The Pig Gates

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I didn't want to leave Texas, but the situation with my job and my former friends eventually became so uncomfortable that I finally took the first new offer I got. Before I knew it, I was living in a faraway state, working for Monolyth Software at its isolated main campus, where three pointy silver buildings jabbed angrily at the sky from atop a hill. I worked there for a month before I noticed the wall. It was far enough from the parking garage and the buildings to explain why I didn't notice it at first. There were lots of distractions: neatly regimented fountains, regulation picnic areas, perfect trees, and ugly grey pieces of metal that someone thought were art. The buildings were at the crest of the hill, and the wall was only about five feet high, so if you were standing in the central courtyard, you could look right over the wall to the suburbs in the Valley in the south, and up to the hills in the east.


I usually ate lunch in the cafeteria with Lainie and Mary, even though they were in marketing and I was a programmer. The handful of women who worked at Monolyth had a kind of siege mentality and so tended to bunch in small groups. Lainie had immaculate blonde highlights, and Mary was shorter, rounder, and red-haired. Both were friendly, but they did most of the talking over lunch and didn’t seem to care that I rarely had much to say. Still, Lainie seemed a little surprised when I piped up one day to ask about the wall.


“It’s to keep the pigs out,” said Lainie.


“The what?”


Mary sat down with an apple and a diet soda. “You haven’t heard about the pigs, Cath?”


“No,” I said, wondering if it was some sort of racist term for migrant workers.


“Oh, you’ve got to hear about the pigs,” said Mary. “Lainie, tell her.”


“As in, oink oink oink pigs?” I asked.


“Well, sort of,” said Lainie.


“Like peccaries?  My parents had collared peccaries running around their property in Texas.”


“Nuh-uh,” said Mary. “These are like, twice the size of a peccary. And super-duper mean.”


“See, what happened is this,” said Lainie. “There was this guy out here, right?  He decided he wanted to raise wild boars, the big-ass European things?”


“Like with tusks and all,” added Mary.


“I think he wanted to sell wild boar meat to the restaurants down in the Valley,” said Lainie.


“But it didn’t work out,” interjected Mary.


“Yeah, wild boar sausage wasn’t trendy that year or something.”  Lainie shrugged. “So he loses shit-tons of money and he’s got all these gigantoid pigs running around.”


“So one night—” said Mary.


“—he just up and leaves. Skips town. Vanishes. Pouf.”  Lainie made a pouf gesture with her fingertips.


“And here’s where the pigs come in,” said Mary.


Lainie nodded. “Pig guy vanishes, right?  But he leaves the farm gates wide open, and voom, out they go. Animal Control shot a few, but you know, these guys are smarter than the average pig. So they get out in the hills—”


“—and they breed like bunnies—”


“—and that’s why we have a wall around the campus.”


“We have gates too,” said Mary. “At the driveway on the way in.”


“Yeah,” said Lainie. “If there aren’t any pigs around, they leave them open, but if the pigs start spending a lot of time around here, they’ll start keeping them closed. They’ll send an email out to everyone in the company.”


 


Three weeks later:


 


Date: Friday, November 5, 1999


TO: Corp_Valley_All@Monolythsoftware.com


FROM: Admin


Subject: Pig gates


 


Valley employees are advised that there have been reports of wild boar activity in the area. The pig gates will be closed until further notice. The driving gate and the pedestrian/bike gate will be activated by your ID badge. Do not attempt to feed or touch the pigs. If any get on campus, remain in your car or, if you are on foot, proceed to the nearest building, and call security. Be cautious when driving to the campus, in the event that the pigs are blocking the roadway.


 


There was a software release party in the cafeteria that evening, with free beer. I got there late; Mary and Lainie pounced on me the second I walked in.


“See?  I told you,” said Lainie.


“Have you seen them yet?” asked Mary.


I shook my head.


“You talking about the pigs?”  Dan, a programmer who sat in the cubicle next to mine, swayed towards the three of us. He laughed. “Those pigs, man. You hear about the guy who got eaten by the pigs?”


