The Dead Pig

I brought my father’s Belgian made Browning semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle with me to junior high school. Carried it right on the bus in its gun case. This was in 1976, suburban Minnesota. I got a school credit for doing this because I was taking an elective class, Rifle Club. There were ten boys in the class. Twice a week the school police officer took us for target practice at the firing range in the basement of the police station. During the day we kept our ammunition in our lockers. We could have stowed our guns there too, but they were kept in the administration offices because we were worried about theft.
 
There wasn’t any horseplay or goofing off with our guns though we joked about holding up the bank on our way through town. We were hunters and the sons of hunters. We took the safe handling of guns seriously. It wasn’t ever a question; it was just what one did. I began hunting as a small boy with my father by walking the fields and woods with him. He would have never tolerated misuse of any equipment, but especially not misuse of a gun. When I was twelve years old I took a gun safety course at the VFW receiving my hunting permit the year after that.
 
When I was fourteen years-old, the year of Rifle Club, I went on a hunting trip in southern Minnesota with my father and older cousin, Bob, who was in his thirties. We stopped in at a farm with a good patch of woods. After securing permission to hunt squirrels on his property the farmer showed us around his barn and out buildings. Outside the pig barn a dead pig lay on its side. It was young, but as large as a good-sized dog, sixty or seventy pounds, a pale pink, nearly white, with a little bloat in its belly. The farmer said it probably died from over-heating. He had found it that morning. He and my father didn’t pay it much attention, but Bob and I stood there looking at it. It looked naked and unnatural.
 
I had taken up hunting squirrels that season with the .22 rifle rather than a shotgun. I hadn’t actually hit anything yet. Apparently, Rifle Club wasn’t helping my aim much. I left Bob and my father in the main section of woods to hunt a separate, smaller section on the other side of the farmyard. After walking those woods I stopped to stare at the dead pig. I was fascinated by it. What made it lifeless?  It looked perfect and clean. I felt a strong compulsion to shoot it. I looked around to make sure nobody was watching. I was scared, my heart beating rapidly. I jerked the rifle up and shot from the hip like some kind of wild-west gun-slinger, just shot that dead pig in the middle of its belly. Nothing happened, nothing moved, just a little round red hole appeared and then a little trickle of blood and fluid.
 
I regretted what I had done as soon as I had pulled the trigger. I had known it was wrong before I did it, knew that I’d be in such hot water I couldn’t even imagine if I was caught shooting someone’s farm animal even though the thing was dead. I certainly would never purposely shoot a live farm animal, but nature had already taken this one. I felt compelled to find out what it would look like. I wanted to shoot it in the head, but somehow didn’t in my rush. The head is where the best kill is. When would I ever have an opportunity to shoot something in the head? Maybe some brain would have come out. What if I shot it in the eye? Maybe the whole animal would have twitched?
 
The silence in the farmyard made the ringing of the gunshot in my ears louder and suddenly what I had done looked so obvious. That little hole seemed to radiate its own light and fill the entire farmyard. I hadn’t considered the trail of evidence that would lead straight to me. I felt what I was doing was private, just a curiosity of my mind not a physical act. The farmer could come out and notice at any moment and tell my dad. He’d surely notice at some point and I didn’t want to be there when he did. How could I have been so stupid?
 
I next did what comes natural: I tried to hide it. I had to do this quickly. I tried turning the pig over to face the barn, but it was large enough to be heavy and dead enough to be stiff and kind of stuck to the ground. The legs moved, but the body didn’t. It felt like a heavy sand bag at the end of brittle sticks. I gave it up. I found a stray 1”x 6” board about three feet long nearby and laid it with one end up on the pig’s side and the other end on the ground like a ramp. Looking straight down I couldn’t see the bullet hole and figured this would do the trick from most angles. Never mind how and why that board got there. I wasn’t thinking clearly and was in a panic.
 
When I rejoined Bob and my father I told them I shot at a squirrel, missed, and that it scurried away towards the buildings. I was tense while we finished walking those woods. We didn’t see the farmer again and I was relieved. On the way out we drove by the barn and the pig. From the backseat I looked over at the pig with the board laid on it. I could see the bullet hole and so could Bob because he said, “Hey, it looks like somebody shot that pig. Did you see that?” I was mortified. My dad was focused on driving and didn’t look, didn’t say anything, maybe didn’t quite catch what Bob was saying. Bob looked over his shoulder at me and I looked back through the rear window, straining, feigning, shrugging my shoulders mumbling, “No, I didn’t see it.” My cousin Bob was a cool guy and had been in plenty of trouble in his younger days. He looked at me a moment and then let the whole thing drop.
 
