Experiment #113

Colonel Sweater Part 1

Stan Wilkerson hurled dung at his own front door. He aimed at the eviction notice nailed there, but, as with many things in his life, the turds flew wide. His door and the front of his house started to turn an ugly shade of brown.

Stan had gotten the farm from his father, who’d gotten it from his father, who’d gotten it from his father. For over a century the farm had prospered from one Wilkerson to another. But the winds had prevailed differently on Stan, the last of the Wilkersons.

The sheep herds that had numbered hundreds in his great-grandfather’s day and thousands in his grandfather’s day had dwindled in his day to four well loved pets and an overabundance of loans. He loved those sheep—Karate Lamb Chop, Wooly Mammoth, Super Mutton, and Colonel Sweater—but bill collectors do not let you pay your debts in love. As hard as Stan worked, the money always seemed to be on the other side of this shearing season or that odd job.

Stan never looked at the mail anymore. It only contained bills he couldn’t pay. Thus the eviction notice on his door had not surprised him. Stan had five days to get off the property or he’d “be forced off.”

After flinging dung at his frustration he opened his wallet and found two wadded up dollar bills. The stash under his bed afforded another four dollars and thirty-seven cents. And the cookie jar he’d tried to forget about only yielded another three dollars, sixteen cents and half a stale cookie. With no money and no other hope, he turned upward. He’d attended church as a boy, but hadn’t made it to a service in quite some time. He got down on one knee and tried to think of what to say. After a long pause he said, “Ummm… God, I don’t remember any fancy prayers and you don’t owe me a thing, but I need a miracle. Thanks in advance, your… Uh… Your Godship. Sincerely, Stanley James Wilkerson. Amen”

As Stan got up from the floor he noticed something outside the window. Stan blinked and looked again. Colonel Sweater stared at him, chewing his cud, floating at the second story window. Stan jumped to the window for a closer look. Sure enough, Colonel Sweater stood on nothing but air.

Stan ran down the stairs, tripped on the front rug, recovered, turned down the hall, dodged furniture, stepped around misplaced tools, hopped over piles of laundry, and burst out the back door. Blue, empty skies greeted him.

He looked down and saw Colonel Sweater standing firmly on the ground chewing his cud. Stan looked down at him, then up at the window. He looked back at Colonel Sweater. Gravity had clearly begun to work again.

Wooly Mammoth and Super Mutton stood in the field behind him. All eight feet touching the solid earth. Colonel Sweater swallowed his cud then *hack* coughed it back up again and chewed.

Stan put his hand on Colonel Sweater.

The sheep felt normal.

Stan pushed.

“BAAAAA!” Colonel Sweater said. He didn’t bounce or give way he stood firm and solid.

Stan pushed again, harder.

Colonel Sweater bleated and bucked. He caught Stan in the stomach with his rounded horns, knocking Stan too the ground with a shout.

Colonel Sweater grunted and sauntered off.

Stan sat up and shook his head.

Colonel Sweater looked back and bleated.

Stan blinked and looked up at the sky.

***

The next day, with the eviction imminent Stan decided to shear the sheep one last time. Wooly Mammoth went first, but his name didn’t translate to his coat. Stringy and dirty, Stan would barely make ten bucks on the lot. Super Mutton and Karate Lamb Chop weren’t much better. Last came Colonel Sweater. It seemed that overnight his wool had changed from the stringy mess of his compatriots to a lush forest of downy, golden wool.

After bucking through the shearing gate, crushing Stan’s leg with his body, and then nearly escaping the farm’s fencing altogether, Stan got Colonel Sweater in place and set to work. He finished shearing one side of the Colonel and set to work on the other. When he’d finished the second side he looked back at Colonel Sweater. He scratched his head. “No wonder they’re taking the farm,” he said. “I missed half his coat.”

Stan set to work and in a few minutes had sheared the first side again. White, fluffy fleece mounded up all around Stan and the Colonel. Stan leaned back to admire his work. “Dang,” he said and started shearing the second side again.

It went on like this for several rounds, longer than Stan wished to admit in later retellings. Finally he sat back and waited. Before his very eyes the wool grew in length and quality. Stan looked at the mounds of beautiful wool all around him. He hadn’t even noticed how much he had sheared. “Holy sheep dung,” he said out loud. (At that moment Colonel Sweater decided to provide some)

Stan continued shearing Colonel Sweater all night. When it got too dark to see, he grabbed every flashlight he could find. When the batteries gave out he made a makeshift torch out of a rusted rake and an old shirt dipped in kerosene. He did not want to give out before the miracle did. When the battery died on his clippers he grabbed some scissors, when those got too tangled in the wool he got out his hunting knife. It was the finest, softest wool he’d ever seen.

