Operation Ark

Chapter One:

It would be hard for most people to believe the events that I am about to tell. I sympathise, as I – who actually experienced it all – still find it unbelievable, myself.

To begin with, my name is Susan Shelley, and I come from an average background, with the normal amount of parents, brothers, and a sister, plus various other family members that an average upbringing implies.

Growing up in the late 1900’s, I found it very hard to believe in fairy tales, and make-believe, as our modern times have tended to knock the stuffing out of a belief in them, but, what happened to me, seemed to come straight out of the pages of a storybook – either that, or I need some serious help! I leave you, the reader, to decide for yourself.

I was born – and spent my first ten years of life – in the City of London. My family then moved to East Anglia, where my Father had found a better paid job, and more suitable surroundings, for his family to grow up in. It took a while to adjust to living in a country town, but I soon grew to love the freedom that it gave me.

In my new school, I made friends with a girl called Gina Robertson, whose father was a Colonel in the Army. She had moved to Thornford – the town in which we now lived – at about the same time as myself, and so we clung together – two strangers in a place where most of the children had grown up together from birth.

I felt that I was luckier than Gina because, although she had seen a lot of the world in the course of her father’s Postings, she had been unable to put down any roots, to make good friends, with the constant uprooting of her life, each time her father’s career caused yet another move. Whereas, I had had a very settled life up until that point.

Apart from us both being the new arrivals in town, Gina and I were total opposites. Gina was tall for her age, and athletic. She had short blonde hair, that tended to curl when wet, and had green eyes, which I was always rather envious of, if I were truthful with myself. I, on the other hand, was short, with a tendency to plumpness, and with long, rather mousy hair. My eyes are either blue, or grey, depending greatly on my mood, and the lighting. I also wear glasses – my Mother said that this was due to the amount of books I’ve read, but it’s really just something that I inherited from both parents.

When not at school, Gina and I spent a lot of time in the forest that spread for many miles, surrounding our town. We both felt that there was nothing so delightful, than following the deer that lived there, to see what they did with their time, although we always made sure that we stayed a good distance from them, so that they were not disturbed by us.

Whenever the school holidays came around, we spent them doing our best to discover as much about the nature of the land surrounding us, delighting in the changes that came about with the seasons. I felt the luckiest of girls, to have this freedom, especially after my years of living in, and playing on, the streets of such a large City as London is, especially being surrounded by bricks and concrete.

Gina’s father had been posted to this area for as long as he wished. I never really discovered what it was that he actually did, as the subject was always treated as very hush-hush whenever I asked. Even Gina had only a vague idea as to what her father did. But I didn’t really care about it much, as long as it meant that Gina would be staying in one place and, more importantly, woud be with me as my best, and closest, friend.

Our friendship began the instant that we met – in the school library, with both of us searching for the same book – the only one there. It was as if we’d known each other our entire lives, and so there was no secret, too big, or too small, that we wouldn’t share with each other – and it was this friendship that started our adventures together!

In the Summer of our fifteenth birthdays, Gina went away with her parents to visit her Grandfather, who had been taken ill so, for a time, I was left to my own devices, something I found hard, after spending so much time with her. I missed Gina a lot, and moped about the house, getting under my Mother’s feet, and arguing with my two brothers, and younger sister. My brothers were twelve, and eleven at this time, and my sister, nine so I, at fifteen, felt far too grown up to play the games they tended to, even though I’d enjoyed them very much just the year before.

If truth be known, I would have loved to join in with them, but felt too embarrassed, in case I were seen by my classmates. I also felt that my parents should regard me as an adult, too, but sometimes failed to behave as well as I thought I should, to be considered an adult. It was hard for me, stuck in that no man’s land between childhood and adult, and my siblings didn’t help matters by wanting me to continue to be the game player for them.

But that summer brought about another change for me. Thornford Forest, which I had always considered to be my own special playground, was suddenly barred to me! Overnight, barriers had appeared across pathways that Gina and I had always walked, and large ‘KEEP OUT’ notices were spread everywhere I looked. At first, because Gina wasn’t there with me, I stayed away but, after a while, I decided to ignore them, and so I crawled under the barriers to continue my walks. I managed this for a few days but, suddenly, on the fourth day, a soldier appeared, seemingly out of thin air, and I was told, in no uncertain terms, to go back, and not come that way again.

I was very upset about this. I was also rather embarrassed to be caught, as if I were a child being naughty, especially as the soldier had refused to answer my questions, as to why the barriers had suddenly appeared, and when they would be gone again. As I turned back from the point where the soldier stood watching me, my sight had blurred with tears, as I felt angry with him, and myself, for not being able to get an answer. I kept walking, until I got to a fence-off area, that led onto the local golf course, which was situated at the outer edge of the woods, to the south of the town.

I knew this area very well, as Gina and I used to walk along the edge, looking for any stray golf balls that had been hit into the trees. Our favourite English teacher, Mr Smythe, was an enthusiatic, if a rather average, player, and we used to bring any golf balls that we found, into our English class, and would leave them in his desk. We did this, rather like admirers leaving a present for an idol.

Mr Smythe was not the type of man that most teenagers would hero-worship. He was slightly plump, wore heavy framed glasses, that he spent most of his time adjusting, and was, to most of the school, a tyrant in the classroom. But, to Gina and I, he was an inspiration! Whenever a problem cropped up for either of us, be it schoolwork, or something from our private lives, he always made the time to spend with us, helping us to work through whatever it was. I had always felt that, if there had been more teachers like him, then school life would have been perfect.

I reached the fence separating the woodland from the golf course, then walked along it, until I came to a wooden stile, that was mostly hidden by overgrown bushes. Gina and I had used this route many times, whether playing, or going across to look for golf balls. I knew that, if I crossed the stile, I would eventually come to a more open stile that crossed over into the trees that edged the golf course.

