RED JELLIES CAN’T TALK
Max wasn’t sure what woke him up that night. He had been dreaming but couldn’t remember what about exactly. It was one of those dreams that he knew wasn’t good but the details of it were just out of his foggy memory’s reach. Now as he lay in a bed that felt unfamiliar he made himself open his eyes. For a moment he thought his eyes weren’t working as there was still complete dark. But gradually as his vision grew accustomed to the gloom he remembered where he was. He was staying at his Aunt and Uncle’s farmhouse which was right out in the countryside. Their farm was so remote it was miles from any form of street lighting or even a decent road. Not like where he lived in London, noisy and bright at any time of day or night. The complete quiet was almost as spooky as the darkness. Not that he would ever tell anyone that he was afraid of the dark. There was a small night light over in the far corner of the unfamiliar room but its meagre glow just cast grotesque shadows on the walls making it seem all the more creepy.
He strained his ears to listen out for any strange noises. There was nothing except for the soft steady breathing of the other two occupants of the room. He cringed when the memory came flooding back. Oh, the humiliation of sharing a room with one of his cousins who happened to be a six year old girl. That was not nearly as bad as sharing it with Molly, his three and a half year old little sister. How she had cackled when she heard. She had whooped in delight. To say she annoyed him was the understatement of the century!
Max kept out of her way as much as possible when they were at home. This weekend was like torture.
He turned over in his fold up camp bed. It was the most uncomfortable bed he had ever known and it squeaked so loud every time he moved he thought that it was the likely cause of his insomnia.
He could see his cousin was still in her bed because her arm was sticking out of her duvet and hanging over the side of the bed.
His eyes shifted across the room as he tried to make out Molly’s bed in the gloom. His breath suddenly caught in his throat and he knew even if his life depended on it now he would not be able to scream, not even utter a sound. He could definitely make out the shape of a person standing at the window. Someone had got into their room! Max couldn’t tell whether the person was looking out of the window or had their back to it and was staring straight at him. Max was frozen with fear until he realised it was a very small person, with a lot of mad curly hair. Molly?
A brief glance at her bed confirmed that it was empty.
“Molly!” Max whispered. She didn’t move.
Max couldn’t say it any louder, even though he wanted to shout at her, for fear of waking up his cousin. One little girl awake in the night was bad enough, he didn’t need another one.
Oh, it was just like her to wake him up and annoy him. It was bad enough that she was even in the same room as him now she was trying to make him a nervous wreck too.
Reluctantly Max got carefully out of bed to avoid it squeaking. It seemed to creak every time he even blinked.
He crept quietly closer and stopped about arms length away. If he made her jump she would scream. Molly always screamed first and asked questions later.
He turned round to make sure his cousin was still sleeping. The bump in the bed was snoring gently.
He turned back to Molly and nearly let out a scream himself. She was staring straight at him but it was as if she wasn’t seeing him. She must be sleepwalking.
He was sure she had never gone sleep walking at home. His mum would have mentioned it. But then they weren’t at home.
They had come to Aunt Julia and Uncle David’s house for the weekend to see their new baby. That was why they were in the same room and Max was having a disturbed night’s sleep. The baby had already woken him up once this night, he had nearly shot out of bed at the sound of the shrill scream. He never thought of himself as a nervy person but since they had arrived here yesterday he had done nothing but jump out of his skin.
“Molly, go back to bed now,” Max whispered urgently.
“He needs my help,” she said still not seeing him. Her voice sounded different-more grown up somehow.
“Molly, you’re dreaming, come back to bed,” Max tried to pull her by the arm but she was standing as solid as a rock. She wouldn’t budge.
“I’ll tell mum,” that usually worked.
Molly turned back to the window which she then decided she was going to open.
“No Molly,” Max hissed, “you mustn’t!” Max tried to stop her but she was surprisingly strong. Then something outside caught his eye.
Max glanced out the window and had to do a double take. The moon had been coming and going behind clouds but had now inconveniently disappeared behind a particularly thick one so the dark outside was like an inky black soup. Out across the pitch black fields there should have been nothing to see except dark but now there was a very faint glow in the distance.
The goose pimples that had been coming and going over the last few minutes were beginning to feel like they were standing to attention all over Max’s body. Even the hair on the back of his neck was prickling. He hadn’t had that feeling since one particular scary sleepover he had been on at his friend’s house when they had stayed up late watching a horror film. Neither had slept all night.
