by David Blodgett

by David Blodgett

Musk Hog Sun

by Nahn Aneira Warburton

“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6).

Heat radiated from the sand near Buckhorn, New Mexico on the April morning of Walt Baumeister’s great turkey hunt.  His breath came in shallow gasps as he readied his guns, dizzy from the lack of blood. A cigarette hung from his mouth, smoke spiraling, snaking to the weathered skin near his eyes. His chest ached with a crushing kind of pain. High on the Sacaton, a javelina pig sniffed for prey, snorting the earth above the rodent den. Each time the boar opened his mouth, his javelin-shaped tusk sharpened a bit more. Now it was like a razor—ready for predation.

Earlier that day Walt had organized his ammunition and loaded the shotgun onto the ATV. A mid-morning hunt was thorny, especially when tracking the Rio Grande wild turkey. He knew the sounds—the fast, erratic cutting of a frantic hen seeking companionship, the staccato clucking of approaching gobblers, the single, sharp put that sounded an alarm.

“Lily! Where’s my damn cell phone?” Walt demanded, tossing his cigarette butt into the brush near the shed. He swaggered by the side of the lean-to.

“I . . . haven’t seen it yet. But I will . . .” Lily replied, dropping her full laundry basket in front of the dirt-floored out building where her washing machine crushed the grass. A nest of scorpions multiplied beneath the machine, arching their poisonous backs in ecstasy. Lily had once even seen a bull snake slide out from the dark crack below the washer. Or maybe it was a rattler. But the scent of lilacs blew out of the dryer—downy soft—just like a baby.

“Oh, Hell!  Never mind!” Walt yelled, swinging his leg over the side of the four-wheeler. He revved the engine and looked at Lily’s fawn eyes, blinking against the exhaust fumes–blinking so she wouldn’t see. He cut the engine, and the silence closed in a bit more. She just didn’t get it. So fragile—so damned exhausting. He was such a bastard. “I’m sorry, doll. Who cares? I’ll bring you back a fresh, young hen—for when my daughters come? You can roast her up, real fine. DeVonna can yank out the feathers for you. We’ll set up the trailer for the girls in a few days. I’m just a . . . well, you know what I am.”

“I’ll water the pecan tree,” she said blankly, but her hand formed into a fist beneath the sleeve of her nightie.

Up at Turkey Creek, the dominant male of the herd of peccaries mounted one female after another. The females didn’t even try to get away anymore. After ejaculation, the male only waited a short hiatus before sniffing the pungent odor of the scent glands on the rump of one of the other females.  He rubbed his glands against her to possess her—to mark his territory with the stench.  It was important to leave something behind before the end. The javelina prefer to die alone.

On the April morning that the herd of javelina pigs barreled down the Turkey Creek wash, the dusty scar where floods had not deluged in a generation, Walt stopped at Last Chance Liquors to pick up some vodka and donuts. LeRoy was compiling a pizza in the back.

“Hey, Walt! You making the hunt today?” LeRoy said, wiping tomato sauce on his apron.

“Hell, yeah! What you watching on the TV?”

“Heard of Staff Sergeant Petry? Took cover in a chicken coop against some Taliban rebels. Threw a thermobaric. When those bastards returned the favor, he picked it up with his bare hand—blew it all to bits. ‘Had to get it outta there,’ he said. He just knew it,” said Leroy. “Had the same first name as me. Indian kid from Santa Fe.”

“I’ll be damned. That’s something,” Walt said, shaking his head. Of course, Afghanistan could never be like surviving the battle of Chonan, bottlenecked between the Yellow sea and the mountains. Never like a wife who shot herself when the kids were downstairs. Never like a butcher for a father who beat the shit out of you for nothing. But it was bravery, that was for damn sure. “Helluva thing, that. Helluva thing,” Walt said, and his eyes reddened like the loose neck-skin of a wild gobbler. Eyes so red and full it was a shameful thing. Don’t cry like a little girl. He took a swig of Milagro.

“Just watch out for those damn environmentalists. They may be out today, too—first day of the hunt and all.”

“Liberal sons-of-bitches,” Walt said, slamming the screen door before the water could leak out of his eyes, before he could feel, before LeRoy could know him.

