Fifteen and I was out on the town with kids years older than me. They were seniors in high school. I was an 8th grader. We were supposed to be playing Dungeons and Dragons, but from nowhere, beer had appeared. Within an hour, the whole night had gotten out of hand.

I was trying to roll with it. I would not drink. I had not the guts to try. I pictured screaming mothers and belt whippings. I saw visions of vomit everywhere, and a morning hangover my mother would not be gentle with. I would not drink, and within one hour, I knew things had gotten away from me. I was trapped in a situation I couldn’t control, and I was scared.

One guy there really cared about me. We will call him Jay, though that is only a shade of his real name. He was the one who had brought me that night, the one who had shook off all the looks of derision and snide comments about grade school. He had demanded I be included and, like a good friend, he had watched out for me. But now he was drunk, and even he was beginning to get nervous about me being there. He knew what I didn’t. He knew the crowd I was in. He grabbed me with drunk, groping fingers and clamped his hand down tight on my shoulder.

“I need to take you home,” he slurred. “This is not where you need to be.” I wanted so much to jump in his car and ride off. But I saw myself one day being a fixture with this group, one day being one of them. To do that, I needed to show some backbone. So instead of running for the door and sprinting across the grass to his Pinto, I sat down and told him that it was OK. I was not drinking, and if I needed to get home, I could walk.

This was utter nonsense. Had he been sober, he would have known better. A walk home would be over ten miles. But he grinned, told me I was cool, and he stumbled away. I watched him go with a growing fear budding in my stomach and curling my spine. I was locked in now. There was no escape for me. I was here for the haul, and I needed to be OK with whatever happened next.

After about twenty minutes of them shouting over themselves, Robert looked at me and grinned. “We should get him drunk,” he said.

They looked at me with glee in their eyes and I could do nothing but lock up and shake my head.

“Hey, little boy,” God, how I hated when he called me that. “Come over here and take this can. Come over here and sip this.”

Jay shook his head. “No, Rob, he is not going to do that.”

Robert was growing agitated. “No. He wants to hang out with us. He is too damn young, but he wants to stick his nose in. Let him join us now.” He turned to me. “You want to be one of us, right?”

I reached deep, groping deep in the darkest pit of my hole. This hole, this yawning chasm, had been in me since I could remember. I didn’t know what was down there. It would bubble and steam every now and then. But I knew that whatever lived down there was mean. It was course and it was gristly. It would answer a plea if I made one, so I pulled it up then and grinned at Rob.

“Come on, Robert. Try to make me.”

His face changed.

“Come on. Bring that beer over here and try to force me drink it.” It was bigger than I thought, this thing that lived in the hole. I could hear its growl echoing up from the walls of the chasm. I wanted him to get closer. I wanted to hit him. I wanted him to bring his drunken body closer. And he saw it.

Robert was not the guy to back down from anything, and when he saw danger in my eyes, he jumped up to meet it. We met in the middle of the room, and Jay jumped between us. I was trembling now and nearly crying. My situation was tilting, off-balance and wobbling, and I was not safe. The thing within me was snarling and I wanted to hurt something.

“Robert, don’t kill him. He is only a kid.” Jay turned to me and smiled. “Jesse, don’t eat him. He is tough and gamey.” Everyone laughed, and Jay led us to his car. I thought they were taking me home. I thought they would drop me off and finish their night. But this ride was not over yet. This night was far from done.

We started heading to my house. I found out later that it was not our destination, but we seemed to be heading there when Robert’s arm wrapped around me, and he belched in my ear. “You’re alright, you little fucker. I really think you would have hit me, wouldn’t you have? You would have taken this fist,” he grabbed my hand and balled it up tight, “And you would have hit me with it.” He laughed. “You strong, little man?” He grabbed my arm and squeezed. I flexed my arm and he snapped his fingers. “Damn! I bet you can hit hard as shit.” He laughed again. “I’m glad, kid. We might need you.”

Jay turned into a restaurant, a McDonalds, and we all exploded out of his tiny car. Now, I have been amiss yet to tell you how many there were of us. I kept that part out because the answer is simple.

There were not enough.

We walked in on a busy night. There were people everywhere, and Robert smacked Jay’s back. “You know what I want,” he said as he turned away.

“It’s your turn,” Jay snapped. I looked back to see Robert’s middle finger answering Jay’s call as Robert entered the busy sitting area. I went with him. “Hey Jesse, what do you want?” Jay asked.

“Just a Dr. Pepper.” I followed Robert to sit down.

“Up,” he said to a group of people sitting at a table. “Up now!” They grabbed their food and jumped away. He snatched one of their french fries as they scrambled. He bit into it and tossed it to the ground. “Cold.”

I laughed. It was funny. OK, you can’t see what this was yet. I was a buttoned up recluse. I was hated by everyone I ever hung out with. I was made fun of everywhere, and the life at home was confusing and wrong. I desperately needed danger right then, craved anything out of my realm. I need you to know I was free at that moment. I was not held down by anything. I was cut loose and floating. It was the first time I felt out of control in years. But things were spinning now. The world began to change course soon.

Jay and the others came with food. Robert pointed across the restaurant at a guy I didn’t know.

“Is that him?” he snapped.

Jay looked over before turning white. “No man, that is not him.”

“That’s him,” Robert said.

“That is a dude that looks like him but that is not—”

“Hey asshole!” Robert snapped. The entire place turned to look at us, and Robert jumped from his seat. “Found you,” he said, pointing a trembling drunken hand. The guy grinned, and more stood around him, far more than we could ever have handled, far more muscle stretched over bone, far too much power in their numbers.

