“Turn left right here?!?!?”
     Harold slammed both of his feet on the brakes, screeching to a halt beside a long row of mailboxes by the side of the road. Looking back into the tainted rear-view mirror, he noticed that the ‘57’s skid marks were intersected by a speed bump planted across the designated 65m.p.h. highway. Back a little further was a bent up stop sign that had a few rusted-out bullet perforations peppered into it. Harold grimaced, then clutched the sputtering fume-spewing engine into reverse, ranting nonsensically, “Turn left…right HERE?!? Oh well…no matter which way is right, the wrong way is the only one that’s left. Right?!?” He thought for a couple of seconds about the time schedule, “Hell…I figured on a couple of stops along the way, anyway. I can skip the next rest stop, if need be. If I need to spring the wizard-lizard from its’ home, I can safely maneuver the spit’tunia out the window while driving down the road. Easy as eatin’ crabapple-navy bean pie!” Harold paused for a moment to comment, “Just hope I don’t hit a chug hole…” He backed the car about thirty yards to the entrance of the dirt and gravel driveway, turned and headed through the rickety gate and over the cattle guard. The first thing that he noticed was that the dusty, rutted road was lined with palm trees. In the pastures, surrounding a couple of small ponds, were what seemed to be a few olive, fig and dogwood trees. He also noticed that this dusty, rutted road was lined with vehicles…at least 300 of them. The third thing that he noticed in such a short time was the so-called mansion in the distance. For some reason, it seemed out of place, although he soon realized that it was no more out of place than the rows of palm trees. Rather than squeeze in among all the other automobiles that were lined up bumper-to-bumper on both sides to the end of the drive, he decided to back up over the cattle guard and park the car by the side of the road. He got out, stretched again and proceeded to walk to the attraction.
     Harold wondered if the mansion that he was casually approaching and the palm trees he walked beneath were paid for with the profits gleaned from exploiting Igmo the Wonder Pig. He recalled a story from his mom’s tabloid about people making pilgrimages to a remote double-wide trailer home where the Saviors’ face had miraculously appeared in a bathroom window pane over a broken toilet. The owners of this bathroom had become very wealthy from ‘miracle offerings’. There was another related story about some old bucolic lady selling small aged pieces of handkerchief on which an angel’s face had appeared each time she blew her nose. She called each one of these little scraps of wonderment ‘The Shroud of Mildred’. Ad nauseum…
     As he strolled past Dodge Swingers, AMC Pacers, Mercury Comets, Chevy Vegas, Pontiac Sportwagons and Ford Pintos, Harold tried to see what felt like a small-town carnival atmosphere was playing out in front of him, but palm trees and dirty automobiles were all that was visible. He removed his shoes and scaled a 1978 Plymouth Sapporo, and from its roof was afforded a splendid view of a meadow spread out to his right, which was filled with people, tents, barbeque pits, ice chests, snow cone kiosks, sleeping bags, trash barrels, corn dog vendors, portable outhouses and a medium-sized pond of water. A planked walkway ran from the pond back to a fenced-in shed tucked behind the mansion. Harold started to look back at the meadow again, but suddenly froze. Slow and deliberate, his gaze returned to the mansion; which, from his vantage point, was obviously a mobile home built behind a mansion façade made of eloquently painted plywood. Harold almost couldn’t contain himself, but stifled his laughter because he wanted to get a better ‘backstage’ look at all of this without being noticed.
     He was about to climb down from the pearly blue car when a movement at the far end of the walkway caught his attention. Emerging from the shed was an enormous pig followed by a regular-sized guy. Harold couldn’t make out much from this distance, except that the pig was wearing a hat that looked very much like Sam Spade’s fedora which Bogart wore in the movie “The Maltese Falcon”. The farmer wearing the denim leisure suit put on a silly-looking tin crown on top of his scalp. “Hmmm…” Harold mused to himself, “The King of Igmoland, I presume. If the Wizard of Oz appears next…(laughing quietly)…I think I’m gonna shit!” A reverent hush fell over the crowd as they realized Igmo’s emergence. Those flanking the wooden walk seemed to fall back a bit when pig and owner passed them by; then they closed back in, as all crowds do, when the pair continued on their way. The swarm of people compressed silently inward as Igmo and his guide reached the murky pond. The tin-topped farmer cautiously settled Igmo, then walked around to the opposite side of the tank, looked at his Rolex watch and slowly pulled an ear of corn out of his shoulder satchel. Harold didn’t have any corn, but he also looked at his Timex, which told him that it was now 7:09 a.m.
