"Keef! Critters are down there tearin' up the corn patch again!"
Recently it had become a daily ritual chasing the wild hogs out of the garden. At the rate that their corn, beans and potatoes were disappearing, it was unlikely they'd have enough produce to get them through next winter.
"Settle down, May. Me an' Gibby will go out there and have a look. C'mon Gibby!" Keith drawled.
When the door opened, Gibby - a German shepherd mutt - bolted for the garden. Three steps off the porch, Keith heard Gibby chasing something, snarling and barking as he ran. He quickened his pace to catch up with the dog. A loud yelp froze him in his tracks.
"Gibby! Come!" Keith shouted.
There was no response - only rustling corn stalks about fifty feet ahead. He'd left the house in such a hurry that he'd forgotten his shotgun, but he moved toward the stand of corn anyway.
"Gibby! Come! Where are you, buddy?"
Stepping forward into the corn patch, Keith heard a low grunt farther down the row and noticed a large, dark form among the corn stalks. As he slowly approached, he saw that it was an enormous wild hog with eight inch tusks - and it was eating Gibby.
Keith picked up a fist-sized rock, cocking his arm. Gibby was an old dog - Keith's constant companion - and he was very upset that his friend met with such a gruesome end. He let fly with the rock hitting the big hog on the side of its head.
There was a two car accident with injuries on the outskirts of Rupert and the sheriff was enroute.
"Swine again, Jim," said the dispatcher. "This is the third time this month that those wild pigs have caused a wreck."
"Yeah, they're getting to be a nuisance. How bad are the injuries?"
"The citizen that called it in has the folks from both cars sitting at the side of the road waiting for the ambulance. He didn't think any of the injuries were serious. The ambulance should be there by the time you make it to the scene. I'll send out the wrecker."
Rounding the curve, the sheriff saw a lump of bloody gore in the middle of the road and another nearby. The cars were askew, had run head-on into each other and traffic was brought to a standstill. Broken glass lay everywhere. The sheriff activated his light bar and parked next to the ambulance.
"Those damn hogs almost got me killed! Something has to be done, sheriff! Poor Mrs. Flagstone has a broken jaw and a cut above her eyebrow. I think she panicked when the hogs charged onto the road and she cut her wheel to avoid them and hit me head-on. Not her fault, sheriff."
"I'm not here to fault anybody. The most important thing is that you both appear to have minor injuries. I'll make an accident report and the insurance company can settle things up with ya'll. I won't cite either of you for this accident," said the sheriff.
"There was a third hog that was hit but it wandered off the road and down that ravine over there, sheriff. He looked to be hurt pretty bad."
"I'll go have a look after this mess gets cleaned up. In the meantime, sit still and let the paramedics do their jobs."
The wrecker was on scene right away. The cars were moved to the side of the road, glass was swept off the pavement and traffic began to flow again. A deputy was assisting with traffic management and the sheriff motioned to him over the traffic noise that he was going to investigate the ravine.
He found the hog a short distance from the road lying on its side, chuffing softly and bleeding from the mouth and ears. The sheriff drew his service revolver and approached the injured animal, leveling his pistol at its head. The hog lunged at the sheriff and bit his leg causing the sheriff to fall, but he fired three shots into the pig before he hit the ground. Mortally wounded, the hog tried to crawl over to the sheriff but instead received the remaining three .357 magnum rounds from his revolver, killing it.
The gunfire brought the deputy running.
"My God, Jim! Lay still and let me get a tourniquet on that wound," the deputy said.
Blood was pooling under the sheriff.
"We need help over here!"
Two paramedics were there quickly and took over treating the sheriff. He was lifted onto a gurney, carried to the ambulance and loaded into it with the others. The sheriff was going into shock, medication was injected, and the wound was exposed for first aid treatment. Pulling back the tattered pant leg, the paramedic saw that the sheriff's entire calf muscle was gone. Mrs. Flagstone promptly vomited onto the gurney and fainted.
The deputy arrived at the hospital as the sheriff was evaluated and prepped for surgery. Two doctors were called in to perform the emergency surgery which would likely take several hours.
Returning to his car, the dispatcher was trying to raise the deputy.
"This is deputy Smith."
"I've been trying to reach you, deputy. First, how's the sheriff making out?"
