Written by Trey Briggs || Art by Kokab Zohoori-Dossa
Lyria is losing herself. Stupid as I am, I see it.
I want to keep her steady, keep her here, but I can’t do shit against the Rot. So I try not to pay attention to it when she lashes out, or shakes, or whatever else. I’m supposed to be the crazy motherfucker around here, but I’m the only one who notices.
She’s sick. If I could kill her sickness, I’d do it. I owe it to Lukas, to the best Prime Boar there ever fucking was, to the man who gave me the metal ball that still sits at the end of my braid. To the only man I ever respected, who made me bleed but gave me focus.
The focus is gone. Can’t keep my head in one place anymore, not with all the growth, but Lukas used to tell me things would be okay as long as I was growing.
“Kill your father when you start getting too big,” he used to laugh. It’s an urban legend around here. Prime Boars get bigger than their fathers, and they don’t stop growing until the patriarch dies. Until they take over the family line.
I killed my father, that old bastard, a long time ago. Bashed his entire fucking head in with Lukas’ metal ball, and I’m still growing. But Lukas’ son stopped growing the minute Lukas died, just stayed small.
Stupid as I am, I get that some things only apply to certain people.
My wife, Yoan, walks back into the house after her radio interview. She’s a mouthpiece for our ‘royal family’, the Tivahs, and is proud of it. I don’t care. Women do what they want, and it’s best to leave them to it. It keeps her happy. And her and Lyria have had this stupid rivalry for years, that’s gonna happen no matter what I say.
It’s the antlers. All the women hate Lyria because of her horns, and you can’t say shit once the women start chirping about something. Yoan goes to the debates, she gets Lyria riled up, Lyria gets quiet, and Yoan comes home and lets me fuck her to sleep.
This time she isn’t as smug. Her face isn’t turned up enough. You can always tell when something bothers her.
“So unlike her…” she mutters, digging around in the fridge. Her clothes always fit her too good, and you just want to rip them off. I try not to touch her on my way to the sink, wanting to shove her against something and grip her horns. She hates it if I fuck up her clothes before she’s in for the night. Everything has to be pristine and proper and boring.
“You’re still here,” she whines, raising an eyebrow at me. “Your daughter is waiting for you at that school. I thought we discussed this.”
“You should go. She wanted you to go.” I adjust myself in my shirt. Another growth spurt. More fucking clothes.
“No,” she whispers. “I… don’t want to show my face there. The nerve of them, putting her in that invalid school. As if she fits in with those…” She shakes her hair out, turning back to the fridge. I try not to hear anything in her voice, but every now and then, she lets some emotion show. I ignore it.
“Fine,” I grunt, and I head out. I don’t have time to argue. Yoan always wins. You can say what you want about her, all the proper shit, all the Tivah ass-kissing, but she always wins.
I walk down the street, barely looking at the way women drop when they see me. They turn, sweat, gulp. It happens everywhere. They like everything I do, even the things that Yoan hates. Short sentences, fragments, grunting. I do it in public, and panties are ruined.
All the way to the school, I have to listen to women stopping short and breathing deep. Men trying not to breathe or get my attention at all.
Most Prime Boars stay single. Too many women will throw themselves at you, or trick you, or whatever else they need to do to align themselves with power. They get away with it. You know, you can’t do shit about it. They get on your nerves, and you hit them? It’s over. We’re violent people, angry people, but we don’t deal with that shit.
The older Boars will tear you to shreds on the street for even tapping a woman, big or small. You’d better not let anyone see a bruise on your wife. So a lot of Prime Boars just stay single. We have too much testosterone, and the women are mouthy, and it’s just a bad mixture.
They want Prime Boars, though, and the women get what they want here.
I open the door to my daughter’s school and have to turn sideways to fit in. Hate it. Yoan should do this. But she doesn’t want to, and I don’t make her do things. She earned my help.
When I was young, I wasn’t as good at turning people away. I hadn’t killed my kids yet or ripped off that little kid’s head at the park, so they weren’t afraid of me. Yoan walked by me in school one day, didn’t even look at me, and rolled her eyes when I tried to talk to her. She spat in front of me when I followed her. Acted like I was see-through, ignored me, just made me feel like shit.
You know how it is. You want the one that doesn’t want you.
I stalked Yoan for six years before she would even look at me. Kept trying to catch her alone in places, or find her when she was vulnerable. Lukas made me stop. We were out of school before she nodded when I said hi. We were both in our twenties when her stepfather hit me with his car, and we found out just how bad she might have had it at home.
