For Chrystine and Mark, who, in different ways, made me write this story.
So, my friends, pull your chairs closer to the fire, charge your glasses and let me tell you the extraordinary tale of the infamous limping pig of Middleton Bishop. But before I start, let me set the scene. The village of Middleton Bishop is where I was born and bred. Around six hundred souls call it home and that number hasn’t changed in decades. It is a lovely place, a timeless ancient village of timbered cottages, sun-dappled groves and gently gurgling streams. Nothing changes very quickly in the village, few people ever leave and the shops on the main street have stayed within the same families for generations. My tale concerns the butchers, John Dempsey & Son. Everyone in the village, including myself, loved the meat they sold and this love affair grew more intense when, last summer, they introduced their very own special brand of pork. My mouth still waters when I think back to that succulent, tender meat. But it was that special pork that lead to the downfall of Dempsey’s and caused the tragic events of that one terrible night last October.
It was young Toby Dempsey that caused the problem. The only son of the John Dempsey, Toby was a smart but lazy young man. At the age of eighteen he headed off to university, having chosen to study biochemistry. By all accounts he spent his undergraduate career enjoying himself a little bit too much, with his studies coming second to his social life. He found himself having to engage in a little sharp practice in order to pass his courses; copying assignments and reports from fellow students, occasionally employing PhD students to write his essays and smuggling notes into exams. It would have been nice to say that this young man received his comeuppance for his misdeeds, but sadly this wasn’t the case. Quite the opposite. All those highly questionable activities, coupled with his natural talent and charm allowed him to graduate at the top of his class, with a first class honours degree. His head swollen by this achievement, he embarked on further studies, a research project that Toby planned to be the key to his fame and fortune. And what was this project? Well, it was endocrinology, the study of hormones.
One night while working in the laboratory it suddenly struck him that certain combinations of certain hormones, applied in the right doses to the right locations could accelerate local tissue growth, much in the same way that cancerous tissue grows. As he sat in that laboratory, he started thinking about how he could use this amazing discovery to make himself rich and that was when he had his idea.
The very next day he left his prestigious university and headed back to Middleton Bishop to speak to his father. In his bag he carried a large collection of vials and syringes, none of which were actually allowed to be removed from the laboratory, but Toby, past master of sharp practice, had decided to flout the rules once again. He wanted to speak to his father about his idea. He wanted his father to get him a piglet.
Now, no-one except the Dempsey’s really know what happened in the months between June and October of last year and that knowledge died with them. The police pieced some parts of the story together, mainly from the emails and lab notes left by Toby, and I will try to fill in some of the remaining blanks.
What I think happened was this. With the piglet procured by his father, Toby set about experimenting with all those little vials he had taken from his laboratory. Fairly quickly he hit upon the right combination, the mixture that would cause accelerated tissue growth. And what’s another word for tissue? Yup, you guessed it. Meat. By injecting small volumes of hormones into the ham and hock muscles of that innocent little piglet, Toby found that he could create as much meat as he wished. Those muscles would just keep growing and growing, allowing Toby and his father to cut off the excess to sell to their hungry patrons. And once that meat was removed from the poor animal, it grew right back within just a few days. It was an endless supply of pork, just as long as the right chemicals were applied to the muscles and the poor wee pig was force fed. And what of that pig? Well, she was only twelve weeks old when they started injecting her and that must have twisted up her whole metabolism. Those hormones didn’t just affect the muscles where they were injected, they affected her whole body. Sure, the muscles grew the fastest, but she became much, much bigger than a normal adult pig in only a few weeks. By October, when the truth came out, she weighed close to seven hundred pounds. Toby and his father housed this creature in the cellar of the shop and as she got bigger and bigger they had to construct some pretty sturdy supports for her, her legs weren’t strong enough to carry her weight. They didn’t mind, a bigger pig meant more meat. Now, some say those hormones didn’t just make her bigger, they made her smarter too. Pigs are pretty damn smart anyway, but they do say that this one was as smart as a human. Maybe even smarter.