With a quick look around, in case there were any more soldiers lurking, I climbed up and over the stile, and followed the route that I had planned. In no time at all, I had reached the second stile, and climbed over it, into the woods once again. I stopped to look around, wiping my hands on my jeans, where mud on the stile had dirtied them, then I carefully crept along the little-known footpath beyond the stile.

My years of playing in the forest with Gina stood me well, as I was able to use those paths we had discovered together – more deer tracks than paths, really, but ones that we used constantly. It wasn’t too long at all until I was travelling towards the heart of the woods.

For over an hour I crept slowly along the almost invisible pathways, startling a few deer along the way and, once, slowly creeping behind an unsuspecting soldier, who appeared to be absorbed in lighting a cigarette, and keeping awake, if his yawns were anything to go by. I at last came to a small clearing where the ranks of trees seemed to meet. I looked carefully around, but all I could see, hear, and smell, were the nornal sights, sounds, and smells of the forest and so, as carefully as possible, I moved out of cover, into the clearing.

The grass was quite lush here, where the sun could shine down and encourage it’s growth. It had been a marvellous summer so far, with enough rain to keep the grass alive, but not so much as to turn the area to mud. As it seemed safe, I decided to have a break here, and grab something from my backpack to eat and drink. I sat on the ground, listening to the light wind in the branches around me and, after I’d finished my sandwich, and had a drink of water from my water bottle, I suddenly felt tired, so decided to have a quick nap before going back home.

I took off my light jacket, and rolled it up as a pillow, then removed my glasses, and tucked them into the back pocket of my pack, putting my bottle, and sandwich wrappings, in there, too, to take home. The sun was shining almost directly overhead now, and so I moved back into the shade of the trees surrounding the clearing, found a nice grassy area between the roots of a couple of trees then, using my rolled up jacket, I laid down, cushioning my head, wriggling until I found the most comfortable position, then closed my eyes for that much-needed nap.

Chapter Two:

I don’t know how long I’d slept. I had forgotten to put on a watch before leaving the house, but I don’t think it was very long, if the position of the sun, as I opened my eyes again, was anything to go by, but I woke with a start as, even in my sleep, I heard the sound of something nearby.

I slowly turned my head as far as I could in every direction I could, but couldn’t see anything while lying flat on the ground so, as slowly, and carefully, as I could, I raised myself up, until I was sitting, propped up on one arm. I still couldn’t see anything, but I could still hear something approaching. With a gasp, I realised that it might be soldiers, and so I grabbed my jacket and backpack, and scooted almost on all fours, until I was hidden by the first rank of trees surrounding the clearing.

Carefully, I edged around enough so that I could watch the clearing, but not be seen, and then realised that I hadn’t put on my glasses. By this time, my heart was pounding in fright. I knew that, if I were caught this far into the forest, then I’d be in serious trouble. Holding myself as still as I could, I slowly, quietly, started to move my pack around, so that I could reach the back pocket. The sound of the zip opening was so loud to me, and I was terrified that I’d be heard, but I knew that I couldn’t get away without putting on my glasses, as my eyesight was so bad, I’d be caught otherwise.

By the time I’d opened the zip, my hand was shaking, and I could feel sweat forming on my neck and back. My face felt flushed with more than the sunshine, and I almost felt like crying but, with tiny movements, I eventually managed to slip my glasses from the pack, opened them, and slid them on. Immediately, the world slammed into focus and, taking a deep, but silent breath, I put the pack down at my feet, then peered around the bole of the tree I was hiding behind.

At first, I didn’t understand what I was seeing but, within seconds, my jaw dropped in surprise, and my mouth sounded a silent gasp. At the edge of the clearing opposite me, a large, white, horse was slowly backing out of the trees and, from what I could see, was pulling something that seemed to have got tangled up around it’s head.

I knelt down as slowly as possible where I was then, as quietly as I could, crawled forwards to the edge of the clearing, then lay down, flat on my stomach, hoping to see more of what was going on, without being seen myself. The horse was still struggling to free itself from whatever was tangling it’s head. I suddenly recognised the net, as one that I’d seen before, used by the Army, to hide things from the air. Gina had shown me something similar to it, when her father had been away one day, so I assumed that the horse also belonged to the Army, and so felt it best to keep quiet, in case soldiers suddenly appeared.

I lay as still as I could, trying not to breath too heavily, feeling as though my body were a mass of nerves. I was so frightened of being spotted at this point, that the struggles of the horse seemed unreal. But, as the minutes kept ticking away, and the horse kept struggling, nobody appeared, and I realised that there was just the horse, and I, in the area.

As I carefully raised my head again, to see what was happening, the horse had backed itself right out into the clearing. It’s head was covered with the net, which draped down over it, and across the floor of the clearing. I was amazed that it hadn’t been tangled up with the tree roots and branches that abounded here, but I realised that, although I couldn’t see it’s head, I could hear it’s fear, as it started to panic, as it’s attempts to free itself failed.

Feeling sorry for him – because I could see that it was a stallion – I slowly stood up, then slowly walked across the clearing, veering to one side of him, until I got nearer to his head, which was totally wrapped up in the net. He was a tall horse – my head only just reached to his shoulder height, and I could see that he was well muscled. He was built for strength, and speed, and that made me even more wary, as I knew that a kick from a horse that size could hurt me badly – or even kill me.

But I couldn’t stand there and see him struggle as he was so, making the same clicking sound with my tongue that Gina’s mother made, when she was saddling her riding horse, I started to go towards his head. I spoke as gently as I could and, as I made the first noise, the horse suddenly stood stock still. Only a faint shifting of muscle along his back showed me that he was aware of me. I had never been so close to such a large horse before but, hand still shaking, I reached out to put it on his neck, just below where the net was wrapped.

At my touch, he snorted a little, and I quickly ran my hand across his neck, making soothing sounds as I did, in the hopes of calming him. For some reason, I felt that, as long as I kept talking, telling him what I was going to do, he’d be okay with it, and let me help him. So, very carefully, I started to sort out the terrible tangle that the net around his head was in. It was very difficult, as the net was so long, and heavy, and I was a lot shorter than the horse but, to my surprise, when I muttered this fact out aloud to myself, the horse lowered his head for me to be able to reach better.

