Sheepless in Seattle by AmyBeth Inverness is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
I would love for you to share this story as widely as you like! Please keep my name attached to it and do not alter it in any way (see license info above.) At the bottom of the page you’ll find downloads of the story in DOCX, PDF, EPUB, and Kindle versions.
Sheepless in Seattle
For Amy, because she is my favorite. And not because we have the same name.
Doc waved at his neighbors as he walked home from the clinic. He could have taken the people-mover that ran parallel to Seattle’s one and only truba line, but he liked taking the pedestrian path that ran through the center of the city. It was fall in England and that meant it was fall in Seattle, as the founders of the city had decided they wanted to have seasons in the sealed-off lunar rille they turned into a human habitat.
The clinic was eighteen sections from home. Being Seattle’s only medical facility, it was located in the city center. Doc and his wife, Tyne, had found the perfect little plot, an odd little canyon off the main rille near the western end of the city. There, they created their own little oasis, complete with not just a lawn but an entire field of grass, carefully cultivated over the years.
The trees planted along the public path were barely big enough to have more than a few leaves. Seattle was experimenting with a few varieties that hadn’t been tried before on the Moon. Some were thriving; others didn’t do well in the lighter gravity. They were currently bright with red, orange, and gold, just as they would be on Earth.
“Hey Doc, nice sweater!” said one of his neighbors when they passed in the middle of a little bridge. The bridge was currently unnecessary, as the little stream that ran from the western end of Seattle to the east was barely more than a trickle. It was the community’s hope that someday it would be knee deep with a wealth of water. An attractive combination of rock gardens and greenery lined the stream from beginning to end, Seattle’s own Central Park.
Doc returned the greeting then hurried on, eager to see his wife and girls.
“Dada!” Victoria called to him as soon as he walked through the front doors. The toddler bounced over to him and reached her arms up, asking to be held.
Doc scooped his daughter up in his arms and squeezed her until she squealed.
“Gentle!” his wife chided, appearing in the entryway to the kitchen. She set a basket of clothes down near the back doors, which shared the vestibule with the front entry. “Somebody was supposed to help me hang up the washing, but she disappeared.”
Victoria’s little face scrunched up with guilt and she reached out toward her mother, pushing away from her father. Tyne took her and Doc kissed his wife’s cheek. He placed a hand on her expanding abdomen. “How are you feeling today?” he asked.
“Fine now, but the morning sickness is back with a vengeance for my third trimester.”
“Do you need me to get you more sour candy from the general store?” he asked.
“No, Kate bought me some on the way home from school,” she answered.
Doc glanced around. “Speaking of Kate, where is she?”
“Playing at the Saunders’ house, as usual.”
“And Mary?” he asked.
Tyne snorted, putting Victoria into the laundry basket and picking it up again. “Can you guess?”
Doc chuckled and looked out the clear panels in the back doors. The green field stretched far behind the house, bounded by the high canyon walls on either side. Mary, who had just turned eight, was running around with the dozen sheep Doc had recently imported from Earth. Assisting her was Dixie, the herding dog Tyne’s parents had sent along with the sheep.
The sheep did not belong to Doc. They were an anniversary present for Tyne, who missed the green fields of Wales where she grew up. It had been an incredibly expensive and complicated process, but Doc would do it ten times over if it made his wife happy.
“Just a little while longer and they’ll start giving us some nice wool,” Tyne said, squeezing his arm as she carried Victoria outside. Doc followed them. Tyne set the basket with Victoria down and the little girl climbed out. She picked up a damp shirt and handed it to her mother, wearing her very best Mommy’s-little-helper smile.
Doc looked out across the field, which sloped down gently from the house, bounded by the canyon walls that formed a sharp ‘V’. Mary and Dixie had chased the sheep toward the back, where a tiny pond was constantly circulated and filtered to give the flock clean drinking water.
He looked up at the ceiling high over their heads. It was early evening, so it was still very light outside. He’d lost track of whether it was lunar day or lunar night. He had no idea whether the kondensats were letting in an appropriate amount of natural light or releasing the energy they’d stored up a week or two ago.
