The cheddar cheese-colored bus stopped at the corner of the street and made a loud creaking sound as the door folded in on itself to open. Two boys hopped out with backpacks slung over their shoulders. The door shut and the bus drove away.
“Okay, we’ll do it tonight,” Matt said. “Did you see that one? It was just standing there looking retarded. I bet it was asleep. They’re right, cows do sleep standing up, that’s so true.”
“Yeah, I don’t know if it was really asleep already though, it’s like the afternoon,” Sam said. “But that one, yeah I know…it was huge too. If it got pushed over, it would probably shit itself. Or fart itself…I heard that cow farts can kill you, because it’s like toxic gases that kill people.”
They both laughed and started walking up the hill toward their houses. Sam and Matt were neighbors. They had been friends since the first grade when Matt moved into the neighborhood and saw Sam outside in the street riding his bike. Matt got his bike and then they rode bikes together.
“How much do you think a cow weighs?” Matt asked.
“I don’t know. Probably like 200 pounds,” Sam said. “No, maybe 400 pounds.”
“Do you think we can even do it? That’s heavy.”
“Yeah we can do it. Both of us pushing. And it just standing there, farting…”
They laughed again and Sam turned to go up his driveway. “Okay, so tell your parents you’re spending the night here,” Sam said.
“Yeah okay, I’ll bring my dad’s MagLite. That thing is so bright. And it’s also what the police use to give people a beat down—just in case that cow wants to start shit.”
Sam laughed. “Yeah right. You fighting a cow with
a flashlight. That’d be more fun than tipping it over.”
Sam’s dad was shoveling mashed potatoes into his mouth when Sam walked in the house. Sam quickly lowered his eyes and shut the door much gentler than he had opened it.
“Hey, dad,” Sam said quietly.
“Hi son,” Sam’s dad said. He waited until Sam had left the kitchen to start pushing giant spoonfuls of the mashed potatoes into his mouth again.
Sam’s dad is obese. Sam’s dad has two pairs of sweatpants with self-made slits at the waist and at the ankles, four t-shirts, and a blanket that serves as any other piece of clothing he might need. Sam’s dad was overweight when Sam was born, but back then he could still move about by himself. He had owned a small furniture store that he inherited from his father, but soon after Sam was born the eating got worse and eventually he had to sell the store and stay at home most of the time. He depended on his wife, Sam’s mother, to do almost everything around the house, including preparing all the food that he ate everyday. Sam’s mother knew that it wasn’t right to be making all those meals for her husband, but several times when she tried to cut down or make healthy dishes, Sam’s dad would moan and wail and make her feel guilty for trying to take away his pleasures. They had been married for a long time and she wasn’t used to saying no to what he asked for, so everyday she helped to fill him up with more and more.
Now Sam was eleven and Sam’s dad hadn’t seen the upstairs level of his house in two years. He slept on the couch in the living room. He watched TV on the couch and then he went to sleep there, usually sitting up with the TV still on.
“Hi darling,” Sam’s mother said when he passed her on the steps going up to his room. Sam’s mother was frail and looked more like she could be Sam’s grandmother.
“Hey mom,” Sam said.
“Are you hungry? There’s some of dad’s roast beef left over and some carrots. Have you eaten any vegetables today?”
“No, I don’t want anything. And yes, you know I ate carrots today, you packed them in my lunch, like always.”
“I know, okay, well how about some broccoli. I think I have some dip. Do you want me to bring some up to you?”
“No, not now. I’m not hungry.”
“Alright, well how was school today?”
“It was okay, I guess. Can you sign that stupid progress report thing for Mrs. Rocklin’s math class? I got a B on the last test, but she still wants me to get it signed.”
“Why don’t you ask you father to sign it this time? You know you never ask him, I think he would like it to be involved a little.”
“I guess…I’ll do it later then.”
Sam went into his room and shut the door. He sat down at his desk and opened up the choose-your-own-adventure story he was reading. In this one Sam was an agent of the Special Intelligence Group and had to fight Russian spies and discover the secret of a mysterious new whale song. Then Sam’s mom opened the door. She had a way of moving about the house without being heard, and would suddenly appear in front of Sam.
“Did you even say hello to your father when you came in?” she asked.
“Yes,” Sam said. He rolled his eyes and looked back down at the book.
“Well, maybe you didn’t say it loud enough, but your father is upset. He says you are ignoring him.”
“I’m not. He didn’t say anything to me either, so he’s ignoring me.”
“Why can’t you just be a little nicer?”
“What? Nicer how? Should I feed him ice cream?
I don’t know how you could even have married him.”
Sam didn’t say anything else, he just picked up the progress report from school and walked by his mother and down the stairs. His father had finished the mashed potatoes and was now spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread. He looked up at Sam, his mouth a tiny hole on a huge puffy face. “You know, you could be a little more social when you come into my house.”
“I was. I said ‘hello,’ it’s not my fault if you didn’t hear me.”
“It is if you whisper it like you’re addressing the wall!” Sam’s dad slammed his hand down on the table. The other hand held a knife, gooey with peanut butter and shaking from anger.
