“The Holiday” by Sophie Myers is the First Prize-winning story in the Young Adult category in the 13th Annual Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards. For complete coverage of the awards, see the May/June 2018 issue of Writer's Digest. To see a complete list of winners and read the first-place winners in each genre, click here. For an extended interview with our grand-prize winner, click here. For a selection of advice and inspiration from the winners, click here.
The Holiday by Sophie Myers
The ewe bleated pitifully, legs kicking uselessly in the air, as it lay on its side in the morning dew, panting with the effort of pushing.
The bite mark oozed blood into the short, dirty wool of the ewe’s leg, where the fox must have sunk it’s sharp teeth.
Jenny didn’t looked surprised to find the ewe in the back paddock. In fact it looked like she’d expected it after they’d passed the mauled remains of a tiny lamb a few minutes ago. It’s mother must have run with the rest of the flock after it had given birth. But this poor ewe was still struggling.
“They’re not meant to drop for weeks. This one looks like it’s been trying for hours, it’s too tired to push. Bloody shittin’ foxes!” Jenny swore loudly.
Evelyn’s eyes widened to hear her younger cousin swear so fiercely. If she’d tried to pull something like that at home, her dad would have smacked her bum hard enough to make her cry. No matter that she was twelve now and supposedly a young lady, swear words were unacceptable, no matter how justified.
“I don’t think this one’s gonna last much longer. She’s gone into labor from the stress. Don’t know how that fox got through all the traps and fencing. We gotta get dad and Rob with the ute.”
Jenny rested her hand on the ewe’s head for a moment before standing back up. Evelyn noticed she had muddy grass stuck to her knees but decided not to say anything. It didn’t seem like the time, and her cousin didn’t seem to get fazed by things like dirt and muck the way Evelyn did.
It was just another difference that marked her as a city girl, clearly out of her element here in the country. Evelyn wasn’t supposed to be here and she felt it more and more with each day she spent out here on her Aunt and Uncle’s farm in Binalong just outside of Yass.
She wasn’t supposed to be out here in the middle of whoop whoop, but rather on the golden sands of the Northern beaches of Sydney with her friends for six glorious long weeks of school holidays. But her parents were squabbling again, and imagining that they could keep it from Evelyn—impossible—they’d sent her off down to her cousin’s so they could yell at each other in peace.
And while Evelyn had visited the farm in the past, it had always been with her mum and dad. They’d served as a buffer between herself and her country cousins, who seemed to think of her as weak and frivolous for not wanting to get her hands dirty plucking the chicken for dinner.
She was sharing a room with Jenny, and although Evelyn was two years older, Jenny had a way of making her feel like she was a big stupid baby. The room was small and cramped, like the rest of the farmhouse, but it was made even smaller by the thin mattress shoved between the bed and the chest of drawers that rested against the wall. The mattress didn’t quite fit into the space, so one of the sides was pushed up revealing the grey fabric underneath.
“You take the bed, Jenny’s on the mattress.” Her Auntie Carly had said kindly, putting her new travelling bag down on the bed.
She’d tried to protest, she was a visitor, she didn’t want to kick anyone out of their own bed. Already she could feel the burden of her being there growing larger and larger.
“A soft bed for a softy,” Jenny had said with only a small amount of snark. She was too good-natured to complain outright, especially in front of her mother. Apparently the concept of country hospitality was introduced at a young age. Evelyn had smiled meekly, determined to show that she hadn’t been hurt by the comment. But that had only been the start.
She’d balked at the sight of the chicken’s eggs she’d been sent to collect the first morning. They’d been covered in all sorts of dirt and bits, and some of them were still wet. But Rob, her older cousin by five years, had only laughed when she’d asked why these eggs were different from the ones her mum usually got from the store.
“You’re all so pampered in the city. Where do you think a bloody egg comes from?” He’d rolled his eyes, chuckled and left the kitchen.
In truth, Evelyn’s family lived outside of the city in the suburbs, but to Rob a house where you could see other houses on all sides meant you lived in a city.
