One Too Many (Voices in My Head): The Christmas Hog
Welcome to Greg “The Most Dangerous Game” Vaughan’s One Too Many (Voices in My Head). His last, best chance to exercise those pesky demons. In his column, you’ll find… I really have no idea, but he gave me $20, so… all yours Greg!
“And that puts you at −75 hp. The soul trap releases your soul, finally allowing you to die after undergoing the most abject, excruciating pain and humiliation known to man or any other sentient species… Kevin, are you paying attention?”
New Kev looked up from his artfully stacked tower of polyhedral game dice, “Huh, what was that?”
Apparently New Kev’s mind had wandered—I call him New Kev because I can’t call him Kevin J anymore, and there’s another Kevin in my regular game, so I can’t call him that either. I was perfectly content to call him Kevin J since that wasn’t his middle initial, yet I had somehow cleverly (and unconsciously) engineered it to appear that way in the publication of the trilogy of Pathfinder Society scenarios that he and I had co-authored together. Some people think I take glee in the misfortune of others… but that’s actually only true when it really hurts and I have somehow engineered it or might be able to take credit for it at least. In this case, Paizo had thoughtfully removed the J from the publication after learning of my deception, and Kevin had told me that he liked the J because that was where he kept his mojo. Well, that couldn’t be allowed to continue, so the J was banned, and he was back to just New Kev until I could find some other suitable form of torment for him…
I thought I had succeeded at just that having spent the last 17 minutes describing in lurid detail the effects of my soul-catching, boiling-water elemental enema trap that I had just unleashed upon his favorite character in our Pathfinder game. But apparently his attention had waned after the description of the first few feet of bowel immolation. Go figure. Now he seemed to be in a sort of game haze, disconsolately stacking and restacking his hardly used game dice—strangely, a condition I see a lot at my game table and have yet to put my finger on a source. I’m thinking of getting the house checked for radon.
Finally breaking from his mystery fugue, he said, “You probably shouldn’t put that trap in your next Pathfinder Society scenario.”
“And pray tell why not exactly?” I demanded with no small amount of indignation.
To this he reminded me of my previous month’s column and the fact that, last he checked, Paizo was a company still in the business of making money and not alienating and driving off its own customer base. I reluctantly conceded the point. Anyway, our game seemed to have come to a satisfactory conclusion (to me at least), so I could pack up my stuff, and he could get to rolling up another new PC when he asked me, “Are you guys going to do a Christmas hog?”
“I think you mean a Christmas ham, and I’m sure we’ll have a ham and maybe some turkey when we get together with my family next week.”
“No, I mean a Christmas hog. My cousin owns some land and has an overpopulation of feral hogs wandering around on it. This weekend we’re going to continue our family tradition of hunting a few of them and having a Christmas hog for dinner. You’re invited to come if you want.”
I thought, sure why not, and after securing the permission of my wife to be gone from the house for a few days (unfortunately a disappointingly easy task, usually accompanied by a gleeful little giggle), we made our plan.
The plan in question seemed to involve showing up at his cousin’s land with guns of various caliber, insufficient food and cold-weather gear, and an abundance of holiday season optimism. We arrived at just before sunset and had soon set up our perimeter consisting almost entirely of empty coolers within which we planned on transporting our hunters’ bounty. New Kev’s cousin left in the truck, decked out in full camouflage ghillie suit, to set up at another location a few miles away, leaving us alone to plot our kill.
Almost instantly, the sun set, accompanied by a precipitous temperature drop, and we found ourselves in pitch darkness in the middle of the wilderness. I tried to maintain a stoic air as I questioned our strategy while lining my sweatshirt with the wrapping paper and napkins from the Subway sandwich I’d eaten for lunch, “K-K-Kevin, are you s-s-sure that your cousin had to take the tr-tr-truck with him?”
“Yeah, he doesn’t like to sit in the cold. He keeps it running with the lights off and watches for the feral pigs to come up to his bait before he shoots them.”
“He sh-sh-shoots his rifle from inside the truck? Isn’t th-th-that awful loud?”
“Naw, he doesn’t use a rifle. He’s a bow hunter. He just leans out the window and pops ‘em with his bow. If that doesn’t do the trick, he’s got a big ol’ knife that he’ll use to finish ‘em off. He says it’s cool; I think he just watched too much Crocodile Dundee as a kid. He won’t even get out of that heated truck unless he’s got a sure kill lined up.”
I sat down on one of the coolers to try to stay warm in my “Italian BMT” coat while New Kev finished compiling all of our gear. During this process, he maintained a running monologue about the feral pigs and how they were mostly harmless unless they gored you with a tusk or came upon a sleeping or wounded person. In that case, apparently, they turned into homicidal killing and eating machines that brought to mind images of the pigs in the movie Hannibal that had been trained to eat people—the sound of agonized screaming serving as their dinner music.
When he ran out of things to say about the pigs, he proceeded to describe the other dangers of the woods we were in and tended to focus on owls (not that big of a deal, in my mind) and bobcats (ambush hunters that leap from trees or cover and can make short work of a helpless human caught unprepared, or so he told me). As he wrapped up that cheery diatribe, he handed me a heavy bag of half-rotten vegetables and told me it was bait for the pigs. My job was to walk to other side of the pond we were near and start scattering the stuff in a line to draw the pigs to us and our kill zone. As a parting gift, he handed me a small plastic whistle. He said it was a call that was designed to sound like a wounded rabbit, something that was sure to draw the hungry pigs to us.
