When pigs fly
“Obviously, it’s a hoax,” Rita said, switching out the microphone cover for that furry one that she used when they went somewhere windy. “But can you imagine if it were real? I mean what would it mean?”
Quentin sighed. “It would mean that Nature herself is against my ever getting a real shot at doing real journalism.”
“So, pigs can fly and somehow that’s all about you, huh?”
Quentin sighed again, and it was about the dozenth time he’d sighed since breakfast alone. A few days ago, someone at a farm mid-state had reported seeing what, at first, they called unidentified flying objects. Thinking he was headed to a grape farm in wine country, Quentin had been mildly excited when the assignment to go check it out fell in his lap. But before they could leave, they received an updated report. Upon closer inspection, the flying objects had been identified…as pigs.
Rita had been trying to convince him how this was a good thing. It would exercise his skills in observing and gathering facts to help expose false reports and hoaxes. The official plan was for them to drive up to that farm the following day. But Rita and Quentin were heading out a day early, so they could sneak onto the farm from which the pigs were thought to originate, and catch the tricksters in the act, gluing false wings onto the pigs backs, setting up wire systems for the “flying effect,” and maybe even stumbling upon a green screen in a barn or something.
Both Rita and Quentin expected that Rita would have to drag Quentin along once they arrived, but something about getting out of the city must have affected Quentin. He seemed to perk up on the drive to the hotel. But then he perked right back down again by morning.
They drove to the address that they’d been given and stopped half a mile away, so they could walk the rest of the way.
“That can’t be one, can it?” Rita wondered aloud, as they saw something, something rotund, soaring through the air to the west. It was too far away to identify. She pointed her camera at it. “It’s going toward the farm.”
As they kept walking, the flying object swooped around and toward them. Quentin put his hand over his eyes like an awning and peered through his glasses.
“No way,” he said almost in a whisper.
Rita zoomed in. “That is most definitely a pig.” She adjusted the focus. “And those are most definitely wings.”
“Come on.” Quentin started jogging toward the pig just as it landed—rather gracefully in fact—near the road ahead of them.
They caught up with the pig, stopping a few yards away in case they scared her. But she seemed unfazed by their presence. Rita handed Quentin a carrot that she produced from somewhere.
“Do pigs eat carrots?” Quentin asked as he approached and held out the carrot.
The pig raised her head.
And she raised her wings.
Rita followed the wings. “Whoa, that’s…that’s beautiful. Check for wires, Q. I don’t see any.”
The pig gently grasped the carrot that Quentin held out to her and munched on it while he edged closer and began to wave his hands around her body.
“No way,” he said, gazing at the wings. “No wires.”
“They’ve got to be animatronic,” Rita said. “Right?”
The pig folded her wings.
“That’s some sophisticated animatronics.”
“So-called ordinary people have extraordinary talents,” Rita said. “Maybe there’s some robotics genius living on this farm.”
Quentin reached out to touch one of the wings.
“Careful,” Rita said. The pig had finished off the carrot. “Okay, so let’s say the wings are remote-controlled. How did the pig actually get airborne? Is there such a thing as a stealth drone? Capable of lifting a—what is that a ninety-pound pig?”
Quentin gently caressed the wing. “It’s so realistic.” He examined the area on the pig’s back from which the wings emerged. He walked his fingers around the pig’s flank. He found no evidence of glue. No evidence of a harness.
The pig squealed and back away and then stepped forward.
“What does that mean?” Rita asked. “Is she ticklish?”
Quentin glanced back at her and shrugged.
He backed away now, and Rita handed him the camera as she moved toward the pig. She did the same examinations that he did, and she too found nothing.
They hung around for a few more hours, watching the pig, who didn’t take off again, but just walked around the road. They watched for any people who might be hiding nearby, controlling what they still guessed were robotic wings.
They left when they got hungry, walked back to Rita’s van, and headed to get some lunch at the restaurant attached to the hotel.
“Even if those wings are real,” Quentin said over a plate of bacon cheese fries, “there’s no way those pigs can just make a running start, flap them, and get airborne.”
Rita sipped her soda. “If pigs can have wings, then maybe the rules of physics can be different.”
