October is the month that gives us Hallowe’en. A night of scary ghosts and ghouls and all sorts of frights. Now I’m not really one for horror stories and having your wits scared out of you, but in the name of creativity, I thought I’d bloody well have a go!! Rather than write a typical ghost story, I chose to combine the current trend for zombies and my employment connection with the farming world. So enjoy…
Tom Evans had a herd of over one hundred dairy cows. He’d just installed a fancy, state-of-the-art robot milking parlour that could milk all day and all night, at quite a considerable cost to him and his bank. But there was nothing else to do – it was a worrying time, and farmers were doing anything they could to try and survive – either he had to modernise and increase output, or carry on in the old practices and ultimately work at a loss.
On the fringe of Tom’s farmland, there was a badger sett, alongside a small but steady flowing brook. This brook flowed past and beneath a major local road, used by lorries and vans transporting all manner of loads through the countryside from town to bustling city.
One day, an unmarked tanker carrying an unspecified load, crashed into an oncoming car that was overtaking a motorcyclist. The two occupants of the car were killed instantly, and the lorry driver suffered spinal injuries. Amongst the mayhem and comings and goings of the emergency services, nobody noticed until it was too late, the contents of the tanker leaked into the brook.
A few days later, whilst out conducting a survey of his boundaries, Tom happened on a dead badger by the brook. He thought nothing of it, and slung it into the brook, before continuing on his way. The badger lay there, the water lapping at the rotting corpse, but not able to shift it. Deep beneath the ground, in the sett, the remaining live badgers were showing signs of unusual behaviour -fighting between themselves, to the point of tearing ragged strips of flesh from each other’s bodies.
The problems started when a group of bored, naïve teenagers and their slathering hound crept up on the sett, intent on killing a badger or two. Under the cover of darkness, the dog found the entrance and the oldest of the group, an eighteen year old kid, unclipped the leash, setting the dog free. As the boys waited for the fun to begin, clubs and bats at the ready, they were not expecting the growling to turn into a high pitched yelp. The dog was suddenly at their side, it’s face torn to shreds. Following quickly behind, three angry badgers, themselves missing chunks of their flesh, teeth bared in a fearsome grimace, came thrashing out of the sett. The teenagers, unequipped for such a challenge turned tail and fled, leaving their dog behind to be torn to pieces by the three badgers. Hunger satisfied, the badgers left the mangled remains and set out across the farmland.
Tom was watching television when his mobile phone went off. He wondered for a minute what it could be, but then once he glanced at the screen, he knew it was the milking parlour. Grumbling, he got out of his chair by the fire, took one last glance at the football on the screen and he grabbed his coat and boots and set off to investigate. He heaved open the barn door and stalked over to the control room. He unlocked the door, turned the light on and studied the computer screen displays. He ran his finger down the monitor, looking for some sign of a problem. Much to his confusion and frustration, no problem seemed to present itself. Tom inwardly cursed the new technology that was now effectively running his life. This was the fifth time this had happened in the weekend since it had all been installed. To make matters worse, he was home alone this week. Mary had gone on a week away with her other farming wife friends and his trusty right-hand man, Pete, was down in London taking his own wife to see a show for her birthday. As for the twins, they were both at University, and out of the way.
No sooner had Tom settled back in front of the television, his phone went again. Thankfully, it was Mary.
“Alright?” Tom answered, one eye still on the football on television.
“Yeah, just thought I’d give you a ring before I went for dinner,” Mary replied.
“Right,” Tom murmured. “You behaving yourself?”
“Of course,” Mary giggled. “We’ve only been here for a day. Give us time.”
They both laughed at that.
“Well,” Mary hesitated. “I’d better let you go. How’s the milking?”
“Driving me bloody mad already,” Tom admitted.
“Alright Tom,” Mary finished. “Speak to you soon. Love you.”
Tom said his own goodbye and ended the call, alone once again. After the football finished, he debated going for one last check of the milking parlour, but reckoned that he would no doubt be up in the night for one reason or another, so he headed up to bed.
