The relief that Qwackers had survived his terrible ordeal was short-lived. The humans had heard all of Salma’s cries for help and, of course, Goliath’s not-so subtle approach to rescuing their friend. Now the once dignified creatures (they walked on two legs so they had to be) were crawling across the debris, their nacreous eyes fixed on Babe.
“Why are they looking at me like that?” Babe cried, feeling their hate-filled stares boring into him. “I don’t like it.”
Shep appeared to be struggling with some inner turmoil.
Finally he spoke. “I’ve heard tell from my old Uncle Charlie that pigs supposedly taste a little like humans.”
The group looked at him with a mixture of shock and awe.
“Dare I ask?” Goliath wondered aloud, his bass voice booming.
“Actually I have two questions,” Babe piped up, his brain’s three synapses connecting long enough to drive a thought process or two. “The first is how your uncle even knew that and, second, why would that mean they want to focus on me?”
“Let’s walk and talk,” Shep said calmly, nudging the inquisitive pig forward. “I reckon we need to maintain a healthy distance from that lot if it’s alright with the rest of you.”
Goliath shook the last of the plaster dust from his shaggy winter coat as he followed them away from the collapsed building, the motley group of strange humans tagging along behind them.
“You changed the subject,” Babe said, doggedly pushing Shep for an answer.
Shep sighed, wishing he hadn’t brought the topic up, even though any scintilla of knowledge he had might help them survive.
“Alright, then,” he began. “I’ll tell you what I know. My Uncle Charlie was a great sheep dog, but I’m sorry to tell you that if he was alive today he would not have wanted me to be friends with a pig, that’s for sure. It’s not that he was pigist per se, it was more that he only trusted animals with fur; probably something to do with the cruel way his master treated him.”
Babe was spell-bound; he liked nothing better than a good yarn about the old days, and as a result Shep had to keep nudging him to make sure the little pig kept on walking. Thought and action in the same moment counted as multi-tasking, something at which Babe was less skilled at than most others.
“Anyway, one day I hear a truck drive up to the farmhouse and old Uncle Charlie’s master gets out and walks over to our owner – I think the two of them were brothers. He starts shouting about how Uncle Charlie was mad and was running around the neighbouring farm, frothing at the mouth and attacking other animals. At the time I thought he said it was all the fault of the rabbits, but I was only a youngster and hadn’t ever heard of the Curse of Hydrophobia. After a lot of swearing the pair of them rushed off to hunt poor old Charlie down. Of course I was angry at my master for ever believing such rubbish, after all how could a rabbit make a dog mad?”
“It sounds like the start of a crappy joke to me,” the bloody cat interjected in a snide voice. He’d caught up with them and was trying to find out what they were all doing. “Perhaps the dog realised rabbits were cleverer than him, that wouldn’t be difficult, now would it?”
This time Goliath’s foot was quicker than Qwackers (try saying that after a few beers), whose wings were still gummed up with the mess of human blood that had spilled onto him. The poor bird was grateful to be able to hitch a ride on the big horse’s back while his doting partner did her best to clean him up. With an indignant screech the cat withdrew to a safe distance and rubbed its side where the hoof had connected.
“After you lot have quite finished pissing about, I’ll continue. Now, where was I?” Shep said, thinking hard. “Ah, yes. So I ran off to find Uncle before the nasty humans could hurt him. It seemed like I ran for hours until finally catching up with the mad old fucker.”
Babe looked askance at Shep.
“I’m not being rude, I mean it; it wasn’t just that he was mad. He never actually admitted anything but the sheep on his farm did seem to be the source of certain rumours – it’s not like those bastards can keep a secret, they’re always bleating about something or other. But I digress. Anyway, when I caught up with him he was wandering in circles, his muzzle covered in pink froth like he’d just drunk an extra-large beetroot cappuccino, muttering about his hatred of the word ‘b-a-t-h’.”
“But how does him not wanting a stupid wash relate to pigs and humans tasting the same?” Babe asked. Shep was stunned that Babe had managed to keep up with the story so far. “Is this going to be one of your shagging dog stories?”
Shep sighed. Could this pig get nothing right? He decided to ignore him; the creature’s stupidity was just too distracting. “He saw me standing there and smiled, at least I think he did – he did show a lot of teeth. He seemed to be nervous about something, not his usual self at all. I got the distinct impression he wanted me to leave him alone.
“After a while he composed himself – he seemed to have trouble lining up his thoughts in a coherent fashion. Slowly, as if he’d just learnt Doglish, he asked why I was there and so I told him what our farmer had said to his master. At that Charlie collapsed to the ground, looking strangely deflated as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. For some reason he began gnawing on one of his paws. ‘Shep’, he said between mouthfuls, ‘you know I’ve never been one to complain, but I have to say I’m feeling a little out of sorts right now. I think I’ve done some things I’m not going to be proud of in the morning.’ ”
“With the friendly sheep?” Babe asked helpfully. The little bugger had been listening more attentively than usual. In spite of still missing the point, Shep just smiled down at him.
“No.” Shep’s face was serious now. “Behind him were the carcasses of…” he hesitated, not wanting to hurt Babe’s feelings any more than was necessary to make him understand. “There were the corpses of three slaughtered pigs behind him. It would have been obvious to a blind man that my uncle had been feeding on them, and it certainly accounted for the pink froth.”
There, Shep thought, I’ve said it; the family secret was out at long last. He hung his head in shame.
“I’ve never met a pig,” Babe mused. “What are they like?”
“I don’t know. Apart from you I’ve never met one either. And that’s beside the point; Uncle Charlie also had occasion to bite a human, hence his first-hand knowledge on their similarity to pig flesh. I saw a programme on telly a while back that said that head-hunters in New Guinea used to call the white man ‘long pig’ for the same reason.”
“Ew!” Salma interjected, cutting through the seriousness of the moment. “That’s gross.”
“It’s true,” Shep protested.
“What?” Salma replied, a little confused at the turn the conversation was taking. She had not heard a word of Shep’s heart-felt revelations about the skeletons rattling around in the sheepdog’s family closet. Talking to Qwackers she continued. “This blood on you is really disgusting and tastes ever so funny. It’s, like, really gooey. And it looks a bit greenish.”
Shep sighed with relief at the distraction; but sadly not for long. He and Babe looked in horrified dismay at the ducks. Something weird was happening to the lovely Salma. Something very weird and very bad indeed.
Zombie books by David K Roberts:
The Common Cold: A Zombie Chronicle
The Common Cold: A Zombie Chronicle – Cabin Fever (Sequel)
Return Of A King: A Zombie Chronicle
Return Of A King: A Zombie Chronicle – Z Factor