by Anthony Gin
The opening chapters of a novel length children's adventure tale
Elephants, Voices and Mice
Johnny Eccles was an elephant.
He broke the school windows with his elephant tusks and demolished the walls with his elephant body. All the other kids laughed and chanted his name:
“JOH-NNY, JOH-NNY, JOH-NNY!” they sang.
Then, Johnny picked up his best friend David Cooks with his elephant trunk and they galloped happily down the street as people ran screaming out of their way…
A cat crawled from under a parked car to see what all the stamping was about. Johnny bent down to stroke the cat and meowed. And then, Johnny Eccles was a cat instead.
…As a cat, Johnny would chase birds and climb trees and sleep under hedges. He would break the lions free from a zoo and spend his time running and hunting and sleeping...
Johnny Eccles loved cats. He and his mum had always had the same cat at home - Mewsli, the giant female tabby. But the big cats were Johnny’s favourite: lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, pumas, cheetahs… Johnny knew everything about them, including all the weird obscure facts that people don’t normally know. (Such as: The cheetah is the only cat that doesn’t have retractable claws!)
Johnny was thinking about how cool it’d be to see the big cats in the wild as he turned the back corner to King James’ Primary School. His class were playing cricket on the games-field and their teacher, Mr Grudge, was stood shouting at them from the side.
And then Johnny remembered that he’d left his games kit at home on top of the washing machine, even after his mum had told him not to forget it before she went to work.
Because that was the thing: Johnny Eccles wasn’t really a cat.
He wasn’t an elephant, either.
Johnny Eccles was a boy in year six at boring school in the boring town of Ashcroft in the boring North of England - and Johnny Eccles was late.
That morning, Johnny’s mum had left for work at eight o’clock as usual.
Johnny always walked to school by himself because it was only ten streets away from his house. But that morning, he really couldn’t be bothered. Johnny didn’t like going to school at the best of times, but Monday mornings - after a weekend of doing whatever he wanted to – were even worse.
On top of that, Johnny’s best friend David Cooks was off sick. David had had his tonsils out and had already been off for what must have been the longest school week of Johnny’s life. It might have been bearable if Mr Grudge had let Johnny change seats instead of just sitting next to David’s empty chair for five days, but of course Mr Grudge hadn’t.
Mr Grudge was the grumpiest, sternest, and probably the oldest teacher in the world. He was a tall grey man with a big stupid moustache which made him pronounce his ‘R's’ as ‘W's’ - so that ‘three’ became ‘thwee,’ and ‘tree’ became ‘twee’.
Mr Grudge always made the children write lines, that was his big thing. None of the other teachers ever did, but Mr Grudge was stuck somewhere in the last century. And because Johnny was always thinking about other more interesting things while Mr Grudge droned on and on and on, Johnny got more lines to do than all the other kids put together.
So, that Monday morning, instead of just getting ready for school as soon as his mum had left, Johnny had played a couple of games of Grand Turismo first, and now all he had to look forward to was Mr Grudge giving him a hundred stupid lines for iwwesponsible timekeeping.
King James’ Primary School was a small, redbrick building in the middle of Ashcroft. It had a car park at the front, concrete yards at each side, and a games field at the back that ended with a small wire fence.
Behind the wire fence was a field of long grass with a pond in the middle. This was supposed to be ‘King James’ Primary School Nature Reserve’ – but it’s not like they had flamingos or crocodiles wandering around. There were just newts, insects and, if you were lucky, the odd toad.
The so-called ‘Nature Reserve’ backed on to the rear garden of a bungalow on Farm Lane which was owned by an old woman called Mrs Bentley. Johnny knew this because next door to Mrs Bentley’s bungalow was a disused farmyard where he and David Cooks always went. The farmer had dumped a load of big broken tractor tyres and long plastic pipes in there. It was a fantastic place to play…
Johnny watched his class in the games field for a moment, and decided that walking next to the railings in full view of them all was a bad idea. If he did that then Mr Grudge would yell at him in front of all the other kids, which was Mr Grudge’s second favourite hobby after giving out lines.
