Clarence walked up the path toward his three-bedroom Colonial-style home. His spread included forty-three acres. He stopped at the fence and bent over toward the ground. Little torches burned his joints. He grabbed the string of red lights and propped his hand on the fence timber. A handful of groans left him before he managed to pull the stapler from the back pocket of his overalls and then lean over and pull that old trigger, reconnecting the lights with the fence. He groaned again when he tested the light string. He moved on up the path.
When he entered his home, his wife carried a tray of cookies into the living room. Clarence bellowed, “Who’s in my house?!?”
His sons and daughter and in-laws greeted him with smiles. He didn’t see them too much except for the holidays. The grandchildren started in on him next with hugs in between bites of gingerbread cookies. He embraced them one by one and bit into a fresh cookie. His daughter suggested he have a seat and visit. Clarence glanced into the kitchen where his granddaughter stood by the counter. He smiled to his daughter and said, “Gonna get me a drink of something.”
Between eleven grandchildren, this young lady was the fourth born. She was his oldest son’s daughter but she resembled Clarence’s mother more than anybody else. He stepped into the kitchen and said, “Jilly?”
She wiped her face and turned to him. “Hey, papa.”
Clarence leaned on the counter. Jill never did offer hugs. It just wasn’t her nature. Clarence’s mother was the same way. Anytime she was forced into a hug, she’d roll her eyes. She would work harder than any of those hug-happy folks, though. She’s got substance, that girl.
Jill mixed more cookie batter with Clarence standing close by her. He said, “You know, honey, there’ll be other boys.”
Jill stopped mixing. She closed her eyes. Then she dipped a spoon into the gingerbread batter and handed it to Clarence who took a lick.
“I know, papa.”
Clarence grabbed a mug of hot chocolate and offered his hand to Jill. She shook it with vigor. He said, “They ain’t good enough for you anyway.”
“And I’m glad you’re wearing normal folks’ clothes again.”
Brian hunkered low outside the fence. He took a swig from his flask. The Jack Daniels burned its way into his gut. He winced. The lights in the main house went out.
Brian slipped under the fence and made quick steps but he didn’t run. Any of these animals out here could get spooked anytime. With that houseful up there, he’d be done.
He quick-stepped his way by the hog pen. The Christmas pig rooted in the dirt. He wore a Santa Claus hat and a wreath around his neck along with a sweater that read ‘Christmas Wee’. Folks had marveled at this for twenty years. It’s ridiculous. Folks pay ten dollars a head to cruise through this Christmas village and at the center of it all, stood the filthiest animal known to man. Of course, they were also pretty smart when it got down to it, too, but still. They’d all be freaking out soon enough. And all over a pig. It wasn’t like they didn’t eat bacon and sausage and pork chops on the regular.
Brian eased into the pen. The Christmas pig didn’t notice. The current pig replaced the older pig last year. Yet, that old hog lay back there in the far corner. Brian would need to exit through there when he grabbed the new pig and that old retired hog wasn’t moving but it could. He had to step lively.
Brian took one more swig from his flask and peered up at the house. One light shone in a window on the second floor.
He ducked down.
The Christmas pig kept at his rooting. Brian peered back up. The light went out.
Brian hopped over and picked up the Christmas pig. The piggy made no sounds. He’d been picked up no-telling-how-many times by old Clarence and countless others during this depressing season. So he thought nothing of it. So much for smart.
He bolted to the back fence where the retired hog lay. He stepped through the fence and chuckled.
The hog nipped his calf.
Brian covered his mouth.
Did it break the skin?
He wiggled away and stumbled. The Christmas pig didn’t make a sound. The retired hog stood looking at him. Brian carried the Christmas pig to his car parked on the road and tossed him into the back seat. Then he got in and sped down the road. When he got a mile away, he howled in victory in between sips from the flask.
Fairfax rubbed his eyes. Roberta had come over and they’d had quite the adventure in the bedroom. However, now she snored to the point that Fairfax could empathize with the ex-boyfriend she often complained about. He had a sofa for a reason.
He walked to his living room. After sitting on the sofa for a few minutes, he grabbed himself a cup of coffee and stepped out onto the porch. He sat there, admiring the wreath Roberta had hung on his door. She brightened up every place she went and well, his house could use plenty of light out here in the midst of the darkness in the sticks.
A car buzzed down the road.
Fairfax knew all the regular cars out here. He had no visible neighbors but he kept tabs on all the folks within a mile or so. This car didn’t sound like any of them.
He sipped his coffee. The car weaved down the road. It was a newer model but very small. The driver swerved all over the road. He howled out his window. Maybe a little too much eggnog?
The car swerved into the ditch and then the driver stopped and backed up and got back on track. This could get bad. And did he hear a pig squeal?