As I slowly and carefully unwrapped the netting, I began seeing something glinting on his head. I felt horrified, as I thought that the horse had been hurt by something. Although I couldn’t see any blood, as I reached up to try and feel what it was, it felt as though a spear had been stuck in his head. I almost sobbed at the thought, and was terrified that my unravelling the net was hurting him, and so I slowed down, trying to be as gentle as possible.

As I eventually got the last of the net unwrapped from around the horse’s head, I suddenly felt as though I were dreaming. As I took that final piece of net away, I could see that, rather than being injured, the horse wasn’t a horse – it was a Unicorn!

I slowly backed away, taking one step after another, shaking my head in negation at what I was seeing. I felt as though I were actually dreaming – that I had fallen asleep in the clearing – and that this was just a dream, brought on by too much sun. I lifted my hand, and pinched my cheek – it hurt! If it hurt, then I must be awake, and so the creature that was standing quietly in front of me, wasn’t a figment of my imagination!

The Unicorn stood, quietly staring at me out of large, calm, brown eyes, as much as I stared at him. I could almost swear that he looked at me with true understanding, but I felt that, as I was already seeing a creature that couldn’t possibly exist, then this was just another sign that I was either still fast asleep, despite the evidence – or that I was mad!

For what seemed like hours but were, most probably, just a matter of minutes, we stared at each other, until I suddenly realised that I wasn’t mad, and that the creature really was standing there in front of me. With a start, I brought myself back to an awareness that there were soldiers around. I was trying to connect this fact with the appearance of the Unicorn, but was having great difficulty doing so. I looked around the clearing, to see if anyone had appeared without me realising it, then sighed with relief that all was still quiet.

I stepped back towards the Unicorn, hand held out towards him and, because he didn’t move, I laid it against his neck, and gently stroked him, the way I’d seen Gina’s mother do with her horse, “Well, Mr Unicorn, I don’t know how you got here, or even how it might be possible, but it looks as if you’ve escaped from being captured by someone and, as that net is definitely Army issue, I’d guess it’s them!”

The Unicorn stared at me for a minute then, suddenly, I felt a searing pain in my head! I put my hands to my head, falling down on my knees with the shock of it, tears springing from my eyes. I felt like screaming, but didn’t dare, in case it attracted the soldiers, and I felt so faint, that it made me feel sick and giddy but, as quickly as the pain came, it suddenly left me!

I looked up at the Unicorn and, to my shock, heard a voice in my head, “I’m sorry that this hurt you young one. I didn’t realise that you would be so sensitive to my thought patterns.”

I shook my head, and slowly stood up again, staring all the while at the Unicorn, “I’m going mad! I simply must be going mad, because there’s nothing else to explain this! Anyone who sees – and hears – Unicorns, is either asleep, or mad, and I’m definitely not asleep!”

It seemed as if the Unicorn laughed gently into my mind then, once again, the voice came into my head, “No youngling, you are not mad. I really am talking to you, mind-to-mind. I do not have the same equipment as you, to be able to speak out aloud as you do, but I do have the facility to speak into your mind. My name, youngling, in your language, is Swiftfoot.”

” Hello, Swiftfoot, my name is Susan,” I said, still rather dazed, but the manners that my mother had taught me, came to the fore, “I’ve always thought that Unicorns were a figment of humanity’s imagination, a flight of fancy in story books,” I said, rather breathlessly, to him, ” if that’s not true, how is it that none of you have been seen before now?”

Swiftfoot nickered, as if laughing at me, “No, Susan, we have been seen by some of your people in the past, but we actually live in a different dimension to yours and, very occasionally, something happens that draws one of us here, out of our own dimension. It is random, and we have yet to find out why, but it does happen – mainly to our worst nightmare! Unfortunately, as I was drawn here, I came here, near to a group of your soldiers, who then tried to capture me. This netting that they used, to try and capture me, has been slowing me down, so I’m very thankful that you were able to remove it for me. I now need to find somewhere that I can be safe enough, so that I can arrange to get back, somehow, to my own dimension again.”

I frowned in puzzlement, not really understanding everything he was saying about dimensions. I knew the term from reading, and the TV, but that was all fiction, as far as I knew. He must have picked up on my puzzlement, because he continued. “The time that you live in, is only one of many. If you think of a bubble, with many more bubbles existing inside it, this will give you a small idea as to how dimensions are placed. I cannot explain it any better, I’m afraid, as it’s something we use without thinking about it.”

“I suppose, because this has happened before, that’s how the legends of Unicorns grew among humanity, but I’ve never understood why it was only girls who were approached in the stories.”

“It is believed that it is only those who are pure of mind, and body, who could hear the thoughts that we send out,” Swiftfoot said gently into my mind. I was surprised because, in this day and age, I couldn’t think of myself as similar to the virginal maidens in the fairy stories that I used to read when much younger but, thinking about it, I realised that I did actually fit the bill, or none of this would be happening.

It was then, that I realised that we had stayed in one place for far too long. If we stayed here any longer, all the soldiers that I’d seen while coming here, would find us. I thought for a moment, then asked Swiftfoot to follow me. The net that I’d untangled from him was a dead giveaway that he had been here, so I quickly searched around, until I found the mouth of a badger sett, and dragged most of the netting across to it. I stuffed as much of it as I could deeply into the sett, and then placed some branches over it, to disguise it. The camouflage net helped there, and so I figured it wouldn’t be found easily.

What was left of the netting, I placed across Swiftfoot’s back, as his white hair was so startling among all the greenery of the forest. I then took out my water bottle, and drank the last of the water in it, put the empty bottle back in my pack, placed the strap over my shoulder, and then indicated to Swiftfoot, to follow me. We walked all the back paths I could remember, hoping against hope that we wouldn’t be spotted. Unfortunately, Swiftfoot’s horn kept catching the sunlight, glinting gold shards around us, like a fractured piece of glass. In the end, I took my jacket, and wrapped it around the horn, hoping it wouldn’t catch in the branches around us.

