Cows

From beasts we scorn as soulless,
In forest, field and den,
The cry goes up to witness
The soullessness of men.
–M. Frida Hartley

Carl and his buddy Terry were heading home from fishing at Deer Creek Reservoir one afternoon and were pulling out of the parking area when they saw something going on just up the road. There was a full-size pickup truck off to the side where an SUV and mid-size sedan had also stopped. With nothing much else planned for the day, they decided to investigate. As they got closer, they could see the incident had just occurred and seemed to still be unraveling. Carl parked near the top of the hill on the dusty shoulder and got out to see what was going on.

As he got closer he could see a dark haired woman in the driver's seat of rusty, red Ford truck and in front of the truck, still partially in the roadway, were two downed Holstein cows. Another passerby in a John Deer trucker cap was trying to talk to the hysterical woman in the front seat of the Ford who appeared to be unharmed. She was crying, screaming hardly distinguishable Spanish across a flurry of hand gestures, and at least eight-months pregnant. The horn of the truck was stuck and drowning out their voices. Carl and Terry stood dumbfounded looking at each other, their chins dropped slightly, unable to form words into a verbal reaction. It slowly became apparent that she had come over the top of the hill, not seen the cows crossing, and plowed into them going about fifty miles per hour. The front of the truck was completely smashed in and radiator fluid was leaking steadily from underneath.

Carl instinctively walked over to the truck and tried lifting the hood to disconnect the deafening horn, but it was too bent to budge. He grudgingly slid underneath into the mess of seeping fluid and rummaged around until he was able to yank loose horn's wires. When he surfaced, he was covered in twigs and anti-freeze and had a number of scraped-up, bloody knuckles. He went around the open driver's door to where the woman was still shouting in tearful Spanish. He looked at her carefully and loudly but calmly said, "It's ok. It's ok," over and over. Her voice lowered some and he motioned deep breaths by waving his hand back and forth from his abdomen to his face until she too, started breathing deeply between shoulder shaking sobs. Carl offered his hand with the least number of bloody knuckles and helped the woman out of the truck. He and the John Deer cap stranger led her to the passenger seat of his stopped car, facing the opposite direction down the canyon road. All the while the Holsteins were sprawled out in front of the truck moaning and grunting and the occasional limb jerked and flailed with seizure-like muscle spasms. The smaller of the two cows had bloody saliva hanging from its mouth and was rolling its head back and forth uncontrollably in the dirt. Now that the woman was taken care of, the men quickly turned their attention to the cows.

Carl asked the group, "Anyone got a gun?"

The skinny and tall, hatless stranger answered, "I've got a flare gun." The men looked at each other blankly and Carl scratched his head in thought.

"That won't do. I've got a .22 in my truck, but no bullets," said the John Deer cap.

A moment or two past as the men shuffled their feet and shoved hands into pockets, contemplating any possible solutions. The woman waited in the car with the windows up, seemingly oblivious to the pain entrenched gargling moos in the background. Carl's friend Terry suddenly remembered he knew someone that lived nearby that had a gun. Carl gave Terry the keys to his truck and he went off to fetch the weapon. Carl and the tall, skinny stranger started digging through the back of his SUV, stuffed full of a hoarder's odds and ends, from trinkets and clothes to fast food wrappers, looking for anything that might put the cows out of their misery. At least a half hour had passed at this point and there was no sign of relief or death for either of the wailing bovines.

"Hard tellin' when the cops'll get here," muttered Carl as they continued to look through the back of SUV. "I've gotta do somethin. I can't let those poor cows keep sufferin."   Carl was an animal lover, and though he had been known to go on a hunt now and then, he had kept many pets over the years, from dogs and cats to geckos and sugar gliders. When he was recovering from a skiing accident, someone gave him his first sugar glider and it had entertained him when he was homebound with a broken leg. Sugar gliders are odd creatures and not very domesticated, but Carl was patient and eventually able to carry the squirrel around in his shirt pocket.