Remarkably enough, Tom slept through to his alarm at 5am with no disturbance. He woke to a grey, damp morning, proof enough that Winter was on its way. The clocks were due to change next weekend, which would really herald the dark mornings and dark nights. Having washed and dressed, Tom headed out into the yard. His first job was to check the parlour controls to check the overnight stats, then he would put some more hay in for the cows, before opening the doors into the field. In the control room, he checked the displays and requested a print-out for his records. Whilst this was processing, he went to his little loadall and fetched some straw. Just as he was driving into the barn, he heard a thud and the loadall rocked as it ran over something. Tom cursed, and brought the vehicle to a stop. He swung open the glass door and stepped down. Trapped under the back wheel was a tatty looking badger. It was definitely dead, but Tom was surprised at the state of it – it looked like it had been eaten alive. The badgers snout was open in a grimace, blood caked on the fangs. Tom sighed and dragged the corpse from under the wheel. He had to be careful now – the animal rights militants would be on his back if they found out he’d killed a badger, albeit accidentally. He’d heard about the farmer down in Gloucester that had been viciously beaten by the badger brigade after he tried to break up their vigil by a sett that was marked for the cull. The best thing would be to dispose of it after dark, probably dump it on a back road somewhere.
Once the hay was sorted and the barn door opened, the cows were able to move about as they wished. Except for one. One of his younger cows seemed to be in some sort of discomfort. It was struggling to get up off the floor, it’s hind legs buckling under the weight of supporting it. Tom tried to have a look, but the animal was quite skittish, and mooed angrily at him when he approached.
“Hey, come on girl,” Tom cooed as he tiptoed closer, step by tiny step. Again the cow mooed angrily, snorting. Tom stopped and considered for a moment. It was clear that something was wrong, but he was obviously not going to find out like this. He made a note to call the vet tomorrow morning, no point being too hasty. His pre-breakfast tasks complete, Tom headed back to the house, where he made himself a coffee and a fried egg sandwich, complete with tomato ketchup. He sat at the kitchen table, checking his bank statements which had come yesterday, but he hadn’t had the opportunity to look at them in detail.
He turned on the little portable television in the kitchen, just for some noise really, and was delighted when Susanna Reid was on – he had a thing for her – with her dark hair and smouldering looks. Then to his disgust, Brian May came on whittering on about the cull and how it was unnecessary. It was about time he cut his poodle hair, Tom thought. Normally he would turn it off in anger, but he wanted to soak up a little bit more of Susanna before the day began in earnest.
Once his pleasure was over, Tom went about his daily tasks. It was mid-afternoon, as he drove back from the farm supplies shop, when he got a call from a number he didn’t recognise. He pulled over to the side of the road and answered the call.
“Hello, Tom Evans speaking.”
“Ah, Mr Evans,” a man’s voice replied. “Do you own some cows at Upper Church Farm?”
“Yes, I do,” Tom admitted. “Why?”
“Well three of them have just broken through a hedge and attacked a woman walking her dogs.”
The silence at Tom’s end was deafening. “Mr Evans? Are you there?” Tom’s brain was working overtime. How?
“Ah, I’m still here,” Tom said, finally. “Are they hurt?” The pause at the other end made Tom feel nervous.
“The woman just got a shock,” the man said. Tom breathed an audible sigh of relief. But the man wasn’t finished just yet. “The dogs weren’t so lucky.”
“What?” Tom exclaimed in surprise.
“Two of the cows set upon one of them when it barked at them. They ripped it apart.” Tom could hear the blood rushing through his head, trying to comprehend what he was being told.
“That’s one dog,” Tom countered. “You mentioned dogs in the plural.”
“Yes,” the man agreed. “The other one managed to nip at the other cow and get away with the woman.”
“And where are my cows now?” Tom queried, dreading the answer.
“We don’t know,” came the hesitant reply. “By the time the woman brought me back, they had gone. They stripped the dog’s carcass clean.” The ensuing silence was painfully loud. “Those are some damned nasty animals you’ve got.”
