It was a week before Esmerelda spoke to Hector again. For Hector, it was a week of torment. Not only did his young follower desert him, but the voices in his head harassed him like never before. Every night, as the great bull finally drifted off to sleep, the humming beat of little wings descended, and beetles in increasing number crawled over his hide, whispering incessantly in his ears. By the end of seven days, Hector was a wreck. His legs wobbled beneath him, the grass fell from his mouth as he chewed, and he walked right into trees in the paddock as if he hadn’t seen them. Whenever another cow passed him, he rambled delirious nonsense, usually about the tractor. The cows began to avoid him. In the late afternoon, as Hector laid in the thick clover down by the sheep paddock fence, Esmerelda went over to see him. “Hello Hector,” she said.
Hector stared into the distance. His eyelids sagged. “Always the voices,” he mumbled. “There’s another voice now. Little cow, little calf. Doesn’t like me anymore. I told her about the beetles. ‘Don’t listen to them,’ she said. But she doesn’t know what the beetles say. Yes, that’s it. If only she knew what the beetles say…”
Esmerelda stopped and stared at Hector in shock. Here was the grandest beast on the farm, and he looked as weak as a wilting daisy. “Hector,” said Esmerelda, “are you all right?”
“All right? Who is all right? So many voices I can’t hear a thing. What do I know?” He suddenly turned and looked at Esmerelda in terror. The young calf backed up a step. “Have you seen it?” he said. His head wobbled slightly, as though unable to bear the weight of his huge horns.
“Have I seen what?” said Esmerelda.
Hector’s eyes widened. He stretched his beefy neck forward and whispered, “The tractor.”
The two cows stared at each other a moment, before Esmerelda answered, “No, Hector, I haven’t seen the tractor today.”
Hector blinked twice then nodded slowly. “It’s always watching me. If you see the tractor… don’t tell it anything.”
“Don’t tell the tractor?”
“Yes. That’s good,” said Hector. His eyes darted about. “It’s important the tractor does not suspect anything. The beetles told me. They tell me every night, fly down, crawl in my ears, talk to me, always talking, have to destroy the tractor before…” Hector stopped and stared at Esmerelda. “The little calf… I hurt her, threw her with my horns…” he lowered his head. “If you see her, tell her I am so very sorry… I was so scared… so sorry…”
Esmerelda stepped forward. “Hector,” she said gently, “it’s me, Esmerelda.”
Hector lifted his head and peered at her. For a second, recognition flashed in his eyes, but it vanished just as quickly. A smile crept across his lips. “Make sure you don’t tell the tractor anything.”
Esmerelda sighed and walked back up to the barn.
Late that evening, Hector returned to the barn, stumbled over to his stall and collapsed on the straw. He tried for a few minutes to keep his eyes open, but soon enough his head dropped and he began to snore. From across the barn, Esmerelda watched his enormous silhouette. She stood up and crept out the barn door. A few minutes later she returned and went softly over to Hector’s stall. She touched her wet nose to the timber slats of the great bull’s sleeping quarters and waited. She stepped back and tilted her head. By the full moon’s light, leaking through every tiny gap in the barn walls, her eyes followed a black speck creeping up the timber. She smiled. Back outside she went, then returned again a few minutes later. Back to Hector’s stall she crept, and pressed her nose to the wood. Another black speck. Back and forth the young calf spent the next hour, out the barn then back in, pressing her nose to Hector’s stall then watching. Two dozen crawling specks. Finally satisfied, Esmerelda left the specks to their work, went and laid beside her mother and slept.
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