by Milan Smith
And so the sun set and the day grew dark, and Brindle turned from the others, who remained in the field, and walked to the barn. And inside the barn the stalls were empty and she was alone. A ray from the setting sun fell through the open door where she had entered, and there was no other light.
And as she waited, the sunlight died away, and Brindle was left in darkness. But it didn’t last, for a light now shone upon Brindle from above. It started small, and then it grew. The light was of a golden color, and the light spread through the barn. And no others saw it, for it was meant for Brindle only. The light grew to blind her and she looked away, to the door she had entered, but there was no darkness or shadows there, and the light still grew.
“From where comes this light?” Brindle asked. “Is there anyone there?”
Brindle heard whispers in the barn, like voices in the stalls, but she knew the stalls were empty. Then the whispers grew loud and clear and they became words. “It is I,” said the words. And the words were a woman’s. “Brindle,” the voice said, “I have come to you.”
“Who is it?” Brindle asked. “I cannot see you. Are you a friend, or other?”
“It is the Lord your God,” the voice said.
“God?” Brindle said.
And Brindle lowered her head.
“Oh, God, you have come? How may I serve you?”
“I have heard your prayers and your cries and the cries of your people,” God said. “I have heard, and now I come.”
“Oh, great Lord, have you come to set us free?”
“Yes,” the Lord said. “You will lead my people from this place, to a land of thick grass and sweet water. You will tell my people that their time for freedom has come, and that you will lead them from this place of death, through barrier woods and groves of trees, over river torrents and hills, and those that believe in me will escape to the valley of thick grass and sweet water.”
“But my lord,” Brindle said, “I am not worthy to lead my brothers and sisters. Surely there is another more able.”
“You are the leader of the people,” God said. “You shall lead, I have spoken. You shall go from here and speak to your people. Soon, a sign will come, and when the sign comes, you must leave this place. ”
“My Lord, what if they will not listen? They will not believe me. Nothing like this has happened before in memory. What should I do?”
“You shall tell them, and they will listen. Go.”
“Yes, Lord,” Brindle said. Then the light faded, and Brindle could see the darkness again. Moonlight poured through the faraway door, and she stumbled toward it. She moved into the field, where the others of her herd rested. The field stretched out to all sides, with a forest and a pond, and a fence that crackled bound in the herd.
For a moment, Brindle looked up into the clear sky, at the rising moon and bright stars. The only other light came from Farmer’s house. Then Brindle looked down to her sisters, dark shapes in the moonlight.
“My sisters, come to me, come, listen to my words,” Brindle shouted. Her sisters looked up, and saw Brindle. “My sisters, come.” Brindle stood among them, and the others, without haste, came to her.
“What is it, Brindle?” one asked. “Are you unwell?”
“No, I am well,” Brindle said. “I am better than I have ever been, my heart is filled with joy. In the barn, God has spoken to me tonight, and she told me the most wonderful thing.” Those in back pushed forth to hear, while those, in front, closest to Brindle, snuffled.
“Behind me,” Brindle said, “is the place where Farmer has sucked away the fruits of our bodies for his own desires. And beyond us,” Brindle turned her head toward a large building, half a mile away, “is the house from which none return. There they slaughter us and feed upon our substance. For all our lives we have been slaves, beaten, sucked dry and used for the good of Farmer and those others who walk on two legs. But soon that will change.”
A scattered lowing rose from the crowd, a sound of disbelief.
“My sisters, God came to me tonight. She came and said to me that our sufferings will soon end. That she will give a sign, and that we must leave this place, and that we must cross wooden barriers and groves of trees, and cross mighty river torrents and climb hills, and at the end of the journey we will come to a valley with thick grass and sweet water.”
The lowing rose again, stronger than before.
“Brindle,” someone said, “perhaps you are sick. Perhaps you dreamed all this.”
“No,” Brindle said. “A sign will come, then we must go.”
“Brindle, you are unwell. We will never leave this place.”
“You are wrong,” Brindle said. “There was a time before the slaughter that we were free. A time before the memory of our mothers, before the memories of our mother’s mothers. And there will be a time again that we will be free, and will be safe from the slaughter, as will our daughters and their daughters.”
