“It’s not fair,” I yelled. “You promised.”
“I know I did,” said Dad. “But that was before I knew I had to work on Sunday.”
His feeble excuse made me even angrier. We’d planned this trip ages ago and Dad knew how much I was looking forward to it. How dare he cancel it now? “Tell DETOPS you can’t go!” I demanded. “Tell them you’re busy.”
Dad ran his fingers through his hair – a sure sign that he was feeling stressed. “You know I can’t do that. My job’s too important.”
That was the worst thing he could have said. I already suspected his new job mattered more to him than I did. Now he’d proved it. “You don’t care about me any more!” I shouted into his face.
“That’s not true, Tom,” said Mum, springing to his defence as usual.
“Yes, it is!” I glared at Dad with my fists clenched. “I hate you, and I hate DETOPS.” Then I spun on my heel and ran out of the back door, slamming it so hard behind me that it shook on its hinges.
As soon as I was outside, I raced down the garden, past Mum’s flower beds and Dad’s neglected vegetables. My whole body was seething with rage. I needed to get away – to be by myself. So I dived behind the shed and threw myself into my favourite hiding place.
The gap between the bushes and the woodpile was just big enough for me to sit in fairly comfortably. The pile of logs hid me from the house and the bushes hid me from the bottom end of the garden. I could only be seen from the field next door and there was no one there to spy on me – just a load of silly sheep.
I leaned back against the shed wall and took a few deep breaths. I always felt calmer here. This was my spot – the place where I could watch the wildlife, dream of adventures and make up stories about my favourite sci-fi characters.
There was a family of blue tits nesting in the shed. I gazed at the parents flying back and forth over my head and wished I had my camera with me. Before Dad started working for DETOPS, he would have watched them with me. Our interest in wildlife photography was one of the things we used to share. So was our passion for Village of Mystery and Dr Who and Star Trek.
But that was then. Now Dad was hardly ever home. Every time we planned to do something together, DETOPS got in the way. It had happened so often that I was getting used to it. But cancelling Sunday’s trip was unforgivable. It had taken months to get permission to climb Carp Fell. If we didn’t do it now, I might never get another chance to photograph the eagles on their nest.
Thinking of that produced a fresh wave of anger. I gritted my teeth and hurled a stone through the barbed wire fence. It made a loud bang as it bounced off a boulder. In the silence that followed, I heard another sound – a faint whine that was so high pitched my ears could only just catch it.
It almost seemed as if I’d set it off with my stone. But that was impossible. It must be coming from somewhere else. I glanced around, searching for the source of the sound. But there was nothing out there. The field contained nothing but sheep, and the clear, blue sky held nothing but a single, fluffy cloud drifting on the breeze.
What breeze? I sat bolt upright as I realised there was no wind at all. But the cloud was moving faster than it possibly could on such a calm day. Then it stopped suddenly and hung motionless over the middle of the field. The whine stopped at exactly the same moment.
That’s when the light came. It shone from the base of the cloud – a beam of brilliant white light plunging down to the grass below. It stayed there for a moment, shimmering gently. Then it vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.
At the same time, the whine started again and the cloud hurtled off so fast that it looked as if a gale was blowing it. I jumped to my feet and watched it disappear into the distance, hardly able to believe what I had just seen.
The sheep in the field didn’t seem to have noticed anything. They just went on munching the grass as if nothing had happened. For a moment, I wondered if they were right. Perhaps I had fallen asleep for an instant and imagined the whole thing. I’d watched so much science fiction that it wouldn’t be the first time I’d dreamed of spaceships and teleporter beams.
But then I noticed something – something that hadn’t been there before. Standing in the field, in exactly the same place that the light had struck, was a bright green sheep. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to get a closer look. And I had to move fast – it had suddenly appeared from nowhere so there was every chance it could disappear just as fast.
