[Prompt: The Mad cow disease outbreak of 1986 never happens. Instead, Rational Cow Disease spreads rapidly, significantly increasing bovine intelligence ]
My feet scrambled for purchase as we rounded another corner in our attempt to escape from the facility. Grevoir had already made this trip three times before so we trusted him, but I couldn’t help but feel that the sound of our panicked steps over the polished concrete made too much noise. The dead of night helped to mask our movements but the tension in the air and the silence from Grevoir told us that something had not gone to plan.
The end of a hallway loomed before us, the only door closed with a chain and lock. Grevoir examined the lock while I took in the faces of those around me. Some were older, most were younger, and all of them were unknown to me other than my younger sister, Henni. Her knees shook as we huddled together in the dark. Our eyes met, but before she could speak, a loud bang caused us all to jump. I had to fight the urge to run in a blind panic, as did the others. I could tell by the way they shifted their weight and moved uneasily from one side of the hall to the other.
The noise came again and I turned to see Grevoir attempted to kick the door open. Again and again he struck, leaving a sizable dent in the metal with each hit. Henni pressed close to my side and I could feel her shaking more violently than before. I wanted to be angry at Grevoir for scaring her, but this was but a drop in the bucket. Compared to the fear we experienced every day, this should have been a walk in the park. We lived in a prison and every day we wondered who would be next. Who would our cruel guards take away, kicking and screaming, to an end we all knew was writ in blood. The men reeked of blood and only a fool would believe that they chose us to be taken to a better place. Last week my mother hand been taken and I knew that no matter what I had to get me and my sister out of there.
The lights came on as did the blaring alarms. Henni cried as she tried to hide under my legs and I fought to stand still against the chaos unfolding around me. The faces around me were crazed, their eyes widened in wild fear as they fed into each other’s panic. My own feet shifted uncertainly against the concrete. I stamped them hard against the floor in attempt to gain control. “Stop it! Calm down!”
They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, hear me over the sirens. Some of them turned and began to run back down the hall.
“No!” I started after them before I realized what I was doing. I skidded to a halt. “You can’t run! We have to help him!”
My words fell on deaf ears, so I decided to try and lead by example. I spun around and rushed the door Grevoir was still kicking. He nearly had it off it’s hinges but it wouldn’t be soon enough. I turned just enough to slam my shoulder into the door with my full weight behind it. The chain snapped under the strain and the doors swung open and I fell to the dirt just beyond the doors. Grevoir stood next to me and I didn’t know if I felt dizzy from my fall, or the fact that he looked impressed by me. He didn’t say anything, just nodded his head and started to lead the way.
Henni nudged my side, urging me to get up and follow, but as I rose up I stumbled again. My shoulder burned where I had struck the doors. I saw Grevoir pause to look back at me. “I’m fine,” I lied and forced myself to stand and limp after our leader. Henni nervously kept pace by my side, her head swinging back and forth at the strange world around us. We didn’t get to see much beyond the walls of our prison so I could imagine her growing excitement. If I wasn’t in so much pain, I might have shared in the feeling. As it was, I concentrated on not falling flat on my face.
I managed to work myself up to a jog when the gunshot sounded. My concentrated slipped and I hit the ground hard. I could smell blood and whatever pain I felt was driven aside by fear, “Henni? Henni!”
I floundered on the ground as I tried to get back on my feet. “Henni! Where are you!?”
Her cries were just ahead of me, lost in the darkness of a moonless night. I half walked, half crawled in her direction. I found her standing alone, knees shaking, and whimpering softly. I gently touched her shoulder as I checked her over. She didn’t appear to be hurt. “Henni?”
She pressed her face into my side and I let her cry for only a moment before I eased her back. The smell of blood was stronger here. I carefully picked my way across the loose soil until I saw him. Grevoir laid on his side, his breathing labored as his life seeped from his powerful body. The shot had taken him in the gut and his insides were strewn across the path. Instinctively I tried to shield Henni from the sight, but she had probably already seen what had happened. Holding back my own whimper, I moved to kneel next to Grevoir’s head.
“Go,” He spoke, spraying blood as he did so. “Ahead. Yellow… Yellow house… “
And with that he was gone. I didn’t want to leave him behind because I had heard of the horrible things those people did to our bodies. Grevoir deserved a better ending. He had been helping us to escape at the risk of his own life. It wasn’t fair. None of it was fair!
Another gunshot pierced the air and my ear stung. I pushed myself back on to my feet and began to run with Henni at myself. I could feel the blood running down the side of my face but there was no stopping now. We either made it to safety or we died trying. At the least, I had to get Henni out of that place. She deserved a better life. With that determination, and the help of adrenaline, I managed the pain screaming in my shoulder and ear.
