No wind blew on the fields that morning. The distant trees stood still and the grass was stiff on the hillsides. The overcast sky stood fixed in place, and the usual sound of rustling and whistling was absent, as if the air above the hills had become a noiseless vacuum. Even the belligerent cows were silent, standing in a single group in the western corner of the barbed wire fence. All this, however, was unimportant to the boy.
The only absence of noise that concerned him was that of the chicken house. Like the fields and the cows, it stood sulkily silent, without so much as a rustle or a cluck emanating from the dark doorway. Nothing short of the Second Coming could silence those chickens, even on the coldest or most miserable of days. But now, a void of sound even more noticeable than the former raucous surrounded the long coop. The boy knew those chickens were the lifeblood of his family, and the bodies of foxes and coyotes in the garbage dump attested to their importance. The boy assumed one of these must be responsible for the silence of the coop, and was running to it as fast as he could, shotgun in hand. The droopy, brown cows watched him, unmoving and unbothered. He was almost annoyed at the beasts, who stared as if they knew all about what had happened but simply refused to tell. He let out an offhand yelp at the herd as he ran, alleviating his imagined anger at their oath of silence.
He slowed as he reached the door of the chicken house, cocking and raising his gun. He carefully and silently approached the door, suspense building as he drew closer and closer to the unknown. He had a moment of apprehension, almost electing to walk away and leave this responsibility to someone else. He lowered his firearm slightly and stopped right before the portal to the untold. He looked around, ready to turn back to the farmhouse, when his eyes fell on the cows.
They stared at him, unblinking, unmoving, yet all-knowing. They seemed to mock him, screaming across the fields about his cowardice and weakness. They cackled at his fear, scorned his apprehension, and ridiculed his timidity. He watched them, his mind filling with these imagined observations and abuses, charging his mind with rage and belligerence towards the cows. He snapped back toward the coop, raised his gun, and with images of coyotes, weasels, and laughing cows, kicked open the door.
He swung himself around, fanning the entire room with the barrel of his gun, ready to shoot the first thing that moved. But, to his growing horror, nothing did. The coop was as still as the outside, save for the feathers and straw he had kicked up. No vermin hissed at him, no chickens clucked in surprise. Not even a mouse scurried from the light of the doorway. What greeted his eyes was a thousand times more unspeakable than anything he could have imagined.
No chickens sat in the nests. At least, no living chickens. Instead, where they would have sat warming their eggs, clean, white skeletons rested. They were spotless, free of any flesh or feathers, and bleached white. They did not look disturbed, but were peacefully lying where they would have sat in their nests. Whatever had happened had been instant and unimaginable. Thoughts and emotions raced through the boy’s head. No living creature could have done this. Nothing of this world or the next could have committed the horror of that coop. The boy dropped the gun and stood speechless, all color drained from his face. He began to slowly back out, trying to escape the otherworldly terror of the chicken house, when something else made him whirl around towards the door.
A singular, echoing “moo” overwhelmed his being. It filled every sense of his body, overstimulated his brain, and threatened to drive him mad. Behind him, the herd of cattle stood and stared. They had made no noise in the transit across the field. And now, the single vocalization was the only sound from the herd. They did not move, did not blink, they didn’t even seem to breathe. The boy stood, frozen with eldritch terror. The beasts blocked every route he could take, forming a semicircle around the door of the coop. He looked around and hoped against hope that they would move. He prayed to nothing and everything as sweat began to pour down his back. And still, the cows did not move. They simply stared. Every animal had their droopy eyes on the boy. Despite the relaxed look that every cow naturally seemed to wear, the eyes of these warped livestock burned. Not with anger, not with distress, they simply burned. They burned with a lack of emotion. The boy now began to hyperventilate. He looked around and noticed the forgotten shotgun next to his feet and grabbed it in one swoop, aiming at the cows. His body rose and fell with each labored breath. After a brief feeling of helplessness, he fired.