“Alright, fine. Hello. What do you want me to say?”
“Don’t start with me, Sam. I expect a little sympathy. I can’t always come to you now, you need to show respect and say a goddamn ‘hello’ when you walk in here.”
Sam had stopped feeling sorry for his father long
“What’s that paper you’ve got?” Sam’s dad asked.
“It’s just this stupid progress report from school. I have to get it signed every week. Could you sign it?”
“Get your mother to do it. She likes to do those things.”
“Fine. I’m going outside for a while.”
Sam walked through the woods behind his house and pushed down dead trees until it started to get dark. Then he sat at the end of his driveway and waited for Matt to come over.
Sam looked up and saw Matt riding towards him and hollering out cow sounds.
“Hey, took you long enough,” Sam said.
“I had to wait until my dad left his room so I
could get the MagLite from his closet. He loves that thing, he would never
let me bring it over here,” Matt said.
“Didn’t he get his feedbag today?” Matt joked.
“Yeah, whatever, come on let’s go.”
Sam opened the door of the house quietly and whispered for Matt to come in. The TV was on and some old game show was playing. Sam’s dad was asleep on the couch. His head was slumped over on his left shoulder. The rest of his body was covered by the big brown blanket.
“He looks like a head on top of a pile of poop,” Matt whispered.
“Yeah, what a weirdo.” Sam tried to laugh a little, but it was hard because he didn’t feel like laughing.
They went into Sam’s room and shut the door. Neither one of them heard the door open, but suddenly there was Sam’s mother standing in the doorway.
“Hi Matt. How are you?” she said.
“Oh, hi. I’m fine.”
“Can Matt spend the night tonight?” Sam asked. He had purposefully waited until Matt was there to ask her because he knew his mother never wanted people staying over, but had a harder time saying no if the person was right there in front of her.
“Uh…yes, I guess so. Is it all right with your parents, Matt?”
“Yeah, they said it’s fine.”
“Okay, well don’t be too noisy, your father’s asleep and I’m going to bed soon too.” Then she left the room and walked out into the dark hallway.
Matt picked up the choose-your-own-adventure book and flipped through it. “Is this good?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’s okay. The spy parts are good, but I don’t know about all the mystery whale song parts.”
“Mystery whale songs?” Matt laughed. “Maybe that’s the sounds your dad makes in his sleep. Maybe there are secret messages in them.” They both laughed, but Sam felt uneasy and tried to change the subject.
“Let me see that flashlight,” Sam said.
Matt got out the flashlight and they turned off
the lights and pointed the beam at different things in the room.
Once outside, they felt like they were flying. The moon was bright and it made long shadows on the driveway. Sam and Matt picked up their bikes and pedaled toward the street.
“Oh shit!” Matt said. “I forgot the MagLite.”
“Who cares, look how bright it is out here. We don’t even need it.”
They rode down the street faster than they ever did during the day. Sam imagined himself flying through space, weightless. Sam was an astronaut. Their bikes were rocket ships.
The farm where they saw the cows everyday on the way home from school was only about a ten minute ride from their houses, but they got there in less. They propped their bikes up against the fence and hopped over. It was a pretty large open space with ten or fifteen cows spread about. All of them were lying down except for one.
“Goddamn it,” Sam said. “Cows don’t sleep standing up. Who told you that shit?”
“They do too,” Matt said. “Or they can…they do! Look at that one over there. It’s standing up.”
“That’s probably because it’s not asleep.”
“That’s the one that we saw on the bus today. Look how huge that fucker is. Let’s check it out.”
So they walked softly towards the cow and stopped when they were about 20 feet from it.
“Jesus Christ, that thing is huge,” Sam said. “Look at his spots…they’re weird, they look like faces.”
“I think he’s asleep. Listen to that breathing,” Matt said. “Let’s get closer, come on.”
They crept up to the cow until they were in arm’s reach. They were trembling and wide-eyed.
“It has to be asleep,” Matt whispered. “Or it would be freaking out.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Holy shit, should we do this?” Sam said.
“Yeah, oh my god, this is going to be crazy. We have to run like shit as soon as we do it.”
“Okay, on three,” Sam whispered. “One. Two. Three!” Sam lunged forward with both arms out in front of him, but the cow didn’t tip—instead Sam’s arms plunged into its side, right up to his elbows. “Oh my god!” Sam screamed. “What is happening?! It hurts, oh my god it hurts!”
Matt stood still, not saying anything. He had backed out at the last second and hadn’t pushed on ‘Three.’ Now he stood in a trance with his mouth open. He wasn’t believing what was happening.
“Help me! Help me!” Sam screamed. “It hurts so bad!” Both of his arms were now fully inside the body of the cow. He was being sucked in. The cow stood, motionless. Matt grabbed him around the waist and tried to pull him out, but it was no use. Sam was straining his neck back to keep his head from being drawn in. “Help! Help!” Sam was screaming uncontrollably now.
“What should I do? Shit!” Matt screamed. He turned
and sprinted toward the fence. Before he got to his bike, the screaming
stopped, but he didn’t look back.
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