The Cow King

When people think of their first pet, they talk about dogs or cats. For me, however, it was a cow.

Now, Lina wasn’t my cow, of course. She was one of many my grandpa owned.

Years ago, when I was a young boy, I spent the long weeks of summer vacation at his farm.

I grew up a city boy, spending most of my young live in a concrete jungle comprising nothing but rows and rows of old apartment buildings.

When grandpa suggested that I’d spent summer at his farm, I pestered my parents about it for weeks. Eventually they relented and so I was off to stay with grandpa.

Until then, I’d only been at grandpa’s home a few times, but I’d fallen in love with it the first time I’d been there.

I loved the remote farm he called his home, the wide empty plains and the sprawling forests surrounding them.

What I loved the most, though, were the many farm animals he owned. Even in his old age, grandpa was still a strong and sturdy man who continued to work his farm.

“Well, it’s the only thing I know how to do,” he always said laughing.

While grandpa owned pigs and chickens, I was more taken by his cows.

While the pigs in their pigsty ignored me, the chickens gave into a state of panic the moment I entered the coop to pet them.

The cows, however, were friendlier, much friendlier. When I walked up the pasture on my first day, they eyed me curiously before they walked up to me.

The friendliest of them was the one I named Lina. She was as black and white as the rest of them, but had a white crescent mark on her forehead.

Now, I didn’t get to enter the pasture, of course, but even with a fence between us, I could pet her head and feed her freshly mowed grass.

I spent long hours outside, in the grass, watching the cows go about their day and petting and feeding them, above all, Lina.

During the time I spent with grandpa, I learned quite a bit about cows and animal husbandry. Grandpa’s herd comprised dairy cows. Lina and the rest were kept for milk production.

I also learned that cows only gave milk when they were pregnant or with calf.

Even now I remembered how excited I was when I heard grandpa talk about calves. I pestered him constantly, but he told me that the time of birth varied. If I was lucky, though, I might see some of the newborn calves.

When I asked grandpa how all the cows got pregnant and where the father was, he explained to me what artificial insemination was. Well, he didn’t go into detail, instead he told me that sometimes, Mother Nature needed a bit of help and that it was the easiest and safest option.

Being the child I was, I thought little about it. No, all I cared about were the calves. There were of course some younger cows in grandpa’s herd, but they’d all been born in the spring. What I wanted to see was a newborn one, a tiny one.

As luck wanted it, I should get my chance soon enough.

I’d been with grandpa for a week when he told me that a cow had just given birth. The moment I heard a calf had been born, I was out of it and raced to the barn as fast as my little legs could carry me.

My young eyes grew wide the moment I saw the tiny body next to the exhausted mother cow. Even more so when the calf got to its shaky feet.

“It’s so small,” I brought out when grandpa caught up with me.

This baby cow, this calf, was the cutest thing I’d ever seen.

When I was about to step up to pet it, grandpa told me it was still too early. Everything was new for the little one, and for now it needed to get used to its environment.

I was on pins and needles all day, pestering grandpa about wanting to play with the little calf.

“Tomorrow, Mark, you can pet it tomorrow,” he eventually said.

Needless to say, I was disappointed, even a little mad. I remember sitting near the barn for hours, watching grandpa as he made sure that mother and calf were doing all right.

The next day, right after breakfast, when grandpa did another check-up, I finally got my chance of scratching the calf behind its ears. I loved the little guy and continued to visit him day in and out until he joined the rest of the herd out in the pasture.

I’d done my best to bond with the little guy, but he was too shy and scared to approach me on his own. In the end, Lina stayed my favorite.

Yet, one day, things changed at grandpa’s farm. One morning, right after breakfast, I could tell that something was different.

I rushed outside to greet Lina and the rest of the herd, but the cows were acting different. They huddled together at the far end of the pasture, their bodies pressed against one another. However much I called out to them, however much I waved a tuft of fresh grass, they didn’t come.

I raced back to grandpa.

“Grandpa, there’s something wrong with the cows, they are sick! They aren’t coming to me, not even Lina!”

When he saw the visible fear on my face, he laughed.

“Calm down, Mark. That’s just the way they are. They are beasts after all and sometimes, they just don’t care.”

I nodded, but I didn’t understand. For the rest of the day and the following one I tried again and again, but the cows never came. Their state of fear persisted.

After days, whatever had gotten into them passed, and they slowly reverted to their normal behavior. Yet, I noticed, some still strayed from the rest.

My fears, however, were forgotten the moment Lina came up to me again and happily let me pet her.

Over the course of the next two weeks, more calves were born, and I was always there when they first got to their feet. It was always a special event for me.

One day, when I heard that yet another one of grandpa’s cows was to give birth, I was quick to hurry to the barn, only to be met with Stefan, grandpa’s single farmhand.

I’d seen him around before, but he was a harsh, bitter man and I’d always avoided him. Now he stood right in front of me, staring down at me with cold eyes.

“Nothing to see here today, boy,” he said as he blocked my path.