As I wound my way through the trees thinking about feral hogs, wounded rabbits, and Hannibal Lector, I saw ahead an area where the trees squeezed close together into a kind of bottleneck. Kev had admonished me to move as quietly as possible to not scare off any game in the area, but it occurred to me that that sort of bottleneck—where I’d be vulnerable squeezing through trees—was just the sort of place that I’d set up an ambush if I was a bobcat. Discretion being the better part of valor, I decided that speed rather than stealth was my friend here, and I took off at a loping run to try to burst through the trees as quickly as possible and, therefore, foil any Viet Cong-style traps that local felines might have laid.
Unfortunately, my intentions were more capable than my execution as I burst through the narrows and almost immediately snagged a root with my foot and fell headlong onto the ground, dumping my bag of bait and dropping my rifle in the process. The rifle discharged into the air, nearly giving me a heart attack, and as I looked up, I came face to face with a bobcat that had apparently not been setting an ambush but rather peacefully napping in what it thought was a secluded hollow where it wouldn’t be accosted by clumsy, loud humans carrying poorly managed firearms and smelling of Italian submarine sandwiches. The shrill, howling screech and four-legged leap that followed would have done any bobcat proud but merely seemed to chagrin this one as it watched me gallop off into the trees on all fours—still screeching with abandon.
I hadn’t made it far before I realized that I was utterly and totally lost. I knew I had gone away from the pond but had no idea which way I had gone in my headlong flight careening off assorted trees and obstacles. To my credit, my display of alarm seemed to have embarrassed the bobcat sufficiently that it had slunk away to avoid being associated with the mad human in any way. Alone, without a light, and still smelling strongly of salami, I decided it was time to break out the rabbit call. I figured that if I attracted a bunch of pigs, the guys were sure to follow. I didn’t want to be stuck on the ground with a congregation of man-eating swine, so I climbed a nearby tree before sounding my distress call—and nearly fell out. Evidently, the cry of a wounded rabbit sounds eerily like the scream of a human infant. Not a comforting thought in my current surroundings.
My theory proved itself true, for in no time at all, a respectable herd of feral pigs had gathered at the base of the tree and were soon licking the bark where a trail of Subway napkins had stuck here and there. They never really looked at me, though, which made me feel better. I continued blowing the call, feeling safe in my perch, as I thought about how animals had good low-light vision, but I wondered how well they could see in pitch darkness such as we were currently experiencing. If they couldn’t see that well, then all they were really following was the sound of the call… that was emanating from the vicinity of my face!
I never saw the owl until it was right on top of me… literally… in my hair… its wings beating the stuffing out of my face. I had let go of the limb before I realized what was going on and soon found myself on my back amongst the wild pigs… and they found the source of the delicious Subway napkins—a flailing, wounded human apparently wrapped in a meat suit. One appeared to be seriously considering whether my face might also have that meaty Italian taste when it was startled by an arrow that thunked into the tree trunk next to my head. The next instant, it fled as my vision was filled by the sight of New Kev’s cousin, screaming like a Comanche, decked out in camouflage paint and full ghillie suit, descending among the pigs like the Harbinger of Death, knife in hand.
Everyone scattered at once, two of the pigs and I going in one direction while the confused owl and the rest of the pigs went in another. I left Kev’s cousin behind to the Friday-the-13th sound of knife cleaving pig flesh and enough blood-freezing squealing to curl the hair at the base of my neck. (I was able to compose myself enough to curtail the squealing after only a couple of minutes.)
I kept pace with the pigs fairly well until we reached the narrow spot where I had first fallen. As I leapt through behind the panicked sow there was a rifle crack, and the first pig juked left and was gone. I hit the deck as the other pig seemed to have the same idea and landed on my head, quickly burying my face in the pig bait I had dropped earlier. The second shot missed and that pig went squealing into the darkness. Soon New Kev loomed over me, rifle in hand, and I vaguely recalled my own diabolical laughter as his most recent PC had received its much-celebrated disemboweling. Could this all have been a Deliverance-style ploy to get me into the benighted woods among a clan of blood-crazed killers?
It turned out not to be the case as Kevin realized that the half-naked, wallowing thing on the ground was not some wounded feral pig but rather a middle-aged, suburban ape with a shirt half-eaten by wild hogs, an owl-scratched, garbage-smeared face, and a pair of drawers in serious need of changing.
We all laughed about it later in the truck after New Kev’s cousin came hauling the carcass of a freshly slaughtered hog out of the woods. Well, they laughed about it; I mainly tried to keep from jumping at every small noise and ruining another pair of underwear. Kev said he thought that I knew he was joking when he said his cousin hunted from the truck. Turns out, he was actually something of an extreme-hunting survivalist freak. Kev figured the fact that his cousin hunted with bow and knife while wearing a camouflage suit would be enough of a clue for me to catch on… well, I suppose under the right circumstances it could.
Kev’s cousin leaned back in his blood-spattered gear as we drove home and said, “Best Christmas hog hunt ever.” He glanced my way and took in my general disheveled appearance and said, “Are you injured?”
Mustering all the dignity that I could, I replied solemnly, “No, no I’m not.”
“What’s that red stuff splattered all over you?”
“Um… mainly red-wine vinaigrette.”
The blood-soaked maniac looked over at Kev and rolled his eyes as if to say, “Where do you find these weirdos?”
Greg is the creative director of Frog God Games and author of The Slumbering Tsar Saga. You can check them out at talesofthefroggod.com. He is also a regular contributor to Paizo Publishing’s Adventure Paths and various and sundry other things too tawdry to mention here.