Shem turned and trotted along the base of the north hill until in the distance to his left a large shadowy form emerged above them. “That’s the farmhouse! We have to go back that way.”
The famer’s voice yelled above the whooshing of the rain. It was a frightening yell. Shem waited. “Well,” he said after a moment, “if Mr McGinley finds us wandering about, he’ll only take us back to the sheep paddock, right?” He turned to Delilah. She stared at him. Shem turned back toward the farmhouse. “Yes, I suppose so,” he said.
Shem walked onward, with Delilah following. Thunder boomed. Shem looked down and saw the grass at his feet becoming sparser, and the ground muddier. He stopped and watched his hooves sink a little into the mud. “I miss Candace,” he said.
Delilah bumped into him from behind and bleated a dull, lifeless bleat. Shem looked up. They were at the dam. Through the stormy haze he watched the raindrops splash onto the dark water, creating hundreds of circular ripples all interrupting one another. Toward the far end of the dam, a large awkward shape protruded from the mud at the water’s edge. Raindrops hammered against it with a rapid tink-tink-tink. From the shape came a strained groan. Shem followed the dam’s edge until he saw the shape was in fact the tractor, but it was on its side, with one of its enormous back wheels half-submerged in the slime. Its blue body rested in the water, which was rising gradually with the rainfall. A splash and a grunt came from the water behind the engine, and a hand reached up and grabbed the top of the cab. Shem stepped back. “I think Mr McGinley is in the water,” he said. He looked up at the farmhouse. “The old ram said Mrs McGinley goes away this time of year and comes back after two weeks.” He looked back at the tractor. “Wait here, okay Delilah?”
Delilah stared right through him, without blinking. Shem walked around the water’s edge until he faced the giant rear wheels of the tractor—one wedged in the mud in front of him, and the other towering in the air above. A groan sounded behind the tractor, and Mr McGinley’s hand slapped the cab, trying to get a better grip. Shem crept out onto the slushy mud. His hooves sank halfway up to his knees, and he had to kick and leap to free himself. With a few strong leaps he stumbled his way across and climbed onto the tyre overturned in the mud. He looked up at the tyre overhead. He shuffled around, crouched, and then leapt, hooking his hooves onto the side of the machine. The underside of the chassis provided enough footing for his rear hooves, and he pushed himself up onto the top. He steadied himself on the slippery metal surface and then looked down at the water. The farmer, Mr McGinley, was submerged at an awkward angle, straining to hold himself up against the cab. He was leaning his head back, breathing quickly, with only his face and one arm above water. When Mr McGinley saw Shem standing on top of the tractor, looking down at him, he stopped struggling and stared.
“Candace is gone,” bleated Shem over the noise of the rain. “She wanted to leave the farm, so I helped her. And Delilah is not well. One of the horses kicked her in the head. I’ll take her back to the sheep paddock. I promise we’ll stay in the paddock from now on.”
Mr McGinley blinked the rain from his eyes. Shem turned and leapt from the top of the tractor onto the rear tyre, and then from the tyre onto the mud. He kicked and scrambled his way back to solid ground. Mr McGinley called out and then gave a long, loud whistle. “Come on Delilah!” called Shem. “Let’s go back to the paddock.” Delilah trotted after him.
Shem and Delilah went up by the farmhouse. The two young tomcats sat perched on the edge of the roof—they always found the highest place to be whenever it rained. Shem looked up at them; they looked back at him, flicking their tails. The front door thumped, then shook under a rush of desperate scratching; inside, the sheepdog whined. From the back of the farmhouse, Shem looked out across the southern end of the farm. A flash of lightning lit up the sky, and for a second Shem could see the big barn in the cow paddock, and further down, the little sheep barn and the shearing shed. “There it is,” he said. “We just have to follow this hill all the way down.”
Delilah gave a short, slurred baa.
The two young sheep walked down the slope, past the big round hill where the willow tree stood. They crossed into the cow paddock and continued onward, sidestepping puddles and manure mounds. At the sheep paddock fence, the old ram was there to meet them. He helped them under the fence wire—the old ram and Shem had to drag Delilah across. “Where is Candace?” asked the old ram.
“She’s gone,” said Shem. “She left the farm, just like she said she would.”
The old ram stared up at the grey sky. “Okay then,” he nodded. “Come over to the barn and get warm and dry.”
He led the way. Shem followed him. Delilah followed Shem.
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