Many years ago, during my mid-teens, although I do not know the exact date anymore, my father and my step-mum, before thy got married, lived in a bungalow in a rural part of South Wales called Trostrey. This bungalow belonged to the local farm, and was owned by a lovely couple, Mr and Mrs Scott, and their son, Alistair, (who, coincidentally, once helped me build a wooden crossbow so huge, that it was probably suitable for hunting.) One weekend, I invited a friend of mine over to stay. I will call him Mike, for that was his name. When we got there, my step-mum made us a fantastic soup for dinner, (sometimes, this term causes confusion. When I say “dinner”, I mean the evening meal. Some people I know more often call it “tea”, and to them, “dinner” means “lunch”,) which was traditionally eaten with chunks of ham and cheese floating in it – yes, it was delicious. We watched a film that evening with my sister, and talked until the small hours of the morning, when we went to bed.
The next morning, after my step-mum had gone to work, we awoke to the sound of birdsong and the brilliance of the summer sun. To be honest, one of us should have suspected something from that moment on, because few days, in my experience, start that quaintly that do not descent into discord and confusion later.
As the morning wore on, Mike and I discovered an old compound bow in the master bedroom, complete with arrows, which we swiftly approached my father with.
Me: “Dad, you know you love me? Can Mike and I make a target and shoot the bow at it?”
Dad: “Um, I’m not sure. I haven’t discussed it with Jill, and I don’t know if you should really be playing with it.”
Me: “Oh, go on dad, we won’t do anything stupid.”
It was a fairly short conversation, mostly because my father is a big softie, but, as he will read this, I should add that it is because he is a wonderful, affirming man who likes to see his children happy.
Obviously, like all good offspring, I was more than capable of manipulating my father into allowing Mike and me into shooting the bow at the shed door, (afore-said shed being dilapidated and not long for this world in any case.)
The shed really was that shade of green
As one final, damning statement, which was both a light-hearted joke and, like most jokes made by parents, a subtle, desperate plea, my father said:
“Just don’t shoot any sheep, okay guys?”
How we laughed.
So, while my sister was elsewhere, although, I cannot recall what she was doing, Mike and I went into the garden, filled with excitement at our control over such a formidable weapon – you know – because we were boys. We stood at the far end of the lawn in front of the bungalow and I prepared the bow.
I had the fucking power. In that moment, I was a mighty hunter. I could shoot a motherfucking bear from two-hundred paces with my bow. I could have put an arrow through a charging buffalo and gone off to wrestle some alligators to unwind, right after eating some pickled guns for breakfast.
With a surprisingly good aim, I managed to hit the knot in the shed door that I was pointing the arrow at, and I was damn proud of myself. I slayed that door and it never knew it was coming.
Me mighty hunter.
After a couple more goes at it, I was all awash with manliness, and Mike turned to me and said:
“Awesome, can I have a go now?”
Me: “Yeah, sure! Here’s a tip: if you stand a little further back, it seems a little easier to aim.”
Mike: “Okay, cool.”
At this point, I remembered that I wanted to get some wood for that evening, (the bungalow had a proper hearth in the living-room, and we often made a fire in the evening out of coal or wood.) There was a big pile of wood faggots, (many will be amused at this, as was I, but truly, big lumps of wood for fires are technically called faggots,) on the other side of the bungalow, and I explained to Mike that I was just popping off to get some firewood, and that I would be back inside a minute.
At this point in the narrative, it is prudent to mention that the bungalow and its surrounding gardens sat in the middle of some farmland and, only a short couple of feet behind the shed we were murdering for entertainment, there was a livestock field. Sometimes it held cows, and other times, sheep. This season, it was sheep, and they mostly spent their time at the far end of the field, because my sister and I were generally noisy kids, and sheep can be fussy about that sort of thing, apparently.
After grabbing a bunch of faggots, (tee hee!) I turned back toward the front of the bungalow.
I was just in time to witness an arrow clear the roof of the shed.
Time slowed to a crawl, and the universe filled with horror and uncertainty. I watched as the arrow sailed gracefully over the shed roof, through the dense limbs of the tall tree standing right behind it, and into the open field.
I thought: “that’s okay, there’s never any sheep this close to the garden.” – first mistake.
In all the visible parts of the field, there was only one sheep that could be seen. Yep, it was about thirty yards behind the shed and the tree, milling around, chilling out, and chewing the cud. It was pretty insubstantial as far as Welsh sheep went. Most were big, fleecy roadblocks with all the temperament of petrified wood and all the brains of a rubber band. This one was small. It was a scraggly, ratty little sheep, and it was the only one in sight.
“Surely, it’s pretty safe out there.” I thought. “I mean, it would have to be pretty unlucky to get in the way of that tiny little arrow.”
“No, I mean, look at all the space. That arrow is going to fall short, I’m pretty sure.”