The ATV roared awake and he slowly circled around, facing LeRoy’s before he sped up to Sacaton. Once at the plateau, Walt slipped off the leather seat of the all-terrain vehicle and ambled up a wash trench with his shotgun slung over his shoulder. The gun strap irritated the scar from his lung cancer surgery, but he lit up a smoke. “To hell with it!” he mumbled. He once told Lily to shoot him in the head if he ever had a stroke. “I ain’t gonna be no vegetable wearing diapers.” The memory of his dad, that mean son-of-a-bitch, in diapers, eating applesauce at the end—his throat ached with the kind of pain you just can’t swallow anymore.

From the chaparral patches on the verge of the Mogollons, a herd of skunk pigs bolted across the Sacaton at speeds near twenty-one miles per hour, snorting and spitting foamy saliva from their mouths, which glistened with rows of barbed canines that bulged beneath their lips. Their grisly fur stood erect on their collared necks as the herd angled towards the stream. Water was a struggle here. Their rubbery snouts flared open to receive the odorous scent of musk. The disproportionately colossal heads of the boars tipped downward as they approached the mountain puma on the plateau. They squared-off, laid back their ears, and chattered their tusks together. A collective rattling wavered for a moment in the hot air. They had warned the puma—rubbing their musk glands on the mesquite trees and rocks, yet the feline refused the escape she was offered. The dominant male boar charged her head-on, biting her throat and locking jaws in tangle of bloody cartilage and gum while the other males surrounded the pair to ram their javelin tusks into the puma’s soft underbelly. The tawny panther, now limp, was dragged to a ditch and mauled.

There were days, long before the memories of the oldest boars, when they were not the only predators. New world pigs were quartered by the carnivorous miners in the nineteenth century, when territories were still compressing in the southwest. The meat was tough and gamey. The natives knew better. The Apaches preferred acorn stews, wild potatoes, yucca and mescal plants, roots, and the sizzled meats of venison. But now most of the miners were gone—except Walt.

Back at the trailer, Lily sipped an iced tea and listened to Fox News while she peeled potatoes. An abnormally blonde news anchor tried to look both alarmed and masculine as she discussed a recent tornado in Kansas. The black twister had been a mile wide. There was no way to escape. Lily heard the rattle first, before she saw the pupil fixate on her—the long, reptilian slit that never blinked. The snake coiled by the garbage can. Lily grabbed a shovel and raised it above her head, slamming it down on the snake’s neck. The bones of the vertebrae cracked with a sickening sound, and the mouth opened and closed, hissing as the body convulsed. She threw aside the shovel. Lily’s hand shook just a little as she took another sip of tea, sitting down by the swamp cooler for a day of television-watching. Her hand slid on the condensation of the glass. The cup suspended for a moment, then slipped in slow motion, shattering and splattering tea and shards of glass. As she leaned over to wipe her legs, an advertisement came on the television, “Exhausted? Stressed? Worn out? Tired of Prozac and self-help groups? Try the Shambala spa in Bali . . . warm wind, massage, find out who you really are . . .” Lily glanced at her computer, then back to the t.v., wiping her legs round and round with tea, circling the skin and blinking, just circling, just in case. She left the blood there. It was good to have a memory of all of it.

Walt sweated into his camouflage jumpsuit in the mid-morning heat, rising quickly from the earth, roasting the beetles, venting steam from the saguaros. He had not seen any turkeys—yet. LeRoy had warned him that the javelina pigs were aggressive this time of year, but any kind of vigilance will do. They say that you will always smell a javelina before you see it, because they have a musk gland on their rump that secretes a tangy odor when they are excited.

Walt rounded the hill near the Gila River. The breeze quaffed a stench into the hot air. Globules of sweat popped from his forehead pores, opening them up. It was then that he sighted the band of frantic javelina pigs racing towards him at full speed, emitting a unified squeal. The manes of the musk hogs stuck straight up, extending from the crown of their heads to their rumps as a sign of territoriality. Their fur was grizzled and sable, hoary with natural oils. Moisture dripped from their prominent snouts. As the band of javelinas charged him, their tusks pointed straight down, they grunted and gurgled from mouths full of razor-sharp teeth. Their cloven hooves scraped the sand as they scampered towards him, nearly blind with excitement. Sometimes it was just one choice. He lowered his shotgun and looked steadily through the rifle sight.

BAM! One hog slid into the wash, rolling onto its back in a convulsion, stout legs quivering with the shock. BAM! The second hog flipped into the air before falling headlong, still as a river stone. BAM! Hog number three reared up on its hind hooves and fell on its back, cracking its vertebrae over the ruptured vena cava. The other peccaries continued to charge, bubbling foam from their black lips. But when the herd rounded the hillock near Walt, they suddenly gyrated sharply to the left.  For a moment, Walt wondered if the herd would plunge to their own deaths over a cliff, but he knew he was nothing like Jesus. Not a Jesus—not a Judas—just a hunter—some guy searching for something.

