The Instance Pigg
When Ixawod was fifteen years old, he had troubled Miss Trebitha Tizzywick’s flower garden with a vengeance.
As it was the last day of school before the weekend, and having nothing better to do, he threw on an old tan jacket and snatched a hundred-year-old bottle of Civilised from the old man's wine-rack. Father was not likely to miss it from his collection, Ixawod reckoned, and meanwhile he could call on his friend Pree-Man, with whom he would polish off the bottle over the course of an hour, telling tales of non-existent amorous misadventure.
Ixawod flung open his friend’s door – they neither bothered with knocks nor locks in this bourgeois neighbourhood – and collapsed on the traviata couch. Pree-Man had acquired a carton of cigarettes which, judging by their stylish and sophisticated length, must have belonged to Pree-Man’s mother, a woman who featured in a number of Ixawod’s fictional exploits. This fact, however, he kept to himself.
The boys were skipping school, but Ixawod didn’t care. Top of the class in most of his subjects, one of the few things instilled in him by his father than he didn’t rebel against was his work ethic; to fail in class was to lose out to pupils he believed to be his inferiors in every way and he would not permit that to happen. He’d catch up, as he had before, without so much as a blip on his school record.
Blue puffs issued from their cigarette ends. Civilised should always be consumed slowly if one is to avoid a freefall into moral dilapidation, but anyone who has tried to explain as much to a pair of overeducated truants knows the pointlessness of that endeavour.
“I should have brought another,” Ixawod mumbled to the empty decanter. He jabbed his cigarette end into an ashtray. “Come on, let’s go.”
The plan was to avoid detection by fathers, the school authority, and other do-gooders – but primarily to meet girls from the town in Blanco Park. However today was an off-day for the two young men. Whether it was something approaching in the air, or the fact that Ixawod was reeling about drunk and obnoxious by early afternoon and vomited in the duckpond was never clear, but their mission was not a successful one. Bested, they zig-zagged through a twee neighbourhood lined with little white cottages and populated by cats. One hissed at them, and arched its back , and Ixawod wound himself up into such a lather at this affront that he took out his dissatisfaction on the first thing he saw: Miss Trebitha Tizzywick’s treasured flowers.
He leapt into her garden, tore up peonies, kicked the heads off the hibiscus and stomped on them all, leaving them flat, crumpled and generally rather sorry-looking. Pree-Man must have slipped away unnoticed during this time because eventually Ixawod tired of his rage and made his lonely way home, where he collapsed on his bed and passed out.
A knock at the door. Ixawod’s father, Eold, would have already left for work – always before sunup, rarely back before midnight. Tembra, their maid, was in the back garden hanging up clothes (including Ixawod’s sick-stained white shirt from the previous day, a task she approached with equanimity) so when the knocking came a second time, Ixawod shrugged on a dressing-gown and shuffled bleary-eyed to the door. He swung it open. Outside, the postman waited, holding up a box and grinning as Mendextit, Ixawod’s cat, streaked out through their legs and into the street.
“For you,” the postman said. He held out a pen and a chit and grinned even wider. Ixawod wondered what the man found so damn amusing. He felt awful, but he signed the postman’s chit and grunting his thanks, closed the door and put the box on the hallway table. Above the table a large oak-framed mirror hung on the wall. Ixawod stared into it. His unmatched eyes were bloodshot and yellow and his shoulder-length curly blond hair was matted and wild. He looked like a caveman that had found someone’s clothes in a dump.
Was he happy? Ixawod didn’t know. He wasn’t sad. Happiness seemed a nebulous, overly safe state of mind in which he had only mild interest. He felt mostly a desire to be adored, coupled with a degree of self-satisfaction and relief that he had achieved this aim. He was happy he had power over people, although it wasn’t in his nature to misuse this privilege, being more self-obsessed and egotistical with it.
