Book 4: Free Chapters!
Peter Black and the Travelling Circus – The Fourth Peter Black Mystery
© Simon Halliday 2007
1. A Very Unusual Pet
The last people to leave the Black’s house were much later than they should have been. It was half past ten on a Saturday night and everybody wanted to be up early the following morning, for various reasons.
“Mum, I’m tired” sighed Rowan as the door finally shut for the last time of the day.
Mrs. Black smiled down at him. “Of course you are” she said, “but it was important that we were kind to our guests. You know that they are very important people.”
“What do you mean?” asked Rowan. “They seemed quite ordinary to me.”
“You won’t understand this yet” continued Mrs. Black, “but the Johnson family are very well known around the world. They do a lot of good work, helping people who are struggling with poverty and those who need education.”
“Are they teachers?” asked Rowan.
“Yes, they are – and they also know a lot about politics. They are very good people.”
“Oh” said Rowan, frowning slightly. He glanced at Peter who was sitting on a large chair but Peter ignored him.
“Whatever are you making that face for, Rowan?” asked Mrs. Black. “What’s wrong?”
“I heard David talking about politics at school recently. He said that all politicians are bad and we shouldn’t trust them, especially their leaders.”
“Oh, come along” said his mother, softly. “It’s true that there are a lot of bad things happening in the world, but not all leaders are bad.”
“But how do we know who to trust?” asked Rowan, beginning to get quite upset. “David said that even the newsreaders on television tell lies.”
“Rowan, you mustn’t let it worry you” assured his mum. “There’s nothing we can do about it except pray for them all!”
As Rowan stared up at his mum he was about to ask another question, but just before he had time to mention it the door burst open and James appeared.
“Time for bed” said James. “It’s been a long day. I’ll see you all in the morning.”
“Yes, you’re absolutely right” agreed Mrs. Black. “Goodnight everybody, and sleep well. Especially you, Peter. You might have just turned fifteen and have lots of ideas but you still need a good night’s sleep.”
Peter nodded and said ‘goodnight’ but later that night, as he went to check on his new workshop out in the back garden, he had some very unusual visitors.
Sunday morning used to be a good day for all the family to be together, but as the Black family were growing up it was becoming less likely that this would happen. Even on a Sunday, they were always going off and doing different things from each other. James walked into the kitchen and saw his mum, Rowan and also his sister Lucy sitting at the breakfast table.
“Good morning” said Mrs. Black. “You’re looking very smart today.”
“Yes, I know” answered James, with a grin. “I’m ready for Church. Mary is coming over at half past eight.”
“Well, I’m amazed at how this family changes!” announced Mrs. Black. “Peter’s disappeared off down the garden into his new workshop. I doubt we’ll see him all day…and here are you looking like a completely different person every month. Mary is certainly having a different influence on you than your last girlfriend had.”
It was true that James seemed to constantly change. He now had very short, smart hair and he would never be seen in scruffy clothes.
“Can I come with you?” asked Rowan, feeling a little left out as usual.
“I’m sorry, Rowan” answered James. “Mary and I are going for lunch after Church. I think it’s a bit far out of our way to…”
“Hold on a minute” interrupted his mum. “That’s a terrible attitude to have, James Black. Church should be for everyone, so why won’t you take Rowan along?”
“Well, it’s just…” James looked lost for a few moments, then finally realised that his mum had a good point. “Well…I suppose we could bring you back home after Church. I’ll have to check with Mary, though.”
“Thank you!” chirped Rowan. “But can I not go for lunch with you as well?”
James glared at his brother as if to say ‘don’t push your luck’, and finally Rowan disappeared without another word. “Be quick getting ready” called James. “We only have ten minutes.”
Peter Black was surrounded by clocks and he was beginning to feel as if he was going slightly mad. There were fifteen of them and they were all ticking at the same time. There were also some old wires and electrical equipment, some test tubes with strange-coloured powders in and a whole variety of ancient pots and other artefacts. They were extremely odd-looking and had come from all over the world and from many different periods of history.
“Time” muttered Peter, lost in his own world. “Time is such an interesting thing.” He scribbled down a few notes with a pencil and opened a large text book. The title of the book was ‘Time: A Beginner’s Guide’ and it was mostly about what modern scientists believe that time really is. Some of them didn’t even believe that time existed at all! “Why is physics such a complicated subject?” asked Peter, staring at the clocks. He was thinking about his physics teacher Mr. Lever and was wondering how clever he must be to have got his job at the school. Unfortunately Peter didn’t have very much time to think about all of this, because James was hurrying across the garden through the rain and calling for him.
“Peter, are we still meeting after lunch?” asked James as he carefully opened the shed door.
Peter glanced around to see him and nodded quickly. “James, I don’t make arrangements and then break them the following day” he said. “You really don’t need to check up on me like this! I said I’d like to have a chat with you and so I shall.”
As his brother was talking, James was staring around the workshop in astonishment. “Peter, what on earth are you doing in here?” he asked. “Are you building a time machine or something?”