“You think they scare me!” Robert shouted. “You think any of you scare me?” He was getting in their faces now, and everything was moving outside.

Two of our guys left. They jumped up and walked out. I don’t have any idea what became of them. Never saw them again. But Jay and I went outside.

Robert had been caught up in a surge. They had grabbed him and were pounding him. There was a cloud around my friend. Jay froze. I did not.

“Get the car!” I yelled. “Bring it over there.” I pointed to a spot in the parking lot just left of the fight. Jay disappeared. I reached in to that hole again and I roared. I dove in. I did not try to fight. That would have been insane. This is not a story about how Robert and I went to dukes with what had to be ten guys at least. This is a story about escape.

I rushed in and grabbed his waist. I wrapped my arms around him and, with a prayer on my lips and a curse in my mouth, I jerked him away. They let me have him. Robert was the only one that gave me any trouble. See, he wanted to stay. He wanted to fight. They talked and yelled, and he cursed them all as I stuffed him in the car.

Then he rolled down the window and said a few more words. They all ran to their cars.

“Got to go!” I yelled.

Jay turned and stomped on the gas of his Pinto. It buzzed away.

We went right. We could have gone left, into town, into the place where sane things lived, people, fast food, school and police stations. We could have turned left and ended up at a library or a gas station. But Jay went right.

In moments, we were blazing past my house. I watched it go, so close but impossibly far away. There was no way to stop, no way to pull over and let me out. They were behind us now. Three, maybe four cars, that weren’t Pintos, filled with ten guys at least, who were not done beating the hell out of Robert.

He was alive in the back seat, yelling at us to let him out, telling us to pull over now. He wanted more, more impact, more fists. He had a hole running right through him, too, a hole that needed pain, and he wanted to fill it that night. Jay kept driving. We were running low on gas, but we were moving. So we kept it up, kept running.

We went into a cut in the night, an abandoned road, and we rushed headlong into it. For a moment, it looked like they hadn’t followed us. But soon, lights were bobbing in the back seat and we saw them coming up.

Robert became sullen. He became quiet, muttering to himself and the half empty case of beer we had brought with us. He started drinking again, and I turned back to the chase.

We took the first turn we could, dove into a back road that went by us so fast we couldn’t catch a name. When the next turn came, we took it. On and on it went, one turn after the next, one road after the next. We did not care where we turned as long as it was deep, deep back in the woods were they would not chase us. We rode on into the night, and soon found the road had disappeared almost completely. Every now and then, two cuts from wheels would erupt where tires had beaten a trail down. We followed on. We passed a sign. We didn’t see it. It was plywood and had been spray painted with hunter orange paint, one word, a welcome and a curse. We had arrived somewhere. None of us knew at all where that was.

We stayed out there all night. Jay turned off the car, and we sat in the dark woods. Insects would not let us sleep. They were louder than sirens, louder than the firing of guns. They owned everything, and all we could do was listen to the drone of the insects and try to think. We were in deep. The gas was almost gone. We were gone.

The next day, when the sun came up, Robert was passed out. I turned to Jay, and he nodded. He began the chore of backing us out. We passed what looked like a cut in the woods where a truck might sit. We passed it and kept searching for any sign of where we were.

Soon we found the sign we had seen the night before. We stared at it for a long time, unable to figure what we were seeing.

Population 12

“Pig, Missouri?” Jay said. He laughed. We scooted further until we saw two RVs and a school bus with no wheels.

Pig has no post office. It has no restaurants. It has not a single house, or even a paved road. But Pig has an old man with no eyes. He sits on a stump with a blanket over his legs, naked, with a knife he sharpens. Pig has three children, all so covered in filth that their sex is an indescribable puzzle. It has four women that wear no clothing in the summer. They are ragged and dark with haunted eyes. Pig has a rusted rain barrel. It has a mule. A collection of four feral goats hung by their back feet, squealing. A narrow switch of a man pulled a massive knife that had never been cleaned, and he slaughtered those four goats. He pulled back, covered in goat blood from eyes to pants. He grinned at us and scratched his belly, clawing lines of flesh in the blood.

Jay stomped on the gas and the car lurched. Life jumped up in me, demanding its day. I wanted to live. I wanted to see my mother again and hug my sister, play guitar and see a girl naked. I wanted to eat my mother’s rolls again, not the dry ones from the can, but the yeast rolls she hardly ever makes. I wanted to survive this, and when the large man stepped in the middle of the road, blocking us in, I knew I was not going to survive Pig, Missouri.

He didn’t say a thing, didn’t ask a question. He just stared at us and set a shotgun on his shoulder. Then we started to see. We became aware of the defining feature of the town of Pig.

Pig has guns.

The man pulled his and pointed it at us. He spit on our car, and when he decided he would not kill us, he stepped aside.

Fumes, man. We were hobbling along on fumes. That car feared Pig just as much as any of us. It made it out of the wilderness, though I have no idea how many wrong turns we made. It took us out of the cut of abandoned road and as far as a mile from my house before it died a shaking death.

We walked, gas can, goodbyes, and I went to sleep. My mother asked me how it was spending the night with Jay. I didn’t know how to answer her.

Pig is out there. Its residents don’t want you to find it. They are fine out there without you, and don’t want your input. They will let you leave. But I’m sure they will only do that once. Because in Pig, there is no sheriff station, either.



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