A mystery still surrounds the events that occurred over a three-day period in Smallsville, Arkansas, a previously peaceful community consisting of five farms, a gas station, a few run-down stores, and a much-frequented bar. We have done extensive research and have tried to recreate what happened, though the FBI investigation remains officially open.

“The cow did WHAT?”

Sheriff Numbo looked over at the body of Barnaby Mudge. Lying on its side, its body right on top of Barnaby, was a brown-and-white Holstein cow.

“Didn’t believe me did ya?” Deputy Wayne H. Gruber said somewhat scornfully to the sheriff. “I was just a-walkin’ down to Captain Blood’s Bar, Grill, and Religious Book Store, when I saw this here cow lyin’ on top of old man Mudge. Well, sheriff, what do ya make of it?”

Sheriff Numbo scratched his head. “Gosh darn, I ain’t never seen a cow drop dead on a man before.”

“Think the cow is dead?” Wayne started over to the cow, but the sheriff hollered out: “Now don’t mess up anything! This here could be a crime scene: anything you see could be used as evidence.”

At the sound of the sheriff’s yell, the cow raised her head and looked at the two men with a bemused expression.

“She’s alive!” said Wayne, with more than a little surprise.

“Ok,” said the sheriff, “but what about Barnaby? If the cow ain’t dead, how did it get on top of him?”

Wayne came up with a perfect answer: “Maybe it just fell over on him.”

The sheriff looked at Wayne with disgust. “Now, Wayne, a cow don’t just fall over.”

Wayne looked admiringly at the sheriff. “Man, that’s why you’re the sheriff and I’m just a deputy — and why I didn’t graduate from fourth grade and you did.”

“Darn tootin’, Wayne. I’m the brains of this here operation.”

Wayne took a few hesitant steps toward the cow. “Sheriff,” he said, “should we help old Barnaby up?”

The sheriff thought a bit. “Never did like that guy. Still owes me money from the time he borrowed it three years ago. He might have used it to buy that cow, for all I know. But yeah, I guess we gotta help him up.”

Wayne moved cautiously over to the old gentleman. He stared at Barnaby, looked him up and down, and then said to the sheriff: “Uh, sheriff, I think we’ve got a problem.”

“Wayne, Barnaby was always a problem.”

“Yeah, sheriff, but now he’s a bigger problem: he’s dead.”

Sheriff Numbo was shaken but still rather pleased. It actually was a crime scene — the first one he had seen in 20 years — the first since Benjy Pratt shot his grandma for changing the channel on their black-and-white TV set. It had been so long: what was he supposed to do?

The sheriff took out a moldering, disheveled book he had always carried with him. It had a faded yellow cover and was called “Crime Solving for Morons.” He thumbed through the dog-eared pages until he found what he was looking for.

“Says here that you shouldn’t move the body.”

Wayne looked at the sheriff perplexedly. “But, sheriff, who will move the body? Ain’t no one here but us.”

“Now, Wayne, I haven’t been elected sheriff 15 times for nothing. Before we move the body, we’ve got to figure out what happened. Not that I’m exactly broken up that old man Mudge is dead, but we gotta do our duty.

“If the cow ain’t dead, and cows don’t generally fall over by themselves — on people — how did old Bossie here fall over on Barnaby?”

“Maybe, sheriff, someone pushed her over.”

Sheriff Numbo was astounded at that profundity. “Why, Wayne, that’s a stroke of brilliance! Maybe they should have let you graduate from fourth grade.”

Wayne blushed. “Why, thank you sheriff.”

Sheriff Numbo once again consulted his book — the only book he had ever read. “Says here, you should look for footprints.”

Wayne immediately began circling the cow, and when he went all the way around, he looked down.

“Yes sir, there’s some footprints, all right. A lot of them.”

The sheriff looked angrily at his deputy. “Of course there are footprints, Wayne: you just made them yourself — and you just messed up the crime scene. Maybe your fourth grade teacher was right after all.”

“Reckon all we can do now is remove the cow and wait for the coroner to show up. Come on, Wayne: help me lift the cow.”

The two intrepid crime fighters went to the cow and tried to push her off. Despite their best efforts, she remained motionless; but then filled with annoyance and total disdain, she picked herself up and walked coolly away.

The sheriff took out his note pad and stared at it. “Gotta write up this here incident, but what do I say?”

“Why sheriff,” said Wayne, “you tell them exactly what happened: man murdered by cow.”

The sheriff scratched his head and thought about that idea for a minute; finally he scribbled it down on his note pad. “I guess it’ll have to do.”

Then, after their perplexing adventure, the two of them headed down the road to Captain Blood’s for some much-needed liquid refreshment.

