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Something strange is going on at a massive cattle farm in Texas... and the hunger is spreading like wildfire.
By the Horns by David O'Hanlon
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Support us on Patreon http://patreon.com/IncrediblyHandsome
Something strange is going on at a massive cattle farm in Texas... and the hunger is spreading like wildfire.
By the Horns by David O'Hanlon
Get Cool Merchandise https://weeklyspooky.storenvy.com
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by the Horns
By David O’Hanlon
Folgers is full of shit.
The best part of waking up is finding all your limbs where you left them. Or maybe I’m just a simple man. I didn’t use to be. I used to be Spencer Ambrose, es-fucking-quire. I got paid to convince victims they were the guilty parties. I got paid damn well to do it, too. I’d just finished up a case for TriCon Chemical. They were dumping toxic waste near a playground—by the end of the case, everyone hated the parents for letting their children play in an irradiated wasteland. I might not have been a good man, but man, was I good.
Then I met Cinnamon.
I feel it goes without saying that Cinnamon was a stripper. The firm sent me to the Cattle Castle roadhouse in Belfast, Texas. Belfast is home of the oldest Professor Citrus bottling plant and absolutely nothing else. When the government eighty-sixed its chemical weapons programs, it did the responsible thing and trusted every Tom, Dick, and Harry to dispose of the less-lethal stuff. One of those people was Rick Ellis Dean, Junior. Ricky was the largest cattle rancher in Texas… which is like saying you have the biggest cock on PornHub in case you’re confused about what they actually do in Texas. He also owned a copper mine that went tits-up in the 60s. Ricky hated that piece of land sitting there, not making him any money. So, he offered to dispose of a bunch of stuff for the Defense Department and then just buried it down there until it broke down on its own. It wasn’t a horrible plan, since most chemical agents don’t store very well.
BZKL stores just fucking fine.
Lovingly referred to as Buzzkill, the stuff was made at the Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, because if you want someone to cook up illicit compounds, you always go to Arkansas first. It was basically weaponized PCP with a side order of DMT designed to drive the enemy mad with hallucinations and hopefully make them murder each other. It sounds like a terrible idea, but I bribed my science teachers to pass, so what do I know? Point is, Ricky Dean agreed to disappear a few tons of the stuff and did a damn good job of it.
Until he didn’t.
Now you’re up to date… mostly. Anyways, there I was, sitting across the table from Rick Ellis Dean, the Fourth. Imagine Toby Keith had a baby with Snooki. Now you’ve got some idea of what I was looking at. Up to that point, he was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever seen. We’re still a few points from where I am this morning though. He wore a Hawaiian print shirt open to show off a spray tan, bedazzled Texas-shaped pendant, and a bleached line of belly hair that descended into the two-hundred-dollar jeans tucked into his pristine, blue-and-white cowboy boots. We were inside, so he turned his tennis visor backwards around a permed mullet because he’s that kind of genius. He puffed at a Marlboro, but never inhaled. He was like the picture that came with a new frame; a shitty stock photo of what he thought cool looked like. RED4—I kid you not, that’s what he liked to be called—had decided to turn the old copper mine into an underground dance club. Not surprisingly with ideas like that, he kept my firm on speed dial. Before he could even get started working on that class-action lawsuit however, he discovered his grandfather’s stockpile of military-grade mind detergent.
RED4 was explaining to me how he’d done the logical thing and sprayed it over the vast pastoral expanse of his inherited cattle kingdom when my attention was diverted. My foot started tapping under the table unconsciously and the lights dimmed as WASP’s Animal started playing. I looked over RED4’s shoulder to the silhouette stalking down the stage illuminated by nothing but strips of purple track lights. I watched the swish of those hips with swelling anticipation as Blackie Lawless started his serenade. Her obscured form made a teasing swing around the brass pole. Simultaneously, the speakers boomed with “I fuck like a beast” and a spear of light hit her as she ripped open the tiny cowgirl vest in a perfectly choreographed attack on any premature ejaculators in the bar.
I don’t know what RED4 said after that, but I nodded and agreed because of course I was going to take his money. Who gives a shit if Buzzkill made it into the water table? I damn sure didn’t. Some of the locals were getting a free trip to Kaleidoscope County… and maybe some cerebral palsy. BFD, baby.
