“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.