Sammy continued to count the sheep, even as the loud man in overalls approached. “Two hundred thirty-three. Two hundred thirty-four. Two hundred—”
The loud man grabbed him and spun him about. “Are you stupid or something?” the man asked. “Didn’t you hear me? Isn’t this about the twentieth time you’ve broken in here?”
They were standing inside the gate to the Smith Sheep Farm at 3:00 AM. Hundreds of sheep milled about. They smelled like wet wool, unlike the loud man in overalls who smelled like sheep dung.
Sammy didn’t like looking people in the eye, so he kept his eyes downcast. He was a bit short and rather soft in the belly. His reddish hair was already thinning in his early thirties. He was barefoot and dressed in stained yellow pajamas covered with sheep patterns.
Sammy answered the questions in order. “I’m not stupid. I am something. I am autistic. I heard you but ignored you. This is the seventy-third time I’ve broken in here. You usually don’t catch me.” Sammy turned away from the man and went back to counting. “Two hundred thirty-five. Two hundred thirty-six.”
The loud man in overalls stared and then shook his head. “I’m calling your brother again.”
* * *
Tom soon arrived. He wore the jeans and t-shirt he’d thrown on when he’d gotten the call. He was a slightly younger version of Sammy, but with long brown hair and a flat stomach from regular morning runs. He doubted if he’d bother with this morning’s run.
Sammy ignored his brother. “Six hundred six. Six hundred seven.”
Tom tapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Time to go.”
“Almost done. Six hundred eight. Six hundred nine. Done. Did you bring a picture?”
Tom took Sammy’s hand and started to lead him away. “I left it in the car. I’ve already got the movie Babe loaded in the DVD player. If you hurry, you can get started quickly. Just count the sheep on your pajamas for now.”
“No picture?” Sammy frowned, then began walking quickly, counting the sheep pictures on his pajamas.
When they got to the car, Sammy froze, then grabbed his head in his arms in panic. “It’s not on! How can I count the sheep if it’s not on!” He reached through the open window and clicked the DVD player’s power button. Not bothering to open the door, he scrambled through the window. Within seconds he had fast-forwarded the movie to the first sheep herding scene. He froze the screen and began counting contentedly.
The loud man in overalls caught up to Tom. “You know he broke the lock again. You’ll have to pay for it. That’s another sixty bucks.”
Tom quietly counted out three twenties and handed them to John, the loud man in overalls. They had gone through this many times.
“You’ve got to do something about this,” John said. “Jesus, look at the time! It’s not just me, it’s every farmer with sheep in the state, he visits us all. He’s crazy, man! You’re just lucky I caught him and closed the gate before the sheep got out or you’d be paying for rounding them up again!” Tom had begged Sammy to at least close the gate when he went on his nighttime excursions, but to no avail.
“C’mon, at least you got an accurate count out of this.”
“True,” John said. “I thought we had six hundred eight sheep. Must be a new lamb. Still, you know I’m gonna have to call the sheriff.”
“Do what you have to do.” Tom joined Sammy in the car.
“What am I going to do with you?”
“Sixty-seven. Sixty-eight. Sixty-nine....”
“You used to break out only every couple of weeks. Now you’re been doing it once or twice a week. How come?”
Sammy glanced up. “Because I’m feeling sleepy. Have to stay awake or everything goes away.” He went back to counting.
Tom drove Sammy back to the Home.
* * *
Tom truly didn’t know what to do with Sammy. He’d been looking after his older brother since the death of their parents ten years earlier. He’d been eighteen, Sammy twenty-two.
Sammy had finished with Babe, and was now counting the sheep in a 2004 documentary on Bighorn sheep that once roamed Sierra Nevada, ironically called Counting Sheep.
Tom parked in front of the San Gabriel Home for the Autistic.
“Almost done?” he asked Sammy.
“Almost.” Sammy went back to counting. Tom knew there was no point in trying to get Sammy out of the car until he was done. Sammy had counted them many dozens of times, just as he had for Babe and other movies.
“Done,” Sammy said. “Do you have a picture?”
“Here.” Tom grabbed from the back seat the “Sheep Breeds of the World” poster he’d bought online. It had pictures of 30 breeds of sheep. It should tide Sammy over until he got to his room.
The sheriff was waiting in Sammy’s room. So was Dr. Johnson, the director of San Gabriel. Sammy -- [End of Preview.]