Written by Trey Briggs || Art by Kokab Zohoori-Dossa
I could save these people. I could surely save their children, save their grandparents. I could cure them of their Horn Rot or at least slow it like I did for my daughter, Junnie. I could reduce the amount of infected in this country to less than ten.
In fact, I’m the only one that actually understands the fight against Horn Rot. When I was young, it wasn’t as rampant as it is now. It wasn’t as vicious. I remember kids getting made fun of after they had ‘the surgery’, the one where they removed the infected horns. We threw rocks at them. What’s a Horned Person with no horns? I remember when that was all it looked like.
My mother was an early victim of the more advanced form of the disease. This was not Wooding or Translucent Horn or even Soft Horn. It wasn’t something that was passed down from generation to generation. This was much scarier.
This was a cough and then slow death. A walk through the wrong field or park or class and then slow death. This came out of nowhere and ripped through people, people like my mother, too slowly to recognize as an epidemic.
By the time I was 20 and a practicing researcher, my entire family was dead.
Unfortunately for me, there would be plenty of other people to fail to save. Plenty of people I loved.
Now we have horns coming out of hips. Horns so sharp and thin they could skewer you. Horns growing out of mouths are the worst kind. You’ll never get used to listening to someone slowly choke to death.
And I could probably save myself. I think about it every time I look into my well-lit vanity and realize that I don’t remember my husband’s name. I can’t remember my mother’s face. I can’t tell you where I bought my jacket. I’ve joined the long list of people who need to be saved.
When my husband contracted Horn Rot, all I wanted was to burn this country. To kick in doors and pull children screaming into the steaming night, to slaughter them and their ungrateful parents. I’d wake them, pouring gasoline over their beds and bodies. I’d make sure they stared at me while they burned, screaming through pain and evaporating skin.
Maybe it’s the madness, but I think about this little scene every day now. Burned flesh sticking to me as I flame throw every person I’ve ever met who wasn’t my husband, my children, or my initial family. I think about them all burning and sometimes I can’t help but smile.
There are times when I’m giving someone a warm greeting, letting my smile sink into them and creep into their veins, and all the warmth from that greeting is steeped in thoughts of their death. This is an issue, actually. I can’t get these vicious thoughts out of my head. I can’t get them out of my smile, my words, my ambitions.
I’m so sick of these people that I’m tasked to save.
When my husband contracted Horn Rot, I wanted my Prime Boar to stay and protect me like he’d always done. Oh, I can protect myself. But why waste those massive bodies and toned muscles and violent aggression? They were bred to protect. I like being soft. I like being wonderful to take in, being a bright start to any Horned day. I like women envying my horns, wishing they were as prominent and slim, wishing they were me. There’s no shame in admitting that, at least not for me.
I adore a good BASKING.
But I wanted that Prime Boar to stay my massive and unruly husband. The longer his madness ate at his brain, the more that unruliness was turned on me and no one else. Not his children. Not his friends or enemies. Me.
Oh, he’d had the most magnificent and thick horns. Thick. Sharp where they needed to be. MASSIVE. I gripped them many a night when we made love. When we were in public, he’d dig his face into my neck and I’d playfully tap his horns to get him to behave, get a jolt from how solid they were.
You just don’t SEE Prime Boars like that anymore.
The Rot was slowly eating through his right horn, barreling toward his head. Everyone wanted him to cut his horns, to spare his brain. I told him not to. He backhanded me into a wall for that, the first time he’d ever hit me, and well. I never told him what to do again.
He cut those horns and the entire society shunned him. They shunned him for the splotches left behind, the little mounds of hairless skin on his scalp. They shunned him for his weaker appearance. They shunned him for being sick.
How can you be a Prime Boar with no horns? How can you inspire fear in hearts when you’re just a body? I watched my husband turn to punching walls and tossing me around. But I didn’t let the original Boar go so easily. I learned to live in my head a lot. To create fantasies when they suited me. I worked tirelessly to save him, putting all my years of study behind it. I watched him die while trying to maintain the image of him in my head, while managing to convince the children that he was still the man he’d always been. No one saw a bruise. No one heard a yell.
And I forgave him for the things he did when he was melting away into the disease. I burned his body and forgave him.
Everyone else? Well. I don’t quite have it in me to forgive the cretins.
When I met my husband he’d impressed me just by being a Prime Boar. There are only so many of those around. Something about an unearthly, ungodly amount of aggression is revered in my people. They love a good bone crusher. A good brute.
My husband…I can’t remember his name. But I remember seeing him for the first time and having to catch my breath. He followed me for years before I actually spoke to him. Boars are always like that. Can’t take any form of disinterest.
But I said yes after he tore some teary-eyed fool into pieces for trying to hold my hand without permission. I said yes after he picked me up and walked me over maybe four hundred puddles. Opened around a thousand doors. Carried so many pounds of groceries into my home. Ripped the doors off the car of a Small Horn I was dating who thought he could stand me up when we should’ve been at the bar, drinking. I spent that night with my Prime Boar, ignoring him but allowing him to walk next to me. He must have thought I was insane, the ways I made him work. I only said yes after he’d pulled out the intestines of a politician who believed we should defund Horn Rot research. That it was a lost cause.
My Prime Boar, he was not a smiler. He was nothing like the children he produced. When we walked into a room there was always respect and admiration for me and a fear you could taste for him. He slaughtered at my command.
And he died shriveled up, those big, thick horns just patches of missing hair. He died a pathetic fool. I was happy to burn him, to get rid of the evidence.
I didn’t speak about it much. These people, my people, they want you to talk about the hurt they embed in you.
They want to revel in it.
There are a lot of things I’m proud of. Marrying a Prime Boar and producing a Prime Boar, those are up there at the top. My diction. My daughter’s survival. When the chimes came in to cut her horns, get her rotten horn removed, I ignored them. I hid her. I experimented on her. I did whatever I could to stop the growth and, well. Here she is. Bad eye, misshapen head, horns so big they rip through feet on upper floors, but HERE. And every time someone shuns her in any way I send my living Prime Boar to do what my husband would’ve done.
I’m so proud of my children. I know they’ll live well when I’m gone.
I know things that I’ll never share with the rest of this rancid world. I understand how Horn Rot works better than anyone on the planet. I’ve been staring at its victims since my mother died. I’ve been watching it grow like my own child.
My, has it changed.
I could save these people. I surely could. And I could probably save myself. I think about it every time I look into my well lit vanity and realize that I don’t remember my husband’s name. I can’t remember my mother’s face. I can’t tell you where I bought my jacket.
But I’ll do anything but save these mongrels.