“Different how? Different where? Just on that farm? Or everywhere?”
“Maybe. Did you know that there have been flying pig stories popping up all over the world recently?”
“Well that’s just ‘herd mentality,’ or the ‘bandwagon effect,’ or whatever it’s called when people hear about a thing and some of them report experiencing the same thing.”
Rita bowed her head. “Okay, and we can’t say anything for sure about the pig we saw, except that if her wings were fake, then the person who made them deserves a long and lucrative career in Hollywood. But I found this one story about a guy finding one of the pigs dead in the road. He took it to a vet and they did a necropsy and…those wings were real.”
“Right, he found it dead.” Quentin reached for the seasoned salt. “And where’d you hear that story? Why didn’t we cover it?”
“It’s somewhere in France. We are not in France.”
By the time the two visited the farm the next day, the tiny flock of winged pigs walking around in a pen held no new wonders for them to behold. Quentin asked for a demonstration of flight, but of course he was told that the pigs didn’t just fly on command. The farmer and her hands didn’t take too kindly to Quentin’s joke that they try dropping one of the pigs from the roof to see if he would fly out of self-preservation.
Rita got a few hours of video of humans talking about flying pigs. But no video of an actual flying pig.
About ten minutes after they started their drive back home, shadows swooped over them.
“Son of a—“ Rita beeped the horn.
Three pigs had just flown over the van.
“Don’t worry,” Quentin said, pulling out his phone.
This time, it was Rita who sighed.
When chickens grow teeth
“The boss wants us to relate it to the flying pigs story,” Quentin said.
They were driving out to another farm, within the county this time. And this time, it was a commercial farm where the workers had reported that the chickens had begun growing teeth.
Rita frowned. “What’s the relation? The dangers and horrors of modern farming practices? Those chickens were probably injected with a bad batch of hormones or something. I mean that’s possible, right?”
“Yeah, I wondered that too,” Quentin said, sucking in the remnants of melted ice cubes in his iced tea. “I’ll call a few of my university contacts. See if they can put me in touch with an expert in animal husbandry.”
When they got to the farm, their point-of-contact walked them through the facility and showed them the group of chickens, only a dozen or so, who had teeth. The chicken teeth seemed as real as the pig wings. Quentin examined them in the living chickens. And then they were taken outside and shown a few slaughtered chickens. A worker pulled out one of the teeth of a dead chicken and showed Quentin and Rita that the tooth had roots just like a real tooth.
“What do you think?” Quentin asked when they were back in the van.
“I think it’s about time I became a vegetarian like my mom always wanted me to be.”
Quentin shook his head. “I wish we had an expert with us who could actually tell if that tooth was fake, if those wings were fake. Are people this good at hoaxes?”
Rita started the engine. “Humans are hucksters.”
After directing Rita to a promising dinner prospect, Quentin checked his messages as she drove.
“Great, the scammers are out in full force now that our first story aired,” he said, finding a suspicious email with the subject line “The Flying Pigs Have Come.”
He deleted the email, or thought he did, but he must have pressed open, because the email opened. Quentin sucked in a breath and held his phone out, expecting some virtual virus or something to crash his system and then set the phone on fire.
But it was just a plain text email with a simple message.
You’re on the right track. Follow the signs.
It was signed, “The Opposite Prophet.”
Quention read it aloud.
“I would like to take this opportunity to remind you,” Rita said, “that I only operate the camera. I’m not here to protect you from stalkers.”
When the owl’s tail blooms
“Did you just see that! That bird—that…crow—it was flying upside down.” Rita pointed her camera to the sky as they walked along the trail.
“Then, I’m pretty sure it’s a raven,” Quentin said.
“They can do that.”
“And you know this because…?”
“I did a story on mating habits of different animals once. Ravens were one of the animals. They can do all kinds of aerial tricks.”
“Look out!” another voice cried.
The raven came swooping over their heads.
Quentin nodded. “Yep, like mimicking human speech.”
“Are you serious? That was the raven?”
“This isn’t any kind of sign. They’re just messing with us for fun.”
The ravens began to hoot.
“They sounds like owls.”
They flew away cawing.