It would be better, Johnny reasoned, to creep through the long grass of the Nature Reserve and crawl over the small wire fence at the right side of the games field. From there, Johnny could sneak along the thick-hedge-border between the school and the farmer’s field and then turn back as though he’d just arrived normally through the school’s front entrance. He could say that he’d been to the dentist’s or something. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was better than having Mr Grudge embarrass him in front of everybody…
Just then, Mr Grudge blew his whistle and walked over to the children shouting - so Johnny quickly used the distraction to climb over the railings and into the Nature Reserve with a thump!
Children weren’t allowed near the pond without a teacher, and Johnny would get in trouble if he were caught. So he lay nervously still in the long grass for five minutes before silently checking whether anyone had seen him …
…The class had re-started their game. He was okay.
Johnny smiled with relief, put his schoolbag over his shoulders and crawled through the Nature Reserve on his elbows and knees.
As he crept along, Johnny imagined that he was a TV cameraman filming an ocean floor. The long stems of grass became thick clumps of wavy seaweed, and each dip in the soil was a crevice where a weird crab or a strange jellyfish might live.
Then Johnny looked at the pond in the middle of the Nature Reserve and stopped.
- A long Octopus arm suddenly shot from the water, grabbed a passing Alsatian dog and threw it over the railings! The stunned dog landed on its feet and ran away, barking its head off…
Johnny giggled. It would be funny, he thought, if something like that actually-
- A huge noise suddenly erupted from the cricket game!
Johnny snapped awake, half-expecting everyone to be pointing and laughing at him crawling through the Nature Reserve like an idiot… But from what he could see, Mr Grudge and the other children were just shouting at some poor kid to throw the ball properly…
Johnny exhaled loudly. He was going to have to concentrate. He was not acting cool, and if there was one thing that he and David Cooks wanted to be, it was cool.
So Johnny took a deep cool breath and set off again, edging towards the pond as he made his way over to the right side of the Nature Reserve.
It was proving to be a more difficult journey than Johnny had hoped. The ground was full of stones and he had to keep altering his course to avoid dirty puddles and sloppy patches of mud.
Five minutes of careful crawling later, Johnny came to a large clump of matted grass. He couldn’t stand up and jump over it for fear of being seen by Mr Grudge and his class, but no matter how carefully Johnny tried to weave his hands through, the thing refused to part. He looked all around for an alternative route, but, without getting completely covered in mud, there wasn’t one.
This was typical. Johnny’s plans always ended in disappointment. It was amazing that he’d managed to get as far as he already had without being caught. Johnny sighed angrily. A leopard can climb a tree with a fully-grown antelope in its jaws, and yet he didn’t have enough muscle to untangle a clump of grass!
In a fit of frustration, Johnny shook the matted grass - hoping that if nothing else he’d at least partially destroy the object of his latest plan’s downfall – but in the midst of Johnny’s irritated thicket-throttling, a huge ugly beetle fell onto the back of his wrist!
Johnny flinched backwards and flicked the insect off. The beetle dropped to the ground and casually strolled towards the bulrushes at the side of the pond.
Johnny rolled his eyes. Even the bugs were against him, now!
He glanced past the matted grass to see if there was any other way to-
- What was that?
Johnny looked to the bulrushes.
- Where did that beetle go?
- Did something just grab it? Did a snake catch it?
…Surely not, thought Johnny. There weren’t any snakes near the school pond.
But then again…
…Maybe somebody’s pet snake had escaped and was living in the Nature Reserve. It was unlikely, yes, but it was intriguing. Johnny decided that if there was a snake near the school pond, then that had to be worth a quick look. He was already late for school – another five minutes wouldn’t make much difference…
Johnny turned and crawled excitedly towards the pond.
The soil became much wetter the nearer he got to the water and the moisture soaked through the knees of his school trousers.
When he got to the edge of the pond, Johnny crouched still and listened…
… There was something there – was it a snake’s hiss or a trapped bird? With the noise of the cricket game in the background and his own heart beating loudly, it was difficult to tell.
Johnny shifted nearer to the pond with his arms around his knees until he reached the very edge of the water.
A faint, fuzzy murmur was coming from somewhere near the bulrushes.
Johnny moved his toes another centimetre forward, but he still couldn’t really -
- Johnny’s feet splashed into the pond!
Johnny scrambled back out as quickly as he’d fallen in… but it was too late: The left side of his school uniform was covered in mud and his trainers and socks were soaked.