Peter laughed for a few seconds but then stopped very suddenly and stared seriously across at his brother. “James, I will tell you this afternoon what I’m doing. I know that Sunday doesn’t seem like a very good day for a physics lesson but I have quite a few things to tell you about.”
“Very well” agreed James, looking quite amazed as he gazed around at the clocks and the other items in the workshop. He was particularly interested in a large model of a ship which had been carved from wood.
“I see you’re looking at the titanic” said Peter. “It’s a nice model, isn’t it?”
“Yes” agreed James. “Where do you get all these things from, Peter?”
“Never you mind about that right now” Peter told him. “I’ve met some very interesting people recently and I’m going to tell you about them later…but for now, don’t you be late for Church.”
James looked down at his watch and saw that it was already half past eight. “Mary will be here!” he cried. “See you later, then…” He tried to run out of the workshop but he ran into the door which had shut behind him. “I didn’t shut the door!” complained James. “How did…?”
“It’s got springs on it now” Peter told him. “It shuts itself.” He laughed as James rubbed his head and fumbled around with the door catch; he was reassured to see that although his brother changed sometimes, he was still the same in so many ways.
“Well, there you are!” cried Mary, who had been waiting in the kitchen for a few minutes.
“Good morning” said James brightly. He grinned at his friend.
“James, you look lovely” said Mary, who was often encouraging him to dress more smartly.
“Thank you” said James, who grinned at her even more.
“Please get out of this house and on with your day” pleaded Mrs. Black as she washed the breakfast plates. “I don’t think I can stand any more of this! And don’t forget to take Rowan with you.”
At that moment Rowan appeared at the doorway and James laughed because he was dressed in a very odd assortment of clothes.
“Now James, don’t you say anything about Rowan’s dress sense” said Mrs. Black, quickly. “I know he’s funny but just remember that you weren’t always so smart yourself…” Yet as she was speaking, Mrs. Black was glancing over her shoulder to look at Rowan and even she was finding it hard not to laugh.
“Good morning Hann…” began Rowan, but he stopped quickly (at exactly the same time as James stopped laughing and glared at him). Rowan had nearly called James’s new girlfriend ‘Hannah’, because that was the name of the girl which James used to like. “Good morning, Mary” said Rowan.
James rolled his eyes away and looked out of the kitchen window. He was finding it all quite awkward but Mary spoke quickly to make everybody feel better.
“Good morning Rowan” she said, amused by what had happened. She already knew Hannah for they were all at the same school – she knew that James used to think of her as a girlfriend. “Nice clothes” she continued, genuinely trying to be nice. “Where did you get…?”
“Oh no” sighed James. “Please don’t ask him where he got those shoes from.” He looked down at the shoes which were bright green and clashed terribly with Rowan’s blue trousers, then began to laugh again.
“Come on, let’s go” said Rowan. “I don’t care what you all think anyway.”
As the two brothers and Mary walked away from the Black’s family home, the rain became heavier.
“Rowan, you really should get a better coat” James told him. “That thing’s not going to keep you very dry at all!” It was true that Rowan’s coat was too small for this kind of weather and it didn’t even have a hood.
“I wish everyone would leave me alone for a change” grumbled Rowan, who seemed to get quite a lot of hassle from his family.
“We’re only telling you what we think” said James. “You have some very funny ways, you know.”
“Well, thanks very much!” moaned Rowan, “but what about some of the things which you come out with? Some people happen to think that you’re a bit daft at times as well. You really shouldn’t…” It seemed that Rowan was ready to rant on for the entire journey but before he had finished his sentence something very unusual was seen in the street ahead of them.
“Quiet” said James, quickly. “What’s that, do you think?”
Mary and Rowan had already noticed it and had stopped very suddenly on the pavement, for there was a strange animal standing a few metres ahead of them. It was a silvery colour and had long hair but it looked nothing like a normal cat or dog. It was simply the wrong shape, for although it wasn’t very tall it was very long indeed – about two metres long but with a very short little squashed up face.
“What is it?” gasped Rowan.
“I’ve no idea” said James, unhelpfully. “It’s completely still, isn’t it? It doesn’t even seem to be alive.”
“But it’s standing on its little legs” said Rowan. He glanced around the street and could see that nobody else was around. He wondered if anybody else had seen this peculiar creature.
“Well, it must have come from somewhere” said Mary, who was also looking up and down the street. “It can’t have simply appeared here out of thin air. Maybe it’s escaped from a zoo or something.”
“A zoo?” said James. “There aren’t any zoos around here. The nearest one is probably fifty miles away.”
“Yes, I know” answered Mary, looking quite confused again.
“James!” cried Rowan suddenly, as he noticed the creature beginning to move. It was turning its head towards them and opening its mouth.
James stared at the creature as it yawned, stretched and then lay down on the pavement. It was really a very odd thing to see. “What are you?” he asked boldly.
