The Bull Rider (5:08 a.m.)

Alright! I powered through another entire section tonight in Origins of the Outbreak!

As always, this is UNEDITED, I don’t edit until the first draft is complete – saves me from doing too much tinkering.

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“Alright, baby. I’m headed out to start the day.”

“Here’s your coffee, Adam. Make sure you drink water too. It’s gonna be a hot one. I’ll bring some lemonade and a sandwich out to the back forty if you’re still out there by suppertime.”

“Sounds good. Go ahead and plan on it. I gotta put in at least eleven new fence posts and string all five lines of barbed wire, that dammed bull pulled a full hundred feet out yesterday.”

“I still say we should just butcher him and save one of the calves to stud.”

“I’m thinkin’ that you may be right this time. He’s cost us more than any animal has the right to.”

Debbie leaned in and kissed her husband goodbye as he sat on the stairs and laced up his boots by the front door. She wouldn’t allow him to bring them fully into the house since they were usually covered in some type of animal feces, mud or blood. He paused what he was doing and kissed her lightly on the lips before continuing to to tie his boots.

Adam accepted the thermos full of black coffee from Debbie and limped down the pathway towards his old truck. He’d been a rising star in the rodeo as a young man and there’d been plenty of talk about him turning pro until a bull stepped on his leg one night and shattered his femur. He was instantly out of the bull riding business and in the hospital for over two months. Multiple surgeries and one nasty blood infection later and he had a steel rod fused to his bone. The damn thing never healed completely right and caused him to limp slightly, but it was always a hell of a good time at the airport when the TSA agents thought he was trying to smuggle something through.

Duke followed along behind him and Adam made sure to open the passenger door first so the dog could jump in before making his way around to the driver’s side. He’d made the mistake only once. The lab had knocked him out of the way when he opened the driver’s door and he’d fallen into a mess of thistles alongside the truck. Ever since then, he always made sure to let Duke have his seat first.

The two of them drove the four hundred feet to the barn where Adam backed the truck up as close to the tackle room door as he could get. He got out and held the door open so Duke could get out and scrounge around the barnyard while he fed the cows. It was menial work, but it was an honest day’s livin’ and he was proud to tell folks that he was a farmer.

Adam and Bettie had a small-scale cattle operation for Texas. They only had two hundred and fifty head, but the real money-maker for them was that ornery bull. He studded out at a thousand a week and folks came from far and wide to pick him up and take him back to their farms. The thing about that bull was that he was known for producing large, healthy calves. Most of the bulls grew up to be well over twelve hundred kilograms and the cows topped in at a solid five hundred and fifty.

Adam hated that damn bull, but the minor profit they made from their two alfalfa harvests and slaughter cattle paled in comparison to what they earned from it. So even though it did stupid things like tear out fences and lead the herd out onto the road, the truth was that Adam and Bettie needed that animal way more than it needed them.

After he’d poured the feed and spread some hay in the troughs, Adam went about the business of loading up the supplies to mend the fence. Fence posts, baling wire, spools of barbed wire, fence post pounder, pliers and finally the come-along, which would stretch the wire taut so he could wire it to the posts.

When everything was loaded up, he opened the passenger side door and waited for Duke to get in. The old fool wasn’t anywhere to be seen so Adam walked around to the driver’s side and hopped in. He honked the horn a few times and poured himself a cup of coffee from the thermos. Within seconds, the dog bounded up from down by the creek. He was soaking wet and made sure to shake off when he got * inside* the cab of the truck.

“Aww, dang it, Duke! You couldn’t a done that outside?”

Duke looked at him and panted. Bettie was right, it was gonna be a hot one today. He glared down into his coffee mug at the drops of creek water from the dog’s coat that didn’t quite blend in with the coffee. The farmer dumped the contents out of his window and poured another cup. “Boy, you’re somethin’ you know that?”

Duke finally took the hint that maybe he’d done something that he wasn’t supposed to and lay down on the truck’s bench seat. Adam sighed and stepped out of the truck to go close the dog’s door. By the time he got back around to the driver’s side, he decided that he needed to take an ibuprofen to help ease the dull ache in his bum leg. The day was just starting and it was already acting up. He knew from experience that he needed to nip that thing in the bud before it became unbearable.

After he swallowed two pills he started the truck and headed down around the barn and out the gate to the the cattle path. When he’d bought the land all those years ago, he made the decision to put in a double fence, one completely encircling the property and another that closed in the areas that he planted with alfalfa for hay. That way the cattle could still move freely about the property from the barn to the lower field, the back forty as he and Bettie called it, without disturbing the crops. He also used this cattle path as a road to drive his old pickup down.

When he got to the lower field he saw right away that the white cloth marking tape that he’d stretched across the broken fence yesterday was torn down. He’d pulled out the old wire and used the thick two-inch material as an intermediate barrier, knowing that the cattle were docile enough to not go past it, but what the heck happened to it out here?

