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Estimated reading time — 17 minutes

My parents took care of everything: my plane ride, luggage, tuition enrollment, and accommodations with Uncle Garry. I couldn’t wait. Since I was five, I’ve wanted to become a farmer; what better way to learn than on a farm? Connecting with nature and giving back to the world has always been my outlook on life. It took me years of pushing the idea to mom and dad, and now my persistence has paid off.

As I went to board the plane, my mother took me into her arms for an embrace. She reached into her purse and pulled out a vacuum-sealed plastic bag. As she handed it to me, I looked inside to find an uncooked chuck bone steak soaked in seasonings.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“It’s a steak for your Uncle Garry. I took all appropriate measures for you to bring it on board. Now you make sure he gets this right away when you see him. OK?” My mother’s eyes welled up.

“Can’t he just buy it himself, or is this like a special recipe you made?” my eyebrow lifted.

“Honey, I’m just holding up my end of the bargain. When I asked what it would take for you to live with him, he said one thing. Bring meat. I told him it wouldn’t keep through the flight. He still insisted.”

“That’s odd”. I looked up into her eyes with confidence as I gave her one last hug. “OK. I’ll be sure to give it to Uncle Garry. I love you, mom.” I took the bag into my hands and boarded the plane. I felt excited to be traveling to a new place and sad I wouldn’t see my parents for a year.

The attendant standing guard at the boarding gate held out her hand for my ID and ticket. She glanced over the ticketed paperwork, verifying its contents. I rolled my eyes at the slight inconvenience of her slow pace. I didn’t get my boarding gate wrong. My destination was still Ohio; I was 16, 5’6”, my name was still Andy Heartland, and I still had shaggy brown hair. Once the attendant saw everything was in order, she returned my documentation and gestured that I board the plane.

I found my seat, stowed my carry-on luggage, and steeled myself to tolerate awkward conversations with gabby passengers. I put earphones on, deciding to watch the flight’s entertainment. Even an awful movie is better than a conversation with a stranger.


After the flight, I was met at the main gate by my Uncle Garry. He was a tall, lanky, sunken-eyed, and white-haired countryman. He greeted me with a forced smile and comforted me with a limp hug. “Andy! It’s good to see you, boy. My, have you grown. You must be at least 15 by now?”

“16 actually… but that’s OK.” I paused as I remembered the chuck bone steak. “Here. Mom told me to make sure you got this.”

His stern expression morphed to a smile as he took the clear plastic bag from me. “Well now, that was a mighty thoughtful gift of yer mom, wasn’t it? It’s always good to have meat around. Speaking of, you don’t seem to have much meat on you, now do you, boy? It looks like yer ma ain’t been feeding you properly.” His hug turned into a rib-crushing embrace.

I laughed and didn’t want him to think I couldn’t do hard farm labor. “I’m stronger than I look. I just got a high metabolism, you know.”

He released me from our hug as he seemed to drift off into an unexpressed thought. “Naw. It’d bring too much attention anyway. And we don’t want that now, do we?”

I was confused at first and then thought, maybe he had been pondering about testing my strength right then and there or something. If that were the case, his comment was surprising and quite appalling. I could tell he wasn’t fat-shaming me, but his hint was a little close to the bone. I was a bit heavier set in my younger years, but once I found football, that all changed.

“I am willing to learn all the tough labor you throw at me. I’m sure you will be surprised by my ability to do farm work.” I still didn’t exactly understand his comment. Still, I didn’t want to get into a debate immediately after getting off the plane.

“Well, one thing’s for sure; On mah farm, you’ll earn a great appreciation fer flesh, cartilage, muscle, n’ bone in one way er another.”

That’s odd; I remembered he had fields of produce. “What about your cornfields, soybean crop, and anything else you have on the farm?”

