Warped Tales – be warned. As a child I read piles of books filled with short stories – the complete works of Poe, stories from the Twilight Zone, collections from Hitchcock, etc. This is that kind of story. The original version first appeared in The Maverick Magazine several years ago – I’ve revamped it a bit.
It was Clyde’s last day working on the farm. The truck would pick up the last of the cows after lunch; the wrecking crew would be there the next day. Streets and skeletal houses already filled the lower meadow.
God, that stinks. Clyde was staring at the brown stream of unprocessed manure in the trough behind the cows as he thought this.
You think yours smells sweet? A female voice reverberated in his brain.
Clyde swung his head around, looking for the source of the words, but he was alone. The only other life in the barn was the last three cows and Bootsie, his cat. Clyde had been on edge for the last two days, now he was imagining things. Bootsie rubbed against his leg and he picked her up. As he rubbed her behind the ears he sighed, remembering how he’d had to kill the other cats.
Ralph shouldn’t have made you do that.
“Who is that?” he shouted. He moved toward the door, expecting to find a prankster lurking outside. He swung his head back and forth, but there was no one in sight, only the work crews half a mile away.
The voice came again. Why did he care about the cats, anyway?
It was inside his head, but somehow seemed to be sourced behind him, in the barn. How could that be?
Yes, I’m right here, Clyde.
Where? This time Clyde just thought the question.
Right over here, dummy. The cow he called Betsy turned to face him and flicked her tail, but she didn’t make a sound.
Why am I hearing you? he asked. Am I going crazy?
I don’t know. I’ve always been able to hear you.
Clyde panicked a moment, trying to remember everything he’d ever thought about in the barn. Then he relaxed. What does it matter what a cow knows? Do the other cows hear me, too?
Don’t think so. I can’t even communicate with them. They’re just dumb animals. Betsy quit looking at him and flicked her tail again. We’re going to be picked up this afternoon?
“Yep. You’re going to another dairy farm,” he said as he walked between cows to face Betsy, rather than talk to her rear end.
Can you please repeat that without the sound? She blinked her eyes at him, as if to confirm it was her thoughts he was hearing. When you talk out loud like that, I can’t understand you. It gets all garbled.
Clyde obliged. That dairy farmer who came by last week is picking you up this afternoon.
Good. The rats are terrible with the cats gone.
“That’s what I tried to tell Ralph.” Clyde forgot and spoke the words out loud. He went back to thinking. The rats will move into those new houses, too. I told him. But the realtors said the barn cats were a health hazard … You can’t understand me when I talk out loud?
No, something gets garbled in the process. It makes about as much sense as the sound of a metal box being dragged across the floor.
Clyde stopped breathing. She knows.
Of course I know. I was here. Betsy raised her tail.
It was an accident! Clyde’s response was automatic.
Right. You picked up that iron bar and bashed in Ralph’s skull by accident. Betsy’s bowels emptied, gushing into the trough behind her.
Clyde started babbling out loud so the cow couldn’t hear him. “What am I going to do now? The police have already been to the house looking for him. What if she can talk with someone else like this? I killed him with a witness!”
I can’t understand you when you do that. Betsy complained. Think clearly, please.
“I didn’t mean to do it!” Clyde shouted. Then he went back to thinking. I was mad from having to kill the cats. Then, when I told him I was going to take Bootsie with me, he grabbed for her. He would’ve wrung her neck. I couldn’t let him do that.
I know. You were just looking out for Bootsie. You should have done it long ago.
You think it was the right thing to do? You could tell them he came at me first, that it was self-defense.
I’m a cow, dummy. They’re not going to interview me. Besides, Clyde, think about it. What happened after you hit him?
Where did he fall, Clyde? Betsy blinked and looked over her shoulder.
Right behind you, in that muck. You kicked him.
Exactly. I kicked him right in the head. Massive trauma. Very unlikely they’d notice he got hit by a bar first. I did it on purpose, to cover for you. You’re the one who always looked after us.
Clyde stiffened and stared at the cow. He swallowed. But I put the body in the box and dragged it out to the truck.
Well, that’s not my fault. I was trying to tell you to leave him where he was, but you weren’t hearing me yet.
Clyde pictured the place he’d dumped the box.
Betsy snorted and shook her head. So they’re going to find his body in a metal box at the bottom of the river by a bridge. She chided him for his stupidity. Good luck convincing anyone he got there accidentally.
Clyde carried Bootsie out to the truck, leaving the voice behind. He’d move back to Texas. No one would track him down there, even if they did find Ralph. He settled Bootsie into the cab and got his rifle off the rack.
Just to be safe, he went back to take care of Betsy.