Jack glanced up at the hoof steps above him, bleated for Helena and Phoebe to stay back.
“What is it?” Helena asked.
Jack nuzzled into her side, nibbled her neck. “Beta-master is in his home. Nothing to be scared about. Even if there were, I would still protect you. I’m the billy-goat, that’s my job.” His horns scraped against the wooden floorboards as he led Helena and Phoebe from underneath the master-house.
They skipped to the other side of the yard and watched the master-house. The door creaked open and Beta-Master stepped out. Phoebe bleated and ran forward, her black fur shiny in the early-morning sun. Helena ran after her. They sauntered up to Beta-Master and stared at him, wagging their tails.
Beta-Master knelt and stroked her, scratching her behind her ears. He held out some bread and Phoebe snatched it up. He threw some for Helena. She gobbled it down.
Beta-Master approached Jack and crouched down. He mumbled in his master-speak and held out some bread. Jack devoured it. Dry and old, but delicious. Beta-Master brushed out the straw from Jack’s hanging fur, readjusted the clinking chain around his neck. Jack smelled him. Sweat and dust lingered in his nose. Beta-Master ran his hooves across Jack’s horns. Rubbing his muzzle, he stood up and walked away.
“I like Beta-Master. He’s new, but nice.” Helena rubbed her body against the wall.
“Like I said. Nothing to worry about.” Jack groomed her orange and brown fur trying to satisfy her itches. He looked up as Alpha-Master threw seed across the courtyard outside of the barn. Helena and Phoebe bolted towards it. Jack looked back as somebody called his name. Alfred.
He ran and touched heads with the old ram. Where his long horns jutted out, Alfred’s curled into the sides of his face. His flock ran to the chicken-seed.
“Be careful of the Beta-Master. He’s new, young, scared. I see it in how he moves.” Alfred said. He spoke slowly, lingering over every letter.
“Unlike you skittish sheep, us goats aren’t scared of every master that moves.” Jack brayed
“You goats are too intrepid for your own goods. Our cautious nature is how we sheep stay alive. I’ve known Alpha-Master for five years. Beta-Master has only been here for a couple of weeks.” Alfred rubbed his body against the wooden post.
“You need Alpha-Master to shear you. You’re looking like a black cloud.”
“Watch over Helena and Phoebe.” Alfred butted heads with Jack before joining his flock.
Jack considered Alfred’s words. The old ram was wise but scared of everything. He watched Alpha-Master throw out vegetables and he ran to join the feeding frenzy.
As he reached the courtyard, Helena and Phoebe ran into the field. He chased after them. They skipped in and out of the legs of the mighty horses, Rose and Lily. They were magnificent with their powerful muscles and gleaming white fur.
“Are you causing trouble again, Jack?” Rose whinnied, through mouthfuls of grass.
Jack popped his head up. “Me? I never cause trouble.”
“Maybe not now, but I remember when you first came here, you were always in places you shouldn’t be. Breaking into the food room and eating Alpha Master’s apples and bread,” Lily said.
Jack laughed and skipped away into the barn. He laid down and closed his eyes.
He woke up and his eyes adjusted to the darkness. The pigs snored away as the chickens were perched on their roosts. Where were Phoebe and Helena? He stepped out of the barn and looked around. He shivered as rain tumbled onto him. And he spotted them. Hiding under Beta-Master’s house. He ran to join them, his horns scraping the wooden floorboards.
As he reached them, they ran back into the rain and laughed at him. He brayed and chased after them. But they ran back underneath the house. He followed them, as they skipped around at the end of the house, his long horns catching on the metal framework. He jumped, as something slammed above him. Was it Beta-Master?
“Girls, behind me.”
He poked his head out and heard the door crash open. Beta-Master walked out. He held something in his hand. More bread? Apples? Beta-Master yelled in his master speak. Jack ducked back under the house.
“What’s going on?” Phoebe asked.
“I don’t know, but he doesn’t sound happy. Stay behind me. If you get a chance, run away.”