“But, I want to see the baby cow,” I protested and was about to push myself past him.

In one swift motion, he got a hold of my arm and glared at me.

“There’s none today. Now go back to where you came from,” he pressed out and pushed me back the way I came from.

“No, but,” I tried to protest, but when he stepped up to me again, the corners of his mouth twitching in anger, I eventually left.

I sat down in the grass near the meadow, mulling over how unfair it all was. It was stupid I didn’t get to see the calf, and Stefan was even more stupid and so was grandpa!

After a while, as I sat there in the grass, I noticed smoke coming from the back of the farm.

For a moment I wondered what was going on before my childish mind realized that the farm must’ve caught on fire. As quickly as I could, I ran to where the smoke was coming from.

Behind the farm, I found grandpa and Stefan in front of a fire. They were burning something.

At first I was relieved, glad it wasn’t the farm that was burning. Then, when I got closer, my eyes glued to the fire, I saw something move between the burning logs.

At first I didn’t know what it was, but when I got closer, I saw limbs, legs, a bunch of tiny legs that were sticking out from the fire.

When I saw them twitch once more, I rushed for the fire, past grandpa, to pull what I thought was a calf from the burning pit.

The moment grandpa saw me, he got a hold of me and dragged me away from the fire.

“Mark, what’s the matter with you, get away from there! This is nothing for a little boy like you, it’s dangerous!”

As he dragged me away, my eyes were glued to the fire and the thing burning within it. From afar it had looked like a calf, but the moment I got closer I saw it was something else. The proportions had been all wrong, weird and elongated. There were legs, but far too many of them. I shivered as grandpa dragged me away.

He sat me down on a bench in front of the farmhouse. After a heavy sigh, he explained.

“Sometimes, there are… complications. Sometimes a calf can come out all wrong. It’s nature, and sometimes, nature doesn’t get things right and parts end up in the wrong place.”

“But, why? Why was it all wrong, grandpa?”

He gave me a shrug.

“That’s just how things are, nothing to be done about it.”

I gave him a slow nod, but I still felt for the thing they’d burned. For days, the strange, misshapen calf stayed on my mind.

It did even more so when Stefan joined us for breakfast one morning, whispering something into grandpa’s ear. The bright smile he usually wore vanished.

“Stay here, Mark, all right?” he said to me while I was munching on my sandwich.

I opened my mouth to ask something, but grandpa and Stefan had already left the room.

When I was about to put on my shoes and follow them, grandpa yelled at me to stay inside. It was the first time I’d ever seen him like this, and the first time he’d ever been angry with me.

The shoes dropped from my hand and with tears in my eyes I sulked back to the living room.

I never learned what happened that day. Grandpa never told me a thing, and Stefan continued to glare at me like he usually did.

It was only one day, by sheer accident, that I caught bits of a conversation between the two of them.

“So, how many this time?” I heard grandpa ask.

“At least four of them,” Stefan pressed out in a strained voice.

For a while there was nothing but silence, and all I could hear was the quiet summer breeze rustling through the nearby trees.

Eventually grandpa sighed. “Guess it’s grown angry,” he finally said.

Stefan started cursing and mumbling indistinguishable.

“Well, nothing we can do about it. Just have to take care of them like we always do,” grandpa brought out.

A moment later I heard his steps coming into my direction and I hurried away. Yet, his words stayed on my mind.

‘Guess it’s grown angry.’

For days I racked my brain, trying to understand what he was talking about.

Of course, I couldn’t, I was a little boy, but one night should change everything.

That night I’d been lying in bed for long hours, still racking my brain over the strange things going on at the farm. When I fell asleep, strange dreams plagued me. I saw the weird calf-thing in the fire again, saw it move, heard it cry out for me.

I awoke, scared and confused, before I realized it had all been a dream. At first, I lay in bed, but then I realized I had to go to the toilet.

I hated going to the toilet at grandpa’s during the night. The farmhouse was old and at night you could hear any and all sounds around the farm. For a child, even the shaking of the trees and the sound of the wind were transformed into shapeless ghosts and invisible terrors.

I raced to the toilet and as I sat there, the window cracked behind me, I heard something from outside.

As I strained my ears, I could hear the mooing of the cows outside. It didn’t sound like anything I’d heard before. They sounded afraid, terrified, as if chaos had descended upon the pasture.

I tried to pry open the bathroom window, but wasn’t able to. So instead, I tiptoed through the house and made my way to the living room. I pushed my face against the glass of the window, but I couldn’t make out a thing. All I saw was frantic movement in the pasture.

Eventually, my hand wandered to the handle. As slowly and quietly as I could, I pulled and opened the window. I leaned forward as far as I could, pushing my upper body outside.

At first, I could only see the cows racing from one end of the pasture to the other, but then I noticed something else. There was something in the pasture with them.

For a moment I thought it was one of the cows, one that hadn’t joined the frantic, crazed movements, but then I saw how big it was.

It was a towering, hulking shadow, much larger than any cow I’d ever seen before.

I leaned forward further, almost dropping out the window.

