All the cheese that was promised, and some that was not. The barn was thick with the smell of the molded bricks of dairy. Willis and Robert stood to the side of the party, included but not involved.
“Come on, Robert, let’s make a loop around this place. Just one. Ease your way into it, ya know?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like right now is a good time for me. I’m hungry. You go, though. I’ll be right here. You go.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, you go. I’ll be right here.”
“Okay, and just so you know, full disclosure – I might get my hands on a little cheese over there. I won’t bring any back, but you know, I might just nibble. Just a little. Just a nibble, nothing much more than that.”
“That’s fine. You are free to nibble away. Not I, though. Not I.”
“Okay, I’ll see you soon.”
The sheep wandered off, leaving Robert behind. Robert snuck away, exiting the barn undetected. The plan was now in motion. His absence was a key ingredient to its success.
At a party in a barn, whose guests are primarily mice, it is not entirely unlike the atmosphere of a party at a house absent of parents, but it is entirely unlike the party that would take place at an art gallery. There is not a rule distinguishing one finger as the sole proprietor of the ability to touch. No, it is accepted in a much different way, a party in a barn with mice and cheese. Boundaries, already loose in interpretation, are flung entirely out the barn window. Rather, the party, or the nucleus of the party, the loudest part, happens directly on top of the cheese. Lounging, with dairy invading every corner and crevasse of their bodies do these creatures sit and play. Songs are sung, tales are swapped, jokes are punch-lined and enjoyed at the top of the mountain of cheese. It was around this mountain Willis made his way, clockwise.
At first, he was timid and cautious. He sought to understand how it all worked, the distribution of cheese. He did not want to seem greedy or gluttonous. To enjoy himself, his only goal. The goal quickly became warped, however, and changed into something different. It was no longer a goal that guided his time spent at this party. Once he understood the distance he must maintain from the mountain, or the distance he saw the others operating, he freely let himself fall into the dairy. Once submerged, he, once again freely, let himself run.
“What is that?” a nearby mouse asked.
“I’m not sure. Is that…is that a sheep?”
“That’s a sheep. He’s eating everything, from the bottom up. The whole thing is going to come down.”
“The whole thing is going to come down inside of him,” the mouse reiterated.
Willis had tasted it all. The Brie and Gouda and Cheddar and Swiss. Methodically, he wound himself through the mountain. Mice were jumping from it as though it were a burning building. Not all who were in attendance had been let in on the plan, and those who were ignorant to it, were surprised, startled by the sudden emergence of this crazed sheep. His coat, once white, was now stained, almost permanently, orange. The cheddar can be credited for that. However, those who understood what was happening, slowly took their places. From the corners of the barn they enclosed the sheep, quietly allowing him to fill himself up entirely. Music continued to play, but the dancing and laughing and talking and singing stopped. All that could be heard were the loud swallowing sounds and grunting elations coming from the sheep. The mice stepped closer, a ring forming naturally around Willis and the place in the center of the room where the cheese once stood. It was no more than a small hill, now. Like a slug, Willis moved across the ground. His gut had ballooned instantly. His condition was much worse than they had all imagined.
Robert, who had been outside, waiting, had now reentered the barn. With him, he carried a coil of string that, on his shoulder, resembled a spiral of rope. Around the room more and more mice emerged, each with their own coils of string. The goal of the evening became clear and just as the slug sheep inched his way through the final brick of cheese, he, too, understood his fate.
“Wait,” he asked, but into motion the mice had sprung. Quickly they worked. It was a one-sided match, for Willis, although he tried, could do little with his belly filled in the way it was. The cheese debilitating, heavy. In moments, he had been tied up. Stuck. Trapped. Bound. Robert stepped forth, his menacing glare sweeping the barn.
“Sheep. Go ahead and bah for us, sheep,” he said as he walked slowly forward. He put his right foot up onto the sheep’s snout. “Bah, you thieving sheep.”
Willis struggling to breath, took in air through his nose and kicked up dirt as he blew it out through his mouth. Robert jumped back, disgusted by the sheep’s wet air.
