Prose Header

Steve, the Coruscating Ewe

by Dave Henson

One morning. Alex Stewart let the sheep out of the barn and noticed that Steve’s wool had a bluish tint. When he let the flock in that evening, the ewe was actually glowing slightly.

Doc Adams “hmmmmed” loudly the next morning when he pulled his hand out of Steve’s rectum. “Everything feels normal. No fever. Changed her feed?”

“Hay, the same,” Alex said. “You can see none others have blue wool.”

Doc Adams shook his head. “We have phosphorus compounds in the ground these parts. Gets in the hay. Maybe reacting with her system.” He put a stethoscope to the sheep’s chest. “Murmur’s a tad more. Read about a similar case in vet school. A goat in Nepal.”

That night a pink glow through the bedroom window woke Alex. He looked out and saw the light was streaming through the gaps and splits in the old barn. He went into the building and found Steve sitting, chewing her cud, and shining like a sunrise. Over the next few days, the sheep continued glowing: red, orange, green. Sometimes she flashed different colors in rapid succession.

Word got out about Alex’s remarkable ewe, and a local television crew came to his place. The piece was picked up by one of the networks. People began stopping by to have their picture taken with Steve.

Alex was happy to accommodate them at first and enjoyed the ballyhoo. But the uninvited guests gradually became a distraction. Worse, Alex could tell they were making Steve nervous. She began to poke her tongue to one side and flicker different colors dimly when strangers approached. Alex quit answering the door and posted No Trespassing signs. The flow of knockers and gawkers tapered off.

* * *

“Stewart, I’ll give you five grand for that flashy sheep of yours,” said Jude Hankins, who had the spread a couple down from Alex’s.

Alex initially recoiled at the thought of selling Steve but told Hankins he’d think about it. He could use the cash for repairs around the farm. The barn especially. Its siding had rotted so badly that Alex feared the approaching winter might kill off the older sheep. He couldn’t get any more credit at the lumberyard, and had borrowed all he could from the bank to pay for his surgery. He figured he’d have to sell the flock to get enough money to do the needed repairs. But what’s a sheep farmer without sheep? He realized that, as much as he hated to part with Steve, he couldn’t afford not to.

* * *

“Tell me, Hankins,” Alex said as Jude slid out the clattering ramp from the trailer, “why you willing to pay so much for my girl here?” He stroked his thumb between Steve’s eyes in an effort to calm her. The ewe glowed a pale yellow.

“Gonna breed her,” Hankins said. “Figure if her lambs are glowers, too, I can sell ’em and make a tidy profit on my investment. Mind you, I’m the one taking the risk here.” Hankins tried to push Steve into the trailer, but she balked at the ramp.

Alex kissed Steve’s nose. “It’s OK, girl. Just one lambing a year would be easier on her, Hankins.”

“No worries.” Hankins lowered his shoulder and pushed the ewe, but she still wouldn’t budge.

“Here, let me,” Alex said. But before he could do anything, Hankins unstrapped his belt and whipped the ewe’s back legs with it. Steve quickly bolted up the ramp and was swallowed by the trailer.

A few days later, Alex was in the parlor watching the news. He was about to nod off when he was jolted by a blaring ad: Come see Steve, the incredible glowing, flashing sheep. See her... The screaming commentary, which promised rides for the kids for $50 a ticket, was accompanied by video of a young girl riding the saddled sheep. The ewe, bright red, was blinking like a light bulb about to blow, and her tongue lolled out the side of her drooling mouth.

Alex grabbed his phone. “Hankins, you never said anything about turning Steve into a carnival attraction. You son of—”

“Just the person I wanted to talk to. Stewart, you sold me a lemon. She won’t let any of my rams near her. Now she won’t glow a whipstitch. You can have your ewe. I want my money back, Stewart, or I’ll get my lawyer on your ass. I’ll—”

“I haven’t cashed your check yet, Hankins.”

“I’m on my way.”

After the call, Alex calmed down and realized he was standing smack dab in the middle of square one. Winter coming on, no money, and a leaky barn that wouldn’t hold heat. But he couldn’t let Steve go through what Hankins had in store for her.

* * *

Hankins slid out the rusty ramp, but Steve wouldn’t exit the trailer. So he banged the sides with his fist till the ewe clambered out. As soon as she saw Alex and where she was, she hopped like a spring lamb and ran in circles around the barnyard.

But before Hankins had even rambled off Alex’s property, the ewe began panting, folded her legs and lowered herself to the ground.