Both Mary and Rowan stared at him as if he were mad. There was silence for a few moments but then the creature turned its head towards them again. It opened its mouth and they wondered if it might actually speak to them all. Yet it simply seemed to be yawning once more and its head soon lay back down on the pavement.
“It looks very tired” said Rowan. “What do you think it’s doing here?” But before anybody could respond to his question, which nobody would have a good answer for anyway, there was a sudden flurry of activity from their house which was quite a long way back down the street. Somebody was running towards them very quickly.
“Who…?” began Rowan, but it soon became obvious who it was.
“It’s Peter!” said James. “He looks extremely anxious about something.”
Peter was moving more quickly than they’d ever seen and as he approached they noticed that he was sweating a lot as well. It looked as if he might know something about this strange creature they had found.
“Dexter!” shouted Peter, quite close to them now. As he said this, the creature lifted its head and opened its eyes. It was staring at Peter as he drew to a halt by his brothers. “Good boy” said Peter, softly, but he was breathing so quickly that he was struggling to sound calm. “You know you shouldn’t be out here” continued Peter, and Dexter’s head dropped slightly. “It’s time you went back home. Go on, quickly now.” Peter was glancing up and down the street, apparently hoping that nobody else had seen his unusual pet.
Dexter became very obedient now and did exactly as Peter had asked him. He ran away up the street, heading back towards the Blacks’ house.
“Peter, what on earth…?” began James.
“Don’t worry” said Peter. “Dexter looks very unusual, I know, but he’s very good.”
“But what is he?” demanded James. “I’ve never seen anything like him. Don’t tell me he’s a dog, I won’t believe you.”
“Well, it’s like I said to you this morning” said Peter. “I will tell you what I’m up to later this afternoon. In the meantime, I have a lot to do. Now don’t worry about it.” He smiled briefly and nodded at Mary before he went, who tried to smile back but looked more bewildered than anything else.
“I don’t know what all that was about” said James, “but we’re going to be late if we stay around here any longer.” He looked towards the house and saw that Dexter was heading for their back garden.
“Peter must be keeping Dexter in his workshop” said Rowan.
“Yes, it certainly looks that way” agreed James. He smiled at Mary and gently squeezed her arm. “Don’t worry” he told her. “My brother has a very curious mind and gets involved in all sorts of interesting things. I’m sure that there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation…”
Yet as he set off once more, followed by Mary and Rowan, James was fairly certain that there might not be anything like a reasonable explanation.
2. The Truth Is Out!
“Stupid!” cried Peter, banging his fist on his workshop desk. He was angry at himself for having let Dexter escape.
The strange dog-type creature looked up at him sadly and then bowed its head as if to share in Peter’s upset.
“Dexter, please try to stay in here” said Peter. “I know it’s not very nice to be cooped up all day and night, but you’ll be going back to your owner in less than twenty-four hours.”
Dexter slowly wandered towards an old grey curtain which was hanging over a table in a dark corner of the workshop; he quietly slipped behind it so that he was hidden from sight.
A few moments later, Peter heard a soft lapping sound as Dexter drank some water. He always had plenty of food and water, for Peter had been given strict instructions to keep Dexter well fed. He had also been given strict instructions not to let anybody else see Dexter for any reason, but sadly he had now failed in this.
“How did you get out, anyway?” asked Peter. “I should have noticed you passing me…” Yet the more he thought about it, the more obvious it was that he must have been too absorbed in his study of time to notice Dexter escaping. “Oh well” he sighed at last. “It’s too late to do anything about it now. I’ll just have to tell your owners the truth about what happened.”
As James, Mary and Rowan sat in Church, they were finding it a little harder than usual to concentrate. The priest was reading from the book of Genesis:
“God said, ‘Let the earth produce every kind of living creature in its own species: cattle, creeping things and wild animals of all kinds.’ And so it was.”
James glanced across at Mary and Rowan, but they were too busy concentrating on what the priest was saying to notice him. Of course he was thinking about the strange creature they’d seen that morning and was wondering more than ever what Peter was up to.
“As you can see from today’s readings” said the priest, “God can do whatever He wants! Imagine if you said ‘Let there be a million pounds in my bank account this morning’ and so it was!” There was a ripple of laughter from the congregation, because they liked the priest and were quite used to his gentle humour. “Well, you will find that if you try that and it does not happen then that will prove you are not God. The point really is this…” he continued. “God’s creation is very good and we have to look after it. It is our responsibility to look after it…” The priest became quite animated as he preached; it was obvious that he was passionate about what he was talking about. James couldn’t think about anything else except Peter’s new pet and he wondered how long Peter had been looking after that!
James left the Church first, closely followed by Rowan and then Mary.
“James, are you alright?” asked Rowan.
“Yes” answered James, dreamily. “I’m fine. Why?”
“It’s just that you seem a little distant. It’s as if something’s on your mind.”
“Well, what do you think?” he asked. “Come on, we’re taking you home.”
“Ah yes, then we’re going for lunch” said Mary. “It’s a lovely café, James. I don’t think you’ve been there before.”