I was hypnotized by those swirling, golden tassels. They might as well have been the end credits on my career. Cinnamon hit a vertical leap that should’ve taken her to the WNBA and gripped the pole. She started to spin and I started to fall. I think RED4 said something about an accident at that point, but I had more important things to do.
After the show, I bribed the bouncer with half of what was in my money clip to arrange a meeting with Cinnamon. She opened the dressing room door wearing slightly more than she had been on stage and smiled the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. Then she looked me over and the smile vanished.
“You’re not who I was expecting,” she said, softly. “Not in that suit.”
“It’s Versace,” I told her.
“It looks like a couch and it cost more than my trailer, which means you’re not the right guy. Beat it,” she told me, bluntly.
She shut the door in my face and I pitched a three-thousand-dollar tent. No one back in LA told me off like that. It was honest, it was new, and it was probably well deserved because if you haven’t been keeping track, I’m kind of a scumbag. I knocked on the door and she threw it open, putting her hands on her tanned hips.
“Keep bothering me and you’re gonna need to pawn that suit to pay for the dental work,” she growled.
“Look, I don’t know who you’re expecting, but I know that I want it to be me,” I said, before she could shut the door again. I’d spent so much of my life lying that telling the truth gave me heartburn, but I kept going. “I haven’t found a problem I couldn’t solve and I’m betting everything that you got one hell of a problem or you wouldn’t be so pissed off at this other person. Am I right?”
“You were sitting with my problem, so I don’t think you’re going be much help.” She put her hand on the door and prepared to slam it.
“RED4?” I stepped forward. “I’m just his lawyer. Not even that, until the contracts are signed.”
“Lawyer?” Her shoulders sag and then tensed again. She punched a tidy hole through the flimsy door. “Motherfucker! That seals it. If he wasn’t responsible, he wouldn’t lawyer up.”
I stared at her remodeling of the door and realized she wasn’t kidding about the dental work. I was definitely in love. My hand went out to comfort her, but stopped short. I’d never get anywhere with her if my jaw was wired shut.
“What is he responsible for?” I asked.
“All the people getting sick around here. That’s why he called you. Right?”
I suddenly wished I’d paid attention to the little dipshit. I shrugged. “Honestly, I was watching you and didn’t hear a word he said.”
I pointed at the wall of mirrors behind her. “Have you seen yourself?”
She rolled her eyes and shoved me. “Out! You’re useless!”
I grabbed the doorjamb with both hands like she was kicking me from a speeding train. “Tell me how not to be!”
“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding.”
She grabbed my jacket and next thing I knew I was inverted like Maverick. Then I was on the floor, sucking air. She straddled me and twisted my tie around her fist.
“I have seen myself, city boy. Which is why I’ve got three black belts and two national championships.”
“I just want to help,” I wheezed.
“Everyone’s getting sick south of the slaughterhouse on CR283,” she said. “You wanna help? Go out there and prove he’s the one doing all this.”
Now look, don’t judge me. Not for that, anyway. Until you’ve been pinned to the floor and threatened with grievous bodily harm by a voluptuous, vengeful, stripper, you cannot possibly understand the level of arousal I was at. Going to a slaughterhouse in the middle of the night to investigate the release of a chemical weapon by a douchebag named RED4 really wasn’t that big of deal.
Or so I thought.
I broke into the slaughterhouse just after eleven last night. Navigating a pasture by moonlight in suede loafers sucks, by the by. I kicked my shoes off and found just as much cow shit inside them as out. I found a bloody pair of rubber galoshes and slipped them on, immediately ruining my slacks. I moved through the slaughterhouse as quietly as I could. If anyone stopped me, I planned on telling them I was with the state health department. The yokels wouldn’t know the difference between my suit and an off-the-rack JC Penny, so they’d buy into it.
Only, there weren’t any yokels.
I searched about a third of the place before taking a breather. I sat on a folding chair as warped as my morality and stared down at the gory gumshoes. I stepped in at least three cowpies on the way in, but hadn’t seen a single cow. On the largest cattle ranch in Texas. How does that happen?
I started exploring again. If I was a complete idiot—the jury is still out on the issue—then I would I dump the majority of my chemical weapons nearest the cows meant for slaughter. That makes sense, doesn’t it? They’re going to die anyways and making them think they’re living in a world of cotton candy and Beatles songs beforehand is super humane. If that’s what RED4 did, then the concentrations were highest in the slaughterhouse and then running downstream which is why the people south of that location were getting sick. I was starting to feel pretty good about myself. I wasn’t Batman, but I was at least correspondence course detective material. Then I found a dead body and started throwing up.
