The morning seemed to start later than it should – that meant it was probably a Sunday or maybe a Saturday or maybe one of those weird random days, the ones that followed no clear pattern. These random days were the days Hotpot most dreaded. The Sundays and Saturdays, as far as the sheep could discern, had an irregular sort of rhythm to them, it wasn’t as comfortable as the ordinary days when everything happened when it was supposed to and was roughly consistent and sort of reliable. Those other, random and eccentric days went their own way and were scary. They kept the Grey Horse in a state of constant anxiety and Hotpot on red alert all the way until teatime, which was usually much later than it should be. On those wild days, you just never knew who would come into the field or how dangerous they might be with their touchy feely, feeding, peering, patting and constant chit chat chittering: “look oh look he has no real horns”.
After a few moments of muffled conference together Hotpot and the Grey Horse decided it was probably a Sunday. The day before, breakfast had also arrived late and the day had been filled with busy sawing and the shrill, intermittent screams of miscellaneous power tools. Indeed despite the fact that breakfast was barely over, the squally noises, the banging and rattling were already beginning. And it was occurring suprisingly close to the sheep and the Grey Horse’s field. Intrigued they stayed near to the gate to observe the carryings on at close hand.
Lucy and her boyfriend were fencing the area of scrubby ground surrounding the oil tank, a failed rockery and what was left of last year’s potato patch. They were struggling with a roll of orange netting, she giggling and excited, he solemn, methodical and quiet. He was hooking up the fence to a black box, much like the one often used to section off bits of the sheep and the Grey Horse’s field. The Grey Horse shook his head. “Why are they putting up a biting fence?” he said and Hotpot turned away and went to get a drink of water, already bored with the orange netting, the box and the noise. The Grey Horse stayed pondering his question for a few moments, before also forgetting what it was that was so interesting and turning to follow his friend.
Daisy came out of the house and sauntered over to watch them as they worked. Her long blonde hair a muddled tangle and no shoes on her feet, she clutched at her tea cup and said: “Are you really doing it? Are you really going to do it?” “Yes of course we are” her mother squeaked, profoundly excited and barely able to keep from jumping up and down. “Are you happy with that Paul,” said the girl, the merest hint of disbelief in her voice. He mumbled something back about supposing so, before setting his circular saw to its work.
By the time it all went quiet and the people had gone in to lunch Hotpot and the Grey Horse had gotten sufficiently used to the squealing and banging that it was no longer interesting. They peered across the gate at the old woodshed which now had a shiny new corrugated roof, a functioning door and a floorfull of woodshavings. The banging soon started up again and they heard Lucy say: “shall we go and get them, will you be finished in time.” Paul looked up from his work and said with a resigned sigh: “I suppose so. How long will you be?” “Don’t know. I’m not sure if I’ll find the place easily. I’ll ring you when we’re on the way back.” With that, she turned, called to Daisy and scurried off down the drive. A few moments later the roar of the mighty Discovery carried them off and into the beyond.
“Well” said the Grey Horse, “what’s going on? They never go anywhere except together”. “Who knows,” grumbled the sheep knowing that this random day was already getting out of hand. After all, no-one had been in the field to pick up the poos, and it was getting on for the Grey Horse’s teatime and yet, there she was off out and about. She might be hours and hours and even not come back until dark. It was all most distressing, and made his job of keeping the Grey Horse calm, even more worrisome. When would she come home?
Hotpot fretted for a little while before deciding it was time to sit and chew his cud. He plomped down to catch the late afternoon sun and started to doze dreaming of her return and the resumption of normal teatime service. Before long the Grey Horse was chewing at his fleece to wake him up: “Look” he said, “they’re back, and they’ve got a box”. The pair hurried over to the fence to get a better look at the box. “Is it ready” Lucy squeaked excitedly, “can we let them out?” “Not yet” he said, “but soon”, fiddling with final adjustments to the little shed and the fencing.
The cardboard box shuffled a little to the side on the drive where it had been left. “Keep back,” said Hotpot to the Grey Horse, “who knows what evil lurks in that box.” The Grey Horse sniffed the air and said, “I don’t think it’s evil, but I don’t at all know what it is”. As he said this a small brown feathered head popped up from gap in the folded panels of the top of the box and a beady eye took a long slow survey of the scene. Suddenly it was gone and the box seemed to shimmy slightly. They all stared: Hotpot, the Grey Horse, Lucy, Daisy and Paul. The Calder hen completely ignored her sisters who were telling her in no uncertain terms to keep her head down and not to fidget, and popped up her head again, this time staring straight and unblinkingly at all of them. “This is Ruby” Lucy said “Ruby and her sisters Scarlett and Agda have come to stay.”