Dave Kellum pulls the cigarette from his mouth and squints up at me. “See that hill over there? In this next shot, you slowly trek over that hill. Carrying your backpack.” I survey the dust-covered hill; it’s half a mile away.
Dave squashes the cigarette underfoot. “Charles and Griffin will take you behind the hill in the truck. When you get there, put on the backpack, and when I give the signal, starting walking over the hill toward the camera.”
“Easy enough,” I say.
Charles and I pile in the cab of Charles’s pickup truck. It’s a fat-ass Ford, contractor white, with plenty of trusses and locking toolchests and bungie cords. With effort, Griffin lugs my backpack into the truck’s bed and jumps in the back.
Charles drives the truck very tentatively over the glacially pockmarked terrain. The girder-sized shock absorbers complain and the truck rolls back and forth. Charles drives over two-foot craters of bone-dry earth. Griffin taps on the rear window, and Charles laughs. “I’m trying to drive easy,” Charles shouts out the open window.
Charles abruptly stops, halfway around the hill. Thirty feet from the truck, two thousand pounds of black Angus stares down at us.
“It has horns,” Charles says.
“Mayday,” I shout into the walkie-talkie.
“Oh, relax, it’s just a cow,” says Charles.
“You sure?” I ask.
“Either that, or it has four dicks,” Charles says.
Charles gently drives in a wide berth around the cow. I roll down the window of the Ford and shout, “Moo! Bitch!” The cow swivels its head, tracking us all the way around, staring us down.
We leave the cow and park the truck behind the hill. Griffin straps the backpack to my back and puts the walkie-talkie into my vest pocket. I sway under the heavy load, my gas mask fogging in the ninety-degree heat.
“Action action action!” burbles the walkie-talkie.
I saunter over the hill toward the camera, spouting technobabble. “NorMat control, bearing two zero three six mark three, germ count three point six nine millibars and rising…”
“Cut! That was great,” barks the walkie-talkie. I turn around and slowly trudge back over the hill, toward the truck.
Charles and Griffin are shifting from foot to foot, scanning the horizon. “Great job,” says Griffin, applauding. “But I think we better go.”
“Why, what’s up?” I say.
Charles points. The black cow is back, staring at us intently.
Directly behind the cow are two hundred other cows. They strut and stroll towards us, their huge flanks rippling.
Effortlessly, smoothly, the black cow flips its hind leg up like a pike and knocks a pile of flies off its ear.
I look up. At the top of my ninety-pound costume is a red flag.
“Oh bloody hell,” I say.
“Let’s get this thing off you,” says Griffin.
Charles and Griffin begin yanking at the pack on my back. Calmly, inexorably, the herd marches toward us, watching, walking, waiting. Curved horns, twisted horns, straight horns. One steer points a single cockeyed horn at us and licks its ruddy nose.
“They think it’s feeding time. Or something,” says Griffin.
The black cow is now fifteen feet away from us, flipping its horns. “John, you’ve got to help us here,” says Charles.
“I’ll do anything humanly possible to help out here,” I say.
“Pull,” says Griffin. I give a colossal heave and the pack falls onto the ground with a thud. A steer snorts in surprise.
In one large motion, Griffin throws the pack into the truck and jumps over the tailgate. Charles and I fly into the cab and I yank off my headgear.
The truck is surrounded. Griffin scans the two hundred thousand pounds of incoming brisket and screams, “Drive!”
Charles punches the gas. Dust and gravel zings into the air and Griffin coughs. A dozen cattle scatter, huffing and snorting, their necks craning to get away from the sudden noise. Charles turns the truck in an ungainly circle and bolts around the hill.
The truck ricochets wildly off the uneven earth. The shock absorbers screech and metal slaps metal. We bounce left, right, then hard left.
I lean out the window and scream at the herd scattering before us. “MOOOO, MOTHERFUCKERS! MOOOOO!”
We hit a small wall of gravel and dirt and the engine block crunches against it. The shocks hurl the entire truck into the air.
In that split-second I glance at the mirror on the side of the truck. In that moment, Griffin is airborne, his arms and legs splayed protectively beneath him, a mixture of bewilderment and sadness on his face.