The Final Straw
By: Gabriella Balcom

Bessie flinched, her eyes widening as she uttered a startled, "Moo." She swung her head around, looking over her shoulder at the men.

"You didn't put a cold suction cup on her, did you?" Tillman demanded, staring hard at the younger ranch hand. "The cups should always be warmed up first, remember?"

Butch shrugged. "That would've taken longer. I want to get done and leave."

"For crying out loud, it's below freezing! Only nineteen or twenty degrees, I'm guessing. Would you like something icy-cold put on a sensitive part of your body? Like what's between your legs, perhaps?"

"Whatcha fussing at me for? She's just a cow, not a person."

"She's a living creature, and it wouldn't hurt you to be considerate. Warming the suction cups under warm water wouldn't have taken long."

Ignoring his foreman's narrowed eyes, Butch bent to position the other milking cups, which were just as cold as the first, on Bessie's teats.

Tillman frowned several minutes later. "Now what are you doing?" His tone reflected his exasperation.

"Taking this calf with me," Butch replied, setting it down to open his truck door. He turned to grab the animal, but it skittered away. After running straight to Bessie, it hid behind her, and she nuzzled her baby gently.

"You can't take it."

"Sure I can. Wilder said for me to choose whichever one I wanted. It'll be good meat for me when it's bigger."

"What is it with you? He said any one except that one. It's Bessie's last calf. Wilder is retiring her, so to speak—not breeding her anymore and putting her out to pasture—but she gets to keep her last baby with her."

"Why doesn't he just slaughter her?" Butch raised an eyebrow. "She's fat and would make lots of steaks and hamburgers."

"Wilder doesn't kill his favorites. Bessie's produced some of the best cattle in the farm's history, and she's one of the sweetest cows we've ever had. The boss wants her to live out the rest of her life in peace, and she deserves that."

Snorting, Butch spat on the ground before marching over to snatch up the calf.

It bawled in protest, struggling to get away and back to its mama. Bessie mooed loudly, surging forward as far as her lead rope allowed, calling out to her child.

"Don't you ever listen?" Tillman snarled. "I've had it with you. You're fired."

Butch whirled and threw an unexpected punch at the foreman, catching him off-guard. The older man crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

"I quit," Butch retorted, sneering at the motionless figure. He half-shoved, half-threw the crying calf into his truck, and climbed in.

Eyes hardening, Bessie gave her rope a sharp tug. Nothing happened, so she tugged again and broke free. She charged the vehicle, butted it with her head, and mooed loudly. Then she head-butted the truck again.

"Miserable…" Butch shoved it into park and rummaged around his floorboard. "Where the hell's my gun?" he groused before opening up his glove compartment and yanking out a knife.

Opening his door, he stepped out, weapon in hand. But he froze after looking around.

Bessie stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other cattle, including several bulls, which bellowed, stomped their feet, and glared at the man. In the distance, other farm animals ran toward them.

***

"I appreciate your help," Bessie told the others. "Barring his way so he can't escape is a good idea, but don't do anything else, all right? He's mine."

Once they'd agreed, she lowered her head and charged the louse. She ignored the knife he brandished, and sent him flying through the air, the weapon falling from his hand. Once he regained his feet, she bowled him off them again.

She didn't wait for him to stand. Rearing up on her hind legs, she brought her front two down on his chest, making him cry and howl in pain.

"I'm sure that hurts," she murmured. "Your roughness with me and everyone else hurt, too." She stomped him again and again.

Within moments, he'd stopped protesting—stopped moving, too.

"Wow!" a heifer commented, staring at the bloody, mangled body lying motionless on the ground. "When you go bad, you really go bad."

An enormous bull joined them. After studying the scene, he glanced at the watching animals and spoke, his voice deep and serious. "We need to clean this up fast. Do the dogs know yet?"

"No," a younger bull replied. "But they're coming. They always help, so…"

"I've been good all my life," Bessie said, her voice shaky. "I've seen plenty of bad animals in my years, but I never thought I'd be one."

"It's all right." The head bull touched his muzzle to hers, his voice softening as he reassured her. "We understand. He had it coming."

The End.

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