Lukas beat the man to death for me with the metal ball he used to carry. Caved his skull in. I don’t know how Yoan feels about it, but I wear it in my hair to remember Lukas, to honor him. The blood of plenty of fathers and brothers is soaked into this ball. Lukas was a beast, after all. He was my best friend…
Sorry. I know I said he was my best friend already. I miss him. I forget.
Yoan showed up to my house naked one day, completely naked, and that was that. I had no say in it. When she wanted me, she showed up. Yoan always wins, like I said. Her big, ugly horns were front and center, and she stalked over to me like a fucking gazelle, and she had me.
“If you’re mine, tell me now. I have a bigger Boar I’m interested in. I need to get to work if I want his attention.“
“Don’t go anywhere,” I barely said, and I haven’t stopped staring at her since. We had so many kids that I lost count. I killed most of them, but I am what I am. Maybe it hurts her. I don’t know. She laughs and drinks a beer and stares at herself in the mirror, and you can’t tell how she feels about things.
She doesn’t talk about the kids or the metal ball. We don’t talk about a lot of things. It just doesn’t suit our relationship.
I wish we talked a little more, maybe. We don’t talk about what happened to Lukas enough. He deserves more words that I don’t have. Wish someone smarter would say them.
“Mr. Kendal! Hi,” the front office girl breathes, so red she blends in with her hair. I nod and keep going. They know why I’m here. I try to stay focused, but I can’t. Can’t get out of my head when I walk by the lockers, the sounds in the hall. Things are changing, and I can’t stop thinking about what it means.
Lukas was my best friend. Like I said.
We were fighting and ripping into each other since before either of us even knew about Yoan or Lyria. The man was consistent and brutal. Not a good man, but good to me. Kind of my hero. Kind of my parental figure, sometimes, especially when my dad was out. I don’t know my mom.
Lukas didn’t let me worry about my family, or money, or anything. He wasn’t even that much older than me, but he just decided I was his kid brother or something. Bought me food. Taught me things. Showed me how to beat people to death and stay energized—told me how to pick who I killed and who I left alive.
He was the biggest Prime Boar anyone had ever seen. Grew like a mushroom. You’d say bye to him, go home, and have to look up three extra inches to say hi the next day. He just grew wider, taller, bigger. He was solid.
But that sickness got him somehow. Not much anyone could do.
A woman walks by, and I stare at her horns bursting from her skull. They wrap around her stomach, too tight for her to breathe much longer. The horns jut out of her legs, out of her face, everywhere. At first I’m surprised, then I fix my face. It’s a school for sick kids that nobody else wants to teach, you know.
I nod to her. She blushes and keeps going, scared, but I bet she has more heart than every healthy person in this country.
Yoan underestimates the sickness, and I’ll never understand it. I get how bad it is, stupid as I am. It looked like a little crack in Lukas’ horn, and then he got smaller and smaller, then he lost his horns, and then he was insane, and then he was gone.
Saw a few bruises on Lyria. They looked like the metal ball. Bet there was worse in places I couldn’t see. She wouldn’t talk about it just like Yoan doesn’t talk about things. I didn’t even have to ask her to keep them hidden. She just did it. Solid. Lyria’s solid.
The Rot can take down buildings. It’s the only thing I’m afraid of, maybe. Can’t beat Horn Rot to death. Can’t win.
You gotta give Lyria a lot of things. Haven’t seen her even look at another man since Lukas passed on. Acts like everybody other than her kids and employees are air.
Listening to the debates is painful. Six different weeks, six different Lyrias. She’s losing herself, and nobody else seems to notice. There’s more anger than sense in her now. Lyria was always the smart, patient one. She made you want to kill her, she was so nonchalant. Even grief didn’t bring anger out of her like she had at that station. How can you get that angry at a woman like Yoan? We all know what Yoan is and how to deal with it. It never bothered her before.
I remember the moment Lukas changed, and I hear that change in her words. I won’t say anything, but I hear it.
She has the Rot. Has it bad.
Stupid as I am, I see it.
I find my daughter’s class, and I stop to try to think a second. She asked me not to do something. Can’t remember what it was.
Don’t love many people, but anyone I do love gets the Rot, except Yoan. My daughter Lewish getting it hit me hard. She was more of a Prime Boar than any of my sons, except she was stuck being a woman. It hit me hard, and I can’t get rid of it. Yoan tells me not to kill her, but I wouldn’t anyway.
It was her eighth school in five years. Worst school in the country. They can’t get teachers to stay, not with so many Rots around. I think I understand. If I could’ve kept Lewish from getting it by hiding her away from everyone, I would have. Would have put her in a box and kept her in the garage. I would have saved her.
But if Lewish can’t beat it, it’s just not beatable. She’s damn near as strong as Lukas, only in a different way.
