"Christ!" shouted Neil Aspinall. He slammed his foot on the brake and brought the rickety van to an abrupt stop.
"Fuck, why'd you do that!" shouted John from the back seat. "You made me knock heads with Ritchie!"
Paul looked over his shoulder and put his finger to mouth to silence his song-writing partner. "Give the poor bloke a break, Johnny. He almost hit a sheep."
"He brakes for sheep," George noted dryly. He leaned his head against the cracked window of the van, closed his eyes and mumbled under his breath, "And here I was, trying to count them."
"What the bloody hell is a sheep doing crossing the road this time of night?" John cursed. He straightened the thick, black frames of his glasses, which had been knocked askew with the force of the sudden stop. "It's half past ten. Didn't the goddamned shepherds round up their flock for the night?"
"Dunno," Neil sighed. He stared at the large ewe who was standing a few feet in front of the van on the narrow country lane. The headlights illuminated her thick fleece, lending her an almost unearthly white radiance. "This poor girl seems to have gotten lost from her mates."
Ringo leaned forward so he could see the animal through the front windshield. "When I was a lad, I once learned a song about how God rejoiced when he found his little lost sheep. One of the sisters taught it to me when I was in hospital."
"Well he can have this one, for all it's worth," John harrumphed. "We bloody well don't want it!"
"She doesn't seem to be moving," Paul remarked.
"Neither are we," George replied in a tired, exasperated voice.
Neil cast a furtive glance at the fuel gage and sighed dramatically. "Even if this damned ewe does move out of our way, we won't be able to drive much further west down this road. We're running on empty."
"There must be a petrol station between here and Shrewsbury," John whined.
"Perhaps there is," Neil replied. "Though I can't imagine it would be open right now. I meant to fill the tank this afternoon, but I was too caught up in getting you boys to Bedford in time for your show. It must have slipped my mind."
"So I guess that means we'll be sleeping on the floor of the van again," Paul sighed.
"Not me," George protested. "I'm already fast asleep, cuddled up against this soft windowpane."
"Well, Mal's out for the night, anyway," Ringo noted. He nudged the band's faithful roadie with the toe of his boot. Mal opened his eyes briefly, then curled his long legs into a tighter ball on the floor of the crowded van and repositioned the tweed coat that he was using as a blanket.
"We just passed that big estate house with a sign in front advertising its weekend leases," John pointed out. "Maybe we can talk the owners into letting us spend the night there. It's almost Christmas, after all. The aristo's might be wanting to do some good deeds to get themselves off Santa's shit list."
"That posh place?" Neil countered. "It looked like the sort of establishment that requires reservations months in advance, through a licensed agent."
"Then let's knock on their door just to spite them," John proposed. "And if they won't let us in, we'll park this crappy old van right between their Bentleys and Rolls Royces and stage a protest on their front lawn on behalf of all the commoners they refuse to admit."
"How can you even think of making a political protest at a time like this?" Ringo asked in an exasperated voice.
John shrugged. "A working class hero is something to be."
Neil laughed and turned the key in the ignition. The engine made a pathetic whirring sound, then died. He released another long sigh. "Well, our petrol has officially run out. So that means Paul's proposal wins. We're hunkering down here for the night."
"Not if I can do anything about it," John groused. He scooched to the edge of his seat and leaned over Ringo so he could open up the side door.
"Mind Mal," Ringo said.
John rolled his eyes and put his hand on the door's latch. "I'm going to walk to that manor house and see if their chauffeur can't spare a gallon or two of petrol for van-full of weary travelers on this cold December night. Anyone want to go with me?"
"I will," Ringo offered. "I've got naff all else to do. Where's your jerry can, Neil?"
"In the back, somewhere between your drum kit and Paul's bass," Neil answered. "At least I think that's where I put it. Here, let me open up the back for you."
The three men exited the vehicle. John and Ringo buttoned their coats and adjusted their scarves while Neil opened the back door and started pulling out Ringo's bass drum.
"Kick Mal for me, would you, George?" Neil called into the van. "I need him to help me move this amp. I think the jerry can is wedged somewhere behind it."
George nudged Mal with his foot. Mal reluctantly rolled out of the van and joined his friends at the back of the vehicle.
As the four men set to work shifting the instruments around and hunting for the petrol can, the lost ewe walked around the side of the vehicle and joined them. She bleated loudly.
"I think she likes you, Neil," Ringo suggested.
