This story is by Mallory O’Bier and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Stirring in the sweet-smelling grass, Bessie half-opened her eyes and regretted it the instant she did. The moonlight was harsh tonight, completely bathing the pasture where she and her sister Maggie lay nestled together with the rest of the Twilight Meadows cows. She stirred again, licking her dry lips. Thirsty, Bessie sighed and clambered up from her warm spot by Maggie’s side.
Squinting and still half asleep, she headed for the water trough and lowered her nose to drink.
Hmmm! Bessie’s ears twitched. Was that a bug flying overhead? She slurped.
Hummmm! Her ears twitched again. Bessie huffed and raised her head to look.
She gasped, jaws dripping.
Bessie had never seen a full moon so blinding nor so enormous. It was bigger than the broad side of a barn! She blinked at it.
The moon blinked back.
Bessie flinched, then backed slowly as it narrowed a pair of empty, black eyes on her until they were mere slits.
Her heart thumping wildly, Bessie turned and ran. Faster and faster she went, her cloven hooves kicking up clods of turf. She threw a quick glance over her shoulder. The moon was chasing her!
Bessie stumbled, tumbling hard into the grass. She lay on her side, nostrils flaring as she panted for breath.
The moon opened a great, gaping empty black mouth. It was going to get her!
Maggie’s voice! Bessie tried to call out to Maggie, but she couldn’t get her tongue to work. Her head spun as darkness overcame her…
When Bessie woke, her head was pounding. She started up and groaned. Her legs ached.
Sunlight glittered on the dewy pasture.
What happened last night? Was it a nightmare?
And where was Maggie? Her sister’s glossy black hide was nowhere to be seen.
She asked the others, “Have you seen my sister?”
“Maggie? No. I haven’t seen her this morning,” answered chestnut brown Charlotte. “I’m sure she’ll show once breakfast arrives.”
The other cows shook their heads and returned to their grazing.
Bessie pawed her hoof in the turf and surveyed the pasture.
Maggie had always been there when Bessie woke up, except for one cold morning earlier that year when Maggie went off by herself to calve.
Where could she have gone?
Bessie spent the rest of the daylight searching and calling for Maggie, but she didn’t appear. Refusing to eat, Bessie paced the fence with long, slow strides, her head hanging.
What was she going to do? How could she live without her sister? How could she sleep at night without Maggie’s warm back to keep her company?
What if something terrible had happened to Maggie? Bessie felt a lump of dread like undigested cud sink into the pits of her stomachs. She sighed loudly.
“You’ll run out of happiness if you keep sighin’ like that.” A goat—hooves outstretched—sailed cleanly over the fence. He landed next to Bessie, and, tucking one leg, bowed to her with a flourish of his full white beard.
“Old Jack at your service, honey,” he said, his voice crackling. Wise Old Jack’s age was unknown, but Bessie thought he must’ve always been here at Twilight Meadows farm, like a living monument.
He continued, “Somebody’s gotta look after the youngsters ‘round here. ‘Specially now it’s come to this.”
“Come to what?”
“Maggie.” He leaned in close. “Your sis went missin’ last night, right?
“Yes! How did you know?”
“Everybody on the farm’s talkin’ ‘bout it. I’ll help you, but you gotta listen to everythin’ I say, capeesh?”
“Hold up. You know what’s going on here, Old Jack?”
He grunted. “Probably ‘bout the only one that does.” Old Jack chomped on a clump of clover. “They’re called Ally-Eanmph!”
“Ally—what, now?” asked Bessie.
He chewed some more. “Ally-Eans.”
“That’s right. The Ally-Eans kid-er, cownapped your sister.”
“C-cownapped! Why? Whatever for?”
“For milk, of course! They’ll be comin’ again.”
“How do you know all of this? And how can you be so sure?”
Old Jack glared at her, and Bessie flinched. “See how white my beard is?”
She nodded slowly.
He tossed it with a huff. “Then don’t question my wisdom.”
“Okay, okay! They—won’t hurt her, will they?”
Old Jack sighed. “They’ll probably try milkin’ her.”
“Well… that’s not… too bad, is it?”
He shook his head. “They milk with fingerless hands as cold as ice. And no grass grows on their farm in the sky.”
Her eyes widened. “My poor sister! But surely they’ll return her—”
“No, never. They’ll milk her dry, and then…”
Old Jack shook his head harder, wagging his beard.
