The tale of BlackSheep & SheepWolf, part one

Once upon a time there was a man who wanted to get to the bottom of things, because he thought that was where the truth lived. But whenever he got there, which was quite often, he found that the bottom of things was a very dark place. However much light he shone on the bottom of things, it only served to bring out the darkness more clearly. The truth seemed to be something best kept in the dark. He wanted people to know it all the same. But nobody cared much to follow him there and he didn’t like being there himself. This was a problem, because he felt he had nowhere else to go. He had already tried being on top of things and knew that it was not much of an improvement. Being on top of things made you giddy with desire for ever more and higher tops of ever more and bigger things. Because, you see, the top of things was never really the top at all, but a sort of narrowing spiral upon which, as he went higher, he always met the same kind of people and they gradually looked more and more like him until either they were … or he was. And the resemblance between those on top of everything and the dark denizens of that airless crawl-space at the bottom was most unsettling.

So he decided instead to fall asleep and dream, as other people generally do, of a world less sinister, of a life more worthwhile, of a better place. The place he dreamed of was called BetterWorld. Things in BetterWorld were all better. You didn’t have to get to the bottom of them. What you saw was what there was. They were self-evident things and the people of BetterWorld were self-evident people. They only smiled when they liked you, and they always did like you, because people in BetterWorld were naturally likeable, having no earthly reason to be otherwise. They felt no great desire to get on top of things, nor did they feel challenged to get to the bottom of them. That was because the bottom of things was not particularly dark, neither was the top especially scintillating and spiral. Life was good in a general, wholesale sort of way. Things were good too, and so people were good and you could do good stuff all day. Nobody told lies on BetterWorld, because self-evident people have no guile. There was no hatred on BetterWorld, because self-evident people attract only affection and learn nothing else.

But BetterWorld was not perfect. In fact, it was a tiny bit dull, like living on Prince Edward Island: beautiful, but not much fizz. So the BetterWorlders needed a paradise, and the paradise they made was called PerfectWorld. PerfectWorld, said the BetterWorlders, is the most real of all realities, but it passes in the blink of an eye. PerfectWorld is like a tiny but immensely powerful subatomic event. It changes you forever but its life is measured in nanoseconds. It is of an extreme rarity. It is immanent, inherent, yet inaccessible through conscious effort. Neither the top nor the bottom of things can exist there unless they are entirely united. There is no separation between cause and effect in PerfectWorld, and thus neither time nor space. You cannot travel there. You either are there or you aren’t.

However, the self-evident citizens of BetterWorld did not waste their lives yearning for PerfectWorld. They knew that yearning was the last way to arrive there. So they just got on with their lives, which were quite rich and varied enough for all of them to live without suffering undue nostalgia for some apparently lost thing they never really had: like a Garden of Eden, or a romantic and stormy youth, an appreciation of poetic irony or a sense of humour that gets Ricky Gervais … life was good enough without. They did not miss what they never knew. But neither were they entirely without romance or suffering or even humour, for they told stories which contained all of these things. They believed that stories had the power to put them in PerfectWorld for a nanosecond or two. So did music, painting and a really good game of chess. And because stories were important, a lot of effort went into getting them right.

One night, while the man was dreaming his BetterWorld dream, someone told him a story. The story was called “The tale of BlackSheep & SheepWolf”, and it began like this:

Once there was a small black sheep, who had trouble fitting in. The other sheep didn’t like his jokes, didn’t like his taste in bleating, and didn’t much care for his blackness either. Whenever there was something going on, he would usually miss out on it. He was always the last one to be told, if he was told at all. He even missed his own birthday and that was the final straw. Feeling very sad and dejected that other sheep were celebrating his birthday without him, our sheep slipped through the hedge, out of the field and into the forest. “They won’t miss me, he thought. None of them like me. I might as well be dead. What if I were eaten by wolves? I bet they wouldn’t even care. They don’t even know my name.”

This last thought made him realise that he didn’t even know his own name! “I guess I don’t have a name. I bet my mother forgot to give me one: just my luck.” And so he tried to think of a suitable name, such as Lonesome Wild, The Big Empty, or Tough Nose. But in the end he decided simply to call himself BlackSheep, because it seemed to sum him up best.

In those early days in the forest, BlackSheep was so miserable that he forgot to be afraid. And as weeks passed and no other sheep came to look for him he grew more and more dejected. So by the time he remembered that he ought to be afraid he’d become so lonely and felt so worthless that he grew careless with his own life Every evening as it began to grow dark, little BlackSheep would bleat into the forest, “Come on wolves, here I am, come and eat me”. But no wolf ever came.

After a while, BlackSheep realized that all this reckless daring had made him genuinely fearless. And being fearless makes you strong. Gradually he was becoming the fiercest, most confident creature in the forest. With this new strength and ferocity came a new way of behaving. BlackSheep began to act like a wolf. He practised the growl, he practised the howl, he practised the low-slung stalk, he practised the arrogant walk, he practised the whole big, bad, wolf look till he had it nailed. And it was round about then that the beginning of a GREAT PLAN began to emerge from his formerly woolly brain.

One night he was spectacularly successful at scaring some rabbits. He felt so good about this that he almost ate them … almost. Now he knew that he was ready at last. He had the walk, the slink, the howl, the snarl, and after living in the forest for nearly a year, he was so dark and scruffy, his tangled coat so bristling with twigs and leaves that he even had the look. He knew that, because he’d fooled the rabbits and rabbits are not easily fooled. “No more shall I be BlackSheep, the miserable outcast, the loner,” he said to himself. “From now on I am BadWolf, the ferocious, the fearless, the terrifying.” And indeed he was. With his best and slinkiest, most slouching gait he slunk out of the forest towards the big field full of unsuspecting sheep.

When the other sheep saw the dark, low-slung, creeping form draw near they began to panic. “It’s a, it’s a, it’s a …” “Wolf” shouted this year’s smallest lamb, and in a wild mass they all rushed to the far corner of the field. But BlackSheep was waiting for them there and sent them dashing all the way back again. To and fro’, from side to side, end to end, corner to corner BlackSheep worried his former flock, until they were wet with fear, weak and chilled from exhaustion. At this point, remembering how he had NOT eaten the rabbits, BlackSheep had no choice but to slink impressively back into the forest where, as soon as he had reached his lair, he rolled on the ground and laughed himself silly. (To be continued)

Edwin Drood

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