Chapter One – A Fleeting Visit
Chapter Two – The Breakfast Guest
Chapter Three – Up on the Downs
Chapter Four – A Very Stylish Sheep
Chapter Five – The Public Meeting
Chapter Six – A Sore Head
Chapter Seven – Back to School
Chapter Eight – Making Plans
Chapter Nine – A Close Encounter
Chapter Ten – The March
Chapter Eleven – Threatening Behaviour
Chapter Twelve – A Trip into Town
Chapter Thirteen – In the Swamp
Chapter Fourteen – Do Not Adjust Your Set
Chapter Fifteen – On the Road Again
Chapter Sixteen – Westward Ho!
Chapter Seventeen – The Patter of Tiny Feet
Chapter Eighteen – A Pause for Thought
Chapter Nineteen – The Best Laid Plans
Chapter Twenty – Into the Farm
Chapter Twenty-One – Upstairs, Downstairs
Chapter Twenty-Two – All is Revealed…
Chapter Twenty-Three – …But Some Things Stay Hidden
Chapter Twenty-Four – Endgame
Chapter Twenty-Five – The Morning After
Chapter Twenty-Six – Something to Celebrate
“Dad! It’s awful! Just awful.”
Johanna burst into the house like a brick smashing through a window.
“We’ve all got to get together and do something.”
“What?” said Mr Blake, from behind his laptop. “Who?”
He sighed and closed the computer’s lid. It seemed a very short time since his wife and children had gone swimming and a rare peace had settled on their tall, thin house in Brashleigh-on-Sea.
“It’s going to be huge and horrible and it shouldn’t be allowed.”
Johanna’s mother came into the living room. “We met Molly at the pool. She was talking about the plan to build a factory farm on the site of that old windmill by the edge of the Downs.”
“Yes,” said Johanna. “Molly said it would be awful: cruel to the poor animals and an eyesore and really smelly.”
“She went all red and shouty when she said it,” her brother Harry added, as he joined the rest of the family.
Johanna glared at him. “So she should, and so should we. What’s wrong with getting cross? Molly’s organising a campaign to stop the farm and I’m going to help her. They can’t do this!”
“Molly thinks the Council are set to approve it,” said Mrs Blake. “A boost to the local economy. That’s always their line. It’s Kenneth Mallender who’s behind it – you know, the one who does those adverts on the telly for his Turkey Tasties, all rosy cheeks and ‘natural goodness’, while he’s striding through a cornfield.”
“Well, his animals don’t do much striding,” said her husband.
“No,” said Johanna. “They certainly don’t.” She shuddered as she remembered a television programme she’d seen about battery farms. Those poor birds, all crammed in together and never seeing the sun. “They’re locked away for their whole lives. They only come out at the end, when they’re chopped up in pieces and frozen, in a cardboard box.”
“They taste nice, though,” said her brother.
“Harry!” bellowed Johanna. “How could you think of eating that stuff?”
Harry’s smile could have sweetened honey. “It would be rude not to, if someone’s cooked it for you.”
That boy! Wisps of a familiar red mist wafted through Johanna’s thoughts…
She was eleven now and had been rigidly vegetarian since she was three. Her younger brother was a dedicated meat-eater. It was one of a number of fault-lines in their relationship which Harry enjoyed probing.
“Now, come on,” said their mum, standing between them. “A plate of Turkey Tasties is hardly a labour of love. Lots of us eat meat, but we should all have some respect for the animals and try to make sure they’ve had a decent life.”
“Unlike some of your vegetables, Johanna,” said Harry. “Think of those poor, defenceless carrots, trapped below the ground, never seeing the light of day…”
Johanna struggled to get her hands on her brother. “Shut up! I’m going to stop that factory farm, whether you help me or not.” She couldn’t reach him and turned back to their father. “There’s a big meeting about it all at the town hall tomorrow and Mum told Molly we could go. Will you come too, Dad?”
“Why not?” he replied. “It could be interesting, I suppose – though I doubt they can match the quality of the debate we’ve had here.”
Things became a little calmer after that. Mrs Blake was going next door for a cup of coffee and Mr Blake had some shopping to do. The children went down to the basement kitchen, which they generally had to themselves between mealtimes.
Johanna found an article about the planned factory farm in the local paper and went through it twice, snorting loudly as she read out the key phrases – “virtually invisible”, “housed in comfort”, “the very latest technology”. They’re not going to get away with this.
Harry flicked through a comic. He tried imitating Johanna’s snorts, but didn’t get any reaction. His heart wasn’t really in his teasing because he suspected his sister was right about the farm – though he wasn’t going to admit that to her just yet. He had started to feel a bit bored and was hoping that something else would happen.
Then something did happen.
Harry nudged Johanna, who dropped her paper in surprise.
Now, surely the back door was still locked. And, anyway, you could only get into the back garden from the house, couldn’t you? But there, in front of the sink, stood a curious figure – a little man, with flashing eyes and a gap-toothed smile. He wore a woolly hat, pulled down over his long dark hair. There was a rosy glow on his stubbled cheeks.
“Hello,” said Johanna. “Um… Who are you?”
“I’m Mr Phigg,” he replied. “And hello to you – Johanna and Harry.” He bowed to each of them in turn as he said their names.
“I… I don’t think we’ve met you before. Are you a friend of Mum and Dad’s?”
“Oh, yes. Definitely. I’m sure I will be. Would be, if I ever met them.” He grinned more broadly.
“How did you get in?”
He shrugged. “My usual way – I came through the door.”
But the door was locked. Johanna’s thoughts were leaping in all directions. Keep calm. What’s he up to? Keep talking.
“What are you doing here?”
“I would have thought that was obvious: I’m here to meet you. I think we might be able to help each other. So I came to see you. And what a pleasure it is.” His smile grew even wider. “Isn’t it?”
At that moment the front door opened upstairs and they heard their dad shout: “Johanna, Harry, can you come and help me carry these things in from the car?”
“Just a minute,” called Johanna. She gave Mr Phigg a long, puzzled look before scampering up the stairs, closely followed by her brother.
When they came back down a few moments later, with their dad and the bulging carrier bags, the kitchen was empty.
“Why didn’t you say anything to Dad yesterday?” Harry asked.
As usual on a Sunday morning, their father had made them pancakes for breakfast before heading upstairs to read the paper.
“Why didn’t you?” said Johanna. “It all felt so weird – even before he disappeared like that.”
“I know. You do think he was really there, don’t you?”
“We could hardly both have imagined the same thing. We were talking to him. He was there. And then he wasn’t.”
“But how could he get in and out of the house like that?”
“I don’t know. It wasn’t like he was a burglar or anything…”
“He didn’t seem dangerous.”
“I know – it was as though…” Johanna hesitated.
“What?” Harry was watching her closely.
Johanna filled her cheeks with air and let it out slowly. “As though… we’d known him for ages, even though we’d just met.”
Harry smiled. “That’s how I felt too! What do you think he meant about helping each other?”
“Search me. And what sort of a name is ‘Mr Phigg’, anyway?”
“It’s a fine name, with a noble history,” said a voice behind them. “Short for ‘Mr Phiggles’, you understand. Remind me to tell all you about it some time.” They spun round to face their mysterious visitor, who was smiling and relaxed, looking as if he’d never gone away.
“How do you do that?” asked Johanna, her mind whirling.
He tapped the side of his nose with a long finger and winked. “We’ll get to that in a minute.”
Johanna edged around to the back door, keeping her eyes on Mr Phigg.
“People don’t usually just walk into other people’s houses, you know.”
Mr Phigg didn’t reply. He tilted his head to one side and watched her, unconcerned, as she tried the handle behind her back. It was locked.
“I… I wonder if we should get Dad downstairs to meet you.”
“Oh, no – let him have a bit of peace, I say. I should think you two run him ragged. And it’s you I came to see. So we can get to know each other. We need to build a team. Now, are there any pancakes left, for a hungry guest?”
Johanna and Harry looked at each other and at him. This was all so strange, but it was a bit late now to scream or run away. He seemed friendly enough and they should probably be polite…
“You can have this last one of mine, if you like,” said Harry. “I’ve only had a bit of it.”
“I don’t mind if I do,” said Mr Phigg, tucking in. “I didn’t have time for any breakfast this morning – that’s the trouble with sheep.”
“What sheep?” asked Johanna. “Are you a farmer?”
Mr Phigg laughed. “Not quite. But I do spend a lot of time with sheep. Time and mental energy. Life’s never boring with the Shadowflock, you know.”
No, I don’t know! thought Johanna. This isn’t making any sense. “Wait a …”
But as she tried to ask another question Mr Phigg kept talking, uninterrupted, through a large mouthful of pancake.
“Lots of people can’t get to sleep at night and need sheep to count – but then they do drop off, and that’s the point when things can get confusing. Sheep need a bit of looking after. If only folk would think to count a border collie or a shepherd in with them too… but, no, that would interrupt the flow – only sheep will do. And if a sheep wanders off when the job is done, muggins here has to go and find it, when it’s my turn on the rota.”
“Aren’t those sheep just in people’s heads?” asked Johanna.
Mr Phigg shook his head as the last piece of pancake disappeared into his mouth. “It’s never quite as simple as people think. And there’s nothing quite as un-simple as the things people think… they never keep proper track of what their thoughts are up to.”
What does he mean? Johanna opened and closed her mouth a few times. Thinking. But then Mr Phigg was off again.
“Anyway, sheep don’t always focus on the job in hand. Then things happen – more things every day, it seems. And somebody has to sort it all out.”
“When it’s your turn on the rota,” Johanna managed to insert.
“Exactly. Sharp girl. I’m glad you’re paying attention. It was my turn this morning.” He paused and then added, as if he was talking to himself, “I wonder if things have settled down now. Baa Lamb’s usually such a good lad.” He pulled a gold watch from his waistcoat pocket and studied it for a moment. “Hmmm.”
“What happened this morning?” asked Harry.
“I know,” said Mr Phigg, holding up a bony finger. “Let’s go and see how things are getting on and I’ll tell you all about it on the way.”
“Go where?” Johanna asked. “I don’t think Mum and Dad will let us go out with you, if you’ve never even met them. And we’re all supposed to be going to the market at eleven.”
“Oh, there’s no need to worry your parents. We can be back in no time. Let’s pop up to the Slumber Downs, have a little chat about a couple of things, and see what’s happened with young Baa Lamb. We’ll check in with the crew at Bedquarters: I’m sure it’ll all be fine. And then back here in no time, as I say.”
Harry frowned. “People are always saying things will be over in no time and then they go on and on. Like that dentist.”
“I am not people,” replied Mr Phigg. “If I say something, you can have absolute confidence in its accuracy. Come here and let me show you something.” He gestured to the children to get up from their stools and led them to the back of the kitchen.
“Now,” he said, “what do you think about that?”
He pointed between two cupboards. There was just enough space between them for a small person to get through to the wall behind. And in that wall they saw a little wooden door with a heavy brass handle and a matching keyhole plate.
Johanna and Harry stared at the door and then at Mr Phigg.
“That wasn’t there before,” said Harry.
“Oh yes it was,” said Mr Phigg. “It’s just that you didn’t notice. Things can often be different, you know, depending on how you look at them, and what you’re looking for. You’ll see.”
“Now, Mr Phigg,” said Johanna, taking a deep breath, “we’re going to go through that door to the… Slumber Downs?” Mr Phigg nodded. “To check on Baa Lamb?” He nodded again.
“Right. So, where are the Slumber Downs, and who’s Baa Lamb?”
“The Slumber Downs are where the Shadowflock live. They’re the sheep that people count at night. It’s nice and quiet up on the hills above the sea and there’s good sweet grass for grazing. The traffic controllers at Bedquarters send the Flock out from the Downs in the evening to wherever they’re needed, and then count them back in again before morning.
“As for Baa Lamb, he’s a fine young sheep. So fine that I think he should be in our team too. But he made a bit of a fool of himself last night. Come on, now, let’s be off.”
Mr Phigg produced a large silver key from his pocket, squeezed between the kitchen cupboards to the door and then turned the key in its lock. He opened the door and there was a sudden breeze and warmth and the smell of grass in the room.
“Come on,” he said again, as he walked through the door.
Johanna and Harry’s wide eyes met. Oh, well...
They followed and found themselves stepping out into a hollow in a wide green field. The door was set into some rising land behind the hollow. It was a lovely sunny day.
Johanna looked back and the kitchen behind them seemed to be just as it always was. Normal. But all this, in front of them… How did he do that?
“Through you come, that’s the way,” said Mr Phigg and closed and locked the door behind them. He did a little dance, spinning around on the spot and holding out his arm. “Welcome to the Slumber Downs.”
The field sat in a valley amongst rolling hills. In one direction they could see some farm buildings and, rather closer, a ramshackle, wooden structure like a big shed – on top of which a radar dish was turning unsteadily. In between the farm and the shed a large flock of black-faced sheep was grazing. Looking the other way, Johanna could see the sea sparkling in the distance, with a town beside it… which looked very like Brashleigh-on-Sea.
“Aren’t these our Downs?” she asked. “I recognise the view. We come for walks here sometimes with Mum and Dad.”
“You won’t have been just here before,” Mr Phigg replied. “But, yes, that’s Brashleigh, down by the sea. Bits of the Slumber Downs and the South Downs are in about the same place, if you look through the right sort of lens. Coming out of Brashleigh you might be able to catch a glimpse of the farms and these sheep in the distance, but actually getting here to Bedquarters would be tricky if you didn’t know the short cut from the Greyworld.”
Then Johanna pointed. “Look! There’s the windmill where they want to build that horrid farm. You can see the fences they’ve put up all round it.”
“Yes,” said Mr Phigg. “I heard you talking about the windmill yesterday. That’s why I wanted to meet you: a girl after my own heart, I thought – she’ll be able to help.”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about what’s going on. That windmill’s right on the join between the Slumber Downs and your South Downs, and it’s always tricky where one thing shades into another like that. It could get very confusing if the join gets messed up and starts fraying at the edges. Especially with all the other weird things that have been happening. We’ve got enough problems here as it is, just at the moment…
“Anyway, I was thinking – if I can find someone in the Greyworld who can keep an eye on things from their end and get them on the team, that could be very useful… Then I heard what you were saying. And now here we are.”
“But how did you hear me?”
“Well, you were talking rather loudly.”
“Yes,” said Harry, “you were. Going on and on. Same as always. But I can do useful things too, Mr Phigg. I’m nearly as tall as her and I’m only a year younger.”
“It’s eighteen months,” said Johanna, “and three weeks.”
“Now, now,” said Mr Phigg. “I’m sure you’ll both be very helpful. And anyone who’ll share their last pancake is definitely a good team player…”
Just then a door opened in the nearby shed and a sheep emerged, rather slowly. As it walked towards them, the children could tell it was very old: its black face was flecked with white, it was limping, and all its legs seemed stiff. It was wearing a brown leather flying helmet, with a pair of goggles pushed back on to the top of its head. But that wasn’t the most striking thing about it.
“Morning, Phigg,” said the sheep, “have you brought some visitors?”
“Hello, Simon,” said Mr Phigg. “These are my new recruits.” He pointed to the astonished children in turn. “Meet Johanna… and Harry.”
“You… you talked,” said Johanna to the sheep.
Simon inclined his head politely. “Yes, dear, I did. I’ve found it gets a point across rather more precisely than just bleating and shaking my tail. I’m pleased to meet you.” Then he turned back to Mr Phigg.
“I’m afraid we do have a problem.”
“With Baa Lamb?”
“Who else? Anomaly Reports are coming in thick and fast. There could be a match at any time, then we’ll be in trouble. Come and see.”
The sheep led the way back to the shed and they all went inside. A brass plate on the door read Shadowflock Bedquarters and a notice below it added Authorised Personnel Only.
Inside the shed there were three rows of desks, with telephones and computer screens on them, all ranged around a large map of the United Kingdom which was laid out on the floor. Only one of the desks was occupied, by another sheep in a leather flying helmet, who was also wearing a telephonist’s headset.
“Good,” it was saying, “We’ll let you know. We’re just finishing our assessment.” A hoof came down sharply to end the call and the sheep looked up and studied the visitors. “Well, what have we here? Hello, my dears. Anomalies everywhere! ”
“Could you show Mr Phigg that last report, please, Mabel?” said Simon.
Mabel pressed a button and the screen in front of them came to life. “It’s Mrs Russell from that sweet-shop in Frimden. Having breakfast with her husband.”
On the screen a round lady in a red dressing gown was talking to someone who was hidden behind a raised newspaper. “It was amazing… just so realistic… it was as if I was still awake.”
There was a grunt from behind the paper.
“You know how I like to count sheep to get to sleep. Well, there they were, coming down the back lane in an orderly line, like they always do: white wool, black faces, a few little lambs trotting beside their mothers… But then I saw it.”
She paused and there was a further grunt from behind the paper, followed by a hand snaking out to grab the marmalade.
“One of the sheep was wearing a pair of sunglasses: steel-rimmed, aviator style, with mirrored lenses. I thought I must be mistaken, but it tossed its head and stared straight at me.”
Her husband put down his paper and smiled. “Ah, but you couldn’t be sure where it was looking, could you, if the sunglasses had mirrored lenses?”
“Oh, I knew all right,” Mrs Russell snapped back. “His whole manner was so… defiant. He wanted me to notice. And I did notice, and I sat right up in bed… and then of course I couldn’t see them anymore. I tried lying down and counting some more sheep, but they were just normal…”
The image on the screen faded and Mabel pressed another button. “Mr Cruikshank – he’s a head teacher in Marsham,” she said.
On the screen a tall man in a suit and a panama hat was deep in conversation in a newsagent’s shop. “… and then the sheep stopped and turned and looked straight at me, as bold as brass, as if to say ‘There, what are you going to do about that, then?’…”
Mabel stopped the film.
“Was it the same sheep?” asked Johanna.
“It certainly was,” said Simon, frowning. “Young Baa Lamb. He used to be such a happy, smiling lad: liked his work, no trouble at all, a credit to the Flock. But now he’s going through a funny phase.”
“He found those sunglasses in a hedge,” added Mabel, “and then he started wearing them around the fields. Of course, we told him very firmly that he couldn’t take them to work, and he seemed to understand. But he must have sneaked them out with him last night.”
“Is it really a problem?” asked Johanna. “These people think they were dreaming – and people have all sorts of funny dreams, don’t they?”
“They do,” said Mr Phigg, “and we can get away with quite a lot on that basis. The problems come if people have the same dreams and start comparing notes. Frimden isn’t far from Marsham: what if those two people know each other and start talking about last night’s dreams? ‘Oh, what an amazing coincidence – let’s ring the local radio station…’ Then the press pick it up and before you know it the phone lines are buzzing from Land’s End to John o’Groats with sightings of Baa Lamb’s sunglasses.”
“But how can people all over the country have seen Baa Lamb?” asked Harry. “He can’t have gone everywhere in just one night. People must have been counting other sheep too.”
Mr Phigg’s eyebrows rose to the top of his forehead. “How, indeed? And how could a little door in your kitchen open straight on to the Slumber Downs? Our sheep can cover a lot of ground, you know.”
“Be that as it may,” Simon interrupted. “We’ve been lucky so far, but things could start joining up at any moment. Look at the pattern of reports.” He leant forward to flick a switch on one of the desks and small red lights came on at points all over the map on the floor.
“Mostly fairly even, but a clump in Sussex and one in East Lancashire, for some reason. Folk there were even more surprised by the sunglasses because there was steady drizzle all last night.”
“We’ve put the Dust team on standby,” added Mabel, “but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“How would dusting help?” asked Johanna.
“Dreary Dust,” explained Mr Phigg. “It helps people believe tedious scientific explanations for all sorts of exciting and interesting things. So we can get on with doing our jobs without drawing too much attention. Of course, lots of people these days don’t even need Dust to swallow a boring justification of how something magical was really put together in a laboratory with some clever maths and a long piece of string. That’s the first thought they have anyway. But every so often enough difficult questions are being asked by enough people to need some Dusting down.”
“Like last summer,” said Simon, “with the Yeovil Unicorn.”
“Which was found to be a small grey pony and a parsnip,” Mabel continued, “after a few hundredweight of Dust had gone down the tubes and we pumped out the usual pictures of serious-looking people in white coats.”
“All right,” said Mr Phigg. “You’ve got things under control here, monitoring the reports, with Dust at the ready. Come on, you two, we’d better have a word with young Baa Lamb.”
