PRANKSTERS • by Thomas Canfield

The cow watched Lamar as he approached. Actually watched him. It wasn’t the usual vacuous glance, the thousand-yard stare. Lamar had been around cows a long time. He knew their habits and their mannerisms, knew what to expect — and what not to expect.

This cow, the way it was acting, it wasn’t normal. It was downright peculiar, in fact. No cow demonstrated this degree of awareness, this sort of focused intensity. Something was up and Lamar had a pretty good idea what it was. The cow affected a cool and sardonic posture that made Lamar burn with slow rage. He would, had the cow been human, have addressed it with something on the order of ‘What are you looking at?’ Instead, he locked eyes with it, frowned and said, “Well?”

The cow glanced away. But Lamar wasn’t fooled. He had caught the glimmer of amused insolence deep in its eyes, the disdainful toss of its head that it tried to pass off as shooing a fly away. This one was trouble all right.

“Missed me, did you, Bess?” Lamar patted the cow’s flanks. “Thought you were going to get a straight dose of Alan for the next month. He wouldn’t notice anything amiss, would he? Not Alan. To him, all you are is a big, dumb bovine that provides us with milk eh, Bess?” The cow whisked its tail once, with a dry, abbreviated emphasis that indicated extreme displeasure.

Lamar grinned. He set down the stool and the milking pail. “Only I had to assign Alan to repairing the fence. Something, somebody I should say, knocked down a section and I don’t want my stock wandering over onto the neighbor’s property. That wouldn’t do, now, would it?” Lamar tried to catch the cow’s eye but Bess had developed a sudden shyness. She stared off across the field in the opposite direction.

Lamar settled onto the stool. He examined the cow’s hocks and knees, noted the telltale grass stains. “You know that expression — good fences make good neighbors? There’s a world of truth in that. Now if my stock was to wander over onto Brown’s property, think of the mischief they might engage in. Some people, they don’t credit cows with having a lot of imagination.” Lamar grasped the cow’s udder in a firm, confident grip. He squeezed and a jet of milk squirted into the pail.

“But me, I believe different. Behind that placid exterior, behind that pose of stolid indifference, lurks a dark and wily soul, capable of anything.” Bess’ ears pricked up. She stood very still, waiting for what would follow. “My neighbor, the stout and stalwart Capability Brown, comes out the other day to examine his alfalfa and, lo!, what do you suppose that he finds?” Bess tried to sidle away from Lamar’s grip but Lamar wasn’t having it. He knew that particular trick.

“This huge circular swath had been trampled down and made to resemble — get this, Bess, ain’t this a nice touch — a smiley face.” The cow’s shoulders began to quiver and shake. Her sides heaved and a high pitched whistle of what could only have been laughter escaped her lips. She buried her muzzle in the grass to cover the lapse.

“Now, Farmer Brown, he’s something of a simple soul. He takes all this in and he concludes — crop circle. Aliens in flying saucers. Full page spread in one of the national scandal sheets. Instant fame. He doesn’t come and consult with me. I might have set him right. Instead he gets on the horn to the local TV station. They send out a camera crew. And the next thing you know, there’s ol’ Capability hisself, staring into the camera, explaining his version on the origin of crop circles. Swearing before his mother and anybody else who will listen as how he’s seen them, the aliens, running around and destroying his alfalfa.”

The cow’s sides were pumping like a bellows now. She might have toppled over, howling with laughter, had not Lamar been there to hold her upright.

“Now, I like a good joke. I appreciate a clever prank as much as the next man. But this” – Lamar fixed the cow with a hard stare – “this was downright mean. This was uncalled for. This made a laughingstock out of a personal friend of mine.” The cow chomped on a mouthful of clover, looking for all the world like she didn’t know what Lamar was talking about.

“Save that look for when you run into Farmer Brown. Don’t try it on me because I ain’t buying it.” Bessie spit the clover out, stared at Lamar defiantly. “You are grounded, Missy. Effective now, today. You and your band of fellow delinquents. You had better not so much as tip over a pail or nuzzle the fence too affectionately. I will be watching you. One more slip-up, just one, and you’ll be gracing the business end of a hamburger bun and no one to feel sorry for you.”

Bessie swished her tail indignantly. Lamar grabbed the stool and started back down the pasture. You had to be firm when dealing with a situation like this. You couldn’t allow things to get out of hand. Today it was crop circles but tomorrow… who knew what they’d be up to. Best to nip it in the bud.

Lamar heard a high-pitched whirring noise in the air overhead. He looked up. A shimmering silver disk floated there above him. It had a sleek, aerodynamic profile and was so expertly camouflaged as to be all but invisible. Looking out of the aft window was a face resembling a wizened lemon, waggling its ears and sticking out its tongue at him. Lamar kept right on walking, pretended that he never saw it. No point in giving the cows any further reason for laughing.

Thomas Canfield‘s phobias run to politicians, lawyers and oil company executives. He likes dogs and beer.

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