"He should be out of surgery pretty soon. That big hog did a number on him - tore his calf clean off."
"Wow! Well, I've got another pig call for you. May Hawkins out on Sipper Road called shaken up because her husband and dog went out to the garden to run off some hogs and haven't returned for a couple of hours."
"I don't like the sound of that. I'm heading out there right now."
The deputy parked in the barnyard next to the house and honked the horn. He took his shotgun out of the rack and walked up on the porch and banged on the door.
"May! You in there?"
"I'm down here, dep'ty!" May shouted from the garden.
Smith ran to the garden several hundred feet away and found May kneeling over Keith's partial corpse, crying convulsively. Scraps of Gibby's fur and entrails lay nearby.
"He's dead, dep'ty! Dead! I sent him down here to shoo away those hogs and this happens! Oh my God!"
"Come on, May. Let's go on back to the house. Nothing can be done here, and it would be best to leave things as they are so the forensics team can collect evidence."
"Evidence? For What? I know what killed my man - those damn hogs! I shot one of them before I found Keef and Gibby!"
The deputy knew that it was important to get her out of there before the hog she wounded decided to make another appearance.
He helped her stand. She bent over, picked up her shotgun and turned back toward the house. At that moment, the wounded hog flushed from the brush and charged them, but the deputy pumped two rounds from his shotgun into the pig, stopping it.
"Come on, May. Let's go!"
The little town of Rupert was buzzing with the news of the sheriff's injury, the car wreck, and now Keith Hawkins' death. The barber shop was full - standing room only - and the talk had turned to running down and killing all the wild hogs as soon as the effort could be organized.
"Sipper Road has been a hot spot for hogs the past several years, boys. I've seen as many as thirty out there near the road eating whatever they can find. Corn and soybean fields have been seriously damaged. Anybody got any ideas as to how to kill off these damn pigs?"
"Yeah, there's a way to get 'er done, but we'll need all the riflemen we can get to finish them off. We'll have to draw them into a holler and shoot them from high-up to keep from shooting each other in a crossfire. We'll need a pickup truck of feed corn to bait the site. Should be a piece a' cake."
"OK, Ronnie. That's your neighborhood out there on Sipper Road. You've coon hunted out there for years. Can you set it up?"
"I'll need plenty of help. First off, I'll need that feed corn. I've got a pretty good idea where to put it that will trap the hogs in a holler with only one way out. Truckin' it back to that holler on my ATV will be hard to do by myself, so all you volunteers with ATV's need to lend a hand. Since this hunt will be after dark, it would be good if any of you had night-vision scopes to use. The moon is almost full, so that will help some."
By late afternoon, enough ATV's had been promised and twenty-eight riflemen were ready to go. The procession of pick-up trucks headed out of town toward Sipper Road and pulled off into a field.
The ATV's were loaded with the bags of corn and the heavily armed men followed Ronnie into the woods. It took the better part of an hour to make it back to the holler, but everyone agreed that it was a perfect spot to ambush the hogs. The sides of the holler were nearly vertical, and there were plenty of fallen trees to use as rifle rests. The corn was dumped at the head of the little valley and the men took positions on the ridge above, making ready for the pig's arrival.
Nothing happened for hours. It was well after midnight when the men heard rustling leaves down below as an animal headed toward the holler.
"Pass the word. Do not fire. Wait for my signal," Ronnie said.
The men complied as the hog continued to make its way toward the corn. Burying his nose in the corn the hog then raised its head, let out a piercing squeal and began to feed. Minutes later the sound of animals moving through the dead leaves alerted the men that more were joining in. Ronnie looked through his night-vision scope and saw a dozen hogs feeding on the corn. Would more come? The corn wouldn't last long with so many hogs, but a few more minutes
The men opened up on the hogs, killing them all within thirty seconds. When the gunshots had subsided, Ronnie made his way down to the mouth of the holler with some of the other volunteers.
"Hold your fire, men!"
Cautiously walking in, he could see ahead the twitching bodies of hogs lying all around. He counted nineteen hogs in all.
"Careful, men. These hogs can be very dangerous when they're wounded. If you have to, shoot them again, but sing-out before you fire! You men up there on the ridge: no firing from your positions! Come down here!"
