Upstairs, in his lofty lair, Pig Boy looks out the window searching for Blue Sky on the wintry Michigan horizon. He squeezes his fingers into fists, willing Blue Sky to appear. Oppressive gray clouds hang heavy over the hideout, blotting out the sun. Blue Sky does what he wants, Pig Boy knows this, but he is determined that Blue Sky show himself. A flash of red, down on the ground, diverts his attention. Pig Boy scans the orchard first and then the surrounding areas for signs of the Legion of Dark Destiny. From his vantage point, deep inside his bedroom hideout, he can see his father and grandfather leaning against the barn, smoking and talking. Pig Boy scowls. Smoking will kill them both—he can see that in their futures—and his. Meanwhile, the evil Doctor Anderson, the newest and most annoying member of the LDD, continues with his prodding and poking, unrelenting in his questioning. The torture is almost unbearable, but Pig Boy squints at him and says nothing. He can see that Anderson is unnerved.
The two of them stood beside the dilapidated barn. The muddy earth was fragrant from a cold rain, the early winter sky still a murky gray. Jimmy leaned back against the peeling paint. The boards creaked under his weight.
“Miranda won’t let me see him, so you’ll just have to tell me,” Jimmy said.
“You won’t believe me noways.”
“Jesus, just spit it out. I haven’t ever known you to be coy.” Jimmy ran his hand through his hair and pulled his John Deere cap down over his forehead. His ex-father-in-law liked to tell a tall one now and again, but he was talking about Buddy and that made him nervous.
Frank took a long drag on his cigarette, and then flicked it to the ground, grinding the butt with the heel of his boot. “I ain’t never seen nothing like it, Jimmy. One minute he was looking just like he always does, you know as well as anyone that Buddy ain’t ever been a real good looking boy, but honestly!”
Jimmy swallowed. Frank fumbled in his worn flannel shirt pocket for another cigarette.
“Maybe you ought to take it easy with them,” Jimmy said.
Frank looked up from his lighter. “You got bigger problems than how much I smoke, pal.”
“So you say.”
Frank stroked his chin like he was pondering a deep question. “He’s gone pig-headed,” Frank said.
Jimmy looked over at the house, up at his son’s bedroom and thought he saw a glimpse of something pink flash past the window. “What do you mean pig-headed?” He took a step in closer to Frank. “Stubborn?”
Frank picked some lose tobacco from his tongue. “Knew you wouldn’t believe me.”
“I don’t understand you.” Jimmy patted his shirt pocket. “Give me one of those.”
Frank tapped out a cigarette and Jimmy leaned in, cupping his hand against the wind blowing in off the bay.
“Your boy’s got a pig head. Never seen anything like it. He’s got a big fat pig snout where his nose used to be and pointy pink ears.” Frank ran his hands up along the side of his head as if stroking long imaginary ears. He chuckled.
“Fuck you.” Jimmy pointed his cigarette at Frank. “You tell your daughter that I can’t come running every time she gets a hair across her ass.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jimmy looked back up at his son’s window but saw nothing but the reflection of the clouds. “You know what that means.”
“Well, I seen it for myself. The boy got up this morning and just started squealing for his breakfast. Miranda was hysterical.”
“Hysterical or hung-over?”
“Like you never took a drink.”
“That isn’t the point.”
“Well what is the point?” Frank said.
“You’re the one that called me up, spouting some crazy bullshit about Buddy.”
“Doc Anderson’s in there with him.”
“It figures,” Jimmy said. He dug his boot into the mud. “Did he make a special trip in, or was he here already?”
“That ain’t for me to say now, is it?” Frank said.
“Well, what’s he doing in there anyway?”
“The child’s got a snout where his nose used to be. Guess he thought that warranted an examination.”
Jimmy threw his cigarette to the ground and pressed his finger into Frank’s chest. “Don’t fuck with me. You had better tell me what’s wrong with that kid or I swear.”
Frank laughed and pushed Jimmy’s finger away. “What? What’re gonna do. Hit me? That’s a good one.” Frank spit over his shoulder then started to walk back toward the house. The mud sucked at the heels of his boots and he hunched his shoulders forward.
