Swinehead Pete

For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!

This Week’s Inspiration: Wereboar

Seven friends go on an overnight camping trip, sleeping under the stars, cooking s’mores, and telling scary stories by the campfire. But stories have a power all of their own. What would you do if an old and murderous legend came to life?

Trigger Warning: Gore. Like, a lot of Gore.

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“But the next morning, when she went downstairs, she found the body of her dog hanging from the ceiling! And written on the wall in the dog’s blood were the words, ‘I like the taste of your hand’!”

Campfire stories. S’mores. Sitting on logs with blankets wrapped around their shoulders. Pop up tents barely big enough for two people. The flickering light and heat of the fire itself as night took over, stars sprayed themselves across the sky, and the wind turned chill.

It made them feel like kids again, although they were now all in their early twenties. Cans of soda replaced by beer or mixed with vodka. And when they were kids, the camping had been in one another’s backyards. This time, Adam had insisted they hike, and hike and hike, until they were far off the regular track and the others were just about ready to kill him.

“Lame!” Adam said.

“That’s not lame, that’s scary!” Ana said. “It was the killer licking her hand, not the dog!”

“Lame, everyone’s heard that one, it’s old as dirt!” Adam said.

Ana looked to her boyfriend, Gordon, but he shrugged. “It’s a pretty old one, babe.”

Seven of them had come along on the overnight hike. Tyler sat close to Lauren, a single blanket draped around their bodies. They’d known each other since they were thirteen but only started dating after high school. Ana and Gordon were another couple. Adam, Freya and Cassidy were all single, and all of them had been friends since junior high. They’d parked the cars earlier that afternoon and hiked for several hours around the outskirts of the lake before setting up their camp. Four brightly coloured tents sat on the outskirts of the campfire, in a clearing which wasn’t any kind of officially designated camping spot.

“Why don’t you tell us one then, Adam?” Tyler said. “You’re the one who insisted we tell scary stories, but I haven’t heard any from you.”

“You couldn’t handle it, mine are too scary,” Adam said.

“Boo, you suck! Lame excuse!” Lauren balled up a chocolate wrapper and tossed it at him.

“Go on, you tell us one!” Ana said.

“Alright, alright, fine, I’ll tell you one. I’ll tell you a story from right here in these very woods,” Adam said, taking on a theatrical tone. “Have you heard the legend of Swinehead Pete?”

“Swinehead Pete? No, what’s that supposed to be?” Tyler said.

“Hang on, I got to take a dump,” Cassidy said. “I don’t want to get all, like, sucked in.”

Cassidy stood up and started to walk away. A roll of toilet paper sat on the ground at Freya’s feet, which she picked up and tossed at his back.

“Does a Cassidy shit in the woods?” Freya shouted after him.

“I guess we’ll find out!” Cassidy disappeared into the trees.

“So, come on, let’s hear it.” Tyler turned back to Adam.

“What about Cassidy?” Adam asked.

“I really don’t think he’s missing much,” Lauren said.

“Okay, so Swinehead Pete, Pete Sampson, his family lived in these woods for generations. This is a true story, by the way. They lived off the land, grew their own food, and killed their own meat.”

The woods did serve as a foreboding backdrop for campfire tales. Wind rattled the leafless branches overhead. The group seemed to be the only living things for miles. The campfire cast a ghoulish glow across Adam’s face as he leaned forward, hands clasped.

“Pete was a monster of a man, six-foot-six and built like a weightlifter. When he came rumbling into town in his big truck, rusty tools clattering in the back, people stayed out of his way. But he was quiet and didn’t bother anyone, staying on his farm in the hills where he raised pigs, or so everyone thought. See, Pete had a people problem. Late at night, he’d leave his farm and he’d pick up hookers or hitchhikers from the side of the road and take them back to his home. He lived so deep in the woods no one could ever hear them scream. He’d tie them up, strip them, and abuse them in the most horrible ways.”

“Gross, don’t,” Freya said.

“He’d torture them,” Adam clarified. “He’d been killing and butchering animals since he was a little kid, it meant nothing to him. He’d pull off their fingers and toes, cut into their faces. He could take them apart piece by piece. And when he was done, he’d feed them to his pigs. They were big, nasty hogs that loved the taste of human meat. They’d chew right through flesh and bone like dog food. Sometimes, he didn’t even kill them before he dumped them in the pen. Limbless, blind, faces all cut up. They wouldn’t know what was happening to them until the pigs started chowing down.”

Wind whispered through the trees. Tyler was unimpressed but Lauren shivered beside him and it didn’t seem to be only the cold bothering her. He snuggled up beside her and felt her jump. Ana looked pale. Gordon, always kind of slow but hard to get much of a response from, looked intrigued.

“That doesn’t explain why they called him Swinehead,” Tyler said.

