Roland Smith steered the pickup down the gravel road and slowed to a stop at the bottom of the hill.
Roland took the twelve gauge shotgun down from the gun rack that was mounted on the back window of the cab. He fished a shell out of the glove box and quickly placed the end of it against the loading flap. He used his thumb to push the shell and heard the click as it passed the magazine catch. The driver’s side door squealed and squeaked as he pushed it open. He climbed down out of the cab with the gun and walked toward the old barn.
The dead cow was laying flat on its side next to the barn. A turkey vulture was perched upon the neck of the cow, feeding upon the eyes and the brain. As Roland approached the vulture paused and swiveled it head around to stare at him with the wild, fearless eyes of a scavenger.
Roland Smith flipped the safety off, pumped the slide on the shotgun and then fired it out toward the field behind the barn. The sound of the gun was deafening as it boomed out across the quiet summer morning. The turkey vulture took to the sky immediately and passed over the collapsing roof of the barn, disappearing from view.
Roland walked the remaining distance to where the cow was laying. It was the missing cow, just as he had suspected. The animal had simply vanished from the yard three weeks ago. It was branded and he recognized the markings on its back. But he knew right away that this wasn’t just a normal case of a cow escaping through the fence.
Half of the animal’s face had been removed down to the skull– No skin, no muscle and no blood to be seen anywhere. The outer edge of the wound was a smooth line, as if the tissue had been removed with surgical precision. This was not the work of a vulture. He had seen this before. He moved a few feet to glance and the hindquarters of the cow and discovered that all of its private parts were gone, cored out. No blood to be found on the ground.
Roland cursed and shook his head. He walked back to the pickup with the shotgun and grabbed his cell.
“Hey, Roland. How are things?”
“Not so good, Jimmy. Just found a cow that’s been missing awhile. Looks like it’s starting up again.”
Five years had passed since the last round of cattle mutilations. Twelve different animals in the county that they were aware of. Many different theories had circulated within the small community. Some thought it was the work of extraterrestrials, others believed it was the military testing out a new weapon, and a few said that it was the handiwork of a satanic cult. A government investigation concluded that it was the result of natural predation, but admitted that there were anomalies that could not be explained. No one was able to say with absolute certainty who or what was responsible.
Roland sighed. “Same as last time, Jimmy. Half of the face gone down to the skull, backside cored out, no blood or tracks on the ground.”
“Look, I was just calling to see if you could come over with that digital camera of yours. I’d like to get some pictures of this before we report it.”
“Where are you at?”
“Over on the back side of the feed yard. Next to the old barn.”
“I’ll have to get one of the hired hands over here. Give me an hour or so.” Jimmy said.
“Sounds good. Thanks.” Roland closed the phone.
* * * * * * *
[Original writing / photography / art by J. E. Lattimer]
© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved