Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
Toby Mills winced as he felt the soft ground give way under his foot. He had stepped in a cow pie, ruining his brand new Armani loafers. “Son of a…,” he said under his breath.
Toby swiped at the shoe with his new handkerchief as he swayed and bounced on one foot. “Maybe trying to walk five miles back to the gas station was a bad idea,” he thought the split second before he fell backwards just scarcely missing the sea of droppings.
“Out of gas in the middle of Incest Bluffs, Kentucky. What a freakin wonderful setting for a Harvard Business School grad,” said Tody to no one in particular. “I was buying a penthouse, damnit!”
The involuntary lie down made Toby realize all at once how little he’d slept in the past couple of days. He closed his eyes and imagined the king-sized bed with satin sheets in his lost cause penthouse. A bottle of Petron on ice next to the bed, a three thousand dollar per night hooker in his arms. It might as well be Heaven.
If only chicks today weren’t so freakin hypersensitive,” he thought.
Sheila Jowski- luscious, young, obvious daddy issues- even now the thought of her in that tight skirt got Toby a little excited. Ever since high school, Toby had had an easy time with any girl he wanted. It didn’t matter how cynical, how feminist, how Catholic, how taken she was. All he had to do was flash that smile his parents had paid so much for and offer her a ride in the red Maserati nicknamed the Rubber Wagon and she was his for as long as he wanted her. Of course, when there were so many others pigeons in the sky, “as long as,” was never all that long to Toby. “Why should it be?” he thought.
“When you’re this much of a god, it’s a crime not to share it with the world,” he always told his friends when they asked why he’d never had a steady girlfriend.
That is until Sheila. As much as she still turned him on, Toby couldn’t help but feel a little rage when he thought of her. “Why did she have to be so sensitive? Why did she have to file a sexual harassment claim? It was only a little pinch. I was just being friendly for crying out loud,” Toby thought.
He wasn’t mad at his boss. How could he be mad at “Keg Stand” Greg Johnson from back at Theta House? Greg’s hands were tied. Damn political correctness. He did all he could to keep Toby from being fired. “I’ve called in all the favors that I can. This is all I can do for you, man. The sales division has an opening out in Louisville, Kentucky. Basically you’d be hoofing it around those parts of farm country with crappy phone service schilling grain and pesticides in person,” Greg said.
“C’mon, Greg! College intern work?” Toby said. “That’s really all you can do?”
“It’s either that or take a bunch of rehab classes and see if the mail room down at Chalmers Agriculture is available,” Greg said. “Times have changed since we were in school. All these companies have a zero tolerance policy, now.”
Toby sighed. “Well, thanks for doing all you can,” he said.“I guess I’ll see you on Phil Gunderson’s yacht on Labor Day if I don’t get shot by the Deliverance kid or something.”
Toby had to admit that Louisville was not as bad as he thought it would be. Yes, there wasn’t a woman in sight above a six or a seven, but Greg had managed to get him a nice enough apartment and the company car that he had free use of wasn’t too old and clunky. He could make a passable life here, he thought. Maybe he could even spread a little New York class to the Louisville club scene. That is, if he wasn’t wasting all his weekends driving into the sticks, staying in rancid motels and courting E. Coli in roadside diners to sell pesticides and growth additives to mouth breathers in faded dungarees.
But at least Toby always made it through without too many problems. These hicks were pretty easy to charm, after all. In no time he had become the Louisville sales branch’s top mover of pesticides. All he had to do was have some lemonade with them, tell their ugly daughter how pretty she was and sometimes he’d even get some farm fresh eggs or fresh venison out of the deal. As disgusting as it was for him out in the Valley of the Rubes, at least it was the easiest work he’d had in a while.
“Wake up, boy! You’re gonna get heat stroke lying in the road like this if someone doesn’t run you over,” said a voice. Toby yawned and opened his eyes to see a gaunt, older man in flannels poking him with a stick. Toby lept to his feet, startled
“That must have been your car I saw on the side of the road a couple miles back,” the old man said pointing to Toby’s gas can. The old man chuckled and extended his hand. “The name’s Pete Kearns. You look like you could use a ride.”
Toby almost had to cover his ears from all the squealing in the truck as he climbed in and buckled up. “Pigs, huh? We have a lot of local pig farmers on the client roll,” Toby said. He had always believed that the greatest salesmen were on the hunt for a score even when they were distracted.
“You must be one of those agricultural salesmen from Louisville, then,” Pete said as the old truck struggled to start. “We’ve had you folks out to the farm a couple of times. Can’t say I’ve really been interested in your products, though. No offense.”
