Dead Sheep

As we passed the last crest of the hike, we spotted
Burnmoor Tarn, complete with an abandoned lodge, a tiny black spot
in the endless gray. "Looks like a horror movie set,"
Johann commented. And a few minutes later, as if to confirm this
analysis, we stumbled upon a dead sheep.

The sheep was black, lying on its side in the middle of the trail,
sodden with the rain. And as we made our way around this disturbing
object, another became visible. The second sheep was also directly
on the trail, with its guts spilling into the mud. One dead sheep
in the middle of the trail could be anything. But two? This smacked
of human agency. Or the supernatural. A few other sheep lingered
nearby, staring at us with big mournful eyes. What did they know?

We continued on, slightly creeped out, but making light of the
situation. Then, as we carefully forded the rushing stream by the
tarn, the hikers behind us reached the sheep. We saw them huddle
around the area, taking pictures. "They just made a classic
horror movie mistake!" I laughed nervously. "They're in
trouble now."

We continued past the abandoned lodge, the valley of Eskdale peeking
through the mist and gloom ahead. I glanced back once in a while,
noticing the four hikers behind us getting closer. And then, I looked
back and they were gone. Swallowed by the marshes. I searched the
open fields for them, but there was no sign. "What the hell
happened to them?" I began to panic. "Maybe they went
into the lodge." Johann shrugged. "Maybe." I wasn't
sure. Irrationality was beginning to take a hold of my brain.

Nevertheless, we continued down the trail, joking about panthers
escaped from the zoo, the Hound of the Baskervilles, and scary Gothic
murderers who would sacrifice us on the local stone circle. The
rain picked up again and we slipped and squished our way down the
last hill into the river valley. A road was reached. A farm was
passed. The sounds of the hamlet of Boot filtered towards us through
the rainfall. I made a last joke, mocking my own imagination. "This
is when the travelers think they're safe and then the axe-wielding
maniac jumps out at them from the bushes." And then, at that
very moment, as if to shut my blasphemous mouth, a terrible howl
drifted from the wilderness behind.

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