The two goats continued in silence. This side of the hill, the evening mist appeared to have coalesced into a dense but narrow layer, barely covering the heads of the animals. For William, this meant that everything around him formed hazy shadows whilst, at the same time, he could make out stars above him quite clearly through widening gaps in the clouds. It was not a combination that did anything to offset his general feeling of unease.
Unease was not the only feeling growing for William. He could feel the static electricity around him continuing to build, which he found odd given the humidity. Occasional flashes of blue haunted his peripheral vision, which for a goat was somewhere behind his head. He found that he kept turning to look behind him but there was no one - and nothing - there. Of the earlier thunder, however, there was no more sign. This did not comfort him. Something was building and the more it built, the bigger it would surely be when it broke.
In between backward glances, William peered ahead in an attempt to determine their destination. This was uncharted territory for the young goat and he was determined to pick up any possible visual clues to his whereabouts should he have to describe the evening to Mog later - or, worse, should he have to return.
The Jones farmhouse was a looming shadow to his right: dark and menacing. In front, some fenceposts materialised out of the mist, running in a straight line across the path of the two brothers towards the house.
William instinctively dropped back a little and followed Billy, hoping that his brother’s immanent pilot would have knowledge that transcended that of its mammalian vehicle and avoid trouble. After their earlier encounter with the gun-toting scarecrows whilst Pan was at the helm, he found himself holding his breath, just waiting for the inevitable collision with the fence. Knowing Jones, it would be electrified and far exceed animal welfare regulations. With all the static in the air, the two goats would be electrocuted in a bright flash, leaving nothing but a pair of charred four-legged corpses for their grieving mother to find in the morning.
William shut his eyes. If this was the end, he would rather not watch. A sharp tug at his neck made him stagger forward and open them again. Without a conscious message from his brain, his legs had decided to join his breathing in its strike, apparently directing all bodily activity to his heart, which was beating like a hyperactive chipmunk playing maracas. (Chipmunks have surprisingly good rhythm, even at 150 beats per minute.) Billy meanwhile, had plodded steadily on and stretched the rope taut once more.
William scampered forward before he was dragged off his feet: his possessed brother possessed surprising strength. A dozen metres or so ahead he could see another row of fenceposts, hopefully as devoid of intervening fence as the cordon they had just navigated. Beyond that, the mist was a little thinner and he could make out a large hut or possibly a barn straight ahead, which could be their destination. A pale yellow glow surrounded the base as light from within leaked out. It would appear that someone, or something was in the cabin. It was not a thought that did William’s confidence any good; nor his continence, for that matter.
With another quick look behind him, William hurried after his brother. The mist was creepy and his mind was beginning to see shapes in shadows everywhere. He suddenly felt his herd instincts kick in with an overwhelming urge for safety in numbers, even if the number in this case was two.
He caught up with his Billy just as he reached the second row of posts. A sudden giggle burst forth from William’s lips as nerves combined with his internal monologue reaching “number two”.
“And what do you think is funny?” purred a slightly husky female voice over to his right.
William’s eyes widened as a misty shadow atop the nearest fence post developed a pair of green eyes. Feline eyes. William froze. Below the eyes, a row of sharp feline teeth appeared.
“Don’t eat me!” he cried.
“Eat you?” answered the cat. “What an interesting idea.” The teeth were joined by a second row, shaping into a smile. “I’ve never tried eating a goat before. Not a whole one, anyway. But then... you are quite small. And I am hungry!”
William saw a flash of claws in the moonlight and he could swear that the cat doubled in size as it tensed to jump. Herd instincts forgotten, it was every goat for himself as William turned tail and fled. Judging by the blood-curdling yowl and hiss behind him, he was not a moment too soon.
As the young goat streaked away from the cat, his panicked brain tried to catch up. He was fleeing directly away from the Jones farmhouse. Another fencepost reared up from the mist to his right as he sprinted past; this one was animal-free. His current heading meant that he was neither running towards Billy and Pan’s target nor back towards Duke and safety. So where was he heading?
Before he got a chance to do the necessary mental triangulation, William felt a now-familiar throttling sensation as he hit the maximum extension of the rope. Conscious decisions were postponed for a moment as his trajectory was converted from a straight line into an arc, gently curving back towards his previous heading with Billy. Within a couple of steps, he felt another sharp tug and the arc tightened.
William looked behind him and spied two green eyes still in pursuit, reflecting the diffuse moonlight brightly. His own eyes wide with fear, he ran harder and only dimly became aware that his circumferential route was now arcing him back towards the house. The rope was still taut, stretching away to his right, back towards Toby Ron’s land but Billy’s bell could still be heard ahead of him and he was closing fast.
William thought hard, squinting down the tether as he ran. Of course! The rope must have wrapped around a fencepost. Unless he did something about it, he was doomed to spiral round in ever-decreasing circles whilst his brother traced the opposite route. Whilst his brother traced the opposite route.
Alarms bells rang in the back of William’s mind just as Billy appeared from the mist in front of his face on a direct collision course. With no time to stop, William closed his eyes and braced for impact.