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The story so far: Daryl, an ordinary farm kid, had a pet pig named Pork Knuckles Malone. Daryl’s dad didn’t like his son befriending the livestock, so he had the pig killed and turned into ham. Daryl absconded with the ham to Green Bay to seek refuge with his punk rock aunt and uncle—Sheila and Shard (who are brother and sister, not husband and wife, by the way). His aunt and uncle jokingly adorned Pork Knuckles with deer antlers and pineapple rings for eyes.
When the three of them visited Green Bay’s infamous Bay Beach, Daryl had a vision and began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, Pork Knuckles has been responsible for the many strange and slimy happenings he has experienced since leaving Pa’s farm. So he and his aunt and uncle rushed back to their apartment to check on the ham…
“See, Pork Knuckles is fine,” Sheila said when they returned to the apartment.
Daryl wasn’t so sure. He shooed the flies away, but his pet seemed to be deliberately ignoring him, staring at the wall of TVs. Had Pork Knuckles sensed Daryl had considered throwing him away? Daryl shook the thought off, reminding himself that this was a shell. Maybe he should actually throw it away.
Sheila put her hand on her nephew’s shoulder. “What’s the deal with you and that...with you and your pet anyway?”
“Well, Pa has raised pigs ever since I was born. I never thought of them with any more regard than I did an ear of corn, until I met this little guy.” He smiled at PK, whose pineapple ring eyes remained expressionless, gazing at the reflection in the blank screens. “No pig had ever gotten out of the pen before. Pa could hardly believe it when this one went missing. He sent me out to find him.
“Thinking like a piglet, which was all PK was at the time, I went to the barn and checked the feed stash. Nothing. I checked the garbage. Nothing there either. Eventually, Pa called me in.
“Feeling like hell for failing, I went straight to bed. I didn’t get to sleep though. This little piglet woke me up, standing on my chest, oinking in my face.”
Shard laughed, tapping his knees with a pair of drumsticks.
“This pig had hid from me all day and then sprung out at the last minute to rub my face in it. I was about to take him down for Pa to butcher, but he curled up beside me and went right to sleep there in my armpit. Well, that was that.”
“Too cute!” Sheila said.
“I have to say though, I don’t think he’s gonna last much longer,” Shard said.
“What?” Daryl asked, confused. “You said we could stay here!”
“But your buddy’s rotting, Neph.”
Aside from a few flecks of mold around the antlers, and a smell that had grown a little more pungent in the August heat, Daryl saw no signs of rot. That mold hadn’t been there when they left not even ten hours ago though. At that rate, he wondered how long PK would last.
“Let’s talk about this later,” Sheila said. “Shard, I don’t think Daryl has heard your band! Put the new record on.”
“You’re in a band?” Daryl asked. A dumb question, he realized, considering all the musical equipment cluttering the apartment.
“Not just any band.” Shard grabbed a black T-shirt out of a box in the corner and threw it to Daryl. “I’m in the Skullfuck Nazis!”
Daryl held the shirt up. Screen-printed on the front: a skull with a fanged underbite, swastikas in its eye sockets. Upon closer inspection, Daryl discovered that the swastikas were penises. His pa would never let him wear that shirt.
“This is awesome,” he said, sliding it on. A perfect fit.
“Just so you know, they’re not Nazis. The name is just to piss people off, okay?” Sheila explained to Daryl. Then to Shard, she said, “Now, play the record!”
“Why the fuck would I play the record when I’m right here?” he asked. He grabbed his bass off the kitchen table and strapped it on. He knocked an empty pizza box off the amp, dragged it to the center of the living room, and plugged in. Kicking Pork Knuckles up against the TV tower, he stood on an inverted milk crate, flipped two middle fingers toward opposite corners of the room, and then slammed his fist against all the strings of his instrument.
“Fuck yeah!” Sheila cheered and clapped. Daryl did the same.
Wobbling on the milk crate, Shard shouted, “This one’s called ‘Leisure Slasher.’ Sing along if you know the words!”
As Shard banged his head in time with an unheard drumbeat, his dreadchunks whipped around his head. He assaulted his bass, punching the thick strings more than plucking them. The sound rumbled up from the floor and got into Daryl’s bones, threatening to powderize them. Instinctually, he plugged his ears with his fingertips but stopped when he realized how uncool it looked. Instead, he tried to bang his head to match his aunt and uncle.
Free time on my hands
What will I do?