If it wasn’t an abattoir, I might’ve caught on sooner, but everything was already covered in blood. I looked down at the vomit-spackled corpse. His shredded coveralls had an embroidered name tag that ironically read Ralph. Most of his face was gone. Shattered bones and scattered teeth occupied the pulp below two shocked eyes. Ralph’s stomach was torn open and whatever had been inside was just visceral, chunky crumbs. I threw up again.
Departing the area, quickly as possible, I tripped over another dead guy and landed face-first in a blood puddle. My new vantage point allowed me to find several more employees who’d punched the time clock of life. A severed arm twitched on the concrete a few yards away. The back of the room was a wall of darkness, and it shuddered like it was coming to life. I crawled across the floor and took shelter beneath a butcher’s table.
The shadows ungulated with steady movement and I reached over the top of the table, groping blindly for something to protect myself with. The sharp, fine edge nipped my fingers and I pulled the thin boning knife under the table. I clutched it to my chest like a serrated security blanket.
My eyes never left the pulsing darkness. A massive shadow stretched away from it in my direction. I shifted my feet and the stupid, rubber boot squeaked on the floor. The shadow froze in place. It shifted slightly, but stayed attached to the darkness beyond so I couldn’t get a good look at it. I rubbed my eyes, hoping it wasn’t real. Maybe it wasn’t. I’d had a whiskey on the rocks back at the roadhouse. What’d the make the ice with? Tap water? The same water RED4 contaminated with WMD-level acid? I was just tripping. That’s all it was. Ralph wasn’t dead. None of them were dead. It was all a hallucination. I sighed, fully content to believe my own lie, and crawled out from under the table. The shadow skirted the edge of the darkness and lumbered forward. I almost laughed. It wasn’t some malevolent entity.
Only a stupid cow.
The big heifer walked through the room with comical disinterest in my imagined murder scene. I wiped the sweat from my forehead, relieved that it was all a bad trip. I mean, if someone had killed everyone in the building, there’s no way the cow would be chill. Then it paused next to one of the dead workers and I realized I wasn’t hallucinating at all.
The cow was.
It bit down on the man’s head, crushing his skull in a single bite and chewed the bone and brain matter lazily. It all started coming together. Buzzkill goes into the ground, grass grows from the ground, cows eat the grass, cows think people are talking hay bales and eat them. I dropped the knife and ran, screaming all the way to the front door. I slid to a stop. Several dozen cows were waiting for me outside. I wanted to take Cinnamon out for a steak dinner, instead I was about to be a steak’s dinner.
In the distance, I spotted a company-branded truck and made a run for it. The cows followed me, but without urgency. I got in the truck and slammed the door. The keys were thankfully in the visor. Nothing was going according to plan, but my cases rarely did. What made me so good at my job was my ability to spin whatever was thrown my way. I put the truck in gear and sped towards town, laying out all the evidence in my head. Sure, it wasn’t like I pictured it, but I had found all the evidence Cinnamon needed to nail RED4. He’d get twenty-five-to-life, I’d get the girl, she’d get everything in the subsequent divorce because I’m still kind of a scumbag.
About the time I was convinced everything was going to be alright, I saw the orange-red glow of the fire. Belfast was burning. Pushing the accelerator to the floor, I raced into town. Cars were overturned. Buildings ransacked. Bodies strewn about. The cows had come home… and they were pissed.
I swerved around a trio of calves eating a police officer and plowed through a fire hydrant. I looked at the damage in my rearview and saw the huge, Hereford bull building speed behind me. I dug my phone from my jacket pocket and dialed Cinnamon. She didn’t answer. I pulled up the GPS and selected the address she’d given me to meet her at after I finished snooping. A quick glance at the mirror showed the bull hadn’t lost interest. The truck tipped on two wheels as I rounded a corner, sharply. It came back to earth with a hard bounce that knocked my head against the top of the cab. I was seeing stars and not the Ford F-350 parked in the middle of the road.
The steering wheel left a blood-drizzling rainbow on my forehead. I checked the damage in the dangling mirror and fell out of the truck. The Hereford rounded the corner so fast it toppled over and rolled across the asphalt. RED4 crawled out of the window and onto the roof of the Ford.