Bam! The gunshot startled all the hunters. The volunteers making their way into the holler from the ridge began to appear.
"Ace killed a big hog that wouldn't take no for an answer, Ronnie. He was headed in here when he was shot."
"Nice goin', guys! That's twenty of those critters that won't be bothering folks for a while."
Residents of the Spring Valley Retirement Home in Reynoldsburg were outside enjoying the sunshine. The Alzheimer's patients were content to lounge in their wheelchairs or on the benches lining the pathway to the rose garden. On such a beautiful day, some residents were accompanied by attendants as they walked down to the lake, anxious for the view across the still water.
Topping a low rise above the lake, they were startled to see several dozen wild hogs wallowing in the shallows and many more in the lower meadow. A sentry hog shrieked loudly warning the other hogs of the intruders.
From the meadow, an immense, dark mass was moving with speed toward the Spring Valley Home and the attendants panicked. They tried to escape the galloping horde, but were quickly overcome.
The hogs were in full stride by this time easily topping thirty miles an hour. Stampeding through the rose garden and lawn areas, the attendants and patients were caught completely off guard; overwhelmed, killed and eaten.
When the pigs made it to the front door, it courteously opened.
Roaming the hallways at random, hogs fed on patients and anyone unable to flee. The staff began to run out of the fire exits but were immediately pursued and eaten by the wave of hogs. A few of the staff had climbed into the dropped ceiling, escaping the ravenous hogs.
"911! This is Jason out at the Spring Valley Home! We are being attacked by hundreds of wild hogs! Please send help NOW!"
The call went out for the State Police, Sheriff's Department, and local policemen to converge at the entrance to the Spring Valley Home ASAP.
Three sheriff's cruisers, four local police cars and six State Patrol cars parked along the road in front of the Home. The SWAT team had not yet arrived in their assault vehicle, but it soon rolled into view and was allowed ahead of the cruisers. They fell in behind the SWAT vehicle as it made its way up the long driveway.
Upset wheelchairs and overturned furniture were strewn over the otherwise perfect lawn. Crimson patches on the driveway and what looked like gnarled body parts were also observed. The front door was wedged open by a plastic chair, and the sight that greeted the officers was one of complete mayhem; horrific, reeking smears of human tissue and blood from floor to ceiling.
"Help us! We're up here!"
A voice said, "OK men, lower your weapons! Come out! We will not harm you!"
Two young men and one woman jumped down from the grid of tiles above.
"What has happened? What attacked us? Was anyone hurt?"
"Sir, I must ask that you follow me now. Your questions will be answered presently. Sergeant, blindfold the survivors."
"Survivors! What the hell…"
Head bags were put on the survivors and tied in place.
"Now, join hands and let us lead you out of here to safety."
Their feet slipped on the wet floor as they were ushered into the passenger compartment of the SWAT vehicle. They were taken to the road below, transferred to a sheriff's cruiser and whisked away for debriefing.
United Press International was aware that a crisis was underway in Shay County, and reporters were dispatched to grab the developing story. Arriving the following morning, they saw a large gathering of townsfolk at the Reynoldsburg police station and parked close by.
"I'm tellin' ya that y'need to keep your guns loaded and handy as long as there is a threat of their return!" shouted a man on the sidewalk.
"Makes sense to me," some murmured.
"I'm buyin' more ammo!" another said.
"Kris from UPI. What's the story here, folks?"
"No story at all, Mr. Kris. The fact is that Shay County has come under attack these past several days, and an as yet undetermined number of people have been killed by wild hogs!"
"When did the attacks begin?" Kris asked.
"We'd heard that a family was killed and eaten over by Rupert a couple days ago about twenty miles to the south. As to our sorrow, it looks like our entire roster of patients and most of the staff at the Spring Valley Retirement Home was killed and eaten by a few hundred wild hogs yesterday. It's unbelievable!"
Kris said, "Let me get this straight…"
The story hadn't been on the wire for more than five minutes before the White House got the call.
"What happened?" asked an incredulous President Williams. "How could hogs wipe out an entire population of senior citizens? Very well. Keep me apprised."
"Rance! Get me the Pentagon. General Berger. Now!"
"On two, Sir!"