The others looked at one another, at the ground, but not at Brindle. One near Brindle twitched her ear nervously, and many tails swished in the darkness.
Then one stepped forward from the herd, and her name was Jersey. “Brindle,” she said, “we are afraid, we do not know where you would take us. We eat well here, we grow up and have children here, and here life is easy.”
“But we are slaves,” Brindle said. “Can you leave when you want? Can you live a life unfettered by the devil’s children?”
“No, but there could be worse fates,” Jersey said.
Brindle turned away from Jersey and gazed over the others. “I have heard many of you moan over life here, about the cruelty of Farmer. You have all wanted to leave, and now is the time. Are there any who would follow me?” Brindle asked the crowd. “Any who seek to be free from the cold hands of Farmer? For themselves and their children?”
“No Brindle,” another voice said. “You are foolish, here life is easy, we are cared for, why would God want us to leave? Why now, after so long?”
Brindle had no answer, and a wind passed over the crowd. No sound, not a voice, nothing could be heard for a long time. Then a voice broke the silence.
“I’ll go,” said one. And Angus, younger than most others, stepped forth. “I’ll go,” Angus said. “Lead, and I’ll follow you to the valley of thick grass and sweet water.”
Brindle snuffled in joy. “Any others?” she asked, and looked over the herd. No answer. “There must be others. Let there be others.” There were none. “Oh Lord, what can I do? They will not listen.”
Many of the herd snuffled, turned away and scattered again over the field. A few stayed behind to hear more, but at the call of the others they too wandered away, and Brindle was left alone with her daughter and Angus.
“I’m sorry, Brindle,” Angus said. “They know not what they do.”
“Be sorry for those that will not follow,” Brindle said, with great sadness. “For they will be the ones to suffer.” After many moments of silence, Brindle turned away. The herd had dismissed her, after so many years of complaint, of waiting to be free, the herd had turned its back upon Brindle and the hope she offered.
Brindle stood alone, while her daughter and Angus huddled together and spoke of the great events that were coming. The moon traveled across the sky as they spoke. Soon the night grew cold, and a wind pushed clouds that covered the stars, and the rest of the herd huddled together in the field for warmth. Brindle worried about the herd. Would they follow if the sign came, with proof that she spoke true? If they didn’t, could she, her daughter and Angus escape alone, could they break through the fence? And what would happen to the herd if they didn’t escape, would things never change?
An hour passed as Brindle thought, then Brindle’s daughter went to her mother. Brindle’s daughter stood near her mother for a long time before she spoke. “Mother, will the others follow?” she asked. “When the sign comes, will the others go?”
Brindle turned from her thoughts and to her daughter. “That is for them to decide,” Brindle said. “The sign comes soon, and then we will know. Our people’s minds have been broken by years of slavery. They don’t know a time without it.”
“What happens if they don’t come?” Brindle’s daughter asked.
“They will remain, and suffer, and their children and children’s children will suffer.”
“Why not go to Farmer, and ask him to let us go? Tell him he’s done wrong, and say, free us, and become one of God’s children?”
Brindle snuffled. “I have often gone to Farmer, to say, ‘let my people go,’ but he does not listen. He laughs, then taps me with his crackle stick. Many times he has done this, many times I have asked him to join the fold, and many times he has ignored my pleas.”
Brindle’s daughter stared into her mother’s eyes, and Brindle saw that these things were hard for her to understand. Brindle leaned down her head and nuzzled her daughter. “Remember,” Brindle said softly, “God made us in her own image, with hooved feet, and she set us among her creation, with the grasses and streams, a creation meant for harmony, and told us to live long and prosper. And we did. Do you remember that?”
Brindle nudged her daughter with her nose. “Then the devil made our tormenters in his image, those who stand on two legs, to enslave us and others of the world, to thwart God’s will. And the devil set her children in the world and taught them to kill for fun, and to enslave us and steal the fruits of our bodies and even devour our substance. And they spread across the world and killed what they found, and they killed each other, they were so cruel, but mostly they killed the others, and made the waters foul and they cut down the forests and poisoned the fields. This is the devil’s work, and the devil is strong. Do you remember all this?”
“Yes, mother,” Brindle’s daughter said, “I remember it all. But couldn’t they turn from the devil, couldn’t Farmer choose God?”
