A Very Special Trip
by Andrew Crumey
Written for a school visit (7-8 year-olds) in February 2007.
“We’re going on a very special trip today,” Miss Lillie told class 3L one morning after assembly. The children all started raising their hands excitedly to ask questions.
“Will we need a packed lunch?” Robbie wondered.
“What if we haven’t got raincoats and wellies?” said Shaheen.
“Will there be a test?” Briony asked anxiously. Briony didn’t like tests.
Miss Lillie raised a finger to her lips and everyone fell silent. “That’s better,” she said quietly. “Now, I told you this was going to be a very special trip. That’s because it’s secret.”
The children looked at each other with puzzled faces. A secret trip? They all loved secrets, and they loved trips, but putting the two together was something none of them had ever tried before. Amil raised his hand and asked, “Can we tell our mums and dads?”
“Of course,” said Miss Lillie. “You can tell anyone you like at home time, once it’s over. But for the time being it all has to stay top secret. For security reasons.”
Once again the children looked at each other in bewilderment. All except Lucy Borrows who was staring out of the window at a sparrow in the playground and hadn’t been listening to anything. Eventually Sam asked Miss Lillie, “What does security reasons mean?”
“Never mind,” said Miss Lillie. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
Numeracy hour was only forty minutes long that day, because before they could get to the end of the nine times table, all the children were told to line up, then go and get their coats and march in an orderly fashion to the school’s front door, where Miss Lillie quickly counted them. “Oh dear,” Miss Lillie muttered. “One missing, and I can guess who that will be.” A moment later, Lucy Burrows appeared, still struggling to fasten her coat. “Come along, Lucy,” Miss Lillie told her gently. “We don’t want to lose you, do we?” Then, once everyone was ready, Miss Lillie led the class outside to the chugging bus that stood waiting for them.
“Are we going to the zoo?” asked Philip.
“No,” said Miss Lillie, directing the children to their seats on the bus.
“A museum?” Amelia guessed.
“Wrong again,” said Miss Lillie.
Once everyone was seated the bus started up and began speeding away from the school. The children kept trying to work out where the secret trip would take them. Castles, theme parks, swimming pools, cinemas, bowling alleys - class 3L suggested every cool, fun and exciting place they could think of. And a few uncool and unexciting places too. But none was right.
“Oh please tell us, Miss Lillie,” they begged. “Pleeeese!”
Danny Zane, sitting near the back, reckoned he knew the answer. They were on a top secret spying adventure mission that might be dangerous but was mega-important. When he suggested this to Miss Lillie, she just gave him a funny look, and Danny carried on playing with the blue plastic toy soldier he’d brought from his pocket. He was sitting alone, just like Lucy Burrows across from him. They looked at each other for a moment, and Danny stuck out his tongue.
“That’s rude,” said Lucy.
“No it isn’t,” said Danny. “It’s my tongue. Ha ha! Get it?”
They drove and drove. There were smooth bits and bumpy bits, crowded housing buildingy bits and parts that looked like countryside. And all the while the children kept guessing. A pop concert, a cave, a ginormous soft-play - where on Earth where they going?
Then the children saw a big fence up ahead with a gate where the bus stopped.
“I was right it’s a zoo!” said Philip. But there were no animals here. The gate opened and the bus drove in, and all the children could see around them was a great big flat emptiness, a smooth expanse of tarmac stretching away on all sides. It was like an airport runway.
“I’ve got it!” said Amelia. “We’re going on an aeroplane!”
All the children screamed with excitement - they were going on holiday! Maybe it would be Disneyland or the Canaries or Australia or...
“You’re all wrong,” said Miss Lillie calmly. “It’s far more exciting than that.” Then she whispered proudly, “We’re going to meet... the Prime Minister!”
The children looked at her with silent open mouths. Then they all went “uuugh” in disappointment.
“Do we have to?” asked Tyler wearily. “Can’t we just go to the zoo instead?”
The bus rolled onwards until it came to a group of buildings where it stopped. “Here we are,” Miss Lillie said brightly. “Walk in pairs into the security area.”
The children got off and went through a sliding glass door, then through a metal detector that beeped because of Shamira’s ear-rings and Danny Zane’s heelies.
“You aren’t meant to be wearing those things here,” Miss Lillie told him, but it was too late to do anything about it now. “Just don’t go skating around when we meet the Prime Minister,” she warned.
Looking around themselves in the strange building, the children saw police officers in uniforms, soldiers with guns, television people with cameras and newspaper people with bags of crisps and mobile phones. It was almost scary. Lucy Burrows would have preferred to be still sitting in school watching that sparrow. She could hear one of the grown-ups. “Here come the kids now,” he was saying on his phone. “We’ll line them up with the Prime Minister, get some nice pictures, then film the countdown.”
