Ham and Wry

‘Is that him?’ Emily asked her mother with a degree of trepidation as they watched an old man trundle up the path in the direction of the house.

‘Yes, I believe it is,’ said Emily’s mother.

The old man wore a thick brown coat, a flat cap and heavy boots, the type a lumberjack might wear. Murderers, Emily thought, should ware sneaky shoes, not load clunky ones. Murderers should, if they took their profession seriously, not feel the need to announce their arrival; rather they should creep in and creep out unnoticed. His shoulders were hunched against the cold and his head bent downwards, ground-wards, never once looking up as he moved deliberately but slowly towards Emily’s father who stood waiting for him on the porch.

It was a cold start to the day, too cold for the job at hand but the forecast was set to improve and so all had agreed that by the time the preparations had been put in place the weather would be mild enough to kill Winnie.

Emily watched as the killer offered his hand. It was shaken in a brisk, formal, manly fashion, not the usual warm, lingering handshake that she had seen her father deliver/share with friends and colleagues. Not the handshake her father dished out to strangers either for that matter, this was a shake all of its own; a sombre, sober shake as opposed to a joyful, sincere one.

Handshaking was absolutely a man thing, a male thing; she seldom saw her mother shake hands and if she did it was deftly deficient in shake, more of a fleeting hand touch than a shake. Shaking hands was a man thing that had spilled over to the other side. Women didn’t really get it, Emily didn’t get it either but there it was, this odd ritual played out and passed down from generation to generation.

‘Come away from the window darling,’ her mother said as she poured hot water into a flask for coffee.

Emily didn’t like the man. She had decided the moment he unravelled his large frame from his car that he was a nasty devil, heartless and probably evil. He had a strange name, something ‘vic’ and came from a place called Slovakia which was where vampires probably lived and people had suffered from something her mother called ‘Communism’. People from Slovakia were mainly peasants and worked on farms and had tractors instead of cars and were all part of a bigger group of people known as Slavs.

Emily stared on through the window, watching her father and the Slav talk to one another while stamping the cold out of their feet. As they spoke little puffs of frosty breath dissipated into the blue sky above their heads as new ones were born with each word muttered from muted mouths. Her mother appeared briefly on the scene through the window, handing out hot coffee to the men and offering her delicate hand to the Slav for the briefest of touches.

Using her pyjama sleeve Emily discreetly wiped the condensation made by the boiling kettle from the window just in time to see the Slav’s gloved hand slide quickly back into his coat pocket. He was saving mothers touch; putting it deep inside his pocket along with other treasures collected from the world of mortals. These treasures and trinkets were later used to cast villainous spells upon the innocent and law-abiding people of Devon…Emily assumed.

While the Slav sipped from the cup he’d been given he turned deliberately and glared at the small girl peering with intent through the window.

His eyes were hollow black wells of despair leading those that looked, for any length of time, into the very belly of hell. His Slavic nose dominated his face: bony, bent and long, its misshapen form was cast in a forge by the goblin king’s personal blacksmith Goibniu. His face spoke of torture; each line, each wrinkled furrow on his brow represented the slaughter of innocents. His lips were the thin, tight, malevolent gatekeepers whose sole purpose was to permit malicious, conniving and cunning language the passage it desired.

Pure evil had turned up that day in a rusty old Ford Escort with one defeated wing mirror, a rattle under the bonnet and an old dog barking angrily on the rear seat. The dog only had three legs and despite the onset of premature rigor mortis he held onto the slightly ridiculous belief that he was supreme ruler of all he surveyed, albeit with only one eye. The old dog seemed to assume that all would cower in his presence or face his noble wrath; a tall order for a Jack Russell named ‘Pickles’.

As the Slavic interloper used his voodoo stare on her, Emily froze. Her heart skipped a beat but she never moved, nor attempted to hide her distaste,

‘Yes Slav. I’m looking at you. I’m confirming my suspicions and if you don’t like it you can bog off!’ she said with her piercing green eyes.

‘My Winnie will die today by your hand; the very same hand that touched my mother’s will deliver the fatal blow. You will stand over Winnie’s twitching body and watch the blood drain from her veins just like your vampire ancestors watched the blood flow from their victims. What possible pleasure can one derive from killing an innocent creature? Why would anyone take a career in pig-killing? And yet here you stand chatting and drinking coffee with my parents like you’re at one of mother’s soirées!

To kill and kill again as you do requires such detachment as to render you devoid of emotion. Like a zombie you move through the world of mortals looking like one of us, behaving like one of us but really you are nothing but a monster, a gutless brute!’

And with that sentiment delivered in a single stare Emily turned from the window and curled up on the sofa with her Winnie the pig scrap book which was full of photos of, and poems about, Winnie the pig.

She had said her farewells to the pig the night before and then through endless tears pleaded for the pig’s life to be spared but her Father was not to be moved. He had bought the pig for rearing, for food; it was Winnie’s fate the moment she was born to be made into sausages and sausages she would be. Her Father wanted at first to kill her himself – something about respect and ceremony but it soon became clear that, as the moment draw nearer, he lacked the credentials and so the pig killer was called in.

