“We are so accustomed to wearing a disguise before others
that eventually we are unable to recognize ourselves.”
Francois De La Rochefoucauld
Timothy Sheep stood sulking in the Mid-Meadow on his favorite little hill, chewing on the same old grass as always. Overhead a few billowy clouds floated in a bright sunny sky. It was comfortably warm and the lush green grass was sweet. He could hear bees (or were they flies?) buzzing softly somewhere below him in the flowers. Everything was just as it always was, and Timothy was totally bored.
Just then, Johnny came gamboling along. Johnny and Timothy were best friends, kind of. Johnny was the most timid sheep Timothy knew and he usually felt sorry for him. Johnny was taller and thinner than Timothy. His gangly appearance made Timothy feel his own shortness made his stocky body look a little too plump, which he hated.
"Oh, lambskin," Timothy whispered to himself. "I hope he isn’t too whiny. Sometimes, Johnny really annoys me with his bleating heart and lamby-ness."
As soon as Johnny saw Timothy, he came trotting over. “Hi, Timmy,” he bleated. "What are you doing up here?"
"Johnny! I really hate it when you call me Timmy, instead of Timothy," he complained. "I’m not a lamb anymore. I’m almost two." Timothy sighed. "I come up here all the time. This is the best way to keep track of what's happening in the Flock. From here I can see all the way across the Meadows, and watch everything. I always know what's going on when I'm here. Not that there is much to see."
“Want to play?”
“I don’t know, Johnny. I’m kind of busy.” Timothy tried to act indifferent and cool.
Johnny looked like he didn't believe him. “So, what are you doing then?”
“You’re kidding. Right?”
Timothy shrugged. Johnny is so easy to fool, he thought. He falls for everything I tell him. Johnny stood there for a bit, unsure of what to say. Timothy ignored him and took another bite of grass like it was serious business.
After standing on first one leg then the other a while, Johnny finally asked, “Doesn’t that make you sleepy?”
Timothy groaned, but answered, “Not me. I can count for hours.”
Again Johnny stood there for a time looking thoughtful before he said, “So…how many are there?”
Luckily some movement caught Timothy’s eye and spared him from answering. He made a big show of turning to look. Johnny followed his gaze. A line of sheep came walking up into the meadow from the lower end.
“Hmmph,” Timothy said. “Those are easy to count. I bet they’re Orthodox sheep, finally working their way up from the Low Meadows. They’re so afraid of change that they always wait till they are forced to move.” Johnny nodded trying to be agreeable in spite of Timothy’s surly mood.
"Yep. They’ll only move up when all the grass is gone and not a moment before. Hmmph,” he said again. His parents said "Hmmph" a lot and, when he said it, it made him feel superior. “You know, it’s a wonder my mom and dad aren’t down there with them. It’s a wonder they aren’t Orthodox sheep too, like Old Wilbur.”
Johnny looked uncomfortable. “What’s wrong with Orthodox sheep?”
“What do you think? They never stop bleating about the kindness and generosity of the Good Shepherd. Always telling everyone what the Shepherd says you can’t do. And…” he pointed to the line of sheep again, “They’re always the last to leave the Low Meadows. They're the most stodgy and old fashioned of all the sheep in the Flock. And my parents are a lot like them, boring and stuffy, and way too strict. Can’t do this and can’t do that.”
“But someone has to tell you what’s right and what to do...” Johnny began in defense.
“The whole Flock is far too strait-laced,” Timothy interrupted decidedly. “They’re always worried about what the Shepherd thinks, and saying how good he is. How often do you even notice the Shepherd anyway? I’ve only ever seen him from a distance. It’s not like he’s in-your-face, or something. He leaves you alone almost all the time, even when you bleat for him. He’s not the one who chews you out for pulling on the baby lambs' tails. No. It’s always my parents, or an Orthodox sheep."
Timothy had a sudden thought. He rushed on, "I’ll bet the Shepherd doesn’t even care about the little things we do, right or wrong. He probably just cares about the big bad things. Yeah, that’s it,” he reasoned, “just the really big bad things.” Although Timothy couldn’t imagine what anyone here in the Flock could do, that would be really big, or bad, enough for the Shepherd to become angry. "In fact, I've never even heard of the Shepherd getting annoyed, although my folks and the older sheep always seem to be irritated about something."
“You shouldn’t talk that way, Timothy.” Johnny warned.
“Why not?” Timothy snapped at his friend.
“Well,” Johnny was unsure. “Well, one of them might hear you.”
But Timothy was on a roll. “So what? I’m not worried about what they think. I’m a two-ager and I'm wild and free.”
“But… the Shepherd…,” Johnny stuttered.
“The Shepherd keeps everything safe here, but then, he only leads us where it’s safe in the first place. Safe and boring. Especially boring for a rambunctious young ram like me,” he asserted. Timothy liked using big words when he could. “I want to be able to do as I please, with no one to boss me around. I want to be a ram's ram. Following the Shepherd is too restrictive,” he pronounced as he finished up. He took another bite of grass and chewed it thoughtfully watching the meadows around him.
"You don't know everything, you know," Johnny was defensive.
"Ha! I know everything I need to know about the Meadows. The Meadows are a series of grassy clearings that stretch out in each direction for a long ways and here, in the Mid-Meadows, we're probably half-way up the Mountain." Timothy wasn’t sure how many Meadows there were or if they were really half-way up the Mountain, but Johnny didn't know either so he couldn't call him a liar. Thinking about the Mountain, he gazed up at it.
“See up there Johnny?” He pointed. “There, above the Upper Meadows? That is where the Outside World begins and it's mysterious and exotic,” he said longingly. “I’d sure like to go up there and explore. That would be wonderful,” he sighed, “except for the wolves.”
