“A Smoking Idol” by Max Orkis

A few summers back, a bunch of us decided to go camping up North. We were going to spend three nights in a remote forest by a stinky lake. So, we stocked up on everything: tents, food, matches, a guy who sang and played the guitar, everything.

What we’d miscalculated was the amount of booze we needed to bring – by the second night our supply had dried up. I volunteered to go on a beer run, because I was trying to impress my date and thought being a provider would do the trick. Everyone pitched in, and, ignoring the helpful suggestions on how not to get abducted by the aliens and how to act on the mother-ship in case I did, I went looking for other campers who could sell me some alcohol to sustain us till morning when stores opened in the nearby town. Armed with a small flashlight, I left the friendly campfire. Behind me were laughter and food cooking on a grill; in front of me were wilderness and darkness.

To my annoyance, I didn’t find any other campsites. Soon I came upon a meadow by the lake, but its only warm-blooded inhabitant was a stray cow which stood alone under the peaceful moonlight. I shone my flashlight in its face, and it responded by slowly turning around. The beast was swinging its tail, as if trying to chase me off like an insect. (And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I met my ex-wife. No, just kidding.)

I stopped to orient myself. My primal hunter/gatherer instincts were telling me that there was no danger. The presence of the lonely cow, a domestic animal, indicated the proximity of humans, which made me feel safe. After relieving myself under the nearest tree I lit a cigarette, ready to continue my journey.

That’s when I heard a woman’s voice. “Oh! That smells so good!”

I turned toward the voice, but only saw the cow. It was about ten yards away.

“Oh, what I wouldn’t do for a smoke right about now!” said the voice.

I still didn’t see anyone – only the cow, which was walking in my direction. It was chewing. I looked around again. Still nothing. “Why don’t you do me a favor and sit down,” said the voice.

“Are you…” I had to clear my throat before I could answer. “Are you talking to me?” I asked the darkness, even though the question was obviously rhetorical.

Despite being unsettled, I obediently sat down on a nearby log. The cow was closing in on me. The timing couldn’t have been worse; the stupid animal was in the way. “Who’s talking, who’s there?” I asked again, spooked.

There was no answer. The cow stopped a couple of feet away, blocking my view. So, had there been an answer, I wouldn’t have been able to see my interlocutor. The cow and I were on the same eye level, and I gazed from under it into the dark forest behind it.

“Dude, I’m right here in front of you!” said the woman’s voice impatiently, and I felt a wave of minty air on my face, as if somebody were really there. I looked straight ahead. The cow’s eyes met mine; they were dark, deep and a bit damp.

“But… but…” I stuttered, speechless. “You’re… you’re…”

“…a talking cow,” confirmed the talking cow. “I know.”

“But… but it’s…” I persisted in disbelief.

“Impossible? Absurd? Yes, but who said life had to make sense?” she philosophized. “Now that we’ve got that out of the way, do you promise not to try to tip me over, grab my boobs, milk me or hunt me?”

“I’m sorry?”

“You should see some of these idiots who come around here,” she explained, laughing. “Just last week this cowboy tried to catch me with a lasso and ride me like a pony. Well, I showed him some rodeo he won’t soon forget!”

“Uh… Okay,” I said sheepishly.

“Good enough. Now what’s a cow got to do to get a cigarette around here? I’m dying for a smoke!” she said, and an enormous piece of gum dropped from her mouth.

“Oh, sorry,” I said, hastily searching through my pockets. I opened the pack and extended it to her. “Hey, genius,” the cow teased, “I bet you’re this smooth with all the girls.”

I didn’t understand. All I knew was that I wasn’t nearly as disturbed by the situation as I would have expected – I felt more awkward about the fact that my hand holding the cigarettes was still reaching out to her.

“Oh, for God’s sake! Can’t you see I have no hands?”

“Sorry,” I repeated. I fished out a cigarette, put it in her mouth and lit it.

Now the cow stood in front of me with a cigarette sticking out of her mouth and smoke coming out of her nostrils. “So, what’s your name, slick?” She ground her molars, puffing on the cigarette.

I introduced myself. “My name’s Grace,” said the talking cow. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise, but… but what… what are you doing here?” I had finally formed a more or less complete sentence.

“What kind of a dumb-ass question is that?” she replied. “Can’t you see, I’m playing volleyball and doing my Kegels at the same time?”

“No, I mean… How is it that you’re…?”

“A talking cow? That’s pretty basic: I’m a were-cow,” Grace asserted confidently.

“You’re a what?!”

“A were-cow,” she reiterated. “Like… You know how there are werewolves? Well, I’m a were-cow! Don’t be afraid, I’m a vegetarian.”

“Never heard of a were-cow…” I confessed.

“What are you – a canine chauvinist? Why can’t there be a were-cow? What, are wolves more noble than cows or something? You people are such hypocrites!” Grace was getting all worked-up. “When it comes to living off cows, you’re the first in line, but when you run into a were-cow – oh no, that just can’t be! Yeah, let’s campaign to save poor, cute little Bambi, but kill the cows! Screw the cows! Did you know that deer are the same as cows, only smaller and dumber? No, you did not! It’s the same with chickens and eagles …”

She went on complaining like this, and I didn’t know how to react. All I knew was that my big mouth had gotten me in trouble again, and that my comment had hit close to home.

