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This is a question The Dark

17,000 writes: Everything bad happens in the dark. Tell us your stories of noises and bumps in the night, power cuts, blindfolds and cinema fumbling.

(, Thu 23 Jul 2009, 15:49)
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Cows in the Night
I wrote this several years ago. I'll post it here as I wrote it, and I make no apologies for not being entirely in keeping with the normal b3ta sweary irreverence, but instead seeming to channel the spirit of James Thurber. (What? I like James Thurber).

In replies as it's long.
(, Wed 29 Jul 2009, 18:43, 2 replies)
Sunday night 12.14 am, May 13th 2001.
I decided to write a diary as of now because so much strange stuff seems to happen. And the latest thing definitely needs to be written down, so I can get to sleep and stop thinking about it if nothing else. But the latest thing is just the last in a chain of wildlife related events, and I have come to the conclusion that There Is More Going On Than Meets The Eye. I am starting to feel like St Francis of Assisi.

It started the same way it did the day I found a flock of sheep in my garden eating my herbaceous borders: an unfathomable noise. It wasn’t a noise I could associate with any particular event; it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Bearing in mind the lateness of the hour, my level of fatigue and the comfiness of the bed, the only thing I could think of at first was rain – very big but widely spaced rain. I thought “Good. Maybe it’ll get cooler.” Then I realised the noise was only right outside the house and nowhere else. I could hear the local cows mooing their heads off at whatever was going on, and worrying images of all sorts of things sprang into my head, including aliens, ghosts, burglers, and a shower of extremely local, big, sparsely-spaced rain, possibly of fish. At first I almost didn’t dare look (I had one of those genuine wobbly moments), but my compulsive side won. So I looked out of the window – at a herd of cattle milling about on the gravel drive. The security light had come on so I could quite clearly see them: about twenty fairly small, gently migrating and grazing Fresians. As I watched they made their way slowly but determinedly down to the house at the end, then, their curiosity obviously satisfied, back up again.
At first I was nonplussed. Who do you telephone about cows? I thought about going back to sleep, but the imaginary noise of an unsuspecting late-night vehicle ploughing into the back of a herd of cows woke me up.
I picked up clothes and boots, dressed on my way downstairs and thought, “Farmer Booth. I’ll phone him.” He is the dairy farmer nearby, so it was the logical place to start, although I was sure he wouldn’t thank me for disturbing him.
No answer.
Suddenly I remembered about the current foot-and-mouth crisis and I decided I should phone the police.
The chap at central branch was stoically silent as I said; “There’s a herd of cows in my driveway. I didn’t know who else to phone.”
“Good grief,” he said eventually. “Hold on a moment.”
There was a long pause, and then he said, “We’re good with cows. We had three buffalo on a railtrack the other day.”
“Buffalo?” I said. “Blimey.”
“Just putting you through.”
I repeated my problem to the man at Skipton.
“There’s what?” he said.
“Right,” he said. He took my details and told me he would send someone over and that I should keep trying to phone the farmer.
I tried to get through again with no luck. I looked out of the window and the cows were gone. In a quandary, I thought about possible options: Should I go out? What if they were bullocks? Maybe they were being rustled! Should I take a torch? Perhaps I should wait in case the police phone back. What if they turn up? I could go out and watch. This is what I did.
On the front porch, I thought I could hear an engine. Diesel. Probably the tractor, I thought, that’ll be why Farmer Booth wasn’t answering. Then another vehicle came down the hill. It stopped. A door was opened.
“Geddoutofit!” a voice shouted.
I was worried it was Farmer Booth shouting at the police. In my few dealings with him he had always been rather gruff. Then another voice said, “You okay?” and there was a grunted reply.
The car pulled up to the drive and I walked out to bring the security light on. The car came up the drive and went past the house then reversed back when they noticed me running down the steps.
“Where’ve they gone then?” said the police officer in the passenger seat, rather sceptically, I thought.
“I have no idea,” I said, feeling useless and a bit silly.
“How many were there?”
“About twenty. They were small, well not tiny, but not – “ I said, gesturing, aware that I was babbling.
“Well, we found one,” said the policeman. That must have been the encounter I heard. I felt slightly less silly, but it didn’t last long as I noticed that the policeman’s expression was still one of the ‘for God’s sake woman, do you think we’ve nothing better to do?” type.
“I tried phoning the farmer again, but there’s still no answer,” I said. “So I came out and I thought I heard the tractor.”
“Which farmer is it?” he asked.
“Farmer Booth. Lives at Castle Hill. He has cows.”
“Righto,” he said. “We’ll be off.” They started backing away.
“Oh, wait, what about the foot-and-mouth thing?” I called.
The policeman looked at me in the way described above. I was acutely aware that, in the glare of the security light, the gravel drive was pristine white and there was no visible aftermath of cattle. He informed me that there were no outbreaks in the area and it shouldn’t be anything to worry about.
“So it’s safe to walk on the drive then?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” he said, and they backed away again, more rapidly this time. That was the last I saw of them.