“Been through a lot, haven’t you, girl?” Alex brought the ewe a pan of water and handful of hay. The sheep began munching her food and briefly glowed green. “There’s a nip in the air, Steve, better get yourself in the barn.” Alex shuddered as he looked at one particularly bad hole in the siding where the broken boards looked like jagged teeth.

* * *

A commotion in the barnyard awakened Alex. He looked through the bedroom window and saw the barn door was wide open, and the flock had wandered out. Incredibly, each animal was glowing a different color: red, orange, yellow, blue. Alex hurried outside and spread his arms to herd the sheep back into the barn. When he did, he saw that his hands were shining violet. He gasped and before he could catch his breath, his arms began flashing green and gold. Then his buzzing phone woke him.

“It’s me.”

Alex sat up in bed when he heard his son’s voice. It took Alex a moment to focus. He hadn’t slept past dawn in years. “Honey, is everyone OK?” Alex picked up from his nightstand a framed photograph of his son and grandson, Robby and Danny, and Alex’s daughter-in-law, Jennifer.

“We’re all fine,” Robby said.

“It’s wonderful to hear your voice again, sweetie.” Alex stood and paced the room. No reply. “Robby, are you still there?”

Alex could hear his son take a breath. “I called ’cause I saw you on the news with that colorful ewe. It got me thinking about... everything.”

Alex stopped in his tracks. “Yes?”

“What’s the ewe’s name?” Robby said.

“Steve. Danny named her that, remember?”

“That’s right. I tried to explain it’s a boy’s name.” Robby’s voice grew louder. “But it was a confusing time for him.”

“I know, son,” Alex said softly. “It was a confusing time for all of us.”

“Anyway, like I said, seeing you on TV got me thinking about everything.” Robby continued quickly. “And I could see on the news report how much worse the barn’s deteriorated the past three years.”

Alex looked out the window. There was a slight haze clinging to the roof of the barn as the sun burnt off a light frost. “Actually three years and three months since you last saw it,” Alex said and immediately regretted sounding as if he were complaining about Robby not being home for so long. “I’m afraid I can’t afford the materials.”

“And three months. Anyway, Jennifer’s going to spend the long weekend with her sister. I thought Danny and I would come for a visit and help you with repairs. It’d be good for... Danny. I can loan you the money. You can pay me back if you insist.”

Alex had to swallow hard before he could speak. “It’d be good for you and me, too, wouldn’t it, son?” There was a long pause on the other end. Alex left it alone.

“Yes, also for you and me,” Robby said finally. “Sorry... This is so hard. I don’t think I’ll tell Dad we’re coming to see you. I don’t... Do I call you ‘Dad’ now, too? I mean, after the hormones and surgery, you’re not...” Robby’s voice trailed off.

“Call me whatever you’re most comfortable with, honey. I’ll always be the one who gave birth to you.”

After he finished talking with his son, Alex pulled on his coveralls and went to the barnyard.

He pitched a bail of hay from the wagon and spread it around in the yard. Then he squeaked open the spigot at the wellhead. He waited for the sediment to clear from the orangish water then filled a tin cup. He drank half then swished the rest in his mouth and spat it out. The cold of approaching winter in the water hurt his teeth. He turned the spigot wide open and filled the trough.

When he swung open the heavy barn door, the corroded hinges groaned as loudly as he did. He could see the warmer air inside as it drifted into the chilly morning, almost as if the barn was exhaling after a night’s sleep. The sheep wandered out, Alex greeting each one by name. Some went to the trough, some to the hay. Others relieved themselves after being cooped up all night. Then Alex realized: no Steve.

Alex went into the barn and saw the ewe lying on her side. He hurried to her and knelt down. She was breathing rapidly. Her eyes were open, and a fly crawled sluggishly about them.

“Robby’s coming for a visit, Steve.” Alex shooed away the insect and gently closed the sheep’s eyes. “He said it’s ’cause he saw us on TV and got to thinking about things. Is that was this was all about, girl? Or were you a fluke of nature like I used to think I was?”

Steve’s breathing gradually slowed, then seemed to stop. Alex put his ear to her chest.

Standing, Alex noticed that a shaft of sunlight streaming through a gap in the barn siding had formed a faint rainbow in the moist air up by the rafters. For a moment he wondered if sheep had souls.

Copyright © 2018 by Dave Henson

Proceed to Challenge 792...

Home Page