by Jerry G. Erwin
The Amtrack Southwest Chief streaked through the Arizona night like a mad snake anxious to get out of the storm. The sky was alive with thunder and spectacular multi-stemmed flashes of lightning, exposing the flat landscape in brief, flashbulb glimpses. It was only a matter of time before a hard driving rain would begin.
Some passengers pressed their faces to the windows, truly awed by the display of nature in one of its more volatile moods. This, coupled with the sensation of the train racing, jerking, and clanking along the rails, created an overall atmosphere of...horror.
One gentleman in particular was moved by the angry night. He was traveling alone and was certain they would hit a bad spot of track any moment and go flying off into a steaming pile of crushed metal and groaning, broken bodies.
Another flash of lightning. The Southern sky burned in a veined masterpiece of electricity, and for an instant the landscape was visible.
Standing in the middle of a field, looking blankly ahead, oblivious to the storm and perhaps life itself. The sky was suddenly black again and the cow invisible.
The man, however, retained the image of that cow in his head and hoped for her safety. Why wasn't she in a barn or something? He imagined the poor beast being hit with a bolt of pure cosmic energy. He then considered the nature of such an experience; wondering what would transpire in that brief flash of electrical overload just before death.
Yes, imagine that.
But, of course, the cow would be imagining no such thing. She was simply a cow and would go on with her life as nature had planned it. He felt more at ease with that thought, and the images of a grisly train wreck subsided in his head, allowing him to relax and close his eyes. And yes, the cow would be fine, too. Nature had a way of taking care of its own.
"Too bad people didn't seem to be a part of that process," was his last conscious thought before he drifted off asleep, into the storm.
Little Frieda tossed and turned in her bed, clutched her Snoopy, and wished it was morning. The train woke her up, as it did every night at that time. Most nights she would just roll over and go back to sleep. But with the storm already banging things around, making all kinds of scary noises, she was too alert to do that.
But it was the storm inside the house that had Freida wishing the sun was out, and that she was on the afternoon train to her aunt and uncle in California. Yeah, that would be "just fine," as she liked to say.
But more and more Freida was saying it less. She just wanted to play and enjoy life as any healthy five-year-old, but something creepy, something she didn't know anything about, seemed to be closing in on her, making her feel nervous and not able to relax and be "just fine."
It was like something that came out of her closet. But instead of only being around at night, when she was in bed, it was always sneaking up behind her at any time of the day, and always on the verge of "getting her."
She didn't understand.
But one thing she did understand was that she could never ask her mother or father about it. They would just tell her to be quiet and then go on watching their TV show, and that would hurt her feelings.
A loud crack of thunder and lightning struck near by. It shook her room and she hugged her Snoopy tighter, telling him it would be alright, that the storm would pass. She had to be brave for him, for all of her dolls and toy ponies.
The storm was too loud for her to hear that neat little clicking sound the train's wheels made when it went by. But she knew the train had passed and gone on to California -- to where her aunt and uncle lived. They were really nice and gave her lots of neat things and never yelled at her or got nasty if she wet the bed. But then, if Freida was able to give it some thought, she would realize that when she visited them, she didn't wet the bed. She did know that she didn't feel so nervous when she was with them. It would be "just fine" to go stay with them for awhile -- for a "long while." But Mom and Dad said they wouldn't be visiting them anymore. It cost too much money to go, or they didn't have the time, or they didn't like Aunt and Uncle anymore, or...
She didn't understand.
Another crack of thunder -- very close, causing the windows to rattle -- and little Freida shut her eyes tightly, holding Snoopy up to her face, wanting it to be morning... at the train station.
"That's your Goddamned job! If you can't keep things together around here, maybe we should get a Goddamned maid!" Daddy's rough, booming voice shook the walls as much as the storm.
"We can't even afford to keep gas in that piece-of-shit car you're always working on!" Mommy screamed back, as ugly as Daddy.
Oh, how Freida hated it when they yelled nasty things. More and more it seemed to be the only way they talked to each other. If Freida was able to think about it, she would realize that being nasty had become second nature to them. Although she could not quite realize that, she could feel it, and knew it was bad. Somewhere in the back of her still-forming-mind was the subconscious thought that Mom and Dad reminded her of a show she saw on TV about the universe.
