had brought us together, given us a purpose together, and that both of us were liking it.
Still…there ought to be an easier way.  When this was all over, I was going to try harder to find activities that we both enjoyed and which had more meaning than card games and pickle ball.
We sat at the dining room table for once.  We didn’t even glance at the TV, though it passed through my mind that perhaps there was some news there.  Or on the radio.  Right after breakfast I thought.  Or lunch.  Or brunch, or whatever this was.  Whatever it was, it was nice, to just be sitting with Jenny.
We sat eating quietly, trying to ignore the mess outside.  There wasn’t a javelina in sight.  It was beginning to seem like it had been a bad dream, and that was now over.  The brightness of the sun, the clear blue sky.  Nothing threatening in sight.
After brunch, I got up and turned on the TV.  There was nothing but snowy reception.  I switched off the cable connection and tried over the air.  We could sometimes get the nearest channel, though not clearly.
I found it and turned up the volume and tried to make sense of the words through the white noise.  It was local weatherman, but he was sitting at the anchor desk.
“Stay indoors,” he was saying.  “I repeat, stay in doors.  Help is on the way.”
And with that, the TV blinked off.  In the background, the refrigerator went silent.  It always let out a low hum, of which I was aware, but which was just part of the normal background.  The sudden absence of the hum was impossible to ignore.
“The bastards cut the electricity,” Jenny said.
“I don’t see how that’s possible.  Those are overhead lines.”
I went to the corner of the house that overlooked the posts that brought in the electricity and saw the wires hanging down, sparking as they waved in the wind. 
How the hell did they do that? I wondered.
Jenny was standing at the patio door.  I wanted to tell her to get away from it, but didn’t want to scare her.  I hurried to her side, planning to move her gently back.  Then I saw what she was looking at.
It looked like a hundred of the pigs, chasing a dog.  It was sprinting with all its might for our patio door.
Before I could stop her, Jenny was opening the door.  She gave me a look that said, ‘don’t argue.’
The gold retriever, though it was so filthy it was hard to recognize, shot through the opening and Jenny slammed the door shut and latched it as the first javelina slid into the glass.  The outside panel of glass shattered, and I heard the pig squealing as broken shards rained down on it.  Thankfully, the inner panel stayed in place.  A large piece of glass went into its neck and it fell on its side and twitched once, twice…and was still. 
Supposed to be safety glass, I thought to myself.  Isn’t supposed to do that.
The pigs were milling about outside, pushing each other aside, sometimes leaping over their fellows.  A twirling, jumbled mass.
Then they were suddenly quiet, lining up almost in neat rows, in ranks, as impossible as that seemed.
Razorback walked down the middle and looked at the two of us.  It stared up at us with calm yellow eyes.  Then it turned casually and walked away.
To me, it seemed to be saying, ‘I can get you anytime.  You’re just meat in a can.’
“What was that!” Jenny cried, and I realized that she hadn’t yet met old Razorback. 
“That, my dear, is the cause of all our troubles.”  A glimmer of an idea rose in the back of my mind.  Take out the leader, I thought.  But the idea was so outrageous, so desperate; I dismissed it. 
Like the guy on TV said.  Help is on the way.
Except why had it been the weatherman?  And why had the studio been so empty and why had the camera been at such an odd angle and why had he sounded as if the microphone was yards away?
The dog had flopped on its side the moment it was inside and was breathing hard.  It looked up at us with trusting but panicked eyes.
“That’s the Underwood’s dog,” Jenny said.  “What do you think happened?”
I looked at the blood all over the dog’s normally silky fur, and what looked like bits of meat and gristle attached.  I didn’t tell Jenny where I thought the Underwoods -- or at least part of them --- were.
“Do we have any candles?” I asked.

Tuskers. Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Barbara Weiss was getting tired of waiting.  She knew the pigs wanted to attack.  In the late afternoon, one of them walked right up to the window and looked her in the eye.  It wasn’t an animal who stared at her, but another thinking being.  A mean one.
She recognized the look.  She’d seen in the eyes of the psychopaths she’d been lucky enough to catch and put away.  Worse she’d seen in the eyes of the smarter psychopaths she hadn’t been able to catch and put away.
There was a breakdown in authority in this county.  She recognized the signs.  Once, when a wildfire had nearly consumed the west side of the neighboring town of Redmond, the sheriff of that county had called in a panic.  He was completely ineffectual, and she drove the thirty miles in ten minutes and took over.
But meanwhile, the criminals had been free to do their damndest, while the officials tried to control the panic.  Never should have got that far, but it happened.
