The website promised 80 acres of free range woods for the hunt. The Pig Farm was located in western Pennsylvania, removed from most of the state’s civilization and miles from the nearest highway.
“You kill ’em, we fill ‘em” was the motto for the taxidermy portion of the farm ($500 extra per head. Not included with price of hunt).
Mac and his son Wilbur arrived on Friday afternoon, per their lodging instructions. They had paid nearly two grand to come take their crack at two of the best boars in Pennsylvania. The 80-acre plot was pumped full of the finest European boars, with a minimum weight of 200 pounds.
“I haven’t been to this farm since my college days,” said Mac as he plopped his duffel bag and rifle on his bed. You and what friends? Thought Wilbur sardonically. He had never met any of his father’s college friends despite how often Mac raved about their wild weekend at the Pig Farm.
They were standing in the upper room of the wooden lodge in the northern corner of the farm. “It even still smells the same!” exclaimed Mac.
Wilbur was a big boy, at about six and a half feet tall, he towered a full foot over his father. He had just graduated from Penn State and this was his first hunting excursion. His father had always tried to get him to go up to Pennsylvania’s back country, but Wilbur refused. Now that he was out of college, he figured he had no excuse and agreed to come to the Pig Farm for his first experience. He figured somehow, it was more humane to kill animals bred to be hunted on the large swath of land. Or at least less dangerous for him.
A knock sounded on their thin wooden door.
“Heya, fellas,” the elderly groundskeeper Marney poked his head through the open doorway. “Just wanted to let you know dinner’s about ready. Head on down after you make yourselves at home,” and he hobbled back down the staircase.
“That’s the same guy that was here when I was here last!” exclaimed Mac. Wilbur rolled his eyes. “He looks about the same age as last time too! They must have something in the water that makes ’em live forever here! Haha!”
“Yah, only about the 400th time you’ve made that joke too,” Wilbur muttered under his breath.
They went downstairs for dinner and sat with Marney and his wife Gil. Marney was explaining that they would need to be out of the lodge by 6am to get the best shot at the boars.
“Well we don’t want them to be sleeping,” said Mac with a mouth full of potatoes, “that would just be too easy!”
“Oh no,” replied Marney. “They’re up with the sun but move much slower in the morning.”
An hour later the lodge was dark and quiet and Mac was making a joke about early birds and boars and worms as the two climbed under their covers.
Sunrise came much faster than Wilbur expected and he felt several minutes of intense hatred for his father who stood beside his bed prodding him into consciousness.
After a cold breakfast of biscuits and gravy that had been left out for them, they were out into the misty morning.
The translucent gray fog lay low on the tree line as they crossed from the lodge into the thick woods. It only allowed for about a ten-foot visible radius in every direction.
They crunched over the leaves and twigs on the forest floor, still damp with the morning’s dew.
“You want to split up or stay together?” whispered Mac. “Your old man could give you some tips when we spot our first boar.”
Wilbur thought for a moment and replied, “Split up, maybe?” He wanted to concoct a believable reason to get away from his father for a while, so he added, “We’ll have a better chance at finding one if we split up.”
“Good point, Willy!” said Mac. “I’ll head this way and you go that way!”
They began walking in different directions. Wilbur dragged his feet and slowed to nearly standing still. He aimlessly moped about and wondered if his bed in the lodge would still be warm by now. He thought about how nice it would be to pull those thick wool covers back over his head and get out of the dense fog.
Wilbur and his father had not discussed where or when to meet up again, and Wilbur was okay with that. He kept thinking about the bed in the lodge and slowly his mind began wandering to what Gil would make them for lunch. Even though they were cold, the biscuits and gravy had been delicious.
How early must they have gotten up to make them so they got cold? And where were Marney and Gil? Did they go back to bed?
Wilbur became so lost in his thinking that he didn’t realize how much time had passed until his stomach growled.
He kicked a rock and then a stick.
His stomach growled again and he looked up to realize the mist had lifted slightly. He could now see roughly 20 feet rather than 10. He had not been paying attention to where he had been walking and was not sure which way he had come from. He didn’t know which way his father had gone.
“D-dad?” he croaked into the fog. Despite the few hours that had passed since sunrise, the gray Pennsylvania day had kept the atmosphere dim, as if it were stalled at twilight for a full 14 hours.
