The Legend of the Pigdog
Riding Mountain National Park isn’t the sort of place people think of, when they first think of a national park. No, that’s usually reserved for Yellowstone, or the Grand Canyon. Yosemite. Even Banff. People went there all the time! You had to be a local to go to Riding Mountain. No tourist would go out of their way for it, when they could go to the bigger, cooler parks.
Except for Aya. Her mind spends most of its time in Riding Mountain, even though, according to her family, it has much better places it could be.
Aya used to really like camping.
When Aya was visiting her auntie for the summer in Manitoba, she begged to be allowed to attend the YMCA camp because on the last day of the week, the kids got to go campout in Riding Mountain. Her auntie signed her up, having put the idea in Aya’s head in the first place.
Aya hadn’t liked the other kids much, but who really liked random kids at camp? She just wanted to go to the campout.
So she toughed it out. She did all the camp games, ran around under the rainbow parachute, scooted around in the gymnasium on the weird wheeled squares, and played dodgeball until she finally accepted she was a very easy target.
And then it all paid off. It was Thursday. The day had come.
Aya and all the other kids had piled onto the bus. She had a lunch packed by her auntie with her favourite sandwich, jam and Kraft cheese slices, and she sang with the other kids as the bus drove to Riding Mountain. Each nonsensical verse (‘TARZAN! Was swinging on a rubber band! Smashed into a frying pan!’ and ‘Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peanut just now. Just now I found a peanut!’) brought her closer.
Then the singing had stopped! And a camp counselor stood at the front of the bus looking very serious. His name was Rick.
“Kids,” Rick said, “it’s important you follow what we say at the camp site no matter what, for your own safety.”
Well duh, thought Aya, the counselors know what to do about ticks and snakes.
“Because otherwise the Pigdog will get you,” Rick continued.
Another counselor stood up, Jodie, steadying herself against a seat as the bus drove on to their destination.
“The Pigdog’s taken a lot of campers before,” Jodie said. “And we don’t want to lose any more! So no matter what, stay with the group and don’t go anywhere near the bushes! Especially if they’re shaking!”
The entire bus went silent and stared at the counselors, who looked at the kids with deadly serious faces.
Rick went on to describe the Pigdog. Enormous. Tusks and fangs. Bristled fur covered in scars from people who tried to take it down, and failed.
By the time the bus parked and all the kids disembarked into their groups, Aya was terrified out of her mind. She clung to her sleeping bag, eyes wide.
There were new songs to sing as they made their way to the campground, but Aya’s heart wasn’t in it. Every leaf looked sinister. Every breeze, the sign the Pigdog was coming for her and her alone.
Her group was at the north section of the campsite, close to a wall of trees and bush.
“This is great!” Jodie enthused, “we’re the closest to the bathrooms. You guys remember your flashlights when you go and don’t be afraid of the spiders, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”
Aya stared straight ahead. She wasn’t going anywhere if there was a Pigdog roaming. She was going to wait out the night. It was survival.
Just then, the bushes by their tent rippled and burst into leafy noise.
“The Pigdog!” shrieked Jodie.
All the children screamed, Aya loudest of all.
“And it has its young with it!” yelled Jodie.
Aya screamed again, hysterically. The next thing she knew, Jodie was holding her by the shoulders, shaking her very gently.
“Aya? Kid, calm down. It’s gone now,” Jodie was saying. Jodie suddenly didn’t seem so old to Aya. At the edge of Aya’s panicked mind, she realized Jodie didn’t even look much older than fourteen.
Aya screamed a little more. Just to be sure.
“Okay I think you need to go sit to the side…” said Jodie. She led Jodie to where Rick, who was in charge, had been drawing on a piece of paper.
On the paper was the Pigdog, with the word ‘WARNING’ in huge text above.
It had to be the Pigdog. It looked just like Rick’s description of it. It looked like it could eat Aya up in one bite!
“Rick, can you watch Aya while I set my campers up?” asked Jodie. “She’s a little nervous about the Pigdog right now.”
“Yeah, sure,” said Rick. He flipped the drawing over. “Come on, you can help me count the hot dogs for tonight, Aya. And you don’t have to be afraid. As long as you stay with the group and don’t go wandering, the Pigdog will leave you alone. I swear.”
Aya said nothing. So Rick kept talking.
“You should focus on the fun stuff we’re going to do today! First there’s the free swim in the lake, and then we’re going on a big hike! And then supper with s’mores! Think about that. It’ll be great.”
Aya said nothing. Rick looked at her, guilt on his face, and said nothing more.
She did not enjoy the free swim. She sat on the edge of the lake, feet buried in the sand, saying nothing.