Just brilliant, thought Johnny. It was only Monday morning – he hadn’t even got to school yet – and he looked like he’d walked through a swamp. The rest of the class would have the time of their lives laughing at him. Yet again, the world had treated Johnny badly for no other reason except that everything was always, always against him.
Johnny angrily brushed some mud from his trouser leg, but the mud stuck to his fingers and spread on to his jacket. So he took a piece of paper from his school bag and wiped the mud with that, but the paper just made the mud dry more quickly and- –
- A whisper.
Johnny dropped the piece of paper in the grass.
- Another whisper!
Johnny kept very still… and counted.
- One… two… three…
- Definitely! There were three voices in the pond!
Johnny held his breath and listened…
…“Come on, chaps,” whispered the first voice. “The quicker you grab it, the quicker we can get out of here.”
“Is it dangerous?” asked a second.
“Flippin’ ‘eck, Dribble!” snapped a third. “Just grab the flippin’ thing and stop being soft!”
“I wish you’d stop calling me ‘Dribble’,” said the second.
Then there was a rustling noise and the bulrushes moved. And Johnny’s focus was suddenly on nothing else except the moving stems of the bulrushes.
A vicious ripple appeared on the pond’s surface, as though something underneath was swimming ferociously towards him.
Johnny’s mind raced at a million miles an hour for the correct response to such a situation and in a split-second he had the answer:
Johnny jumped up and legged it through the Nature Reserve! He leapt over the wire fence and onto the school’s games field like a cheetah chasing a gazelle!
The children from Johnny’s class slowly stopped playing their game of cricket to stare at the muddy, noisy, and possibly crazy figure running towards them.
Mr Grudge was the first to recognise him. “JOHNNY ECCLES!” Mr Grudge shouted. “WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?”
Johnny immediately remembered his concerns about not being seen and his big plan to sneak to school and ‘casually’ arrive late. But his fear about being grabbed by - well, by who-knows-what - had completely over-taken such matters.
Johnny ran directly to Mr Grudge, pointed at the Nature Reserve and yelled, “IN THERE! I was in there and something tried to grab me and I…”
Several children giggled.
Mr Grudge shouted, “SILENCE!” at them and looked at Johnny Eccles. What was the little idiot on about? “Okay, Johnny,” said Mr Grudge patiently, “what were you doing in the nature weserve?”
“QUICKLY!” shouted Johnny. “There’s someth -”
- “DON’T YOU DARE SHOUT AT ME!” roared Mr Grudge with his face all red.
Johnny took a step backwards and said, “Sorry, sir.”
“Are you forgetting whom you’re talking to, lad?” continued Mr Grudge. “Now: Why were you in the nature weserve and not here in school where you should be?”
Johnny took a deep breath and said, “I was just coming to school that way, sir, when I, erm, fell and somethin-”
- “Johnny Eccles, you know that childwen aren’t allowed near the pond without supervision,” said Mr Grudge. “You’ve no wight coming to school thwough the nature weserve. And look at the state of your uniform. I’ve never seen such -”
- “Mr Grudge, I know,” interrupted Johnny and all the other children gasped. Nobody ever interrupted Mr Grudge. But right then, Johnny’s heart was racing and he just didn’t care. “But seriously sir,” Johnny said, “there’s something near the pond that tried to grab me, honest!”
Mr Grudge stared at Johnny with a look that veered somewhere between anger and sarcasm.
“Really,” Johnny pleaded, “I’m not making it up!”
“All wight!” snapped Mr Grudge. “Evewybody follow me! But so help you if you’re lying to me, Johnny Eccles…”
Mr Grudge led the class to the small wire fence at the edge of the playing field. He told the children to stay exactly where they were and to be quiet or else; and then Mr Grudge stepped over the fence and into the Nature Reserve.
Once their teacher was far enough away, the other children started whispering and giggling to each other. But Johnny just stared out to the pond, willing Mr Grudge to find whatever it was out there. And what with focussing on the Nature Reserve and his heart thumping noisily in his chest, it took Johnny a few minutes to realise that the other children - giggling and laughing behind his back - were actually giggling and laughing about him.
“Look at the state of his uniform,” said one kid, and laughed.
