The next day, after grabbing a quick munch with the family, Timothy slunk away to meet his friends as planned. He found all of them on his rise, watching nervously over the Meadow.
“Hi, guys,” he called as he ambled up.
“Hey, Timmy,” Johnny said, looking a little more sheepish than normal.
“What’s going on?” He asked, noting that they all looked a little guilty about something.
“Well…” Ewellen began, then burst out in a rush, “Penny Woolsocks was telling everyone that you were afraid of Buster. She said that Buster and Gainer chased you out of the meadow yesterday.”
Timothy gritted his teeth. “Penny's lying. They didn’t chase me. I was just... just avoiding those two pain-in-the-rumps.” He regretted the way that came out immediately, it sounded too defensive. "You act like Penny is telling the truth and I'm the one lying. C’mon. You know those two. All they do is pester and then want to butt around.” Ewellen and Skipper looked at each other and rolled their eyes, while Johnny looked everywhere except at him.
Oh sheep dip. That didn’t sound much better, Timothy thought. And darn Johnny's wool. He was there. He knows we were racing.
“Oh, it’s OK, Timothy. Everyone knows what bullies they are.” Ewellen started in, trying to get Timothy to feel better. Only it wasn’t working.
Timothy scowled and thought, "Even my friends think I'm running scared of Buster. Dumb sheep make me so angry."
“Buster said ...” Skipper started in.
Timothy didn’t let him finish. He lashed out with his pent up emotions, “If you’re a stupid enough sheep to believe Buster, then I don’t need you as a friend.”
“Well! Suit yourself, Timmy.” Skipper retorted angrily and headed down the hill. “There are plenty of better sheep to hang out with than you, shear-bait.” He called back over his shoulder.
“Wait, Skipper.” Ewellen wailed starting after him. “Ohhhh! See what you’ve done.” She accused Timothy before she headed after Skipper.
“Skipper,” she called again. “Wait up.”
“Me?!” Timothy exclaimed. Then, calling after her, “That wool-brain believed all their lies. He got what he deserved,” he finished up louder, although he regretted having said it. But, she continued off after Skipper, who by now was trotting down the hill towards the dale where the other young sheep all hung out.
“So... Where are you going?” He called, trying to keep Ewellen's attention.
“I don’t want to hang out with someone who is in a nasty mood,” Ewellen retorted as she began to bounce down the hill.
“OK! Fine! Some friend you are anyway,” he yelled after her petulantly. Angry, he snorted and looked at Johnny. Johnny was still acting like he was looking elsewhere.
Wooly-boogers! Timothy thought. We were all supposed to go back to the Shepherd’s tent and check out where the wolf was. Now there’s just the two us. It’s harder to be brave with just two. He was no longer sure that they would go.
Sheep-dip! He exclaimed to himself. I can’t let those two know that Johnny and I chickened out of going just because they didn’t come along. All the sheep in the Meadow would really be talking about me if that got out.
“Well, Johnny,” Timothy began, a little cautiously. “We’re still gonna go up to the Shepherd’s tent, aren’t we? I mean, it’s important to prove the wolf was really there. I wasn’t making it up, or lying, or anything.”
“Uh… Sure. I guess… Unless…,” Johnny was clearly faltering.
Oh, cockle burrs! Johnny is going to bail out. Timothy thought. I have to think fast. Then an idea occurred to him. Timothy tried this different tactic. Johnny was pretty timid and very sensitive about it.
"I sure hope you don’t let me down, Johnny," he acted worried. "I can’t go there alone. Not that I'm scared of course," he assured Johnny, and himself. "It's just better with a friend along and we don't want them to say we were scared."
"I said I was going," Johnny exclaimed sounding offended.
“That’s the spirit, Johnny. We can’t let them think one of us was too chicken to go, now can we? I think we’ll just show those two we aren’t afraid to go with, or without, them.”
Johnny frowned and scowled at the dirt. “I ain’t no scaredy-lamb.” He stated firmly. “We’ll show them,” but his voice faltered a bit. “Won’t we, Timmy?”
“Sure, Johnny. No one is going to call my best friend a scaredy-lamb while I’m around.” He pawed the ground like he’d seen the older rams do. “Together, we’ll butt anything we find so hard, it’ll be knocked silly.” Then he laughed and kicked his heels. “Let’s show them. Let’s show them all,” he exclaimed. Why, he was even feeling the glee he tried to show as he bucked and kicked. He was pretending as hard as he could to not be afraid. "Hope it shows," he said to himself under his breath.