“I’m getting to that! See, one day the police finally connected Pete to all these murders, or disappearances. They showed up with dozens of cops and guns and dogs and whatever to arrest him. But somehow Pete had found out they were coming for him. He’d made himself this kind of homemade armour and was already wearing it when they arrived. And he’d cut off the head of his biggest hog and hollowed it out so he could wear its thick skull like a kind of helmet. Cops arrived to find this pig-headed monstrosity wearing coveralls all covered in dried blood coming at them with a machete. Between the surprise and the body armour he killed half a dozen cops before they finally got it together. Cutting off heads, chopping off limbs, or hacking big holes in their chests and stomachs. Eventually, they chased him into the woods. The cops shot him six times in the chest but he got away. That was okay, they thought, no one could survive being hit that many times. But when they got the dogs and combed through the woods, they never found the body.”

“So, what happened?” Ana said.

“Well, like I say, they never found him but sometimes people who’ve hiked deep into the woods, like us. Sometimes, hikers by themselves or couples, or whole groups of friends, they just disappear. They say Swinehead Pete still roams around these woods with his rotting pig head and his machete, torturing and killing anyone he can get his hands on.”

“Bleh!” A shadowy figure with the face of a pig exploded out of the darkness behind Adam, arms raised.

Ana screamed and threw herself into Gordon, nearly knocking him off his seat. Tyler had a moment of shock but quickly recognised Cassidy’s lean build and green hoodie. Lauren screamed and grabbed him. Freya looked totally unimpressed, like she’d been anticipating it happening. Adam had clearly been anticipating it as well. Cassidy had appeared on the opposite side of the campfire so he must have looped around through the woods. His pig mask was a cheap plastic thing held on by elastic, something he and Adam probably got at a drugstore or Walmart for a dollar.

“I’m Pigface McGee! Bleh!” Cassidy said.

“Swinehead Pete!” Adam said.

“I mean, I think they get it, dude.” Cassidy pushed the mask backward, onto the top of his head.

“That’s it? You told that whole story, just for that?” Tyler said.

“You jerk!” Ana said.

Adam grinned as if victorious. “Got you! Yeah, Cassidy was just waiting for his cue to leave, and then come back.”

“That was so stupid,” Tyler said.

“Not bad,” Gordon laughed.

Still wearing the plastic pig mask on top of his head, Cassidy removed a joint from his hoodie, brushed it off, and lit it. Puffing, the tip created a bright orange dot in the darkness. He offered it to Adam but Adam waved him off.

“Is that a true story?” Ana said.

“Of course! Just because I wanted to prank you doesn’t mean the rest of it isn’t a hundred percent true,” Adam said.

After the beers and snacks were finished, the seven of them trailed away to their separate tents. Tyler and Lauren curled up inside their shared sleeping bag. The sides of their tent billowed in the breeze as they tried to sleep. Lauren, however, seemed tense, and listened for every noise outside the tent.

“What’s up? Are you alright?” Tyler asked, pressed against her.

“Nothing,” Lauren said. “Just, that story Adam told, do you think any of it was true?”

“Come on, seriously? Swinehead Pete? A guy who should be dead, with a rotting pig skull on his head, running around the woods killing people?”

“Maybe not that part, but the pig farm! Or a serial killer in the woods.”

“If there really had been a serial killer operating or shot around here, don’t you think we’d have heard about it? It would have been national news.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I just wish we’d stayed at the campgrounds instead of hiking so far into the woods. If we hadn’t been walking for so long already, I’d have said we should camp somewhere else. This part of the woods, it was like the birds had stopped singing. Everything seemed so quiet and dead. And I worry about what could happen out here, so far from anything.”

Tyler knew exactly what Lauren was talking about. He’d gotten the same weird feeling about the area they’d stopped in. But they’d been complaining for so long about Adam leading them deep into the woods, it was no good saying they should keep going when he finally agreed to stop.

Tyler lay back down on his pillow, physically exhausted from all the walking they’d done. His eyes were soon heavy and he could feel himself fading. Next thing they’d know, it would be morning and they could have breakfast and hike their way back out of this weird and distant part of the woods. Vaguely he heard one of the others walking through the camp. They must have been going to the bathroom, although the tread sounded awfully heavy. Probably Gordon, with his boots back on in case he stepped on something in the dark. They seemed to pause for a moment outside Tyler and Lauren’s tent and then moved on.

Right on the edge of sleep, a few minutes later Tyler was suddenly woken by a wild, animal shrieking. He felt Lauren go rigid against him. Both of them looked around the tent in almost total darkness.

“What the hell was that?” Tyler said.

“Oh, my God! Tyler, it sounded like Ana! It sounded like Ana!”

Tyler struggled back into his hoodie and jeans. He slipped his sneakers on in the dark and groped for a flashlight. Beside him, just in case, Lauren grabbed her hoodie and shoes as well. Tyler didn’t have any kind of weapon except a folding knife with numerous other attachments, like a Swiss Army Knife, but he took it with him.

They heard another scream, and then Gordon shouting somewhere outside. “Ana! Ana!”