Jack waited as Beta-Master stamped forwards, his hooves crunching on the stones. All three of them skittered to the back of the caravan. Jack hissed, as Beta-Master crouched down and shone light in their eyes. He shouted in his master-speak, but Jack held his head low, wielding his mighty horns. Beta-Master shouted again, his voice louder and rougher. Phoebe and Helena ran to the barn and Jack followed them. Beta-Master shook his head and stamped back into his house, slamming the door behind him.
“Why did Beta-Master yell?” Helena asked.
“Did we do something wrong?” Phoebe said.
“Of course not. Masters are different from us, that’s all. Let’s get out of this rain. Come on.” Jack led them into the barn, and they fell asleep.
Morning light crept in. Jack rose his head and saw Phoebe and Helena eating the wild plants in the field. He joined them. Chasing them through the day as they skipped across the grass. Playing with Alfred’s lambs, running in and out of Rose and Lily’s legs. As darkness began falling, Beta-Master approached Jack. Stamping forwards. Jack stepped back and hissed.
But Beta-Master gripped onto the chain around his neck and led him into an enclosure. Beta-Master rattled the chain, clicked it onto the wall. He left and closed the gate. Jack didn’t understand. He tried following him, but he could only get so far, before the chain yanked him back. He looked at the wall. He had been chained to it.
Phoebe poked her head through the gate. “What’s happening? Why are you here?”
“I don’t know,” Jack tugged at the chain, “Beta-Master chained me here. But it’ll only be for tonight, I’m sure. Nothing to worry about.”
Helena joined her and dropped some bread through the holes. As Jack approached it, one of the chickens flew down and gobbled it up. He hissed at it, before lying down and closing his eyes.
He raised his head, as the gate creaked open and light streamed in. Looking up, Beta-Master stood over him, smelling as strong as ever. He brushed his fur and placed some bread down. Jack gobbled it up, as he heard a clicking. The chain fell to the ground. He looked up at Beta-Master. Could he leave? He stepped outside and saw Phoebe and Helena running across the field. He skipped after them.
He loved stretching his legs, smelling something other than stale air and sawdust. Hearing more than the clucking of the chickens. Chasing after Phoebe and Helena, butting heads with Alfred and playing with Rose and Lily. Scoffing down grass, leaves, bread and apples. But as darkness fell, Beta-Master approached him again. Jack stood up, as he grabbed onto the clinking chain around his neck. Led him back to the enclosure and clicked him into the wall.
Jack’s belly rumbled, he hoped Beta-Master would return with some food, but he didn’t. Instead Alfred appeared.
“I haven’t seen you chained up like this since you first came here.” He bleated out.
“Beta-Master did this. I’m not sure why.”
“I do. I saw you three, two nights ago, running in and out of the underside of the Beta-Master’s house. Masters aren’t like us. They sleep in the night and they’re grumpy, if you wake them up.”
“Is that what this is about? That’s silly. Does he expect me not to run around because he’s the master and I’m the goat?”
“He’s a master. You should respect him.”
“I respect the Alpha-Master. Not the Beta-Master. He’s not the one who feeds me bread and apples. He shouts at me. He shines light in my eyes. He chains me up for the whole night leaving me to starve. You were right, Alfred. Beta-Master is young and naïve. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. I haven’t been chained up here since I first came to the farm. I don’t want to be here. Get me out.” Jack jerked at the chain, but it held fast.
“Stay calm, Jack. This is just for tonight. Beta-Master will know that you’ve learned your lesson by tomorrow.”
Helena appeared and dropped down some bread. Jack smiled and scoffed it up. Alfred was right. It would only be for tonight. But it wasn’t. On the next night and the next and the next, Jack was chained up. As soon as darkness fell, Beta-Master clicked him into the wall. He hated it. Seeing Phoebe and Helena play in the field, seeing the lambs run around. When would this end? Would it end or was this the new routine? He only wished that Beta-Master would give him food for the night.
