Coppery twilight of Autumn, leaves the texture of old parchment
flatten on the windscreen and are swept away. A stone wall, each stone
rough, uncut, but nestled with precision beside the next, like linked
fingers. And the wall doesn't end, just runs along beside a field as
far as the headlights reach. This has got to be the way. Come on, God,
point your magic finger and make this the right way. Can't make out the
crop of that field, just greyness rippling in a wind and rain unfelt
because of the closed windows. You can smell the manure though, sweet
and loamy, like decaying apples. There's a house in the middle of this
field; a long dirt path leads up to it. The bottom two of the four
windows are lit with comfortable light, a blue (or is it grey?)
Landrover in the driveway. Must be a farmhouse, maybe we should stop
and ask where -
'Marcus, oh God look out! -'
He looked up in time to see a huge, staring, hairless head spilling
out of the headlights and onto the bonnet of the jeep. A frozen second
where he could see every detail of the creature's eyes . . . Then the
windscreen blew in, spraying the two of them with chunks of glass. More
as a reaction than a logical process, Marcus stamped on the brake. The
car squealed for purchase on the wet road, an almost-comical 'whooof'
squeezed from his diaphragm as the seatbelt locked. Vicky, who'd been
reading the map by the glovebox light, was less fortunate. Her head
slammed against the dashboard, avoiding a broken nose only because
she'd been looking through Marcus' window when she saw the pig. The map
struck what was left of the windshield and stayed there, like a
preposterous, splattered bug. A second later both airbags popped out,
forcing the two of them back.
The jeep stopped, engine still idling. Neither moved. The stereo -
which had only seconds before been spewing one of the soft-rock ballads
on Vicky's tape - had stopped. Had Marcus been conscious he might have
expressed relief at this fact. Birthday present from her brother or
not, the tape had been driving him slowly insane since they'd left
London. Now it had stopped, pulverised by the impact. Only the sound of
the wind, the grumbling engine, and the cold spittle of rain made it
through the shattered windshield.
Something crawled from beneath the car. Long, clawed fingers searched
the bonnet, then sank in, crumpling the metal. A huge shape pulled
itself out, and stood unmoving, watching the occupants. The wind
wrapped it round, rain glittered in the headlights, the creature stood
mute, though its chest continued to fall and rise. Eventually it
turned, continued across the road, leapt the wall there and faded into
Marcus drifted awake. He opened his eyes, and was at first puzzled that
he was seeing only white. For a few seconds he remained in this groggy,
half-grasped world between consciousness and oblivion, then realised:
I've gone blind. We crashed. Glass went in my eyes and blinded me . . .
He tried to lift his hands to his face - to confirm his theory - but
they were stopped by a soft, resistant membrane. A gear turned in his
mind, and he remembered: 'Vicky!' he wailed at the bag. He had time to
think how farcical this struggle would have looked in another
situation, then his head slid to the left, and he realised that he
wasn't blind after all. He also saw that his wife was unconscious.
Using both hands he managed to free his own airbag from the steering
wheel. With a cry he lurched for her, the seatbelt locked, and he fell
back. He groped for the buckle, thumbed it, and reached again. 'Please
God, let her be okay,' he whispered, and continued it beneath each
breath. Her face was obscured, but a bright line of blood ran along the
nape of her neck, and the neck itself was heavily bruised. The airbag
smothered her face like a huge white slug, feeding off her. He tried to
dislodge it, but something had tangled the mechanism. He unlocked her
seatbelt, cut the engine, pulled the keys from the ignition, and thrust
them into the plastic skin. It popped in a balloonish way he hadn't
quite expected, but his surprise was momentary. Her eyes were closed,
blood on one of the lids, a line of blood smudging her lips. She looked
like a child's first attempt at makeup. There was blood on her nose
too, and a blotted line upon her left cheek. Flying glass. Too much
Please God . . .
He pulled her towards him, and when her eyes opened he uttered a short,
'God. You okay? Vicky, are you alright? Can you -?'
'We crashed,' she whispered, favouring the imploded windshield with a
'Yeah. We hit something. You - Are you okay?'
'It was a pig. Didn't you see it?'
'No I didn't, it just - it was just - a pig?' He stared at the broken
fractals of glass on the dashboard, unable to process her last
statement. He turned back. 'Is your nose okay?'
'My head hurts.' She was staring at the deflated airbag, trying to work
out what it was.
'Can you see?'
'What about your nose?'
'Yes, I can see. My nose is fine, Marcus, now let's just get out of the
car because this is where they always explode in films.'
'Okay,' he leaned across her to open the door.
