I moved away from my hometown many years ago. It took a while to find some kind of normalcy in my new life however through time and patience, I managed to get used to living in the city. I originally moved to the city in hopes that the change of scenery would help heal traumatic childhood memories. Among the many unpleasant flashbacks the worst were the nightmares that kept me up at night. In my nightmares I’d hear the familiar grunts and squeals of the hogs that would instantly remind me of the farm I grew up on. Among the many things I despised about growing up in the farm, the sounds at night were the always the worst.
My stepfather passed away recently, I was asked to return to West Virginia and attend to legal matters. I also needed to stay a couple of days for the funeral. The town was exactly as I remembered it—foggy, cold, dreary and lifeless. Growing up the town had a bad reputation, people would often go missing especially visitors. Everyone knew the woods were dense and considering most visitors were often careless it wasn’t a surprise that so many vanished. I always wondered where these people disappeared to.
Pale faces looked back at me as I drove by the main square, I remembered how hard it was to keep track of time as a child. Days blurred together and time moved slowly, even the birds remained quiet. I pulled up into the square and was met by the glares and empty stares of the residents. The only warm familiar face that greeted me with a smile was Tara, my sweet gentle childhood friend.
We talked over a warm cup of coffee reminiscing about our childhood memories and talking about my new city life.
“Well at least you don’t gotta work in a pig farm no more. We can pick up some flowers at Maura’s shop and take to your stepdad’s grave for the funeral. Whatcha think?”
I nodded my head in agreement without looking up from my coffee, I had been picking at my skin nervously the whole time without noticing it. The familiar sounds and smells brought back memories as we walked to the old torn up flower shop. It all took me back to that month…that October when I foolishly tried to run away…the time I tried to run away from the pigs.
My mother passed away when I was five from a terrible infection, my stepfather watched over me after her death. My stepfather was a strange man, he spoke very little and always kept to himself. However when angered he’d turn abusive towards me or would often get into fights at the town bar. On most days he didn’t care what I did with my time as long as I helped him take care of the pigs. I hated those long, smelly, dirty days filled with hard work and long hours. I hated the endless cold dark nights even more. Although I did most of the work around the farm he never allowed me to feed the pigs.
I was never allowed to go into the feeding barn as he called it. I only helped him drag the feed from his truck and dump it outside the feeding barn. He spent hours at night doing whatever he needed to do to get it ready and fed the pigs late at night. The smell at night was always the worst; it stank for days. He’d leave days at a time and would always bring back more large brown bags full of feed.
That October of 1989 my stepfather was more restless than usual, he brought home more large brown bags than usual and was falling behind on his work. That first week of October he asked me to start helping him in the feeding barn. He blindfolded me and gave me large black rubber gloves to wear. He asked me to start chopping pieces of meat that he would hand to me. I became terrified at the idea of cutting myself on accident; however he helped me get better and better at chopping up the meat he handed me. Over time I was able to do it without needing to see. We did this for hours at a time.
The smell was grotesque, it took weeks for me to stop gagging as soon as I entered the barn. I was tempted to take off the blindfold annoyed at having it cover half my face however he was always there with me. He’d yell and slap me for trying to take the blindfold off. Eventually I stopped trying.
After I’d finished chopping the meat he gave me, I’d toss it into a bucket close the lid and finally take off the blindfold. I’d leave the bucket in a corner for him to feed the pigs and ran off to get clean.
I had just turned fifteen when my boyfriend Joseph and I decided we’d run away and start over elsewhere away from the miserable life our parents gave us.
We were naive and young, he was supposed to meet me on the farm and sneak up to my room before we’d run off. I waited hours and hours with my clothes packed, but he never came. He left without me and I was left heart-broken with my dreams crushed. The following night my stepdad made me work longer and made me do something he had never asked for before. He asked me to throw the bucket with the chopped meat over the pen to feed the pigs.
I thought the smell of chopping up the meat was bad however the smell of feeding the hungry pigs was ten times worse. I puked immediately after I dropped the bucket and ran off to the house, I could hear the sound of the pigs devouring the feed behind me. He never made me feed the pigs again after that night, and for years I silently prayed for a way to leave the farm.
The funeral was quick, Tara and I were the only ones there. I began driving back to the farm when I noticed flyers titled MISSING PERSON in large bold letters pinned on trees. I couldn’t believe people were still disappearing, Tara put her hand on my shoulders before speaking.
“That man disappeared about a month before your daddy died. Guess some things just don’t change do they?”
As we approached the dirt road leading up to the farm I could see the old feeding barn standing tall above the trees. Tara and I began clearing some stuff up at the house. I was carrying boxes when I heard the squeals, confused I quickly set the box down and ran over to the barn. There were two large hogs still confined in the pen, surprised to see them there I called Tara over.
“They told me there weren’t any more of them.. Tara they said they were all dead!!! What is this?!”
Tara tried to calm me down as I stormed back to the house, I had no choice but to stay the night. I had to fix some last things before flying back home. I wanted to close the deal and sell the farm as quickly as possible, working overnight would make it possible to leave sooner. After tossing and turning on the couch the sound of the hungry hogs squealing made it impossible to sleep.
I finally got up and decided the best thing to do was to find something in the barn to feed them with and hope that it would be enough to shut them up until the next day. I changed and quickly made my way to the barn, reliving the many times I had to walk that same path as a little girl.
I walked through the barn and looked around for the brown bags he always kept. After a few minutes of looking around I finally found some empty ones. The hogs squealed loudly in the background stressing me out even more. I stood there uneasy trying to gather my thoughts when I noticed a small door hidden behind a large cabinet. I asked myself how I had never seen it, before remembering that most of the time I had ever entered the barn was with a blindfold on.
I pushed the door open and stood still for a few moments stunned at what I was looking at. There were rows and rows of shoes on the floor, women and men’s clothes hung up against the walls, jewelry, hats and scarves folded on shelves. I could feel my body tense up as I walked through the room, I felt uneasy looking at all the personal items. I opened one of the drawers only to find hundreds of wallets and old photos.
I went through the wallets and found licenses from various states. One familiar face among all the pictures filled me with dread. It was a woman, a woman that had disappeared years ago before I had left the farm. She was making her way through various states driving to visit her mother. Flyers were posted all around town and authorities conducted several search parties once the woman’s family realized she was missing.
Horrified I started pulling out several pictures at a time recognizing more and more faces. Through all the wallets and photos I found one old picture of a girl with long brown hair and a sad smile: me.
It felt like someone had dropped cold water on me, I stood up and began rummaging desperately through all the belongings. Frantic and crying at the same time I finally found what I was hoping to never find in that small room.
The sheriff arrived shortly after I made the call, in a matter of hours we had federal authorities fly in to investigate the barn. Tara finally made it through the crowd gathering in front of the farm entrance and ran to me. I showed her Joseph’s bloody clothes before telling her that I had unknowingly chopped up his body and fed it to the pigs that night. I could hear the officers taking the remaining hogs away, their squeals now forever imprinting themselves once again in my mind.