No one was in charge here. There had been that tone in the 9-1-1 operators’ voice, the one that said she was scared and didn’t know what to do and there was no one who could tell her.
To hell with it, Barbara thought.  I’m retired.
Besides, there was no chance that they’d let some strange woman take over.  It had been bad enough in Crook County, where she’d had decades of experience to back her up.
She had thirty-six bullets in her box, and the fifteen in her clip. There was another clip in the glove box of the car and she decided to go get it.
She opened the door carefully, but there wasn’t a pig to be seen.  She walked quickly down the walk.  She’d learned from experience to move steadily, with economy of movement, and she’d get the job done faster and more efficiently than if she hurried.  She got to the car, opened the passenger door, dropped the glove box and reached in for the clip.  She was keeping an eye and ear out for the pigs, so when one came around the corner and stopped dead in its tracks, she watched it carefully.
It raised its snout and squealed.
She put the clip in her pocket and turned to walk back the house.  She sensed a single javelina wouldn’t attack.
But fifteen would.  They came around the house at a full run.  She stopped and turned toward them.  Training took over.  Moving target, friend or foe.  Well, this was easy.  All foes.
She dropped one, then another, then a third.  Several of the others tripped and tumbled over their dead mates.  Barbara killed the lead pig each time, and it seemed to sink into their consciousness because suddenly, none of them were in a hurry to be first.
Then the intelligent javelina, the Mean One, came around the corner, staying well back. It grunted commands and the pigs surged forward again.
Barbara had been slowly retreating to the house the whole time.  She was halfway there.  Again she stopped and squared up on the pigs.  She fired steadily, one by one, and it was a slaughter.
Then she missed, and in the second it took to fire again, the next animal was five feet closer.  The others followed.  She missed again, and now they were ten feet closer.  She tried to keep the panic down, to fire steadily, but her nerves overrode her brain, and she missed two more times, even at close range. 
Then she was clicking on an empty chamber.  She turned and ran for the open door, pulling the extra clip out of her pocket and sliding it home.  She felt a sharp pain in her right leg, and staggered.
Fuck it, she thought.  If I’m going to get killed by pigs, it won’t be by running from them. 
She stopped, and several of the pigs actually went by her and had to turn around.
Suddenly it was as if she could see and hear everything.  Her hand was steady, and it seemed like her hand moved in a blur.  Blam, blam, blam.  The rest of the javelinas went down.
Without a second thought, she turned to where she’d last noticed the Mean One, but it was already turning and running.  She wasted the last five bullets of her clip trying to hit it, but it was gone.
She turned and limped into the house and slammed the door.  Her legs began shaking so badly, she sat down on the small rug at the entrance.  She felt dizzy. She looked down at her leg.  It didn’t hurt, but her entire pants leg was soaked.  She was going to bleed out.
She pulled out her belt and circled her upper thigh and cinched as tight as she could.  Holding onto the belt, keeping the pressure, she made it to the bathroom.  There was a jar of superglue there, and scissors.
She cut away the trousers and groaned at the gash she saw on the fatty part of the back of her shin.  She squeezed the cut together, nearly poured the glue over it, and held on. 
Minutes passed, and she wasn’t sure if she lost consciousness or not, but somehow she managed to keep the cut closed.  When she finally let go, her glue covered fingers pulled some of the skin away, but the cut stayed glued shut.
Then she lay over on the bathroom matt and passed out.
Pain woke her.  She’d let loose of the tourniquet while she slept, but it didn’t matter.  She hadn’t lost any more blood.  She’d survive if the injury didn’t get infected.  She had enough antibiotics to keep that from happening.  She needed to drink plenty of fluids for a while, but she hadn’t lost so much blood that she was incapacitated.
She washed down some pills.
She took off the rest of her pants, washed up as best she could, and wrapped some bandages around the wound.
She limped her way to bed.  Before she fell asleep, it occurred to her that in her attempt to get a clip of fifteen bullets, she had expended thirty bullets, for a net loss of fifteen.
She laughed.  It was worth it. 
It had been the most terrifying, the most exhilarating, the most fun experience she’d had in Arizona.  Even more terrifying than her Internet dates.
And she’d shown the pigs what’s what.
She figured they’d think twice before testing her again.

Tuskers. Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Mark was the only employee left in the entire hardware store.  Christy had been there earlier, and Jerad, and both had mysteriously disappeared.  Karina hadn’t returned from lunch.
Flakes, the whole lot of them.  Where Mark came from, you didn’t abandon your post, no matter what.
