The hiker, clearly a novice, stopped mid-stride as the sight of large horned-sheep with odd black faces, captured his attention. While the sun shone overhead, Matt Rushby climbed the pasture fence in an attempt to snap a better picture to show his parents. His feet chafed. The new boots he wore had been amazingly comfortable when he bought them, but now, his feet felt battered. He set his camera on the ground beside him and unlaced the stiff hiking boots. Pulling them off, he saw holes in his socks, the edges tinged with blood. Skin was rubbed raw and bleeding on the sides of both feet and the top of his large right toe.
He stood, wiggling his sore toes and relishing the soothing feeling. As he reached for his camera, his eyes grew wide. A large flock of horned sheep was slowly closing in on him. He rose, and backed cautiously away from the herd. His feet protested vehemently. Nettles stung, stones pricked, and with each step, he moved farther from his boots.
The sheep followed as though stalking him. For every step he took backward, the flock advanced toward him; he felt trapped. Eventually, the lambs gamboling nearby gave him an idea. Matt decided to run with the hope that he could put enough distance between him and the sheep, and that the ewes would feel compelled to return to their lambs.
He turned, already prepared to bolt, and stopped cold. Half a dozen sheep blocked his flight path. In seconds, dozens of bleating horned-sheep surrounded him. Matt glanced at his watch. Twelve-thirty. How long would it be before the sheep ate all the grass around him and moved on to graze elsewhere? How long would he stand encircled by those animals before they ate his new boots? Matt was ignorant enough of sheep that he didn’t know that unlike some unprincipled goats, sheep are singularly uninterested in leather or rubber. Yet, he now knew how intimidating and fearsome sheep look when they are eye level with your belt buckle.
Feeling somewhat helpless and completely trapped, Matt pulled a battered copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets from his jacket pocket, opened to number eighty-five, and then laughed as he read, “My tongue-tied muse in manners holds her still— ”[i]
The sheep bleated as he laughed, sending nervous chills up his spine. Their curved horns looked menacing. Matt remembered something about animals sensing or smelling fear, chose to feign nonchalance, and forced his breathing to remain regular. He knew he’d perspire less without his jacket, so he removed it and tied the sleeves around his waist. The sheep gazed at him curiously. He dragged his eyes from the circle of sheep and forced himself to read the unfinished sonnet.
Minutes ticked by, but each one felt like an hour. His feet ached, his lips were parched with cracks in the corners, and his mouth felt like cotton. The sun slowly moved across the sky, but Matt stood still, his heart resolute. He’d stand there until someone found him or he dropped from exhaustion and was trampled by crazed sheep. How ironic, they’d say at his funeral, that he’d survived the dangers of the inner city only to be killed, alone, in the wilds of Montana, by a flock of fluffy, but not so white, sheep.
[i] Sonnet 85; Shakespeare, William