On the fourth night, Jack was chained up again. He knelt on his forelegs and laid his head on the ground. It wasn’t that bad really, he guessed. Beta-Master would be back at first light to release him. But as the darkness melted away, Beta-Master was nowhere to be seen. Jack’s stomach screeched. He needed to eat something.
He looked around the enclosure. Old hay and straw. No proper food. Beta-Master would be here soon, wouldn’t he? He swallowed as he felt his bowels loosen. What if Beta-Master didn’t unchain him? What if he never came back? What if he was left here? He cried out and blinked. Tugged at the chain. Stamped across the hay. Charging forward only to be yanked back. He screamed for food. He knelt and chewed on the hay. Dry. Tough. Disgusting, but he forced it down his throat. Phoebe and Helena skipped into the barn.
“You’re still here,” Phoebe remarked, “the sun is high in the sky now. Why hasn’t Beta-Master released you yet?”
“I don’t know, but I’m so hungry. Can you get me some food?”
They nodded and ran out. His stomach growled at him, as the hunger flooded his body. He needed to eat something. He needed to get out. He pulled at the chain, but it wouldn’t move an inch. He bolted forward, but it pulled him back. So close. But the door was out of reach. He had to escape. Using his horns, he bashed and whacked the chain. Nothing happened. Maybe Alpha-Master was nearby. He would help him. He tottered to the gate and bleated out. Yelled and shouted.
Alpha-Master appeared and exclaimed in his master-speak. He opened the gate and crouched. Held out some bread. Jack gobbled it up. It was the best thing that he had tasted in a long time. Alpha-Master brushed the straw out of his fur, scratched him behind his ears. He spoke in his master-speak, low and friendly. Jack nuzzled his head into Alpha Master’s body, as he was unchained from the wall.
Alpha-Master led him to Beta-Master’s house and rapped on the door. Beta-Master appeared. Jack wrinkled his nose at the stench. The fur on his head looked like a bird’s nest. Had he just woken up? Alpha-Master yelled, while Beta-Master looked at the ground. Jack tried to understand what was happening. Alpha-Master must have been telling off Beta-Master for forgetting to release him. Good. It’s exactly what he deserved. Stupid, lazy Beta-Master. How could he expect respect if he didn’t give any?
Alpha-Master stormed off. Jack hissed and turned away, but Beta-Master called out. Jack ignored him and chased after Phoebe and Helena. As the last of the light left the sky and rain tumbled down, Jack laid down in Rose and Lily’s stable. They were still in the field. He looked up, as somebody approached. Jack screeched as Beta-Master walked to him. He held his horns out and Beta-Master stopped. Jack spat at him and bolted away. He wasn’t going to allow himself to be chained up again, not if that meant starving.
He ran into the field and Beta-Master chased after him. His heart thudded in his chest his blood flooded through his veins. Beta-Master ran again, and Jack bolted behind Rose and Lily. He knew that they had powerful back kicks. Beta-Master would be stupid if he tried to approach them. And it worked. Beta-Master stopped and stared at Jack.
“Kick him if he comes too close,” Jack said.
Rose munched on some grass. “You have four legs. Beta-Master has two. You can outrun him. Anyway, Beta-Master made a mistake, but he’s young. He’s learning. Alpha-Master was the same. I didn’t respect him at first, but now I trust him with everything.”
Jack snorted. “Those are nice words Rose, but I bet Alpha-Master didn’t forget to unchain you, leaving you to starve.”
Beta-Master ran around Rose. Jack bolted to the stables. Beta-Master chased after him, but he was far away. Jack sheltered in the barn watching Beta-Master run to him, but he crashed down, as he slipped on some mud. Jack guffawed. This was one Beta-Master who would never become an Alpha-Master. Beta-Master stood up and yelled at him, before storming off. Jack shook his head. He was safe for tonight. He knelt on his forelegs and closed his eyes. But minutes later, they snapped open. Could he smell food? Apples? Bread?