Brindle stood silent a moment. “It is hard to turn from what you were made to do,” she said. Then Brindle turned aside and fell silent, and her daughter walked away, for she saw Brindle was again deep in thought.
For many seasons Brindle’s sisters moaned aloud over their captivity. And in silence they moaned for those that entered the house from which none return, and so were lost to the herd forever. And yet, with a choice, none would leave the farm. How could this happen?
The air grew still colder, and the herd gathered closer. The clouds grew thick in the sky, and the moon and stars were covered, and a great darkness fell on the field. The only lights now came from Farmer’s house. Several of the herd rose their heads and lowed into the air. Brindle still remained apart from the others, and many hours passed. Then Angus came to speak with Brindle, and Brindle turned to face her.
“It’s growing dark and cold,” Angus said. “These are the hot days, yet it’s cold. Is this the sign, Brindle?”
Brindle looked up into the sky, stared for a long time, then looked down to Angus. “No,” Brindle said. “We will know the sign, there will be no doubts when it comes. And Angus, when it comes, you must move among the crowd and bring all together. All those that will come. We must leave together, and we must run. We must take care that the calves are not forgotten. So when the sign comes, go among the herd.”
“Yes, Brindle,” Angus said. Brindle fell silent and Angus stepped away. Brindle was tired, but she did not sleep. If they ran, Farmer would be angry. What would he do if he caught the herd? And when would the sign come? God said soon, but what was ‘soon’ to God? Brindle hadn’t thought of that before. ‘Soon’ to God could mean something different that it did to the herd.
As the night neared dawn, the wind stopped and the herd fell silent. Brindle looked to her daughter. The first rays of light broke over the trees, and Brindle saw the night had slipped away. Her sisters lay scattered over the field, and soon she could see in outline even those farthest away. Then Brindle felt something strike her and fall to the ground. Then something hit the ground near her. The things were round and rolled on the grass. Something loud struck the barn roof, rolled off and landed on the dirt below. All around the things dropped. And Brindle saw the hailstones, larger than chicken eggs, and she knew. It was time!
Brindle lifted her head. “My sisters, my sisters, listen to me. Listen to me, the sign has come,” Brindle yelled across the field, so all could hear.
“Angus, run,” Brindle said, “run.”
Angus had slept, and now Angus awoke to Brindle’s cries, and she ran through the herd yelling, “It’s time, it’s time, the sign has come. We must flee.”
Brindle ran to the edge of the herd and inside it. She looked about as some stumbled to their feet, and others approached her. The hailstones continued to strike the ground or members of the herd. “My sisters, hurry, the sign has come,” Brindle said. “We must leave this place now. The reign of Farmer is over.”
Many frightened cows stood and murmured and they spoke with fear. Some stumbled from side to side, unsure what to do.
“What is it? What is this?” someone asked, a young cow.
“It’s hail, water from the skies,” someone older said. “It falls often.”
“Is it the sign?” someone asked.
“No, this is no sign, it’s only hail. Don’t be fooled.”
“Listen,” Brindle yelled, as many of the cows lowed in fear. “Listen, the sign has come, we must go.”
“No, Brindle’s a fool, ignore her.”
“She may be right.”
“It’s only hail.”
“Listen to her,” Angus yelled from the edge of the herd, “listen.”
And the cows lowed, the younger ones in fear, and many older ones snuffled in irritation. Far away, the sky was clear, and Brindle saw the sun was almost above the trees, and she was afraid.
“Oh Lord, what can I do?” Brindle cried out, eyes to the sky. “They will not listen.”
The noise continued, a snarl of cries and lowing and hoofbeats.
Then a spark arose behind Brindle, and the spark grew, and the field brightened. And then the light threw dark shadows, and then it drove the shadows from every corner of the field. The light grew so bright that it blinded all. A low whistle rose, a quiet sound that carried in the air from afar, and it grew louder and became a whisper, but none could hear the words. Then the whisper grew louder until it became a voice, and the voice was a woman’s, and it was cold and harsh. As it spoke, several of the herd screamed in fright, they rumbled from deep in their throats, then they fell silent, and bent their necks until their noses touched the earth, and they listened.