Doc started walking out toward the flock. When he was about halfway there, Dixie saw him and started running. Then the sheep bleated and the herding dog turned back, barking and chasing them instead. The sheep shied away, finding themselves up against a rock wall, then turned as a unit, trotting straight at him.
Doc froze and the sheep rudely shoved their way past him, stopping when they reached the house, which spanned from one canyon wall to the other.
Dixie continued to chase them until a shrill whistle pierced the air. Another, more complicated but faint, whistle sounded, followed by the exact same whistle much louder and clearer. Dixie lay down, even though her body still quivered with excitement.
Mary walked up slowly, concentrating on something on her link. Another faint whistle sounded, coming from the link. Mary listened carefully, then repeated the whistle.
Dixie trotted over to Mary and sat obediently in front of the eight-year-old.
“Grandfather Glock is teaching me the commands he trained Dixie with,” she said, holding up her link for her father to see.
Doc waved and said “hello” to his father-in-law.
“Watch this!” Mary exclaimed. She whistled and gestured, and Dixie ran off toward the little flock. Mary continued to whistle commands and Dixie drove the sheep down to the pond and into the man-made grotto that served as a barn.
Dixie trotted back to Mary, tongue lolling, looking immensely proud of herself. “Good girl,” Mary said, patting the dog and scratching behind the fluffy beast’s ears.
“Has Dixie had her dinner yet?” Doc asked his daughter.
“No, we got a new bag of food and it’s too hard for me to open,” she said, running her fingers under Dixie’s collar.
“Oh,” Doc said. “Well, you go and help your mother with the laundry. I’ll take Dixie inside and feed her.”
Mary trotted off toward her mother. Doc turned to face the dog. “OK girl, want some supper?”
Dixie cocked her head to the side then looked back to where the sheep were. A few were peeking out the barn door, looking to see where the dog was.
“No more chasing the sheep tonight,” Doc said. “It’s time to go in and have some supper.”
Dixie whined and looked at the sheep. Doc walked to the back doors, both of which were wide open, and called Dixie.
“Dixie! Go with Daddy!” Mary barked and the little dog obeyed.
“Well, I guess you know who the boss is,” Doc remarked, walking into the house.
Kate, his eldest daughter, walked through the front doors just as Doc closed the back doors. “Daddy!” she said, her face lighting up. “Can I have money to go skating with everybody tomorrow night?”
“Who is everybody?” he asked, walking into the kitchen, followed by the dog and his daughter.
“Oh, the usual. The Saunders kids, Tommy Baker, some girls in my class—”
“Wait—a boy?” Doc asked, freezing with the new bag of dog food in his hands, unopened. Dixie sat at his feet, tail thumping and eyes wide.
Doc looked at his daughter critically. She was almost eleven. Was that old enough to start liking boys?
“Da-ad…” Kate stretched the word out to two syllables. “John Saunders is a boy, and you don’t care if I hang out with him.”
“John Saunders is five years old, and you’re best friends with his big sister,” he retorted.
Kate shifted her weight back and forth, looking down before meeting his eyes again. “Anyways, it’s Mr. and Mrs. Saunders who are taking us.” She spat the sentence out quickly, rocking up on her toes and back on her heels like she always did when she really wanted something and was waiting for an answer.
Doc wasn’t ready to give her an answer yet. “Just where are they taking everybody?” Doc asked. “And just what kind of skating is involved?”
Kate put her hands behind her back, her usual gesture for looking innocent and trustworthy. “Roller skating. You know, shoes with wheels attached? There’s a rink in Alicetown.”
Doc knew how magical Alicetown was to his tweenage daughter. It was by no means a large city, not by lunar standards, but it was much larger than Seattle. It was also only a short truba-ride away from home.
“I’ll pack both my lunch and Mary’s tomorrow. I’ll feed both of us a hot breakfast, and clean up after, and get us both to school on time. You and Mom won’t even have to get out of bed!”
Doc relented. “Well, that’s a bargain I just can’t refuse.” He took out his wallet and handed Kate what he suspected was a bit more cash than she really needed. “Thank you Daddy!” she sang, then bopped up and kissed him on the nose. “I love you so much!”
Doc shook his head as Kate ran up the stairs. He knew she loved him, but the older she got, the less she said it.