“I hate the wolves, Timmy,” Johnny complained, the whites of his eyes showing slightly. “They scare me. And anyway, the adult sheep don’t like us talking about them.”
“Ha!" Timothy scoffed. “Those old muttons are always talking in hushed bleats about the wolves, especially Old Wilbur. Listening to Old Wilbur, you’d think he knows everything a wolf has ever done in the Meadows going back almost forever. The wolves this and the wolves that. The adults are usually careful not to talk where any of us younger sheep might hear, but I’ve eavesdropped on their moaning about the wolves often enough. To hear them talk, the wolves are responsible for everything bad that has ever happened."
“I don’t know…Maybe they are,” Johnny sounded doubtful and uncertain about Timothy’s whole conversation.”
“Come on, Johnny. Every time a sheep turns up missing, someone always claims they've strayed." Johnny blanched at the sound of the forbidden word.
Pleased to see he had shocked Johnny, Timothy went on, "Yeah strayed, and then got themselves devoured by the wolves.” Timothy shivered a little in spite of himself at that thought, however much he claimed that he doubted it.
“Well, the wolves are scary, Timmy. And how do we know that missing sheep don't end up in a wolf’s tummy somewhere?”
“Oh, I’m too old for bogey-wolves,” he told Johnny confidently. “I’ve even seen real wolves before lots of times... uh, well once anyway, from a distance," he corrected quickly at Johnny's look, afraid he'd stretched the truth too far. He returned closer to the truth, "Yeah. I saw them way over on a ridge, on the far side of the Upper-Meadows.” Timothy smiled enjoying his own bragging. “Yeah, they were scary, but even from so far away I could see they weren’t mean, or anything, to each other.” he mused. “I mean, I guess they're just mean to sheep.”
After a quiet pause he said, “Why couldn’t I be tough like a wolf? If I was a wolf, I wouldn’t have to be afraid of anything.” As he tried to imagine what that would feel like, he saw two other young sheep coming their way.
“Uh oh, here come Buster and Gainer. They're only a month or two older than us, but they're sure bigger than we are,” he huffed to Johnny. “I’m sure they’re headed over here to pick on me, I mean us, some more. Why don’t those bullies leave us alone?” No matter what he said, Timothy was convinced Buster and Gainer liked to single him out the most.
"Wool-pulling bully rams. It's hard enough having to start off a little small as a lamb," Timothy whined, "without being outright bullied. They're still mean even though I’ve mostly caught up with the other two-agers in growth now," he tried to assure himself. Yet the problems from his lamb-ling days still carried over. Buster still intimidated him every time he came around.
“Man, if I were a wolf, I’d teach Buster a lesson. In fact, I’d teach them all a lesson,” he told Johnny. “Well, I’m not hanging around here for Buster to trot over and butt me,” he declared to Johnny. “You coming?” He asked as he turned and pranced down over the rise, putting it between them and Buster. Once they were hidden, he said, “Now, come on. Let’s go.” He took off running with Johnny on his tail. They got to the edge of the trees and quickly skirted along it, headed off in the general direction of the Shepherd’s tent. “If we stay low and cut around the meadows here, with a little luck, we’ll avoid those two,” Timothy said to Johnny as he stopped to look behind him to see where Buster and Gainer were.
"Are we running away?" Johnny asked as he called out from behind him.
"No. We're not running away. Not really," he thought fast. "I’m just being smart and avoiding trouble. Besides, they'll see you and I are racing," he assured Johnny.
“Of course. Oops. There they are, up on top where we just left. We need some more distance from those two.” Thinking fast, he said, “OK, Johnny. Let’s start our race now. Last one to Big Rock Point is stale wolf-bait,” he yelled and took off running.
“Hey, wait up. No fair,” he heard Johnny call as he ran past him once again. Looking over his shoulder he saw Johnny following him at a dead run. Up on the rise he saw Buster and Gainer watching them. He grinned. He could imagine they were a little disappointed at his escape.
“Can’t catch me,” he called out pretending he hadn’t seen Buster and Gainer. "Can't catch me," he yelled again wanting them to think they really were playing chase. He doubled his speed. He could hear Johnny racing along right behind him as they cleared the next rise and almost ran over the top of Ewellen and Skipper.
“Hey. Watch where you’re frolicking!” Ewellen scolded.
“Hah! You sound like my mom,” Timothy laughed back at her.
“Wait. Where are you going?” She called again as they raced past.
“Big Rock Point,” gasped Johnny over his shoulder as he bounced along.
“But, that's on the far side of the Mid-Meadows," Skipper complained.
"Hey! Wait for us,” Timothy heard Ewellen call, but he kept on running. He didn’t think Buster or Gainer would run after them, that would look un-cool, but there was no sense taking any chances. He didn’t slow down until they all stumbled into the dell beside Big Rock Point out of breath. Gasping and laughing the four young sheep ran out into the high grass. The Flock seldom came this far with their grazing.
Timothy slowed and began to kick his hooves up and gambol about. “I beat you. I beat you,” he chanted.
“Only because you had a head start,” Ewellen said primly, but she laughed and began to jump and kick, too.
“Yeah,” chimed in Johnny. “You cheated. You cheated,” he chanted back at Timothy all the while laughing and bucking like he had a squirrel on his back. “You cheated. You cheated. You might as well have bleated.” He laughed some more at his rhyme.
“We caught up with you two. You can’t say we didn’t,” Skipper pointed out. He began his own chant, “We caught you. We caught you.” Ewellen chimed in joining him. Together, they all pranced and jumped about each other, each trying for a more impressive kick, or to out buck the others.
Then, Timothy and his friends heard the howl. Its mournful wailing echoed through the ridges on the Mountain above them.