Just then, the herd swung back around, heading straight for Walt. He lowered his gun and shot a couple of the hogs, but the herd didn’t jerk away from the course.

“Hell!” Walt yelled, turning and trying to run back to his four-wheeler, but someone told him to turn around and face it. You have to step into the wave of pigs first.

The pig swarm suddenly parted in the middle, streaming in two directions, panting and squealing. But the single dominant male fixed his eyes on Walt. Lowering his tusk, he rammed into him, stabbing Walt in the solar plexus. Walt doubled over with the blow, groaning as the male pig backed up and rammed him again in the hip before charging into the herd again.

Walt held his hands tightly against the wound in his abdomen, afraid to remove the fingers that were now wet with blood.

The rotting hog bodies would decompose in the desert, one day fertilizing a pinion pine. Walt felt the erratic drumming in his chest and leaned against a rock outcropping on the plateau, gasping for the air that just seemed too thin. The lower half of his body felt boreal, and he staggered slightly. He saw himself running again into the salmon sky, but this time the Milky Way glowed behind the sunset. His darkened vision began to glitter with explosions of white light. Just then, he saw a lone javelina on the hill, staring at him with opaque eyes, unblinking.  The javelina could not cool himself with panting. There was no way to escape this type of heat. His black lips were smeared with moisture, but each drop cost him everything. Who would help Lily with the orchard? Old fool—planting an orchard in high desert. How could she ever manage? And his son . . .

“Shit!” he groaned. “Jesus!” but this time it was a question, not a curse. “Forgive . . .” he whispered, but he just couldn’t quite bring himself to pray. “If you exist, Know me. If . . .”

The rattling sound began so quietly that Walt didn’t notice at first. The locusts swarmed, vibrating to a collective crescendo. The wing-rattle grew unbearably loud. Walt pressed his hand more tightly against the wound, feeling faint. It started with one. Now, millions of locusts rubbed together their own tan wings, privately and collectively, joining in an orgasmic orchestra.

Walt closed his eyes, sinking down to the ground. He always started the dream by day at the same place, but the ending . . . He felt his ventricles palpate and sensed the familiar tightening, like a celery rubber band, around his aortic arch. He felt as if he might black out, and in this syncope he saw himself running—careening airlessly into a rose-colored light. There was such energy in his legs! The sound began like the hum of a hive of bees, groaning louder and louder into the sustained, ear-shattering single note of a trombone. “STOOOOOP!” he screamed in the dream, clamping his fleshy fists over his ears. And then calmly now, he soothed himself, “Focus. It will go away. It will all be over soon.”

Walt’s eyes were rheumy now, and creased around the edges like a farmer’s furrow. His chest constricted, and he felt the breaths become shallower. A hot pain cauterized his lungs. The trickle of blood that could still squeeze through his constricted carotid artery pulsed into his brain. He remembered that it was still only Thursday. It was time to sleep, in the hot sun of the Sacaton. Walt had slept in a sitting position for thirty-five years. Otherwise, he couldn’t breathe. He might survive until dusk. The bleeding had slowed. Or maybe he could survive another winter without her. The muscles of his legs were so strong.

And then the turkeys came. Strutting, the gobbler plumed his feathers, arched, and spit. Chasing now towards the humble group of hens, his neck turned completely white. Copulation. The source of life. The resurrection. And Walt felt the dizziness subside, just a bit.

That night, the local star mounted the Mogollons in effulgence, yellowing the dirt roads of Gila. The scent from the rump of the musk hogs marked the territory around the trailer. Although it had been years, Lily decided to walk. Slowly at first, but gaining speed, she shuffled past the lupines, milk thistles, and yellow columbines, imagining what it was like for Walt to be charged by the band of wild, javelina pigs. She could almost hear them grunting and snorting, galloping straight towards him as they trampled the creosote and pepper grass. Walking allowed the earlier memories of Gila and Pinos Altos to surface, like a large-mouthed bass, rising at dusk to nip at the zephyr-eyed silk moths on the surface of the Gila River.

About Nahn Aneira Warburton

Nahn Aneira Warburton is a clinical psychologist and has worked as an undergraduate psychology professor. She has written dozens of short stories and poems, a novel, and engages in professional research writing endeavors as well. Her primary literary interests are in magical realism, as well as the intersection between psychological phenomena and spirituality.