An Udder Disaster

Aidan McGeath

“What the hell? My cows have gone missing!” My outraged cry is echoed by a bang as my hand slams against the desktop. Cups and pens rattle noisily. Sheriff Bradford grumbles and reorganizes his desk, clearing spilled papers.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Tom,” The sheriff sighs, dropping his head into his hands. “We looked at your farm. There’s no evidence that the fences were tampered with, no clear hoofprints leading off the property, and no coyote tracks or scat in the area. Your cows must have -”

“I’ve heard the evidence, Bradford!” I interrupt the Sheriff and cross my arms across my faded green flannel shirt. “Cows don’t just disappear into thin air! Someone’s been stealing my livestock, Sheriff. I intend to find the sucker with or without your help.”

Bradford narrows his eyes. Slowly, he stands and stalks toward the door to his office. “Leave, Thomas,” He growls, mustache quivering in anger. “I’ve had enough of your stories for one day.”

I take my leave, slamming the door behind me. Furious, I stomp out of the building and head back toward my ranch. It’s a long walk, but I suffer through it. The brutal heat of a New Mexican summer day bakes down upon my chapped neck. Gravel crunches underfoot as I walk, simmering in my own anger. I know someone’s been stealing my cattle. An hour of hiking through the heat leaves my throat parched by the time I reach the gate to my ranch.

The sign hangs loosely from the gate, swinging in the faint desert breeze. The words Rudd Ranch shine in the sunlight. Gratefully, I step through the gateway and onto my property. A sprawling four-acre ranch, the Rudd Estate has been in my family for three generations. I used to share it with the wife, but she passed away three years ago. I’ve been left to run the farm on my lonesome ever since.

Before the sun sinks below the horizon I have to gather my stakeout supplies. I’m gonna catch that cattle thief tonight. He’s mine. Forget evidence! I know in my gut that a bandit’s been rustlin’ my cows. I pull a bottle of refreshingly cool beer from my ice chest, grab a thick blanket from the upstairs bedroom, and head out to the field.

The herd mills around, lowing softly. I pat all five cows on the rump, taking inventory of my livestock. Bessie and Daisy are lookin’ fine. My young heifer Clover has been missing in action for a week. Her spot in the herd is empty. Annabelle chomps down on a patch of crabgrass alongside her sister Lavender. Beatrice is also missing. She had been the first to disappear. Marjorie, the oldest dairy cow in the herd, is resting quietly on the grass.

“How’re you doing, old girl?” I ask, smiling as Marjorie swishes her tail to ward off the desert flies. “You going to help me with the stakeout tonight?”

Marjorie sinks her head back into the grass. I smile at her and walk back to the house to grab a lawn chair. Finally, with a beer in one hand and the July 9th issue of the Roswell Daily Times in the other, I relax into my chair. I’m ready for the investigation. From here on out, I am the sheriff. The night grows dark and chilly. Desert nights are cold - a stark contrast to the burning sun.

The stars are beautiful tonight. I take another swig of beer, swilling the dregs around in the bottom of the bottle. My cows snore loudly. Gentle rumbling fills the air. I wrap a blanket tighter around myself. I know that I should be tired right now, but I really ain’t. Determination fuels me. I’m gonna find that cattle rustler tonight. I can feel it in my bones.

The stars shimmer slightly and something winks out of existence. Must be a plane from the local Air Force base. I survey the area. No coyotes, no bandits. Just me and the cows. As my eyes start to drift shut, I hear a faint metallic whining. Before I can get fully awake, a brilliant light explodes into being from just above me. I yell in shock, waking the cattle. They mill about in noisy chaos, their pelts illuminated in the stark blue light.

A bright light descends from the sky. I grip the rolled newspaper tighter. It will be my only weapon. The blanket flutters in my lap and begins to drift skyward. I look down to see that my legs are dangling feet above the ground. My chair is being lifted into the air in a beam of light. I try to leap out of my seat, but nothing happens. I am dragged up toward the enormous object floating above my ranch.

“What the actual hell is going on?” I bellow, arms pumping frantically.

With a slight hiss, a door opens in the object above me and I am pulled into darkness. My chair and blanket clatter to the ground. The bottle drops from my nerveless fingers and shatters on the shining silver floor. Blue lights ignite around me, flaring and burning my irises. Thick glass lies on every side of me. I appear to be in a prison cell of some sort.

“Sheriff!” I call, my voice muffled by the glass. “I’m sorry I pissed you off! Lemme out!”

Nobody answers. I press my face against the glass, looking out. Then I see them. My two prized cows Clover and Beatrice are each held in their own holding cells. I’d hadn’t caught the cattle rustlers. They had caught me. I sit down hard on the cell floor, head in my hands. Everything is so strange! Odd devices dangle from the cell ceiling. Blue lights blink on and off in the corners of the glass walls.

“C’mon!” I pound my fists against the thick glass. “Let me out!”

This time, something happens. A door hisses open nearby. Someone very short walks toward me. Wreathed in shadow, he seems oddly shaped. His head is oblong and much too large for such a small body. A pair of very large, all-black eyes glint wetly. As the man approaches closer, I step back and gasp. His skin is pure gray.

“God help me,” I pray, hitting the cell’s back wall in fear. This is one of them spacemen from Mars - I’m sure of it. On quaking legs, I stand. Spaceman or not, this joker’s been stealing my livestock and I intend to give him a piece of my mind.