I guess I’ll just cut the fuck out of you
Leisure slasher! Leisure slasher!
Sheila jumped off the couch. Pointing her finger in her brother’s face, she shrieked along to the next rapid fire line: “Slash! Slash! Slash! Fucking slash!”
Just as Daryl got his headbanging in synch, the song came to a halt.
“Thank you!” Shard yelled.
“Mooooore!” bellowed Sheila.
“You want more? This one’s called ‘I Like Dick.’ It’s my sister’s favorite!”
Sheila, all smiles, stuck a middle finger up each of Shard’s nostrils. He slapped them away playfully before committing more violence against his bass.
Daryl worked up a sweat jumping up and down. He had heard punk rock before, mainly during visits with his aunt and uncle, but he had never seen the appeal. Now though, as his heart slam danced around his chest, he got it.
His uncle sang:
I like Dick Nixon
He’s a funny guy
But not as funny
As a penis in the eye
I like ham!
As he screamed the last line over and over, Sheila stopped singing along and crossed her arms. She gave her brother a stare cold enough to counter global warming. “What the fuck are you doing? Those aren’t the words!”
“I like ham!” Shard sang.
She shoved him off his milk crate, but he recovered gracefully and continued to bash his bass and sing his throat raw. Daryl sat on the couch, pulling his knees to his chest. He didn’t understand what was happening. Why was Shard singing about ham? He looked past his uncle and saw his pet pressed against the wall of blank screens. Pork Knuckles’ pink flesh bulged like flexed muscles. His antler’s quivered. The scent of honey-slathered meat hung so thick in the air it was suffocating.
Sheila pulled the plug on Shard’s bass.
Shard kicked her down, not at all playfully.
“You asshole,” she screeched, curling up beside the couch.
The sudden silence gave way to pounding at the door, pounding that very well could have been going on since the impromptu concert began. Under the pressure, the door bounced in its frame.
“You keep banging and I’ll keep playing, asshole!” Shard plugged back in and turned up the volume. United against what Daryl assumed was an aggravated neighbor, Sheila stood and sang along to the next song:
Ham fuck! Ham fuck! Ham! Ham! Ham!
The throbbing of the bass congealed into an undefined blare. Shard jackhammered the strings with both fists. He screamed “ham” repeatedly, punctuated only with an occasional curse word. These were not the lyrics—Daryl knew that— but somehow Sheila still sang along. She kicked her high heels off and stomped circles around her brother. Maybe they were making the words up. Maybe the words were being planted inside their heads like the images that had appeared in Daryl’s at bumper cars. Was PK doing this? Was that possible?
The noise jabbed through Daryl’s fingers and gnawed on his eardrums like a school of piranhas. “Please stop!” He pleaded, but he couldn’t hear his own voice.
The door still rattled under the pressure of the banging outside.
Shard pressed his bass buzzing against his amp and fell to the nappy carpet, squirming while screaming, “Ham! Ham motherfucker! Ham god! Ham god!”
Sheila dropped to her hands and knees over him. They looked like they were on the verge of the most intense kiss ever, but their lips never locked. She simply chanted the words back into his mouth, louder and louder.
Then the vomiting began.
The words didn’t stop though. Soaked in green muck and speckled with blood, they bubbled and exploded from her mouth to his and vice versa.
Shard and Sheila ravenously smeared the discharge on each other’s faces with their lips and tongues, desperate to cover every inch of flesh. The veins and muscles in their necks bulged under the stress of puking and shouting simultaneously. With no opportunity for oxygen to enter into the mix, their faces turned purple. They grabbed fistfuls of the green mess. It clung between their fingers like webbing on a frog’s feet.
“Please stop!” Daryl bawled. Tears dripped down his cheeks and snuck in through the sides of his mouth. “Please!”
The pounding on the door grew more intense. Whoever was out there was trying to break it down. Daryl hoped whoever it was would succeed.
The bass stopped. The singing stopped. The vomiting did not. Still tangled up in each other, Shard and Sheila turned to Daryl and puke-yelled, “You lied!”
With a burst of light, the triangular tower of TVs came to life. On each: giant pineapple ring eyes. Pork Knuckles’ eyes. The pig’s voice, its always-startled oinks, blared from the speakers. “You let that man gut me and turn me into meat. Then you were going to throw me away? I loved you more than anything and would have stayed by your side forever. You couldn’t do the same for me?”