Carl and the tall, skinny stranger unburied an old green toolbox with a broken latch and discovered a typical carpenter's hammer. They looked at each other again, not sure if this was a solution, or a completely bad idea. "You think a hammer to the head'll do 'er?" Carl asked unknowingly. The stranger just shrugged his shoulders, but didn't attempt to stop Carl as he ambled toward the cows. The smaller cow continued to twitch wildly and the other was moaning like nothing Carl had ever heard before. He couldn't stand to see the animals in pain. The police had still not arrived and the woman had her back to the cows. She was waiting quietly in the car with arms crossed, resting on her protruding belly.

Carl looked around once more, hoping that the police or Terry would arrive with a gun. He paused, trying to listen, but could hear nothing coming up the road over the constant ear-filling cries of the cows. The John Deer cap stranger that had been sitting with the woman saw Carl walk by with the hammer and jumped out of his car to watch. The other two men stood several feet behind Carl watching cautiously. These were full grown Holsteins, beautiful, black and white spotted cows, both substantial enough in size to stop a fifty-mile-an-hour, full size truck. Carl was cautious too. He didn't know when one of the cows might kick or move unexpectedly. He approached the first cow on the shoulder of the road and stood an arm's length in front of it. Its eyes were wide with fear and glazed over with confusion. The cow was still rocking his head, maybe from a broken neck. Carl took a deep breath, pulled the hammer up over his head, closed his eyes, and slammed it down on the cow's skull as hard as he could. The two strangers flinched when the hammer hit bone with a low thud, but neither looked away. The cow bawled in pain, but otherwise it seemed to make no difference. It was still conscious and twitching. Carl repeated the action and again had no success in knocking the cow out. He moved to the head of the other cow that was still blocking part of the road. This time he got closer and still with his eyes clenched shut, he quickly whacked the hammer down on the cow's head three times in a row, hoping that the added strength and quick repetition might have more success. Moaning and more blood, but the cow was still conscious. Carl stood back, nearly choked up as realization struck him, and he thought to himself sadly, Not only have these poor cows been hit by a truck, now they've been slammed in the head by a hammer a bunch of times!

He stepped away from the cows with his head down and wiped the blood from the hammer in the weeds. He walked sluggishly to the owner of the SUV and returned the hammer. "Poor things," Carl said under his breath, shaking his head with disappointment and not sure what to do next. Less than a minute later, the police and Terry both arrived at the same time. Terry jumped out of the small pickup and ran toward Carl with hunting rifle and box of bullets in hand. While the other men explained the details of the situation to the officer, Carl and Terry went over to the cows and started loading the gun. The cop looked up from his notepad and saw what they were doing. "Wait here," he said to the others and walked over to Carl and Terry.

"You can't discharge a firearm here," he said firmly.

"What?" Carl said in disbelief. "What are we supposed to do about these cows? I tried hittin' 'em in the head with a hammer and now you won't let me put 'em out of their misery?"

"It's illegal. I can't let you shoot a firearm here," he repeated.

"Well, you can shoot 'em can't ya?" Carl asked hopefully.

"Sorry, nothing I can do," the cop said once again, firmly without emotion.

"That's fucking ridiculous!" Carl said loudly and took a step back from the cop.

"Did you see the accident?" the cop asked directly, unfazed by Carl's sudden aggression.

"No," said Carl disgustedly, "but I climbed under that piece o' shit truck to kill the horn and got that poor woman calmed down. She was carryin' on like she was crazy when I got here and these damned fools were standin' around doin' nothin'!"

"I don't need a statement from you then. You two can be on your way," the officer said matter-of-factly and pointed down the road back at Carl's truck.

"Stupid pigs," Carl said under his breath as he and Terry trudged back to the truck with the rifle. Carl looked back over his shoulder at the woman's splotched red, tired face behind the car's bug-spattered windshield as he walked away. He got in the driver's seat, slammed the door with disgust as he started the truck, and flipped a U-turn to head back down the canyon, passed the speed boats and fishing boats out on Deer Creek, passed the fences meant to keep in the cows.