“What?” asked James, his mind wandering again. He was staring at a brightly-coloured bird which was perched on a gravestone near the Church gate.
“James, I’m amazed that I can put up with this! What’s going on? You’re hardly listening to a word I’m saying.”
“Oh, I’m sorry” answered James, but he wasn’t doing a very good job of looking sorry. He simply wasn’t paying any attention to the people around him. “It’s just that brother of mine, Peter” he explained. “I’m wondering…”
“Yes, I know” interrupted Mary, quite rudely. “You’re wondering what he’s up to. I suppose you’ll want to go and see him when we get back to the house.”
“Well, it’s alright. We’ve planned to go for lunch, so…”
“Never mind!” snapped Mary.
Rowan stared up at her and then across to James. He wasn’t sure what was happening all of a sudden. “Are you not going for lunch, then?” he asked, innocently.
“Of course we are” said James. “Mary, I’m meeting Peter later. It’s not going to make any difference if I see him before or after lunch.”
“Oh yes it is!” she argued. “I can’t put up with you wondering what Peter’s doing and what that creature is when we’re supposed to be having a nice lunch together. You meet him first and we’ll go for a later lunch.”
“Alright” said James, admitting that she was right. “I’ll have to check that Peter’s ready to see me earlier, though.”
Mary hugged James as they stopped outside the house, then waved goodbye to Rowan. “I’ll see you at two” she said to James. “Give me a call if you need to change the time again. I’m going to see my family and hopefully will have some peace for a while!” She wandered off down the street and James was hoping that she wouldn’t think less of him because of the change of plan.
“Peter, I really wonder at times just what…” But as James entered the workshop, he stopped talking quite suddenly. He could see his brother waving silently but frantically at him, ushering him out of the shed.
Peter followed James outside and gently shut the door to prevent it from springing back. “We can talk out here” he said, looking up at the sky and seeing that the clouds had dispersed quite well.
“Alright” agreed James. “But I really think you owe me an explanation about that strange creature in there. Whatever you’re up to, I’m still your assistant aren’t I?”
“Yes, you are” Peter told him, “but I don’t have to tell you everything. You’ll be told what you need to know and be grateful!”
“Well, that’s a fine attitude to take” grumbled James, feeling like Peter should trust him more. “Well, there’s nothing I can do about it” he sighed, eventually. “Go on then, what are you going to tell me about Dexter? Where’s he from?”
Peter stared for a few moments at James and could see that he was ready to learn more. “You haven’t seen the news recently, have you?” he asked.
“No, not really” admitted James. “I’ve been a bit…”
“Yes, as I suspected” interrupted Peter. “You’ve been busy seeing Mary, I know. The news headlines have been dominated by one story all week and it doesn’t sound very good.”
“News on the television never does!” cried James. “What’s the story, then?”
“It’s about the future of our planet” said Peter. “They’re all talking about how some of the things we’ve been doing for nearly two hundred years are destroying the earth.”
“Two hundred years?” repeated James, surprised. “I’ve only been here for fourteen.”
Peter frowned at his brother. “When I say ‘things that we’ve been doing’, I mean things that all humans have been doing, not just you and I.”
“Oh” said James. “You’re talking about greenhouse gases and global warming, aren’t you?”
“That’s right” answered Peter. “Some scientists are saying that the planet’s getting hotter all the time and that if we fly too many planes and drive too many cars then we’re going to make things much worse.”
“Some scientists? Which ones?”
“I don’t know.”
“So not all of them are saying it…do you think they’re right?”
“I think it’s very interesting” said Peter, dismissively. He wasn’t going to talk too much about something he didn’t really understand. “The point is, I have some fascinating information” he continued. “I suspect that the people who are reading the news to us aren’t as well informed as we might think.”
“Oh, I know that!” sighed James. “Rowan’s been talking about that for weeks.”
“Yes, I know. He’s been talking to David Jones. You know him… he’s in my year at school.”
“Oh! Well that explains it!” announced James, with a look of amusement on his face. “David Jones is really strange.”
“I know what you mean” agreed Peter. “He does come across as being quite odd, but he’s really very intelligent. He knows a lot about what’s going on in the world.”
James stared blankly for a few moments and Peter felt that there was a certain lack of interest from him. “Oh” said James simply, confirming Peter’s suspicions. He shivered and looked up at the sky. “It’s rather cold for the end of August, don’t you think?”
“You’re right” agreed Peter. “The weather is changing from year to year. Although it’s September tomorrow – we’re back at school remember.”
“I thought you were saying the planet’s getting hotter, though!”
“I really don’t know” admitted Peter. “I’m not sure that anybody knows what’s going on with our planet!”
“So what was that ‘fascinating information’ you were telling me about then?” James blinked a few times and stared at his brother as he waited.
“Well… It was only late last night when Dexter arrived” said Peter. “The people who brought him had seen me in the newspaper after the reports on what happened at Dragon’s Bay. As you know, the news reports didn’t tell even half the story. Yet this couple seemed to have read between the lines and they thought that I would be ready to meet them because of the bizarre things I’d already experienced.”
