Cattle

 His wheezing truck lumbered to the ranch rumoured to have sold dairy. The driver had journeyed up from the plains where a few grain farms still functioned. Onto a cragged mountain road scarred by rain swollen potholes and strewn with gravel. Either side of the tarmac deep ravines rolled down into bare tree trunks and nothing.

 He slammed the car door and looked up to the pine shrouded hill, to the tall and stately house upon it. Steps to its door made of felled timber and beige earth. White peeling paint on the walls and dormers whose slates hung loose. 

 The driver turned away to a low barn, away from the compounds where a petting zoo operated in times before these. He moved along the exterior, past bare milking stalls. He came to a window framed with raw, fraying lumber, covered in poultry netting. Before it a thinning man leant, chewing on a length of grass. The driver nodded in greeting and stooped to see inside the portal. Behind the screen affixed with rusted, home-forged hooks, two bright and feathered cockerels roosted in hoods and ropes fixed about their twiggish ankles. Last ones for hundreds of miles around. 

 “Which one you recommend?” the driver asked, feeding a thumb into his back pocket to touch his wallet. 

 “For what you want to use it for,” the thinning man said, moving closer from where he’d stood, “either. Just as long you can pay.” 

 The driver stepped closer and drooped his fingers through the netting to get a better look. Beyond their tail feathers he spied another chamber through a door ajar. An old mattress dark with a nameless filth. Piled in one corner, a mess of clothes. Belts. Shoes. A distant smell of hay and excrement. All these things he would come to understand later. 

 “Suppose I’ll take the one on the left.”

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