The ravens were not the story they were following this time. This time it was about owls, or one owl in particular.
“Flowers, where its tail should be?” Quentin asked, still not sure how he was supposed to come up with a story from that detail. “There’s no way I’m getting close enough to an owl to figure out if its tail is a hoax.”
“But you think someone did get close enough to hang a bouquet off its tail?”
“I came better prepared this time. I’ve got a list of all the people in the area who have any level of expertise or training in owl ornithology and raptor handling.”
“No, that’s just the word for a place where owls live.”
According to reports of sightings, the owl flew over to a particular spot each night, perching on the gable roof of a tea house in the middle of a park. It was kind of hard to miss. And it didn’t seem to mind all the people who started gathering to witness its beautiful blooming tail. It would only fly away if people tried to get too close.
Despite having only the light of a quarter moon, Rita managed to capture some clear video and still shots. The owl’s tail bloomed several rows of gladiolus flowers in different colors. It was a lovely sight, but it wasn’t as if they could confirm seeing the flowers actually blooming in place of tail feathers. And yet, they needed a story.
At a late dinner, Rita proposed a connection between all the strange animals they’d encountered.
“They’re all sayings that are ways to express an event or occurrence that is near-impossible,” she said.
“Great, that’s even worse than the farming angle I was going for. At least farming is a focus.”
Quentin noticed that he received another email from his fan. Again, he tried to delete it, but his attempt to delete the email ended up opening it.
“Is this guy a hacker?”
“Read it,” Rita said.
“‘We thought we lived in weird times, but we haven’t seen anything yet. Keep following the signs. You’re doing well. Your friend, the Opposite Prophet.’”
Quentin frowned and held out the phone. “Is this you?” he asked Rita.
“Why would I be playing mind games with you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you have the heart of a raven.”
“Ravens are intelligent. What’s so intelligent about sending you an anonymous email that basically says, “Hey Pal, listen to your camera operator. She knows what’s up?’”
“Who is it, then? Any ideas?”
Rita shrugged and pointed to the message on his phone. It could have been anyone who watched and followed their segments each day.
When frogs grow hair
“Enough with the animal stuff already,” Quentin said. He was on the phone with their station manager.
Rita only heard a muffled voice on the other end. She was on a milkshake break, and Quentin had respected that by not putting the phone on speaker.
Quentin hung up and sighed heavily. They hadn’t been given a chance to go home yet.
“Frogs,” he said. “In some wetlands east of here.”
“Let me guess. They formed a barbershop quartet.”
Quentin glowered. “Hair.”
Neither of them had ever been to a swamp before. But their station manager had already called ahead to a guide who walked them over as close as they could go without having to wade in.
The guide picked up one of the frogs that were milling around the edge of the swamp, and he showed it to them.
The frog had hairs, short wet grayish hairs, sprouting from its back and around its face, and the upper parts of its forelegs.
“No, thank you,” Rita said. She was normally a fan of frogs.
Their guide set the frog down and then left them to go chase after something that looked like a beaver with orange teeth, and another guide came to walk them back out.
At dinner that evening, they discussed possible explanations and theories.
Quentin dipped a fry into a boat of ranch dressing. “Could it be because of pollution? Is there runoff from some factory nearby? Or leakage into the soil and it gets in the water table underneath? I should research that.”
Rita shrugged. “I’ve been looking, and it’s been hard to figure out when each of these…phenomena started.”
“I wonder if it’s even possible for some mutation to happen that triggers hair growth in frogs.”
“You think maybe it really could be that Opposite guy?” Rita asked. “Like he’s some bored billionaire who can afford to hire some unscrupulous biologists to mutate frogs and chickens, and get some roboticist to make a seamless wings harness for the pigs.”
“And we’re pawns in his game? We’re definitely not the ones he’s toying with. We’re too small potatoes.”
“So who is he playing with?”
When the sun rises in the west
“Are you going to report on what happened on the coastline this morning?” the server asked them as she poured coffee for Quentin and set down an orange juice for Rita. She had just asked them what they were doing in town.
“Beached whale?” Rita asked, wincing.
