Mikaela Nyman

Excerpt from
Paper Town

The dogs led them up the north face of a small ridge, away from the Tarawera River. Once they’d climbed the ridge the dogs seemed to lose the trail, the pigs were nowhere to be seen. Someone joked about the pigs being clever enough to lure the hunting party into a trap.

‘They’ll come up from behind and push us over the edge with their iron skulls when we least expect it,’ said the man with the tusk strung around his neck, and those within earshot grinned. Matti Taipale tried to join in the glee, but he couldn’t help looking over his shoulder, wishing they’d leave the exposed ridge soon.

Ten minutes later it all ended in a frenzy of teeth and tusks. The pig hurtled through a clearing, brambles raking its sides. There was a shot, followed by mad cursing.

‘Pig’s wounded. Don’t let him get away!’

Matti heard Ash’s uncle barking orders. Another shot and the legs of the boar folded.

Then the dogs caught up with the pig, a big russet and black hunk of a boar with impressive tusks. The boar grunted and squealed, the dogs barked and jumped on the pig, hanging on to its ears, its elongated snout, its sad little string of a tail, its testicles – wherever they could get a hold. The dogs were mad, snarling and foaming from the mouth.

A black dog yelped and limped away into the nearby bush, blood streaming from its hind leg. Matti backed up against a tree. This is what it must have been like to see those fights the Romans put on, he thought. The primordial thrill of it, blood and sweat and a fight with life or death as the only outcomes, waves of adrenaline surging through those fighting as well as the onlookers. Matti felt sick to the stomach. He wanted to get away but was unable to move. Hypnotised, he stared at the men who were egging on their dogs to hold down the pig, while trying to avoid getting caught up in the muddle of gnashing teeth and swiping tusks.

Suddenly, it was as if someone had turned off the sound.

The dogs and the boar and the hunters were circling one another in an intricate dance, pulling faces, waving knives and rifles in the air, but it was as though Matti was hovering above them, witnessing the fracas from distant safety.

Unreal, it was so unreal.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw the man with the tusk getting ready to jump on the pig with a knife, only to be shoved aside at the last moment, while a wiry fellow was pushed forward, knife in hand. Ash’s uncle shouted in Matti’s ear. He couldn’t make out what the old man was saying, something about ‘needing experience’ and ‘having a go’.

And then Matti was shoved forward so he could see better, even though he tried to resist, didn’t want to have to witness the final humiliation, the stab of death. He didn’t want any more blood. He hated blood. There was too much of it sloshing through the veins of the earth as it was, soaking the ground of faraway places where young men were sent to die. He noticed Ash’s uncle’s young pig dog with its teeth sunk into one of the boar’s hind legs, blood colouring the dog’s white fur pink.

Someone pushed Matti in the back.

He took a step forward.

He saw the man crouching on the pig held down by the dogs.

Saw the knife gleaming in the sun.

But the knife never had a chance to slash through the thick pig neck. As Matti reluctantly inched closer, his eyes on the knife, the boar shook off the dogs and sprung to its feet. All it took was a slackening of attention brought on by the cockiness of thinking victory was within reach. All it took was a stubborn boar not willing to die without a fight. On its legs again, its sheer body mass tyrannised the narrow forest clearing, the animal equal to a full-grown man in weight.

In the instant Matti saw the knife fly through the air in slow motion and land in the dust at his feet, the sound was switched back on.

A kaleidoscope of sound and colour – and the smell! My God, the smell clinging to their nostrils. An overwhelming earthy, musky, beastie pong that seemed to egg the dogs and the hunters on. It was hard to tell where the smell ended and the visual images and sounds began. It all floated together.

Blood everywhere. Gushing. High-pitched screams and yelps. Furious cursing. And a mad mad squealing and grunting followed by an inhuman howl for the mercy of God that could only be human after all.

And the boar turned its evil eyes towards Matti. Excruciatingly slowly – or was it with the speed of lightning? – the animal turned around on stiff legs, blood on its tusks, and Matti wondered if there was a God and, if so, had God heard them? Had he even told his mother and father where he was heading today?

The pig’s eyes were burning dots piercing the air between them. This is it, flashed through Matti’s mind, seeing the boar’s elongated snout drooling and dripping blood as it turned and shook its enormous head before it charged.

Contents | Previous Author | Next Author | About this Author