James looked quite uncomfortable at the mention of Dragon’s Bay, because although a few weeks had passed since their holiday there were still some very troubled memories of that time on his mind.
“I’m sorry to bring it up” said Peter, quickly. “It’s just that we can’t simply forget about what happened there. Anyway, this is something totally different which I have to tell you.”
James nodded, slowly.
“It was an elderly couple” continued Peter. “You would think they were like any other married couple, quite happy to enjoy afternoon tea and go for quiet walks, but these two had been mixed up with some very strange business.”
“Here we go again!” cried James. “You have an amazing talent for attracting these kinds of people.”
“Yes, I suppose so” agreed Peter. “Anyway, I can’t ignore them! I was walking down the street yesterday evening, going to get some milk, when as if from nowhere this couple appeared beside me and softly called my name.”
“Weird” said James. “Did they introduce themselves?”
“No, they wouldn’t tell me their names” answered Peter. “They presented me with this unusual dog and told me his name was Dexter. He was wrapped in towels, with only his nose sticking out through them. They told me they thought he was from another time, as if he’d somehow got lost and ended up in the twenty-first century.”
“Another time? Peter, this is getting stranger by the second” said James, yet he couldn’t help but be interested.
“Yes, I know it sounds odd” agreed Peter, “but I’m simply telling you what happened. They handed Dexter over to me and asked me to do some tests on him and let them know what I think. They’re returning to collect him at eight o’clock tonight.”
“Peter, are you sure these people are not insane?” asked James. “I’ve never heard anything like this before. I mean, of course I’ve seen that time travel film…What was it called…?”
“You mean Black to the Future?” said Peter, with a grin.
“Hmm… Something like that,” answered James, looking a little confused, “although I don’t think the character’s name was ‘Black.’ It was a good film, but I’m not convinced that a big car like they had could really travel to different times in history.” As he continued to look confused, James was a little hurt to see Peter was laughing at him. “What is it?” protested James. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh it’s nothing, dear brother” Peter told him, but James didn’t believe him.
“You really expect me to think nothing more of it?” persisted James. “Come on, what are you laughing at?” He was disappointed to see Peter shake his head and sit down on a nearby stone. It looked as if he wasn’t going to give anything away about what he was thinking.
“You really shouldn’t worry so much” Peter told him, kindly. “There’s usually nothing we can do about the things which happen around us. I can’t help it if I seem to attract strange people and events.”
James stared at him and could see that Peter too was looking quite lost and confused. He began to grin at last, as he remembered that there’s nearly always a funny side to any situation. “You’re right about that!” James told him, and when Peter grinned back at him he finally began to laugh. “Yes… I mean, what about that weird man Mr. Craven and then the crazy Ernest Foley…”
“I know” said Peter, nodding slowly. “Then there was Greg Walker and his cronies…”
“His what?” asked James.
“Oh, must I explain everything to you?” sighed Peter. “I mean his friends.”
“Well, I’ve never heard that word before” complained James, shaking his head. “Anyway, I think you use words like that to confuse me on purpose sometimes.”
“To test you!” said Peter, gently correcting his brother. “It won’t do you any harm. You might even learn something if you listen to me once in a while.”
“Well, maybe you’re right” admitted James. “But I still don’t know much about this odd couple and the unusual dog you’ve got hidden in your…” His voice trailed away to a whisper, as he heard footsteps approaching… slow, steady footsteps which were already surprisingly near to the brothers.
“Hidden where?” asked the owner of the footsteps.
James spun around to see a short man wearing a brown tweed jacket, about forty years old, with a beautiful parrot on his shoulder.
“Hidden where?” said the parrot.
“Well, what an excellent mimic” said Peter, as he gazed at the parrot.
“Mimic?” asked James.
“Oh, look it up in the dictionary!” Peter told him. “So, what can we do for you?” he asked the man.
“What can we do for you?” repeated the parrot.
“Quiet, Monty, quiet” said the man. “Sorry to interrupt you, boys, but I was rather wondering where this creature is… I was passing by on the pavement and I couldn’t help but overhear what you were saying.”
James was glancing around to see how far they were from the pavement and it was clear that nobody should have been able to hear them from that distance.
Peter had realised this and was already very suspicious of the man. “Well, I’m afraid there’s been a very unfortunate event” he told the man. “I was just about to inform my brother here that the dog has escaped this very morning and I’ve been unable to find him.”
“Really?” asked the man, gazing into Peter’s eyes. It was obvious that he didn’t believe him.
“Yes” insisted Peter. “But may I ask what business it is of yours?”
“No” said the man, quite rudely. It was strange that he was being like that, since he was in the Black’s garden and he hadn’t even been invited.
“Well, I’m sorry then” said Peter, calmly. “We can’t help you at all.” He stared blankly at the man, who appeared to be mildly irritated by this.
“Good day, then” he growled, turning away and shuffling back down the garden path.
James watched him go and then peered questioningly at Peter. “So what was all that about?” he asked.