Tyler crawled out of the tent, flashlight in hand. Gordon was already outside his tent, not fully dressed. The beams of their flashlight crossed and swept over the clearing.

“What’s going on?” Tyler shouted.

“Ana went to the toilet, and then I heard her scream!” Gordon said. “But I’m not sure where it came from! Ana!”

A few low flames still burned among the ashy remains of their campfire. Cassidy had been the last to go to bed and had forgotten to kick dirt over the fire. Unzipping the front of their tent, Adam and Cassidy poked their heads out. Freya appeared at the mouth of her tent as well.

“This isn’t another prank, is it?” Tyler said.

“Prank? We’re both here!” Adam nodded at Cassidy. “And Ana wouldn’t go along with a prank!”

“Ana!” Gordon shouted.

Grunting, a large shape lumbered out of the woods, lit by moonlight. Tyler and Gordon pointed their flashlights and recoiled. What they saw was a big man dressed in dark blue coveralls and some kind of battered metal vest, along with arm and leg protection. In one hand he held a long machete, and he clutched something dark and round in the other. But most distinctively, over his head the man wore the hollowed out head of a pig. An empty skull but with flesh and skin attached. In the beams of the flashlights, said flesh sagged and looked veiny and green. The eye sockets were empty so the man wearing the head could see through them, and looked like black, puckered holes.

“What the fuck are you?” Gordon said.

“It can’t be, Swinehead Pete? It can’t be,” Tyler said.

The figure was a far cry from Cassidy in a cheap Halloween mask. His armour looked like it had been beaten out of scrap metal and bore the dents of individual hammer blows and bullet strikes. Dark, long dried splatters of blood covered the makeshift armour and the denim coveralls underneath. The pig head looked utterly real, and rotting. And a sheen of what looked like fresh blood covered the blade of his machete. If this was a prank, it was of Hollywood movie quality and Tyler figured he should be looking for cameras rather than flaws in the figure’s costume.

“Adam?” Tyler looked to his friend.

Adam, however, looked just as stunned if not more so than any of them. Stunned and terrified. After knowing him for years, Tyler was pretty sure Adam wasn’t that good of an actor. Cassidy, slightly stoned, looked the same. But if this wasn’t them then some real serial killer was running around the woods wearing a rotting pig’s head. Or, someone else who’d heard the story could themselves be playing a prank maybe. Adam knowing and telling the story could be a coincidence. Tyler stepped forward, aiming his flashlight straight at Swinehead Pete.

“Who are you? Really, who are you?” Tyler yelled.

Swinehead Pete slung his arm around, and released the vaguely round object he’d been holding in his left hand. It sailed into the glow of the flashlights. A head, Ana’s head, decapitated from her body. Hair swirled around her face. Her features were lifeless and her neck ended in a ragged stump. The head wafted through the air and landed in the dying campfire causing embers to erupt into the air. It rolled across the dirt and landed face up, blood dribbling from the throat. Tyler stared in shock. From the mouth of the tent behind him, Lauren screamed.

“Ana? Ana!” Gordon yelled.

“Oh, what the fuck? What the fuck?” Freya screamed from her tent.

Whatever this was, it was no harmless prank. The head was too real. Gordon’s horror was too raw to be faked. Gordon was kind of slow but he was big and muscular. Dressed in boxers and a t-shirt, barefoot, he turned and ran at Swinehead Pete. Grunting, the horrible, pig-headed apparition just waited.

Gordon crashed into Swinehead Pete, trying to tackle him, but the killer was bigger and barely stepped back. One handed, he shoved Gordon backward. With his other hand, Swinehead Pete raised his machete back behind his shoulder. Gordon lifted an arm as if to ward off the blow and Swinehead hammered the blade down. Bone snapped, and the machete carved through meat.

“Ah, no!” Gordon shouted.

Gordon reeled backward, blood jetting from his arm. The lower half of his forearm and his left hand flopped, held to his upper arm by only a chunk of meat and muscle. Shocked, Gordon didn’t seem to know what to do. Swinehead Pete brought his machete down on Gordon’s other shoulder. He withdrew, and hammered it into Gordon’s chest. Ribs broke with high, clean snaps under the tearing muscle, and blood splashed the length of Swinehead’s arm.

“Lauren, get out here! We need to go! We need to go!” Tyler said.

Lauren struggled upright as she got out of their tent, clearly horrified. Swinehead Pete hacked repeatedly at Gordon as he collapsed, blood and pieces coming off their friend. All the others were too shocked to move.

“Guys! Guys, run!” Tyler yelled.

Leaving Gordon, Swinehead Pete stormed deeper into their campsite. The rotting head jostled on his shoulders and Tyler smelled a sickening stench wafting from it. Tyler and Lauren ran into the trees, out of his path. Adam and Cassidy, however, retreated into their tent. Freya started climbing out of her tent but was forced backward, back into it, as Swinehead Pete came straight toward her. Screaming, she disappeared and zipped the tent’s door closed.

