Zack Stewart stared sleepily into the bottom of his cracked coffee cup as his wife began to gather the breakfast dishes.
Mrs. Stewart was a huge, methodical woman, seasoned to the drudgery of a farm wife. Quite methodically she’d arise every morning at 4:00 A.M. with her husband and each would do their respective chores until long after the sun had set on their forty-acre farm.
“You’ve jest got to find Junius today, Zack,” Mrs. Stewart spoke worriedly, “Lord only knows her condition, not being milked since yesterday morning.”
“Yeah, I know, Ma,” Zack said wearily as he rose from the table, “I’ll search for her again in the north woods, but if she ain’t there this time, I give up.”
A dog suddenly howled outside. There was a brief instant when neither moved, then Zack suddenly exclaimed, “It’s Robbie!” and dashed outside.
In the light from the open doorway Zack saw the dog creeping along on his haunches, howling and whining, and scratching frantically at his tear-streaming eyes.
“Skunk finally got ya, eh boy?” Zack spoke sympathetically as the dog, fawning, came closer.
“Stay away, Robbie, stay away now!” he ordered the dog. Robbie whined and scratched again, furiously. Zack sniffed cautiously, expecting any moment the pungent smell of skunk fluid to hit his nostrils. He sensed nothing but the clean, fresh smell of the morning air, so he leaned closer. Within a foot of Robbie, he sniffed again. Nothing. He realized it wasn’t a skunk that caused Robbie’s eyes to burn. He knelt down and took the dog’s head tenderly in his rough, calloused hands and examined his eyes. They were bloodshot and watery. He took some water from the well and dashed it into the dog’s eyes as Robbie struggled.
“Hold still, boy, I’m trying to help ya,” Zack soothed. He took out a blue work bandanna and wiped tenderly around Robbie’s eyes.
“What did it, boy? How did it happen?” Zack asked. Robbie merely whined.
“What’s wrong with him?” Mrs. Stewart, broom in hand, asked from the doorway.
“Don’t rightly know,” Zack patted the dog, “acts like he got something in his eyes.”
“Naw,” Zack shook his head. “He don’t smell. Something else.”
“No scratches, either. He acts like they’re burnin’ him, like he got dust or somethin’ in ‘em.”
“Well, take him out to the barn and you better get after Junius.”
“Yeah, Ma. Come on, Robbie.” He led Robbie to the barn and made him lie on a bed of hay in one of the stalls then returned to the kitchen for his lantern. He put on his thick denim jacket and work cap and turned to his wife.
“If she ain’t in the woods, I’ll come back and git the truck and drive over to the Leemers and see if he seen her.”
He left the kitchen and shone the lantern around in the farmyard to get his bearings, then headed for the north end of his farm. He could see the faint glimmer of dawn in the east, more pronounced in the northeast, and even more so due north. He rubbed his eyes. A much brighter glow outlined the treetops in the north woods, that made the dawn on the eastern horizon look like a dirty gray streak. His first thought was of fire, but there was no smoke, no flame.
Zack walked dazedly toward the woods, his eyes glued to the light above the trees. Soon he was in the woods, and he could see the brightness extended down through the trees from the sky, on the other side of the woods. He approached cautiously as the light grew brighter, and came to the clearing where it was most intense. A thick bush obstructed his view, and Zack moved it aside then uttered a hoarse gasp, as he clutched at his eyes.
For a moment he felt he was dreaming. He squinted between the slits of his fingers. The glow was still piercing, but he could see the brightly lit Junius, radiating blue-white light, nibbling at the sparse grass in the clearing. Zack stood transfixed, his eyes widening behind his fingers. He felt the tears and the burning sensation, and squinted tightly, turning his head from the unbelievable scene.
Zack didn’t remember his return to the farmhouse, or incoherently trying to explain to his wife the scene he had witnessed. A stiff jolt of elderberry wine drove off the jitters and reasoning returned. His wife sat patiently, eyeing him oddly, as Zack muttered over and over again, “It’s unbelievable! It’s unbelievable!”
Mrs. Stewart rose. “I’m going out and see fer myself. And, Zack, if yer lying to me--”
Zack jumped from the chair, barring her way.
“Believe me, maw, it’s true. Don’t go out there. It might be too much fer ya.”
“It’s the craziest thing I ever heard,” Mrs. Stewart scoffed. “A cow that shines like the sun!”
“Look, maw, will ya jest come with me as fer as the pasture, you can see the glow from there, and mebbe that might convince ya.”
“Yes, yes, I will.” Mrs. Stewart jerked off her apron. “I declare, Zack, I think these chores are getting the best of ya.”
They walked to the pasture, their eyes on the treetops of the north woods. A faint glow began to appear.
“See! See!” Zack pointed, laughing crazily.
“Let’s get closer, looks like a fire,” Mrs. Stewart said.
“Ain’t no fire.” Zack’s tone was angry. “It’s Junius and she’s all lit up like a Christmas tree.”
“Zack, now you stop that kinda crazy talk. There’s a reason behind everything, and I’m sure there’s one fer this.”
“There is a reason, maw. Junius. She’s got the whole clearing lit up like the noonday sun. Lord only knows how she got that way, but she’s shining out there like a great big light bulb, only brighter.”
Mrs. Stewart quickened her pace towards the clearing.