I would have been deeply ashamed trying to explain what I had done to my father especially had I embarrassed him in front of the farmer. There was no sense in my actions at all. What would possess me to do such a thing? This animal was dead, an empty shell and in some respects this was not much different than plinking empty soda cans, but the ethics were simple; I misused my firearm near buildings and livestock desecrating this farmer’s property. Hunting, I had shot animals. I respected the life I took. I gutted, cleaned and ate the game I took from the field, but it disturbed me to shoot something dead. It felt as if it was forbidden by a higher order. I did it because I wanted to see what would happen. Now I knew: a dead pig gets a little red hole in it and a line of blood trickles out and that’s it. Nothing changed except me. I did something I didn’t expect that I would do with a gun.
 
Not long after that day I began missing game on purpose sometimes or not shooting at all because I felt sick about shooting animals. I went hunting less frequently and within a couple of years I stopped hunting altogether, and haven’t gone since—though I’d start again in a minute to feed my family if it were necessary.
 
What I was trying to change that day was death. There was something so still about that pig in the morning light, the colorless skin, the loneliness of it laying in the yard outside the barn while all the other pigs were alive just on the other side of the wall. I really expected my gunshot to make the pig move, to shock it, to bring it back to life, to make it jump up and run around the yard squealing with pain from its wound. Shooting that pig somehow confirmed the line of life and death to me more so than shooting and killing a living animal ever did. I couldn’t explain that then even to myself. I certainly would not have told what I did to any of the boys in Rifle Club. They might have thought me quite queer, maybe even dangerous and kept their distance from me, watching me out the corners of their eyes while they held onto their guns.
 
 
© Guy Reed 2016

I brought my father’s Belgian made Browning semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle with me to junior high school. Carried it right on the bus in its gun case. This was in 1976, suburban Minnesota. I got a school credit for doing this because I was taking an elective class, Rifle Club. There were ten boys in the class. Twice a week the school police officer took us for target practice at the firing range in the basement of the police station. During the day we kept our ammunition in our lockers. We could have stowed our guns there too, but they were kept in the administration offices because we were worried about theft. 
 
There wasn’t any horseplay or goofing off with our guns though we joked about holding up the bank on our way through town. We were hunters and the sons of hunters. We took the safe handling of guns seriously. It wasn’t ever a question; it was just what one did. I began hunting as a small boy with my father by walking the fields and woods with him. He would have never tolerated misuse of any equipment, but especially not misuse of a gun. When I was twelve years old I took a gun safety course at the VFW receiving my hunting permit the year after that.
 
When I was fourteen years-old, the year of Rifle Club, I went on a hunting trip in southern Minnesota with my father and older cousin, Bob, who was in his thirties. We stopped in at a farm with a good patch of woods. After securing permission to hunt squirrels on his property the farmer showed us around his barn and out buildings. Outside the pig barn a dead pig lay on its side. It was young, but as large as a good-sized dog, sixty or seventy pounds, a pale pink, nearly white, with a little bloat in its belly. The farmer said it probably died from over-heating. He had found it that morning. He and my father didn’t pay it much attention, but Bob and I stood there looking at it. It looked naked and unnatural.
 
I had taken up hunting squirrels that season with the .22 rifle rather than a shotgun. I hadn’t actually hit anything yet. Apparently, Rifle Club wasn’t helping my aim much. I left Bob and my father in the main section of woods to hunt a separate, smaller section on the other side of the farmyard. After walking those woods I stopped to stare at the dead pig. I was fascinated by it. What made it lifeless?  It looked perfect and clean. I felt a strong compulsion to shoot it. I looked around to make sure nobody was watching. I was scared, my heart beating rapidly. I jerked the rifle up and shot from the hip like some kind of wild-west gun-slinger, just shot that dead pig in the middle of its belly. Nothing happened, nothing moved, just a little round red hole appeared and then a little trickle of blood and fluid.
 
I regretted what I had done as soon as I had pulled the trigger. I had known it was wrong before I did it, knew that I’d be in such hot water I couldn’t even imagine if I was caught shooting someone’s farm animal even though the thing was dead. I certainly would never purposely shoot a live farm animal, but nature had already taken this one. I felt compelled to find out what it would look like. I wanted to shoot it in the head, but somehow didn’t in my rush. The head is where the best kill is. When would I ever have an opportunity to shoot something in the head? Maybe some brain would have come out. What if I shot it in the eye? Maybe the whole animal would have twitched?
 