A whine from somewhere in the vicinity of his feet got his attention. Dixie was almost trembling in anticipation, shaking her ruff and staring at the bag of food.
“I didn’t forget about you!” he said, filling the dog’s food bowl. He picked up her water dish and went to the sink by the window. In the backyard Mary and Victoria were walking hand in hand, slowly making their way across the field. He thought they might be singing, but he couldn’t hear. Everywhere they went, the sheep followed.
It was magical.
“Have I told you lately what a huge waste of money it was to import a dozen sheep from Wales to the Moon?” Tyne asked, setting the empty laundry basket down and slipping her arms around his waist.
“If you want a dozen or two more, I’ll gladly do whatever it takes to make you happy,” he said, turning so he could draw her closer.
“You make me happy,” she said, laying her head on his chest.
“I’d better,” he said. “I promised your parents I would make you happy. You think it was difficult importing a small flock of sheep to the Moon? It was nothing compared to importing one wee wifey.”
Tyne laughed and Doc felt a tiny thump from her belly. He got down on his knees and addressed his youngest daughter. “Elizabeth! What are you doing in there? Gymnastics? Highland Dancing?”
“Mary says she’s practicing parkour,” Tyne said with a giggle.
“Well, that’s an excellent choice. Loonies are champions at parkour.”
Dixie woofed and wriggled between them. “Oh, your water, your wiggliness,” Doc said, putting the full water bowl back on the floor.
“What is Dodo doing?” Tyne asked, staring out the window.
“Which one is Dodo?” Doc asked, standing next to his wife. The girls and the sheep were all around the little play structure he’d built.
“You can’t tell them apart?” Tyne asked, regarding him quizzically.
“No,” Doc shook his head. “I can see some differences, but I can never remember which one’s which.”
“The one that just jumped off the kids’ slide is Dodo. The one up there now is Romana. I’m not sure what Victoria is doing to Peri, but Mickey isn’t happy about it.”
They watched as Mary scooped up her little sister before the young ram got too close. She put Victoria up on top of the blue box with all the gardening tools, then resumed teaching the sheep how to use the slide.
“Oh!” Tyne exclaimed. Doc grimaced as one of the sheep paused at the bottom of the slide and emptied its bowels. “Well, that’s not exactly the best place for that, but we’re actually making some money off selling the natural fertilizer.”
Mary either didn’t notice or didn’t care that there was sheep poop at the bottom of the slide. The next sheep landed in it, then trotted off across the green lawn.
Doc and Tyne watched out the window. Her hands covered the lower half of her face, and his knuckles were under his nose, as the slide got dirtier and dirtier. They both let out a groan as Mary took a turn, coating her clothes with filth.
“Well, we said we didn’t want to raise the kids in an over-sanitized environment,” Doc said, shaking his head.
Tyne ran to the bathroom.
Doc went straight from the truba to the people-mover, dragging himself home at four in the morning. He’d been called in to the clinic shortly after dinner for an emergency, and he’d accompanied his patient to the hospital in Alicetown.
He found a dog and a toddler in his bed, but no wife. He tiptoed into the bathroom, seeing that she was in the shower, leaning against the tile wall.
“Morning sickness?” he asked gently. She just nodded. Doc undressed and climbed in with her, supporting her while the warm water ran over them both. He was exhausted, but he knew she was even worse off. He rubbed her back gently as he held her. When Tyne finally declared herself done, they dried quickly and collapsed into bed with Victoria and Dixie.
A few hours later, Doc yawned and stretched, groggily checking the time. The clinic knew he’d had an emergency the night before and wouldn’t be in until later.
Dixie was the only one still in the bed with him. There was no sign of Tyne or Victoria.
Doc took his time getting dressed, then Dixie followed him downstairs.
“Sheep go for a walk!” Victoria announced, pulling her toy ride-on sheep behind her as she came out of her mother’s workroom.
“That’s nice, dearie,” Doc said, ruffling her hair as she went by.
Tyne was sitting at her spinning wheel, happily working the latest batch of wool her parents had sent her from Earth. Synthetic materials were much cheaper, but the hand-spun and knitted items Tyne made were in high demand all over Luna.
Doc kissed his finger and carefully placed the remote kiss on his wife’s nose, knowing better than to disturb her when she was working. He went to the kitchen, followed closely by Dixie, and filled up her food dish while his tea steeped.
