Cattle Crazing

Here’s a little flash fiction for you, inspired by a typo Redjack Ryan made in chat. Don’t ask me where this came from, because I have NO idea. Sometimes my brain farts out the weirdest stuff.

“Dad!” Terri said, and I slammed on the brakes. “What are those cows doing?”

The afternoon sunlight slanted into the car, and I slipped my sunglasses up on my head and squinted, following her pointing finger.

It was only a herd of cattle in a field, a serenely blue pond some distance behind them. But something very wrong had caught my daughter’s attention. Instead of standing or lying peaceably in the bright green grass, they ran back and forth behind the fence, shaking their heads and bawling so loud I could hear them over the car’s air conditioner.

“I don’t know, but—hey!” I reached out to stop her but she was out of the car and to the fence. Animal lover, couldn’t stand to watch anything in pain. At twelve, she already knew she wanted to be a vet when she grew up. She had more pets than I was comfortable with, but Anne encouraged her. She always let the kids pursue their interests, saying it wasn’t good to stifle them.

The cows kept jerking back and forth. They had begun to shiver. It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen. The calves followed their mothers, blatting pitifully. Their knobby legs shook. I was scared they’d all bust through the fence and run Terri down. I got out and went to her side.

“Honey, come on. It’s dangerous to stand here when they’re acting like that,” I said. I tugged at her elbow, but she clung to the fence, fingers laced between the barbed wire.

“Dad, maybe we ought to tell someone.” Big blue eyes, flooded with concerned tears, softened my heart. I patted her shoulder.

“We’ll drive up the road and see if the owner’s home,” I told her. Reluctantly she started back to the car. I looked for just a few seconds more. The cows had stopped leaping and now stood frozen, still shivering.

I became aware of a high-pitched hum, like power lines. It grew more intense, and I wondered if that wasn’t the cause of the cows’ behavior. The hum deepened and my teeth clenched as it threatened to shake my skull apart.

Terri cried out. Her hands were clamped over her ears and she fell to her knees. Before I could get to her, a huge shadow fell over us. The air temperature dropped like before a storm; must have been ten or fifteen degrees in just a few seconds. I looked up and nearly peed myself.

An enormous…thing filled the sky. It stretched as far as I could see, in all directions, shifting blackly over my head. White lights stuttered, blinking, all over it. A patch of night had come alive. It spread out like a hovering oil slick.

A bone-chilling silence descended. Even the locusts stopped buzzing. That scared me more than the patch. When the bugs stop talking, there’s something going down.

The lights brightened, and beams shot out of them, straight down. Each one hit an animal, and they vanished, inexplicably. One minute there, the next gone. Just the calves.

“Terri!” I yelled. “Get in the car! NOW!”

The mother cows bawled louder. I thought, If a cow could scream…

“Daddy, it hurrrts!” she shrieked, and rolled over on her side, still clutching her ears. I ran toward her but before I got two steps, a beam flashed in front of me, blinding me. I covered my eyes, rubbed them and gradually the blue-white cleared. Blinking, I looked at the spot where my daughter lay.

She was gone. Hollow terror drained every ounce of strength from me. My guts were water and my throat exploded at the sky.

“TERRI! OH GOD, GIVE HER BACK!”

The starlit patch shimmied, a ripple passing through it, and then it contracted swiftly, becoming impossibly small in an instant. I could only watch as it hurtled upward. My legs gave way and I fell bawling on the shadow-cooled ground. The sunlight hit my eyes like a blow. All the cows ran, following it, and stood, confused, at the other end of the pasture.

I sat for several hours, crying and muddy, but neither she nor the calves came back. The farmer called the sheriff. I think they’ll drag the pond even though I told them they’d never find her. They don’t believe me. How could they not believe me?

Just the calves.

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