There are good vegans. I have a lot of vegan friends, and they’re all pretty good people. But there are also some pretty terrible ones. My father was one of those.
Before you call me judgmental, you have to understand that I don’t just mean he was preachy. He was a real basket case – the human extinction movement kind of vegan, the kind that would gun down a crowd of innocent people if it meant freeing just one cow scheduled for slaughter. He never wanted to have me – my existence hinged on a broken condom and my mother’s pleas – but when my mother died, he was stuck with me. That’s how he looked at it, anyway, and he took every opportunity to remind me that he never actually wanted me to exist.
All I ever ate growing up was what came from our garden. It was barely an acre in size, full of wilting and failed plants, most of which were just barely edible. My dad didn’t believe in grocery stores, so my single daily meal was a bowl of unenhanced, limp leafy greens, eaten by hand. He forbade me from eating anything else.
Mind you, I wasn’t little orphan Annie or anything. I went to school, I had friends and a social life outside of my horrifyingly strict father. I snuck little bits of good food every now and then, even – the horror – meat. What he didn’t find out, I figured, couldn’t hurt him.
It all went downhill in sixth grade when I discovered pork rinds. My friend Miranda brought some in one day in April. I tried a nibble and fell in love. The fatty taste, the way they crumbled and bubbled in my mouth… my poor malnourished stomach begged for more, something to put around my bones. Every day Miranda gave me the Ziploc baggie her mom sent with her lunch, and I’d devour it on the spot.
One day, though, I had a bit of a stomach ache at lunchtime, and I didn’t feel like eating. I knew I’d regain my appetite later, so I stashed my daily rinds in my backpack. Being a middle schooler, I promptly forgot about the baggie, and it must’ve stayed in my backpack for weeks.
I’m not sure why my dad was looking through my backpack, but he found the rinds about a month later, all crunched up in their worn baggie tucked away discreetly in the front pocket. I remember him walking to my room, arms crossed. He held the baggie in one hand, outstretched in disgust like he was holding a dead rat, his mouth zipped tight with a look of quiet disapproval. When my dad got angry, he never threw tantrums or became violent. He just got quiet.
Before I could make up some bullshit excuse, he told me that I was not to say another word. That quiet fury of his shut me right up as it always did. He said he was disappointed in me, that he thought he raised me better. All of that I expected, but as I prepared an apology, he spat out one last bizarre sentence: “It doesn’t matter what I say, really, because Piggy Claus will teach you what you need to be taught.”
Piggy Claus? What in the ever-loving fuck was Piggy Claus? He must have sensed my confusion, because he smirked, and then sang softly, absurdly, to the tune of the classic Christmas song “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town:”
If you eat chops, or nibble on rinds, if you snack on snouts I’m tellin’ ya, guy, Piggy Claus is comin’ to town.
He… he couldn’t be serious, right? Was this intended to scare me? I had to put considerable effort into not laughing in his face as he continued:
He sees you when you’re eating, it fills his heart with hate, And soon you will be bleeding, kid, eat your greens for goodness sake!
I think “eat your greens” is what pushed me over the edge, and I finally snorted. It wasn’t even a good rhyme. This was the most pathetic attempt at parenting I’d ever witnessed, and with my dad, that was saying something. I was almost thirteen years old, something as ridiculous as fucking Piggy Claus wasn’t going to scare me.
As soon as he realized I was laughing, he offered a smug frown and left the room. I heard the garbage disposal running as he got rid of the remaining pork rinds. He said some kind of prayer – a eulogy for the pork rinds, I'd assumed at the time, but I’m not so sure now.
I fell asleep easy that night. Nothing much felt off. There was a bit of a stench in the air, but with the shitty garden we had, there was always some awful smell wafting around.
When I woke up in the morning it was dark. Way too dark. I tried to get up to turn on a light, but as my wrists and ankles strained against cold metal, I realized I was chained in place on something that was much harder than my bed. Stone? Wood? I didn’t care at the time. My mind was too frenzied and disoriented. My heart raced – I wanted out. I tried to scream for my dad, for anyone, but the muffled sound of my pleading and the pressure on my lips told me my mouth had been taped shut.
Out of nowhere a blinding light hit my groggy morning eyes. It was the single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling of our cellar, switched on by none other than my father, that same smug look on his face. He stared into my eyes, his expression cruel and vacant as I tried again and again to scream.
“I told you,” he said, calm as ever. “I told you about Piggy Claus and I bet you didn’t even believe me. Stupid, ungrateful little bitch. But you’ll believe me soon enough. Piggy Claus is coming and he’s going to teach you the lesson you so stubbornly refuse to learn from me.”
Something startled me. Stomping, from upstairs. It sounded like someone was knocking things over. I cringed as something shattered. A shrieking squeal pierced the floorboards and my stomach turned.
“He’s up there now, counting your sins,” my father cooed.
