Evil Sue and the City Slicker
by Lane Bristow of Moberly Lake, BC
When Evil Sue was born, she was indistinguishable from all of the other Black Angus calves on my family’s ranch, Misty Meadows. She was wet and slimy and wobbly. I was present when her mother gave birth in a muddy wallow, which is the delivery room of choice for every cow that goes into labor during April snowstorms. Evil Sue was apparently overanxious to experiment with breathing through her lungs, rather than her umbilical cord, because she was out of her mother and into the mud before I could even get the old cow to get up and move into the nice, dry barn. I was now faced with the task of dragging the calf through a quarter mile of slushy mud to the shelter.
“I’m in the mud, loser!” the new baby seemed to be sneering, “What do ya think about that?”
Evil Sue got more care than she deserved that day. I tied a rope around her hind feet and began the long haul to the barn, while her mother followed, still trying to lick the calf dry, not the easiest job, considering that each snowflake that pelted us was approximately the size of a scoop of ice cream. However, I soon had both of them on a bed of fresh straw, with a roof over their heads, and I was able to watch the calf take her first tentative steps. I could finally enjoy the sense of accomplishment that we cowboys thrive on, knowing that, in spite of the laments of nature, we have triumphed in rescuing a new life which otherwise would have succumbed quickly to the now thwarted weather outside. It is a wonderfully satisfying experience. Then Evil Sue wobbled up to me and bit my kneecap.
Cows do not have upper teeth at the front of their mouths. However, the pressure per square inch that they can exert on any object that somehow ends up between their lower teeth and upper plate is comparable to that of a pile driver putting bridge foundations into a gravel bank. As the calf’s mouth closed on my pant leg with an audible “CRUNCH!” I began to consider the possibility that this baby might not be interested in the finer points of gratitude.
“Jeepers, Lane, what’s that face supposed to mean?” my younger sister, Silly demanded, as I limped into the house and shook about a foot of snow onto the floor.
“Eek. Ooh.” I managed to squeak through my fused rows of clenched teeth, brushing snow accumulation out of my eyeballs. My eyelids had not worked since I had wrenched free of the calf’s jaws.
“Did you just say ‘Evil Sue?’”
“That’s close enough.”
Two years later, Evil Sue was pregnant, and fussing around the same muddy wallow that she had entered the world in. She had not bothered anyone since the day she was born, but I had never been able to evict from my memory that gleeful look I had seen in her eyes when she tried to twist my knee off like a bottle cap.
I was running at full throttle, but Evil Sue saw me coming and, with a fiendish cow cackle, dropped her calf right into the brown soup. Disgusted, I stopped in front of her with my hands on my knees and gasped for breath.
“Gotta work on that sprint, buddy-boy!” the cow seemed to singsong.
“You shut up,” I wheezed, “Well, let’s get the little beggar out of this blizzard.”
I uncoiled my trusty calf-dragging rope and slid the loop over the bull’s tiny back hooves. Just as I pulled the cord taut, I glanced over at Evil Sue. She looked different. Bigger. More wide-eyed. Her head was held high and she was slobbering.
“What’s your problem?” I snapped, pulling the calf towards the barn.
“BAAAAAAAWWWWLLL!!” Evil Sue bellowed.
“Hey, take it easy, girl.”
Evil Sue had discovered maternal instinct.
I have a vague memory of deflecting the course of a low-flying mallard duck with my face on my way up, but my recollection of the trip back to earth is much more vivid. I had a brief but clear overhead view of Evil Sue running in circles in the wallow, evidently trying to anticipate my L.Z. so that she could finish me off as soon as I went “Splat!” Fortunately, I went “Slurp!” as the mud swallowed me out of sight. Had the wallow been less than three feet deep, Evil Sue would likely have found me, but I was able to slither out to high ground and stagger off home without her notice. I decided that her new bull was happy as a pig in mud right where he was.
The final evidence that killer cows are organized is that they always raise the best calves in the herd, thus convincing ranch managers to keep the psycho for another year to see if she will “settle.” Evil Sue was no exception, and her offspring, early christened Evil Bob, was the biggest, glossiest, healthiest, most perfectly conformed… well, you get the idea.
“Lane, you’re covered with mud,” Silly commented, obviously convinced that this fact had managed to evade my notice as I slogged into the house.
“Really?” I said, looking down my brown shirt and jacket in utter amazement, “And here I just thought that I was being stalked by a slimy ghost who went ‘splorp, splorp, splorp,’ every time I start walking.”
“Nope, bro, it’s mud,” she assured me. “Oh, by the way, some guy who called himself the G-Dog just called for you. Says he went to college with you in Rosebud last fall.”
“G-Dog?” I said. “The skateboarder-gymnast-breakdancing-rap freak? What’d he want?”
“Beats me, two-bite brownie,” she chuckled. “He left a number.”
After Silly hosed me off in the front yard, I called G-Dog in Prince George, three hours drive from the ranch.
“G, my man!” I said.
“Yo, Mister B. Hey from the G,” he jived. “How do ya be? Long time, no see.”
“I’m going to hang up.”
“Sorry. What you up to?”
“I just got trampled by a cow and I’m standing here soaking wet with mud running out of my ears, how are you?”