When Emily heard her mother re-enter the room she glanced up with an accusing look designed to inflict maximum guilt, the kind of guilt a mother could not bear, but the blame she had apportioned to her mother soon turned to horror. The Slavic brute with the heart of stone stood right there, he’d managed to wheedle his way into their home somehow. Emily knew enough about Slavic pig killers to know that he would have to be invited in; a vampire pig killer cannot of his own free will, step uninvited over the threshold!

‘What’s he doing in here?’ she asked rudely.

‘I’m sorry Mr Mlynarovič, my daughter is not normally so rude. She is rather upset this morning; she became very attached to the pig,’ explained her mother whilst shooting Emily a look of outrage.

‘Her name is Winnie!’ said Emily defiantly.

‘It’s ok, I understand, it’s normal behaviour. I can answer any questions you have Emily; if you want answers I’m your man,’ said the Zombie-pig-killing-vampire from Slovakia.

‘How can you do it – why do you do it? Killing I mean.’

‘Many people eat meat; they seldom ask themselves where this meat came from. They don’t think about the life that has been taken for their pleasure. There is not so much as a grain of respect for the creature that once passed what is, quite often, a miserable existence. Here on your parents’ small farm it’s different. You need food to survive but you give plenty of care to your produce until it is harvested. Your pig lived a good life here; she is one of the lucky ones.

Some say that if you are going to eat meat then you should be prepared to kill it. I disagree with this sentiment; I believe you should find someone like me to do it for you. You would not perform a dental procedure on a friend or open heart surgery on your father would you?

My father taught me to respect the animal, to care for it. If you are prepared to kill you must do so properly and respectfully and with compassion and skill. He said that you must live a full life because your life is fuelled on the flesh of other animals and if you waste your life you kill for nothing; what was the point of fuelling a life half-lived?

I can do this job because I understand and I respect the animal. I can do it humanely, without pain or suffering but mainly because I have lived a full life. I have loved deeply and been loved in return. I have felt every jolt of both pain and pleasure; I have lived it all – every last drop. If your pig’s destiny is to die then you must turn the energy and goodness she supplies into positive things. Use her fuel wisely; don’t waste it on futile and mindless things.’

Emily wasn’t convinced by this barrage of hogwash, this bunkum dressed up like genuine fact. Grownups always did this – made terrible things sound plausible, acceptable or forgivable. They must just wake up one day believing their own nonsense and then feel obliged to pass on this twisted logic to children, the poor deluded fools. What was worse than the self delusion, so well demonstrated now by the slippery Slav, was that all other grownups seemed to sign up to one another’s fallacies and falsehoods! Mother nodded away like the Slav’s stupid dog, seemingly agreeing with his every word. Did she not know who this creature was, had she lost all sense, was she, as Emily often suspected, mad?

‘I’m not going to eat Winnie; no one can make me!’ blurted Emily. Father appeared at the kitchen door and said quietly,

‘She’s ready.’

Emily burst into tears and ran to her room slamming the door behind her. She dropped to her knees, scrunched up her eyes and squeezed out a tentative prayer.

‘God, I know I don’t believe in you but I will consider changing my mind if you spare Winnie today.’

God had heard this line before, or one like it. God had heard it all before, there was little amusement available to him these days. What happened to original thought? Where were all the lateral thinking satirist gone – they couldn’t all be French surly?

‘That Slav is a brute, Beelzebub personified. Your nemesis is right here in Devon running amok; you really should teach him a lesson and strike him down. Haven’t you got a spare thunderbolt you can use…please?’

God considered it for a moment but bacon was a guilty pleasure he’d rather not give up. What sort of message would he give if he went about frying pig killers in any case? No. Best ignore her plea, he decided in his wisdom; along with all the other pleas that were flooding in from the starving, dying, weak and miserable children all over the world.

Beelzebub grunted as the Slav whispered in his ear, ‘Got you this time.’

Meanwhile, Pickles, Supreme Ruler of Devon, ambled into Emily’s room.

‘Well, well, well, what do we have here then?’ muttered Emily.

Pickles wagged his stumpy tail.

‘Cerberus the hell hound out for a jolly with his master no less.’

God cancelled his appointments for the immediate future.

Out came the low calibre pistol.

Beelzebub felt the usual sinking sensation in his stomach; duped again. No matter how hard he tried to integrate, to live a meaningful life, virtuous and void of sin, some Slavic son of a vampire turned up with a glistening eye and a heart full of retribution.

Out came the letter-opener given to Emily by Uncle Dominic, the Deacon of Winchester.

‘What did you say God? An eye for an eye isn’t it?’

‘I don’t recall saying anything at all,’ thought God.

Satan’s blood flowed into a metal sterilized bucket, his hopes for redemption dashed again.

Emily’s hands were warm and sticky with the blood of Pickles.

Beelzebub gave an involuntary twitch or two, closed his eyes and made his way back to purgatory and the bureau of reincarnation situated on the second floor.

Pickles died slowly and painfully as the life blood of kings soaked the rug on Emily’s bedroom floor. Pickles fixed his one regal eye upon his killer and as his ancestors gathered on the threshold of death he cursed her.

Emily licked the blood from her fingers.

God said unto himself, ‘Well I didn’t see that coming.’

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About CageWriter

Englishman Living in France with my French wife and bilingual son. I'm a struggling writer as in I struggle to write even though I feel it's my calling. I get easily side tracked, this blog being a case in point!
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