“Aint do em no more. I run a stri’t low numbers cattle farm now. I buy n’ sell individual cows ta people want’n just one er two heifers. Now, I know it’s not a common cattle farm practice.” His eyes almost looked distressed. “It’s just enough ta keep the farm goin’ without too much fuss or bills. I still stock the barn full of hay fer a year’s feeding, keep a truck, and garden for greens.”

We continued the conversation as we gathered my luggage and left for Uncle Garry’s house. I talked more about what I had been up to in recent years. We spoke about my parents. That subject sparked him to reminisce about him and dad growing up on the family estate– getting into mischief and how it’s been in our family for thirteen generations. Strangely, he never laughed while telling those stories. I thought some of them were pretty humorous. Eventually, a strange silence overcame us. I could discern Uncle Garry wanted to relate to me something important.

We turned down a dirt road. Dust covered the sign at the entrance, but I could still make out its name, “Jones Road.” The rubble path felt somewhat claustrophobic with the thick oak forest surrounding it. The left thinned out to reveal a large, fenced-in field with scattered bales of hay. I smiled in anticipation as his weather-beaten truck turned down the driveway to the homestead.

After a moment, Uncle Garry pepped up, “Since yer gonna to live with me, you gotta abide by mah rules. OK?”

“I understand. It’s not mom and dad’s house; it’s a working farm. It’s going to be different. So, what are the rules?”

“One: I’ll leave 20 dollars on the dining room table each mornin; make sure ta bring home meat each night from the grocery store on yer way home from school. Two: I buy and sell cattle ta keep the bills paid. If I’m with someone in the yard outside, you jus walk on by and git ta the house. I don’t want you messing with mah dealings. Three: Someone needs ta feed the cows early in the mornin’s. I figure since you’ll be going ta school, you could do it. Besides, you seem eager ta help out. And lastly, Four:” His stoic gaze shifted to a grimace, “Never go down ta the river… And I mean it, Andy. Never. Got it?”

Hesitant and a little flustered, I replied, “ye… yes sir.”

His expression resumed its stoic nature. He put the vehicle in park. “Good. Now maybe we git home, and I make us some good ol’ dinner.”

I followed Uncle Garry into the house. It smelled richly of cedar.

“There isn’t much ta the house. I’m sure you remember.” My uncle made his way to the kitchen. “Here is the kitchen, dinner table, livin room, bathroom, bedroom, and stairs all on the bottom floor. Upstairs, I cleared out the guest bedroom fer you. If you get cold, there’s a side closet full of blankets.”

I looked around expectantly. “Didn’t you use to have a dog? A collie named Sissy?”

“She died.” Garry made his way to the kitchen. He plopped my mother’s gifted stake into the freezer.

Taken aback, I tried to find appropriate words to say. “I’m sorry. I remember how much you loved that dog. What happened?”

Annoyed, he sharply replied, “She went down by the river when I told ‘er not to.”

It was a tender topic for him. It would be for me if I lost something I loved. I wanted to say more but felt it better not to.

I sat down at the table, ready for dinner. The countryman filled two plates with peas and carrots. He tossed one after the other into the microwave. Once done, he put one plate in front of himself and slid the other over to me. With a nod, he said, “Eat it before it gits cold.” A pile of cooked vegetables stared back at me.

“Thanks…” I don’t know why I should, but I guess I expected chicken or something else. Or maybe more. “If you want, I could make the steak mom got for you?” I suggested, trying not to be evident that I was hungry for meat.

“Naw. I’m goin to save that fer something else.” He didn’t talk much after that.

After dinner, he gave a tour through the barn and fields, showing me how to feed the cows. As dusk set, we made our way back to the homestead. Uncle Garry headed straight to the living room, turned on an old laptop, and began surfing the web. I looked to see if he had any channels I liked but settled on ESPN. An hour later, the farmer logged off the computer and switched gears to watch TV. Eventually, he fell asleep in front of it. I watched for a while and then went up to my new bedroom.

