Bad Dog - A Short Story
Copyright © 2022 by Lawrence Medici
Herbert knew exactly when he first saw the lights in the sky. It had been on the night of the Fourth of July. Herbert had been sitting in the bed of his pickup on the edge of the north pasture taking an occasional swig out of a bottle of Jack while staring at the panorama of stars above him. Effie would not have approved of him drinking but if a man couldn’t have a few snorts to celebrate the birth of his goddamn country when could he.
Anyway, he’d been sitting there staring into space, his dog Bo curled up next to him ears twitching as he dreamed. Herbert was trying to settle his thoughts, find some peace, but no matter how he tried those thoughts kept circling like flies around the pile of dung that was his life. How he’d ended up married to that cold, hard, acid tongued, gnarled stick of a women was beyond him.
Effie hadn’t always been that way. When Herb first met her twenty odd years ago at a county fair, she had been a shy slip of a girl who spoke hardly above a whisper. But as the years went by, slowly but surely, she began to find her voice and that voice was generally mean-spirited. It was like she had been hiding a braided strand of barbed wire swaddled in a cotton candy wrap of shy.
Things had been all right the first year or two after they got married and Effie moved out to his farm. Maybe it was living on the farm that caused the change; not all town girls can handle the hard work during the day and the long quiet nights of farm life. Whether it was life on the farm or just her natural born nature Effie started to complain and over the years that trickle of complaint grew into a veritable river of dissatisfaction, disappointment, and resentment.
“Herbert you’re not working hard enough, this place is rundown and we ain’t bringin in enough money.”
“Herbert, you work to damn hard you never pay me no mind, always out in those damn fields or tending to those sickly things you call livestock.”
“Herbert no matter how much you wash up you got the smell of barnyard about you; it comes out your damn pores.”
Herbert the house is too small, my clothes are too worn, the truck is too banged up, that damn dog of yours smells, why can’t we buy a damn car, you drink too much, you’re cheap, you’re lazy, you’re low class, you’re ignorant and on and on until it became the musical score to their lives.
Often, he had thought of divorce but the farm was all he had and she would be entitled to half of it. Herb did not have the money to buy her out so it would mean selling the farm and splitting the proceeds, leaving Herb with nothing, nowhere to live and no way to make a living. Yes sir, he was serving a life sentence with no chance of parole.
So, he had been sitting there trying, with the help of the Jack, to claw his way to a better state of mind all the while spiraling, with the help of the Jack, downward; when it happened. A breeze came through the trees behind him and he was bathed in an eerie blue light. He could see the shadow of his truck stretching out on the grass in front of him. Other than the breeze he heard no sound. Looking up he saw four large blue orbs, all in a row, pass overhead, and float out to the center of the pasture.
They hovered there for a moment. In the glare of those lights Herb could barely make out the outlines of the craft they belonged to. The grasses below spiraled in a circular pattern but still there was no sound. The craft then rose slightly and darted off over the far trees toward the southeast, where in the distance Herb saw it stop again.
It appeared to be over the east pasture now, though he could not be sure at the time not knowing its altitude or how much ground it had covered since leaving him. It hovered there longer than it had previously and Herb saw a beam of light shine from the object down to the ground. The beam began to move slowly back and forth like those spotlights in prison movies searching for an escaped con.
After several minutes the beam shut off and the craft, rising still higher, sped off into the night sky.
Herb realized his mouth had been hanging open the whole time. He scrambled to his feet, the heels of his work boots scrabbling on the bed of the truck trying to gain traction. Bo, who had miraculously slept through the whole encounter, looked up cocking his head in puzzlement.
One thing he did not remember was starting the truck and driving home, only that it was at high speed and involved skidding and almost crashing on several twists in the road.
Herbert burst through the backdoor into the kitchen. Effie, up to her elbows in suds in the kitchen sink, jumped, startled, a glass slipping from her hand and shattering on the floor.
