THE SLEEPER - RUTH MORGAN
DARLUNIAU / ILLUSTRATIONS - BEN HILLMAN
You know when teachers tell you that ‘special visitors’ are going to visit your school? They mean inspectors, right? Inspectors who’ll say what’s good about the school and what’s not so good.
Well, I really like my school and, all in all, the teachers seem to be doing a pretty good job. I don’t know why they get so worked up about being inspected, but worked up they had been – and I mean for weeks. If only they’d known what lay in store for us that Monday morning when the Headmistress called us all into the hall . . .
‘Right, everybody,’ she began. ‘Now I know our special visitors were supposed to arrive this morning, but I’ve just received a phone call and . . . ummm . . . it seems they’re not coming after all.’
The news was greeted with silence. Was it a big a wind-up? All the teachers had their mouths hanging open in surprise, and the Headmistress herself looked stunned, as though she’d spent the past twenty minutes playing blind man’s bluff in a tumble dryer.
‘Instead,’ she said, in a shaky voice, ‘they’ve sent this.’
A huge cardboard box stood behind her on the stage. ‘It’s being picked up at the end of the week, whatever it is.’
The whole room watched in silent fascination as the caretaker used a knife to slice down the front of the box, opening it out in two sections, like a book.
‘Wow!’ I whispered.
Inside was a tall wooden carving that had a Celtic look about it. It was beautifully decorated with birds and plants all the way up to a face at the top. An old face, a wise face, its eyes shut.
We sat there staring at the strange carving until the teacher at the piano started to play, softly. Each class rose in turn, and crept out.
Well, nothing exciting happened for most of that day. At lunchtime, the carving stood there as we ate our dinners quietly. No-one knew what to make of it, but we did give it a name. We called it The Sleeper.
Our class had PE at the end of the day, but on my way home I realised I’d left my trainers in the hall and was still wearing my daps. In one way I was glad: the truth was, I hated my trainers. My Nan had given them to me on my birthday, but instead of the super-cool, hundred pound ‘Nebula’ trainers that all my mates had, she’d gone and bought me cheap ones from the Cashbuster shop in the High Street. Everyone had been teasing me about them, especially my so-called ‘best mate’, Rhys.
I wouldn’t have minded losing those trainers but, at the last moment, I decided to run back into school and get them. Nan would have been so upset.
The hall was gloomy with the curtains closed and there was no-one about except you-know-who.
Some well-meaning person must have found my trainers and placed them in front of The Sleeper like some kind of sacrifice. Just as I was reaching for them, that’s when it happened. The Sleeper opened its eyes.
My feet seemed to sprout roots which burrowed into the floor. I couldn’t move. The ancient face was looking straight at me with stern, brown eyes. Then its mouth began to open.
‘One wish,’ it said in a deep voice. ‘I can grant you one wish to make your life better.’
Well, terrified as I was, I couldn’t refuse a chance like that, and there they were in my hands – the reason why my life had been a misery for weeks.
‘I wish everyone would stop teasing me about my Cashbuster trainers,’ I said in a small voice. ‘Especially Rhys.’
‘So be it,’ said The Sleeper. ‘Tell no-one of your wish, or it will be undone.’ And with that, its eyes closed again.
Trainers or no trainers, I raced from school like a greased bullet that’s eaten a can of baked beans.
What happened next? Well, I stopped being teased all right, but as for Rhys, he stopped talking altogether, to me or anyone else. And he started wearing these over-long track pants to school instead of his usual grey trousers, and they covered his feet completely. At lunchtime on Wednesday, I went looking for him and eventually found him in the art cupboard, doing something exceptionally weird. His track pants were rolled up and he was painting his . . . well . . .
‘You’re painting your . . . trainers?’ I asked, increduously.
But those were not Rhys’s super-cool Nebula trainers on his feet. Those were the naffest pair of trainers I’d ever seen in my life – pink and yellow, covered with bunnies, hearts and flowers.
‘I don’t know what they are,’ cried Rhys, ‘but they’ve sort of grown onto my feet. They’ve been there since Monday. I can’t get them off!’
I swallowed hard. Here was the answer to my wish, but not an answer I would have wanted at all. But what could I do? If I told Rhys about the wish, I’d get teased again.
I tried tugging the trainers off, but they refused to budge. It was as if they actually were part of his feet. We sat for a while, and by the end I felt really sorry for Rhys. So sorry that I . . . told him.
At afternoon break, we sneaked into the hall together. When The Sleeper opened its eyes and Rhys made his wish, the naff trainers disappeared in a puff of pink and yellow smoke.
Yes, I must admit the teasing started again, although whenever Rhys was around he stood up for me. Now he knew what he’d put me through, he was really sorry. But then something else extraordinary happened. On Friday the newspapers were full of pictures of celebrities wearing . . . guess what? . . . Cashbuster trainers, just like mine! Before long, everyone had ditched their Nebula trainers in favour of some from Cashbusters. For once in my life, I was the coolest of the cool.
And although nobody could fathom what had happened that week, by the time The Sleeper was collected on Friday afternoon there were plenty of signs that other people’s wishes had been granted too.
Our library shelves were overflowing with brand new books and a whole load of famous authors were planning to visit us. The school pond seemed to have cleaned itself, and Jenny Marshall from Year 5 suddenly found she knew all her times tables. In a hundred different ways, the school was a better place to be than it had ever been.
And that’s how it’s stayed ever since.
If you can see a screen below, click on it to view the story being read by Iwan John. Otherwise visit YouTube.
English-language story for 7 to 9 year olds
'The Sleeper' by Ruth Morgan
Illustrations by Ben Hillman
What is the secret of the strange wooden carving that sits in the school hall? Does it have the power to make dreams come true? Will school life change for ever because of it, and why did the inspectors send it to the school in the first place?