The cows came back, though.

I had gone back in the house and couldn’t settle, not really knowing what to do. Eventually I decided to go back to bed. Having got undressed and just starting to relax, I heard a distant moo. I sat up.
“I should have told them to follow the mooing” I said to myself. “If they’d taken me seriously”.
It was coming from the direction of the Old Vicarage.
There have been occasions when we have woken to find cows grazing in the school field, some considerate soul having shut all the gates to contain them, and this flashed into my mind. I got dressed again, went downstairs, and with slight trepidation, strode out along the garden path. Looking over the school gate there was not a single cow to be seen, but I could hear them. The available light only covered my end of the yard, extending about fifty metres toward the school field. They might well have been on the field, but then Ruskin’s barking told me that the Old Vicarage had the privilege of their company.
I hurried back into the house to phone the farmer again, thinking that if he were quick enough they would be contained. No answer. I phoned the police again, thinking that they could radio their colleagues and send them in the right direction. They weren’t in. “Well I can’t just sit here,” I thought.
Heading briskly schoolwards, I did briefly think about going back for my torch, but it was upstairs and the to-ing and fro-ing was too much. I went through the garden gate, down the schoolyard, through the new silly gate they’ve just put in to corral the children in the playground, and through the bottom gate, which shrieks like a banshee. I set off up the lane and after a while the hot and cold realisation dawned on me that my actions were sheer madness. The lane could not have been darker – it was blacker than the inside of a cat, to steal a quote. I was trapped in a narrow channel with a herd of probably hormonally rampant bullocks, which were, for all intents and purposes, invisible. I could hear the noises of the herd: the sighing and snorting, the methodical grinding, champing chewing, occasional gentle plopping, sporadic half moos, the dull thud of hooves…of which in the darkness and velvety atmosphere I had no way of knowing the location. It was impossible to tell how far, or near, they were. Can cows see in the dark? How good is their hearing?
I began thinking that the hooves were taking on a different sound, that of a herd on the move. How fast they were travelling I also couldn’t tell – after all, maybe twenty cows walking slowly sounds just like five cows running very fast. Given that they were probably bullocks and, for all I knew were probably alerted to my presence, and that the hooves were definitely sounding more urgent, I turned tail. I began to run.
Some people may have had nightmares where they are fleeing ferocious beasts, no time to stop and look back, heart pounding, their backs prickly with the anticipation of being butted, tossed, trampled…
Well, imagine it happening for real, on what should have been a calm Sunday night at midnight, when you should be in bed dreaming.
I ran the way people run in movies when a killer is at their back. Sheer primal fear had engulfed me. My feet thudded against the ground, I couldn't have worked my legs faster if they'd been pistons. I was propelled like a rabbit being chased by a lurcher, by pure survival instinct. The phrase "flight or fight" had never been so literally experienced.
I got to the school gate, dragging its howling hinges behind me. It wouldn’t shut; the latch was too low. I tried vainly a couple of times to shove it. No time! I turned and ran again, still no idea how far behind they were, and panic rising as I became aware that some or all of them may well have come into the yard to head me off at the top. I made it through the silly corral gate and as I finally shut the garden gate behind me, a multitude of rushing cattle appeared. Safe at last, I surveyed them. They were behind the dividing wall, clamouring to run parallel with the lane where some of their co-stampeders were cantering. They couldn’t as they were hemmed into a corner, and didn’t have the sense to turn round and go back the way they had come.
“Ner, ner, nener ner,” I said, and then “Right that’s it, I’ve done my bit, there’s nothing more I can do, I’m washing my hands of the whole business.”
So, I came in. Got into bed, but somehow didn’t feel much like relaxing. Heard a car go past, then another. I wondered if it was the police and looked out. It wasn’t, but all the cows emerged from the lane and headed after them at a leisurely pace. Well at least they were going towards the farm.
I heard another car approaching, and fearing the sound of cow carnage, wondered if I should do something to attract their attention. Throw something out of the window? No, and there was no time as the car came round the corner. I couldn’t help myself watching, but the car wasn’t going too fast and they saw the cows in time to brake without the Noise occurring, although there were one or two sudden rushes of hooves as the cows were startled.
I was glad that no one was injured and even gladder that, although I have no idea who they are, someone else saw the cows and could bear witness if necessary. I have slight concerns about being charged with wasting police time.
Anyway, now I have finished writing this, it is nearly a quarter to two and there has been no more traffic and no more cow noises. I hope that they have found wherever they escaped from. I will conclude the matter of St Francis at a later date.
(, Wed 29 Jul 2009, 18:47, closed)
Please think twice before adding line breaks -- your post will be skipped over if it looks too spread out or is a wall of text.
(, Wed 29 Jul 2009, 20:35, closed)

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