Swinehead Pete stopped, and started twisting and turning as if considering his options. He dug into the remains of the campfire with his boot and kicked it. Flaming ashes showered the front of Freya’s tent. The material caught immediately and started to burn. Swinehead turned on Adam and Cassidy’s tent, which kicked and squirmed from their panicked movements on the inside.

“We have to help them!” Lauren said.

“We, we can’t!” Tyler felt his flashlight in one hand and the handle of his knife in the other.

“They’re our friends!”

Trapping her inside, the front of Freya’s tent burned. She screamed. Her silhouette could be seen batting at the sides of the tent. Meanwhile, Swinehead Pete hacked at Adam and Cassidy’s tent. His blade left slashes in the material and threatened to catch one of them as they yelled in terror. Gordon lay in a bleeding heap, already dead.

“Oh, fuck,” Tyler said.

Tyler hurried to Freya’s tent, unfolding the blade of his utility knife. Freya’s hands hit at the material from the inside.

“Get back! Freya, get back!” Tyler said.

The blade was several inches long and sharp. Tyler rammed it into the back of Freya’s tent and sliced downward. As soon as he’d opened a long slit, Freya’s hands and teary face emerged. She scrambled out of the burning tent and joined Tyler and Lauren. The three of them staggered into the woods before turning back to watch.

Swinehead Pete slashed and tore Adam and Cassidy’s tent to shreds and then reached inside. The hulking serial killer pulled Cassidy out of the ruin. Cassidy had little hope against the much bigger man. Swinehead pushed Cassidy to his knees, raising his machete in his other hand.

“Don’t, please don’t, man! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Cassidy yelped.

Swinehead Pete brought his machete down like a hammer, with a great whack, just under Cassidy’s right shoulder blade. Cassidy cried out like an animal. Grunting, Swinehead pushed down and the blade dug deeper. Ribs snapped and tore free. Swinehead Pete pulled the machete loose with a splatter of gore and then slammed it down on the left side of Cassidy’s spine as well, repeating the process. Cassidy was still alive, moaning, but Swinehead Pete had to pull him upright by the hair.

“What is he doing to him?” Lauren gaped.

They watched by the light of Freya’s burning tent. Meanwhile, Adam used the distraction as an opportunity to escape. Holding a flashlight, dressed in boxers and a t-shirt, he scrambled out of the torn remains of their tent and ran like a rabbit into the woods. Tyler could hardly blame him. They were doing no more to help Cassidy than Adam had.

Swinehead Pete tossed his machete aside for a moment. Holding Cassidy upright with one hand, he reached inside one of the jagged gashes he’d made with his machete. Tyler covered his mouth as Lauren and Freya whimpered in fear and disgust. Swinehead Pete reached inside their friend’s back and firmly took hold of something inside, ignoring the blood and slippery gore. With monstrous strength, Swinehead yanked, and yanked, like someone starting a lawnmower. Then, in one explosive movement, he ripped his prize free. A flexing series of nodules almost as long as Swinehead’s arm, clotted with gore, tore from Cassidy’s back. Cassidy’s spinal column. Cassidy, released, folded and flopped to the ground. Pete held the spinal column aloft. He seemed to be looking at it triumphantly but his pig head was, naturally, expressionless.

“Oh, my God!” Lauren said.

Swinehead Pete’s head lowered and his socket eyes stared right toward them. Immediately he tossed Cassidy’s spine aside and went looking for his machete. Gore covered his hand.

“Fuck! Go, run! Run!” Tyler said.

The three of them sprinted back into the trees. They didn’t look back to see if the giant serial killer was following. Tyler crashed into a tree trunk. Branches scratched his face. Roots seemed to catch on his feet. There was enough moonlight to see by, but not well. Tyler used his flashlight sporadically, knowing Swinehead Pete would have an easy time tracking them if he saw the light. They reached what seemed like a small clearing, however, and Tyler swept the light around. They’d stumbled back onto the path, or a path, leading through the woods.

“This way,” Tyler said.

“Hang on a second.” Lauren struggled with her shoes, which she’d put on in the dark while back in their tent.

“My feet, I think they’re bleeding,” Freya said.

Freya was barefoot, and in pain after running through the woods. She hadn’t had a chance to grab anything from her tent while it was burning and only wore the leggings and top she’d been sleeping in. Tyler looked around, hesitant to stop for this long with Swinehead Pete or whoever he was after them. But if they didn’t do something then Freya would slow them down.

“Here, wait a second,” Tyler said.

Tyler ripped off his hoodie. With his folding knife, he hurriedly sliced off both of its sleeves and then handed it all to Freya.

“Hurry, tie the sleeves around your feet like socks,” Tyler said. “And you can put the hoodie on if you want.”

Freya did as Tyler suggested, as quickly as she could. She folded the sleeves over on themselves, tied them off, and put them over her feet. Not perfect, but they’d offer her feet some protection. She then pulled the armless hoodie over her head and looked at Tyler with a deep well of gratitude.