That night I heard a vehicle pull up to the farmhouse around 1:00 AM. I listened as my uncle went out to meet the visitor. Muffled voices, masculine and feminine, conversed for a while. Then the conversation quieted as they made their way toward the penned pasture. It was strange that uncle Garry would deal with a customer this late at night. But I didn’t give it much thought at the time. I was tired and didn’t care.

The following day, I woke up well-rested and put my best clothes on to make an excellent first impression at school. When I got downstairs, there was a cereal box, milk, bowl, spoon, twenty dollars, and a note waiting for me. The note read:

Good luck on your first day of school. Remember to feed the cows, and don’t forget to bring home meat. Whatever is on sale is best. You get more bang for your buck. It doesn’t matter what it is: chicken, pork, or beef. Just get as much as you can. I’ll see you when you get home.
Love – Uncle Garry.

I ate my breakfast, grabbed my backpack, put the cash in my pocket, and went out to do my morning chore. I stepped out to see a strange blue car parked next to my uncle’s rusted old junker. Whoever was here last night must have had some kind of car trouble. Nothing looked out of place. Why else would it still be here?

The thought was fleeting, as I was in a hurry to feed the cows. I went to the barn, grabbed two bales of hay, and crossed the barbed wire fence to reach the feed trough. It took five trips to the barn and back to haul all eight bales. The cows started trekking in from the far side of the field by the river but stopped once they noticed me—a stranger. I wasn’t bothered by it. I was proud. I just did my first farm job, and now I was in a hurry for my first day of school.

Most people think being the new kid in town is tormenting—they’re right. You get to be the mystery everyone wants to unravel. Society starts placing you in their unique chain of command, all while trying to find your place in their world. My experience was tormenting but different.

Once my first day at the new high school was over, I walked to the grocery store Uncle Garry told me about. Every store patron I passed kept their distance from me. Quick glances and hushed tones became my background noise. Unfortunately, this had been happening to me all day. Everyone kept a wide berth.
Adults, teenagers, kids, everyone. I approached a stock-boy replenishing canned goods on an empty shelf.

“What’s up!” I smiled, attempting to engage in a friendly demeanor.

He shifted his eyes away from mine. I knew what he was doing. I had done it numerous times to my parents before in hopes of escaping confrontation. It was a poor attempt to pretend not to hear me. I stepped closer, planting a firm presence. “OK, seriously. Why is everyone doing this to me? Everyone at school acted like I was cursed by the plague; now everyone in the grocery store is doing it too. What the hell, man!”

The stock boy kept his eyes low to the ground. “You’re related to Garry Heartland, right?

“Ya. So?”

His eyes glanced into mine for a moment. “Well, people that visit him go missing. The local authorities looked into it once, something about no probable cause or evidence. Now the police ignore all calls to Heartland’s home.” a long awkward silence loomed between us. I tried desperately to continue the conversation, but all my mind’s words fell flat. With nothing else to say, I continued my task at hand.

My thoughts raced. Nothing sinister could possibly be going on at Uncle Garry’s farm, was it? I passed two clerks talking about a missing woman. She was headed down Jones Road in a blue car, last they saw. I wondered if the vehicle sitting in the yard this morning belonged to the woman they were talking about.

I took a slow, deep breath in and exhaled, hoping to let go of my mounting anxiety. The notion that my uncle abducted and killed people was ridiculous. The kids at school were playing some twisted prank on the new kid. The missing person thing was all an enormous coincidence. I felt stupid; how could I have let paranoia get the better of me. I set aside my thoughts and looked for a large quantity of meat for a reasonable price.

After the grocery store was the bus ride home. I had to take the late bus meant for students with extracurricular activities. Continual glances passed in my direction as I carried the grocery bag to my seat. Eventually, the bus came to my stop, dropping me off at the end of Jones Road. I had to walk the rest of the way, though it wasn’t too long. There was no blue car as I walked up Uncle Garry’s driveway. Whoever left their vehicle last night must have come to get it.