He gazed out the back window, still somewhat groggy, as he sipped his tea and waited for his eggs to fry.
It was a beautiful field. The natural look belied the extensive and expensive engineering underneath it. The ceiling vault high overhead had been built by the city, a necessity as they sealed off the rille and its various odd little off-shoots. The kondensats functioned perfectly, letting the seasonally-appropriate amount of light through during the lunar day, and broadcasting the saved-up light energy when it was lunar night. Seattle’s day/night cycle mimicked that of Wales almost perfectly.
The v-shaped canyon had been merely sealed rock when they bought it. An agricultural-grade water cycling system had been installed, special permits were obtained to carve out the barn and one other utility space, then they re-sealed the rock. The dirt had been the most expensive part. He wanted it deep enough so that if his children wanted to dig, they wouldn’t endanger the mechanical systems that made everything work. He’d also invested in a few bushes and trees.
The most difficult part had been keeping Kate and Mary, who were both quite young at the time, off the grass while it was still fragile. Doc himself religiously mowed and cultivated the lawn to golf-green perfection. It looked like a beautiful, natural meadow, even though it was bounded by steep rock walls.
When his tea had finally cooled to exactly the perfect drinking temperature, he took a long slurp and finally started feeling awake.
He couldn’t see any of the sheep from the kitchen window. There were several places they could hide, including the barn where they had several comfy pens. Doc had set the sprinkler system to turn on in the wee hours of the morning in order to wash off the slide. The sheep might still be waiting to make sure they weren’t going to get rained on.
Doc put his eggs between a couple slices of bread and meandered toward the back doors. Victoria passed him again, still pulling her toy sheep, heading back to her mother.
“Sheep go for a walk!” she announced happily.
Doc patted her on the head again as she passed. He stood on the back patio for a minute while Dixie raced ahead. There were no sheep in sight. If they were in the barn, Dixie would have them out presently.
Doc strolled back through his perfect little world, bracing himself for the inevitability of a small stampede that would run him over any minute.
Dixie ran in one barn door and out the other.
No sheep emerged.
Dixie ran through in the opposite direction, then stood on the stone threshold, looking around, confused.
Doc turned slowly in a circle, dropping the remains of his egg sandwich to the ground, much to Dixie’s delight. There were several places he wouldn’t be able to see the sheep from the house, but he was out standing in his field. The only place they could hide was the barn.
Doc walked slowly through the barn, peering into each pen. There were no sheep in sight. He scratched his head, then stepped outside again.
He looked up at the rock walls. Sure, there were plenty of handholds where the girls loved to climb, but there were only two places where the sheep could climb higher than a meter and they were both no more than a narrow ledge.
His eye scanned the back of the house. It was two stories high and spanned the space between the canyon walls, quake dampeners on either side. There was no way for the sheep to get past or over unless they learned to fly.
He unlocked the door to the utility shed, but there was hardly enough room inside for one sheep to hide, much less a dozen. He relocked the door and went back inside the house. He checked that the front door was not only closed, but locked. Both Mary and Kate were very good about that.
He turned away from the kitchen, exploring one half of the house downstairs and up, then circled back down to Tyne’s workroom without seeing any sign of livestock in his home.
He wondered if he should have looked in the closets.
“Dearie…” he said, standing in the door to Tyne’s workroom, at a complete loss. Victoria was riding her sheep, pushing it along with tiny toes that barely reached the floor.
Tyne looked up, waiting for him to finish his sentence.
“I can’t find the sheep,” he admitted.
“What?” Tyne said, putting the yarn she’d just spun into a mailer for shipping.
“The sheep. They’re not in the field. They’re not in the barn. I checked the whole house, except the closets—”
“What would sheep be doing in the closets?” Tyne asked, getting up and walking to the entry hall.
“I don’t know. Meditating? Looking for sweaters? Curious about what you do with all that wool?” Doc answered, beginning to think he was losing his mind.
The front doors were still closed and locked. The back doors were closed, latched securely but not locked.
“Did you look behind the tool box?” Tyne asked, opening the back doors and stepping out.
“Not specifically,” Doc defended himself. “One sheep might fit there, but twelve?”