I don’t know how long we ran, but when the yellow house came into view, I nearly collapsed in a mixture of joy and exhaustion. I slowed our pace to a walk and took in the house. It looked old with its flaking paint and boarded windows. The weeds had taken over the yard, and what wasn’t untamed plants was dirt and rocks. As I began to question if this was the right place, the door to the cellar opened and a woman beckoned to us. “In here!”
Her hair was the color of straw and she looked young. I hadn’t seen a friendly face in so long, I couldn’t help but stare at her. She began to beckon with earnest, using both hands to summon us to the dirt ramp that led down below the old house. I could tell Henni shared in my discomfort as we moved inside. We had just escaped a prison, it felt wrong to go right back into another one.
“Where are the others?” The woman asked.
Both Henni and I ducked our heads and the woman seemed to understand. Her lips twisted downward and her eyes looked a little watery, but whatever emotion was bubbling to the surface, she swallowed it back down. I admired her bravado. “I see. We’ll wait here for a bit until the truck comes. Some of them might still make it.”
Not Grevoir, I thought to myself but wasn’t cruel enough to say it.
“You’re hurt,” The woman spoke again, her voice not steady but she was seeking to distract herself. “Let me see to that while we wait.”
I sat on the dirt floor with Henni at my side and stayed still while the woman tended to my ear. The bullet must have grazed along my skull, leaving a hole in my ear as it passed. The woman talked as she cleaned the wound and did her best to patch it without stitches. I learned her name was Heather and she had been working with Grevoir and others like him for the last few years. Things were changing, she said, but it wasn’t easy. We would always be in danger, but there were more people every day that were willing to help us. We would have to travel for a time, through secret passages and under the darkness of night. We would travel from safe house to safe house until we made it to somewhere we could be free. It wouldn’t be easy, but if we wanted a chance at a real life, we had to do it.
By the time Heather was finished, Henni was fast asleep next to me. Looking down at her sleeping face, I knew that I had to be strong for her. I didn’t care about the risk or the danger, I knew I had to see this through to gift Henni with a better life.
I heard the trucks pulling up to the house before Heather did. She bade me to wait while she alone went up to the surface to greet them. I remained silent, straining to listen to their voices.
“What took you so long?” Heather demanded.
“We have problem, Heather..” A man’s voice responded.
“What is it? What happened?”
There was the sound of a truck door opening then being slammed shut. A new man’s voice joined the group, “What he hell is this, Heather?”
“Dave? What are you doing here!” She hissed back at him.
“Trying to figure out what my girlfriend is doing behind my back.”
“This is none of your business!”
There was a minor scuffle above, a mixture of shouts, and suddenly the cellar doors were being pulled open. The man that came down held a gun in his hand. I stood to my feet and put a waking Henni behind me. The man took one look at us and shook his head. He turned back to face Heather and the other man that had followed him down. “Cows? This is what you’re doing. You’re helping stupid cows?”
“They’re not stupid,” Heather argued but kept her distance from the man with the gun.
I lowered my head and regarded the one known as Dave. He sounded as ignorant as the men who kept us imprisoned.
“Do you know how much trouble you can get in for this? You know they’ll kill you for being a beef-sympathizer, don’t you?”
“Shut up Dave. I don’t care!”
Dave shook his head and pointed the gun at her. Heather shrank back against the wall. “Seems to me you care if you live or die.”
I took a step forward, but Dave heard me and swung the gun to point in my direction. Henni saw this and began to cry.
“Shut up,” Dave demanded as the gun barrel shifted from me to the cowering calf. Henni bleated louder. “I said SHUT UP!”
I saw his posture change. Dave’s back straightened and he held his arm steady as his finger began to curl around the trigger. I reacted before I could think, charing the man to slam my head into his chest. The wind was knocked out of his lungs but he still fired off a shot before he hit the ground. I brought down my hooves on him. Again and again until he stopped moving. When my mind caught up with my actions I backed away in horror of my own brutality. I moved to guard Henni before I shifted my attention to the other humans. I didn’t know how they would react now that I had killed one of their own. I had done it to protect my sister, but I wasn’t sure they would understand it.
Heather stared in shock at the man once called Dave. The other man, an older man with dark skin and white hair, had widened eyes but he seemed more aware of the situation than the young woman. He placed a hand on Heather’s shoulder and pulled her toward the surface. He pushed her out ahead of him before turning to me and my sister. “Come on now. There’s nothing more that can be done here. We still need to get you to safety.”
Blood on my hooves, I cautiously stepped forward and lead the way out of the cellar. The sun was beginning to crest the horizon and as the golden light draped over the fawn hide of my sister, warming her to a new beginning, I was filled with hope.