They had seemed nice enough—bright, cheery, they had a lamb. People did not have lambs in Florida. I knew because I asked my mom.

“Shane,” she said, “lambs don’t live in Florida. They live in the country, the Midwest. They live in Ireland.” I knew she was right—when you’re eight, moms are always right—but I’d insisted to the contrary. I made a case that we’d seen lambs at the zoo, at the Alligator Farm, and now I’d seen one in the backyard of Jamie’s new neighbors’ house. It was tied to a pine tree with an orange rope. It had bleated at me or them or just because. But either way, it bleated. Mom didn’t believe me.

Jamie’s neighbors spoke in awkward tones. They sounded Russian or German, and according to Jamie, they were from some place where races ended with “ese.” I didn’t know what races were beyond cars driving in circles in Daytona. I was too afraid to ask him.

We watched the lamb and the lamb drew us in. We tried to feed it a carrot and Jamie’s neighbors (I never learned their names) let us pet it. The fur felt greasy and was filled with grit.

“Mister, why do you have a lamb?” I’d asked.

“Because I couldn’t find a goat,” he said. He smiled as he spoke, his voice proud.

“Why’d ya need a goat?”

“To sacrifice, my boy, to bless the house with prosperity.”

We nodded. We hadn’t understood, so we told Jamie’s dad. He shouted bloody hell in his British demeanor and then confronted the man while we stared. Soon after he called the police, the news, the newspaper. Apparently sacrifice meant to kill, to slit the lamb’s throat and drain out the blood, to cut the lamb’s head off with an axe and roast the body over a spit.

Apparently civilized people living in a gated community didn’t do such a thing—Jamie’s dad called it barbaric. Apparently it was cruel to watch a living creature bleed to death. Jamie and I hadn’t known, but we were learning.

I watched the police remove the lamb on the news followed by an interview with Jamie’s dad, and thus proved myself to mother. Later, in the privacy of my room, I’d taken a stuffed lamb, one with fur that was no longer white, fur almost as dirty as the real thing, and while staring into its button eyes, I cut its throat with a kitchen knife. Small bits of cotton fluttered to the floor. I felt cheated.

Author: Steven Stam