Bessie snorted deeply. “We must save Maggie!”
“Not to worry, sweetpea. I’ve a plan.”
“My name’s Bessie,” she murmured.
Old Jack didn’t seem to hear. “So here’s what we’re gonna do…”
“All right,” he finished. You got all that?”
“Yes. I-I think so. You’re sure this plan will work?”
“Without a doubt!—probably.” He stared off into the fading sunset.
“You’ve got a better plan, sugar? No? Then let’s git ready!”
Later that restless night, Bessie kept repeating Old Jack’s instructions in her head.
Old Jack had called the moon that attacked her a “ship.” He’d said that the Ally-Eans rode around in the stomachs of ships, just like the farmers rode around in the stomachs of trucks. Only the ships fly, just like bugs.
Bessie shuddered, imagining her sister being swallowed by one of those things. She hoped Maggie was okay.
“Remember, don’t fall asleep! The humming will lead us to their prey. When you see the signal… chew plenty of cud to stay awake. Don’t fall asleep…”
Bessie’s eyes snapped open. She stood and shifted her ears, following the sound.
There! The moon—or rather, the glowing ship, was heading over where Charlotte was sleeping!
Bessie hurried to Charlotte and nudged her with her nose. “Charlotte!” she whispered. “Wake up!”
Charlotte grunted, “I was gonna eat that…” and continued snoring. “Charlotte!”
Bessie lifted her eyes and watched as the ship’s mouth opened like before. The signal!
Bounding in from the shadows, Old Jack came and leaped gracefully onto Bessie’s back. He appeared just as at home there as on the roof of his little shed, only now he had a fierce glint in his eyes.
“Let’s git ‘em!” he said, just as the light fully enveloped all three of them and Bessie felt her hooves lift off the ground.
“Easy!” whispered Old Jack harshly. Up, up they rose until they were swallowed into the ship’s belly.
Bessie blinked at the sudden contrast. Inside, the light was dim and green, and encircling the ship were strange tables with tiny blinking lights of various colors on them.
And by the tables, distracted by the tiny lights, posed strange-looking figures. They had spindly limbs and were completely covered in shiny hide or material. She couldn’t see their faces. If they even had any.
Bessie’s knees shook and Charlotte snored, while Old Jack stood tall and tossed his beard. “I’m Old Jack, and I’m back, Ally-Ean scum! Release us and our Bov-Ean friends or we’ll chew you and this ship of yours up like a tin can!”
“Yeah!” bellowed Bessie. “What he said!”
The Ally-Eans reacted by squeaking and scrambling about.
“They’re going for restraints! Time to show ‘em what we got, Bessie! Just do as I do!”
Old Jack leaped into action, and Bessie followed after him. He butted and she kicked. He jumped and she trampled. Before they knew it, all of the Ally-Eans were wheezing in a heap.
Old Jack butted one of them over to the tables. “Release us and the rest of the Bov-Eans, or my friend here will chew you up like yesterday’s cud.” Old Jack said confidently.
The Ally-Ean turned to Bessie. She opened her jaws wide to show him her grass-stained teeth.
“Eek!” The Ally-Ean jumped, then touched some of the blinking lights on the table. Bessie could hear the humming sound again.
“That will do.” Old Jack nodded. “Now git yourselves back to whatever grass-forsaken sky farm you came from and never return!”
“Yeah, git!” The Ally-Ean flinched at Bessie’s bellow.
“Come, Bessie. It’s time to go home.”
“Where’s Maggie?” she asked.
“You’ll see,” said Old Jack, sagely.
They went back to where Charlotte was still sleeping obliviously, and the ship which had swallowed them spit them gently back out.
As they floated down, Bessie saw that the air around them was filled with hundreds of other cows she didn’t even know.
They all landed in the soft grass. The ship flew off, vanishing into the peeking sunlight.
“Bessie?” Bessie’s ears perked up as a beautiful black cow edged its way out of the herd.
“Maggie! Maggie, you’ll never believe what happened!” Bessie cried.
“Oh, I think she will,” said Old Jack.
“Snort!” They all turned to Charlotte, who was blinking the sleep from her eyes. “W-hat’s with all the cows? Did I miss something?”
Old Jack wagged his beard at her. “Don’t know ‘bout that one, though.”