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THE CATTLE

    Once cows went mad, certifiably mad.
    The cattle in question belonged to a large herd corralled in the press of feedlots located at that period around the nation’s capital. The size of the herd was not news; the news was how many of its members took leave of their senses about the same time.
    This ill-fated drove had grown accustomed to passing their days in a state of bovine self-absorption, chewing complacently and unquestioningly on whatever was put in front of them. And when it came time to be milked by those who did the feeding, they were easily led by the nose or simply followed the rump of the cow ahead in compliant file. They were, in sum, the most docile of creatures.
    The loss of their collected wits did not come upon these cattle suddenly or through any departure from the routines they’d grown so comfortable with. They were not taken off their feed, nor were they milked any less frequently. If anything, these two guiding patterns of their existence, endlessly swallowing whatever was presented them and then being milked in return, continued straight through their deepening affliction. 
    These changeless routines may even have contributed to the cattle’s decline, for the onset of mass mental failure occurred after they were provided a particularly generous diet of the usual fodder mixed with reprocessed brain parts from “downer cows” among their own numbers that had clearly swallowed too much of it from the beginning. 
    There were occasions after that when the herd would suddenly stampede about for no apparent reason, shaking convulsively and bellowing to the clouds as if there were some deep meaning in their moos. More commonly, however, they pressed close to one another for support while dozing on their feet in a narcoleptic stupor that could last from morning to night. 
    Not only didn’t the cattle seem capable of reversing the steady decline in their mental powers but they continued instead to welcome whatever was shoveled their way until the little control they could manage over their remaining faculties was weak, unfocused, and symptomatic of increasingly spongy brains.  
    The entire herd seemed content merely to chew their cud, either to themselves or to each other, endlessly ruminating upon what had befallen them but unable to digest fully their own role in it. For all the airy noise produced in the process, the only discernible result was to add to the capital’s rising levels of methane gas.
    The greatest fear on the part of health officials, understandably, was that the brain-wasting effects of these cattle’s decline might be communicated to the population at large.