The Judas Cow (novel excerpt)

Something changes on Saturday morning.

It’s one of those heavy, grey mornings where the atmosphere is so saturated with moisture that you can see little droplets of water floating in the air. Everything is wet with dew. Water collects on tents, splashing down on my face as I roll up each flap and secure with a bungee cord. The morning is still. There is no wind. Nothing moves. Fog hangs in the air, blotting out the sun, refusing to leave.

Some guy, I don’t know who, follows me around the tent as I roll up the flaps. Someone, a total stranger, walks up to me at 7:30 in the morning and starts up a conversation. He could be a vendor, a customer, or Jesus Christ himself the way he just appeared out of the fog, I don’t know. My guess is that he’s in his sixties. I think maybe he’s lonely, needs someone to talk to. I’ve never seen him before. All he wants is some company. He wants to talk.

“All war is based on deception,” he says, quoting Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. “So the way I figure it the mass media, the big cable news networks, you know, they’re the Judas Cow leading the masses to slaughter. They’re the deceivers, if you know what I mean. They’re a tool of the oppressors.”

I don’t respond, don’t know how to respond.

“That’s why I stopped watching television years ago,” he continues as I move around the corner of the tent to the next flap. “Just unplugged it from the wall and tossed the damn thing into the trash, that’s what I did.”

It occurs to me that I haven’t watched much television lately. I miss my favorite cable news network, what with it’s around the clock news and three tickers running in opposing directions. I miss the streaming data, the constant barrage of information. Behind us a parade of vehicles head down the dirt road, pulling into the grassy parking lot at the far end of the tent.

“They bend the news, you know? They twist and bend it like clay until molding it into something that suits their needs, that’s what they do. First I thought they were just doing it for the money; sensationalizing events to make people want to watch, that’s what I thought they were up to. Now I don’t know. Now I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something more to their madness, something sinister to their intent, you know? Makes me believe they’re the Judas Cow leading the masses to their demise.”

I’m watching the crowd as they step out of their cars. There’s a new face to this crowd. In the parking lot beat up old trucks and antiquated station wagons from earlier in the week are replaced by SUV’s of every make and model. Groups of women exit the vehicles, dressed in short pants, spaghetti strap tops, and baseball caps with pony tails protruding out the back. Many have drinks in their hands. They’ve come to shop and have a good time.

“What’s a Judas Cow?” I ask the stranger, rolling up the final flap.

He takes two steps back, surprised. “You don’t know what the Judas Cow is?”

“No. I’m a city boy. I don’t know anything about cows.”

“Everybody knows what a Judas Cow is,” he exclaims. “What kind of person doesn’t know the Judas Cow? You spend your life under a rock, son?”

“Maybe you’re the Judas Cow,” I shoot back and I think he might hit me.

Tent fills with women, fifteen at least, admiring the displays, oohing and aahing over my masterpiece, my first solo effort, my work of art. Love is as thick as the fog. It’s time to go to work. My crowd has arrived.

“The Judas Cow is the cow at the slaughterhouse that leads all the other cows to their death,” he says before I can get away. “He lives there, at the slaughterhouse. The new cows that just arrived, well they’re all scared you know? But the Judas Cow is calm and confident because he’s the only one that knows what’s going on. So the other cows follow him. They trust him. They believe in him. They follow him right up to the slaughterhouse floor. And once the Judas Cow gets all the other cows up to the slaughterhouse floor, well he just turns and walks away. His work is complete. It’s too late for the other cows to stop the inevitable.”

Eyes focus on potential customers filling the tent.  I say to the man without looking at him, “And you think the mass media is the Judas Cow for humans? You think that they’re leading us to our end?”

Silence is the answer.

Turning, the stranger is gone, absorbed by the fog. I never see him again, as if he only existed for a brief moment in time to perplex my mind. Before I can dwell on the matter any further a young woman approaches, wants to make a purchase. She wants a Spanish styled mirror, a large leather ottoman, and two wall sconces to decorate her living room with. I happily oblige, pushing the memory of the stranger and his words out of my head. There’s work to be done. My first feeding frenzy is in the making. I must capitalize.

By the end of the day my displays and tables have been wiped clean of merchandise. Only a few unwanted remnants remain. Into the night I restock until there is nothing left to restock. I haven’t brought enough merchandise, begin to panic. A full week of the show remains and I don’t have anything left to sell.

Out of options, I make an emergency call to Mary.

“I’m wiped out too,” she explains over the phone. “We sold more today than we have ever sold in an entire show. I don’t think I have enough to get through Sunday, much less bring you some afterCantonis over. Even if I did have something left I can’t get it to you.”

“Why not? You’re supposed to be here Monday.”

“Don’t think I can. I’ve got appointments and deliveries scheduled all next week. Sorry, Jason, but I can’t help you. You’re own your own.”

That’s how we leave it, again.

That night I venture into LaGrange to treat myself to some home cooking at a local truck stop dive. As I sit at a table waiting to be served I can’t help but notice two large television monitors mounted in the corners of the restaurant. The monitors are aimed at the customers, aimed at me. A beautiful young woman delivers the day’s tragedies while three tickers run in opposing directions across the bottom of the screen.

27 Israeli pilots sign a letter of protest and refuse to fly missions to bomb leaders of Palestinian terrorists groups after nine children are accidentally killed in a bombing raid. A tearful 9/11 ceremony tugs at the heart. Humans are under attack and people care. Intercon’s stock drops forty five cents, bringing its value down below the value of the day I was laid off. Four hundred people lost their jobs for gains that were quickly lost.

Seeing many things, I see little evidence of a conspiracy. Maybe I’m watching the wrong cable news network. Receiving my dinner, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and fresh green beans, I go on about my business.  This is all that I can do. This, and think of hundreds of examples of the Judas Cow in everyday life.

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