The Bad Boar of Darling Place

Field and Stream
April, 1957

“It is not inappropriate that this beautiful little valley is called Harijon, or ‘Darling Place.’ In all Iran there is perhaps no other village so plentifully supplied with clear water that flows down from the snowfields above. In no other place do the almond trees bloom quite so beautifully in the spring. Even in winter the Persian sun melts off the snow in the protected basin where Darling Place lies. The village is in the very midst of the Elburz Mountains of Northern Iran, yet its fields stay green when the ridges round about are frozen and lifeless.

The steep cliffs around Harijon are the habitat of redsheep and ibex, royal game in the old days. Down below the hidden valley the first forests of the Caspian slope begin. These walnut woods extend clear to the Caspian Sea. Here the old shahs built a lodge and hunted the Caspian tiger, now scarce, and the Persian lion, now extinct. The Persian leopard is still common on the Caspian cliffs, though seldom seen. It is a pale version of the Asiatic leopard. Each year the cats take a toll of lambs and goats from the flock of the villagers, but they strike no fear among the men. Nor do the huge light-colored Persian wolves, which become bolder in the winter and enter the little stone corrals within the village to cut out lambs. For as log as the old men of Harijon can remember, there have been leopards and bears and wolves and sheep killing. Then, two years ago, there came another kind of death, and it came to full-grown men.

Old Solduc was the first. That was two years ago, in the middle of winter. Solduc had seen sixty winters, was a village elder, and in his younger days had been a hunter of note. He had once killed a wolf with his bare hands.

The old man had stepped out of his house in the village to walk a few yards down the narrow street to the little room that served as a gathering place for the men of Harijon. In the morning, his mangled body was found in the trampled snow almost in front of his own door. In that same snow were the deep hoofmarks of an enormous boar.

The men of Harijon were appalled as they gathered around the bloody remnants of what had once been Solduc the elder. Only one leg, a shoulder and an arm and the detached head were left on the dark-stained snow. Solduc’s bloody turban was unrolled to one side. His shepherd’s cloak, too, and his unsheathed knife lay on the bloody snow. But it was not these things that appalled the old men of Harijon. It was the boar tracks in the snow.

The men of Harijon are good Moslems, and Moslems abominate pigs. Not only does the Mohammedan religion forbid the eating of pork, but it considers the very touch of a pig as tainting. For this reason, no Moslem would think of keeping swine in captivity or of hunting a wild one in the mountains.”

“To be eaten by a boar! There could be no worse end for a Moslem. The elders of Harijon gathered up the pathetic remnants of Solduc and consecrated them as best they could. But they doubted that a really satisfactory burial could be made, because they knew that there is no salvation for anybody eaten on by a pig.

A month after Solduc had been laid to rest, the boar came again. This time it was in the darkness of an early spring evening. A woman, the wife of Djirdon, went to the spring that spouts out of the ground in the middle of the village. A dark shadow rushed at her, she said afterward. The shadow lashed at her with a long, narrow head. Sharp teeth knocked her feet from beneath her and opened up a gash on her leg as wide as her hand. Her water jar flew against the stones and was shattered. She screamed. The shadow stood over her with slathering jowls as people rushed from nearby houses. Only when men brought burning torches and yelled did the boar go away. The animal stalked down the narrow street with his hackles erect and in no great hurry.

All the rest of that spring and into early summer the people saw the tracks of the boar almost every morning. On several occasions they saw the animal himself. He was an old one, gray-headed and with short yellow tusks that stuck out on both sides of his ugly snout. Every evening the boar came down into the village. He rooted up such plants and bulbs as he could find in the gardens below the houses. He stalked the streets while people cowered behind the barred doors of their houses. When summer came, no one would go out into the streets after dark.”

“With the next winter’s snows the big boar struck again. This time it was Jarid, the hunter, as he came back from shooting ibex in the cliffs behind the village. Jarid had a muzzle-loading shotgun that was the only firearm in Harijon.”

“Jarid had come into the village just after dark with the gun over his shoulder. He met the boar head on in the narrow street. The animal charged before Jarid realized he was in danger. With one hook of its long snout it slashed Jarid’s legs and knocked him down. Before Jarid could pick up his gun or draw his knife the boar turned upon him and slashed again… .The animal trampled the prostrate man with sharp hoofs, slashing from side to side with the long snout and the broken tusks that cut like knives.”

“Sarkis Ramsar and I were staying in the royal hunting lodge below the village. Three men from Harijon came to visit us….Sarkis had a reputation all over the Caspian country as a killer of boars. He is Armenian and Christian, and thus not loath to hunt boar or to eat them, either. When Sarkis is not guiding a royal hunting party or driving his high-wheeled truck along the Chalus road as a bus, he is hunting pigs.

