A wise old librarian used to tell me that all good stories begin Once Upon a Time…
Sadly, this book does not begin that way.
But it does begin with a cow.
In fact, a rampaging cow!
A cow so fed up with being locked in a pen all day, it escaped and told its captors, Hasta la Vista!
And had our hero Jeff Markham been a professional cowboy, he might've wrestled that steer to the ground. But he was a fifth grader at Dixon Regional Elementary School, as were his friends in the Wildwood Gang, and tangling with twelve hundred pounds of beef was not in the job description. Still, Jeff and his friends were responsible for this mess,
and now they were scrambling to set it right.
The scene at Wildwood Farm was total chaos. Most days this popular bed-and-breakfast, nestled in a quiet village within New Hampshire's White Mountains, was the poster child for family fun and frolicking adventure. Many visitors to the farm would dispute the notion of any such unbridled insanity. Then again, those who knew better might argue that
Wildwood Farm was like a barrel of gunpowder tucked into the corner of the basement, and upon it a sign that read 'Do Not Touch!' And those same individuals might further argue that the Wildwood Gang was like four little matchsticks that collectively disregarded signs that read 'Do Not Touch!'
Anyway, the kids' attempt to corral the runaway cow was pathetic. They ran back and forth across the farm without any real plan to stop the beast. They chased it along the edge of the crescent-shaped pond and past the first of two decorative white footbridges that spanned the width of this narrow body of water. They shuttled between the twin gazebos,
one at either end of the pond, enclosed and heated for winter enjoyment even in the most frigid of temperatures.
They were unable to match its speed and strength, and only succeeded in chasing it further away from the intended destination: the pen on the opposite side of the pond sandwiched between the horse stables and the petting zoo.
Yes, a petting zoo.
A fun spot for the tots, the petting zoo was not a very large space, but its inhabitants could produce enough poop to fertilize Mars. The zoo consisted of four goats, three reindeer, two sheep, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Perhaps the Wildwood Gang thought that chasing the cow would wear it down, but as they soon learned, the animal's stamina far surpassed their own. They needed a strategy, but the events unfolded much too quickly, and it was clear they were losing control.
The gang halted its pursuit as the cow approached the main house, a large, classic farmhouse with a weathervane on top and a cozy farmer's porch that wrapped around the left side of the house. For a moment it appeared as if the animal would ascend the stairs and barrel right through the front door. But it peeled off at the last second and banked left,
where it slowed to a trot and circled around to the back of the house.
"If we don't get that cow back in the pen we're in big trouble," Jeff told the others.
"You mean you're in trouble," Drew corrected him. "It's your farm."
"Don't push this on to me, Drew. This is your fault!"
"My fault? How do you figure?"
"You had to tie that stupid bell around its neck," Jeff said.
"We needed more cow bell," Drew quipped. "Besides, I jumped the fence. Ethan was the Einstein who opened the gate."
"Oh, so now it's my fault?" Ethan said.
"Yeah! You should've climbed the fence like me."
"I'm not much of a climber, in case you hadn't noticed," Ethan said, making reference to his oversized frame. He was a ten-year-old boy trapped in a man's body, a hulking behemoth that towered over his friends like a willow tree.
"Actually, I had noticed," Drew said. "I'm not the only one who thinks you could lose a few pounds."
"Lose a few pounds?" Ethan said, his blood starting to boil. "You ever say that again, you're gonna lose a few teeth!"
"I'd like to see you try."
Sofie stepped between them before anything could escalate. "You boys are incorrigible," she said. "This needs to stop."
Both Ethan and Drew backed down, but it was unclear if the cooling of tensions was a result of the two coming to their senses, or if they were trying to figure out what the word incorrigible meant. To be fair, it wasn't Sofie's fault she had a million dollar vocabulary.
"I'm as cool as a cucumber," Drew said. "Tell this hot head to back off."
"No, Drew, I'm telling you," she said.
"Sofie, go bury your nose in a book," Drew scowled, "where it belongs."
If Sofie could've shot laser beams out of her eye sockets, Drew would've been vaporized on the spot. Instead, she grunted her displeasure and tore off. The boys watched as she disappeared into the huge barn adjacent to the main office. Jeff shook his head and patted Drew on the back.
"Nice work," he said. "Way to chase off the brains of the operation."
Drew swatted his hand away. "We don't need her."
"Says you. How are we gonna fix this?"
"Easy," Drew said. "You and I will go around back and flush her out. Ethan will stay here and wait, and when she comes running this way, he'll angle her back to the pen."
Ethan looked confused. "Are you talking about Sofie or the cow?"
"The cow, dummy!" Drew yelled.
"Oh," Ethan said. "Wait, I'm supposed to get her back to the pen? How do you expect me to do that?"
"Yell at her or something," Drew said. "Wave your arms around. Show her that ugly mug o' yours."
"I'm not gonna tell you again," Ethan threatened.
Jeff sighed. "Guys, let's keep it together, huh?"
Drew smirked as he passed Jeff and walked to the back of the house. Jeff followed, and Ethan was left to man the front. He waited nervously for the beast to run his way, and prayed he wouldn't get steamrolled. After a few nerve-racking minutes, he looked to his right and noticed Sofie emerge from the barn.
But she wasn't alone. Trailing behind her was Greg, the senior farmhand at Wildwood Farm. Greg was just shy of forty and sported a healthy pasta belly. His bushy mustache was surrounded by two-week-old stubble, and his ball cap hid a patch of thinning hair on his crown.
"Where are Jeff and Drew?" Sofie asked.
"Out back," Ethan replied.
"Where's the cow?" Greg said.
But before Ethan could answer, the bovine shot out of the gap between the house and the office and attacked with a full head of steam. Ethan pulled Sofie aside and Greg dived out of the way with inches to spare. He belly-flopped on the ground and cursed under his breath as Drew and Jeff went running by.
Greg caught a glimpse as he grimaced in pain, and then staggered to his feet.
Drew sprinted across the farm keeping pace with the cow. If there was anyone who could single-handedly corral this animal, it was Drew. His athleticism and agility were unequaled in the town of Mystic Point, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a rival his age in any of the surrounding communities.
Jeff felt a glimmer of hope tickle his insides as Drew chased the cow past the visitor's parking lot (a cost-effective mixture of gravel and mud), beyond the northernmost bank of the pond, and back toward the pen. But the cow had other ideas, and at the last minute made a sharp left in the opposite direction.
"Stop!" Greg yelled as he hobbled over to the kids, trying to walk off a bruised hip.
"It doesn't respond to verbal commands," Jeff said.
"I was talking to you, not it!" Greg said. "You need to stop chasing that animal. Back off and it'll calm down."
But the cow never got the memo. It maintained its course into the woods, its tail swinging happily behind it, and it jogged with a swagger that said kiss my rump roast. And then it disappeared out of sight.
© Copyright 2021 Mark D. Gallant. All rights reserved.