Billy was in a sulk. Again.
“I don’t want to go to sleep,” he moaned. “I don’t want some god to take control of me.”
“But he is the goat god,” encouraged William. Billy was always moaning but this time he did have a point. William did not much fancy the idea of being possessed by an otherworldly spirit, either. (Taking possession of spirits from another world, namely Toby Ron’s shed distillery, on the other hand, was something that both goats were more than happy to do. Whoever coined the phrase, “as sick as a parrot,” obviously had not seen a pair of juvenile goats tanked up to the eyeballs on home-made gooseberry vodka.)
“I don’t care!”
“Come Billy,” soothed their mother. “Don’t be such a fusspot. It’s a great honour to be chosen as a mortal vessel by Pan.” She wiped a tear from her eye. “Your father would have been so proud to have known he’d sired a Wanderer.”
“But I thought you were artificially inseminated, mum,” said William.
“Don’t spoil the moment,” chided his mother.
Now it was William’s turn to sulk, although he was much quieter about it than his brother. Although he did not want the possession himself, he did not see why it made Billy so special.
“Don’t know what’s so clever about being a Wanderer,” he muttered under his breath. “It’s me that’s got to do the hard work.”
Mystic Mog had a strong suspicion that Pan would take control of Billy again. When he did so, William was to follow him and see where he went. Hopefully, it would give some insight into what in the world (or even out of it) was going on.
William stifled a yawn and lay down, resting his head on his front hooves. The plan was all very well in theory, but it relied on Billy going to sleep in the first place. It was already nearly an hour past their usual bedtime, and still the young goat complained.
William’s eyelids began to sag heavily. It had been a tiring day. The visit to Mystic Mog’s had been the longest trip away from home in his whole short life. He had seen so many new and exciting things. Another yawn surfaced and he gave in to this one. Surely his brother had found the day equally tiring.
Closing his eyes, William listened to his mother’s gentle drone, encouraging Billy to accept the great honour with which he had been endowed, blah, blah, blah. Whether Billy was affected or not, William could not tell, but it was certainly working on him. It was just as well there was a back up plan in case Pan took his time to show up. Oh well, plenty of time to worry about that later. For now, he would just rest here and wait.
William opened his eyes with a start. It was suddenly very dark. His mother was no longer talking – Billy must have drifted off at last. Either that, or she had bored herself to sleep. William looked left at his brother’s bed of straw in the corner of the paddock. It was empty. Billy was gone.
William cursed softly under his breath. How long had he been asleep? More to the point, how long had Billy been awake? Even more to the point, how long had Billy been in a state of waking sleep, under the control of Pan?
A small jingle in the darkness gave William heart. They had tied a bell on a piece of string around Billy’s neck to wake up William if he went wandering. It had obviously worked, but only just. There was a risk that it might also wake Billy up but given that he was suspected of sleepwalking through an explosion, this seemed unlikely.
The adrenaline of nearly missing his brother – and the trouble he would surely get in – coursed through William’s veins and, within a few seconds, the young goat was up on his feet and fully awake. The jingle sounded again and he pushed his way through the gate, following the sound into the inky blackness of night.
It was too quiet. William was used to the steady chirping of birds and chirrups of grasshoppers in the fields nearby. Mist was rolling off the hills, and everywhere acquired an eerie glow in the light of the full moon. Somewhere over in the woods an owl hooted, sending shiver down his spine. This was scarier than the time when old Mrs McClusky visited Toby Ron last winter without her glasses and confused William for a woolly jumper.
Another jingle, and William was out onto the farm track that led from Toby Ron’s down to the road. His eyes had still not adjusted to the lack of light and he caught his head on a low branch.
Squinting into the darkness, he thought he could just make out the hazy silhouette of Billy, down the hill at the end of the track. He took a step forward but, distracted for a moment, he lost his footing in the deep grooves left by tractor tyres in days past, when Toby’s land was an authentic working farm. When he looked up, Billy had disappeared again. Allowing himself a moment for another shiver in the cold, William trotted onwards.
