The sheep didn’t have enough time. Not enough time to chew, not enough time to play, not even enough time to work. Not that he had worked for quite a while. If he could only make his head quieter. Was there such a thing? It felt so busy, so noisy, not to mention all the arguments. Imagined, fierce debates, with real sheep, that weren’t really present. Which, he astutely determined, constituted most of the noise. It was frustrating, and also totally ridiculous. Not his preparatory, or auxiliary, arguments, but that these absent sheep actually believed such nonsense. The internal ovine orator heaved himself up with a heavy breath, remaining puffed for as long as it felt right, then slowly deflated. Imagining everything bad leaving his woolly body.
“There were always going to be stupid sheep,” Johnny started up again. He didn’t know if this was comforting or not, but there was no point in getting worked up every time he met one. Unfortunately, it seemed as if he was almost exclusively surrounded by especially uninterested sheep, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that he didn’t have enough time. Not enough time to worry about unfriendly simpletons or determinedly static, and un-wondering, fellow world-ers. Not even a spare moment to wonder how they managed not to ponder anything he was currently mulling. Johnny was always thinking, all the time, but it wasn’t enough.
He wasn’t complaining, like so many circular conversations by decidedly negative bleaters, who shall remain absent, along with their constant support panel. The sheep felt puffed up again, but he had started planning. He had to do something, this he had decided, yet again. Oh yes, no longer would the obstacles of possible decision making stand in his way. Broken down they lay as another mental check point was passed. The woolly worrier had accidentally kicked out at the flimsy blue barn divider. “If only such valuable progress was more visible to others,” the sheep lamented, drifting back outside.
What was even more important was which wall to break through next, and would the farm management notice the loss of insulation? His burgeoning metamorphosis was a simple matter, and wouldn’t need to involve the Darlings at all, as they mainly focused on fences. All Johnny needed to do was decide what he wanted to be, or was. He could be anything, anyone. Although he did resemble a rather large rabbit in an especially woollen jacket.
As a sheep, he was laboured for time, which was a common enough problem amongst sheep. At least for those with any interest beyond the consumption of grass and gossip. It was entirely possible that any other animal, in any walk, crawl, swim, or flight, of life, had much more time on their paws, claws, hooves, fins, wings, or talons, than he did. The sheep shook his head free from appendage based distractions. It was free time that was at the very essence of his dilemma, or more importantly, it was his time to be free.
As a squirrel, he could hide out in his own tree, spend his time reading, thinking, eating nuts, and doing anything and everything that squirrels found fascinating. If he was a badger, he could dig an entire labyrinth of secret passages, and finally be safe from the prying eyes of his immediate ovine community. They would never bother him as a badger, in fear of leaving the well-lit safety of the farm so far behind. He could then spend his evenings reading by firelight, though that might be a bit lonely.
“You’re a sheep, Johnny,” a heavyset fellow wool producer stated flatly in front of his face, “in case you forget.” Johnny just stared at his gravelly toothed and grass stained grimace. The older sheep wasn’t blinking, while Johnny’s eyes flickered, and after a determined moment, which the large sheep clearly won, the elder walked away. Taking the possibility of violence along with him. This was exactly why Johnny had so many preparatory, yet ultimately unused, statements swirling around his head. Complacent ignorance was what Johnny wanted to escape from the most, with the possibility of imminent violence as a close second. He had never been that fond of physical expression, but the mundanity of his fellow sheep never failed to surprise and disappoint him, and by disappoint, he really meant bore. Naturally, there was still an element of enragement in these close encounters, but he was working on that too.
“I am reinventing myself,” Johnny tossed his head back in confident defiance, as he shouted after the retreating bulk of square trimmed wool. Action packed with repressed vengeance. The young sheep had always wanted to grow his wool longer, and the wavy woollen look of a rebel might well suit him. A leather clad hero from days gone by, with incredibly shiny wool. Styled in unreasonable curves, and pointing most pertinently at the top and tail, but the stale grassy breath of the old sheep was already back. Having brought his bulk and unspoken, yet evidently valuable, violence along with him.
“I read an article about these birds that travel the world,” Johnny kept his voice light-hearted, but rushed his words like any nervous sheep would. The all too close un-conversationalist couldn’t look any less interested. “And they get paid to do it,” the young Leicester battled on, offering their actual compensation as an incentive for interest. “War correspondents, I think they’re called,” Johnny looked unduly proud for mentioning anything so topical. “So you want to be a bird now, Johnny?” the grey sheep’s eyes lit like unhappy slits, yet somehow his sizeable ears barely heard anything. The larger-eared sheep was used to his well-intentioned words eliciting varied, and often hostile, responses. “It’s possible,” he held his head high, and further away, “but I haven’t yet decided.” “Reinvent all you want, Johnny, you’re a sheep, like the rest of us,” the smug bulk let his mouth pucker before he spat.
