The Distance Travelled
A excerpt from the novelette
Brett A. Savory
hen the pig came crashing through my kitchen window I wasn't sure what to think. I mean, dig: there I am just hanging out, eating some Boo Berry, waiting for the afternoon rack session (hoping that Stanson and Jonesy were on duty 'cause they usually gave me a break--Barnes and Salinger always stretched me till they heard ligaments tearing and sockets popping), when lo, what's that flying through my window? A pig. A big, fat, porcine letter bomb.
I jumped out of my chair and ran over to the window to try to get a look at the bastards that'd launched it before they got away, but by the time I got there all that remained was the shattered window--bits still dropping off, tinkling in the post-apigalyptic silence--flames belching from the Lake of Sorrow (I have a villa on the waterfront), and smoking brimstone as far as the eye can see.
The pig scrambled to his feet and dashed into my living room, squealing all the way. I decided to abandon my Boo Berry in favour of trying to catch his dirty pig ass, and so stomped along after it. That's when my talking thermometer went off:
"The indoor temperature is four billion, one million, six hundred and fifty-two thousand, four hundred and twenty-one point seven degrees Celsius. The outdoor temperature is four billion, nine million, seven hundred and sixty-three thousand, five hundred and seventy-six point eight degrees Celsius."
Great. A heat wave and I have to chase this pig around my house. And I've a racking to attend in fifteen minutes, too.
"Come here, ya little porker!" I shouted, trudging into the living room, glancing about for his little pigtail as he perhaps shuffled himself behind the TV or tried to squeeze under the coffee table. Nothing.
I had to seal up that window soon, or I'd bake. The A/C units down here are pretty powerful, but they can only take so much. I glanced around again, feeling the heat from the window more with each second.
"Ah, forget it," I grumbled, and headed for the basement to see what I had to seal the pig point-of-entry.
By the time I got back upstairs with the sheet metal, the pig was on his last spoonful of Boo Berry.
Cheeky little fucker.
* * *
Sheet metal in hand and pig in the oven (little bugger put up a good fight, though--tried poking one of my eyes out with that spoon), I don my outdoor gear, determined to deter further piggings by painting a big pig's head in a circle and a diagonal line crossing through it, the words
in big, black letters over top of it.
Once outside, even with my protective clothes on (everyone is given standard Hades-issue "hot-clothes" upon registration for outdoors) I felt the heat of the lake physically punching me like a fist.
The sheet metal was already getting hot through my heavy-duty anti-Hell-heat gloves, and I was only halfway around the house.
The Lake of Sorrows belched up a great gout of lava and fire just then, and I had to duck and cover from the shower as it rained down on my house. Luckily none of it fell through the new hole. I had to get that metal up before I lost my whole place, like I'd already lost a window and a perfectly delicious bowl of Boo Berry.
Up went the sheet metal. I drilled small holes through the brick, then grabbed the cordless screwdriver and in went one, two thick screws. Great. Marvelous. I put the third screw on the end of the driver--
And heard an engine.
I heard hooting and hollering as the vehicle came into view--a dune buggy. The driver was pointing at me and laughing. His buddies spotted me and joined in the fun. They were closer now. The driver saw the writing on my sign. He burst into more raucous laughter and floored the buggy. A guy in back stood up, revealed one arm holding a short rope. Lifting his arm higher revealed the pig attached to it. It looked terrified and was squealing above their laughter.
With a grunt, the guy swung the pig around his head several times, lasso-style--cowboys from Hell.
I held up my hands and screamed, "No pigs!" But it was too late. I ducked. The pig crashed through the unscrewed bottom half of the sheet metal, and I heard him snorting all the way across my kitchen floor, then thudding against the wall and scrambling off to hide.
"Cocksuckers!" I roared and threw my screwdriver at them. It whistled over their heads and splashed into the lake. I quickly reached down and grabbed my drill, pulled back and let fly. It, too, would have missed the buggy entirely as they sped by if it weren't for the fact that it was still plugged in, extension cord in tow (yes, Hell has electricity; guess the Amish were right, huh?). Midway through the air, the cord reached its limit and snapped from the outlet, changing the drill's direction. It whipped back, given new purpose, and collided with the forehead of the still-standing pig-thrower in the back seat. His laughter stopped and he grunted as his body tumbled backward out of the car. He landed in a cloud of dust near the shore of the lake.
The dune buggy sped off around the corner, laughter from the remaining pig hooligans drifting back to their unfortunate comrade.
Grinning madly, I crossed the street and grabbed the pig-tossing bastard by the back of his leather jacket. Yeah, these guys were real cool. No protective outerwear for them. They're mean motherfuckers, tossing farm animals through people's windows, then driving away, laughing in their cute little dune buggy.
"Come on, shithead, you're going to find that pig you just threw in my house. And now that my screwdriver is gone, you're going to hammer these last two screws in with your face."
He groaned, and muttered some obscenity at me. You wouldn't believe the amount of cussing most of us do down here.
I dragged him to my 'window' through the dirt and lava, dropped him, kicked him hard in the gut so he wouldn't be able to run away, bent and yanked out the sheet metal from the inside of the house, straightened it as best I could, kicked the bastard again, and pulled him to his feet.
With one hand I placed a screw into the third hole I'd drilled, with the other I began pounding PigBoy's forehead into it.
"You like that?" I asked him.
Soon enough, the screw was driven all the way in, and we were onto the fourth and final one in no time; blood cascaded down the boy's face and, for the last few knocks of that final screw, he was unconscious. Should I leave him out here to bake? Maybe just toss him into the lake and watch him dissolve?
No, he still had to find the pig that was loose in my house--no doubt munching on my Wheaties by now--and besides, I had some questions for him. For example, where, exactly, were they getting these pigs from? I knew they must be coming from Upside, but how? And if there were this opening to the natural world, why were people only grabbing pigs?