“That must have before I transferred in,” said Toby. “You’d have bought if I was selling to you.”
“You’re pretty dang sure of yourself, boy,” Pete said. “You remind me of my nephew, Earl.”
“Was he in sales?” Toby asked.
Pete paused and inhaled through his nose. “No, he was a pig farmer,” he said, “You just remind me of the glint in his eye and the way he talked. I take it you’re one for the ladies, too? Yeah, so was Earl.” Pete sighed.
“He lives around here?” Toby asked, half-interested in the responses.
Another silence, “He passed on,” Pete said. “We call it the Hog’s Breath. He didn’t last more than a few days. Still, I suppose he brought it on himself, runnin around on his young wife like he did.” Pete’s hands shook a bit.
“So this “Hog’s Breath,” has City Health been…” Toby’s head almost smacked against the window as Pete jerked the wheel left and turned onto a dirt road at the last second.
“Sorry bout that,” Pete said. “It’s getting dark. You’re going to have to stay with us tonight. I’ll take you into Lofton’s Bend for gas in the morning.”
“What? I’m on a schedule,” Toby said. “I’ve got to be all the way in Weams by tomorrow. You’ve got headlights. Why can’t we keep going?”
Pete’s countenance fell. “I’d like to help ya, son. I really would. But round here, folks don’t go out at night except in emergencies and your predicament just doesn’t qualify.”
“Why shouldn’t it?” Toby said. “Without people like me, smallholders like you would be out of business and I’m just barely going to make it to Weams as it is.”
“I just can’t,” said Pete. “Don’t worry. Just let me call your office when we get to Lofton’s Bend tomorrow. I’ll explain everything so you don’t get in trouble. Now, just relax. The misses’ll be cooking up a fine ham just butchered yesterday. We’ll get a nice soft bed ready for you and I’ll even uncork some of my good cider!”
Toby was a little tired, after all. Maybe this rube could work some magic on his bosses and get him off the hook. Toby had actually been ever so slightly impressed by old Pete’s communication skills. “Oh, alright,” Toby said and stretched.
As sunset faded into twilight, the truck came up to a well kept 19th Century farmhouse nestled in a dale about a half mile from the highway. A plump, somewhat greying woman stepped out onto the porch just as they pulled up to what Toby swore could pass for the set of The Waltons. The woman smiled and waved at them as two large men in ill fitting denim overalls rushed to the back of the truck to unload the pigs with Pete.
“Well, you must be the man from the city,” the woman said. “I’m Beulah, Mr. Kearns’ wife.”
“How do you do, ma’am? I’m Toby Mills.” Toby strained to remember when Pete could have made a call to his wife telling her to expect a houseguest.
He forgot all about it when he saw what came out of the door next. She was tall, buxom, brunette with a cute short haircut, wearing a blue floral print dress that hugged her midsection to show off her curves, and she had the most amazing pale blue eyes. They almost seemed to be of another world. They sparkled in the light of the porch with an odd reflective quality that nearly made Toby shudder.
The mystery woman shot a smile in his direction and, before Toby could open his mouth in greeting, darted off toward what he assumed was the barn. “That’s my daughter Polly,” Pete said from behind Toby. “She can be a bit rude sometimes but don’t pay her no mind. She couldn’t sit still ever since she was a little tiny thing. The kids can finish putting the pigs away. C’mon in and relax!”
Toby was about to comment on Polly’s beauty along with an obsequious comment on Mrs’ Kearn’s own when he was ushered somewhat forcefully into the warm house. It was a very quaint setup, hardwood floors and grayish wallpaper with little white flowers on it. It had a small kitchen with what looked to be 1980s appliances and a sofa and ancient looking armchairs huddled around an old TV that seemed to only be showing static.
In one of the armchairs, sat an old woman. She was so small compared to the chair that Toby hadn’t even seen her when he came in the door. Her old, claw-like hands gripped fast to the arms of the chair like the talons of an eagle. Aside from a quick sideways glance at Toby, she stared straight at the TV, her eyes boring into the static like a drill into solid rock.
“That’s my mother,” said Beulah. “She hasn’t been able to speak or move around much since the stroke, but she sure does love visitors! Don’t ya, Ma?” The old lady didn’t glance up, she just mumbled something angry sounding.
“Don’t be like that, Ma! Mr. Mills was stranded on his way from the city and he’s only staying here for a night.” It was almost as if she was in awe of her mother, maybe even afraid of her, even in this helpless state. Toby just brushed it off as the result of a lifetime of memories of deference.
“Well, she’s in a bit of a sour mood,” Beulah said. “I think she’s just mad that her game shows aren’t coming in right.” Beulah banged on the TV set to no apparent avail and the old lady strained as if trying to make out an image.