Then, the moon pushed past the clouds and its light descended upon the pasture. I saw a multitude of legs, saw a black and white hide, saw a pair of horns. The creature threw its head back, releasing a grunt, a loud distorted version of a moo before it charged after the cows.

The herd was in sheer and utter panic, dividing and forming up again as they fled from whatever this monstrosity was.

Suddenly, one cow rushed off in the wrong direction, charging towards the farm while the rest fled further down the pasture.

Another loud grunt followed, and the monstrosity threw itself at the lonely cow. And just then, as the cow crashed against the fence of the pasture, I noticed the white crescent mark on her forehead.

“No,” I brought out in a shaken voice as I saw how the creature got a hold of Lina.

I watched in horror as the abomination pushed itself on top of her.

I opened my mouth, wanted to scream, to call out, to chase the demon away, but just then a hand was pushed over my mouth.

“Don’t you dare,” I heard grandpa’s voice whisper into my ear.

He dragged me back, away from the window. Then he closed it off with his other hand before he pushed me from the room.

“We have to help Lina!” I blurted out the moment he removed his hand. “Grandpa, come on, we have to!”

With that I was about to rush to the front door, but I’d only made it two steps before he got a hold of me.

“Nothing we can do, Mark.”

“But,” I pleaded, but he shook his head.

When the tears started streaming from my eyes, he pulled me in close and put his arm around me.

“It’s all right, Mark, it’s all right,” he whispered as he hugged me.

When the tears stopped flowing, he took my hand and led me back to my little bedroom. He sat with me, whispering to me, until I’d fallen asleep again.

When I woke up the next morning, I was startled and confused about the events of last night. I threw the covers aside, thinking about what I’d seen, about Lina, and raced through the house.

“Grandpa!” I called out repeatedly, desperately trying to find him.

The moment I found him, he laughed.

“Now what’s all this ruckus about this early in the morning?”

“Last night, the cows, and Lina, and that, that thing,” I rambled.

“Now, now, what are you talking about?”

“The monster, in the pasture, the one that went after Lina! You were there in the living room and, and-“

“You had a bad dream, Mark, that’s all. Lina’s all right and so is the rest of the heard,” he said, giving me a warm smile.

“Now, how about some breakfast?”

Now, of course, I didn’t give up, but grandpa assured me he’d been fast asleep all night, there’d been no noises and there had been no monsters.

What can I say, I was a little kid after all and so, I believed him.

Before long, my stay at grandpa’s home ended, and I returned to the city and the concrete jungle that was my home.

While I had fond memories of the weeks I’d spent with grandpa, the experience was haunted by that terrible night, that terrible dream.

The school year came and went, but next summer I didn’t return to grandpa’s farm, I couldn’t. I was only ever there with my parents, on short, rare visits, but it never felt the same again.

An oppressive atmosphere hung over the old farmhouse and had transformed the place I’d loved so much into something darker, something sinister.

I’m an adult now, and for long years I’d never returned to his farm. It was a month ago that I finally went on one last trip there with my parents.

Grandpa was older now, much older. The strong, sturdy farmer of my childhood had been replaced by a tiny, shriveled old man that seemed lost in his own bed.

A stroke, the doctor had told us. At his age, recovery was out of the question.

For long hours we sat with him, watching over him. When my mother couldn’t take it anymore, my father led her from the room.

Left alone, next to his sleeping body, I took out my phone. I was browsing the web, listening to his low, rattling breath, when a bony hand suddenly gripped my arm. Grandpa’s eyes were wide open, staring right at me.

His mouth was moving, but nothing but another low rattle escaped his mouth.

“Grandpa, what is it? Are you okay? Are you in pain? Do you want me to-?”

I broke up when his nails dug into my arm and he pulled me closer.

“You’ve got to,” he pressed out, his voice as quiet as a whisper.

“I’ve got to what?”

Grandpa was panting, breathing hard, sweat glistening on his forehead.

“Make sure there’s never more than one of them!”

“More than one of what?”

“You saw,” he brought out. “That night, that thing, you saw.”

“Saw what?” I asked, but the answer came to me a moment later.

He wrinkled his brow, opened his mouth again, but it took him long seconds to bring forth the words.

His voice was as thin as a whisper, but I heard the two words he was saying.

Eventually his voice trailed off and after a second his grip loosened. He held my gaze for another long second before he closed his eyes again.

For a second I thought the worst had happened, but then I saw the small of his chest moving. He’d fallen asleep.

Yet, my fears hadn’t vanished, my terrors hadn’t evaporated. I knew what he’d said just now, what he’d told me.

That night so long ago, the night he’d told me had been nothing but a dream, had been real. What I’d seen out there had been all but real, and as an adult, I finally understood what I’d witnessed.

Some sort of creature was out there, out in the wild, and on certain nights it came here. It came for the cows to spread its seed and to create its ghastly offspring.

I don’t know what that thing is, I don’t know where it came from, but even now, even after grandpa’s funeral, I remember what grandpa had called it.

The Cow King.

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