The Stolen Bike
It was after Jesse and I stole the bike that we saw the man and the sheep walking down the lane towards us. The man was extremely old, at least 50, and was well known in the village for taking the sheep with him to the pub on a lead, and that was where the two of them appeared to be heading. It wasn’t our village, it was the weird one over the hill, with all the weird people in it, but people in our village talked about the man with the sheep. We hid behind the hedge with the bike and did not make a sound, which was hard for Jesse, as his breathing was usually loud and squeaky. “Good evening, gentleman,” said the man, as he and his sheep walked past. Later Jesse remembered that his dad had told him the man had died last February.
What The Warlock Didn’t Know
Pretty much everyone nearby who noticed sheep as individuals had worked out that Fiona was the most friendly sheep in John’s field. All of John’s sheep were personable but Fiona was the one who, when passing walkers came to say hello, galloped past her peers, demanding a rub on the chin and looking deep into the eye sockets of numerous men and women and children she didn’t actually know, with an amazing and beautiful amount of trust. Fiona’s time was equally divided between John’s best field and John’s second best field, but she preferred the former due to its picturesque waterside location, the potential for chin rubs due to the public footpath that ran across it and the primroses that grew in great numbers on the riverbank in spring, which tasted lemony and cleansed Fiona’s palate after she had mistakenly eaten a wasp or some bad grass. Being a sheep had its hazards, such as scabby mouth, malignant oedema and caseous lymphadenitis, or “cheesy gland” as it is more commonly known. But overall she preferred the life to the one she had lived previously, as a student accommodation manager for a property baron in Bristol, before an angry warlock had changed her out of her human form as punishment for the piss she had inadvertently taken on an ancient burial mound when caught short on a walk in Herefordshire’s Golden Valley. People looked at her differently here on the Welsh border, the scenery was marvellous, and she experienced none of the trouble she might have had in being accepted as a true local in a rural area like this, had she relocated here as a person and not a sheep. If the warlock had known just how unhappy Fiona was in her previous life – how far she’d slipped from the energetic, outdoorsy child and spontaneous, mildly politicised young adult she’d been – he might have believed his action had backfired, but that particular knowledge was beyond the warlock’s multitude of powers. He just knew she had never been able to return to her flat in Avonmouth, and that she was now forever a sheep, so everyone was happy.
I fell asleep in a field full of small black sheep. It was a fraught and breakable time in my life and I felt safer than I had in a while, and additionally safe in the knowledge that sheep never bother anyone. But when I woke up, the sheep were all in a line watching me, the closest of them no more than three feet away from my nose. They could not seem to take their eyes from me and didn’t, until I got back on my feet. That night the event replayed itself in a dream, exactly as it had happened, except the sheep had the faces of the eighteen people in my life who’d made me feel most worthwhile.
‘Happy Cloud’ was what Greg and Simon named their new bungalow. It was the right size, with the original vaulted ceilings intact and plenty of updated features, all thought out with immense sympathy for the original 1967 design. The house was in a lofty spot with a staggering view of the mountains beyond via a giant picture window. An experienced architect friend of Greg’s commented that he’d seen a more seamless flow between exterior and interior space once, maybe twice at most, during his long career. The only problem was the disembodied ram’s head, which would sail around the higher part of the rooms while Greg and Simon were eating or watching TV, and which they took to be the manifestation of the spirit of an unhappy farm animal from the distant past, or a demon older than recorded time. “We should probably sell up,” said Simon, who had always been the more impulsive of the pair. “We probably won’t lose anything on the price of the place. Let’s just call it freak bad luck. It’s doubtful it would happen again.” But, as was so often the case, Greg brought him back down to earth and convinced him to wait and see how things panned out. In the end, Simon was glad he listened, as all the ram’s head really did was float around three or four feet above the two of them, usually as a forecast of inclement weather. There was also the noise, of course, which had more frost and agony in it than a typical sheep’s bleat, and came with a sort of gravelly vibration which made all the furniture shake, but they even got used to that after a while. It became just another one of the many noises people underestimate prior to moving to the countryside, such as passing agricultural vehicles, power tools, obnoxious birds, and silence itself, which can sometimes be kind of raucous.
Lord Wool Is Alive And Well
All the women Michael enjoyed dating most in his 20s had fluffy toys and Hannah was the most layered and enthralling of these women and the one he would find himself thinking back to the most, in middle life: imagining what might have happened if he had put more effort into their brief romance, and not moved to Lisbon. Hannah’s favourite fluffy toy was Lord Wool, who at one point, back maybe a decade before they met, had still been recognisably a sheep. Hannah talked about Lord Wool a lot, and during her and Michael’s seven month period as a sort of couple, the two of them often hypothesised about what Lord Wool got up to when nobody was around: his futile trips to some of the city’s top salons, haberdasheries and plastic surgeons and the films he liked to watch at the cinema around the corner from Hannah’s bedsit. There was something very touching to Michael about how Hannah refused, as a grown woman, to give up on this horned bag of patched up nonsense, which was missing an ear and half a leg, and he never forgot it, even decades later, after he had forgotten several details about Hannah’s appearance and the names of her parents. Michael didn’t run into Hannah again before her death, which he found out about through their one remaining mutual friend, but around a year afterwards, when he was 88 and only a year away from his own demise, he discovered an email, which must have been sent when she didn’t have long to live, and had caught his spam folder, due to Hannah’s surname, which computers seemed to think was pornographic. “Lord Wool is still alive and well” said the email, and nothing else.
I rescued a sheep. Sometimes I dream about the sheep I rescued but I dream that I didn’t rescue it. I see it up there on the ledge, where Malcolm Hutton-Fishcock and I found it, and I see its terrified dark face, staring at me through the rain, like it expects me to do it only the most callous harm. Then the sheep panics and falls from the ledge and I wake up, just before its brittle legs smash against the rocks dozens of feet below. I feel awful and frightened about the lightless truth under the surface of everything but then I remember the sheep is ok, that Malcolm Hutton-Fishcock and I winched it up to solid ground and got it back to the rest of its flock. But then I remember that that was three winters ago, forty miles from my house and forty seven from Malcolm Hutton-Fishcock’s, and that I have no evidence that the sheep is ok and all sorts of bad things might have happened to the sheep since then. Since my intervention in its destiny I have found out nothing about the sheep’s life, or if it still has one, and probably couldn’t if I tried. And it is during these times that I most acutely realise how futile my attempts to control the world around me are and that all realities are just stories we tell ourselves.
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