Sarkis listened intently as the three men from Harijon squatted on the porch of the lodge and talked in their own tongue. After a long time he turned to me and spoke in German. ‘They want us to come up their village and kill a bad boar that stays there. They have heard you are a great hunter.’

‘Sounds more like your department, Sarkis,’ I answered. ‘I can get boar in the States, but these Persian ibex—’ I couldn’t see why we should climb into some mountain village to shoot a pig. I was after ibex and not doing too well either.

‘They will pay twenty sheep,’ Sarkis said.

Twenty sheep! Here was something strange. Twenty sheep was a fortune in that country. Why so many? It was then that I heard the story of Harijon. Even in the garbled German in which Sarkis and I communicated, the bloody end of Jarid the hunter sounded terrible. It had happened only the day before.

‘Most of the people have left Harijon,’ the old men said sadly. ‘The boar has killed all the sheep dogs. Only four families remain and Harijon is accursed.’

‘We’ll go,’ I said.”

“There was a dark movement between the snowbanks and the boar appeared. His head was yellow rather than black, and his nose looked a yard long against the white snow. I could see only one shaggy ear. The teeth which hung from beneath the lips were the ones that had killed two grown men.

Sarkis clutched his old Mauser at the other side of the rock pile. My .270 was fitted with a telescopic sight. I had it leveled and ready. When the boar’s shoulder appeared from behind the snow—but the boar had stopped. The ugly snout moved from side to side and wrinkled back. The animal evidently had smelled something. He was suspicious. Without warning he whirled and ran. If we stood up, we could still get him as he went back through the gap in the snowbanks. But the boar, warned perhaps by some instinct, did not go back through the gap but plunged straight into the impossible snowbank that led to the cornice beyond. He was out of sight in an instant. We could see only a flurry of powdered snow rising in the still air as the animal churned through the drift. His short legs must have been completely off the ground.”

“When we reported our failure to the old men of the village, they nodded their heads without any show of surprise. ‘He is a djinn, that one,’ said one elder. ‘An evil soul in the shape of a pig. You will not kill him except with magic.

If we didn’t need magic, we at least needed a new idea. Our mistake had been in getting so close to the boar. There had been no wind, but he had apparently smelled us.”

“Wise he may have been, but the murderous boar was not one to vary his habits in any great degree. Since he had not fed in the valley on the previous night, perhaps he was hungry. The sun had not yet set over the mountains when one of the old men rushed into the house where Sarkis and I sat drinking tea. ‘Look!’ he said tersely, pulling me by the arm to the window. Out of the little square frame I could see the expanse of the snowy ridge to the north. In the distance on the snow was a black spot that moved.

‘He’s coming!’ I said to Sarkis. ‘And we don’t even have a plan.”

“Several hundreds down the valley a low knoll provided a little concealment. We crawled behind it, approaching the feeding boar in a wide circle. But we were still a good five hundred yards from the animal. It certainly was not a sure shot.”

“As I raised my head to look through the grass stems I could see the boar was suspicious. He raised his long snout into the air and swept it back and forth as he smelled. He held still for seconds at a time, apparently listening. He lowered his snout to root again, then stopped in midmotion. He must be a djinn, I thought. What was making him suspicious?

The range was still too great, but it was now or never. I raised my elbows and steadied the rifle. The boar remained motionless but poised to run. I took careful aim. Through the telescopic sight I saw the animal lunge into motion. I pressed the trigger just too late. There was a whump of the bullet hitting solid flesh. Lucky shot. I had hit him after all.”

“I bolted one more shell into the rifle and dropped on one knee. I swung the crosshairs just ahead of the long snout. As the boar gathered his one hind leg beneath him for another lunge I pressed the trigger. Again I heard the thump of the bullet striking flesh. The great body whirled around as though swung on a pivot.

The bad boar of Harijon, for all his skulking and killing at night, was no coward. When the chips were down, he faced the danger and fought as long as he could. With one hind leg broken, his front limb on the opposite side also dangling and useless, he turned and charged at me down the slope. The snow half supported his body as he came. The furrow behind was colored red with his blood, and still he came. I ran closer to get in another shot. After each lunge the boar dell and gasped for a few seconds. Then came on again. He opened his ugly mouth for the last time to show the yellow tucks that had killed so much. I knelt again, and shot him through the chest as he lunged at me. The boar of Harijon would never kill again.”

“Sariks and I did not accept the payment of twenty sheep. I asked to Sarkis to explain to the elders that the excitement of meeting a djinn was enough in itself. I saved the head of the man-killing boar. It is not pretty, but it will always bring back to me the picture of a beautiful little Persian village and the bad boar that used to live there.”