Clancy’s Place wasn’t so much a restaurant as it was a place for the local ranch hands to hang out in those long dry hours that separated quitin’ time and sundown. Clientele most days was a mix of ropers, wranglers, and the occasional drifter drawn in by the smell of charcoaled beef. If the weather was fair, most of the boys sat on the wraparound porch. From there, they could see the stables out back and the hog pens too. And if the wind was just right, they could even smell ‘em both a little bit — and not just the good parts either.
Clancy bred his own beef, Angus mostly, and that’s how he kept his prices so low. But in the past few years he’d branched out into pigs, and one of those had earned himself a bit of a reputation thereabouts. That one they called Hellraiser.
Now Hellraiser was just what his name implied: an 800-pound monster that Clancy had raised up from a little piglet. He was mean as pigs go, more wild than tame, really — as likely to charge a man as he was to pee on his boot. Clancy said he tried to keep him penned up, but Hellraiser just kept breaking down the fences. Truth be told, Clancy was scared of that animal, and rightly so.
Most of the time Hellraiser ignored the hands that came to visit. But every now and again he would get this mean look in his eye and grunt like someone had kicked him hard in the flank. Those that were paying attention usually moved inside when this happened. Those that weren’t soon wished they had.
Whenever Hellraiser got himself into one of his moods, he’d shake his head a little bit, and then without any more warning than that, he’d charge right into the midst of whatever crowd he could find. Tossing his head back and forth like a bull on rampage, that pig would proceed to scatter men like driftwood. Clancy would run out onto the porch then, the distraught pig owner flapping his arms like a giant mother hen. After a lot of yelling, and sometimes even a little bit of swearing, Clancy would eventually manage to get that hog rounded up and settled into one of the pens out back. But by the time he’d done that, most would have already gone home to have their dinner somewhere more peaceful.
Of course, it wasn’t always so exciting around Clancy’s place. Most nights the boys just sat around swapping stories. By the time the crickets began to chirp, that deck of Clancy’s would be littered with tall tales and empty cans.
Out of all of ‘em, Pinky Wilson was the best at spinning out yarns. That boy was a natural-born storyteller — or bold-faced liar — it was hard to tell which. They called him Pinky ‘cause a dog had gnawed off his little finger back when he was a kid. Pinky hated that nickname. But once something like that sticks to you it don’t never go away.
Anyways, Pinky was telling a story about how he’d wrestled a bear one time, when a car nobody had ever seen before turned in off the highway. The ranch hands all went quiet as soon as they saw it, even Pinky. Out front, Hellraiser had found himself a shovel and that pig was gnawing on the handle just like a dog might do with a bone. Even the pig looked up as the car drove past.
See, Clancy didn’t get many city folks out to his place. At least he didn’t used to. But a couple years prior a group of do-gooders had managed to get the hills behind Clancy’s place declared a National Scenic Area — which was kind of a joke amongst the locals, since there really wasn’t nothing much up there but sagebrush and rattlers. But ever since they done that, those hills had been overrun with city folk.
The car rolled real slow down the driveway, almost like the driver hadn’t yet made up his mind whether this was such a good idea or not. The man parked out next to the flowerbeds, but left his engine running. He said a few words to his wife, then stepped out of the car. Stretching himself up real tall, he nodded in a dignified sort of way.
“Howdy,” he said.
City folks always seemed to start conversations that way — almost like they thought that was the way people was supposed to talk when they got out away from the city.
“Howdy,” Pinky replied. “What can we do you for?” Pinky was always happy to give people what they was expecting.
“We saw your sign out by the highway,” the city boy said.
Pinky nodded real slow. “Yep. We seen it too.”
The visitor considered this for a moment. I guess he wasn’t too sure what to make of Pinky. He glanced back at his wife, then looked around at the rest of the men gathered there on that porch. Behind him, Hellraiser dropped the shovel he’d been gnawing and lumbered to his feet.
“I was hoping one of you might be able to help us out.” The man waited for someone to respond. When none did, he went ahead and kept talking. “You see, we’ve gotten ourselves into a bit of a situation,” he said.
The visitor was small for a full-grown man — couldn’t of weighed much more than a buck forty. His forehead and upper lip were both white with salt — kinda like he’d been sweating but the moisture had all dried up.
“A sit-u-ation?” Pinky said.
The city boy licked his lips with a tongue dry as sandpaper. “We were having a picnic out on the desert,” he said. “It’s a National Scenic Area now, you know. Anyway, we had all of our food in a knapsack, and we put our wallets in there too, just for safekeeping.” Behind him, Hellraiser shook his head from side to side, almost like that animal was trying to shake loose an idea.
“Well, you might not believe this,” the boy said, “but while we were having our picnic a rattlesnake crawled into that knapsack.”
The visitor paused in his telling as if waiting for someone to comment. Out in the yard, the hog snorted and pawed at the ground. The city boy looked at him and smiled. That poor fool didn’t have any idea what kind of danger he was in.
“That there’s a pretty good story,” Pinky said. “What happened next?”
The city boy turned his back on Hellraiser. I guess nobody had ever bothered to tell him that bacon could actually be dangerous.
“Well, we did everything we could to get that rattlesnake out,” he said. “We poked it with sticks. We threw rocks at it. But I guess that snake just didn’t want to come out.” The boy was having trouble talking now. “The sun gets pretty hot out on that desert,” he said.
“Yep, it sure does,” Pinky replied.