Fairfax returned inside where he grabbed his keys and slipped into some boots and then jumped into his truck.
Glew flipped to the highlights of the Predators game. Then he wiped his nose. He checked his forehead. No fever yet but it was on its way. Ah, this blasted cold. He should have moved to Florida years ago. Maybe he could take a trip down there. Things had been slow anyway. What millionaire wants to live in the cold?
The Predators lost.
Maybe he should be a Panthers fan?
To hell with this day. He poured himself a glass of water and shook a pack of Alka-Seltzer cold. Two tablets and then ten hours. Oh yeah. This cold would be gone. He’d be on the prowl again. Too many ladies awaited his return.
His cell phone buzzed. These late night calls spelled fun but tonight?
He set the Alka-Seltzer packet on the counter and checked his phone. He answered. “Fairfax? What are you doing, stud?”
“I was sitting on my porch and this drunk drove by. I followed him to a cabin. He got out and carried a pig into his house.”
“Wow. You know, I’ve thought of getting a pet pig myself. Name him Oscar Meyer maybe?”
“It’s the Christmas pig.”
“You’re on this one by yourself, stud. I’ve got a cold bringing me down. I thought I could shake it but you know how these things go.”
He dropped the Alka-Seltzer tablets into the glass.
“Glew. It’s the Christmas pig.”
“Germs are everywhere. I can see how a hermit would never…Christmas pig?”
“At the Christmas village. That old man Clarence owns it. You know.”
Glew watched the tablets turn the water orange.
“Oh, man. I haven’t been there in a while but yeah. I loved going out there when I was a kid. That’s the sweetest old man.”
“And yeah. Oh yeah! The Christmas pig! Wow, I can’t imagine that pig is still alive. How long do pigs live?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve got eyes on this kid who’s just taken the Christmas pig into his cabin. He stole it.”
“Why would he steal the Christmas pig? Like a prank?”
“I aim to find out. Why don’t you ride on out here?”
Glew had the Alka-Seltzer glass to his lips. Man, those were some good times, going out to the village. His Dad always smiled real big when they’d go. His Mom would get his Dad to buy her hot chocolate and pies. Even Molly had a good time out there. And somebody would rip the old man off?
Glew set the glass down.
He wiped his nose and snorted.
“Tell me where you’re at.”
Brian set the Christmas pig on the floor. The creature looked around. Was it smiling at him?
“That’s right, piggy. You go right ahead. Smile real big for Jill.”
He snapped a picture of the pig with his phone. Man, he’d tried to take dozens of pictures of his cat looking at the camera with a high failure rate. He’d spent countless times taking those pictures and getting them just right for Jill. She appreciated the effort at the time. She’d send him back “LOL” or smiley faces with cute little messages attached. Of course, that was before third parties got involved.
He gazed at the picture. It couldn’t be any better. He worked a crick out of his neck.
Just go ahead and send it.
The only way to make it in this world is to push back against those who push you. You can’t take anything lying down and expect to get what you want. Press send and let them all know who they are dealing with. Sometimes things are meant to be.
What was that smell?
A mix of both?
The man stood in his doorway. How did he sneak inside without him hearing it?
Brian stood. “Who are you?”
The stranger had a stocky build and a shirt with cut-off sleeves, despite the cold outside. He watched the Christmas pig who stayed by the fireplace. The stranger turned toward him.
Brian said, “Are you one of Dad’s friends?”
The man said, “No.”
“Are you a cop? Answer me, man.”
“What are you doing?”
Brian picked up the pig and ran to the front door. He got it open but froze in place. The man held him by his shirt. He set the pig down and swung back at the man’s face with a right-handed punch. He missed. The man punched him in the gut. Brian hit his knees on the floor. He gasped. The pig’s hoofs clattered across the porch. The man shut the front door.
Glew pulled his car behind Fairfax’s truck on the county road. He breathed in the Vick’s VapoRub on his chest. He wiped his nose. “What am I doing out here? There have to be better hobbies for me.”
He stepped out of his car and ducked down. He wiped his nose and checked his phone. No new messages or calls from his partner. He scanned the area. Nothing but woods with a little asphalt dividing these giant trees that were probably planted when he was a teenager. The cabin stood twenty yards ahead. Smoke rose from the chimney. He closed his eyes. Maybe Fairfax would kick this guy’s ass. Then he could nap in there by the fireplace. So warm and toasty. What could be better?
Something crunched the leaves nearby. He looked toward the cabin. The crunching erupted again. The creature trotted down the hill.
It was the Christmas pig in full garb!
The white ball on the Santa hat bounced with his movements. Glew wiped his nose. “Damn it. Warm and toasty will have to wait.”