At dawn Colonel Sweater collapsed from standing stiff-legged all night. The miracle gave out with the sheep.

Experiment #114

Colonel Sweater Part 2

Stan spent the rest of that day bagging and cleaning the wool. As the sun went down he heaved the last bag into the barn where it’d be safe and dry till morning. He staggered back to the house and fell asleep on the dirty kitchen floor, tired, sore and happy.

The next afternoon, Stan borrowed his neighbor, Miss Julop’s, truck and loaded it up for market. Stan sold a bag at each of the sellers before unloading it all on a spinster and crafts maven who had built an empire of fine homemade goods. He made enough to pay his back mortgage and give them an advance of six months so they’d overlook his past indiscretions. And still he had enough to live on for the next few months.

Stan whispered a thanks to the Almighty as he walked out of the bank and got in the truck.

When he got home he went to the barn and hugged Colonel Sweater, much to the sheep’s dismay. Stan held on and the tears began to fall. Colonel Sweater, unable to get away, phased out, somehow made himself intangible, untouchable. Stan fell through his sheep onto the dirt floor of the barn. Colonel Sweater sauntered off like nothing had happened. After a few paces he turned back and bleated.

Stan went over to Miss Julop’s just to have someone to tell the story to. Once he mentioned the miracle, though, Miss Julop got a queer look in her eye. She adjusted her shirt and realized she had some pressing business to finish.

As the months progressed and more and more people got the same look in their eye as Miss Julop, Stan left the house less and less. He’d still work the farm (or what passed for him as working) and go to the grocery store, but the trips into town became less and less frequent. Even the members of the church he’d gone to when his father was alive steered clear of him and his miraculous sheep. He hadn’t paid much attention as a boy, but he knew they were supposed to believe in miracles.

One day the reverend stopped by.

“Hey Stan,” he said, “How’s it going?”

The reverend had stood on Stan’s porch exactly three times before. Once when each of his parents died, and once, on one of his weekly visits to Miss Julop’s, when his car broke down.

“Good, Reverend,” Stan replied poking his head out the front door. “Your car broke again?”

“No, no, my son,” the reverend replied. “I’m here to see you.” The reverend extended his hand to shake. Stan stepped from behind the door and held out his own hand.

They shook. The Reverend held on tightly and examined Stan’s inner elbow.

“I haven’t seen you recently and the good Lord’s put you on my mind… heard some things, wanted to see how you were doing.”

“I’m doing fine, Reverend.”

The reverend put his hands behind his back and looked down. “Well, Stan, let’s not beat around the bush,” he said. He looked up at Stan. “I’ve heard some stories and I just wanted to come by and hear them for myself.”

“Ok.”

They sat at Stan’s kitchen table, a pair of dirty water glasses between them. Stan told the reverend everything right down to the fact that he hadn’t peed once during the whole shearing episode.

At the end, the Reverend asked one question, “Stan, will you show me around?”

“Uhh… Sure,” Stan said. He would have done the standard tour, but at every closed door or pile of hay the reverend asked what might be behind it or above it or below it or inside it. The fifteen-minute tour extended into three hours of careful inspection.

At the end of it the reverend turned to Stan and said, “Well either you’re far better than I could have guessed or your crops aren’t here.”

“Umm… This is a sheep farm, Reverend. Ain’t no crops but in the garden and you inspected every plant already.”

“It’d be best if you just turn yourself in. A life of sin cannot last, Stan.”

“I ain’t sure I understand, Reverend.”

“I’m not stupid,” the Reverend said, “and neither are you. Your sin will find you out, but there’s forgiveness if you turn from it now.”

“Ok…”

“Please know you can come to me with anything, and I will help.” He paused awkwardly and expectantly, like a small boy waiting for his mother’s goodnight kiss. “There is forgiveness.”

“That’s uhhh… That’s nice to hear, Reverend, thanks.”

With that the reverend left and Stan felt more confused than ever.

That night, as he lay in bed, he began to wonder what it would take to make someone believe. If the reverend wouldn’t believe in miracles who else would? He turned over every angle in his mind and the only thing he could figure to change things was a demonstration. “By gum” he said out loud. “I’ll put Colonel Sweater on the stage”

Experiment #115

Colonel Sweater Part 3

The next day Stan borrowed Miss Julop’s truck and took Colonel Sweater into town. He went to see Mr. Potts, the old theater director. Between his younger days on vaudeville, his middle years on the theatre circuit, and twilight years running the old theater, he’d seen just about everything. “What kind of ‘miracle’ sheep is this?” Mr. Potts asked.