Jimmy took up after him and adopted a similar posture, the two of them leaning in toward the house. The bay wind was starting to pick up. The breezes that blew gentle and soft in the spring and summer turned arctic come late October early November. There was a hint of snow in the air.
Frank looked back at Jimmy. “You ain’t seen the kid in weeks. He probably just willed hisself into this pig-like state to get your attention.”
Jimmy grabbed Frank’s arm,turning him around. “Well, what’d Doc Anderson say?”
“Don’t know. Been out here with you the whole time.” Frank twisted out of Jimmy’s grip and walked toward the house. Jimmy stared past the shrinking form of his father-in-law at the barren cherry orchard, row after row of bare, twisted branches, bleak and hostile, stretching skyward like empty hands, silent, hollow reminders of his ruined marriage, his pathetic attempt at fatherhood.
“Snap out of it, Jimmy,” Frank called over his shoulder. “The kid needs you.”
Jimmy looked at Frank. At fifty-two he looked sixty-five. Grizzled, wizened, hard-living Frank, confirmed bachelor, committed barfly and his son’s grandfather. Despite thirty years in Sutton’s Bay, he still sounded like the backwoods, still-tending yokel he was back in Kentucky. There had been a time when Jimmy and Frank had been allies against Miranda’s tendency to nag, but since the breakup, Frank had turned his bitter attention against him. Jimmy shook his head. His feet were stuck in the soft, wet earth. It took all his strength to pull his boot out of the mud and catch up to Frank.
“I liked to have thought that Miranda would lose her mind,” Frank said. At the house, he climbed up the porch stairs and leaned against the railing. “I was over to my lady friend’s and she called me up this morning screaming and wailing and in the background. I could hear the boy squealing away.” His smile revealed small, nicotine stained teeth.
“See,” Jimmy said, pointing his finger. “Now I know you’re bullshitting me. Fucker.”
“I ain’t bullshitting you, but it is kind of funny.”
“I ought to punch you right in the face.” Jimmy raised his fist and moved toward Frank.
“You think Miranda will let you in that house if I got a bloody lip? Like she ain’t mad enough at you all ready.”
“One day,” Jimmy said, crossing his arms.
Frank snorted. “Bring it on, asshole.”
Miranda swung open the screen door, slamming it hard up against the side of the porch. “Nice of you to show up,” she said to Jimmy.
“Nice of you to let me know something was wrong with our boy.”
She looked hard at Frank. “You called him?”
“Well,” Jimmy asked, “what’s your Anderson got to say?”
“Andrew’s not done with him yet.”
“Andrew Anderson?” Jimmy said. “Parents had no imagination, figures.”
Miranda frowned. “It’s a good thing he was here.”
“If you say so.”
Miranda was blocking the doorway to the house and didn’t move. Jimmy thrust his hands in his pockets and stared at his mud-caked boots. “Well,” he said at last, “What do you think is wrong with him?”
Frank laughed and snorted. “I told you already.”
“That’s it Frank,” Jimmy said, stomping off the porch. “Don’t fucking call me again, all right?”
“Where the hell are you going?” Miranda said, following Jimmy into the yard.
“Buddy is in trouble,” Miranda said. “And if you want to see him when Andrew is done, I think he’d like that.”
Jimmy saw her eyes were red and her cheeks raw, like she’d been standing out in the cold for a long time. He knew that look. She’d come home early and found him and Jenna Sullivan in bed. He’d seen it again at their divorce hearing.
“What’s wrong with him, Miranda?” Jimmy said. “Just because you think I’m a shitty father doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to know.”
“You are a shitty father. Six weeks till Christmas and you’re still three months behind in your support but somehow you managed to find the money to paint that piece of shit truck you drive. You haven’t been out here for weeks. I’d be surprised if Buddy even remembered what you looked like.”
“Okay. Is that what we’re going to do? Have this fight?” Jimmy threw up his hands in frustration. “What’s wrong with my boy?”
Miranda glared at Jimmy. “He hasn’t taken off his Halloween mask in three days.”
“That’s what this whole pig boy thing is all about?” Jimmy said, flapping his arms in exasperation.
