Now, I know that you are thinking: What about Sally? The last that David had seen of his big sister was the look of shock on her face as a net had been pulled over her head, and he had fallen backwards out of the bedroom window.
It’s not that he had forgotten about his older sister, it’s just that for the briefest of moments the shock of meeting a real-life zebra in the back garden had blotted out everything else.
And although our story may have been long in the telling, in fact, less than five minutes had passed from the moment that he fell from the window to the crashing sound that was about to smash through the night air any moment now.
Three, two, one…
Crash! The zebra jerked backwards startled as the sound of a slamming door and excited voices shattered the peace of the snow fluttering gently down in the dark.
David recognised that the animal had heard something and his sister’s name popped immediately into his head: Sally!
He waved desperately at Rodriguez but the zebra was no longer paying attention to him. Instead the creature had lowered his head defensively, his ears pointing forward sharply, trying to locate the source of the voices.
David watched as Rodriguez began slowly to tiptoe (can a zebra tiptoe? Tip-hoof?) around the corner of the house and down its side towards the front garden.
David rushed alongside but quickly found himself pushed gently back by the zebra’s long snout until he was standing behind the creature and close to the wall. David understood the message; it was similar to the one his sister had given him less than ten minutes before: keep behind me, be quiet!
The boy and the zebra moved quietly up to the corner of the old brick wall and slowly looked around.
The front door was wide open; the small glass window at the top smashed.
Then they saw them: half way across the front lawn there were two figures carrying something heavy across the lawn.
David blinked in surprise at the sight of the first: it was a monkey! It was just slightly taller than David and its reddish-brown fur was matted and dirty. It wore a dark jerkin and a red scarf around its neck. For a brief second as its head turned to the left, he saw that it was wearing a black eye patch.
Behind it came the second and (if at all possible) even more curious figure. It stood about a head shorter than the monkey and appeared to have no fur at all. Its long snout ended in a pink nose and protruding teeth. Its large ears, moth-eaten and dirty, squeezed out from under a black bandana. A skinny, mangled tail almost touched the ground along which it ran. It looked, to all intents and purposes, like a giant furless rat.
Both of the creatures staggered across the snowy grass beneath the weight of what they were carrying and as the boy and the zebra watched, the rat-like creature tripped and the large object slipped from their grasp and thudded onto the snow.
David’s mouth fell open as he saw that this object, which they were now scrambling to pick up, had arms, legs and a mess of blonde curls. It was Sally!
David could stand still no longer and began to run towards his captive sister. It was a second before he realised that he was running but not moving and another second before he managed to twist his head around and saw that the back of his pyjama top was gripped firmly between those very white, very strong zebra teeth.
He tried to pull away but Rodriguez shook his head roughly. Again the zebra’s message was unmistakable: No! His eyes told David that he would accept no argument. But behind the firmness in the zebra’s eyes there was something else: fear.
Desperation filled the boy’s eyes. He turned back and saw that the two strange figures had managed to lift Sally’s unconscious form and had struggled down the path, through the garden gate and across the small road which separated the houses in Dunstable Lane from the banks of the large pond. They hopped over the short pond fence, staggered down the slippery banks and ran straight up the bouncing, wooden gangplank of a ship.
David hadn’t seen it until that moment. It was just so unbelievably huge and black that it hadn’t registered against the backdrop of the night-time countryside. At least three times higher than the houses which stood in Dunstable Lane, it filled the night sky. It was quite the biggest and the most sinister ship that he had ever set eyes on either in pictures, on the television or in real-life. And just as with his sister seconds before, the sight of this terrible dark vessel struck sharp blades of terror into his heart.
His struggling against the zebra stopped and he looked up at the sharp black masts and the rigging which crawled with ugly, ape-like creatures. A black flag flapped from the top of the central mast and despite the thickening snow, he could clearly make out the white skull and crossbones. There was no doubting the type of ship that this was.
As the gangplank lifted, David pulled futilely one last time against Rodriguez but to no avail; the zebra would not let go. And, anyway, it was already too late. The ship was moving.
How, you may ask, could it possibly cross a frozen pond? Well, the answer to that is that it was balanced on two giant silver blades that ran its entire length and surprisingly for a vessel of its size, it moved elegantly along the ice. It turned and glided to the far banks of the pond. A strange, melancholic music faded in the wake of the dark vessel and as quickly as it had arrived, it had reached the mouth of the frozen river and was gone once more, taking David’s sister with it.
Sally Hargreaves had been kidnapped by pirates!