Terror in West Virginia!

In which something weird is happening to Farmer C.’s cows, and Citizen Jim thinks he has the answer to the puzzle. Of course, he’s not even close…BIG surprise!

When I got to work on Friday afternoon, the computer monitor in my upstairs office had nine or ten messages plastered all over it, the times on the messages having been recorded during the previous four hours.

One of the messages was from Citizen Jim: “I KNEW YOU DIDN’T REALLY WORK AT A NEWSPAPER! YOU’RE GONNA GO STRAIGHT TO HELL FOR ALL YOUR LIES! I’ll be there at 2:00, so YOU BETTER BE READY! P.S., SMACK HER HARD WHEN YOU HAND HER THIS!”

He left this message with Charlene, the receptionist, every day, usually at nine-thirty or ten o’clock. Sometimes I arrived at work while she was on the phone with him. I could always tell she was talking to Citizen Jim if she happened to be bawling her eyes out and saying, “I swear I don’t know where she is! It’s not a plot to destroy your love!”

But no matter how many times a week Citizen Jim left this message, he never arrived. Not at two o’clock, not ever, no matter how ready I made sure I was day after day.

The other eight or nine messages were from Farmer C., and they all said things like, “Better call me,” “Gotta big scoop,” “Hurry up,” “I’m not foolin around,” “This is important,” “World peace is on the line,” and so on.

I decided to get a little work done before I returned any of the calls to Citizen Jim or Farmer C., but before I could even sit down at my desk, there was an awful racket in the reception area on the first floor.

“I need to see your so-called reporter, Chicken Sheets!” I heard Jim say.

“Her name’s not Chicken Sheets! It’s Kristy Sheets, Girl Reporter!” came Farmer C.’s voice. “And I need to see her real bad!”

Then I heard Charlene wailing, right before my two gentlemen callers fought their ways up the stairs to where I stood, scowling.

“You are the most impatient people I’ve ever known,” I said. “I just got here.”

“Well, you need to just get somewhere else,” Citizen Jim said. “With me!”

“Now Kristy, I need you to come up the farm and take a look at something. We got a big story on our hands,” Farmer C. said. “I don’t want that dang pencil-necked geek from the Parkersburg newspaper getting any kind of scoop on my cows!”

Jim stepped between us, arms across his chest. “He’s lying. There’s no story. Cows eat and shit and moo. That’s no goddamn shocking headline! Now come on and let’s go get a steak!”

“Listen, someone’s messing with my cattle and I need to find out who and why before it’s all over the dang news,” Farmer C. said. He grabbed Jim by the shirt collar and lifted him off the ground, looking up at him while he seemed to just…hang there. “You can come with us, or you can stay here, Big Boy. But me and Kristy Sheets, we’re going to the farm.”

“I’d love to come with you,” Citizen Jim croaked.

“I was just thinking you would,” Farmer C. said, and dropped Citizen Jim into a trembling, sweating heap at my feet.

On the way to the farm, Farmer C. gave me the run-down on his recent cow trouble.

“…So I got my wife and my son and some kids from the 4-H club to help me. It took us a while, but we finally got all the white go-go boots off the heifers, and those dumb-looking pillbox hats. But how’d they get on them in the first place? That’s what I can’t figure out!”

Citizen Jim’s eyes lit up like the headlights on an 18-wheeler.

“Extraterrestrials! I bet it was aliens!” he said.

Farmer C. reached around me and smacked Jim on the forehead. “We don’t have spacemen in this county, Captain Kirk! That’d be bad for economic development!”

I tried to keep the peace by asking a follow-up question and pretending to scribble on my notepad. I don’t know how convincing it was, as I’d forgotten my pen back at the office and was just tracing letters on the paper with my index finger.

“No, I haven’t had any cows mutilated. They haven’t been hurt in any way—except for their pride. I could’ve cried when I got to the pasture night before last and saw my two bulls, Big Sky and Cary Grant, walking around with pink ballerina tutus strapped to their hind-quarters,” Farmer C. said. “The next day all the heifers in the field had giant baby bibs tied around their necks.”

“Baby bibs?” I asked.

“Yes, god dang BABY BIBS! Every one of the bibs said ‘I love my grandpa this much.’ Oh, if the idiot boy that writes for the Parkersburg paper ever got hold of this I’d have to forget about running for county commissioner and move away!” Farmer C. fumed. “My bulls! In pink tutus! Gah!”