Mr Phigg turned and led Johanna and Harry out of Bedquarters and over towards the sheep grazing across the field. As they got closer, they saw that one slightly-built sheep was standing apart from the rest, on a small bank of primroses and daisies, staring at the hedge.
“There’s our boy,” said Mr Phigg, going up to him. “Now then, Baa Lamb, what’s all this about?”
Baa Lamb continued to study the hedge, as if it was the most fascinating thing he had ever seen. “Don’t you start,” he said. “I’ve had about as much telling off as a sheep can take.”
“I’m not going to tell you off,” said Mr Phigg. “I’ve brought some friends for you to meet.” Baa Lamb focused even more intently on a very average-looking fern. Mr Phigg nudged Johanna.
“Hello, Baa Lamb,” said Johanna. “I… I hadn’t met any talking sheep before today.”
Baa Lamb slowly turned his head. “Then you have led a very sheltered life. You should get out more.”
“That’s not very nice. Don’t you like meeting new friends?”
“How would I know? I haven’t got any friends.” His words were followed by a little sob, which he tried to disguise as a fit of coughing.
Johanna patted him on the back. “But what about all the rest of the Flock? Aren’t they your friends?”
“Oh, they’re nice enough and I’ve grown up with them around me. But are they really friends? Not what you’d call soulmates. They don’t know what I’m going through…”
“What are you going through?” Harry asked.
“I’m wondering whether I’m cut out for this – being one of the crowd, grazing up here every day, then trotting through all those drowsy thoughts every night, no-one really looking at me, or knowing what I’m thinking… and then treating me like a baby – ‘Oh Baa Lamb, this’ and ‘Oh Baa Lamb, that’ – and telling me off when I try to be different…” Baa Lamb breathed deeply, and Johanna gave him a squeeze.
“Oh dear,” said Mr Phigg. “This has been getting to you for a while, hasn’t it?” Baa Lamb nodded. “And at your age, you’re right, we really should start using your proper name.”
“Your proper name. I don’t suppose you would have been registered as ‘Baa Lamb’.”
The young sheep stared at Mr Phigg.
“You were such a sweet-looking baby – and you made such a racket. It was the obvious nickname and it just stuck…”
“But what is my proper name? Nobody’s ever called me anything else.”
“I don’t know, I’m ashamed to say. I was introduced to you as ‘Baa Lamb’ and I never asked. Let’s go and look in the register.”
Mr Phigg led the children and the sheep back into the Bedquarters building. “It’s us again, Mabel. Can you get the register out, please? We need to check the lambing records from the spring before last.”
Mabel reached up on to a row of library shelves at the back of the room and pulled down a large ledger. She flicked through its pages.
“Here we are,” she said to Mr Phigg, “this is April.”
Mr Phigg bent over the register and ran his finger down the page before pointing to a particular entry. “Ah, a-ha, there we have it! Well, we certainly won’t be calling you ‘Baa Lamb’ anymore – this is splendid!”
“What – what is – what does it say?”
“You, my friend, are Bartram Lambchild. I’m very pleased to have your acquaintance, Bartram.”
“Bartram!” said the owner of the name. “Bartram Lambchild.” He gave a little skip and marched down the room as if he was trying on a new pair of shoes. “Bartram Lambchild – that’s a decent sort of name.”
“Congratulations, Bartram,” said Johanna. “It suits you. Now, come back outside with me. I’ve got an idea.”
She led the way back to the place by the hedge where they had met. “You like to look a bit different, don’t you? So that people will know it’s you.” Bartram nodded. “You can’t wear sunglasses when you’re working anymore. But there are other things that could make you feel different, without causing any problems.”
She bent down and picked a primrose from the bank, then placed it behind Bartram’s ear, threading the stem through the tight curls of his wool to secure it.
“Oh, that’s good,” said Mr Phigg, “and if someone happens to see it on their way to the Land of Nod…”
“… then it could just have got there by accident,” finished Johanna.
“What a very stylish sheep,” said Mr Phigg.
Bartram trotted across to the water trough and studied his reflection. “Yes,” he said to himself, “Not bad. You’ll do…”
Mr Phigg beckoned to the children and led them back to the door in the hillside. “Well done, both of you. You’ve made a good start. But we should be getting you back home now.” He turned the key in the lock. “Welcome to the team.”
“Hold on,” said Johanna. “What does that mean?”
“Team? It’s a group of people who work together for a common purpose.”
“Yes. But our purpose is…?”
“To stop them building that factory farm in the Greyworld and to keep the Shadowflock working safe and undisturbed up here. Does that sound all right to you?”
“Yes, I think so,” said Johanna, looking at her brother, who nodded. “Yes, it does.”
“Let’s shake on it then,” said Mr Phigg, holding out his hand and pumping theirs vigorously in turn.
Then he opened the door and looked through before ushering the children inside. “All clear. And back in no time, like I told you.”
The kitchen was exactly as they had left it, with their breakfast plates still on the table. The hands of the clock on the wall had barely moved. “Have a good time at the market,” said Mr Phigg. “Then pay close attention at the meeting this evening. I’ll want to hear all about it.”
Just before seven o’clock that evening Johanna and Harry and their parents walked down through the centre of Brashleigh to the town hall for the meeting. The room was full by the time they arrived and there was a loud buzz of conversation. They soon met up with Molly, and her children Lizzie and Ben. Johanna and Lizzie had always been in the same class at school and now Molly was Harry’s teacher. The two families saw a lot of each other.
Molly worked the room busily, going up to different groups of people and putting the arguments against the factory farm, gathering support. Johanna followed suit with the children that she knew, while Harry stood behind her silently imitating her gestures and animated expression. Every so often she caught a laughing glance heading over her shoulder. She span around crossly only to find Harry looking serious and nodding in support. But she knew that he was up to something… he always was.
Eventually a smart young woman came onto the stage at the front and asked people to take their seats. As they did, Johanna said to Harry: “You do want to stop them building this horrible place, don’t you?”
“So, you’re going to help?”
“And you won’t mess things up?”
“Even though you like Turkey Tasties?”
“Yes,” said Harry, as the lights dimmed and rousing orchestral music began to play. “You can depend on me… carrot-killer.”
Then a voice came over the public address system saying “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Kenneth Mallender…”
“I don’t see why we should welcome -” Johanna began to object, but was drowned out by loud applause from a group of people who were filling the first three rows of chairs. She caught Molly’s eye and they both frowned, but then the music swelled. A smiling, portly figure she recognised from his TV commercials strode briskly onto the stage, wearing a familiar checked tweed suit and waving like a pop star would to his fans. He stood under a spotlight at a lectern as the room darkened and a series of images were projected onto a screen behind him.
“The English countryside,” he began, as pictures of the lush green fields of the South Downs were shown, followed by thatched cottages and old churches. “Our history and our heritage… which I will always protect… in today’s modern world.” The pictures switched to bustling city streets, full of people, and lined by high-rise buildings. “And what a challenge it is in this modern world to feed our growing population. It’s a challenge which the Kenneth Mallender Country Kitchens are determined to meet.”
He paused and the front three rows took the opportunity to give a further round of applause.
Johanna gave Harry a prod and muttered crossly: “This is a fix. Who are those people?”
“He must be paying them,” said Harry. “Who else would clap? He’s so boring. I can’t concentrate on what he’s saying.”
Mallender’s voice rolled on: “… we cannot rely on old-fashioned, small scale farming to feed ourselves. To pretend otherwise would be a fantasy – and I am a man who likes to live in the real world, finding real world solutions to real world problems…”
Johanna yawned noisily and was pleased that Mallender glared in her direction. Meanwhile, Harry was trying to keep busy, tying and retying his shoelaces. The slick presentation continued.
“… Windmill Farm, the latest of my Country Kitchens… fully in keeping with the traditions of our beautiful countryside… doing the job that the modern world needs… a farm on your doorstep, without any noise or smell… all our animals housed humanely and securely – entirely out of sight…”
That provoked the usual clapping from the front of the room – and a fair amount of muttering from those further back.
“This is ridiculous – ‘entirely out of sight’ just means ‘shut away’! Why doesn’t somebody do something?” said Johanna.
Then, as the clapping from the front was fading, Molly stood up and said loudly: “Excuse me, may I ask a question?”
Johanna cheered and Harry delivered one of his trademark piercing whistles.
“Not just now, I’m afraid,” said the young woman who had opened the meeting, “because it’s time for us to hear from the Council’s Director of Planning, Mr Darby Ostler.” There was yet more applause from the front as a small, neat figure in a dark suit and red tie came onto the stage. He gazed at the audience with a satisfied smile and ice-cold eyes.
“Good evening,” he said. “I am very grateful to Mr Mallender for that clear presentation. You will be able to study the plans in more detail at your leisure. Do collect a brochure on your way out and fill in the feedback form if you wish. That will be the right time for any questions or comments.
“As the planning authority, Brashleigh Council is of course entirely neutral in this matter. I will only say how delighted I am to see the care that has gone in to preparing the proposal, and how excited I am by the enormous economic benefits Mr Mallender is offering… to the town and surrounding area.”
“Shame!” shouted Molly, standing up again, as the children hissed loudly. “Shame on you! We want a proper discussion.”
“Stewards!” said Mr Ostler and three security guards in black uniforms came into the room and converged on Molly. “Now is not the time for debate, dear lady. The purpose of this evening’s gathering was simply to share some information about the benefits this development can bring.”
What can I do? Johanna was on her feet and saw that a scattering of other people around the room had also stood up. But the background music swelled, drowning out Molly’s protests as the stewards led her out of the room. Once she had gone, the others sat down again, so Johanna felt she should too. There was a tight, angry knot in her stomach. This isn’t right!
But then the music dropped again, and Mr Ostler continued. “We at the Council will be weighing the benefits – along with any concerns that might, I suppose, be raised – before deciding whether this exciting project can go ahead.
“Do try not to be swayed by the sentimental concerns which a small minority may shout about. I know the Council won’t be swayed, in reaching its unbiased decision. Thank you all for coming and good night.” His fixed smile tightened a further notch as he added: “I do hope you all sleep well.”
Music and further applause swelled again as the stage emptied and the meeting ended.
“Well,” said Johanna. “What a very nasty man.”
“Do you have to wave that thing around?” said Johanna at the breakfast table next morning. It was a Bank Holiday, with no school that day.
Harry ignored her and continued to munch his bacon sandwich. He was leafing through the Windmill Farm project brochure. “It’s a funny sort of farming,” he said, through a fine spray of crumbs. “There’s not one animal in any of the pictures here. It’s like he’s ashamed of them, hiding them away somewhere.”
“Well, he should be ashamed of himself,” said Johanna, finishing her muesli. “Animals ought to be out in the fresh air.”
“As should young humans,” said a third voice, “or so I’ve always been told. The sun is shining and we’re wasting time.”
“Mr Phigg!” cried Johanna. “We’ve got a lot to report.”
He held up his hand while he took a small notebook and pencil from his pocket. He found a clean page and then said: “OK.”
When Johanna paused for breath five minutes later, Mr Phigg was fully up to date with Kenneth Mallender’s plans for the windmill site – and in little doubt of her opinion of them. He closed his notebook.
“This is going to be tough,” he said. “They’re well organised, with friends in high places. Lots of people looking for their slice of the pie…” He paused and looked meaningfully at their empty plates. “Speaking of which…”
Before he could make a more direct request, Harry asked: “What do you think about eating meat, Mr Phigg? Are you a vegetarian?”
“Mostly,” he said. “Not always, but mostly. My father gave me some very good advice on the subject when I was small, which I still tend to steer by.”
“What was that?”
“He said: ‘never eat anything you can have a sensible conversation with’.”
“But no-one can have a conversation with the animals I eat,” Harry replied, “like… like… ” He paused and went a little pink.
“Like sheep, for example?” suggested Mr Phigg.
“But most sheep can’t talk, can they? It’s only special ones, like Bartram and Simon, isn’t it?”
Mr Phigg stuck out his lower lip and shrugged. “It’s difficult to be certain. I’ve had some pretty one-sided chats with sheep, I’ll grant you. Some need a lot of encouragement before they’ll say anything. And a few of those, when they did get going, were so boring I wished they hadn’t. But being dull isn’t usually a good enough reason to eat someone. It’s a tricky business.”
“Not for me, it isn’t,” said Johanna, with a smug smile.
“Oh well,” said Mr Phigg, winking at Harry, “we can’t all be perfect, can we? Now, who fancies another trip up to the Slumber Downs? We ought to compare notes with the others – the Flock’s had a difficult night.”
Then the children were both talking at once and pulling on their jackets and boots. They followed Mr Phigg to the back of the kitchen and watched him open the little door with his silver key. He motioned for them to wait while he stuck his head out through the door.
“Just checking… yes, that’s OK.”
Then they were out in bright sunlight, stepping onto the green downland grass.
“What were you checking?” Johanna asked.
“That we were in the right place. The join does move about a bit sometimes.”
“And what if you come out in the wrong place?”
“A wrong place is all right: you might have a bit further to walk, that’s all. The tricky bit is if you come out in what isn’t a place.”
“Huh? How’s that? Isn’t everywhere somewhere?”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But not always… My Great Uncle Bron missed his footing in a gateway and had what he calls his Gap Year. He’d lost three stone by the time they found him. Anyway, we’re somewhere now.”
They had reached the door of Bedquarters. Mr Phigg turned before going in. “I got a message first thing to say that there’d been some trouble. Bartram’s been hurt – oh, don’t worry,” he added quickly, as the children squeaked with alarm. “He’ll be fine. There’s just no accounting for Night Mares.”
“Has he had a bad dream?” asked Harry.
“No,” said Mr Phigg, pushing open the wooden door, “this was real enough.”
Inside, Bedquarters was buzzing. As well as Simon and Mabel, who were working at computers, there were four or five other sheep rushing to and fro with clipboards, checking coordinates on the map. Then the children saw Bartram, who was sitting at the back, with a big white bandage tied around his head. They ran up and asked him how he was.
“I’m all right,” he said. “My head just aches a bit. It caught me with its hoof.”
“What did?” Johanna asked.
“The Night Mare.”
“You make it sound like a horse.”
“It was a horse.”
“Let me explain,” said Mr Phigg to the puzzled children. “Where do you think bad dreams come from?”
“I don’t know,” Johanna said. “Just out of your head, I suppose. Sometimes you dream about something that has happened before, so it’s already there in your memory.”
“Yes – but sometimes they’re new things, aren’t they? Haunted houses, savage beasts, kidnappers – you don’t remember them.’
“Can’t people make that sort of thing up?” Harry asked.
“If you’ve got a good imagination, you’d maybe come up with some of those things. But why would you want to? It hardly makes for a good night’s sleep. There’s just too much weird and frightening stuff getting into people’s heads every night for that to be the whole story. And what people don’t make up, the Night Mares bring to them.”
What? Johanna had trouble with this idea. “But… how? Where from? They can’t just be ordinary horses.”
“No. And Bartram isn’t an ordinary sheep, is he? But you seem to be getting on with him all right. You’re not wondering whether he exists.
“As to where they come from – I can’t tell you. I don’t know and I’m not sure anyone else does. I haven’t seen one myself – but Bartram has just confirmed what I’ve been told. They’re tall and strong, with a coal-coloured coat and eyes of jet. They just appear from nowhere in a sleeper’s mind. They leave their story and then they’re gone: like the wind, only faster.”
“We learnt a bit about them in our training,” Bartram added. “Night Mares sometimes hang around the Shadowflock so they can catch a person just after they’ve fallen asleep. But they always used to keep out of the Flock’s way – and we kept out of theirs. In the last few weeks, though, they seem to be getting more difficult: we’re seeing more of them and they’ve started throwing their weight around. Standing in our way, calling us names. One of them barged Arthur out of the line the night before last, and now I’ve got kicked. Brrr,” he shivered, “… you really don’t want to get too close to them.”
The old sheep Simon had come over to join them when he heard what they were talking about. “It’s a bad business, Phigg,” he said, “and it’s getting through to our customers. Come and have a look at this.”
They walked over to one of the monitor screens and watched as Mabel patched through a recording. Mr Cruikshank was back at his newsagent’s in Marsham.
“… it’s kind of you to ask, but I had a terrible night. I had real trouble dropping off: I was counting sheep as usual, but I kept hearing the sound of horses’ hooves from somewhere further away – galloping, it sounded like, and coming closer. I had to start counting again three or four times… ”
The scene switched to Mr and Mrs Russell’s breakfast table.
“… and just as I was finally drifting off, I distinctly heard a voice, right in my ear. It said ‘It’s very dark.’”
“Was that all?”
“No. After a while it whinnied and said, ‘But it’s going to get much, much darker.’ I was wide awake by that point, so I had to start counting again from the beginning.”
The screen faded.
“Something’s definitely going on,” said Simon. “Take a look at the map.”
They turned to look at the map on the floor as he pressed a button on his keyboard. A scattering of lights appeared across the map, with concentrations where the big cities were.
“A normal night’s spread of bad dreams, just a couple of months ago. Now look at last night.”
Simon pressed another button and suddenly there were twice as many lights on the map, with the very brightest area on the south coast, around Brashleigh-on-Sea.
“Gosh,” said Mr Phigg. “Any thoughts about that?”
Simon shook his head. “We can see what is happening: the Night Mares are more active and more confident. They’re running more missions, taking more risks, coming out of the shadows. But I’ve no idea why it’s happening.”
“I think we’d better ask an expert,” said Mr Phigg.
“Brother Periwinkle. He was my old biology teacher at school. And a very clever chap too, if a little dry. I’m afraid I didn’t pay very close attention in his lessons back then – I spent most of my fifth-year training one of his lab rats to dance, for a bet. I failed my school certificate, but I won the bet – you should have seen it! Anyway, I’m sure old Periwinkle will be up for a bit of revision now. It’s never too late to round off your pupils’ education when you’re a dedicated teacher…”
Mr Phigg and the children said goodbye to the Shadowflock and walked out across the field. He led them in a different direction than before.
“Aren’t we going through the door?” Johanna asked.
“No, there’s a quicker way,” said Mr Phigg, leading them towards a tall hedge. He patted and pulled the dogwood and ferns for a few moments, muttering “Goodness, this has got overgrown” before suddenly disappearing headfirst into a tiny gap. “Come on,” he said, from somewhere deep within the leaves, “it’s easier than it looks.”
Johanna exchanged glances with her brother before taking a deep breath and diving into the hedge. Harry quickly followed. They found themselves tumbling down a grassy bank at the edge of a broad green playing field marked out with rugby pitches. At the far side of the field was a low grey-stone building covered with ivy, towards which Mr Phigg was striding purposefully. They ran to catch up with him.
“Here we are,” he said, “back at the alma mater.”
“What does that mean?” asked Harry.
“I’m not sure. Something or other in Greek, I think. But don’t ask me, I was thrown out of the classics set when someone put itching powder in Miss Watermonger’s wig. You can try old Periwinkle if you like. He’ll know.”
“Someone put itching powder…?” asked Johanna. Now, I wonder who? She smiled at the picture in her mind of Mr Phigg as a schoolboy – wearing a cap and blazer, tie askew and ink-stains on his hands.
“Yes, someone…” He was avoiding looking her in the eye. “I… um… I don’t recall exactly who. It was a long time ago.”
They had arrived at the front door, which had a painted sign next to it:
Mr Phigg went in. “This place hasn’t changed a bit, you know: I could find my way around here blindfolded…” He marched to the end of the corridor, but then stopped and turned around slowly, twice, on the spot. “Now… Which way were the laboratories?”
“Will there be anyone here on a holiday?” asked Johanna.
“Old Periwinkle will be. He loves his lab. Probably sleeps there.” They were all inside and Mr Phigg was leading the way up a stone staircase, taking two steps at a time. “I remember now. It’s this way.” He went along the corridor at the top and stopped outside a closed wooden door.
“This is it.” He took a deep breath before knocking on the door.
“Come,” said a stern voice from inside.
Mr Phigg turned the handle and the door swung inward with a loud creak. They went in.
There were four old oak benches in the lab, facing a blackboard full of chalked diagrams and calculations. The bench at the back was covered with equipment: a glass flask full of purple liquid was bubbling over a gas burner and feeding into a complicated network of tubing and different sized containers.
Behind the bench stood a slight figure in a brown monk’s habit, his dark hair shaved from the top of his head.
