Baa Baa Black Sheep

by Tyler Dunning

Best ewe of the flock, the master thought, dew-coated brute supine at his work boots with afterbirth still tailing a teat-thirsty newborn suckling at the fresh rot of the carcass. Baby bloody and tar black. The master’s first, though he’d been warned they’d come. Bad omen, he thought. Mark of the devil. No other animals lost since last February’s cold snap. Now this. Best ewe of the flock. He read Isaiah twice before grabbing his gun. 

Would’ve put lead in that little lamb’s heart had she not stopped him, the wife ofttimes being told her womanly nature got in the way of the work. She conceived that harvest moon, warned by her body thrice before that a baby wouldn’t take. Now this. Their first. She’d never speak it to the master but held the black sheep as her boon. Slipped it extra barley when unwatched. Wife died that May, baby breached and butchered out of her once passed, child cornflower blue in the tangle of cord but alive. Master later grabbed his gun, bedchamber hence cleaned, no one now to stop him, and set about his task from the season prior, obedient to his own labor. Buried his wife alongside the coal-colored yearling that same night, stacked rocks above, not sure which the wolves would get at first. Never opened his Bible again. Never gave the child a name.

Boy was at no time right, not from the onset, and the master lacked tender resolve for his special needs, seeing his wife in the boy’s womanly nature, treating him a beast the best he knew how, and showed no restraint. Shattered the boy’s eardrum twice before hiring a widowed dame to help in the rearing. Boy was never good for nothing, not on a farmstead, and by fourteen, big as an ox, couldn’t be trusted with sickle or shear, found sexually spoiling his hired caretaker twice. Only good the master found him for was lamb delivery each spring, the boy perhaps too interested in the gestational discharge. Found playing in it when left unwatched. It was during the boy’s tertiary season that the next black came, the master’s second. Bad omen, he thought. Fetched his gun. 

Would’ve put lead in the little lamb’s heart had the boy not stopped him, violence begetting violence, the master now delicate to a life’s worth of hardened work. Boy slit his father’s throat in the field without much struggle; buried him near the same canine-clawed rockpiles. Burned most of the master’s belongings too, including the dame, but finding his father’s Bible, and unable to read, left it open to the only dogeared page: He tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

The farmland fell ill. Flock thinned to one black sheep. Boy grew old and only loyal to the single task of shearing each season, gathering three bags of the raven wool and, like an unfinished funeral, spread them as ash across the unholy estate. One for the master. One for the dame. One for the little boy never given a name.

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