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"A Damned Lie"
by Phil Temples

Sam had never been so surprised in all of his born days.

The whole thing started last Friday morning. Accompanied by his faithful basset hound, Fred, Sam stopped by to take a peek at the new sheep in the northern pens. They were purchased a week earlier from Roy Johnson. The Johnson farm was just up the road a few miles. Although Sam's operation was prosperous, Johnson's had fallen on hard times. Mounting debts compelled Roy Johnson to sell off a sizeable portion of his flock. Sam was looking to expand his business when he heard that Roy was selling. Sam was a fair man; he paid Roy top dollar for several hundred ewes and bucks.

"How ya' critters doin' today, huh?" said Sam to the closest bucks. One in particular seemed to be paying more attention than the rest. It slowly came over to the fence in that careful, deliberate gait that sheep have. It eyed Sam in an odd manner.

"I'm fine, thank you," said the sheep.

Sam froze. "Di... di... did I just..." He glanced down at Fred with a look of amazement. Fred returned the look with a serious face, then he shook his head violently, along with his droopy ears in the process. Fred commenced to let out a high-pitched, mournful, "woo-woo-woo," the basset's signature bark.

"Yes, you did." The sheep answered Sam's incomplete query.

Sam whirled away from the pen and examined his surroundings carefully. No one was standing behind or beside him. He quickly ran over to the barn about ten feet away. Sam saw no one loitering nearby. He called out, "Jimmy, is that you?" Jimmy was always playing practical jokes on Sam.

Sam didn't see or hear Jimmy--or anyone else, for that matter.

Sam wasn't an idiot. He knew that people with a special talent could throw their voices and pretend that someone (or some thing) else was talking. What did they call that? "Ver-en-tril-lok-y," he said, out loud.

Maybe someone who could perform verentrilloky was having a good laugh at Sam's expense right now.

Sam recalled a joke that someone had once told him about a farmer who was visited by a verentrillokist. He didn't remember all of the particulars. But several of the farm animals began "talking" to the farmer. The farmer, afraid that his wife would hear unsavory things about him from his animals, exclaimed in a panic to his wife: "Honey, if that sheep says anything about me, it's a damned lie!"

Sam remembered how much he had laughed at the telling of the joke. Somehow, though, it didn't seem so funny anymore.

Sam returned to the fence. The sheep was still standing there, as though patiently waiting for Sam to acknowledge his existence.

"My name is Jeremiah," the sheep said.

"Uh. Sam. Sam's my name. This here's Fred." Sam nodded down in the direction of his beagle hound.

"I've very pleased to meet you, Sam and Fred. You have very nice accommodations here. My friends and I are pleased for the change."

"Um. Jeremiah? If you don't mind me askin'... Sam paused a moment, then continued, "Well, hell! It's true, ain't it? You're talkin' to me just as plain as day, like you was a human being! And there ain't no verentrillokists here that I can tell of. How is it that you can talk?"

"I'm not actually sure, Sam. Some of us are born with the ability. For others, it's a learned skill. Many never learn."

"Have you ever talked to other people before?" asked Sam.

"No, I haven't."

"Well. Why not?"

"Frankly, Sam, you're the first human that's ever spoken to me. I was raised in a strict environment, you see. My mother always told me, 'Never speak unless spoken to.'" Jeremiah added, "Old habits die hard, I suppose."

"I reckon," Sam added.

In the days that followed, Sam, accompanied by Fred, made numerous visits to speak with Jeremiah. He and Jeremiah conversed about all manner of things: the weather, what land was best for grazing, what is was like to be a sheep, and what it was like to be a farmer. Jeremiah even confided to Sam what sheep thought about human beings. Jeremiah wanted to know what Sam thought of sheep, too. Sam didn't rightly know how to answer that question, seeing as how he had never really given the matter much thought.

A few days later, Sam and Fred arrived as usual after morning chores, to talk with Jeremiah.

Jeremiah walked over to the pen's edge with that slow, deliberate gait that sheep have.

"Mornin', Jeremiah," said Sam.

Jeremiah just stood there, eyeing Sam in a strange way.

"You okay, Jeremiah?" asked Sam.

"Baaaaahhh..." said Jeremiah.

"Huh?" asked Sam, puzzled by the sheep's odd behavior.

Several minutes passed; Sam, Fred, and Jeremiah stood there, eyeing one another.

"Baaaaahhh," repeated Jeremiah.

"What's wrong, Jeremiah? Cat got your tongue? Or, are ya' mad at me, or somethin'?"

Various coaxing by Sam failed to elicit a response from Jeremiah, except for what Sam reckoned was, "sheep-talk."

Sam glanced down to his side. "What the heck is goin' on, Fred? He won't talk to me! Jeremiah is normally runnin' off at the mouth, and today he just goes, 'baahhh.'"

Fred looked up, eyeing Sam in a playful sort of way, shaking his head violently, along with his droopy ears in the process. But instead of a basset's deep howl, Sam proclaimed,

"Fooled ya'."