The Magic Ball From Mars
Carl L. Biemiller
Illustrated by Kathleen Voute
Note from the web author: When Dad passed away I was named his literary heir.
Please respect the copyrights of the content of this web site.
This book appeared serially in Jack and Jill under the title, "Johnny and the Space-O-Tron." Copyright 1952, 1953 by The Curtis Publishing Company. Copyright 1953 by Carl L. Biemiller. The Library of Congress Catalog Card Number is 53-6659.
William Morrow & Company, New York, 1953; seventh printing March, 1967.
As this web site has grown, I've received many accounts on how
"The Magic Ball From Mars"
has affected folks lives. To read some of the comments visit Mars Tales.
Something About The Author,
It was summer. Outside, the first faint gropings of dusk were beginning to turn the undersides of the leaves a tiny bit purple. It was hard for Johnny to sit still at the dinner table. Mother had promised to let him stay up and chase fireflies in the pasture which ran far beyond the back of the house to meet the patch of woods. The birds would be almost asleep there now.
Daddy was still talking. Parents did not seem to know that dinner was over when the food had been eaten. Johnny was beginning to feel the squirming get into his legs. He knew that if it got bad and passed into what Daddy sometimes mistakenly called rudeness, he might not get out into the firefly country.
He said, "Mother, may I be excused?" He kept his voice low, in the tone parents call polite.
"Oh certainly, Johnny," said his mother. "I'm sorry. Dad and I forgot you were off to the hunt. Your jar is on the back porch and you won't have to make holes in the lid so the bugs can breathe. I found your old lid."
Dad grinned at him. "You look nice tonight, son. Combed your hair and everything. I'm proud of you."
Johnny Jenks was proud of his father, too. He was something called a physicist--a man who studies why things work the way they do. He sometimes talked about his job with Mother. Just the way he had talked at the table tonight, with one hand waving a fork and with that laughing, puzzled look in his eyes.
Johnny thought about what Daddy had been saying as he carried his jar past Mother's flower garden, and through the part of the rail fence that was down, and into the tall fringe grass of the pasture. There were fireflies here but little baby ones. He could see bigger ones winking way down in the field. Near the darkness of the woods the winking was bright and oddly green.
The grass tickled Johnny's legs. It had that wonderful-smelling wetness which comes out of the trees into the fields at dusk. Johnny's sneakers with the double knots would be shiny with dew before it got too dark. It was hard to remember Daddy's words at dinner out here, with the sun going down and the pale green and violet colors in the clean open sky. Daddy's words were funny, sort of.
"Molly," Daddy had said to Mother, "the thing is getting silly. They reported another one right near here. The newspapers had it this afternoon, and of course we had another call from Washington. Flying saucers! I'd be the last to close my mind, knowing what I know. And yet, I can't believe all this talk without any real evidence."
What's a flying saucer, Dad?" Johnny had asked.
"A flying saucer," Dad had said, wrinkling his nose at him, "is a sort of a pie plate from nowhere. It flies, but it isn't an airplane. It's faster than a jet fighter, but it can stand still for no reason. It might carry passengers, but nobody has ever seen them. Maybe nobody would believe they were passengers if they could see them. Everybody sees flying saucers, but nobody can tell you what they look like or where they saw them last. Does that answer your question, son?"
"No," said Johnny.
"Don't be nasty, George," said Mother firmly.
Oh, well, Johnny didn't care. It was only grown-up talk.
He could smell the hay that Mr. Jervis had cut today on the farm next to theirs. The hay smelled better than breakfast cereal. Johnny grabbed at another firefly and let it crawl around in the palm of his hand. He wondered how fire could be so cool. He wondered how a firefly knew when to light up and why it bothered to do it. He wondered if one firefly could send a message to another firefly by winking and how, with so much winking going on, the other firefly knew who was sending the message.
There was an owl whooping from the edge of the woods. An owl did not go "hoo-hoo." It whistled. Mostly, at this time of night, it did not make a sound. If it did, it couldn't hear the field mice rustle and squeak. Field mice were dinner.
The jar was getting full enough now. Johnny did not want to hurt the fireflies. He just wanted to look at them awhile before he turned them loose. He would, of course, take one or two home to show Mother and Dad. He always liked to hear his father grunt, and say, "If we could make cold light like this-a light without heat-oh boy!"
It was getting dark now. Any minute, Dad's piercing whistle would shrill through the gloom. Johnny would turn around then and look at the house, and the windows would wink at him just like the fireflies, only cozier. He did turn around. That is when it happened.