“Thanks, I really appreciate-,” Freya’s words were severed short as a machete missiled out of the darkness and punched her in the chest.

“Freya!” Lauren screamed.

Skewered through Tyler’s hoodie, Freya stumbled backward. Blood bubbled from between her lips as she stared at the other two. Tyler leapt back. From the woods, Swinehead Pete barrelled out of the dark. He seemed to need no light to navigate his way through the trees.

“Run!” Tyler yelled.

Abandoning Freya, Tyler and Lauren took off running down the dirt path. It made them easy to follow but they could run a lot faster than through the woods. Swinehead Pete ignored them. He went to where Freya had fallen and now struggled to get up despite the blade buried in her sternum. Sadistically, he took a hold of the hilt and slowly turned it.

Tyler and Lauren kept running for several minutes. Occasionally they stumbled off the side into the trees, or over ruts in the path. There was no sign of Swinehead Pete. There was also no sign of where they were. Lauren staggered to a stop.

“Wait, wait, where are we?” Lauren said. “We need to get back to the car! Which way is it? Do you even know what path we’re on?”

Tyler took in their surroundings but in the dark nothing looked familiar. He couldn’t remember what directions they’d taken since leaving the campsite. Nearby, he heard water, the lake. If they could figure out where the lake was that might at least give them a direction to head in.

“I’m not sure, I really don’t know,” Tyler said.

“We’re going to die out here!”

“We need to get off the path before he follows us.”

Their eyes had mostly adjusted to the moonlight. Tyler and Lauren made their way into the trees. Tyler watched to see if they were followed.

“Follow the sound of water,” Tyler said. “If we can find the lake, we could make our way back to the actual campgrounds.”

Threading through the trees, they tried to avoid getting their eyes poked by branches or their faces scratched. They moved vaguely in parallel to the path, heading back the way they’d come. Tyler was struck by how quiet it all was. Apart from the sound of water somewhere nearby, and the occasional breeze through the branches, Tyler couldn’t hear any owls hooting or creatures scurrying through the undergrowth. All around them, the woods were dead.

Suddenly, they spotted movement off through the trees. The beam of another flashlight rose and fell. Tyler and Lauren stopped and assessed.

“We should check it out,” Tyler said.

“What if it’s a trap?”

“Swinehead Pete didn’t have a flashlight before.”

“Doesn’t mean he couldn’t have gotten one!”

Tyler and Lauren continued slowly forward. The only one of their friends left was Adam, so far as they knew. He’d gotten away while Swinehead Pete killed Cassidy.

“Adam? Adam, is that you?” Tyler hissed.

“It is you guys! Holy shit!”

Adam stumbled out of the woods and grabbed Tyler, hugging him. His face was dirty and streaked with tears. His clothing looked dishevelled and dirty as well.

“Where’s Freya?” Adam asked.

“He got her, he fucking killed her,” Tyler said.

“Holy shit. I mean, you saw it, right? You saw the pig head and-, he was exactly like I said, right? You saw it?”

“I can’t believe you were telling the truth.”

“But I wasn’t! I wasn’t telling the truth, I made it all up!”

“What?” Lauren said.

“I mean, someone else must have heard the same legend and they decided to make Swinehead Pete real. Like some sick, twisted fantasy,” Tyler said.

“No, no, you’re not listening! I made him up, totally, completely, I imagined the whole thing!”

Tyler’s eyes narrowed. “So, who else did you tell?”

“No one! I thought of the idea a couple of days ago, Cassidy and I were buying snacks for the trip and we saw the mask. I remembered seeing the pig head thing in a movie once. I thought the name sounded, I don’t know, funny, and I’d heard of this real serial killer who had a pig farm and used to feed them bodies! But I made it up, some of it I was making up when I told you guys the story! And the only person I talked to about it was Cassidy, so he’d wear the mask and we could prank you guys!”

“So, it’s you! You’re doing this!” Lauren said.

“No, no! All we did was that stupid joke with the mask! That’s all we did, I wouldn’t do this!”

Tyler shushed Adam as his voice rose. From when they were standing, they had a view of a long, straight section of path. In the moonlight, distantly, Tyler saw something move. A big, round-shouldered shape wearing a bulky head. A machete dangled from their grip, dripping.

“It’s him! It’s him, we have to go,” Tyler hissed.

“No, I mean, you must have caused this to happen somehow,” Lauren said. “Adam, you imagined him. You told the story, and you somehow brought him to life! Maybe you have some kind of-, power, to do that, that you never realised before!”

“You really think so?” Adam said.

“This sounds crazy!” Tyler said.

“Any crazier than what’s out there?” Lauren gestured vaguely. “You must have done it somehow, but maybe you can stop him as well!”

“How?”

“Finish the story! Pick it up where you left it and make an ending where he dies or goes away!”