Looking back on it all now, we were so very lucky not to have been spotted – not only by the soldiers, but by the regular dog walkers, or the hikers that walked the forest in all weathers. A couple of hours after we set off, I managed to get Swiftfoot near to the division between forest, and golf course. My goal wasn’t the golf course itself, but it was to a small grove, that Gina and I had found nearby. It had been hidden from human sight for a long time, but we used to picnic there regularly. There was a statue in the centre, that time, wind, and rain, had weathered down to a moss-covered block of stone.

The glade was nicely grassed over, so I figured that Swiftfoot would, at least, have something to eat while he waited for me to find him somewhere a little safer. With the soldiers all over the forest, I knew we needed to get away from there. After Swiftfoot assured me that he would be quite fine there for a while. I hurried away from the grove, taking further back routes, along paths, I hadn’t used for a long time. As I moved along, I desperately tried to think of somewhere safe that I could take Swiftfoot – and then I remembered that Gina had a large building at the bottom of the garden, that her family called The Shed, that was going to be turned into an office later on that summer, but which was empty right now!

Gina, and her parents, lived in a large house, that was a little way out from the north side of the town. There were only a few other houses in that area, all of them far enough apart, that nobody should see me taking Swiftfoot there. It also backed on to a small section of the forest so, if we were careful enough, we should be able to get away with going there.

I was so thankful that Gina and her family were away now! But that made me realise that I needed to check, to see if the shed were tall enough for Swiftfoot’s horn to fit. So, as soon as I had gotten back to the two stiles, climbed over them once again, and made my way across the golf course – which was on the right route for Gina’s home – I carefully made my way there, desperately worried in case I was stopped by the soldiers.

Chapter Three:

All seemed quiet when I got to Gina’s home. I carefully edged my way around the property, towards the back garden, and the large shed at the bottom of it. I was terrified a neighbour might come out and spot me but, fortunately, it was now teatime, so most people were indoors eating. I walked along the tall brick wall that surrounded their home, until I reached a particular tree. This tree – a Brambley Apple tree – had one particular branch that had grown over the wall, just long enough, and low enough, that two adventurous girls could climb it, to get into the garden. As the area was sheltered, I quickly jumped up to grab the branch – usually Gina would just reach up for it but, me being that much shorter than her, I had to jump – but I quickly made short work of clambering over the wall, and dropped down into the garden.

Fortunately, with it still being summer, the light stayed bright for long enough, that I could see very clearly in the garden. I walked along the path that led down to the back of the grden, and to the shed. Gina and I had used it often as our den, although not so much this year, as we felt a little bit too old to play the way that we used to. Because of using the shed, I knew where the spare key was hidden, and had to look along the row of garden gnomes, until I came to the right one. I lifted it up by it’s head, laughing again as I looked on the little man sitting on his toilet, then grabbed the small bunch of keys that had been hidden beneath it.

It only took a moment to go back to the shed door, put the key in the lock, and open it. It was actually a misnomer to call this building a shed, as it, like the wall, was brick build, with a slate roof. It also had it’s own little bathroom, with toilet, and sink, and another small room that Gina’s mother was planning to turn into a tiny kitchen, for drinks and snacks. I looked around, and realised that there would be more than enough room for Swiftfoot!

Leaving the door closed, but unlocked, I went to the very back of the garden, besides the shed, and looked at the wrought iron gate there. It had all the usual bolts set across it, but there was also a chain and padlock! I groaned, but then looked at the little keyring I’d taken from under the gnome, and realised that there was another key on it that looked like a padlock key. Without a pause, I put it onto the pad of the lock, and it slipped in easily. The key turning smoothly within the lock – success! I was so pleased that it fit, and quickly reached up to open the top bolt, and then reached down for the bottom bolt.

I didn’t want anyone to realise that I’d opened the gate so, as soon as I was through it, I put the chain and padlock on it again, putting the keys into my backpack for safety. I then started off again, in order to get Swiftfoot. As I was about to get back into the woods, I realised that I would need to go home first. My parents were used to Gina and I wandering around, but they knew she was away, and so would worry if I didn’t go home to let them know what I was doing. I was also feeling very hungry, and very thirsty, by now. By the time I got to my home, it was time for dinner.

My parents always tended to use the dinner table as a time to catch up on their children’s lives, and I found that particular dinner a real trial. As soon as I’d washed, and changed my top, I went downstairs to sit in my usual spot. The food was already on the table, and we all started helping ourselves to whatever we fancied. Once we were all served, my parents started asking us each what we’d been up to that day.

I had always been truthful with my parents. There hadn’t ever been a need for lies, or half-truths, before now, so I found it very difficult to weave a story of my day, while trying to miss out all of the bits that might make them think me as mad as I had thought myself earlier. But I knew that the safety of Swiftfoot was at stake, and so manged to say what I could, and then managed to get my parents talking to my brothers and sister instead. It was with great relief that I walked away from that table. I even volunteered to do the dishes, I was so eager for them all to leave me alone!

Once the dishes were done, I put my head around the living room door, thankful that there was a TV program on that everyone enjoyed, then I burbled to my parents that I was just popping over to a schoolfriend’s house, to see her new pet mice, before grabbing my rather well-used jacket, and putting it on as I almost ran out the door.

It was starting to get dark by the time that I reached Swiftfoot again, but I was glad of that, as I hoped that the darkness would disguise us enough to get to Gina’s shed safely. As I got close to the glade, I called out in my mind, hoping that he would hear me, and it was with a huge sigh of relief, that he answered me! I hurried as quietly as I could to his side and then, after explaining to him what I had planned, we crept out of the glade, and started the rather tortuous route back to Gina’s home.