The shot went straight and true at the nearest cow. The noise of the gun echoed around the field. But the cow did not fall. It did not move. It did not react. Instead, the boy went mad. The shot had hit the cow in the shoulder, but it never landed. The cow’s flesh opened like a mouth, not ripping or bleeding, but simply stretching. A hole filled with teeth swallowed the bullet before the flesh snapped back to its original position. The cow still did not move an inch, but continued to leer at the boy.
The boy’s young mind simply could not take it. He again dropped the gun and himself fell to his knees, crying and laughing, sputtering and choking. He tore at his hair and screamed incoherent words. Still, the cows did not move. He tried to look to the sky, but his eyes would not go past the cows. His breathing became ragged and inconsistent before, finally, it stopped.
The boy’s heart had completely stopped. His shoulders dropped, followed by his head, neck, chest, and finally his whole body fell flat. All was still for a moment. The fields, cows, grass, and the boy, all stood still. Eventually, another “moo” shattered the dead silence. The nearest cow, the one that had swallowed the bullet, shuffled forward. It sniffed the limp body, turning it over and examining the corpse. It slowly raised its head and made another vocalization. The beast’s mouth slid open to its full width, then kept going. Its head seemed to split in half, opening wider and wider until it encompassed the body of the boy. In one movement, it swallowed the corpse. The cow’s head reformed to its original shape. It stood still for a moment before a chill seemed to go through its body. The flesh of its left side bubbled and squirmed like boiling water. A skeleton began to show through, emerging like a butterfly from its cocoon. The boy’s skeleton slid out of the skin of the cow and dropped to the ground, in the same position that the corpse had been in. The cow backed away to rejoin the herd. It shook its head nonchalantly, blinking a few times. On the last blink, more eyes opened. Six more eyes peeled open, two above and one below each eye. At the same time, fleshy lobes, almost like flower petals, bloomed from under the jaw of the animal. The area where the skeleton had been vomited out grew a leg, similar in appearance to the front legs, but instead of a hoof, a black claw flexed its new muscles.
The cow, metamorphosis complete, raised its head to vocalize. But, instead of a moo or grunt, a human scream rang out. It lasted for five seconds before the new monster lowered its head once again. The other cow’s trance seemed to break, and they began to move like normal animals again. The mutated cow turned toward the nearest section of fence and led its new proxies to it. It effortlessly flattened the barrier and walked out, followed by the herd. Within minutes, the field was once again still and silent.
The lawyer leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through his messy hair. He was almost finished with his day’s work. He had stayed over late to finish the paperwork on his latest case, much to the dismay of his wife. He checked his watch. 8:32. He let out a deep sigh and rose. He hated to leave his poor wife alone like this, but he would be restless all night knowing he had unfinished work at the office. He wasn’t even overly interested in this case. Some virology lab not fixing faulty pipes had caused some waterborne virus to leak into a stream. Normally, this would have been settled by the authorities, but some backwoods farm had apparently watered their livestock with the stream, and now were all either dead or missing. Not only that, but the poor couple had lost their son at the same time under mysterious circumstances. The whole thing was a nasty business, and he wanted no part of it. But, he was loyal to his job. He had been assigned to the case, so he would do his best. He hadn’t lost sight of his dream of one day running the office. This was just a stepping stone on his path. With this personal pep talk, he sat back down and got back to the paperwork.
The minutes crawled on their never ending journey as he worked, marching on to their unknown goal. The lawyer was prone to deep, philosophical thinking, admittedly beyond his ability for such thoughts. Why did the seconds and minutes and hours endlessly crawl along? What was their goal? Who would have the authority to make them keep on their journey if they were to stop? Had they already stopped, yet our clocks continued to tick? Was time already over?