“Damn you Herb, look what you made me do.” She turned facing him her eyes narrow with anger. Effie, never good at reading the room, didn’t pick up on the excitement on Herb’s face. “You goddamn idiot, you can’t come bursting in here like some child, act like a grown man for once.”
Herbert was too excited to be hurt by the barbs she was firing his way. “Effie, I saw one, out in the fields, one of those flying saucers, flew right over the top of me.” He said gasping to catch his breath.
“You saw what?” she leaned in and sniffed, “Herbert you’ve been drinking again. —Why do you think those things are only seen out in the country, because you dumbass farmers are always getting a snootful and imaging all sort of nonsense.”
“It was as real as you are Effie, I gotta call the Sheriff and see if anybody reported it.”
And with that Herb had gone for the phone with Effie grabbing at his arm telling him he was going to make them a laughingstock. For once he did not listen to her, but maybe he should have. He pushed her away and grabbing the receiver off the wall dialed the sheriff’s station.
Ten minutes later he was hanging up the phone all the while Effie stood there with her hands on her hips glaring at him, a litany of I told you so’s raining down upon his head. She had been right, Billy Wright, sheriff, and occasional fishing buddy, had laughed so hard at Herb’s story Herb thought he was going to bust a lung. Once he regained his composure, he had basically the same reaction Effie did, what had Herb been drinking and maybe he had better go sleep it off.
And that pretty much closed the book on the great UFO incident—until the following day.
The next morning Herb discovered his cow Blossom had wandered off. He found a top rail of the barnyard fence knocked down, truth be told it would not have taken very much, the rail had wood-rot and Herb had been meaning to replace it for months. Just past the broken fence were hoof prints in the muddy cow path leading to the east pasture. Herb knew just where she had been headed, Blossom had a sweet tooth and there was a pear tree in the far corner of that pasture.
He hurried up the path, his worst fears all but confirmed before he got to the pasture itself by the vultures circling in the sky ahead.
Coming out from between the trees at the end of the path, Bo by his side, Herb was stopped in his tracks by the sight before him. In the middle of the field in the center of a circle of flattened grass Blossom lay on her side as if she were being served up on a large green plate. Vultures hopped and squabbled around her corpse. Bo took off toward the scene through the tall grass, bellowing that bark of his that sounded like half dog half foghorn.
When Bo broke into the flattened section the vultures grudgingly began to move away, but though he tried his best charging first one and then another, they never took flight, just flapped their wings to dodge his charge and then settled down again a little further away reluctant to abandon their prize. Herb was not too far behind. He stopped at the edge of the circle, but could not at first bring himself to move any closer. Blossom lay in the middle of the circle, blood sprayed out on the grass around her like the rays of the sun. Herb fell to his knees, mouth open, eyes wide as the vultures watched him and ruffled their feathers in their impatience.
Two hours latter Herb was back at the site with Billy Wright. They stood next to each other only a few feet from Blossom but purposely upwind to try to avoid the stench wafting up in waves from the body. Flies, big and bloated and happy, crawled over the cows hide or spun lazily in the hot July air riding the currents of that awful smell. The sheriff stood feet splayed hands on his hips, the straw cowboy hat he always wore perched on the back of his head, sweat beading on his brow, deep in thought, as Herbert continued making his point.
“You gotta agree Billy, I mean what else makes sense,” said Herb his hand making a sweeping motion to highlight what lay before them. Blossom was on her side, legs pointed straight out; a huge gaping wound split her belly from throat to udder. The strangest thing was no internal organs could be seen; she was completely hollowed out like an empty taco shell decorated to look like a cow. “What on this God’s green earth could do this to a one thousand two hundred pound cow and how do you account for this flattened area of grass, it must be twenty yards across.”
“I hear what you’re saying Herb, — but flying saucers?” Billy responded shaking his head, “That’s a little out there don’t you think? I mean this could be some kind of college prank, you know like a bunch of them boys from that agricultural school over in Stanton. Remember last year they stole a bunch of Fletcher’s pigs and snuck em through a side door of the movie theater? — All hell broke loose, pigs running up and down the aisles and through the lobby, people screaming and carrying on, it was pretty goddamn funny.” Billy recalled smiling to himself.