The silence in the farmyard made the ringing of the gunshot in my ears louder and suddenly what I had done looked so obvious. That little hole seemed to radiate its own light and fill the entire farmyard. I hadn’t considered the trail of evidence that would lead straight to me. I felt what I was doing was private, just a curiosity of my mind not a physical act. The farmer could come out and notice at any moment and tell my dad. He’d surely notice at some point and I didn’t want to be there when he did. How could I have been so stupid?
 
I next did what comes natural: I tried to hide it. I had to do this quickly. I tried turning the pig over to face the barn, but it was large enough to be heavy and dead enough to be stiff and kind of stuck to the ground. The legs moved, but the body didn’t. It felt like a heavy sand bag at the end of brittle sticks. I gave it up. I found a stray 1”x 6” board about three feet long nearby and laid it with one end up on the pig’s side and the other end on the ground like a ramp. Looking straight down I couldn’t see the bullet hole and figured this would do the trick from most angles. Never mind how and why that board got there. I wasn’t thinking clearly and was in a panic.
 
When I rejoined Bob and my father I told them I shot at a squirrel, missed, and that it scurried away towards the buildings. I was tense while we finished walking those woods. We didn’t see the farmer again and I was relieved. On the way out we drove by the barn and the pig. From the backseat I looked over at the pig with the board laid on it. I could see the bullet hole and so could Bob because he said, “Hey, it looks like somebody shot that pig. Did you see that?” I was mortified. My dad was focused on driving and didn’t look, didn’t say anything, maybe didn’t quite catch what Bob was saying. Bob looked over his shoulder at me and I looked back through the rear window, straining, feigning, shrugging my shoulders mumbling, “No, I didn’t see it.” My cousin Bob was a cool guy and had been in plenty of trouble in his younger days. He looked at me a moment and then let the whole thing drop.
 
I would have been deeply ashamed trying to explain what I had done to my father especially had I embarrassed him in front of the farmer. There was no sense in my actions at all. What would possess me to do such a thing? This animal was dead, an empty shell and in some respects this was not much different than plinking empty soda cans, but the ethics were simple; I misused my firearm near buildings and livestock desecrating this farmer’s property. Hunting, I had shot animals. I respected the life I took. I gutted, cleaned and ate the game I took from the field, but it disturbed me to shoot something dead. It felt as if it was forbidden by a higher order. I did it because I wanted to see what would happen. Now I knew: a dead pig gets a little red hole in it and a line of blood trickles out and that’s it. Nothing changed except me. I did something I didn’t expect that I would do with a gun.
 
Not long after that day I began missing game on purpose sometimes or not shooting at all because I felt sick about shooting animals. I went hunting less frequently and within a couple of years I stopped hunting altogether, and haven’t gone since—though I’d start again in a minute to feed my family if it were necessary.
 
What I was trying to change that day was death. There was something so still about that pig in the morning light, the colorless skin, the loneliness of it laying in the yard outside the barn while all the other pigs were alive just on the other side of the wall. I really expected my gunshot to make the pig move, to shock it, to bring it back to life, to make it jump up and run around the yard squealing with pain from its wound. Shooting that pig somehow confirmed the line of life and death to me more so than shooting and killing a living animal ever did. I couldn’t explain that then even to myself. I certainly would not have told what I did to any of the boys in Rifle Club. They might have thought me quite queer, maybe even dangerous and kept their distance from me, watching me out the corners of their eyes while they held onto their guns.
 
 
© Guy Reed 2016

POST RECITAL

Talk Icon

TALK

BR: Just after Thanksgiving I took a walk in the woods of the Catskill Mountains with today’s author, Guy Reed. Here’s a recording of that conversation.
 
BR: Okay, so I’ve got this thing on and we’re recording. Guy, your story is rich enough to evoke several lines of thought or areas of reaction for me. We could talk about the societal differences between the 70s and now, and between the midwest and the coasts… or the sometimes mindless behavior of teenagers... the culture of guns and hunting... the difference between life and death... the question of why we do any of the things that we do. Or even the blurry line between memoir and fiction. But first, I wanted to ask you… considering our goal on The Strange Recital of trying to question the nature of reality, what would be your guess about why we chose this highly realistic story?
 
GR: Well thank you for reading the story and finding quite a few lines of questioning we could look into. I'm happy that my story invoked that for you. Memoir, fiction – that's a good line to explore but it also seems to me that there's a veil in life, many veils that we cannot see past. In fact I think a lot of technology we've developed has helped us see things we cannot perceive with our senses, and that's something that interests me in life in general and is probably a thread through this story as well. And obviously the biggest veil is the one between life and death, for all of us.
 
