This story is dedicated to the memory of my cousin Stacy Ann Blackstone 1964-1978.
I squeezed myself under the taut electric fence, cradling a bounty of small green apples in my tiny arms. The hair on the back of my neck was raised to attention like a squadron of dutiful soldiers. I could hear the clamor of distant hooves striking the ground in cadence, growing nearer. The blood rushed through my oversized ears with a deafening roar and I was certain that I was living the final moments of my brief but beautiful life here on Earth.
"C'mon, he's gonna get you!" came my cousins' cheerful warning. I scrambled like a weasel from under the hen house, spilling half my apples onto the muddy ground.
Two girlish giggles rang a gleeful chorus. I spun around violently and clutched my remaining apples tightly to my concave chest. I released a column of air I had been holding hostage since we had left the apple tree in the middle of the pasture. There, behind me, was nothing. Only the late August wind, and the pillowy green waves of wind blown Norway Pines in the distance, writhing like a giant sea plant at the ocean's floor.
What a close call, I thought. I don't ever want to come that close to the bull again. But had I actually seen the bull? Well, not really, but I had heard his great thundering hooves and felt his fiery breath on my neck and that was enough proof for me. El Toro Diablo I may have nicknamed him if I were not seven years old and landlocked far away from the Spanish language and the people who speak it.
"Did you see him?" I asked my fidgety cousins, who seemed to have suddenly lost all interest in my close call with perilous fate.
"What?" said the older.
"The bull!" I answered, exasperated. "Was he close?"
"Close to what?" She flashed an Alfred E. Neuman smile.
"Close to me! What do you think? What's wrong with you? Did you fall on your head from the apple tree?"
"Forget about it. Let's go see if Grandma finished those Rice Krispies Bars."
And with that, the memory of the incident with the alleged bull was forgotten like a campaign promise in December. Grandmother's ethereal Rice Krispies bars were the only known phenomenon that could effectively compete with apple trees, wide open spaces, and the countless potential adventures that awaited among them.
Grandfather sat in his venerable rocking chair with the lacquered wooden arms and listened passively to a man who was broadcasting from St. Paul, Minnesota, talk about a place far away in Southeast Asia that may have just as well been on the moon. He was eating a whole onion that Grandmother had peeled for him with care and precision. He would pause inadvertently to sprinkle the large yellow onion with a liberal dousing from a salt shaker and then would continue eating the onion as if it were a sweet, summer apple.
I walked past Grandfather gingerly and into the kitchen where Grandmother was putting the finishing touches on her latest culinary coup as her parakeet chirped merrily away from its cage.
"Grandma?" I began, meekly. "Do we have a bull?"
"Heavens, no," she replied. "Where did you get that idea?"
I turned around to confront my cousins, but they were nowhere to be seen. If I would have had eyes in the back of my head, I might have seen my cousins sprint for the door the very moment the word "bull" had escaped my lips.
I enjoyed one of my Grandmother's gooey gastronomical wonders as she read to me the latest misadventures of our favorite miniature malcontent, Dennis Mitchell. Before she was finished, we were both laughing so hard that my earlier disillusionment with the bull was already a distant memory. It would come up again, however.
When I returned to Aunt Gertrude's farm the following week, I confronted my cousins.
"There is no bull. You lied about the whole thing." I was livid.
"Yes there is," replied the younger of the two. "Adults can't see it. Only kids."
What a fascinating concept: an animal that only children can see. I was intrigued.
"Baloney," I said.
"No, it's true," insisted the other. "The moon has to be full, too." My little brow furrowed like a leather catcher's mitt. I didn't know much about lunar cycles, so I would have to take their word for the condition of the moon on the occasion of our last sighting.
The sun hovered just above the horizon, an angry, orange ball that refused to succumb to gravity's pull.
"Okay, I believe you. Let's go back in the house."
"Chicken?" the older cousin asked with a smirk.
"Is the moon still full?" I asked, dodging her last question.
"It doesn't have to be full, only shining," the younger cousin replied.
"You said it had to be full."
"No, we didn't." That was that, there was no further debate needed on the subject. We sat in silence, waiting. The reluctant sun dipped below the horizon and darkness fell. The wind picked up and leaves scuttled like hermit crabs in all directions.
"Let's go," the older cousin said, and we followed her under the electric fence into the pasture. It was amazing to me that this idyllic meadow by day was such a garden of doom after the sun went down. I shivered, but I was not cold.
The pasture seemed to extend past the North American continent and beyond. I was certain that we must be in Iceland when my older cousin shushed us both and told us to get down.
"What?" I asked. "Did you see something?"
"I found an aggie," she said. I sighed heavily. I have always found it frustrating when people refuse to take supernatural phenomena seriously. I was beginning to think the whole thing was a waste of time, when we heard something crashing through the brush several yards away.
"It's the bull!" I heard myself scream.
"Run!" Screamed one of my cousins.
And run I did. I was nearly to the safe haven of Aunt Gertrude's doorstep when I noticed I was the only one running. I looked back slowly, fully expecting to see a cousin skewered on each bull horn, but saw only three laughing cousins and realized I had been set up. The two younger cousins had called their older sister into play and orchestrated an elaborate joke at my expense. I was actually relieved to find my suspicions regarding the mythical bull were correct and I could not help but smile at the perfection of their plan, despite my feelings of foolishness and betrayal.
My scheming cousins would play many a practical joke on me during my time spent at Aunt Gertrude's farm, but none would match the grandeur and mastery of the phantom bull joke. I still occasionally dream of being chased by a bull across that fragrant pasture of so many years ago. The peculiar thing is that I never actually get to see what the bull looks like, because as I turn to gaze on its monstrous face, the phantom bull fades. If I ever do get the chance to look into the bull's face, I imagine it will be a wearing an impish grin, reminiscent of one you might expect to see leering out at you from the cover of a Mad magazine.