There were a couple of times that we almost walked into a group of soldiers but, fortunately, Swiftfoot sensed them in enough time that we could avoid them all. I don’t think I’ll ever be as frightened again, as I was while creeping through the forest that night. We did our best to avoid the soldiers all around us, but it felt as though we’d never get to the section of forest that backed onto Gina’s house. But, eventually, we got to the back gate. It was with a sense of huge relief that I opened the padlock on the gate, and pulled the chain out then, as quietly as possible, we walked up to the door to the shed, I opened it with the key, and we walked into it – not without a little trouble from Swiftfoot’s horn, going through the door, I must say!

I remembered that, when Gina used to have hampsters, they had stored some hay in the gardening shed, so I crept next door to it, found the door unlocked, thankfully, and heaved a bale into the shed as quickly as I could. Swiftfoot looked on eagerly, as I pulled open the string holding it together, and spread it out, to make a more softer bed for him, as well as food. I found a bucket in the little bathroom, swilled out the dust and dirt, and filled it up, so that he would have something to drink and then, with promises that I’d be back there as soon as possible the following day, quietly let myself out, closed the door, went out of the back gate, put the chain and padlock back on it, then walked as quickly as my weary body would allow me to, and got myself home once more.

The next morning was a disaster! Every time that I thought I could escape to get back to Swiftfoot, my mother found yet another job for me to do but, as last, after promising her that I’d finish off my chores later on, I was on my way back to Gina’s home. Imagine my horror, when I reached there, to see the car that Gina’s father drove, sitting in the drive – she, and her family, were back! Although I would be glad to see Gina, the thought of her father finding Swiftfoot in his shed, horrified me. I knew that, as much as I needed to get back to see Swiftfoot, the only safe way, was to take Gina into our confidence.

With a thumping heart, I walked up to the open front door, then called out to Gina, She came running down the stairs and towards me straight away, and we hugged hello. After she told me about her grandfather’s recovery, I managed to drag her around to the back garden then, swearing her to secrecy, while keeping an eye out for her parents, I started to tell her what had been happening to me while she was away.

As I’ve mentioned before, Gina and I always shared our thoughts, and dreams; our hopes , and our secrets and so, after quietly telling her about Swiftfoot, I waited for her reaction. What I didn’t expect, was her laughter! In a panic that her laughter would bring her parents around, I quickly clamped my hand over her mouth, then dragged her slowly towards the shed. Stopping just outside the door, I called to Swiftfoot with my mind and, to my great relief, he answered me straight away.

As his thoughts reached me, Gina stood still with shock, then stared at me, terror in her eyes, “what was that?” she asked me, voice shaking. “I’ve already told you,” I hissed at her, “now, please, try to act normally. I don’t want your father coming down here and finding Swiftfoot.”

Gina stared at me, then turned to check that her parents were out of sight, “I really thought you were joking!” she exclaimed, “do you mean there really is a Unicorn in our shed?” “Yes,” I hissed at her, “come on, and I’ll show you!” We went to the shed door, and opened it slowly, I poked my head inside, saw that all was well, grabbed Gina by the arm, and dragged her inside the shed, shutting the door quickly, then fumbling for the key in my pocket, so that I could lock the door.

Swiftfoot was standing facing us both. The netting that I had draped over him was in a tangle on the floor. I saw that the bucket was empty of water, so went over to pick it up. I pointed at Gina, ” Swiftfoot, this is my best friend, Gina – Gina, this is Swiftfoot!” I went into the bathroom, and filled up the bucket again, then came back out, and put it down for him.

Gina was leaning against the door, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. I stood beside Swiftfoot, my hand on his neck, and smiled at Gina. She slowly walked up to him, and gingerly lifted her hand up, touching his nose gently “You really are a Unicorn”, she said, “I didn’t believe Susan until now, but I can’t deny what’s in front of me!”

Just then, the sun shone through the window above the door, and gleamed on Swiftfoot’s horn. I realised the danger immediately, as glints of gold shone, corruscating, around the shed. With a gasp, I grabbed the net from the floor, and asked Gina to help me put it up to cover the window, before someone got curious as to what was so shiny in here. While we struggled to put the net up, using an old hammer, and some rusty nails that Gina had found under the sink in the bathroom, Swiftfoot watched, with what I was sure was amusement, then he sent out a thought to us both, “I have been trying to think of a way to get back to my own dimension, Susan, but I realised that there is a problem. In order to do so, I will have to go back to the place that I first appeared. The trouble with that, is that it was very near to the place where the soldiers live. I cannot risk being caught by them, as I am sure I will never get away again.”

I looked at Gina and said. “Is there any way that you could get your father to move the soldiers away from the area, without him discovering what we’re doing?” Gina looked at me in surprise, “Surely, if I explain to Dad what’s happening, he’ll help us?”

I shook my head at her, amazed that Gina could believe what she’d just said, “Don’t be silly, Gina. I know you love your dad but, when it comes to the point, he is an army man! It’s the army who are searching for Swiftfoot. At least, now, I know why they barred the townspeople from going into that section of the forest!” Gina looked annoyed at me for a moment, but I could see when she accepted what I’d said, and realised that we just couldn’t risk it. We both leaned against a wall, both trying to think of some way that we could cause enough of a diversion, to get all the soldiers out of the forest, but neither of us could think of anything practical, until Gina suddenly grinned at me, and said, “What about Mr Smythe? He’s always helped us, no matter what problem we came to him with, and he lives right by the golf course, which means we could get Swiftfoot nearer to the forest, without too much risk of discovery!”

I was about to say no,but then stopped to think, It wasn’t as mad a plan as I’d first thought. The problem would be getting Mr Smythe to believe us, and then trusting that he wouldn’t give us away to the army. I thought of all the lessons that he’d taught us, when we had dealt with Mythology, and the enthusiasm he had shown so, slightly reluctantly, I nodded my agreement to her, then turned to Swiftfoot, “We will have to go at once, to see if Mr Smythe is at home, and if he will help us. I promise not to let him know where you are, until we are absolutely sure that he won’t give us all away to the army!”