At least Johnny’s un-fellow ovine looked smug enough with his apparent revelation to lower the odds of actual brutality. Complacent in his desperate belief in the immutable, in an all too mutable world. A world Johnny found far more interesting. “This is not real, Johnny,” the grass stained ovine sounded almost kind, staring down at Johnny’s hoof-made wing and wool diagrams. “What is real?” the young sheep countered, as the fury of incredulity lit like prison spotlights on an already unfriendly face. “What is real, Johnny, what is real?” the old wool bag staggered in bewilderment, while Johnny hurriedly wondered whether confusion was yet another antidote to physical confrontation.
“You haven’t been running again, have you?” “No,” the large ear looked away, planning his escape route. “Training for your trip?” the grey sheep shook his head. “No,” the young sheep felt his skin flush with what had to be anger. “Well you take my advice, Johnny, and you be careful with flight,” the old sheep laughed. “Judging from last time, you can’t even swim.” Johnny had meant to say something clever, as the other guffawed, but the smug sump was already too far away. So in lieu of clever retort, the young fleece attempted another head flick, but his impressively curly wool merely bounced back.
The huffing Leicester inflated himself again, before breathing out the fresh batch of stale bad, setting his sheepish shoulders, and drawing a neat frame around his important scribbles. It was only a thought, but he should probably start using paper for privacy’s sake. He didn’t need to waste his energy on unfriendly locals as he would be off soon. Which reminded the self-assured sheep, his face brightening, he hadn’t yet had lunch.
It was one of the few things he liked about the farm. There were doubtless others, but at the moment he was far too distracted by their overstocked menu of green. The short and shabby grasses all around them, or the taller and juicer variants near the fences. Where the horses kept a close watch over the foreboding bounty waiting in the further fields. Enough to tempt any nonconformist wool peddler towards temporary bravery, and beyond the fence.
For those who favoured the more exotic flavours, they could try the henpecked and well-feathered bristles near the impressively noisy chicken coop cafeteria, or the stronger flavours amongst the cows. Johnny mulled around them all, in the midst of making up his mind. He didn’t know when he last snacked. It had to have been late last night, or else he would have passed out sooner. There was a vague memory of chewing noises, while pondering the act of decision making, in relation to actual doing, and he was lying on his stomach. So it was most likely coming from him.
Johnny chewed on some local short and scruffy, and started pondering, in earnest, the tantalising possibility of becoming a bird. It was undoubtedly a tall order, but what a life he would have. All the adventure and freedom he could hope for, and what was stopping him? Physical forms be damned, appearance was nothing, the sheep ripped another tuft of green into his mouth. Though he did rather resemble a Border Leicester, quite firmly. He had hooves, not claws, or talons, and four legs, not two and a pair of wings. Not to mention the tremendous drag coefficient of his ears. He was also covered in fluffy wool, with a distinct lack of feathers. Wool that simply would not whip away from his brow in any cool fashion, no matter how close he came to a neck injury. Not that this was part of his preflight check, more of a pet peeve.
His usual look was to keep his wool trimmed well back, depending on the season, but if he wanted to pursue the life of an avian rebel that might have to change. The short length was sure to be beneficial to the bird idea, it had to be more aerodynamic, and if he failed at flying, he could always become a well-groomed avian activist.
Just like that, with an accompanying hoof stamp, another decision was made. No longer would his haircut be mere personal preference, or looming demand in a jaded marketplace, but instead, personal growth. Take that any sheep who previously thought him mentally ill, Johnny happily, and silently, hoof boxed the sky. Though these impressive acts of determined individualism rarely went unnoticed by the other ovine.
Another big bite found its way into his eagerly chewing mouth, pausing for a drink from the water trough. He could see the smile creasing his remarkable sheeplike lips, which made him frown, as he realised birds didn’t have those either. Johnny puffed himself up again, looking away and breathing out happier. There would, no doubt, be many barriers to flight and bird conversion, real and imagined, but it all starts with a single flutter. Johnny grinned and shook his head in what felt like preparation. All that flying and freedom, birds didn’t know how lucky they were.
Johnny’s adventures with flight continue in Red Fur by ARH Forester