Bill Hobinson stomped his feet against the cold, then grabbed a couple of milk pails and headed into the barn.

“Good morning, my lovely belles,” he said. One of the cows mooed. He set an old wooden stool beside Sadie and pulled off his gloves. He grasped a teat in each hand then suddenly found himself flying backwards, his lanky arms twirling in vain to regain balance before he landed with a thud. Sadie’s muddy hoofprint stood out like a designer label on his overalls. She glanced over her shoulder, still calmly chewing her cud. Bill took two deep swallows before he got his breath back. He rose to his feet, rubbing his chest to make sure nothing had jarred loose, then picked up the milk pail. Not a man quick to anger, he was, nonetheless, just a touch past perturbed.

“Well, I never… Sadie, what in the world has got into you?”

Bill heard a crackling noise, like a radio being tuned into a distant station. He peered at the old Philco Model 60 propped up against the outside of the stall. The thing hadn’t worked worth a damn for three years and wasn’t even plugged in. As the noise faded, he heard a voice. Faint as a dying echo, it was still clear enough to understand.

“Cold hands.”

Next to Sadie’s stall, Gypsy stamped her hooves and made a long lowing sound. Bill could have sworn Sadie looked at her and shrugged. The crackling white noise returned, stronger this time, the voice trailing behind just as before. It had a decided feminine tone, world weary, yet kind.

“We should tell him, too.”

Bill scrambled to his feet and turned full circle, looking all around the barn.

“What in the… you cows ain’t talking, is you?”

To his surprise, Sadie nodded.

The metal bucket dropped from Bill’s hands and clanged against the wooden walkway. Gypsy gazed at him and nodded as well. Annie, Willa, Dew, Rose, Zoë, all nodded like dashboard bobble dolls on an unpaved road. Bill’s knees went all watery, and he folded to the ground.

“Ain’t no way,” he said. “You must have knocked something woppy-jawed in my noggin, you crazy cow.”

The noise came again. Bill realized he wasn’t hearing it so much as it was coming to him from a place deep inside his head. He covered his ears with his hands and squeezed his eyes shut, but the voice only came through clearer than the times before. And now there was more than one voice.

“You’re fine, Bill. I can talk to you. We can all talk to you.” Sadie had turned around and was now standing with her nose inches from his face.

“Not that we want to,” another voice said.

“Rose, be nice,” Sadie said.

“All right already, you can talk,” Bill said. “How come now all of the sudden?”

“He won’t believe us,” Rose said.

“Better to show him,” another voice said.

Sadie scraped one horn against the side of her stall. After a few moments, the dull brown rubbed off, revealing a polished metal underneath. Bill had never paid much attention to the cows’ faces, his focus normally concentrated on their opposite ends, but peering closely now he could see a recently healed scar running diagonally across Sadie’s head.

“They are coming,” Sadie said. “And that may be the end, I’m afraid.”

“They? Who’s ‘They’? What are you going on about?”

“Come on, Bill, haven’t you wondered about the mutilated bodies in the fields? The crop circles? What’s the gossip at the feed shop?”

Bill’s mind raced back over events from the last couple of weeks. Several cows had been found killed in the pastures of Hopkins County. No, killed didn’t suit what had happened. They’d been slaughtered… butchered. Most everyone thought it was wolves, everyone except Dan Hampton, the man he worked for. Mr. Hampton had other ideas about aliens and such, but Bill thought those ideas were ridiculous.

“It’s the Martians, Bill. They’re coming.”

“Martians? Here?” Bill laughed. “When pigs fly.”

“I don’t know what experiments they are doing on the pigs, but rest assured they’ll have some juicy ones lined up for you,” Rose said. “In fact — “

The barn door burst open and Mr. Hampton strode in, hunting rifle in one hand and pump shotgun in the other.

“These cows talking to you, Bill?”

Bill nodded slowly, features completely slack. Mr. Hampton tossed him the shotgun and a box of double-ought.

“Good, it’ll save me the trouble of explaining it all. We got work to do, son. This is Texas. We ain’t havin’ no green-skinned, tentacle waving alien types coming in here and bossing us around. Let’s go.”

Bill’s mouth opened and closed with a soft popping sound. He willed his legs forward, absentmindedly loading the gun as he headed for the door.

“Thanks, ladies,” Mr. Hampton said with a salute.

“Don’t forget boys, aim for the eyestalk,” Sadie said.

J.C. Towler spins tales of mystery, suspense, science fiction and is particularly fond the deep, penetrating horror tale. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is home which is odd considering he’s afraid of the ocean and doesn’t eat fish. His latest sci-fi/horror story “Experimental Blues” will appear in the upcoming Dreamspell Nightmares II from L&L Dreamspell. Two of his flash stories, “Legends Collide” and “Purse Junk” were selected for EDF’s The Best of Every Day Fiction Two.

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