This short story was based on writing prompts of heifer, mumbles and Where’s the beef.
The photo of the heifer used on this post was provided by Carrie of Dairy Carrie.
There was something strange in the air that day, and it was more than the harsh brushes of wind whistling through the burgeoning corn fields.
I remember sitting astride Callie, our 9-year-old chestnut horse, at the edge of the cattle pasture, right where the wood post fence tangled with the nearly sideways corn stalks, which were rendered horizontal by the strong, angry winds.
Old Mother Wind was busy that day to be sure, yes, but there was something else. Something I just couldn’t quite wrangle up.
No matter, I thought, watching as the wind gusts let up briefly and the corn stood up again, proud and nearly ready to deliver its fruit.
But there was something underneath those harsh winds, something that I could not quite shake. I bounced to and fro atop Callie, moving her around in a circle, trying to figure out what that was.
There was no figuring going on. I’d like to think my frown scared the winds back into the next day. Calm was restored to the prairie, if only so briefly.
Near as I could tell, that something was a rumbling, a low and guttural noise. Husky yet quiet, barely noticeable. It’s like what the beginning of an earthquake must feel like, that moment when you just start to realize something terrible and devastating is happening. Well, I assume that’s what it’s like at least. I’ve never stood in the middle of an earthquake, you see.
It’s easier for me to say that the rumbling that day was more like that big moment before a twister touches down across the prairie field. Just before the touch down, it’s a calm moment. Not a blade of grass is torn away from the soil in anger. But then the winds start to whip up, a howling noise builds, and all you can do is grab your family, grab your friends and head to safety.
But as I sat astride Callie, I just could not find what that noise was.
Meanwhile, the cattle sat and stared at us. I bucked against Callie a bit as she came to a halt about 50 feet away from a few of the Holstein Jersey cross heifers. They were grazing, grasses briefly being chewed between their teeth. The one in the middle faced us, its muzzle showing a faint smile.
In the middle of the field, several young heifers surrounded one that was standing up, facing me down: The smiling heifer.
Her brown hair was matted back on the top of her head, and her eyelashes were long and lustrous around her curious eyes. Every once in a while, I saw her mouth open and close, almost as though she were whispering secrets about the full-grown bulls in the nearby pen to the other heifers gathered around her.
And I noticed that the low, nearly continuous rumbling along the roots of the prairie grass seemed to match perfectly with her muzzle movement.
I motioned Callie into a trot as we grew closer to the heifers, perched in the middle of the field atop what was a mountain in the prairie, but was really just a small hill of a couple of feet. And I kept watch of her, the smiling heifer in the middle of that crowd. She eyed me cautiously, her mouth moving up and down.
That’s when I saw it, even if I didn’t believe it. The heifer was mumbling.
I dismounted Callie, patting her along her mane, letting her know that I would be right back. The smiling heifer was still standing there, in the middle of her heifer squad, soaking in the wind and sun.
When I reached close to her mouth, I could hear the mumbling more clearly: “Where’s the beef?”
Yes, there was something strange in the air that day.
My ears rang. Echoes roared in my head, and I sat up, or what I felt was up. I could feel the dirt grinding against my body, mixing with the rain that had started to fall in sheets. The mud coagulated against my skin. The cold balls of earth grabbed on, up and down my arms and legs, my stomach, everywhere I looked.
I pushed myself up, lifting my torso off the ground. My arms sank deeper into the mud.
Through the sheets of rain that kept pummeling me, I could see the large footprints, three feet wide, longer than my torso.
I scrambled to my feet and paused to look around. There was an edge of forest just a hundred feet or so away. I ran for it, sweat pouring down my cheeks despite the buckets of rain. My heart was thump, thump, thumping, and my breathing would not slow down.
The clearing that had been abuzz with injured men, women and children, guards and more was empty, filled only with the large rex prints and muted metallic red blood stains.
Leaves crunched nearby, and I slowed my breathing instinctively. I turned my body around toward the other way and saw a man’s head poking out behind another tree just a few yards away. He saw me and waved me over with his hand.
