A Bull Named Fear
A Bull Named Fear
On a real ranch, you don’t name the critters you’re fixin to eat one day. Don’t make no sense to grow attached to them, and there’s something about a name what makes things personal. I never named that big white bull Pa bought neither. Never named him nothing. I seen him, even thought, “Christ that thing is big,” but I didn’t name him. I swear I didn’t. But it was already personal.
The day Pa brought that monster home, he backed the truck up to the loading chute at the corral and dropped the ramp on the back of the trailer to let it out. The trailer was big old four-horse rig, best money could buy twenty years ago, and the bull took his sweet goddamn time about coming out. The old man stuck him through the trailer slats; I could hear the “zzzt-zzzt” of the electric cattle prod as Pa yelled at him, “Git on outta there.” Zzzt, went the prod, and Pa was jamming its two forked prongs into that bull like it was dinner on a Sunday night. But it didn’t move. Didn’t take a single step. Pa might well have been sticking a stack of bricks with a plastic picnic knife.
All the commotion is what brung me over there. I heard it and seen all that white hide in the trailer there, a white expanse like some bovine billboard done come to life. I seen the trailer was sitting pretty low hunkered over its four wheels like that, leaf-springs pressed so hard the fenders nearly sat atop the tires. Whatever was in there was mighty large. I stooped some and tilted my head, snaking side to side trying to catch a glimpse of the immensity within. I could see right off it was a bull, weren’t no horse never stood on legs stout as them four was. His body was a mass of muscle, wide as the truck and struck a solid sound when Pa hit him with the prod. Might as well been beating on a tree.
Pa messed around and looked the fool trying to run that albino beast out of there for a while, so I snuck up closer and peered through the slats to get me a better look. That’s when he seen me. The bull. He moved his head just the slightest bit, and fixed this one black eye on me like one of them fancy rifle laser sights. He seen me, sure enough, and worse, knew I was afraid. He could smell it. Animals smell fear. And he did, he smelt it like as if I gone and shit myself. Like enough I did too, when I seen that look flick across his cruel black eye. That look was something fierce, a loathing glimmer what glossed that round tar bubble boiling out of his massive head. It was unblinking hatred glassing the darkness in a skull so big that, hollowed out, a man could take a bath inside. All that for me.
I seen it and damn near turned and ran. But then my learnin came trickling back to me. “Shit,” I said to myself, feeble but aloud, the echo of my old man kicking me inside my head. I could hear the tremble in my voice and it kinda pissed me off. Louder, and to prove I wasn’t afraid, I said to my old man, “That’s one big son of a bitch.” That’s what I said. Let him know I weren’t no pussyboy. Weren’t afraid of no goddamn animal. Even one big as a motor home.
“Yeah, he is,” said Pa, and kept to zapping and bashing that monster with the cattle prod. It snorted finally, a deep rush of air that vibrated through the ground and steamed the area with the sickly-sweet scent of half-digested alfalfa hay. The fog of it come all around me, a thick humidity that filled my lungs and clung to me like sweat.
Apparently the beast finally reckoned he was ready to come out, so on out he came. His hooves was thunder drumming on the wood-planks of the trailer floor as he stomped towards the ramp. The boards creaked and the trailer springs screeched metallically, then the ramp bowed groundward beneath the monster's impossible gravity, making sounds like it might break. He stepped down, put just one hoof on the ground, and paused, the gap between the trailer and the gate post giving him a chance turn back and look at me again. Luminous black contempt.
The trailer rose eight inches all at once when he stepped off, the springs released so quick the tires nearly jumped up off the dirt. The beast was out, and my old man was prodding him down the chute towards the scales where we weighed all new cattle coming in. Pa fixed to weigh that fucker before he set him out to fertilize the herd. God help the poor cow what had to germinate that monster’s seed. Be like passing a refrigerator by the time it was all said and done.
Even before I hopped up on the catwalk that ran along the outside of the chute, I could see the bull’s back and shoulders rising above the chute’s five-foot fence, a great humped mass of dirty white like some displaced ice flow. He must have been at least seven foot at the crest, and not much less down the length of all that spine. From where I stood it was like watching a filthy glacier glide along the fence rail.
Turns out that animal weighed in right at 3800 pounds. Way more than a ton of beef, and I’d wager less than eight percent body fat. I expect wrought iron has more fat than that. I helped the old man weigh him, and I seen it with my own two eyes. And all the while he watched me back, staring at me through the white-washed boards fencing in the scale. He just kept staring at me. And breathing. His flanks expanding like a mainsail with the wind of every evil breath. I knew he could splinter them flimsy wooden planks with the slightest tap of that massive boney skull. Could press the billboard expanse of his battering ram against the timber and lean through it without so much as a grunt.
