Where the Sheep Went (Part 6)

    They went up the gentle hill from the horse yard and stopped at the wide dirt path that ran from the farmhouse all the way down to the front gate. On the other side of the path was the chicken yard. Hens and chicks scratched around in the dirt in front of the henhouse, and a few big roosters pecked about up near the little old shed nearby. “Look,” whispered Candace. “The chief rooster.”

 Perched on top of the henhouse was the little grey rooster. He was side-on to them, his head turned away toward the dam and his high, arching tail feathers waving in the breeze. Though the young sheep had heard his call every morning of their lives, they had never seen him. There was no mistaking him though. He was the picture of authority.

 “Should we… tell him we’re leaving the farm?” said Candace. For the first time she sounded almost scared.

 “I don’t want to tell him,” said Shem. “But you know what they say—you can’t hide anything from the chief rooster.”

 Candace took a deep breath. “What do you think, Delilah?”

 Delilah stared at Candace with an open smile.

 “Delilah?”

 “I told you,” said Shem, “she’s not well. She hasn’t said anything since she got kicked in the head.”

 “She got kicked in the head?”

 “Yes!” said Shem. “The young Clydesdale kicked her just now in the horse yard. You were right there.”

 “Oh,” said Candace. “I suppose I didn’t notice. I was very upset.” She looked at Delilah. “Delilah, does your head hurt?”

 Delilah seemed to stare right through her.

 “Delilah,” said Shem, “can you hear us?”

 Candace moved side to side; Delilah’s wobbly head followed her.

 “Delilah, you don’t look so good,” said Candace.

 “She’s not blinking,” said Shem.

 Distant thunder rumbled quietly in the east. Candace stepped right up to Delilah until their noses touched. She stared into Delilah’s eyes. “Delilah!” she said.

 Delilah’s eyes widened and she gave a bleat that was more like a scream. Candace jumped back.

 “Oh no,” said Shem.

 All the chickens turned to look at them. The chief rooster turned as well. From beyond the chicken yard, Mr McGinley’s voice hollered.

 “No, no, no,” said Candace. “Mr McGinley will take us back to the sheep paddock. I can’t go back.”

 Shem watched the chickens staring at them; the chief rooster flapped down from the henhouse roof, his tall red comb bobbing as he tilted his head. Shem looked back at the stables, and beyond them the southern paddocks. He turned and looked down the dirt part, to the front gate of Butterberry Farm. “Run,” he said.

 Candace looked at him, fear filling her eyes. “What?”

 “Do you really want to leave the farm?” said Shem.

 “More than anything,” said Candace.

 Shem nodded toward the front gate, all the way down the hill. “Then we make a run for it. Go.”

 Candace stood frozen. The chief rooster strutted across the chicken yard toward them. Mr McGinley’s voice shouted again, urgent and frightening. Up at the farmhouse, the front door thumped from the inside.

 “Go!” shouted Shem.

 Candace turned and ran for her life down the path, with Shem racing right behind her. Delilah chased them, a droning bleat blaring from her wide-open mouth. Candace’s hooves beat the hard dirt in ecstatic rhythm, faster than she had ever run before. The air rushed against her face, stinging her eyes, and the fresh morning air weaved right through her wool to chill her skin. With a loud baa she galloped ahead, feeling that the life she had been seeking was now within her grasp. The three young sheep hurtled down the hill.

    The ground flattened out and the wooden fence seemed to grow before them into a mighty wall. The fence there near the front gate was no simple barrier of escapable wires, it was a fierce, unyielding structure of wide timber slats, with gaps between not big enough for a sheep to squeeze her nose through. The front gate stood a little higher than the rest of the fence, with two added beams strengthening the blockade diagonally in an X shape. The gate was painted pale blue like a clear sky; a sheep might have as much hope of flying as he would of crossing that imposing barrier. Candace skidded to a stunned halt, staring between the slats at the world beyond. Shem trotted up next to her and looked up and down the fence line. “It’s so huge,” he said.

 “No!” wailed Candace, pressing her face to the gate. “We’re almost there. There has to be a way out.”

© 2021 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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