“Good afternoon, Brother Periwinkle,” said Mr Phigg, with a fixed grin. “We’re so sorry to disturb you. You might not remember me but –”
“Phiggles,” the monk interrupted, in a dusty tone. “How could I forget? It can’t be much more than eighty years, can it?”
“Ha-ha, quite. Indeed. Well, I certainly haven’t forgotten you,” burbled Mr Phigg. “It’s lovely to see you after all this time.”
“Really?” asked Brother Periwinkle. “And your… friends?”” He smiled faintly at the children. “Or have you followed me into teaching?” His smile broadened at the thought.
Mr Phigg forced out another giggle and introduced the children.
“They seem rather more sensible than your set was here, I must say. Though that would not be difficult. Phigg’s Phine Phellows, wasn’t it? I think you’ll still find that phrase scratched on a bench at the back of the hall.”
“I suppose we were quite lively,” murmured Mr Phigg.
“Lively? That’s one word for it. ‘Dangerous’ and ‘criminal’ might be others… What about that first-year boy you tied to the top of the bell tower?”
“It was just high spirits, Brother Periwinkle.”
“He was up there for six hours. There was a thunderstorm.”
“High spirits… and forgetfulness,” said Mr Phigg very quietly. His face was now the colour of a ripe tomato.
“So, splendid as I am sure it is to revisit the happiest days of your life… I am at a rather sensitive point with this experiment. Was there anything particular you wanted?”
“Yes, there was,” said Johanna. “We need your help. We need to find out about the Night Mares. Mr Phigg says you are a very clever chap.”
“If a little dry,” Harry added. The monk raised one eyebrow but kept a straight face.
“So will you tell us what you know about them, please?”
“Well, Phiggles,” said the monk, “we seem to have found one of the gaps in your somewhat selective education.”
“I was always more practically inclined,” said Mr Phigg.
“We’d better go to the library,” said Brother Periwinkle, leading the way to the door. “And then we might have a cup of tea.” He patted Harry on the head. “In case of dryness.”
As they walked through the deserted school, Mr Phigg explained what had been happening with the Shadowflock and how the number of bad dreams was rising. “The thing is,” he concluded, “we don’t know enough about the Night Mares to work out how best to deal with them.”
“I hope you won’t be disappointed,” said Brother Periwinkle as they reached the library. “I’m afraid no-one knows all that much about them – even chaps who are much cleverer than me.”
He went up to one of the bookcases and pulled down a huge leather-bound volume. “Encyclopaedia Zoologica,”he said, “volume seven.” He put the book on a table and flicked through to find the entry he wanted.
“There.” He pointed to a drawing of a large black horse. “Handsome beasts, aren’t they?” He ran his finger down the columns of the brief entry. “Bearers of bad dreams… Quick tempered… Violent… Very fond of carrots… Considered to be mythological until the middle of the nineteenth century – when the great biologist Charles Nutkin was caught in a Night Mare stampede which broke his arm, a leg and five ribs.” He pointed to a picture of a heavily bearded – and heavily bandaged – man lying in a hospital bed. “At that point, the scientific community was good enough to accept that his injuries were at least highly suggestive of physical existence.”
Brother Periwinkle went back to the bookcase and pulled out a small red book. “Nutkin went on to write this – In Search of the Round Stable. The Round Stable is said to be the Night Mares’ base, but neither Nutkin nor anyone else has ever located it. Scholars don’t think it stays in one place for long.”
“How –” Johanna began.
“Yes,” said the monk. “That question comes up a lot with the Night Mares. And we seldom know the answer for sure. One thing that Nutkin was able to discover was why it is just so frightening to be near them. It’s down to Fearomones – strange chemicals that are produced by glands deep in the Mares’ nostrils and spread by every breath. Just a few molecules in this room would have us all pacing up and down, looking over our shoulders, waiting for something to happen. And in greater concentrations…” He shuddered. “Well, I wouldn’t like to meet one myself.”
Brother Periwinkle closed the books and put them back on the shelves. “I’m not sure I can tell you much more.”
“Thank you,” said Mr Phigg. “That’s all very helpful. I hope we haven’t spoiled your experiment by distracting you.”
“Oh no,” the monk smiled, “I’m sure I can pick that up where I left off.”
“What was your experiment about?” asked Johanna. “It must be very interesting to be a scientist.”
“One needs to have an aptitude for it, my dear. It’s a calling – and a lifelong commitment. Today I’ve been seeing whether my damson wine would be improved by adding a few Victoria plums.
“Now, how about that cup of tea? I think there may be cake.”
“There’s only so far you can go with books and theories and such like,” said Mr Phigg. “I’m more the hands-on sort: I like to get stuck in and find things out for myself.”
He and the children were back at Bedquarters, telling Simon, Mabel and Bartram what they had learnt from Brother Periwinkle.
“These beasts are dangerous,” said Simon. “We can’t just go blundering in and hope for the best.”
“No,” agreed Bartram, rubbing his head, “we definitely can’t.”
“Well, think of it more as a scientific experiment. You’re not going to argue against science, are you?” Mr Phigg stood and placed his hand on his heart. “Thanks to Brother Periwinkle we have absorbed the work of our illustrious predecessors… and now we can build on their achievements. I shall be the Nutkin of my generation. Standing on the shoulders of that giant, I will push back the boundaries of knowledge and… er… bring forth… um…. green shoots in the desert of ignorance!” He looked around as if expecting applause, but his friends’ faces all looked very doubtful.
“What is it you want to do?” asked Johanna.
“I want to see a Night Mare for myself and get a feel for what they’re up to. I’m going to go out with Bartram and the rest of the team tonight and see if I can draw one to me.”
“No-one’s going to drift off to sleep counting you in the middle of the Flock,” Mabel objected.
“Oh, I think they will,” said Mr Phigg. “Once I’ve made my preparations. I am well known as a man of mystery – a master of disguise.”
“Or as someone who likes dressing up at any opportunity,” said Mabel.
“You’ll see. I’ll be back this evening. Come on, you two.”
He got up and went out. Johanna and Harry followed.
“Are you sure about this?” asked Johanna. “It sounds dangerous.”
“Oh, I have a way with horses. I used to work in a rodeo, you know, soothing the bucking broncos with just a quiet word.”
“Did you really?” asked Harry.
“Well, no. Not exactly. But I saw a programme about it once and it looked quite easy.”
He peered round the door into the children’s kitchen. “All clear,” he said, waving them through. “I’ll pop in before I go this evening. I need to borrow something.”
“Hmmm,” said Johanna, when Mr Phigg had closed the door behind them. “I wonder what he’s planning. The magical stuff is amazing, but he can be a bit of an idiot sometimes.”
“I could handle a Night Mare,” said Harry. “Watch this.” He picked up a tea towel and flourished it like a matador, spinning on his toes. “Olé! Come on horsey, you’ll have to do better than that to catch El Harrietto. Olé!” He threw the tea towel down. “Easy. Do you think he’ll let us go with him tonight?”
“No – I don’t,” said his sister. “But we can ask.”
At that point, their mum appeared at the top of the stairs in her dressing gown. “Have you two remembered you’re going to the cinema with Lizzie and Ben this afternoon?” she asked. “You can have a word with Molly about the campaign. I’m sure she’ll have lots of ideas. We’re not going to give in on this, are we?”
“No,” said Johanna, “we most certainly are not – and I’ve got some ideas too, you know.”
Later on, at teatime, her father asked her about the film.
“Oh – it was all right, I suppose. I can’t remember much about it.”
“That’s because you were talking all the way through it,” Harry said. “About animal rights. And the slave trade. And ‘our precious environment’. That woman behind us told you to shut up at least four times.”
“This is more important than a film, Harry. There’s a march tomorrow, to the town hall. Can we go, Dad?”
“I suppose so,” he replied, “though I’m not sure if it is going to do any good, love. I don’t want you to end up disappointed.”
After tea, when their parents had gone upstairs to watch the news, Johanna was starting work on a placard for the demonstration.
“Pssst,” said an urgent voice behind her, “I’ve come for the hearth rug.”
Mr Phigg had got changed since they had last seen him. He was wearing black ballet pumps, black leggings, a black polo-neck jumper, a black balaclava and black gloves. His face was painted black. Two black leather cartridge belts criss-crossed his chest. They must have been designed to hold ammunition for a very big gun, because each loop was now comfortably holding a carrot.
“Bait,” said Mr Phigg, when he saw that the children were staring at his chest.
Harry went upstairs to the living room and returned shortly afterwards with a cream sheepskin hearth rug. “I said we wanted it for dressing up,” he said, “which is sort of true: it’s just not us who’s dressing up. They said not to spill anything on it. You won’t, will you?”
“Of course not,” said Mr Phigg. “You can rely on me.”
“Can we come with you?” asked Harry.
“Hardly,” he replied, “We’ve only got the one rug. But we’ll go up to Bedquarters first thing tomorrow and you can see how things went.” With that, he threw the rug over his shoulder and disappeared through the door at the back of the kitchen.
“Hmmph,” said Johanna, “we might see something sooner than that.”
Then she went back to her placard. Freedom Not Factories it read, in big green letters – with a smiling pig on one side and a brown cow on the other, and a bright yellow sun at the top, shining over everything.
“Very peaceful,” said her mum when she came down to tell them it was time for bed. “Nice and calm. You should be ready for a good night’s sleep now.”
“I’m a bit hungry, Mum. Can I have some supper first? I really fancy a bit of toasted cheese.”
“Well, all right – but it’s supposed to make you dream if you have it just before bed, you know.”
“Is it really? Well, I’ll risk it. I’m sure I’m too tired for dreams.”
Johanna yawned loudly and stretched, then winked at Harry who quickly said: “Mmmm, yes, I’m hungry too. Can I have a slice, please?”
As their mum was making the supper, Harry whispered to his sister “How’s this going to work?”
“I don’t know,” she hissed back. “But it’s worth a go. Why should Mr Phigg have all the fun? Just go to bed when you’ve eaten it. We’ll get off to sleep and see what happens.”
– o O o –
Johanna brushed her teeth and got into bed. She was wide awake. Right, she thought. Let’s see what the Shadowflock can do.
She closed her eyes and tried to imagine a flock of sheep walking past her. One… two… three… Round about fifteen she began to wonder if there was anyone going past that she recognised. The she felt a curious change come over her. It was as if she was turning the contrast control on the TV: the colours got brighter, the image sharper, more real. Then she noticed that she could smell the sheep and hear their hooves as they wandered down a lane – a lane which she was standing in: she felt some brambles in the hedge pressing against her back.
“Twenty-two,” she said deliberately. And then stopped counting. Because number twenty-two looked her in the eye and nodded.
“Evening. I didn’t know you were coming too.” It was a sheep called Arthur she had met at Bedquarters.
“He-hello,” she stuttered. “No – I wasn’t planning to, before.” Then she spotted Harry on the other side of the lane, with his mouth wide open, rubbing his eyes. Johanna threaded her way through the line of sheep to join him.
“We did it,” she said. “Let’s see where they’re going.” She took his hand and led him down the lane alongside the sheep.
After a couple of minutes walking, they realised something was heading back up the lane towards them, moving against the flow of the rest of the sheep. At first, they assumed that it was a sheep too, but then they spotted its ballet pumps and balaclava… and realised it was not pleased to see them.
“What on earth do you think you’re doing?” said Mr Phigg, whispering fiercely as he pushed Johanna and Harry through a gap in the hedge into a field beyond. “And how do you think you’re doing it? I don’t know how we’re going to explain this if you get spotted.”
“I didn’t think –” Johanna began.
“No, you didn’t, did you?” Mr Phigg interrupted. “Toasted cheese was it, by any chance?”
Johanna looked at the ground and nodded.
“And what about the Night Mares? I’m expecting them to show up any minute. They’re dangerous, you know.”
“What’s that funny lump on your head?” asked Harry.
“It’s a strap-on camera: sending live pictures back to Bedquarters. But don’t change the subject. What are we going to do with you?”
“We’ll be careful,” said Johanna. “We’ll keep out of sight.”
At that point Bartram’s head appeared through the gap in the hedge. “Aahh,” he said to the children, “it’s you.” They spotted a discreet primrose worked into the wool of one shoulder. Then he turned to Mr Phigg: “We can’t wait much longer. The front of the line’s reached the end of the lane. I’ve got them walking on the spot to give the impression of movement but that won’t work for long.”
“How are we going to get you back?” said Mr Phigg. “I haven’t time to take you… um…” His eyes darted back and forth as he thought. “That’s it! Come here.”
He stood the children next to each other in front of him and put a hand on each of their arms. “Now, repeat after me: ‘That cheese was lovely.’ ”
“That cheese was lovely,” said Johanna and Harry together.
“But it must have been very salty.”
“But it must have been very salty.”
“Now, I’m really, really thirsty.”
“Now, I’m really, really thirsty.”
“I’m going to have to get a drink.”
And, just as the children were dutifully repeating that line, Mr Phigg gave them each a sharp pinch on the fleshy part of their arms – and then he and Bartram and the field and the lane all seemed to be whirling around and disappearing from their sight, like water running down a plughole…
Johanna jumped out of bed and went straight to the bathroom. She was just starting her second glass of water when Harry joined her.
“That was amazing,” he said, pouring himself a drink. “Even if we didn’t get to see a Night Mare.”
“Yes,” said Johanna, grinning as she remembered. “I wonder how they’re getting on without us.”
Next morning Johanna and Harry were up early. They were impatient for Mr Phigg to arrive and their dad seemed to take forever grumping over his coffee and cornflakes before heading off to the station.
Almost as soon as they had the kitchen to themselves, Mr Phigg was there.
“Don’t say anything,” he said. “It’s not as bad as it looks. It’s just sprained.”
His left arm was in a sling – and he had a black eye that was so swollen you could hardly see any eye.
“But I did tell you it was dangerous, didn’t I. I got you two home just in time.” He handed over a carrier bag. “The rug got a bit grubby, I’m afraid.”
“Did a Night Mare get you?” Harry asked.
“Not directly. Let’s go up to the Slumber Downs and I’ll tell you the story there.”
They all went through the door and crossed the field to Bedquarters.
“Ah,” said Simon as they went in. “The conquering hero comes.”
“All right,” said Mr Phigg, scowling. “I got us some decent pictures though, didn’t I?”
“You did,” Simon agreed. “Now let’s bring our ingenious young friends up to speed.”
He flicked at the computer keyboard for a moment and the monitors came to life. “Here’s the Flock at the point you left them.”
The camera panned slowly along a long row of sheep, waiting patiently, walking on the spot: snow-white fleeces, coal-black faces, occasionally nuzzling against each other or cropping a blade of grass to pass the time.
“Look!” Harry pointed to a latecomer joining the back of the line. “There’s Bartram.”
“And there –”
“Yes, indeed,” said Mr Phigg. “And blending in pretty well, if I may say so.”
The figure next to Bartram looked reasonably sheep-like at first glance, so long as you didn’t look too closely at its legs.
“We’ll move over to your camera now, Phigg,” said Simon, and the picture changed to a sheep’s-eye view of the Flock and the hedgerows as they made their way down the lane.
Simon moved the film on and they were in more open country. Then Bartram’s face filled the screen, saying “Over there – behind us.” The camera swung round to show an empty moonlit field with a wood at the far end. Something moved, just in front of the trees, before seeming to merge back into them. Then, about ten yards further on, another shadow seemed briefly to appear in front of the trees. Then another. Then all was still for about half a minute.
“Here they come,” said Mr Phigg.
Suddenly the shadows were out of the woods together and took shape as three huge dark horses galloping at full tilt across the field towards the camera, their long, tightly-muscled legs in beautiful, effortless motion. At the last minute they swerved and began to run along the edge of the Flock, circling it closely. The children could sense the fear in the sheep, jostling ever closer together as the circle tightened.
As if on a command, the three horses stopped and reared up together on their hind legs, whinnying loudly as they did so. The encircled sheep became more frantic in their movements and suddenly there was a sharp cry and a jolt and the camera swung around wildly before turning up to the sky.
“I tripped over. Then I came a cropper – Arthur’s hindquarters are surprisingly solid, you know. He must have particularly dense bones… But watch this.”
They heard hoofbeats getting louder and suddenly the screen was completely filled with the face of a Night Mare, panting hard through foam-flecked lips. It pulled back slightly, opened its mouth wide to show a set of enormous white teeth, then sank them in, as if for the kill, just below the level of the camera. The children’s squeals as they watched merged with a higher-pitched scream from Mr Phigg on the film’s soundtrack. Then the camera jerked again and the horse’s head reappeared with something dangling from its mouth, before rapidly disappearing again with a clatter of hooves.
“Bit clean through my carrot bandolier,” said Mr Phigg, patting his chest. “Made off with the lot.”
“That’s about it,” said Simon, turning off the monitor. “Well done, Phigg. Good work.”
“Do you think so?” asked Mr Phigg. “I did make a bit of a fool of myself.”
“We’ve learnt a lot: they’re hunting in packs now, they’re deliberately targeting the Shadowflock, the threat level is increasing. We know that their Fearomones are very effective – and they do like carrots. No-one’s got pictures so close before. It was definitely worth doing.”
“Good,” said Mr Phigg, “though I don’t know where it leaves us. What do we do next?”
“I’m not sure about you,” said Johanna, “but we’d better get back for school. Then we’ve got the march this evening, to the town hall. It won’t help with the Night Mares, but we might be able to do something from our end to stop the factory farm.”
“You’re right,” said Mr Phigg. “The Night Mares aren’t our only problem.”
“Are you all set for the march this evening, Moll– er, Ms Williamson?” Harry asked, at the end of break.
“Yes, I certainly am,” his teacher replied, “I really don’t want them to get away with this. Spoiling the countryside and being so cruel to the poor animals.”
“Can we all go?” asked Harry’s friend Douglas, overhearing. “It could be like a school trip.”
“I’m not sure the Head would be very keen on that…” She laughed. “And everyone must make up their own minds, of course. I’m just saying what I think.”
“And what I think,” said Harry.
“So you don’t think young animals should be cooped up indoors when they could be out playing in the sun?” asked Douglas.
“No,” said Harry and Molly together.
“Then why are you keeping us in school on a nice day like this?”
“Mathematics,” said Molly firmly, taking a pile of worksheets from her desk and tapping them on his head. “It’s your brain that needs some exercise just now, Douglas.”
After school, Johanna and Harry and their mum made their way to the park where the march was starting. It would go through the centre of Brashleigh and end up at the town hall. There were already several hundred people there and Johanna felt a surge of pride and support and belonging as she saw that lots of them had banners or placards, like hers. We can do this. We can stop it, she thought.
She and Harry shouted and waved to Molly, who was bustling around in a high-visibility vest with a clipboard, getting people into line. It was all very colourful. Soon they were off, with a man at the front in a top hat, playing raucous tunes on a trombone.
It took about an hour for the march to make its way through the town. It was still warm in the sun and there was a happy mood, with chanting, bursts of dancing and chats to passers-by.
“Freedom not factories!” bellowed Johanna and Harry as they went along, jumping up and down and taking turns at waving the placard.
But the mood of the marchers changed as they turned into the road that led to the town hall. The sky clouded over and it suddenly felt cooler. They saw that the steps up to the town hall were blocked off by ranks of security guards in black uniforms with black helmets. Their tinted visors were down, hiding their faces. Each had a hefty looking truncheon hanging from his belt.
“Look at that lot,” said Johanna in dismay. “They’re not going to let us in.”
“Bunch of creeps,” Harry muttered. “I’ll… I’ll…” He kicked the ground in front of him.
Johanna felt like doing the same. “It’s not fair.”
“Brrr. It’s really quite chilly now,” said their mother, as she caught up with them.
The march had come to a stop and Molly walked forward to the bottom of the steps.
“Come on,” said Johanna, pulling Harry through the marchers to join her at the front.
“Let us through,” Molly said in a loud voice. “We are here to see our elected representatives.”
“Yes,” shouted Johanna, “we want to get through!”
The security guards gave no reaction: it was as if they weren’t there.
“This is outrageous,” Molly continued. “We are supposed to live in a free country. I demand to speak to my councillor.”
The security guards continued to stare straight forward, ignoring her completely. There was a pause. Suddenly, on some hidden signal, all the guards took a step forward together. Molly and the children’s feet were almost touching theirs. Johanna gasped and caught Harry’s hand. They held their ground.