He crept down the hill, weaving through the trees. “Here, piggy, piggy…”
The pig wee’d its way along. Glew stepped with caution. Pigs can bite. Right?
The pig changed directions. Glew wiped his nose and followed. The pig reached the bottom of the hill and sat down. Glew stuffed his tissue in his pocket and stepped around an oak. If he could just get a few feet closer…he could scoop the pig…right up…and…
The pig wee’d and turned the corner. Glew hit the closest tree and then turned the corner. The pig bolted down toward a lake. Can pigs swim?
He’s always heard they can’t fly.
He had to cut the pig off.
Glew ran toward the pig now. No use in playing around anymore. If he gets bit, it’s okay. He once dated a woman with jaws of steel from constantly chewing gum. He’d taken her bites after all. He galloped toward the pig who sniffed the water and looked back at him. He leaped at the animal with his arms spread. “Here, piggy!”
The pig squealed and ran into the pond. Once the animal reached some depth, it swam its way onward. Glew said, “No! Come on, pig. What are you doing? I’m not that ugly. Am I?”
The pig swam on. Glew sneezed into his tissue. He pictured himself leaping at the animal with his arms spread and how that must have looked to the pig. He chuckled. The pig kept on swimming. “This is so stupid.”
Glew removed his jacket and boots. Then he looked into the sky. “I know. This is stupid. But hey, it’s the Christmas pig.”
Glew waded into the water. The pig swam ten feet ahead. The water chilled his knees. It’s just a pig. Right? He could turn back and wait him out maybe?
Glew waded through until the water reached his chest. He coughed. “Here, piggy…”
The pig swam on but then it changed direction. Glew changed with it. Then the pig ducked its head into the water. That Santa hat stayed on along with the wreath around the neck and the sweater. The pig ducked its head in again. Glew followed it but it paddled on, keeping five feet between them. Glew reached for it. Just another foot and…
Glew sneezed. His throat ached. His eyes watered. “Geez. Come on, piggy.”
The pig dunked its head again. Glew paddled after him. The pig swam quick enough to stay ahead of Glew but it wasn’t in a hurry to get away from him. So maybe it wasn’t terrified of him at least. He reached toward it and touched its back. The pig swam back toward Glew. He stopped. It dunked its head. He smiled and patted its head. The pig swam in place and dunked its head again. This creature sure likes to dunk its head. Was it hot? How could it be out here? The pig swam in place with its mouth open. Glew examined the Santa hat. The pig stayed still. He pulled at it. A string kept it in place. Glew pulled the hat toward him. The pig closed its mouth. He pulled the hat off. The pig dunked its head. Its mouth fell open in what looked like a smile. He patted the pig’s head. “I see.”
He sneezed. “Oh, sorry.”
The pig stayed in place. He patted the pig’s head and then he removed wreath and the sweater. The Christmas pig now swam bare as the day it was born. It swam around in circles but not quick enough so that Glew couldn’t grab it. Glew steered the creature toward the shore and then picked it up. He sneezed and hacked his way up the hill and then got the pig into his car.
The man dragged Brian to the sofa and threw him on it. The cushions provided a concrete-hard landing. Dad had filled the cabin with old furniture on purpose. Here things were meant to be rough and tumble. Maybe it was to keep the nature of the hunt alive.
Maybe Dad was cheap.
Brian massaged his gut and kept his eyes on the man who walked back and stood by the door. Brian sucked in a few breaths. The man said, “Take your time, kid.”
“You…you saved the pig. Isn’t that all you wanted?”
“That was the main objective. When I see a kid like you doing something like this, I tend to wonder why, though.”
“You might have something going on in your head. Talking helps with the mental shit.”
“I don’t want to talk.”
The man sat in the chair by the fireplace. He stretched his legs and leaned back.
Brian said, “What are you doing now?”
The man checked his phone. He clicked a few buttons and then returned it to his pocket. Brian said, “Well?”
“Kid, it’s two o’clock in the morning. I’m sleepy.”
“You’re not sleeping here.”
“So you’re a thief and you’re hot even hospitable.”
Brian stood and pointed toward the front door. “Get out. I mean it. Now, get out.”
“And if I don’t?”
“I’ll call my Dad.”
“So you’re what? Fifteen?”
“Eighteen, pal. I’m eighteen.”
“Yet, you’re still wanting to call Daddy to help you out of a jam.”
“I don’t call him ‘Daddy’. And it’s just because this is his cabin and so…”
“The cabin that he paid for so you could use it. And now here you are and you can’t even protect it. This cabin was a wasted purchase. Your dad raised a weak kid.”
“What is your deal? I will call him.”
“Go ahead. I’ll tell him the whole story.”
Brian studied his phone. He could press send. He should have pressed send a while ago with the picture. Or should he?