“Pig boy?” Miranda asked.
Jimmy pointed at Frank.
Miranda turned to look at Frank. He waved. “For Christ’s sake, dad, he’s only eight. This is low even for you.”
“Like you said, he ain’t took off that Porky mask for three days.” Frank snickered. “All you did was yell at him. I, at least, asked him why he wouldn’t take it off.”
“And just what did he say to you, Dad?” Miranda asked. “Because he wouldn’t say shit to me.”
“That kid is so weird it’s no wonder that poor Jimmy here up and left.”
“Fuck you, Frank,” Jimmy said, stepping up behind Miranda.
“He said his name was Pig Boy and that he had super powers. Then he squealed something about Blue Sky and Mr. Knight and Christ-all-mighty—that kid don’t make no sense.”
Finally, the evil Anderson leaves Pig Boy alone in his lair. He gathers up his x-ray binoculars but is unable to find either his father or his grandfather from this particular location. He can sense that Blue Sky is on his way, he can smell him coming on the wind with his extra-sensory snout. Soon the clouds will part, the sun will stream down filling the hideout with light, and when the snow falls it will glisten like sparkling crystals. If only Blue Sky were as predictable as Dusky Knight. But Blue Sky is not under anyone’s control, least of all Pig Boy. What’s to be done but wait? Pig Boy affixes his sleek red cape to his shoulders with giant safety pins and circles his secret headquarters, climbing over chairs, his bed, his toy box, dragging his hand along the wall behind him. He’s humming the song he can’t get out of his mind, but he can’t really remember all the words either. Runnin’ down the avenue. See how the sun shines brightly, in the la, la, la, la, la… He is afraid to remove his mask, afraid that if it slips his super powers will disappear and then no one will believe he ever had them in the first place. There is a thin slit of an opening for his mouth, allowing him to speak if he wants to, but he can only eat crackers and thin mints and sip beverages, preferably chocolate milk, through a straw. He wants to scratch his face. The rhythm of the song in his head is cheerful, bouncy, and he nods up and down to the imaginary beat. Finally, he tires of circling the lair and settles on the floor, sitting crossed-legged, his head bobbing up and down, up and down. He closes his eyes and pictures his father, mother, grandfather and the evil Doctor Anderson all huddled in conference, trying to figure out how they are going to defeat Pig Boy—how they can convince him to relinquish his super-hero identity and return to living his life as Buddy McAllister, son of Jimmy McAllister of Suttons Bay, tart cherry farmer. But this is not his destiny. Greater things are in store for Pig Boy if only he can hang on for a while. Blue Sky will bring reinforcements.
“Is he crazy?”
They sat around Miranda’s kitchen table, which, for some reason Jimmy didn’t understand, was covered with a Thanksgiving tablecloth, replete with cranberry and gravy stains. Jimmy folded his hands in his lap and stared at his wife’s latest boyfriend.
“Kids do weird things, Jimmy.” Anderson smiled at Miranda as she leaned over him to pour him some coffee.
Jimmy clenched his fists under the table. “So that’s your professional opinion? Kids do weird things?”
Anderson ignored him and watched Miranda as she put the coffee back and then sat down. Jimmy remembered when he used to look at Miranda that way.
“My concern is the mask,” Anderson said, finally “I believe that he has super-glued it to his face.”
Frank slapped the table, laughing. “Jesus Christ—if this don’t all qualify as crazy.”
“So what do we do?” Jimmy asked, ignoring Frank and staring into the bottom of his coffee cup. When he looked up Miranda was rubbing her eyes and Anderson had taken her hand. He felt sick.
“We should get him into the emergency room.” Anderson said. “I could probably remove it at my office but I’d feel better if we had a plastic surgeon on hand.”
“You could take that stuff off with spirits,” Frank said.
“That’s true.” Anderson sipped his coffee. “But I’m worried about toxicity and if we’re not careful his skin could be damaged when we remove the mask.”
“Just what that kid needs,” Frank said, “To get even homelier.”
“Don’t you have another lady friend to go visit?” Miranda said.
Frank checked his watch. “It’s a little early, still.”