Molly looked up at the rows of blank faces. She cleared her throat and said, very slowly: “Perhaps you didn’t hear me, I said I demand– ”
At that point Darby Ostler walked out on to the top step, behind the guards. He was holding a megaphone.
“Yes, yes, I think we have heard enough about your demands, madam,” his amplified voice boomed out. “Let me make clear that I will never bow to intimidation by the mob. The duty of the Council is to weigh the facts and apply the law. I cannot and will not be swayed by emotion. All of you demonstrators, listen to me – you are causing an obstruction and must disperse immediately.”
“Can’t you see that people think Mallender’s plan is appalling?” shouted Molly. There was a ragged cheer from the marchers and a piercing whistle from Harry.
“Mister Mallender is a successful and respected businessman. This town should be grateful that he is offering it a chance to share the fruits of his enterprise.”
“But the effect on the environment –”
“You will find, madam, that mankind has been farming for some ten thousand years now.” With a megaphone it was easy for him to shout Molly down. “To the best of my knowledge, the Earth has survived this onslaught. I suspect it will continue to do so.”
Suddenly another voice cut in, from a balcony in a building across the street.
“Mr Ostler! Liston Biggles here, radio news. Can you tell my listeners just when you will be reaching your unbiased decision on this application?”
Liston Biggles wore a grubby trenchcoat and a trilby hat pulled down low over his face. He was waving an enormous microphone on a pole in front of him.
Darby Ostler turned to reply, forcing his features into the semblance of a smile. “Thank you, Liston. I’m always ready to reach out to the wider public, beyond the minority who have an axe to grind and who shout the loudest. I know I can rely on your listeners’ good sense and moderation. The decision will be taken by the Council’s Planning Committee next Monday, on the basis of my recommendation.”
“And remind me, Mr Ostler, how often have the Committee disagreed with your recommendations in the past?”
“They have always followed my recommendations. That, I think, reflects the thoroughness and care I bring to this process.”
“I’m sure it reflects something, Mr Ostler. And are you ready to make your recommendation on this scheme now? It’s not long until next week’s meeting.”
“Well, I was going to issue a press notice tomorrow, but I think I may be able to give you a scoop, Liston.” He paused and gave an oily smile that left his cold eyes completely unchanged. “My recommendation is that the development represents a wonderful opportunity for Brashleigh-on-Sea and should proceed. On that basis, preparatory work may continue at the site.”
There were groans and shouts of “no” from the marchers, but the voice from the balcony was still very clear above them.
“Thank you, Mr Ostler. Some of my listeners thought this process was a foregone conclusion. I’m glad you’ve been able to make it so clear what’s going on.”
“That was you, wasn’t it?” said Johanna the next evening, when Mr Phigg dropped in.
He grinned and raised an eyebrow. “What was?”
“Liston Biggles here, radio news.”
“Well, I thought I’d come and see what was going on. It’s good to keep in touch with the Greyworld. And to test my disguises.”
“He’s horrible, isn’t he, that Darby Ostler?”
“I didn’t take to him, I must say. He reminds me of someone else, you know, but I can’t think who it is. I’m sure it will come to me… ”
“How are things at Bedquarters?” asked Harry.
“It was quieter last night. There were Night Mares prowling around again, but they didn’t get too close to the Flock. Simon’s worried about the number of bad dreams that are out there, though – we’re counting more every night now. The Night Mares seem to be getting stronger and stronger.”
“Lizzie said she had a bad dream last night,” said Johanna. “She dreamt she’d been kidnapped. She was tied up tight and bundled in a filthy old sack. And when she told Molly in the morning it turned out she’d dreamt the same thing.”
“Molly dreamt she had been kidnapped as well?”
“No – she dreamt that Lizzie had been kidnapped, and the tying up and the sack, on the same night that Lizzie was dreaming it too. That’s odd, isn’t it?”
Mr Phigg frowned. “That’s very odd. People don’t share dreams – not without some outside interference. And I didn’t know the Night Mares could do that… If it was the Night Mares… But why would they? Hmmm. It’s all very puzzling.”
Johanna gulped. “So, they were pretty scary already, but the Night Mares are learning new tricks and getting even more dangerous?”
“That’s right. We’re going to need some more help from somewhere. But where?”
There was a long pause while they all thought hard.
“Well,” said Johanna, at last, “if the Night Mares are spreading bad dreams… I suppose we need someone who can bring good dreams.”
“Yeah, right–” Harry snorted, but then stopped short when he saw the grin on Mr Phigg’s face.
“Ah-hah! Clever girl! Why didn’t I think of that? The bringers of good dreams… I think we might take another trip tomorrow. Are you doing anything after school?”
“No,” said Johanna. “There’s another march on Friday, up to the windmill this time, but we’ll be here tomorrow.”
“Good. We need to have a word with the – ah, time for me to go now…”
The children had heard their mum’s footsteps on the stairs too. When they turned back round, Mr Phigg had slipped away.
“Hello, Mum,” said Harry.
“Don’t you Hello, Mum me, young man. I’ve got a bone to pick with you: what have you got to say about this?” She waved the sheepskin hearth rug around in front of her. “Look at it. Stuffed in a carrier bag in the corner. You didn’t even bother to hide it properly. It’s filthy. How did you manage to get it in this state? If I didn’t know better I’d say there was a hoof print here… And I trusted you with it. Well, what have you got to say for yourself?”
Luckily for Harry, the phone rang at that point and his mum went to answer it. And by the time she came back there were other things on her mind.
“That was Molly,” she said, her face pale. “She’s been suspended.”
“What does that mean?” asked Harry.
“She’s not allowed to work at the school until there’s been some sort of an investigation. Someone from the town hall rang the Head and said that what he called her ‘political activities’ were not in keeping with her role as a teacher. They’ve said she must stay away from the school until it’s all been looked into.”
Johanna was outraged. “What? Is this about her going to the meeting and organising the march?”
“She doesn’t know what else it might be – she’s never been very interested in politics. Did she say anything about the march at school?”
“Only when I asked her about it before class,” Harry replied. “And then she said that everyone had to make up their own mind about it. She hasn’t done anything wrong! I’ll tell them.”
“Well, I’m sure it will all come out right in the end, but it’s very strange – and horrible for poor Molly.”
“And horrible for us too,” said Harry. “She’s a proper teacher. We’ll probably get someone hopeless standing in, like Mr Grundy…” Harry did not get on well with his science teacher, or with most teachers. His standards were high – and rather different from theirs.
“We can still go on the march on Friday though, can’t we, Mum?” asked Johanna.
“Yes, I think so… I don’t see how this changes things. Though I wonder if somebody thought it might…”
The rest of the evening passed uneventfully and the children went to bed.
About quarter past three the next morning, at exactly the same time, both Johanna and Harry suddenly gasped and sat upright in their beds.
They tumbled out and headed for each other’s rooms, meeting on the landing.
“I had a dream,” hissed Johanna, “and you were in it.”
“Well, I had a dream – and you were in it,” Harry replied.
In the faint glow from the street lamp outside the window each saw the fright in the other’s face.
“We were walking towards the windmill…”
“…we were crossing the field when I heard them coming…”
“…their hooves were thundering on the ground…”
“…the noise just got louder and louder and I called out…”
“…but there was nobody there to help us and then…”
“…we were surrounded by three enormous…”
“…rearing in the air and neighing and neighing…”
“…and it was like they were laughing at us and coming closer and closer…”
“…and one head just right in front of my face with its hot breath and horse smell and then it…”
Johanna and Harry stared at each other in amazement and said the same words together: “ ‘Stay away from here, human child.’ ”
“We had exactly the same dream, at exactly the same time,” said Johanna. “This is worse than what happened to Lizzie and Molly. It can’t be a coincidence, can it?”
“No,” said Harry, “we’ve been given a warning – and it wasn’t very nice.”
“We can’t just take this lying down,” said Johanna next morning, “whatever it is, and whoever’s behind it. Weneed to do something.”
“We can’t get at the Night Mares on our own, can we?” Harry replied, a nervous look in his eyes.
He’s spooked, thought Johanna. Even Harry… But we can’t back off. We’ve got to show them!
“No. But there’s stuff here in our world we can do for ourselves without Mr Phigg and the others. Stuff that’s linked to the Night Mares, somehow.”
“Let’s go and see if we can stop Molly being suspended – you said she hadn’t done anything wrong. Maybe if we tell them what you know… ”
Johanna went to the bottom of the stairs and shouted up. “Mum! Is it all right if we go to the library on our way back from school?” Having secured a distant “yes”, she turned back to her brother. “The town hall’s just round the corner from the library. We can call in there on the way.”
– o O o –
It had seemed a good idea in the morning, but Johanna was less sure that afternoon, after school, as she stared up the steps to the tall, grand, Victorian building. It wasn’t quite the same without hundreds of marchers behind her. Best not to think too much about it…
“Come on, Harry,” she said, more firmly than she felt, and strode through the door, heading towards the reception desk.
“Wait!” hissed Harry, as soon as they were inside, and pulled her firmly behind a display stand in the lobby. “It’s him.”
They peered out to see Darby Ostler strutting across the parquet floor, giving curt instructions into a mobile phone. “Yes, precisely… and make sure you do. I don’t want any more delay, or heads will roll. Including yours. I’ll be up there later to check.”
He ended the call as a tall woman in a smart hound’s-tooth print suit came out into the lobby from the offices beyond.
“Darby,” she called to him, “I’m glad I caught you. How is it all going today?”
He gave her a tight smile. “Everything is fully under control. Rest assured.”
“Are you certain we’re doing the right thing?”
“We’re handling an impressive planning application entirely properly. All the Is will be neatly dotted and the Ts carefully crossed. There’s nothing for the Chief Executive to worry about: her Planning Director has it all safely in hand.”
“But it’s not every day we have marches to the town hall, protests in the street, letters to the press… It’s all a bit of a nightmare now, isn’t it?”
“Let me handle the nightmares, Chief Executive. I like a challenge, as you know. Isn’t that why you gave me the job?”
“Yes, you’re right – it’s your responsibility and I’ll leave you to it. Rather you than me, I must say. Good luck, Darby. Keep me in touch with developments.”
With that, she turned and swept out of the door into the street while the Director of Planning went on his way into the building, a broad grin on his face.
“Smarmy, isn’t he?” whispered Harry. “And cocky.”
“He gives me the creeps. But he’s not going to win this one. Come on.”
Johanna went up to the receptionist.
“Hello. Could we speak to someone from the Human Resources Department, please? Whoever it is who deals with teachers.”
“Oh, come to complain about one, have you, dear?” The receptionist laughed. “I’m surprised we don’t get more of that.”
Johanna gazed back without smiling. “No. It’s not that at all. It’s about a teacher who’s been suspended – and shouldn’t have been.”
The receptionist stopped laughing. “Oh. Well, I’m not sure that you can do anything about that. But take a seat over there for a moment.”
The children went to sit on the bench he had indicated while he spoke to someone on the phone. They waited for several minutes while different people came and went, and the busy life of the town hall rolled on around them.
Eventually a young woman came out of the offices, walked over and sat down on the bench next to them.
“Hello,” she said. “I work in the HR Department. You must feel very strongly about something that has happened to come to us like this. But you must realise that we have to keep all our cases completely confidential. I can’t talk about them. If someone you know has been suspended, then there must have been a real reason for it – but, don’t worry, everything will be fully investigated, and they’ll be able to put their side of the story before anything is decided. It’s a fair process.”
“But it’s not fair,” said Harry. “She hasn’t done anything wrong. I’m in her class and I know”
“I’m afraid I can’t discuss any individual case with you. But you can be sure that everything will be looked at carefully.”
“It’s Molly Williamson,” said Johanna – and noticed that the young woman’s head jolted slightly when she heard the name. “She just organised a march. That’s all.”
“We were given no choice with…” She stopped herself. “No – I’ve told you: I can’t discuss individual cases. I think you’d better go.” She stood up. “You’re brave children for coming in like this, but there’s nothing you can do about it – and nothing that I can do about it, either. Goodbye, now.” She went back into the offices.
“I wonder what she meant,” said Johanna as they left. “Given no choice?”
Later that afternoon, the children were sitting at the kitchen table finishing their homework when Mr Phigg appeared. He stood in front of them juggling three satsumas with a practised air.
“Wotcher,” he said. “I’ve brought you some vitamins.” He tossed a satsuma to each of them. “And a visitor.”
The children turned to see Simon limping through the little door at the back of the kitchen.
“Hello,” he said. “My, this is nice: very cosy.” He nosed around, looking at the pictures, inspecting things – and managed to knock a saucepan lid off the draining board. It hit the floor with a loud crash. “Oops, sorry about that.”
Johanna and Harry had jumped up and now held their breath, listening to see if their mum had heard the noise upstairs in her office. Somehow the presence of a sheep in the house seemed distinctly less manageable than Mr Phigg’s usual visits.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’re not staying, I just thought it would be easier to pick you up on the way.”
“Oh, no, that’s fine,” said Johanna, “of course it is,” as Harry tried to smudge over some hoof marks on the floor with his foot, without anyone noticing. “It’s lovely to have you here. Would you like… a… a cup of tea, or something, Simon?”
Mr Phigg had peeled the last of his satsumas and offered him the fruit: “Or some of this?”
“No, thank you,” said Simon. “Sheep aren’t keen on citrus. Or hot drinks. I’ll just take a couple of these for the journey, if I may.”
He selected some daffodils from a vase on the dresser and bit into them. “Very tasty, thank you. When you have to graze indoors, it’s a good idea to keep the plants nice and fresh in water like this.”
Mr Phigg grinned, enjoying the disruption he was causing. “OK,” he said at length. “All set? Off we go then.”
They went out through the little door and it felt to the children that it took longer than usual to get to the other side. They came out onto the overgrown bank of a sluggish stream. The air was warm and damp, filled with the smell of flowers and the buzz of bees and lush with growing things.
“Mmmm,” said Johanna. “It’s like being in a greenhouse. Where are we?”
“This is the New Mangrove Swamp,” said Mr Phigg.
“Is there an old one?”
“There was, but apparently it dried out over the years and got rather chilly and uninviting. And, since the boys like to be cosy, they moved over here.”
“It was your idea, Johanna,” explained Mr Phigg. “And it’s very logical. If we’re having trouble with the bringers of bad dreams, then we should try the folk who bring the good ones.”
“We’ve come to talk to the Soft Centaurs,” said Simon. “To see if they can do something to help us with the Night Mares. We don’t normally have much to do with them: they like to keep themselves to themselves.”
“Centaurs!” said Johanna, bouncing up and down in excitement. “Really?”
“And they’re half horse and half man, like in the stories?” She had a book about Greek myths and had always loved the idea.
“I bet they’ll see the Night Mares off!” said Harry.
Mr Phigg and Simon exchanged glances before Mr Phigg replied. “Now, don’t get your hopes up too high. The Soft Centaurs know all there is to know about happy thoughts and getting a good night’s rest, but don’t much like to get involved with other things. Seeing off Night Mares would be a little bit outside their comfort zone.”
“And comfort is what they like the most,” added Simon. “But we’ll see. First of all, we’ve got to find them.”
Mr Phigg checked his watch. “They should be waking up from their afternoon naps by now.”
As if on cue, the undergrowth in front of them parted and a remarkable figure pranced onto the bank. It was indeed a centaur: the body, legs and tail of a glossy-coated chestnut horse, and – rising from the horse’s chest – the torso, arms and head of a man. But unlike the ones you may have seen on ancient vases, this centaur was wearing a mauve cardigan, with a matching scarf, knotted in a fashionable style. He stretched his arms and yawned.
“Ooh, it’s getting a bit chilly, isn’t it?” he said. Then he stopped and looked more closely at the visitors. “Hang on a minute,” he said. “You’ve only got four limbs each.”
“Well spotted,” said Mr Phigg.
“Though some of you are spreading them around differently from the others.” He frowned at Simon. “Trying to confuse me. You do realise this is a private swamp? That means no public access. You’re not supposed to be able to find it, never mind get this close to us. Be off with you now, or I might get cross.”
“We’re not the public,” said Mr Phigg. “We’re in the dream trade too.”
“I think you’ll find that we have a monopoly when it comes to good dream distribution,” said the centaur. “And you’ll find that we maintain the very highest standards – just look at you: who’d want their dreams delivered by you?”
“Oh, we know our limits” said Simon politely. “We just do the preparatory work – getting your customers off to sleep.” He started to explain what the Shadowflock did but the centaur quickly cut him off.
“No, no, no – I can do without your life-story, thank you.” He looked like he’d just bitten into a lemon. “It all sounds very tedious. We don’t bother ourselves with dull things like that.”
Just then two more centaurs came out of the undergrowth.
“Come on, Cyril,” said one of them. “You’ll be late for Norman’s briefing and we don’t want him getting huffy again. Who are you talking to?”
“I don’t know who they are,” the first centaur snapped back. “They just accosted me and now they won’t stop talking.” All three centaurs set off along the bank, ignoring their visitors.
“How rude!” said Johanna, her excitement at seeing real-live centaurs rapidly fading. The thing about magic, she thought, is you expect it to be a bit more magical. It’s never like this in stories…
“I think we’d better join their briefing meeting,” said Mr Phigg, following the centaurs at a discreet distance.
As they walked, the children told Mr Phigg and Simon about their shared bad dream the night before.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” said Simon. “It’s most peculiar.”
“It must be another new trick from the Night Mares,” said Mr Phigg. “Which is not good news. But why should they be interested in the windmill site? We must be missing some connection.”
At that point the bank they were walking along opened out into a wider clearing, where a group of about ten other centaurs were joined by the three they had already seen. All of them wore cardigans or pullovers in different shades. Some had woollen mittens and hats. One was wearing a red quilted jacket trimmed with white fur. Mr Phigg strode straight up to him.
“Are you Norman? Are you in charge here?” he asked. “I’ve got some very important information for your briefing.”
“Yes, I’m in charge at the moment,” Norman replied. “We take it in turns – you can tell by the jacket.” He held out his arms to show it off. “Rather fine, isn’t it? But who are you, anyway? I’m sure this is most irregular.” Then all the centaurs started talking at once, grumbling and pointing at the visitors.
Johanna had had enough. She walked into the middle of the clearing and said in a very loud voice “Shut up. All of you. Now. This is very important.”
That seemed to do the trick and the centaurs stayed quiet long enough to let her and Simon explain what was happening with the Night Mares.
“Well, thank you for the warning,” said Norman. “We’ll take special care to stay out of the Night Mares’ way. Now, gentlemen, to business…” he said, turning back to his fellow centaurs.
“That’s not good enough!” said Johanna. “You can’t just stand back and let them get stronger and stronger. Before long everyone will be having bad dreams every night. You don’t want that, do you?”
“No, we don’t want that,” Norman replied. “But I don’t see what we can do about it. Do you expect us to fightthem, or something?” Some of the other centaurs giggled. “Of course not. But I know what we’ll do! We’ll send out some more good dreams than usual. That should help take people’s minds off the problem.”
“Oh, come on,” said Johanna. “We’re not getting anywhere here.” She turned on her heel and stomped out of the clearing, closely followed by Harry, Mr Phigg and Simon. “What a feeble bunch,” she said. “Really!”
“Well, I said we shouldn’t expect too much,” said Mr Phigg. “But let’s see: you may just have planted a seed, Johanna. Their hearts are in the right place, I think, underneath it all.”
“So, how was school yesterday?” her father asked Johanna at breakfast, as he often did.
“It was all right,” she replied, through a mouthful of cereal, in her customary way.
“Is that it?”
“We did the Vikings.”
“Oh, good. Longboats?”
“And Harry? How was your day?”
“It was rubbish. I knew it would be.”
Harry nodded savagely but seemed unable to give any further explanation.
“Oh, well,” said their dad at length, “it’s always nice to chat like this, but the 7.45 awaits. Have a good day, both of you.” He picked up his briefcase and headed for the station.
“About time, too,” said Mr Phigg, emerging from the little door, “though it was a fascinating conversation, I must say. If the Shadowflock ever want a night off, we could send the Blake household round to lull people to sleep instead… Talking of which: any more odd dreams last night?”
The children both shook their heads.
“Good. Oh, and Harry…?”
“I’m working on Mr Grundy.”
“What do you mean?”
Mr Phigg grinned and tapped his nose with his finger. “Can’t really say, just now, but teachers do sometimes like a change of scene. Secondments. Job shadowing. You never know where they might turn up. Just a word to the wise… though actually, in this case, I sent a postcard to the wise,” he smiled into Harry’s puzzled face. “Leave it with me.