* * * * *

The next morning, a group of animals from the five farms met as they sometimes did in an open field where three of the properties came together. In attendance were the homicidal cow, accompanied by the rooster who had awakened Farmer Mudge for many years but who could now retire; a gravid hen from the Snodgrass farm; one of the small herd of sheep being raised by Elias McGregor; a stallion from the well-kept stables of the Van Dorn place; and a large, scary bull that John Studd kept on his ramshackle farm.

The cow was the first to speak, describing what had happened the day before, and then Augustus, the chestnut thoroughbred, tossed his head, pranced about the field for a few seconds, trying to drink it all in, and then said: “You did WHAT?”

“Well,” said the cow, “I told you I hated him and I wished he were dead. The old fool pulled on my udders too hard. And like the other idiots in this town, he kept calling me ‘Bossie.’ When he bought me, they told him my name was Hortense.”

Fluffy the sheep looked down at her totally shorn body. “Well, my farmer named me fluffy, but then he shaves me down to nothing. I’m as far from fluffy as you can possibly get.”

“How ironic,” commented Alarm-Clock, the rooster, in his usual sarcastic voice.

“Well,” said Fluffy nastily, “at least I wasn’t named by my farmer’s four-year-old granddaughter.”

“But,” she said, turning to Hortense, “you didn’t really kill him, did you?”

Hortense looked seductively at a big black bull, who sauntered over to her. “You believe me, Attila, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I believe you. If I’d lived over at the Mudge place, I would have done it myself.”

Augustus snorted. “Well, I think that’s appalling. My master always treats me well.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” said Alarm-Clock. “All your owner ever does is ride you and race you.”

“But I used to have a whole harem of wives and all six of them were turned into oven roasters or buffalo wings. To this day, I hate the smell of blue cheese dressing.”

Madame Cluck, a large, very fertile hen, finally spoke up. “Well, your owner may have eaten your wives, but my owners treat me royally. The only thing Mrs. Snodgrass does is come over every now and then and pick up my eggs. I’m sure she’s taking very good care of my babies.”

Alarm-Clock sneered. “They don’t call you ’cluck’ for nothing. You don’t really think she takes good care of them?”

“Well, yes. Why wouldn’t she? The missus is always so happy that I lay all those eggs.”

Alarm-Clock drew himself up to his full height. “I’ve got two words for you lady: Spanish omelet.”

Madame Cluck started jumping up and down, ruffling her feathers wildly. “My babies, pulverized into a mushy breakfast! Oh, the horror!”

Fluffy went over to the distraught mother. She tried to stroke her feathers with her paw, but almost knocked the poor hen into a pile of dung. “There, there my dear,” said the compassionate sheep, “we know. Humans are terrible.”

“Yes,” said Hortense emphatically, “they milk you, they shear you, they exploit you and — worst-case scenario — they eat you. Humans are all the same: they’re evil.”

“But,” she said, and she stared at the others with a triumphant look in her eyes, “I have taken care of my problem.”

Fluffy looked at Hortense with some concern. “What … what are you suggesting?”

Alarm-Clock immediately piped up. “Fluffy, old girl, you know exactly what she’s suggesting. There are five farmers in this hick town, and with one down, that leaves four to go.”

Attila snorted and stomped his hooves. “I’ll gore my farmer — that bastard. He drags me around the farm all day by the ring on my nose. He deserves to die!”

Madame Cluck looked indignantly at the bull. “Oh, sure, it’s no problem for you: you’re huge and you have horns. But how do I bump off my farm? I’m just a hen, not a foot high.”

“Peck him to death,” crowed Alarm-Clock.

Hortense looked at her friends with real excitement. “So, we’re all agreed, right? The farmers must die!”

Augustus had been standing there quietly, shocked at what he was hearing. “We are most certainly not in agreement, madam. Such a dastardly deed would be unthinkable!”

Alarm-Clock immediately snapped back: “Oh, get off your high horse, Horse! Your master wants to enter you in the Kentucky Derby, right?”

“But of course. My master says I shall soon be a prize-winning stallion. And if I win, they’ll place a garland of roses around my neck.”

“That’s all well and good,” said Alarm-Clock with a sadistic look in his eyes. “But do you know what happens if you break a leg during the race?”

“Well, I should think that my master will nurse me back to health.”

“No,” said Alarm-Clock, “your master will shoot you.”

Augustus drew back and said with some apprehension, “But my master would never do that: he’s always been so kind to me.”

“Fella,” said Alarm-Clock, “he’s only in it for the money — and if you break a leg, it’s curtains!”

Augustus simply did not know what to think, but Hortense looked at her friend sadly and said, “The stall next to yours is empty now. It used to house a mare, Octavia. She broke her leg in a race; your beloved master took her away and we never saw her again.”

