Jed wasn’t like the other goats. For a start he was called Jed when all the other goats were called things like Buttercup and The One With The Gamey Udder. He’d picked Jed because it sounded at once craggy and charismatic and life-worn and urbane,and he insisted everybody call him that.
Jed liked life on the edge, by the fence. He liked to mooch. He liked to sulk. He liked to draw deeply on his cigarette and read the Beats. He liked to sleep all day and go out at night wearing an old leather jacket that had blown by one day. He was a nocturnal goat who lived by his nerves on the mean streets and this was so against the order of things that it upset the others greatly. They pleaded with him to stay home, begging him not to stop his wild ways.
His mother would say, “Son , I know you want to be our own goat, I know how hard it’s been for you since your dad was eaten. I understand, darling, really I do, but the streets at night are no place for a goat. There are people in that world who would goulash you soon as look at you. Oh please Snowy, I mean Jed, I couldn’t bear it if I lost you too!”
His “uncle” said “Can’t you see what you’re doing to your mother, you ungrateful little craphead. What the hell do want to feel the pulse of the living city for anyway? Why don’t you shape up and join the hoofball team, you
His grandma said “It’s all very well being hungry for real life, living by your wits, feeling the thrill of the neon-lit streets and …(she had to pause for breath here as she was a very old goat)… never knowing if death will come tonight, but it’s not the goatly way, Snowy. Oh stop it, you’ll always be Snowy to me. However much you want it to be otherwise, we’re not made, evolutionarily speaking, for a nocturnal existence. Look at the shadows under your eyes! What you need is a good skipping-rope ‘n’ tyre casserole and a good night’s sleep. That’ll put the roses back into those pale cheeks!”
“You’re heading for a fall, douchebag,” Jed’s big brother would gently counsel. “Poncing around in a leather jacket, who do you think you are?”
His best friend, Biff, said “It’s madness, Jed. Why you wanna play with your life like that? You gotta take it easy, man. Look, me and some of the guys are starting a band with the fence wires using our horns as plectrums. Whaddaya say?”
All these people would say all these things. But Jed knew that being a nocturnal goat made him special and sexy. He knew the kids said “Look, there goes Jed that cool nocturnal guy. He knew all the girl goats were secretly in love with him. Sorry, ladies, he thought with a wry grin, not tonight. I’m off to prowl the city’s underbelly and see things so unspeakable that they will haunt my eyes and cause me to brood moodily, making you want me even more.
Oh he had loved a few of them back, usually at the back of the gorse-bush but, afterwards, looking deep into their limpid eyes, he would tell them monogoaty wasn’t for him, his twisted heart was incapable of love after the life he’d lived on the streets. He’d read while chewing on an old Maxim one day that a touch of the bastard about him would only make him more of an enigma.
But more than that, the streets made him feel alive, like standing in the field just never had. He hungered for their danger them when he was away from them too long.
One night, Jed slid out as usual under the hidden bit of fence behind the bushes where the wire was loose. Something felt different tonight but he couldn’t put his hoof on it. His normal slouch into town seemed more fraught with peril than usual. The night seemed blacker somehow. A couple of times he was nearly run over by speeding cars and once he rounded a corner to see a group of youths with knives pin a boy to the wall, a blade treacherously close to his wildly rolling eyes. Jed didn’t stop, not even when he heard the boy scream from two blocks behind him. This was the way of the street, though Jed, it was hard, but it was just the way it was. This was the real world and the weak got eaten up by the sharks. The law of the jungle. (Nocturnal goats never worry about mixing metaphors. That’s just not cool.)
Reaching downtown, the police sirens seemed to wail by more often than normal, tonight. Jed stopped for a bite to eat at the bins behind Antonio’s Trattoria, but half way through his spaghettini meal he’d looked down into the dark bin just as the lights of a passing car lit up its contents and had seen a decapitated cat’s head screaming silently up at him. Shaken, he had run out of the alleyway and back onto Main and, turning up his collar, he decided to go down to the docks to see if the salty banter of the night longshoremen could help take the edge off. There was usually some bourbon to be had down there too.
But the docks were silent that night. Just a NO TRESPASSING sign swinging gently from the chain. The squeak of the sign stayed with him as he wandered aimlessly about the city that night. Was he losing his nerve? What was wrong with him? Why was there a cold sweat across his muzzle?
Nah, just an off day, that’s all, he reassured himself. Probably coming down with something. He wasn’t losing his nerve. He was a nocturnal goat dammit, cooler than them all, a witness to dark secrets and he’d done some sinning himself, oh yes. Those nights when the whiskey clouded his vision and he woke up in the park with the bloodied collar of some beloved little lapdog in his teeth, not knowing how or why or whence… There were some troubled corners in his own heart too. He had become a shadowy creature of the dark streets alright, it was in his blood now, but even shadowy creatures of the dark streets got colds. It was time to call it a night.
Day was breaking as he crested the hill behind the field. The sweat on his muzzle was beginning to chill him a little and he was anxious to get back to the familiar corner where he knew his mother would be sleeping, snoring slightly. He would close her mouth and kiss her forehead like he often did, and then maybe he could sleep off this feeling.
As he looked down on the field though, something looked wrong. The goats weren’t huddled as they usually were. They were strewn about the field. Some of their necks were at odd angles…
Jed tore down the hill. Oh God no, please don’t let it be so. Please God, I’ll stay home from now on, I promise, just let me be wrong!
As he scrambled under the fence, tearing his leather jacket horribly, hot tears blinded his eyes. He ran to the centre of the field and spun around looking at the carnage all around him. He found his mother by the bloodied water-trough, her throat ripped open and her unseeing eyes wide as though puzzled about something.
They’d heard warnings of course: a wolf pack in the area, but the fence was good and so everyone had felt pretty safe. The fence. The fence.
He ran back to his own exit. It was too small for a wolf, wasn’t it? He at half their size could barely make it through, the posts were that firmly in place.
His ears filled with the roar of his blood as he looked at the fence and saw what he had missed in his panic before: dozens of stratchmarks and pawprints, a scrabbled out trench that must have taken even the biggest wolves a long time to clear in that stony ground. But he had given them their opening. With his foolish whims he had imperiled every goat he had ever known or loved and now they lay slain, the blood of his family soaking into the ground they knew so well.
“It should have been me!” he cried out. It should have been me..!”
He fell to the ground choking with sobs and there he lay weeping until the Humane society came and took him to a goat rescue facility in another town. His name was changed to Twinkle and he ended his days as an educational animal, going round schools and county fairs with his large-hearted handler, Marge.
The children often asked “Why does the goat seem so sad, Miss Marge?” or “Oh, Miss, Ma-arge, why does Twinkle keep screaming and running at speed as if trying to impale himself on the fence-post?” And Marge never knew why but would often sit long into the evening stroking the damp brow of the dreaming goat, frowning as his hooves struck out against unknowable horrors.