“It was about people wanting to know the truth” answered Peter. “And I’m afraid that some of the wrong people might know too much already.”
“The truth about Dexter?” asked James.
“Yes” answered Peter. “That man is the third strange visitor I’ve had since Dexter arrived and I’m beginning to think that what this couple told me might be true.”
“That this creature had come from another time?” James looked horrified and excited by this.
“Yes” replied Peter, and then he gave up trying to hide things from his brother. “Come on then” he said at last. “I’ll show you what’s so special about Dexter.” He opened the workshop door and went inside. James followed him excitedly, at last beginning to feel that he wasn’t going to be left out of his brother’s latest investigation.
3. Peter’s Puzzle
Peter’s workshop was warm and quite dark. There were no windows, only a few dim lights around the walls. It had once simply been a large shed but Peter had spent all of his spare time creating his workshop since he’d returned from Dragon’s Bay. Peter locked the door now and headed deep into the gloomy space. James followed him hastily.
“Mind those dishes” Peter said, as James brushed by a desk which had some strange coloured powders and liquids on it.
“Dishes?” asked James, but as he turned around to look at what Peter was talking about, his coat nudged a dish of bright blue liquid over the edge of the desk. All of the dishes had glass lids and they looked quite breakable.
“James!” cried Peter, as he rushed back towards the desk. He caught the dish just in time to prevent it hitting the floor.
“Hey, well caught!” said James, brightly. “You should join the school’s cricket team with reactions as good as that.”
“James, I’m only going to tell you this once” said Peter. His voice was slow and stern, as he carefully placed the dish back on the desk. “If anything like that happens again then you’re never coming back in here, alright?”
“I’m sorry” said James, realising that he should be more careful. “I understand. So what is that blue stuff, anyway?”
“Let me put it like this” began Peter. “If it had smashed and spilt on the floor then nobody would be able to survive in here until the fumes properly disperse.”
“Wow, so it’s quite powerful stuff then?”
“All of those dishes contain harmful substances. If you knocked two of them off and they both smashed and mixed together, the whole workshop could go up in flames!”
“Wow” said James, again. “So why are they kept in glass containers? Should they not be in something stronger?”
“Maybe you’re right” sighed Peter, staring in wonder at his brother. “It’s just that I hadn’t planned to bring you in here, so I’d imagined things would be safe. Even Dexter doesn’t walk into things like you do! Now please, sit on that chair whilst I bring him out from his corner.”
An old wooden chair was near the door and as James moved towards it he was glancing nervously around in case there was something else nearby which he might manage to destroy. When James finally sat down, Peter made a ‘chh chh chh’ sound to bring Dexter out from behind the curtain. They had already heard Dexter shuffling around there, for they’d woken him up as soon as they’d entered the workshop.
Dexter didn’t need any more encouragement than Peter’s noise and very soon his little squashed up nose could be seen pushing its way out.
“Come on then” Peter told him. “Come and meet my brother.”
Dexter wandered out slowly and James gasped when he saw just how ugly and unusual this strange creature really was.
“Erm… Hello” said James. He didn’t know what to say at all.
Dexter looked up at him, then moved a little closer. He seemed to want stroking, just as any domestic dog might.
“You can stroke his back” said Peter. “He won’t bite you.”
“Well, if you’re sure about that” replied James, reaching down to Dexter. Yet as he touched his back, James was surprised at how his hand felt and he pulled it away again quickly. “Peter, it’s very strange” he muttered, stroking Dexter’s back once again but more cautiously this time.
“What’s that?” asked Peter, but he knew exactly what James was talking about.
“It’s as if… his coat is electric” stammered James. “My hand’s all tingly.”
Peter smiled and nodded. It looked like James could carry on stroking Dexter’s back all day long! It seemed that Dexter didn’t mind either, for he was standing quite still and enjoying all the attention.
“You see” began Peter. “It’s obvious that he isn’t an ordinary dog.”
“Well I can see that just by looking at him!” retorted James. “I never thought for one moment that he was an ordinary dog.”
“Follow me” said Peter, leading James further into the workshop, which was always much bigger than it seemed from the outside.
“It’s like a…”
“Don’t say it” said Peter, guessing what James was thinking. “You’re right, it’s much bigger in here than you might expect.”
“I was going to say it’s like an Aladdin’s cave” said James. “It’s full of fascinating things. Look at all these clocks!”
“Well, there’s a special reason for those” Peter said. “I’m in the middle of my research into time and it seems to become more interesting every day.”
“What do you mean?” asked James, glancing up at the rows of clocks. There must have been at least twenty of them, ticking noisily from the shelves above their heads.
“Well, take this one for instance…” As he spoke, Peter was reaching up for one of the oldest looking clocks James had ever seen. It was made of a dark wood and had some very unusual markings on it.
“It looks old” commented James.
“Well done” said Peter. “Is that all you can say about it?”
James scratched his head and stared in bewilderment at the clock. He didn’t have a clue what the strange markings meant – they were like some ancient hieroglyphics and he wondered if they were Egyptian.