“Well,” Stan said. “He grew his wool out long and fine, and it just kept growing, even while I was shearing him.”

Mr. Potts looked at Colonel Sweater who’d returned to his grey and stringy look. He looked at Stan, long and hard, then back at the sheep.

“Well… It’s kinda hard to sell, growing wool to an audience… You sure he don’t spit fire or do complex arithmetic or levitate?”

“He levitated once, and another time I was hugging him and he did something so’s I fell right through him to the barn floor.”

“Go ahead, then. Let’s have a look.”

After a few minutes of coaxing, cajoling, bargaining, and threats, Colonel Sweater still stood in an ordinary way, in an ordinary place.

Stan coughed.

“Well he can’t do it on command,” Stan said. “He does it when he’s good and ready.”

“Hard to do a show with a temperamental sheep…”

Mr. Potts stared at Colonel Sweater for a long time. Stan stared at Mr. Potts.

Sweat poured down Stan’s back. He did not have a backup plan.

“We’d need costumes and sets and licenses and approvals and such…” Mr. Potts said.

“Ok…”

“And with things being the way they is…”

“Yes…”

Mr. Potts continued to look at Colonel Sweater.

“I’ve got some money I could put towards it,” Stan offered.

“How much?”

“A few hundred…”

“I don’t know…”

Mr. Potts looked at Colonel Sweater.

“I could maybe scrape together a thousand or so…” Stan said.

A smile played at the edge of Mr. Potts’ mouth, but he rubbed his chin and continued looking at Colonel Sweater.

“Well… it ain’t much,” he said in a slow draw, “but I think we’ll make it do.”

“You’ll put him in a show?” Stan asked.

“Yessir, I think we could even put him in his own show. He does well we can probably take him on the road.” Mr. Potts said. He stuck his thumbs in his pockets and looked down at Colonel Sweater. “He’s a mighty fine sheep… Or, I should say, he’s gonna be.”

Mr. Potts didn’t believe a lick in miracle sheep, levitating, intangible or otherwise. The theater, however, stood on the edge of a financial precipice and he needed to bring down the house. Whether that was literal or figurative, didn’t matter much to Mr. Potts. A scapegoat (or in this case a scape-sheep) seemed to be just what he needed.

Under Mr. Potts’ direction Colonel Sweater began training for his début performance. To Stan’s bewilderment this training included nothing miraculous but lots of obstacle courses, flying leaps, and photo poses.

Mr. Potts used Stan’s fleece money to buy costumes, stage props and pyrotechnics. Some of the money found its way to Mr. Pott’s own pocket as well, seeing as he’d done so much for the Colonel already.

“He’ll be the most famous sheep in the states,” Mr. Potts said when Stan came by a few days later to confront him about it. “Our slogan’ll be ‘What’s better than a sweater?’”

“I want people to see a miracle,” Stan said.

“You might impress some people with golden, endless wool or even a levitatin’ sheep, if you can have him do it on command. But you’d get hundreds, thousands more in the door with costumes and pyrotechnics and a good show.

“And if the levitation ain’t working’ that day, no problem. They’ll have plenty of other things to ooby-gooby over.

“I don’t think we need all that,” Stan said.

“You want people to believe dontcha?”

“Well, yeah.”

“How are people goin’ ta believe if they don’t see?”

“But-”

“That’s why you came to me ain’t it?

“How are they gonna see if we don’ get ‘em in the door? By Jove, it’s our duty, our God-given duty to put him on stage and fix ‘im up right so’s all the world will see and believe.”

And with that he carried away Stan’s faith along with the last of his fleece money.

Advertising went up all over town. “See the amazing, golden fleeced Colonel Sweater. An event of mythological proportions. What’s better than a sweater? Presented by Potts and Wilkerson.” It featured a sheep in a helmet, a cape, and underpants jumping through a flaming hoop, smiling with shiny teeth, and saving school bus full of children while a volcano exploded in the background.

Experiment #116

Colonel Sweater Part 4

“What’s this?” Stan asked. He shook the ad in Mr. Potts’ face.

“Colonel Sweater saving the world,” Mr. Potts said.

“This ain’t the miracle and it don’t look a thing like him.”

“Artistic freedom, my boy. If we want people to believe, we’ve got to get them in the door.”

“This ain’t the miracle.”