“Oh, yeah,” laughed Johnny, inspired by Timothy’s tough spirit. He began to buck and kick following Timmy’s lead. “We’re Ram-bo sheep,” he laughed and chased after Timothy who had started out towards where the Shepherd's tent stood. “We’re bah-d, we’re bah-d,” he quipped. Timothy began to laugh too, feeling glad to have his friend as a partner in this. Laughing and bucking every few steps, the two headed off to investigate the Shepherd’s tent for wolf-sign.
Timothy kept up the chatter so Johnny wouldn’t get second thoughts, right up until they stopped at the edge of the clearing where the Shepherd’s tent stood. Once there, the quiet of the hillside seemed suddenly to take on a more sinister aspect. They stood there in front of the tent stock-still for a long time, staring at it. A soft breeze ruffled the fabric, but nothing else moved.
“Do you see anything?” Timothy whispered, looking all around.
“No. Just the tent,” Johnny replied quietly. “I don’t hear anything either,” he added hopefully. “I think the coast is clear.”
“Well... Let’s go.” Timothy took a step and stopped. Johnny hadn’t moved. “What’s the matter?” he hissed.
“Nothing, but… Well, aren’t you just a little worried?”
“Nah,” he answered quickly. Timothy’s heart felt like it just might explode, he was so frightened. He swallowed. "Better to get eaten than go back in shame."
"Uh,... Bad choice of words. Maybe we should separate. You know, divide and conquer.” He looked nervously at Johnny not really sure if he got that saying right. But Johnny was nodding furiously, so he plunged on pretending more confidence than he felt. “Yeah, that’s it. We’ll split up. You go on that side of the tent and I’ll swing around there to the backside. If either of us sees anything, we’ll let out a yell. Then we’ll split up and go in different directions. He can’t catch us both.” He finished sagely.
“OK. Yeah,” Johnny licked his lips looking uncertain again.
Timothy suddenly realized that his last remark implied that it might catch one of them. "Insert hoof in mouth. Ha ha," he laughed, attempting to make light of it. “Well, let's go. I'll go this way. You go that.” Timothy tried to sound lighthearted and unconcerned.
“This way?” Johnny asked looking apprehensively towards the side of the tent Timothy had assigned to him. Timothy nodded and swung out to go around on his side. He felt a twinge of guilt. He’d just sent Johnny the same way he’d gone last time when he walked straight into the wolf.
It won’t be there, Timothy rationalized, but he knew in his heart, he’d been afraid to go that way himself. Surely the Shepherd has already come back and scared it away. Although he couldn’t see any sign the Shepherd was anywhere near, or that he'd even been there since yesterday.
You just never know with the Shepherd. Feeling guilty, Timothy moved a little faster to try to make up for sending his friend the way he had.
He ambled along the edge of the trees beside the tent. He looked back and could see Johnny moving very slowly, still near the front. As he reached the back of the tent, he slowed and peeked around the corner. There were more stacks of wood and an ax, a couple of coils of rope, and some folded canvas lying there. He was most of the way around now and there was still no wolf. Feeling braver, he moved forward again.
"Johnny should be able to see the other side by now," Timothy told himself. "If there was a wolf there, Johnny would have yelled his head off," he was sure.
No wolf! The relief was tremendous. He almost felt a little giddy with it. Briskly, Timothy moved faster on around the back of the tent to the far side. He even added a little prance into his gait.
Let Johnny see it's no big deal for me, he thought a little proudly. I'm as brave as any sheep in the Meadow. As he rounded the next corner of the tent at a fast walk, he was blinded briefly by the sun. Unable to see, he tripped over something that tangled his feet. He plopped down onto his face clumsily. Embarrassed, his first thought was that Johnny was going to see how ridiculous he looked.
He looked up to see Johnny gawking at him from the front of the tent. He stood up quickly trying to pretend that he hadn’t tripped. Then, he saw what tripped him. It was like a big blanket, he thought at first, and covered in coarse brown hair. Not like his wool at all. He took another step on it and saw the head. At the same time, the scent came to him.
Wolf! He froze. I'm standing on the wolf!
Faintly he could hear Johnny calling out to him, “Run Timmy! It’s the wolf.”
Terrified, neither of them moved.