“But come on, you two – let’s see what’s happening at Bedquarters.”
Johanna and Harry jumped down from their stools and followed Mr Phigg through the little door at the back of the kitchen. It was a fine morning again on the Slumber Downs and Bartram ran over to meet them when he saw them walking across the field.
It’s funny, thought Johanna, how normal all this seems now. Who would have imagined…
Going into Bedquarters they nearly fell over Simon. He was bent over one of the monitors, which was on the floor with its back off. He was twisting a screwdriver, with an air of determination. “I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “We keep losing signals and getting strange interference. I haven’t seen anything like it before.”
“How long has it been happening?” asked Mr Phigg.
“Just the last couple of days.”
He put the monitor back together and Johanna and Harry helped lift it back into place. There was a loud crackle and indistinct shapes spun around on the screen. Mr Phigg smacked the top of the monitor firmly with the flat of his hand and suddenly a clearer picture appeared. “There,” he said. “I don’t take any nonsense from machines.”
“It’s the Downs,” said Johanna, as the camera panned across green fields, with the sea in the distance.
“And there’s the windmill,” added Harry. Only its roof and sails could be seen behind a huge grey fence which had been built all around the site, protecting the building work which was clearly now well underway. As they watched, a gate swung open and security guards in dark uniforms checked over a huge bulldozer and a concrete-mixer truck which were waiting to get onto the site.
“But it shouldn’t be showing the windmill,” said Simon, adjusting the controls to no obvious effect. “It should be showing our fields. We know that windmill is very close to the join between the Greyworld and the Slumber Downs. But it’s definitely on the Greyfolk… sorry, children, nothing personal… it’s definitely on the Greyfolk side of the divide.”
“You said that funny things happen around those edges,” said Johanna. “I wonder whether all the digging that’s going on there is messing up the join and causing this interference – even if the builders don’t know they’re doing it.”
“I think that may be it,” said Mr Phigg. “You know, I’ve always had an odd feeling about all this windmill stuff. I still don’t know why, but there’s something not quite right about it.”
“Not quite right?” said Johanna, jumping up. She was furious. “It’s completely wrong. Look at the mess they’re making of the Downs – and when I think of those poor animals –”
“Yes, yes,” Mr Phigg interrupted, “I know all that – but that’s the sort of thing Greyfolk do. I’m talking about something else.”
That man! “I’m surprised you have anything to do with Harry and me, if we’re all so terrible.”
“Oh, Johanna, you two aren’t like that. But you know what I mean.”
“Now,” said Simon quickly, in an effort to defuse things. “Don’t you want to see what happened last night? I think I’ve got it working properly.”
“This is definitely worth seeing,” said Bartram, grinning.
Hmmm… Johanna’s curiosity got the better of her crossness.
“Oh, all right.”
Mr Phigg and the children gathered around the monitor. A familiar shot of the Shadowflock heading off to work filled the screen. The sheep were ambling along a country lane lined with trees and high hedges. They spotted Bartram in the middle of the crowd, butting the rear of the sheep in front with a sly flick of his head.
“Good shot,” said Harry.
“She’s so slow,” Bartram replied. “I kept treading on her heels.”
“Hush,” said Simon. “Now, watch this. Just as they were finishing for the night…”
The sheep had moved out onto more open ground and suddenly, as if from nowhere, four Night Mares thundered into view and circled around them. But there was no panic from the Flock: in what was clearly a practised manoeuvre they shaped up to the threat, with their outer circle alternating sheep who were facing inward with ones facing outward.
“I came up with this,” Bartram explained proudly. “The ones facing out can see what’s going on and they tell the ones facing in when to kick. The Night Mares aren’t sure what we’re doing and have kept their distance on the last couple of nights.” The horses were circling warily, snorting and stamping on the ground.
“Good stuff,” said Mr Phigg. “Looks like a stand-off.”
“Not quite,” said Bartram. “Watch.”
On the screen there were some new arrivals: a column of Soft Centaurs trotted into view. The first pair were playing trumpets, the second pair carried large wicker baskets full of rose petals which they scattered around them as they went along. Then came Norman in his fur-trimmed jacket. The centaurs moved in between the Night Mares and the Flock and circled in the opposite direction from the horses. Eventually Norman held up his hand as a signal to the centaurs to stop. They turned to face the Night Mares, who had also stopped and were waiting to see what would happen next.
“We’ve all had quite enough of you now, thank you very much,” said Norman. “It’s not as if people want bad dreams, you know. Off you go,” he waved his hand airily in their general direction, “back to your silly secret stable.”
The four Night Mares remained silent. Slowly, they walked together to stand in front of Norman, stopping in a line about five yards away from him. Then they all turned around so they were facing away from him.
“Be off with you,” Norman repeated, with a nervous edge to his voice now. “Go on.” Then suddenly his words changed into a high-pitched squawk. “Go awa-ahhh.” On some hidden signal the four horses had started kicking into the soft ground they were standing on. They were showering him with mud. They went on and on with their kicking until the squealing centaur was virtually covered in muck. Then they ran a few yards further away, turned and faced the centaurs, pawing the ground and whinnying.
“I… I…” Norman spluttered, “I think it might be wise to retreat now, gentlemen. Purely tactically, of course.” He turned and cantered off towards the woods on the skyline. The other centaurs quickly followed. And as soon as they were moving the Night Mares charged towards them. The retreat was soon a disordered rout – the centaurs galloping away as fast as they could, shrieking as they went, with the horses snapping at their tails and shoving them to encourage them on their way.
A moment later they had all disappeared into the trees, leaving the Shadow Flock open-mouthed and alone. Eventually, the screen showed Bartram shrug and say “Oh well. Time to go home, I think.”
The picture faded from the screen and the watchers stood for a moment in silence.
“At least they tried,” said Johanna, finally. “You do have to stand up to bullies.”
“But the bullies won,” said Harry. “That’s not supposed to happen. What are we going to do now?”
“I don’t know,” Mr Phigg replied. “We still need to reinforce our team, I suppose, but how?”
Molly and the other organisers had planned the march to the windmill carefully. They wanted to make as big an impression as they could: there would be music and dancing and – at Johanna’s suggestion – everyone was encouraged to wear fancy dress. The local TV station had said they would be filming. It was going to be a great day – but after being suspended Molly had decided she would have to stay at home.
Johanna and Harry had dusted off their favourite outfit from the old dressing-up box – a pantomime cow costume – and added some modifications. It now featured a painted placard on one side which read Let them eat grass and one on the other saying Moo-ve along now – no building on the windmill site. The children had tried it on before they went to bed and paraded around the house, mooing loudly.
At school the next day passed slowly.
As Mr Grundy explained, in great detail, how weather systems work and rainclouds are formed, Harry gazed anxiously out of the window, hoping that it would stay fine. Then he turned his attention to the clock above the teacher’s head, willing its hands to move more quickly. Mr Grundy smiled contentedly as the lesson proceeded: Harry was quiet, he was facing the front, and hadn’t asked a single disruptive question of the sort which were usually never far from his lips. He must be getting through to the boy at last…
When the bell finally rang Harry slammed his book shut and sprinted home to meet his sister and get changed. They had arranged to call in to see Molly on their way to the park where the marchers were assembling and where they’d meet their mum. After a routine dispute about who should have first go as the front half, the pantomime cow ambled down the road with Johanna in the lead.
“Splendid!” laughed Molly, as she greeted her black and white visitor. “I wish I was coming with you.”
“Then why don’t you?” asked Harry, emerging from the costume.
“We need as many people as we can get,” added Johanna.
“I know, I know,” said Molly, frowning. “And I hate to back away from a fight. But with this ridiculous suspension… I’m afraid I can’t take any chances. Anyway,” she added, deliberately bright, “you don’t need boring grown-ups like me alongside you when you’re decked out like this.”
“Do you think it will do any good?” asked Johanna. “Can we change their minds?”
“I don’t get the impression that Darby Ostler or Kenneth Mallender are going to see the light any time soon. And they do seem used to getting their own way. But if more and more people in the town come out against the project, like you’re doing, the Council might just take notice.
“Your costume is great. Give a big moo for me when you’re up there. Making people laugh is the best way of getting back at bullies, you know. If you’re trying to frighten people, the last thing you want is to be made to look ridiculous. Go on: you show them!”
Johanna and Harry reassembled the pantomime cow and headed off to the park – with Harry leading this leg of the journey.
There must have been five hundred people there already when they arrived. A whole horn section was assembled to lead the march and a steel band had their big drums laid out on a flatbed lorry which would bring up the rear. In between were all sorts of colourful costumes – pirates, superheroes, cowboys – with three ballerinas on tall stilts weaving in and out between them. The pantomime cow drew applause and some cheers as it took up its position in the line.
Their mum had taken Molly’s place as a steward. She was busy organising, wearing a jester’s cap above her yellow tabard. She waved to the children, then blew loudly on a whistle. The music started – and they were off. The sun was still shining and the hour it took them to walk out to the windmill passed quickly with songs and jokes and laughter. But a hush descended as they arrived at the site.
“I didn’t know it was going to be this big,” said Johanna.
The tall grey metal fence stretched out in front of them for about a quarter of a mile. The surface of the fence was completely smooth and featureless, and it was topped with rolls of shiny barbed wire. Every twenty yards or so a security camera pointed a dark eye out towards the marchers, swivelling whenever its operator saw something interesting.
“I don’t think they want anyone to climb in,” said Johanna.
“Or to break through that gate,” said Harry, pointing.
They had turned a corner and could now see the site’s main entrance. The gate was big and solid and firmly shut. There were several barriers in the road leading to it and an observation deck above it, where six security guards stood, in their now-familiar black uniforms, wearing helmets with full-face visors. Signs warned any approaching driver to stop to have their vehicle searched and to have their papers ready for inspection.
As they watched, the gate swung open and an enormous yellow bulldozer drove out, grass and soil smeared across its huge blade, the roar of its engine drowning out any sound from the now subdued marchers. The ground shook beneath their feet.
“Think how much damage they will have done already with that thing,” said Johanna, frowning.
Harry stuck his head out from the cow costume and watched the bulldozer rumble down the road. He sighed. “We’re not going to be able to stop them, are we?”
All around them the other marchers seemed to have run out of steam: the music had stopped, and their energy and enthusiasm drained away as they stared at the giant machine driving off from the site.
“Wait.” Harry pulled Johanna’s arm and pointed back to the gate, which the security guards were closing behind the bulldozer. “Did you see that?”
As they watched, the gate seemed to disappear, replaced by a view across a green field full of sheep to a ramshackle wooden building with a lopsided radar dish revolving on its roof…
“Bedquarters!” hissed Johanna.
But then it was gone, and they saw the gate slamming shut. It was as if someone had briefly flicked to a different TV channel and then immediately gone back to the one they were originally watching.
“It did that before,” said Harry quietly, before their mum came over and interrupted their conversation. She looked tired and her head was down.
“I think we’d better go now,” she said. “Everyone else seems to be.”
The marchers had started to straggle back towards the town.
“There’s no point, really, is there?” she said. “Look at the scale of this – the size of these walls, that bulldozer, all those guards. We can’t compete.”
“Don’t say that,” said Johanna. “People have got to stand up for what’s right. You’ve always told us that.”
“Don’t give up yet,” said Harry, putting the pantomime cow’s head back on. “We shall not be moo-ved.”
Their mum gave a small smile and walked along beside the cow, the bells on her jester’s cap jingling softly.
“What do you think was happening?” said Harry, next morning. “When we could see Bedquarters like that.”
“It must be all to do with this fault line,” Johanna replied. “The join with the Slumber Downs. It’s like the interference with the monitors at Bedquarters. There’s something going on at the windmill site that’s messing everything up. The Slumber Downs and our Downs are blurring into each other somehow.”
“Good thinking, Johanna: that sounds about right to me,” said a predictable voice.
Mr Phigg was juggling again: two satsumas this time, together with… a golden hamster.
“Mr Phigg!” Johanna was outraged. “You can’t do that – it’s cruel!”
“No, it isn’t,” said Mr Phigg, nonchalantly sending fruit and animal in a higher arc towards the ceiling.
Johanna was beside herself. “What do you mean… I can’t believe it… STOP!” she spluttered.
Mr Phigg smiled and finally brought his performance to a close, putting the satsumas and hamster onto the table one at a time.
“He likes it,” he said.
“Yes, I like it,” confirmed the hamster in a relaxed and rather squeaky voice.
“He’s our reinforcement,” explained Mr Phigg. “An old friend of mine. He comes from a whole family of tumbling hamsters: they’ve been airborne for generations.”
“The Flying Rodenti,” said the hamster, bowing to the children. “You may have heard of us,” he added, before executing a neat forward roll and then walking a few paces on his front paws.
“Err… no, I don’t think I have,” said Johanna.
“Well, allow me to introduce myself.” The hamster stood to attention on his back paws and clicked his heels. “The name is Derringer. Hoxton Derringer.” He held out a paw, which the startled children eventually realised they were supposed to shake.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Harry.
“How do you do?” said Johanna. “Hoxton is an unusual name.”
“And so is Derringer,” Harry added.
“Hoxton… Derringer…” Johanna repeated slowly.
“Have you quite finished?” the hamster squeaked, his fur bristling. “Perhaps we should analyse your names now.”
“It’s just that your name sounds all… rugged, like an action hero in a film. But you… but…” Oh, no. What can I say now? Johanna did not know how to finish her thought politely and Hoxton pounced.
“So, it was unusual for a hamster that you meant – wasn’t it? I suppose I should be used to that sort of prejudice by now, but when it comes out so blatantly… What makes you think a film star can’t be short and furry?”
“Um… Nothing. It’s just that I haven’t seen one like that before.”
“Exactly. We’ve never had the chance! All those bigoted casting directors, keeping us out of the spotlight ever since photography was invented. And you just go along with it.”
“Sorry,” said Johanna.
“Stop this persecution! Let my neglected species realise its potential!”
“Sorry,” said Johanna again.
“All right,” said Hoxton, “but watch it.” He wagged his paw at her sternly for a while before breaking into a broad grin. “Can I have some of your cereal as compensation?”
As the hamster helped the children finish their breakfast, they told Mr Phigg more about what had happened on the march.
“So, there has to be a link running through all this,” Johanna concluded. “The windmill, the Night Mares, the boundary of the Slumber Downs getting messed up… But what is it? We need to have a closer look at the building site and see what’s going on in there.”
“How can we?” asked Harry. “It’s so well protected – barbed wire, cameras, and all those scary guards – how could we get inside?”
“I wonder if Dr Solomon might be able to help,” said Mr Phigg.
“He’s an inventor. He comes up with all sorts of useful gadgets.”
Mr Phigg took his silver key from his pocket and waved it in the air. “Cuts my keys for me, too. We should pop down to Wiltshire to see him.”
“Hang on,” said Johanna. “Wiltshire? That’s, like, a hundred miles away.”
“Hang on,” said Mr Phigg, imitating her voice quite well. “Urr… Key?” he held it under her nose. “Gateway?” He pointed to the door. “There in no time? Which bit haven’t you understood yet?”
He turned and walked towards the little door at the back of the kitchen.
“He does usually get the transport right, I suppose,” said Hoxton, adding “Mind if I hitch a ride?” before running up Johanna’s arm and perching on her shoulder.
They all went through the little door and came straight out through an opening in an old mossy stone wall, which was set around a neat country garden. A path led up to the front of a long, single-storey building. A sign on its door read:
So they did.
Mr Phigg led the way up to a reception desk at the end of the hall, behind which an elegant Afghan Hound in a tight silk dress was making entries in a diary.
“Hello, Kim,” said Mr Phigg. “Is the Doc at home?”
The dog looked up over her small spectacles. “Good morning, Mr Phigg. How lovely to see you. I’m afraid Dr Solomon and Lawrence are in the middle of some sensitive research. They can’t be disturbed.” She raised a paw to her snout and lowered her voice. “They particularly said they needed peace and quiet.”
“That’s a shame,” said Mr Phigg. “Will they be long?”
At that point there was an enormous bang, a door at the other end of the corridor flew open, and a chimpanzee in a white lab coat rolled towards them through a cloud of smoke.
“I think your feet may be on fire, Lawrence,” said Mr Phigg.
The chimpanzee leapt up and swatted out the glowing embers on some tattered bits of cloth around his ankles.
“Ooh… aah…it stings,” he said. “That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“What was supposed to happen?”
“We were just talking, last night, and wondered why pop socks are called pop socks. Then the Doc said, ‘What if they did?’”
“It’s where a lot of his ideas come from,” Kim explained. “You can be talking to him about anything – the weather or your auntie or what you had for dinner – and suddenly he’s off at some strange angle, drawing diagrams and planning.”
A second figure emerged from the still smoky doorway and said: “The equations could probably have done with a bit more checking before we moved to the prototype of this one.”
It was a large buzzard with piercing eyes, a circle of white neck feathers setting off his sleek brown plumage. He was also wearing a lab coat – a tattered one with a number of holes burnt through – and a belt with hammers and spanners and other tools hanging off it. “Oh well, we won’t make the same mistake again.”
“Just some different ones, I expect,” said Lawrence, still rubbing his feet.
Then Mr Phigg introduced everyone to everyone else and they all went into Dr Solomon’s workshop for a glass of Kim’s homemade lemonade. Mr Phigg explained what had been happening and why they wanted to get into the windmill site, before concluding: “So, Doc, have you got any clever gadgets which might do the trick?”
“Let me see,” said Dr Solomon. “Covert entry… The HoverHat would get you over the wall but it’s a bit noisy… The WonderMiner could tunnel underneath…”
“But the guards might notice a six-foot hole opening up in front of them,” said Lawrence. “Isn’t this a job for the MetaWetter?”
Dr Solomon looked doubtful. “I don’t know about that – we’re still testing it.”
“But you always say that we can only go so far in the workshop and that things need a trial in the field. And the MetaWetter is specifically designed for a field, after all.”
“What does a MetaWetter do?” asked Johanna.
“Come and have a look.”
Dr Solomon got up and led them to the other end of the workshop. There was a square frame, about six feet high, covered in canvas. They could see a shower-head mounted on the top of the frame and pointing inwards.
Johanna pulled a flap of canvas to one side and looked in.
“A portable shower – is it for camping?”
“Yes, it was, originally,” said Dr Solomon, “But we’ve made a few modifications.” He pointed inside to the controls. “We took the thermostat out –”
“So the water’s always cold,” added Lawrence.
“– but we’ve put in some interesting options instead.”
Johanna read out the settings on the dial. “Shorter Water… Grow Flow… No Show. What does all that mean?”
“The first one makes you smaller, the second one makes you bigger, and the third one makes you invisible.”
“Really?” asked Harry excitedly.
“Really,” said Dr Solomon, “but no more than ten minutes at a time. We haven’t been able to make it last any longer than that.”
“That should do nicely,” said Mr Phigg. “Can we borrow it?”
Dr Solomon frowned. “We really haven’t finished the testing yet. Something odd might happen.”
“Isn’t that the idea?” asked Hoxton. “If nothing odd is going to happen, it won’t be working. I’ll be happy to give the Grow Flow a try – purely in the interests of science, you understand. And when an inventor hasn’t got a guinea-pig, a hamster’s not a bad alternative, you know.”
“Go on,” said Mr Phigg.
“Please,” said Johanna.
“Pleeeeeeease,” Harry added.
“Oh, all right, then. But Lawrence will have to come along to keep an eye on things. And we’ve only got enough mixture for one shot on each setting. So no fun and games, Hoxton. We’ll do a few more tests, then pack it up. You can collect it on Tuesday.”
Mr Phigg and Hoxton dropped into the kitchen the following morning, but there wasn’t much time to talk because the children were going out for Sunday lunch with their parents at Molly’s house.
“I can’t wait till we get the MetaWetter,” said Harry. “But is there anything more we could be doing now?”
“Remember that tomorrow’s the day the Council’s going to give its decision on the planning application,” said Johanna.
“Well, we all know what the decision’s going to be, don’t we?”
“I know. But we don’t have to just let things happen. We should take the initiative.”
At that point their mum shouted down again, making even louder time-to-smarten-yourselves-up noises than she had ten minutes before.
“We’d better go,” said Mr Phigg to Hoxton.
“Come back and have a word before bed-time, will you,” said Johanna. “I’ve got an idea.”