“This ain’t no goddamn laughing matter Billy, I’m out a lotta money here. There’s a big difference between borrowing some damn hogs and butchering one of my cows. And what happened to all her insides and what about the grass all laying down, how’d they do that.”
“Sorry Herb I didn’t mean to laugh at your troubles, just the memory of those hogs raising hell that was pretty damn funny.” Noticing the look on Herb’s face Billy cleared his throat, “Sorry. Anyway the grass well all you would need is one fella standing in the center with one end of a rope and another fella at the other end walking in a circle you see. They could flatten a patch that way. As for her insides well those Aggie students learn how to butcher cattle and when a bunch of them get together and if they get their hands on some shine no telling what they’ll get up to. It makes me even more suspicious because it does look exactly like the articles in those newspapers by the grocery checkout that talk about UFO’s and stuff. It was like those boys were trying to create some kind a hoax. It could also be as simple as a pack of wolves, took her down and then where just milling around.”
Herb snorted, “A pack of wolves? A pack of wolves couldn’t have slit her stem to stern like that. And besides only her insides are gone, no bite marks on the hide at all, what pack of wolves does that? And are you forgettin I told you I saw a flying saucer over this very field?”
Billy tried to avoid Herb’s eyes, “Yeah, but you admitted yourself you’d been drinking.” Catching the way Herb’s face flushed Billy hurried on, “But I’ll call Fish and Wildlife and get a bunch of their boys up here to check it out and if they can’t explain it, well we’ll go from there.”
Herb had agreed but knew at that moment he was going to have to take things into his own hands.
That feeling was only reenforced when he got home and told Effie about his conversation with Billy out in the pasture.
“Well, I think Billy is right,” she remarked, “There’s gotta be a logical explanation for what happened.”
“There is a logical explanation, a goddamn flying saucer. I saw it and I ain’t the only one that’s seen these things, there’s those stories in those papers, — maybe there true. There’s all kind of stories about people seeing UFO’s and finding cattle mutilated, there’s even been human abductions. I read this one story where this lady saw a flying saucer and then she doesn’t remember anything else, just woke up in a field and she had a scar on either side of her knee that hadn’t been there before. They are experimenting on us to find out what makes us tick.”
Effie was looking at him like he was as dumb as dirt. “Let me get this straight Herb, these little green men of yours have a spaceship, they flew all across outer space to get here and then they cut open a girl’s knee? —They have the technology to fly through space but they never heard of an Xray machine or a damn MRI? They got to cut her to figure out how her knee works? And the cows they got to cut them up to see inside?” She let out a bark of laughter but there was no humor in her eyes, just contempt.
Bo had been sitting on the floor between them, his head turning from one to the other during this exchange like following the ball at a tennis match. He was now staring at Herb as if to say “Come on big fella you have a response, don’t you?”
Both their looks made up Herb’s mind. “Come on Bo we got work to do.”
First stop Herb went up into the barn loft and found the old mayonnaise jar full of cash he had stashed up there. He had been putting away a little here and there, hiding it so Effie couldn’t get to it, so that he could get himself a new hunting rifle but the rifle would have to wait.
Herb then drove to the big box store in town and bought himself one of those video cameras with his rifle money. It was an extravagance for what would hopefully be a one-time occurrence but he reasoned if things went as he planned, he could return it tomorrow and get his money back. That is if he survived the night. He had to admit he really wasn’t sure what he was getting himself into but he didn’t want to think about the possible danger and chicken out on the chance to wipe that smug condescending look off of Effie’s face.
Finally, he headed back to his farm for the toughest task of all, having a chat with Marigold. Marigold was the oldest cow he owned and had stopped giving milk over a year ago. If it was any other cow, she would have been sold off for beef by now, but she was born on the farm and had an especially sweet disposition and by cow standards that was saying something.