Adam looked from Lauren to Tyler. “Will that work?”

“I just-, it sounds insane to me but this whole situation is insane! You really didn’t tell anyone?”

“No, no one! I made it up!”

“Then, I guess, I mean it’s impossible that it’s some kind of coincidence.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll do it!”

Swinehead Pete moved closer, but he was taking his time. His rotting pig head fixed on their location as if he knew exactly where they were. Adam staggered through the bushes holding his flashlight. Switching it on, he pointed it straight at Swinehead Pete.

“Hey! Hey, is it true? Did you come from me? Did you come out of that story?” Adam shouted.

Grunting under his pig head, Swinehead Pete said nothing. Tyler and Lauren stopped at the edge of the path to watch. Adam held his free hand up like he was trying to calm a spooked horse.

“So, what did I say? Swinehead Pete was shot but they never found the body. And campers disappeared in the woods where his farm had been,” Adam said, voice quaking. “But one night, he killed some more campers, Ana, and Gordon, and Cassidy and Freya. But one of the bullets he’d been shot with had been sitting too close to his heart for years. Suddenly, it slipped and killed him! It killed him, right away, dead. Dead!”

Swinehead Pete approached within a few metres of Adam. The pig’s head on his shoulders tilted quizzically. In the light of the flashlight, Tyler could see its green-grey tinge. Its frozen veins and sagging flesh. Blood, old and fresh, covered the serial killer’s outfit. He didn’t stop, he didn’t die.

“I mean, Swinehead Pete realised he’d done enough killing! He stopped, and went away forever!” Adam’s voice grew increasingly desperate. “He went away to hibernate! He’d killed four, he could only kill four people every twenty years and then he had to go away!”

Adam backed up as he spoke but his legs shook. He’d forgotten he had the option to run. With shocking speed, Swinehead Pete lunged and closed the gap between them. Whether Adam was his creator or not, Swinehead rammed his machete blade into Adam’s stomach. Adam cried out and dropped his flashlight. Swinehead Pete lifted him off the ground, holding him aloft.

“No!” Lauren screamed!.

“Fuck this!” Tyler said.

Rather than run in the opposite direction, Tyler barrelled toward Swinehead Pete with his knife unfolded in his hand. Adam was his friend. Tyler wasn’t sure if that’s why he was trying to save him though, or if part of him believed Lauren’s crazy theory. Maybe Adam hadn’t done it right but they still needed him to save themselves. Tyler ran around Swinehead’s side and picked a spot unprotected by his homemade armour. There, he rammed his knife into the big man’s side. The stench up close to Swinehead was almost overwhelming. His rotting pig head let off an eye watering reek of spoiled meat. Tyler had no idea how the serial killer, if he was really anything like a normal man under there, could stand it.

Tyler’s knife sunk to the hilt. There seemed to be no blood and no real reaction. Swinehead swung around and hit Tyler with an upraised forearm. Blood poured out of Adam’s stomach as he cupped his hands around the machete, patterning down his legs.

“Help me! Help!” Adam yelped.

Swinehead Pete brought Adam down hard, hammering him onto his knees in the dirt. His midsection came free from the blade but was split open, intestines spilling onto Adam’s legs. Blood gushed into the dirt. Adam bent over himself, on the verge of passing out. Swinehead lifted his blade slowly and then smacked it down like a butcher’s knife, planting it right into the top of Adam’s head. Carving through his skull, into his brain, the machete sliced vertically down Adam’s forehead and between his eyes, ending up at the bridge of his nose.

Tyler recovered his footing, and stared in horror from behind Swinehead Pete’s back. Blood trickled down the centre of Adam’s face and over the tip of his nose. In the low light, Tyler saw Adam’s eyes roll and cross over, as if searching for the blade. Pete released the handle of his machete, leaving it quivering in Adam’s head, and reached for Adam’s face. The big man’s hands cupped Adam’s face to either side of the machete blade almost tenderly, and then he drove his thick thumbs into Adam’s eyes. Adam, somehow still alive, let out a barking sound. Swinehead Pete gouged both eye sockets, driving his thumbs deep, and gripped both sides of Adam’s skull. With monstrous, impossible strength, Swinehead Pete pulled the two halves of Adam’s head apart, ripping it open right down the middle below the machete blade. Brains and gore sprayed as Swinehead tore both halves of Adam’s head right off the neck.

“Oh, my God! What the fuck?” Lauren screamed.

Adam’s partially decapitated body toppled to the ground as Swinehead Pete tossed the chunks of skull and hair and flesh aside. He bent over, reaching for his machete. Tyler was almost too deep in shock to react. Acting on instinct, instead of running he lunged at the knife handle jutting out of Swinehead Pete’s side. Everything was lit by Adam’s dropped flashlight. Tyler ripped the knife free and plunged it back in several times. No blood spurted from the wounds. Swinehead grabbed his machete and straightened. Tyler went to stab Swinehead in the neck but he couldn’t find a gap at the edge of the rotting pig’s head that exposed any skin. He jammed his knife into the underside of the pig’s jaw instead, trying to drive the blade into Swinehead’s face. The smell choked him.