Regarding his reflection in his late mother’s looking-glass, he experienced a familiar rush of admiration for himself. He pouted, and held up his hair in twin bunches over his head. Good-looking, popular and from a rich family – that’s what people said. What more could he want? When he thought about those less fortunate than himself – which was not often – he was either terrified that he might be plunged into their ranks, or astonished that such people managed to get through their days at all. He had, he reasoned, mastered life, could cope with its ups and downs and any obstacle that people might throw at him. But of course, he had never truly experienced any such problems that thousands face daily. Really, it was pointless to compare. Mendextit’s bloody kerbside existence was arguably more fraught than his. All you could say about him, aged fifteen, was that he was very good at being Ixawod.
He looked at the package again. It was wrapped in floral paper and garlanded with a sparkling white bow and it sat unevenly as he held it, as if something heavy rested at its centre. Placing it back on the table, he tore open the paper. The box within was a deep, shiny red with green stripes edged with gold running from back to front.
He flipped up the lid. Inside lay a solid, rounded object sheathed in delicate, crinkled paper. Ixawod pulled the packaging away to reveal a metallic red pigg, about nine inches from nose to tail and about five in diameter. He picked it up and examined it. It was polished to a shine and adorned with the same green and gold beading as the box it had arrived in.
A present. Ixawod ran through in his mind a list of elderly relations that might have given it to him. Whoever it was had misjudged him badly. He was a young man in the throes of adolescence, not a little child with any use for such an artefact, and he was ashamed for them, not knowing how he was almost grown. But being fundamentally well-brought up, after a moment he sensed the slow warm touch of gratitude. It was nice to be well thought of, especially when one was as hung over as he was. He smiled. He was beginning to feel good again.
A girl – that was it. Not an aunt or grandmother; a girl had given it to him, had to have done. Ixawod’s mind raced through a list of people. While he had to admit that no-one that had seen him rolling about drunk the day before would be inclined to give him anything other than a wide berth, there were handfuls of girls at school who might wish to send him a token. Perhaps it was from a secret admirer. Maybe even a town girl. He considered. Maybe, just maybe, this would go very well after all. If he played it right, he could finally get one up on Pree-Man (who was every bit as inexperienced as Ixawod was himself) before the month was out. He threw the pigg into the air, catching it deftly, and started to put it back carefully onto the table. It felt cool to the touch.
And that was when the pigg started to speak. It turned its vulgar little head towards him, causing hideous rolls of fat to pucker out on its neck. It fixed him with one beady black eye and proceeded to tell him that it was not a present, how stupid he had been to think that, but an ancient spirit called forth to bedevil him for a very long time indeed. It spoke partly in its own voice and partly in Ixawod’s voice, but mostly as strange and unpleasant thoughts forming inside Ixawod’s head. What it told him was that all that he had known had come to an end, had never been, that he would be better off dead. He was dead already. No-one else could see the pigg and he was alone, it said, unable to deal with what was happening. All his money and good looks were a sham that counted for nothing, soon to fade. There were people, better people than he, locked up in asylums up and down the country. They had been there for ever, it said. His luck had run out. The thing’s tiny chrome tusks gleamed viciously.
For a moment Ixawod stood in the hallway, swaying back and forth. Was this happening? As if in answer, the pigg emitted a series of putrid little squeaks, like deforming rubber, and Ixawod realised that it was laughing at him. He cried out and threw it to the floor. It struck a tile and chipped off a tiny stone flake. His skin rippled as the thing’s demonic energy surged over him, wriggling, writhing to its feet before jumping at his shins. He leapt back out of its way, turned and yanked open his front door, slamming it behind him, and took off running down the street, still wearing only his dressing gown
Every two or three seconds he glanced back over his shoulder but the pigg did not follow him. He ran faster, heading vaguely in the direction of Pree-Man’s house four streets away. He passed no-one else and when he reached his friend’s house, he started pounding on the door with his fist.