“Come this way,” Miss Lillie ordered, and the children followed her along a corridor until she stopped at a window and pointed to what lay outside.
“Wow!” said Danny Zane. “Wicked!”
“It’s the Andromeda Space Rocket,” said Miss Lillie. Painted bright red, it stood on its launch pad with puffs of steam billowing slowly from its base. “The Prime Minister is about to launch it, and we’ll all get to watch.”
“Hooray!” the children roared. “We’re going to see a real live rocket!”
“Can we go in it?” asked Amil.
“Don’t be silly,” said Miss Lillie. Then suddenly they all heard an alarm go off. A red light started flashing on the wall and a voice could be heard coming through a loudspeaker.
“Security alert, area 5.”
Nobody knew what that meant but it sounded important.
“Look over there,” said Briony, and all the children turned their heads to see a group of police officers running as fast as they could past the end of the corridor. A moment later they all ran past again, in the opposite direction.
“I think they’re chasing someone,” Miss Lillie concluded, then something came hurtling towards them. It was a black and white collie dog. “How on earth did that thing get in here?” Miss Lillie wondered, but before she could think much more about it, the dog ran right past them with its tongue flapping and its tail swishing.
“I’ll catch it,” Danny Zane declared, setting off as fast as his heelies could carry him.
“Oh no you don’t,” cried Miss Lillie, though her shoes were nowhere near as fast. All the children ran too, determined to save the dog before the police officers and soldiers could get to it.
Lucy Burrows was right at the back of the crowd, and decided to take a different direction from the others. Soon she was all alone in a part of the building that had pipes and tubes on the wall and a big sign saying Danger: Keep Out. She could hear the dog panting somewhere.
“Come on out,” she said. “Don’t be scared.”
She was in a very empty, very spooky place where there wasn’t much light. The poor dog would be frightened in a place like this, with all those people chasing it, and she was determined to rescue it, even if it meant missing that silly old rocket taking off. “Here doggy,” she said, getting closer to the panting sound until at last, hiding behind some kind of control panel, she saw it. “There you are, silly thing,” she said, crouching down to stroke the collie’s long coat. It licked her hand and wagged its tail in gratitude.
There was a whizzing sound behind her; Lucy turned to see Danny Zane speeding towards her on his heelies. Unfortunately he hadn’t quite learned how to stop and banged into a wall, but he was unhurt. “Glad we found it,” he said.
“I found it,” Lucy corrected.
“Now we’d better find the others. This way.”
Lucy pulled the dog by its collar and followed Danny who wheeled slowly on his heelies. There was something written on the collar; Lucy read it: Nebula. “I think it’s a space dog!” she cried.
“An astromutt,” Danny suggested.
“It’s meant to be inside the rocket,” said Lucy. “Poor thing. Maybe it doesn’t want to go.”
“Or maybe it does,” said Danny, “but lost its way. Let’s see where it takes us.” So they let Nebula lead the way to a hole in the wall, a kind of tunnel that the dog could easily get through, though the children had to squeeze in order to crawl inside.
“I hope we don’t end up in its kennel,” said Lucy.
Danny crawled right behind her in the dark tunnel and nearly got kicked in the face. “I hope you watch what you do with your feet.”
They came out in a crowded little room full of buttons and controls. Nebula made itself comfortable in a kind of pink plastic dog basket with a water bottle attached to it, while Lucy and Danny looked through the small round window to see a crowd of people far below and a long way off. “We’re high up in some sort of tower,” said Danny. “And look at those numbers ticking away on the panel: 28, 27, 26...”
“Hang on,” said Lucy. “You don’t think we’re...”
They both looked towards the narrow tunnel through which they had entered. A door was sliding closed, sealing them inside.
Down below, Miss Lillie was counting the children. “Oh dear, oh dear. Two missing, and here comes the Prime Minister!”
For a few moments everyone smiled and cameras flashed. The Prime Minister patted Shaheen on the head, accepted a gift of half an Aero bar from Philip, then said, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. This is an historic day. In a few minutes a brave little dog will be launched into space. We need to thank...”
Before he could say anything else, the Prime Minister was interrupted by a tremendous roar that made everyone look towards the launch pad where a brilliant orange flame was shooting out of the bottom of the rocket.
“It’s taking off!” the children shouted excitedly.
“But I hadn’t even finished,” the Prime Minister said indignantly.
“And whatever has happened to Lucy and Danny?” Miss Lillie wondered.
The two children were inside the rocket, holding tight as it soared into the air, and through the window they could see the launch pad and everyone round it shrinking to a tiny dot that soon was lost from view beneath the clouds.
“Cool!” exclaimed Danny.
“Woof!” Nebula barked happily.
“I wonder where we’re going?” said Lucy.
The children were asked to continue the story.