     When it became 7:10 a.m., the man in the leisure suit removed his crown and spoke, “Friends, roamin’s and countryfolk…lend me your ears…of corn!” The man smiled, then continued, as the crowd responded with a few mixed chuckles and clapping of hands (plus one little creepy kid that decided to blow up his paper popcorn bag and slap it against his sister’s back, which emitted a muted gunshot sound), “your faith has touched me, and I am certain that it touches Him.” Harold wondered to whom ‘Him’ referred. From what he had experienced of the world (and a couple of circus acts), ‘Him’ could mean any heavenly creator or God, the imaginary boss of these proceedings or even Igmo himself. The man kept on talking, but never mentioned ‘Him’ again.
     “You are about to witness a wonderful miracle, ladies and gentlemen. This blessed specimen of a swine has performed this act every single morning at sunrise since the beginning, and that’s over 250 times, folks! I have been here, without fail, by his side for each and every one of them!” The mass of onlookers applauded in appreciation. The farmer made a grand gesture to the awestruck crowd, “And you, plus countless other thousands, have traveled many…I say…MANY miles to be in his hallowed presence. Your prayers have uplifted us, and your thoughtful gifts have enriched us, also…a lot!” The crowds’ din amplified a few decibels, which included a scattering of applause. The man became silent for a moment, then raised his arms toward the sky and spoke in a surprisingly loud bellow, “BEHOLD, IGMO…WALK on this WATER, and DRINK!!!”
     The multitude gasped, because nature chose that exact moment to send its bright rays through a break in the clouds and down into the little meadow, and in that magic instance, Harold saw without a doubt the square edges of a large sheet of clear plexiglass just under the water’s surface, lit by the sun’s lovely pink and golden light. Because of his angle of sight, he was fairly certain that no one in the meadow would notice it. Harold had to bite his tongue to keep from howling.
     The strain in the crowd was increasing. The farmer could feel it, and he ate it up. Things were going extremely well this morning. His timing was perfect. He held his arms up just a few moments longer, then slowly lowered them, thrusting the ear of corn out towards Igmo, who stared at the farmer rather blandly from the opposite bank. The multitude was just about at its breaking point with tension, reverence and silence. The man winked at Igmo, put the tin crown back on, threw back his head and hollered, “SOOOOOOOOOOOOU-EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE PIG PIG PIG PIG PIG…PIE-YIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGGIE…HERE, IGMO; here, boy.”
     Harold couldn’t stand it anymore and let out a spastic, spontaneous yelp of laughter. Some foreigner sitting on his car hood about sixty feet in front of him, casually turned around to look at Harold and rebuked, “Hey there, lad…pipe down a bit! Show d’ bacon bard some respect!” Harold muffled his chuckles with his hand, then tearfully continued to watch the entertainment.
     Igmo took a tentative step onto the ‘water’, and stopped with three of its trotters still on the bank. The farmer then waggled the ear of corn back at him, and he took another step. Harold wondered how long it had been since poor Igmo had last been fed. There was more waggling and more stepping and some scattered applause with each movement from the relief-stricken crowd. Finally, Igmo was squarely out in the middle of the pond, apparently standing upon the surface of the water. Suddenly, a ghetto-blaster billowed some imitation environmental sounds of rain, lightning and thunder erupting from the amplified speakers surrounding the mansion. Babies began to cry, heat-exhausted patrons raided the snow cone kiosks, astonished pilgrims gasped and winos started drinking three-week fermented Boones Farm Select. At the seventh crack of thunder, a sprinkler system detonated, soaking the crowd of onlookers, the farmer and his indifferent hog.