She remembered seeing the different planets moving around in space, out in the middle of all the creepy darkness. She was thinking now how Mom and Dad were like two of those planets, moving around in creepy darkness, far away from each other.
It gave her a tummy ache in her whole body.
The storm was getting louder, the lightning very close. Freida was thinking that it would hit the house and kill her and mom and dad. Thinking that confused her. She really wasn't sure what death was, but knew she didn't want to be like a bug that some boy at school would squash for fun. And when she thought about Mom and Dad being dead, well... it made her really nervous. It would be so awful to be alone in the creepy darkness of the universe.
"What in the hell are these toys doing out in the hallway!" Daddy's voice was very mad, and Freida remembered that she forgot to put away her toy ponies. She closed her eyes tightly and squeezed Snoopy. Oh, why did she forget to put them away? Now Daddy would be getting really upset and that would make Mom upset, and then they would both get really nasty at her and it would hurt her feelings.
She could hear her father's stomping footsteps coming down the hall toward her. It was like waiting for some awful monster from a scary movie to come into her room.
Tulula -- an ordinary cow -- who would spend her days grazing and chewing her cud and swatting flies with her tail, a creature as unconscious of life as a human being would imagine a cow to be, looked up into the raging sky. Only blackness and a pounding rain in her face, causing her to turn away and make an unpleasant grunting sound. She was out in the middle of the field, far away from shelter, and didn't have any conscious idea of what to do.
But she did begin to walk, making more grunting sounds, probably hoping in her cow way that she could find a nice, big tree to stand under. However, because she was only a cow and not terribly bright, she was walking further away from any such possibility. She was just a wet, tired, dumb cow, doing as nature had planned.
A fantastic display that filled the sky, causing Tulula to blink and stumble over a rock. She grunted, then gave out a long, agonized moan.
Very loud, and it hurt her left ear. But she walked on, in the wrong direction, doing all she could do under nature's circumstances.
Little Freida, in anticipation of her Daddy's large, soft body bursting into the room, put the covers up over her head. He would turn on the bright ceiling light, then yell out her name in that scary way that made her so nervous. If it could just be morning already with the storm passed -- both of them.
The sound of the doorknob rattling could mean only one thing:
Daddy's big, hairy hand on it, and on the verge of bursting into her little world. And in that moment before he opened the door, she remembered that she forgot to look and see if Tulula was out in the storm.
Most of the cows on the ranch did not have names. Little Freida's daddy would just "collect" them and fatten them up, then send them off to be made into hamburgers. Freida was not comfortable with that explanation as it was given to her by her father, but she accepted it in her bothered way. Daddy said it was because of the cows being made into hamburgers that made it possible for her and Mom and Dad to have a house and food and clothes and... well, just about everything in the whole universe seemed to depend on cows being made into hamburgers.
That was not so easy for Freida to accept. For some reason that she did not understand, Freida liked Tulula. Just something about the look she had in her big cow eyes.
Cows usually didn't look any way to Freida. They were like some kind of doll she got at K-mart that she would have to pretend was alive. But Tulula was different. So when Freida looked into her big cow eyes one day she named her Tulula and told Mom and Dad, because in Freida's mind, it was important.
Mom and Dad just kept talking about other Mom and Dad stuff. Dad mumbled something about her not getting attached to the cows. What did he mean by that? Well, she didn't know what getting attached to the cows meant, but she knew that it had something to do with Dad sending them off to be made into hamburgers.
Pretty soon, it would be time for Tulula to be loaded onto one of the big trucks that took the cows into the city. Freida would keep trying to forget about it on purpose, but deep inside it was always there, bothering her in a funny little way.
She was upset that Tulula had been left out in the storm. In previous storms she would ask her daddy if Tulula was inside and he would always tell her, "Yeah, don't worry about it -- she's just a cow" -- or -- "Goddamned cow," depending on how bad of a mood he was in.
But this had been such a confusing night for her, what with Mommy and Daddy being in real bad moods and yelling a lot, that she didn't think of it. Until now -- as the awful sound of her Daddy stomping down the hallway became louder.