He poked his head out of the stable and sniffed the ground. He found the bread and scoffed it down. And another, and another. His heart soared, as he bit into a crunchy apple, but he screamed as somebody grabbed onto the chain around his neck. Beta-Master. He’d been tricked. Jack writhed. Twisted. Squirmed. Kicked his legs. Jerked his head. Tried to break free, but Beta-Master held fast. He ran. The chain pulled him back. Air shot from his lungs. The chain dug into his neck. He couldn’t breathe, but he had to escape.
He dug his hooves in, but Beta-Master yanked him along. Jack screamed and tried running, he pulled forward a few metres, before Beta-Master pulled him back. Where was Alpha-Master? Jack yelled. Thrashed. Flailed. Struggled. His enclosure neared. His throat burned, as he screeched. Screamed. Bellowed. Sweat filled his nose. His mouth dried up. His bladder opened. His bowels loosened. Quaking as the chain grew closer and closer. Jack shouted, as something crashed into him. Alfred. The pressure around his neck dissipated.
“Run Jack.” Alfred yelled.
But Beta-Master grabbed onto the chain and wrestled him into the enclosure. He bolted the door shut. Jack’s heart thudded as he looked around. Only hay and old straw. No food. He wasn’t going to starve again. He yelled. Headbutted the gate at full force. Attacked and assaulted. Wood cracked. The bolt rattled. Beta-Master ran to the other side of the barn pressing himself against the wall. Jack slammed into it again and the gate flew open. He bolted out, ran across the field, not looking back, but Beta-Master didn’t follow him.
Instead Helena, Phoebe and Alfred tip-toed to him.
“Are you okay?” Helena asked.
“Get away from me.” He screamed. His breath shot out. His neck sizzled from where the chain had dug in. He charged at her, knocking her aside.
She screeched, but neither she nor Phoebe ran away. They stood their ground, wary of Jack and his horns.
“Jack. That’s enough.” Alfred stepped in between him and the female goats.
Jack whimpered and howled, the emotion rocketing from his body. Phoebe stepped forward and they touched heads. Nuzzled into each other, as Helena and Alfred groomed his fur. He trembled, as they fell onto the grass together.
The next evening, Beta-Master approached them. Jack stood up, held his head low. But Beta-Master crouched and held out his hand. Jack sniffed it. Bread. Was it another trick? He stepped forward and snatched it away, but Beta-Master didn’t grab the chain. Instead he sat next to him and brushed the straw from his fur. Beta-Master pressed his hooves into his eyes, shaking his head. Jack looked at Helena and Phoebe. What was going on?
Beta-Master stroked his head, scratched behind his ears. He gave out more bread and apples. Jack hesitated, before he wolfed down the apples. Crunchy and sweet. Beta-Master hesitated, before stroking him. He flinched away. Jack looked at the sky, as the chain clinked around his neck. Darkness was coming. Beta-Master took hold of the chain and waited for Jack. Was this another trap? Would Jack starve for another night? Or was Beta-Master learning?
He stepped forward, while Beta-Master kept a loose grip. They walked to the enclosure together. He smelled the food before he could see it. Bread. Apples. All waiting for him along with fresh hay and straw. He stepped inside and gobbled down a whole apple. Beta-Master clicked him into position. He stroked Jack’s head and walked out and closed the gate. Alfred walked in.
“Are you going to be alright tonight?” Alfred asked.
“I will. Beta-Master left me all this food. Maybe he could be an Alpha-Master yet. I’ll be fine. Look after the girls for me.”
Alfred bleated and skipped out. Jack yawned and devoured another apple. He laid down on his forelegs and went to sleep.
I spent a month working on a French farm. This is based on my experiences there with some creative license, of course. I’m the master … not the goat. You can read my blog entry here for more information. But in short, every night, I had to chain up Jack the Billy-Goat otherwise he’ll wake me up in the middle of the night. Usually he was pretty co-operative, but one night, I tried to chain him up and all hell broke loose. This story is a depiction of that.