     Harold had later figured that this was the point where the old farmer should have ‘taken the money and run’, but the morning was going just too beautifully. The man looked Igmo in the eye and proclaimed to the crowd, “Behold, Igmo…DRINK!!!”
     Igmo stood.
     The man stared.
     Igmo stood.
     The man rubbed his chin, then stared back at the pig again.
     The throng of humanity suddenly became very silent, casually opening a few umbrellas.
     The farmer remained cool to the core. He squatted down and hissed at the hog, gesturing at the water, then at Igmo’s snout and back down at the tank water. Igmo patiently ignored him. With a quiet sigh, the man took careful aim and tossed the ear of corn into the water just past the edge of the plexiglass. This is what Igmo had been waiting for. The animal took a couple of steps to the edge of the invisible platform and dipped his snout into the water where he had last seen the ear of corn before it sank. The crowd began to breathe again amid hushed whispers of “He drinks! He drinks!”
     The members of this mass were murmuring excitedly among themselves and the farmer was beaming back at them as they passed their hats around for the collection; so Harold was probably the only person to see the large hog take one more step in an effort to get to the corn and topple unceremoniously into the murky water.
     Harold lost it, cackling uncontrollably. He rolled from the car and landed on the ground still guffawing. Momentarily, he realized that he was the only person in the area that was making any noise, so he sucked his lips tightly into his mouth and lay quivering on the dirt. In an agonizing eternity of a few seconds, he was able to get up and slink away behind the vehicles toward the ‘mansion’.
     The foreigner turned around to get Harold’s attention, “Did you see that, twit?” When he noticed that nobody was occupying the hood of the Sapporo, he shrugged, “Bloody hell, it’s going to pot now!”
     Meanwhile, the crowd soon became a mob.
     As he reached the end of the line of automobiles and sat down behind a bush to catch his breath, people began to pour up from the meadow and stalk to their cars. Most of them were so distraught and angry that they literally threw their uncomprehending children into the back seats, gunned their engines, and commenced to honk their horns like some psychotic orchestra tuning up before a ‘Rollicking Stones’ concert. They all tried to back up, turn around, peel out and exit all at the same time on the little narrow gravel driveway, thus forming a Gordian knot of caravans, campers, station wagons, minivans and rear-axle drives that made rush hour in Los Angeles look like a parade on a holiday at the Bonneville Salt Flats. It was a thing to behold. Harold collapsed onto the ground into fresh hysteria.
     By the time he was able to quit laughing, his cheeks hurt and his sides ached. He stood up behind the bush, wiped the tears from his eyes on his shirt sleeve and dashed the few remaining yards to the corner of the mansion façade. Certain that the traffic jam would keep everyone occupied for a good while, he strolled off around the back of the triple-wide trailer toward Igmo’s shed.
     On the far end of the mobile home was an open screen door out of which wafted the sounds of an old, scratchy Lawrence Welk vinyl record mixed with the polyphony of somebody blowing their nose. Attracted by the music in a mollified Frankenstein sense, Harold crept up to the door and peeked inside. It was a small, faintly lit living room that appeared to have been converted into a strange combination of shrine and dime regalia. Cheap velvet paintings hung on the imitation wooden-paneled walls, a crate of Graceland brochures had overturned and spilled out onto the linoleum floor and hundreds of Velcro teddy bears, pink flamingos and rag-stuffed hogs clung to each other on every shelf, ledge and window sill in the room. In a cheetah-spotted Laz-E-Boy recliner near the center of the floor sat a dumpy old woman humming along with Mr. Welk’s band, surrounded by piles of threadbare sheets and bottles of tomato ketchup and pepper shakers. Thoroughly baffled, Harold let his eyes wander until they lit upon a glass sales counter by the door. What he found there made his brain cry ‘uncle’ and beg for mercy. On the countertop was a small display case filled with tiny plastic snap-lid boxes and a hand-painted sign, which read:
Souvenir Fragments of ‘The SHROUD of MILDRED’
Song: Ch.9-1