I dragged PigBoy into my house, put the coffeepot on, and waited for him to wake up.
* * *
My talking thermometer told me it was getting even hotter out. The sheet metal helped, but it was still going to get mighty toasty in here.
PigBoy slumped in a chair in my kitchen and muttered things every once in awhile. Things about sex, chocolate, staples, and bunnies. I didn't want to know.
I sipped from my mug and thought about how I'd like to bash this kid's head against my brick wall again. You know, they should really have some sort of rehab program down here. I mean, how do they expect Hell to ever improve when they just leave us all to our own devices? No wonder people had taken to throwing farm animals through innocent people's windows. That's the level of frustration we have around here.
Anyway, PigBoy woke up, all groggy-like, and asked where he was. I kicked out a foot and toppled him from his chair, onto my kitchen floor.
"Wake up, chump. You're going to talk to me about the things I want to know, and you're not going to give me any bullshit about how you can't remember stuff because I bashed your cranium against a brick wall." I looked down at myself and noticed I'd spilled coffee on my 'Remember, kids, Satan loves you!' shirt. I heard squealing and things getting knocked over in my living room. Not a good day, all told. Not a good day at all. Now I was really starting to get mad. I stood up and walked over to him, put a foot on his throat, watched his face slowly turn all the colours of the spectrum. "Now, I don't know who else you've 'pigged,' but this time you chose the wrong house with the wrong occupant.
"I have a rack session at three that I don't plan to be late for, so you're going to answer some questions, then you're going to go catch that pig you threw in here before I have to leave, okay?"
He twitched a little. Good enough.
I released my foot from this throat and he gasped for air, started going backward through his colour scheme.
I sipped my coffee again--the real sin around here is that they don't have a Tim Horton's--returned to my chair, and watched PigBoy get slowly to his feet, wavering a little. Blood was caked on his hair and face. He had beady little weasel eyes, black as soot, and blond, matted hair. Angular features contrasted with his pug nose. PigBoy, indeed.
Yet something about him made me soften my anger toward him. Maybe it was the way he stood there, fidgeting with the zipper on his leather coat, like the proverbial little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
I furrowed my brows together and opened my mouth to speak. That's when the second pig-of-the-day trundled out of the living room, apparently having had enough fun for now smashing up everything.
The boy--not even looking in the pig's direction, eyes still stuck to his zipper--drew a pistol from his belt (knew I should have frisked him) and fired. The pig squealed once, then fell on its side, dead.
PigBoy looked back to me. "Okay, so what are your questions?"
I had to give it to him. The kid had style.
* * *
"But why pigs?"
We both had coffee now, and there were two pigs in my oven--a tight fit, to be sure, but we squeezed them in. I'd let him clean his face, but the gash in his forehead was nasty looking and kept reopening whenever he wrinkled his brow or made any sort of expression involving the top half of his face muscles. I'd given him a wet cloth to keep on hand to soak it up.
"Dunno," said PigBoy. "We ripped open this hole and there they were. Pigs." He sipped on his java, grimaced. "Irish Cream?"
"Yes," I said.
"Thought so." He put the cup down and fiddled some more with his zipper.
Ignoring the slight to my choice of coffee, I pushed on. "So you just grabbed some?"
"Yeah. Got any cookies?"
PigBoy flared his nostrils, but kept silent.
"How many did you get?"
The pigs crackled in the oven. The kitchen started to smell good.
"Just the two we chucked at your house."
I nodded, gulped the rest of my beverage, eyed the pot.
"Any idea where they learned to eat with proper kitchen utensils, PigBoy?"
He looked up from his zipper. "Huh?"
"Yeah, the damned thing finished off my last bowl of Boo Berry before I caught it."
He blinked. "Rough, man. That sucks."
I nodded again. I chalked the pig's manners up to Star Trek logic--you know, when the writers couldn't think of a decent explanation for something that made no real sense:
"But Captain, where did the pig learn to eat with a spoon?"
"It must have been his transference from Upside to Hell, Spock."
Ah, of course, the Transference Anomaly. Good enough for me.
More crackling and popping of flesh and fats from the oven.
"Smells damned fine," remarked PigBoy, inhaling deeply.
"So why didn't you shoot me instead of the pig?" I asked.
"You want me to shoot you?"
"Well, not particularly. But you could have and gotten away." The thought was sobering: he could very easily have just popped me and taken off. I was such an idiot. Why didn't I frisk him?
I rose from my seat, grabbed the coffeepot, tipped the dregs into my mug, lifted it to my face, closed my eyes, inhaled deeply. The steam cleared my mind. I sipped and swallowed, allowing the liquid to funnel through my mouth, slide across my teeth, slither down my throat. I don't care what anyone says, Irish Cream rules.
"No idea why I corked the pig and not you," he said. "Just didn't occur to me, I guess."
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Doesn't matter," he said, "I like what you call me better, anyhow."
I nodded. Fair enough.
Two-thirty-five. Almost time for the rack session.
"You know who's on rack duty today?" I asked.
"Barnes and Salinger," PigBoy answered, adding, "The brutes," as an afterthought.
I couldn't agree more. Stanson and Jonesy were as gentle as they could be about the whole business, but Barnes and Salinger were just downright nasty. Like it wasn't already uncomfortable and torturous enough, they had to call you names and shove you onto the rack and all sorts of other crap that just made the whole experience intolerable.
Looking at PigBoy, smelling the pigs in my oven, and imagining the joy of spending the day at my natural height of 6' 2", I decided right then and there that I was playing hooky. Fuck Barnes and fuck Salinger and fuck the Big Red Fella, too. Right now it was time to eat the pigs, then time to pop through to Upside for a second to see what was what.