“Open up! Open the fucking door!” he yelled. No answer. The door was locked. What was happening to his voice? He had heard his own words spoken back to him even as he uttered them. He pounded again, then ran around to the back of the house and burst through the gate.
Pree-Man was sitting by the pool, sipping a fruit juice and eating a salad. He was in white loungewear and slippers, and his black skin glistened with droplets of water from his morning swim. He looked up as Ixawod pinwheeled to a stop. What sort of imbecile eats a salad for breakfast, Ixawod thought frantically. He was still panicking and realised he did not know how to broach the subject to Pree-Man, who was wearing a protective sun visor and a studiously disdainful look. He surveyed Ixawod, with his wild hair and his dressing gown.
“Hey there, my friend,” he said coolly. “How can I help you today?”
Fuck him, thought Ixawod disjointedly, he doesn’t have a pigg. Pree-Man’s landscaped garden was no longer the familiar scene Ixawod coveted, but had become a hellish place of judgment and inadequacy, all towering spikes and plunging crevasses that dwarfed him in their recesses. He would have to explain the situation to Pree-Man very carefully, without sounding like he’d gone completely off his rocker even though he was quite aware that that was precisely what had happened. He took a breath and put his hands against his temples in an effort to calm himself. Pree-Man sat perfectly still, staring at him from behind opaque eyepieces.
“You – you’ve got to come and check this out,” Ixawod eventually managed. “It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.” His voice sounded like nonsense burbled round a mouthful of moss. Had he overdosed on taint-brain? He watched for Pree-Man’s reaction.
“Okay, well, can I finish my salad first?” Pree-Man was still looking at Ixawod with contempt; he was a one-man arched eyebrow with close-cropped hair and six-pack of muscle, relaxing in his poolside recliner, but at least he seemed able to understand what Ixawod was saying. Ixawod paced, spinning through his options, puffing air out of his cheeks, uncomfortably aware of how strangely he was behaving but powerless to stop it. All his choices seemed to lead in considerable difficulty or dead ends. Pree-man kept looking at him with scorn, as if Ixawod was a lowlife vagrant who might embarrass him.
When they got to Ixawod’s house after several uneasy minutes, it crossed his mind that he may have imagined the whole thing. This was an unwelcome realisation. If it transpired that the pigg wasn’t there, then he would become a figure of pity and concern. Pree-Man and countless others would look at him from the corners of their eyes. He wasn’t the right stuff, they’d murmur in the school corridors. Desperate thoughts of hitting Pree-Man over the head with a rock swam across his mind and he struggled to get a grip on himself. As they opened the door, Ixawod listened for the pigg.
“So,” Pree-Man said without much interest, looking at himself in the mirror. “Where’s this weird thing you wanted to show me?”
A clatter, in the kitchen. Ixawod held up a finger and for a second dared hope it would be Mendextit or a rat (after all, facing Pree-Man’s derision would be at least something comprehensible, unlike this talking demon pigg) but then in a streak of red, the thing dashed at him like a puppy. Quick as a flash, Pree-Man grabbed the nearest object he could see – an expensive wooden chair – and bashed the creature away. Ixawod looked at him, eyes wide.
“You can see it! Can you see it?” he gibbered. What was happening to him? His words were flying out backwards.
“Ohh!” Pree-Man said at last. “You've got an instance pigg!” He spoke with quiet amazement, as if he’d just figured out the solution to a complex riddle. He took off his visor. “Try and keep it away. Use that.” He handed Ixawod the chair. “A suitcase is better though. Don’t let it gore you. If it gores you, you’ll get gangrene.”
“What?! What is it? How do you know all this?” Ixawod demanded, his voice rising to a wavering shout. His lips were jelly and his tongue was grit. He stared at Pree-Man. “How long does it last?”
“Yeah, oh … okay. I think … I think maybe it’ll last forever? At best, you might just lose a leg, but … you’ll never truly be free of the poison, or the pigg…” His eyes had a faraway look, and his voice had taken on a dreamy, condescending tone, as if he was speaking to a rather slow-witted child.
