“Chase and Fulton like to use her when they’re hunting. She doesn’t do a lick of good—poor Princess cares more about her curls than tracking pigs—but they enjoy it. ”
They drove a couple of miles past the store and then turned off onto a gravel road that wound up a small hill through thick foliage. “Hollis hasn’t sold this land,” she complained, “because everybody likes it. ”
The road dead-ended into a long, narrow, one-story wooden house. Two pickup trucks and JATT’s Blazer were already parked by the lodge. TOC and JATT, whose jeans were again too tight, sat on the tailgate of one pickup, their legs dangling. Across from them, a middle-aged man was seated in what appeared to be a plastic chair stolen from a third-grade classroom, examining the muzzle of his shotgun. They all wore camouflage pants, longsleeved camouflage shirts, and bright orange vests.
As the man turned to speak to them, Colin recognized him as Town-send Lyford, one of the people they’d interviewed at the factory. “How are y’all?” he asked as they got out. He shook hands with Colin and Hassan, then hugged Lindsey. “Pretty day for hunting hogs,” said Mr. Lyford.
“It’s a little early,” Colin said, but by then light was just reaching the hillside. The sky was clear, and it did promise to be pretty—if hot.
Katrina peeked her head out from the lodge’s front door and said, “Breakfast is on! Oh, hey cutie. ” Hassan winked at her.
“You’re a smooth cat. ” Colin grinned.
Once Colin and Hassan were inside the lodge, SOCT handed them each camouflage outfits complete with ridiculous bright orange vests. “Y’all change in the bathroom,” he said.
And by “bathroom,” SOCT meant “outhouse. ” On the upside, the stench of the lodge’s outhouse masked the smell of the camouflage clothes, which reminded Colin of all the worst parts of the Kalman School’s gym. Still, he kicked off his shorts and slipped into the pants, the shirt, and the crossing-guard-orange vest. Before leaving the outhouse, Colin emptied out his pockets. Fortunately, the camo pants had huge cargo pockets—plenty of room for his wallet, his car keys, and the minirecorder, which he’d taken to carrying everywhere.
Once Hassan had changed, too, everyone settled down on one of the homemade benches and Mr. Lyford stood up. He spoke with a thick accent, and with authority. Mr. Lyford really seemed to enjoy placing emphasis on his words.
“The feral pig is an extremely dangerous creature. It is called the poor man’s grizzly bear, and not for nothing. Now I hunt without dogs, choosing instead to stalk my prey as the Indians did. But Chase and Fulton—they’re dog hunters, and that’s a’ight, too. Either way, though, we must remember this is a dangerous sport. ” Right, Colin thought. We have guns and the pigs have snouts. Dangerous, indeed. “These pigs are pests—even the government says so—and they need to be eradicated. Now usually I would say you’re gonna have trouble rootin’ out a feral pig in the daytime, but it’s been a while since we hunted around here, so I think we have an excellent chance. Now I’m going to go out with Colin and Hassan,” which he pronounced HASS-in, “and we’re going to go down into the flat land and see if we can’t catch a trail. Y’all can split up as you wish. But be safe out there, and do not take the dangers of the feral pig lightly. ”
“Can we shoot ’em in the nuts?” asked JATT.
“No, you can not. A feral boar will charge if shot in the testes,” answered Mr. Lyford.
“Jesus, Dad, he’s kidding. We know how to hunt,” said TOC. Before that, Colin didn’t realize TOC and Mr. Lyford were related.
“Well, boy, I reckon I’m nervous sending you out alone with a bunch of yahoos. ”
Then he went over some boring stuff about guns, like which slugs to use in your shotgun and to always keep both barrels loaded. It turned out that Lindsey and TOC were going out together to a tree stand near a baited patch, whatever the hell that meant, and JATT and SOCT were going out in another direction with the adorably non-threatening labradoodle. Katrina would stay in camp, as she refused to hunt on moral grounds. She was, she told Colin as they sat at the cafeteria, a vegetarian. “I think it’s right criminal,” Katrina said of hog hunting. “Although those pigs are sort of horrible. But there wouldn’t even be any wild hogs except we pen up so many pigs to eat. ”
“I’ve been thinking about going vegetarian,” Hassan told her, his arm draped around her waist.
“Well just don’t get skinny,” Katrina answered, and then they kissed right in front of Colin, who still couldn’t get his head around any of this.
“All right, boys,” Mr. Lyford said, smacking Colin on the back rather too hard. “Ready for yer first hunt?”
Colin nodded with some reluctance, waved good-bye to Lindsey and the others, and headed out with Hassan, whose orange vest was not quite big enough to fit comfortably around his chest. They set off down the hill, not following a trail, just bushwacking. “We begin by looking for rootings ,” Mr. Lyford explained. “Places where a hog has been turning up the soil with his long snout. ” He talked to them like they were nine years old, and Colin was wondering if Mr. Lyford thought they were younger than they actually were when Mr. Lyford turned back to them with a can of chewing tobacco and offered them each a pinch. Colin and Hassan both politely declined.
Over the next hour, they hardly spoke, because “the feral hog may shy away from the human voice,” Mr. Lyford said, as if the feral hog did not shy away from other voices, such as those of Martians. Instead they walked slowly through the woods, their eyes scanning the ground in search of rootings, their guns pointed down into the dirt, with one hand on the stock and the other sweating against the barrel. And then, finally, Hassan saw something.
“Uh, Mr. Lyford,” Hassan whispered. He pointed to a patch of dirt that had been dug out haphazardly. Mr. Lyford knelt down and inspected it closely. He sniffed at the air. He dug his fingers into the dirt. “This,” Mr. Lyford whispered, “is a rooting. And you, HASS-in, have found a fresh one. Yes, a hog has been here recently. Now, we track it. ”
Mr. Lyford doubled the pace then, and Hassan struggled to keep up. Mr. Lyford found another rooting, and then another, and he felt sure he had the trail, so he took off in a kind of race-walk, his arms pumping so that the gun wiggled in the air like he was in color guard. After about five minutes of that, Hassan hussled up to Colin and said, “Please God, no more run-walking,” and Colin said, “Seriously,” and then they both together said, “Mr. Lyford?”
He turned around and walked several paces back to the boys. “What is it, boys? We’re on the trail here. We’ve got a hog almost in sight, I can feel it. ”
“Can we slow down?” Hassan asked. “Or take a break? Or take a break and then slow down?”
Mr. Lyford sighed. “Boys, if you are not serious about hunting the feral pig, then I can just leave you here. We’re on the trail of a hog,” he whispered urgently. “This is no time for lollygaggin’ or dillydallyin’. ”
“Well,” suggested Colin, “maybe you should just leave us behind then. We can sort of protect your flank, in case the feral pig doubles back around. ”
Mr. Lyford looked extremely disappointed. He pursed his lips and shook his head sadly, as if he pitied the poor souls who were unwilling to push their bodies to the limit in search of the feral pig. “Very well, boys. I’ll come back and get ya. And when I do, it’ll be to get your help carryin’ out a gorgeous hog. ” He started to walk off and then stopped and pulled out his can of chewing tobacco. “Here,” he whispered, handing it to Colin. “I fear the hog will smell the wintergreen. ”
“Uh, thanks,” said Colin, and Mr. Lyford ran off into the distance, weaving through the forest in search of more, fresher rootings.
“Well,” Hassan said, squatting down to sit on a rotting fallen tree. “That was fun. Jesus, I didn’t think hunting involved so much walking. We should have gotten the sweet gig Lindsey has, sitting in a tree and making out and waiting for a pig to walk by. ”