“A funeral for an animal? I don’t think so, my son.”
Father Joe shook his head slowly, sympathetic eyes on young Steven Samuel Ward.
teen-aged shepherd, who went by ‘Sam,’ cradled a black lamb as if it were still
alive, not bled dry by some voracious predator. “If I bury ‘im in holy ground,
d’you think he’ll rise in three days like it says in the Good Book about the
Lamb of God?” Sam looked hopeful.
nonplussed, thought, Where did I go wrong
in my sermons that the lad can’t distinguish between a beast and God’s Son?
“How about if I
bless him, and you let him go home to the heavenly fields instead?” The old
priest laid a kindly hand on the tiny black bundle in the boy’s arms. “Did you
“I was going to
call him Wooly-Wooly,” began the boy, tears tracking his dirty cheeks. His
flock milled around, raising the dust in front of St. Elmo’s Chapel. This
drought year in Napper’s Holler meant a hot, thirsty trek down from the high
meadows where Sam pastured his sheep.
“I screamed at the
critter what bled Wooly-Wooly, and then ol’ Shep barked and chased it. I
couldn’t see it clearly from far away. Shep never came back, so I need Pa’s
Goofer, Shep’s brother. We traded the other pups, but no one would take stupid
Goofer.” Sam dried his tears with a ragged sleeve.
“Come into the
church, Sam, and we’ll get on with the blessing. I think your flock will be all
right inside the fence, once I close the garden gate.”
Sam gave a
whistle, and, sure enough, the sheep filed into the sorry remains of the church
garden, their hungry eyes on the last of Joe’s daisies. Wooly-Wooly in his
arms, the boy padded into the cool quiet of the chapel, pausing to bathe his
stinging eyes with a few drops of holy water.
like heaven in here, thought Sam. He
loved the cedar incense of the dim chapel built like an upside-down ship’s
hull, the red sanctuary glass with its bees’ wax candle glow, and, above all,
the peaceful silence. It was a different quiet than his lonely camp high in the
hills, where no one but he, Pa Ward, and their animals ever went. He felt safe
enough to curl up right in front of the altar for a nap.
But he remembered
the lamb, and while he was waiting for Father Joe to put on his prayer stole,
sprinkle holy water and murmur prayers, Sam sent God his own. Dear Lord,
if you don’t mind, could you raise up Wooly-Wooly…leastways on the Last
Day…and, oh yes…look after Shep too while you’re at it.
Back at the Ward
stead, Pa Elwood ‘Weird’ Ward—a taller, bonier version of his son—was just
nodding off in his chair when he heard claws scrabbling at his cabin door, and
a familiar bark. “Hold on, Shep, I’m a-comin’!” He wondered why Goofer didn’t
rise to greet his brother. Tail between his legs, the dog growled, and crouched
low enough to squirm into the darkness under Weird’s bed.
ol’ boy?” Weird frowned down at Goofer, who dropped his eyes and whined,
inspiring the man to grab his shotgun before the door handle. He sniffed, and
detected the scent that had Goofer spooked. “Now what’s a blamed skunk doing
around here in daylight?”
Three strides, and
Weird crossed the cabin, opened the door a crack, and…no dog or skunk.
Confused, he widened the crack—squeak,
squeak, squeak—and poked his head out for a quick look. He breathed a sigh
of relief when he heard Sam whistle from the woods to call his sheep.
ready, Weird stepped out onto the porch, thinking, Shep must’ve run back to
Sam to help him bring in the flock… Hey, my ax
is gone from the stump out front.
Weird never felt anything
beyond the blow that severed his thoughts forever.
Sam, back sore
from the load of Wooly-Wooly in the sack provided by Father Joe for the lamb’s
burial, approached the Ward stead, whistling for his sheep to follow. “Halloo
the stead! Pa, I’m home.”
Dog whines and
skunk stench met him. The stench explained the whines. I guess Goofer got sprayed
bad enough to send him under the cabin. When
will that dog ever learn?
Sam stepped onto
the front porch. Twilight shadows hid the blood-soaked boards under his feet.
The door was ajar, but he felt relief at the sight of a figure under the bed
covers. Pa must’ve turned in already,
sound asleep too. Better not wake him up with bad news.
Sam headed for the
barn, thankful Father Joe had fed him. I’ll
sleep with my flock tonight. He still hadn’t given up on the biblical
third-day-rising idea, despite what the priest said. Maybe tomorrow…can’t
bury my lamb till I know for sure.
tenderly in the loft hay, Sam climbed back down the ladder to the barn floor.