Tom wanted to swear out loud, but managed to contain himself. “I’ll call my Insurance,” was all he could manage.
“Sod the Insurance,” the man hissed. “Those animals have got to be stopped and destroyed.”
This got Tom’s hackles up – no man liked to be told what to do.
“Who the bloody hell are you anyway? Are you Defra?”
“No, I’m not from Defra,” the man retorted. “My name is Alan Johnson, and I’m from the RSPCA.”
“I should have bloody known,” Tom shouted, raising his voice. “Well, Alan, you and your badger-worshipping cronies will cost me my livelihood one way or another.”
“Be sensible, Mr Evans,” Alan said, with almost a hint of pleading in his tone.
“No, you be sensible, and leave me to my work,” Tom continued. “Now fuck off and ruin someone else’s life!” He ended the call and slung his phone into the passenger footwell.
Tom was not happy in the slightest. Worrying about his missing cows, he hurried back to the farm. Sure enough, there was a section of his fence with a gaping hole in it, the wood broken and hanging limply, the wire twisted. The row of saplings Tom had planted ready to grow up the hedge again had been trampled. Tom pulled up by the side of the road and got out of the car. He surveyed the scene before him, running his hands through his speedily receding hair. There couldn’t be a worse time for this to happen, Tom thought as he pondered what to do. It would be dark soon, and he was never going to be able to make the fence secure before nightfall on his own. He got his mobile and made a call.
“Hello, is Phil about?” Tom asked. At the other end of the line was Marge Hampton, the wife at the neighbouring farm. Thankfully Phil was about, and they arranged for Phil to come and help to make a temporary fix to the fence.
Once the job was done, Tom and Phil got back in the car and headed back in the darkness to Tom’s for a quick cup of coffee. They were having a moan about the industry in general when there was a knock at the front door. Tom got up and went to answer the door. He was faced with a man bathed in the light of the security lights, wearing a beige trenchcoat and a brown trilby hat. The man held up a laminated identification card that made Tom’s blood reach boiling point in record time.
“Alan sodding Johnson. What do you want?”
“Mr Evans, we need to talk. May I come in?”
“Not bloody likely,” Tom hissed viciously. “What do you want?”
“I’d rather not discuss it on the doorstep, if you don’t mind,” Alan Johnson reasoned.
“Well, fine. Piss off and ring me from the end of the drive,” Tom yelled.
“Look, if you won’t be reasonable, you leave me no choice,” Alan stated, matter-of-factly. He took out his mobile and dialled a number. Tom stood and watched him, waiting for some sort of outcome. Alan Johnson muttered under his breath as he paced up and down at the door. Eventually, Johnson gave up and ended the call.
“My colleagues and I have got your cows, Mr Evans, in a lorry at the end of the lane. And they are in quite a state.” He explained. “It does not look good for you from a welfare point of view, I’ll be honest.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? My cows are well-looked after – the vet has always said so.”
“And when were they last seen, Mr Evans? Or do you have the only blind vet in the country?”
Tom balled his hand into a fist and swung for Johnson, but was unable to make contact. He was about to swing again when a loud bang emanated from the barn. Tom and Alan Johnson stopped and stared at the door.
“What was that?” Johnson questioned Tom.
“How the bloody hell am I supposed to know?” Tom replied menacingly. Just then, Phil appeared behind Tom at the door.
“That was quite a noise,” Phil murmured.
They got no further than that. Down the driveway out of the darkness and across the yard towards them came four of Tom’s cows. They were mooing noisily, almost angrily, and stomping rather strangely, as if they were getting used walking on somebody else’s legs. Even from the other side of the yard, the dark dripping blood glistened around their mouths. Johnson looked to Tom for some sort of response.
“Your animals I take it?”
“Looks like it,” Tom agreed. He was taken aback by the sight before him. All four cows had pieces of their flesh missing at various points on their bodies. Seemingly ignoring the three men, the cows stumbled across the yard towards the barn and then disappeared from sight past the end of the house.
