Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband Red, a slightly overweight rat terrier, and a cat. She has discovered that her love of telling a good story can be written. Published stories with Palm-sized press, Spillwords Author of the month 2019, Mercurial Stories, Potato Soup Journal, Edify Fiction, Zimbell House Publishing, Clarendon House Publishing, Blood Song Books, Black Hare Press, Fantasia Divinity, Cafelit, Reanimated Writers, Guilty Pleasures, Unholy Trinity, The World of Myth, Dastaan World, Vamp Cat, Runcible Spoon, E. Merry Publishing, Siren’s Call, Iron Horse Publishing, Setu Magazine, Literary Yard, Falling Star Magazine 2019 Pushcart Nominee.
Hank Owens, owner of a large game preserve, stood in his yard on the other end of a telephone call nodding his head in sympathy, trying to smooth it out with his neighbor, Jeffrey Scott. Jeffrey accused Hank’s fenced pigs of digging up his lawn again.
During their nightly escapades, the feral pigs rooted up his gardens trenching holes in his lawn. Hank tried to contain the swine within the perimeters of his fence. He made his living allowing hunters to hunt his property. Hank promised Jeff he would look over his fence again. It was impossible to do the entire property in a day.
Hank offered to buy Jeff out on several occasions. He wanted that piece of property to enhance his already expansive farm. Jeff told him he wasn’t interested, all he wanted was for Hank Owens to keep his damn wild pigs on his side of the fence. Was that asking too much? He hung up on Hank.
Hank got his four-wheeler out to check the fence. He paid special attention to Jeff’s boundary lines going extra slow, taking time to get out and check the fence. He did not see anything unusual. Jeff had called the cops so many times that the police didn’t even get out of the car anymore, they just handed the complaint to him out the window.
Hank would offer to let the officer check his boundaries. The deputy would sigh knowing he wasn’t going to walk the thousands of acres to see if the pigs were getting out. But he’d done his duty by informing Hank Owens of the complaint. They were tired of the fighting neighbors.
Hank watched the sun go down as he ate on the back deck. He would have stayed out later but the mosquito’s found him, so he went indoors. It was near midnight when he went to bed. The ringing phone startled Hank awake. He looked at the time. Two thirty! He picked up the phone.
“Hello?” he was barely conscious.
“Your swine are in my yard rutting it up!” Jeff let out a string of cuss words at Hank.
“Dammit Jeff, I’m coming over to check them out!” He slammed down the phone and pulled on his clothes. So much for sleep, now he was just plain angry. Hank was tired and irate when he pulled into Jeff’s driveway. There were several pigs in the yard, a female sow with last year’s brood and a 150-pound boar. Hank aimed his high-intensity flashlight then he shot into the air, the pigs squealed and ran in different directions.
Hank wasn’t convinced they were his. They could be quite territorial up to two miles. None of them ran toward his property.
“Jeff, none of them ran toward my property. I think you have a feral pig problem here. I’m going home and I am going back to bed. Do NOT call me again.”
Hank lay in bed, deep in thought, no doubt Jeff would be calling the sheriff’s department on him again. He finally relaxed enough to go back to sleep.
Sunlight was streaming in the window when Hank woke. What time was it? He grabbed his alarm clock, it was 7:45 a.m. He never slept this late. He had hunters coming this evening and needed to get the bunkhouses cleaned out. He hurried out to the cabin to find his daughter-in-law Nadine had already cleaned the cabins and was walking toward the house with an armload of sheets.
“Good morning sleepy head.” she laughed at her father-in-law.
“What time did you get here?”
“Six, I have the ten-thirty shift at the restaurant today, I knew you’d leave this until the last minute.” Hank thanked her and invited Nadine in for some coffee and started the sheets in the washer.
The bunkhouse and his home were secured with a high fence around them for protection. The hogs could get aggressive when it came to breeding time, or when the sows were ready to farrow. The hogs normally ran away from humans, but during those times of procreation, they could be aggressive.
Hank told Nadine what happened last night, and how tired he was of the whole thing. He understood Jeff’s frustration. He didn’t like fighting with his neighbor who was the age his son would have been, had he not died. Another victim of that damn cancer.
When Hank’s son got the big “C” and died, he left Nadine with a couple of kids and a little life insurance. Nadine was a nice-looking woman. Hank knew that his neighbor, Jeff was interested, but also knew that Jeff hesitated courting Nadine because she came with a couple of kids.
Jeff accepted another cup of coffee at Betsy’s Diner when Nadine offered him a refill. He smiled brightly at her, forgetting the big job he had waiting for him when he got home. Nadine worked two jobs. She worked as a waitress at the diner in the mornings and then she bartended three nights a week when her mother watched the boys. It was a shame how she was living. Jeff heard that Hank chipped in on things, but this was no way for his daughter-in-law to live, another reason Jeff couldn’t stand Hank he had so much and did so little for Nadine and her kids. It’s not like Hank needed the money for himself.
