NIGHT FLIGHT OF THE SHEEP
“ … and, should the symptoms of sleeplessness persist, a patient may attempt any number of psychologically soothing exercises … lulling the mind to a more restful state of being … the most popular and effective of these called ‘counting sheep,’ wherein the patient, with eyes closed, begins enumerating sheep as if the beasts were standing there in the wooly flesh … one … two … three …”
His name was Spaxtle, hers Yarpzeit, at least that’s the closest any language not woven from the sounds of light mixed with spit might come to a correct pronunciation. They’d just departed Barnard’s Galaxy after three space-time cubules – warped, of course – spent on the farthest ring of Zoupitess, (again, name simplified for the sake of primitive tongues). Though the trip had been everything you’d expect from a sunbath beneath distant stars, Spaxtle and Yarpzeit had failed to find the one thing promised to be lurking in the Zoupitess quiet: sleep.
As advanced as they were awkward, Spaxtle and Yarpzeit bumbled through dark swathes of space and time on edge, struggling to keep their eyes from darting in every direction but the one necessary to steer their small ship, the Zoubaloo F. (This problem persisted for pilots of Zoubaloo A through Z as well; while they could all easily push a tiny yple flower through a black hole the width of a pin, or crack apart craggily debris by way of wiggling their only eyebrow, no one could figure out how exactly to fall asleep.)
Ploqs helped somewhat to calm the mind but they were entirely too stuffed with dense, cosmic dust to be ingested in large enough quantities to matter. And, for anyone able to eat more than three, the strange effects of the roundish, yellowy ploqs – fuzzy thoughts, excessive laughter, an overwhelming desire to burst into nonsensical song – outweighed any benefits they might afford a restless pilot. But today, tonight … in however many chunks of moments or fractions of a cubule had passed aboard the Zoubaloo F, there might be an answer. Just as they were about to crack open their second ploq, Spaxtle and Yarpzeit heard an old squiggle of a radio wave crinkle through the ship’s electromagnetic detectors. The language spoken was simplistic and straightforward; it only took six sets of their smallest ears to hear then translate its message about a remedy for those struggling to relax.
“ … and, should the symptoms of sleeplessness persist, a patient may attempt … ‘counting sheep,’ wherein the patient … begins enumerating sheep … one … two … three …”
Yarpzeit let out a sharp laugh. “Ey, Spaxtle! There’s a temporary off switch after all,” she said in a saliva-mixed-with-light-sounds kind of way. “How fashionably contagious and susceptibly outrageous to be floating on a corner of a square along with you!” (This last part she sang in uneven bursts, the result of too many ploqs in her system.)
“So there is,” Spaxtle replied with a lick of his third lip. “And I can see the source of the transmission, The Planet of the Sheep, not more than 0.4 cubules beyond.”
“You can see it?” Yarpzeit giggled because Spaxtle turned over his eyes a long while ago to the young pilot from Zoubaloo C who was desperately in need of an extra set. Now, Spaxtle used his head-antenna to find the way. It’s a known fact that head-antennae are a more advanced and accurate means by which to decipher distance and temperature than those useless blobs called eyes – or, better known as sembaviscai – but still Yarpzeit liked to tease Spaxtle about the whole thing whenever he’d forget about giving his eyes away.
“Look, Spaxtle!” She pointed toward The Planet of the Sheep as another giggle burst from Yarpzeit.
Spaxtle found no laughter in the view forming from the star-speckled darkness beyond the front window of the Zoubaloo F. A planet, doused in swirls of blue and churning flurries of white, appeared before them like some majestic, discolored ploq waiting to be consumed.
Spaxtle looked at Yarpzeit with his antenna-head and sent a thought floating toward her largest ear: We’ll find sleep here.
She nodded and pushed the red heat-scanning button on the navigation panel to survey for any life-forms down below while Spaxtle set up the stealth shield so the Zoubaloo F could happily hover, unable to be detected by The Planet of the Sheep inhabitants unless they possessed a visual apparatus as advanced as a head-antenna. He doubted such a device had even been dreamed about by these creatures who, as far as he could see, stared for long periods of time at boxes and spoke into pieces of communicative-type plastic by their ear not even capable of bending time.
Certainly, whoever inhabited this planet had no clue about head-antennas. Hundreds of millions of life-forms, (identified by the red heat-scanner as a particularly uniform configuration of eyebrows, eyes and lips called “humans,”) danced as little red dots on the screen. However, it was quickly determined that these life-forms were not, from a cursory scan anyway, in possession of a sleep-remedy and so the original sentiment remained: nothing short of sheep would do.
Finally, after surveying volcanic rock and snow-capped mountains, then looking inside swarms of homes with doors lacking any discernible laser capacity, Spaxtle spotted a flock of sheep. They were grazing in uneven groups on a grassy field cut by thin paths of dirt. In the distance, he saw a grand castle, swelling as a hazy shadow made from graceful torrents and fog. He could only imagine this was the home of the sheep, the place from which they ruled. And why wouldn’t they be the leaders of the land? They were undeniably glorious.
Turning off the stealth shield just enough to lower the ship, Spaxtle gave Yarpzeit the signal and the first sheep was beamed up.
It made a lovely sound as it traveled into the tiny insides of the Zoubaloo F and Yarpzeit was almost jealous she couldn’t replicate the baaaaahing noise. Perhaps, she thought, with one ploq more.
In not even 0.008 cubules, sheep filled any Zoubaloo-ish space they could find. One crushed itself against the electromagnetic-transmission dashboard, another chewed at the navigational fixator and a third wandered near Yarpzeit, letting out gas from a hole in its backside that smelled deliciously like a yple-flower-dipped ploq. Sheep were everywhere and Spaxtle and Yarpzeit curved their only eyebrow in delight.
They began to count together, as the instructions said, in that same uncomplicated language.
“One sheep …”
This is finally our answer, thought Yarpzeit.
No more ploqs for me! Spaxtle hummed in his head.
And by the time they’d reached “four,” every single sheep inside the Zoubalou F had fallen soundly asleep.
[This story is a little word art collaboration with the imaginative and whimsical graphic artist, Dmitry Levin, who is responsible for the sheep illustration above. You can view more of his work here.]