“If you feel that you can trust this man, then I agree but, if he is at all reluctant, then you must pretend that what you told him was just a story that you’d made up to pass the time in the holidays. I cannot risk being caught, or I will die here!” Swiftfoot then settled down in the gloom of the shed, prepared for a long period of waiting while Gina and I tried to sort it all out.

Gina and I left the shed, carefully locking the door again then, while Gina went to the house, to tell her parents that she was going out for a walk with me, I stood and waited at the front of the house. In a short time, Gina joined me, and we set off in the direction of the golf course, and Mr Smythe’s house.

Chapter Four:

It took us nearly an hour to walk to the golf course. I had been doing a lot of walking, and running about, over the last day or so and, although I knew that time was running out, I just couldn’t manage anything faster than a walk.

As we walked, I filled Gina in on absolutely everything that had happened and, by the time that we arrived at Mr Smythe’s house, Gina was as in-the-know as I was myself. We walked up to the front door together, and Gina rang the bell. We stood for a few minutes before ringing again and, at last, we heard somebody moving about inside the house. The door opened, and Mrs Smythe stood there staring at us in surprise, “Why, it’s Gina and Susan, isn’t it?” she asked, “now, what can I do for you?”

Mrs Smythe had always been very nice to us, and we liked her as much as we did Mr Smythe, so I took a deep breath, and asked, “Is it possible for us to have a word with Mr Smythe, please? We don’t like to disturb you during the holidays, but it’s very important that we see him as soon as possible?”

Mrs Smythe smiled at us both, and waved us into the house, “Come on in, he’s in the garden practicing his golf swing. Go on, you sit in the living room, and I’ll be back in just a minute. Would you like some lemonade when I come back? I’ve only just made it?”

Gina and I both nodded enthusiastically – Mrs Smythe’s home-made lemonade was to die for! It was always perfect on days like today, with the sun shining so brightly. As she turned to move back into the house, Gina and I followed her, and turned right, into the living room that we knew well from previous visits here. We sat down on the sofa, and waited nervously for Mr Smythe to appear.

He came into the room a few minutes later, Mrs Smythe following him, carrying a tray filled with a jug full of Lemonade, with ice cubes floating in it, and some glasses then, after she poured our drinks, and handed them to us, she walked out, shutting the door behind her. After all the usual pleasantries, Mr Smythe asked us why we had come to visit him. Neither of us knew quite how to start telling him our story, so I asked him if he could keep what we were about to tell him in confidence. He gave us one of his looks, that told us we had better be straight with him and so, after taking a deep breath, I started telling him everything that had happened to me, with Gina chiming in as I got to the part where she was involved.

Mr Smythe sat quietly throughout our tale. He neither commented, nor showed on his face what his thoughts might be then, once he was sure we had finished our tale, he started asking questions, needing to have points cleared up, and making us wonder about points that neither of us had thought about. Gina and I glanced at each other, in dread that he wouldn’t believe us.

After pondering for a while, Mr Smythe sat, chin in hand, with a slight frown on his face. We could see that he was going over everything we’d told him then, suddenly, he looked at us, and said, “I know the two of you have very vivid imaginations, but I don’t think that either of you would, or could, make up something this fantastic. So, I’m going on the assumption that what you’ve just told me is, in fact, the truth.” He paused for a moment, and we sighed in relief that he really had believed us. “Now, I’m assuming that you need my help in some way, yes? Presumably, in getting – Swiftfoot, isn’t it? Yes? Well, I’m assuming that he needs to go back into the area of forest that he came out in? You said that it was close to the army barracks, Susan, so how close?”

“That’s our biggest problem, Si. It’s just too close, and we can’t think of a way to take all those soldiers away from the area, long enough for Swiftfoot to get back to where he needs to go.”

“Well, ” Mr Smyth said, slowly, ” we’re going to have to be very careful, with the army involved, but I think that, between us, and with a lot of thought – and luck – we will be bound to think of something!”

Gina and I grinned madly at each other, then thanked Mr Smythe heartily. We sat there for hours, with Mrs Smythe coming in every hour or so with drinks, and snacks to eat. Slowly, between us all, a plan started coming together – with an interruption for lunch! We sat until we agreed on a plan of action, that we all agreed could possibly work. It was decided that Gina and I would go back to Swiftfoot, and wait for nightfall, when we would then take him from there to Mr Smythe’s house – and from there, on to the forest, and the army camp.

In the meantime, Mr Smythe would phone the army base, and pretend that he had been at the golf course, when he had seen what looked like a Unicorn running across the fairway, and then south, in the opposite direction to our real goal. He insisted that he must tell his wife the plans, too and, after some argument from us, explained that he could get his wife to phone up the army base, too, from a public phone across town, and tell them that she had seen a Unicorn ten miles away, heading for the ancient monument that was situated thirty-five miles away. At his words, we realised that he was right – the further away we could get them to go, the better – so, after thanking the Smythes, we started back to Swiftfoot.

On our way back, we stopped off at my house, to ask if it were okay for me to spend the night at Gina’s house. My parent’s were used to this, and wouldn’t question it so, in this way, I’d stop them from worrying about me. Then, when we arrived at Gina’s house, we did the same there, with myself asking if Gina could stay at my house. In this way, both sets of parents wouldn’t worry. We did feel bad for lying to them, but we knew that this was the only chance that Swiftfoot had, of escaping the army.

After Gina had gathered some things together, and put them in a rucksack, she said goodnight to her parents and, while they were busy watching the evening news, we crept out into the garden, and up to the shed. We let Swiftfoot know that it was us, before knocking gently at the door, then unlocking it once more. As soon as we were inside, with the door safely locked once more, we made ourselves comfortable, and told him all that had been arranged.

Swiftfoot was quiet for some time but, just as we started to worry that he wasn’t happy with all we’d planned, he nodded his head. “Yes, this seems like a good plan. ” he told us, “I’m pleased that you went to somebody that you trust for the help we need – it should make a difference to our chances of success!”