The oven alarm dinged as Polly and the two men came back in the house. “Were the pigs any trouble,” Pete said.
“No trouble at all, Dad,” said the one with the shaved head who Toby would come to learn was called Mike.
“Earl’s gettin’ pretty fat. Might be a good time to turn him into meat for the winter,” said the blonde one, Sam.
“You named the pig after your dead nephew?” Toby said as he attempted to sit down next to Polly.
“Oh, no. The pig is Earl Jr,” said Buelah as she set out the side dishes. “Earl raised it from a piglet,” it’s just a silly little naming custom around here. “We inherited it when Earl passed away. Bless his soul. Butter for your potatoes, Dear?”
“No ma’am! I’m set up fine right here,” said Pete. Toby noticed that Polly seemed to be tasked with feeding the old woman. He had never been more jealous of a stroke victim in his life. “So, you folks must be doing pretty well for yourselves this year despite the drought,” he said.
“It’s been fair,” Pete said nodding slowly.
“It’s all thanks to Gran,” Mike said before his mother shot him the stair of death.
“What do you mean?” Toby asked.
“Oh, it’s just a silly superstition the boys have. Don’t encourage them any,” said Beulah.
“Gran has what folks around here used to call The Knack,” Polly said from the living room.
“The Knack? You mean like witchcraft?” Toby said.
“She gives us rain and makes the hay grow fast and makes the pigs nice and fat and everything!” Sam said.
“It’s just a silly story she used to tell the kids. That’s all,” Beulah said. “And I’ll thank all of you not to make us look bad by spreading such nonsense in front of our guest.”
After dinner, the family gathered round the TV to see if they could get enough reception from the city to watch Nick at Nite but Toby felt a bit ill and decided to go to bed early. Pete showed him to the guest room upstairs- a cozy little room under the roof with a single sized bed and a bare bulb dangling from the ceiling.
“Well, sleep tight and holler if you need anything,” Pete said.
For a moment, Toby wanted to ask him if he believed the old lady was really a witch, but he decided it was best to drop the night’s silliness. “Er, good night, Pete. Thanks for putting me up.”
Pete nodded at the floor and shut the door. Toby lay there in the dark fantasizing about Polly and listening to the sounds of the night. He had wanted to sneak into her room and seduce her that night. By the time the faint sounds of TV and laughter had died down, though, he decided that it might look bad for him if he got caught or if Polly rebuffed his advances. He decided that he would find a way to approach her tomorrow, perhaps after breakfast.
Toby woke up with a start from a nightmare. Reaching for the pitcher of water on the nightstand, he swore as he heard it drop to the floor. Rising from bed to turn the light on, he happened to look out the window at the barnyard below just for a second.
That second was all it took for Toby’s blood to freeze. There, in the middle of the barnyard, distinctly visible in the moonlight, was a massive, fat black pig standing perfectly on its hind legs and staring up at him.
The two looked into each others eyes for what must have been at least five minutes. Then the pig let out a shrill screech that didn’t sound like any pig noise that Toby had ever heard. It sounded more like a foghorn somehow combined with the hissing of a cat and a woman’s scream at the same time.
As Toby slapped his hands against his ears to shield the pain, he saw what seemed to be a pale blue mist coming from the half open barn door behind the hideous creature. It circled around the pig in a lazy arc, almost beautiful as it reflected the moonlight. Toby was too frightened to move even as the pale blue mist wafted higher and higher in the air. As the mist reached his level, Toby willed himself through sheer adrenaline to shut the window
The mist began to somehow thicken and press against the window. Heavy condensation spread over every square inch of the glass. Toby began to scream as it fractured and shattered into uncountable tiny pieces on the floor.
“Pete! Anybody! For the love of God, get in here!” Toby wrenched his eyes away from the encroaching mist and pulled and banged on the door. Had Pete locked him in?
The thick, almost palpable mist now nearly filling the small room, Toby began to feel as if something cold and clammy was grabbing at his clothing, trying to pull him toward the window. He hurled himself against the door as he continued to scream, receiving not a peep of acknowledgement from the other side. In fact, the lights in the hall weren’t even on.
The next day, the Kearns family sat down to breakfast after a restful night. Pete made his good raspberry pancakes with eggs, bacon, and pork sausage- Sam’s favorite. As a crash rang out from the barnyard, Sam and Mike grumbled as they left the table.
The new pig must have been awake and making a ruckus. Polly waited till Sam was out the door and took some of the bacon off his plate to give a little extra to her beloved Gran.
Credit To – Cosmo Fish