7 min read

The Merciful Wind

Animal lovers may want to avert their eyes from this one.

Previously: The sisters infiltrate the dairy. They encounter a life-changing stench. They eavesdrop on a tryst, then steal the mystical sword. Then Bat trips and drops the sword and the sword slices through the floor and is gone. She looks at the camera and says, “Did I do that?” (Not really.)

— 42 —

Batya and Mina scurried downstairs to the third floor and burst through swinging doors to find the bottling factory. Endless streams of glass jugs flowed along conveyor belts getting filled with rich, wholesome Folly milk. Typically, graveyard shift employees would be capping them, labeling them, and stacking them in crates, but all work had ceased a moment ago due to some kind of hubbub near the center of the facility.

Bat straightened her milkman hat and ran over to the small crowd, trying to sound managerial as she said, “People, people, did something just fall from the ceiling?”

They turned to her, then turned back to the employee whose hand had just, like, detached from his wrist. He just stood there, looking deeply baffled as hot streams of blood pumped across the machinery in time with his beating heart. The conveyor belt in front of him had also fallen apart and was smashing bottle after bottle against the floor.

Bat turned white, tried to say remain calm but it came out cremain cram. Then she noticed the milk from the shattered bottles was draining into a perhaps sword-sized slit in the floor. She ran back to the stairway where Mina was glaring at her, furious. Bat gave her the not one god damn word gesture and dragged her down another floor to the mezzanine where they peered into the pasture.

A cow had just been cleanly bisected, its hindquarters still in the process of falling over. Between the two halves lay the scimitar, milk trickling down onto it from the new hole in the ceiling. It had landed on its hilt, which is the only reason it didn’t continue its descent forever.

Security alarms started going off.

“Um,” Bat said.

By the by, this sword is known as the Harmattan and, despite what the sisters’ client had told them, it was not forged by a fire god in a dying volcano but by a smithy named Djehuti Sundaka, inspired by the curve of his woman’s hinder-cheeks and named after the dry trade wind that blows off the Sahara and out across the Gulf of Guinea.

It is very sharp. D-Sun knew what he was doing.

He gifted the Harmattan to dune warrior and local hero Najwa Nazari who did a showoff move and promptly chopped off her own arm. After angrily hurling the limb into a nearby arroyo, she taught herself how to fight with her left hand and took the weapon into battle, turning the tide of the Itinerant War where the sword was dubbed the merciful wind because its sharpness made ghastly wounds utterly painless.

When Najwa won the war by stabbing the Jackal Caliph, his dying request was to be buried with the sword, so honored was he to have been slain by it, so sweet was its blade in his belly. His wish was granted and the blade remained sealed inside his sapphire tomb until an errant missile blew it open a thousand years later. The Harmattan was looted along with his other treasures (mostly kinky stuff like bronze “groan masks” and wind-up porcelain vibrators) and eventually purchased by the president of Scutter Automotive who displayed it in his office next to a framed photograph of his wife with her ex-husband cropped out. Total number of fingers severed from the hands of incautious janitors: 17.

Six months later, the Harmattan was stolen, but the police had no trouble following the trail of blood and various sliced-up items (office chairs, ashtrays, mailboxes, parking meters) to the high-rise apartment of Scutter executive Michael Hillhampton. They found him cowering in his clawfoot tub, naked and covered in lacerations. He said he’d glimpsed the scimitar while searching the president’s desk for pills and was unable to shake it from his mind. He awoke with sand in his teeth. His takeout tasted of hot steel. “It was my destiny to wield it,” he said, but after nearly castrating himself during his first wielding session, he flung it away and fled to the tub to weep in shame.

At this point it will come as no surprise that the sword cut through a painting on his bedroom wall, and then the wall itself, and then made a nice graceful arc across the sky and down seventeen stories to street level where it buried itself in the chest of a papaya vendor named Dalmant Frico. He miraculously survived the wound but had to use a bulky respirator for the rest of his life, which lasted about a fortnight. On his deathbed, he bequeathed the sword to his only living relative, his grandson Kiepper, who resided in the fetid port town of Fort Hook and worked as a sales rep at the local dairy.

This bequeathal was done out of spite.

By the time the sisters arrived at the cloven cow, Folly Dairy was on red alert. Bat picked up the gore-slick sword and almost dropped it again.