“You dumb shit. You almost killed me,” he bellowed.
“Me? This is your fault!” I pressed myself up from the ground and saw the bull do the same. “This is because of the shit you dumped out there.”
I heard the hooves striking the road. The timing had to be just right. I grabbed my phone from the cab. The bull was coming, hard and fast. I ran for RED4 and did a baseball slide under his lifted Ford. The Hereford hit it full speed and sent the little prick flying from the roof. I laid safe beneath the truck, laughing my ass off as a pair of chrome bull balls swayed from the trailer hitch overhead. The red bull hit the truck again, but couldn’t move it. That’s when I noticed the smell. I looked away from the pendulous, metallic scrotum to the spreading puddle of diesel.
RED4 was screaming, clutching at his arm. I rolled out from under the truck and clamored on all-fours towards him. The Hereford came around the truck with a rivulet of blood running from between its horns down its snout. It gave an annoyed snort as I dug through RED4’s pockets, looking for the fancy Zippo I’d seen him using at the bar. Remember when I said that nipple-dick was the most ridiculous thing I’d seen to that point? Well…
A longhorn steer ran out the Belfast city park and cocked its head just in time to impale the big, ginger bull through the side of its neck. The longhorn bucked wildly, slamming the Hereford’s face into the road, and shaking it free from the four-foot-long horn. Bullzilla stomped the lesser animal’s head into pudding while making really uncomfortable eye contact with me… which was even more uncomfortable since my hand was in RED4’s pants at the time. I pulled the lighter out like I’d freed Excalibur.
“I heard Texas has the best barbeque,” I said, content with my choice of last words.
I struck the lighter and side-armed it under the Ford. The fuel lit and burned calmly beneath the truck.
“Oh, come on! This is bullshit!”
The steer snorted with all-to-human amusement. Then the vapor ignited. The truck exploded, taking the other vehicle with it. The blast slid me down the street like human skee-ball. I struck a mailbox and fought to stay conscious. The longhorn charged toward me, fully engulfed in flames. I rolled away as it obliterated the box and sent letters into the air like burning confetti.
“That’s a federal offense,” I groaned.
I don’t think the bull gave a fuck. It ricocheted off a building, leaving a streak of charred flesh on the brick as it made a U-turn. I scrambled to my feet and ran. I could hear the beast’s pursuit and hoped the fire would finish the job before the bull could finish me. If I hadn’t been too busy screaming, crying, and panting, I’d have laughed. The only thing that could save me was a well-done steak.
I heard my iPhone say, “Turn left at the stoplight.”
I did. A barrage of gunfire broke out and I honestly didn’t give a fuck if they hit me. I didn’t want to be eaten by a drug-addled bovine. At least getting shot was normal… comparatively. The shots faded and so did the clacking of hooves. A final, plaintive groan came from the animal as it collapsed with a tired thud.
I did the same.
When I woke up this morning, Cinnamon was lying next to me. It wasn’t quite how I’d imagined it would be. For starters, there were thirty-seven other people in the room. I got up and went to the nearest window. We were in an attic with a beautiful, wide-open view of Belfast, Texas. The town was still burning. The cows were wandering around, casually eating the remains of their victims. I tried to remember the research I’d done on the flight. Buzzkill could contaminate an area for up to a month. The cows would return to the pastures and eat more wacky grass and then come looking for fresh meat. A chorus of moos called out across the expanse of the largest herd of cattle in Texas. I went and sat next to Cinnamon. A bottle of Professor Citrus rested next to her. I grabbed the soda and unscrewed the cap. My first tentative sip turned into furious chugging. I turned the empty bottle absentmindedly and sighed. Right there on the label, in bold red, white, and blue letters it read: Proudly Bottled in Belfast!
Cinnamon rolled over and stared up at me with bloodshot eyes. Her face began to swirl with colors as the Buzzkill started working on me. I heard groans and hisses around the attic. Then I just laid back down. The floor felt like fingers, kneading my flesh and the ceiling began to melt. Cinnamon straddled me for the second time in two days and life was good… until she tried to eat my face.
If you find this, I hope you can read my handwriting. I’m tripping my balls off right now, so I might not even be writing actual words. Cinnamon is scratching at the door. The others are outside. So are the cows.
I am completely fucked.