Herb pressed his forehead to her brow and stroked her cheek as he whispered to her. He explained what had to be done and that he would protect her from harm if it was within his power but there was a risk in this for both of them. Looking at those big brown trusting eyes he almost abandoned the whole plan right then and there, but dammit he had to prove he was right, prove it to himself as much as to Effie and to Billy. He sniffed a few times, swallowed to clear the lump in his throat and then slipped a rope around Marigold’s neck and led her from the barn.
That night he was back out in the north pasture. He had been told to leave everything as it was in the east pasture so that was not an option for his plan. There was a full moon that night and except for the tree lined border that was cast in shadow the entire field was bathed in a silver light. Out in that light, like she was making her Broadway debut, stood Marigold, the rope around her neck tied to a stake in the ground.
Herb lay in the shadows just under the tree line on the south edge of the pasture, his shotgun lay in the grass on his right side and the video camera, on a small tripod, was on his left. The camera was not pointed at Marigold but at the sky above her, all Herb would have to do is reach out and press the record button. Bo lay on the other side of the shotgun, occasionally lifting his head to stare out into the darkness under the trees on either side of them but otherwise seemed completely disinterested in their latest endeavor.
Herb was grateful for the moonlight, he had not sprung for the most expensive low light camera, but then again, if the spaceship showed up light would be the least of his worries.
The minutes ticked by and except for the chirping of the crickets, the occasional buzz of a mosquito in his ear and the dancing fireflies spread out across the field like twinkling jewels there was nothing. Time marched on and the doubt crept in. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he WAS seeing things the other night. Could, God forbid, Effie and Billy have been right all along?
Bo shifted, gathering his hind legs under him while simultaneously getting lower in the grass. He was looking toward the trees to their right and a low growl, like someone slowly stirring a bowl full of gravel, rumbled deep in his throat. That is when another thought occurred to Herb, what if Billy was right on the money, what if it was a pack of wolves? And here he was out here by himself with just a broken-down hound and an old breach loaded two-barrel shotgun.
Herb reached out and grabbed the gun, following Bo’s lead he drew his legs up getting ready to spring to his feet if needed, all thoughts of flying saucers and aliens had disappeared. He could feel the sweat break out on his brow and the back of his neck; it trickled down between his shoulder blades. That is when he saw it, a patch of darkness deeper than the other shadows moved slowly under the trees about twenty yards to the right of where they lay. As it got closer to where the light from the moon fought for territory with the shadows of the trees the thought of a pack of wolves vanished. Whatever it was it was more bear size than wolf size, but it was staying low, stalking, not very bear-like behavior.
It slowly emerged into the light of the moon and Herb fought to suppress the gasp that threatened to escape from his lips.
The silver moonlight highlighted the details of the creature in harsh relief. The animal looked like a cross between an incredibly large wolf and an armadillo. The sides of its wolflike skull and body were covered in thick black fur. However, the top of its snout, head, shoulders, down its back and its forked tail were covered in what looked like armor plating. If that were not weird enough it apparently had six legs because there were three just on the side Herb could see.
The creature froze, staring forward, completely focused on Marigold. As for the cow she was contently chewing oblivious to the danger she was in. Herb slowly raised up on one knee and couched the butt of the shotgun against his shoulder, glancing over at the impotent camera he felt a moment of regret that it was not the rifle it was originally meant to be. Not having much faith that the shotgun would take down the beast Herb took aim.
Bo’s low rumble of a growl picked up steam, like an approaching locomotive. Still focusing on the beast Herb, his lips drawn in a tight line, hissed “Shush!” from the corner of his mouth.
The creatures head snapped around, its eyes glowing red in the moonlight. Herb could make out two sharp tusks curving up from its lower jaw. The thing shook its wolf/reptile head and glared in Herb’s direction, apparently forgetting about its original prey.
That is when Bo, unable to contain himself any longer, started barking furiously. Herb, afraid Bo would charge off into certain death wanted desperately to grab the dog’s collar but didn’t dare let go of his gun or take his aim off his target. Bo continued to bark as if he were a dog possessed but thankfully seemed to have the common sense not to charge the horror before him.
