I can’t hold myself up anymore. My once snow-white wool is dingy and matted. Burrs prick through my wool and my hooves ache. My tongue is thick and dusty, and my head pounds.
Where am I?
I am alone. Without my family, without my friends, and most importantly, without my shepherd.
How have I gotten here?
My front leg snaps underneath me. I have collapsed at the bottom of a rocky gorge and as I lie in pain, I pity myself.
Life with flock had felt…dull. Oh sure, it was safe and I was well fed, but there wasn’t much to do. We followed the shepherd from trickling stream to verdant hillside and back to our fold at night. It was comfortable but meaningless.
One afternoon I looked up from the grass and nearby mountains caught my gaze. The snow on them gleamed in the sunlight, and their magnificence beckoned me. My heart pounded as I thought of the incredible adventure it would be to scale to the top and see the valleys below. In my mind, I leapt onto stately boulders and trod lightly on top of glistening snow. It was glorious.
But when I opened my eyes, I looked around and saw…grey. The same grey and white sheep I had always lived with. They followed the shepherd dutifully, never asking questions, never dreaming of the adventures that awaited beyond the fold, beyond the green pastures and the still waters.
So each day I began to wander slightly from the mind-numbed, obedient flock. I ambled innocently behind boulders to see what was behind them. I nosed further along the path to find the type of grass that made my mouth water. I dabbed my hooves in a stream to test its depth.
But always the shepherd was there to nudge me back into the group. I chafed at his constant intervention. Every time he came after me with his crook, my mind chafed at his attention. Couldn’t he just leave me alone to explore, to be free and exult in the way life was meant to be lived?
But then came the day when he didn’t nudge me back. I wandered, peeking behind me at intervals to see if he would hook my neck with his crooked staff. His back was to me, so I turned my back to him and trotted further. The next time I looked back, he was out of sight.
I poked my nose into a small cave and found it warm and dry. I settled myself down for a nap. When I awoke, the sun was setting. I looked out for signs of the shepherd coming to harass me back to the flock, but didn’t see him. The freedom was intoxicating. I could do whatever I wanted! But what I wanted right now was to sleep, so I curled up again and slept soundly until morning.
When I awoke, the world away from the fold was glorious. Dew had sprung from the grass, and the taste of the wet blades in my mouth was heavenly. I ate until my stomach felt heavy from the weight of it all.
I decided to explore more, and found the mountains calling out to my imagination. What would it be like to stand at the top and see the world? With nothing and no one holding me back, I waddled heavily toward the peaks. As my feeling of satisfied fullness went away, I was able to walk faster upwards.
At last I came to a rocky outcropping partway up a hill. I stood on the edge of it and looked at where I had been. I felt scorn for the sheep I had left behind. Where were they now? I laughed to myself – they were living their dull life while I was on the adventure of a lifetime!
And the shepherd? He could keep his crook and his nudges, because I was free! And look how well I was doing; I had never eaten such a fine meal, and now I was halfway to the top of the world. I held my head high and smirked with pride. I was alone, and I was better off for it.
Sleep came quickly that night. I had laid down on a bed of thick grass in the centre of a stand of trees. I dreamed wild dreams of soaring through clouds and of the shepherd firmly attached to the earth, wandering aimlessly below me.
When I awoke, I had a strange sense of discontent in my heart. I knew it must be the desire to see more sights, so I hurried on my way after snatching a quick breakfast of a type of sweet flowers I had never seen before. As I chewed the soft, sweet petals, I walked and thought of how I was going to reach the top of the mountains.
A short time later, my gut started to ache. I thought that I must be hungry again, so I ate more of the fragrant flowers. They were amazing in the mouth, but they didn’t help my stomachache. I chafed to continue on my journey, so I continued walking, even with the discomfort. Looking for something familiar to eat, I wandered off the path and into a bright meadow. Burrs grabbed at my woolen coat, but I didn’t notice as I tore my way through to find something to ease the aching. Finally, I found a small patch of grass. It tasted like boredom in my mouth, but eased the burning in my stomach.
Relieved of some of my pain, I laid down to rest. In my dreams, I continued to fly through the clouds, but I found myself straining to keep afloat. I paddled my legs with a fury, but found myself falling towards the earth. Just before I smashed to the ground, I awoke. I was panting and sweaty, but my stomach was hungry, not hurting. After eating more of the boring grass, I continued through the meadow.
Slowly the terrain became rougher. The sunny meadow became a murky forest, and the grass underfoot became pebbles that caught in my hooves. I continued on, because I knew that my reward was coming.
Soon I would be at the top and I would be the king of my world!
It’s here that my memory becomes fuzzy. It seems as though one minute I was wandering through the murky forest, and the next I was collapsing in this rocky gorge.
I hurt. I am frustrated that I can’t reach the top of the world and be the king. I am annoyed that the shepherd allowed me to be in this uncomfortable place. Doesn’t he know that I’m in pain?!
I hear a twig snap.
An owl hoots.
I convince myself that there is nothing to fear.
But then a snarl comes from a place not too distant.
I try to make myself smaller and my breathing quieter, but the pain in my front leg forces my breathing to whistle loudly.
Another snarl and a padding of feet coming towards me.
I smell hunger.
I close my eyes up tight and wish desperately for the safety of the fold.
Suddenly I hear a loud shout, and a ferocious snarl. I hear something whizzing through the air and I scream in fear.
It is coming for me!
I am going to be dinner for something with long teeth and sharp claws!
Sounds of snarling and grunting reach my quivering ears.
A cry of pain, a howl of distress.
Then a thump, and a dying whimper.
I hear a quiet shout of triumph and feel gentle hands lifting me. I moan with the pain of my broken leg as I am placed around the strong shoulders of my rescuer. When I finally open my eyes, I see a grey wolf laying lifelessly on the ground, and recognize the robe of my shepherd. I am saved.
As the shepherd limps down the mountain, my leg alternately aches and burns in pain. Though my brain is fuzzy and my eyes feel dull, I notice that his robe is red with blood.
Finally, I am laid down inside the fold, on a heap of straw. Oh the straw! It used to smell of ignorance and boredom, but all I smell now is home.
I am not ready for sleep yet. The shepherd in the red robe takes my broken leg firmly in both hands and tugs. I scream with pain and fall unconscious.
As I sleep, I again dream. This time I am the one firmly attached to the ground, and the shepherd is flying in the clouds, circling as he watches me from above.
He knows where I am.
I cannot hide.
Gentle hands rub my leg and I wake up. It still aches, but it no longer feels wrong. He has brought me back.
This time, I think I will stay.
I am a sheep full of pride and willfulness.
So are we all, really. But what he did for me, he will do for you.
Want this story and two others to read alone or with your kids?