“Sweet! Anyway, here’s the deal. I’m taking a vacation up north next month, and I’ll be passing right by Moberly Lake. Thought I might stop and see you on my way.”
“Sounds great. You don’t mind ranches, right?”
“Hey, I love that whole cowboy thing. I had a blast when we all went riding in September.”
“G, that was a dude ranch. You fell off before the horse even moved.”
“Okay, so I had a slippery saddle. Got anything we can do without horses?”
“Um… Hey, on the second Saturday in May we’re branding all our new calves. It’s our big event. We get a big crew and make a day out of it.”
“I’ll be there, Cowboy! I am with that! G-Dog will be in the branding house. What’s branding?
“It’s like a tattoo party for cows with red hot metal and castrating.”
“Sweet! What’s castrating?”
My family and I all gave Evil Sue a wide berth for the remainder of the month, but I knew that we would soon be faced with the prospect of branding her baby right in front of her. Cows like Evil Sue are impossible to sort out of the branding pen in advance, because they always take their calf out with them. So, you just sit down on the calf and pray that the riders behind you will be able to hold the cow back.
Over a dozen ropers, riders, and ground crew arrived on Branding Day, and we had the entire herd rounded up in the branding pen by the time G-Dog’s Pinto came bouncing down into the pasture. Through the billowing dust clouds raised by six hundred head of cattle, I could make out G’s willow whip form emerging from the vehicle, the brisk morning breeze causing his enormous baggy pant legs to flap behind him like flags. With his trademark blue toque, grey sweater, and dark mat of hair that hadn’t been cut in over a year, the man had not changed a bit. I was almost disappointed.
“Over here, G!” I yelled out. “We’re just starting.”
G-Dog vaulted over the fence and hip-hopped his way over to the branding area, a small, semi-dry corner of the pen, where a propane torch had heated the tray of branding irons to a blowing red.
“Good to see you, man!” G chortled, slapping my back, “Okay, Lane, what do we do?”
“Well, my dad’s roping on horseback this year,” I explained, “and Silly is in charge of the branding. We get the fun job. When the riders drag a calf in, we wrestle it down and hold it for the branders. Hey, Silly, I want you to meet GDog.”
Silly, clad in cow-pie flecked overalls and a grungy white tee shirt, jogged over and accepted G’s high five, the deafening impact of their palms making her pigtails bounce and sending the cows into a churning noisy mob.
“Good slap, bay-bee! Just call me G!”
“Sound fine to me! My name’s Si-Lee!”
“Okay, just stop with the soul,” I groaned. “Come on, G, they’re bringing the first… Oh, shoot! That’s Evil Bob.”
“He’s evil?” G asked, as Dad’s horse pulled the thrashing baby to us.
“No,” I sighed, as I flanked the calf and pinned him to the ground, “Just watch for his mother.”
I showed G how to hold the calf’s hind end, while I held down his furry head and forelegs. G seemed to enjoy it. Even Evil Bob did not struggle or yammer, so I hoped his mother would not even notice his absence until we were finished.
“Get that branding iron over here, Silly!” I ordered sharply. “Evil Sue could be here to kill us any second.”
“Kill us?” G blurted, glancing nervously at the herd.
“Hey, cowboy up,” I grinned, “this is routine.”
“Hold him still, “ Silly snapped, racing back to us with the glowing iron and jamming it down hard onto Evil Bob’s left hip. G was momentarily shrouded in the opaque blue smoke and stench of burning flesh. Evil Bob squirmed, but didn’t really freak out. I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Moo,” Evil Bob commented.
I froze, knowing the source of that particular vocalization. I could hear pounding hooves behind me, as G pointed over my shoulder and squawked, “Who’s that?!”
“Evil Sue!” Silly whined, staggering backwards, “Get clear!”
I had almost scrambled to my feet when Evil Sue’s head scooped me up by the seat of my pants, and launched me right over top of Evil Bob and G, sending me crashing into Silly. The two of us slammed into the dirt in a flail of limbs, and the branding iron went arching into the air. I rolled over on to my back just in time to see G release Evil Bob’s back legs, and bound to his feet. However, he was not trying to escape. He lunged over Evil Bob, right into the face of Evil Sue!
“YAAAH!” he roared, waving his arms. Stunned, Evil Sue skidded to a dusty, slobbering halt and, to my shock, began frenziedly backing away. G was still bouncing after her!
Evil Sue had never been faced up to like this. Suddenly panicked, she spun through a 180-degree turn, and charged back into the safety of the herd, as other ground crew and riders leapt out of her path. With a bravery that I had never seen displayed by seasoned ranchers, let alone city slickers, G-Dog sprinted after her, still windmilling his skinny arms and yelling “YAAAH!”
After that day, Evil Sue became one of the more timid and ingratiating bovines on Misty Meadows Ranch. I have never, before or since, seen a killer cow so thoroughly, uh, cowed.
“That was unbelievable, G!” I cheered him, after he had calmed down. “I mean, talk about guts!”
“Cowboying up, right?” he grinned weakly.
“No kidding. You can ride with us here anytime, Cowboy!”
“Ah, you’d have done the same thing,” he shrugged.
“Quit being modest.”
“I’m not!” he hissed. “If that branding iron had landed in your pants, you’d have done the same thing!”
Maybe that’s why cowboys wear tight jeans. You can’t be too careful.