BR: Well, you know, there is something deeply odd about the idea of killing something that’s already dead. One of the key lines in the story for me was that simple question: “What made it lifeless?” It's actually not really a simple question at all – it's a major theme of human philosophical inquiry: what is life as opposed to death? So was this a source of inspiration for the story?
 
GR: Killing something that's already dead - an oxymoron. And it is odd, and simple. I guess yes, that was attractive to me in telling the story. I remember the pig. It looked the same as all the other pigs on the other side of the wall, only it was lacking that spark of life. And I was curious about that.
 
BR: Yeah. Well I remember the way you described it. The pig looked clean and whole, as if it was just sleeping, but the difference really is crucial because the kid never would have shot a sleeping pig. So that leads to the final paragraph, where the real reason for his behavior is suggested, which seems as if it's to reverse death. As if the gun was actually its opposite, like  a life-giving machine rather than a life-taking machine. So that makes it an instrument of magical power. What might this say about the gun culture in this country?
 
GR: Gun culture in this country, I think, is probably larger than any single piece, fact or fiction, can really encompass, yet there's an element of it that's very simple, you know, pro-gun, anti-gun and the grey area in between – well it gets into hunting, and protection and....Yeah there's a lot there. I think in this story the dead pig fascinates the boy as a separate element. And his inexplicable, unexplainable, odd teenage act – shooting the pig – brings it into the gun culture, but I think there was something subconscious that the boy was getting at. Granted he shot it, he didn't kick it, so there is a difference there. But maybe in a way the gun was like a tool of discovery, a most readily available tool of discovery. In terms of gun culture, actually the more amazing thing to me is the idea of a Junior High elective class allowing any student signed up, to bring a gun to school. Obviously school has changed in that regard, which goes back to your earlier question about the culture difference, but we do have open-carry states.
 
BR: Yeah, yeah. Things are weird. I hope it doesn't come to the Catskills, frankly.
 
GR: Well I was in Iowa earlier and there were signs in the stores - “No Guns Allowed” - and just the idea of people walking around the street carrying a gun, is kind of scary.
 
BR: Yeah, I don't want to have to put signs in the stores like that. Well the intersection of teenage-hood and hunting is interesting to me. I mean teenagers do crazy things as they are trying to figure out who they are. And you and I are both parents of teenage daughters, but really more to the point, we were once teenage boys. I grew up in a hunting culture. My dad would talk about “buck fever”, he called it - the exhilaration that he felt when he looked through his rifle scope at a deer he was about to kill. I shot a couple of small animals myself as a kid, but I soon discovered I just didn’t enjoy it.
 
GR: Yeah. Well my dad – we were part of his second family, so he was a little bit older. He hunted and fished for food for his family, as a boy during the Great Depression. He always brought that mentality to it. It wasn't about....... I loved it because it was being out in the woods on an Autumn day. The last hunting I ever did was actually for deer with friends of my father. My father had stopped deer hunting and I had an old World War I rifle and I got “buck fever” the first time I saw a deer I could shoot at – this is up on the Mesabi Iron Range – Bob Dylan country. And I was shaking so bad that I shot way over the deer, completely missed him. He left, but I'm kinda glad I missed. I do enjoy venison, however an odd twist to that is my last name spelled backwards is “Deer”. So maybe its a good Karma in life that I missed that one.
 
BR: Yeah. Yeah. Well it does kind of bring up the question too, that when it comes to hunting, I know some people will say it really is just an excuse to act out one’s own human, violent nature. So would  you agree with that?
 
GR: Yes, but not exactly, I.....
 
Gunshot and ricochet. 
 
BR: What? Holy shit, is somebody shooting at us?
 
GR: Oh God, I forgot, it’s deer season!
 
BR: Damn it, we should’ve worn red!
 
Gunshot, ricochet. 
 
BR: Shit.  HEY! STOP SHOOTING!
 
GR: WE’RE HUMANS HERE!
 
Gunshot and ricochet.
 
BR: DAD! IT'S ME! I'M NOT A BUCK! STOP SHOOTING!

BR: Just after Thanksgiving I took a walk in the woods of the Catskill Mountains with today’s author, Guy Reed. Here’s a recording of that conversation.
 
BR: Okay, so I’ve got this thing on and we’re recording. Guy, your story is rich enough to evoke several lines of thought or areas of reaction for me. We could talk about the societal differences between the 70s and now, and between the midwest and the coasts… or the sometimes mindless behavior of teenagers... the culture of guns and hunting... the difference between life and death... the question of why we do any of the things that we do. Or even the blurry line between memoir and fiction. But first, I wanted to ask you… considering our goal on The Strange Recital of trying to question the nature of reality, what would be your guess about why we chose this highly realistic story?
 