Everywhere I moved he watched me. And I became more and more aware that he was watching me too. He wasn’t just seeing the movement of something near him, he was watching. Following my every move. The more he did, the more I recognized the redness that began forming in his eye, like a growth, or maybe an opening, letting out something even more sinister than the darkness was. That one eye. Staring sideways at me in the way bulls do. It’s always sideways if they’re thinking at you like that, if they’re figuring and planning, and always just one eye. They ain’t supposed to be predators, so their eyes don’t look forward like a coyote or a wolf. Cattle are grazers. Vegetarians. God did not intend for them to be watchers staring like this one was at me.
But he did. And as he watched, I saw a swirling in that black ball of glass embedded in his head, a whorl of red mist like a storm brewing there, something evil churning up and seeping through some inner gate. For a while, I didn’t say nothing. That’s not the kind of thing a boy like me says to an old man like my Pa. You don’t just say, “Hey Pa, there’s something evil about that bull. Something scary.” You say that to my old man he’s either going to whip you or tell you to “Go put on a dress if you gonna act a sissy girl.” So I didn’t say shit. But I’m telling you, that bull was watching me and there was something terrible going on.
I couldn’t shake it all the rest of that night. I helped the old man run the bull out into the pasture, and we made sure he found the water fine. He did. He walked right up to it, whiffed it with that pan-sized muzzle of his, then ignored it and turned back to look at me.
“Well, he found the water, Pa,” I said, maybe a bit too fast. “I reckon we can go on back to the house.”
My old man looked at me funny, kinda grizzled up his brow, but he nodded. “Yeah, I reckon,” he said.
That night I couldn’t sleep at all. The moon was high full, and it cast a blue eeriness across everything. I lay in my bed staring up into the gloom. The moonlight through the windows was glowing off the white sheets and making me think of him. That bull. The one I didn’t name and what shouldn’t make nothing personal for me.
But I kept thinking on him and I couldn’t shake him from my mind. I could feel him thinking on me too. Dark thoughts, animal hate with no moon to illuminate an angry demon sky. Fury darkened by a lightless crimson whorl.
I tried to count myself backwards into sleep. I started at a hundred and went on back down from ninety-nine. Ninety-eight. Ninety-seven. Ninety-six. When that ran out, I started at a thousand, figuring weren’t no way I’d make it all the way this time. I started again. Still staring up into the dark, feeling that fucker’s hate. I kept counting the eight hundred and sixties over again.
Son of a bitch was all in my head.
So I got up on my knees and looked out across the yard, past the barn towards the field where we’d let that monster loose. My smart-mind was telling me he was humping the shit out of some poor goddamn cow, her tired old knees a wobbling and quaking trying to hold his weight as he mounted her, bowed her spine and clove his sharp hooves through the tender hide covering her ribs.
But he wasn’t. He was standing right there at the fence, staring across the yard at me. Facing me like a cannon about to fire. He seemed to swell in the darkness, the moon giving him a glow, and his head was turned just enough to watch me, to fix me with that furious black eye.
I fell back into my bed, pulled the covers up to my chin. My hands were trembling. What the fuck was going on? It was a bull. A bovine. A dumb animal like every other one. I’d been through a million of them growing up. Okay, not a million, but at least eight or nine. They were just animals. Like dogs and cats and crows.
I realized I had to be dreaming. It was all insane. A bull, thinking of me all day. Staring at me in the middle of the night. Red whorls in its eyes. I was dreaming. Or being stupid. Or dreaming stupid.
I reached into the draining core of my manhood and dredged my courage back. I gave myself an inward shake and checked my breathing carefully. I blinked and scratched my fingernails across my wrist. I was awake. Definitely awake.
I got back up and looked out the window again. I knew he wouldn’t be there. I dared him to be there in my mind, dared him to stand there and stare at me just one more time. I ain’t no pussyboy.
In the moonlight, I could see the wires of the fence stretching against the post. There were five of them, shimmering like luminous spider’s thread, white lines striping the darkness, the two centermost angling upward, bent from the staples holding them as the bull’s weight stretched the metal to the ends of elasticity. He leaned into the wires, putting the stress of 3,800 pounds upon the feeble strands of steel. One by one they broke, first one, then another, then the last three almost all at once: Twang. Twang. Twang twang twang. I could hear them snap, even through the window glass. And he was just standing there. Watching me.
I dropped back to my bed again, and pulled the covers up once more. I could hear the blood rushing through my ears. Even the silence making noise. My heart raced as I tried to collect my thoughts. Jesus. I had to tell my Pa.
I got out of bed, too terrified to look out the window before I went, but too terrified not to, too. The bull was half way across the yard. Watching me. Huge now, looming bigger than the barn.
I ran down the hall and burst into my parents room. “Pa, Pa,” I hollered. “That bull’s gone mad. He’s out in the yard. He’s come to get me.”
Pa woke up slow, and Ma grumbled at me to shut up and go back to bed. But I wasn’t giving up. I didn’t say shit earlier that day, but I was going to say shit now. “Pa, get up. The white bull, he’s out. Get up, goddamn it. He’s coming towards the house.”
“What the hell is wrong with you, boy?” Pa said, sitting up and looking at me. His hair was all a kilter and his eyes looked puffy in the ambient white of the moon coming through the blinds. “Get on back to bed before I whup the shit out of you.”
