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Authors: Claudia White

Aesop's secret

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AESOP’S

SECRET

BY CLAUDIA WHITE

M P Publishing Limited

12 Strathallan Crescent

Douglas

Isle of Man

IM2 4NR

British Isles

Book & Jacket Design by Maria Clare Snith

Cover Image by Greer Hutchinson, QR Creative

A CPI Catalogue for this title is available from the British Library

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

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To Samantha and Ian, who happily listened to every version of the story in its development, and to Oakie, my four-legged, furry best friend.

CHAPTERONE

“Felix, stop it!” Melinda screamed at her twelve-year-old brother, who was jumping around and around her. Felix ignored her as he danced in a circle, trapping her from getting away. “Stop it! I’m telling Mum you’re acting like an ape!”

Felix hadn’t touched her and wasn’t talking to her. He simply danced around her, bending low to the ground, grunting and jumping up, throwing his arms above his head. Melinda wanted him to stop but the more she yelled the more he danced.

Felix continued his ritual-like behaviour, turning and jumping, around and around. Melinda stared out through a waterfall of tears. This wasn’t Felix’s normal serious behaviour. His idea of a good time was usually reading or conducting scientific experiments. He never teased his sister. In fact, he never did much of anything with her. He was changing, and not only his personality. His thin face was widening; his forehead became swollen, looking like a ledge over his eyes that seemed to be sinking into his face. His glasses fell to the floor when the bridge of his thin nose flattened against his face and his nostrils flared shockingly wide. His upper lip was longer from his nose down to his chin, and his chin was getting smaller. The next turn his cheeks sank into his face and his cheekbones looked like chiseled shelves under his eyes. Another turn and Felix’s face was hairy―not a beard like on a grown man, his whole face was hairy.

Melinda burst into laughter. One more turn and Felix no longer looked like a boy at all. Melinda still had tears rolling down her face but now from hysterical laughter. Felix’s behaviour wasn’t the only ape-like thing about him because now he even looked like a big hairy ape dancing and grunting, and swinging his now very long arms. Melinda laughed so hard she fell to the ground.

“WOULD YOU JUST SHUT UP?” Felix snarled.

“You look like an orangutan!” Melinda laughed.

“Yeah, and you’re an idiot girl! Melinda, wake up…I’m sick of your stupid dreams, it’s five in the morning!” Felix pushed on Melinda’s shoulder until she opened her eyes. He was himself again, and she was in bed. She’d had another dream.

Felix left the room, slamming the door behind him. Melinda was still giggling, thinking about Felix as an ape-boy. What made it extra funny was that in real life her brother never had the charms of a chimp.

Melinda lay back on her pillow and smiled. She had been having a lot of great dreams lately. In all these dreams someone had changed in an extraordinary way. One night she had sprouted feathers and wings and had flown over the top of their house. Another night she had developed a blowhole and flippers and swam with dolphins in the surf. One time she and her mother had both transformed into giraffes so that they could retrieve a kite in a tree. Night after night, her subconscious granted her another wonderful transformation and, so far, she’d never changed into the same creature twice.

Melinda wished she had someone to share her dreamy adventures with. She had told her family all about them but they didn’t seem very interested. Aesop, her pet rabbit, didn’t appear to be either. Unfortunately, she didn’t have any friends because they’d just moved again. In Melinda’s ten years, they’d moved seven times.

Now they lived near the city of Seattle in America. Their house in the countryside was surrounded by dairy farms. It was a big, old house with a big secluded garden. It should have been the ideal place to grow up, but Melinda was lonely and knew they’d probably move again before long because her mother, Elaine, was an author and was researching a book about myths and folklore. The family accompanied her wherever she needed to go; Melinda’s father Jake (who was qualified as a doctor and veterinary surgeon) worked in local hospitals and animal clinics wherever they moved. Melinda had never known anything else and it had never bothered her before now.

The truth was that more than wanting to share her dream world with someone, Melinda wished the dreams were real. She wished she could really fly, swim like a fish or gallop like a horse.

“It would be fun be a horse,” she sighed as she kicked off her covers.

The sun was already shining brightly and Melinda was wide awake, so even though it was still very early she dressed, raced downstairs and galloped outside into the back garden.

The early morning air was cool and dew still clung to the grass. Birds chirped eagerly in their hunt for breakfast while insects dashed around, trying to avoid becoming their morning meal. In the distance a rooster crowed and a crow cawed. The early morning buzz of activity was everywhere.

