The Seventh Challenge

He is met at the station by a bustle of worried-looking officials. Men in suits wring his hand, pat his back, dance around him in an anxious circle.

“Thank goodness you’re here,” they say. “It’s just been sighted again. We’ve got a car waiting for you. Do you have everything you need?”

He nods. Swallows. He hates the city. The way the smell of it invades his nostrils. The way it’s always loud. He sits in the back of the car and checks over his kit as they roll through rush hour streets. Six times National Shearing Champion, his tools are always razor sharp. He is always ready.

“It’s in there,” say the officials, as he unfolds from the car. They point, quaking, to a copse of trees in the corner of a square of parkland. It’s dark within, but he can see something lurking. A pair of yellow, slotted eyes peer out.

He spent ages examining the pictures they sent him, blurry and dim though they were. It’s a sheep, certainly – but one that hasn’t been sheared in generations. An urban sheep. Wild beast. City smog in its wool. Engine oil on its skin. Huge as a minotaur. Hard to believe something that big could have gone unnoticed for so long, but stranger things have happened. The Left-Behind Sheep, they call it. The Wild Bleater. The Monster Of Shepherd’s Bush Green.

He grips his shears. The officials are watching, holding their breath. From the copse of trees comes a bleat as low and sinister as a growl. Six times National Shearing Champion, he reminds himself. Never yet defeated, and not about to be now.

He edges forwards.

Takes a deep breath.

Steps into the dark.

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