“Dan!” said Mary.


“No shit, man. There was this dude who bicycled to work and one day he forgot his badge and couldn’t get in. So he’s standing out there, yelling for someone to let him in, only you know how far the gates are, and who looks out the windows anyway, and security’s eating sandwiches or downloading porn or something. So they don’t see him. And then the pigs come running, and—this is in the security video—he’s engulfed by the pigs, and he goes down screaming, and then the pigs run away, and all that's left was a bloody smear and a cellphone and a Palm Pilot.”


“Dan,” said Lainie, “that is such bullshit.”


“Honest injun,” said Dan, holding up his hand and looking, for a moment, like a woozy, fat, pale, cigar-store Indian.


“He’s making it up,” Mary stage-whispered to me.


“I am not,” said Dan, a little too loudly. People were staring. “They just never told you delicate flowers down in marketing. It’s a total fucking cover-up.”


“Okay, Dan, I believe you,” I said, only wanting him to shut up.


“Good girl!” he said. He clapped me on the shoulder, jolting my beer-bottle-holding hand and spraying me, Mary, and Lainie with cold Anchor Steam. “Watch out for those pigs, now, y’hear?” he added, in a lousy imitation of a Texas accent.  Mary and Lainie and I watched as he lumbered off to harass someone else.


“What an asshole,” said Lainie.


“What do you expect?  He’s a programmer,” said Mary. “Um, no offense.”


I shook my head.  “Don’t worry about it.”


When I drove home that night, I didn’t see any pigs.


 


The pig gates were still closed when I got to work on Monday. I looked around as I buzzed myself in, hoping to see a pig or two. No pigs.


A new project had just started, and suddenly everyone seemed to have something for me to do. I couldn't say no. Long after everyone else went home, I was still in my cubicle, with dry, bloodshot eyes and a feeling like something was rotting in my mouth. The only good thing about being there so late was that there was no more cubicle chatter, and I could string two thoughts together without listening to Dan yell into the phone at the principal of his son's private school. It must have been nearly ten when I finally shambled down to my car in the garage and started out.  


The sky was long dark, and the Monolyth campus was illuminated by the sour-moonlight glare of halogen bulbs. As I approached the front gates, I noticed that there was something just outside. Lots of somethings: the pigs. Twenty or so full-grown samples of American-adapted, fat and happy Eurasian Wild Boar. Apparently they had decided that the flowerbeds and the road outside of the Monolyth main gate were a perfect place to bed down for the night. Big dozy creatures snuggled their torpedo-shaped bodies up against the gates and on top of carefully pruned marigolds.


I stopped the car and got out. “Hello, pigs,” I said out loud, feeling foolish. “You know, I really want to go home now.”  I could smell them, a foul mix of garbage and shit and animal filth. They snuffled and snorted in their sleep, pleasantly oblivious to the headlights trained on them, or the hum of the car engine.


Suddenly there was a loud shriek of metal on metal, and to my horror, the gates began to slide open. I’d walked right through the sensor beam. The pigs sleeping up against the gates snorted violently as the moving bars jolted them out of sleep, and their noise awakened the others. A sow squealed, and then a big male rose to his feet. He was nearly four feet tall at the shoulder, and his tusks looked like machetes. I could swear that I saw light glint off them with an audible ping.


I stumbled backwards and fell across the car hood. Somehow I found my way back into the car, and once inside, I slammed it into reverse and drove backwards the entire way to the garage, terrified that the pigs were going to follow me on to the campus. They didn’t, but after I parked the car, I started running and didn’t stop until I’d run up all twelve flights of stairs to my floor. Once there, I crept up to the windows and watched the pigs sort themselves out below. The gate had slid shut again, and they seemed to be trying to get comfortable again, irritable at having their sleep disrupted.


“Who the hell builds only one way out of a business campus?” I wondered out loud. Well, I could use the workout room’s showers to wash up the next morning. So I got some towels and made a bed underneath my desk. I fell asleep and dreamed of man-sized boars snuffling around the halls of Monolyth Software.