“Hey!” I try to inject as much bravado into my voice as possible. “Lemme out so I can punch you in the face, fella!”

Hostility does not equate to bravery, human.

Cold emotionless words blast through my brain, bringing tears to my eyes. I cannot hear the sounds and yet they register to me. The being presses one spindly hand against the glass and blinks its bulbous eyes slowly.

Cooperation is required. Do not resist.

This here spaceman is fixin’ to probe me. “I ain’t getting probed!” I roar, spraying the glass with spittle.

There is no interest in the contents of your large intestine. Your blood is of great importance to us. Submit to processing.

I back up against the wall as another pair of the little gray aliens advance to flank the spaceman. The gray men would look almost comical if their huge eyes weren’t narrowed intimidatingly. There’s no point fighting them while I’m locked up in my cell, so I just nod slowly in agreement. The lead alien motions with one hand and some long arm-like device descends from the ceiling. A syringe sinks deep into my shoulder. It hurts, but no more than getting butted by an ornery cow. I tough it through. I’ve heard about this alien crap. They’ll draw my blood and then let me go.

The needle withdraws and the arm sinks back into the ceiling. I massage the puncture wound, smearing a little blood. With luck, they’ll set me and my cows down on the sweet desert ground now that I’d given them my blood.

Your cooperation is met with our gratitude.

Whatever. Speak normal english, you gray bastards. The spacemen walk away, not even bothering to look at me. My heart sinks. I’m stuck here. They took my blood for nothing. I see Beatrice pacing back and forth in her cell. Though I cannot hear her cries, I can tell she is lowing anxiously. Clover seems as relaxed as she could be, lying on the metal floor. I lie down, exhausted, wrapping my blanket around myself. Cloth does little to protect me from the frigid ground. The ground rumbles slowly and I get the feeling of something rising in my stomach. I am pressed against the ground as the spacecraft hurtles into the sky. I fall asleep, utterly exhausted.

I awake to a soft whisper. The glass walls of my cell have slid open and one of the little gray men steps in. I sit upright, clenching the rolled-up Roswell Times. This cattle thief is going down. I hefted the roll aloft and readied to show the rustler what a Roswellian could do!

Aggression is not necessary at this point.

“To hell with you!” I spit onto the metal floor. My shoulder and pride are achin’ fiercely. “You’re goin’ down!”

The alien retreats swiftly; the cell wall slams shut behind him. I thwack my newspaper into the glass futilely, spitting out a stream of choice curses.

Violence is not condoned.

I open my mouth to retort, but a cloying smell fills the air. Green gas fills the cell. These spacemen poisoned me! I feel my brain shut down and I collapse to the floor.

Brief snippets are all I can see and remember. I am strapped to a table. The gray aliens stand over me. A blade sinks into my flesh. One spaceman injects me with a watery green needle. An image floats in the air - a constellation. Bulbous eyes lean close to me. I can’t move. More instruments dig into me. I can’t move. Cold, thin hands patter like spiders across my chest. I can’t move. I can’t move. I CAN’T MOVE!

When I come to my senses, I have been returned to my cell. The trio of spacemen stand on the other side of the glass. Expressionless and devoid of emotion, the lead alien raises his hand and a pair of whirring arms swing from the ceiling, gripping me in cold, metal hands. I am lifted high into the frigid air. Weaponless, I wait at the mercy of the spacemen. A third arm lowers before my face. Instead of clamping hands, this device has just one long needle and a tank of strange liquid.

The  injection inhibits memory without impacting cognitive function. You will be returned with your fauna to the planet’s surface. You shall recall nothing of your time on board our vessel.

I don’t care what they say. The needle sinks into my forehead and spews frothing pink liquid into my bloodstream. I begin to feel dizzy. The arms lower me as the metal floor opens. I descend on a beam of harsh blue light, and land softly on the ground outside my ranch. Clover and Beatrice drift to earth, eyes glassed over. Slowly, they rejoin the herd - obviously shocked by something traumatic.

I shake my head, trying to clear out a pulsing headache. The cool night air sweeps through my scraggly beard, calm and refreshing. Dawn is about to break; spindly rays of light poke over the horizon. I’ve been gone for a little while, it seems. Last I remember, the desert sun was baking down on my sweaty neck.

How did I get here? I was just talking to the sheriff about the missing cows. Something I must have forgotten lingers in the back of my mind. I’m clearly missing something important here.

“Think, Tom!” I massage my beating temple. “What are you forgetting?”

The cows! I walk quickly over to the herd, still scratching my head. Clover and Beatrice are missing, of course. Hopefully the thieves didn’t take any more of my cattle while I was with Sheriff Bradford. I go through each animal, calling them by name. Bessie, Lavender, and Marjorie are present. Annabelle and Daisy amble together slowly.

“Holy crap,” I gasp. Clover and Beatrice are back! My precious girls look a little shell-shocked, but altogether whole and hearty. I grin heartily and pat them both on the side. All thoughts of what I had forgotten are swept from my mind. I’m sure it wasn’t important anyway. My stomach rumbles hungrily and I walk slowly back across the range. Desert nights are beautiful. The stars wink brightly overhead and I almost think I can see a light speeding off toward the moon...but I must have imagined it. After all, flying saucers aren’t real. Everybody knows that.