There was a whooshing noise like a rushing wind just over his head, and suddenly between him and the house was the biggest top Johnny had ever seen. It was still spinning, only there was space between it and the ground. Most tops spin on the ground, but not this one. It was not light and it was not dark in color. It was a pale blue and it blended in with the night. It was as wide as the side of the barn and maybe as tall as the overhead door into the old haymow. There was a faint humming in Johnny's ears.
He was frightened.
Then somehow he was not.
Maybe you know how it is. For instance, there are times when you know what your mother says to you before she says it, and she is surprised when you answer her before she speaks. And there are times when you wake up at night and hear rain and the room looks funny. Then all of a sudden you hear your father say, "Go back to sleep, sonny." Sometimes that's before he yells, "Is everything all right up there?" some people call it mind reading.
Johnny was not frightened any more. He was not even surprised when a door in the middle of the top opened and a man stuck his head out. "Hello," said the man, and jumped lightly to the ground. He loomed over Johnny in the almost dark. He seemed to be wearing a uniform. It had close-fitting trousers and a silver tunic. A collar on the tunic came up high at either side of his throat and on it two small suns formed an insignia. Around his waist was a belt and from it hung a slender tube which glowed in the dusk. He wore no hat and his hair was as light as his silver tunic. He was a nice-looking man with a big smile.
"Hello," said Johnny. "Who are you, sir?"
The man stretched his arms over his head and took a deep breath. He turned his head and looked just above the horizon, where a pale star was lifting into the night. "I'm a visitor, Johnny," he said, "a man from out there. And you're a nice boy very much like my own."
"Is he with you?" asked Johnny.
"No." The man smiled. "He's a long way from here, in a place where the grass is red this time of evening, and he's catching woolly bugs that light up pink."
"What are you doing in our pasture?"
"I guess you'd call it just looking around, Johnny. A few of us have been looking around for a long time now. It's what you'd call a job, a check-up job."
"Like when my father goes round at night to see that the house is locked and the cats have milk and horse has fresh straw?" asked Johnny.
"Sort of, said the man gravely. "I wonder if you'd do me a favor, Johnny."
"I think I better get back to the house, though," said Johnny. "Would it take long?"
"No," answered the man, "and it's easy. I want you to do some thinking for me."
"Well," said Johnny, "I don't know. You mean like in school, and why don't I use my head like Daddy says sometimes?"
"Of course," said the man, "and about going to bed, and getting up, and your mother and father, and anything you like. It will help me know you better. Think about me and how I got here. I'll help you a little if you don't mind."
Johnny said that he did not mind. Then all of a sudden he knew. "That's a flying saucer you came in," he said.
Just for a second or two there was a warm silence in the pasture, a friendly calm with the breezes rustling the grass. The early night seemed full of rich things. Like the night before Christmas, even though it was summer.
Then Dad's whistle was cutting into the silence.
"Thanks, Johnny," said the man. "You're a real nice guy and you'd better get home. But before you go I'd like to give you a present from another boy...."
"From out there?"
"Yes, from out there." The man handed him something.
It felt like a marble and, as Johnny bent his head to look at it in the dim light, the man jumped easily into the top. Although Johnny was looking, he never saw it go. There was just a little bluer blue, and then nothing. It was strange.
Dad's voice rang down the pasture. "Hey, young man! I almost forgot you were there."
Johnny's legs pumped. He ran across the grass, over the bumpy hollow so fast that he almost fell-so fast that he almost dropped the marble. "I saw one," he shouted. "I saw one! A flying saucer!"
His father's voice was calm. "Into the house, young fellow. Boys your age shouldn't be out alone in the dark."
"I don't care. I saw one," yelled Johnny stubbornly, "and I can prove it."
Then they all sat in the kitchen together, Mother and Dad and Johnny. There was apiece of cake and a glass of milk, but no fireflies. Johnny had forgotten to bring them home.
Every now and then Daddy looked at the little round ball. "It's no metal I know, and after you're in bed I'm going back to the laboratory." He was very solemn. "You're sure that he told you he was a man from out there?"
"Yes," said Johnny firmly. "He did."
Daddy shook his head.
He was still shaking it the next day, when he came home.
"Can I have my marble now?" asked Johnny.
"Yes," said Dad. As he spoke the little ball glowed in the most amazing way.
"It's nothing we know on earth," Dad said to Mother. And to Johnny he said, "I think perhaps you did see a flying saucer, son. But let's not tell anybody about it."
|To Chapter Two||To Chapter Three||To Chapter Four|
|To Chapter Five||To Chapter Six||To Chapter Seven|
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