Do Sheep Scream? by HJ Hampson

They were shown to a table by the window which offered a bracing view of the misty, green field-scape that stretched to infinity. Against the gentle clatter of cutlery and crockery and the murmured conversations of the other guests, she smiled across the table at Will. “Gorgeous view isn’t it.” Still adjusting to being out of the city, he smiled thinly back.

She looked over the breakfast menu, noticed there were boiled eggs with soldiers, which made her think of Will’s profile, how under his ‘likes’ he’d put: ‘Sunday mornings with runny boiled eggs, and buttery doorstep soldiers’; she wondered if the hotel’s boiled eggs would satisfy him.

The first time she’d stayed over at Will’s, the first time they’d slept together, after a drunken night out in Islington, their third date, he’d made her boiled eggs in the morning and, my, weren’t they were wonderful: she’d let the yoke drip off one of those authentically thick soliders as she’d watched him across the table, while he read out a story in The Observer about banker bonuses. But today, Will ordered scrambled eggs with mushrooms.

After debating whether to go for the kippers, which were what she really fancied, she ordered the same as Will; she worried the kippers would smell, and it wasn't good to have kipper-breath on the first weekend away with your new vegetarian boyfriend.

“Fancy going to market?” he asked as he buttered his wholemeal toast.

“Yes, we could have a walk through the fields en route.”

“Maybe we should drive, it finishes at pretty early.”

“But it’s such a beautiful day. Country air will do us good.”

She touched his arm; he smiled nervously, “OK.”

What appeared to be his fear of the countryside, though he’d grown up on the outskirts of the Peak District, was endearing to her. The others she'd met had been adrenaline-junkies who went rock-climbing, or surfing, or orienteering weekends, but here was he who was better than any of them, Will, who’d been an animal-rights activist in his student days, and who subscribed to a more liberal-left political outlook, but who hated the great outdoors and the countryside.

She'd been skeptical about meeting a man of quality on a website, though all her friends who'd tried it had encouraged her to. The first few had been a parade of losers with bad trainers, dwarves, the dull and misogynistic; but then, the picture of a smiling, dark-haired man with the sensitive good-looks of a nineties film star. And he was wearing a tuxedo. 

She clicked him, he clicked back, and he was intelligent, amusing and so polite; made her feel beautiful, sexy and funny. 

This weekend, the pinnacle of their budding courtship. Will had suggested Paris, but she'd petitioned for a weekend in a boutique hotel in the English countryside, and eventually he'd given in. What, she thought, could be so bad about the countryside? She had resolved to convert Will, to make him realise what he was missing; had been amused by the twitchiness which afflicted him from the outset, his circumspect approach to every task as if it were related to some impending disaster.

After breakfast they went up to their room to put on their outdoor clothes: Will, a black wool coat, jeans, trainers; Greta, her pink, fleece-lined cycling jacket, which she thought looked a bit sexier than her usual hiking gear.

“All set?”

She put her arms round him and kissed him, “thanks for coming.”

“Come on, let’s get it over with.”

Greta found a route to take them across the fields through a small copse and into the market town. They set out through the kissing gate at the bottom of the hotel’s grounds, strolled across the open field and Greta stopped to take a photograph of a Ragged Robin.

“It’s a rarity,” she said. She smiled at him, and he seemed relaxed.

She checked the map again: “The footpath goes over there,” she said, gesturing to a field wherein a herd of sheep silently grazed. “It won’t be far,”

“I don’t want to go that way.”

“Why ever not? It’s a marked path.” She stood back, surveying him, “what’s wrong?”

He was kicking the ground gently; looking back, towards the hotel.

“What on earth’s come over you?”

“I don’t want to go near them. Near the sheep.”

“Are you joking?”

She stepped back, unnerved by his tone, an unease coming over her; Will fidgeted still.

“Will, they won’t do anything.”

“It’s not that... it’s... oh, you don’t understand! This is a disaster, I shouldn't have come.”

He turned to leave but she grabbed him and pulled him close, “What are you doing? What’s the matter?”

He was breathing short and fast.


In a pub opposite the hotel, thirty minutes later, she was drinking a glass of white wine while Will cradled a whiskey. He stared into the glass, a look about him like he was operating upon all the world's problems and it was only half eleven in the morning.

“When I was fourteen I went camping with two friends," he said. “Kevin and Billy. I say friends but Kevin was more of a bully, really, and we were out in the Peaks. We were camping at a cliff edge, a sheer drop down to the valley; we were getting drunk on horrible cheap cider.

“Kevin insisted we played this game. A stupid game of dare. I remember it had all been mild stuff, but then Kevin and Billy exchanged this look an Kev goes: ‘I dare you, Seevs, to push a sheep off the edge of that cliff.’ I said no way, but they said if I didn’t they’d send a dirty letter on my behalf to this girl I fancied in Science. You know what it’s like...”

“So did you do it?”

He nodded silently and took a large hit of his whiskey.

“We spent the next hour chasing round the sheep in the field next to us, until we caught one. This youngish one…” He had to swallow hard.

“All three of us got hold of the thing, and it squirmed and kicked, and bleated. I mean, the poor fucker was making such a scene I thought the farmer would come running from his stead down in the valley to see what was going on. I'd kind of hoped he would, but he didn’t.”

He couldn’t hold back the tears; she became aware that the bar man was staring at them.

“So we managed to get it on our side of the fence, and then over to the cliff edge. I tell you, it could sense there was a drop, could sense something bad was happening. ‘Gwon, Seev, push the fucker…one, two, three…’ Kev says, and he’s got this sick grin. I’m standing right on the edge of the cliff myself, I can see Sheffield sprawling in front of me like a sparkling carpet of gold. Somewhere in all that is my home, with my Mum in it, and my bed and I wished so badly I was back there. But I’m not, I’m stuck with this sheep between my legs and I’m sweating like hell. So I give the poor thing a shove.

“It looked up at me before it fell, eye to eye. And then it went, limbs flailing all over, off the edge of the cliff. God... it made this noise... this horrid, guttural bleating, almost a scream, if sheep scream. I can’t forget it. I never will.”

“The next day we passed the corpse on our way home.”

Neither of them spoke, until Will, composing himself, gave a little laugh. She tried to smile.

They finished their drinks and spent the afternoon ambling around the market town. Will put on an air of joviality unwarranted by the over-priced market stalls and their snooty traders, and they returned to the hotel for dinner. And then, in the king-sized bed in their boutique hotel room, he loomed over her, but she could think of nothing but the sheep.

Afterwards, as she lay in his arms. She cursed herself, repeated in her head that ‘it was only a sheep’. But she knew that on Monday morning she would be logging back onto that dating site again.

HJ Hampson is a novelist and screenwriter living in London, England.  Her debut novel, a black comedy called The Vanity Game, was released by e-publishers Blasted Heath in June. You can find out more and read other stories by HJ Hampson on her website or follow her on Twitter @usesofliteracy.