Oh, no. Where was Tulula?
" Tulula!" She suddenly popped up from under the covers, crying out, turning to the window.
" Freida!" her Daddy screamed at her, and the sudden light momentarily blinded her.
Tulula was getting nowhere fast.
Her face was soaked and the continuous sound of thunder and flashes of lightning was beginning to cause her heart to beat faster. She stumbled, causing her to moan loudly again. All she could see through the heavy rain was darkness. But then, a particularly sharp flash of lightning, caused her head--her entire body--to be alive with hot, burning light.
Tulula's cow eyes bulged, her body tensed up, and in her slow, purely instinctual cow mind, images flashed. Figures of things, of people, animals, and none of it meaning anything to her. But then, the pure, awesome power of it struck deep into her, and all Tulula could see was solid white light. She could also smell something. A strange kind of smell that she never smelled before.
Not that poor Tulula could realize it in her purely instinctual cow mind, but it was her brainšs electrical circuits being fried. Her entire system having a high-voltage burn-out, throwing her body and every nerve ending and corpuscle into a state of disarray. Being struck by lightning can do that to a person and particularly a cow. And in most cases, the person or cow would then die, with too much highly complicated wiring and resulting functions rendered inoperable to go on living.
Not in this case.
As intense and terrifying as the hot, white flash was, it passed, and Tulula was still alive. Her normal vision returned to her and she moaned a long, agonizing moan that was not from pain so much as it was...primordial instinct.
Tulula was no longer herself. She turned sharply in the opposite direction and saw something in the darkness. A light. She immediately began moving in that direction, as if with great purpose, although she actually had no particular thoughts in her head. It was pure instinct, and she would not be satisfied until she reached her destination. Tulula moaned again and this time it was in pain. A grieving, unsettling howl that was far more terrifying than the raging storm.
Tulula, in her purely instinctual, but now electrically altered cow mind, heard a sound coming from the light. It was the sound of another animal, one of those two-legged things that fed her. The one with a little voice who was always making a lot of those sounds with her mouth, the way two-legged animals do. Only, for some reason that Tulula was not even aware of, they were sounds that were pleasing to her cow ears, unlike the other big two-legged animals that would hurt her left ear.
Yes, it was the little two-legged animal making a sound, and Tulula, on a purely instinctual level, was rushing through the stormy night with her electrically altered cow mind, her entire cow being, on fire.
Why, exactly, did Daddy have such a look in his small, dark eyes?
If little Freida could put some thoughts together in a particular way, she would consider the possibility of it having something to do with Daddy never seeming to be happy about his life. Or maybe it was because he didn't like Mommy anymore, or because he didn't really like working on the ranch, or because of all those things put together that Freida could not possibly understand.
When she stared into Daddy's small, angry eyes, as his large body filled her room with bad feelings, she got a funny idea. An idea telling her that the same dark, creepy thing that was always following her around and always getting close -- about to "get" her -- was the same dark, creepy thing that was in Mommy and Daddy, and that it was like a disease in her family that everyone seemed to get.
Except for her aunt and uncle who lived out in California. They were different. They seemed to be happy about what they were doing, and Freida could "feel" it by how they treated her. They could probably help her understand some things that were making her so nervous. Things like...
Would she be getting the disease too?
Daddy had sweat on his forehead and that really scared her, because it wasn't hot at all. She hugged her Snoopy tight, but somehow knew, for the first time, that Snoopy was just a stuffed thing that only was make believe and worthless against the power of Daddy's lifetime of sadness and bad moods. She would have to clutch something else.
But it was really hard for her to figure anything out. She felt that she was trying to do something that wasn't meant for her to be doing yet. Like when she would try to put together a toy that she couldn't figure out and would have to get a grown-up to help her. She needed help now, but didn't know from where. And then it occurred to her little five-year-old mind...
She was alone in the creepy darkness of the universe.
"How many Goddamned times do we have to tell you about picking up your goddamned toys," Daddy yelled at her in his ugliest voice.
"I'm going to throw every one of those stupid-ass ponies in the garbage where they belong," Mommy yelled out from the hall, as if she enjoyed saying such a nasty thing.