“He looks like a right tramp,” said another, and a few kids started chanting, “Trampy Johnny! Trampy Johnny!”
Johnny’s mum always told him to ignore other kids if they laughed at him. But, standing by the small wire fence shaking with humiliation and anger, Johnny didn’t know how long he’d be able to stand it for. In the event, it wasn’t very long.
One kid asked, “What’s he on about - saying something tried to grab him?”
Another answered, “Oh, don’t listen to Trampy Eccles. He’s stupid! He’s always making stuff up.”
Johnny turned around, shouted, “I HAVEN’T MADE IT UP!” and pushed the first kid that he could. This kid turned out to be Sammy Gillside, the smallest, cleverest and quietest boy in the class.
Johnny immediately regretted pushing Sammy – firstly because it seemed cruel - but secondly because Johnny was quickly reminded that Sammy’s best friend was also the biggest girl in the class, Louisa Potts.
Louisa Potts ran over, knocked Johnny to the ground and then punched him repeatedly in the ribs while she shouted, “DO YOU THINK YOU’RE TOUGH, ECCLES, PICKING ON SAMMY? TRY PICKING ON ME, YOU SOFT WIMP!”
The rest of the children gathered in a circle around them and chanted, “Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!”
Johnny just lay there while Louisa punched his back and side and said, “No! Ow! I didn’t mean to – Argh! Louisa! Don’t, I – Ooo!” until Mr Grudge inevitably came thundering back over the small wire fence and shouted, “JOHNNY ECCLES!”
Louisa Potts got up and left Johnny on the grass in a clumsy, sore heap.
“GET UP JOHNNY!” screamed Mr Grudge. “Your uniform won’t be fit for the bin at this wate!”
As Johnny struggled to his feet Mr Grudge turned to Louisa Potts and asked, “Would you mind telling me what that was all about please, Louisa?” Mr Grudge was always polite with Louisa Potts. He was only about two inches taller than she was.
“He hit Sammy Gillside,” said Louisa, pointing at Johnny, “for no reason.”
“Yes, but I …” began Johnny.
- “SHUT UP!” yelled Mr Grudge, and Johnny shut up.
Mr Grudge then asked Sammy Gillside if Johnny had hit him, and Sammy and a few of the other kids confirmed that Johnny had.
So Mr Grudge turned back to Johnny and quietly said, “Johnny Eccles, go to the classwoom and wwite thwee hundwed lines – ‘I must not fight or diswupt the class’. The headmistwess will wing your mother later about this behaviour. Now, go on: get out of my sight.”
Johnny nodded. He knew when he was beaten. But, before he went, he had to know. “Mr Grudge,” Johnny asked meekly, “did you find anything near the pond?”
“DON’T BE WIDICULOUS!” exploded Mr Grudge. “OF COURSE I DIDN’T! NOW GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!”
Johnny ran all the way to the classroom. He could hear the other kids laughing about him as he went, but he couldn’t see Mr Grudge wiping his shoes back and forth on the grass, trying to get the horrible blue slime off his pristine brown leather slip-ons.
“What a day,” thought Johnny, as he lay in bed that night.
He’d spent all the morning, half of lunchtime, all the afternoon break and thirty minutes of a detention writing lines. His wrist was absolutely killing - and his ribs hurt from where Louisa Potts had battered him. But, even worse than all that, Mr Grudge had got the headmistress to ring his mum.
And did Johnny’s mum shout? No - Johnny’s mum had done the most horrifying thing that a parent can do: she’d sat Johnny down for ‘A Serious Talk’.
She’d said that she had to go to work in the mornings and she thought that she could trust Johnny to go to school properly on his own by now. She didn’t understand why Johnny wasn’t making the most of his education so that he could grow up to get a proper career. She’d said that they had to do these things for each other, what with them being on their own. And she was sorry that they were on their own. And then she’d started to cry.
It had been truly, truly horrible. What do you say to all that? Not that Johnny got much of a chance to say anything, but when he had he’d just said, “Sorry mum,” and felt really guilty.
But, lying in bed that night, Johnny didn’t feel guilty anymore. He felt angry at the voices by the pond. Planning to grab him like that… Who did they think they were? Yeah – he’d been late for school and had gone into the so-called ‘Nature Reserve’ when he shouldn’t have – but he wouldn’t have got in half as much trouble if it hadn’t have been for those stupid voices!
