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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
The Adventures of Fish and Chips - Book 6

“What's wrong with you, Dad. You walk like you're an old man.” Harry chuckled at his father's hobbling gait.

“It's not funny, Harry. You're father's rheumatism is acting up.” Maureen, his mother, snapped. “Don't you have work to do? I distinctly remember asking you to brush out the cow's hair.”

“Maureen, don't be too harsh on him,” her husband, Hugh, said, smiling.

“I'm sorry, Harry. I suppose I'm a bit on edge today. There must be a storm coming. I'd really appreciate it if you took care of Robbie and Catriona. Their hair is nearly to the ground and full of snags.”

Harry kisses his mum on the cheek. “I'll go and do it right now, Mum.” He opened the back door, stopping for a moment. “The sky's clear, Mum. I don't think there's a storm coming.” Closing the door behind him, Harry headed for the pasture.

“I think you're right,” Hugh said. “I only ache like this when there's a bad storm coming. We'll just have to wait and see. Where's Fish this morning?”

“He left already. He was meeting Chips and then heading for school. It's really quite funny isn't it, that they both acquired nicknames and that they match. Fish and Chips. How rare.” Maureen put the last of the dishes on the rack to dry.

“I've got a busy day ahead of me. If there's a chance we might lose power, I'd better get a few things done today. I trust you'll keep yourself busy.” Hugh squeezed his wife's hand.

“A million things to do, luv.” Maureen winked and then headed for the bedroom to change.

* * *

“That was so boring today,” Fish complained. “When is Mrs. Redfearne going to teach us something useful.”

“I learned a lot today. Did you know that William Shakespeare was born 23 April? That's my mum's birthday.” Chips adjusted her back pack.

“I didn't know and I don't really care.” Fish glanced up at the sky. “Look how blue the sky is today. There's not even a cloud.”

“I remember one day Mrs. Redfearne telling us that a blue sky in Inverlarich means a storm coming in a day or two.” Chips kicked a pebble off the path.

“A storm? Look above you. There are no clouds.” Fish ran ahead. “Talk to you tomorrow. Meet me at 8 A.M. at the loch.

Chips waved and dashed home.

When Fish walked in the house, his mum greeted him. “Fish, there's a lot of work I need you to do today. I hope you've not made plans with Chips.”

“She had to go to visit her gran. What sort of jobs?” Fish dropped his pack on the floor by the back door.

“There's a storm coming and we need to get things ready,” Maureen said.

“Not you too. Chips said the same thing a few minutes ago. Mum, go and look outside. There's not a cloud in the sky and it's bluer than I've ever seen it.” Fish sat in one of the wooden chairs around the table. “What is there to eat?”

“I'll feed you, but then I need you to help your father. He's in a lot of pain today.” Maureen put out a plate of ginger biscuits, a glass of milk, and a cold sausage roll. “Eat up then.”

Fish gobbled the last bite and wiped his mouth. “I'll go and see what Dad needs help with.” He found his father dragging the sheep into the barn.

“Fish! Glad to see you. Help me with these sheep. They're being very stubborn. Imagine, they would rather stay in the pasture and eat than be stowed away in the barn.” Hugh pushed one of the larger sheep through the door and shut it. “Stubborn creatures.”

“Harry put Robbie and Catriona away earlier. He brushed their coats this morning. When he gets home, he can help us. In the meantime, it's up to you and me.” Hugh headed for the pasture. “Come on then, lad.”

It took them three hours to gather the sheep. Fish held the last one by the ears and nudged them inside with his knee.

Harry showed up and pointed at the sky. “Look up there, Fish. Clouds. We're in for it tonight.”

“You lads gather up everything that can be tossed by the wind and stick it inside the barn. Mind not to let any of the sheep out. Your mum's chickens are in there too. She'll not be pleased if one is let loose.” Hugh nodded to his sons.

When their mum called them for supper, everything was safely packed away in the barn. “Come on, lads. Your mum made some steak and kidney pie with tatties and neeps and hot scones.” Hugh turned to look at the barn. “Everything's sardined in there. Let's hope the storm doesn't do too much damage.”

They feasted on pie filled with chunks of beef, chopped onions, leeks, and carrots, smothered in a rich brown gravy. Maureen mashed the potatoes and turnips together and tossed in some butter. The scones, light and fluffy, melted in their mouths with each bite. For sweet, she made some hot rhubarb pie and smothered the pieces in cream.

She'd just cleared the table off when the wind's howling shook the house. She glanced at her husband. “Hugh?”

“There's nothing we can do now. We'll have to tough it out.” He slipped his arm around her waist. “Lads, go on and do your homework. Who knows how long the electricity will last. I'd better get out the oil lamps, just in case. Do you have candles, Maureen?”

