The Sheep [Flash Fiction]

By Elle Faye

When the scientists had finished producing the sheep, they felt like they were artists. They felt like they had created something special. A symbol, perhaps, or something like it. A representation of how far we’ve come as human beings. But, on first sight, no one could differentiate it from regular or non-symbolic sheep. Not even the sheep itself. It felt like a sheep. It looked like a sheep, and it thought like a sheep. It even bleated like a sheep sometimes will in times of duress.

But, because it had grown up in a lab underground where the hay never hid the cold, concrete floors, it desperately wanted to be with other sheep. And the scientists had modeled this probability on their supercomputers. In fact, they banked on it. They wanted to test this new sheep out on regular sheep –– a kind of social experiment. A successful experiment equaled grant money, lots of grant money. Lots of grant money meant more sheep, which would make a kind of unbreakable circuit of sheep and money and money and sheep. So they gave it to a sheep farm owner. It would cost him, though, everything he had, which was a lot since all he had was a son, a wife’s warm-white bones in cool-brown ground, a can full of savings, and a mortgage. He and his son hadn’t eaten meat in months and it jutted the boy’s ribs flush against his pale skin.

So the scientists’ sales pitch about the sheep being a symbol for a kind of progress and the farmer being instrumental, no FOUNDATIONAL and ESSENTIAL, in the fulfillment of the sheep’s meaning for modern humanity did nothing to sway the poor farmer. So they took a new tact with him. They promised a payoff, a BIG payoff.

But when the farmer brought the sheep to his pasture, his old sheep bit the sheep and head-butted the sheep.

And so the sheep, bruised and battered and bloody, was taken to the scientists for treatment. They bandaged the sheep up and told the owner that the new sheep was something the other sheep would eventually get used to. It’s tricky to teach an old sheep about new sheep. They sprayed its coat with something smelly. This smell, something like spoiled eggs, convinced the owner of the scientists’ words. He asked if they could give him some for just in case. They replied the serum was too expensive for just in case, and this awed the owner, who rode the elevator with his fixed sheep in a frayed rope leash, staring at it as one does intricate stained glass.

So the sheep was dropped back into the pasture with renewed hope.

But the other sheep did the same things to the sheep, only harder this time.

So painful were the attacks that the sheep whimpered instead of bleated.

Soon, the owner separated the sheep from the sheep. He thought this was the smart thing to do, so he ramshackled a fence from loose wood and rusty wire.

At feeding time, the sheep in its new pen was given separate sheep food but wouldn’t eat. It still faced the pasture and watched the other sheep eat. It became stubborn and obstinate when shearing time came. So, the owner tried to feed it table scraps, which he thought was a sheep delicacy. Still, the sheep just faced the other pasture.

And the other sheep in the pasture faced the sheep, and the owner saw this. But he held back the urge to drop the sheep with the other sheep again. He didn’t want the sheep to endure any more suffering or have its wool get harmed. The sheep’s coat had gotten particularly fluffy, and, thinking of his son, the owner wanted to wait as long as he could so that he could sell the high-grade wool for a lot of money. He wanted, like most fathers, to treat his son to something special, even if it was just a meal. Underneath its growing, insulating wool, the engineered sheep withered away, though. One would think a sheep in such feeble condition would nap more frequently, but the sheep didn’t. It stayed stock-still and watched the other sheep watch it from across the fence.

The owner –– no genius of sheep ethics himself, but a man of common sense and duty to his son –– decided to finally sneak up on the engineered sheep so he could take him to the shearing shack. But the sheep sensed him and immediately attacked him and nearly took off his pinky. This drove the owner to anger. He no longer pitied the sheep or cared whether it lived or died. To him, it was just a sheep, a genetically-engineered sheep. Plus, he had got the thing for free.

So he took down the fence that separated each pasture.

Things poorly built take no time to deconstruct.

Within seconds, the other sheep attacked the engineered sheep with the most sincere viciousness he’s ever seen. It made him grin to see the sheep get what he thought it deserved. He knew nothing of the sheep’s inner weakness and how precisely impossible this made it for the sheep, alone, to put up a defense. But the violence didn’t stop. It seemed each sheep had a bone to pick with this new one and they all wanted to do it at once. Stop, the farmer screamed. But sheep don’t know what this word means. He jumped on the fence and stayed there, fearing for the first time the power of the sheep over him. As his nose and eyes started to drip, he turned away.

The owner dragged the carcass to the shearing shack. He thought about winter coming on, about the scientists’ promise for a better yield. A big payoff. He thought about his stunted son. He set the sheep on the wide wooden altar and took down his two tools. The owner set down the dull knife and held the electric shear tight in his right hand. He closed his eyes. The flicked-on shear rattled, dumb and impatient. He breathed. His left hand sloshed through the engineered sheep’s wet wool, and the shear chased close behind. When it was all finished, he stood and panted at the sight. The grey skin tight on ribs, dented. The hooves still browned with dirt. Red raining down onto heavier, near-purple clouds. Out the doorway, the light was bruising into dusk. He sat back down. Dinnertime would be soon.

 

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Elle Faye currently resides in Oxford, MS. Hailing from Memphis, TN, her interests at the moment include somaesthetics, vegetarianism, the meta-modern, contemporary literary society, honesty, and the parable.