“I remember her,” said Augustus. “I was just a colt then — but I remember how beautiful she was. Is that what he did to her?”

“You see what humans are like,” said Hortense. “You see why we’ve got to take them out.”

Augustus reared up on his hind legs. “Yes!” he screamed, “when do we do it?”

“Tonight,” said Alarm-Clock. “They die tonight!”

The assembled animals all nodded in homicidal agreement.

* * * * *

The next day Sheriff Numbo and Wayne were walking back from Captain Blood’s, having downed their late afternoon pint. For the first time since they found Barnaby’s body, they began to think about the four other farmers and decided to tell them about Barnaby’s tragic end. “It’s the neighborly thing to do,” said the sheriff, “even though they all hated him.”

But when they reached John Studd’s farm, no one answered the door. “That’s strange,” said the sheriff. So they went in back and there, lying on the grass, was Studd’s body, apparently gored to death. “What a coincidence,” said the sheriff. “Two farmers snuffed out in as many days.”

Then they reached the Snodgrass farm and found Mr. and Mrs. Snodgrass lying in the chicken coop, their jugular arteries cut open and blood spattered all over the place. “That makes three farmers and one housewife,” said Wayne, with a note of concern.

They hurried over to the McGregor farm, and there in the barn they found the body of poor Elias McGregor. Copious piles of wool lay strewn about, with several large strands poking out of his mouth. “Dang nab it,” said the sheriff, “I’d a thought McGregor would be smart enough not to eat his own wool.”

“I don’t know, sheriff,” said Wayne, “it all does seem a bit … odd.”

When they arrived at the Van Dorn farm, it was around 6 o’clock. Wayne was by now very anxious. “I hope we don’t find his body too.”

“Nonsense,” said the sheriff. “And anyway, we’d better not, ’cause I gotta get home for dinner.”

They looked through the front window and there was elegant Frederick Van Dorn, sitting comfortably in his easy chair. “Told you he was ok,” said the sheriff.

But when they knocked on the front door, Van Dorn didn’t answer. In fact, he didn’t move. Fearing the worst, Wayne and the sheriff saw that the back door was open, went inside, and found Van Dorn frozen in place with his face kicked in. Next to his chair was the curio cabinet where he kept all his racing trophies: the glass was smashed and the trophies were scattered all over the room.

Now Wayne was really worried: “What do you make of this, sheriff?”

“Why Wayne, it’s obvious: a robber broke in, killed Van Dorn, and stole a slew of his trophies.”

Wayne looked at the sheriff and had many reservations, but he simply said: “If you say so.”

They gave the rest of the house a once-over, but all they could find, lying near Van Dorn’s easy chair, was a stray horseshoe. “Wow,” said the sheriff, “this must have been his lucky horseshoe!”

As they left the house, Wayne finally spoke up and said what had been bothering him the whole time. “Sheriff, don’t you think there’s some connection between all these deaths?”

“Why would you say that?” asked the sheriff obliviously.

“Well, sheriff, I mean, there are five farms and all the owners are dead. And they all died in some pretty strange ways.”

The sheriff was pretty dubious, but he said: “All right, Wayne, if you gotta talk crazy talk, let me look it up.” He thumbed through a good many pages of his “Crime Solving” book until he found what he was looking for. On page 208, the book said, “In the event of multiple unexplained bodies, the possibility of a ghost cannot be excluded.”

“That’s it, Wayne,” said the sheriff, “it was the Smallsville Ghost!”

“But sheriff,” said Wayne, “nobody’s spoken about that ghost in a hundred years. And anyway, call me crazy, but it looks to me like those folks were killed by their … animals.”

For the sheriff that was the final proof: “That’s it, Wayne, don’t you see? The ghost scared all the animals, it made them go crazy. The mystery is solved!

“Like I keep tellin’ you, Wayne, you ain’t the brains of this here operation, I am.”

Wayne nodded grudgingly as the town of them walked down the road. But if they had looked in the distance, they would have seen a cow, a bull, a chicken, a sheep, a horse, and a rooster watching them leave. When the two lawmen were far enough away, Hortense turned to her friends and said: “I think the deputy’s onto us. We’d better rub him out too.”

The animals smiled pleasantly and nodded their approval, but with a kill-crazy look in their eyes.

Cheiten and Tucker participate in the Plainsboro Writers Group. Tucker graduated from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, TCNJ, and Rutgers. She and her husband live in northern NJ, where she works at a pharmaceutical company. She is expecting her first child this November. Chei­ten and Tucker will be among the readers at the Princeton Public Library on Wednesday, August 13.

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