As the first month passed, I noticed a disturbing pattern. Three to four times a week, someone would show up to the farm late at night. Uncle Garry would go out to talk with them. Eventually, he would take them out to see the cattle by the river. The following morning, a strange vehicle was always parked in our yard and gone when I would return home from school. It was never the same vehicle twice, and on these mornings, Uncle Garry was nowhere to be found.


As time went on, I learned more about Uncle Garry. He was the farmer stereotype everyone thinks of, but he had an odd obsession with making sure he had plenty of meat in his freezer. Three to four cattle disappeared each week, and uncle Garry bought a few each weekend to replenish his stock. I never saw him sell any cattle, but I helped him load up replacements at the cattle auction on the weekends.

Bartering livestock is closer to what I imagined operating a farm was about. I had hoped to manage crops. Still, it was enjoyable watching the bidder’s battle for the top bovine. Uncle Garry seemed like a different man when he was at the beef auction. He was stern, confident, and I swear I saw him crack a smile. We paid out hundreds of dollars, and each head of cattle became our prize. I was shocked to learn each cow sold for one to two thousand dollars apiece. Uncle Garry would buy a few heifers in the market below the asking price and sell them at market value to foolhardy late-comers. The beef market was his simple management plan.

We never ate chicken, pork, or beef for dinner. I knew meat should be on the menu because I brought some home every day from school. I was not too fond of it. I wanted to see particularly where the beef cuts flew off to. Where did it go, and why didn’t we eat what I bought? Why did Garry conduct business only at night?

Curious, I looked around the farm for his meat stash conglomeration. Uncle Garry never went anywhere while I was home. I knew all the meat I bought made it into the kitchen freezer. From there, I wasn’t sure. So, whatever he does with my purchases happens while I am at school.

One day over dinner, I decided to confront him about it. I waited until he was at his most content. I watched my uncle as he plunged a forkful of lettuce and cherry tomatoes into his mouth. His expression was still stiff but agreeable.

I yelled, “Where is all the meat I bring home? Why do you only do business at night? Why are their vehicles always here in the morning? And why aren’t you ever feeding me meat for supper?”

He stopped and looked at me with a fierceness I’ve never seen from anyone before. Red juice dribbled from the left of his lips and down his chin. “You’ll stop your talking now if you know what’s good for you, boy. Besides, you don’t need meat to live, so we don’t eat meat in my house.”

“NO! Tell me! It’s creepy, and you come off like some kind of serial murderer.”

“I’m not telling you a damn thing! What harm has come to you all this time anyway? NONE! Let it go, Andy. Let it go.”

I stood up, frustrated, and stomped out the front door. It was about five o’clock at night with the sun still up. I watched the sunset for a minute to relax, pulling a cigarette from my pocket and lighting it up. Uncle Garry didn’t care that I smoked; I often wondered if he would feel the same if my parents were around.

My concerns kept nagging at me, like a headache becoming a full-blown migraine. I needed more time to cool down. I made my way to the barn to grab a bale of hay for feeding the livestock. While I was still outside, I figured I might get a head start on tomorrow morning’s feeding.

I climbed over the barbed wire fence carrying the hay. I know I’m only supposed to feed cows in the morning, but what’s the worst that could happen? They’re better fed? I called out to the cows as I approached the feeding trough. I’d been providing for them for some time, so it was only natural that the cows came to associate me with their food. They came trekking in from the far river bed. The gathered bovine tore apart the bales of hay. After a moment, bellowing came from the river.

The cries sounded like a child needing help. I pondered the best solution. Uncle Garry told me never to go down by the river. But if the livestock dies, that’s more than a thousand dollars gone to waste. If I were my uncle Garry, I’d ground myself for not taking action, knowing so much money was a stake. Right?

I was never good with decisions. I pulled out a penny. “OK. Heads, I go to the river, tails, I wait and go get Uncle Garry,” I spoke out loud as if the cows might agree with my reasoning. I flipped the coin and watched it fall onto the turf. Tails. Dang.