“Horkbucker!” Mina snapped. “So what’s the plan now, boss? What phase are we on now, boss?

Bat’s mind was a spanked beehive, nothing but angry frenzied buzzing, the jagged fragments of her beautiful plan stinging her eye sockets. Security guards emerged from the outskirts of the pasture, bellowing, flashlights bobbing. Stern but incomprehensible warnings were now being broadcast from a PA system, echoing through the atrium.

Think! she thought, but no thoughts came. Then she surveyed the lea and saw a cozy little cottage in the far corner—bright red door, thatched roof, stone chimney. “There,” she said, already running.

They dodged a few dozen panicked cows, then tore open the red door. Inside was not the warm glow of a hearth or an afghan-covered rocking chair but generators and a tangle of ducts. Some kind of power and cooling system, maybe disguised as a country home to make the cows feel more at ease? They slipped through a gap in the pipes just as the security detail crammed into the entryway. “Halt!” they yelled. “We have questions!”

The sisters didn’t get far before hitting a dead end, cramped on all sides by ductwork. Bat wailed in frustration and accidentally sliced a pipe open with the Harmattan. Oh right, she thought. I have a sword that can cut through time and space, or whatever it was that guy said.

So she hacked a path through the ducts to the back of the cottage and ran into a white stone wall. She stabbed the sword into it and carved a nice big hole for them to pass through.

(She had to admit that the Harmattan felt good in her hand, and that cutting things with it was absolutely the right thing to do.)

She crawled through the hole into a much larger space behind the cottage. At a glance it looked to be another part of the bottling plant: conveyor belts churning, machinery throbbing, steam hissing. It was loud, and—somehow, inexplicably—reeked even more than the pasture.

Bat pulled Mina into the funk, keeping her sword arm free. The guards were nearing the hole, crying, “We hear that area is off limits!” She was about to order Mina to stall them somehow, maybe do her disturbing dance that made everyone uncomfortable, when she caught the look on her sister’s face, gazing off at something in the distance, her eyes wide, her mouth twisted.

Bat turned and at first she didn’t see anything except steam and factory hardware, because the thing she was looking at was not meant to be seen, not meant to exist. It was too big, too bloated, too horrible.

“Oh my god,” she said. “It’s Donna the Magic Cow.”

Donna was easily five times bigger than any cow Bat had ever seen. She was sickly pale yellow with black markings, hanging from a scaffolding in an elaborate arrangement of stirrups and harnesses, reclined so her hooves dangled in the air. Her udders, swollen to nightmarish proportions, were attached to oversized vacuum pumps, pulsating around her teats. From there, golden milk flowed through thick plastic tubes that fed into portals in the walls.

Then: Donna the Magic Cow turned her globe-sized eyes downward and looked directly at Bat.

Bat burst into tears. Donna was communicating something to her and she knew exactly what it was:

h e l p   m e

When she thought about it later, Bat was pretty sure it was the Harmattan that sprang into action, not her. She was still reeling from the sight of this cow, this warped version of the smiling perky bovine that appeared on every carton of milk she drank as a kid, on the side of every delivery truck, on the top of that very building in fiberglass form. But, before she knew it, she was ululating and sprinting toward Donna, the merciful wind leading the charge. She was, as far as she knew, finally fulfilling the sword’s destiny. She cut through the tubes, the pumps, the straps and fittings that held the cow aloft. Her arm felt invincible but also electrified by almost unbearable pain thanks to her run-in with the milkman’s truck.

Donna collapsed and hit the factory floor with a thunderous boom. Tubing thrashed like wild snakes, spraying gushers of precious golden milk.

The Folly guards emerged from the recently carved hole in the wall. One of them knocked Mina down with a billy club. Another tackled Bat’s feet and the Harmattan went flying out of her hand. It spun through the room and—yes—cut through a wall and disappeared.

Then, Donna the Magic Cow made a sound unlike anything any of them had ever heard. The best way I can describe it is that a rage god died while giving birth to a planet-sized baby, and this sound was both the god’s death rattle and the planet baby’s first cry.

Donna then heaved herself up and plowed her way into the cottage, galloping toward the pasture, toward freedom. Bat’s heart sang even as she was kicked in the crotch by a security guard.


This has been Chapter 42 of Chokeville, a novel by Josh Fireland. Chapter 43 will ship out at some point, I’m not exactly sure when.