“Merle, have you noticed something has been off the last few months?” Jennifer said casually as she tallied the ticket stubs from this year’s Nativity Petting Zoo. It was pretty much exactly like their Rest of the Year Petting Zoo except that the animals were in an in-door barn that was decorated like Jerusalem rather than in a rodeo stock yard and the handlers were dressed in Jewish robes rather than Wranglers and cowboy shirts. It was usually a money maker in both its versions but since the early fall, it hadn’t been doing so well.
“Why, sis?” Merle asked as he stomped snow off his feet at the office door. He always called her sis even though she was no blood relation to her. Jennifer didn’t take it personally, though. Merle was farther past 65 than he would admit and he had a long held affection for old school western movies, and every female of good reputation who wasn’t a romantic interest to the leading male of those flicks inevitably got called “sis” or “sister” by said lead male character. Merle was most definitely the lead character of his own life and he modeled everything he did on John Wayne’s movies on account of the fact that John Wayne had also been saddled with a horrible name.
“It’s not anything I can put my finger on, exactly,” she replied. “More like a hunch. Usually we have a strong upswing with mutton busting at the beginning of summer, at the beginning of fall, around Halloween, and then again when we switch over the Christmas program. In between, we have a fairly steady stream of kids wanting to ride the sheep. We had the expected surge at the beginning of summer, and we started to surge in early fall, but it didn’t ever peak and while it tapered off very suddenly, the number of tickets also never quite went away.”
“Ee-yah,” Merle replied, “I had noticed a change in our customer base this year. I don’t know about the ticket sale numbers, on account of you being the money handler, but we’ve had an interesting upswing in Peakers coming down from town. Sometimes, they bring kids but they’re just as likely not to.”
“Overall sales are just fine,” Jennifer said, scratching her head. But almost no ticket sales were for mutton busting and fewer ticket sales for the petting zoo than normal. Usually kids love to play with the animals after hours of being cooped up in a car for a family drive. Now, they seem to prefer Frostyland and the new mini put-put course.”
“Might be because the put-put course is new,” Merle drawled. “Kids these days aren’t like they were when we were young. They gotta have the brightest, shiniest thing that none of their friends have, or the exact same thing their friends have.” Jennifer rolled her eyes at that. She was only twenty-nine and was rather fond of playing Sims on her PC, so she was technically one of “those kids” who’d rather play with their gadgets than participate in what Merle called honest outdoors play.
“That might be part of it,” she said with a sigh. “Cleaning up that freak swamp gas explosion last summer sure was annoying but the new and improved Anime-themed put-put golf course does look nice and fresh.”
“I’m sure it’s something like that,” Merle said dismissively with a shrug as he poured himself a cup of steaming hot coffee.
“So Uncle Bo,” Loki said as he quickly licked a dribble of melting ice cream from his fist. “Why do he keep coming here again?”
“Not that we mind,” Thor cut in quickly, gulping down a bite from his own double dipper ice cream cone so fast he almost gave himself a brain freeze. “Hanging out with you is a lot funner than spending all of Christmas break at the coffee shop with Mom.”
“Totally,” Loki agreed. “But why do we keep coming back here to the human kiddie park?”
“Reconnaissance,” Uncle Bo said quietly. He was his forearms on the slats of the sheep pen, staring hard at the one lone sheep in the back corner, completely oblivious to all the female attention his prominently displayed backside was generating. Loki and Thor thought it was kind of funny ‘cause Uncle Bo really liked looking at shes but didn’t like being ogled in return, as Aunt Reetha put it. She said something about gooses and ganders not being the same as rams and ewes, which made no sense to the boys but that was fine. Auntie Reetha was a grown she and she was allowed to make no sense from time to time. It was enough that Uncle Bo was so intent on that scraggly-butt sheep to not notice all the old ladies eyeing his butt. They’d have to be sure to tell Untie Reetha; she’d probably think it was funny, too. No, on second thought, they might keep that little tidbit to themselves. Uncle Bo would know who told her and then he might not take them along for ice cream the next time he came out here.
“Looks like you’re just staring at the dog-butt crazy sheep,” Loki said, trying to drop his current favorite uncle a hint about all the attention his butt was generating.
“Why do you say he’s crazy?” Uncle Bo asked, propping a foot up on the railing. Nope, he must not have caught the hint, Loki thought because now the old ladies were getting bold about checking out Uncle Bo’s butt. He raised his lip in a silent snarl when one tried to actually touch Uncle Bo, chasing the hussy away—that was what Mom called overly forward women who tried to flirt with Dad, so it probably applied. Granted, Uncle Bo could take care of himself but he and Thor were wolves. It went against grain to let some human touch one of their pack. Even if Uncle Bo wasn’t exactly pack on account of him being a big horn sheep rather than a wolf.
“’Cause he’s hanging out here, duh,” Loki said.
“That doesn’t make him crazy,” Uncle Bo said.
“Why else would a herbie shifter stick around some place where all he gets to eat is grass hay and has to let human children climb all over him?” Loki said, still silently snarling at the old biddy, who was not really getting the hint that she should maybe go ogle someone else’s favorite uncle’s butt. What was it about girls and butts anyway? Boys knew that butts were for sitting on and for farting and not much else, but girls had all these ideas about that body part.
“I don’t know,” Uncle Bo said, sounding a bit baffled. “I guess I never really thought about it. I just figured he’d move on sooner or later if we pestered him enough. He has pretty much stopped scaring kids and trampling adults.”
“Because you are funner to torment,” Thor said, slurping down the last bite of his cone.
“Yeah, Uncle Bo. If they let grownups try to ride that sheep, he’d pro’ly still be tormenting humans, but you and the other local herbies are the only adults he can pester easily. And since you keep coming to him, why leave here?”
“But that’s…” Uncle Bo began.
“Carzy,” Thor finished for him.
“Dog-butt crazy,” Loki agreed. The old lady seemed to finally realize that he saw her trying to cop a feel of Uncle Bo’s butt because she flushed and scampered away. Girls, even old lady girls, were butt crazy, too, it seemed to him.