And that’s how I think it went, from June until October, with us villagers none the wiser. All we knew was there was a new type of pork being sold, one that was the most perfect meat any of us had tasted. The pig was hidden away in the cellar and every day chunks of flesh were cut off her for sale in the shop above. Folk flocked to Dempsey’s from all over the area to buy this product, the most succulent, tender pork money could buy. Dempsey doubled then tripled the price, but still they came and every day it was all sold within minutes of the shop opening. There were some who were jealous of the success, especially the local pig farmers whose product Dempsey’s no longer bought. Questions were asked. Where was this meat coming from? Who was supplying it? John Dempsey told anyone who would listen that his pork was free-range and organic, supplied by a specialist farmer up Norfolk way. That appeased some folk, but there was one who was still not happy, young Chris Jenkins. He’d seen his father’s pig farm wither away after the Dempsey’s stopped buying from them. His father was close to bankruptcy. To be sure I don’t know quite what made young Chris decide to break into the butchers that one night in October; perhaps he wanted to smash the place up, perhaps he was after the details of where the pork came from or perhaps he just wanted to steal some money to help his family. Who knows? All we do know is that he must have had one hell of a shock when he entered the cellar through the coal chute. Rather than a dusty, damp space used for storage he descended into a version of hell. A seven hundred pound monster, strapped into a wooden frame to support her weight. A laboratory combined with an abattoir. Knifes, saws, vials and syringes scattered round like discarded toys. Blood dripping from open wounds. Huge fleshy pustules, erupting from her body. And above all else, the eyes of the pig, malevolent and intelligent, staring in hatred at the human intruder. The Police think that Toby and his father were woken by the noise of the pig screaming at the intruder and they both immediately headed to the cellar to investigate. After that, nothing is definite, but what is clear is at some point she got loose from her bindings. A seven hundred pound, insane pig loose in a cramped cellar with three human beings, two of whom she no doubt loathed; well I probably don’t need to tell you what happened in that small space. It looked as if Toby and his father bolted for the cellar door at the same time and tripped each other up. That was all the time the pig needed, despite her size she could move fast. And poor Chris, he apparently tried to escape back up the coal chute, but she got to him before he could make any headway. Very sad.
Now, us villagers didn’t know any of this at the time. The first we heard was when the pig broke out of the cellar and started to destroy the butcher’s shop. I heard the noise and assumed that a truck or something had crashed in the high street, so I grabbed my jacket and headed out to see if I could help. We all saw it that night. That monster creature, eyes glowing red, her snout covered in blood and gore from her victims. We stood outside the shop watching as she smashed every single piece of equipment, every display cabinet and every fridge and freezer in the butcher’s shop. Once she had finished she stood on the threshold and stared at us all, standing in a semi-circle in front of the shop. No-one moved, I barely breathed. Her breath formed clouds of steam and the blood dripped slowly from her snout. Her hindquarters were bloated and distended, her skin stretched to the point of splitting by the uncontrolled growth of her muscles. You could clearly see where the Dempsey’s had removed dripping chunks of meat from her living frame. Suddenly we all knew where the Dempsey’s had been getting their pork from. Her eyes, glowing with intelligence and hatred, stared into our very souls. She knew that each one of us had eaten her flesh, partaken of living tissue, while she suffered in eternal agony. Her immediate persecutors were dead, trampled into the dirt, but each of us were guilty, each of us deserved punishment. She moved forward and the human barrier in front of her parted and let her through. She moved slowly, her weight slowing her down, pockets of puffy, skinless flesh dragging along the ground, leaving bloody trails. I noticed that she was limping, her legs no doubt damaged by her exertions and by her tremendous weight. She moved past us with something I can only describe as dignity. Just before the Police arrived she disappeared into a nearby woods, never to be seen again.
And that’s my tale. A tale of rightful vengeance and a wrong set right. Now the thing is, pigs can live for ten or twelve years and this all happened just last year. She was only six months old when she escaped. She may have moved on from the area or she may have died, but you know what I think? I think she’s still out there in those woods, waiting to take revenge on any villager stupid enough to wander in there. I don’t think she’s forgiven us for eating her living flesh, nor will she until her dying day. Personally I will never go into those woods again, but I’ll tell you truthfully, I do still miss the taste of that very special pork.
Copyright © 2016 by Richard Meldrum