shepherd with sheep black and white imageShort Stories

The last days of shepherds

The night was cold that late September day. The mountains were frozen, with their dark woodlands quiet and eternal. A stringent scent of pine and wet earth reached the two shepherds as they were looking up at the full moon which appeared to glow with a golden tint. Behind the astral body, the sky, a soft velvet of dark navy blue that turned black here and there, punctuated by millions of white dots, flickering from aeons away was protecting the shepherds’ entire world.

Around the two of them, twenty sheep were resting on the top of the hill and, a few feet away, a calm bone fire was crackling the wood under its yellow and red flames. Not a movement, not a word, only the harsh but infinitely beautiful nature.

At the dawn’s first pink rays of sunlight, the shepherds got up and began to direct the sheep, lightly manoeuvring the gentle beasts downhill, heading towards new pastures. The land belonged to no one but to the nearby forest which had been there for a very long time: the shepherds’ fathers guarded sheep at the edge of that forest, and their grandfathers too, and so did the grandfathers of their grandfathers.

The woodlands, the moon, the hills, the sun, the stars, all were part of the true heritage of man: the Eden of nature. But it was a rough world, full of challenges and without much empathy. Both shepherds lost their brothers and sisters a while ago. Some died because there wasn’t enough food: the sheep provided milk and occasionally meet but that wasn’t sufficient because they only had four of these animals. The rest belonged to other people who lived in their village or in the communes nearby. Others died of infections or wounds that could not be treated.

Death however was not feared or looked down upon with hate and stupidity, as if it had taken away something which it should not had been taken away. Death was not revered either, for it was not a deity. Instead, it was viewed pragmatically with courage as people prepared for its coming from the early days, knowing that death was not the end of anything, but a necessary step towards the common home of all mankind.

The shepherds walked all morning, under the warm sun of Autumn. A cold wind from the East blew over their burnt faces and they pulled up the thick wool coats to protect their cheeks. Their eyes, unlearnt but not unintelligent, tired but not sad, looked at the sheep around, peacefully grazing the green grass. It was soon the time to bring them back down from the mountains, in the cottage where they would be looked after throughout the coming winter.

‘Look at these trees, and how beautiful they are,’ said one of them, gazing at the forest he saw for hundreds, if not thousands, of times. The other shepherd turned his head, covering his eyes with his right hand to prevent the bright mid-day sunrays from blinding him.

The forest was dark green, moving left and right as the wind continued to blow, now sounding like a violin. Behind the forest, a deep blue sky with a few pale clouds scattered in the horizon.

‘I remember watching the great valley, then I was thinking how deep was the canyon from which we came from.’

Without saying anything, both men understood the eternity’s touch on the everlasting and yet everchanging nature. Seasons passed but the mountains and their forests stood against the current of time – under rains and snows, through winds and draughts, the landscape continuously changed its colours, sometimes its shape, but always emerged anew under the sun and even more so under the moon.

Winter came and the shepherds had already brought the sheep down in the valley where their small but intimate village was located. Together with their wives, beautiful, tall women with strong shoulders and small wastes, dark brown eyes and bright red lips, they rested as the village braced for icy snow. The nights were longer and fewer people were outside their simple log houses with one or two stoves that scorched throughout the cold months, slowly releasing the lives of the burning wood as greyish ghosts rising through chimneys.

The only time everyone was walking the streets surrounded by tall mountains covered in thick snow was during the Winter festivities. Even those who did not believe in anything but their own death celebrated the Universe – out of respect and love, for the simple mountaineers knew, with a certainty far superior to that of scientists or philosophers, that they were the made from the same stuff as the burning stars.

For generations, the rhythm of life in that part of the world had been the same: going in nature, braving nature, talking to nature, making love in nature and dying in nature. As fast or as slow as the sun rose a golden disk at dawn and fell a red ball of fire at dusk. The moon, during Summer months was the matron of lovers and adventurers, both running into the woods to explore: some made love or married in secret, for the simplicity and beauty of nature was no cure for the folly of mankind, while others sought the darkest caves full of dangerous beasts to fight and, if they had the skill and the grace of gods by their side, to conquer. During the Winter months, the moon was the guide towards the eternal: darkness breathed live with every silver ray of light.

For many centuries, life in that place remained the same. But that coming Spring, when the shepherds would return with the sheep up in the mountain, their civilisation was about to end. A new era was upon them – whether they wanted or not.

A crispy morning in mid-March, with the white sun radiating golden beams welcomed the two men as they climbed up the mountain. They inhaled the fresh air and smelled the sweet scent of pine trees. A few birds jumped from branch to branch, and the sheep were peacefully grazing around them.

Suddenly, a deep silence overwhelmed the mountains and their forests. The animals felt something terrible had happened and stopped. Seeing this, the two men climbed on top of the cliff to see if they could spot anything.

Then, far away in the distance, a white metal bird landed on the line of horizon. The shepherds squinted, covering their eyes with one hand while pushing their bodies against their old crooks, firmly planted in the thick mud.

Covered in smoke and grey dust, they spotted what looked like giant pale boxes. They were apartment blocs. The airplane landed somewhere outside the expanding city, although it appeared to land right in the middle of it.

The streets of the city were swarming with the “new man”, a man not born from the womb of a woman but manufactured in factories and institutions. A man with desperation in his eyes and nothing in his heart, sad and eager at the same time, kept alive by substances and machines. For this “new man” nothing was ever good enough, “more” and “better” were the slogans for which he lived.

The professionals, the experts, the specialists, the statesmen, the scientists and the preachers were here with all the right papers and linear dreams of career and power, ready to conquer the mountains with malls and airports, to bring the comfort of technology and mediocrity to all simple folk, a gospel of plagues and puffy jackets, with virtual worlds and toxic candies, with their pets fed lab-made bugs and their children carried in green jars. Progress revealed itself to the two mountaineers.

The last days of shepherds were upon the world. A new dawn had arrived, a new civilisation built on illusions and emptiness had spawned – and it was going to be magnificent.

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