“Before you ask” said Peter, “it’s not from Egypt.”
“Well, it’s really very interesting” said James, trying to sound knowledgeable. “It’s clearly not from Egypt, anybody can see that. I suspect it’s from… Well, somewhere around Europe, maybe. And from a long time ago…”
“James, this is pathetic” Peter told him.
“I know” agreed James. “I have no idea where it’s from.”
“Yes” said Peter. “So I shall explain. Although it looks old to us, that is far from the truth. This clock is from the future.”
“It’s from here – from this very workshop of mine, but from many years in the future.”
“Peter, that’s ridiculous. It looks very old and worn. Why would anybody…?”
But before James had finished, Peter opened the glass panel which had been over the clock’s face and James fell silent.
“Ah” said James at last, as he saw something similar to the display of a swatting stick taking place. If you are not aware, a swatting stick is a futuristic technology which can give information and messages to people, as Peter and James discovered in earlier adventures.
From the clock face a strong beam of pure white light was shining out and onto the workshop wall. There seemed to be nothing but clear light and James looked confused. “Is that it?” he asked, shielding his eyes. “I mean, it’s very impressive but I don’t see what use it is.”
“Be patient” said Peter. “And allow your imagination to work more openly.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at the light and let your mind take in the energy it’s giving out. This technology is more subtle than the swatting stick.”
“Hmm…” began James, as he tried to make sense of it. “So my imagination will create the things which my eyes cannot see there…?” He looked hopelessly lost now and Peter laughed.
“Hey, it’s not funny!” cried James. “It’s not my fault if…”
As James stopped talking, Peter grinned to see his brother finally beginning to understand. “Don’t worry” he said. “It’s perfectly harmless. You’re going to realise something very important now – that although all of this technology which we’ve seen is very impressive, we all have something much more powerful within us.”
“Our own minds?” guessed James.
“Exactly right” answered Peter, quickly. “There’s a lot to learn and it’s important that we don’t waste our time.”
James was looking amazed as he stared at the light and allowed its energy to work. It was as if he could see all of the periods in history at the same time, passing through his mind like a television programme. “Wow, this is great!” he cried. “Where on earth did you get that clock from?”
“Don’t you worry about that” Peter told him. “I shouldn’t really be showing you this, but I’m going to need your help and I think there are some things you should know about.”
James looked as if he was in another world, and his eyes were wide with enthusiasm. “It’s so strange” he said. “It’s a bit like what happened at that castle in Cornwall, but so much clearer and better.”
“Ah, yes” said Peter. “Very interesting to hear you say that. Darkclaw’s Dozen were using similar technology but in a much darker way. They were using it to control your mind, instead of to enlighten you.”
“I see” said James, slowly. “It really is wonderful.”
Then Peter shut the glass cover and the light vanished. “Whatever you do” he told James, “don’t move the hands of the clock. It’s set to the perfect time and it never goes wrong. That’s very important, alright?”
“Okay… but I can still see scenes of history!” said James, excitedly. “I can see the German army in the second world war. They’re marching across England.”
“It’s amazing what your mind is capable of once it begins to open up a bit” commented Peter. “But James, your imagination is taking over now. The German soldiers never marched across England!”
“Really? How strange.”
“Yes. You really should read more history. Anyway, remember that most people don’t know about things like this. You have to stay as normal as possible so you can carry on your life in the world.”
“But surely everyone should know about this technology!” argued James. “It’s going to be good for people, isn’t it?”
“Don’t you remember Darkclaw’s Dozen and all the people they influenced and stole from?” said Peter, shaking his head sadly. “No. I’m sorry James but you’re going to have to keep quiet. Now are you going to help me or not?”
“Of course I am. I always do help you, don’t I?”
Peter studied James’s face carefully and could see that he was ready to hear more. “James, you’re going to be a little surprised by what I have to tell you” he said. “This clock which I’ve shown you didn’t simply turn up here. It was given to me by the same people who left Dexter. They’re not from our time.”
“Ah… So you know more about them than you told me earlier.”
“Yes” said Peter. “They have convinced me that they’re telling the truth. I really think we can trust them.”
“Well, that’s amazing!” exclaimed James. “Why should they come to you though?”
“Hey, why not?” said Peter, quite hurt by his brother’s tone of voice. “You don’t seem to understand that all the time I spend studying is opening doors for me. I know more than you think.”
“Yes, I’m beginning to realise that” admitted James. “So what do you need help with, then?”
Peter hesitated for a moment and thought carefully before he spoke. “I have a puzzle” he said, finally. “I hope you like puzzles?” He watched James’s eyes light up before continuing. “Good, I thought so” he said brightly. “Take a look at Dexter.” They looked down at the strange dog; his tongue was hanging out and dribbling onto the floor. “Dexter, do you mind?” said Peter, scolding him. Dexter didn’t seem to take any notice of that, he simply stood there and wagged his tail as James laughed.
“In some ways he’s not much different from most other dogs” said James, beginning to doubt Peter’s incredible stories.