“No, Pa. I’m telling you the white bull done bust through the fence. He’s loose, I tell you. And there’s something wrong with him.”
Pa grumbled and made a mess of threats, but he got up and pulled on a pair of coveralls, his white shoulders and moldy gray chest hairs gleamed in the light of the ghostly moon. “If this is some goddamn bullshit,” he said, but he didn’t finish it, just pushed past me instead. He went on out and down the hallway and out the back door onto the porch. I followed him, pretty mousey on my tip toes and trying not to creak a floor board or bump into anything that might make sound.
Pa strode boldly out of the porch and I heard the screen door slam. The wood steps groaned and I knew he was out in the yard. I cracked the back door open and slipped through out onto the porch, wondering what Pa was going to do.
The bull hit him at something close to forty miles an hour. Might as well been a cement truck. I actually seen him before I heard the pounding hoofbeats on the ground. Almost a glowin’ under that cruel moon. He hit Pa so hard it sounded like someone slapped a stack of wet rags with an oar. Pa flew about twenty feet or so then tumbled like a bag of soft butter for another five, his limbs flopping loose and liquid-like until he finally come to rest. He never moved again. That bull didn’t take no chances though; he come back around and set to trampling Pa’s corpse. Just kept running over the top of him, spinning back and grinding him against the earth with that coal-shovel head and tromping him with them piston hooves. He did that for what seemed like forever to me where I stood, though I figure was probably only a minute or two in reality.
Ma came out and caught me frozen like I was. She looked at me, then outside and seen all that going on. She shrieked like I ain’t never heard her do. Took her but a second to make it all out, then she called out, “Clem, My God, Clem,” and ran back in the house. I could hear her bare feet slapping down the hall, then her mumbling and cursing, and the sound of stuff breaking as it was thrown across the house. She come back a minute later still stuffing cartridges into the dark elbow of Pa’s shotgun, and she ran right past me and on out into the yard. “Clem, goddamn it,” she yelled. She pulled back the hammers, still yelling, “Get away from him you son of a bitch.” She let loose both barrels on that bull, and not like no city girl neither. She got good goddamn close and both blasts hit that fucker square in the face. Hide split open and revealed a vast white landscape of bony skull. Blood flecked its glowing chest and shoulders, and a dark ichor dripped from leathery strings of rended flesh like icicles melting from its jaw. It turned on her as she stood defiantly and commenced reloading the gun. She was still shrieking, “Clem, get up goddamn it. Get up,” even though Pa weren’t much more than a heap of mush.
The bull hit her right as she snapped the shotgun straight, and her shot went wide, might as well been shooting at the moon. She flew back into the screen door and ripped half way through before the momentum spent. I could tell by the way she drooped over the bottom panel of the door that her back was broke. Kinda melty looking and her tongue lolled out. She commenced to blowing bubbles that didn’t sound no more like she was calling Pa’s name. Then I seen the light go from her eyes.
Now the bull was looking square at me.
I started backing away. I reached one foot behind me, then the next, slow like. Each step like pulling nails from a board. I didn’t dare turn my back on him.
His eyes was red now, both of them. And not just from the blood. They was glowing and I could see them narrow down. They was pushed forward some, looking straight, both of them, like a predator.
I backed away some more. Slipped inside the house. Ran back to Ma and Pa’s room and got down Pa’s Thirty-Ought-Six. Checked the chamber. There was a round in it. Clip was full. I never shot but a twenty-two, but I reckoned I’d shoot that fucker if he busted his way into the house.
I crawled back into the darkest corner of their room, a dark triangle of hopeless camouflage, and waited with the gun barrel resting on my knees. If he came through that wall, he was going to take at least one bullet deep into that freakish head.
I woke up the next morning in a pool of my own piss. My sheets was soaked with it, and my hands were still trembling. It took me awhile to figure out where I was. In my bed. I could hear Ma doing dishes down the hall.
I let out a long breath. A dream. The whole thing was a goddamn dream. I looked up and seen the calendar. Today was Halloween. I breathed purposeful a few more times, and let the nightmare go. Son of a bitch, I thought, as set to hiding my piss-soaked sheets.
When I came into the kitchen, I realized Ma had already done put breakfast away. I looked at the clock and it was half-past ten.
“Where’s Pa?” I asked, admittedly still a bit shook up about that dream.
“Gone to town,” she said. “I expect he’ll be back soon. You slept in too long. You get a good night’s sleep? You was up eating candy and reading them books of yours late last night.”
Candy, I thought. That’s probably what done my dream so wrong. Sugar-induced hysteria and a big Melville whale. I felt the last of my nightmare leave as I factored myself a fool.
I heard Pa coming up the driveway not long after that, the familiar rattle of the side molding on his old truck and the creak of the old four-horse trailer’s springs. I went out to help him with whatever he’d brought from town, and I damn near loosed my bowels when I seen a white bull inside. It was staring right at me.
I don’t normally name the critters what come onto the ranch, but I knew right then that fucker’s name was Fear.