Xenotransplanting,’ the rat repeated. ‘That’s some ugly mouthful.’

‘Oh they’re very excited about it,’ the horse said moodily. ‘They say it’s a real game-changer with little risk to society.’ He was an entire horse – not a day went by that he didn’t thank his lucky stars for that – but he was a nihilist too, although an anxious one.

‘Everything’s a game to them and the game is making them crazy,’ the rat said. His name was Victor. All the rats were called Victor after the ubiquitous trap. A bit of black humor came down through the generations.

‘Wilhelmina will be spared,’ the horse said. ‘That’s the good news. The bad news is that her offspring will be genetically edited to become reliable if unwilling organ donors. Your heirs, Victor, will be genetically programmed to suffer only as usual.’

‘Whatya mean?’ Victor said. ‘I want them to enjoy a proper lifestyle. Kitchens. Dumps. Fairs.’

‘No more fairs,’ the horse said. ‘They’re going to schools. Probably not Harvard.’

‘Why not Harvard!’ Victor said, insulted.

‘Maybe Duke,’ the horse said.

‘Pray that they don’t go to Tulane,’ the sheep said. ‘Isn’t that where those unfortunate monkeys went? Very badly handled.’

‘The spinal cord does not regenerate,’ one of the spiders said. ‘You’d think they’d have learned that by now.’

Wilhelmina trotted into the barnyard. She was Some Pig. Her eggs easily incorporated the human genetic code. All her piglets were star patents. But she often worried about their lack of engaging pigness – they looked a little blank to her. They had these disturbing one-yard stares.

‘Your issue will be increasingly engineered with specific maladies, Victor,’ the horse went on. ‘Tumors, leukemia, Alzheimer’s . . .’

‘Something akin to Alzheimer’s surely,’ one of the spiders said. Charlotte’s children possessed her looks and intelligence but sadly not her creativity. They were widely traveled though they made very careless webs. This was not entirely their fault, however, as environmental factors were no longer conducive to their inherent skills.

‘. . . enlarged prostates,’ the horse concluded wearily.

‘No one wants leaner or tastier meat from us anymore,’ the sheep said. ‘Or rather they want that too but they particularly want our organs – our sister pigs’ hearts especially. They’re having more and more difficulty with their own hearts so they want ours.’

‘But our hearts belong to us most of all, don’t they?’ Wilhelmina said.

‘It’s taking the eyes, our beautiful eyes, that is so distressing,’ the sheep said.

‘Xenografts,’ one of the spiders said. She thought she’d spell it out but then thought, oh why bother.

‘I feel faint,’ Wilhelmina said.

‘Wilbur cozied up to the humans too much,’ Victor said. ‘That’s why we’re in this mess.’

‘It was those buttermilk baths and being wheeled around in the baby carriage,’ the sheep said. ‘Wilbur was a little . . . how shall I put it . . .’

‘That Charlotte was a piece of work though,’ Victor said. ‘What a gloomy broad. Remember those lullabies?’

‘ “Sleep, sleep, my love, my only / Deep, deep, in the dung and the dark; Be not afraid and be not lonely!” ’ Wilhelmina murmured.

‘Yeah,’ Victor said.

The others looked shyly at Paul and Priscilla, the silent calves who had been cloned from the meat of their butchered mothers.

‘I prefer the Tennyson poem,’ the sheep said. ‘I find it more hopeful. May I?’

Victor smirked. She was one affected ewe, always pretending she was from the Emerald Isle and just visiting this barnyard.

The sheep began:

O yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroyed,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

Paul and Priscilla turned away, like ghosts.

‘I feel so sorry for those kids,’ the goose said.

Large Black Rooster
The Bible As Literature, Literature As Scripture