Little Freida never could begin to understand such enjoyment.
But it was too scary a moment to think about now, as Daddy was moving to her bed with his big, hairy hands out in front of him like some awful monster about to grab her; to stick his dirty, jagged fingernails into her skin and give her the bad family germs from which there was no cure. She would then get sick in the head and stay there on the ranch for the rest of her life, and be just like Mommy and Daddy.
"Shut up," Daddy yelled, lunging across her little bed to her, but she jumped away from him and ran out of the room, into the hall, where Mommy -- her face an ugly enraged mass of flesh -- stood like a giant, wingless vulture in front of her.
Freida turned and ran the other way, into Mommy and Daddy's room. She shouldn't go in there, she would be trapped, but at the moment it was her only choice. She cried out as she ran to the opened doorway, hoping someone would save her from the dark, creepy, bad germs that had finally caught up to her.
She heard Mommy and Daddy yelling at each other, then both of them yelling at her, as she ran into their room. Oh no, why did she go in there? It was a dumb thing to do. She stood back in the corner, in the darkest part of the room, hoping that somehow they wouldn't see her. But she knew that at any moment the ceiling light would flash on, and Mommy and Daddy would be there, seeing her trembling in the corner, and drag her out and begin giving her the horrible, dark germs.
The ceiling light flashed on.
Mommy and Daddy's faces: white, sweating flesh; bared, uneven teeth; outstretched arms with fingers like tigers claws, and eyes that were wilder than any wild animalšs could be.
Little Freida began to cry.
A loud, crashing sound.
The room -- the entire house -- shook, as if about to come down, and the south wall blew open, like something out of a movie. Wet, cold wind swirled into the room, and a bright flash of lightning was clearly visible directly behind Mommy and Daddy's dresser. It reminded Freida of one of her favorite movies -- The Wizard Of Oz. The part where Dorothy was trapped in the house and was looking out at the storm, spinning madly about in the center of the tornado. Yes, this was just like that, and Freida certainly was spinning madly about in the center of this storm.
Mommy screamed out, and Daddy stopped just before he was about to grab Freida. They were all wet and shivering in the cold wind that whipped through the bedroom, tossing everything around as if it were the inside of a washing machine.
Mommy was yelling about them being hit by a tornado, and for a moment it was also what Freida thought. But then she could "feel" something else. Something that made her realize it was not a tornado. And when she looked up at Daddy again, he was just standing there in the wet, wild room of flying objects and rain, looking out at the dark sky, as a flash of lightning turned his face on like it was one of those scary Halloween masks they had at K-Mart.
Little Freida could "feel" that Daddy "felt" something too, as Mommy kept screaming for them to get out of there, to get down into the basement before they would all be swept away in the tornado along with all of her makeup and knickknacks and several pair of panty hose she had left out on the dresser. But Daddy didn't move, and neither did Freida, and it was making Mommy crazy. She kept screaming at them to get out and go down into the basement.
Finally, Mommy ran across the room and slapped Daddy hard in the face, and it seemed to wake him up, even though he wasn't sleeping. Daddy's eyes then bulged wide and crazy, as if he just found out what was happening, and he became as wild and scary as Mommy and tried to grab Freida by the arm, but she jumped back into the corner, away from him, because he and Mommy were too scary looking to trust.
That made Mommy really mad, and she lunged past Daddy into the corner and grabbed Freida by her little shoulders. Mommy's hard, ice-cold fingers dug into her skin and terrified her and Freida cried out.
" Mommy, please." She tried to look into her Mommy's eyes to see something in them that was nice and loving and would tell her that she really was her Mommy and she wouldn't give her the creepy germs.
" You stupid little bitch, get out of here!" her Mommy screamed at her, squeezing her little shoulders, pulling at her, hurting her, and Freida began to cry.
Then, the chilling, agonized sound of...what was that? Daddy's head turned, his neck muscles tensed, his face looked funny, and for some reason, little Frieda...relaxed.
A close, extremely bright flash of lightning filled the open room, and within that flash, a shadow appeared. It was in the shape of a head, and it was moving into the room from outside. It made that chilling, agonized sound again, which made Daddy's face look even funnier, but Freida could only feel ...comforted.
