Authors: Rob Childs
Illustrated by Nicola Slater
Becky threw the stick across the field and the collie dog raced after it, barking in excitement. This was Tan's favourite game. She swooped onto the stick, picking it cleanly out of a clump of grass, and ran back with her prize.
âThat didn't go very far,' laughed Chris. âGirls can't throw!'
âOK, so you can throw better than me, little brother,' Becky said, teasing her twin with a gentle reminder, as she often did, that she was ten minutes older. âBut I can run faster.'
Chris didn't argue with that. His sister could outsprint everybody in their class.
âLet me have a go,' he said, taking the stick
from Tan's mouth. âBet I can reach the river from here.'
The stick whirled through the air with the dog yelping after it and both ended up in the water. Tan soon scrambled out onto the bank with her prize clamped between her teeth and shook herself, spraying thousands of droplets into the air.
âWe'd better make our way back home,' said Becky, hearing the church clock strike four times. âCome, Tan!'
The dog bounded towards them, ears pinned back, bright eyes shining beneath the tan patches of fur that inspired her name.
Keeping well away from the railway line that snaked around the village of Barnwell, the twins continued to play stick until they went past a farmyard and Chris slipped Tan onto the lead.
âFinish, Tan,' he told her. âWalk heel.'
Tan reluctantly obeyed, but tried to tug Chris along a little quicker than he wanted to go. There was some schoolwork waiting for him at home and he was in no hurry to get back.
âLet's just have a look round the market,'
Becky turned to stare at him. âSince when have you been interested in traipsing round the Sunday market?'
Chris ran a hand through his tousled fair hair, a sure sign that he was a little uncomfortable. âWell, you never know what you might find.'
âNo, but I know
all right,' said Becky with a grin. âYou haven't done that homework yet, have you?'
Chris shrugged. That was the trouble with having a twin sister. She always seemed to know what he was thinking. âNo sweat,' he grunted in response. âGot plenty of time after tea.'
âNo, you haven't. You promised Dad you'd help him restock the shelves, ready for tomorrow.'
Chris groaned. He'd forgotten about that. The Jackson family ran the village store and their parents were keen that the twins should âdo their bit', as Mum put it.
âCan't you do it tonight, sis?' he whined.
âNo, it's your turn. I did
earlier, cleaning the counters.'
He let out a heavy sigh. âOh, well â all the more reason for not rushing back, then. C'mon, let's check out that market.'
They made their way to the village square, where most of the traders were already beginning to pack their unsold wares into boxes, bags and crates. As Becky paused at a clothes stall, Chris spotted a familiar, dark-haired figure slouching towards them and cursed under his breath.
He saw enough of Luke at school. They sat at the same table in class, though not by choice. Mum had caught Luke trying to pinch sweets from the store more than once and called him a born troublemaker. She was probably right too.
here!' Chris greeted him, pulling a face. âCome to see what you can nick, have you?'
âI don't nick stuff,' Luke protested.
âOh yeah? Since when?'
âShove off, Jacko â and take that ugly mutt with you.'
âTan's beautiful,' said Becky, giving her a little pat.
âI wasn't talking about the dog,' cackled Luke, delighted his joke had worked so well.
Chris's reaction caught Luke off guard. He pushed him in the chest so hard that Luke stumbled back against one of the stalls, making it wobble. Luke had no chance to fight back, even if he had dared, as a snarling Tan was now standing in front of Chris.
âOi! Clear off!' shouted the stallholder. âDon't want you lot muckin' about round 'ere, disturbin' my customers.'
âWhat customers?' snorted Luke, casting an eye over the clutter of items on the bric-abrac stall. âWho'd want to buy any of this rubbish?'
âCheeky brat!' the man stormed, getting off his chair. He was much bigger than Luke had realised. âI'll have you.'
Luke shot a threat at Chris too. âAnd I'll have you at school tomorrow, Jacko â when your dog's not around to protect you.' He turned and snatched the nearest thing that came to hand off the stall and then ran out of the market.
âOi! Come back 'ere with that watch!' the man cried, but Luke was already lost to sight.
So was Becky. Still annoyed by Luke's insult, she had hared off in pursuit, closely followed by Tan, who had yanked the lead out of Chris's grasp.
It was a little while before Chris caught up with them all. Guided by the noise of Tan's barking, he found them in an alleyway, where Luke had tried to hide behind a large rubbish bin. Becky was too quick to be fooled, however, and she had also managed to seize the end of the lead to keep Tan in check.
When Chris arrived on the scene, Luke dropped the watch into the bin. âYou want it, you get it,' he told the twins. âI'm off.'
Luke gave Tan a wide berth, but brushed past Chris, deliberately making physical contact, shoulder-to-shoulder, as he lurched along the alley.
Chris looked at his sister. âYou or me?' he said, knowing the answer.
âYou,' Becky grinned. âI've got Tan.'
Chris opened the lid of the bin. âPhhwwaahh! It stinks in there!'
It was just as well, perhaps, that the bin was fairly full as it would have been difficult â and very unpleasant â to reach right down to the bottom.
âWish I was wearing gloves,' he muttered, then held his breath while he rummaged carefully among the bin's rotting contents.
âAny luck?' asked Becky.
Chris grunted a response, just as his hand closed upon what felt like a chain. He pulled it out to discover that it was attached to a silver watch.
âResult!' he cried in triumph, dangling the watch above Tan's quivering nose.
Becky took it from him, using her sleeve to wipe some mess off the glass. âLooks a bit like a stopwatch with these buttons around the dial,' she said. âMust be quite old, though. It's even got Roman numerals.'
âDidn't think the Romans had watches,' Chris grinned. âProbably had to lug sundials round with them if they wanted to know the time!'
Becky turned the watch over in the palm of her hand and saw there was some writing on the back. It was in the form of a short rhyme, although the small squiggly script made it quite awkward to read.
âStrange,' she murmured. âWonder what that means?'
âSearch me,' said Chris, leaning on her shoulder to peer at the verse himself. âI'm no good at poetry.'
By a click of the clock
,' she repeated. âHmm, well let's try this button at the top first and see what happens.'
Becky pressed down the red button above the XIIâ¦
â¦and was struck dumb.
They were both standing in the field by the river again, with Tan demanding the stick to be thrown for her to fetch.
The twins stared at each other in disbelief. The only thing that was different from before was that Becky now had a watch in her hand.
âWhat the hell are we doing back here?' Chris muttered. âThis is crazy!'
âI don't â¦ understand,' Becky said shakily. âWhat's happened, Chris?'
âDunno,' he said. âMakes no sense.'
Only Tan appeared unaffected, and just wanted to play.
âFinish, Tan,' Chris ordered, to stop her barking. âQuiet!'
Tan whimpered a protest or two and then lay in the long grass, tongue lolling out of the side of her mouth. Becky sat down next to her, feeling a little dizzy. She stroked Tan's smooth black coat and white neck frill, as much to seek some reassurance for herself as to comfort the dog. She needed to know that this was for real and not a dream â or a nightmare.
âGood girl,' she said. âIt's OK.'
âIt's not OK,' Chris grunted. âIt's not even close to OK. We're supposed to be in the village, not in the middle of a field!'
Becky looked at the watch. âLast thing I remember doing was pressing this red buttonâ¦'