“I tried, PK! You know I tried,” Daryl shouted.
“You didn’t try hard enough.” The ham’s voice echoed through Shard and Sheila as they sat up. Pork Knuckles rose from the floor antlers first, as if lifted by invisible hands. At his back, his eyeballs multiplied. Hundreds, thousands of them glared from the TV screens. Slowly, Pork Knuckles floated across the room. His honey-cured meat had gone soft with rot and dripped to the carpet in front of Daryl.
“What are you going to do, PK?” Daryl asked.
The ham’s oink-laugh shook the room as green bile hurled from Sheila and Shard like sticky and poorly designed fireworks. “Eat me!”
That didn’t sound so bad. The scent of ham enveloped Daryl. He could already taste it. He could hardly think of anything else but eating ham. His stomach rumbled. He felt as though he hadn’t eaten all day, all week. Maybe he had never eaten before, not really, and only this ham could sate his hunger.
“I’m going to become you!” PK oinked. “From the inside out!”
The door flew open, shards of doorframe flying in like bolts of lightning. Behind them came Daryl’s pa, all balled fists and overalls. After taking a moment to absorb the scene—Sheila and Shard and their puke-slathered faces, the decomposing ham hovering inches from Daryl’s outstretched tongue—he announced, “I’m going to need a good many Sunday services to get over this.”
“Nooo!” Daryl wailed as his pa snatched Pork Knuckles out of the air.
He couldn’t stand to see his pet destroyed again, just before they were to be united permanently. Watching his pa place the ham on the floor like a Green Bay Packers holder awaiting the tip of the kicker’s foot, Daryl conjured up memories: Fireflies lighting the way for him and his pig as they raced through the cornfields, yelling, “Faster! Faster! Faster!” He and Pork Knuckles could run faster than cheetahs when they pushed themselves. But Pork Knuckles didn’t have legs anymore.
He stepped toward his pa. More memories of the good old days seeped into the wrinkles of his brain like honey, carrying whispers of what to do, of how to grab his pet and escape. These were not his thoughts, he realized. His pet shoved them into his head, just like at bumper cars. PK had put thoughts in the heads of the van driver and the gas station clerk too. Whatever power Daryl’s pet possessed had grown strong enough to completely take over Shard and Sheila. There was no telling what PK would do next if he wasn’t stopped.
Daryl stepped closer. Yes, he had failed Pork Knuckles, and he was sorry. He would always be sorry. But the good old days of endless cornfield chases had passed. He now saw they were not coming back, even if he whisked this putrefied hunk of meat to the ends of the earth to his dying day, and left everyone in his wake lying in vomit so green it glowed. Their time was over. Daryl was done.
Holding the ham down like a football, Pa said, “You know what to do, Son.”
“No!” burst from Shard and Sheila on glorious waves of green slime.
Pa didn’t say another word. He didn’t have to. All the goodness had rotted out of that little pig and Daryl knew it. Daryl ran toward Pork Knuckles and stomped, flattening his best buddy into a pink slab with a sound and smell that would have been more appropriate behind a bathroom door. Antler shrapnel scattered in all directions.
Pa picked up the slab of meat. He stepped past the couch into the kitchen. With a flick of the wrist, he cranked the oven as high as it could go and tossed the ham inside.
“Is he dead?” Daryl asked.
Pa frowned at the rotten meat on his hands. “He’s been dead.”
“Can we go home?”
“You okay with that?” Pa asked, washing up in the kitchen sink.
Daryl nodded fervently. “Sorry I ran away.”
“I missed ya,” Pa said.
“Me too.” Daryl followed his pa out, waving nervously at his aunt and uncle, who stared blankly into the kitchen, wiping the emerald muck off their faces with the backs of their hands. They were tough. He figured they’d be okay. He felt proud that he seemed to be in better shape than they did though, considering he was the kid and they were supposed to be the adults.
In the shattered doorway, Pa put his hands on Daryl’s shoulders.
He kneeled down to look his son in the eyes, and said, “That ham does smell delicious though, don’t it?”
MP Johnson’s short stories have appeared in more than twenty-five underground books and magazines, including Bare Bone and Cthulhu Sex. His debut book, The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone, was recently released by Bizarro Pulp Press. His second book, Dungeons and Drag Queens, is due soon from Eraserhead Press. He is the creator of Freak Tension zine, a B-movie extra and an obsessive music fan currently based in Minneapolis.
The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone is available on Amazon.