“Quick, come on.” His voice was a loud whisper. A rex must still be near.
I ran toward him, my feet flailing behind me as great gobs of mud locked on to my feet. I wiped them off against the trunk of the tree the man hid behind. He patted me on the back quickly. His enthusiasm was contagious.
“You’re the only one I’ve seen,” he said. “I don’t think anyone else survived that attack.”
My thoughts turned to Angie. She had been standing right next to me when we realized a rex was coming. I remember diving away from her, to my left. I had hit the ground hard and tried to roll toward some of the tree and shrubs close by. They would give me cover from the rex if it made its way here into the clearing.
I remember seeing one of the Jianchangosaurus kicking up a few rocks and watched as one soared straight toward me. After that, blackness.
“How long ago did the rex come through?” I said.
He smiled a bit at me. “Yesterday.”
Keith was leading the way through the jungle, tearing through branches and leaves and other vegetation dangling in his way. He had taken the lead on bringing me back to the larger group after he found me at the rex attack site. He had told me how the others had fled the site before the rex hit, how it was awash in chaos as people ran in all directions and a herd of Jianchangosaurus had stormed right through, leading the rex in.
Some of the others, he told me, had made their way through half of the jungle and found a small alcove to hide. Others had gone on to the hospital near Old Salem that I had sent the injured to. When they met up with the others at the alcove, they had told how the rex had gotten through the hospital defenses and laid waste to the building and much of the Old Salem village.
And others who were at the site before the rex attacked, well, they didn’t make it, Keith said. But the rex certainly was feeding her and her young ones well these days.
All I could think of as I scrambled after Keith was Angie, and whether she was safe or not. Keith had not seen her in the crowds of those who had made it to the alcove, which included some who were injured in the attack. Nor had anyone provided word about her.
It made me wonder whether I wanted to continue, whether I should just turn around and go back to the rex attack site and wait for it again. She had never shown an interest in me, that I know. But to live without her? To not even be able to see her anymore? I did not know how I could live that life, but I kept on after Keith.
And after what felt like hours, we turned a corner down a sharp hill, stepping on large boulders that lined the way down. Around the corner at the bottom was the alcove, alight with activity as men and women came to it, arms full of sticks and stones, berries and meat, and many other things. Overnight a village had sprung up here, as they are usually do after a rex attack.
I had told Keith that I was a doctor, but he had urged me to rest, to lay down, to attend to the bump on my head.
I reached up and felt it. It was a slight protrusion stick up from just above my right temple. Of course, the rock, I thought. Perhaps it was best I laid down if I did not have the faculties to figure out that I would be hurt by a flying rock.
I laid down on a makeshift cot next to an elderly man. He was groaning softly, his arms wrapped around his stomach. Soon his groans were softer. “He must be dying,” I thought.
But then I was dreaming instead.
When I woke up the small pop-up village was wash in activity. I reached for the top of my head and felt the bump. It had gone down a bit, but it was still quite apparent. I shoved myself up off the cot and stretched. My muscles ached, and I let out a yawn, curling my feet onto my tiptoes.
Keith entered the small area that was now the clinic and right toward me where I had slept on the cot.
He smiled. “Come with me,” he said. “I think you’re going to want to see this.”
Like he did in the jungle, Keith made his way through the swath of bodies gathered around the entrance of the alcove, where fires lit brightly against the dark night sky. A buzz was in the air, and the people we pushed past were murmuring. Electricity was in the air. Keith turned toward me as he led me on.
The only thing adorning his face was a bright smile, half in shadow as the fire played off of it.
He stepped through to the front wave of people and stepped aside.
And then there she was.
READ PART 3 ON FRIDAY, JUNE 27.
This short story has been written in response to the “dinosaur ambulance” prompt.
The news travels fast. We have the Jianchangosaurus to thank for that.