“No, seriously Dad, leave.”
Jimmy laid his forehead on the scratchy tablecloth and stared at a purple cranberry stain. “Could we possibly stay focused on Buddy?”
“This is why your kid is so screwed up,” Frank said..“Jimmy’s whacko genes, and no sense of humor whatsoever.”
“Buddy could use some counseling, Miranda,” Anderson said. “What with the divorce proceedings and all.”
Jimmy quietly started pounding his forehead on the table. “What. About. The. Super-glue?”
“Banging your head on the table is not going to make anything any better, Jimmy,” Miranda said. “Sit up.”
He did. And then he stood up, and as he walked past Frank’s chair, he kicked the leg, spinning Frank around so that he was facing the door.
Meanwhile, Pig Boy has blockaded himself in his lair and focuses his super-hearing. He needs to know what the Legion of Dark Destiny is up to. He had hoped that his father would join himself and Blue Sky in battling the dastardly forces of the LDD, but it seems to Pig Boy that his father is lost, torn– that he wants to be on the side of the right, of the virtuous–but like other lesser super heroes, his father is flawed. Maybe Dusky Knight can change his father’s mind, but Pig Boy is alone now. He needs to prevent the dastardly Anderson from piercing his zone of invincibility again. He no longer wishes to be poked and prodded by the likes of Anderson. He needs an ally. Where is Blue Sky, Pig Boy wonders? What is keeping him from showing himself? Perhaps if Pig Boy climbs out on the roof he’ll be able to make contact. It is a dangerous maneuver and Pig Boy considers the risks. Only Blue Sky can fly. Pig Boy knows that he is earth bound, but direct access to Blue Sky’s dominion might refresh his energy and boost his super-hearing. Drastic times call for drastic measures—he’s heard his father say this more than once—and it’s getting harder and harder to ignore how much his face itches. He stands and goes to the window. The clouds are starting to break, light streams to the ground in celestial rays and in the distance he can see his savior, Blue Sky. To the roof, Pig Boy!
“Buddy?” Jimmy knocked softly on his son’s door. “Buddy, can I come in?” Jimmy waited a moment but there was no answer. He tried the door. The handle turned but the door wouldn’t open. Jimmy pushed as hard as he could but only managed to get the door open a few inches. Through the crack he could see Buddy’s dresser wedged between the door and the bed.
“Can’t get the fucking door open,” Jimmy called down the stairs.
“Nice language to use in front of your son,” Miranda said.
“Could you just get up here and help me?”
Miranda came up the stairs two at a time. “Buddy! Open that door!” she shouted mid-climb. “I’m counting to three.” She stuck her head in the opening. “Your father is here to see you. Open the door!”
“Let me,” Jimmy said, pushing her aside.
“Watch it, Jimmy.”
“Oh, for god’s sake, could you just for once?” Jimmy said.
Miranda exhaled and folded her arms. “Fine.”
“Thank you,” Jimmy said then pushed his head as far into the opening as he could. “Buddy, we really need to talk. Can you please open the door? Buddy?” He tried to pull his head out, scraping his ear on the doorframe. “Shit.”
“You’re such a klutz.”
Jimmy rubbed his ears. “I don’t think he’s in there. I can’t hear him moving around or anything.”
“Well, he has to be in there,” Miranda said. “The door’s blocked from the inside.” Her words trailed off and Jimmy saw panic in her face. He knew what she was thinking.
“No, no, no!” He turned and ran down the stairs with Miranda right behind him.
On the roof of his lair, Pig Boy’s super-hearing is much improved. There is a break in the clouds as a storm front moves down from the north and the sun is shining. Blue Sky is finally able to reach his happy fingers down and plug directly into Pig Boy’s mind. Pig Boy breathes deeply through his super snout. His sense of smell is not as strong as people might think, but the air is crisp and fragrant with pine needles and dried birch leaves and bailed hay. The smoke from his neighbor’s chimney curls into the air, a black wispy arrow pointing directly up to Blue Sky. Pig Boy can feel Blue Sky’s warmth on his hands and eyelids and lips and it feels good. His mother, the only female member of the LDD, has figured out that he is on the roof, his father and Anderson will be right behind her, but Grandpa Frank will stay in the kitchen pouring whisky into his coffee cup. Pig Boy smiles, despite the stiffness of his mask. Grandpa Frank is an idiot and will be defeated by Blue Sky if the cigarettes don’t kill him first. Pig Boy’s not cold, but pulls his cape around his shoulders and closes his eyes. Below him on the lawn, the shattered remnants of the LDD appear and look up at his perch on the roof. Has his father signed on, allied himself with darker forces, or can he be saved?