The animal shifted its body to align with the head, never taking its eyes off Herb. The muscles in its flanks rippled and bunched in the moonlight. Herbs lips moved in a frantic prayer, his left hand flashing up to wipe the sweat from his eyes and then return to the stock of his gun. He took a deep breath and held it, bracing for the charge.
Time froze as the two stared at each other.
The breeze shifted and Marigold for the first time caught the scent of the impending danger. She looked around, threw back her head and bellowed in fright. The creature’s head snapped around at the sound of the cow. At that moment two things happened simultaneously, the beast, in an amazing display of athleticism for something its size, spun and charged toward Marigold and Herb pulled both triggers on the shotgun.
Herb’s shot passed harmlessly through the air where the beast used to be. He watched helplessly as a bunch of murdered leaves showered down from the trees in the distance. His target, unbelievably quick on those six legs, charged through the tall grass like a freight train headed straight for Marigold.
The cow let out a deep almost human scream, a sound Herb had never heard before or since, but one that he would never forget. The beast lowered his head and rammed Marigold in the side knocking over the one thousand four-hundred-pound animal as if it were a small child.
Marigold crashed on her side, her legs sticking straight out. The beast took a step back and drove one of its tusks into the base of the cow’s throat, a huge gout of blood fountained up and out over the animal and the surrounding grass. Legs pumping, the creature plowed forward ripping a huge gash down her belly to the base of her udder as easy as unzipping a suitcase. She was dead in an instant. Her organs spilled out of the grisly wound into a steaming pile on the ground. Without giving Herb another look, the creature began to feed, grabbing huge chunks of entrails in its jaws and throwing its head back swallowing them whole.
Herb stood there stunned, forgetting his camera, forgetting his gun, forgetting his dog who was barking frantically at his side but too smart to get closer to the scene of ongoing slaughter before them. Finally shaking himself from a daze, Herb broke open the shotgun, fumbling in his pocket for two more shells. His hands shaking, he reloaded and raised his weapon again though he found it impossible to hold it steady.
Herb took a breath and held it trying to steady his aim. The creature was ignoring Herb, completely focused on the meal it was enjoying. Every instinct told Herb to grab Bo by the collar and slip back through the trees, get to his truck, and get the hell out of there. But Herb was pissed. All the hard work he had put into this farm, these cows, all the sacrifices he had made over the years, all the shit he had to put up with from Effie just so he could hang onto this stinking piece of land and these animals and now this thing, this thing was going to come along and just destroy what belonged to him?
Herb steadied his aim and, for the second time pulled both, triggers. The gun bucked in his hands and he saw the beast flinch at the impact of the blast. It turned to face him, eyes glowering red, but other than seeming to get its attention the buckshot had as much affect as throwing sand against a brick wall.
Letting out a snort the animal began to charge. Herb turned to run when Bo, in a fury of barks and growls, streaked past him in the direction of the monster. Herb lunged trying to grab Bo’s collar but was short by a mile, grabbing only air.
“BO, STOP, COME,” Herb screamed as he saw the hound rush to certain death.
Suddenly the entire field was awash in blue light. The grass to the right of the slaughtered cow and the charging animals began to slowly spiral and flatten into a circular pattern. The beast immediately dropped to its belly, head down and shoulders slumped as it looked sideways toward that light. As for Bo he hit the brakes and began to backpedal away barking at this new intruder.
Herb shielded his eyes against the brightness. The lights started to dim as the craft began to slowly descend. It stopped four feet above the ground and just floated. Herb rushed up and grabbed Bo by the collar, dragging him backwards. He glanced over at the creature and saw it had turned and was slowly slinking away. A loud amplified voice came from the ship; “Rhuka.” The creature immediately dropped on its belly again, looking back over its shoulder at the ship its eyes narrowed and blinked rapidly.
There was the whooshing sound of compressed air, a doorway opened in the ship and a ramp descended from the bottom of the opening until it touched the ground. Two figures emerged from the craft, one slightly smaller than the other, the larger one carried what looked like a metal box.