Those damn swine. He finished his breakfast and left an extra big tip for Nadine. He wanted to help out when he could. A lot of times he would eat breakfast at Betsy’s and then go to the Watering Hole at night and have her wait on him again. He never asked anything of her, just talked and then tipped her handsomely.
Jeff worked second shift, one-thirty to ten p.m., at the lumber mill. When he finished for the day, he was hungry and thirsty. He made his way over to the Watering Hole. Nadine was there, behind the bar serving drinks when he walked in. She caught his eye and nodded her head. He found a spot at the bar.
“Hello, Jeff!” Nadine dropped a coaster in front of him.
“Nadine, I’ll take a beer, please.” Nadine knew his choice of beer. She opened the bottle and set it in front of him. She didn’t have to ask if he needed a glass, he was strictly a bottle guy.
“That one’s on me.” Nadine smiled.
“No, that’s alright.” Jeff was uncomfortable.
“Come on, an eight-dollar tip for a twelve-dollar breakfast? I can buy you a beer. You are a sweet guy, thank you.” Nadine went to her tip jar taking out the correct amount for his beer and rang it up on the cash register. Jeff lifted the bottle saluting her before he took a pull. That was nice of her.
“Are you just getting out of work?” Nadine was making small talk. He nodded yes and asked if he could order a burger. She took his order and walked it back to the kitchen. At least Jeff could tip her for bringing his burger and fries. Nadine knew that that there was a strain between her father-in-law and Jeff. She would try to defuse the situation as Jeff was getting more animated with each passing event claiming Hanks hogs got out. When she served his burger and fries, Jeff asked Nadine how her boys were. She was excited to tell him about how well they were doing. Jeff left a generous tip when he exited the bar and headed home. He drove cautiously because he was not used to having those extra beers he drank tonight. It’s just that Nadine was in the mood to talk, and he was in the mood to listen. He didn’t want to get pulled over, that’s the last thing he needed. The hogs scattered when he drove up his driveway.
“Dammit!” He shouted. He ran for the house and got the shotgun shooting it in the air. The pigs scattered, but they had already torn up what he fixed that morning. He was hot. He threw the gun in the pickup and headed to Hank’s place. Tearing up the driveway in a cloud of dust he parked in front of the house. It was past midnight.
“Hank Owens, you get out here NOW!” Jeff shouted. A few moments of silence and Hank came out after turning on the porch light
“What is it now Jeff?” Hank called out.
“It’s them damn hogs, they were in my yard again!” Jeff was screaming now.
“Shoot them. No one is going to fault you. They’ve torn up your yard so many times. Why do you keep coming here?”
“Because you’re the man who raises them! Why wouldn’t I come here?” Jeff pulled his shotgun out from the truck. Hank ran into the house, coming out with his gun.
“Stop right there Jeff. You just get back in your truck and head it on home. I’m in no mood to mess with you tonight. You been drinking?” Hank laid the shotgun across his arms.
“Listen, old man, I had it with you.” Jeff raised his gun. Whether he was going to shoot or not, didn’t make any difference to Hank, he shot before Jeff made up his mind on what he was going to do. Jeff shouted at Hank, he was hit.
“What did you do that for? I was only using the gun to get your attention! I would have never hurt you. Look what you’ve gone and done you crazy coot!” Jeff dropped the shotgun and grabbed his gut which was bleeding profusely. “Call an ambulance!” He shouted less forcefully falling to his knees.
Hank stood there in shock. He’d never shot anyone before at least not close-up. He was in Vietnam but was never sure he’d hit someone, he preferred not knowing. Through the headlights of the pickup and the porch light on the house Hank had a view front and backlit, of Jeff Scott bleeding out like a stuck pig. Hank couldn’t get his feet to move. He kept thinking about what the cops were going to do to him. Jeff called out for help again falling forward on his face. Hank finally came to his senses. He ran out to Jeff. He realized Jeff was bad, he’d seen men gut shot and it was over quick.
Hank knew that calling the ambulance would have taken a half hour or more to come like it did when his wife died. Jeff wasn’t going to make it that long. He pulled Jeff into his arms.
“I called an ambulance, they’re on their way. Hang on son.” Jeff clutched his sleeve.
“I don’t want to die!” he whimpered.
“You aren’t going to die just relax, the ambulance is on its way. We should be hearing it any moment now. Hang on.” Hank said softly. Jeff bled out. Hank lowered him to the ground. His mind raced for answers. What should he do? He saw the truck still running. He used a handkerchief to put the gun back on the rack in the rear window of the truck. He used his work gloves to drive the truck back to Jeff’s farm parking it in the garage. Taking the keys and putting them on the kitchen table in Jeff’s house. He left the front door unlocked and walked the mile back to his farm. Jeff still lay in front of the house. Hank took his four-wheeler out of the shed. It was hard but he got him into the dump box. Hank drove through the high fence out into the pig’s territory. He had a feeding area. The pigs knew to come to eat whenever they were hungry. He dumped Jeff on the ground calling the animals. They were domesticated enough to know there would be food waiting for them. Hank climbed into the four-wheeler and drove it back to the house.