Swinehead Pete rounded on Tyler with his machete raised. Stumbling away with his knife, Tyler tripped and fell on his back. The jaw on the rotting pig’s head hung loosely after Tyler had hit it. Swinehead Pete bent toward Tyler and an off-white and wriggling mass vomited from the pig’s mouth. At first, Tyler thought the man inside the head had thrown up but it was maggots. Laid and hatched inside the rotting orifice, a squirming pile of maggots.

The mythical serial killer was so close, Tyler could see the glitter of eyes through the dark sockets in the pig’ head. He had his unfolded knife but could do nothing to protect himself. But as Swinehead Pete moved in for the kill, there was a meaty crunch. A few stray maggots tumbled out of the dead pig’s mouth, and Pete keeled forward. Behind him, Lauren stood holding a massive rock that she’d just used to knock him unconscious. Her arms shook, it must have taken a surge of adrenaline for her to pick up the rock and use it. As Swinehead Pete fell on his face, Lauren dropped the rock on his neck.

“Monster! You fucking monster!” Lauren said.

The back of the rotting pig’s head was mush. Lauren had hit him shockingly hard to get through the pig skull. She wasn’t done there though. Lauren bent down and scooped up Swinehead’s own machete. Screaming, she hammered it down onto the unconscious serial killer’s back. She avoided the body armour, swinging again and again, hacking him open. Gore splattered from the wounds but surprisingly little blood. After a minute, his spinal cord must have been severed.

Tyler jumped up and ran to Lauren, avoiding her wild swings. Wrapping his arms around her, he tried to get her to calm down and coaxed her to a stop. Lauren stopped, sobbing.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s over now,” Tyler said.

Lauren dropped the machete and took several warbling breaths. After a couple of minutes, she recovered enough for Tyler to let go. They looked back at Adam’s body, in ruins. Blood covered the ground around him. Nowhere near the same amount of blood surrounded Swinehead Pete.

“We should at least try to see who’s under this thing,” Tyler said.

Tyler folded his knife and put it back in his pocket. With Lauren holding their flashlight, Tyler struggled to heft Swinehead Pete onto his back. The stench didn’t get any better. Combined with the physical exertion, it was almost enough to make Tyler throw up. Trying to ignore the maggots, the rot, the slime, Tyler gripped Swinehead Pete’s disguise and tried to pull it off. It made a sucking sound and jostled, but failed to come loose. Tyler tried harder but the head remained stuck. It was as if it were glued on. Tyler couldn’t imagine how tightly stuck the serial killer’s head was inside, assuming there was a head. Assuming Swinehead Pete was something other than some kind of magical construct.

“Fuck, I can’t get it, it’s stuck on tight,” Tyler said.

Wiping the grease off his palms and onto his clothing, Tyler stepped away from the corpse. As he did so, he noticed Swinehead Pete’s arms. They had the same sallow shade as the pig head. The same black veins. He thought of the man’s lack of reaction to Tyler stabbing him in the side. The bloodless wounds.

“He’s dead, he was always dead,” Tyler said. “Like in Adam’s story, he was shot so many times he couldn’t survive but they never found a body. He’s some kind of zombie, as well as being, you know, fictional.”

Suddenly, Swinehead Pete sat up with one explosive movement. The pig head swivelled on his shoulders. Lauren let out a scream. Tyler tried to get away but one of the dead man’s hands snaked out and grabbed him by the ankle. Pete yanked his footing out from under him. Yelling and kicking, Tyler fought back but it was no use. The serial killer hauled him closer and came around with one big fist. Tyler’s head rebounded off the dirt and everything went black.

xXx

When Tyler came back around, he felt himself being dragged. His hands and feet were bound with strips of material, and something had a grip on his neck. Tyler’s first fully formed thought was for Lauren, and he started to thrash and cry out her name. He realised after only a couple of moments that Lauren was being dragged beside him, also bound and still unconscious. They were being pulled through a part of the woods that Tyler didn’t recognise. The stink told him that Swinehead Pete was the one who had hold of them without him even having to look.

“Where are you taking us? Where are we going?” Tyler said.

Swinehead Pete made no response except for his piglike grunting. He’d made no attempt to take the others anywhere, he’d just killed them. Based on Adam’s story though, of abuse and torture, Tyler couldn’t imagine anything good was at the end of their journey.

Swinehead Pete took them even deeper into the dead and silent woods. Black and lifeless trees were lit only by moonlight. Lauren didn’t come around until they reached a small clearing. Almost totally round, nothing seemed to grow in the clearing except a single tree. And even it looked dead, no leaves on its branches. Pete dumped Tyler and Lauren in front of the tree and then retreated around behind them, as if to guard them or to get to a safe distance.

