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Contest Four Matthew Strebe's Entry

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Holy Cow
 
By Matthew Strebe 2003


He was pulled from the womb of his mother in the same manner that his kind had always been-- by a human.  He lay on the new hay breathing, covered with blood, and shivering in the cool air.  They washed him with warm water, and in a few hours when he could stand and walk comfortably, he was returned to the stable with his mother. 

He grew up a little, and began to be troubled by the meaning of life, which is unusual for a cow.

"Mother, why are we here?"

"Ummm?"  She nibbled at the straw on the floor, because the trough was dry.

"What are we here for?"

"Too eat, of course.  And sleep.  And to stay warm."

"Oh." This answer seemed a little simplistic.

"Is this the whole world?"

"Well, no.  There is the outside, where the air is cold, and many frightening things live.  It is better here."

"When will I get to go outside?"

"Soon, when they clean the stable."

"Who are they?"

"The people.  They feed us, and they clean the stable."

"Oh.  Why do they do that?"

"Because it's their job.  That's what they do."

"Oh.  Who feeds them?"

"I don't think they eat.  They just come in from outside and feed us and clean the stables.  That's all they do."

"Oh."  It occurred to the young bull that his mother did not know. 

He made it his purpose to find out what these people do.  So when the cleaning time came, and everyone was let out of the stable, he slowly made his way through the herd to the edges.  The smell of the clean wet grass almost made him crazy with euphoria, but he contained himself, unlike the rest of the herd, and started to wander off.

He quickly made his way down the pasture, where a small hill obscured him from the rest of the herd, and the people.  Here, safely hidden, he gorged himself on the grass.

"Hey!  Hey!  What are you doing, cow?"

The young bull looked up from the grass at the frog.  "What?   What are you?"

"I'm a frog, of course!  And you are a cow!  I am a frog; you are a cow.  I'm a frog.  A fffrrrrog."

With that, the frog turned and hopped off, belching "Frrrrog."  Every time he stopped.  The young Bull watched him, slightly sad at the loss of his first non-cow friend.  He looked up at the ridge, ensuring that no one had noticed that he was gone, and then went back to the grass.

As the bright thing above went down, it became very cold.  His mother was not there to stand next to, and the grass was damp and cold, not like the comfortable hay in the stable.  He slept standing next to a large tree, and shivered all night.

In the morning, he woke up stiff and cold.  He blinked and shook the dew off his head, and started trotting around to warm up.  He stopped suddenly because he saw movement.

"Hello?  What are you?"  he asked the small brown thing.

"Why, I'm a rabbit, of course.  Glad to meet you!"  The small thing twitched its nose rapidly.

"Oh.  Do you live here?"

"Yes, I live here with my parents and my brothers and sisters and cousins.  Where do you live?"

"In the stables up the hill.  Where the people are."  He blinked, watching the rabbit.

"The people!  Don't stay there!  They will eat you!  They eat cows and rabbits!  Run away!  Run away!"  with that, the rabbit started to hop off.

"Wait, rabbit!  Wait!"  The young bull trotted after the rabbit.

The rabbit's words troubled him.  People eating cows and rabbits?  How could that be?  How would a cow, much less a rabbit, fit in the mouth of a human anyway?  Besides, his mother had told him that humans don't eat.  He trotted along, thinking of these things.

"Twerasd faghawecher!"  The young bull looked towards the sounds, and saw two large monsters running towards him very fast.  Shocked by what he saw, he turned and bolted down the hill, running as fast as he could to get away.  It wasn't long before the monsters were upon him, and one of them grabbed his neck with its long course finger.  He stumbled and fell.  Both monsters stopped, and the bull realized that they were actually humans on strong cow-like creatures.  That made him a little more comfortable, but he was still frightened by them.  And his ribs hurt from the fall.

The humans led him back to the barn on the strong creatures, who said nothing despite the young bulls attempts to engage them in conversation.

"Where have you been?" asked his mother sternly.

"Outside. I got lost."

"Well, that's what you get for wandering off. I thought you'd disappeared like the others."

"What do you mean?"

"About what?"

"About disappearing like the others? Who has disappeared?"

"Well, no one that you know. But you know, sometimes others just leave, and they don't come back. They're gone. They don't come back." With that, she went back to munching grass.

"But, where do they go?" asked the young cow.

"Nobody knows. They just leave."

"Will you leave?"

"Eventually. Everyone leaves some time. Mothers are always the last to leave though. Young bulls leave first." His mother looked at him strangely, as though she were trying to connect to separate thoughts, but one thought was square and the other was circular.

