A Time Travel Adventure For 8 - 10 Year Old Readers
Copyright 2015: Siramarti Publishing St George Pty Ltd
Cover design: Kate Downey
SHEEPSKNEE AND THE SEA OF POSSIBILITY
'We’re lost!' said Mr McIntosh in a triumphant voice. 'I knew we could do it. Now you guys can decide where to go next.'
His three children, Clara, Kyran and Scottie, peered out of the car at the signpost on a crossroad that pointed in four directions: Paris France, 15,000 km; Beijing China, 9,800 km; New York USA 23,000 km; Sheepsknee Middle of Nowhere, 20 km.
In the front passenger seat their flustered mother began to rant. 'Don, you fool. Didn’t I tell you the touring advisor website said it is essential to have a GPS if you travel off the main highway in a desert? That sign is absurd, and Sheepsknee isn’t even on the map! The kids are hungry and I am exhausted.'
Her husband glowered at her. 'Stop shouting, Sandra. It will turn out fine. All we need to do is to decide which road to take.'
Twelve-year-old Clara spoke up. Clara was the eldest child. Unlike Kyran, her dark-haired, slender sister, she was plump, had steady blue eyes, lots of pale curls, and a no-nonsense kind of face. She was by far the most down-to-earth of the three children.
Just as Scottie was opening his mouth to choose New York, USA, Clara interrupted. 'Look at the signs, Dad. Sheepsknee has a camping ground, a hotel and a roadhouse. It’s getting dark. If we go there for the night we can decide where we really want to go in the morning.'
'Good thinking, sis,' agreed nine-year-old Scottie. His mother was right. He was very much in need of a hamburger.
'The road looks horribly bumpy,' remarked Kyran, whose large eyes often saw things that other people did not want to see.
Everyone stared gloomily at the track. There was a long silence.
'It’s the only thing we can do,' Mrs McIntosh muttered resentfully.
'All agreed,' shouted her husband happily. 'Sheepsknee, here we come!'
He threw the old campervan into gear and it lurched off down the red desert road that led to the small Australian Outback town of Sheepsknee.
Although it was only twenty kilometres, the journey was long and uncomfortable. The track was filled with ruts and potholes, and kangaroos kept jumping in front of the van so that they had to drive at a snail’s pace.
Evening had fallen by the time they reached the edge of Sheepsknee. They could see the town only dimly. It was much bigger and tidier than they had imagined. A line of wooden houses, with iron roofs and neat gardens and clotheslines, faced the road on each side. It looked peculiarly clean because there was no sign of the fine red dust that usually covered every Australian desert building. There were no beer cans littering the gutters, no rusted machinery or discarded tyres in vacant allotments.
'Well, this is nice,' said Mrs McIntosh hopefully. 'Why it’s hardly an Outback town at all. Quite civilised really. Maybe they will have proper flush toilets.'
'I wouldn’t bet on it, Mum,' grinned Scottie. He knew his mother disliked holidays that took them away from the comforts of city life, and it annoyed him. He wished she were more like his carefree father who had been a mountaineer and world traveller before he married. Scottie hoped he would grow up to be like his father.
The McIntosh children agreed that their parents were an odd couple. Their mother was a thin, nervous person who worked in a lawyer’s office. She was quiet and orderly, and had only one best friend called Helen. Her husband was a big outdoorsman who didn’t mind mess, and liked nothing better than to tell stories of his adventures to his large circle of mates. Mrs McIntosh said those stories were nothing but boasting. She got angry because he did not work enough, and he got angry because she was always working late and rarely took time off.
As they drove into the main street a big brick hotel appeared on the left hand side. It had a sign announcing ‘Royal Arms Hotel’ with the words, Tom Coughlin, Proprietor and Licensee, over the front door. There was a single lamppost throwing light upon it, but apart from the brightly lit windows of the upper storeys, the whole building was in eerie shadow.
A narrow hallway, painted green, led to the hotel’s reception desk where a large man with sticking-out ears and a sunburned face was leaning back in a swivel chair reading a sports magazine, his boots propped up on the desk.
'Good evenin’, folks. I’m Tom, chief cook ‘n bottle wash,' he said in an exaggerated Irish accent. 'Congratulations on finding Sheepsknee. It’s not often people can, you know.' He laughed a secret kind of laugh, and winked at the children.
'Why not?' asked Kyran bluntly, ignoring his clumsy attempt at being mysterious.
'Because, ma wee colleen, Sheepsknee is on the edge of The Sea of Possibility where anything can happen. Only if you are a true adventurer does Sheepsknee call you to her.'
The children and their father looked at each other in delight, but Mrs McIntosh said sharply, 'Well, that may be so. But, for now, all we want is comfortable accommodation for the night.'
Mr McIntosh smiled broadly as Tom showed them upstairs to two large airy upstairs rooms next to each other.
The children’s room had brightly coloured bedspreads and tourist posters of Ireland under framed glass. There was a large fan in the ceiling, and a worn armchair in one corner. Kyran noticed there were a few cat hairs on it, but fortunately her mother did not. An ancient clunky computer was perched on a narrow table.
'I’m sorry,' said Tom, seeing Scottie’s eyes light up at the sight of a computer, which he hadn’t seen for seven long days. 'It’s called a Commodore 64 and it is a museum piece. It doesn’t work.'
'That’s all right,' replied Mrs McIntosh quickly. 'It is good for the children to have time away from such things. Scottie rolled his eyes behind her back.
When Tom had left Mrs McIntosh glared at her husband. 'What do you have that stupid grin on your face for?'
'I like a man who has imagination,' said Mr McIntosh. 'The Sea of Possibility sounds fantastic.'
'I think it sounds ridiculous,' retorted Mrs McIntosh coldly.
Although there was the disappointment of the computer, the children were pleased with their room. Kyran found two pale geckos clinging to the wall next to their beds. Kyran loved any kind of animal life. Scottie discovered that long windows opened onto a wide balcony with a Ping-Pong tennis table, and Clara noticed that someone had left some books on astronomy and geology in the wardrobe.
After they had unpacked their bags Tom showed them into a large, bare dining room. There were no other diners, so they waited alone while someone in a back kitchen made them meals of char-grilled steak, salad and hot potatoes with lots of butter and pepper on top. Tom brought in large jugs of iced water, and beer for their father. Mrs McIntosh reluctantly agreed that they had made the right choice in deciding to come to Sheepsknee.
It was only after dinner when the children were sitting up in bed talking before going to sleep that Kyran pointed out something odd.
'Isn’t it strange that there aren’t more people in this hotel?' she said. 'It seems a really fab place, but I haven’t seen anyone else here except Tom. You’d think it would be packed.'
Clara stared at her thoughtfully. 'You know, you’re right, Kyran. It is strange. Maybe Sheepsknee is too small for many people to come to the pub at night.'
Scottie joined in. 'I don’t think that can be the reason, Clara. I saw quite a few houses further down the road. And it’s a Saturday. There would have to be someone who wanted a drink on a Saturday evening.'
Kyran thought about these things. 'If you ask me, there is something weird about Sheepsknee altogether. I didn’t see a single person down the whole main street. Empty cars, but no people.' Then she added, half-jokingly. 'I don’t think this place is good for people. Maybe we didn’t see anyone because they are all dead.'
'Oh, shut up,' Scottie replied crossly. 'You see too many horror films, Kyran. How could a whole town look perfect if the houses were kept by dead people?'
'You didn’t see they were all perfect,' Kyran pointed out argumentatively. 'It was too dark to see.'
'Well, they weren’t falling down, that’s for sure. Even Mum thought Sheepsknee was very well kept.'
'Too well kept,' grumbled Kyran. 'I tell you this place is odd.'
Just at that moment the sound of their parents’ raised voices could be heard from the next-door room. The conversation didn’t sound at all pleasant. There was a loud door bang and the heavy footsteps of their father passed their room. Suddenly the nice warm atmosphere in the room turned a bit cooler. It didn’t feel quite so friendly.
Tears came to Kyran’s big eyes. 'I wish Mum and Dad didn’t fight so much. You think they would give it up for the holiday at least. You don’t think they are going to get a divorce or something?'
Clara leaned over from her bed and squeezed her hand. 'Lots of parents fight, Ky. It doesn’t mean anything.'
'I s’pose not,' whispered Kyran doubtfully.
'I wish you would shut up, Kyran,' grumped Scottie. 'You are such a Moaning Myrtle. It’s so stupid.'
'Let’s turn out the lights,' said Clara firmly. 'We’ll all feel better in the morning.'
Scottie pulled his blanket over his head roughly and turned away from his sisters. Although he had scoffed at her, Kyran voiced his own doubts about his parents.
And it was true that Sheepsknee had an odd feeling about it. Just thinking about these uncomfortable things made him feel very tired. Soon he fell deeply asleep. Kyran quickly followed.
Clara lay awake alone, watching a tiny sliver of moon through the window.
Although she thought Kyran exaggerated most annoyingly, Clara also had a nasty feeling that she might well be right about Sheepsknee. There was something strange about the place that made even the levelheaded Clara feel uneasy.