“Maybe they’ve come back to get milked,” Phil chuckled. Tom allowed a smile to spread across his face, while Johnson regarded them both with an expression that mixed confusion with disappointment.
“This is not a laughing matter, Mr Evans, I assure you,” Johnson squeaked.
“Well, I don’t really care what you think, so if you wouldn’t mind getting off my land, I’ll be going to check on my animals,” Tom threatened.
Without waiting for Johnson to leave, Tom reached inside the front door and took his coat off the hook. He walked round the corner of the house wordlessly, leaving Johnson and Phil stood there awkwardly. Tom approached the shed only to see that the door had been smashed open, and the hole was filled by about fifty of his cows spilling into the yard, all sounding mighty angry. Tom stopped and watched in shock as one of his cows suddenly attacked another, tearing flesh from its hide. Shock turned to dismay as another cow joined in, and soon the injured cow was obscured by a black and white scrum. Tom looked on aghast as the air was filled with a mixture of anguished and crazed mooing. After what seemed like an eternity, the scrum cleared, and amongst the sea of blood spattered live animals, there was the stripped carcass of the poor cow that had been picked on.
Alan Johnson was trying to find something to say to Phil when they heard a thundering noise, and then Tom was skidding round the corner, a terrified look on his face, running at full speed past Johnson and into the house. The look on Johnson’s face was initially of surprise, and then of fear, as seconds later, a stampede of blood thirsty cows rounded the corner and honed in on him. Phil grabbed him by the shoulder, hauled him into the house and slammed the front door shut. They both turned and looked at Tom.
“What the hell is going on?” Johnson exclaimed.
“I don’t bloody well know,” Tom murmured.” But I’ve just seen one of my cows ripped apart before my eyes.”
“Seriously?” Phil asked.
“Yes, seriously,” Tom confirmed.
“I told you!” Johnson yelled, feeling smugly vindicated. “Something has got to be done.”
“And just what do you suggest?” Tom lurched forward, grabbing Johnson by the lapels of his coat, the jerking motion knocking Johnson’s hat askew.
“I don’t know,” Johnson squeaked, taken by surprise.
“Well this won’t help us,” Phil intervened, pulling them apart.
“Those cows are my livelihood,” Tom snarled at Johnson. “If anything happens to them, I’m finished.”
“I can understand that,” Johnson reasoned. “But there is something going on, and it must be investigated.”
“How do you intend on doing that?” Tom shouted, panic creeping into his tone. “There are fifty odd blood-thirsty cows outside,” he continued.” And if they decide they want us as a snack, we don’t stand a chance!”
“Which is why we need to come up with something quick!” Johnson shouted back. Tom and Phil looked at each other and then at Johnson. They all nodded in agreement and Tom gestured for them to go into the kitchen.
What seemed like an hour passed, as Tom, Phil and Johnson tried to understand what had happened. Tom rang the vet and asked him to come out if he could. He explained what had happened, and once he had finished, the vet told him to sit tight and call the police. Tom was puzzled, so the vet explained, to the best of his knowledge, what was happening. There had been a spate of similar outbreaks in the area. The vet had spent all day at a farm across the other side of the county shooting, with the help of the local Territorial Army, a herd of seventy infected cows. The cause of the problem was not yet known, but samples had been sent off for testing. The conversation was interrupted just then by an almighty crash, and the crackling hiss of a dead telephone line. Johnson rushed to the kitchen window to try and get a look at what was going on. Before the three men could exchange any more words, there was another, closer, crashing sound, and the kitchen lights and the television went off, plunging them into darkness. Tom fumbled around for the light switch. He flipped it on and off a few times, with no success. He opened the door and went into the hallway. He tried more light switches, but they were all out. Cursing for all he was worth, Tom came back into the kitchen, searching for some torches in the drawers and cupboards. Eventually he managed to find one, and pressed the button. The kitchen was bathed in an eerie neon glow. Johnson pulled out his mobile phone and was about to dial a number, when he stopped and swore.
“Sodding battery’s dead,” Johnson cursed. He looked expectantly at Tom, then Phil.