Whoever they were – Johnny would find them tomorrow and get Mr Grudge or the headmistress to go and catch them. And then everyone would see that he hadn’t been lying or messing about on purpose - and everything would be okay again.
Johnny yawned, stretched, and began to feel better. And as he’d started the day as an elephant, it made a strange sort of sense that he should finish the day as a mouse.
Johnny fell asleep imagining himself running around behind the skirting boards, frightening all the spiders.
The Tigon Trap
Johnny had no chance of setting off late the following morning. Tuesday’s were his mum’s day off and she liked to go shopping early (“before the shops get too busy”). On Tuesdays, Johnny always left the house when his mum did, at 8.40am.
Johnny walked to school that morning as a tigon. Tigons are a cross between a tiger and a lion, and the books that Johnny had seen them in had the coolest photos. They had the head of a lion – with the mane and everything – and the stripy body of a tiger.
However, acting like a cross between a tiger and a lion was difficult because lions live in groups called ‘prides’ while tigers are mostly solitary animals – so quite how a tigon was supposed to act was anyone’s guess. But Johnny figured that they were bound to act cool however they acted, so Johnny simply acted cool.
He saw a few of the kids from his class heading towards the school’s front main entrance (including Louisa Potts – Johnny wondered how long she’d last with a tigon). But Johnny had the voices by the pond to investigate, so he did the decent thing and ignored the other kids as only a tigon could - by sliding between parked cars, occasionally growling, and by going down the back streets to school.
When he got to the railings that separated the back street from the Nature Reserve, Johnny double-checked to see if anyone was watching. He didn’t want to get caught going in the Nature Reserve a second time. Who knew how many lines he’d get for that?
At the top of the back street next to the school a few of the younger children were stood waiting with their parents. But as none of them seemed to be looking his way Johnny quickly climbed over the railings, put his bag over his shoulders, and crawled through the Nature Reserve towards the pond again. And as he crept along, Johnny tried to work out what the voices might actually be…
The obvious answer – that because they’d talked they must be people – didn’t seem right, because the voices hadn’t sounded like children, and there was no way that three adults could hide behind some bulrushes in a two-foot deep pond. The voices hadn’t come from mobile ‘phones – they’d been much too clear for that. And they couldn’t have been walkie-talkies as they’d definitely moved through the bulrushes at one point – and how many walkie-talkies can actually walk as well as talk?
The only explanation that Johnny could think of was that someone had played a trick on him, possibly by sailing a remote-controlled boat through the bulrushes with a radio on it. They were probably watching him as he crawled through the Nature Reserve at that very moment, waiting to play the same trick on him again.
Yeah, well - let them, thought Johnny. This time he’d stay exactly where he was. This time, he wouldn’t get scared. (But if he did get scared, he’d at least make sure that he knew where the devices were so that a teacher could go and get them, instead…)
Johnny crawled to the edge of the pond, to the exact spot where he’d heard the voices the day before, and then he crouched still.
…And he listened…
… And he listened…
But there was nothing.
There was the sound of children running around in the distance making the most of those precious moments before the bell rang - but that was it.
Johnny sighed. Where were they?
He crawled all around the pond being careful to keep his uniform clean, looking for any strange movements and listening for any unusual noises…
…But there was nothing. Zilch, zip, nowt, zero!
Then the school-bell rang for the start of the day, and as all the children went to their classrooms, Johnny realised that he’d just made himself late again for no reason.
Johnny groaned and sat down by the pond, and then remembered that he shouldn’t sit down as the wet soil would make his trousers muddy - which, of course, it did.
Johnny picked up a stone and threw it angrily at the pond. What a waste of time! So much for his big plans to find the voices and prove his innocence. Perhaps he had just imagined the voices. Perhaps his mum was right – perhaps he did have too much imagination for his own good. Perhaps he did need to buckle down to some schoolwork and stop daydreaming his life away…
Johnny picked up another stone and threw it into the water.
… But, so what? She just didn’t get it, that was his mum’s problem. It was okay for people like David Cooks. David just got things straight away. David was naturally clever. But Johnny wasn’t, not really. And school was so boring. They never seemed to learn anything interesting. It was always maths. Who cared about maths? If they made school a bit more fun he might start doing better at it. And they could do that by sacking Mr. Grudge, for a start.