She saved her own life when she was five. I’d crushed her brother’s skull, sending his limp body down the steps. They both had the Rot. I didn’t want it in my house. She looked ridiculous with her horn cut off. It’s what they do to stop it from reaching your brain.
Her Horn Rot wasn’t as bad then, and she turned to me with her freshly cut horn, the bald spot ugly and prominent.
“You make your mother sad. Don’t need a dying rat in my house,” I growled. And she laughed.
“This is my house! I inherit it! If you think you can take me, show your horns!” And she rammed into me so hard that we both fell down the steps. My arm got stuck in the railing, and they had to cut it from the wall to get me out. She watched the entire time, arms crossed, a triumphant look on her face.
Tried to kill her again when she was ten, and she hit me with a steel bat. Broke my jaw. She’s been my favorite part of the world since. When she was five, when she was ten, when she was fifteen, she squared up with me anytime I challenged her.
At 18, she has hip horns so sharp that Yoan has to get her clothes custom-made with thick leather patches. They’re all growing inward, all pointing at vital areas. They jut out from her hips and curve back toward her, both discolored, but if she feels any pain, she doesn’t show it. You can watch her for hours. She never winces, or doubles over, or even acts like she’s aware of the jagged things.
Should’ve been a boy. Could’ve been a Prime Boar.
I tap on the door and motion to her. She’s the only one in there, sitting in a chair far from the desks, looking miserable at the dry erase board. Can’t fit her in front of a desk with the horns, so they shove her in the corner. Real schools think about that. Her face falls when she sees me, but she gets up and walks over, stopping further from me than she needs to.
“Mom should’ve come,” she spits, frustrated.
“She doesn’t want to look at your ugly ass horns. Disgusted by you.”
“Tell her to grow a fucking spine.” She rolls her tongue around in her mouth, my anger thick in her DNA, and touches her bald spot. There was never hair there, just a pretty horn. Maybe she would’ve been a Prima like Yoan wanted if she wasn’t sick.
I wish Yoan had been as strong as Lyria when we found the crack in Lewish’s horn. Lyria refused every doctor that said she had to cut her daughter Junnie’s horns. She refused every colleague, every officer. She refused the damn Tivahs. I tried to visit to make sure my best friend’s family was okay, not to kill the kid like the Tivahs wanted. Wouldn’t do that. She pulled a hand cannon on me.
“The bullets explode, Aba. Let’s see what you can do to her in pieces.”
Junnie was isolated until Lyria successfully cleaned her horn, and then the Rot just didn’t show back up. But no one would call it a cure, not even Lyria. The horns are too big, too high in the air. Junnie has maybe two more inches of horn growth before her neck snaps, and any Reintroduction will do the trick. Those massive things put my horns to shame, and I have the best out of all the Prime Boars. Took her eye, too.
Yoan had Lewish’s horn cut the second we found out. She cried and whined the entire time, babbling like a dying animal. It’s the only bad memory I have of her. She should’ve fought.
“Where’s the teacher I’m supposed to talk to?” Lewish gives me a raised eyebrow. The class is empty. I stay at the door, wanting to burst through the wall. Can’t fit my horns there either. Most schools make accommodations for wide horns. This one didn’t bother.
“You? I don’t want you talking to anybody. I’m trying to get extra credits, Dad. I want her charmed, not gored. Go home and eat a deer or something.” I laugh, patting the door. It cracks.
“No, no. I can charm. Your mother won’t do it. I have to.”
She scoffs. “I’ll ask Lyria. Tell your wife I’m going to have Lyria come up here and represent me, her daughter. I’m going to enter my name into the sponsorship program for sick horns so everyone sees it if she doesn’t get off her pretty ass and come help.”
“That’ll work,” I laugh. A few students walk by the door, hurrying when they see me. Lewish looks like she wants to say something, but doesn’t. The women never do.
“Thanks for showing up, killer. I’d hug you, but I probably wouldn’t survive it.” We both laugh, and I walk back to the front of the building.
I love that kid. That just means she’ll die, but I can’t help it. It’s how it is.
Lukas’ son stands in front of me for a moment, then starts walking around the big gym. He grunts, shaking his bloody hand.
“Punch through the steel. Take your time.”
I do the same thing every week. Lukas used to train with me, even when he was sick, so I kept it up. His son, Old Bro, came to see me at the community center to practice once after Lukas was losing his mind. We keep up the tradition even if the Tivahs ask me to do something else, or Yoan wants something. We practice.
Practice killing. Practice eating. Practice being a Prime Boar.
Old Bro stalks around the gym, blood running down his shirt, and tries not to look at me. He’s everyone’s favorite. Mine, too. In his twenties, always calm, still a beast somehow. The kid can kill without thinking about it, nonchalant like his mother. Lukas would’ve wanted him to put a little more effort into growing, but the kid can’t change the growth spurts. They just hadn’t hit him yet.