Quentin sighed. “Probably sharks. A shark rescued a surfer and then got on the surfboard and surfed back out to sea.”
The server shook her head and rolled her eyes at Quentin. “Look out the window, wise guy.”
Rita and Quentin glanced out of the window beside their booth.
“What am I looking at?” Quentin asked, watching a family drive up, get out, and head toward the door of the diner.
“The sky,” the server said. “Look at where the sun is.”
“Yep, the sky is generally where the sun lives. What, is it a different color?”
The server sighed. “You’d have seen it if you’d woken up at a decent hour. Know what direction your window is facing?”
Quentin sighed in response. “Well, if we can see the morning sun from here, then it must be facing—“
Rita and Quentin looked at the server, who was smirking.
“I caught it on my phone,” she said. “The sun, rising from the west.”
When fish climb trees
“How the hell could I have known that would happen?” Quentin said. He was talking to the station manager, on speaker this time. “Why didn’t you send—?”
“He’s on vacation! And you two were supposed to be back by now. Everyone got on this story the minute it happened. Everyone! Everyone except us.”
Rita leaned over the phone. “Everyone? I’m sure we weren’t the only station—“
“Shut it, Rita! No excuses. Get back here, now.”
“Don’t you want to hear what we found out about the frogs?” Quentin asked.
There was a pause, during which Rita and Quentin exchanged a look. They imagined their boss putting the phone on mute while he swept the contents of his desk off and slammed his door a few times.
“Just get back here!” he said and hung up.
“This is another one, Q,” Rita said. “Another saying to describe something happening that can’t possibly happen. ‘When the sun rises in the west.’”
“So…it’s not a hoax.”
“I can’t see how the sun can be. But the other stuff still might be.”
On their drive back, Quentin took the wheel to give Rita a break and a chance to enjoy the scenery. It was starting to get dark. It was a strange feeling to be driving westward and not seeing the gleam of light in the sky. That gleam of light was behind them. The sun was setting in the east.
At one point, the road got rough. It almost felt as if they were driving on cobblestone. Quentin slowed down, and Rita leaned her head out of the window and shown a flashlight on the road.
“Stop the van!” she said.
They stopped and got out of the van, and Rita showed Quentin why the road was so rough.
The road was littered with the bodies of dead fish.
Quentin looked up at the sky. “I’ve heard of this kind of thing. A tornado goes over a lake or something, pulls up the fish and then drops them somewhere miles away.”
“Cool, but how does that explain this?”
Quentin glanced over to Rita. She was pointing her flashlight at the trees that lined the left—the north—side of the road. There were fish stuck to the bark of the tree. But they weren’t just stuck there. They were moving.
Quentin’s eyes widened. “They’re climbing.”
When hell freezes over
Their station manager didn’t want to hear anything about fish climbing trees. He wanted them ready to watch the sunrise the next morning.
That’s how Rita and Quentin ended up on the roof of the high-rise where Quentin lived, with an extra-large barbecue chicken pizza and a cooler full of beers and sparkling waters. They had a clear view of both the eastern and western horizons.
Quentin had brought folding lawn chairs. Rita had brought a portable projector and speakers, so they could watch movies or listen to music. But for the time being, they were content to just listen to the sounds of the city below and enjoy their food and drink, and not talk about all the bizarre things they had witnessed over the past week. One of Quentin’s neighbors was having a small roof party, but they all went down shortly after midnight.
“You sure we’re allowed to be up here all night?” Rita asked, watching the other people leave.
Quentin waved a hand. “It’ll be fine.”
“What do you think? East or west?”
“East, as per usual. Why, you ask? Because we’re watching this time.”
Rita chuckled. “Unless we both fall asleep.”
“You set your alarm, right?”
“I did. Hey, have you heard from your Mister Opposite lately?”
“What? Oh, no.” Quentin frowned.
Rita felt a sudden chill carried by a passing breeze. She reached for her hoodie. “I only brought a couple of throws. I didn’t think we’d need anything warmer.”
Just as she zipped up her hoodie, Quentin was struck by a chill. He shivered and sat up.
Something like dust swirled in the passing chill breeze.
“What is that? Ash?” Rita asked. “Is there a fire nearby?” She pulled out her phone to check.
