I woke up this morning and Adam, my best friend, was gone. When I finally found him I had to sit down fast. His body was torn open and he was partially eaten. Tufts of white wool had snagged in the nearby bushes. It looked like wolves had gotten him, but how could wolves be in the pasture? How could they have lured him away from my side?
Somehow I made it over to the old oak tree where we all flock. Leroy was the first to see me coming. “What happened?” he called out to me, “you look like hell!” “Adam’s dead,” I said. My throat hurt. “I just found him. He’s been torn to pieces.” I stumbled to the tree and fell. I could hear Leroy’s teeth grinding. “Same thing happened to my cousin just the other night. I told you about that.” I blinked up at him. Leroy and his family lived in a rougher part of the pasture, over near the blackberry brambles. I hadn’t given it much thought when he told us about his cousin. Bad things were always happening to the sheep that lived over that way.
Before I could say anything, Annabell, Leroy’s baby sister, came running up to the oak tree. She was panting so hard she couldn’t speak. Leroy gathered her up, murmuring. Huge trembles shook her soft black wool. Finally she gasped, “I was grazing over by the stream and I looked up and there was this sheep drinking, he had his back to me and all of a sudden I saw…I saw…” Leroy gave her a gentle hug, “I saw his tail, his tail, it was long and grey and furry.” Her eyes were wild. “He wasn’t a sheep at all, he was a wolf!”
For a moment, no one said anything. Then everyone started talking at once. Finally James stepped to the front and spoke to the child. “Are you sure?” he asked her. She nodded. “Did you see his face?” he asked her. “Would you know him if you saw him again?” She shook her head. James chewed his cud thoughtfully for a moment. “I think we need to go to the Shepherd,” he said at last. “He’ll know what to do.”
I felt like I did that first time they held me down for the shearing, my mind cracking and breaking into a million pieces. I was grateful that someone was taking charge.
Everyone was leaving. I pulled myself together and trotted after them to the cluster of rocks where the Shepherd was sitting. When we all got there, James said, “Sir, someone has been killing us. We believe there is a wolf among the flock, dressed in sheep’s clothing.”
I could see the love in the Shepherd’s eyes as he looked at us. “My beloved sheep,” he said. “You are meek, and shall inherit the earth.” I felt a little better when he said that, though images of Adam’s mangled body kept flashing in front of my eyes. I didn’t want to think about what he had gone through in his final moments. I wished I could have been there for him, but what could I have done? I would have been eaten, too.
The Shepherd continued. “I have chosen you to be my flock, and I love every one of you. But,” he added, “I also love the wolves. I love the feel of their fur. I love to hear them howl when moonlight is bright on the snow.” I glanced over at my friend Rachel. Rachel and Adam and I had been friends for as long as we could remember. Now she was staring at the Shepherd with her mouth hanging open. The Shepherd must have seen her too, because he added, “I love the grass, as well. I love the way it ripples in the wind and how it smells, and I give you the grass to eat.”
Everything always seemed to make so much sense when he spoke. He got up, and picked up his cloak and flute. As he strolled away, he said over his shoulder, “I love the worms, too, and the way they rejoice and thank me when the soil that they eat is enriched with blood.”
Then he blew into his flute, and I was no longer a sheep in a pasture, I was the pasture, the grass and worms and trees and stream, I was the whole earth, singing, spinning, orbiting the sun, I was the sun, spiraling through the Milky Way, I was the Milky Way, lifting my skirts to the tune of the Shepherd’s flute, and then he was gone, over the hill, and the music faded away.
After awhile we all drifted back to the oak tree. It was a long time before anyone spoke. Tommy was the first to say anything. “The Shepherd’s right,” he said. “Death is just a natural part of the cycle of life. If the humans don’t take you, the wolves will.” Tommy’s mom had wandered out of the pasture through a break in the fence when he was still a nursling. The wolves had gotten her, but he had been able to run away, back to the flock. The other moms had helped out, letting him nurse after their own babies were done. He had grown up a skinny lamb who loved to take risks, jumping off the highest rocks in the pasture, daring the other boys in breath-holding contests in the deep pools of the stream. “Who cares?” he said. “I’m just going to be happy and eat my grass today, and if I die tonight, so be it.”
“I care,” said Leroy. “That wolf will wipe this flock out if we don’t do something.” Old Mr. Higby cleared his throat with a loud “Hrumph!” Everyone looked at him. He was kind of a hermit who was known to butt sheep who grazed too close to him. There’s one in every flock, I guess.
“How do we know there really is a wolf?” he said. “ This lamb who claimed to have seen that tail is nothing more than a baby. She doesn’t know truth from make-believe.” I wondered if he would have said that if he had seen Adam’s body, or heard the buzzing of the flies that finally guided me to it. I started to say something, but then I remembered how I hadn’t really paid attention when Leroy told us about his cousin.
“If it looks like a sheep, walks like a sheep, baas like a sheep, then it is a sheep,” Mr. Higby was saying. “Besides, if we start accusing innocent sheep of wolfery, where will it end? Who among us would be safe in a wolf-hunt?” It occurred to me that if a wolf had come into the pasture, he could have killed anyone and taken their fleece. I wondered why Mr. Higby was trying so hard to convince us that there were no wolves. I looked around, my stomachs a little queasy.
At that point, Samantha, who had just come back from a three month meditation retreat in the mountains above the pasture, spoke up, her voice a little quivery from disuse. “I think we should all live as the Shepherd does,” she said. “By embodying divine unity, we can remind the wolf that we are all one. We must treat one another with respect and non-harmfulness, seeing the inner sheep nature in all of us. We need to go to the wolf and respectfully request that he stop eating us, and help him find other ways of meeting his need for nourishment.”
Well, that kind of relieved the tension a little as everyone got a good laugh. I could see how embarrassed Samantha was, though, and felt sad for her. It was such a pure vision.
Leroy stood up next and said, “We should do him like he does us: bite him and kill him and eat him.” Mr. Phillips, our biology teacher, said mildly, “Leroy, weren’t you paying attention in class? Sheep don’t have the teeth, or the stomachs, or the personality to harm a wolf.” Leroy gave Mr. Phillips a piercing look. “I can change,” he growled, “I can change. And I am not going down without a fight.”
James, ever the sensible one, stepped forward. “Perhaps we can post a guard at night, and catch the wolf in the act.” I saw my mother, over on the other side of the flock, roll her eyes. “The wolf will be the first to volunteer,” she said. She’s always right.
Annabell cut a look at old man Higby, and spoke up. “Why don’t we just pull on everybody’s fleece, and if it comes off, then we’ll know who is the wolf. Then a bunch of sheep can stand around him wherever he goes, night or day, and warn everyone when he’s nearby. He’ll go away pretty soon.”
Everyone stared at her. It was so breathtakingly simple, so obvious. Then Robert, the lawyer, started rubbing his chin. That was never a good sign. “I think we might run up against some Fourth Amendment issues with that idea,” he said, “and if we have to go to the Supreme Court, we’ll end up as mutton sandwiches.”
The sun was setting. This time yesterday Adam and I had been playing at head butting, laughing, half drunk on the fragrance in the clover patch. I looked around and wondered who the flies would buzz over in the morning. I heard Rachel sniffle and I bumped my shoulder into hers.
She turned to look at me, tears in her eyes. “We’re sheep,” she whispered, “he’s a wolf. He’ll never stop.”