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Tales of the World
Sheep in the Fog
Paul Otteson
Stories Home

There I was, on top of the second highest mountain in Wales, and I couldn't see more than fifty feet. What a view I didn't have. The ridge top trail was marked by cairns (neat pillars of piled stones). Unfortunately, the cairns were spaced considerably farther apart than the fog would allow me to see. I had to judge from the previous two where the next one should appear, then start off into the gloom. The farther I went without seeing the next, the more nervous I'd get. More than once, I turned back to the last known cairn to try again in a slightly different direction.

It wouldn't have been bad at all if there hadn't been any sheep. No, not the famous saber-toothed sheep that prey on bears and bus tourists in certain parts of Lapland -- just regular sheep. When a shadowy blotch looms at the edge of sight in a thick fog, you can't tell what it is until you get closer. It was looming cairns I wanted; it was looming sheep I got, often as not. As the long hours ticked by, all I had for company were the sheep of Wales -- and they are not silent. "Maaa" called the younger ones. "Maaa" replied the elders. "Maaa" at a distance. "Maaa" close by. I had awakened to the echo of "maaa" in my dreams, and all I heard as I trudged through the mist was "maaa, maaa, maaaaa."

Nothing so far makes this foggy walk on an easy ridge worth a story, but when the voices started, things got weird. It was around noon, I guess, when I heard the first voice. "Maaa," came the call -- not a sheep's voice, but a human's...

I'm quite sure I'm not alone in recalling times when an imagined voice got my attention. "Did you call me?" I'd ask someone, and they hadn't. Some sound just triggered a memory. It didn't matter, it was gone and hadn't interrupted the flow of life or caused me any concern. Not so that day in Wales. "Maaa" came the voice-- the human voice again... and again and again.

As I backtracked for a third time to start again for the next cairn, the voices rang like a jeering chorus of frustrated satyrs. "Maaa" began to sound like "Paaaul", "helllp", "heyyy" and fifty other half-guessed words. Maybe there was no next cairn. Maybe the one behind was gone now too. Maybe I'd climbed to an island hell in the clouds, populated by carrion beasts that would pick me apart one brain cell at a time... I thought these things, knowing them all along as inspired flights of fancy, wondering still how far fancy could fly.

When I mentioned how human-sounding sheep could be to an oldster at a pub near Bangor, he looked at me strangely. "You been out in the fog?" he asked. At my affirmative, he nodded his head knowingly. "Plenty of fog around here," he said. "People go daft from too much fog," he added under his breath. I thought about that for a minute, then looked around the pub through new eyes. I drank down the last of my bitter -- time to move on.