So, while we waited for things to start happening, we passed the time by asking Swiftfoot about his life, and his world. It was a pleasant time, though rather surreal and, although we sat in the gloom, our hope was strong that all would be well for this amazing creature right out of our mythology. We shared the snacks that we’d both brought along – Gina had even brought a bunch of carrots for Swiftfoot to munch on – and so the time that we needed to wait went on.

At last, it was time for us to make our move, and it was with thudding hearts that Gina and I led Swiftfoot out of the shed, through the back gate,, and into the forest, where we used the back paths to eventually lead us nearer to our goal. It took longer than we’d thought it would, as suh things tend to, before we reached the section of the foest near to the golf course, as we hadn’t dared to use the torches that Gina had put into her pack – but we eventually got as near as we could to Mr Smythe’s house.

It had been decided that I would go to let Mr Smythe know that we were ready, and so I sped quickly through the dark, across the greens, and over the fence that separated the golf course from his property. I crept up to the front door, just in time to see an army truck pull into the drive! I couldn’t believe that Mr Smythe had informed on us and so, with a swift prayer that everything was safe, I crept around the back of the house, and tapped softly on the kitchen door, where I could see a light shining.

To my great relief, Mr Smythe answered and, on seeing me, put a finger to his lips, and quickly stepped outside with me, into the dark. I whispered, asking him what was happening, and he told me that everything was going to plan. The truck that I had seen, was Gina’s father – who had come just to verify who had reported the first sighting of the Unicorn to the army. He had told Mr Smythe, that the army had had another reported sighting, and so they were on their way, after he left Mr Smythe, going in the direction that the sighting had been reported.

I felt such a huge wave of relief that things were going right, and I told Mr Smythe that we were all set to go, so he went quickly back into the kitchen, grabbed his jacket from the side where he’d left it, then quietly followed me back to where Gina, and Swiftfoot, waited for us. I only wish that I had brought a camera with me! The look on Mr Sythe’s face, on first seeing Swiftfoot, was to be seen, to be believed. First doubt, then puzzlement, and then joy, seemed to fight for possession, but I think that joy won overall.

He told us, afterwards, that although he had believed our story, he had thought that we had actually found some experimental animal that had escaped from an army science facility but, on first sight of Swiftfoot, he realised that being proven wrong was one of the best moments of his life! There was one thing about that night that did puzzle Gina and myself. Mr Smythe could hear Swiftfoot’s mind speech! Though Swiftfoot did say, when we asked him about this that, because Mr Smythe believed in him so utterly, it made his thought patterns easier to understand and access.

Carefully, we all looked around us in the dark, hoping that nothing, and nobody, could see us and, as we could see no sign of the army, or anyone else, either, we felt it was safe enough to start off through the forest paths once more. I think, if Swiftfoot had been unable to sense them, then we may have been caught a few times that night!

Chapter Five:

Mr Smythe had seen many trucks leaving the forest roads, carrying soldiers from the base, but we were taking no chances with Swiftfoot’s survival, and so we travelled the small, narrow, paths we had done before. Swiftfoot knew the way by now, so he went first, the gleam of his body covered, once again, by the netting we’d used before. Gina and I followed behind him, and Mr Smythe took the rear position. I was glad of this precaution, as Swiftfoot sensed soldiers standing guard nearby a few times!

Once we had reached the clearing where Swiftfoot and I had first met, we had to rely on him for direction, as neither Gina, nor I, had been much beyond that area. Only Swiftfoot knew the way to the base from there, as that part of the forest had always been fenced off from the public’s view, for the army liked it’s privacy, for safety’s sake. They had been using those areas for their war manouvres for a long time, now, so only they knew that area properly. We stopped briefly before going onto the unknown area, relying on Swiftfoot to sense anything wrong.

We continued following the Unicorn for what seemed like hours to me. Eventually, we paused again, as Swiftfoot seemed to be searching for something. He lifted his head up, then sniffed, and slowly made hi way towards what loked like a solid hedge. We were all gathered around the Unicorn, all of us feeling uneasy in the dark, so it was a miracle that we were so close to him, when he took a step towards the hedge, then disappeared!

We stared at each other in puzzlement, then Mr Smythe shrugged, took a step forwards, and disappeared, too! Not wanting to be left behind, Gina and I grabbed each other’s arms, took a step forwards ourselves, and realised that our eyes had beentricked, and that there was actually a gap, where it seemed as if it was a solid hedge! Not being able to see what was ahead of us, we became ultra cautious, but that step took us beyond the hedge, and we found ourselves in a clearing.

As we watched, Swiftfoot was walking towards the centre of the clearing, where we saw that the ground rose slightly. I realised that the clearing was perfectly circular and, as we followed wiftfoot, I saw that the grass on the slight mound stopped abruptly. It looked, and felt, as though we were standing on metal of some discription, although it was far too dark to see what kind. When Mr Smythe bent down and tapped it, a hollow, but muffled, boom sounded out. Gina and I looked around, terrified that the soldiers would be onto us immediately, but nothing seemed to stir, and so we joined Swiftfoot at the centre of the circle of metal.

“This is where I appeared in your dimension,” he said to us all, “and, if I do things right, this is where I get to go home again. It might be best if you all step away from here, or you may end up going with me. Please, keep a watch out for the soldiers, as they can be canny, and hide from us all. I want to say thank you, for doing all you can to help me get back home.”

Gina and I went up to him once more, and hugged him hard. Then Mr Smythe stepped forwards, and tenderly touched his head where the golden horn sprouted. As one, we all stepped back, off of the metal circle, then we watched Swiftfoot again. At first, nothing seemed to be happenng, Swiftfoot stood perfectly still, with his eyes closed – if it hadn’t been for the occasional ripple of muscle on his back, we could have quite easily mistaken him for a statue, Gradually, though, we began to see a faint light glowing from his horn

As we all watched, the light grew brighter, then brighter still, until we had to shade our eyes against the glare of it. Suddenly, I heard a rustling sound behind me, and I twisted around to see what it was. To my horror, it was Gina’s father and, behind him, stood twelve gun-toting soldiers. I had no time to see just what guns the soldiers carried because, as I turned, the soldiers raised them, and pointed them at Swiftfoot!