GR: Well thank you for reading the story and finding quite a few lines of questioning we could look into. I'm happy that my story invoked that for you. Memoir, fiction – that's a good line to explore but it also seems to me that there's a veil in life, many veils that we cannot see past. In fact I think a lot of technology we've developed has helped us see things we cannot perceive with our senses, and that's something that interests me in life in general and is probably a thread through this story as well. And obviously the biggest veil is the one between life and death, for all of us.
 
BR: Well, you know, there is something deeply odd about the idea of killing something that’s already dead. One of the key lines in the story for me was that simple question: “What made it lifeless?” It's actually not really a simple question at all – it's a major theme of human philosophical inquiry: what is life as opposed to death? So was this a source of inspiration for the story?
 
GR: Killing something that's already dead - an oxymoron. And it is odd, and simple. I guess yes, that was attractive to me in telling the story. I remember the pig. It looked the same as all the other pigs on the other side of the wall, only it was lacking that spark of life. And I was curious about that.
 
BR: Yeah. Well I remember the way you described it. The pig looked clean and whole, as if it was just sleeping, but the difference really is crucial because the kid never would have shot a sleeping pig. So that leads to the final paragraph, where the real reason for his behavior is suggested, which seems as if it's to reverse death. As if the gun was actually its opposite, like  a life-giving machine rather than a life-taking machine. So that makes it an instrument of magical power. What might this say about the gun culture in this country?
 
GR: Gun culture in this country, I think, is probably larger than any single piece, fact or fiction, can really encompass, yet there's an element of it that's very simple, you know, pro-gun, anti-gun and the grey area in between – well it gets into hunting, and protection and....Yeah there's a lot there. I think in this story the dead pig fascinates the boy as a separate element. And his inexplicable, unexplainable, odd teenage act – shooting the pig – brings it into the gun culture, but I think there was something subconscious that the boy was getting at. Granted he shot it, he didn't kick it, so there is a difference there. But maybe in a way the gun was like a tool of discovery, a most readily available tool of discovery. In terms of gun culture, actually the more amazing thing to me is the idea of a Junior High elective class allowing any student signed up, to bring a gun to school. Obviously school has changed in that regard, which goes back to your earlier question about the culture difference, but we do have open-carry states.
 
BR: Yeah, yeah. Things are weird. I hope it doesn't come to the Catskills, frankly.
 
GR: Well I was in Iowa earlier and there were signs in the stores - “No Guns Allowed” - and just the idea of people walking around the street carrying a gun, is kind of scary.
 
BR: Yeah, I don't want to have to put signs in the stores like that. Well the intersection of teenage-hood and hunting is interesting to me. I mean teenagers do crazy things as they are trying to figure out who they are. And you and I are both parents of teenage daughters, but really more to the point, we were once teenage boys. I grew up in a hunting culture. My dad would talk about “buck fever”, he called it - the exhilaration that he felt when he looked through his rifle scope at a deer he was about to kill. I shot a couple of small animals myself as a kid, but I soon discovered I just didn’t enjoy it.
 
GR: Yeah. Well my dad – we were part of his second family, so he was a little bit older. He hunted and fished for food for his family, as a boy during the Great Depression. He always brought that mentality to it. It wasn't about....... I loved it because it was being out in the woods on an Autumn day. The last hunting I ever did was actually for deer with friends of my father. My father had stopped deer hunting and I had an old World War I rifle and I got “buck fever” the first time I saw a deer I could shoot at – this is up on the Mesabi Iron Range – Bob Dylan country. And I was shaking so bad that I shot way over the deer, completely missed him. He left, but I'm kinda glad I missed. I do enjoy venison, however an odd twist to that is my last name spelled backwards is “Deer”. So maybe its a good Karma in life that I missed that one.
 
BR: Yeah. Yeah. Well it does kind of bring up the question too, that when it comes to hunting, I know some people will say it really is just an excuse to act out one’s own human, violent nature. So would  you agree with that?
 
GR: Yes, but not exactly, I.....
 
Gunshot and ricochet
 
BR: What? Holy shit, is somebody shooting at us?
 
GR: Oh God, I forgot, it’s deer season!
 
BR: Damn it, we should’ve worn red!
 
Gunshot, ricochet
 
BR: Shit.  HEY! STOP SHOOTING!
 
GR: WE’RE HUMANS HERE!
 
Gunshot and ricochet.
 
BR: DAD! IT'S ME! I'M NOT A BUCK! STOP SHOOTING!

Music on this episode by xj5000

THE STRANGE RECITAL

episode 17012

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