Stampede

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I groaned and checked the clock. 1:30 AM.

The floor was icy on bare toes as I slipped out of bed to answer the door. Throwing a sweatshirt over my PJ’s, I grumbled to myself as I negotiated the narrow stairs.

Somebody better be dead.

I flicked on the kitchen light and peered, bleary eyed, through the window.

This can’t be good.

I opened the door. “Officer Nix. Can I help you?”

He shifted, not meeting my eye. I flushed and clutched the sweatshirt over my pajamas. He cleared his throat and asked, “Is your husband home?”

It was my turn to be uncomfortable. It was the kind of small town where you could sneeze in the middle of the night, with the windows closed and curtains drawn, and your neighbor would ask the next day how your cold was. I wasn’t ready for everyone to know that my soon-to-be-ex-husband was sleeping elsewhere.

“He can’t come to the door.” I hedged and hoped Nix wouldn’t press the issue. “Is there a problem?”

“Cows.”

“Yes?” I tried to stomp down my impatience. Nix was all of eleven-teen and had grown up in Boston. I was convinced he made mooing noises when he drove by the farm.

City folk.

“Well, there are cows in the road. Bulls, maybe?” He clutched the pistol, holstered on his belt. “I thought they might be yours.”

“For F’s sake! Why didn’t you say so?” I jammed my feet in a pair of muck boots and flew out the door.

An arctic wind whipped across the pasture, blasting me in the face. Bed-head turned into an instant mess of snarls. I yanked my sleeves over my hands, annoyed I hadn’t grabbed gloves.

At the end of the drive I looked left.
Nothing.
I scanned right.

Spring, our matronly Hereford, stared back at me. Her white face seemed to float disembodied, black body disappearing in the darkness. A sea of brown, shaggy forms milled behind her, eyes reflecting starlight.

Great. She broke the Highlander heifers out too.

Footsteps crunched on gravel and Officer Nix sidled up behind me. “Now what?” His voice was a trembling whisper.

“Stand there, by the woodpile.” I inched out into the road. “I’ll push them back to the barn. Just keep them from circling around the house.”

The heifers eyed me and tossed their horns as I approached. Spring reached out to nose my pockets. She snorted, disappointed there were no treats.

Headlights blossomed, turning onto the lane.

Crap.

“Get going, you!” I smacked a black rump. The old girl slashed her tail in annoyance, and broke into a lumbering trot. The heifers paced behind, follow-the-leader style.

The car accelerated, unable to see the brown and black shadows on the dark country road. My heart thumped in rhythm with eighty hooves on asphalt. “Move it!” I slapped haunches to keep the herd in motion.

The last heifer ambled into the drive, just as the car zoomed past. A horn blasted, shattering the night.

The lumbering trot became a gallop.

Asshat!

I sprinted after the cows as they headed for the barn. Nix stared wide-eyed, as 24,000 pounds of prime beef barreled down on him. He reached for his hip.

“Don’t you dare!” I shouted.

The young officer stumbled back into the woodpile. As one the herd swung towards him, making a break through the gap between house and woodshed.

Change of plans; cut them off.

I scurried through the barn and scaled the pasture fence. Sliding on half-frozen cow pies, I ran to the north gate. It clanged against the posts, unlatched. I flung it wide, just as the girls erupted from the orchard behind the house.

One…eight…thirteen…

Breath puffing white, I counted tails.

…twenty!

I slammed the gate closed and latched it with numb fingers, double checking it was secure. Twice.

Back by the woodshed, I discovered Officer Nix perched on the woodpile. He scrambled down, shame-faced. Silent and awkward, we walked back to his cruiser.

“You know…” Nix’s voice was awestruck. “You’re one badass woman, running with the bulls.” His knees were shaky as he got into the car.

“Heifers – girls.” I laughed. “All Highlander cows have horns.” I wasn’t sure he heard.

My laughter died in a strangled sob as he pulled away. I didn’t feel badass.

I can’t do this on my own.

I shivered and went in to face an empty house.


11 thoughts on “Stampede

  1. This was so vivid. I felt like I was there – probably hiding in the woodpile with Officer Nix when the stampede turned towards me. It was a great story on its own, but the ending was spot on. I love that you gave a hint or two about your mental state, so the ending felt surprising but still seemed to fit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your writing is always a joy to read, but this piece was especially compelling. You got the pacing just right, maintaining tension throughout the herding process. You did such a great job of introducing humour into this story without detracting from the danger or the sadness. So nicely done.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: YeahWrite #357 Weekly Writing Challenge Winners

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