“No!” I screamed, then ran to Colonel Robertson and grabbed him by the arm, “Please, NO! You mustn’t hurt Swiftfoot – all he wants to do, is get back to his own home again! Please, leave him alone!” By this time, both Gina, and Mr Smythe, had hurried up to us, and they both started to shout at once, trying to stop the soldiers from firing at Swiftfoot.

Colonel Robertson looked really angry, and tried to push us all to one side. I realised that the only thing we could do, was to stand in their line of fire, as I was fairly sure that they wouldn’t risk firing at us all, or shooting us by mistake so, grabbing Gina, and Mr Smythe, by their arms, I shouted to them to stand as close to Swiftfoot as possible. Lucki;y, they understood what I wanted,and immediately scrambled back towards the very edge of the metal circle. Before the soldiers has realised what we were doing, we were standing in a line, infront of the glowing Unicorn.

The Colonel cursed under his breath, then ordered the soldiers to lower their weapons – then he slowly walked towards us, talking all the time, “Come, now, move away from there. Gina, come over here, right now! We are not trying to kill the beast! These are tranquilizer guns! All we want is to catch it, to study it,” “Your father really believes what he is saying,” came Swiftfoot’s voice in our minds again, “but the rest of his kind wish to use me for their petty wars! If I stay here, I will be killed, if not by them, then by their rivals!

I hugged Gina’s arm tightly besides me, then shouted to her father, “No! If you take Swiftfoot, then it will truly be the death of him – he knows what are in your minds, and what your army people really want him for, an that isn’t peace! Don’t you understand, Colonel Robertson – if he stays here, then he dies!” By this time, I was sobbing with fear – then Mr Smythe stepped forwards, with his hands raised, to show that he was unarmed, “The girls are telling you the truth, Colonel, You must let Swiftfoot go, or his death will be on your concience!”

The Colonel paused for a second, a froen appearing on his face, then he suddenly stared behind us with awe. We turned around to see what was happening, and I felt the most amazing sensation flw through me at the sight in front of me. Swiftfot was rearing up, and shards of rainbow colours shimmered and sparkled from the tip of his horn. I felt as though we had all been placed inside a kaleidoscope, with some thing, or some body, shaking it up as much as possible.

I staggered back a step, away from the dazzle, my hands in front of my eyes in an attempt to block out such an unearthly light and, as I tried to see what was happening to Swiftfoot, there was a sudden burst of brilliant, golden, light that almost knocked me from my feet. In that instance, I heard Swiftfoot’s voice coming to me as if from afar, ” Farewell, my friends – and thank you!” Then all went dark . . .

I will never really remember exactly what happened next, There was much confusion at the sudden darkness, and I think that I must have fainted for a few minutes. But I gradually became aware of a babble of voices, and the fact that I was lying on the ground, with domeone leaning over me. I opened my eyes, and saw that lights had been brought into the clearing. Gina was leaning over me, patting my face gently and, when I slowly looked around,, I saw Mr Smythe talking to the Colonel and his men.

I sat up – rather too quickly, I realised – but Gina helped me to sit properly until I felt reasonably recovered. I then found myself with a lot of explaining to do, which soon took place with me being escorted towards a truck, which then drove us all towards the army base where food, blankets, and a hot, sweet, drink were the order of the day, as I was questioned constantly, It was the early hours of the morning before the Colonel escorted Mr Smythe back to his home, where he then turned to Gina and I , and promised – or threatened, depending on your viewpoint – to have a very long talk with us, as soon as we’d rested, and eaten.

Despite being very tired, Gina and I talked for a while longer after being sent staight to be when we got to her home. But neither of us could work out what might happen next, and so we decided to sleep on the problem, and face what was coming when we had to. After a very late breakfast, the Colonel asked us to go in with him, into his study, and we did so, with madly beating hearts. After asking us to sit down, he then started to tell us exactly what had been happening in the forest, when Swiftfoot appeared out of nowhere . . .

Now that many years have passed, I am able to tell you what had happened that night – what the Army had been doing. I suppose that, for any of you readers who were involved with Opertion Ark, or who have visited the reserve, what I tell you now will not be news – but fir those of you whotake the appearance of so many creaturesfrom mythology as a fact of life, this is how it all began . . .

Army scientists had stumbled upon a way of transferring objects from other dimensions to this one but, unti the peace-loving Unicorn’s arrival, they had only managed rather primitive, war-like creatures, which made ideal subjects for their war games. Tey called what they were doing Operstion Ark, due to the nature of the animals, little realising that it would be so incredibly apt for the name of the Reserve we have here today!

Anyway, with the advent of Swiftfoot, and the publicity that came because of what had almost happened to him, the army were forced to change their policies, and the creatures brought into our dimension, through the gateway that Swiftfoot had used, did something that all the Peace Summits since records began, had failed to do. With the knowledge that other Unicorns, who came through to our world after that, brought us – within ten years, Mankind was forced to realise just what it’s greed, and hate, and fighting were doing to the world, and all of those creatures in it.

I’m not sure, even now, if the army were pleased, or not, that their meddling had caused all of this. But I do have to say that it gives me so much pleasure to see them converted so totally to a World Peace Force, instead of the grinding War machine that they had been. With Swiftfoot’s escape back to his own dimension, and the evidence of his – righful – fear, the scientists were much more careful in how they went about their work and, although I never saw him again, each time I see a Unicorn, I think of him.

I have seen so very much change in my life, most of it for the good of our little world but, little did I know that, at the grand age of fifteen, my life would be made so much the richer, by the simple act of helping a creature that stepped straight out of a fairy tale.

Copyright: katythenightowl – 28-09-2021.

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