Only this was different. This was happening right in front of him not on telly.
Although, there was actually nothing to see out there. Just a glow. Probably kids lighting a fire in the forest. So why the goose pimples? It wasn’t a cold night. Very warm actually. So why light a fire?
Besides it didn’t look like a fire. It wasn’t flickering. It was solid like a torch or a light, a very big light and it was beaming straight up into the sky.
“What is it?” Max breathed to himself.
“We’ve got to find it. It needs our help.” Molly stated.
“What are you talking about?” Max was beginning to get a bit cross now. Molly was irritating even when she was sleepwalking. “Ok, but we’ll do it in the morning. You have to go back to bed.” Max was firm.
Max decided there was a very logical explanation for the light and they should all go back to bed when suddenly a scream ripped through the quiet of the night. Max nearly jumped out of his skin but Molly didn’t flinch. But then she was used to screaming.
Max’s heart was beating so fast he thought it would never slow down but it began to return to normal as he realised it was just the new baby waking up for a feed.
Max glanced over at his still sleeping cousin and marvelled at how little kids could sleep through anything whether they were sleepwalking or not.
He turned back to the window but Molly was gone. She had gone back to bed as if nothing had happened. She even let out a little sigh as if she had been in a deep sleep the whole time. Molly was the most awkward person that Max knew.
He looked out of the window and the glow was gone. The fields were pitch dark again. Even the moon was hidden by a cloud to make it all appear extra dark.
He reached out to close the window when something moved on the ground below the window. His heart nearly leapt out of his chest for at least the fifth time in the last ten minutes before he recognised Jess, the young sheepdog.
She was looking up at him and whimpering. “Go to sleep!” Max said as loudly as he dared.
She licked her lips and trotted off obediently to join the other dogs. Shame Molly wasn’t like that.
Maybe he was sleep walking too or just dreaming but he was suddenly too tired to care anymore. He went back to bed and fell asleep immediately but he was plagued by strange dreams.
At one point he was standing on a small island of rock surrounded by burning lava. The next moment he was flying through the air straight towards a tree. He woke up with a jump not knowing if he had landed in the tree or had smashed into it.
It was daylight now. He looked at his watch. Only 6am. He wasn’t sure if his parents would even be up yet. They must have been disturbed by the baby too. He was about to turn over and go back to sleep when he thought he should look at Molly again. When he sat up and looked at her bed it was empty. His cousin was still asleep so what was Molly up to now?
He looked out of the window. He could see across the fields to the forest which joined his Aunt and Uncle’s land but there was no sign of anything unusual.
He laid there for a while hoping to hear sounds which would indicate Molly was with someone but there was nothing. Maybe she had just had another dream and got in bed with his parents. She did that at home. At least the window was closed she couldn’t have got out that way.
Max thought he better get up and check. He got out of bed forgetting about the squeak. It creaked alarmingly and Max stopped still and held his breath hoping it didn’t wake up April.
Luckily she was still sleeping soundly. Max stood up and tiptoed quietly out of the door.
At the top of the stairs was the yellow bunny rabbit that Molly always slept with. Max picked it up and started to walk slowly down the stairs looking for any more signs of Molly.
Then he saw her. She was standing by the big sliding patio doors with her back to him.
She was still wearing her pyjamas from last night and she was bare foot.
Max was about to march over there and scold her when he noticed something strange.
There were about a dozen animals outside the doors all staring at Molly. There were the family’s three sheep dogs, one of them was Jess who had been looking up at max n the night, a couple of sheep, a cockerel, quite a few chickens and most bizarrely of all two squirrels.
It was as if they were all waiting for Molly to give them a command. Max was suddenly afraid of his own sister. Was she some kind of witch or what? He really didn’t want her to turn around. It was just like a ghost film when you just know you’re not going to like what you see. The choice was made for him as Molly suddenly turned round and said, “Max! You’re up at last.”
Max searched her face for some signs that she was actually the devil’s child as he had always suspected but she looked the same as usual. Almost sweet in fact. Her curly hair was tousled from sleep, her cheeks were pink and her eyes seemed bluer than ever. She looked like a china doll but there was nothing fragile about her. She was as tough as nails.
“What are you doing with those animals?” Max asked in what he felt was a slightly less than masculine voice.
“Nothing. They were just there when I came down. I think they’re all waiting for him to come.”
She had said something like that last night. “Who are you talking about?”
“I don’t know who he is but he’ll be here soon. When he’s ready.”
“Who, Molly? You said something about it last night. Do you remember waking up last night?”
“Last night? Of course I didn’t I would remember if I had. You are silly sometimes, Max.”
That’s it thought Max, she is officially mad.
April appeared behind him then and there was no chance to ask Molly anymore.
Max had a thought, “April?” he asked, “Do your animals normally do that?” Max pointed to the doors.
“Do what?” she asked shyly. She was only six and a bit in awe of Max because he was a boy and so much older than her. She looked at the doors but couldn’t see what Max meant.
“Like that....” Max began and then trailed off. All the animals were gone. “Never mind.”
Max decided to forget about the strange events of the last few hours and pretend it had never happened. But then after all nothing had happened. Not really.
With that the new baby woke up again and gradually the whole house got up giving up on the idea of getting any more sleep that morning.
After breakfast his Uncle David let him have a go on his latest computer game. He had been made to come to his Aunt Julia and Uncle David’s house for the weekend which he really didn’t want to. He liked his Aunt and Uncle but they had three little girls plus a brand new baby. He had been delighted to find that Uncle David, who loved all things sci-fi and computer games, had the very latest game out that Max had been pleading with his parents to get him.
It had taken him a while to get the hang of it. The Flippits, who he was supposed to defeat had kept destroying him and his ship. He had very much enjoyed being Captain Max of the space ship Rendez-vous. He had always seen himself as captain of his own space ship, exploring space and giving out orders to his loyal crew.
After a bit of practise he had got as far as reaching the Flippit king when the TV suddenly went blank. They had a power cut.
Max couldn’t believe it. Forced into coming away for the weekend when he could have been out with his best friend Zak and far away from girls, things had been looking up when he learnt about the game. Then when they had arrived he had been given the news that he would be sharing a room with one of his cousins a girl, yes a girl of all things and as if that wasn’t bad enough he had then found out that Molly would be in the same room as him too. They had kept that quiet until the last minute.
Molly was three and a half and Max would defy anyone to find a more difficult and demanding person than Molly.
They said there was no choice as there was just not enough room for everyone in the old rustic farmhouse. Everyone was sharing with someone. As all four of his cousins were girls it was inevitable that he would be stuck with at least one of them but Molly of all people. It was too much. It was so humiliating for an eleven year old boy who would soon be going to secondary school. He hoped none of his friends got to hear about this. Still it could have been worse he might have been sharing with his parents. Yuk!
So just when he had been getting into the swing of being Captain Max there had been a power cut.
“I better go and crank up the generator, the power might be out for a while. Last time it happened it was off for six hours.” Uncle David laughed. He was very laid back about it as it happened so often.
Max decided he might as well go off and explore his surroundings instead. He threw down the game controller and stomped off in a huff.
“I’m going outside,” he said stroppily. No one paid much attention, they never did. They were too busy laughing at Molly who was entertaining everyone with her stories. She was telling them how mum wouldn’t allow her to say fart because she was a little girl. So instead she called it a porcupine.
“I just porcupined again!” she laughed as air escaped her bottom yet again in a most unladylike manner. She thought it was hilarious. Apparently so did everyone else.
He might as well go and live in that forest for all they cared. Sometimes Max felt very lonely in his own home. It was only when he had his best friend Zak round that he was happy.
But for now he was keen to head off in the general direction of that mysterious glow. It was probably just teenagers lighting a fire in the forest. It had been a warm night as it was nearly summer so why anyone would need a fire Max couldn’t say so now he was even more intrigued. Maybe they were intending to set the forest alight! Then they had changed their minds and put it out. That was why the glow had disappeared so suddenly. Or maybe it was a giant torch, a flood light? There, that had explained it all. Only Molly waking up in the night and then all those animals outside the window was very weird. Maybe there was a mysterious force in that forest that needed checking out.
Besides he had been dying to go to that forest since they arrived yesterday. In fact he had wanted to go there on past visits to his Aunt and Uncle’s house but he had been forbidden to venture in it. It didn’t belong to them and they had told him it was dangerous to go alone.
Max, though, just could not help himself when it came to exploring. Mainly because he loved collecting things. Interesting pebbles on the beach, shells, even teeth that he believed had come from a shark fascinated him. He especially liked rocks. Or as he liked to think of them, meteorites. They were just lying around waiting to be picked up by him. Who knew what treasures there might be in that forest?
He had one particular rock which he had found when they were on holiday in Wales which he was absolutely convinced was the most important of his finds. So important that he had hidden it away in a very secret place that only he knew of. One day he would show it to someone very important (at NASA) who knew about these things and they would tell him all about it and what a rare and fabulous thing he had found. He secretly hoped it was a meteorite. That was what he was always searching for. Meteorites were just little bits of rock that most people didn’t look twice at but Max saw them as bits of space debris. They had been floating around in space for millions of years possibly from another galaxy or universe and Max would be the one to discover the rarest one of all.
Max knew this might be his last chance to explore somewhere different for a long time as they weren’t going on holiday this year.
His Dad was so busy with work that he normally didn’t stop for anything. The last time they went away was last year when Aunt Julia had her last baby. Max realised grimly if there were no more babies born in their family they would never go away again. Not that it was anything like a holiday, not with so many girls and babies around.
Max was quite surprised at how his Dad got on so well with his sister, Aunt Julia. They laughed together a lot as if they were always sharing some private joke. But then they were twins so that probably explained it.
Max did not get on with his sister at all.
And he, Max, was always being told off for making her scream which he didn’t. As he kept pointing out she didn’t need help to scream she did fine all by herself. Which was why he did his best to avoid her as much as he could.
Anyway they were all oohing and aahing over the new baby so now he was glad to get out of the house. The power cut was the last straw. One of the smelly girls wanted to know where he was going but they were all young and much too annoying so he ignored her. He managed to slip out quietly when no one was looking.
He walked out into the farmyard and went past the chickens scratching around in the dirt.
He stopped to talk to the pigs who oinked at him loudly. They had babies and they didn’t like strangers.
He opened a gate, closed it carefully behind him and wandered through a field. He climbed over a stile, into the next field.
None of the animals looked like they were doing anything out of the ordinary like this morning. Maybe Aunt Julia usually fed them and they were just waiting for her to give them their breakfast. There was always a perfectly logical explanation for everything when you thought about it carefully.
As he landed on the other side of the stile something came hurtling along behind him and flew over the fence like a rocket.
“Jess! You scared me!” Max said to the family’s youngest sheep dog who he had seen in the night. Her mother was the resident sheep dog who was in charge and Jess was in training. She was a bit scatty but very enthusiastic. She had befriended Max as soon as he arrived. Max would miss her when they went home. He desperately wanted a pet of any kind but Molly was allergic to nearly everything so that was out of the question. Jess wagged her tail and darted about excitedly, waiting for Max to start walking. She sensed an adventure coming and she wanted to be part of it. Max wondered what had woken her up in the night too but decided not to dwell on that.
“If only we’d got a dog instead of Molly.” Max said to Jess who smiled and licked his hand.
They started off across the field, Jess leaping about chasing butterflies.
“Hello cows,” he said as he walked past them. They just stared back at him chewing grass, just like girls he thought unkindly.
He kept going until he found himself right at the edge of the field where the forest started.
“Did you bring me here on purpose, Jess?”
He looked up at the trees. They rustled gently in the breeze like any other trees would. They were no more menacing than the forest near their home. Although he had never been in that one alone. It did look dark and very dense. Max didn’t know who this forest belonged to but he had been warned, on previous visits, not to go in it alone. He noticed the fence here was broken in several places. He crouched down and peered through a gap. Jess came over and licked his face before disappearing through the hole.
“No, Jess, come back!” Max shouted urgently. Now he would have to follow her in case she got lost.
Max wriggled through the gap and looked for Jess. She stood right in front of him as if she was waiting for him to follow. Max got the feeling she had been in here before.
“Are you trying to tell me something?” Max wondered why he was talking out loud to a dog.
He looked around there was just enough room between the trees for him to walk through. Not exactly a path but he could walk fairly comfortably through the trees. He had always wanted to explore this forest but when he had asked his Dad on the drive down if he would be able to go with him his Dad had just said, ”We’ll see,” which was his standard answer to any question. It was his Dad’s way of saying no without having to actually say the word. Anyway technically he was not alone, he had Jess. Plus he was older now, old enough to go out on his own, he decided.
It was beautiful in the forest. The sun peeked intermittently through the trees lighting up the leaves to produce an array of colours. The trees were so close together in places that they blocked out the sun altogether making it feel cool. Max shivered slightly, not from the lower temperature, but from some inexplicable feeling. It was a magical place which enhanced his sense of anticipation. Perhaps it was a mixture of excitement and peace. It was quiet and peaceful, no annoying babies or little girls to shatter the silence. No birds were singing, there was no rustling in the trees or bushes. Not even a breath of wind to stir the foliage. An eerie silence, in fact. There was the slightest trickle of apprehension creeping up his spine but he ignored it. He told himself it was the dog. She had scared everything off. Anyone could hear her coming a mile away.
He wondered where the glow had come from last night. Maybe he would find evidence of a fire being lit and put out. He doubted it would be here as the path was becoming almost impossible to follow now. It seemed unlikely that he was going in the right direction, or any direction for that matter, it really was time to turn back but something was propelling him forward.
The path had all but disappeared now. It was getting difficult to get through the thick trees. Max would have turned back but Jess wouldn’t stop. It was almost as if she was trying to show him something.
“What was that last night, Jess? Do you know?” There, he was doing it again, talking to a dog. But at the moment she was all he had. Although he didn’t want to turn back he was extremely unsure about going forward too.
Suddenly, Jess, who had been weaving herself through the undergrowth stopped as if frozen.
She started whining then barking, then it turned into a howl, which sent goose pimples rippling over Max’s whole body. Jess lay down and rolled over as if in submission, almost hidden amongst the bushes and roots of a very tall old tree.
“What are you doing Jess, you silly girl?” Max thought she was playing. He wondered if she had only come this way because Max had kept following her. She was a bit of a character. She looked at him and blinked. She seemed to be smiling at him. Perhaps she hadn’t been the sharpest puppy in the litter.
Max looked all around him, squinting through the trees but there was nothing there. He turned round in a complete circle but he was still quite alone. Only him and Jess. So why did he feel like he was being watched?
Then, just as he was about to turn away he noticed that some of the trees ahead were missing. The trees and bushes were so dense all around but there right in the middle of them was definitely a gap. Something must have made that gap it wasn’t natural. Something big. That fell from above. Max had to get a better look now. He pushed more branches out of the way and squeezed through wishing he had one of those big knives that people use for chopping down the jungle.
Suddenly Max realised he was stuck. His t-shirt had got tangled on a spiky branch and he had to stop to free himself. As he was tugging his t-shirt out of the grip of the tree he thought he heard a sound. He looked all around but there was no one. He was in such deep undergrowth that it would be impossible for anyone to get anywhere near him now. Max wondered why he had come so far into the forest. What if he was stuck or couldn’t find his way out. He wasn’t sure he could rely on Jess’ sense of direction to get them home.
Max turned round and looked at Jess. Then he heard the sound again. He thought this time it sounded like running water. Maybe there was a stream round here somewhere. Perhaps that’s all it was and he had gone to all this trouble just to see a bit of muddy water. Jess got up and stood perfectly still with her head cocked to one side as if she was also listening.
“Can you hear that?” he whispered to her. Was he actually expecting her to answer? He must be losing it.
She licked his hand and then stopped and hung back a little. She wouldn’t come any nearer. Max thought it was odd but she was very young, so he told himself. And easily spooked hopefully.
Max started to panic a little now. He frantically tugged on his t-shirt and it came free suddenly and he was able to go forward just enough to see what was in front of him.
It was a hole. A rather large and fairly deep hole which really had no business sitting in the middle of a dense forest.
“Come on, Jess, come and have a look. It’s just a hole.” Jess whined and sneezed but wouldn’t come closer.
It was about three feet across by about four feet deep but most puzzling was that it was a perfect circle. Max stood right at the edge and looked down into the hole. He was contemplating jumping down into it, but thought he might not get out again. Suddenly the earth under his feet gave way and he almost slipped down into it but he managed to grab a branch just in time and regained his balance.
Holding onto the branch he leaned as far forward as he could. He could see something was in the hole but he couldn’t quite see what. He had to know what it was now, curiosity had got the better of him.
By this time Jess was spinning around in circles and barking, as if she could see something he couldn’t.
“It’s ok, Jess, be quiet,” Max didn’t know what had got into that dog but he hoped that no one would hear her. He was still determined to get a better look.
He leaned forward as far as he dared still holding the branch. He hoped it was strong enough to hold his weight. He soon found out that it wasn’t. With what seemed like a very loud snapping sound the branch broke and Max slid down into the hole, taking some earth and grass with him. To his surprise he landed with a bump on top of something hard. He wasn’t hurt but he had got a few scratches.
Jess immediately stopped barking. She stood at the edge of the hole and looked down as if to say, ‘Told you so.’
“Ok, don’t look at me like that,” Max said to her.
He looked at what he had landed on. It appeared to be a very old and grey looking football. It was about the same size as a football. He got off it quickly as there was just enough room for him to stand beside it. He poked it with his foot, it felt hard, but it didn’t move.
Max reached out a hand to touch it. It was warm but not hot. It was as warm as if it had been sitting in the sun for some time only it was in the shade here in the hole, sheltered by trees. It felt like rock, it wasn’t football material at all.
“Awesome”, Max breathed. It had got to be a genuine meteorite, Max was convinced.
Even better it looked as if it had just dropped out of the sky. It wasn’t covered in earth or moss as if it had been sitting there for hundreds of years. It looked kind of fresh. What was a little puzzling was that the grass around it wasn’t scorched at all. Some trees were lying around as if they had been very recently felled by the falling ball. Their leaves were still growing even though the trunks had been broken in half. In fact lots of things were growing. Max was no expert on flowers but he was quite sure that one of the broken trees was an oak but it had the most beautiful flowers growing out of the stump. Then he looked a bit closer at some of the others and saw something that looked like sap oozing from a fern like bush. He put out a shaking finger and touched it. It was kind of crystallised like sugar. Very strange.
He thought that if a meteorite had hit the ground it should have been hot enough to burn the grass and ground all around it. And wouldn’t it have made a bigger hole? It would even have set fire to all the trees around it. It was a mystery but he was still convinced he had found the mother of all meteorites. His mind was on fire never mind the trees!
Was this responsible for that glow last night? It couldn’t be. It would have burned for longer and brighter. It would still be burning now. It was all very intriguing.
Why had Molly woken up and looked out of the window at that particular point? What was it she had said? “He needs our help” She was creepy Max knew that for sure. Maybe she was an alien and they had come to take her back. Great, they could get a dog after all.
He couldn’t wait to show his Dad. He was absolutely fascinated about anything to do with space. His Dad had been the one who got him interested in these rocks in the first place.
When he was about five he had spent hours with his Dad watching the skies hoping to see a shooting star. Occasionally they got lucky and saw one but they were rare. His Dad used to say one day they would find a real meteorite of their own. Max had been on the lookout ever since. Of course when Molly came along their star gazing came to an end, his Dad never finding the time. But Max hadn’t given up.
There was just one problem, would he be able to lift it? It must be quite heavy even though he was able to move it with his toe.
More importantly how was he ever going to get it and himself out of this hole?
Max looked around him some more. The rock ball wasn’t embedded in the ground either as if it had landed more gently than it would if it had fallen from space. In fact it looked as if it had been moved from the spot where it had landed. Maybe someone else had tried to pick it up but it was too heavy. Hopefully they weren’t coming back any time soon. Max wondered if it was a meteorite at all. But even if it wasn’t it was still a very cool rock. It looked exactly like a football. Which it couldn’t be, could it?
Max was working out how on earth he was going to get it out of the hole, when he thought he heard the running water sound again. He put his ear closer to the rock ball and was sure he heard the noise coming from inside it. He knocked gently on the ball. It sounded hollow.
He knocked again. He thought he heard a sound like a waterfall. That was impossible. He put his ear closer to the rock. There was nothing just silence. Max must have been hearing things.
Max decided just to try and lift it. He pushed it again tentatively first with the toe of his shoe. It didn’t budge this time. He pushed it harder with his foot and it rolled slightly. He bent down and grasped it with both hands and heaved with all his strength expecting it to be heavy. It wasn’t. As a result he lifted it so quickly and easily that he fell back against the side of the hole with the rock ball landing in his lap.
He jumped up quickly and the ball rolled off. He picked it up again this time very carefully. He was able to hold it in his arms without it weighing a ton and he was sure he could carry it all the way back to the house. The only other problem now was getting it and himself out of the hole. He put it down for a moment so he could think.
He decided he would try throwing the ball up and out of the hole then he could climb out using a fallen tree for support.
He went to lift the ball again, but he couldn’t lift it as easily as before. It had got heavier all of a sudden. Max was confused. How on earth could that happen? Perhaps because it wasn’t from earth!
That thought made him try even harder. “Come on,” he said to it, “you could at least try and help!” The rock didn’t reply. This time when he tried to lift it, it felt lighter again.
Oh, had it heard him? He giggled at such a silly idea. He must have spent too much time around Molly if he was now talking to rocks.
He set the ball of rock on the edge of the hole and studied it closely. It was incredibly smooth, almost like a pebble, only much bigger.
It was a drab grey rock colour quite plain and unremarkable. If it hadn’t been unusually big and round he wouldn’t have taken any notice of it.
All this time Jess watched with interest what Max was doing. “Stop looking at me like that. I know what I’m doing,” Jess wagged her tail and smiled at him. She sniffed the rock ball, without much interest.
Max realised that if it hadn’t been for Jess he would never have found it. Did she lead him here on purpose? It almost felt like it.
He now wondered if he could carry it all the way back to the house.
Max bent down and tried lifting it. Again it was now easy to lift. It was not making any sense. But at least it would be easier to carry it back to the house, it was quite a long way.
That’s if he could find the way. “Jess! It’s time to go home!” Jess bounded ahead as if she knew where she was going. Max hoped she did, he realised he was completely lost, and he would have to put his trust in her.
Max started on his journey. He had to squeeze back through the dense trees and undergrowth again. He had to put the ball down in places in order to push branches out of his way. At one point he even had to roll it through bushes while he got himself through. It went out of his sight for a few minutes and he panicked in case he had lost it, before spotting it again. He held the ball carefully in his arms glancing down at it every now and then as if he expected it to change colour or something.
He still wasn’t absolutely sure that he was going the right way. It seemed more over grown than on the way there. He was still following Jess trusting in her homing instincts.
Max had a feeling that it probably wasn’t a meteorite at all but it was still really cool. It would look good on display in his bedroom. Going by the ones he had seen on TV they were supposed to be irregular shapes with lots of holes in them. But perhaps this wasn’t just an ordinary meteorite. It was so much more than that.
There seemed to be no more sloshing water noises either which made him think he must have imagined it.
Finally he made it back to the edge of the forest where the fence was broken. “Good girl, Jess!” The scatty sheepdog knew what she was doing after all. He was on the edge of the field where the cows were, he could see them over on the far side. He put the rock ball down and sat beside it to wipe the sweat off his face. Jess came over and flopped down next to him. She licked his hand and sniffed the rock ball, staring at it like she could see something that Max couldn’t. Max was glad she had stopped howling. He wondered if it was the ball she had been howling at or something else that he couldn’t see.
His thoughts were interrupted by mooing. It was getting louder all of a sudden.
He looked up and saw that the cows were walking in his direction.
Normally they ignored him whenever he had walked through their field in the past.
He stood up and Jess did too. She saw the cows and started to bark again. They seemed to walk faster, almost a trot now. Max decided it was time to go. He was not far from the stile which would get him into the next field, but he had the rock ball to carry and he was not leaving it behind.
“Come on, Jess,” he shouted over the barking. She wouldn’t move. “Jess!” he felt it was urgent now that she came with him.
Jess stopped barking and turned around to look at Max. He picked up the rock ball and called her to come with him. She obediently followed, before running on ahead and leaping over the fence to safety. He looked over his shoulder and realised the cows were now at running speed and catching up to him fast. He made an awkward attempt at running but tripped and fell, the rock ball landing with a thud just in front of him. The cows were nearly upon him now. He would have to leave the ball and leg it or else he would be flattened. He got up and went to run but he just couldn’t bring himself to leave the ball. He didn’t know why. It was unlikely to get damaged by the cows but he was reluctant to let it out of his sight just yet.
So he bent down, picked it up and started running awkwardly with it towards the stile.
Jess was barking frantically as if to encourage him to run faster.
He could hear the thundering feet of the cows right behind him. He even thought he could feel their hot breath on his neck but he wasn’t about to turn round to find out. He was at the stile now where he tried to get up on the step to climb over but instead of climbing he felt himself being lifted over and landing on the other side in a heap on the grass.