I point at the steel sheets spread around the floor. Lots of blood today. Old Bro’s hands are too small. I want to get him some scars, give him some broken bones, but Lyria wants me to be careful. I pick up a steel slab and motion for him to start.
He does, cursing, bleeding more. His fist hits the slab and crunches, but he keeps going. We do that back and forth for a while, silent.
“What if the Tivahs are hiding something,” he finally says. First thing he says in almost two hours, and it’s about the damn Tivahs.
“Fuck the Tivahs. That’s Yoan’s thing. Do what they say, move on.” I move closer to the birdcages and switch sides with him. We keep live food around just in case. Prime Boars get hungry. We’re always hungry.
“What if, though? Something big? Something most of us can’t come back from? Would you want people to know?” I try to ignore him and punch through the next steel sheet. Who cares about the Tivahs? Why was everyone so obsessed with them?
“You know anything about what happened to their daughter? Or the Wood Horn she was with,” he mumbles, swapping places with me again. I finally stop and stare at him.
The Tivahs give out orders a lot. It’s better to do what they ask, sure, but there was a bad time once. It was when Lukas was the Prime Boar, and I was just training to be his helper. Lukas didn’t want to do it, but they had a mission for him. First time he talked about something they wanted to me, and I didn’t get it. Didn’t get the problem.
“It’s a moral thing. Guess I forgot to teach you about that,” he laughed.
Lyria didn’t want him to do it, either. And then things happened, and I don’t talk about those things. Lukas got the Rot soon after that. Maybe a coincidence, maybe not.
I shake my head, trying not to get angry.
“Why do you give a shit about that,” I growl. Old Bro stops, eyes going wide.
“I don’t. Just something my mom talks about.”
“Don’t get involved in Prima squabbles. Leave the women to it.” Old Bro rips the steel sheet in half absently. I feel my stomach rumble and grab one of the birds, biting into the torso. Old Bro does the same, still staring at me, letting the blood spill to the floor.
He wasn’t supposed to be a Prime Boar, not an officially registered one. Usually, only one per generation. But I wasn’t supposed to be it, either, so I moved a few bones. I made sure my best friend’s son was recognized as what he was even if they had to allow two Primes at once for the first time in history.
“What would you do if the Tivah’s weren’t clean,” Old Bro says, words wet with blood. “What would Yoan do?” I grab another bird and bite its head off.
“Not sure. Never heard that one.”
“You guys are pretty dedicated to them, huh?”
“I’m not dedicated to anything. I’ll do what Yoan wants. Kill anyone who irritates her.”
“Oh yeah? Guess I’d better worry about my mom.” I finally spit the bird at him, grab him by the shirt, and slam him into the wall. He grips my hands lazily but doesn’t try to move me. We stay like that for a moment, him pulled up off the ground, me gritting words through my teeth. The ball on my hair swings, wrapped around my horn, and he eyes it.
“This is woman shit. Lyria was Lukas’ wife. Nothing happens to any of you. I won’t let it. You better not let it.” The lava rising in my stomach makes speaking hard. Old Bro gives me a slow nod, then squints at me, some type of glare rising over the calm. I set him down, and he walks off toward the door like nothing happened.
“Yeah. Don’t worry, Aba. I won’t.”
I wait until late to leave the gym, eating all the birds. Then I go to visit my best friend. Got him on my mind lately.
Lyria sits at the grave for hours sometimes, even when she should be working. I stop way back and watch her until she stumbles away from the tree, almost falling. She pulls her cloak into her hands and sucks in a deep breath, shaking. Anger. She is so angry I can damn near see smoke.
She shakes for a long time, standing there holding herself. Then she kisses the tree, a small peck, and walks away like nothing happened. No one to witness her. No one to see the spiral.
I want to run to her, grab her, ask her to tell me for sure. Want to stop her.
But I sit down in front of Lukas’ tree, clasping my hands in front of me. I feel big. Feel small at the same time. The sky feels like it’s smashing down on me, and I nod to the tree. It’s massive, growing more and more every day. The base is thicker than my entire body, and you can see the top from two blocks down. Even as a tree, Lukas grows and grows.
I try not to cry this time. It’s hard. You can’t fight Horn Rot, and I couldn’t save Lukas. Couldn’t save Lewish. Couldn’t save anyone. I tilt my head up and nod to the leaves, ignoring the mucus in my throat.
“Won’t be alone much longer. Lyria’s coming to be with you soon, Luke. Can’t save her.”
Lyria is dying. She has it. She really has it.
Stupid as I am, I know that.