Adam did a quick mental headcount of his herd and he didn’t remember anything out of the ordinary. While he hadn’t counted every one of them, he’d been doing this long enough to realize when some of the cattle were missing. He pulled the truck up to the side where the tape had come loose and climbed out to see what had happened.

He picked up the frayed end of marking tape and held it up to the early morning light. It looked like it had been stretched and the knot had finally gave way. “Wonder what the heck did that?” he muttered while he held it down for Duke to see. The dog sniffed the frayed end and growled low in his throat.

“Whoa, boy! What’s the matter?”

The dog circled Adam a few times smelling the air, but he ultimately ended up laying down in the trampled grass and began scratching his ear.

Adam reached down and patted Duke’s head. “You sure are gettin’ strange in your old age, buddy.” He grinned when he began to scratch his ear and Duke’s foot continued to half-scratch where his fingers dug into the dog’s scalp. “Yup, you’re a weirdo! Guess it’s time to get to work.”

The first thing he did was put on his beat up leather work gloves. He may have been an old cowboy, but he wasn’t dumb. If a farmer let their hands get messed up, then they’d be useless for several days. Farmers can’t afford to take a break, let alone be out of commission for an extended period of time.

Next he went to the old fence line and began to pull out the ruined fence posts. His baling wire had held on to the barbed wire too good. When that ol’ bull got tangled up in the fence, he’s bent and twisted the metal posts. It was hard work getting the posts out of the ground because they were designed to stay put and had a flared-out spade a foot from the bottom. The spade kept the post straight over the years, but only added to the difficulty when he was trying to pull them out.

Over an hour later, he’d pulled all eight posts that needed to be removed and was able to salvage two by using all of his bodyweight to bend them back into place. Then he grabbed three posts and walked to the far end, dropping a post every seven feet. Normally he liked to go with around eight feet between posts, but he had to adjust the spacing because the old fence post holes wouldn’t be able to support a new post.

Once he’d laid out nine posts in place of the eight he’d taken out, he limped back to the truck and took a swig of water from the jug that he’d filled up from the barn spigot. Then he picked up the thirty pound fence post driver and made his way slowly down to the first post.

In his younger days, the fence post driver that he had was simply a metal tube that fit over the top of a fence post and had a large hunk of lead welded on the end for weight. Now that he was older, he’d sprung some extra cash for one with a spring inside it. The spring helped to propel the driver back upwards and alleviated some of the effort required to pound in the posts. Even with the spring assist, the nine posts that he had to drive in today would probably take a good hour or more to get into the ground.

Forty-five minutes later Adam was exhausted. He surveyed the ragged line of fence posts and cursed under his breath. Ten years ago, he would have pulled them out, but he was okay with a few posts out of plumb, even if he didn’t like it. As he walked over to the truck, his limp was much more pronounced. His back ached, which caused his stride to become shorter and translated into a more painful step for him. Added to that was the burning feeling in his shoulders from constantly lifting the weighted driver above his head and then slamming it back down onto the fence post.

He whistled for Duke so he could share a slice of apple with his buddy, but the dog was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t odd for him to wander off, but he usually had a pretty good sense for when Adam was gonna take a break and he’s show up.

Adam placed a hunk of apple on the seat and whistled louder for the dog to come back. He scanned across the field and wondered where the dog had gotten off to. “Oh well, your loss, Duke,” he said and picked up the apple. He blew it off before popping it into his mouth and finishing another cup of coffee.

He looked at his watch. He’d been out at the fence for almost three hours and that apple wasn’t gonna hold him over for long. Times like this, he wished that he had a cellular telephone. He could call Bettie up and have her bring down a snack. But that was one of those things that he couldn’t justify, so they did without and most of the time didn’t miss out on anything.

He slid out of the truck and hobbled around to the open tailgate. “Oh man, I’m gettin’ too old for this stuff. Gonna need to hire one of them Murphy boys to come help out.”

The Murphy boys were the typical prodigal children. Both had grown up on the farm next door and hated the small town Texas life. One joined the Marines and the other joined the Air Force. Each had been gone exactly four years when they returned to Florence, Texas and bought acreage from their father to build homes on. The brothers and their parents all lived within a quarter of a mile from one another and were always offering to help Adam out. * Maybe next time I’ll take ’em up on it*, he thought as he hefted the first large spool of barbed wire from the truck.

He carried it down to the wooden corner post and unwrapped a good three feet of wire that he wrapped around the large post twice. From his tool belt, he pulled out a few large horseshoe nails and pounded them into place, securing the wire to the post. Next he carefully wrapped the remaining wire around the running end of the spool and slid an old metal rod into the center of the spool.

