Fall season fell hard on the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1964. The morning air was cold and crisp. Leaves lay somber as dead soldiers. Frost coated the fence posts and slab boards—those defining a weathered structure, living quarters for a fattening hog. But the sun climbed swiftly up the hill where the hog pen was located. Frost soon melted. Water trickled from the boards and dropped to earth. Warmth was rising.

At half past 6 a boy of 12 named Ben stared down at a penned hog. He held at his side a steely slop bucket. The hog gazed up, and their eyes met. The swine made his familiar grunts, but the sound wasn’t the same.

Averting eye contact, Ben reached over the boarded pen and emptied the contents of the slop bucket into a V-shaped feeding trough. For the past four months he’d twice daily slopped the hog. He’d also carried water to the hog and poured it into the V-shaped trough. Ben was entertained, even amazed watching the hog drink the water and then contort its rotund body into the remaining pooled water. Sometimes Ben would pull up weeds that grew spotty around the pen and throw them over the fence to the hog. Ben delighted in watching the hog chomp on the green stalk treats. But on this morning, no green weeds were there.

Ben’s eyes fixated on glowing embers of a nearby fire. At dawn he’d kindled and struck a match to start this fire under a rusty, half-buried barrel filled with creek water. Later Ben stoked the fire and added wood. Sparks burst forth, flew up and red-hot coals formed. The water got hot, boiled and escaped over the barrel’s top. A percussion sound hissed sporadically—hot coals extinguished by spilling steamy water.

Distant crunching leaves were heard. Its volume climbed the hill. Both Ben and the hog froze in place. They strained to listen. Ben took three steps away from the hog pen. He placed a hand above his eyes and scanned down the wooded hill into random columns of sunbeams.

Two men climbed the leaf-covered hill. One was tall, skinny and talkative. The other was short, shut-mouthed and sullen. The short man limped. He wore a black toboggan. His body was draped with ropes, slings and a block and tackle. The tall man slung at his sides a rifle in one hand and sharp knives in the other. Ben recognized neither man.

Breathing hard while staring intriguingly at the boiling water, the tall, sharp-nosed man Robert belted out, “Well, I see you have availed us of a copious supply of heated hydro.”

“Hy…Hydro?” Ben muttered and then followed with, “oh yes sir. Lit the fire about daybreak. Should have plenty of boiling water anytime now.”

What goes on in the mind of a last-mile hog?

Moving toward the boiling water barrel Robert said, “I’ll need to perform other functions prior to commencing our ultimate mission. Firstly, I need to survey the area. A large tree with a limb having tension and compression strength adequate to support the swine will need to be located. Secondly, I’ll need to scrutinize the swine in order to ascertain its weight.”

Ben began to pace in front of the hog pen. When not pacing he’d wring his chaffed hands. The explicit details of the tall man disturbed Ben. He jerked his eyes toward the woods and marched to their edge. He stared deeply into the trees before traipsing to the foot of the hill. A distant creek gurgled there.

Looking out toward nothing in particular, Robert dropped both the rifle and the knives. Unexpectedly he marched away, saying not a word. As he walked he stole glances at both the path his shiny new shoes tracked and the leafless tree limbs above.

The short man gently lay down his gear beside the dropped gun and knives. But he didn’t follow his partner. Standing stiff-shouldered he rubbed his cold numb hands. Nervously he stuck a cigarette between his lips and lit it. Smelling the stinking hog pen, he moved upwind of the stench. With back to the hog pen he bent his knees, hunkered down and puffed hungrily on the cigarette.

From his jeans back pocket he retrieved a joint roach and lit it with the cigarette nub. He flipped the nub over his shoulder into the hog pen and puffed in a draw on the weed. Instantly Woodrow was relaxed. But a bad case of the munchies set in. The hunger brought with it thoughts of another hungry but memorable day. He reflected on that day he’d spent with his stepdad in the mountains—deer hunting. They’d not eaten a bite all day, and they took home no deer meat that day. But the day was special. No one saw nor asked him about his limp that day.
Lost in his memory, Woodrow was oblivious to the weed’s smoke. It gently drifted into the hog pen.

The fattening hog grunted once, sniffed Woodrow’s tossed stub, but became captivated by the weed smoke. Slinging its floppy ears the hog snorted in the smoke. Mellowed out, it lay down and slept.

Minutes later loud crunching leaves alerted Woodrow that Robert was approaching. Woodrow flipped the weed stub into the hog pen. The stub landed and stuck to the hog’s back. Being burned by the smoldering roach, the hog squealed, arose from its slumber and became rowdy. It ran in circles and attempted once with no success to leap out of its pen.

