The sky curved away on the horizon in front of William as he fell. Pale blue faded into the blackness of space. Above him, a million stars twinkled like massive balls of burning hydrogen seen from billions of miles away. Beneath him, a blanket of cloud stretched for as far as his eyes cared to roam.
The wind rushed past him. Although his eyes streamed, William continued to look around him as he plummeted at terminal velocity like a particularly woolly stone with tiny horns. And legs.
The young goat could begin to pick out features from the cloud layer below – tall towers of cotton wool surrounded by bumps and lumps. And over to his left, a fish riding a bicycle.
A fish riding a bicycle? He looked again but it was gone. The bumps and lumps were approaching at some speed. Closing, closing, closing and then suddenly, he was inside. The sky and stars were blocked out and there was nothing but white all around.
The sensation of falling became one of floating. William felt himself just hanging there in the featureless whiteness. Alone. Or was he?
Dark shapes began to appear out of the cloud, looming in his peripheral vision – which, being a herbivore, was a very narrow patch behind his head – but disappearing from whence they came as soon as he turned to look. He thought he caught a glimpse of the fish again. This time it was on a skateboard.
William opened his mouth to shout but no sound came out. A bell jingled somewhere deep in the whiteness.
“Why did you leave me, Wills?”
Billy? William frantically turned his head left and right, trying to pinpoint the direction of the bell and the voice but without success.
The fish came back, riding a motorcycle combination. As it rode past, as small brown bird jumped out of the sidecar and stood before him.
“It is better to search in the darkness and be a loser,” said the bird, “than to piss in the pool of reality and win chronic dysentery.”
William frowned. What did it mean? Before he could ask, the bird vanished once more and the feeling of falling resumed. He opened his mouth to scream and landed on something soft, getting a mouthful of it in the process. It looked like more cloud – and he was still completely immersed in whiteness – but it felt like straw. By his head, the bell tinkled again.
The bird reappeared.
“Don’t piss in the pool!” it said, and then made to peck William in the eye.
William awoke with a start, spitting out a mouthful of straw as he did so. What a strange dream! First he had been wandering through a cloud, following the sound of a bell, searching for Billy. He could not find him. Then there was falling and fish and strange birds and all sorts. Wait till he told Billy! It beat the time that Billy had dreamt he was a teapot.
Billy stretched the night’s tension out of his taut muscles and gave a yawn wide enough to swallow a coconut. (Depending on which of the lovely bunch you chose, naturally. Certainly the small one. Probably not one as big as your head. Unless, of course, you have a tiny head. Or your head has been shrunk by the Jívaro tribes of South America, in which case you are dead and you probably do not really care about the size of William’s yawn. Anyway, it was a BIG yawn.) His front leg knocked something hard, buried in his straw bed. It jingled with an ominous familiarity.
William nudged the bell clear of the straw and stared at it. Slowly, his mind began to untangle his dream from the real events of the night before. He had been following Billy by the sound of his bell. And he had got as far as the main road and then... He focused back on the bell then looked across at Billy’s bed. It was empty.
Jumping to his feet, William looked around frantically. His mother was nowhere to be seen either. His mind raced. She must have gone out looking for Billy. Worse, maybe Billy had been found somewhere and mother had gone to identify the body. Either way, William was in big trouble.
He trotted up to the house – carefully trying not to make too much noise on the gravel driveway – and peered into the kitchen through the back door. Toby Ron was talking to Duke about something. Both man and sheepdog bore solemn expressions of quandary.
“He wasn’t there?” asked Duke.
Toby Ron shook his head. “No. No one’s seen or heard from him. It’s like he just disappeared.”
“I know. I don’t understand it either. It’s not like him at all.”
William sagged as he listened to the two of them. No one had seen or heard from Billy. That had to be a bad sign. His brother was probably road-kill somewhere. And it was his fault.
Duke scanned around the kitchen, as if thinking something over, then returned his gaze to Toby Ron. “What do you think it means?”
Toby puffed his cheeks up with air then expelled it slowly in a big sigh. He shook his head.
“Trouble,” he said. “Big trouble for someone, no doubt.”
“Yeah,” thought William, crouching further to be almost completely out of sight. “Big trouble for me, I expect.”
“What can we do?” asked Duke.
At this point, William backed away from the door. He was not sure that he wanted to find out the answer to that question. It would probably involve punishing him for being so careless. But what could he do? Short of wandering around Swansea – an activity that would get him in even more trouble with his mother – there was not a lot he could do.
A crunching of gravel from the farm track behind him made him turn his head slightly. Coming up the track towards the farmhouse was a van. A police van.
William panicked. They must be bringing back his bereaved mother from identifying the body. Or maybe that had come to arrest him. Maybe Billy had been found beaten, unconscious or worse, and they thought that William had done it.
In his frightened state, his body and mind began playing a different game. His mind was all in favour of running away and hiding. His legs, however, were frozen solid. He had not felt this apprehensive since Rabbi Jim of the local synagogue had asked him and Billy to participate in an authentic reproduction of the first Passover.
The police van was now through the final gate before the house and was crunching its way up the drive. With a great force of himself, Will managed to move his left foreleg forward on step, and then his right. Perhaps he would be able to make his getaway just in time.
With a click, William heard the back door open behind him. Toby Ron and Duke would have seen him now. Lacking inspiration, William sat and awaited his destiny.