The sheep had fed and settled for their night’s rest. Ma Bessie Samantha’s
tattered shawl lay atop one of the hay mounds, and the boy made his own bed
there near them.
sure Ma run off with a stranger…or fell over a cliff. But the way she
was with animals, she’s probably living with wild uns and doing just fine
amongst ‘em. It’s only been a year…seems like forever, though… Sam swallowed the lump welling in his throat,
and drifted into dreams of
his ma and his lamb alive and playing in flowery meadows together.
A rosy dawn that
hinted at rain to follow welcomed Sam awake. He heard a faint rustle in the
loft and a muffled eerie cry. His heart leapt at the thought of: The Third Day!
“I believe, Lord,
I believe!” The youth jumped up—startling his flock—then fell to his knees,
pressed his hands together, and turned a fervent gaze upward to view the
miracle. It’s true!
astonishment, Sam watched for movement in the bag, ears primed for more cries.
The sheep din brought Sam to his feet at last; impatient, he scrambled up the
ladder. The loft stank of skunk.
Sam unfolded the bag to see a furry face and body, a tiny red mouth, and four
flailing limbs. Had Wooly-Wooly been changed into a critter of a type never seen
before in the Holler? The baby-thing opened blue eyes, and Sam knew those eyes.
They matched his, and his ma’s.
The first thought
to come to Sam’s mind was: How? The
second thought was one he spoke aloud: “I’ll call you Wooly-Wooly, ‘though I
know you ain’t him ‘cause you’re a girl. Besides, you are all
covered with wool.” Delighted with his surprise, Sam picked
up the infant and descended the ladder.
Wooly-Wooly in his ma’s shawl, he placed her where he’d bedded. Baby and sheep
locked safely inside the barn, Sam crossed the yard to the cabin. Because
Goofer was sprawled over the bloodied boards and his pa’s gun, the boy didn’t
notice them. Asleep on the job—that’s our
What Sam did see
on entering the cabin were two bodies. The naked corpse on the floor with the
belly torn open still had a head—Bessie Samantha’s. The stiffer one in the bed
missing a head he knew by the clothes and boots: Pa Ward. Pa’s ax, dropped next
to the bed, looked like it had been licked clean.
Badly shaken, Sam
sat down hard on the cabin floor. Wooly-Wooly’s eerie cry brought him back up
just as the bodies of two dead dogs—a rigid and stinky Shep, and a limp
Goofer—came flying through the open window, one after the other. Mimicking
Sam’s whistle and Shep’s bark, the heavy-footed dog tosser thumped across the
yard toward Sam’s flock and baby sister in the barn.
cries were drowned by panicked sheep, fooled by the sounds but not the scent.
The boy ran to the window and saw the same monster who’d killed his lamb going
around behind the barn. Hah! He may be
big, but he doesn’t know how to
treat locks or axes! He’ll surely
try the loft window…
Sam ran, ax in
hand, to the barn. Frightened sheep stampeded out as soon as he opened the barn
door. Next, Sam snugged the baby to his chest in the shawl. At the loft window
rose, he saw, the pointed crest of a huge, shaggy head. Beast-man, you’re tall!
if you be Goliath, then I’m David…
Surging up the
ladder, ax tucked in his rope belt, Sam raced to the window. Massive, furry
fingers made a grab for the boy, who swung with all his might and planted the
ax between glaring yellow eyes. The beast’s eyes dimmed as his hand tried to
pull the ax free. The other hand lost its hold on the window’s edge, and
‘Goliath’ crashed to the ground, bleeding from the blade embedded in his skull.
Sam didn’t bother
to check the fallen giant, in case he had only fainted. Instead, he hightailed
it for Napper’s Holler with Wooly-Wooly, keeping an eye out for his flock.
Thunder boomed and lightning flashed, sending the boy slipping along the narrow
path in a downpour. The rains had come at last!
shepherd found his flock safe at Father Joe’s. They hadn’t forgotten the
daisies. Heavy rains turned the ground to mud, and filled the streams. The
hills greened. Crops were planted. Wooly-Wooly, baptized Sarah Samantha, was
given love and her fill of cow’s milk. By the time her half-brother dared
return to the Ward stead, a slide had buried it—along with all the bodies. Over
them grew grass and flowers, a perfect pasture for a black lamb visible only to
innocent souls who happened by and believed that the Lord moves in mysterious ways…