The Great Escape
by Martin James Hunter
The weather was constantly grim then. More so than now. Only either raining or threatening to rain so we could never sit on the grass. Boys were always letting the cows out too. Floods of monochrome overrunning the village. Now that I think about it there has been no escape for at least ten years. These days kids are always on their computers.
On the morning of the first outbreak I was no older than six. I had been watching television, this being a time when I could stomach the thing. When I broke from its programming they were already there. A river of cattle surging by the window, bellowing into the air with white breath. One had made it into my garden. It watched me through the glass as though I were responsible for its imprisonment.
I got off light that day. Gallant men with sticks turned up and drove the creatures back. Superheroes breaking from their disguises in order to restore peace to our community. It was not long before all was well again, besides the hoofprints by the daffodils that would haunt me for weeks.
A Tragic Loss
When I was seven there occurred another historic village event. The defeat of the Big Tree during a particularly malicious storm. It had been the kind of night the elderly did not risk leaving home. A night where at one point my father mounted a rescue mission for my absent cat. From the window I watched the darkness, fearing neither would return.
Beneath unrelenting rain the garden had become a bog, its surface dancing and swelling like a living thing. Skywards I could see the television aerial up like a kite, barely held by its cable and lit from my bedroom lamp. In the distance the horizon was marked with lightning and released gastric bouts of thunder. I listened with my window open for some time.
At one point there came a great prolonged cry of wood as though the earth itself were subject to an agonising laceration, and then a crash as though some enormous being had passed out. An unusual silence from the heavens followed, as though all were suddenly mourning a great loss.
Years later the Big Tree posthumously saved lives. It had been another grim day on the west coast. Not raining but everything wet. Kids a few years older had spent the afternoon inciting stampedes within the fields. Repeatedly tearing downhill with enraged livestock at their heels. But the kids always reached the perimeter fence first, vaulting the gate to the safety of the football pitch where their timid friends watched.
The cattle were outraged. Despite their efforts they could not trample even the slowest of these two-legged creatures. One ungulate in particular had spent the previous half hour bellowing like a dark manifestation, eyes pink with bloodlust and venting white breath into the air like smoke. Its discontent made further evident when it suddenly wrecked the gate and led the most astounding liberation I have ever witnessed.
Beasts stampeding forth like hellhounds relinquished of damnation, the majority of them heading for the stunned kids that stood centre field. I can only imagine the horror these children felt in going from spectators to helpless prey in a matter of seconds. In a confused rush they scrambled atop the great oak hulk that lay not far from where they stood – the solemn corpse of the Big Tree.
Dead bark crumbled under panicked feet, vengeful creatures bellowing underneath. The tree became enclosed in a roil of unremitting cattle. A murderous vortex of boiling blood. From where they were the kids stood no chance of escape.
I remember the confident girls that all the boys fancied. Not particularly pleasing to the eye but they ran the place and that had an effect on us. Above the cattle they huddled together like monkeys conserving heat, shrieking towards their homes at absent fathers. For me that was the moment the illusion shattered.
Too caught up in enjoying the chaos I failed to see the creature’s approach. It was suddenly over my shoulder, black legs kicking like an aggressive mare. I took off screaming, the beast in hot pursuit.
The Chase Sequence
It seemed my lack of involvement in the earlier persecution of cattle amounted to nothing. A new social order was now in place, one in which human beings were indiscriminately hunted down. Little did I know the tables would turn so soon.
Summer days had been spent feeding grass to the docile creatures when passing their field on my way home. Sometimes I even held down overhead branches so they could reach the best leaves. I still remember that wild look they got when enjoying a particularly gratifying cluster.
My kind past meant nothing to the slavering thing that had singled me out in a blind rage. Diplomacy far from an option, all that remained to do was keep running.
Fifty or so meters ahead stood another fence, separating the football pitch from the park. As I hurled towards my goal the mud took a trainer from me. One foot then cocooned in ebony and slipping with every stride. I recall peering over my shoulder and immediately regretting it. A brown skull right there. Wild eyed, twisting with rage. The creature released an almighty bellow, clarifying that I had been marked for death. Cold adrenaline shot through me and within seconds took control of my body.
Suddenly I was in the air, the world hurtling by in disorientating smears, the fence passing underneath, the thicket growing in size. I came to a stop in a net of vegetation, lungs going wild. Ears ringing as though filled with electricity.
The cow did not brave the jump. Frustrated at my liberty it spent the following minutes staring me down, educating me in the true meaning of hate. When it was through, the creature grunted in dismay and left for the cadaver of the Big Tree where kids still howled for their parents. At this point however word of the uprising had spread and help was on its way. Village males emerged from their homes in unison, armed with sticks and once again led only by the greater good.