Tyne walked around the little blue tool shed, then they both went through the barn twice. Victoria went to the slide and sat patiently at the top.
Doc began to panic. How did one lose an entire herd of sheep? Maybe they had been abducted by aliens. Was the community ceiling alien-proof?
He didn’t share his alien theory with his wife. Time-travel was a more likely explanation anyway. Or time-travelling aliens…
A slightly hysterical laugh escaped his lips and he covered it with a cough. Tyne went to the slide and caught Victoria when she slid down. She scooped her up and carried Victoria up to the house.
They closed the back doors behind them and just looked at each other, Dixie in the middle looking back and forth from one adult to the other.
Victoria toddled over to her sheep, which she had parked by the front doors.
“Should we search the house again?” he asked.
Tyne shook her head. “Could they have got out front somehow?”
On cue, Victoria climbed up on top of her sheep and snapped open the lock on the front doors. Both parents watched, incredulous, as the toddler climbed down, moved her toy sheep away from the front doors, and opened them wide.
“Sheep go for a walk!” she announced proudly.
“How long has she been able to do that?” Doc asked.
“I didn’t think she could!” Tyne protested, stepping out onto the front porch. “Neither Kate nor Mary could work that latch until they were five.”
“Victoria,” Doc asked. “Where did the sheep go?”
“Sheep go for a walk!” his daughter pointed off down the street past the Saunders’ house and the other neighbors in their little cul-de-sac.
“Oh, Victoria…” Tyne said, her voice quivering.
Victoria’s happy face fell. “Sheep lost?” she asked. Her lower lip began to tremble.
Tyne dropped to her knees. “Oh, dearie, the sheep can’t go walking through town! That’s why we have such a nice big pasture for them.”
Victoria started crying and Tyne gathered her in her arms, comforting her. She looked up at her husband.
Doc was already grabbing a sweater and pulling it on. “I’ll go find them. Don’t worry.” He tried to sound confident, even though he felt anything but.
“Take Dixie!” Tyne said. Doc grabbed the leash and fumbled with attaching it to the squirmy dog’s collar. He knew better than to take Dixie out without it. Most of the time she was a sweet, obedient dog. But all it would take was one irresistible distraction and she’d be off like a rocket.
A pot of mums that had been sitting innocently on the corner of the porch was demolished. That was the first clue that the sheep had been through that way.
Doc looked at the pavement and wondered just how a shepherd was supposed to track his flock across such a hard surface. He had no way of knowing how much of a head start they had. No neighbors were around. Usually, after the initial rush when the citizens of Seattle went off to school or work, the residential areas were fairly deserted. If the sheep weren’t being noisy, they might go unnoticed.
At the end of the cul-de-sac Doc had two choices, upstream or downstream. Dixie homed in on a rather stinky bit of evidence that the sheep were headed downstream. Doc took one of the scooper-bags he carried for the dog and cleaned up the excrement, depositing it in the first cycler he found.
He wondered how much money he’d just thrown away by putting the manure into a public cycler instead of processing it into fertilizer at home. It seemed like a ridiculous thing to worry about. The entire situation was rather ridiculous.
Doc and Dixie followed the stream down to the end of their section, where a block of buildings spanned the rille from side to side and top to bottom, making it possible to seal the section in case of emergency. There were only three openings; the downstream tunnel on the right, the upstream tunnel on the left, and the pretty pedestrian tunnel where the stream flowed through.
He hurried through to the next section, Dixie trotting along happily. There were a few garden beds along the stream that had been munched and trampled. He shook his head, wondering how much it would cost to repay the city for the damage done by his wayward flock.
His link bleepled and he connected to his wife. “They’ve been spotted!” she said. “You’ll never guess where they headed.”
Doc looked around him, seeing many picturesque natural spots along the stream. There was even the occasional tiny waterfall. The problem was, it was all flowing water. Sheep preferred still water. The only other place with still water was the primary school, which had its own little frog pond.
“The school?” he asked.
“The school,” she confirmed.
Doc started running, which made Dixie quite happy. He passed through one more section before reaching the school. He ran straight through the arch that led to the courtyard in the middle where the little frog pond was, nearly colliding with the principal in the process.