“Then tell me what you make of this” answered Peter, lifting up Dexter’s left ear.
The ear was soft and floppy, with fine light brown hair on the outside. Underneath, however, there was something altogether different. It was a laser of some kind, for as Peter lifted the ear there was a bright green beam which shot out across the workshop and created a swirling pattern of light on the wall. Complex geometric patterns were dancing and weaving together.
James was amazed. “Peter… but how…?” he began, but was clearly lost for words.
“Now watch this” said Peter, lifting Dexter’s other ear. As he did so, a bright blue beam of light shot out to the other side of the workshop and various scenes of history were displayed. Buildings, people and events were played out clearly in front of their eyes.
“What does it all mean?” stammered James, staring first at the walls and then down at Dexter, who was quietly standing there as though he were oblivious to the whole event.
“That is the puzzle” whispered Peter, studying the patterns and pictures of light. “It’s different every time” he continued. “I have no idea how much information must be stored inside this dog. It’s like a living, walking super-computer.”
“That’s awesome” cried James. “Do you not think we could keep him?”
“I’m certain we can’t” replied Peter. “We don’t have long before the owners…” Yet as he spoke, a sudden sound of approaching footsteps caused him to fall silent. James could see fear in his brother’s face, as whoever was outside came very close to the workshop.
“Anybody in there?” croaked a hoarse male voice. “Peter, is that you?”
“Say nothing, and don’t make a sound” whispered Peter, quietly dropping Dexter’s ears. The display faded, leaving them in darkness. “I don’t trust anyone at the moment.”
Unfortunately for the brothers and Dexter, it seemed that whoever was outside was not going to give up.
“I know you’re in there. Peter, is it you?” repeated the voice.
Then there was a banging on the workshop door and very slowly the handle was tried. Somebody was attempting to get in! Dexter made a soft whining sound for he knew something was wrong.
“Come on, Dexter” whispered Peter, trying to remain calm. “Let’s keep you safe…” He led him back to his dark corner, but just as he had drawn the curtain back over him there was a loud crash. The door had been broken open – standing there was a wild-looking old man with malice in his eyes. His brow was furrowed and his thin white hair was sticking out in all directions.
“There you are” hissed the man.
“Who are you?” asked Peter, simply. His heart was pounding but he remained calm on the outside. “What do you want?”
“I want what is rightfully mine” answered the man. “Who I am is not important.”
“I’m not a thief” Peter told him. “Why do you think I have something of yours?” As Peter spoke, the man was looking around the workshop. His head shifted around in quick, jerky movements.
“It’s an animal” said the man. “A very special one. You know what I mean?” As he studied Peter and James’s reactions, he was hoping they would be scared enough to give it away. Peter was quietly hoping that James wouldn’t do something stupid such as look at the corner where Dexter was hiding.
Then James did something quite different: “Yes, we have an animal” he said. “He’s not here though, he’s in the house. He’s a very strange dog…”
“Yes! That’s it!” growled the man, excitedly. “I knew it, I knew he was here. Come on then, take me to him…”
“No problem” James told him, and he led the way out of the shed.
Peter followed them, wondering how on earth he and his brother were going to get out of this. It seemed that James had a plan and he might just prove himself useful. Peter stared back at the broken lock and was thinking about the need for a stronger one next time.
“I just hope he’s in” muttered James, as they approached the house.
“What do you mean?” hissed the man, quickly. “Is he not locked up?”
“We try to keep him locked in, but he’s really good at getting out” sighed James. “He’s just so quick when he wants to escape.”
“Yes, yes… I know that” said the man. “That’s why you have to keep a close eye on him. Quickly, take me to him…” The man was getting quite agitated now and Peter smiled. It was simple but it might just work.
“James, I thought you’d kept him locked in the garage today” said Peter, playing along.
“No, I moved him into the dining room this morning” replied James, enjoying their little bit of acting.
“What did you do that for?” cried Peter. “What if mum let him out on her way to work?”
“I’m sorry” answered James. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Oh, it’s just typical!” cried Peter, hoping that they weren’t overdoing it. “It’s no wonder people say ‘if you want a job doing properly, do it yourself.’ Can’t you be trusted with anything?”
“He should still be there” said James. “Mum would have noticed him.”
“What about Lucy?” asked Peter. “Anything could have happened in the house. Doors get left open all the time.”
The man arrived at the front door of the house and glared at the boys as they caught up. “If you’ve lost my dog” he growled, growing tired of listening to the brothers’ chattering, “then you’re going to have to pay for this.” He stared menacingly down at them as Peter unlocked the front door.
“Wait here, please” said Peter. “We’ll go and have a look.” The man looked confused as the boys went inside and shut the door in his face and the brothers were surprised that he had not barged in after them; Peter locked the door as he wondered what to do next. As the man started knocking angrily, James looked helplessly back at his brother. It was obvious that they didn’t have much time.
END OF CHAPTER 3
(C) Simon J Halliday 2007. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.