Evelyn tagged along behind Jenny during the day and attempted to help with her chores, feeling small and insignificant when something was out of her comfort zone or new to her. Jenny would sigh, and do the job by herself.
Naturally, Evelyn assumed that Jenny would take care of this sheep now.
“I’ll go get Uncle George.” Evelyn offered quickly.
“You don’t know where the shed is, you’ll take too long. Just stay here and I’ll go.”
The terror gripped Evelyn’s insides like a living creature, squeezing and squeezing till she thought she’d be sick.
“I can’t do it! I’ve never done something like this before.”
“You have to, mum and dad can’t afford to lose this lamb”.
“I’m not even meant to be here!”
Jenny looked at her dumbfounded.
“Who cares where you’re meant to be? Just keep the ewe still and if the lamb comes, help it out!”
Evelyn’s chin quivered dangerously, threatening tears, but she nodded at Jenny, who turned and raced back the way they’d come. Evelyn watched until the hills of the paddock swallowed her up.
They had meant to take a nice quiet walk to the back pond, a tour of the farm for Evelyn, suggested by Auntie Carly, and enforced by her when Jenny had protested. But when they’d passed the sheep paddock and found it empty, Jenny had set off with a purpose, not explaining to Evelyn what was so ominous about a few missing sheep.
Evelyn looked down at the ewe sprawled on the ground; its strange alien eye, with its slitted pupil staring right at her. The ewe was quieting now, her struggles slowing as her energy was spent. Evelyn squatted down gingerly, and she saw a single leg protruded horribly from it’s down there area.
Evelyn knew that babies weren’t meant to come out that way. Head first, they’d learnt in health class last year. What was she meant to have for an emergency birth? Towels, they always asked for towels in the movies, and hot water, but she had neither.
She was alone in a huge field with a huge swollen sheep who needed help, real help, and not the kind she could provide. Breathing deeply through her nose, Evelyn pulled off her flannel shirt that her mum had purchased from Suprè especially for her trip, and pushed it beneath the rear of the ewe. Her bralette covered her small breasts, but Evelyn still felt exposed, and goose bumps appeared on her arms despite the warmth of the morning.
Help was coming, but some instinct told Evelyn that she didn’t have time to wait for them to get here. It was a big farm and she had no idea how long it would take Jenny to fetch her dad and brother.
The ewe had now given up pushing and lay quietly panting, her whole body quivering with spent muscles. Evelyn realized that she needed to pull this lamb out. Wiping her hands on her jeans in an attempt to sanitize them, Evelyn tentatively put her hands around the protruding leg and shuddered at the slimy feel of it.
Her dad’s voice echoed in her mind. “Don’t be a sooky lala, Ev, or they’ll eat you alive. Don’t be afraid to get a bit dirty, show them you’re made of stern stuff and you’ll be fine.”
Her hands were dirty now, all right. The bloody fluid coating her hands smelled like nothing she’d ever smelt before, adding to the unreal sense that this just wasn’t happening. Not to her. She was meant to be at the beach.
Evelyn pulled experimentally on the leg. Nothing happened. The lamb was stuck. She tried to picture what position the lamb was in—inside of the sheep—and reasoned that if perhaps both legs were together, it would be easier to pull the lamb out. Which meant only one thing. She was going in.
Taking a deep breath, Evelyn pushed her hand and her arm inside and almost threw up at the thought of where her arm was. The ewe struggled weakly, trying to roll onto it’s back, but Evelyn steadied it with her other hand and apologized quickly.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” She sobbed.
She was going to kill it, the lamb and it’s mother too. She was sure this wasn’t the right way, sure that she was doing this wrong. But there wasn’t anyone else.
Tracing the leg that was sticking out back inside, she could feel the body of the lamb. Moving to the left, she could just make out what she thought was the other leg.