They looked just like those pictures Herb had seen in the papers in the supermarket, big heads, large almond shaped black eyes, the only difference from those pictures were that they wore cloths. Why was it they were always naked in those drawings anyway? thought Herb.
The larger one began to speak some indecipherable gibberish. The smaller of the two hit the larger one on the arm and pointed to a collar around its own neck. The larger one nodded and reaching up pushed a button on its collar causing it to light up. When it started to speak again Herb could still hear the gibberish in the background but a very human sounding voice, speaking English, came from the collar.
“Hello my name is Bob, this is my wife, Jane.” It said and paused, then the alien’s shoulders began to shake and Herb heard a rasping sound as the spoken words “Hah, hah, hah” came from the collar. “Do not be confused obviously our real names in our own tongue are not Bob and Jane but our translators find the word in your own language that most closely aligns with the meaning of our words, so if I was one of you my name would be Bob. You see quite simple. — Anyway, to the matter at hand, I hope we did not alarm you but we are just trying to retrieve him,” Bob continued nodding toward the beast who was trying to slink away again. “Rex! Bad dog!, Get inside!” Bob commanded. The creature hesitated “Don’t you get stubborn with me mister, march!” Bob said voice rising.
Rex slunk up the ramp into the ship, looking dejected, all the while licking Marigold’s blood off its jowls with its thick black scaly tongue. Herb looked down at Bo, who had gotten surprisingly quiet, and could have sworn he saw sympathy for this other creature on his dog’s face.
“Sorry for the trouble he has caused,” Bob continued, “We had him out for a run and he slipped his collar and took off, well without the collar we had no way to track him and unfortunately he got hungry.’
Herb swallowed hard and finally found his voice, “I saw the markings your ship made and I thought you had killed Blossom, my cow. I never imagined," his voice trailed off as he tried to process everything that just happened.
“No, I assure you, not us, we were just trying to find him and unfortunately last night we were too late he had already had his meal and was gone before we got there, at least tonight our timing was a little better though not timely enough to save your animal. I know this incident has caused you some hardship.”
“Well yes it has.” Herb said finally regaining a semblance of his composure. “You know you could make it up to me if you let me film your spaceship. I have a camera right over there. It would be a big help to me, you see there are those who think I’m crazy for what I saw.”
“I am sorry I cannot let you do that. Your camera will not work anyway, the energy field from our ship would have rendered it useless by now.”
Jane spoke for the first time. “Bob, did you forget?” She said nodding toward the box in Bob’s hands. “Hopefully this can in someway make up for the trouble our dog has caused.”
Bob stepped forward offering the box to Herb. “I am District Manager for a company that does asteroid mining in this sector. Here is a little something I have been using as a decoration in my office but I understand to your kind this is quite valuable, please take this with our apologies.”
Herb took the box and almost dropped it; it must have weighed around twenty pounds. “Thank you, uh, I guess.” He managed.
With that they turned and walked up the ramp into their ship. The ramp raised and the doorway closed. The lights on the ship began to get brighter.
Herb ran to his camera, hit record, and looked down at the screen. Nothing but grey fuzz, dead. Well, it had been worth a try. The craft rose higher, and like it had done on the night of the 4th , sped off into the darkness.
Herb sat in his truck parked on a low sloping hill behind his farm. The sun was just coming up, highlighting the tops of the distant trees. As he gazed down at the farmhouse the light came on in the kitchen window. He could see Effie’s shadow as she passed that window going about making coffee and starting breakfast.
Herb reached out to the hound laying curled up on the passenger seat of the truck and scratched Bo behind the ears. He looked down into the footwell on that side at the gold nugget that was the size of a large grapefruit lying there. A thought occurred to him that brought a smile to his face.
“I am sure gonna miss Effie,” he said and then started to chuckle. It sure was a lot funnier when you said it out loud.
With that Herb turned the truck to point away from the rising Sun and headed west.