The two ranchers looked down from their horses at the body, its rotund girth expanding laboriously at the ribs.
“That old-timer’s not gonna’ make it,” one rancher said, spitting his chewing tobacco out. He tilted his cowboy hat back. It was star-spangled blue. “Oughtta’ we get him help, ya’ reckon?”
“Naw,” said the other rancher. His hat was red-and-white striped. “Wouldn’t help the other old-timers none neither. Wouldn’t help him none.”
“It might help,” the star-spangled rancher said. “If we invested in that there vaccine, maybe.”
“Maybe,” the red-and-white rancher said. “Maybe not.” He squinted at the sun as it lowered upon the pasture. “Not cost-effective, really. What we need is that there herd immunity. Let the old, sick ones croak and that there virus can’t do nothin’ but die out, too.”
The blue-spangled one scratched his chin. “Ain’t that like what ‘em Nazis did? I mean, we ain’t Nazis. But it just seems a little heartless, is all.”
“It’s all natural,” said the red-and-white striped rancher. “We’re just lettin’ it happen. Passive like. We can’t afford it in this business to think with the heart. He would of died anyhow. He ain’t profitable, neither. He ain’t producin’ like he used to, bein’ past his prime. And each old one’s a huge investment sink for the ranch. Bet he wouldn’t even make good dogfood no more, bein’ what he is.”
The star-spangled rancher nodded. “Yer right, I suppose. Nobody else seems to be carin’ none about it. Except that ol’ Jap farmer down the road. And he ain’t had nearly so many dead as we have. He said we oughtta’ try ‘em at least. Couldn’t hurt none.”
The red-and-white striped rancher scowled in some aimless direction, thinking. Or resenting. “I’m tellin’ you it ain’t cost-effective, neither, to put it on ‘em.” He snorted angrily; more loudly than his horse. “That Jap just lyin’ ‘bout it workin’, is all. Don’t be naive. How can they eat and grow big with ‘em things coverin’ their snouts? You tell me that!”
The star-spangled rancher furrowed his brow, and scratched his chin. “We could have ‘em graze at a distance from each other. And keep ‘em in different stables. Half and half, maybe, and all apart from one another. Less likely to spread.”
The body laying on the pasture trembled and wheezed.
The red-and-white rancher shook his head ruefully. “Just let it ‘appen. Herd immunity, I’m tellin’ ya. It’s the way to go!”
The old man wheezed and coughed upon the ground, gasping for air in the hot American evening. The two ranchers pulled their bandanas up over their mouths.
“Let’s just go round up the others,” the red-and-white rancher said, sneering. He rode off at once.
Glancing over his shoulder as he turned his mount, the star-spangled rancher paused a moment, considering the old man dying at his feet.
“Will make good fertilizer for the pasture, I suppose.”
He then bid his horse to a gallop, helping his partner round up the rest of the citizenry into the barn, lest the like-minded wolves get them in the coming night.
“Y’all better be more productive come tomorrow,” the ranchers said, “or y’all will all be put out to pasture!”
The citizenry went in together as one, whether they wanted to or not.