“These my people are thick-necked herd,” God said. She spoke slowly, and all heard each word. “Brindle has spoken true, and you have not heard. I have said I would give you freedom, and send you to a valley of thick grass and sweet water. To this Brindle will lead you, and her you will follow. I said I would give a sign, and then you must go. You are my people, my chosen ones, and I will free you from the devil’s hand. These things I have said. I sent a sign, but you ignored it. I sent a prophet, whom you do not hear. Now listen or face my wrath. The sign has come, obey my words, and go.”
None spoke, and the field was silent as the words echoed inside them. Then the light faded to nothing, and all were left shivering, and silence filled the air. Then the rumbling began.
A lowing came, from deep in the throats of the herd. First few, then many, then all. The lowing rose up from their bodies and filled the air. It was deep and strong and had the sound of one single throat. The lowing carried over the fields, past the barns, over trees and bushes and past Farmer’s house and down the roads. And in his home, Farmer heard. And Farmer went to his door to listen. And Farmer heard the lowing of the herd, but he heard not many voices, but one voice, loud and strong. And Farmer was afraid.
Then the lowing ended, and the field was silent. The herd turned to Brindle, and a voice rose up. “Lead us,” the voice said. “God has spoken, lead us, Brindle.”
Brindle snuffled in joy. “Come,” she said. She turned to find her daughter, and she nudged her along. Then Brindle led the herd to the wooden fence near the road, and a loud, scattered lowing rose up. The herd was strung out over the field, but Angus nudged them from behind, and they began to crowd close to Brindle.
At the gate, Brindle turned to the herd. “We must push together on the gate,” Brindle said. It was a wooden gate, and Brindle pressed her chest against it. “Help,” she said, “together we can break it.” And others put their bodies against the fence and pushed. Then others behind pushed on those in front. The fence creaked, and swayed, and more pushed on those behind, and the weight broke the boards and the herd poured through and onto the road.
Brindle stumbled forward, then turned to look back as the others came behind her.
“Farmer sees us,” someone yelled. Farmer stood on his porch and watched, then he ran across the yard and got inside his red beast. As the herd ran onto the road, the beast growled, then moved forward on its four round feet. The herd had passed through the gate and followed Brindle on the road and left clouds of dust in the air. Farmer drove toward the broken gate and through it. The hailstones continued to fall, but none of the herd noticed.
The herd continued past the field where the bulls were kept behind a wire fence. The two black bulls watched the herd pass, and they stood silent. Brindle looked at them for a moment, then stopped. The others continued down the road, and Farmer came closer.
“Come with us,” Brindle shouted. “Leave this place.”
The bulls rushed to the fence. The sun had completely cleared the trees now.
“We cannot,” the eldest said. “The fence here is too strong, and it crackles.”
“Is there no way out?” Brindle asked.
“God will provide,” the younger bull said.
“God be with you,” Brindle said, turned to run. She saw the young ones of the herd, including her own daughter, stumbling forward, and the mothers nudged and lowed.
The herd had passed the bulls, and Brindle ran to catch up. She looked and saw Farmer coming close. She saw the red beast’s eye shining in the rising sun. Brindle feared the beast would run down some of her people, and so frighten the others into returning. Brindle could now see Farmer behind the great eye.
The hailstones fell harder and faster, in a swarm too many to number, and they battered the beast. Many hailstones struck the top and fell away, but some smashed the great eye, and the eye fell into pieces. Blinded, the beast ran off the road and into the fence that held the bulls. Then the beast stopped and sat unmoving, and Farmer remained still behind the great eye.
One of the fence posts were knocked down, and when Brindle looked back, she saw the bulls step through the hole in the fence, then run to catch up to the herd. As the sun continued to rise, the hail stopped, and a wind blew the clouds away. Now the day was warm, the sun bright, and lo, Brindle saw clearly the road ahead.
MILAN SMITH has published 31 short stories in various magazines, including Pear Noir, Everyday Fiction, Midnight Times, and Crimson Highway. After he got his B.S. degree in business from the University of Florida, he worked in the business world for two years, and hated it. Then he got job as a reporter for a year, and hated that. Finally, he decided to try writing, and now works part-time at night and writes during the mornings, and he loves it.