A streak of fear trickled down his spine as Wilbur realized he did not even know the way back to the lodge. He felt his hands slip along the rifle as his palms began to sweat.
A twig snapped several yards into the mist.
He spun and pointed his rifle toward the sound.
“Dad?” he tried again. Nothing answered him but silence and the hollow wooshing sound of the forest which had been present since daybreak.
He heard more footsteps in the direction of the broken twig. A moment later he could clearly make out the rapid trot of a boar. His chest quaked, which rippled out to his arms. His rifle quivered as he held it in the direction of the animal.
Suddenly he remembered he hadn’t switched off the safety, so he looked at the side of the gun and fumbled with the weapon until he slid over the small lever. When he looked back up, the boar was less than ten feet in front of him and charging.
He fired without aiming and the rifle punched him in the shoulder so hard he tripped and fell backward over a small fallen tree. He had hit the boar along the side but it continued at him. His rifle lay five feet from him. Wilbur scrambled for it and right when his fingers grazed the barrel, the boar bit into his calf. He kicked his legs and continued scrambling for the gun.
He got it into his hands and grappled it against his shoulder.
He took aim and fired.
The bullet went into the boar’s skull but it kept tearing at his calf.
Wilbur cocked again and fired another round into the animal’s head.
It kicked violently and released his leg. He cocked once more, fired, and the animal was still.
The muffled hum of the forest returned.
For a few moments, Wilbur wished he had listened when his father taught him about moving an animal once he’d killed it.
Then the pain set in as the shock wore off.
Wilbur curled into a ball and slowly reached down to touch his shredded calf. He flinched and recoiled his hand when he felt his finger go inside his skin where the teeth had pulled the flesh back.
“Daaaaaaad,” he called out in a low guttural moan. “Daaaad.”
Nothing in the forest moved. Wilbur could only see a small collection of trees and the dead boar lying bloodied next to him before the fog swallowed the world.
He looked around but nothing moved. There was not even a breeze to move the limbs of the trees.
“M…Marneyyy,” he cried. Not a second later he heard footsteps in the fog. “Hello?” Wilbur stammered.
“Heya, Wilbur,” came a voice from the fog. It was Marney. He materialized from the wall of mist with a walking stick in his hand.
“How did you find me so fast?”
Marney ignored the question and said, “Oh, he got you!” when he saw Wilbur on the ground. He was barely concerned or enthused. The old man walked closer and bent over to look at Wilbur’s leg. “Yeh. Same thing happened to your father.”
“M-my father?” Wilbur felt the blood in his veins stop.
“Oh yah, your dad got bit too. I found him a bit ago not far from here. In fact…” Marney reached over and lifted the dead boar’s ear from its shattered skull. He ran his hand along the boar’s side and examined its hide. “I think you may have got ‘im!”
Wilbur froze. His pain had gone from fear to confusion. He went to speak but only a low snort came out.
“Oh, look, you’re turning too! Ha!” The old man slapped his knee and stared at Wilbur’s face with half a smile creeping onto his face. “Oh yah, it’s a-comin’.”
With some of his last remaining human thoughts, Wilbur realized why he had never met his father’s college friends from this hunt. They must have been bitten as well, only to be killed by more successful hunters. Maybe even by his own father.
“You know,” said Marney as a mist began to roll over Wilbur’s eyeballs, “I overheard what your father said last night. There is something in the water here. It’s kept Gil and I kickin’ for forever! An’ it means these here boars ain’t your every day boars neither. They’s special. One bite from them and they’ll turn you into one of them! Your daddy was one of the few dumb ones who didn’t even realize what happened to his pals! And you know what else?” he smiled and leaned close to Wilbur whose hoofed feet had begun to kick. “We don’t feed our hogs here. That’s why they’s so hungry all the time!” He sat back on his feet and laughed.
Marney hoisted himself back up with his walking stick. He began dragging Mac away by his hind leg and as he hobbled away, he said over his shoulder, “And you’s a big one too! Whoever gets you’s gonna be one happy camper!”
Then he vanished into the mist.
Wilbur kicked until he rolled his fat tubular body onto his hoofs and trotted off into the mist.