“Buddy, it’s time to come down now.”
Jimmy could hear the panic in Miranda’s voice as she called up to their son. Anderson draped his tweed suit jacket over her shoulders and stood next to her, wrapping his arm around her waist. Jimmy thought Miranda seemed grateful as she brushed her frosted brown hair over her shoulder, and for a moment the spicy floral scent of Miranda’s perfume flooded his memory, her sweat soaked smile the day Buddy was born.
“I’m going up after him,” Jimmy said.
Miranda grabbed Jimmy’s shoulders. “What if he thinks he can fly? Jesus, Jimmy, what if he jumps off the roof?”
Pig Boy laughs at his mother’s frenzy. Blue Sky would not let anything happen to him—and Pig Boy knows he can’t fly. Maybe Blue Sky will grant him that ability someday. He can feel Blue Sky giving him the strength to fight whatever the LDD brings on.
“Buddy, I’m coming,” Jimmy said. “Don’t be afraid. We’ll get you down. Just don’t move, okay?”
“Maybe we should call the fire department,” Anderson said.
“Or the nut house.” Frank had come out and was standing next to Miranda, clutching his coffee cup. “Hope he don’t kill himself,” he said. “Buddy, that is.”
Miranda scowled at him but didn’t answer.
“Ought to get the cherry picker and get him down,” Frank said to no one in particular.
Miranda sighed. “Its busted dad, you know that.”
“Still,” he said, sipping again from his mug. “Don’t know how you can have a cherry orchard without a cherry picker.”
“Fuck you, Frank,” Jimmy ran past him toward the barn. When he returned with a ladder they were all still standing there, necks craned, watching Buddy. No one offered to help him as he hoisted the ladder up against the house.
Jimmy started up the rungs and glared over his shoulder at Frank. Frank smiled. “Don’t hurt yourself now,” Frank said. “Danger everywhere you look.”
“Shut up, Dad,” Miranda said. She called up to Buddy, “Just stay still. Daddy’s coming.”
“Just stay still, son,” Jimmy said. “I’ll be up there in just a minute and we can figure this whole thing out.” When Jimmy reached the edge of the roof he climbed toward his son on his hands and knees. “Don’t pay attention to those guys down there, they’re morons.”
Buddy’s gaze shifted toward Jimmy and he gave him a slight nod.
Pig Boy feels his control rising, his skin glowing. Blue Sky is filling him up with super-power energy. His father should stay off the roof. Pig Boy stands, raising his arms to Blue Sky, tilting his head up so that his mask fills with light. Below his mother gasps at his power and Anderson raises his arms in protest as if Pig Boy’s radiance is burning him. He looks down at them and waves. His father is talking to him as he crawls along the roofline but all he can hear is the bouncing rhythm of the song in his head. He feels his chest expand and he flexes his biceps and squeals with pleasure. His mother is looking up in horror and he squeals again. His father reaches out to him, but Pig Boy stays still. What will his father do to prove his allegiance to Blue Sky? It will need to be something big, a sign that Blue Sky won’t mistake for something else. Pig Boy doesn’t want to have to beg on his father’s behalf. He knows that Blue Sky is suspicious, doesn’t believe that his father is worthy of super hero status. He’s spent too much time hanging out with the dark forces of the LDD. His father is next to him, reaching out, speaking softly. Pig Boy can hear the concern in his voice and wonders what his dad is so worried about.
“Are you okay, Buddy?” Jimmy said.
Buddy nodded but said nothing. Jimmy wrapped his arms around his son realizing for the first time how tender and fragile an eight year old could feel. He’s afraid if he squeezes too hard Buddy will disappear and nothing will remain but an empty mask and a ratty old red blanket.
