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Up north, open range keeps critters out instead of in. Everyone knows 'cept the tourists, the ones who don't carry a proper firearm to finish off the suffering animal they don’t see standing in the road. Likely aren’t paying attention. Gawking at endless field and cloud. Yammering about how nice it might be to live in a place like this. Wouldn't last half a winter.

Usually the man gets out of the car, hands on his hips, pale. Woman’s got snot and tears and makeup all down her face, sometimes she’s pushing him in the chest. It'll be a long time before they eat steak again.

A local rancher might get a grim charge out of it driving past. Old Timer’s apt to give a two finger wave; let 'em know it’s all right. He’ll send help once he gets down to the Muzzle Loader. Sheriff’s usually perched at the cafe, slapping the counter with the locals.

The man and woman are staring at the bawling sack of meat and bone, but what they don’t know is this: her soul boarded the Cow Bus the night before. Then, sure enough, her elderly body, stumbling and dumb, wandered into the road where the European sedan met its own end, radiator pissing all over the rumble strip.

 

Cow Bus comes just before the full moon; gathers up those tired cow souls and leaves their bodies run amok. No more being fenced out of the Shultz's oats and the Smith's alfalfa and watching the horses get saddled for adventure day after day. They’ve felt the last early fall storm, hurling sleet before their coats grow in, freezing them mid-stampede from a flooding gully. Gone those hot, early springs, stillborns dragging from every third hindquarter, barbed wire in thighs and fetlocks.

The Cow Bus has real nice stalls. Cow can stand if she likes or might sit on her haunches, looking up through the clear glass roof. Out past town, the cows start spinning yarns about their favorite constellations -- caroming stars they've named for Elsie the Brave and Buddy the Buffalo, frolicking through fields of ink. The attendant comes round regular to fill up their troughs with sweet feed and ale, shovels the manure out the double doors in back. There ain't any danger of it hitting the vehicle behind on account of it being ghost cow manure, but no good comes of letting it pile up neither.

The driver – usually Mary with the little lambs or sometimes Old McDonald -- leads a round or three of songs. The cows are feeling much better by this time. Relaxed, you might say. No bother of wet or cold. No heelers or shepherds snapping at their hooves. They might allow themselves to doze, at least until there's enough moonlight to play Euchre or Rummy.

The attendant takes a soft brush to their hides, so that they gleam in the low light. The cows’ eyes shine with unshed gratitude, each stroke a soft, safe pressure. Next they’re adorned with bells strung through bright, velvet ribbons tied ‘round necks and tails. Never have they been decorated so fancy. They've heard tell of the party on the moon – an endless banquet for cows coming, going, and those staying awhile. The cats are rumored to play a mean fiddle. Dogs are supposed to tell fine jokes. The moon is getting real big out the windows, now. If they squint hard, they can see a gentleman straightening a faded welcome sign, fluted dishes running hand in hand with golden spoons.

The cows heave little sighs. They've started to miss the wind a bit, the sound it makes through the ponderosa. They itch for the warm smell of sandstone and sagebrush and the first rush of deciding whether a particular rattle is hopper or yucca or bull snake. They'll ask the dog or the cat which star they might set their sights toward to find a place with similar scenery.

They don't know they've come to the only place without fences. They don't know they can't go home again.