Gently but firmly Evelyn pulled the limb back towards the opening and drew it through to meet the other leg. Now she had a proper hold, despite the slippery surface of the lamb’s legs, and when she pulled on them, they moved more easily. The squelching and farting sounds as the lamb’s hindquarters squeezed through the opening made Evelyn retch, but she kept pulling and pulling, and bit by bit the lamb’s body emerged, until the head appeared and then the front legs too. The lamb was free!
It was tiny; smaller than any other lamb she’d ever seen, although she knew she was no expert. It wasn’t fluffy and white, and a dark purple cord still joined it to it’s mother. Evelyn had no scissors and hoped that that part could wait. The little lamb’s legs were jerking now as it lay in a puddle on her flannel and Evelyn could see that there was some kind of goo covering the it’s head. She quickly wiped the muck away from it’s mouth and nose, worried that it might suffocate. Evelyn forced it’s mouth open too, worried there might be goo in there as well, but before she could check the little lamb gave a shrill cry that made her jump.
“We did it girl!” Evelyn patted the ewe’s side, filled with relief, but stopped when she realized the ewe was no longer moving.
Shuffling around to the side of the sheep, Evelyn could see the ewe’s eye open and unblinking. Its body was unnaturally still, and she knew that somehow she’d killed this poor innocent creature. The tiny little lamb bleated weakly and Evelyn gently wrapped it in the ruined flannel t-shirt that she had thought would help her fit in down here in the country. What a fool she’d been. A stupid city girl.
Cradling the little lamb to her chest, Evelyn rocked it back and forth, whispering comforting words to it as they sat beside the still-warm body of its mother.
It seemed like she’d been sitting there forever when she finally heard the roar of a motor and the ute appeared over the crest of the hill, speeding towards her.
Her Uncle George was the first out and raced over to where she sat.
“You alright kiddo!?”
Evelyn couldn’t look him in the eyes, she felt so ashamed. “I’m so sorry, I think she’s died. She couldn’t push the lamb out because it was coming out leg first, so I had to pull it out.”
By now Rob and Jenny had arrived and Rob knelt beside the ewe, checking for a pulse. He nodded stiffly at his father and Evelyn burst into tears.
Uncle George patted her back hesitantly. “But this little one’s alive! If you hadn’t done what you did, the lamb probably would have died too.”
Evelyn clutched her little lamb tighter to her chest. “I’m really sorry, I didn’t know how to pull it out properly, I didn’t mean to kill her!”
Her uncle George sat down hard with a thud, and pulled her into a rough hug, the lamb sandwiched between them.
“Jenny said she was probably in labor for most of the night, Evy, it’s a miracle you managed to keep the lamb alive. If you hadn’t been here, they both would have died. You did a real good job, sweetheart.”
Evelyn looked up at Jenny, who was standing by Rob. Jenny wouldn’t lie to her, she would give it to her straight. She was smiling down at Evelyn.
“Ewww, Evelyn, you’re covered in shit! Yuck, you need to go clean yourself up.” Jenny pinched her nose between her fingers and waved her hand in Evelyn’s direction, but she did it with a smile. Something inside of Evelyn’s stomach unclenched and she let out a deep breath.
“Hey! Language!” Uncle George scolded as he heaved himself up to help Rob pick up the ewe’s body.
Evelyn looked down to see the whole upper half of her body covered in a mixture of bloody fluids and muck. Her jeans had turned a reddish brown colour and felt sticky and wet, now that she thought about it.
“Looks like you’re ridin’ in the back of the ute!” Rob laughed, but he helped her to her feet and lifted her up into the bed of the tray with gentle hands. Jenny hopped in after her, despite the empty seat in the back of the cab, and started chatting about making up a bottle for the lamb back at the house and how she would show Evelyn the trick to making lambs latch on. The little lamb struggled feebly in her arms, and Evelyn hugged it tightly as they set back. They bumped up and down as the ute went over the hills, and when one nearly sent Evelyn sprawling, Jenny grabbed her, steadying her with an arm over her shoulder. Jenny stayed close despite the muck all over Evelyn and for the first time since the start of her trip, Evelyn didn’t feel so small and stupid compared to Jenny. In fact, she didn’t feel small at all.