“We were getting pretty thirsty by then — ” The boy swallowed hard as if to show what he meant. Pinky smiled and waited for him to go on. The city boy wiped at his brow with a red handkerchief. “Well, we finally decided we couldn’t wait any longer. But when we got back in the car, we realized we didn’t have enough gas to get us home, and all of our money was back in that knapsack.”
Pinky took a long draw off his drink. The hog grunted.
“That does sound like a pretty good predicament,” Pinky said. “What’d you do next?”
The city boy’s jaw twitched a little bit, almost like Pinky’s bull-headedness was starting to rile a bit. The boy swallowed hard, then looked down at the ground.
“I guess we was hoping one of you gentlemen might be able to help us out with some gas. And maybe a drink of water.”
A couple of the ranch hands laughed at being referred to as gentlemen. Pinky leaned forward in his chair, the wooden legs creaking. Across the yard, Hellraiser shivered. The sound of Pinky’s chair had obviously set him on edge.
“Problem is,” Pinky said, “This here ain’t no gas station.”
Now Pinky wasn’t really being mean to that boy. He was going to help him out eventually, and everyone sittin’ there on that porch knew it. But they also knew that Pinky liked to have fun with people when he saw an opportunity. And that poor boy had walked straight into this one.
Pinky scratched at his chin for a minute, then leaned back in his chair.
“You know what,” Pinky said, “I like you. You seem like a decent young feller. I think I might just have a solution to your problem.”
“Go on,” the boy said.
“Here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m going to treat you and your wife to dinner, and all you can drink too. And, heck, I’ll even throw in a free tank of gas.”
“What’s the catch?” The boy asked. I guess that city boy wasn’t quite as dumb as he looked.
“Catch?” Pinky said. “Ain’t no catch. You just have to ride that there hog is all.”
The city boy turned and looked in the direction that Pinky was pointing. Hellfire returned his stare, a bit of drool leaking down of the side of his snout.
“Is it safe?” The boy asked.
“Sure it’s safe,” Pinky said. “Just as long as you hold on tight.”
Now any sane person would have walked away right then. But I’ll be damned if that boy didn’t look like he was considering Pinky’s proposal.
“I’ll have to talk to my wife first,” he said.
“You go right ahead and talk,” Pinky said. “The hog’ll wait.”
The city boy walked back to the car and spoke to his wife for a minute, the hog eyeing him the entire time. Inside the car, the woman looked like she was angry with her man — almost like she blamed him for the whole deal with the rattler. Women can get like that sometimes. Ain’t no explaining it — that’s just the way they’re made.
The city boy looked back at Pinky and nodded. “All right,” he said. “I’ll do it. What are the rules?”
“Rules?” Pinky said. “Ain’t no rules. You just stay on that hog for eight seconds and dinner’s on me.”
The boy nodded, his upper lip quiverin’ just a bit. For a second he looked like he might back out, but then he marched up to Hellraiser and held his hand out like a man might do when meetin’ a dog for the first time. The hog opened his mouth.
“You be careful, Kenny.”
That there was the man’s wife. She had rolled down her window and was leaning half way out of it so that she could get a better view. Hellraiser and Kenny both turned to look at her, and I’m not sure which one had an angrier look in his eye.
“You stay in the car,” the man said. “This won’t take but a minute.”
Then, quick as lightening, Kenny jumped onto the hog’s back. He grabbed hold of its ears and dug both heels into that pig’s hindquarters. Hellraiser for his part looked mighty surprised by this turn of events. He squealed real loud and took off running. Those stubby pig legs were pumping fast, dust flying every which way. Hellraiser ran clear across the parking lot, crashed into one of the fences, then turned and ran back the other way again. By all rights that boy shoulda fallen’ off straight away, but by some miracle he managed to keep himself aboard. Kenny had a hold of that pig’s ears just like he thought they was reins on a mare, and after he’d been on for a bit he even learned how to turn that hog just by pulling on one ear a little more than the other.
Now Pinky had told that boy that he only had to ride the hog for eight seconds. But getting on a pig is one thing. Getting off him again once he’s worked himself up to full gallop is something else entirely. Truth be told, no one knows how long that boy rode for, but it musta been closer to eight minutes than eight seconds. ‘Course, all the boys on the porch started whoopin’ and hollerin’ just as soon as they realized what they was seein’. Even the man’s wife got into the celebration. As Kenny rode past for the third time she got out of the car and commenced to jumping up and down and clapping her hands. She seemed right proud of her man, and rightfully so. It turns out that woman’s husband was a natural-born pig wrangler.
Now right about then was when Clancy come running out onto the porch. He didn’t seem none too happy with what he saw.
“Get that fool off my pig,” he yelled.
‘Course it wasn’t the boy that Clancy was worried about. But it didn’t matter much anyway, ‘cause right about then Hellraiser collapsed into the dust, his sides heaving with exhaustion. And I’ll be tickled if that boy didn’t step right off him just like he was some sort of conquering hero. When the boys on the porch saw this they all rushed out and lifted Kenny up onto their shoulders. They paraded him around the yard for a couple of minutes and then up onto the porch. Everyone was laughin’ by this time, and all of them talkin’ about the amazing thing they had just seen.
Pinky was true to his word. He bought Kenny and his wife dinner that night, and even filled up their gas tank just like he’d promised. And Hellraiser? Well, he recovered all right. ‘Course he kept his distance for a while. But you know what? Not a single person complained about that, not even Clancy.
Stone Showers lives in Central Oregon with his wife and two children. He has never actually ridden a live hog (or a dead one for that matter) but knows people who have. His short fiction has recently appeared in or been accepted by Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things, Stupefying Stories and Black Denim Lit.