“Listen, Stan, everything I done, I done for you and that sheep there. You think I spent all that money on illustrations and advertisin’ for nothin’? I been in show business a long time, long time and I’m usin’ all my skill to help people believe you. People are dumb like sheep, they need you to tell em what they should believe in. Now if you want me to back out and leave you hangin’, let you handle this big show where people are paying good money to see your miraculous sheep’s wool grow, then fine. But don’ think I won’… don’ think I won’ go somewhere where my talents is welcome and appreciated. So don’t you ever come in here and suggest I ain’t doin’ my very best to help you.” With dramatic flair Mr. Potts pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and turned away from Stan as he dabbed at his eyes.

“Ok, ok, I’m sorry, Mr. Potts. Please do as you see fit.” He turned to go, but stopped and turned back. “I just… I want people to see a miracle.”

Stan put up no more arguments.

The night of the show Stan put on a clean shirt, the bow tie he wore to church as a small boy, and the suspenders his mother had given him the Christmas before she died.

He got there early and took his seat in the first row. The theater filled well before the performance. The crowd soon reached standing room only and threatened to spill out into the atrium. Mr. Potts, under stern pressure from the fire marshal, closed the front doors of the theater and began selling non-refundable tickets for a show the following evening.

As the curtain on the stage went up Mr. Potts voice boomed through the microphone, “Are you ready for a miracle?” The crowd cheered and a spotlight swept to center stage. Music boomed and Colonel Sweater rose through the floorboards and a layer of thick fog. He bleated in time with the thunderous music and the crowd responded with applause.

The events that followed were hardly miraculous. Colonel Sweater walked an obstacle course, bleated on command, baa-ed in response to audience participation, and performed astounding tricks of balance and precision. Stan held his peace and waited. Mr. Potts’ advertisement promised a finale of “heart-stopping amazement.” Perhaps that was where the miracle lay.

The stage went dark.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Mr. Potts voice boomed out of the microphone. “If you are faint of heart, pregnant, or above the age of seventy-five, I urge you to leave now. The next feat is so terrifying, death-defying, and fear inspiring that you may not live to see its end.”

A spotlight ignited. It swirled around the stage before settling on a platform fifty feet above the stage floor. A second platform carrying Colonel Sweater, wearing goggles, an army helmet and a cape, rose to meet the first. A large hoop stood between the platforms.

“This is what you’ve all been waiting for,” boomed Mr. Potts voice. The hoop burst into flame. Colonel Sweater backed up to the edge of the platform and stamped his feet in readiness. He looked out at the crowd one last time as if to say goodbye, then turned and galloped toward the hoop. About five feet from the hoop one of his legs got caught in the flap of his cape. He sprawled headlong into the ring of fire. His oily, dirty wool lit like a match and soon his whole body, costume and all, blazed. Stan cried out and leapt from his seat. Colonel Sweater bleated in terror and scurried around helplessly on the platform.

The only thing worse than shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater, is seeing a miraculous sheep light up like a torch in a crowded theater. The crowd panicked and headed for the door, trampling anyone who got in their way. Stan raced on stage. He shouted for Mr. Potts to lower the platform.

Without waiting for a reply Stan climbed the rigging to get to his bleating friend. By the time he reached the top, Colonel Sweater’s frenzy had knocked down the burning hoop and both platforms burned. Colonel Sweater lay in the center of one platform, shivering with fear. Miraculously the fire had not hurt him, for though his fleece and costume had both burned off, his skin was ruddy and unblemished.

Stan knelt beside him and wept as the fire leapt to the curtain, the main stage, and the rest of the theater. Stan picked Colonel Sweater up to leave, but as he did the fire burned through the last of the supports. The platform pitched to one side and threw Stan and the Colonel headlong into the seats. The rigging and the remains of the curtain fell to the stage floor with a crash and an explosion of flame.

Colonel Sweater bleated, but Stan did not, could not, rise to comfort him. All around them the fire burned.

In the morning little remained of the old theater but dust and ash. They found Stan’s body amongst the rubble with Colonel Sweater still bleating over him. Beyond a lack of wool, Colonel Sweater remained untouched by the fire. The newspapers called it a miracle. The courts held Mr. Potts held liable for the blaze but he skipped town with the box office receipts and was never brought to justice.

The revered performed a mighty sermon at Stan’s funeral, but Miss Julop, one of the four people who attended, thought it did Stan little justice.

Miss Julop bought the Wilkerson place and the sheep at auction. Knowing Stan’s love for those four sheep, she kept them and cared for them. They never rose to the heights their names promised, but she learned to love those four sheep almost as much as Stan did. Shortly after she bought the sheep she asked the reverend to stop his weekly visits. From that time on she began to believe in miracles again.

Colonel Sweater lived on for many years without another hint at the miraculous. He sired many a fluffy puff ball, but till the day of his death, he remained completely and utterly bald.