After their two friends had gone out through the little door, the children finally went upstairs to get ready.
As you would expect, the conversation at Molly’s over lunch often turned to the windmill site and all the efforts to stop the development there. Molly thought that things were not looking good…
“It seems the Council always follows Ostler’s recommendations. So I’m sure they will tomorrow. However many people we might send marching up there, they’ll just end up staring at those big grey walls, wondering what to do next.”
“But we can’t give up!” said Johanna. “Can’t we appeal?”
Molly sighed. “Yes. But it will take months and cost a lot of money. I’ve come to realise that we’re dealing with some very powerful people here.”
“I hate ’em,” said Harry, shaking his fist.
“I’m not too keen on them myself,” said Molly with a smile. “Come on: let’s change the subject. How’s school?”
“Uh-oh,” said Harry’s father.
“It’s terrible. I hope you can come back soon. It’s not the same without you. First we had Mr Grundy,” Harry paused to shudder dramatically, “then we had some weird supply teacher.”
“We had a supply teacher on Friday too,” said Ben, “when Mrs Cowdry was ill.” Ben was in the class below at Harry’s school. “This one was strange. Mr Winkle, he was called. He was little with a funny bald head –”
“Now, that’s not his fault, Ben,” Molly chided.
“He made us all stand up when he came in and we had to say ‘Good morning, Brother’ to him. He was all strict and stopped everyone talking, but then he did some brilliant magic tricks with a pack of cards and took an egg out of Lucy’s ear. He taught us a load of stuff about animals. He was cool, really.”
Harry caught his sister’s eye. “Wrong class,” he said bitterly.
“What was that, Harry?” asked Molly.
“The wrong… classification of animals… you have to avoid it. I expect Mr Winkle would have said that to Ben’s class.”
“Hmmm. I have no idea what you’re talking about, Harry. Now, who would like some more crumble?”
Back at home that evening the children lingered downstairs in their dressing gowns until Mr Phigg and Hoxton appeared and Johanna was able to explain her plan to them…
– o O o –
Next day, after school, Johanna and Harry met up to walk home together. The billboard for the local paper outside the newsagents read Green Light For Windmill Farm.
“As we thought,” said Johanna. “Oh dear.” But as she looked at her brother, they both began to smile.
After they had had their tea they sat down with their mum to watch the local television news.
“… and in Brashleigh-on-Sea the news that a major industrial development can proceed was overshadowed by events at a news conference to promote it. Brashleigh Council told food magnate, Kenneth Mallender, today that his plans for a massive farm and processing plant on the edge of the town can go ahead – bringing much-needed investment to the area with the creation of hundreds of new jobs. Objections from environmentalists and animal welfare groups have all been overruled. But when a happy Kenneth Mallender spoke to journalists, things did not go entirely as planned…”
The picture shifted to show Mr Mallender on a platform talking to a room full of people with microphones and cameras and notebooks.
“… so I am very glad to play my part in boosting the economy of Brashleigh,” he smiled broadly, “and in helping its citizens fill their hungry tummies.” He patted his own well-padded stomach.
“Yeuchh,” said Johanna. “They’re more likely to empty them if he carries on like that.”
“Any further questions, ladies and gentlemen?” asked Mr Mallender on the screen.
“Just one, if I may.” The camera turned to a journalist in a trenchcoat and a trilby. “Liston Biggles here, radio news. What have you got to say about the persistent reports you will have heard of mice and other rodents being found in your products?”
“What reports?” spluttered Mallender. “I have heard nothing of the sort.”
“That’s not what people tell me. My source suggested you put mice in deliberately.”
“For the flavour, they said.”
“This is a complete fabrication!”
“Because otherwise your food doesn’t taste of much.”
“This is slanderous! I won’t have it!”
Two hefty security guards could be seen bearing down on Liston Biggles, who shouted “There’s one, now!” and pointed to the platform. The camera caught something golden-brown and furry scuttling across the papers spread out on a table. Kenneth Mallender made a desperate lunge forward to try to catch the whatever-it-was, but it ran up his arm and on to the top of his head. The animal paused for a moment there, seemingly waiting for the volley of flashes which duly came from cameras in the audience. Then it ran down Mallender’s other arm and leapt off the edge of the table, performing a somersault in mid-air before landing on the floor and disappearing behind a large potted plant.
The TV picture then moved back to the studio where the newscaster took up the story, with a large still photo of the animal on Mallender’s head on the screen behind her.
“… despite a thorough search, no trace could be found of the animal – which experts at the University of Brashleigh believe may in fact be a hamster, rather than a mouse. And further mystery surrounds Mr Mallender’s challenger, the man who called himself ‘Liston Biggles’. There is no accredited journalist with that name and he also disappeared without trace in the confusion after the animal was spotted. Brashleigh Police say they will investigate, but it is not obvious that any crime has been committed.
“Meanwhile, in other news –”
Mrs Blake clicked off the remote control.
“Well,” she laughed. “Poor Kenneth Mallender. Just what he deserved. I’m not sure how much ‘natural goodness’ there might be in a hamster – but it’s probably a little bit more than there is in him, or his pies.”
Johanna and Harry gave a round of applause to that verdict, followed by an impromptu jig around the living room.
Shortly after the children got home from school the next day, Mr Phigg ushered them through the little door at the back of the kitchen to join a council of war at Bedquarters.
Simon, Mabel, Bartram and Hoxton were watching Lawrence fiddling with the wiring of the computers. “No,” he said, as he screwed the last panel back into place. “It’s all as it should be – as you’d expect with one of the Doc’s systems, of course. The problems you’ve been having are definitely coming in from outside.”
“It must be the windmill site,” said Johanna. “It would be too much of a coincidence otherwise – the timing, the positioning, those glimpses of the Slumber Downs from our world.”
“So the real question,” said Simon, “is whether it’s just chance that the Greyfolk are digging in a sensitive spot, or whether there’s something more sinister going on.”
“Something which is probably to do with the Night Mares,” added Johanna.
“That’s what I think,” said Mr Phigg. “But I still can’t see what the connection could be. Kenneth Mallender’s a nasty enough piece of work, but how could he have anything to do with them? He doesn’t strike me as the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer…”
“You two certainly made him look silly yesterday,” said Harry. “Well done, Hoxton.”
The hamster smiled. “Thank you. Well done to Johanna for thinking of it. It was good fun – except that it took me ages to get my paws clean afterwards. He wears something horribly sticky on his hair.”
“So, what are the Night Mares doing?” asked Simon. “Night after night they are getting bolder and bolder and the number of bad dreams is just going up and up. Mabel?”
She pressed some buttons and the map lit up, noticeably brighter than the last time, with a dark red concentration around Brashleigh.
“All the more reason for us to get into the site and find out what’s going on. And now we’ve got the MetaWetter,” Mr Phigg pointed to a surprisingly small rucksack leaning against the wall, “we can do it.”
“When?” asked Harry.
“Tomorrow evening: there’s no point hanging around when things are getting worse all the time. We’ll go in as soon as it gets dark – the builders will have packed up for the day and things should be pretty quiet.”
“And who is going in?” asked Harry. “It’s not fair if we can’t come with you, this time.”
“You’ll need some Greyfolk with you – we’ll be more at home there,” said Johanna.
Mr Phigg looked the children up and down and frowned. “I suppose so, though we don’t know what we’re going to find in there.”
“But not knowing that is the whole reason why we’re going in,” said Johanna, logically.
“And they better not mess with me,” added Harry, shadow-boxing as he spoke and throwing some hefty looking punches.
“All right,” said Mr Phigg. “Harry, Johanna, Hoxton and me will go into the site. It will be a normal working night for the Shadowflock, so Simon and Mabel will need to be here at Bedquarters. But can you spare Bartram, Simon?”
“Oh, yes,” the old sheep nodded. “Just for one night. Some of the rest of the Flock will be glad of a break. It’s when he and Arthur get together these days…” Then he stopped and waited until Bartram had put his tongue back inside his mouth. “We’ll manage.”
“Good,” said Mr Phigg. “So, Bartram and Lawrence will form our back-up team. They’ll guard the MetaWetter, keep in touch with us and with Bedquarters, and sort out any problems there might be. I’ll wear that camera on my head again. It can send pictures back here in real time, so everyone will know how we’re getting on. Are we agreed?”
“Good. It all seems pretty straightforward to me. Is there anything else?”
“Hmmm,” said Johanna. “It’s not that straightforward. I think we need a bit of planning for some of the things that might go wrong.”
“Do you really?”
“Yes,” said Johanna, firmly, and explained the sort of things she had in mind and what they ought to do about them.
“Well, you never know,” said Mr Phigg when she’d finished. “Better safe than sorry, I suppose. That all sounds fine.”
“Good work, Johanna,” said Lawrence and she smiled back at him, pinkly.
“Isn’t someone going to say something rousing now, like ‘All for one and one for all’?” asked Hoxton.
“No, I don’t think I am,” Mr Phigg replied, “but you can if you want to.”
“Okay,” said Hoxton, drawing himself up to his full height of four and a half inches and raising a foreleg to the heavens. “All for one and one for all!”
“Go get ’em, tiger,” said Mabel.
And that was that – or so they thought.
“… it will be a cool and largely clear night over most of the country, although the odd shower may make its presence felt. Tomorrow will dawn bright and sunny –”
Harry turned the television off when his mum had gone upstairs. The children were sitting in the kitchen in their dressing gowns, watching the clock edge slowly on.
“Pssst,” said an urgent voice behind them.
“All clear,” said Johanna and Mr Phigg stepped into the room. He was dressed in black once more, complete with balaclava and gloves. His face, in contrast, was completely white.
“What is it?” said Johanna, jumping up in alarm.
“It’s Bartram. He’s gone missing.”
“I don’t know: it’s really strange. He’s nowhere on the Slumber Downs and he hasn’t gone out through any of the gateways. We’d know if he had. Get yourselves ready as quick as you can and we’ll get up to Bedquarters and try to find out what’s going on.”
The children took off their dressing gowns, rolled down the legs of the dark trousers they were wearing underneath and slipped their boots on. Mr Phigg handed them each a balaclava and a pair of gloves. He looked them up and down and nodded grimly.
They all went out through the little door at the back of the kitchen and walked quickly across the field to Bedquarters.
Arthur was inside, talking to Simon and Mabel.
“We’ve got a lead, Phigg,” said Simon. “Arthur here seems to have been the last to see Bartram.”
“It was about the middle of the afternoon,” said Arthur. “We were up in the top field. Right in the corner, behind the nettles, there’s a particularly nice patch of clover… juicy, but enough body for a decent chew and –”
“Yes, yes, all right,” Mr Phigg interrupted. “We’re not all connoisseurs like you. What happened?”
“Well, I was just tidying up the top end and Bartram was down the bottom of the patch, rootling under the hedge for new shoots. We were chatting away until I suddenly realised he wasn’t.”
“Wasn’t what?” asked Johanna.
“Chatting,” said Arthur. “It was when I’d asked three times if there were any of the nice pink flowers down there and still got no answer. Then I thought he was hiding.”
“Why would he do that?” Mr Phigg asked.
“To jump out and give me a shock. We like to do that sort of thing, you know. Anyway, I just strolled down casually and said: ‘You can’t fool me, Bartram. I can see you.’ But I couldn’t really – he wasn’t anywhere.”
“Did you notice anything unusual?” asked Johanna. “Was there anything out of the ordinary?”
“Well, yes, there was – though I might have imagined it. Just as I was looking at the hedge it seemed like the air…flickered and for a moment I could see right through into a different field, with a big grey fence at the far end. Then the hedge was there again, solid as usual. Do you think I imagined it?”
“No, I don’t,” said Johanna firmly. “Harry and I have seen the same thing, but from the other side.”
“From the Greyworld. That’s what you saw. A gap opened up again between here and there.”
“And if it did,” said Mr Phigg, nodding, “what if Bartram went through and… and…”
“And got stuck in our world when the gap closed up again.”
They looked at each other in horror.
“How can we find out?” asked Johanna.
“Are the monitors still acting up, Mabel?” asked Mr Phigg.
“Yes – we’re picking up that windmill every now and then. Let me run back the footage from this afternoon.” She found the right set of recordings and ran them through at high speed. Occasionally the views of the Slumber Downs were interrupted by flashes of the windmill and its perimeter fence. Mabel slowed the film down at those points, but nothing seemed to be happening except a lorry going in and out from the site.
“Wait a minute!” Harry shouted suddenly. “Zoom in there.” He pointed to a small white speck on the screen.
Mabel did and there, unmistakably, was Bartram, walking across the field towards the perimeter fence. As they watched, the site gate opened and a black jeep drove out. A figure in the jeep pointed towards Bartram and the jeep veered off the road and across the field towards him. Bartram immediately started running in the opposite direction, but the jeep was too fast for him. He zigzagged to and fro trying to get away, but the jeep always kept up with him. Then two figures stood up in the back of it and held something out between them.
“It’s a net!” gasped Johanna. “Oh, run, Bartram, run!”
But it was too late. The dark figures threw the net up and out of the jeep so that it fell down over Bartram. He tripped and rolled over, becoming completely entangled. The jeep stopped. The two figures got out, picked up the net and the sheep, and got back in. The jeep drove back to the gate and into the windmill site.
“Oh, no!” said Johanna. “But why would they want to do that?” She looked at her friends’ faces in turn, but no-one had an answer.
Mr Phigg shook his head. “I don’t know why. But what I do know is that we’re not just going in there for reconnaissance now: this is a rescue mission. Come on, there’s no time to lose. Lawrence and Hoxton are already down at the site waiting for us.”
“Hold on,” said Johanna as he headed for the door. “Remember our plans: we need Bartram. We can’t do this without a sheep.”
Mr Phigg stopped and looked back, crestfallen. “You’re right. What do we do now?”
“Ahem,” Arthur coughed quietly.
“I’m a sheep. Will I do?”
“Oh, Arthur,” said Johanna and gave him a squeeze. “Thank you very much.”
They carefully explained what they needed him to do, then made some final adjustments to their costumes.
Mr Phigg led a curious-looking band out of Bedquarters and across to the door in the hillside. Arthur’s white fleece was black now, after a good coating of hair dye. Johanna and Harry had black face paint smeared below their balaclavas. So did Mr Phigg, who had also strapped his camera to his forehead.
At the door he took out his silver key, breathed on it and then polished it on his sleeve. “I’ve got to get this one just right: we don’t want to end up in the crack between the two sets of Downs.”
“Ah,” he said, as they stepped out into dense undergrowth, “not quite where I was expecting.”
He led them down a series of increasingly narrow and more winding pathways, all overgrown with ferns and creepers. They seemed to double back on themselves several times, as if they were going in circles. Johanna was just about to ask if Mr Phigg knew where they were when they pushed their way through some particularly thick, brambly branches and popped out at the bottom of a tall hedge. At the other end of the field was the grey fence of the Windmill Farm site. The gate was about two hundred yards away.
“Over here,” hissed a voice and they turned to see Lawrence with the MetaWetter, behind a large oak tree. Lawrence had swapped his lab coat for a set of dark overalls. “Where on earth have you been?”
“And where’s Bartram?” asked Hoxton, who was standing on Lawrence’s shoulder. “Though it’s always a pleasure to see you, Arthur, of course…”
Mr Phigg quickly explained what had happened, then called the children to him. He pulled the shower curtain to one side and got into the MetaWetter. “Now, this is going to be a bit cosy to start with,” he said as Johanna and Harry squeezed in next to him.
“It’s already set to Shorter Water,” said Lawrence. “Just turn the tap on.”
Mr Phigg did – and Johanna and Harry were astonished by what happened next. A jet of icy water poured on to them, but even before they were able to gasp in shock they felt a strange warmth all around their bodies, deep in their bones. And, although the water had hit them, they somehow weren’t wet. A moment later the walls of the MetaWetter seemed to hurtle out away from them at enormous speed. But then the movement stopped and the corner of a now gigantic shower curtain flicked open – and they realised that they had shrunk.
“Well, you’re still taller than me,” said Hoxton, hopping into the shower to join them. “The effect’s not thatimpressive.”
Mr Phigg put an arm around the hamster’s shoulders and said “Hush – or we’ll give you a spray of something too.”
Then the curtain was pulled fully open and Lawrence’s enormous hairy hand picked them up one at a time and placed them onto Arthur’s back. “This will be the quickest way of getting you across to the gate,” he said, “and we had assumed a sheep wouldn’t attract much attention here on the Downs. But after what happened to Bartram…”
“It’s still our best bet,” said Johanna. “Let’s go.”
“Hold on tight,” said Arthur and they all lay flat on his back, grabbing handfuls of his thick, dark wool. He trotted purposefully across the field and then stopped to let them off, just along the fence from the gate.
“When I give the signal,” said Mr Phigg, and he, Hoxton and the children edged along the fence until they were just next to the gate, but still hidden in the shadows. Then he raised his arm.
Arthur had gone a few yards further back into the field. On the signal he unleashed a volley of the loudest baa-ing the children had ever heard. There was a scrambling inside the gate and a shocked “What the –?” from one of the guards. Then searchlights played across the field till they fixed on Arthur, who gave one more baa for good measure before ambling away. “Wretched sheep!” said the guard.
“Do we need another one?” said a different voice.
“Oh, no. Not now. Apart from anything else, I’ve just made a cup of tea.” The lights clicked off again.
Meanwhile, the four small intruders had slipped through the gate unseen and were inside the farm site. They regrouped behind a builders’ hut, out of sight from the gate.
“Right,” said Mr Phigg, pulling his gold watch from his waistcoat. “Just another couple of minutes and we’ll be back to normal size. Then we can have a proper look around. Lawrence said it wouldn’t last as long doing three of us at the same time.”
As he spoke, the children suddenly felt the strange warm feeling again, spreading out from the middle of their bones, reaching all round their bodies in a moment – and then the ground was shooting rapidly away from their startled eyes.
“Whoah!” said Mr Phigg, shaking himself. “That was bracing. Johanna… Harry…” He touched the tops of the children’s heads, which were now back at their normal distance from the ground. “Where’s Hoxton?”
“Here,” squeaked a high voice from down between their feet. He scampered up Mr Phigg’s leg and squeezed into a waistcoat pocket. “I know my place.”
They started to explore, in the faint light filtering back from the floodlights by the gate.
“There’s so much here already,” said Johanna. “How have they built it so quickly?”
“They can’t have waited for the formal decision,” said Mr Phigg. “Someone at the Council has bent the rules to let this happen. But, anyway – what do you think they’ve done with young Bartram?”
There were two long, low buildings stretching out in front of them, each about fifty yards in length. At the far end, between them, and in front of the old windmill, was a taller, three-storey block: they could see some lights on in its upstairs windows.
“That’s interesting,” said Mr Phigg. “Somebody’s home up there. But let’s have a look at these blocks first.” He went up to the door of the nearest building. A sign above it read TURKEYS. “Fancy some Tasties now, Harry?” he asked, turning the handle. Harry snorted briefly in response.
Once they were inside Mr Phigg produced a small torch from his pocket and shone a light in front of them. The building was still a shell: the walls were all in place but the builders had only just started to install the fittings and machinery.
They walked down a long central corridor. “There’ll be cages all along here for the poor birds,” said Mr Phigg. Then the corridor opened out into a bigger space. “This will be the start of the processing part… and I’m afraid the processing won’t start in a very pleasant way.”
Johanna shivered. “It’s horrible,” she said.
“Oh, it will be,” said Mr Phigg.
They carried on walking into another big room.
“There’ll be a conveyor belt through here, I guess, making the fascinating journey from Turkey to Tasty,” said Mr Phigg. “Then there’ll be packaging and…” He pushed some side doors open and looked in. “Yes – this will be for freezing and storage.” They carried on walking and eventually came out into a bigger space with a huge metal door across the whole of its end wall. “And here’s the dispatch area: they’ll back big lorries up to that door and send the stuff off all around the country.”
“It’s huge,” said Johanna as they retraced their steps back to the front door of the building. “Huge and scary.”
“And there’s another one like this next door,” said Mr Phigg. He turned off his torch and they went outside and crossed over to the second building. “It looks exactly the same, from the outside.”
They came up to the front door and read the sign above it: MUTTON.
“Ah,” said Mr Phigg quietly, “this is starting to make sense.”
He grimaced as he met Johanna’s wide-eyed stare.
“What is?” asked Harry. “Why? What’s mutton?”