But as night began to fall, he started getting nervous.  They were supposed to stay open until 9:00, but they were also supposed to be staffed by no less than three employees.  Hell, if the boss can’t even make in, why should he stay?
The irony was, he’d probably made more money today than the store had ever earned.  People had stripped the store. 
But it was what they were buying that was most alarming.  Camping gear, guns, knives, ammo, survival gear, propane, nails, hammers.  Like it was the coming end of the world.  Like a zombie apocalypse.
He kept hearing the term javelinas, and had to look it up on his cellphone.  Some kind of pig.  Then his phone service had blinked off.
When the electricity went out in the store just before dark that was the final straw.  Besides, he was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to stay open when the lights were out anyway.
He hurriedly locked the front door, counted the till, and dropped the money in the safe.  He was headed out the door when he remembered Mr. Pederson’s words. 
“Buy one of your fine wares,” he said, “and take it home with a box of ammunition.”
Rumor was, the old man was a millionaire and only pretended to be a hick.
Mark turned around.  There was single rifle left in the entire store, a .30-06, which was just fine with him.  It was what he was accustomed to using when deer hunting.  He took a box of shells.  He wrote an I.O.U. and slipped it in with his Hours Sheet.  He wasn’t sure what store policy was about draws, because he hated taking them.  He might lose his job, but old man Pederson had been pretty compelling. 
Something was going on.
He locked the door behind him, and turned to find the street completely empty.  Not a soul in sight, not even a moving car.  The three guys who drank on the corner and pestered him for loose chain every night even though he hadn’t once given them any, were gone.
What the hell is going on?
He wanted to call Peggy so bad, he couldn’t stand it.  It occurred to him that he’d gotten in the habit of calling her every hour, on the hour.  He’d heard of Internet withdrawal, but never thought he’d suffer from it.  This wasn’t Internet withdrawal, he told himself, this was Peggy withdrawal.
He’d followed her down to this hot dusty god forsaken place because he was madly in love with her.  He’d thought she was so smart, so sophisticated, that wherever she had come from had to be smart and sophisticated too.  At least more than Moscow, Idaho.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.  Wasn’t anyone here but old people.
He slung the rifle strap over his shoulder, feeling silly. Even in Moscow, people didn’t usually walk around with a gun strapped to their back.
He carried the box of ammunition in his other hand.
It was a short five-minute walk to their apartment.  The town was only so big, but he’d managed to find a job about as far as he could possibly get.  It was OK.  It gave him five minutes in the morning to savor the glow of being in her presence all night and it gave him five minutes every night to anticipate being in her presence again.  Actually, all he had to do was think of her, and it was as if she was with him.  Like she had pried open a part of his brain and crawled inside.
He smiled at the image.  Maybe he should take up drawing again while he was down here.  He’d wanted to be a comic book artist for a while, and he actually had some talent.  Peggy was always bugging him to start up again.
 He was so lost in the thought that he didn’t notice the pig at first.  It was standing still, in the middle of the sidewalk, as if waiting for him.  He was a dozen yards away before he saw it.
Weird.  That’s something you don’t see every day.  But, hey.  There were herds of deer wandering around Moscow, so this was probably the same kind of thing.  He took another step forward, expecting the animal to run away.
Instead, it lowered its head and took a step toward him.
“Bug off, you mangy critter!” he shouted, waving his arms.
The pig backed up a couple steps and then turned again.  Something in the angle of its head caught to last of the day’s light, and it sent a shock into Mark’s chest.  He’d seen that look delivering newspapers.  A mean look, the look a dog gave when it wanted to chew your leg off.
He swung the gun around.  He opened the bolt, and then carefully got to his knees and fumbled with the box of ammo.  He pulled out a single bullet, and started to load, when the animal charged.  He managed to slam the bolt home and take aim. 
It wouldn’t fire.  He’d forgot to release the safety.  Amateur mistake, the kind that cost you chances at a trophy buck. 
The kind that might get you killed.
He didn’t look for the safety, he just swung the stock with all he might at the charging pig and connected, sending the animal tumbling off the sidewalk into the street.  As Mark completing the swing, his finger landed on a familiar feeling switch, and he clicked it.  He managed to turn the barrel toward the charging pig and pull the trigger.
Half of its head disappeared.  It flopped back off the sidewalk into the street. Mark stepped off and toed it curiously. 
So that’s a javelina?  It’s just a hairy pig.
As if in answer, he heard a grunt.  A classic pig grunt, like from a cartoon.  Only it was joined by a bunch of other grunts.  He turned slowly.  Half a block away, a dozen of the creatures were staring him down.
Mark reached down for the box of ammunition.
Then he turned and ran.