Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
Cats and Dogs.
They couldn’t afford the time to hide from Father, but while Flash and Grandad ran through the grass, Father was busy lifting the tank to the garden table to get a better grip on it.
The grass had been mowed recently, which meant they could keep their goal in sight as they ran, and the damp grass kept them cool. Flash supported the old mirling for the last few steps, pushing him over the edge of the split into the ball.
‘Can I help?’ Keisha’s mother was back, but Father shook his head at the offer and lifted the tank again.
‘It’s a lovely pond,’ she said, admiring it as he led the way. ‘Will the fantails be all right out here in the winter?’
‘Maybe, if it doesn’t freeze for long. You’re welcome to them if you want them when your tank’s set up. We can fish them out again when we’re back from Spain.’
‘Thanks for the offer,’ said Keisha’s mother, ‘but I’m thinking I might get tropical fish – maybe guppies or mollies.’
Their voices faded as Father shuffled down the side of the house, followed by Keisha’s mother.
Through the split, Flash watched them go, dropping back into the ball when they were gone and submerging himself to breathe. There wasn’t much water in there but it was enough to keep them alive while they rested.
While Grandad recovered from the run, they discussed how they would get the ball moving. ‘We’ll lose water once we starts to roll,’ Grandad warned.
Flash agreed. ‘We won’t have long. We have to make straight for the pond.’
‘We needs to roll along the line of the split. If we rolls across it, the split’ll open up and we’ll fall out.’
It wasn’t going to be as easy as Flash had hoped, but they had no choice now. ‘If we stay each side of the split and keep walking along it, we can stay inside.’ He caught Grandad’s eye. ‘If the ball starts to roll faster than you can run, throw yourself away from the split.’
Grandad nodded and stood. ‘Which side do you want?
They each took a long breath and stood to start the ball rocking. It was hard to get started, but once it began to move the weight of the water helped. They lost most of the water on their first roll, but the ball was moving now towards the pond and their second roll was faster. They were almost at the brick edge when they hit a bump.
The ball swerved sideways and stopped rolling.
Both mirlings rolled to what was now the bottom of the ball and scooped the little water that remained over their gills. The split gaped above them. Flash thought he still knew which direction the pond was, but he would have to climb up and check before they began again. As they lay gasping, the eyes of the neighbour’s cat appeared through the split.
The eyes withdrew, and a paw blocked the light through the split, encouraging this ball that moved by itself to move again.
It rocked. The cat batted it and it rolled a little way. Flash thought it was the wrong direction for the pond. The corner of the split had moved lower. If it moved further they would lose whatever water was left.
‘Grandad – you OK?’
‘Yep. Is this thing moving in the wrong direction?’
‘I think so.’
‘So do I, lad. I think it’s time we made a run for it.’
Flash had thought of that, but he was afraid Grandad wouldn’t make it that far. He hadn’t had long enough to recover. They would lose seconds deciding which way to run once they were out of the ball. And then there was the cat.
The cat would notice Flash’s orange before Grandad’s bronze, which might give the old mirling a fighting chance. They didn’t have much time to decide.
‘When we rolls again, we can drop through the split.’ Mojo’s bark came from the direction of the house. ‘And if we stays still in the grass till cat’s gone it might not notice us.’
Flash knew Grandad couldn’t do that for long and still make it to the pond.
The barking headed towards them and past them. The ball hadn’t moved again; the cat must have run. Flash was about to climb and look out when the split darkened again. A long tooth protruded through it, brushing against his side to force some scales back, tearing his skin.
The ball rose from the ground. It travelled through the air at a jog, and Flash was sure they weren’t heading towards the pond. The sounds around them changed.
They were back in the house. The familiar voice of Mother rang out.
‘Mojo’s leaving a trail. What’ve you got there, boy?’ She took the ball from the dog’s mouth. ‘It’s his old ball. Ugh, there’s water in it. Outside boy!’
They flew through the air, the ball turning slightly as it fell to fling them from one side to the other. All water had drained away.
‘Hold on, Grandad!’
Hold on to what?
‘Try and hang on to the edge of the split.’
A bone-shaking jolt hit the ball as it struck stone and bounced.