Oh, you probably don’t know what that is. Yes, well, it’s my dinosaur, you see, the one I and other medical emergency personnel use to get about and deliver news and help people. It’s a smallish dinosaur, just hardy enough to support a passenger, and fast enough to deliver her quickly. Its hips stood aside a woman’s when the two were on the ground, and its feathers were marked with crisp fall colors, shades of reds, oranges, yellows, browns. But it stood long, more than 6 feet from head to tail, guided along with a gentle nudge of plants and other foliage, dangling quite close to its nose.
So when Angie, one of the local news messengers, showed up on her Jianchangosaurus—I believe she calls him Sam, but I always forget—I knew there was a problem from the look on her face.
“Jim, there’s been a problem up by Old Salem. A Rex sniffed a tad too close, and it was a mean ol momma,” she said. It didn’t matter that the news she delivered was horrendous, bodies mangled, torn to bits were the details streaming out of her mouth. Her eyes always entranced me, particularly at the worst moments. I shook my head, came back into the conversation. “There’s been a few deaths, and many more injured. I’m rounding up anyone who can come and help.”
Her eyes looked up to mine. I could see the beginning of tears swelling in them.
“Please, Jim, we need your help.”
“Of course,” I said. The shine in her eyes was all the thanks I needed. But I had hoped for more.
The Jianchangosaurus sped across the countryside, flying through the jungle, with its large, bulbous tree trunks and falling fruit. When we emerged from the dense collection of vegetation, the scene was splayed about. Scores of people with weapons, sticks, spears, whatever they could find, were gathered in a large circle, which left room between each person. Our dinos slowed down and walked through a couple of the guards, and in the middle of the circle, death awaited.
At least two, no, three, were dead—it was tough to tell with all of these people torn apart, arms and legs left laying about, with one pair of legs simply left alone near the edge of the circle. A group was huddled over the injured in a wide open, barren field, awash in a sea of red.
Blood. Lots of it.
Angie hopped onto the ground and rushed to the scene. I ran after her, careful not to let her get too far away.
She bent down over a couple of severely injured, a woman and a young girl, maybe 11 or 12. Their screams of pain filled the air, complemented by a strong scent of metallic blood. My nose curled up into itself.
They had scratch and claw marks all over their bodies, rivers of blood turning into lakes on the barren ground.
Two things were clear, I thought. We had to get these two out of here and treat them in an infirmary. There was one close by, just up the road and on the beaten path.
And I could see now that these marks, scratches, they were not from a Rex attack. Had Angie known? Had she lied to me? What was all this about? Subterfuge was at work here, but by whom?
We set about bandaging them as best we could. And we had gotten the two onto a pair of stretchers, battened down and tightened and stretched across the backs of two Jianchangosaurus. One of the men who had been bent over the pair sent the two dinosaurs on their way, and followed closely behind on one of his own.
The rest of us stood in the midst of carnage, blood and body parts still here, there, underneath your foot, right where you place your next step.
I exhaled, and I watched Angie do the same and wipe the sweat from her brow. She wanted to smile, I could sense, but she didn’t. Just like her, I thought.
And then everything changed. The air carried a tenseness that everyone felt, and people looked up from what they were doing to see what was going on.
I knew what it was just as Angie said it. “Rex.” We exchanged glances.
And that’s when chaos rained down.
READ PART 2 ON FRIDAY, JUNE 20.
Author’s note: Yes, I know T. Rex and Jianchangosaurus lived far away from each other and at different times. This is fiction. So I don’t care.
That mysterious liquid was soap. All I can taste right now is soap. I am an adult, I think.
I took the bowl of Cheerios and threw it down. The spoon flew out and rattled against the stainless steel kitchen sink, nearly careening over the ledge and onto the floor. The rest of the bowl crashed against the side, and the Cheerios flowed over like lava slowly working its way down a volcano.
The soap bubbled from my lips, flowing down my chin into the cold metal below.
I gagged. I could feel myself retching, the cold soap forming into a ball at the back of my throat, trying to wiggle its way free. Then all I could taste was more soap.
Adults do these things, right? I know the difference between soap and milk. Usually.
After all, I am an adult.