Adam held on to the either side of the rod and walked backwards, letting the wire feed out behind him. When he reached the next large wooden anchor post he set the spool down and went to the truck to retrieve the come-along. He hitched the come-along’s hook onto the back of the truck and then fed the cable through the machine’s pulley. When he got to the spot where the spool of wire sat, he placed the come-along on the ground and measured out an extra ten feet of barbed wire before cutting it with the multi-purpose pliers from his belt.

He took the free end and wrapped that around the anchor post and then pulled it tight over to the come-along. He wrapped the end of the barbed wire through the come-along’s eyelet and then began to ratchet the lever on the come-along. The machine pulled the slack out of the wire and within seconds it was as tight as it could be. He limped over and pounded in a few horseshoe nails to secure the wire before making his way back to the come-along and releasing the tension.

Thankfully, the wire stayed taut and he wrapped the extra around the anchor post and secured it along the rest of the wire like he’d done on the other end. Then he picked up the spool and the metal bar and carried them back to the first post to repeat the process.

He set both items on the ground and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his sleeve. The darned dog was nowhere to be found, so he whistled again. Adam was starting to get worried that the dog had gotten bit by one of the many rattlesnakes that lived in the rocky soil of his small farm.

“Duke! Duke, come her boy!” He’d never known the lab to not come when he whistled and he sure as heck usually came when Adam called.

“Aww, hell,” he muttered and went to the cab of his truck where he had a pump action 20–gauge shotgun. A lot of folks called the 20–gauge a lady’s gun, but Adam thought it was the perfect weapon for use against snakes. Not too much kick and it still had plenty of destructive power to obliterate a snake.

“Duke!” he called as he headed down the hill towards the last direction that he’d seen the dog head a couple of hours ago.

He topped a small rise and what he saw made him stop and stare. Not even twenty feet away, a topless lady stood staring at a dead cow. The woman looked like she’d taken a bath in the animal’s blood, even her face and hair was covered in the stuff. He couldn’t help but notice how large and firm the woman’s breasts were while the rest of her seemed to be melting away.

That was the best way he could describe it. The woman’s skin seemed to just hang from her bones like the gobbler on a tom turkey. It was one of the most disgusting things that he’d ever seen, even compared to the pictures of his leg when they had to open it up the second time to clean out the infection.

Adam mumbled a prayer to the Lord Jesus and the woman’s head snapped up. Milky white eyes stared at him like she could see him through her blindness. “Oh my goodness, are you okay, ma’am?”

Her mouth opened and instead of words, a dry crackling sound emerged as the air in her lungs expelled outwards and rattled her vocal chords. Adam’s blood chilled and his testicles shrank into his abdomen.

“What are you?”

She moved awkwardly around the cow and stumbled up the hill towards him. Adam turned and jogged as fast as his bad leg would allow him to move. Duke shot past him and he turned to see the dog launch itself into the air. His teeth tore a ragged line across her cheek and she changed course, headed after his best friend.

Duke’s courage had played itself out with that one attack and he cowered on the ground, whimpering at the abomination that bore down on him.

“Hey! Hey, over here! Leave him alone!” Adam called to the woman. She stopped and turned back towards Adam and began to lurch in his direction once more.

He raised the shotgun and said, “I ain’t afraid to use this lady. You need to get off my property.”

She stumbled to within five feet of him and he fired into the ground at her feet. Several of the pellets went wide and shredded the toes of the black knee-high boots that she wore, but it didn’t affect her at all.

Adam stepped backwards and his bad leg gave out on him completely. He fell backwards and accidentally squeezed off a round. The buckshot hit her leg right below the knee from less than three feet away. The “lady’s” gun took the woman’s entire lower leg at that distance.

She tottered unstably on one leg for a moment and then fell sideways. Adam pushed his way backwards away from her as she pulled herself along the ground to get to him. His heart pounded in his chest and it sounded like thunder in his ears.

*This must be what it’s like to have a heart attack*, he thought as the pounding got louder.

Then, from the direction of the barn, the bull appeared. It ran at full speed towards Adam and veered at the last moment. It dropped it’s head and gored the woman. She flailed against the massive head and her fingernails dug into the side of it’s face until it finally pierced her head with one of it’s massive horns.

The beast continued to stomp on her body and slash it’s horns from side to side until the pile of flesh could no longer be recognized as something human.

Adam stared in fear and awe at the giant bull as it towered above him. Its nostrils flared and black ichor dripped from both horns. Then it snorted, turned and walked slowly back in the direction of the farmhouse.

He sat on the ground watching the massive creature go until it passed below a small rise in the field. When he was certain that it was gone, he stood up and hobbled over to where Duke lay. He’d peed all over himself and shook uncontrollably, but the old farmer picked him up gently and carried him back to the truck. He set Duke down on the bench seat and scratched the back of his ear with a shaky hand.


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