[Fiction] They come in bags

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Image credit Dessins-Fantastiques on DeviantArt

They come back in bags.

The spokesperson’s words rang in my ear. Of all the warnings he’d issued – fire hazards, mob mentality, grievous bodily harm – this was the most ominous. The bags. What did he mean? The phrase had been haunting me for the week and a half I’d spent at this crazy carnival called the Royal Easter Show. Royal. Ha! Like the monarchy was anything more than an empty throne invoked by our most callous of politicians.

The name’s Sam, Pyjama Sam. Two-time nominee for best presenter at a small community radio station. I don’t expect you’ve heard of me – fame don’t come so easy anymore, not unless you plop out the next big steaming pop sensation on 2DayFM or make it huge as a YouTube celebrity, critiquing the iniquities of our corrupt social system from the comfort of your bedroom. I was here at The Royal – as the locals called it – serving my beat as a two-bit student reporter for a pop-up radio station.

Hey, everyone needs a hobby. It’s never too late to learn.

Today I was the field reporter, forced bright-eyed and bushy-tailed out through the door of our sub-arctic studio to roam the 40 hectare grounds of Sydney Olympic Park, sifting for dirt. This wasn’t just figurative, either – a couple days before I’d found myself discussing soil quality with a passionate farmer from way out north. My directive this afternoon was clear: get me a story on pigs. My producer ordered, and so I obeyed. Tomorrow it’d be my turn. Pig pro quo.

They come back in bags.

All of this led me on a Monday afternoon slipping into the Pig & Goat Pavilion, where I joined a gaggle of the great unwashed in gaping at the animals on display. Only, they weren’t what I was looking for. Unless the quadrupeds prancing about the ring were a new porcine breed with shaggy white hair, a pair of nubby horns and a baaaa that could split your skull in half, I’d seen more pigs in a gentlemen’s club. A sign soon solved the mystery. Boer goats, it read. Best in show.

Boer goats? Hell, the Boer war was a bloody mess. Most conflicts are. More than a few hapless soldiers would’ve been shipped back from those blood-soaked African plains in bags. Perhaps this was what the spokesperson had meant with his cryptic, fast-spoken warning. If so, the man was being rather oblique, but what did I know? Maybe back home he was the chapter head of the 19th and 20th Century History Club and he couldn’t help throwing it into his speech. We’ve all got to make our own fun somehow. I reached for the walkie-talkie at my belt and held down the button.

“Shweta,” I said. “Come in, Shweta.” I eased off the trigger and was met with a staticky silence. Some reception. About as good as my reception at this whole goat-infested pavilion. “Shweta, do you copy?”

This time, a buzz. A jolt of life, followed by a jumbled mess of words underscored by a wave of static that lapped at the word’s meanings, stealing most of them away. “…ten minutes… cross… pigs…”

“Understood,” I screamed back down the line, though nothing could be further from the truth. I’d been sent to find pigs, and pigs I would find, come hell or poor ratings. The only question was where. In the ring, the Boer goats’ baa-ing turned hard-edged and cruel, mocking my efforts to hunt down a story. Well, I’d show them. I tore off my sunglasses, and the dim-lit interior was thrown into sharp relief. The pigs couldn’t have gotten far. I’d tracked them to their home, and, on instinct, I turned to the right.

They come back in bags.

The hunch paid off. As I sidled down the narrow, hay-strewn alley, I heard a faint snuffling rise up beneath the chaotic white noise of the crowd. Pigs! Suddenly, the strange rapt formations of Roscoes and Rachels made sense – they were onlookers, staring down at best-of-breed pigs trapped in rectangular pens. I shouldered my way through their ranks, the rapid snap snap snap of my shutter slicing the air as I took photo after photo. This was good journalism. This was what engaging content was all about: an Instagram post and a prayer.

My old radio mentor would be proud if she weren’t on break in Hawaii, dancing luaus on the tropical sand to the watery beat of a drum.

Photos secured, I let my camera hang limp on its strap and instead cast about for someone in charge, some mug or a farmer who could opine on pig breeds till the cattle came home. But there were none, and a garbled blast of static from my producer let me know that only a couple minutes remained until I’d need to be live. Red hot, as they called it. And here I was, adrift in a sea without a pig buff in sight.

With my options narrowing by the second, I accosted one of the uniformed RAS lugs that haunt the streets and stalls of The Royal.

“The pigs,” I urged. “I need to talk about the pigs.” She stared back at me, eyes wide.

“He’s not in till eleven,” she pleaded. “Pat-a-pig’s not till eleven. Only he knows about the pigs, the meat, the industry.” I can’t help you, said her eyes. I can’t help you and I never could. I left her there, stalked away, lost myself in the uncaring crowd. The camera thumped heavily against my chest in time with my heartbeat, counting down the seconds until I was fresh out of luck.

They come back in bags.

Suddenly, a thought seized me, rushing up through my throat with the acidic, searing taste of coppery bile. Only he knows about the meat, she had said. They come back in bags.

My breath caught in my lungs and panic set in, and I shoved weakly against the stinking wall of humanity, drowning, gasping for air. The crowd, so festive a moment before, had turned sinister, greed glinting in their eyes as they appraised the squealing pigs in their pens. Saliva pooled at the edge of their mouths, escaping in long, drooling strands wiped hastily away.

I felt like shouting, I felt like screaming, I felt like yelling my revelation aloud. But my voice had failed me. I flopped like a fish.

“They’re still alive!” I would have shouted, if I had the words. “They still exist, as much as any of us exist. They are still breathing as the world falls apart and all you can do is undress them with your eyes. They still are, can’t you see? They can still be. No future is certain. Possibilities writhe and multiply in the great glowing coils of the universe.”

But instead I said nothing, the mocking smiles of the crowd looking on as I sank to the floor, stricken by the weight of my knowledge.

They come back in bags, he had said. Outside the Pig & Goat Pavilion, the shadows grew long and tumorous stars winked into the sky. Within, doomed pigs snuffled softly as I clutched at the hay.

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