The rock ball went flying and ended up coming to a rest in the long grass.
He looked up to see that the cows had stopped running and were mooing loudly on the other side of the fence poking their huge heads over and looking at him with angry eyes.
Max had the uncomfortable feeling he’d had a lucky escape. He rescued the rock ball from Jess who was licking it frantically like it was covered with ice-cream.
He wondered what had just happened there. Had he just been lifted over that stile by something or was it that he had found an inner strength born of fear. He guessed he would never know. He could see the cows had got bored and moved away now. He wished he knew what had spooked them in the first place.
By the time he made it back to the house, he was exhausted and hot. It had definitely got heavier as he walked, he was sure of it and it wasn’t just because of his close encounter of the bovine kind.
Jess wandered off to chase chickens and then laid down in the shade for a nap.
Max reached the bedroom that he was sharing with two of the horrific girls (yes two of them it was still so humiliating) but luckily the room was empty now.
He stashed it quickly in his rucksack and threw a jumper over it so no ghastly girls were tempted to peak in it.
He went off to see what everyone else was doing, trying his best to act casual.
He walked into the kitchen where everyone was sitting drinking coffee. They all turned to look at him. His mum was holding the new baby. Max hoped she wasn’t wishing for another one of her own.
“Hello Max,” she said, “whatever have you been doing? You’re filthy.”
“Oh,” Max looked down at his clothes and hands. They were covered in mud and scratches. ”Just exploring.”
“That’s our Max,” said his Dad, “always up to something.” He ruffled his hair fondly, some twigs fell out of it.
“Dad,” said Max, “can I show you something?”
“Course you can.”
“It’s in the bedroom.”
“I want to come too,” said Molly immediately.
“No, Molly. You wouldn’t be interested.”
Molly was about to sulk but was distracted luckily by the other three girls who were all playing with a doll’s house. She went over to boss them about.
Max and his Dad sneaked off quickly while she wasn’t looking.
Max took the ball out of the rucksack and showed his Dad.
“Wow, that’s some rock you’ve found!” His Dad was impressed. He took it from Max but was surprised at how light it felt.
“Is it a real meteorite?” Max was desperate to know.
“Well I’m not so sure about that but it certainly is a very impressive looking rock. It’s perfectly round and very smooth. Where did you find it?”
“Out in the forest. It had crashed through the trees and made a great big hole in the ground.” Max was anxious for his Dad to understand just how unusual a find it really was.
“Well,” his Dad wasn’t really sure what to say. While it was a rather nice looking rock, it wasn’t the meteorite that Max was so desperate to find. “You shouldn’t be in that forest on your own.” His Dad said it to stall for time while he was thinking what to tell his son who was looking at him with such expectant eyes.
Max could tell his Dad was changing the subject because he didn’t know what to say. Max didn’t care, he still liked it.
“I wasn’t on my own, Jess came with me. What do you think it is then?” Max asked feeling a bit let down.
“I’m not sure but it’s not solid rock, that much I do know because it would weigh a ton if it was. The best thing to do is crack it open, see if there’s anything inside.”
“No!” Max was appalled his Dad should suggest such a thing.
“Jeff! Max!” Max’s mum was calling.
“Yes Sandra?” his Dad replied.
“Lunch is ready. Is Max with you?” she called.
“Yes, Sandra, he is. We’re coming!”
Max started putting the ball away in his bag.
“That’s a great find Max, well done. I’ll leave it up to you to do what you think is best.
“Thanks,” Max muttered.
“You never know maybe it’ll hatch one of these days.” His Dad said with a laugh, as he left the room.
Max said he’d be there in a minute after he had washed his hands.
Max stared at the rock in his bag. He knew it was something special, he was convinced of it.
He couldn’t wait to get home and examine it. He might even show it to his best friend Zak . He wasn’t so into rocks as Max was but even he would be gobsmacked.
Max covered up the rock and went to join the family in the kitchen. He didn’t hear the sloshing water noise coming from the ball as he had already left the room. Or see the grey rock turn into a glowing red ball before turning back to grey again.
Max smiled to himself as he walked to the kitchen. Maybe visiting Aunt Julia wasn’t so bad after all.
Shame about the smelly girls.