He shook himself awake. He had fallen half-asleep, with these incomplete thoughts running through his tired head. He checked his watch again. 9:32. He frowned and stood up. His work was finally finished, and he was exhausted. He could only imagine the dreariness of his wife at home, so he quickly packed away his materials and gathered his coat and briefcase. He locked the door of his office as he left and pressed the button for the elevator across the hall. As he waited for the machine to make its tread up the shaft, he thought he could hear a noise outside in the distance. Almost like a cow. Odd. He didn’t know of any cattle farms in the vicinity. He rolled his shoulders back as the elevator doors slid open. Probably just a car.
His own car flashed as he unlocked it, standing still and solitary in the empty parking lot. Trees surrounded the pavement, creating a feeling of enclosure all around the office. He was about to climb into the driver’s seat when he noticed a movement out of the corner of his eye. He scanned the dark trees. He was about to shrug it off when a clump of plants clearly swayed. He stared at the shrubs, expecting some small animal or possibly one of the notorious drunks that would crop up in the area on occasion. He squinted and leaned against his car to see better when the culprit burst forth from the bushes.
It was neither animal nor human. At least, it wasn’t anymore. A writhing mass of bones, muscles and organs flopped to the ground like a slug. The lawyer’s breath left his body. He trembled and almost fell to his knees. However, he didn’t have time to react any more to the pulsating horror on the ground before something else emerged from the trees.
A huge beast shuffled into the open. It had the faint indication of cattle about it, but warped and twisted beyond nature. Its massive, insect-like eyes glowed with a blue light. Hard, fleshy lobes like some sort of tree fungus adorned its mutated body. Bony appendages stuck out at all angles, and spots of glowing light ran alongside its flanks. The lawyer’s sanity barely clung to its holds in his mind. Natural instincts took over him and he flew into his car and started it. He slammed the gas and sped out of the parking lot, followed by an echoing, unholy “MMMMRRRUUUUAAAAAAHHHH” from the bovine demon.
He sped out of the parking lot, swerving back and forth like a drunk down the road. He manically hurtled onto the interstate exit, ignoring every safety and precaution that had become a part of his life up to that point. Oddly, there were not any other vehicles anyway. The interstate was barren of its regular traffic. As he drove, his nerves began to calm little by little. His driving became less erratic and was almost comparable to a normal motorist before he saw the monster.
Another thing which echoed of a bovine past stood beside the road. This one was lanky and thin, like some cartoonist’s rendition of a malnourished cow. Its eyes glowed even brighter than the first creature, and it stood on three pairs of legs like some twisted parody of an insect. Its dead eyes followed the car for the split second that it was in view, and let forth a human-like yell as the lawyer raced away. The man was now sweating and hunched over the wheel, crying and moaning in eldritch terror as his speedometer climbed higher and higher. More glowing-eyed horrors began to crop up in his view, sporting all manner of mutations and abominable modifications to their bodies. He was now approaching triple digits on the speedometer. He had long passed his exit, but he didn’t seem to care or notice. He streaked down the interstate as the ever-watching cows became more and more abundant and closer to the road. He was hyperventilating and felt sick to his stomach, and before long had emptied that stomach’s contents onto himself. The cattle grew closer and closer until finally, there was one lone beast posted in the middle of the road that he could not avoid. It bellowed forth a sound that was almost entirely a bass rumbling as the lawyer’s car slammed into its haunches.
But, the cow stood. The impact had wiped off half of its body and crumpled the bumper and hood of the car, but the cow remained standing on just two legs. The car was still functional, and the lawyer desperately tried to start it as the cow began to turn.
The missing haunches and legs began to reappear out of its gaping innards, first as bone slithering out, followed by muscles and tendons that wrapped themselves around it, then membranous skin enveloped the new flesh. However, now brown tentacles lifted themselves out of the rear end of the beast and poised like the tail of a scorpion above it. The cow, if it could even be called such anymore, had turned toward the sputtering car. The lawyer screamed as loud as he could, giving the ignition one last turn. The car clanked and coughed itself to life. He slammed the gas to the floor, and the car reluctantly began to speed up again. After the speedometer passed 80, the entire machine began to vibrate like a massage chair. This did nothing except empty the lawyer’s weak bowels again, this time from a different location. The car protested as he again reached 100, after which it would go no further. The broken mind of the man reactivated an old habit of checking the mirrors of his car, which he did. But what he saw in them hammered away at the last holds of sanity in his mind.