I turned to go to the farmhouse. Distant distressed moans grew grim and shrill. No. Immediate action was called for. I hated the thought of any creature suffering and not doing anything about it. I rushed toward the mooing.

I crested the hill on this side of the river. My eyes widened to see a cow struggling in the water with something covering its upper half. Whatever it was, was significant in size, like a giant python. Its body was half in water and half covering the steer. It had no discernable head and appeared wormlike. It had movements like jelly and pulsed rhythmically. The creature’s spinal crest emitted bubbles like a gaseous swamp. Each bubble, after it popped, excreted a dark slime that flowed over and was reabsorbed into its skin.

Perhaps the creature had emerged from a deep cave in the river bank. Submerged beneath the beast was a dark cavity, perfect for a black creature to hide inside. My attention turned back to the crying noises.

I watched in horror. The “thing” continued to engulf the cow. Woeful bovine howls, scraping, and popping noises filled the air. The creature’s exterior rippled ecstatically with each muffled protest its prey cried.

I began looking around for a big rock. I was a great athlete. I could break bones with a stone if I tried. Frantically searching, I found a large spherical ore, next to the riverbank, just a hundred feet away. As I ran to pick up the stone, a cloud of flies erupted from it.

The rock wasn’t a rock at all. It was something else—a deeply compacted metal with small pockets. The tiny pits held a dark jelly with pebbles of white inside. Closer up, I saw pale yellow regurgitated bone. A smell perfumed the stone of decomposed flesh.

I chucked the hunk at the beast. The stone slapped its bubbly skin, but the creature acted as if nothing happened. Instead, I felt something invade my brain. A million years of fear and sadness filled me all at once. Its telepathic link burrowed deep into my grey matter. What it made me feel made me want to die.

“No. I devour all. Priority … tissue, muscle, fat, flesh.” I could hear the creature speak in my mind, its voice soft and feminine.

I stumbled trying to speak “W-wha … what are you?”

Its mind tendrils hissed “I traveled from witch the great astral comet came… Give me flesh” Each word put more feelings of hopelessness into me.

Then it stopped.

My eyes filled with tears. I knew I had to tell Uncle Garry. I ran back to the house. I belted open the door and yelled, “Something is attacking the cattle!”


Uncle Garry was watching a fishing documentary, sitting in front of his small TV. He was confused for a moment. Then his confusion changed to anger. “You went down by the river, didn’t you? I told you NEVER ta go by the river! No matter what!”

He jumped to his bedroom closet and flung open the closet door. “Now I have ta take care of this mahself.” He wielded a pump-action, ten gauge shotgun.

I looked perplexed. “What are you telling me? Did you know that thing was there this whole time? You’re going to shoot it, right?”

He narrowed his eyes, putting a shotgun shell in the chamber. “It eats anythin’ but likes meat. Don’t care what kind, and it eats a lot. I don’t sell cattle, boy. I feed the beast cattle.”

“Then what are the late-night visitors? “

“They’re jus hopelessly desperate consumers from Craig’s List. I can convince buyers looking fer all kinds of rare collectibles ta come by answering their wanted ad with an attractive price. You make sure it’s not too good, er they think it’s a scam. A fake email ‘n a traveling IP address help too. I don’t want investigators mucking up the operation.” He cocked the gun. “I need the creature, Andy. She always shows me the beauty ta keep on livin. Her shrieks don’t stop unless she’s satiated. Why couldn’t you jus obey mah rules? Now you might have gone ‘n messed everything up!”

I replied to my Uncle Garry, “I didn’t mess anything up? I don’t even know what that thing is, but I know we need to call the Department of Natural Resources, the police, someone!”