Neil tried to push her away. She bleated more plaintively.
"Go home, would you girl?" John chided the sheep. "Find your fuckin' flock!"
Mal pulled a large plank of wood out of the van and propped it against the back door as a makeshift ramp. He dragged down the band's largest amp, then found the missing jerry can and handed it to John. "I've got a little cash on me. Take it and offer it to anyone at the big house who can fill this can."
John held out his hand while Mal reached for his wallet. The sheep bolted up the ramp and wedged herself into the small spot in the back of the van where the Vox amp had just stood. She bleated loudly, then relieved her bladder on the floor of the vehicle.
"Bloody hell!" Neil cursed.
"Goddamned sheep," Mal agreed in an irritated voice.
"I'd say this is as good a time as any to leave," Ringo suggested.
Neil scowled at him.
John laughed. "We're off to be heroes, then." He led Ringo away from the van and started heading east down the road, towards the manor house. After he'd walked a few paces, he looked over his shoulder and called out to his friends. "If you want to be a hero, then just follow me!"
Neil flashed a rude gesture at him, then turned towards Mal. "Help me get this bloody sheep out of my van."
Mal grunted in frustration, then reached into the van and attempted to grab a tuft of wool on the ewe's head. She bleated once more and started pawing aggressively at the ground. Mal backed away from her, then shouted into the vehicle at Paul and George. "You blokes try pushing her out, why don't you? You're on the same level as her."
"I think we've just been insulted," George said to Paul.
"Me too," Paul agreed. "We occupy much higher spots on the food chain than this silly girl does."
"Just push the goddamned beastie out of my van!" Neil commanded them.
George and Paul climbed over the middle seat and worked their way through the jumble of instruments towards the sheep. The ewe raised her head towards them and released a horrible bellowing sound. George and Paul immediately stepped away from her and climbed back into the middle seat.
"I thought sheep just said 'bah'," George groused.
Paul nodded, then cursed as a sudden thought sprang into his head. "Bloody hell! Does anyone know when lambing season begins?"
"Christ," Neil swore under his breath. "Surely not in mid-December?"
Mal grabbed a flashlight, then pointed the beam towards the floor beneath the sheep. "I see some blood in her piss. Paul might be right. She could be giving birth."
"Not in my van, she's not!" Neil shouted. He ran up the ramp and reached for the animal.
The sheep bleated once more, then started trembling with convulsions.
"The poor thing, she's probably terrified," Paul said.
"She can deliver the lamb by herself, can't she?" George asked nervously.
Paul shrugged. "I suppose so. Though I think it might be helpful to have a vet or a shepherd on hand."
"I once watched my spaniel give birth to a litter of pups," Mal said. "She did the whole business by her lonesome. Even bit off the cords."
Neil turned around and searched for John and Ringo's silhouettes in the darkness. "How far was that bloody manor house from here, anyway?"
"Less than a half a mile," Mal replied. "I hope those two remember to ask the chauffeur for some cleaning supplies while they're collecting the petrol."
The sheep bleated once more.
"Maybe we should sing to her," Paul proposed. "You know, music soothes the savage beast and all that?"
"Be my guest," George replied. He reached behind the ewe and grabbed the handle of his acoustic guitar's case. "I'll accompany you."
Paul laughed and started singing 'Mary Had a Little Lamb.'
"You set the words to the wrong melody," George chided him. He sat back down on the car's long middle seat and started tuning his instrument.
"No, I didn't," Paul insisted. "That's the way my mum used to sing the song to me when Mike and I were small." He repeated the chorus once more, then started trilling, "La-la, La-la-La-la. La-la-la-la-la-la! And you could hear them singing – La-la! La-la-la-la! La-la-la-la-la-la!"
Neil rolled his eyes at George in agreement. "That's a daft way to sing that song."
Mal shrugged. "Well, the sheep seems to like it. She's not bleating anymore."
"Right," Paul agreed. "George, it's your turn now. Play a song for this poor, lost lamb."
George played a loud flourish of sweeping chords, then started singing in a climbing voice, "I…I…love…love…and I…and I… lo-oh-ove…EWE! Oh ewe…yeah ewe!"
Paul and Mal clapped in appreciation at the pun. Neil grunted his displeasure. George snickered, then strummed a marching rhythm on his guitar and started belting out the nursery rhyme, 'Bah-Bah Black Sheep.' Mal and Paul joined in on the second verse. The ewe swayed briefly in time to the song, eliciting a small chorus of laughter from the men, then relieved her bladder once more.