“What?! Where did it come from?”
“Yeah … it’s like a malevolent spirit,” Pree-Man said. The pigg jumped again but Ixawod batted it away easily. His teeth were crumbling and filling his mouth with a repulsive mealy substance. He was starting to realise the nature of the pigg’s potency. It wasn’t brute force, but mindless persistence and an ability to focus on what he feared most; the pigg would always be there, a shameful blemish on Ixawod’s character, and he would never again know a moment’s peace. And how did the Pree-Man know so much about it all of a sudden? Pree was acting oddly. This sort of thing – someone else’s misfortune, especially Ixawod’s – would normally have amused him. He never used words like “malevolent”.
“Well, how do I get rid of it? What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“Okay, so … I have to go …” Pree-Man said slowly, no longer looking Ixawod in the eye. He appeared uncomfortable. He opened the door and backed out, closing the door gently and stepping out onto the front stoop, leaving Ixawod alone with the pigg. It jumped at him twice more in the silent house while he reviewed the possibilities in his mind once more. Mendextit was nowhere to be seen.
He couldn’t stay at home. That was clear. He also refused to go to any of his friends in his current state. There was only one thing to do. He would snatch up a few basic items, leave home, and sleep rough. The pigg hadn’t followed him out of the house, so maybe he would be safe. Yes, he would grab a few clothes, go into town and sleep in the street or the park like the drunks. But of course, they weren’t drunks. They weren’t homeless or crazy. Those poor men had been pigged, and now Ixawod was among their number.
Two weeks passed, and they were the two most miserable weeks of Ixawod’s life. For one thing, time had become distressingly non-linear; events from years ago seemed like they had happened in the last few minutes and conversations from the last few days might as well have been someone else’s distant recollection. He couldn’t tell whether something had already happened or whether it was about to. Either way it filled him with hopeless dread.
A day after he had walked out of his front door, heading towards the middle of the town to hunker down in doorways and bushes, careful to avoid anyone he might know (for despite this change in his circumstances he was still a prideful individual) and remaining ever vigilant for the instance pigg, it had come for him. A scream, the sound of breaking glass, and it bounded back down the hill that led up to his house, leaping in happy arcs, jumping over trees and bouncing off walls and buildings. It looked thrilled to see him. The whole thing would have been comical if the pigg hadn’t been such a portent of awful inevitability. That was the worst of it; the sense that something that could so easily be fun and happy – some children laughed with glee as the pigg whizzed by – but that held such dread for him meant that all future enjoyment was irrevocably marred. Pleasure had become a source of misery.
He was at the mercy of a being far superior to himself, able to anticipate his reaction to events before those events even happened. The moment he thought of a weakness, it was exposed. No sooner did he dare hope he had an answer to his predicament, than it was undermined. He might climb a tree – but the pigg would poison the tree, causing it to fall. He could take a boat, but the pigg would sail high in the sky above him or torpedo through the water. He couldn’t even tell anybody because they’d never take him seriously, not to mention the fact that his voice had changed audibly into what his grandmother would call codswallop and he was reduced to bleating like a sheep and shouting at passers-by, who avoided him. His mouth kept filling up with gunge which he was forced to spit out (he daren’t swallow it). He smelt foul and ate out of bins, all of which added to his increasing isolation.
He was running out of ideas. The future, now defined solely by the pigg, stretched away in front of him, bleak and empty. By now the creature had infiltrated his dreams too so that even as he slept in a municipal dumpster which afforded him a measure of privacy as well as physical, if not psychic, protection, he was forever batting the creature away until exhaustion overtook him and caused him to drop his guard. In other dreams, he opened a door and the pigg rushed in with its miniature metal tusks and scratched a tiny contusion on his hand no bigger than a paper cut but that nonetheless caused him to swell up with infection like a sausage, to die slowly and in tremendous agony. Upon waking from these dreams he would be granted – by the pigg, he was certain – a tantalisingly brief peace, a sliver of a second to believe it had all been a nightmare. Then the pigg would clang against the side of the bin again, starting the whole cycle of desperation, tiredness and steadily fading hope afresh.