“Well, what are we going to do now, Buddy?”
“Can we get the hell off of here?”
Buddy looked up at the sky. “Can we just sit here for a minute dad?”
“Sure,” Jimmy said. “It did turn into an okay day, didn’t it?” Jimmy took his son’s hand and they sat on the roof staring off toward the bay. “I didn’t know you could see the lake from here,” Jimmy said. “If I’d known I might have come up here sooner.”
“It’s cool isn’t it?” Buddy said, his voice muffled by the mask. He pointed to the east. “That’s Lake Michigan, and if you look the other way,” Buddy twisted his arm over his shoulder. “You can see Lake Leelanau. It’s awesome.”
“Are you two ladies having a nice tea party up there?” Frank called from the yard.
“Don’t listen to your grandpa,” Jimmy said.
“He’s an asshole,” Buddy said.
Jimmy laughed. “He is. Just don’t let your mother hear you say that.”
The ladder rattled against the gutter. Jimmy heard Miranda say, “Dad, don’t.”
The ladder shook again. “I’m getting that boy off the roof.”
Jimmy and Buddy could hear Frank creeping up the ladder
“I have this under control Frank,” Jimmy said, crab-crawling down toward the edge of the roof.
Frank crested the edge of the roof. ““You don’t got nothing under control. That kid needs a good ass-whipping.”
Jimmy face bunched into a hard knot. “You’re the one who needs an ass-whipping.”
Pig Boy sees now that it won’t be the cigarettes that claim his grandfather. His demise will be more poetic than coughing up his lungs chunk by chunk on some lonely cancer ward. He smiles as he sees the ladder start to rock and sway, the muddy earth is too unstable. His mother and Anderson rush to steady the ladder but they are too late, his grandfather is arcing backwards, away from him, away from his father. Frank’s eyes are wide, his mouth open as he crashes toward the ground. Has his father facilitated this? Is this the sign Blue Sky wants? Pig Boy’s mother is calling up to him as the evil Anderson attends to the wounded. His father looks back at him, and Pig Boy thinks he perceives a smile on his face.
“Come on Buddy, let’s get out of here,” Jimmy, crawling back toward his son.
“Dad, that was cool.”
Jimmy grabbed Buddy by the shoulders. “No, not cool. Come on, son.”
“Do you think he’s dead?” Buddy asked as they climbed back in through his bedroom window.
“I don’t know.” Jimmy stopped and looked around his son’s room, at the vestiges of his son’s strangeness. Drawings scrawled with sharpies on butcher paper and photos clipped from magazines covered the walls. The curtains were ripped down and there was a fort of sorts, fashioned from his desk and several chairs he’d taken from other parts of the house. The boy’s bed was a rumpled tangle of blankets and sheets, except for the one he’d tied around his shoulders. Jimmy looked at his son, unable to read his expression because of the pig mask.
“Let’s move the dresser back, okay?”
Buddy nodded and together they pushed the dresser back to its spot in the corner. Jimmy took Buddy’s hand, led him down the stairs and out the front door where Miranda and Anderson bent over Frank. Anderson had his fingers at Frank’s carotid pulse and was shaking his head.
Miranda looked up, Tears ran down her face. “Jimmy, how could you?”
“You need to get an ambulance out here right now,” Anderson said. As Miranda ran past them and into the house, Jimmy squeezed Buddy’s hand. Inside the house they could hear Miranda talking to the 911 dispatcher through hiccups and sobs. Buddy was pulling on Jimmy’s hand, leading him through the mud toward his truck. He slid in behind the wheel and cranked the engine. In the rearview, Anderson was kneeling over his father-in-law, doing chest compressions. Halfway down the drive he looked back again and saw Miranda running down the drive behind him, her arms outstretched, her hair and sweater flying out behind her.
Jimmy stared straight ahead.
“What are we doing, Buddy?” His voice felt high, shaky. He looked at his son, the pale pink plastic covering his face, the stub pig snout.
“We’re escaping dad,” Buddy said, and strapped the seatbelt across his chest.