The mist was deceptively thick and by the time he had reached the end of the track, William found himself quite isolated, as if in a cloud. (Or up Mount Snowdon, which is basically the same thing only you can get run over by a train.) Worse still, as he stepped onto the broken tarmac of the lane, there was still no sign of his wandering brother.
“Pan, help me!” he muttered aloud, looking first left and then right with increasing desperation. “Give me a sign Pan, please!”
Over to his left, from the woods again, another owl hooted. Was this a sign? The woods were, after all, in the direction of yesterday’s bomb-blast. It would make sense for Pan to take Billy there. And owls did sound a little like panpipes.
His mind made up, William clopped up the lane. He almost missed the next jingle of Billy’s bell, coming as it did from behind him. He was going the wrong way. What did owls know?
William turned around and hurried down the hill, towards Swansea. Where was Billy going? The thought of following Billy simultaneously scared and thrilled the young goat. He had never been to the city before. He hoped that it would not be too dangerous. Billy had never been there either.
That fact was irrelevant though, he realised. The question was, had Pan been to Swansea before? With that thought came one that was much more disturbing. Pan was an ancient Greek god. How much did he know about modern life? Would he know about cars and buses? Would he care? Would he just let Billy get run over and then find another mortal vessel?
Spurred on by these fears, William increased his pace. Billy could not be too far ahead, surely?
Rounding the next bend, a signpost loomed out of the mist. William stopped. He had reached a junction. Straight on, the lane continued down the hill towards Swansea. To his right, another narrow road led off towards Nuthanger Farm, the farmstead of Toby Ron’s nemesis, Garth Jones. William hoped than Pan had not taken Billy that way. Farmer Jones was even scarier than Swansea.
William caught sight of some movement out of the corner of his eye, making him jump. A small brown bird jumped from twig to twig in the bush opposite the junction.
“E...excuse me?” stammered William. “I was wondering if you could help me?”
The bird hopped onto a higher branch and eyed William quizzically, head tilted to one side.
“It is better to wander and wonder,” said the bird, “than to hurry and worry.”
“Er, yes,” agreed William, confused. “Quite. I’m, er, looking for my brother, Have you seen him?”
The bird tilted its head the other way and continued to stare but said nothing.
“He’s a goat,” pressed William. “Like me. Has a bell tied around his neck. Did you see which way he went? It’s very important.”
“The bough may be about to break but remember that the fruit is ripe for the picking,” replied the bird enigmatically, before hopping back onto a lower branch.
William stood rooted to the spot, silently opening and closing his mouth in confusion. He did not know what to say. There was no clearer way to ask the question.
The goat’s head instinctively tracked a sound from down the hill: Billy’s bell! Problem solved. He looked back to thank the bird politely for its ‘help’ but it had gone. William shuddered again. Everything tonight seemed to have a nasty habit of simply disappearing.
The bell was now jingling a lot. William hurried after it towards the lights of the main road, which were just penetrating the mist ahead. He was not sure what the time was but hopefully it was too early for many people to be out driving; he did not fancy tracking Billy and dodging traffic at the same time.
Another jingle of Billy’s bell carried through the night air and then there was silence. William stopped for a moment to listen, trying to pick the sound up again. He could just hear sound of a car engine somewhere in the distance, but otherwise nothing.
He moved on, hugging the right-hand hedge of the lane for security. Two minutes later, he reached the main road. The terrain was more open here and the mist was thinning out slightly. He looked around but there was still no visual sign of Billy. Again William had to make a decision: right towards Swansea or left away from it?
So far, it had been Swansea all the way, so William decided to go with this. If he was going to stand any chance of catching up with his brother, he could not afford to keep stopping like this.
Pausing for one last listen, William stepped onto the main road. Something snagged on his front right paw. He pulled it hard and it came free, accompanied by an all-too-familiar tinkle.
William froze. He did not want to look down, for he knew what he was going to see. Resigned to the inevitable, he looked anyway. A length of twine lay tangled round his leg, stretching away to a thorny bush that cornered the junction of main road and country lane. Closer inspection found the frayed end where the cord had snapped.
His heart in his mouth, William looked behind and allowed his eyes to track back along the string to its other end. His fears came true. The twine terminated with a small, slightly battered, bell. Of the young goat who was meant to be attached, there was no sign.