It was only then that he stepped aside and let me see what was behind him. Three unconscious men, wrists and ankles bound with thick duct tape, all in a pile. I recognized them – these were people from our neighborhood. Good people. One was Miranda’s father. I tried to beg my dad to stop whatever he was doing, to plead with him, but I couldn’t say a word. My mouth was too tightly taped. I struggled against my cuffs until my wrists were raw and my legs were cramped, to no avail. The whole time my father just stared at me, the smug bastard. And of course, that stomping from upstairs continued.
One of the men woke up, his eyes rolled back, his breathing labored. His glassy gaze turned to pure terror as he took in the situation. My father gave him a light kick and gave the ceiling an impatient glance.
“He’ll be down any minute,” he insisted. “There must be a lot of sins to count. Not that I’m surprised, you devil, you.” He was teasing me. It almost sounded friendly, parental. I shuddered, and something else fell over upstairs with a harsh thump.
All three of the men were awake now. Dizzy, drugged, half-conscious. My father grinned as they uselessly and half-heartedly strained against their bonds.
I’m not sure if this went on for an hour, or ten minutes, or a day, but I remember very clearly the moment the cellar door slammed open. That brought the entire fugue into focus.
Everything went quiet for a moment. My father’s smile widened, and he looked toward the rickety basement stairs. I felt every thunk as whatever the fuck was making all the racket descended.
I never got too good of a look at it. The light in the basement was kind of shit, and I thank God every day for that fact. One thing I’m sure of, though – it wasn’t wearing a mask. Its snout, its tusks, those were real. It had the torso and legs of a bodybuilder, covered in a coat of fine hairs, but instead of feet it had hooves. Pig hooves, whatever the fuck they’re called. Thunk, thunk, thunk. It climbed down, glossy white eyes filled with hate, a stone-tipped spear in one hand.
I watched in blind terror as it picked up the first of the men. Lifted him like a sack of potatoes. It waved the tip of the spear in front of him, showing off, then grunted. Chuckled, maybe. The man’s eyes bulged. He shrieked under his duct tape, and the beast stuck his gut. Blood showered the wall as he writhed and screamed. Its face formed something like a grin, and it twisted its spear harder into the wound. I could never stand gore – I was taught to abhor it from an early age on principle alone – and the sight of the man being slaughtered nearly knocked me out. My father showed no emotion, keeping his eyes on my terror-stricken face.
The beast ripped the spear free and twisted the man’s corpse like a rag. Bones snapped as blood poured from every orifice of his body. Content with its dirty work, the creature tossed the body aside, picked its spear back up, and went for the next man: Miranda’s father.
It pinned him to the wall and disemboweled him in one forceful move, his entrails spilling out. Warm, wet bits slid down the walls and onto the blood-soaked floor as the beast licked its chops. It jabbed the corpse again and again until it was little more than a meaty paste. Satisfied, the monster turned to the third man, a real estate agent who lived down the road. I’d played at his house with his daughter once when I was younger.
This kill made the first two look merciful. The beast turned its spear around for him and hit him with the blunt end over and over, slowly and torturously adding him to the mess of gore. Minutes into the beating he still shrieked and twitched, until, thank God, he either passed out or died right there.
Piggy Claus, or whatever the fuck it was, picked up a handful of human pulp and gave it a squeeze. It squealed in approval. It grabbed a few more meaty handfuls, setting its spear against the wall like a spare umbrella.
My father walked forward and put his hand over my mouth. “I’m going to remove your tape,” he said calmly. His left side was covered in specks of blood and a few chunks of flesh. “You’re not going to die unless you scream. Then, then, you will die, and it will be very painful.”
He took the tape off. I was tempted to scream just to spite him, but I couldn’t risk it, not after seeing that. Then that thing, that monster, stomped over, and before I could even react it yanked my mouth open with one fetid hand and shoved a handful of glistening human viscera straight into my throat with the other.
The last thing I remember before passing out was the coppery taste of blood and the muted sound of police sirens in the distance.
Every therapist I saw after that told me the police had the story right. When they arrived on the scene, there was no monster – just my father and the three men he’d killed. They insisted that the creature was nothing more than a coping mechanism, a way to shift the blame from a man I trusted to an abstract evil. But I didn’t trust my father, and I blame him anyway. That has nothing to do with the monster I saw that day, that thing he invited into our home to traumatize and violate me. They looked for an accomplice to the murders after I gave my account – a deranged man in a mask or something – but they came up empty. My father was the only one on the scene, his fingerprints were all over everything, and that was the end of that.
But I know what I saw disembowel and beat those men to a pulp that day. I know I saw the glint in that demon’s eyes as it force-fed me a fistful of our neighbors’ insides. My father gave it his own ridiculous name, but I saw the centuries of hatred in its wrinkled face. That day, my father invited something ancient into our home, and though I’ve recovered, I won’t ever forget it.