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Art by Noelle Richardson 2017

The Bull

Oliver Lodge

(for Severin)


I was horsing around, teasing my little sister in our room at bedtime one night. She cried out for our mother but our father came to the door instead.

     "Sator is bothering me!" she whined and pointed at me.

     "If you don't leave your sister alone, the bull will get you," he warned me with a knowing smile.

     That was all he needed to say to get me under the covers and facing the wall away from her, still as a board, without a peep for the rest of the evening.

     The bull was one of my earliest memories from childhood. A friend had given the animal to my father as a favor for helping him move. He kept the bull chained up in the basement beneath our family's modest home in Samarkand with the intention of fattening him up for a feast.

     Though I had never actually seen the bull, the ominous impression my dad managed to instill in me kept me awake for hours that night before I finally fell asleep, but not before my five-year-old mind had been thoroughly accosted by the image of a terrifying beast standing over me, its red eyes gleaming with hatred for the whole of mankind, which had laid the yoke of its avarice upon him and his brethren for as long as hooves and human feet had trod the same soil beside one another, his glowering nostrils exhaling blasts of hot smoke as he focused his wrath in my immediate direction, sizing up my tiny frame within the range of his massive horns, his taut, ebony muscles, as sleek and firm as oversized tires at a monster truck show, bursting proudly from his neck and shoulders in the fashion of a gun that is cocked and ready to fire. I could not get the eyes of the bull out of my head. Those eyes, burning like embers from out of the coal mines of hell, which lurked in the darkness of the basement below me, hypnotically wavering in the dusty air like the headlights of a hearse leaving the scene of a murder.

     I think my father could sense my fear of the bull while we passed by the steps leading to the basement of our flat the next morning. He engaged in a little horseplay of his own. “Is that the bull I hear, Sator?” he teased. “I can hear his hooves stomping on the ground down there. I think he’s angry at you for being a bad little boy.”

     These words sent me running into the courtyard, kicking up sand behind me as my father laughed in the background. Throughout that sweltering summer in Uzbekistan he used the bull to coax me into doing whatever he wanted. Much to my chagrin, it became a continuous source of amusement for him.


     It was late August when he asked me to feed the bull one day. His cheeks and forehead stained with motor oil from working on the car, he had been underneath the stubborn machine for the majority of the afternoon and was in an especially sour mood. At first I thought he was kidding. I pivoted back around to where he lay and was about to talk my way out of the errand until he shot me a look that told me he meant business and not to test his patience. 

     I worked especially slow in gathering up the hay, silage, and a bucket of water to bring to the bull, hoping that perhaps the sudden arrival of my grandmother or a similar twist of fate would relinquish me from the responsibility of feeding the dreaded monster lurking below our home in wait for a dumb little boy like me to stumble into his midst. Reluctantly, I emerged from the garage and onto the sandy road outside where the sun beat down on my bony arms. I crept my way over to the first step leading down into the bull’s abysmal lair, the pistons in my stomach pumping out steady streams of acid in nervous anticipation of my final meeting with the beast. I frantically rifled through a list of every possible excuse I could imagine which might enable me to abort this mission and cursed my father for his cruelty while descending each stair, one by one, until I came to the doorway of the basement. With the chipped remnants of a faded coat of red paint, the door laid hanging to the side by one hinge – a dilapidated usher to the uncomely dwelling. Twenty feet away from me hovered a pair of eyes, but they were not red like I had imagined. They were a milky jade, soft but cautious. As my eyesight adjusted to the lack of light, I assessed that the animal was far slighter than I had imagined. The bull’s head was bowed, but in subordination, not as if to pounce. I made out the chains around his neck and legs thanks to the sliver of sun that the disheveled entrance had permitted. This, in addition to the gentle expression on the bovine’s face, gave me the courage to approach my family’s four-legged prisoner.

     When I came to stand beside the bull, I was struck by the contrast he embodied in reality versus the frightful character I had dreamed up. His shoulders resembled the peaks of two rickety tents emerging from behind his sunken neck and the horns on his brooding head acted as a symbol of mockery, serving the same function as would a dunce cap on a child assigned to the corner of a classroom. The lower lids of his cataract-infused eyes drooped down over his cheeks to reveal webs of pink and white flesh brimming over with silver tears, the gleaming linings of which reflected eternal pastures of deathly calm - a place looming somewhere on the horizon between his mother's womb and the butcher's bloody saw. On impulse, I scooped up a handful of his feed and held it under his muzzle. He wagged his tail and closed his eyes momentarily as he gently ate from my hand as if trying to savor what little flavor the rotting corn might have retained, the mild stimulation of his palette possibly one of the only comforts granted to him in the drudgery of his everyday existence. At that moment, just outside the cellar, I heard the neighbor predictably reciting his afternoon prayers from the roof of his one-story house.

     “I’m sorry,” I said to the bull. “I am so, so sorry.”


Oliver Lodge – August 30, 2016

Oliver Lodge is an author who lives in upstate New York. He has been published in “Blood Moon Rising Magazine”, “Body Parts Magazine”, and “Yellow Mama”.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2017