Johnny looked around for another stone to throw. There was a huge one behind him, almost hidden under a thick, damp shrub.
Johnny stared at the pond, stretched behind, and grabbed hold of the stone to -
- What was that?
- That wasn’t a stone.
Johnny span around and looked.
The tip of a large, dark, oval shape poked out from the bottom of the thick shrub. If it wasn’t a stone, then… what was it?
Johnny slowly stretched his hand out to touch the thing, but the nearer his hand got; the more nervous he became…
What if it bit him, or stung?
Johnny hesitated for a moment, with his fingers just centimetres away. Then, with his eyes all screwed up, Johnny quickly flicked the thing and…
Johnny carefully placed his hand on the thing, and kept it there and…
It was very weird, whatever it was. It felt cold and clammy, like a fish or a toad, but it looked like the tip of a giant green balloon. And then, just as Johnny was getting used to how it felt – the thing suddenly moved!
Johnny jumped back – and the thing slid all the way under the shrub!
Johnny briefly hesitated – but then he lay down in the long wet grass with his head so close to the shrub that its leaves touched his hair.
And there, underneath the shrub, were little moving shadows - shadows that could have been legs, but then again, could have been anything, really. It was too dark to tell. A torch would have helped. Johnny tried to remember where they kept the torch at home – in the airing cupboard probably, that’s where they kept everything else. He thought of looking in his school bag for a torch, even though he positively knew for a fact that there wasn’t –
- Something suddenly rushed through the grass on Johnny’s left!
Johnny scrambled backwards and –
- Something dashed through the grass on his right!
Johnny edged sideways and –
- A shadow suddenly ran to the edge of the shrub and shouted, “NOW!”
Johnny quickly stood up, but -
- A thick net fell over Johnny’s head and drew his arms and legs together! Johnny pushed, pulled, shoved and twisted - and he fell to the floor in a clumsy, struggling heap.
Johnny was trapped.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” said the first. “My name is Bandoora, and these are my colleagues, Eyzenky…”
“How do you do?” asked the second
“… And Ellis…”
“Pleased to meet you,” said the third
“… And you are now the prisoner of The Bubble Frogs sent from our wise King Fishburble of Shamojateen who protects us all with his kindness and goodness, for he is a good king -”
- “But I'm …” interrupted Johnny.
“Let him flippin’ finish!” growled Eyzenky.
Johnny shut up again.
“Thank you, Eyzenky,” said Bandoora. “Now, where was I? Oh yes ... And you are now the prisoner of The Bubble Frogs sent from our wise King Fishburble of Shamojateen who protects us all with his kindness and goodness, for he is a good king – so he is. Okay; as our prisoner you must keep quiet and only speak when you are spoken to. You have the right to eat and drink and shall come to no harm so long as you do not try to escape or cause us any trouble or get on our nerves too much. Any questions?”
Johnny was baffled, frightened, and uncomfortable. After a minute of struggling he’d found that the more he struggled, the more uncomfortable he became, so he’d just stayed still in a curved, almost-lying-down position.
Johnny had been dragged onto a small wooden cart with no wheels, but with two pieces of yellow rope tied at the front. He’d been about to shout for help until he’d seen, from his upside-down position, exactly what had caught him. That had shut him up.
They called themselves Bubble Frogs.
They were three feet tall and dark green. They had tiny feet with three toes and big yellow eyes, like two tea saucers stuck onto the side of giant green rugby balls. The Bubble Frogs had no necks to speak of; their heads just continued from their bellies. They had no proper arms either, just hands sticking out from two wrists at the side of their bodies. But they definitely had mouths, though – great big mouths, with long, slug-like lips. The Bubble Frogs looked, for all intents and purposes, like living, giant green eggs. And although each of the three Bubble Frogs were undoubtedly the same species, they all looked slightly different.
Bandoora was the eldest, with a few grey hairs around his face.
Eyzenky was the biggest, about six inches taller and wider than the other two, with a few white spots on his belly.