But Quentin held out his hand and watched his palm as a few flakes landed on it…and melted.
Rita looked up. Pulses of hot air alternated with the chill. They both rose and walked to the edge of the roof, following the path of the flakes, the snowflakes, some of which were melting in the warm cross-breezes before they landed.
“So weird,” Rita said. “It keeps feeling like I opened a hot oven on a cold day. Or walked into an air-conditioned building on a hot day.”
“It’s not the sun,” Quentin said. “But it’s something weird. Should we check it out?”
“Hell yeah, I’m already getting sleepy from all that pizza.”
Rita drove the van, following Quentin’s navigation as he felt the air and watched for the snowflakes. As they got closer and closer, it grew noticeably colder. Rita had to turn to heater on.
“The street is wet,” Rita said. Some of the people were driving and walking away. But many more were driving and walking toward the cold. Before they got stuck in gridlock, Rita found a parking spot.
“It’s three A-M,” Rita said as they tramped through slush.
“Is that supposed to mean something?”
“It’s the witching hour. I think.”
A few blocks away, they found the cause of the snow and the chill in an alley. The sight left Quentin and Rita breathless and gaping, like the dozens of other people clustered around but not close.
“No one is at the station,” Quentin said, gazing up. “We can’t do a live broadcast until six.”
“We can stream it on the station’s website,” Rita suggested.
“The boss’ll kill us.” Quentin shrugged his brows. “Or, he’ll promote us.”
The crowd gave the two a little space when Rita hoisted her camera on her shoulder and Quentin pulled out his microphone. Standing amidst swirls of snow, Quentin steadied his voice and started his report.
“It appears we have located the entrance to hell…and it’s right here in Hollywood. Who knew, eh folks? As you can see, the gates are slightly open, and though it’s a typical hot summer night, the area just around the gates is frozen over. There’s frost and ice formed on the bars of the gate, and though I’m definitely not going past those gates, I can see from here—Rita why don’t you zoom in right there—you can see from here that there is snow falling.”
The gray gates were as high as the two buildings that flanked the alleyway. Aside from snowfall, nothing but darkness could be seen beyond the slightly open gate. Nothing or no one was coming out of the gates. But there was a worn metal plaque attached to the front of one gate that read “Pandemonium.”
Rita and Quentin walked around to the other end of the alley. From there, the alley looked normal. They could see the other side. Rita recorded a group of friends trying to hold back one of their number from entering the alleyway.
By the time dawn arrived—in the east—the city had put up barricades at both ends of the alley. Other news outlets, far bigger than the dinky local station that Rita and Quentin worked for, had arrived and were reporting live. Still there was nothing to see but the gates and the snow. Hell frozen over, it seemed. But no demons. No tormented souls.
Quentin had written and recorded a segment on the other strange things that he had witnessed over the previous week. He and Rita watched on her laptop.
“Many people might be asking the question, ‘what does it mean,’ all these…signs,” he said. “Does it signify the end of the world? Does it signify the coming of a new enlightened age? Is it just a series of strange but random occurrences that may just indicate that our understanding of our world is more limited than we think it is? Or is it all somehow a hoax? The answer to that question for me is…I don’t know…yet. But my aim is to keep observing, keep asking questions, and keep pulling back to take a look at all the pieces, and see if what we’ve got here is a puzzle or a random assortment of stuff. And maybe I’ll find out what it means. And if I find out, so will you, if you stay tuned.”
Rita slapped Quentin on the back. “We missed the sunrise,” she said. “But that was good reporting. I’m staying tuned for sure.”
Quentin laughed. “Thanks, and hey. Look at this.” He held out his phone, which displayed the latest message from the Opposite Prophet.
Pigs fly and the sun rises in the west. Can’t you see, my friends? These signs are the heralds. It’s coming. An age of impossible things.
“Do you really still think it all could be a hoax?” Rita asked.
“This is Hollywood.”
“Then they’ve succeeded in fooling me with their special effects.” She glanced over at the frozen gates of hell. “I’m not treading that way.”
“Me neither. Breakfast?”
Copyright © 2020 Nila L. Patel