My mind raced as I dropped on my stomach and wriggled under the barbed wire fence. In stories, visitors from outer space were often green, but I’d never heard of any that looked like sheep. The sensible side of my brain struggled to push away thoughts of alien invaders and to come up with normal, boring explanations instead. Maybe the sheep had collided with someone carrying green paint. Maybe the colour was just reflected from the grass. But neither of those ideas explained its sudden appearance or that mysterious beam of light.
As soon as I was under the fence, I leapt to my feet and headed for the green sheep. I fought back the urge to run and forced myself to walk slowly towards it. Sheep are remarkably timid creatures. I didn’t want to frighten this new one away before I could look at it properly.
Despite my care, the other sheep galloped off as I approached. But the green one didn’t. He stood perfectly still and stared at me.
“Baa, baa,” bleated the other sheep.
“Aab, aab,” bleated the green one. Then he stamped his front feet crossly and said, “Bother! Bother! Bother!”
All the sensible thoughts in my head vanished. There was only one possible explanation for a green sheep that talked. I was too shocked to say anything. I just stood and stared at the first alien I had ever met.
The sheep stared back. “Go on – admit it,” he grumbled in a bleaty sort of voice. “Tell me you’ve never seen a green sheep before.”
“That’s true.” I was going to say more, but the sheep didn’t give me time.
“I knew they’d mess it up,” he moaned. “I told them the transmogrification machine was on the blink. But would they listen? Of course they wouldn’t. They never do. I’m just the observer.”
“That’s tough,” I said, nodding sympathetically. I knew how he felt – Mum and Dad often didn’t listen to me.
The sheep looked around him with a miserable expression on his face. “It’s worse than tough. It’s hopeless. I’m supposed to blend in with my surroundings so I can watch human life without anyone noticing. But I don’t stand a chance. None of the other sheep are green. None of the others bleat backwards.”
I was about to add, “None of the others talk,” when I heard a car coming along the road. The sheep heard it too. He looked anxiously towards the sound. His eyes were full of fear.
“It’s only a car,” I said in an attempt to calm his nerves. “What’s wrong with a car?”
The sheep gulped. “There’ll be humans in it,” he wailed.
“So what. I’m human and you’re not afraid of me.”
“But you’re a child. Children are safe. We learn that in training school. But there’ll be adults in the car, and adults will call the army and the scientists and…” He shuddered and squeezed his eyes tight shut as if he was trying to keep out some horrible picture.
The car was closer now. I could hear its engine struggling up Strutton’s Hill. In a minute or two, it would turn the bend and see us.
The sheep could hear it too. He was obviously terrified. His whole body was shaking with fear. I couldn’t bear to see him so distressed – I had to do something.
“Lie down,” I ordered. But the sheep didn’t move. In desperation, I seized a handful of green wool in each hand and wrestled him to the ground.
“Aab! Aab!” he bleated, as he thrashed his legs about in an effort to stand up.
I grabbed hold of his nose and held his mouth closed. “Shut up and lie still,” I hissed. “Trust me. I’m trying to help.”
The sheep relaxed slightly and stopped fighting me. But he continued to shake and I could feel his heart pounding as I leaned against him. Swiftly I moved between him and the road and sat with my back against his quivering body.
I was just in time. The car rounded the bend and surged up the road towards us. For the first time, I realised that I was shaking too. I took a deep breath to calm myself and tried to look relaxed as I used my body to hide as much of the woolly mound as I could.
The car slowed. The driver leaned out of the window and waved. It was my teacher, Mrs Pilgrim. For one dreadful moment, I thought she had seen the sheep. But I tried not to panic. Instead, I smiled as convincingly as I could and waved back. It worked. She drove on without stopping and soon disappeared around the next bend.
“It’s all right,” I said as I stood up. “She’s gone.”
The sheep sighed with relief and struggled to his feet. Then he looked anxiously at the road again. “I can’t stay here. There’ll be another one along soon and they’ll see me and…and…” He paused and bit his lip nervously.
Part of me was tempted to go home and leave this gibbering heap of green wool to his fate. But deep down inside I knew I couldn’t. The sheep was too frightened, too vulnerable and too alone.
End of sample