"But, I'm a young bull."

"Yes, I suppose you are. That's why I thought you might have left."

"But I don't want to leave."

"Nobody wants to leave. It just happens. It's how life works. One day, you just leave."

These things troubled the young bull greatly. He thought deeply, but could come to no conclusion. So he began to munch on a bale of hay. As he munched, he thought. And noticed that he had eaten an entire corner off the bale of hay. That's when it struck him: Perhaps the humans ate cows the way cows ate hay-one corner at a time. He stood dumbstruck as the implication hit him. That's where cows go! That's what happens when cows leave! That's why mother cows last longest, and why the young bulls go first, because cows come from mothers!

"Mother! Mother! I know where cows go!"

"What are you mooing about?"

"I know where cows go! The People eat them! That's where cows go!"

"Don't be silly. A person could never eat a cow, cows are bigger than people."

"They eat them one corner at a time! Like a cow eats hay!"

This thought disturbed the mother cow. Unlike the young bull, she had seen strange things in her life, like a cow being dragged out of the pen. And like bulls being run down by the strong animals with men on them. And the lightning sound that makes cows sleep forever.

"Why would you think such a thought?"

"Well, when I was lost, I met a rabbit. The rabbit told me, but I didn't believe it until I realized that cows could be eaten one corner at a time."

At this, the mother cow became quite perturbed, for she was aware of the intelligence of rabbits. If a rabbit thought this, it was likely true. Her resistance to the idea melted away, and she cried out in fear.

"We must tell the herd!" She bolted out of her stall in the barn and galloped (as cows almost never do) through the stables mooing at the top of her lungs everything the young bull had said. This of course caused quite a commotion in the stable, as the cows watched the spectacle and decided amongst themselves what should be done.

Suddenly, the barn door burst open. A group of people stood in the door, scratching their heads with their extra legs. They then began opening the stalls and letting the cows out. The cows all streamed past the people into the pasture at night-the first time any of them had ever been out in the night.
The young bull watched as the people approached his frantic mother, and subdued her with lightning rods. When she fell to the ground, they put her on a cart and wheeled her out of the barn past the other watching cows.
"Look! They're going to eat her!" yelled some of the cows.

"Nonsense! It's just time for her to leave. Everyone leaves some time!" retorted others. The herd quickly polarized into two herds: Those that believed that people ate cows, and those that didn't.

The young bull of course went where he was welcome.

"How did you find out about the People?" Asked the believing herd?
The young bull, still in shock about the loss of his mother, related what he'd been told by the rabbit and how he'd solved the size mystery while eating hay. He was consumed by the thought of people gnawing at the corners of his mother.

"You must save us!" shouted the believing herd at the young bull.

"But, I don't know how to save us." Said the young bull. He had no idea what to do, because while normally a cow could easily kill a human, the humans had thunder sticks and lightning rods.

"But you understand! You know how the humans think! We will do whatever you ask of us! Just save us from being eaten!"

"You won't be eaten! Came a response from the other new herd.

"Look what's happened here tonight! This young bull has disturbed the peace, and in doing so, his mother had to leave!"

"But she was quite obviously taken by the people! That only proves what the young bull says!" came the response from the believing herd.

"No-she had already left! The people merely REMOVED her."

Soon, the disbelieving cows had mingled in with the believing cows. They soothed them with their words, and, for a while, everything began to seem normal again.

Then, suddenly, the young bull realized disbelieving cows surrounded him. They had suddenly formed a tight circle around him.

"Wait, what are you doing?"

"You have brought these things upon us! Look at us! We are outside! In the dark and scary time! This is your fault!"

"No wait! I only said that the people eat cows!"

"We don't want to know that! We want to live in the stalls, eat our hay and grass, and live in peace! You have taken that away, and so you must be punished!"

"No wait!" but the young bull's moos were lost in the clouds of dirt and grass as the disbelieving cows kicked at him. Soon, the clouds cleared, and the herd dispersed back into the barn. The ragged, torn body of the young cow lay on the ground outside the barn, bruised and beaten to death.

The people came back, and again scratched their extra legs at the sight of a cow dead at the hooves of it's own kind-a sight they'd never seen before. Surely, this was the strangest night for cows.
 
And back in the barn, most cows agreed that they had done the right thing-that peace had to be reestablished or else the entire herd would go crazy and be removed by the people.

But a few cows remembered what the young bull said. And they whispered his words amongst themselves, and to their calves, and to their calves' calves.
***

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