Robert heard the hog’s commotion and demanded, “What’s going on with that swine?”

Woodrow shot Robert a fake smile and said, “How should I know what goes on inside the head of a last-mile hog?” Calmly removing the pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, Woodrow pitched them high to Robert as he got closer and said, “Have yourself a smoke, Robert. The man on the block’s on holiday today.”

Robert’s daydream ceased as the hog squealed

Long-armed Robert snatched the pack from mid-air. He took a cigarette from the pack and flopped down beside Woodrow. He leaned in to get a light from Woodrow’s Zippo and returned the pack. After one puff Robert was lost in Pleasantsville For the first time that morning, he was speechless. A minute of solitude passed.

But the hog squealed. Robert’s daydream ceased. Like a Jack-In-the-Box his lanky body sprang upright. He stubbed out his cigarette and spoke:

“Oh well. Guess we should get started. Here’s the plan, Woodrow: I’ve designated with black tape which tree is to be used for suspending the swine for the disemboweling and quartering process. I’d like for you to take the proper blocks, tackle, slings and roping to that tree for set up. Secure them to the tree’s lowest limb. Got it?”
“Yep. I’ll head there with the stuff now and mount ’em on ’at limb.”

Woodrow struggled to rise from his hunkered down position. Sluggishly he gathered the gear. Like a sore-footed pack mule he limped to the marked tree. There he slung a rope across its lower limb and mounted the block and tackle.

When he returned, Robert issued his next order:

“Woodrow, you come follow me. I have assessed the weight of the swine. I still don’t comprehend what’s going on with its disposition. It’s spasmodic; not acting normal. Don’t forget the singletree bar, Woodrow. We’ll need it for securing the swine’s hind legs and winching it. First we will drag the stilled swine to the second location I have designated—over there near the Hydro. After it is lifeless and has bled out we will drag it to the designated area near the barrel for the hair removal process. I will bring the rifle and knives. Follow me.”

“Yep, boss. I’m with ye.”

Much later, standing before the creek’s rippling waters Ben heard the rifle shot, cringed and looked over his shoulder, up toward the hog pen. But he didn’t go back up the hill. Instead Ben began pacing again along the creek bank.


4 square walls
Pair of coveralls
Free room & board
Fags rolled & stored

on my back

’Ats a fact, Jack

Robert and Woodrow, better known as “Stick” and “Weed” at the Federal Correctional Institute in Jesup, Georgia shared a cell their last nine months. Neither was a hardened criminal. Stick had printed counterfeit 20-dollar bills. He’d committed other impulsive crimes but had never been caught, charged or served time. Weed’s offense was nonviolent in nature. He’d cultivated marijuana on a Federal Forest Reserve in North Georgia. But both past-age 30 men were caught. They worked on the prison farm while incarcerated.

Stick and Weed had peacefully tolerated each other’s company in their prison cell. Each had prevailed over the insanity of the walled city. During their stay, never a restful moment had existed, its con artists’ constant crying, its gambling, fights, fires and the perpetual perversions. It was a place where lots of trouble was bought cheap.
When released, they made no plans to stay in contact. They’d each in fact promised the other to never cross paths. They wanted to see no one that evoked memories of the walled-in world.

Each also made a personal vow to go straight. They’d never break back into jail. Each hated its free room and board mindset and its cigarettes for currency economy. On the outside they’d take a job—any job—to avoid being on exhibit in the joint again. No job would be beneath their dignity.

After their release they’d run into each other purely by accident at the parole office. They commiserated their lack of progress in landing jobs. Going straight, avoiding old friends and becoming gainfully employed had been their plan but proved to be a mountain to climb for an ex-con.

It was Robert, a creative bookish sort while in prison, who suggested a business idea: they would form an off the books, cash only partnership. On-site they’d process mountain people’s fattening hogs. From squeal to packaged breakfast sausage they’d do a turnkey job. The new enterprise would be known by word-of-mouth only as SWINE DIVINE.


The rusty water barrel sat upright and empty as the sun touched the western mountain tops when Ben opened the door to his home. Shivering all over he entered a dark and dank house that reeked of the odor of simmering raw meat. He hurried to the steamy kitchen seeking warmth more than food. But he made a mistake. He opened the refrigerator door to see what was available.

There on the bottom shelf in a large tin dishpan he saw something that remains in his memory—the hog’s head. The bright-eyed hog pleasantly peered out and up from the pan. Those knowing eyes stared into space and are forever penned in Ben’s troubled mind.

Weed was never seen descending the hill nor asked about by anyone after that hog killing day.