'I can do that,' she flapped at his hand, and with an exaggerated frown
he retracted it. They climbed into cold, wind-driven rain and
half-light. Marcus probed himself for injuries and found none. He
looked at his wife and saw fresh blood trickling from the cuts in her
forehead, her nose a raw, flattened wad of putty, dark circles blooming
already around her pretty green eyes. Jesus, he thought, I did that to
her. He followed her away from the car, half expecting her to be right,
for it to burst into flames before they could reach a safe distance.
She led them around the rear of the vehicle, not yet ready to see the
pig, or whatever they'd hit. Marcus touched his chest and felt a sore,
constricted line of pain where the belt had locked. His head throbbed,
a cocktail of pain, confusion, fear. What about Vicky? . . . What if
she was dying? He snapped the thought away, and surveyed their
surroundings: The road behind the car was dark without the headlights
to reveal it, though it made it easier to see the surrounding
countryside. They'd come to a stop on the far right of the road, a
couple more feet and they'd have been in the irrigation ditch which
travelled beside it. The stone wall ran beside this, beyond it the
field, and the cottage.
They're inside, he thought, looking at the lighted windows. They're sat
in front of a fire, watching "Emmerdale" or "Wheel of Fortune," or
"You've Been Framed," and we're out here bleeding next to a
Vicky limped to the wall, and leaned back upon it with a half-sighing
sob, satisfied they were far enough away from the car should it decide
to explode. She said, 'I don't want to see what we hit.'
Marcus nodded. 'Neither do I.' The headlights cast a fuzzy aura around
the bonnet, silhouetting the car in light and rain. 'You say it was a
'I think so.' She held out her hands and he took them. 'Marcus, are you
okay? You sure?'
'A flying pig?' he said, with a small smile.
'I'm not joking.' She snatched her hands away.
'Well what the hell was a pig doing -?' He let the rest drop away, but
the irony wasn't lost on him. What was it she'd said as they were
starting out that morning?: 'Getting away from stress, Marcus. This is
what we both need.' The stress of his full-time occupation as an
out-of-work actor, and the stress of her job at the DSS, where they'd
met. Well if flying pigs didn't constitute stress then what did? He
looked back at the car, and decided that if it hadn't exploded by now,
it probably never would. 'I'm going to take a look.'
Vicky's bleary expression lifted a little. 'I'll come with you
'Thought you didn't want to?'
'So did I.'
'You sure you're okay?'
'I'm sure.' She looked unsure. She tried to convince him with a smile
but her teeth were coated with blood. Still holding hands, they walked
to the front of the jeep. Marcus saw the blood first.
Vicky saw the head.
'Oh Jesus, that's foul,' she managed through her palm. She started to
retch, but pulled herself back, 'What is it?'
Marcus was struggling with that too. Finally, his voice thick with
revulsion, 'It's the pig.' He stared a few seconds longer, then added,
'What's left of it.'
Morris Welch heard the screech of tires above the cheering on the TV.
'Wheel of Fortune' was on, and some overweight, characterless guy
called Phil had just won a weeks holiday for two in Sandripoor,
wherever that was.
'Marth?' Morris called through to the kitchen. 'You hear that?' He
fumbled for the remote, then the volume control. The screaming and
clapping fell away, but the sound of tires screeching had stopped. Only
the crackle of the fire remained. He listened again anyway.
'What?' a harried female voice called from the kitchen.
'Sounded like a car.' Morris pushed himself from the armchair with a
grimace. At fifty-six he was something of a veteran arthritis sufferer,
but these days it seemed to be growing worse. He gauged this by the
number of pops and creaks his joints vented when he moved. When he was
forty it had been around four per limb, now it seemed more like ten, or
fifteen. And the years had added interest to the pain. Running
Browngrove Farm was starting to become a serious problem, and it wasn't
like he and Marth had any kids to take up the baton.
Hobbling to the window he pulled the lace curtains aside, and saw a
white face staring back. He recoiled with a gasp, then laughed. Last
person you should be afraid of, he thought, leaning towards his
reflection again and cupping a hand over the glass. The field was dark,
bristling with the storm that Morris had sensed brooding all day. It
would break soon. There was a car a little way down the lane. A jeep,
by the looks of it. It was stationary, both doors open, and the lights
still on, so that explained the screech. Either they'd hit something,
or just avoided it. Perhaps one of the tires had blown out? Over his
shoulder, he called, 'It's a car Marth, just sitting down the
'What's it doing?'
'I don't know. Just sitting there.'
'Seen any people?' She came through, wringing her hands on her apron -
a short woman in her early fifties, with an agreeable, ruddy
complexion, and a mouth that looked ready to smile at the slightest
encouragement. The image would have been nauseatingly quaint had it not
been for the dark, hand-shaped prints of blood she was leaving on her
lap, from the recently gutted rabbit Morris had snared for dinner.