 


I became their prisoner. Almost every day, no matter how hard I tried to leave early, the work piled up, the time slipped away, and when I tried to leave, I’d find the pigs bedded down at the gate. That rank old boar with blades for tusks would give me the eye, and I’d find myself hurtling back into the garage and into my cubicle, for another night on the floor under the desk. After that first night, Dan looked at my rumpled clothes and ratty hair and said things about burning the midnight oil. After a couple of weeks, I overheard Lainie say something about how I was turning into some sort of “strange programmer troglodyte.”  Then I noticed that pretty much everyone was avoiding me. It was just like at my old job, but I couldn’t quit, not now, and anyway it didn't really bother me. I had too much work. Even the rare e-mail from my brother back in Texas seemed like vague signals from a faraway planet, translatable only after much effort into signs of sentient life. 


One evening I began taking the free apples from the break room and tossing them out over the gate to the pigs. They seemed to appreciate it; they would crunch each apple once and then swallow it down, and they’d scuffle and shove to get at each one I tossed. Sometimes they would shove their long noses through the bars in the gate, trying to push through and get to my armful of apples, and even though I knew the gate would hold, I’d get a tingly sensation in the back of my neck and back up a few steps, ready to drop my apples and run if necessary. But I kept bringing the apples out, hoping that maybe if I bribed them with proper food, they might eventually relent and let me out. I guess it must have gotten caught on the security cameras, because my boss Dave called me into the office one afternoon.


“You know the rule about not feeding the pigs,” he said.


I nodded.


“You’re not supposed to feed the pigs,” he said.


I nodded again.


“It only encourages them to come hanging around,” he said.


“They won’t let me leave,” I said.


Dave frowned. “Say again?”


“Every time I leave at night, they’re there,” I said. “I can’t get around them. They won’t let me leave.”


He stared at me, his expression unreadable. “Cath, when was the last time you went home?”


I thought about it. “Last Friday?”


“Before that.”


“The Friday before? No, before that. Last week I worked over the weekend.”


“So it’s true. You don’t ever go home during the week, do you?”


His obtuseness was upsetting. “No, I told you!  The pigs.”


After a long moment Dave said, “Go home, Cath. In fact, take a week off.”


“But the project—”


“Can wait.”


“But I almost figured out how to get the command from—”


“Dan will finish it. Go home. Get some rest.”


I tried to explain it again, but I don’t think he heard me. So I went back to my desk, picked up my bag, and left, not even bothering to log out of my workstation or take my coffee cup. No one tried to say anything to me. As I walked through the garage, I glanced back and noticed a security guard trailing me at a short distance.


“What do you want?” I snapped.


He didn’t say anything either. So I got in my car and left.


My apartment felt like a hotel room; I barely recognized the furniture. There was nothing to eat except cans of soup. I lay down on the sofa. The sky grew dark, then light again, then dark. I lost count of how many times it changed. Occasionally the phone rang, but I let it go. My home computer glared menacingly from its corner but remained inert. I didn’t have the energy to turn it on.


Finally I got back in the car and drove out of the Valley, into the hills, back to the Monolyth campus. It was dark by the time I got there. The lights in the tall slender buildings were out, and the only illumination for miles around was the sour halogens. The pig gates were closed, but there were no pigs to be seen. I pulled up to the gate and waved my badge at the card reader. Nothing happened.


I got out of the car and inspected the reader. It seemed to be working. I pressed my badge right up against it, and still nothing happened. I tried the pedestrian gate and got the same result.


“Bastards!”  I shouted. There was no response from anywhere. I grabbed the handle of the car door and pulled. It was locked. And when I peered in the window, I could see my keys, still in the ignition.


I started to laugh. It wasn’t really funny, and it occurred to me that maybe I ought to be at least a little upset, but instead I laughed until my throat hurt, until I fell to my knees in the road, until I collapsed and banged my forehead against the card reader. Still snickering, I wiped the filth and tears from my face and sat down on the ground and leaned against the car, to wait for the pigs.


 


 

Created: Mar 12, 2011

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