"Berger! We have a situation south of us that needs your attention and expertise. How soon can you have boots on the ground in Shay County? Ninety minutes? Good! I'll expect your assessment within two hours then. Good luck!"
"Gentlemen," the President said quietly to his aides. "The pig bomb has exploded."
YouTube had numerous videos posted regarding the attack. Some submissions were for those "…poor woodland creatures being slaughtered by an overzealous military and citizenry." It seemed that all sides were represented. One site received by far the most hits from curious observers the world over: a phone video from Spring Valley Retirement Home.
"Nice doggie. Come…" Before the sentence was finished, the elderly patient was torn from her bed and devoured by hogs. The video recorded the retching of the young man holding the phone as it continued to roll. First the hogs consumed the thoracic cavity's contents and the head, and then finished with the limbs, carrying some away with them.
Every TV program in the country broke in with the video of the carnage in Reynoldsburg. All of the gun shops within a hundred miles of Reynoldsburg were sold out of guns and ammunition. People barricaded themselves in their homes, blocking stairs and doors to prevent access.
"Sir, the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine is a labyrinth of abandoned mines, fissures, and caves. Those hogs could be anywhere."
"Sergeant, I asked for information as to the whereabouts of the damn pig herd an hour ago. Are you telling me that you cannot provide it? If not, there is a weather station in Greenland that will soon have a new attendant - you savvy that?" asked a calm General Berger.
"I'm on it, sir! Our trackers are professional hunting guides. I'll have something for you straight away."
Shay County had seen the worst of the violent calamity brought on by wild hogs, but sporadic reports were coming in from as far north as New York's Adirondack Mountains. No hog sightings from anywhere had been reported for several hours.
"…Shay County remains under condition RED. The state has suspended laws prohibiting citizens from carrying loaded firearms. It has been recommended that people stay indoors until further notice…"
Trackers with dogs were running a hundred-foot wide animal trail through the heavily wooded valleys of Shay County as soldiers followed. Rock outcrops obscured the trail in places, but scuff marks on the surface were not difficult to see. The tracks disappeared into an opening in a sheer rock wall. Posts driven into the ground and crude foundations overgrown with weeds indicated that this site was once a mine.
The soldiers assembled near the opening.
"You men - lock and load! We're going in!"
The soldiers entered the cave in single file formation. There was a faint odor of excrement and the floor of the cave was covered in fresh tracks. The cave angled sharply to the right and down a slight grade revealing two openings. Tracks entered only one of them.
Staying with the tracks the soldiers proceeded unchallenged through the narrowing corridor. The odor of pig feces became stronger causing some of the men to choke and cough. Eyes watered and the men were ankle deep in effluent.
"Halt! About face, men - I can't breathe! Let's get the hell out of here!"
Escaping the old mine, the squad leader made contact with base camp.
"Sir! This is sergeant McGowan. We have located an abandoned mine the hogs are using for shelter. Here are the GPS coordinates."
Shortly, a helicopter arrived with additional equipment to mount an assault on the den.
Domestic threats were an area of study that General Berger had taken seriously. Over the years, taxpayer's money had been spent to monitor the wild hog population in the southeast US and it had not been deemed a threat to humans. Those studies were suspended as a cost-cutting measure four years ago when the President was elected.
"Sir, field officers in Shay County are live on MIL-SKYPE. New information is available."
"We're live, sir!"
"General Berger here."
"Sergeant McGowan reporting from the abandoned South Fork mine, sir. We have tracked a large herd of hogs to this mine. We followed the tracks into the mine until we were overcome with noxious methane gas. At that point, our weapons had become useless. A spark of any kind might blow the top off the mountain, so we retreated and await further instructions. Additional information is presently being faxed."
"Good job, McGowan."
"Get me the President."
"Line one, sir."
"President Williams? General Berger. I have information about the hog problem in Shay County for you."
"Troops have found the hog den in an abandoned mine. From the look of things, there might be as many as twelve hundred hogs sheltering in there. An assault is planned using incendiary devices to burn off any excess methane gas trapped in the mine before mounting a full frontal assault. This appears to be the most viable option at this point, sir. Shall we proceed?"
"Yes. Keep me informed, General."
"Thank you, sir. Will do."