“Power’s down,” Tom reminded him.
“And the signal round here is rubbish anyway,” Phil informed him.
“But we need to call for help,” Johnson whimpered. “We are in danger of being murdered by blood thirsty cows.”
“Look,” Tom held his hands up. “We don’t even know that they will attack humans.”
“Are you willing to take the chance?!” Johnson queried.
“Not likely,” Phil muttered. Tom shrugged.
The three men sat bathed in the torchlight at the kitchen table in silence, the only noise from the ticking and tocking of the battery powered clock. They were stuck with no form of communication with the outside world, and somewhere out there in the darkness were crazed, blood thirsty cows. They talked about trivial things to take their mind of things – Tom asked if either of the others had a soft spot for Susanna Reid, Phil told them about his recent trip to Amsterdam, and Johnson told them about the time he tried to rescue twenty eight cats from an old woman that suffered from dementia.
It was almost nine o’clock when things really started. Tom was stood at the kitchen sink, quickly washing up some glasses so they could share a bottle of whiskey, he had turned to say something to Phil and when he turned back, there were six or seven cows staring at him through the kitchen window. Tom jumped about two feet into the air, the glass he was holding fell and shattered on the floor. Despite the double glazed window, they could clearly hear the frantic mooing of the cows outside. The back door which came into the kitchen shook with a thud. Phil picked up the torch and went to the back door. He drew back the blind and shone the light through the pane of glass. Tom and Johnson watched as his mouth fell open, and the torch fell from his hand, clattering on the floor, spilling the batteries out and plunging them into a darkness only lessened by the moonlight outside.
Johnson gripped the kitchen table so tightly that his knuckles turned noticeably white.
“Have you got any guns?” Johnson asked wearily.
“I’ve got one or two, yes,” Tom advised him.
“I suggest now is a good time to go and get them,” Johnson addressed him.
“I doubt I’ve got much in the way of ammunition though,” Tom finished.
“Why not? What use are guns with nothing to fire?!” Johnson pleaded.
“Well, I was shooting last week, I never thought to get any more cartridges,” Tom explained. He looked from Phil to Johnson. The expression on their faces told him to go and check urgently. He hurtled up the stairs and into the spare room. There on the wall was the gun cabinet. He reached up and grabbed the key off the top and fumbled to unlock the cabinet door. Finally grabbing the two guns and a box full of cartridges, he darted over to the window to look out of the window. He arched his neck to look straight down and saw a crowd of fourteen or fifteen cows congregated by the front door, and it looked like they were about to ram the door. He made his way back down the stairs, past the front door and back into the kitchen. Johnson was still sat at the table, and Phil was now looking out of the kitchen window with a fearful look on his face. Tom noted that the cows were no longer at the window. Before he could entertain another thought, they heard a rumbling sound like thunder, and the back door creaked and shuddered. A moment’s silence, and then the rumbling sound again. The door buckled under the force, but did not break. Once more and then the glass exploded inwards. The mooing was now much louder as the cold evening air blew in through the hole. Johnson stood up and grabbed one of Tom’s guns. He snatched at the box of cartridges and stuffed two into the barrels, closing it with a click. He took aim at the door and fired. The door shattered on impact, sending splinters of wood everywhere. Before the three men could take any further action, the back door caved inward, and there stood the cows, their breath heavy and steamy in the air.
“Shoot them!” Johnson yelled, snatching at more cartridges. In his haste to jam them into the gun, he dropped some on the floor. They bounced off the floor and rolled all over the place.
“Bloody stop it!” Tom screamed at him. “They’re going all over the shop.”
Tom went to snatch the gun from Johnson, and in the struggle that ensued, the gun went off. Tom and Johnson stopped suddenly, their eyes following the line of the barrel to the smoking muzzle. Then they dropped the gun in horror as they saw Phil sprawled backwards into the sink, his face replaced by a mess of blood and tissue. Johnson let go of the gun and stepped towards the door into the hallway. Tom was rooted to the spot, his feet unable to move despite the room now filling with cows. Luckily, they headed straight to Phil’s corpse and began to tug at it, dragging it down to the floor and tearing at it. The tearing sound of clothes being shredded finally kicked Tom into some sort of movement. He stumbled back into the hallway with Johnson, shutting the kitchen door and between them they hauled the sideboard in front of the door to act as a blockade.