At these times he would entertain the notion of letting it scratch him but the memory of dreams in which his bruised and gangrenous limbs detached themselves from his body with a sinewy twanging, prevented him from carrying it out. Later he would chastise himself for his cowardice.
Eventually his only companions came to be the shambling forms in the park and the frogmen down by the water – and of course the little pigg. Many of the park dwellers had piggs of their own, some of which could be seen, while others were evidenced by a darkening in mood as they passed. One man in particular had had his for years. As a result of it he had faded away and become transparent, almost invisible.
When Ixawod had told the others of his situation, through broken teeth and swollen tongue, they mocked him scornfully and said that it was the end of the world, or that he had died, or that he was in the Wrath, and much worse was in store. Some just laughed at him. Others said that the pigg was nothing compared to what was coming – the instance bull, a white plasticky thing with four tiny red horns that required near-constant watchfulness, and which was surely due him anytime now. The frogmen at the water’s edge just waved their arms in the air and preached god to him; more madness. Again, he entertained the notion of letting the pigg scratch him. Was any of it even true? Perhaps nothing would happen. Could he afford to take that chance, rather than spending an eternity fending it off? If it wasn’t true then exactly what was happening to him? Maybe he should heed the words of the frogmen.
These questions had become his whole world and chased each other round and round in his head with idiot circularity, so that even his thoughts were not free from the pigg’s malign influence. The faded man-shadow in the park had had his for years, they said. One night this apparition had caught Ixawod staring at him in horror and shambled over, grabbed the younger man by the shoulders and said through a mouthful of rotten flesh: “I let it scratch me, I did. But I won’t scream. No, I won’t scream, ‘cos if I do – if I do, I’ll disa-fucking-ppear!”
Ixawod’s face twitched as he struggled not to cry out.
Finally, he decided he would kill himself. In the park which lay between the slums where he now lived and the trees on the top of the hill that led to his old barely-remembered house, a high span stood over a rocky river. It was a popular suicide spot, and Ixawod dragged himself up to it. He stood on the wall at the bridge’s edge, toes over the abyss, knocking the pigg away every few seconds. He cursed the happy picnickers with their dogs and their families far below.
He was ready to die.
And then he knew: the pigg was sure to follow him into the afterlife. It was done, then; he would never get away from it. The instance pigg had won, as Ixawod had known it would. He may as well have jumped, or fallen into Wrath. He would become a ghost himself now, haunting the park; that transformation was already under way. He turned and ran, to where he knew not. It no longer mattered. He ran down streets and around in circles. He tore his shirt off. He screamed and howled. In the late afternoon he ran through a twee neighbourhood lined with cottages and populated by cats, tears and snot running down his face, pigg at his heels.
He stopped dead.
There they lay, begonias, hyacinths, and others, a little sparkling gift in a thunderstorm, in front of a tiny white house. They looked so pathetic, still trampled and torn up from when he and a friend – Pree-Man? Someone else? – had stamped on them a thousand millennia ago. No – not a friend; just him. Ixawod had been drunk, and not listening. Now that he remembered, there had been lots of admonitions, lots of “hey man” and “not cool” from the Pree-Man. Ixawod saw clearly that he was a third-rate little shit. No wonder Pree-Man had avoided him at the house. The only thing more worthless than himself were those ruined little flowers lying there in the mud, hurting no-one but crushed all the same.
Ixawod burst into sudden tears. He no longer cared if his friends or his father or any of the girls he knew could see him; if anything he wanted them to see him, to know how awful he was. The pigg stood by his side, not jumping. It seemed to be panting slightly.
