In a shire filled with sheep there lives a fish-tongued squire who sells cheap sickles.
Every morning Hugh loosens the tether of sleep and quietly wails at the prickles of waking. He drags his bony butt from the sheets and sits on the throne. There, he grunts at cross-making puzzles. He pencils and erases. He worries the pages and moans.
He’s dying, of course. The problem is, the moment won’t come. Year after year, Hugh struggles with dread. The chafing maw of regrets. The endless bricks of tedium.
His wife and sister-in-law claim to bear blisters from selling his scythes. It sprains Hugh’s ears to hear them complain.
From the tub, he writhes to catch their whispers: “Once Hugh kicks the bucket, let’s chuck this grubby life of dung and hay. What do you say? We’ll find a sweeter shire–one less lame and mediocre.”
At night they shuck his sweet peas and play poker near the fire, while Hugh freezes in the bath and bleats alone. As he dies and dies, he solves his puzzles. Dots his I’s, crosses his T’s. Watches the women through the groaning crack of the door.
They cavil and stab their bony fingers at one-eyed jacks. It squeezes Hugh’s waterlogged heart that he can’t see the score.
Outside, the sheep sleep and eat, fleeced or shorn. They snuffle the ground and ignore the splintering scythes. They roll their panoramic eyes and work their way around the swards, chomping sweet blades.
“Only humans,” they say, “could turn games into chores, day after day.”
C. B. Auder's work has appeared or is forthcoming in 3Elements Review, Jersey Devil Press, and A cappella Zoo. Auder is the Associate Editor at freeze frame fiction.