The tentacle-tailed cow was right behind him. It was effortlessly running along with the car, flashing in and out of the view of the lights. Sometimes, only its soulless, glowing eyes could be seen; sometimes its entire wretched body was in view. Its horde of tentacles writhed above it, itching to use their new muscles. The man began babbling and swerving, muttering long-unsaid prayers and sayings from his youth. The cow drew alongside the car and stared in. It made another bass-heavy vocalization before striking the roof with its new appendages.
The car was wrenched into the air and the lawyer was thrown onto the roof. It was mere seconds before the man himself was jerked out through the windshield, slicing his skin in the process. He screamed and cried and wailed and pleaded, but no one besides the cow heard him. The tentacles tightened around him and drew him towards the cow’s haunches. He let out a last desperate cry as he was absorbed into the center of the tentacles.
All was again silent. The cow stood still for a moment, besides the ever wriggling mass on its rear. It stared at nothing and everything for two minutes before its mouth peeled open beyond that which any cow naturally should be able to and vomited out the clean, white skeleton of its prey. It stared at these remains for a while before it huffed and shuffled onward.
The girl was vegan. Since middle school she had not once used anything that involved an animal, in any way. Of course, there had been mishaps along the way. During 8th grade, she had accidentally eaten a fish taco at lunch, thinking it was substitution meat. She had lamented this black evil for weeks, and even to this day, now in her junior year of college, she still felt a distant sense of guilt when she saw a fish. She had bought wool coats by mistake twice, and once had eaten an egg and cheese burrito. All these incidents had turned her into a guilt-filled mess for weeks afterward. Animals were precious to her. She saw them as equal to, if not superior to, humans. They only took what they needed, they didn’t hunt for sport or fun, and didn’t destroy their home. She volunteered for a cruelty-free shelter five days of the week, and in her free time would watch and read anything about animals she could find. She even would watch videos not so much about animals, but things that affected them. Humans, climate, diseases, and the like. Recently, she had heard of new research on ancient viruses found frozen in glaciers that would infect and modify the DNA of their host, instead of just killing their cells to reproduce into more viruses. There were even theories being thrown about that these viruses could have been the causes for several mass extinctions.
But this was all just theories from frozen specimens in labs. They could only be transmitted in water before they could move from host to host, anyway. There was no concern for an outbreak with how safe virology labs had become in recent years.
She brushed away these thoughts as she entered the main lecture hall of her campus. She was studying to become a veterinarian. Today, there was supposed to be a lecture about cattle and bovine health, from a visiting professor from Iowa. However, it had been canceled due to the government quarantine of the state. The girl lived in Illinois, and the quarantine had almost been extended to her state, but was decided against at the last minute. Her campus was relatively close to the border with Iowa, and many students had stayed home for safety’s sake. But, she was passionate about her future career, and had come. She did not know what the lecture would be about, but was still eager to hear whatever it was. She entered the vaulty room and took her regular seat.
The hall had about half as many students as it normally did. Everyone sat fidgeting or talking waiting for the substitute lecturer to arrive. The girl took out her faux leather notebook and began to sketch, as she always did when she was bored.
Almost half an hour had passed, and still nobody had arrived. The students were now standing or leaning back, and some had already left. The girl looked up from her sketch of a goat and looked at the clock. She frowned and scanned around for any signs of what was going on. She was about to stand up and ask someone what to do when a noise pierced the air.