“It’s meat,” his sister replied, stony-voiced. “Meat that you get from sheep.” She grabbed the door handle and led the way into the building, then pulled up sharp as she saw what was inside.
“Oh, no!” she said. “This block is finished.”
In the beam from Mr Phigg’s torch they saw long rows of bare metal cages lining a stark, white-tiled corridor.
“Do you think Bartram…” Harry began, but his voice trailed away.
“All the cages here are empty,” his sister replied.
The corridor opened into a wide room and Johanna gasped, tears welling into her eyes. An array of machinery: shining steel, sharp hooks and vicious-looking blades, conveyor belts and chains. It was obvious what would happen here and she didn’t want to think about exactly how it would happen…
“It all looks finished. Do you think they’ve already… used it?”
“No,” said Mr Phigg firmly. “It’s much too clean and tidy. Don’t worry.”
He ushered the children quickly through into the next room. Belts and machinery and huge waiting rolls of card and plastic showed that this was the packaging area. Everything was pristine and unused. They looked behind and underneath the various machines and packaging: again, no sign of life.
But just as they were moving through into the dispatch area, they heard a plaintive baa. The torchlight found a small steel cage, to one side of the main doors out of the building. And in the middle of the small steel cage stood a very sad-looking sheep.
“Bartram!” shouted Johanna and Harry together and ran over to him. They reached through the bars to touch him and he nuzzled their hands.
“Thank goodness!” he said. “I’ve been hoping so hard you’d still come this evening. I’ve been thinking all the time that… that…” He swallowed hard. “That something might happen.”
“Well we’ve happened now,” said Mr Phigg, as his silver key made short work of the padlock on the cage door and Bartram trotted out into their waiting arms.
“But how did I ever get here?” he asked at length. “I was hanging out with Arthur in our field. I lost my footing somehow and slipped under the hedge. Then I just kept falling – it was such a weird feeling – falling and falling till I rolled out underneath a tree across the field from this place.”
“It’s all getting worse and worse,” said Mr Phigg. “The boundary between the Greyworld and the Slumber Downs is shifting, with new gateways opening and closing. It’s a mess – and we’ve got to put a stop to it somehow.”
“So, let’s get out of this horrible building and find a way of doing it,” said Johanna. She bent down and pulled the sliding door up far enough for Hoxton to get underneath and check there was nobody nearby.
“All clear,” he squeaked.
“I didn’t have much more time,” said Bartram with a shudder. “When they shut me in the cage the guards were talking about running a test tomorrow morning and then laughing about ‘free samples’. And one of them said he knew what he was going to bring in at lunchtime…”
“What was that?” asked Johanna.
“A big jar of mint sauce.”
Once outside, they walked on towards the taller block beyond the factory buildings.
“I wonder what’s going on up there,” said Johanna, looking at the lighted windows on the top floor.
“There’s a fire escape here,” said Harry, pointing to a ladder at the side of the building. “So we can go up and see.” He climbed on Mr Phigg’s shoulders and clambered on to the bottom rung of the ladder, then Johanna followed. Together, they hauled Mr Phigg and Hoxton up to join them.
With Bartram keeping a lookout below, the others went up the ladder as quietly as they could and peered inside. It was a richly furnished apartment. Beyond some thick, red, brocade curtains – which fortunately had not been closed – they saw a white-carpeted room, lit by an enormous chandelier. There were gloomy old oil paintings on the wall, interspersed with the stuffed heads of animals. A large oak dining table was set for just one diner.
Kenneth Mallender sat in front of a platter piled high with Turkey Tasties. He was eating them quickly with his fingers, cramming more and more into his mouth, while the greasy juices ran down his chin onto a white napkin that was knotted around his neck.
“Come on, come on, you old fool” they could heard him say, through the churning food. “Up and down here, where I can see it properly.”
As they watched, a formally-dressed butler in a tailcoat and wing collar came into view. He was pushing a wheelbarrow and walked slowly back and forth with it, on the opposite side of the table from his master. The wheelbarrow was filled to overflowing with bundles of crisp-looking banknotes and shiny coins.
“That’s better,” said Mallender. “It’s mine, you know… mine… all mine…”
Mr Phigg nudged the children and motioned for them to follow him back down the ladder. Once they were back on the ground, they stared at each other in astonishment.
“Yuck,” said Johanna, with feeling.
“Double yuck,” said her brother.
“Triple yuck,” said Hoxton, sticking his head out of the waistcoat pocket.
“Yuck is definitely the response,” Mr Phigg confirmed, “whatever its precise quantity.”
After they had described the scene upstairs to Bartram, Mr Phigg tried the handle of a door into the ground floor of the building, saying “Now, what else have we got here?” It opened and they went inside.
Out came Mr Phigg’s torch again, revealing a corridor lined with a series of doors on each side. They went along, looking briefly inside them. “Offices,” he said. “This must be the administrative area. Those stairs over there will go up to Mallender’s private quarters. But what about these stairs here?” He stopped at the top of a flight heading downwards. “Some sort of cellar, I suppose.”
A sign at the top of the stairs said Strictly Private – Keep Out. After they had gone a few steps down the beam of the torch caught another sign: Danger – Turn Back Now.
“Oh, in a for a penny…” said Mr Phigg with a smile. They carried on to the bottom of the stairs, passing Just How Many Times Do You Need Telling? on their way.
At the bottom they found a solid steel door, with a circular handle.
“It’s like in submarines,” said Harry, “in films.”
Mr Phigg nodded. “Yes, when they want to keep something airtight. I wonder why it’s here.”
He tried to turn the handle. “Locked.”
“Had we better go back upstairs?” Johanna asked.
“Not just yet,” said Mr Phigg, producing his silver key with a smile. “Always worth a try…” He fiddled with a lock mechanism for a while, then suddenly said “Ah-ha” and spun the handle round to the open position. The door swung away from them and they went through, immediately feeling a sharp drop in the temperature.
“Brrr…” said Mr Phigg, followed by “Goodness me” as his torch played around the room they had entered.
It was a very large, completely circular chamber with bare stone walls. All around the edge were a series of twenty or thirty stalls with open wooden doors, each stall lined with straw and having its own stone feeding trough.
“Curious…” said Mr Phigg. “I can’t see Mallender branching into horsemeat, not in England, anyway… plus, it’s a bit comfortable, by his standards… and why is it hidden underground…?”
“Look here,” said Johanna. There was a passageway between two of the stalls which opened out into a room behind, with desks and computers and a large map on the floor. “It’s just like Bedquarters.”
“Of course it is,” shouted Mr Phigg, clapping a hand to his forehead. “Of course it is! We’ve found the Round Stable – this is the Night Mares’ base.”
“But there’s nobody here,” said Johanna. “If the Night Mares have gone out from here to spread their bad dreams, then why isn’t that control room buzzing with people doing things, like Bedquarters is when the Flock are working?”
“Good point,” said Mr Phigg, pacing up and down and thinking. “They can’t have moved in yet. Somebody has been getting this new base ready for them – and it nearly is ready, by the looks of things – but they haven’t shifted over to using it just yet…
“But why here? And who’s behind it?”
Suddenly the chamber was filled with brilliant white light and Darby Ostler strode in, at the front of a column of black-clad guards with their dark visors down, hiding their faces. The Council’s Planning Director was dressed in a matching black uniform, with military-style epaulettes on his shoulders and high leather boots, polished to a brilliant shine.
“You disappoint me, Sherlock,” he said to Mr Phigg. “I thought you’d have all the answers by now.”
He turned to the guards. “Cuff them,” he said curtly, “then you may go. Leave these intruders with me.”
Within seconds, Mr Phigg, Johanna and Harry’s hands were tied firmly behind them with thick sticky tape. Then a rope was looped through their bonds and around Bartram’s neck and secured to a sturdy metal ring in the stable wall.
Johanna pulled against the tight tape and wriggled every way she could. The edges of the tape were sharp and dug painfully into her wrists. Ouch! Damn them. Ouch! It was no good. They would not be going anywhere for a while…
The security guards tramped back up the stairs. Moments later four sleek black cats slunk into the room and timidly pressed themselves up against the far wall.
“Yes, yes – come in, you useless rabble,” shouted Darby Ostler, as the cats flinched at the sound of his voice. “It’s always good to have an audience – even one as contemptible as you.” The cats shivered and seemed to be trying to sink into the floor.
“There’s no need to be so horrible,” said Johanna.
“Oh yes there is,” said Mr Ostler. “That’s how I am. And they’re Scaredy Cats – it’s their job to show me some respect.”
“Let’s get this straight,” said Mr Phigg. “You keep these poor cats around just so you can enjoy seeing them cringe?”
“Oh, they do some housework and a bit of book-keeping as well. But grovelling is what they’re best at. And I do like to have folk grovelling in front of me.” He smiled broadly at his captives. “It will be your turn next.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” shouted Harry. “We’re not scared of you!”
“Well, you should be. I suggest, little boy, that you pause and reflect on the helplessness of your position: you can’t escape, no-one knows you’re here, and I’m a very unpleasant man. Don’t you think a few tears and a little grovelling might be in order?”
“Pah!” snorted Harry. “We’re not beaten yet, you creep. Just you wait!”
Ostler paced up and down for a while silently before stopping in front of Harry. He bent down, put his face right in front of Harry’s and kept it there.
“Well, I waited. And nothing happened. I don’t think anything’s going to happen, do you?”
Then he walked up and down for a few moments more, stopping in front of Mr Phigg.
“I expect you were feeling pleased with yourself,” he sneered. “Getting in here, working out some of what’s going on. Even liberating this scrawny excuse for a sheep on the way.” He gestured dismissively at Bartram. “Typical! But you needn’t have bothered – there’ll be a lot more joining him very shortly, I can tell you.”
Then he leant forward and pulled the camera off Mr Phigg’s head. “Let’s get rid of that, shall we?” He dropped it on the floor and crushed it under the heel of his boot. “That’s better. You’re not going to need any souvenirs where you’re going. Now, shall I tell you the rest of the story?”
“Yes, please, Master,” chorused the Scaredy Cats, as if on cue, “please tell us the story.
“Shut up, you morons! I’m talking.” He turned back to Mr Phigg and the children. “Yes, I am the leader of the Night Mares and, yes, this is the new location of the Round Stable. But do you know why we are moving here?”
“Well, I did hear your old neighbours weren’t that keen on you. Was there a petition?” suggested Mr Phigg.
“Imbecile! You have no idea what is happening! The Night Mares’ power and influence has already been increasing, as I am sure you have noticed – but that is only the start. Imagine what it will be like when we’re here in the Greyworld all the time.”
“But you’re not going to get away with it,” said Johanna.
“No. It’s not just us you have to deal with.”
Ostler stared at her in mock surprise. “Oh… oh dear… I’m terrified…. the cavalry are waiting behind the ridge, are they?” He laughed harshly.
“That pathetic Shadowflock, I suppose you mean – your woolly-backed and woolly-minded little friends. Lulling people off to their cosy and comfortable slumbers, night after night – and getting nothing back in return. What is the point of that? We hate the Shadowflock, don’t we?”
“Yes, Master, we do,” chorused the Scaredy Cats.
“We hate them and we’re putting them out of business. That’s why the new stable is here, on the Downs. Very soon, Bedquarters will be mine. Just think how frightening it will be: people lying awake deep into the night, trying to summon their sweet familiar vision of woolly visitors – but nothing comes. Instead, their worst fears are dropped repeatedly into their minds by my black beauties. They’ll be terrified, living in a waking nightmare.”
“But, why would you want to do that?” asked Johanna. “It’s cruel.”
“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” said Ostler proudly. “But there’s a practical purpose too: once you’ve got people scared, it’s very easy to make them do what you want.
“ISN’T IT?” he roared suddenly, spinning around.
“Yes, Master,” said the Scaredy Cats, quivering. “Oh, yes!”
Ostler’s voice was quiet again. “I shall be elected Mayor of Brashleigh-on-Sea shortly. A Night Mayor, you might say.” The Scaredy Cats snickered dutifully. “And from there I shall move into national politics. I will be Prime Minister within five years.”
“But don’t you have a Plan B,” said Johanna, with a strange emphasis. “We all need a Plan B.”
“What are you talking about?” said Ostler crossly. “My plan can’t fail – I don’t need any alternative.”
“The Master knows, you know,” sang the Scaredy Cats and did a little shuffling dance routine.
“Once Bedquarters is under my control –” Ostler continued.
“But what will happen to the Shadowflock?” Johanna interrupted anxiously, the memory of the sign on the second factory building above them suddenly sharp in her mind. “What are you going to do?”
“Oh, yes,” grinned Ostler. “I haven’t told you the best part of the story yet. The sweetener which clinched the deal with that idiot Mallender. It persuaded him to build his factory farm just here, where I wanted him.”
“A huge supply of free mutton for his new range of traditional country pies.”
“Tender meaty flavour – pure taste with no waste,” sang the Scaredy Cats, to the tune of Kenneth Mallender’s TV jingle.
“We’re tougher than you think,” said Bartram quietly.
Ostler leapt in the air and squawked in surprise. “It talked… it talked… it… ha ha ha ha…” He hugged himself with pleasure. “Oh this is just too good – I’ve captured one of them already and I didn’t know it!”
“You monster!” shouted Johanna.
“Why, thank you,” preened Ostler. “I do my best. My father always told me that to get on in life you need to make sure people either like you or are scared of you – and, as the old toad kept saying, there’s never been much chance of people liking me. I soon found that out at school, you know… I was only there for a fortnight before I was tied to the top of the bell tower for six hours. After that, I focused on fear…”
Ostler was suddenly conscious that he had lost his audience. The children were staring at Mr Phigg – and the same thought was chiming in all their brains. “Bell tower…” said Mr Phigg, “six hours… I knew I’d seen you before somewhere… you’re Peaky Derbyshire!”
“Has it really taken you this long to work that out, Phiggles? You always were on the slow side, weren’t you – I never understood why people at school found you so interesting.”
“Peaky?” asked Harry.
“Yes,” said Mr Phigg. “We heard his mother asking one of the monks if he could be excused from games because he was ‘feeling a little peaky’ and it sort of stuck. Then we went on a geography trip to the Peak District and that was that. Never called him anything else afterwards. When did you change your name again, then, Peaky?”
“Don’t call me that! Ostler seemed apt when I took on the Night Mares. So I used that name when I got the job with Brashleigh Council… and my whole wonderful plan fell perfectly into place.”
“You’re so clever, Master,” said the Scaredy Cats.
“Yes, I am, aren’t I?” said Ostler proudly. “And now it’s payback time for has-beens like you, Phiggles. Actually, you’re more of a never-was. Don’t you want to know what I’ve got in store for you and your meddling little friends?”
“I’ve got a feeling you’re going to tell us, anyway,” said Mr Phigg.
“Yes, yes – it’s my turn now: people are going to listen to me!
“We’re all ready to start production in the mutton plant, as you will have seen. But that whole assembly line needs a proper testing – to make sure that if you feed a feeble, bleating sheep in at one end, you get some nice juicy pies in their proper cardboard boxes coming out at the other. I’m expecting it to work perfectly, because I designed it. But we need to be sure – and that’s why I got the guards to round up our woolly friend here.
“But now we can have an even better test. I’m going to feed all four of you in at the beginning of the assembly line – and I’ll be fascinated to see what comes out at the other end.”
Once Johanna had said the words “Plan B”, Hoxton slipped quietly out of Mr Phigg’s pocket and down the back of his leg. While the Scaredy Cats were busy with their dance routine, he dashed across the floor and out of the door, then made his way back up the stairs, out of the building, through the gate, and all the way back to where Lawrence and Arthur were waiting behind the tree with the MetaWetter.
“What’s going on?” said Lawrence anxiously. “We were getting the pictures patched in from Bedquarters, but then whoever it was smashed the camera.”
“Darby Ostler smashed it,” panted Hoxton. “He’s got them all tied up. We need Johanna’s Plan B now.”
And Plan B swung smoothly into action.
– o O o –
“So – isn’t it about time you started to beg, or burst into tears, or something like that?”
“Sorry, Peaky,” said Mr Phigg, “that’s not really our style.”
“Let us go now,” said Johanna, “and things may go easier for you later.”
“You’ve been watching too many silly movies, little girl: you’re not going to have any ‘later’. Once I call the guards and we get to the mutton assembly line, that’s it for you: curtains.”
“‘Curtains’, indeed. Who is it who’s been watching the dodgy movies, Peaky?”
“Stop calling me that, Phiggles!” raged Darby Ostler. “I know your game: you’re playing for time. But your time has just run out.” He strode over to a red button mounted on the wall next to the door and pressed it. Bells could be heard ringing in the building above. “My loyal guards will be with us shortly.”
– o O o –
Arthur rushed into the MetaWetter with Hoxton on his back. “Ready?” he asked. He moved the control to No Show and turned on the tap. There was an initial blast of icy water, then the strange warmth deep inside their bones which spread through both their bodies. They got out of the shower.
“Well, that’s worked,” said Lawrence.
“Has it?” said Arthur.
Lawrence jumped and turned to the sound of his voice. “It certainly has – I thought you were still over here. Now: go, go, go! You’ve got ten minutes, or maybe nine and a half, taking account of Hoxton. Good luck.”
Their “Thanks” in response came from halfway across the field.
Lawrence checked his watch and muttered to himself: “I’ll give them a couple of minutes – I don’t want to get too conspicuous too quickly.”
– o O o –
Hoxton guided Arthur through the gate – right under the noses of the oblivious guards, across the site to the administration block and then – slowing up and treading softly – down the stairs into the stable below.
Once they were inside, Arthur stood behind Mr Phigg, Johanna and Harry in turn, while Hoxton balanced on the top of his head and chewed through the sticky tape binding each of the captives’ wrists. Then they did the same with Bartram and the rope round his neck.
“Where are those guards?” said Ostler crossly. He pressed the bell again.
“Perhaps they’ve had a better offer,” suggested Johanna. “Being human cannonballs, or cleaning out sewers maybe – I’m sure anyone would find that sort of thing attractive, if they were working for you.”
Ostler stalked across the room and waved his fist in Johanna’s face.
“Oh, I’m going to enjoy this,” he said.
At that point they heard the tramp of heavy boots walking above them, then rattling down the stairs: the guards were coming.
But before they got down into the stable there were a whole series of new sounds. A wailing klaxon burst loudly into life and a mechanical voice blasted out of a public address system: “Red alert! Red alert! Site security has been breached. All personnel to the front gate. Red alert! Red alert!”
The footsteps stopped momentarily then clomped loudly back upstairs again.
“They have had a better offer,” said Mr Phigg.
Ostler snarled furiously and drew back his fist to punch him. But before he could do so, two things happened: Mr Phigg brought his untied hands out from behind his back and pushed him away; and the invisible Arthur, who had gone round behind him, sank his teeth forcefully into Ostler’s left buttock.
Ostler howled and spun round in confusion, desperately searching for his unseen assailant. Then, realising he was now outnumbered, he dashed for the door and headed up the stairs. Arthur followed closely, biting his bottom every few paces, to renewed shrieks.
“Time to join the party,” said Mr Phigg. He and Bartram and the children headed for the stairs too. Mr Phigg paused at the door and looked back at the cowering Scaredy Cats. “Come on, chaps: stiff upper lip and all that. I think this might be a good time for you to think about a change of career…”
“Leave them to me,” said Hoxton. “I’ll persuade them. It’s not often we rodents get a chance like this…” He jumped out of Mr Phigg’s pocket and scampered over to them. A series of invisible nips and tweaks to their tails soon had the cats dashing headlong up the stairs, screeching as they went.
– o O o –
Lawrence checked his watch again, then took off his overalls and stepped into the MetaWetter. On a whim, he reached back out again and took from the pocket a banana he had brought with him in case he got peckish. Then he selected Grow Flow and turned on the tap.
Once again, the shock of cold water was followed by a curious warmth surging through his bones. Surging and surging and surging – as Lawrence grew and grew and grew. There was a loud ping and a clang as the mass of the chimpanzee’s growing body forced out all the joints of the MetaWetter’s frame and its sides fell clattering to the ground. Lawrence cursed briefly at the prospect of a tricky repair job, but that thought was soon displaced by the sheer joy of being thirty feet tall and striding rapidly across the Downs on a cool, clear, moonlit night… with a six foot banana in his hand.