"Bullocks, I am never going to get this van clean again," Neil cursed.
"Play 'While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night'," Mal suggested. "It's Christmastime, after all."
"I don't know that one," George replied. "I haven't been to church in a very long time."
"I think I sang that carol in boys' choir," Paul said. "Though I can't remember the words either."
"We know them," called out a stranger's voice.
Neil and Mal turned on their heels and watched two burley shapes approach the vehicle from the neighboring field.
"Hello, I'm Bob," said the larger of the two new visitors. He extended his hand in greeting to Neil and Mal. "And this is my nephew Peter. We tend Lord Bunbury's flock. One of his ewes broke out of her lambing pen earlier this evening. I thought I heard her bleating somewhere near here."
"She's in my van," Neil said, shaking hands with the shepherd. "I'm so very glad to see you both. Please, take her back to her pen!"
Mal stepped aside so that the two visitors could look into the van. Then the smaller of the two shepherds walked cautiously up the ramp and placed his hand on the ewe's back. "There, there, Angie, you can relax now. We've come to collect you. It's almost your time, isn't it, love?"
The ewe raised her head and gazed at the shepherd, then let loose a loud, low bleat.
"It sure sounds like it's her time, alright!" Bob laughed. He shone his flashlight at the sheep's underside so that his nephew could examine her.
Peter gently rubbed the sheep's belly, feeling for the lamb. "I just felt a contraction, though I suspect she has a few more minutes to go." He turned and looked at George. "Could you lot drive us back to Lord Bunbury's estate, please? The barn's situated right behind his greenhouse."
"We out of petrol," George replied. "We can't drive anywhere."
"Our friends took our jerry can and are walking towards your manor house just now," Paul added. "But once they get back, we can fill up the tank and take you back home."
"Alright then. I guess we'll just have to wait, and see if our Angie can hold out that long," Peter said with a sigh. "But she might very well give birth before…"
"Before you can say 'Bob's your uncle!'" laughed Mal.
The two shepherds threw him exasperated looks.
"Core, I've never heard that joke before," Bob said. "How about you, Peter?"
Peter offered no reply. He sat down on a small Vox monitor and started petting the ewe's forehead. "You'll be alright, love. You've done this before. Everything is going to be just fine."
Bob pulled a flask of whiskey out of his jacket pocket. "I brought this along to keep my nephew and me warm while we were out looking for our Angie, but I think you lot might need it more than we do." He offered it to Neil.
Neil nodded gratefully and took a swig from the flask. "Bugger me!" he exclaimed, putting his hand to his chest and swallowing back a gasp. "That's strong whiskey!"
"The nights get cold out here," Bob laughed. "We need a little extra reinforcement."
"Speaking of reinforcements, I think I see the cavalry coming," George announced.
The six men looked down the road and watched a pair of bright headlights approach the van. A large Rolls Royce pulled to a slow stop a few yards behind the assembled crowd.
John leaned his head out of the front passenger's side window and smiled at his friends. "I told you I'd be a hero now, didn't I?" He sprang out of the car, then held open the door for Ringo.
Ringo stepped out of the Rolls, holding a bright lantern aloft in his right hand. Then three additional passengers climbed out of the car and fell into line behind the drummer.
"Look!" said John, pointing to the new guests. "Three visitors from the East. They're following our Starr!"
The tallest of the three new arrivals held out his hand in greeting. "Hello, I'm Frank Bunbury. I live just down the lane. And this is my sister Goldie, and our family's chauffeur Maurice."
"Call me Murray," the chauffeur said as he shook hands with Neil and Mal.
"And you're the Beatles!" the girl exclaimed, hardly able to contain her excitement. "My brother and I just saw your show at the Corn Exchange in Bedford this evening. We loved it! Honestly – we're your biggest fans! I kept telling Frank all the way home how much I wanted to see you four perform again. We were talking about driving to Shrewsbury tomorrow night to catch your next concert. And then–be still my heart!–John Lennon and Ringo Starr showed up at our doorstep in the actual flesh, begging for petrol! I thought I'd died and gone to heaven!"
Frank approached the back of the van and shook hands with Bob. "Looks like you found your lost ewe," he noted.
"Looks like she found a nice, snug spot to bring forth her lamb," Bob replied.
