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Stories by Laura Lagana
Shep And The Wooly Sweater


            Kate sat in a field of lush green grass and stroked the stubbly gray fleece that grew on Shep’s body. He bleated and nuzzled the palm of her hand, looking for food.

She giggled at the prodding of his wet nose that sent shivers down her spine. “You are a funny little lamb. Once your fleece grows in, you will be the pride of the flock.”

 

Shep rooted around in the grass and nibbled at a couple of strands next to her shoes.

 

Kate twisted at a piece of fleece that stuck up on his back and cringed at the coarse texture. She stared at the puffy clouds that drifted across the sky and glared at the farm house nestled in a valley at the end of the field of wild heather.

 

Shep walked over and lay next to her. He snorted at a fly that buzzed around his head.

 

Kate continued her glare and narrowed her gaze as two women, holding bolts of colored cloth, walked into the nearby barn. “I can’t believe those two said I was too young to weave.” She sputtered. “Why, I’m the best weaver in the county.”

 

Shep looked at her with his liquid brown eyes and munched on a blade of grass growing next to her feet.

 

She was working herself into a fine fit, when a flock of sheep passed by. Shep stood to join them, but the sheep herder, Jonathan, shoed him away.

 

“Why don’t you stay with Kate? Your fleece is too scruffy and you don’t need to be around my prize winning sheep.”

 

Kate huffed and tucked a stray strand of red hair behind her ears. “What makes you think Shep isn’t a prize winning sheep?”

 

Jonathan waved at the missing patches of fleece. “Look at him. He’s bald in spots and the fleece that he does have is black and brown, not white.”

 

“Just take your sheep and leave us alone,” said Kate.

 

He shrugged and continued down the path toward the pastures, the flock of sheep following along.

 

Kate scratched behind Shep’s ear. “He’s a rude boy. I can’t believe he said those horrible things about you.” Kate rubbed a bald spot. “All though, I will admit, your fleece needs to grow in somewhat.”

 

Clouds drifted across the pale blue sky. Kate closed her eyes for a moment and inhaled the sweet fragrance of heather in bloom.

 

Half an hour later, she sat with a start. “You know what Shep? Why do we let people tell us what we can and can’t do? If I want to weave cloth, I will and if you want the best fleece in the land, you will!” She climbed to her feet and ran toward the pen where the sheep were kept at night. Shep ran along side, bleating the entire way.

 

Tiptoeing up to the barn, Kate pressed her ear to a crack in the wall. She listened for the two women who sat at looms, weaving cloths from the sheep’s fleece.

 

“Good,” she whispered in Shep’s ear, “they’re busy. Follow me.”

 

Together, they crept toward the back of the barn where the shorn sheep’s fleece was kept. Kate gathered stray clumps of wool and stuffed them inside her shirt. Once the floor was clear of every stray bit of fleece, Kate and Shep snuck out the back door and fled toward the brook that ran through a clump of trees in the distance. She rinsed the bits of wool in the chilly water and set the fleece out to dry in the late afternoon sun.

 

“Let’s sit under the tree while these dry.” Kate patted the top of the his head and flopped to the ground. They spent the afternoon together as the wool dried.

 

Later that night, Kate pushed her plate away from the dinner table. “I’m so tired. I think I’ll go to bed.” She pushed her chair away from the table and washed her plate and cup, setting it on the counter to dry. Standing behind in the hallway, she waited for the rest of her family to leave the kitchen so she could slip out back. Her muffled feet, tiptoed across the wooden floor. One of the floorboards groaned under her weight and she stopped to see if anyone noticed. A minute later, she breathed a sigh of relief and continued out the door.

 

Cold evening air blew over her small body and she shivered. Whispering into the dark, Kate said, “Shep, are you there?” He bleated once and trotted over toward her and a grin split across Kate’s face. They crept toward the barn and once inside, she lit a candle and spread the fleece she had gathered onto a table against the far wall. “I hope this sweater keeps you warm for the winter. They can be brutal. I remember you shivering in the snow and I’m not going to let that happen this year.”

 

Several hours later, the candle was beginning to sputter. Kate hovered over the loom, weaving a coat of fleece for Shep, who slept soundly at her feet.

 

This went on for several weeks. Kate would sneak from the house and weave the wool by candle light until the early hours of morning and Shep would sleep, keeping her company all the while.

 

A month later, Kate was napping in the field of heather, when Jonathan approached with his flock of sheep. Startled awake, she snorted. “Oh, hey Jonathan…been standing there long?”

 

He leaned on his staff. “No. I just thought I’d come over and tell you about the sheep judging contest this Friday and see if you were going to enter Shep?” Jonathan eyed the patches of bald fleece on Shep’s neck and back.

 

“Are you being rude?”

 

“Now Kate, why would you think that?”

 

“Because you always say something about Shep every time you come by.”

 

“Well since you brought it up, I was hoping you wouldn’t embarrass your pitiful looking sheep by entering him in the contest.”

 

Kate jumped to her feet and put her hands on her hips. “I can’t believe you just said that. Why, I’m going to enter him in that contest and you know what?”

 

Jonathan raised his brow. “What?”

 

She narrowed her gaze and growled. “He’s going to win!”

 

The sheep surrounding Jonathan bleated in hunger and Kate listened to his laughter as he led them to a pasture to feed.

 

Kate crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot.

 

Shep stared at her from beneath clumps of matted gray fleece.

