was a blur in the darkened, rain-shot haze of my headlights
. I remember peering from side to side through the windshield
, my neck tight with tension
and my eyes squinting
from exhaustion. The wipers
continued their eternal lambada
- thumpWHAP, thumpWHAP, thumpWHAP-
and I was too damn far from home.
Intermittently there were things visible on the roadside, things that would seem perfectly normal in the day but were looming demons of threat in the rainy night. Fences, mailboxes, a backhoe, parked cars in driveways. All soared up out of the gloom and appeared to be destined for my right fender sure as Death, before they were whisked off to the side.
I had eaten in White River Junction. A bag of McDonald's hamburgers lay on the passenger seat, and there were only one or two survivors of a troop of ten. I have decided that if I don't eat the fries, I can have as many burgers as I want. The Diet Coke monsterbucket just emphasizes the inanity.
thumpWHAP. Cursing, I slewed the car left as an unexpected curve grew sharper than first thought. There was a brief screeching of tires, which quickly gave way to the ssshushhhshhh of sliding radials. The view out the front swiveled crazily for a moment until I wrestled the back end under control, and the yellow line was back off my left fender where it belonged. During the maneuver, however, I ended up with McDonald's hamburger wrappers and discarded pickles (I hate pickles) all over my lap as they eagerly followed their velocity vector while the car turned around them. Swearing, I rolled down the window and began throwing handfuls of trash out, hoping that the lack of interference with my eyesight would improve my chances.
thumpWHAP. As I threw out the last handful of trash, I realized with a shock of annoyance that the last burger was in there; I felt the weight of it fly out the window and disappear over the edge of the dropoff. I knew that dropoff; there was a grazing field at the bottom of it. I slowed the car so as to avoid the risk of nosing over it. As I did so, I looked down over the curve, and saw what appeared to be a black and white sea. This startled me enough that I almost did take a header over the curve, but I recovered as I realized it was just a herd of Holsteins, laying calmly in the mud and contemplating the rain as they chewed cud. I stopped the car so as to regain my nerves, and just watched them out there, peaceful, quiet, wet.
thumpwap,thumpwap,thumpwap. On a lower setting, the wipers weren't so intrusive. I looked back and forth, and saw back along the bottom of the dropoff a small scattering of white that must have been my burger wrappers. A cow was ambling back towards it slowly, and I watched, curious what would happen when the cow reached the burger that was mixed in there.
The cow reached the site, and nosed about the paper. I was shivering as the water soaked my head and chest through the open window, but uncaring of that. The cow was still sniffing- until he (she?) stopped suddenly and went stock-still. I squinted through the water, trying to see what she (he?) was doing.
She (he?) was looking at me. Directly at me, having turned from the burger wrappers to stare at the nigh-invisible human fifty yards away and up the incline. I couldn't be sure in the rushing patter of the rain, but I could swear I heard a low, steady mooooooooooooo.
Then all of a sudden that black and white sea shuddered and shifted, as around three hundred Holstein faces lifted from the pile and all turned.
To look at me.
The blood ran to ice in my veins. I rolled up the window and started the car, unsure as to why I was nervous. They were cows, for God's sake. I eat them. They're dumb. They don't have thumbs. They can't even climb that incline. They're too stupid to know what a burger is, for Christ's- I began to swear, monotonously and in a low voice, as the car moved away. I didn't dare look back.
thumpWHAP. The curves were no better after the break, sliding back and forth in front of me in an attempt to marry my car to a tree stump or a culvert. I danced around them all, and kept moving through the wall of water. An image kept bothering me, but I didn't know what it was. I kept worrying at it like a sliver of meat stuck in my teeth, hoping it would surface enough to identify, but no luck. I kept driving.
I was turning into the driveway when it happened. A large tree fell, its roots' hold on the soil weakened by the enormous puddle of water in which it lay, and smashed down into the driveway just ahead of the car. I stomped the brakes and avoided hitting it, thankful that nothing had been hurt; the tree was an old one in any case.
I grabbed my bags and prepared for the run to the house, now a mere fifty feet or so. Slamming the door, I heard a last thumpWHAP as I reached in the windows to snag the keys and hit the auto window raise before withdrawing my hand. Turning, I began to run, and the sound was small and unexpected.
moo? I froze. Another one, from a different place. moo.
- Did we get him?
I swear, I heard the voices. Casting about me frantically, I just caught a glimpse of a large black-and-white shape moving away from the fallen tree into the rain. Unsure of what to do, I grabbed my things and raced inside.
The next morning was grey and overcast, but not rainy. I arose to cook myself a breakfast of bacon and eggs and coffee, and retreated to the front porch to watch the foliage. The air was wet but clean. I heard a rustling, and the skunk who had lived under the porch for years ambled out from under it to hunt up breakfast of her own. She stopped to look me over once, then nodded as I raised my cup and continued on out onto the lawn. I smiled, and watched her make her slow dumpy way towards the bushes the lined the driveway, and froze.
There was a cow in the front field, just past the driveway, watching me.
The fright caused me to spill the coffee. I looked at it. It wasn't even chewing. It was just standing there looking at me. I shouted at it once, twice; it ignored my feeble attempts at intimidation and continued to affix its dewy square-irised orbs on me. Feeling panic begin, I dashed back into the house and shut the door before retreating to the living room on the other side.
There were Holsteins looking in each of the six windows. I screamed at the sight and ran for the second floor. Cows can't climb stairs. They can't. I remembered that. I burrowed into the closet in the upstairs bedroom, whimpering and wishing for a shotgun that I didn't have. The image that I'd been teasing forth burst, suddenly, fullblown into my head. It was night. I was watching the cows look at me. They were all looking at me. All of them.
Except one, over on the end.
That one had a cell phone.
Damn them. No cow is innocent.
I'm going to die here. I know.
Editor's note: This story was found in the ashes of a burnt cabin. It had been preserved by being stuffed into a soaked breadbin. No remains were found at the house, strangely, and the owner (a flatlander from Connecticut) has not yet been located, although a badly burned and unidentified car was found at the end of the driveway, blocked by a fallen, burnt tree. The only out of place item seen was a small pile of fast food wrappers near the gatepost of the front lawn.