When she’d settled down, I tried to apologize as best I could. “I’m… I’m sorry! I wasn’t aware this was such a sensitive issue. I didn’t mean to offend you… I guess I’m not the only one who has a beef with people.”

Grace the cow laughed at my little play on words and coughed. It was somewhat scary. “It’s all right. Don’t worry about it.” she said, winding down. “Just make sure you don’t say anything like that to were-squirrels, -pigs or -crows. If you piss them off, watch out!” She spat out what was left of the butt and stepped on it with her hoof.

“And by the way, if you want to beef up your security…” I added, encouraged by her newly regained friendliness. “I mean, I’d never let anyone bully you.”

“Okay, enough with the puns.”

I changed the subject. “So can I ask you something? At the stroke of midnight, do you turn into a cow?”

“It’s only ten, Einstein! Does that answer your question?” she retorted half-heartedly and continued in a softer, lazier tone: “Crap like that only happens in fairy tales. Cinderella becomes an ugly bimbo at the stroke of midnight. Please! In reality it doesn’t work that way. I am a cow who turns into a girl, and it’s not at midnight – actually, it happens exactly eleven hours, fifty-two minutes and twenty-eight seconds after I wake up. In fact, it might be good if I duck into those bushes, because it’s about to happen…”

Having said that, however, she didn’t even attempt to make for the brush. As soon as she finished speaking, she transformed into a human. It was just like in the movies: first there was a cow, and then the cow melted away, leaving a woman in its place. It happened really quickly. The miracle was over before I could even blink. Something – maybe it was intuition, or possibly my male ego – told me she’d deliberately waited until the last moment.

Before me was an attractive woman in her mid-twenties. She was petite, fit, tanned and perky and had shoulder-length straight brown hair and big round eyes. She was also completely nude. “Oops,” she said theatrically, “I guess it’s too late… I hope I’m not making you uncomfortable.”

As she said it, she began stretching, pivoting, arching and cracking her back, her ankles and her fingers. I could see every curve of her body clearly in the moonlight. Every bit of enjoyment Grace derived from these exercises was reflected on her face. Similarly, she seemed to savor the effect her show was having on me. My healthy tolerance for erotic stimulus was quickly reaching its physical limit – I felt I was on fire.

Turned out it was true – the cherry from my cigarette had fallen and was burning a hole in my jeans. Embarrassed, I rushed to my own rescue, burning myself even more, swearing helplessly and blushing like buttocks after a good spanking.

Grace laughed so hard at the scene I was making that she had to run away and hide behind a tree. When she returned, she was wearing a white tank-top and a pair of black sports pants with stripes, with her hair tied back in a ponytail.

She sat beside me on the log, smiled and said “I’m going to this underground party. Do you want to come? They’ve got a fat line-up tonight. I’m on the guest list.”

“Well… My friends are waiting…”

I realized my answer was vague and blamed it on being distracted – perhaps it was strange to watch her casually put on her socks and shoes after her metamorphosis. So many questions were swarming in my head – like where she was from, what happened when she was on her period, what she looked for in a man… For some reason, instead I just asked: “What’s up with your colors? Why are you dressed in black and white?”

She looked at me with reproach, it seemed, before responding: “I’m going to a party. White is what you see under black light – black is negative space. So when I’m dancing under black light, it brings out light colors, and what you see are my eyes, my teeth, my boobs and the stripes on my pants and shoes. I also have white gloves,” she added. She stood up and performed a little dance routine. “How do I look?”

“Beautiful…” I muttered.

She raised her arms in a victory dance, then quickly bent down and gave me a soft kiss on the cheek. She let out a short, happy scream. “You’re adorable,” she giggled, her hand still on my other cheek. Once again, she leaned towards me. “How do I smell?”

I told her she smelled like freshly cut grass and a bit like a Christmas tree. Her hand gradually parted with my warm skin.

She began to walk away, but turned back and said with a serious face: “If you change your mind, the party’s five miles down the road. Hang a sharp left after the gas station and drive for another two and a half miles. And by the way, I hope you don’t have a cow, but that skank you brought? Don’t trust her – she was here with your buddy last night, making out…” She smiled again and disappeared, swallowed by the forest.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but ever since then I see Grace in every cow, and each time, I really hope that maybe that day she woke up exactly eleven hours, fifty-two minutes and twenty-eight seconds earlier.

Born in an entirely different century in a country that doesn’t exist, Max Orkis grew, though not necessarily up or too noticeably, near San Francisco. Since then he’s moved around so much that the natives of Europe, for example, have come to accept him as ubiquitous and inescapable, like the human condition.

Over the years, Max has developed an enviable ability to speak in tongues, though to whom and about what may forever remain a mystery, even to him. In his free time, Max likes to teach English, though English often puts up a struggle. Max’s biography is incomplete; if you’d like to read the full version, you might have to wait. To contact this author, send an e-mail to max.orkis@gmail.com.

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