“You filthy creature. You think you can just continue to eat our cheese? Did you think we didn’t know? What do you take us for? Sheep?” he laughed and spun around to the crowd. They all laughed with him. One mouse cried out, “Bah,” and the rest joined in. Bahs sporadically echoed throughout the barn. Willis’s eyes struggled to meet each bah head on, and so he resolved to shut them tightly, but just as his lids touched, almost instantly, he felt the tiny hands of Robert prying them apart.
“No, no, no, Willis. You must see this, so you can understand how serious we are.” Robert paced room, but restricted his radius to where Willis could see. Robert wanted Willis to see his every move. To hear clearly his every word.
“Willis, sheep, what have you become? Where have you gone?”
There was a struggle from the slug sheep, but mild-mannered and obese, the attempt to break free was short-lived. Several mice laughed at his struggle. Mice were not particularly cruel, evil creatures, but Willis had done something that had turned them, morphed them into the foul beings that now occupied that barn. The sheep had threatened their supply of cheese. Control had everything to do with it, the lack of control.
Willis, on a normal day, had been walking with Robert. They were making their way to the tree they often sat under, it offered the best shade in the yard. Robert, unplanned, had offered Willis a piece of cheese. The kind was Brie. The sheep accepted and it changed him. He hid the affliction, but for a mouse it was easy to identify. After that, Willis did everything he could to get his hands on more cheese. Some methods were discrete, while, other times, they were loud and obtrusive. It started to become a problem for Robert and every mouse in the area. And so the plan was concocted. The very next day, Robert confessed his addiction to cheese, his abuse. The finale had always been planned for the party at the barn. Everything before that led to this place, now.
“There comes a time in every young mouse’s life where he truly understands what cheese means to him. It is not simply a source of nutrition or sustenance, but much more – it fuels our every movement. We did not choose it this way, sheep. No, we did not. This is something that had befallen our species thousands of years ago. Something, an urge, so ingrained in the DNA of our species, you’d think it would wise to leave that one thing alone. Especially, considering how intertwined you are in all of our lives, Willis. This kind of invasion – it befuddles me how you could think you would succeed in hiding it. You had plenty of opportunities to stop, to come clean. We are not a violent species. We were slow to act. It was a response, really. Now, here you are. Tied up. Is this where it will end? Betrayal is your charge, sheep. Bah.”
Willis had not taken his eyes off of Robert. He watched him with soft determination. He understood that Robert needed his respect. The sheep had no intention of this being where it would all end. Robert continued.
“We liked you, Willis. We all did, all that knew you. I, especially. You were my friend, but I’m afraid you’ve become something else – something, whose existence I, we, cannot permit. So, now it is time for us to end this once and for all,” Robert said, walking briskly towards the slug sheep.
Willis squirmed and struggle to get his mouth off the ground long enough so he could utter what may be his final words. He chose them carefully. They were his only logical, genuine choice.
“I’m sorry,” he said, dirt clouding upwards with the apology. He lurched again and very clearly said, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry.”
Robert was stopped flatly by the words. He looked downward, contemplating his own life. He thought of how he would want to be treated. He also thought of his mother and father and sisters. What if it was them? Forgiveness can be given, it’s okay to forgive, he thought. I can forgive.
“Okay, Willis. I forgive. We all forgive you.”
The mice truly did forgive him. All they wanted was an apology and to get Willis well on his way to recovery.
“We will have to leave you here until you sober up. The cheese must run through your system. It will be painful, Willis. I assure you that, but if you live through it, then you are forgiven. Relapse is not an option. We have given you a second chance – us mice are very serious when it comes to cheese. Very serious.”
The mice swept out of the barn, leaving Willis to trudge through his next days of dairy fever. Willis would emerge healed and healthy and sober of cheese, and for the time being he would remain that way.
Robert and he would continue their chats under the shade of the tree in the yard. They remained friends for as long as Willis remained free of cheese.
“You’re a sheep, Willis. Bah. You’re a sheep.”