The Sketchbook: Ink and Tears
By Marc Housley
The Perseid Meteor Shower was in full display, casting streaks of light across the deep night sky in the dark mountains on the border of Tibet. The high mountains’ ragged stone peaks were clearly visible as dark masses between which trillions of stars sparkled like shards of glass. This far from any modern city lights the milky way was clearly visible as a hazy swath across the star dotted blackness. Over the static background of light and dark, the meteors streaked yellow and green.
Tseten lay on a blanket watching dozens of meteors a second race across the sky. Some were quite bright. He watched one break apart, showering glowing shards seemingly to the far corners of the world. Once he even saw a meteor explode, the flash cast rings of light in all directions. This was one of his favorite times of year, as the summer slowly gave way to autumn.
His sheep slept about him in small clusters. He had two paddocks, one surrounding a small lake. It was in this paddock that he lay on a slope slightly above the sleeping sheep. More sheep slept in a paddock behind him. He did not need to watch the sheep, wolves were rare here, and so they would quietly sleep the night away. He was outside only to watch the meteors, and he would lay here long into the night doing so.
He had drifted in and out of sleep for a while when a bright meteor caught his eye. The angle it was streaking at was cutting across the others, and it seemed to be coming at a steeper slope. To his amazement the bright line directly crossed his vision, and a soft slash came from the center of the pond. The air sizzled with the smell of burnt ozone, as if lightning has just struck nearby. Had it not been for the gentle waves in the pond Tseten would have thought he was dreaming.
“I just had a meteor land in my pond!” His heart raced with the excitement, “it must have been very small, but it hit, right there in the center!”
The sheep had awoken, sensing either the disturbance of their surroundings, or the animation of their shepard. They did not bleat, they just opened their eyes and looked to the pond. Slowly, all sixty three sheep faced the pond. They stood as a group looking inward, all looking at the center of the expanding ripples. Then, as a flock, they started to move. They were packed so tightly together they appeared as a mass of white fleece dotted with the sheeps’ black eyes. As a group they marched in unison. The first sheep entered the water, then the rest, and without a sound, they drown.
Tseten stood in shock. He could not even call out to them to stop them, he had no idea they would do such a thing. In his knowledge it had never happened before. But there, beneath the starry sky, the sheep’s white carcasses floated, bright against the dark reflection of the pond’s cold surface.
Tseten slowly backed away from the pond. His feet were slipping in the soft muddy grass, his eyes were riveted on the pond. The water had darkened and it no longer reflected the millions of bright stars above. Soon he had traversed the paddock via his slow, trembling steps. His back was against the hard wooden railing separating the paddocks, and he found himself climbing over them somehow without removing his eyes from the darkness before him.
He had moved only a step away from the wooden fence when he felt his legs knocked out from under him by the weight of a sheep; the soft furry warm mass bleating as it collapsed to the ground with him. He was surrounded by sheep, and the one he landed on was struggling to get up.
He felt the flock stir, then it erupted in an angry chorus of bleating. He felt their sharp hooves hit him as they milled about in the beginnings of a panic. He saw long thin kegs with sharp hooves milling round him. His view of the sky was blocked by their fat oval bodies and thickening fleece coats.
He needed to get up off the muddy ground. He smelled sheep piss, wool, and freshly chewed grass. He raised a muddy hand and grabbed a sheep’s fleece to pull himself up. Instead of simply counter-bracing his weight and letting him up, the sheep turned and bit his forearm. He shouted in pain, and fell back into the mass of milling woolen animals.
He felt hooves step on him, then strike him, blows falling all over his body. One sharp hoof struck his temple and he instinctively covered his head, leaving his chest and stomach open for more hoof falls.
“Stop it you damn animals” he shouted and plead. “Sheep do not attack people!” He told himself over and over again, even as he felt their blunt, powerfully teeth bearing down in bite after bite. He felt his muscles bruise, then felt the skin break in dozens of places.
He screamed and ran, striking back at the blood-mad sheep. He fell, was trampled and bitten more, then arose and stumbled again. He had to crawl over and under the maddened animals, his fingers clawing at anything that could pull him forward. Teeth and hooves and eyes were all he saw– biting and bleating, and stomping.
He made it to the edge of the paddock and flung himself over the top railing. He arose, his clothing tattered, his body battered, and his mind a daze of pain. The sheep stood in rows looking at him, each one a near exact copy of the next. Their eyes glowed with crazed anger, the wool around their mouths was stained with his blood.
A movement caught his eye: the only sheep in the pen not standing like a bloody statue gazing at him. The movement of this sheep seemed much more natural at first, looking like any sheep ever in human history had looked while standing there, staring stupidly while chewing grass. Except, Tseten realized as bile flushed his throat in disgust, that the sheep was chowing on his ear.
He was bleeding from a dozen places, and swelling in a hundred others. Broken bones were so common in him that his body had simply stopped registering their pain. Blood ran over his eyes, down his cheek, under his jawbone. Smaller channels joined larger ones to run down his legs, around his knees, and finally, to trickle over his ankles into a small puddle in the rutted mud.
From here gravity helped the blood meander through ruts and depressions, puddles, and gouges, until it started to spread into the dark of the pond’s surface. Out of this surface slithered a tentacle. Its oily hide broken regularly with small gaping oval mouths encircled with rows of sharp teeth. It slithered slowly, steadily, following the rivulet of blood back up its muddy track. It dipped down a hole, and coiled up the far side, then it stopped. Flowing around a raised clump of mud, the blood’s trickle had divided, and was seeping into the muddy hole from two different directions. The tentacle raised its tip for a moment, as if it were a snake testing the air with its tongue, then, finding it’s course again, it slipped over the muddy rise heading toward the source from which the blood meandered down the paddocks gentle slope.
Tseten felt the cold, slimy tentacle as it encircled his leg like it was a boa constrictor and he was a tree. He screamed for only a moment before the teeth dug into his leg in a dozen places, hundreds of sharp fangs drove into his soft flesh. At the same time they picked him up and dragged him into the pond’s dark surface. The ripples dissipated as the sheep bobbed slowly like apples in a bucket.