Mud-stained and sobbing, he stumbled to the misshapen oak door at the front of the cottage, and knocked. Ixawod’s vision was failing and things were hard to recognise. The house could have been upside-down for all he knew. The door creaked open to reveal a wrinkled old lady with a hooked nose and a flowery hat, and through the chaos in his mind he recognised Miss Tizzywick, wizened recluse and frequent victim of schoolboy pranks. The only unfinished business he had left in the world was to straighten up Miss Tizzywick’s flower garden. Her eyes twinkled. The pigg jumped as if to remind him what he was here for and Ixawod swatted it away. He knew he had to say something but he could barely remember how to speak.
“It was … me who tr-trampled on y-your … flowers …” he mumbled. His teeth seemed to have returned to his mouth for the moment but his lips were numb and his tongue was still a giant sausage. He blew it out of his mouth and it hung there huge and translucent like a dead lizard. He pulled at it and spat it out. Another immediately took its place.
Miss Tizzywick looked at him with interest, making a peculiar little noise that sounded like “hmm?” She tilted her head to one side, and stepped back to let him in, before pressing a trowel silently into his hand. Then she led him to the yard where the begonias and peonies lay flat, hmming now and again as if to say: Wouldn’t you like to trim these? Why don’t you dig there? Wouldn’t those look nice by the fence?
By the time Ixawod finished he felt a little better. The pigg had only jumped at him twice as he worked, pruning and digging and straightening. He stood up and squinted at Miss Tizzywick as she came and took his arm. She steered him back into the house and held his face in her tiny hands. She was surprisingly strong.
“Hmm?” she said again, looking at him quizzically. He wanted to apologise, to thank her, to run away, to die. She seemed to know this already and closed her eyes, smiling, letting him go.
“O-Okay,” Ixawod croaked, breating heavily. “I’ll be off then.” The pigg remained silent. Miss Tizzywick stood in the middle of the floor, eyes closed, hands clasped, smiling that gleeful, mischievous smile. As he opened the front door, he heard one last small “hmm?”. The pigg followed a little way behind, trotting along and jumping up just once or twice lazily, almost playfully, like an old friend.
He would not shield himself as he lay in his bed. That night was the first in weeks that the pigg didn’t devil him in his dreams. In its place was a sense of wonder as he travelled among the iridescent shades of a fantastical land, and as deeper sleep descended, there came a healing blue light that crackled and zapped over him like a magnetic field.
The next thing he was aware of was sunshine and clear skies. It was bright and hot. He woke, but instead of looking about in fear or clutching at his knees he just lay there, staring at the ceiling. It looked set to be a perfect morning, alive with possibility. His bedroom was the perfect bedroom, the walls the perfect walls. He wondered why he had never appreciated them before. They reminded him of his mother. He sat up and stretched and looked around the room. His tongue and teeth had returned to normal, and he felt good, almost blissful. He uttered a few words to himself and was relieved to find that he had regained the power of speech.
The pigg was gone. So there it was; the whole business had been orchestrated by a little old lady who, far from being a victim of petty misdemeanours, commanded a power so raw and elemental that Ixawod could not help but be overawed by such a display of mastery from this unlikeliest of sources. And far from using her ancient she-magic to intimidate, Miss Tizzywick deployed it to give passing rascals a slap on the wrist should they happen to cause harm to her beloved garden.
Over subsequent days, as he mused on his experience, Ixawod found himself spending less time with his old friends and more with school misfit Humpty Doughty. Here Ixawod found an unexpected confidante to whom he could relate vis-à-vis life’s more esoteric offerings. As they spent time together, Humpty’s own social stock rose by association, if not to match Ixawod’s, then certainly to track it until even the likes of Pree-Man would acknowledge his presence from time to time. All this was welcome news to Humpty's guilt-ridden parents.
And Humpty's oversized lips would flap with joy and his too-far-apart mad blue eyes would sparkle, like sunlight on the ripples of the Inland Sea.
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