Ellis was the shortest of the three. He carried a green cloth bag on his back, and had what Johnny at first thought were blue markings underneath his mouth, until Bandoora had told Ellis to wipe his chin and Johnny had realised that Ellis’ blue markings were, in fact, blue dribble.
“Who… who are you?” asked Johnny, in a quiet, scared voice.
“This has already been explained to you,” said Bandoora. “You know our names and our scout mission…”
“You are now the prisoner of The Bubble Frogs sent from wise King Fishburble of Shamojateen who protects…” repeated Ellis until Eyzenky rolled his eyes and said, “Flippin’ ‘eck, Dribble!”
“Chaps!” snapped Bandoora. “We’re professionals in possession of a prisoner! Can we follow procedure, please?”
Eyzenky and Ellis both looked down at their feet.
“Thank you,” said Bandoora. “Prisoner! Do you have any other questions or may we continue?”
“Continue where?” asked Johnny anxiously. Whatever was happening, and he wasn’t sure what that was exactly, it was all happening a bit too quickly for his liking. “Look, I don’t know what you’re doing,” he said, “but I have to get to school. I can’t be going with you t -”
- “Oh, yeah?” interrupted Eyzenky. “You have to get to school? And what’s flippin’ ‘school’ when it’s at home?”
“What?” asked Johnny. What were these creatures? What were they talking about? His only hope seemed to be to talk them around, somehow - to make them let him go. “School?” said Johnny. “It's that building over there, and I have to go or I'll get in trouble. Look; how’s about you let me go and I'll not tell anyone -”
- “You have to go to ‘school’?” asked Ellis, his blue dribble leaking down his front. “But what is it?”
“What do you mean?” asked Johnny.
“‘School,” repeated Bandoora. “What is ‘school’?”
Johnny didn’t know what to say. He was frightened and puzzled, but The Bubble Frogs were looking at him with what seemed like genuine bewilderment. So Johnny cleared his throat to speak normally, but it didn’t work: his voice came out all scared and high-pitched. “School is where you go to learn things, like sums and reading and that,” he squeaked, “and I have to go because they'll…” Johnny didn’t bother finishing his sentence. The Bubble Frogs were laughing like they’d just been told the funniest joke in the world.
“You see, hahaha, what savages these creatures are?” asked Bandoora, wiping a tear from his eye. “They, hahaha, have to, hahaha, learn…”
The Bubble Frogs laughed so much that they could hardly stand up. Johnny was very confused.
“Okay,” said Bandoora, calming down, “enough frivolity. Let’s take the prisoner back to the civilised world.”
“Are you aliens?” asked Johnny, his voice shaking all over the place.
“Enough questions, prisoner!” snapped Bandoora. “If you stay quiet we will be back in no time and then we can all eat and drink. But be warned: if you yell or cause any difficulties, then Ellis will use the weapon.”
Johnny turned his eyes. Ellis was stood behind him holding a strange, bent metallic stick like a silver banana. It wasn’t very big, maybe ten inches long, but it was unlike any weapon that Johnny had ever seen before, and it was pointing directly at his face. Johnny decided to stay quiet.
“Eyzenky!” ordered Bandoora. “Take the reins!”
“Oh yeah,” muttered Eyzenky, “I knew I’d end up pulling the flippin’ prisoner.”
“Eyzenky!” whispered Bandoora. “Not in front of the prisoner, please -”
- “Are we ready, then?” interrupted Ellis.
“Ellis!” said Bandoora. “I was just going to say that… Could you just give your chin another quick wipe? Thanks. Okay, then: Are we ready, chaps? Let’s go.”
Eyzenky walked to the front of the cart and put the yellow ropes in each of his hands. Then, with Bandoora leading the way, Eyzenky pulled Johnny around the Nature Reserve pond and towards the hedge that separated the farmer’s fields from the school.
At the hedge, Bandoora crouched down and crawled under, with Eyzenky following, pulling Johnny on the cart.
Just beneath the hedge was a very faint rectangle of swirling colours. It started at the ground and ran up into the middle of the hedge-leaves. Johnny only saw it because it caught the rays of the sun for a brief second, like a weird, multi-coloured spider’s web.
Then, with a hot flash of yellow light, Johnny was pulled into the coloured rectangle and out of Ashcroft.
And just at that moment, Mrs Bentley opened the curtains of her kitchen window.