Fish headed to his room, listening to the sounds of his parents preparing for the worst. He shut his bedroom door and walked to the window. Pulling back the curtains, he glanced outside. Sleet pounded against the glass, running together into a sheet of water. “Sky juice. That's what Harry calls it.” He let go of the curtains and sat on his bed. “Time for homework. I suppose I should read the chapter about the new energy proposals. Boring stuff.”

The cracking and splintering of wood caused Fish to jump, dropping his book on the floor. He bolted down the stairs. “What was that, Dad?”

Harry skidded into the room. “It sounded like the barn.”

“It was. The gale is much stronger than I ever dreamed. It blew the barn to bits. The animals are running wild, exposed to the sleet and icy wind. We're going to have to bring them into the house, or at least put them out of harm's way.” Hugh slipped his Mac on. “You'll have to help too, Maureen. The chickens won't stand a chance in this weather.”

When Hugh opened the back door, the wind ripped it from his hands and blew it back against the croft with a thunderous thud. Harry helped him push it shut. They had to shout at each other to hear over the sound of the wind.

Maureen chased down her chickens, one by one. Most lost feathers and were running wild in terror. As she caught them she took them into the house. “You'll not lay any eggs for weeks now, will you girls?” She sighed and went back out to help her husband and sons.

Harry chased down Robbie and Catriona. Being the largest of the animals, they hadn't gone far. He scoffed when he saw the mess their coats were in. “I just brushed you,” he said soothingly as he tied them to the side of the house, away from the blast of the gale. He picked up the wool blankets used to keep the cows warm on bitter winter nights and threw one over each cow. “You'll be safe here. I'd bring you inside, but, well, you're just too big.” He stroked their heads, trying to calm them. “Stay here.” He ran off to find his father.

Hugh and Fish herded the sheep into a fenced in pen, behind the croft. Just as Hugh was about to close the gate, a bolt of lightning crackled and exploded right above them. In terror the sheep scattered, knocking both of them down, trampling over them in escape.

Harry rushed over to them. “Are you all right?” He helped his father and brother up.

“Fine. No broken bones.” Fish brushed himself up.

Hugh stood. “We're all right. Let's find those sheep. They're going to have to herd them in here and get the gate shut.”

One sheep at a time, they gathered the flock, shoving them inside the pen. The sheep huddled together in a corner, cowering from the ferocious winds.

“Where's Rose? I see all the others.” Hugh put his hands to his mouth and shouted.

“I'll go and find her,” Fish said. He ran off into the darkness.

“We'd better have a look too. Rose has been having trouble. I think she's going to lamb soon.” Hugh nodded and headed for the surrounding hills.

The search continued into the wee hours of the morning. As the first sign of dawn appeared, the gale force winds died down and the rain dissipated.

Soaked to the bone and shivering, Fish turned to go home. He heard a soft baa. “Rose? Is that you?” He followed the noise. A thick hedge of brambles hid the sheep from his view. “Are you in there?” His hands tore and shredded as he parted the stickery branches of the bush. “There you are. You've tangled yourself. I imagine you've had quite a fright being caught out here during that horrid storm.” Fish caressed the frightened sheep with gentle fingers.

“There's Fish.” Harry shouted to his father.

They ran over to the struggling sheep. “Good job, Fish.” Hugh helped pull the sheep out. He felt her belly. “The lamb moved. They'll be fine. Let's get her back to the croft. Your mum can dry her off.”

Once the pregnant sheep was warm and calm, Fish took her to the pen. She joined the others.

Fish felt an arm come over his shoulder. “We've got a lot of work ahead of us, lad. Look at the barn. It needs to be rebuilt. Robbie and Catriona will be fine and I suppose the sheep will too. Your mum is fretting over the chickens, but we'll get by.”

Hugh rubbed his shoulder. Fish sighed. “Dad, are you all right?”

“Fine, lad.” They turned to look at what was left of the barn. The rain stopped and a rainbow filled the sky.

“Look at that, Dad. It's the prettiest rainbow I've ever seen.” Fish shaded his eyes as the sun broke through from behind a cloud. “The cloud has a silver lining.”

“A rainbow is a promise that a bright new day has begun and now you know what that saying means about the clouds having a silver lining. The good thing is that we all came through the storm unharmed. Our croft house is in great shape. Not one animal was lost. Your mum's chickens are missing a few feathers, but all is well at the Ross croft and that, my son, is a blessing in itself. Sometimes we need storms to remind us how much we have.”

“Are you done, Dad? That was a good lecture.” Fish smiled.

Hugh tickled the lad and then hand in hand, went to begin the work of rebuilding.

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