He washed the four-wheeler down thoroughly and then threw mud and dirt on it. He parked it in the garage and hosed down the area where Jeff collapsed. He cleaned his gun wiping all the gun powder residue off. He would be out there tomorrow to check on the progress of the pigs. By the time he went to bed he figured he’d thought of everything he could to cover his tracks.
Hank would act so surprised when the deputies questioned him about his neighbors’ disappearance. Hell, he’d even go on the search for Jeff if they asked him. He knew the sheriff’s department would be looking at him because of the constant fighting, but Hank never got riled with them, never thought much of Jeff’s calls and would always tell the cops he’d try and keep his pigs in the pen and welcome them to check the fence. Always an even-handed guy when it came to the cops.
What was done, was done. When he woke the next morning there was a good steady rain coming down. Hank took this as a sign he was going to be okay. Evidence was being washed away. He took the four-wheeler out to the main feeding area. Glad there were no hunters this week he couldn’t risk a hunter being hurt. It was farrowing season.
Hank drove to the area where he had dumped Jeff last night. Nothing was there! Was that possible? He looked for a blood trail, but the rain was so steady, any blood would have been washed away. Hank walked around the feeder thinking they had dragged Jeff behind it, but there was nothing. Hank scratched his head. There was no way Jeff was alive when he dumped him last night. Where could his body be?
He took the four-wheeler deeper into the preserve searching for anything to give him an indication of where Jeff’s body was. He was almost to Jeff’s property line when he spotted the jeans jacket. Jeff’s body had been nearly dragged back to his house! He climbed out of the four-wheeler and stepped over the fallen tree to get to the body.
It was Jeff alright looking worse for wear. The boar came out of no where knocking him off his feet. He should have been paying attention, he should have brought his gun. Hank tried to crawl under the branches of the tree to get away, but the boar stopped him from going forward.
Hank tried to get back onto his feet. The razor-sharp tusks hit his arm which bled profusely, Hank was on an aspirin regimen for his heart. He tried taking his belt off and tying it around his elbow to stem the flow of blood. He crawled in a different direction. There the sow with a newly born litter, jumped up and charged Hank. Now they were coming at him both sides. He rolled up in a ball hoping they would think they killed him. The hogs couldn’t see well, but they could smell something five to seven miles away. They smelled his fear and his blood. They knew he wasn’t dead. The male gored him over and over. Hank lay on the ground face up. The gentle rain washing the blood off him. Hank didn’t feel anything anymore. He wasn’t hot, he wasn’t cold, he wasn’t scared.
When Jeff didn’t make it to work, he was always there, they called his house. No one answered. They’d give him the benefit of the doubt. Nadine went to check on her father-in-law when he didn’t answer the phone, a second day in a row. She called the police after going out to his house.
The sheriff’s deputy found the front door open and the four-wheeler gone. The officer went into the high fenced area with the squad searching for quite some time before he found the four-wheeler next to the fallen tree. The officer cautiously stepped out of the squad and started into the brush when the boar came charging. He drew his pistol and shot several times the boar ran off into the woods. Stepping over the branches he found Hank staring up into the sky totally mutilated. He then spied Jeff not too far from Hank, he’d been gored too. The female came out of the brush the officer shot at her as she ran off. He knew she would be back. The officer could hear the little piglets running around in a trampled grassy area. Nine of them, all about 3 pounds or so apiece. Cute little buggers.
The deputy called in the gruesome scene standing guard over Hank and Jeff until the coroner came and took both men away. No one ever looked too closely at the men, if they had, they would have discovered Jeff had been shot first before being maimed. The coroner blamed both deaths on attacks from wild boar. The sows and boars were known to be aggressive this time of the year. It had happened before.
Hank left her the house, the farm, his money, life insurance, everything. The boys were going to love growing up here. Nadine could give up the job at the Watering Hole now that she had another income source. She climbed into the four-wheeler driving out to the boundary fence. There it was, camouflaged. A split in the fence she had cut out a year ago. Hanks hogs found it and used it quite regularly to get to Jeff’s property. She knew what a hot head Jeff was. He was already crazy in high school. She always thought Hank would have a heart attack screaming at Jeff. But this was better, not only did she inherit Hank’s preserve, she put a lowball offer on Jeff’s property too. She would rent it out, perhaps to a hired hand she would need to help her with the hunting preserve.
The repaired fence looked good. No one would suspect there was ever a hole there. Nadine got back on the four-wheeler headed back to the house. She was pleased with herself. Some how she managed to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.