A tornado siren wailed in the distance. Its fluctuating whine asserted itself over the din of the hall and silenced the students. Before anyone could react, another noise ruptured the air and fought with the distant siren for control of the air. The emergency alert system blared from every student’s phone. The girl had always had a slight phobia of the noise, and she nearly jumped from her bench at its untimely arrival in her senses.
She whipped out her phone and read the message emblazoned across the screen:
Emergency Alert. ORGANIC THREAT INBOUND. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS AND DOORS. THIS IS NOT A TEST.
She stared in confusion for a few seconds. Organic threat? Windows and doors? Was it some sort of mistake? The siren’s scream drowned out any successive thoughts. The students were looking at each other, confused, trying to talk over the siren and figure out what was happening. Many had stood up and were heading toward the exit when suddenly, the lights in the lecture hall flickered with their last bursts of life and went dark.
Now students yelled and groped around the pitch-black seats, bumping into each other as they desperately clawed for the exit. All the windows were shuttered shut, so not a single beam of light illuminated the hall. The girl tried to turn on her phone to use as a flashlight, but the screen remained dark. The phone, which moments before had been displaying the cryptic alert message, seemed to be dead. It had been almost fully charged just a few seconds before. Other students began to notice the same thing about their devices. It was like all electricity had been usurped from the hall.
Soon, however, a boy found the door. He swung it open, only to be soaked with a downpour of rain. It had been sunny that morning, without a cloud in sight, but now rolling stormclouds dominated the sky. Thunder now shook the building, and flashes of lightning provided temporary light to the room. The siren’s cry was now clearer as well, surpassed only by the loudest cracks of thunder. The students were hesitant to exit, but the boldest ones ran out into the storm.
They never ran again.
As soon as they crossed the doorway, they were gone. White flashes of lightning engulfed them immediately and left a black shadow on the ground where they once stood. And impossibly, the lighting seemed to come not from the sky, vertically, but diagonally from somewhere on the ground. After 7 people had been vaporized and the traumatized students had chosen to cower behind their chairs, another noise, louder and stronger than any in the concoction of sounds around that hall, floated in menacingly to every ear in the building.
The girl froze. A… cow? It couldn’t be anything else. She had no time to piece together this new information before it wandered in.
It had 12 glowing eyes adorning its head. On its back, three fleshy rods extended into the air, crackling with sparks of electricity. The middle one was taller than the rest, and it seemed to glow white beneath the skin. Various appendages moved about like the antennae of a shrimp, inspecting every surface or object the cow walked by. She couldn’t believe anything she was seeing. She rubbed her eyes and bit her cheek, trying to wake up from whatever nightmare her subconscious had slipped into. But nothing happened.
A single, frantic student ran into the aisle. He seemed to have completely lost his mind, and was screaming and frothing at his mouth. The cow’s eyes trained on him. Before he could take one more step, a flash shot from the rods on the beast’s back, right at the boy. A stiff, black lump fell to the ground.The cow made another vocalization that rattled the entire building and more flashes erupted from its back, searing every hiding student in the hall. The girl’s eyes streamed with hot tears. Why her? She had been nice to animals. She had taken care of nature. Why was she, the nicest girl on earth, now fodder for this animal?
These thoughts crowded her head as the lightning engulfed her. The final phrase that crossed her mind was cut short. Why doesn’t nature care about-?
The preacher prayed as the cow flew through the window. The businessman clutched his briefcase as he was trampled. The teacher thought only of her students as she blocked the door. The policeman’s gun clicked as the cow’s mouth yawned open. The reserve soldier screamed a curse as the group of animals overtook her. The semi driver swerved off, breaking the guardrail. The president’s bunker crumbled beneath the rest of the White House. The survivors stared hopelessly as the cow rose from the ground. The man on the raft stared at the sky as a glowing creature swam towards him.
Every human did what they did best. What they cared about most. Everything that they could do, they did.
But nature didn’t care.
Credit : J.B. Graves
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