“I’m going to see fer myself,” she said determinedly, “and put an end to this foolish nonsense.”
“Alright, maw,” Zack spoke resignedly, “if yer mind’s set. But I’m warning ya, ya better squint yer eyes tight. She’s too bright to look at. Poor Robbie must have got too good a look at her.”
Mrs. Stewart approached the clearing ahead of her husband, and moved the same bush aside that had obstructed her husband’s view. Her gaze caught the brightly radiating figure of Junius, and Mrs. Stewart screamed, clasping her face with her hands. Zack had his head turned, but he groped for his wife, grasped her arm and led her from the clearing.
“It’s too crazy to believe, Zack,” she whispered in awe; “What are we going to do? What has happened to poor Junius?”
“I don’t know what happened to her,” Zack answered, “but I know what I’m going to do about it. I’m going to call the University and git them scientist fellas down here.”
“You suppose they can git close enough to milk the poor thing?” Mrs. Stewart clasped her hands in frustration. “She’s probably in misery.”
Zack shook his head. “Ain’t no tellin’ what they’re liable to do after they seen her. Most likely they’ll want to ship her to the University to examine her and see how she got that way.”
“Why don’t we call the Vet’nar’n?” Mrs. Stewart asked. “It might be some kind of new disease.”
“It ain’t no disease, maw. It’s something nobody in the whole world ever seen or heard of before. I jest hope I can convince them University fellas to come down here.”
“Don’t you think you better tie Junius so she won’t stray?”
“Better wait and see what them scientists say. Besides, if she strays, all we gotta do is follow the light!”
Zack did the most important chores and at eight A.M. on the dot he called the State University.
The operator at the switchboard answered sleepily.
“Good morning, State University.”
“Mornin’, ma’am. I’d like to talk to one of them scientist fellas.”
“To whom in particular did you wish to speak?”
“Any of ‘em that ain’t busy. I got somethin’ important to tell ‘em.”
“If I knew what it was about,” the operator was becoming irritated, “I’d connect you with the right party.”
Zack hesitated, reluctant to give his startling news to a mere operator. Instead, he hedged. “Well, who would have charge of things that light up?”
“Oh, you want the electrical engineering lab. Just a moment, sir.”
There was a series of clicks and buzzes in the earpiece then Zack heard a man’s deep voice.
“Hello,” Zack replied, “this the electrical engineering lab?”
“Yessir, that’s right.”
“Well, my name is Zack Stewart and I own a forty-acre farm on the Canal Road just outside of Smithville.”
“I’m Professor Donnell, can I help you?”
“Yeah,” Zack took a deep breath then began, “my cow Junius was missing since yesterday morning and this morning when I went out to search for her again, I found her.”
“Mr. Stewart,” Professor Donnell’s voice was impatient, “I’m a very busy man with a heavy class schedule. Why in the world would I care if you found your cow or not?”
“You’d care if you knew how I found her.”
“Alright, Mr. Stewart, how did you find your cow, with some new kind of radar?”
“Nossir, I found her by following the bright light in the north wood and when I got there, there was Junius lit up like a neon sign.”
“Mr. Stewart, are you drunk?”
“I knew you wouldn’t believe me. All I can say is, come see for--”
Zack heard a sudden click then an immediate buzzing. Professor Donnell had hung up.
He had no sooner replaced the phone when there was a pounding on the door. He opened it and saw six state troopers and four important-looking gentlemen in civilian dress. A trooper who looked as though he might be in charge, spoke to Zack.
“Sir, we don’t want you or your wife to get panicky, but we have reason to believe that something strange is going on in your woods. These men are from the atomic research laboratory at the University and they are convinced that a flying saucer has landed out there.”
“It ain’t no flying saucer,” Zack spoke wearily.
“It isn’t?” one of the gentlemen asked, disappointed, “then what is it?”
“It’s Junius, my cow.”
“Your--WHAT?” the state trooper exclaimed incredulously. “Are you nuts?”
Angrily, Zack jerked his thumb in the direction of the north woods.
“Jest go out there and see fer yourself and then tell me I’m nuts.”
They hurriedly left the house, looking back skeptically at Zack.
Zack and his wife stood in the doorway, watching them until they were out of sight in the woods.
“You watch ‘em come busting back here in a minute, maw.”
In a few moments they saw the men scrambling out of the woods, rushing madly for the house, holding their eyes.
“Now I don’t have to convince anybody,” Zack smirked.
By the time they reached the porch, they were all talking excitedly and rubbing their eyes. The state trooper in charge pulled Zack aside.
“Mister,” he asked ominously, “what the hell happened to that cow?”
“I don’t know,” Zack spoke with sarcasm, “jest the way I found her.”
The important-looking civilian bustled past the patrolman and confronted Zack.
“I’d like to use your phone,” his hands moved nervously, “where is it?”
Zack showed him and the man rushed to it and hastily dialed a number.
“This is Professor Jonathon Sims, Nuclear Physicist at State University. Put me through immediately to the Governor. It’s very important.”
There was a slight pause as Sims drummed impatiently on the phone.
“Hello! Hello, Governor? Professor Sims. I’d like a contingent of National Guardsmen around the farm of Zack Stewart on the old Canal Road. A most astounding thing has happened out here. For the welfare of the Public, I urgently request this farm be placed under tight security check at once and the Federal Government notified immediately.”