Uncle Garry’s finger hovered over the trigger “Andy if you call anyone… I’ll kill you. Police are suspicious but ain’t found anythin on me yet. Not enough evidence. If anyone finds out, they will come ta take her away. Then I will never see her beauty again. Then I could never be pleased. Yer mah favorite nephew Andy; I love you, but I won’t let you destroy this.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, what my uncle had been doing, let alone threatening to kill me. If this is love, it is a weird way of showing it. He gestured for me to walk ahead of him. “We will jus have ta handle it ourselves.”

What did he mean: ‘handle it?’ I walked ahead of him down to the river. I listened intently as he stuffed shotgun shells into his gun. He wouldn’t kill me, would he?

We made our way down by the river, but nothing was there—no creature, no screaming cow, and no corpse left behind. There was nothing at all. Uncle Garry glared at me with dark disdain. “You did this.” His hand gently trembled alongside his gun.

“What are you doing? Don’t look at me like that, damn it! I didn’t even hurt the creature.”

This man was not the Uncle Garry I knew. This man was a sick man with mental issues. I could see he had no compassion left for me, just rage. I would die by his hands, and no one would ever know.

I ran, trudging knee-high into the water. “Please don’t shoot. It has to be here, somewhere. It can’t be far.” I wanted to find proof it was still here. No, I needed to find proof! Uncle Gary slowly started to lift his gun.

The only place it could be now was within the dark cavity. Right? I quickly looked into the drop-off. No, it’s too dark to see. “Wait! Don’t shoot!” I pointed enthusiastically into the depths. “I found it! See, it’s right there beyond the drop-off! Right there!” I could see the creature deep below the river’s surface. The cow was now a sunken, bony blob surrounded by a sizable shadow.

I pointed out its position beneath the waves. My uncle stepped forward, doubtfully, to see where I was gesturing. River waves passed up to his knees as he moved in a few feet beyond where I stood.

His eyes grew more desperate than I had ever seen before. A creeping, crooked smile expanded along his lips. There was no doubt he could see it. Now I understood uncle Garry for what he was, a sick man, mind twisted by a strange and vile creature.

Oh no. There it was again—the feeling of a thousand depressions.

The monster plunged out of the water without making a sound. It rippled, dripping ooze down its back. Lifting its chest, revealing its underside, I could now see what it kept hidden beneath. It was; I can’t explain it. It was beautiful. It was so beautiful I couldn’t move; a part of me didn’t want to move. I glanced at my uncle, enthralled in the same way as I.

The creature’s dark, faceless head peered down at me. I could feel its eyeless gaze again. This time, instead of fear, I felt euphoria and true peace. “Flesh. Give it to me.”

I wanted to listen. I needed to listen. Even so, I had no flesh. Or did I? My uncle was still perfectly entranced, like a crack addict getting their overdue fix. I couldn’t let this feeling end. I had to do all I could to continue its glorious bounty. With all my might, I threw my body into Uncle Gary’s back. He hurled into the monster. With a bone-curdling scream and muted gunshots, the demon took to my uncle in the blink of an eye. I froze, still as a statue as the air echoes with faint, anguished howls, scrapes, and crunches.

I never moved. I watched the creature enjoy its new meal. Minutes after digesting, it regurgitated a round object before descending back from which it came. The hunk was precisely like the one I threw at the creature earlier that evening. Only it didn’t contain any compressed metal. It smelled just as bad. Flies began to gather at the sphere, ready for their delicious remuneration.

Reality came creeping back. Now what? Where was I to go, and what would I do? Whom do I tell about the animal? I stayed motionless until sometime around midnight. A cloudless sky with bright stars glittered the atmosphere. Sinking depression came like a wave rushing back as I walked to the farmhouse.

I’ve cried every night since the incident. I no longer attend school. I toss and turn in my sleep. Sleep, I suppose you can’t even call it that. I hear the same noises—the screams of woe with that horrid scratching and crunching. I hear her voice in my head, “feed me flesh … I will show you beauty and hope again”. She won’t stop. If nothing changes, I am afraid of what will happen.

After days of pondering, I have a solution. I need meat.

Credit: Terran Morrow

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