'Morris?' She finished wiping her hands and joined him at the window.
'You think anyone's hurt?'
'How should I know? I'm practically guessing it's a car. Can't see
bloody thing without my glasses. Here.' He moved aside. She cupped a
hand against the glass, and for a second said nothing, searching among
the rain smears and the fog of his breath with good-humoured doubt.
Morris's eyes had been apt to play tricks on him since he'd caught the
right one (The 'good one,' he'd called it) fixing up barbed wire around
the chicken coup when they'd bought the place in the Seventies.
'You see it?' He asked, wishing he hadn't relinquished his space. 'You
reckon it might be some of them people from the factory?'
'Where the bloody hell -?' She began, then saw it. A jeep, only its
roof showing above the stone wall, but the yellow aura of headlights
picking it out. 'Looks like they had a crash. They're right up on the
side of the road. I don't see any people.'
'How can it be they then?'
She turned to him, firelight daubing her cheeks with flickering red.
The harried look was gone, replaced by an expression altogether more
inscrutable to the untrained eye.
'You reckon they're from the factory?' Morris said again.
'How should I know? We'd better go and see if we can help.'
He frowned, but thirty years of marriage had taught him what the
expression she currently wore meant. His eyes were bad, not untrained.
He knew what ignoring it would entail. He also knew what she meant by
He went to get his coat.
'Is it dead?' Vicky asked. The bright cone of the headlights caught her
face midway between fear and repulsion.
'Well, unless it's got lungs in its head, I think yes,' Marcus replied,
not quite conveying the humour he'd intended. 'It's been ripped apart,'
he added, staring at the grisly shape between them.
It was the pig's head, lying on its side beneath the buckled front
bumper. The eyes were open, glazed, dead, the neck a tattered stump;
Marcus could see the white, though gore-smeared stub of its spine
poking through. Rain was falling thicker now, mingling with the blood
to produce ghastly pinkish rivulets which ran from the pigs throat to
the side of the road.
Vicky's right, he thought. We didn't do this There's no way we could
have hit it hard enough to knock it's head off. And, if we did, where's
Vicky turned to him. 'We didn't do this, did we, Marcus?'
'No. I don't understand what happened.'
'Perhaps it was -' She lapsed into silence. She didn't know why
'I think we should just get back in the car, and drive on,' he
whispered, wondering why he was whispering.
'I second that motion,' Vicky whispered.
'Motion carried then.' He started to move, but something on the bonnet
caught his attention. 'Vicky?'
She sidled up beside him, and saw the holes. A line of three holes in
the metal, and beside these another three. Rain had collected in them,
masking their depth. 'Was that pig carrying a pitchfork or something?'
She whispered; there was no humour in her voice. She started to run her
fingertips along the holes then pulled back, wrapping herself in a
shudder. Marcus laid a hand on her forearm. 'Back in the car.'
Her resistance was light but unyielding. 'Don't run over it, for God's
'What if the engine's wrecked?'
'Then I'll phone the AA.'
Despite the pain which seemed to occupy her entire being, and the cold,
and wind, and the rain, a smile found its way to Vicky's mouth. 'You
remembered the mobile?'
He nodded, and pulled it from his shirt pocket. 'Haaallelujah.' He
laughed as she rushed to hug him, forgetting about the holes in the
bonnet as the feeling of her in his arms, whole and safe, assailed him.
How close had it been? How close had he come to losing her? . . . Then
she was pulling away, her need for a moment of reassurance
'Who are you going to call first?' She was stepping back into the car.
'The police, the AA, or room service, to order a bottle of champagne
for when we arrive?'
Smiling, he raised the phone, protecting it from the rain with his free
hand. He managed to hide a second of panic as his fingers worked the
keys. Then the light came on, three bars for power, one for reception.
The crash hadn't damaged it. Hallelujah.
He climbed in beside her, dimly aware how the leather seats glistened
with rain, how the grey wool floor mats were stained black by it.
'Right. First we'll get ourselves to a garage, then I'll phone. It's
doubtful we'll get the window fixed tonight, but the insurance should
cover a rental car, and I'll take it slow, so we don't freeze to death,
and we're going to need some petrol for tomorrow anyway, if we're going
He stopped. Vicky assumed he'd realised that he was babbling. 'It's
okay,' she whispered, taking his hand.
'No it's not,' he said. 'The battery's dead.' He twisted the key a
She stared at him with an expression that came close to beatitude. 'So
phone for help.'
He nodded, hit three keys and held it to his ear again. After thirty
seconds he looked at her, but she already knew. 'It's dead too.' She
was still wearing the expression of resigned terror when the white face
appeared behind him and hammered on the glass.