And she certainly wasn’t enjoying the hike. Not when Rick suddenly went running off ahead and there was the blood curdling scream.
“The Pigdog’s got Rick!” yelled Jodie. The other counselors started urging the campers into a run. The kids charged after the counselors, some grabbing sticks, others rocks. Jodie yelled at them to put those down.
“We need to get to him to save him!” said one counselor. A child sobbed.
Aya saw white and bolted in the opposite direction, into the trees. She couldn’t even understand the counselors yelling at her to come back, she just ran as fast as she could, far into the forest into places only her little body could fit.
When she collapsed from exhaustion, she had no idea where she was. She couldn’t hear the counselors anymore. She couldn’t hear anything but the birds and rustling of leaves. She lay on her back, staring up at the trees and noticing the light between the branches wasn’t so bright. Night was coming.
The Pigdog was coming. This was it. This was the end for Aya. It got Rick and now that she was separated from the group too, it was going to get her.
She curled into a tight ball and started sobbing.
“Hey,” said a gentle voice. “Don’t be afraid, it’s okay.”
Aya sniffed and looked up. There was a woman with a YMCA baseball cap sitting beside her, but she wasn’t one of the counselors from Aya’s trip.
“You’re lost, right?” said the woman again, voice just as gentle.
Aya nodded and sniffed. “Are they looking for me?”
“Of course they are,” said the woman. “I know where they are, can I take you to them?”
Aya nodded and started sitting up. “Are they looking for Rick too?”
“Rick’s looking for you,” said the woman. There was a touch of irritation in her voice this time. “I knew his love of that stupid story was going to end badly one day.”
“Huh?” said Aya. She wiped her eyes. The woman helped her up.
“The ‘Pigdog’ legend. We’ve used it for years – it’s supposed to keep kids from wandering. But he just kept escalating it more and more, and getting the new kids in on it…”
The woman took Aya’s hand and started walking with her. Even though it was getting darker by the moment, Aya could make out the woman as easily as the woman seemed to see the darkening forest.
“Legend?” said Aya. She held the woman’s hand tighter.
“Legend. There’s no such thing. You were never in any danger,” said the woman, voice gentle again. “He was going to reappear with a shirt he cut up and a story about escaping it. It’s an act he’s been doing for years. Goodness, he must be forty now… I remember when he was just a snotty teen.”
Aya knew she was bad at judging ages, but this woman did not look older than Rick. She looked a lot younger.
“I’m going to take you right to the campsite. Are you walking okay?”
“I’m tired,” said Aya. Her legs felt weak and wobbly from her panicked run. She hadn’t had supper. She felt awful.
The woman leaned down and offered Aya a piggyback. “My ankles are a lot stronger now,” she said. “It’s safe.”
Aya climbed on. The woman continued walking towards, presumably, the campsite. She told Aya other stories, about the real history of the park–which had a distinct lack of Pigdogs–about the best way to cook a marshmallow for a s’more, and how when Rick was a new counselor a fish brushed against his leg in Clear Lake and he’d screamed like a child. Aya went from fearful to giggly, and by the time they arrived at the edge of the campsite she wasn’t a creature of pure misery anymore.
The woman let her down and placed her hat on Aya’s head. “Don’t run off again, okay? Not until you know the lay of the land better.”
“Kay,” said Aya, holding onto the hat. She looked at the campsite where Jodie was sitting among the kids looking utterly miserable. Aya turned back to the woman. “What’s your name–“
But the woman was gone.
Aya shrugged and went running to Jodie who grabbed her into a tight hug. “You’re okay!” The kids, forgetting about being aloof to Aya, all crowded around her to make sure she really was okay.
When Rick, in a cut up shirt, arrived with the other counselors, there were lots of apologies (and admonitions) for Aya. We’re sorry we scared you. Never run into the woods.
Rick apologized the most, sitting beside her as he made sure she had a proper meal.
“Did you really scream like a little kid when a fish touched you?” asked Aya between bites of her sandwich.
Rick went very still.
“Who told you that?”
“Lady who gave me my new hat,” said Aya, blissful with her second (her auntie was the best!) jam and Kraft cheese sandwich. “She even gave me a piggyback ride.”
Rick stared into the fire for a long time, before finally saying: “I’m glad Lois got over her weak ankles since that fall she took.”
“She fell?” asked Aya.
“Twenty years ago,” said Rick. “She twisted both ankles and fell twenty years ago.”
Aya spends a lot of time thinking about Riding Mountain National Park. She doesn’t like camping anymore.
She loves it, and she’s going back again soon.