Murray carried the heavy jerry can to the side of the van and reached for the gas cap. "I'll pour this petrol into your tank, lads, unless whoever owns this van wants to do it himself."
Neil smiled at him. "Much obliged," he said gratefully. "Here, let me open the cap for you. It's got a tricky latch."
While Murray and Neil set to work filling the tank, Paul and George climbed out of the van and greeted Frank and Goldie. Goldie smiled radiantly as she shook hands with Paul. Her brother nudged her in the ribs after a few seconds to remind her to release Paul's hand.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," she apologized, not sounding even slightly apologetic.
"I almost forgot. We've brought you gifts!" Frank announced. He retreated to the Rolls Royce, pulled two objects out of the back seat, then stepped closer to the assembly and handed one of the items to his sister.
"Thanks!" Goldie giggled. She handed a shiny metal thermos to Paul. "It's filled with hot buttered rum, to warm you up."
"And I've brought you some cedar-scented detergent to get the stink of sheep piss out of your van," Frank added.
Mal accepted the container of liquid soap gratefully.
"I hope you lot appreciate what Ringo and I just did," John boasted. "We found the three kings! Or a queen and two kings, anyway. Goldie, Frank with his incense, and Murray!"
"We're hardly kings," Frank demurred. "Dad's not royal. He's only an earl."
"And what with the taxes on the house growing steeper each year, we've had to start letting out rooms to the tony London set who want to get away to the country on the weekends," Goldie added. "Though tonight's only Thursday, so we still have some rooms at the inn if you boys would like to sleep under a nice roof this evening."
Paul whooped for joy, then pulled Goldie into a hug and spun her around in a circle. "You're not just my biggest fan, love," he told her. "You are now officially my best fan!"
A loud bleating sound interrupted their moment of elation.
"The lamb's coming!" Peter shouted. Bob climbed up the wooden ramp, handed down Ringo's second largest drum to make room for himself on the floor, and crouched down beside the laboring ewe.
John, Paul, George and Ringo passed around the thermos of warmed rum, then handed it to Neil and Mal.
"What do you say we drive you four Beatles back to the house with us?" Frank proposed. "I think we can fit those drums in the boot of the Rolls. Your two friends can drive Bob and Peter and the sheep back to the barn, then join us at the manor house as soon as they're finished. Mum's done herself proud decorating our house up for the holidays. I think you'll like it."
"I'm sure we will," agreed Paul. He draped his arm around Goldie's shoulder and squeezed her a little tighter.
"And our Angie's a mum once more!" Bob called out to the assembly. "It's twins this time!"
Neil reached for the thermos of rum. "Well, good on her. Now I just have to worry about cleaning up the back of my van."
"No, now you have to worry about fitting the Vox amp back in the van beside the sheep and the two shepherds," Mal countered.
Bob walked down the ramp and offered to help put the heavy amp back in its place. "We can rest some of the guitar cases on the middle seat beside me. Peter can sit on the floor in the back and mind Angie and her lambs while we take them back to the barn."
Neil nodded. "Mal, how about you drive?" he proposed. He tossed the keys to his friend, then took another large swig of rum. "I don't think I can take any more excitement tonight."
"Happy to," Mal replied. He slid into the driver's seat, turned the key in the ignition, then cheered loudly when the engine successfully turned. "Climb on in, Neil, and take a load off. Peter, Bob and I will drop our new mum off at her manger, then meet the rest of you lot at the big house."
George and John helped Ringo put his drums in the back of the Rolls while Paul and Goldie slipped into the front seat of the car.
"I know it's only December 13th, but it feels like Christmas already," Ringo remarked.
"Everywhere it's Christmas," John agreed.
"And we're off to join the cheer!" George shouted.
They piled into the back of the Rolls and called out a loud goodbye to Neil and Mal as Murray pulled the car forward and turned it around.
"Glad tidings of great joy I bring!" Bob sang back to them. He rested two guitar cases against the van's back seat, then closed the door shut behind him.
"To you and all mankind," Peter sang to his uncle. He cradled the smaller of the two lambs in his hands and held it up for its mother to lick clean while its sibling started sucking at her teat.
"That's how that song goes!" Mal laughed. "Now I remember the rest of the words!" He smiled at Neil, then turned the van around and started singing while he headed back east:
"While shepherds watched their flocks at night, all seated on the ground,
The angel of the lord came down, and glory shone around!"
An original Beatles Christmas story set on December 13, 1962.