Tom felt guilt tugging away at his stomach as he thought of poor Phil on the other side of that door. He’d been a great friend to him and his family, to the extent that he was actually one of the twins’ Godfather. But that was that. Tom had to survive this.
“What now?” Johnson whispered.
“That should hold them,” Tom gestured to the sideboard. “But there is still the front door. If they get through that…“ Tom left his sentence hanging in the air. Johnson followed Tom’s stare to the front door at the end of the hallway.
“Can we block that off with anything?” Johnson queried.
“There’s a bookshelf in the lounge that might do it,” Tom declared. They nodded in unison and went to go into the lounge. They frantically cleared the books off, sending them cascading on to the floor, then together, they picked up the shelf and took it out into the hall and jammed it against the front door. As they stood together, admiring their work, they heard the sound of shattering glass. Johnson turned to Tom, and they both peered into the lounge. There, in the broken fragments of glass and wood, stood four cows all crazed and bloody thirsty.
“Bollocks, I forgot about the French windows,” Tom cursed quietly.
“What now?!” Johnson hissed.
“This is bad,” Tom muttered. “This is very bad indeed.” They carefully tiptoed out of the lounge and quickly ran up the stairs. Tom halted at the top and turned back as if weighing something up. He grabbed a gun from Johnson, who had been carrying them until now, and held his hand out for the box of cartridges. Johnson handed it over with a puzzled look on his face.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m waiting,” Tom told him, an icy calm in his tone.
“You’re bloody mad,” Johnson corrected him.
“This is my home, and these are my cows,” Tom explained. “If anyone has to kill them, it’ll be me.”
“But we haven’t got enough cartridges for all of them,” Johnson reasoned.
“Enough to hold them off until help arrives,” Tom told him, slotting two cartridges into his gun. “Now, you can either stay and help me, or hide in the bedrooms. It’s your choice.” Tom finished.
Johnson drew himself up to his full height of five foot eight, and readied the other gun for the impending last stand. Johnson felt like shouting that no help was coming, but he knew it would get them nowhere. Instead, he crouched down on one knee next to Tom, and together they waited. The sound of hooves stomping on books and carpet told them that the cows were on the move. Sure enough, in the hallway below, Tom could see a group of them coming towards the bottom of the stairs. Still he waited. He could feel Johnson shaking beside him. He prayed that they could do enough to survive this tight spot they were in. Then the first animal was coming up the stairs. Tom waited until he could see the head of the cow and pulled the trigger. The blast was followed by the spattering of bovine blood up the walls, on the carpet, and on Tom and Johnson’s faces. The felled cow tumbled backwards down the stairs, taking the following two with it. Johnson stood up and pointed the barrel of his gun down to where the next cows were beginning to climb. He bellowed in anger and fired wide, leaving a gouge in the wall.
They continued until they were out of cartridges. The stairway and hall was littered with dead cows, all killed by shots to the head. But they were not out of the woods yet – there were three cows remaining. They were now making their way up the stairs towards the now defenceless men. Tom and Johnson faced each other at the top of the stairs and shook hands. Tom sensed something amiss, and was completely gobsmacked when Johnson lifted his hand up to pat Tom on the shoulder, but instead gave him a shove. Tom’s expression turned from shock to anger at such a betrayal, and with all his strength, he planted his feet firmly on the carpeted landing and hurled Johnson away from him and down off the top step. With a look of sheer terror, Johnson tumbled down the stairs towards the cows. Tom didn’t look as he heard the crazed mooing mix with the terrified screams and the tearing of cloth and flesh.
It was then that Tom heard the welcoming noise of a helicopter approaching the house. The dying screams of the RSPCA man had now subsided, and Tom wondered if his own end would come, or if help would arrive in time…