“I’m really sorry. I’m sorry I broke up with you,” Colin said.
She laughed. “Well, we were ten. I’ve dealt with it. ”
“Yeah, but still. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. ”
“Well, thank you, Colin Singleton. ”
“No problem. ”
“Is there anything else?” she asked.
“I think that’s it. ”
“Okay, well, you take care of yourself,” she said, the way you might say it to a schizophrenic homeless person to whom you’ve just given a dollar.
“You too, Katherine Mutsensberger. ”
Hassan stared at Colin unblinkingly. “Well, dress me up in a tutu, put me on a unicycle, and call me Caroline the Dancing Bear. You’re a fugging Dumper. ”
Colin leaned back against the rotten tree, his back arching over it until he was staring at the cloudy sky. Betrayed by his vaunted memory! He had, indeed, remarked eighteen and snubbed the rest. How could he remember everything about her and not remember that he dumped her? And for that matter, what kind of asshole was he to have dumped a perfectly nice girl like Katherine Mutsensberger? “I feel like I’ve only ever been two things,” he said softly. “I’m a child prodigy, and I’m dumped by Katherines. But now I’m—”
“Neither,” Hassan said. “And be grateful. You’re a Dumper and I’m making out with a ridiculously hot girl. The whole world is turned upside down. I love it. It’s like we’re in a snow globe and God decided he wanted to see a blizzard so he shook us all the fug up. ”
Just as almost no true sentence beginning with I could be spoken by Lindsey, Colin was watching all the things he’d thought were true about himself, all his I sentences, fall away. Suddenly, there was not just one missing piece, but thousands of them.
Colin had to figure out what had gone wrong inside his brain, and fix it. He returned to the central question: how could he have completely forgotten dumping her? Or, almost completely, because Colin had experienced a dim flash of recognition when Katherine told him the story of his dumping her in front of her friends, a feeling vaguely like when a word is on the tip of your tongue and then someone says it.
Above him, the interweaving branches seemed to split the sky into a million little pieces. He felt like he had vertigo. The one facility he’d always trusted—memory—was a fraud. And he might have gone on thinking about it for hours, or at least until Mr. Lyford returned, except at that very moment he heard a weird grunting noise and simultaneously felt Hassan’s hand tap his knee.
“Dude,” said Hassan softly. “Khanzeer. ”69
Colin shot up. Perhaps fifty yards in front of them, a brown-gray creature was pushing his long snout into the ground and snorting like he had a sinus infection. It looked like a cross between a vampire pig and a black bear—an absolutely massive animal with thick, matted fur and teeth that extended below its mouth.
“Matha, al-khanazeer la yatakalamoon araby?”70 Colin asked.
“That’s no pig,” answered Hassan in English. “That’s a goddamned monster. ” The pig stopped its rooting and looked up at them. “I mean, Wilbur is a fugging pig. Babe is a fugging pig. That thing was birthed from the loins of Iblis. ”71 It was clear now the pig could see them. Colin could see the black in its eyes.
“Stop cursing. The feral hog shows a remarkable understanding of human speech, especially profane speech,” he mumbled, quoting from the book.
“That’s a bunch of bullshit,” Hassan said, and then the pig took two lumbering steps toward them, and Hassan said, “Okay. Or not. Fine. No cursing. Listen, Satan Pig. We’re cool. We don’t want to shoot you. The guns are for show, dude. ”
“Stand up so he knows we’re bigger than he is,” Colin said.
“Did you read that in the book?” Hassan asked as he stood.
“No, I read it in a book about grizzly bears. ”
“We’re gonna get gored to death by a feral fugging hog and your best strategy is to pretend it’s a grizzly bear?”
Together, they stepped carefully backward, kicking their legs high to get over the fallen tree, which now offered their best protection against the hog. But Satan Pig didn’t seem to think much of their strategy, because right then it took off running at them. For a squat-legged beast that couldn’t have weighed less than four hundred pounds, the thing could run.
“Shoot it,” Colin said, quite calmly.
“I don’t know how,” Hassan pointed out.
“Fug,” said Colin. He leveled the gun, planted it tight against his exceedingly sore shoulder, turned off the safety, and took aim at the running pig. It was perhaps fifty feet away. He inhaled deeply and then slowly exhaled. And then he pointed the gun up and to the right, because he just couldn’t bring himself to shoot at the pig. Calmly, he squeezed the trigger, just as Lindsey had taught him. The kick of the gun against his well-bruised shoulder hurt so badly that tears welled up in his eyes, and in the shock of the pain he couldn’t tell what had happened at first. But, amazingly, the pig stopped dead in its tracks, turned ninety degrees, and ran.
“You sure shot the living hell out of that gray thing,” Hassan said.