Free-Range by Anthony Merklinger

Sunday, September 7, 2014
Anthony Merklinger imagines a bovine supermarket in this creepy flash.

It was eight o'clock on a Sunday morning, and the bovines began to assemble at the local supermarket.

"What are you making tonight, Ma?" the calf said, stretching its legs on the black pavement.

"I was thinking ribs or sirloin."

The cow removed a grocery list from her purse.

"What do you want?"

"If you make ribs, can we have mashed potatoes?"

"Certainly," said the cow, and the calf was beaming.

Together they walked into the market, where all manner of creatures - the big and the small - were bustling.

"Wow. There's a lot of people here today," said the calf.

"Stay close to me, and be careful. The stock gets a little fussy when the market gets busy."

Milk... eggs.

"Get a cart, would you dear?"

The calf skipped to the row of stacked carts, removed one gently, and ushered it to his mother.

"Eggs, eggs, eggs..."

The cow led her calf to the dairy aisle.

Young women, who were bent over wooden beams, had their breasts exposed, and their hands were bound together behind their backs. Empty milk bottles were stacked in the corner.

"Grab a bottle, dear, and go pick out one you like. Just make sure it's low fat. I'm going to get the eggs."


The calf released the cart and picked up an empty bottle. He walked down the aisle, reviewing each one, until he came to a fertile brunette. Her mouth was stuffed with cloth, and her nipples were chafed.

"Excuse me?" the calf said to the milker. "Can I have one bottle?"

The brunette was shivering, and she turned her eyes to the bull, who grabbed the bottle from the young calf.

"One bottle, eh?" the milker said.

The calf nodded.

The milker pressed his fingers against the nipple, squeezed, and pulled.

The brunette shut her eyes, and bit down on the cloth.

"It's gonna be a minute. We've been busy today, so they're starting to bleed."

"Oh," said the calf, "that's okay."

The cow returned with the cart.

"Did you get a good one? Oh, she's pretty."

"Yeah, but the milker said they're starting to bleed."

The cow frowned. "Poor dear."

The milker sat up, and capped the bottle.

"'Ere you are, ma'am. Anything else I can get for ya?"

The calf placed the bottle in the top basket.

"No, that's okay. Thank you."

"Did you get the eggs?" the calf asked.

"Yes, now all I need is... meat and bread."

"What about the mashed potatoes?"

"We have potatoes at home. Your father just picked them from the garden."

The cow led her calf to the meat section.

"Oh, we should probably get some cold cuts. Excuse me, sir?"

The butcher peered over the counter.


"Can I get a pound of the male thigh?"

"Honey glazed or black forest?"

"Honey, please."

The butcher placed a shaven leg on the meat slicer.

"What else are we having tonight?" said the calf.

"I'm probably going to make salad, too."

The calf grunted.

The butcher placed the pack of meat on the scale: one pound.

"Here you go, miss. That all?"

"Thank you," said the cow, placing the bag in the basket.

The calf climbed onto the cart, and wrapped its arms around the handle bar.

"Meat, meat, meat..."

The aisle became colder as they progressed.


  1. I'm really glad I am a vegetarian!

  2. very good indeed! Food for thought!

    Michael McCarthy

  3. Provocative and imaginative. Seeing the mirror image is rather horrifying!

  4. A deeply unsettling reflection. I particularly respond to it being almost entirely in dialogue.
    You've most likely read it - if not you may enjoy 'Cloven' by C M Taylor.


  5. Reverse regurgitation. Clever cud of a story!

    James Shaffer

  6. Pitch perfect Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone.

    Arthur Davis

  7. This is such a powerful story in that it makes readers, who are also consumers, examine their own food choices. I'm a vegetarian who tries to be vegan much of the time, but after reading this one, I'm going to do my best to skip the dairy products altogether.

  8. Dark, creepy role reversals highlight this horrible – though well-done (so to speak) – tale. It makes one think along the lines that one did when “Planet of the Apes” came out in the late 1960s. Nice touch, Anthony.