Michael’s assignment of monitoring and cleaning up after twelve pigs seemed easy enough. At the end of the sixteen week program, he would receive board eligibility for the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine.
Day 1~ Needles of rain stung his face beneath the plastic hood as he trudged through sucking red mud and entered the long white building housing the pigs. Inside, he was bathed in warm yellow light and the sickening sweet smell of fresh, damp hay. A few grunts and soft snuffing sounds greeted him as he carried fresh water to the pens.
“Ellooo, piggies,” he sang, peering through the wire fence. He dropped the water bucket on his foot, soaking the ground around him. “Je suz,” he whispered. “You are about the ugliest things I’ve ever seen.” He took a step back, shaking his head like a dog trying to get water out of his ears. Their bodies were hairless, pink and fleshy like human skin, with large bulbous growths on their oversized heads. They all stared calmly at him. “Sorry, fellas. But for the good of mankind.”
Day 13~ Time to get a blood and tissue sample from one-six. Michael had gotten used to the pigs’ strange looks, but sometimes their behavior still creeped him out. He spent the first hour or so in their pen as instructed; talking to them, petting them, cleaning and washing down their bowls and rubber toys. He decided to take the samples while they were distracted with eating. “All right,” he said, checking the tattoos on their hindquarters. “Which one of you lovelies is number one?” They glanced up from their trough, chewing and then went back to eating. “I know, you don’t understand any of this,” he rambled as he found pig one and gently inserted a needle into a stubby leg vein. “But, you have important jobs. Helping us figure out how a nasty little thing called Alzheimer’s works.” He capped the blood filled syringe and got out a scalpel and bag for the tissue sample. “Besides, better than ending up as bacon on someone’s breakfast plate.” He laughed to himself and glanced at the other pigs as if they’d get the joke.
His heart did a little flip flop and he froze. The pig on the end was staring at him, two black beady eyes meeting his gaze. Now, he’d seen animals acknowledge people, glance at them warily, but there was something so aware, so purposeful in this pig’s stare that he actually felt the hair stand up on his arms. It wasn’t until he slowly backed out of the pen and shut the gate that the pig broke eye contact and went back to eating with the others.
Day 27~ Michael discovered sow number eight–or Lucy, as he had nicknamed her–dead of a brain hemorrhage. Hay had been pushed over her body. Six of the pigs, including Cujo—the one that always stared him down—were standing around her in a circle with their heads hanging. He would have to make a note of this. Along with less rooting, they were exhibiting expanded social behavior.
Day 42~ During one restless night, when he couldn’t sleep, he decided to check on the pigs. He found them standing in a circle. Loud grunts were coming from the circle. Were they…arguing? When they noticed him in the shadows, they all stared for a moment then slowly walked away and began to root in the hay. Which would have been fine if they wouldn’t have kept glancing up at him to see if he was still watching. He decided to have a talk with the Director.
Day 43~ The Director excitedly showed him scans of three of the pigs’ neocortexes. Larger and more folds than should be there.
“Do you think this is such a good idea?” he had asked.
“Well, why not? Think of the possibilities, Michael.”
“Ack,” he waved his arm in frustration. “You’ve just watched too many science fiction movies. It’s not like they’re going to start talking or knitting sweaters, Michael.”
Day 44~ Michael entered the facility and was trying to get the lights to come on when something smashed into his body from behind. He felt the warmth of the heavy mass scramble off of him. Dazed, he pushed off the ground.
“What the hell?” he shouted, pain turning to anger as he stumbled down the aisle. “What’s going OoNnn…” FWAP! He was flat on his face after tripping over a second warm body that rushed under his feet. Turning slowly over on his back, he stifled a yelp. Cujo was barely two inches from his face, his black eyes gleaming in the dim light; hot, rancid breath choking him. Suddenly, he lunged forward and sank his sharp canine teeth into Michael’s neck.
As the warmth and shock flooded his body, Michael stared at Cujo. Drops of blood were dripping from his bottom lip and…was he smiling?