“What, what is this?” Lauren said, still hazy.

Swinehead Pete did nothing. Tyler sensed he was looking at the tree instead, and Tyler looked to it as well. In the moonlight, its bark looked black and hard, almost petrified, and its branches were gnarled and twisty as they reached for the sky. But it wasn’t dead, Tyler could feel life coming off of it. Life, and evil. A malevolent kind of energy oozed out of it. Something ancient, and thirsty, terribly, terribly thirsty.

“It wasn’t Adam, it was this,” Tyler said. “This thing, this tree.”

“What?”

“Can’t you feel it? We both noticed something off about the woods this deep. This thing wants to water its roots in our blood so it used Adam’s story, and sent Swinehead Pete to fetch us.”

Something snaked through the dead earth, cracking the ground open. Roots, black and knotty, broke the surface. They reached for Tyler and Lauren blindly, searching.

“What is it?” Lauren said.

“I don’t know, something ancient, something evil. Something with some kind of, limited control over reality in the woods.”

Tyler’s hands were bound but he reached for his pocket. Inside, he felt the shape of his knife. He managed to take it out and unfolded it quickly so that the tree, and Swinehead Pete, failed to notice.

“Maybe it needs us, for blood, life, and maybe it needs stories or imagination to create, whatever he is.”

Tyler jerked his head toward Swinehead Pete. The hulking creation removed the machete from his belt. Crying out to be watered, the tree’s animated roots quivered. Swinehead was going to open their throats and let them drink.

“Tyler!” Lauren said.

Forced to awkwardly angle the knife around in his hands, Tyler had to saw through the bonds on his wrists. They snapped, and his hands came free. Tyler reached down and quickly sliced through the material around his ankles. Swinehead Pete was surprised as Tyler shot to his feet. Tyler lunged at the pig head, slicing through its cheek. Rot and maggots poured out of the cut. Tyler raised the knife and rammed it through one of the head’s hollow eye sockets, where human eyes glittered deep in the darkness. Zombie or not, artificial creation or not, Swinehead Pete screamed. More of a piglike shrieking really, as he dropped his machete and staggered back with hands going toward his eye.

Despite the lack of wind, the ancient tree’s petrified branches shook violently with rage. Tyler ignored them, and the squirming roots across the ground. He fell to Lauren’s side. With his knife sticking out of Swinehead’s eye, he attacked Lauren’s bonds with his bare hands. Ripping and stretching the ones around her ankles, he managed to tear them loose and pulled Lauren to her feet.

“Go, we have to go!” Tyler said.

“Go where? Tyler, oh my God!” Lauren said.

Swinehead Pete seemed to be recovering. They could avoid him though, he was big and lumbering. They could circle around him, sprint into the woods. The tree’s branches continued to shake. As Tyler and Lauren went to leave, however, shadowy, human-sized figures appeared between the trees. They were all around them, all around the clearing, visible only by moonlight. No matter which way Tyler looked he couldn’t see an escape.

“It’s all of them, the stories, it’s all of them.” Lauren said.

Urban legends, like Adam had claimed Swinehead Pete was even though he’d made him up. Campfire stories. Tyler saw a man in what looked like some kind of prison uniform, grinning like a maniac, with a hook for a hand. A Japanese woman with piercing eyes, a medical mask covering the lower half of her face. Another young woman crying tears of blood, holding a bloody knife. Several children with totally black eyes. A man in a filthy bunny suit holding an axe and a clown, face painted, garnish clothes dirty, holding a rusty chainsaw as it giggled. Campfire story characters, all of them.

“They’re not real, they’re not real,” Tyler said.

“Tyler, what do we do?”

“They’re not real! They can’t hurt us, just, just close your eyes.”

“Tyler!”

“Do it, close your eyes and repeat it, they’re not real! They can’t hurt us!”

Swinehead Pete lurched toward them, handle of Tyler’s knife sticking from his eye socket. The other urban legends closed in as well. Underfoot, the ancient tree’s roots squirmed. Tyler slammed his eyes closed and left himself open.

“They’re not real, they can’t hurt us! They’re not real, they can’t hurt us,” Tyler said.

Tyler repeated it like a mantra, his voice fraying. Lauren tried to follow suit but then started to scream. Tyler kept his eyes closed, even as her screams turned wet. Even as he felt hands, and hooks, and blades, starting to dig into his skin.

======

Sean: Personally, I love stories where things just happen for no reason. Shit happens, bad things to good people.

It’s a departure from the inspiration of Wereboar but Swinehead Pete is what came out of it. Didn’t know where I was going when I started out, just an excuse for a little bit of the ol’ ultraviolence. Was pretty sure it was going to be tied to the area rather than anything else but I was halfway through the writing of it before I came up with the inclusion of the other urban legends.

Keep your eyes on the website for more in this series, I fully intend to release one every week across 2022 – totally free. And for more updates you can find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Next Week’s Inspiration: Swarm of Spiders

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