The great bull fled down the slope behind the farmhouse, past Mrs McGinley’s pumpkin patch, turning toward the big round hill where the willow tree grew, and then out across the little cornfield. His enormous frame was moving too fast to stop. By now, pale blue had seeped into the night sky and the smaller stars faded. Hector turned toward the cow paddock on his left, but then veered right and ran on. “I can’t go back,” he gasped between heaving breaths. He headed for the bottom corner of the farm, where the grass grew tall and the ground was uneven. Racing for the southern fence, Hector turned his head to look back up at the barn one last time. A long, loud crow pierced the air as the chief rooster announced the dawn. A frightening chill ran up Hector’s spine; he put his head down and ran for his life. The long grass whooshed and dew splashed his belly as he charged through. His hoof sank in a hidden dip in the ground, and he fell. His front legs buckled beneath him, he tumbled then skidded on his side. Terror flooded his mind. As he scrambled to right himself and get back on his hooves, he leaned forward, shoving his nose deep into the long grass. A blinding pain struck him in an instant and seemed to crush his face. He bellowed and threw his head back then heaved himself up from the ground. A flash in the grass, a hiss, another awful sting. This one struck his belly. He kicked wildly and thrashed his head. Then a third time the agonising jolt hit him, in the leg. He slammed his hoof down. A fat brown snake slipped away through the grass like quicksilver. Hector squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. The pain dulled a little but began to spread out and grip his entire body. He grunted and lowed, and lumbered toward the southern fence.
Early morning fog lay over the bottom corner of Butterberry Farm. The great bull staggered along the fence line, his steps slowing, his head drooping. He huffed shallow breaths. His labouring steps ceased, and Hector stood by the fence, trying to fight off a sudden sleepiness. The hum of tiny wingbeats descended upon him, and a shiny orange beetle landed on his nose. “Why won’t you leave me alone?” he whispered. A dozen more beetles landed on his back. “All of you just leave me alone.” Hector’s head hung low. Thoughts slipped from his mind. He felt as though a great weight had draped itself upon him. Beetles landed in the grass. So many beetles.
“Hector,” called a sweet voice. The great bull lifted his head a little and saw, just beyond the fence, Esmerelda standing there watching him. “Come on, Hector,” she said. “You are the great bull. Just push over the fence post and come join me.”
Hector stumbled two steps to the fence post next to him and leaned his giant head against it. He tried to push, but the strength had gone from his neck. The fence post was thin, and rotting, and would have collapsed under little more than a sneeze from the great bull, but Hector could barely move. He dragged his broken horn against the post, then sank to his knees. He looked beyond the fence again, but Esmerelda was not there. Beetles buzzed through the fog. Hector laid his head down on the grass and wheezed a slow breath. His mighty shoulders slumped. The pain seemed distant now. Everything did. The long grass, the cold dew, the beetles crawling over his hide—they were all there, but he felt nothing. He felt far away. He felt alone. The great bull closed his eyes.
When Mr McGinley found him there an hour later, he stood at a distance and stared. The great bull lay dead in the grass, covered in thousands upon thousands of white daisy petals. Orange beetles hummed in the air, flying in and dropping petals. The farmer took off his hat and scratched his head.
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