Mommy's cold, bony fingers retreated from Freida's skin as she screamed out, throwing her hands up to her face and jumping back from the opened wall.
Her large cow head peering into the room. Her large cow eyes strangely absorbent, yet also vacant, as if she was not aware of being there at all. And yet she was staring into the swirling, wet room with undeniable purpose.
Mommy, forgetting all about Freida and Daddy, turned to run to the door. But she slipped on the wet floor and began to fall. Before she hit the floor and smashed her face into the hard wood, she was lifted up by her feet...her ankles...into the air, and then up into the sky itself. She was hanging upside down with the storm raging all around her.
Tulula viciously whipped Mommy's fat, screaming body about in her jaws, like Freida's cat, Toothy, would do to a little field mouse he caught in the barn.
Daddy stood motionless, in awe of the sight, as if he had to be dreaming, amazed by the vision of Mommy being viciously thrashed about in the angry jaws of a cow. He was surely thinking how it was so unlike Tulula to do such a thing.
Mommy's now limp body suddenly went flying into the storm, possibly never to be seen again. But little Freida was pretty sure that she heard a yucky kind of plopping sound in the distance--Mommy landing in the mud, her body surely broken in several places.
Tulula stepped further into the room, and Daddy, looking completely crazy, lunged out at Tulula as if to tan her hide as he had intended on doing to little Freida before Tulula broke through the wall.
Long, thick and hairy, with its tattoo of a naked lady that always bugged Mommy, trapped in the jaws of Tulula. In a flash of lightning, Freida could see blood squirting out of Daddy's arm and flowing in thick streams onto Tulula's teeth. Suddenly, daddy's big, soft body was jerked up into the air, into the sky, into the middle of the storm -- just like Mommy's -- and was then thrashed viciously all about like one of her stuffed animals.
But, unlike Mommy, Daddy didn't scream a long, terrible, animal-like scream. He just kept yelling,
"Goddamned cow, you Goddamned mother-something cow!" in great rage. Yes, Daddy was really mad, yelling all kinds of dirty words at Tulula. But Tulula just kept thrashing him all about until he grew quiet in a spooky kind of way and then, just like Mommy, he went flying up and away into the storm, until finally, Freida could hear the distant plopping sound of Daddy's broken body landing in the mud.
Little Freida was still glued to the wall, not sure what to do. Tulula suddenly turned her head from where Daddy had landed, back into the room and looked directly at her. For a moment they locked eyes, and as scary as such a moment should have been for her, Freida could only feel comforted. She let out a sigh and moved away from the wall. She knew that Tulula was not going to harm her.
Tulula let out a long, agonized moan and a certain weird gleam came into her eye. And in the next moment, a bolt of lightning suddenly flashed before Freida's eyes, temporarily blinding her.
When Freida was able to see again, she was horrified to discover Tulula's limp, steaming body lying at the edge of the bedroom, her dead cow head resting on the hardwood floor.
It was over.
Little Freida could just "feel" it.
The Amtrack Southwest Chief streaked through the Arizona afternoon like a mad snake anxious to stay on schedule to Los Angeles. It did have a stop to make in that area, but it would only be for a moment, to pick up a passenger. Some of the people on the train looked out the windows to see the next-to-nothing of a town they stopped at.
One gentleman in particular took notice of who was getting on. He was inclined to daydream and wonder about things and people he met. He enjoyed the casual perusal of life and all of its possible meanings.
He was particularly moved by the sight of the little girl who was getting on the train. She was perhaps five years old, holding a Snoopy under one arm, and a little suitcase in the other. An adult was with her, just to see that she got on the train alright. The gentleman wondered what the little girl's story was; what kind of life she had out there in the middle of nowhere, and where she was going now.
He was pretty good about these things and had a feeling that she was on her way to stay with relatives in California. An aunt and uncle perhaps. He also had the feeling that her parents had recently died and that made him feel sad. But then, he noticed something else about the little girl getting on the train.
She looked so very happy.
"Sometimes," the gentleman thought, "nature has a way of taking care of its own."
©2001 by Jerry G.Erwin