He closed the phone and sat on the sofa. “Okay, scary man. Let’s talk then.”
The man kept his eyes closed with his head leaned back. “Why did you steal the Christmas pig?”
“It’s nobody’s business.”
The man raised his head up, staring right at Brian. Brian swallowed. “What?”
“It’s old man Clarence’s business. It’s his pig. I mean, damn. That’s how the Hatfields and McCoys got started. You don’t take another man’s property.”
“Yeah. I’m sure he’s already found out. He keeps a good watch over all of his property.”
What was this guy’s problem?
Brian shoved his hands in his pockets. “When I first met Jill, she dressed like Clarence wanted.”
“This is his daughter?”
“No, man. How old do I look? His granddaughter. We’re both college freshmen. Anyway, she wore all this stuff that was homemade. The old man’s big on that. No point in buying already made clothes. He’s got this whole self-sufficient fixation. It’s weird.”
“So when I met her, I got her to start dressing like she wanted. She wore jeans and T-shirts with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath on them. Stuff like that. She met some of my friends. The next thing you know, we were together all the time. She really liked being away and out with me. She’s been to the cabin fifty times I bet.”
“But not anymore.”
“No. She showed up at school a week ago, dressed in that crap again. She told me that Clarence insisted she stop dating me and that she focus on her studies. So she broke up with me.”
“And you were stealing the pig to get back at her.”
“No. The old man. I was going to send a pic of the pig to her and show them what I think about all this crap. You steal my girlfriend away? I’ll take your damn pig, then.”
“So it’s the old man’s fault.”
“Yeah. Who else’s?”
The man grinned. “Sounds like an excuse.”
“An excuse? No, I mean it.”
“From her. Did you see the old man say those words?”
“No. I’m never around him.”
“You ever met him?”
“No. Why would I want to? I know how he is.”
“Even though you never met him.”
“That’s right. She wouldn’t lie. I mean…she…”
Jill may be submissive to her family but she’d never lie. This guy was blowing smoke. That’s all.
“You just need to get out of here.”
The man stood. “My pleasure. Once I’m gone, you should go talk to the old man. Ask him about what happened.”
“Why should I care?”
“So you can say you tried.”
“I don’t need to try.”
“All right. I’m headed back to the village. We’ll return the pig. And we will be watching if you try again.”
The man opened the door. “Go ask the old man, son.”
Then he left.
Brian wiped his eyes. Thirty-five hours without sleep tends to wear on a body. He took a drink of coffee and then exited his car. He walked through the line at the village and paid the girl ten dollars. She gave him a ticket. He walked toward the trail. The main house stood to the left. He peered up at it. Some folks sat in rocking chairs on the front wraparound porch. One of them was the man from the night before. He leaned forward and watched him. Brian kept walking.
The first display was a manger scene. Candles lit up the scene like stars on a clear night. He smiled and walked on.
Tiny houses stood in the next display with fake snow covering the roofs. A Christmas tree shined in the center with ducks quacking around it. Clarence leaned on the post beside him. He took a deep breath and wiped sweat from his temple. “How about them ducks?”
Brian turned to him. The old man wore a light in his eyes. He stood several inches over Brian but he seemed like he was smaller in some way. Brian said, “Nothing better than a Christmas quacker.”
Clarence chuckled. “Yeah, buddy. Your first time visiting us?”
“Yeah. It’s real pretty.”
“Say, you’re Jill’s grandfather. Aren’t you?”
“She’s a great girl. Doesn’t she have a boyfriend?”
“Yeah. She mentioned that she was seeing a young fellow named…something. I can’t keep up with all that. Said he was a real nice fellow.”
“She spent a lot of time with him. Got to talking like him and dressing different. You know how people wear off on one another.”
“That’s what her mama told me. She decided that she needed a change and decided to break up with him. She had to get back to being herself. Do you know the fellow?”
“Yeah, I think I might.”
“I’m surprised she didn’t tell him that I disapprove and break up with him that way. I always told her she could use that excuse if she got in a jam. Just my way of looking out for her, you know. You got anybody you look out for?”
Brian leaned his head on the fence.
“You all right, son?”
He looked back up at the porch where the man from the night before sat. “No, but I have folks who look out for me. I think I need to listen to them.”
Clarence patted his back. “You sure should, son. Merry Christmas.”
Clarence ambled up the hill toward the house. Jill walked outside and greeted him with a tray of cookies. Brian smiled and walked by other displays until he reached the Christmas pig display. A few other folks stood by the fence. The pig sprang up from the back corner. Folks laughed and pointed and a few took pictures. A woman said, “Hey. He’s not wearing his hat or his sweater. Aw.”
Brian said, “Oh it’s all right.”
The folks turned to him.
He said, “He’s got to be himself.”