Citizen Jim was trying not to laugh, I could tell.

As if he had any room to laugh at anyone after saying, “Let me get my stuff from the taxi,” when we were leaving with Farmer C. Citizen Jim climbed into the cab of the truck a few minutes later wearing a white lab coat, rubber gloves and transparent eye goggles, saying, “Science waits for no man. Let’s go. “

“I’ll tell you what I think. I think it’s my political enemies,” Farmer C. said, squirming in his seat and gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turned white. “Either that, or it’s those girls in the county clerk’s office at the courthouse. Lord knows those girls hate my very guts. And if it was them they’ll tell that pipsqueak reporter from the Parkersburg paper all about it. Then I’m finished in this county.”

Citizen Jim scooted as close to the passenger door as he could and cleared his throat. “I’ve studied this sort of thing, you know. When livestock is disturbed in desolate, rural areas, nine times out of ten it’s by a UFO touching down during an intergalactic joyride. It’s how aliens get their kicks,” he said, making sure I was blocking him from Farmer C.’s reach.

“Kristy, where’d you meet this guy? On the Internet?” Farmer C. asked. “I’m about to knock his butt to the moon if he doesn’t shut up with that flying saucer crap.”

When we finally reached the pasture, the mystery was at least half-way solved: there were camera crews surrounding several groups of cows throughout the field, with lights flashing and booms hanging aloft. A man stood in the center of the hubbub with a megaphone.

“What the devil is going on out there?” Farmer C. whispered, slowing his truck to a crawl and trying to approach quietly.

“It sure doesn’t look like aliens,” I said. I turned to Citizen Jim and asked, “Does it look like aliens to you, Precious Lamb?”

Citizen Jim drew his hand back and said, “If you don’t shut up, I’m gonna smack you so hard you’ll be able to kiss the back of your own neck!”

“Sonuva—” Farmer C. roared, slamming on the brakes and hopping out of his truck before it came to a full stop.

Citizen Jim and I scrambled out and ran after him.

“Get off my land!” Farmer C. yelled. “What the heck’re you doing?”

“QUIET ON THE SET! THIS IS THE LAST OF THE SERIES, SO LET’S GET IT RIGHT!” the man with the megaphone yelled. “MAD COWS ON THE TICKET, PART FIVE—TAKE NINE! AND …ACTION!”

Just then, President George W. Bush turned to face the cameras. “While my administration has been trying to isolate the problem of Mad Cow disease in this country, there are others who are thwarting our every effort to keep Americans safe,” he said.

The lights shone on a group of heifers who stood in a huddle, each with a flower-covered straw hat affixed to her head and clusters of yellow, green and purple Mardi Gras beads bunched up around her throat.

“Through a freak breeding accident, these helpless, pitiful creatures were brought into the world by a member of the most dangerous terrorist organization this nation has ever known. These cows,” President Bush said, sweeping his arm to the side, “belong to a Democrat.”

As if we’d been cued by an invisible director, Citizen Jim, Farmer C. and I charged forward, knocking handlers and boom operators and cameramen aside like defensive backs.

The President took off immediately, and the cows scattered as well. With nowhere to hide Bush was easy to take down. Meanwhile, his staff of lily-livered, crybaby, sissy-man Republicans ran like a gaggle of little girls to a fleet of vans waiting to whisk them away.

After we each took a turn whipping the tar out of President Bush, Farmer C. dragged him by his feet to a limousine and left him on the ground atop a pile of fresh cow chips. We gathered up all the video and sound equipment and ran over it with a tractor.

By the time we removed all the hats and plastic beads from the heifers, the sun was starting to set. That’s when we noticed a thin, stick-like figure moving around near the fence surrounding the pasture.

It was the pencil-necked geek reporter from the Parkersburg newspaper. He had a digital camera hanging from around his neck and an extra-wide-ruled reporter’s notebook in one hand.

As we advanced toward him, he kept backing up until his butt was touching the wire of the electric fence.

“AAAAAAAAACK!” He let loose with a couple more screams, like a Siamese cat in heat, as the jolt went through him. A few seconds later he recovered, with steam rising up from the blackened ends of his hair and from his trembling fingertips.

Holding out a microcassette recorder in our direction, he said, “Farmer C., can you give me a few comments on what it was like to have the President shooting a campaign commercial right here in your county?” And then we were upon him…