Gas masks were issued to the soldiers assigned to demolition duty in the mine and the remainder of the cave was explored. The cave went on for another quarter mile and ended in a huge chamber the size of the Super Dome. Thousands of pigs were observed resting near a waterfall, and the men retreated to report their findings.
"Sergeant! There are thousands of pigs in there! You're going to need more firepower!"
"It's true, sir! We saw them, too!" the others said.
"We have the firepower to handle this, men. Did you get the tunnel rigged with incendiary?" asked McGowan.
"Good. We have a dozen .30 caliber machine guns from the drop."
"I want them brought over here to the mouth of the cave and set up in a manner that will permit six to reload while six continue to fire, is that understood?"
"Do it now! MOVE!"
The machine guns were set up across the mouth of the cave and ammunition was distributed among them. Flame throwers were stationed to each side of the machine gun placement and thirty soldiers stood behind them, rifles at the ready.
"FIRE IN THE HOLE! ON MY MARK: 3, 2, 1 …"
A rumbling deep within the earth rising toward the mouth of the cave found the soldiers dug in and sheltered from the spectacular fireball that belched from the mine. As it subsided, a loud squealing sound could be heard. Panicked hogs sought the relief of open country and stormed out of the cave.
Six machine guns firing 2,000 rounds per minute mowed the pigs down as they emerged. Hog bodies piled up making it impossible for them to escape. Flame throwers doused the pile of pig flesh as it deepened with more bodies, frightening others to turn and run back into the cave. Only a few additional hogs tried the heavily fortified exit, then there were no more. The dead hogs continued to burn.
"Cease fire! Cease fire! Get that fire put out, private! Move those hog bodies so we can access the cavern, men! I want to know how many dead hogs we have here! NOW!" McGowan shouted.
"Sir! Six hundred eighty-two dead hogs, sir!"
"Lock and load! Affix bayonets! We're going in!"
All of the soldiers donned their gas masks and filed into the mine.
"I want to see the Super Dome, private. Lead the way."
Burned dead and dying hogs lay all around them and the most aggressive ones were gang bayonetted. It was slow going, but no soldiers were injured and they made it to the dome. Stepping in, few live hogs remained, but it was easy to see that the mine had been used for a considerable time as a hog shelter. Severely burned sows and piglets were euthanized as efficiently as possible. At the rear of the chamber, a large opening was found that explained why the body count had been less than one thousand.
"They escaped through here, sir!"
"Take a dozen volunteers and follow that opening, private. Report back to me in ten minutes."
Almost immediately the private returned.
"Sir! The tunnel ends within two hundred feet of this chamber. This way, sir."
The cave angled to the left just past the opening and descended to a rock bed beside a river.
"A rear exit? I'd better notify headquarters."
Nearly twenty-five hundred hogs fled through the surrounding countryside, many severely burned. Scattering as they did made it impossible to track them, most finding shelter in other parts of the mountains.
General Berger called the President.
"Mr. President. We were successful in eradicating the hogs in Shay County and nearly seven hundred were killed. Unfortunately, the cavern where the effort was focused had a rear opening we were unaware of and over two thousand escaped. Trackers are in pursuit."
"Thanks, General. Hopefully we won't have any more trouble out of them for a while."
"That is my hope as well, sir. It has been proven that hogs are one of the most intelligent, adaptable species on the planet. They can eat anything, live anywhere, and they communicate with one another. My sincere hope is that they do not carry a grudge."
The citizens of Rupert and Reynoldsburg returned to normal routines after weeks of uncertainty. People were no longer fearful of taking a walk in town or the woods. Up and down the Appalachians, no hogs were seen.
In Washington, D.C., an unusual creature was spotted under a bridge over the Potomac River. It walked slowly, staggered occasionally, and made its way up the bank to the city. Continuing down Pennsylvania Avenue, folks were surprised to see such a foul smelling animal among them and gave it a wide berth. Pausing in front of the White House, it tossed its head and pawed the ground as the police surrounded it. A squeal more like a scream escaped the beast, and its charred, maggot infested body wavered for a moment, then fell to its side - dead. Policemen and Secret Service officers stood over it, looking at its severely injured body.
"Did you see that?" said the cop. "It looked directly at the White House and died."
His partner said, "Not exactly. Look."
The pig had stomped a message into the earth.