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The Cow Says: Boo

So it's Halloween, or whatever.  Not much of a holiday anymore, if you ask me.

From the looks of things, most of the festivities have already taken place, as they do these days, on the Friday night preceding the 31st.  I still find it a little weird.  

When I was a kid, Halloween was Halloween, no matter what day it fell on.  Sure, it was cool when it was a Friday or Saturday, but if it wasn't, no matter.  Traditions were upheld.  We still dressed up in costumes we made ourselves, and watched as people tried to figure out what we were supposed to be (the most heartbreaking comment I got was when I was dressed as a medieval knight, a costume I had slaved over, and someone asked me where my spaceship was).

We still went door-to-door for candy in strange neighborhoods, sans parents, firing apples back at the houses stupid enough to distribute them.  Toothbrushes and pencils?  As Halloween goodies?  *Snap*  Add to the pile at the bottom of the driveway, move along.

We went to that one house, where they left a big bowl of candy on a chair outside the door with a sign that said "Just Take One!" and just took many, many more than one, then ran away when the door flew open, because the owner had been watching through the peephole.  Why standing at the peephole all night is somehow easier than answering the door a few times an hour, I don't know. 

Still, the spookiest Halloween I ever had came as an adult, not as a child.  It was about four years ago, when I was living in the hills of Marin County in California.

My friend Dave had invited me to a Halloween party, so I got dressed up as a pirate, hopped into my car, and started the drive down the long, narrow, winding dirt road that led from the house.

I had to stop, as I often did, for the cows.  The neighbor had a herd of cattle that grazed all over the top of the hill, and they were milling around that night, about thirty of them, although as skittish as they were, they quickly fled from my headlights. I drove on.

About halfway down the hill, I saw another set of headlights approaching, and stopped my car.  The road was so narrow that only one car could fit on it at a time, and the rule was, the person coming up would make way for the person driving down, the logic being that it was a lot easier to back down the steep hill than up it.  This was still an often tricky maneuver, particularly at night, particularly this night, because there wasn't even a moon out.  The sky was completely covered with clouds, so the only light was from our headlights, which were currently pointing into each others eyes.

This car didn't seem to be making way for me.  We sat there for a minute, playing stationary chicken, and finally out of impatience, I turned my wheel to the right, gave it a little gas, and suddenly felt my car tilt about 45 degrees to the right.  I heard a grinding, scraping noise, followed by the not-unfamiliar sound of me cussing my brains out.

My car had slid halfway into the drainage ditch.  It was lucky this hadn't happened another hundred feet down the road, because there the ditch widened into somewhat of a canyon.  As I sat there in horror, the other car squeezed past me, and as I shouldered my door open and clambered out, I saw that it wasn't stopping to help me.  Its taillights disappeared at the top of the hill, leaving me in darkness.

Thanks!  More cussing followed, including a suggestion that the driver engage in an unlikely, perhaps impossible, act of masturbation.

My car was stuck.  The right front tire and the rear left tire were in the air, the bottom of the car was sitting firmly on the edge of the road.  I could rock the car back and forth just by leaning my weight on it.  I rocked it back and forth for a while, but it wasn't as much fun as you might think.

Well, this was somewhat of a problem.  I was about a half-mile from the top of the hill, where the house was, and about a half-mile from the bottom of the hill, where nothing was, nothing but the road leading to town, which was another five miles away, and in the town itself was nothing, since it was a nothing sort of town.  It seemed like the best idea was to head back to the house and call Triple-A.

I glumly searched my car for a flashlight, glum mostly because I knew I didn't have one.  I'm not one of those "prepared" people who "think ahead" and "do smart things" like "have flashlights in their cars".  So, I pulled up my pirate pants, and started walking up the hill.  On the winding road.  In total darkness.

I stumbled off the path several times, generally into the ditch, sometimes into the bushes, and once into what I described at the moment as a "fucking bastard hole".  Finally, after about forty-five minutes of careful shuffling, the ground seemed to level off and I was on top of the hill.

I started making my way towards what I hoped was the house, although it was so dark I couldn't see anything, not even my hands in front of my face.  I knew this because I tried it, actually standing there while slowly waving my hands in front of my face.  Nothing.  

Then: something.  A sound.  Not so much a sound as... a snort.

The cows.

I stood there a few moments, and heard another snort, followed by another, this last one about three inches from my left ear.  I had forgotten about the cows, and now I was surrounded by them.  In pitch darkness.

Now, I've never found cows to be particularly intimidating or fearsome.  The cover of a horror comic will never read "SURROUNDED BY COWS!"  Cows just aren't scary.  They always seem docile and slow and good-natured.  I had spent a lot of time tramping around the woods and fields on the hill, and when I would walk near the cows, they'd generally avoid me.  Like when I had driven up to them an hour ago: skittish.  Nothing to get alarmed about.

But at this moment, I was pretty goddamned alarmed.  Skittish is not a characteristic to be desired in a group of 1,200-pound animals that you are standing in the midst of.  Especially when one of them, the biggest, meanest one (in my fevered imagination, anyway) started pawing the ground.  Or hoofing the ground, I guess, although that doesn't sound right.

I'd seen Bugs Bunny.  I knew that when the bull starts pawing the ground, it means he's about to charge into the anvil Bugs has behind his cape.  I didn't have an anvil.  I'm not one of those people who "have anvils in their cars".

I was going to die, and I could already see the headlines:  DEAD PIRATE FOUND TRAMPLED BY CATTLE

All I could see was them finding me the next morning.  A dead, crushed pirate, lying in a field up on a hill.  I imagined a great many pirates died from shark bites and the like, but I doubted one had ever been killed by bovine-related violence.  It just didn't happen.

Slowly, I inched my way through them.  I could hear cows breathing on all sides of me.  They were nervous, I could tell, and I felt sure they could tell I was nervous.  Cows can sense fear.  

There were more snorts.  I could hear the shifting of immense bodies.  The frightened flicking of an ear.  Death was mere inches away, and She was slowly chewing Her cud.

Needless to say, I somehow made it through the cattle alive.  They didn't stampede, I didn't wet myself, a tow truck came a few hours later and somehow pulled my car free, and I didn't wind up as a just another (yet somewhat interesting) statistic.

Still, though... my life was never the same.  I think those cows put a curse on me.  I can't enjoy a glass of milk or an ice-cream cone without hunching over and passing explosive gas (although this may having something to do with being lactose intolerant).  And sometimes, late at night... particularly this night, All Hallow's Eve... I think I can hear a distant mooing.

Might just be my neighbor though.

He's a little weird.