Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Perdition County

"Well, get in there and get it done ‘fore it gets too dark.” A small droplet of brown spittle dribbles from Pa’s protruding bottom lip. Leaning over the fence, he spits a brown stream onto the dry ground and wipes the excess away from his face.

“Ah pa, do I have to?”

“You want to be a rancher er not?”

“Yeah. I want to be a rancher.”

“Well, this is part of the job, so yer gonna have to do it eventually. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it” Pa presses the sole of his boot onto a dirt clod and crumbles it into dust.  I sigh and look at the barn. I’ve been dreading this day all summer.

We’d moved to the homestead earlier last fall with enough supplies to get us through the winter, but as soon as spring arrived, there was work to do. Lucky for us, the land was ripe for harvest. Pa worked the fields while ma tended to the kitchen, and when the time was right, my older brother Amon made the trek back into town to drive home the cattle that would help sustain us for the years to come. 

It was a good herd too, the finest in Perdition County. There were bulls and heifers for breeding, dairy cows for milk, butter, and cheese, steers for beef, and lots of little calves.

I liked the calves the best. The mature cattle could be moody at times, but the calves were usually good natured. I liked one calf especially. I named her Lu Lu Bell and raised her as my pet. While the other calves were skittish at first, Lu Lu Bell came right up to me and let me pet her.

Branding day was especially difficult considering my affinity for Lu Lu Bell, but I knew it was necessary to keep her safe. The folks in Perdition County weren’t known for their honesty, and it was fairly common for unbranded cattle to go missing. The thought of Lu Lu Bell ending up on someone’s dinner plate kept me up some nights, so even though I knew it would hurt, I branded her myself. She was scared of me for a couple days after that, but before long, I’d regained her trust.

“Go on already,” Pa holds out the knife. “No use puttin it off.” I look at the barn door and swallow hard. Branding day would be a walk in the park compared to today. Heck, castration day would be a walk in the park compared to today.

“Why can’t Amon do it?” I search for any excuse to keep me from my responsibilities, but Pa’s not having it.

“Amon’s done it plenty of times, now it’s your time to learn.”

“Ain’t nuthin to learn. I already know how to do it. I just don’t want to.”

“Do you want to be a rancher or not?”

I consider the alternatives before answering. “If I do it, do you promise to leave Lu Lu Bell alone?”

“Lu Lu Bell is gonna grow up to be a fine heifer. It’d be silly to use her for meat.” Pa spits on to the ground again and looks at me.  

“Ol’ Dottie use to be a fine heifer, then she couldn’t give no more calves and we ate her just the same.”

“I promise we’ll never use Lu Lu Bell for beef even when she stops giving us calves.”

I search Pa’s face for confirmation. Against my better judgement, I trust him. “Alright then. So long as you promise.”

Pa nods with a toothy grin. “I promise.”

“Ok.” I take the knife reluctantly.

“You remember what to do?”

“Yeah,” Pa and I had gone over it several times. Take the steer from the pen and lead him over to the trough. One slice across the throat should be enough to do the job. Drain him out in the trough. When it’s done, string him up so he can be skinned. Call Pa in once I get the hyde off and he’d show my how to butcher it.

I make one last plea with my eyes, but Pa has no sympathy to give. Out of options, I stomp off, knife in hand, towards the barn. When I reach the door, I flip the latch and swing it wide open. Inside, the cattle are in their pens. A few perk up, thinking it might be feeding time, but most don’t even acknowledge my presence. To my right I see Lu Lu Bell peering out of her pen towards me. “Hey there little Lu Lu Bell.” I walk over to her and pat her on the head. “How are you today?”

Lu Lu Bell looks up at me with her big eyes. I pat her on the head once more and reluctantly return to my duties. Glancing around the barn I try and locate the steer who’s life I’m about to take.

He was one of the bulls that had arrived with Lu Lu Bell. They were brother and sister but he was a full three years older than she was. He was supposed to grow up to be a breeding bull but he’d been causing too many problems. One night he’d escaped his pen and we had to send out a search party for him. We found him nearly seven miles away. After that he started causing trouble with the other cattle. So much so that Pa decided he needed to be castrated to calm him down. Amon held his arms, Pa held his legs, and I performed the procedure. I’m pretty sure he’d hated me ever since. 

It only takes a few seconds to locate the problem steer and make my way to his pen. His eyes are filled with fear and hatred. He knows what’s coming.

“Please Moloch, not my brother,” Lu Lu Bell pleads from her pen in the lower language only English cattle can speak. “Please take me instead. Please!” Lu Lu Bell cries but I force myself to ignore her.

Pa told me once that humans (that’s what our cattle like to call themselves), are always volunteering to die for each other, especially if they’re related, or if they were “in love” as he’d called it. I didn’t believe it, cause that’s not something us demon folk would ever do, but now I now it’s true, and it makes the job even tougher

The steer kicks and screams and beats at me with his fists, but it’s no use. Humans are no match for us demon folk. As Lu Lu Bell and all the other humans continue to plead for his life, I lead the young man to the trough.

I wish I could spare Lu Lu Bell’s brother for her, but in Perdition County, a demon’s got to do what a demon’s got to do, and this family of demons needs to eat.

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