Escape from Silver Street Farm

Crash!

Scrunch!

Bash!

Kenelottle Mossworthy Merridale of Morrayside, Kenny for short, was
not
a happy ram. In fact, he’d been in a bad mood ever since he’d arrived at Silver Street Farm earlier in the day. Now the sheep was head-butting the door of his stall. In spite of the roar of the winter gale, the sound traveled all the way to the signal-box-turned-chicken-house, where Meera, Karl, and Gemma — the three friends who had founded the city farm — were shoveling chicken poop. Meera, who was strong and round, and Gemma, who was a bendy beanpole of a person, did the shoveling, while Karl, who was small and skinny, held a big sack open to catch the mixture of straw and poop. It was hard work — not to mention a bit smelly — and the children were glad to stop for a minute to listen to Kenny’s temper tantrum.

“Now I know what a head banger really is!” said Meera.

“Won’t he hurt himself?” asked Karl.

“No,” said Gemma, the sheep expert among them. “Their heads are like crash helmets. He’ll settle down when he meets his wives later today.”

Kenelottle Mossworthy Merridale of Morrayside’s “wives” were Bobo and Bitzi, the Silver Street sheep. They had been sold to Karl’s auntie Nat as poodle puppies when they were lambs and had turned out to be pedigree Shetland sheep, who in turn deserved a pedigree Shetland sheep husband: Kenny.

Meera plonked another dollop of poop-soaked straw into the sack. “Come on, guys,” she said. “We’d better get this finished. There’s a lot to do before tomorrow.”

Meera was right. The next day was Christmas Eve, and Silver Street had to be ready for its grand opening. For the first time, the citizens of Lonchester would be able to visit their very own city farm. There were sheds to paint and repair and paths to clear, as well as all the day-to-day work like goat milking, sheep feeding, egg collecting, and poop clearing. But the children weren’t daunted. They loved every minute of it (even the poop clearing). Silver Street Farm was their dream come true.

“Sometimes,” said Gemma, heaving another smelly shovelful, “I have to pinch myself so I know I’m not dreaming.”

“I know just what you mean,” said Meera. “We spent so long
imagining
a farm like this, and now it’s
real
.”

“And when you think how it all started,” Karl said with a laugh.

“Poodles that were sheep,” said Meera.

“Rotten eggs that hatched into ducklings,” said Gemma.

“The nicest policeman in the world,” said Karl.

“And Flora!” they all said together.

Of all the lucky and amazing things that had helped them make their dreams of a farm in the city come true, the
most
lucky and amazing was Flora MacDonald. Flora, a young farmer from Scotland, had arrived out of the blue and offered to run Silver Street Farm. Flora’s experience and hard work had turned a handful of animals and a ruined train station into a farm. She
was
a bit bossy sometimes, but she never forgot that Silver Street Farm was the
children’s
idea —
their
dream.

“We’ve only got till tomorrow to get her a Christmas present,” said Karl.

“Yeah,” said Gemma. “But what? I can’t see her going for scented soap and bubble bath!”

Meera smiled a knowing smile at her two friends.

“I’ve got an idea for Flora’s present already,” she said. “And it’s a very,
very
good one. All we need to do is —”

But Meera didn’t get the chance to say more, because just then Flora herself bounded up the wooden stairs to the chicken house, her curly hair blowing in the wind and her blue eyes blazing brightly.

“Action stations, you three!” she called in her broad Scottish accent. “Bitzi and Bobo are missing, and the turkeys have disappeared, too!”

Silver Street turkeys had nothing to fear at Christmas. Their purpose in life was to show Silver Street visitors what live turkeys looked like, not to provide humans with yummy Christmas dinners. But, in spite of being some of the luckiest turkeys in the world, the Silver Street turkeys were nervous and flighty creatures. They paced up and down by the fence of their enclosure, as if looking for a way out. They gobbled in alarm every time anyone — the children, Flora, or either of the two dogs (Buster, the Silver Street guard dog, and Flinty, Flora’s chicken-herding sheepdog) — passed their pen and ran about with their wattles wiggling like strings of red licorice.

The turkeys’ nervousness was starting to rub off on Bobo and Bitzi, the Silver Street sheep, in the next-door enclosure. Or rather, it was rubbing off on Bobo. (Nothing much at all rubbed off on Bitzi, who only really noticed two things: food and what Bobo was doing.)

Every time the turkeys gobbled or paced anxiously, Bobo headed for the far end of her pen. And because Bobo did, so did Bitzi. Pretty soon, they’d grazed almost all the grass and stray brambles that had covered the fence at that end. Which was how, on the day the children were merrily pitchforking chicken poop, Bobo and Bitzi nibbled through the last few bramble leaves covering the corner of their pen and found . . . nothing at all. No wire, no fence posts, just a gap.

Bobo stood and stared at the gap. It was scary and tempting at the same time. She turned her back and walked away, but the hole seemed to call to her. She soon found herself back beside it, staring through to the other side.

It was at that very moment that a large rat crossed the turkey pen, just as Buster was walking past on his way to look for cookie crumbs in Flora’s van. Buster was big and fierce looking, but, in spite of his appearance and his previous job as a guard dog, he was a big softie. Except, that was, when it came to rats.
Especially
rats that swaggered as if they owned the place.

Grrrrrr!
Buster flung himself at the fence, barking as loudly as he could. Rats, of course have a deep understanding of fences and know exactly when they are on the safe side of them. So the rat took no notice of Buster’s woofs and snarls. The turkeys, however, already nervous for mysterious reasons of their own, had hysterics.

The nasty noise and commotion was all Bobo needed to overcome her fear of the unknown. She pushed her nose through the gap in the fence and pulled her fat, woolly bottom after it. Bitzi followed along dreamily with a bit of leaf sticking out of her mouth. They tip-tapped over the little metal footbridge to the other side of the canal and disappeared through a flurry of old newspapers and plastic grocery bags, which were suddenly caught up in a gust of wind like confetti. Behind them, the barking and gobbling suddenly stopped. With a lot of panicky flapping and another big gust of wind, the turkeys made it up, up, up and over the fence at the bottom of their pen, then immediately down, down, down on the other side and straight into the canal. The rat, no doubt pleased with the chaos it had caused, went back down its hole, and Buster trotted off, suddenly remembering the importance of cookie crumbs.

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