Mr. Neugebauer was either bemused or annoyed. Doc couldn’t tell which from his expression.
“Are these yours?” the principal asked, gesturing with one hand and extending the other in a very professional manner.
Doc shook the principal’s hand, making sure he still held tightly to Dixie’s leash. She was straining to be let loose on her wayward charges. “They’re my wife’s. Yes, they’re my responsibility. I’m so sorry—”
Mr. Neugebauer laughed. It was the well-mannered, contrived kind of laugh one makes in polite company in order to diffuse a tense situation. “Well, although we have a policy against letting students bring live pets for sharing day, this certainly has been an interesting distraction.”
Doc looked around at all the porches and balconies overlooking the courtyard playground with the frog pond and a dozen misplaced sheep. Knots of children peered out from each, barely restrained by their teachers.
“Do you have a cart or a harness or something for them?” the principal asked.
“Well, no…” Doc let the thought trail off and looked down at Dixie, who was quivering with anticipation. “Dixie’s trained to herd them.”
Doc took Dixie off the leash. He had imagined calmly patting her head and giving her instructions to round up the flock and point them toward home. However, as soon as she was free, Dixie launched herself full speed toward the frog pond.
The sheep split into two groups, one huddling together and milling about in a tiny circle while Dixie chased the other group toward the main entry to the school’s offices. “Dixie! No!” Doc yelled, but the dog completely ignored him. Once the first group of sheep was stuck in the entryway to the school, Dixie changed direction and took off after the other group.
The terrified sheep ran toward the street, Dixie hot on their heels.
A sharp whistle pierced the air. Dixie dropped to the ground in a low crouch, her chin on her paws. A more complicated whistle followed and Dixie ran around the sheep, turning them away from the street and back into the school’s courtyard.
Doc looked up to see Mary, standing on her classroom’s balcony, her fingers in her mouth to produce the extra-loud whistle she’d learned from her grandfather. After a few more whistles, all twelve sheep were confined in the alcove leading to the offices. Dixie paced in front of them, not letting any escape.
“Mr. Neugebauer, can I jump down? Just this once? Please?”
At the sound of Mary’s voice, Dixie started turning in circles, looking up at her and barking. One of the sheep (Doc thought it was Dodo, but he wasn’t sure) tried to make a break for it. With another shrill whistle from Mary, Dixie had the stray sheep back in the huddle.
Mr. Neugebauer smacked the palm of his hand against his forehead. “All right, Mary, but just this once,” he called to her.
Mary leaped gracefully from the balcony and landed nimbly on her feet. Dixie ran to her and the sheep began to mill away from their improvised pen.
Mary whistled and Dixie trotted over to one side, waiting. “Come on everybody. Let’s go home,” she called to her companions. With nervous sideways glances at the dog, the flock followed Mary out to the street. What little traffic there was stopped as she led them toward the stream in the middle of the rille.
“Do you need me to sign her out, or—”
“No, no. I’ll take care of it,” the principal said, putting a hand gently on his arm and encouraging him to leave. “But no more live animals at school.”
Doc brought up the tail end of the little parade, feeling somewhat helpless. Mary led the procession, making sure traffic was stopped every time they needed to cross a street. She kept a watchful eye on the sheep and the dog, giving Dixie short commands to make sure all twelve of the animals stayed together.
When they reached home, Tyne had both the front and back doors wide open, and furniture blocking all the other possible exits. The flock obediently headed straight to the field, rushing ahead of Mary when they saw their home. Mary and Dixie followed them back to the barn.
Doc closed all the doors then helped his wife move the furniture back where it belonged. He looked at her with eyebrows raised.
“Victoria?” he asked.
“Asleep,” Tyne answered.
Doc turned to the now-closed and locked front door. “Another lock? Higher up?” he asked, regarding the two latches that were already there.
“Get one that’s a little more complicated this time,” she said. “Something that’s Victoria-proof, not just baby-proof.”
“Good idea,” Doc said, taking a deep breath. “I’ll run out to the hardware store right now.” He kissed her quickly and opened the front door. “I’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”
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Sheepless in Seattle by AmyBeth Inverness is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
I would love for you to share this story as widely as you like! Please keep my name attached to it, and do not alter it (see license info above.)