“It looks pretty close there. What if it hits the sheep? What the hell am I going to do?!”
“Oh God, it’s going to hit the sheep, isn’t it? Why is this happening to me?”
The arrow struck the sheep. It was hit in the rump, and it didn’t have the faintest idea what had just happened to it, but it did know, however, was that it wasn’t slightest bit amused.
I would almost be prepared to testify before a court, (and don’t think that I wasn’t considering the possibility of that,) that after the arrow hit the poor creature’s backside, it raised its head, thrust out its hooves, grew fucking fingernails and used them to grab hold of the dirt and catapult itself forward into the yonder. All the while, it let out a never-ending scream – not of pain, nor or fear, but what seemed to be mostly shock, and unmistakable disdain.
While I watched this happening, Mike witnessed something so Monty Python-esque it was suspicious.
He stood where I told him was best, he strung the arrow properly, and took his time aiming at the shed door, staring it down like a real man stares down his prey, and finally, he let loose the arrow. He watched as it left the bow, and as it travelled half-way across the garden, and as it appeared to suddenly gain about seven feet of height between him and the shed.
Mike saw the arrow disappear over the shed roof and away, not for one second expecting the sole apparent occupant of the adjacent pasture to be relaxing on the other side. After the arrow went, his first thought went something like: “Oh, no! I’ve lost the arrow in the bloody field. What am I going to tell everyone?”
It was less than a second after this thought had finished that he saw a really angry sheep with an arrow in it charge out from behind the garden hedges to his left and tear away into the distance.
Clutching the logs to my chest as if they were a security blanket, I rushed down the length of the bungalow, and met Mike at the corner, who was clutching the bow in exactly the same way.
Me: “Mike… you…”
Mike: “I shot a sheep!”
We were horrified. We were going to die.
Long gone were the manly hunters. We never actually meant to hunt stuff, but now, somewhere in the field next door, a really angry sheep was probably organising a hunt of its own.
Silently, and cold with horror, we went inside and met with my father, who was drinking coffee and listening to music. He looked up at us amicably and smiled a fatherly smile.
Mike: “Dave… I shot a sheep.”
There was a nauseating moment of uncertainty, which seemed to go on and on, and my dad broke into a grin and laughed.
He thought we were joking.
After another endless moment, he stopped laughing. His expression shifted, and he understood.
Dad: “Oh, God.”
It was quickly established that it was an accident, by means of Mike and I explaining exactly what happened at high-speed, in stereo, and in the shrill tones of absolute terror.
My father sat, very still, and very quiet, for almost half a minute.
Finally, he announced that he had no choice but to go out, into the field, and catch the wretched creature, so he could remove the arrow before the farmer found out – because he would kill us, possibly by being excruciatingly disappointed with us, or possibly with a shotgun.
My father stood up and called my sister to tell her that he was quite possibly going to go and euthanize a wounded sheep before it died of Mike’s arrow. My little sister, being a child, (what with children being suspiciously into all things morbid,) decided this sounded like ripping good fun, and decided that she was going too. Mike, feeling kind of responsible, and still holding the bow, insisted on joining them.
I was left feeling a little awkward, because I wanted to go, but wasn’t sure whether my father actually wanted to be accompanied by the fellowship of the ring, especially since two of them were responsible for the trouble in the first place.
Me: “Shall I go with you guys?”
Dad: “No, it’s all right. You can put the kettle on and keep the dog occupied. I think we will all want a cup of coffee when we get back.”
Dad didn’t sound particularly annoyed, and I suspected that he was secretly enjoying himself at our expense, so I didn’t push it.
Ultimately, it took half-an-hour to retrieve the arrow. I watched as the angry sheep charged fiercely up the hill, followed by Mike, my sister and my father, followed by the rest of the flock, who appeared to be joining in on general principle.
Then, I watched as the angry sheep charged fiercely back down the hill, followed by Mike, my sister and my father, followed by the rest of the flock, who seemed to think it was jolly good fun, and were really getting into the stride of things by this point.
This continued until the arrow shook loose of its own accord, and the sheep ran off into the corner of the field to plot our painful demise.
When they returned, my father looked bedraggled, my sister looked like she had just been to Disneyland, and Mike had a look of relief on his face that was approaching the obscene. I was handed the arrow, which was mostly covered in tufts of wool, and showed little signs of bodily fluids, and we were all made to swear that we would never speak of this to my step-mother, or the Scotts, unless we wanted to be killed in nasty ways.
Later on that evening, we were chatting in front of the hearth-fire made of burning faggots, mostly about things which were as un-related to shooting farm animals with primitive projectiles as was humanly possible, when my sister looked over to my step-mother and asked:
“What’s for tea, Jill?”
My step-mother turned on us slowly, with an evil glint in her eye, and with a terrible, knowing grin, she responded:
“How about lamb chops?”