There was a shout from inside the site and the spotlights turned to play over the advancing chimp. Just before he took the tall fence in his stride, he heard the sirens start to sound and saw warning lights flash. From high above them he saw guards run in from all across the site, take one look at him and back away. He walked through the site, past the administration block, to the old windmill. He clambered easily up its side, levering himself over its sails, and then stood on its rounded roof. He looked out, enjoying the view – the lights of Brashleigh, and the moon reflected in the sea beyond.
“Right,” he said to himself, “Johanna wanted a distraction…” He carefully placed his banana down by his feet, then stood tall and pounded his fists against his chest, bellowing furiously as he did so.
Everyone on the site stood like statues, gazing up at him in astonishment.
“I’ve always fancied doing that,” he said. Then he picked up his banana, unzipped the peel and munched away contentedly.
An astonishing scene was waiting for the children when they stepped out of the administration block with Mr Phigg and Bartram.
Above them, silhouetted on the windmill, stood the enormous Lawrence, finishing his banana. Around them, about thirty security guards at various points on the site were torn between staring up at the giant ape and being distracted by events on the ground. Their boss, Darby Ostler, the formerly fearsome director, was running to and fro, clutching the ripped seat of his trousers and screaming loudly. Every so often he would trip over one of the Scaredy Cats, who were also dashing around howling, as if something was chasing them too.
Johanna and Harry and Mr Phigg stood and looked at each other and laughed and laughed. “I’m only sorry this won’t last much longer,” said Mr Phigg. “And that I haven’t got my camera.”
Then the effects of the MetaWetter started to wear off.
As Lawrence felt himself beginning to get smaller, he hurled the banana skin he was clutching as high into the air as he could, above the milling crowd. The guards pointed fearfully into the sky as the huge, twisting object turned and began to fall towards them. They tried to run for cover, but by the time the banana skin reached the ground it was back to its normal size – and a puzzled group crowded around it where it lay.
A shrinking Lawrence took the opportunity to slip down from the roof of the windmill unseen and hide behind one of its sails. Once there was no-one looking in his direction, he climbed down to the ground, then up and over the wall behind the windmill. He crossed the field and carefully put all the mangled bits of MetaWetter back into its rucksack.
Meanwhile, Arthur and Hoxton were visible again. The sight of Ostler being savaged by a small, determined sheep delighted the guards, in their relief at not being crushed by giant falling peel. Loud laughter spread around the site. Even the Scaredy Cats were caught up in it: after scowling petulantly when their tiny tormentor was first revealed, they began to poke each other and snigger, pointing at their master. They were soon rolling on the floor, laughing and kicking their legs. Hoxton retreated safely to Mr Phigg’s pocket.
“Listen to me!” screamed Darby Ostler, stamping his foot. “Stop this insubordination! I am in charge here! I am! I am!”
But the crosser he became, and the louder he shouted, the worse things got. The guards too were now laughing uncontrollably, slapping each other on their backs and wiping tears from their eyes.
Mr Phigg twisted the knife. “Show some respect for your employer, ladies and gentlemen,” he shouted. “I do believe those spotted boxer shorts are made of silk!”
Ostler was reduced to jumping up and down shaking his fist, while trying to hold his ripped trousers together with his other hand. Guards and cats were now completely hysterical. There was nothing he could do.
It was at this point that Kenneth Mallender strode into the confusion, wearing a paisley-patterned dressing gown and fur-lined slippers and closely followed by his butler.
“Darby… Darby… what on earth is going on? All this noise… these people… I was trying to get an early night. Is there some problem?”
Ostler gave no reply. He ran for the gate and, as if from nowhere, a tall black horse galloped up to meet him. He leapt onto its back and disappeared into the night in a pounding of hooves.
Almost immediately afterwards sirens could be heard again, but this time coming from outside the site. They grew louder and blue flashing lights could be seen. Two police cars pulled in through the gate, closely followed by a van covered in the logos of the local TV station.
“Now, then,” said a burly police sergeant, getting out of his car, “we’ve had some pretty strange reports. Who’s in charge here?”
The guards stepped aside and pointed to Kenneth Mallender.
“Ah, Mr Mallender, isn’t it?” asked the sergeant.
“Yes, sergeant, and this -” he gestured around the site proudly “- all of this – is my new development.”
“So you’ll be familiar with the routine here – who’s allowed on the site and when, how access is controlled – and you’ll have seen what happened here tonight?”
“Oh, no,” Mallender replied airily. “I spent the evening quietly in my personal quarters. It’s the concept that Iprovide. The ideas, the leadership. I have people to do that sort of thing for me.”
“What ‘people’ do you have?”
“Darby Ostler is the site controller and there are various managers and things under him.”
“Darby Ostler,” said the sergeant deliberately, writing the name in his notebook. “And would he be any relation to the Darby Ostler who is Director of Planning at Brashleigh Council?”
“Yes, yes… or that is to say, no, not a relation … they are the same person.”
“Same… person…” The sergeant wrote in his notebook. “Isn’t it rather odd for the person who has to approve this development to be managing the building work?”
“Come, come, sergeant – we’re all professionals. He does this work part-time, on a consultancy basis: there’s no conflict of interest, I assure you.”
“So where is he now?”
“He… um… left the site, just before you arrived.”
“I didn’t see any car go past us.”
“No, he wasn’t driving.”
One of the listening guards decided to intervene at this point. “He galloped off on a big black horse. Bareback.”
The sergeant raised his eyebrows and wrote that down too.
“Perhaps I can ask you a question, sergeant?” Mallender said. “How is it that a television crew arrived at exactly the same time as you did?”
The policeman looked him straight in the eye. “Pure coincidence, Mr Mallender. Come, come – you don’t think we’d have tipped them off, do you? We’re all professionals, aren’t we? I seem to remember you saying that, just now.”
Mallender stared back at him crossly and then glared at the crew, who were busy assembling their equipment at the back of their van. Then he said in a very loud voice: “Well, none of my employees will be talking to any journalists. Not if they want to carry on being my employees, that is.”
“Now,” said the sergeant, “who can tell me what Mr Ostler was doing before he suddenly rode off on a big black horse?”
He looked at Mallender, who shrugged. Then the guard who had spoken earlier said: “The last time I saw him was downstairs in the admin block. When we apprehended the intruders. We left them with Mr Ostler for interrogation and we–”
“Interrogation! I think you lot have got ideas above your station,” interrupted the sergeant crossly. He pointed to his cap badge. “We’re the people who should be doing the apprehending and interrogating. Give some people a uniform and… oh, anyway… what happened then?”
“We’d just got the call to go back down when the alarms started ringing and then it all kicked off with the giant gorilla.”
The sergeant licked his pencil. “Giant… gorilla…” he repeated slowly as he wrote.
Meanwhile, the TV crew had realised that Mr Phigg and the children were the only people who didn’t work at the site and so might be prepared to talk to them.
“Yes, yes, of course, glad to help,” said Mr Phigg. “I’m Winston Tickell and I’m here with my… er, niece and nephew, as observers for the Campaign for Humane Farming. We’ve been checking out Mr Mallender’s claims that he is concerned for his animals’ welfare and will treat them properly.”
“And do you think he will?”
“I most certainly do not.” He leant in to the camera for emphasis. “This is a horrible place: Mr Mallender’s claims are just as shoddy and unreliable as his pies. We’ve had to rescue this sheep here from a cage with no food or water.” He patted Bartram’s head. “Look how scrawny the poor thing is.” Bartram rolled his eyes at the camera and gave a weak, pathetic baa.
“Thank you for that assessment, sir – but now, what can you tell our viewers about this giant gorilla?”
“Well, I may have seen something, but I’m not sure I’d call it a giant, and I really wouldn’t like to go firm on the species…”
Johanna was keeping a close eye on the police sergeant as Mr Phigg gave his interview. She saw a security guard pointing him in their direction: she could see that the guard was confirming that they were the intruders who had been detained earlier. So she elbowed Mr Phigg hard in the ribs.
“… not being an expert on apes – ow! – sorry, we’ve got to go now.” He grabbed Johanna and Harry’s hands and they started off running, zigzagging past the guards, heading towards the gate. The sergeant blew a whistle and two other police officers who had been gathering evidence further into the site started in pursuit.
The fugitives were just at the gate when a lunging constable’s hand grabbed Mr Phigg’s shoulder and another got hold of Harry’s arm.
What happened next was a total blur. Hoxton shot up over Mr Phigg’s chest and sank his teeth into one of the arresting hands. Then Bartram, who had got outside with Arthur and was waiting in the field, suddenly charged back in through the gate head first and knocked Harry’s captor flying.
In the confusion, they all got out of the site and into the field and sprinted for the hedge at the far side. The police officers regrouped and started after them but, as they came through the gate, there was a furious pounding of hooves – and half a dozen Soft Centaurs came hurtling down the approach road and cut them off from their targets.
“Oh, do keep out of the way, please,” said Norman, crossly, as they rushed by. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt. And I’ve just had my hooves polished.”
By the time the Centaurs had passed and the dust had settled and the police officers had tried to make some sort of sense of what they had just seen, the field in front of them was empty.
“So, how much of that was a dream?” Harry asked Johanna when they woke up next day.
His sister laughed. “I think there’ll be a few other people asking that question this morning. What an amazing night!”
Once they’d all dived through the hidden gap in the hedge and got back to Bedquarters, Mr Phigg had insisted on taking the children home. “I know I can always get you back in no time,” he said, “but I’m sure you’re ready for bed by now. Well done, both of you. We’ve still got a busy night ahead here, so I’ll see you in the morning.”
Sure enough, just as they were finishing their breakfast, Mr Phigg slipped into the kitchen. He was still dressed in black. He looked exhausted, but he was grinning.
“We did it, I think. Touch wood.”
The children ran over to give him a hug, and Harry duly touched his head.
They all went through the little door to the Slumber Downs and walked across the field to Bedquarters in bright morning sun. Two blackbirds were singing loudly on the roof. When they spotted Mr Phigg their tune changed and the children realised it was “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.”
“They keep doing that,” he said, shaking his head. “Thank you, fans,” he added, waving to the birds.
They went in. Sheep were milling around the room and most of the desks were occupied. It was clear that the team had been working all night: troughs of water had been set up along one wall and there were empty feed bags on the floor – along with quite a quantity of oats, since sheep are not the tidiest of eaters.
Bartram came over when he saw them. Mabel cleared a space in front of one of the monitors and sat the children down next to him.
“Let’s take you through it,” she said. “Luckily, the professional camera crew only came on to the scene after Lawrence had shrunk again. But the TV did get this footage, that one of the guards caught on his phone.” She pressed a button and the monitor showed some grainy film of a giant ape silhouetted against the moon, beating his chest and peeling a banana. “The story was really taking off – so we started Dusting. And Dusting.”
“It was a bit of a hard sell,” said Bartram, “especially because the TV crew got a pretty good rear view of the Soft Centaurs.”
The monitor showed the footage of them thumping down the road, tails swinging and legs pounding. Then a reporter pushing a microphone towards a nervous security guard who said: “I shouldn’t be talking to you at all, but that was amazing. They were definitely centaurs. I remember doing them at school. I didn’t know centaurs wore cardigans, but I suppose it gets quite chilly when the sun goes down…”
“The best line we could come up with quickly was that they were all holograms,” said Mr Phigg. “Experimental ones, using cutting edge technology – we kept emphasising that. People are usually ready to believe technology’s edge is rather sharper than it actually is. We said they were being developed to advertise Windmill Farm products.”
“I didn’t think it was going to work,” said Mabel, “but then Kenneth Mallender went on the telly and confirmed that they were holograms. And that swung it.”
“Why on earth would he say that?” asked Johanna.
“He was desperate to keep a lid on things. He didn’t know what was going on, where Ostler had gone to, or what he might be up to – he thought he might lose the whole development. So he was looking for a plausible explanation too.”
Mabel called up the footage of Mallender’s interview.
“Yes, of course they were holograms,” he was saying, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief, “or do you actually think real centaurs and thirty foot apes are wandering around in the Sussex countryside? It’s all part of our new campaign… how does it go, now?” His eyes swung wildly as he searched for inspiration. “… ‘Mallender matches the mightiest appetite in the jungle’… er… it’s that sort of thing. We’re still working on the slogans.”
“The team are still Dusting down the odd outbreak of disbelief,” said Mabel, “but it seems to have worked.”
“But does that mean Mallender’s got what he wanted?” asked Johanna. “Will the development go ahead after all?”
“Just wait and see,” said Mr Phigg, smiling. “After that bit, we moved into phase two of the operation. The Chief Executive at the Council heard the news story and spent the rest of the evening trying to get hold of Darby Ostler to find out what was going on – she couldn’t contact him, of course, since Peaky was otherwise engaged… She was anxious and didn’t sleep at all well.”
The monitor showed a darkened bedroom: a man was snoring steadily next to a woman who tossed and turned. Suddenly she sat bolt upright and the children recognised the person they had seen talking to Ostler in the lobby of the town hall.
She flicked on her bedside light and poked the man awake. “What an extraordinary dream! I finally tried counting sheep and I think I must have managed to get off to sleep. But then one of the sheep came back again – and it was wearing a straw boater and carrying a cane.”
“That’s nice, dear,” said the man, rolling over, “I’ll hear all about it in the morning.”
“No, no,” she replied, shaking his shoulders, “it’s what happened next: the sheep started dancing and singing a song. I can still hear it in my head:
He’s a crook, he’s a crook, he’s a crooky-crook-crook,
Head off to the office, have a looky-look-look.
That Darby took you for a ride:
His staff file’s stuffed full of lies,
He’s had sweeteners on the side,
All those deals he tried to hide.
He’s a crook, he’s a crook, he’s a crooky-crook-crook,
Head off to the office, have a looky-look-look.
She sighed and said: “I’m going to have to.” She got out of bed.
“Have to what?”
“Go to the office and have a look at the files.”
“At half past four in the morning?”
“Yes – this can’t wait.”
Mabel switched the monitor off. “The Council issued a statement to the press twenty minutes ago: Ostler has been dismissed with immediate effect for falsifying his employment record, taking payments from planning applicants and forcing the HR Department improperly to suspend an employee – that was your friend, Molly. Planning permission for the Windmill Farm site has been withdrawn – they found that any number of rules had been broken. The new buildings will have to be demolished and the excavation below them must be filled in. There will be a full inquiry.”
“Hooray!” shouted Harry, jumping up. “We’ve won!”
“But what about Ostler and the Night Mares,” said Johanna. “Aren’t they still on the loose?”
“Yes,” said Mr Phigg, “but they always were, so that’s not new. We could never hope to get rid of bad dreams entirely – we just try to keep the balance and spread a bit of peace at night.”
“But what if Mallender tries again, and gives them another base in our world?”
“Now, you know I hate to kick a man when he’s down… but for Kenneth Mallender we were ready to make an exception. As soon as he’d helpfully confirmed the hologram story, some more footage mysteriously found its way to the TV station. It was safely in the Bedquarters systems before Peaky broke my camera.”
Mabel pressed a button and the screen showed the film Mr Phigg had taken from the fire escape of Mallender gorging in his private quarters, drooling over his wheelbarrow of money.
“Yuck,” said the children together, as they relived an unpleasant memory.
“Yes, that’s been the general reaction. His lawyers tried to stop it, of course – it is a terrible invasion of his privacy, no argument about that. But, sadly, it was all over the internet by then… and, as a result, I don’t think Mr Mallender’s business is going to be doing very well for a while.”
At that point, Simon limped over to join them.
“What a night,” he said. “A splendid team effort. And after their little diversion across the Downs last night, the Centaurs went on to work overtime.” He flicked a switch and only a small scattering of lights appeared on the map on the floor. “That’s the lowest number of bad dreams for ages – the Night Mares were keeping their heads down and the Centaurs filled the gap. Let’s hope things stay that way for some time.”
“Speaking of a good night’s sleep,” said Mr Phigg, “I think a nap may just be in order now.” He leant back in his chair and put his feet up on the desk. “Ooh, that’s nice… ”
At that point the front door burst open and Brother Periwinkle marched briskly into the room, his brown habit billowing behind him and a leather brief case in his hand.
Mr Phigg gave a strangled gasp. His arms and legs spun in different directions as his chair hurtled backwards and crashed to the floor. He staggered to his feet.
“Good morning, Brother,” he croaked. “It wasn’t… I didn’t… er… not me, no.”
“Good morning, Phiggles,” said the monk. “At ease. No need to stand on my account, when we’re not on school premises. And I don’t think there’s any immediate need for you to deny anything, is there?”
“No, Brother, not… not me… not at all.”
“Good – because I’ve come on a rather pleasant errand, for once.” He opened his briefcase and produced a rolled-up document tied with a red ribbon.
“Your friend Simon here –” he paused and nodded to the old sheep “– got in touch and told me about your sterling research work, finding out so much about the Night Mares. I’ve written up a little piece for the next edition of the Encyclopaedia Zoologica – crediting you, of course. Good work, Phiggles.”
“Ah… thank you, Brother. Always glad to do my bit for science.”
“But what is more, I’ve been in touch with the Amalgamated Examination Board. They’ve agreed that you should be a special case.”
For once, Mr Phigg was lost for words.
“Congratulations, Phiggles. I can now present you with your school certificate.” He handed over the rolled-up paper and shook Mr Phigg’s hand vigorously. “And a mere eighty years after the rest of your class got theirs…”
Johanna and Harry and the Shadow Flock cheered and clapped and stamped their feet and hooves. The blackbirds outside caught on to what was happening and serenaded them with another chorus of “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.”
Then Brother Periwinkle was ready to relax. Over a cup of tea, he told Harry that he was sorry he’d missed him when he’d spent the day at his school. “My instructions were not sufficiently precise…” he said, with a meaningful look at Mr Phigg, whose ears pinkened noticeably.
They got decidedly redder as Brother Periwinkle proceeded to tell a long series of stories about his schooldays.
Eventually, Mr Phigg reminded the children about their education and led them outside, back to the little door that would take them home.
“So,” he said, “we’ve done what we set out to do: stopped the factory farm and kept the Shadow Flock working safely. We’ve been a good team and it’s been very nice working with you.”
“Are… are you saying goodbye to us?” asked Johanna, who suddenly saw something intensely interesting on one of the buttons of her cardigan.
“Yes,” said Mr Phigg. “I generally do when you’ve got to go to school.”
“But… will we see you again?”
“See me again? Oh, my goodness… “ He pushed them gently back through the door into their kitchen. “Oh, yes, I should say so.”
And as he closed the door behind them they heard him add: “You don’t get rid of me that easily.”
“Cheers!” said Molly and raised her glass.
She looked along the table at Johanna and Harry and their parents and at her children, Lizzie and Ben.
“Cheers!” came echoing back enthusiastically from everyone.
They had all felt that some sort of celebration was in order after the dramatic end of the Windmill Farm project and a dinner was arranged for the following weekend. Even Harry was prepared to agree that the local vegetarian restaurant would be the right venue on this occasion.
“It’s nice to recognise that sometimes things do work out as they should,” Molly continued, “though not always in the way you expect them to. The important thing is to keep fighting for what you believe in – and sometimes the world comes round to meet you and ends up in the right place, after all.”
They raised their glasses again to that sentiment.
“The other important thing,” said Molly, “is having friends who’ll back you up when things are going badly. Thank you all for being so kind to me and fighting my corner – cheers!”
“I think we’re going to need another bottle at this rate,” said Mr Blake and signalled to the waiting staff.
A waitress walked, somewhat unsteadily, across the room on her high heels. She smoothed down her skirt and took out a notepad.
“Hello, I’m your new server, Crystal Dingle.” Then she paused to allow Harry’s sudden coughing fit to subside. She gave a sly wink to Johanna while everyone else was looking at Harry.
“The shift has changed,” she explained to them all, “and I’ve just started work. My, this is a big party.”
“Party is the right word,” said Molly. “We’ve all got something to celebrate.”
“Well, in that case, may I recommend a really special sparkling damson wine. It’s made in very small quantities by aged monks, near to where I grew up. Not many people know about it. We have a few sample bottles at a bargain price.”
“That will do very nicely,” said Molly.
“Oh, and Crystal,” said Johanna as their waitress turned to go, “could we have some water please?”
“Certainly, young lady.” The waitress’s crimson lipsticked lips parted to reveal all of her less than gleaming teeth, along with several gaps. “Salted or plain? Um… Sparkling or dull?”
“Tap water will be fine, thanks, Crystal,” said Johanna.
Then she added under her breath to her brother: “A master of disguise, you know.”