 

“Don’t look at me like that Shep.” She chewed on her bottom lip. “Have you forgotten about the sweater I’m making for you?”

 

He continued to stare at her.

 

Kate stomped her foot and walked toward the house for dinner. Shep followed behind.

 

At the end of the week, Kate was pacing back and forth behind the judges stage, wringing her hands.

 

Jonathan approached with four of his best sheep who looked bathed, powdered and brushed.

 

She cringed, unsure of herself.

 

He leaned over on the fence post next to her and sneered. “So, I see you are going to embarrass Shep by entering him in the judging contest.”

 

Coughing to cover her nervousness, she said, “I think he might surprise everyone here.”

 

“Sure he will. And I bet the bald spots on his side will make the judges take pity and give him last place so he’ll feel better.”

 

Kate stomped her foot and walked away. She yanked open the door to the room where she kept Shep hidden. “Are you ready? We’re up next.”

 

Shep bleated and stood still for her as she stuffed him into the woolly sweater she made. Kate peeked out the door and waved him forward. “Come on. No one is near by, so let’s get going.” Together they crept out of the room, down the hall and toward the back of the stage. Kate stopped him as they came up to the curtain, hiding from Jonathan.

 

The announcer’s voice boomed over the intercom, startling Kate. “And now we have four sheep that Jonathan would like to present to us. He has won every contest for the last five years. Please give him a round of applause.”

 

Cheers and clapping came from the crowd and an occasional whistle as the sheep were led onto stage.

 

The announcer cleared his throat. “And we have one challenger from Kate. A sheep named Shep.”

 

With trembling hands, Kate pulled the curtain aside to let Shep pass and then she joined him on stage.

 

The crowd exclaimed over the quality of the wool growing on Shep’s body. The gray, white and brown were interwoven in a subtle pattern that caught the light coming from the stage. The wool was soft to the touch and the thickest that anyone had ever seen.

 

“What trickery is this?” Jonathan narrowed his gaze at Shep’s fleece.

 

“It is no trick,” shouted Kate.

 

“I don’t believe you. A couple of weeks ago his fur was matted and patchy, now he had the most beautiful fleece in all the land. It’s not natural!”

 

She turned on his and growled. “You’re just jealous.”

 

“No I’m not.”

 

“Yes you are.”

 

The judge stepped between them. “Now, now. Let’s not have any bickering. It’s obvious that Kate’s sheep is the winner.” He handed her a ribbon to place around Shep’s neck.

 

At that moment, clouds converged on the contest and rain poured from the sky, soaking everyone on stage. Kate ran off stage to avoid the downpour, but it was too late for Shep. His sweater of fleece shrank, revealing his mottled and patchy fur beneath.

 

Kate ran onstage to grab Shep and disappear, but Jonathan’s hand on her arm, stopped her in her tracks.

 

“I knew it was a trick,” he said as the rain cleared up.

 

Kate hung her head and Shep’s pitiful bleating drew sympathy from the crowd. “Everyone always made fun of Shep and they told me I was too young to weave the wool. I wanted to prove them wrong.”

 

The announcer put his hand on her shoulder. “You did that young lady…you did that. Shep had the most beautiful fleece I had ever seen. You made his fleece look natural and the shading of the wool was unmatched.”

 

Hope shone in her eyes. “Really?”

 

“Yes dear.” He turned to the crowd and held up her hand. “I declare Kate the finest weaver in all the land.”

 

A grin split her face and she stuttered. “I-I don’t know what to say?”

 

“How about ‘thank you’?”

 

She wrapped her arms around his waist. “Thank you.” Shep’s bleating drew her attention. “What is it?”

 

Shep hung his head and looked at the pitiful mess of fleece that grew on his body. Kate removed the remnants of the shrunken sweater. “Don’t worry my friend. I make you a new sweater, come next sheep shearing season.”

 

Tears filled Shep’s eyes and the other sheep on stage gathered around.

 

Each of the four other sheep bit off clumps of their prize winning fleece and dropped it at Kate’s feet. She scooped up the growing collection and stuffed it in her pockets and inside her shirt for safekeeping. Kate patted each of the sheep’s head, thanking them in turn. Shep nuzzled the others and bleated with excitement. He no longer had to wait a year for a new sweater.

 

Jonathan approached and picked up a tuft of fleece to hand to Kate. “Here you go. You missed some.”

 

“Thank you Jonathan.” Confusion marred her brow.

 

“I was just jealous of Shep’s fleece, but I see how you took his ugly fleece and turned him into a prize winner.”

 

She grinned. “I really appreciate this.”

 

“Not a problem.”

 

Kate and Shep waved toward the crowd as they dashed off stage.

 

“Where are you going?” Jonathan called out over the cheering mob of people.

 

“To weave Shep a new sweater. Winter is coming and it gets cold here.”

 

The next spring, Kate and Shep stood under the porch as the rain fell from the sky. Jonathan jumped up the steps and shook his head to remove the excess water dripping into his eyes.

 

“Don’t get Shep wet.” Kate handed him a towel. “I don’t want his sweater to shrink again.”

 

“I see you’ve worked out quite a system.”

 

Kate nodded. “Sure did. He stays in the house as my pet and he only goes outdoors when the sun is out.”

 

Jonathan grinned as his flock joined him on the porch and he leaned over to pat Shep’s head. “I always thought you’d make a nice dog rather than a sheep.”

 

Shep licked Jonathan’s hand and Kate giggled.


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