At the back of the garden was a fence separating their garden from the dairy farm’s grazing land. Melinda liked to visit the cows as they grazed lazily. Their gentle faces and liquid brown eyes seemed so peaceful. But there were no cows at this time of the morning, only the soft sound of mooing from the milking barn at the other side of the field. Melinda looked out across the field, a sea of golden grasses swayed silently. She imagined herself as a sleek gazelle leaping towards the horizon.

A breeze brushed her curly brown hair into her eyes, a reminder that she was simply a short, slightly pudgy ten-year-old girl with freckles playing connect the dots across her face. She sighed, hoisted herself over the bottom rung of the fence and ran as fast as she could to the top of a small rise in the centre of the field.

On the far side of the field the cows, having finished in the milking parlour, were on their way back to graze. One especially large cow looked in Melinda’s direction. Melinda waved wildly with both arms, motioning it to come to her. Seeming to oblige, the cow walked haltingly towards her. It stopped, lowered its head, then began to trot, never taking its eyes off of Melinda.

As the cow drew closer, Melinda realized, to her horror, that this bovine was no cow. It was a bull! Her heart burst into violent throbs. She gulped in a lungful of air then turned and ran. The bull ran too, in fact he appeared to be charging, with his head lowered, his eyes glaring and steam clouds billowing out of his nose and mouth.

Melinda ran with more speed than she had ever mustered before, all the while wishing that her dreams were real―if they had been she would change into a horse and gallop away. She thought of nothing else as the bull charged, closing the gap between them with every one of his powerful strides.

In her dream she’d run with horses, now she was running for her life. She imagined herself as a strong thoroughbred flying across the field. Faster and faster she galloped away from the bull, racing towards the fence; racing to safety. She was so engrossed in her fantasy that she didn’t notice when the bull stopped, lowering his head as he pawed the ground. She didn’t notice him snort one last puff of steam then resume grazing as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

Oblivious to everything except the exhilaration of the speed she had managed, Melinda raced on, imaging how a horse must feel with its hooves beating the ground, nostrils open wide, tail held high. When she reached the fence she kicked off the ground and sailed easily over.

Stunned by the feat but still very wary of the bull, she spun around, expecting to see it skidding to a halt inside the fence. Her stomach tightened when she saw the tip of his tail swoosh around in back of her, shockingly on her side of the fence. She darted forward; the sound of hooves was alarming close. She glanced around in back of her again, catching another glimpse of the tip of that tail as if flicked through the air.

Every muscle in her body quivered and her stomach knotted painfully as she tried to outrun the bull again, but no matter how fast or how far she ran the sound of those hooves stayed right with her, the flash of that tail always only inches away. Terror replaced her fear as she prepared for the bull’s attack.

He was obviously very close yet mysteriously hidden from view. No matter which way she turned she couldn’t see his massive form, his frightening head, his angry eyes or the sight of his powerful legs and crushing hooves…until she looked down and saw them directly below her.

She leapt backwards with incredible force. They followed, landing when she did. They moved forward when she did. They moved backward when she did. They jumped when she did. No matter when, where or how fast she moved, those hooves did the same thing at the same time and at the same speed.

Curiosity was quickly replacing fear as those hooves seemed to respond to her every command. It was at that moment that she began to realize the two things that would change her life forever. First she realized that those hooves were not bull’s hooves at all but rather horse’s feet. The second thing was that her feet were nowhere in sight.

“I’m still dreaming,” she laughed aloud, emanating what sounded more like a whinny than a giggle. “I’M A HORSE!” she called loudly to anyone else whom she might have conjured up for this particular fantasy.

Felix hadn’t slept well after Melinda’s rude awakening. He rolled over and glimpsed the lighted dial of his clock; it was 6:30 a.m.

“At least I got a little more sleep,” he sighed. He rolled onto his back―unable to sleep anymore, but not keen to get up. Groaning in anger, he thought about Melinda and how he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks because of her ridiculous dreams.

It was pointless to stay in bed so he went to the window to examine the day’s weather prospects. “Well at least it’s going to be a good one,” he said with a stretch, noting the clear blue sky stretching out for as far as he could see. “I doubt if even Melinda can ruin this.” Then movement at the back of the garden caught his eye. “You’ve got to be kidding,” he gasped, then shouted, “Mum, Dad, come here quickly―you’ve got to see this!”

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