The Magic Ball From Mars

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Chapter 6

Johnny lay still, halfway between sleep and waking. Then suddenly he was wide awake, and all the things that had happened came flooding into his mind. He was alone and lost and frightened. One of the men had seen him run up the embankment and into the woods. They would all be searching for him, because they wanted to discover the secret of the magic ball and the Man from Out There and the flying saucers. They would be looking for him carefully and silently, leaving the wreck of their car along the highway, not caring what happened to it.

When a boy is lost and frightened, there are two things he can do. He can sit and cry and wait for somebody to find him. Or he can dry his tears and go find someone who will tell him how to get home, and maybe help him. But Johnny was in a fix where it might be dangerous to do either of these things. The men who had kidnapped him must still be looking for him. If he went looking for help from somebody else, he might run into them. It would be best just to sit still awhile until he couldn't stand sitting any longer.

It was quiet and peaceful there in the thicket with the soft grass beneath him and the green leaves growing so close together over his head that they made quite a good hiding place. Johnny took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. And somehow, the frightened feeling went away-at least for the moment.

Mr. Murphy and Mr. Kimber and the Colonel would want to know if he and Dad had got home safely. They had talked a lot about the things a boy with a big secret should do-not talking to strangers, and telling Dad when anything was different from the way it usually was. Surely Mr. Murphy and Mr. Kimber and the Colonel and Dad, too, when he felt better, would be looking for him and he had the little ball again, the magic ball that would do anything Johnny's thoughts made it do.

It was growing darker. Even though in summer twilight fights hard to hold the light against the coming of night, there were only a few hours until darkness. Johnny knew that he might have to spend the night here in this thicket by the edge of the big field. There would be owls. He knew them. But there would b other noises and snuffings in the dark that he might not know. Johnny thought about noises. The he heard some! He heard talk and footsteps.

"He must be somewhere near here," said a voice.

"We've got to find him," said another. "You know what will happen to us if we don't."

Johnny froze. Not even the baby rabbits in their late summer nests lay more quietly than he did. The men were coming nearer. He could hear their rattling steps in the brush and the swish of grass under their heavy feet.

What, oh, what, could he do? He could run, but they could run faster. He could cry out, but who would hear him?

Johnny thought about home and Dad and Mother and Minstrel. He thought about Mr. Murphy and Mr. Kimber and the Colonel. He took the little ball out of his pocket and held it tightly.

It was definitely darker now and in the eastern quarter of the twilight sky there was a star just beginning to be bright enough to wink.

Johnny thought about the Man from Out There. He never heard the men approach the thicket from behind him.

There was something between his eyes and the horizon, and the air was filled with a whooshing sound, as if a great wind were rushing high over his head. Out of the duskiness, and right on the edge of the field not far from the thicket, was the big violently spinning top. It was the most beautiful thing Johnny had ever seen, pale blue and shining. It was the flying saucer.

Johnny never heard the baffled yells of the kidnappers or the wild screams that suddenly stopped. He could not hear anything except the wonderfully soothing voice of the Man from Out There. It filled up the whole inside of him with comfort and it filled his eyes with tears of gladness.

"Johnny!" said the voice, "You're all right now."

The saucer hung, just as it had hung the first night Johnny ever saw it, and again the door opened and out leaped the Man. Johnny sprang from the thicket to meet him, but his legs were so shaky that he almost fell. The Man's arms were strong and they picked Johnny up as if he had no weight at all. The Man held him close and ran his hand gently over his head and rumpled his hair and tweaked his ears. The Man put him down and tilted Johnny's chin with one finger and looked into Johnny's face.

"I heard you call, sonny," he said, "so I came. It was all my fault. It was the marsquartz ball, the toy like the one my own son plays with, wasn't it, Johnny? But I never imagined there could be anyone, even earth people, who would harm a child for a toy."

There was a funny haze around the saucer, a blur which dimmed its outlines and almost dimmed the blue brightness. It was quiet in the Jersey meadow and very peaceful.

"Take me with you," said Johnny. "Take me with you in your flying saucer."

The Man's voice was sad yet firm. "not for a long time Johnny. You aren't ready for the world out there."

"Tell me what's it like, please?" asked Johnny. "Just talk to me, talk to me."

"Well," said the Man, and he towered over Johnny in the dusk. "Well, it's it's and how to tell an earth boy? There isn't any air and there is isn't any weight. There are stars-whole systems of stars, and your own which some men call your galaxy, is a small one, Johnny. It's only about a million light years in diameter. Earth, Johnny, is just a bit of cosmic dust, one little planet given life by one little star. But beyond your galaxy are others, some of them much greater."

Johnny didn't quite understand all that the Man from Out There was saying, but he got an idea of vast, unbelievable distances. "Will I ever get?" He stopped. "I forgot. You said no."

"That's right, Johnny. You'll never see the worlds that burn and the worlds that are frozen and the worlds that bloom. On some of them are men made of silica, just as men here are made of carbon. On others there are men with tentacles instead of arms and legs. But, Johnny, I have to leave you now. I've broken a rule. Nobody in a flying saucer is supposed to interfere with anything on your earth. Not with things. Never with people. We just check up to see that well, to sort of see that you don't hurt yourselves too much."

Johnny had an amazing thought and, as he thought it, the Man from Out There smiled. "You aren't?" said Johnny.

"The person to whom you pray, son? No, but He's there and bigger than all the stars and all the systems of stars. Saucer people know about Him too."

The saucer seemed to fade with the light. The Man shook his head. "Johnny," he said, "it's never nice to take back a gift, but sometimes a gift is a mistake. If you were a boy who played with firecrackers all the time and you met another boy who never saw a firecracker and didn't know that it could explode and hurt him, would you give him a firecracker and a match?"

"I don't think so," said Johnny.

"Can I have the little ball back again?"

The little ball felt cool to Johnny's hand as he drew it from his pocket. There was something else in that pocket. It was a baseball-player card from a cereal box-the Slugging Ted Williams card. Johnny put the little ball in the Man's outstretched hand. He put the card in, too. "It isn't much," he said, "and it doesn't' do anything, but maybe your boy would like to have it."

"Thank you," said the Man, and his voice was warm and strong. "I'm sure he would." Then he said abruptly, "Come along, Johnny. I'm going to take you down to the edge of that highway and stop a car for you. You can tell them who you are and where you want to go."

As they walked toward the road. Johnny turned and took a long look at the saucer. It hung perfectly still, big and round and beautiful. It had known the stars and the worlds beyond stars where there was no air, no weight, and only darkness and brightness.

The cars streamed up and down the busy road as Johnny and Man mad their way down the embankment. Johnny couldn't see the wreck. He guessed it might be around a turn.

The Man from Out There stepped into the road and held up his arm. A car slowed and stopped.

Johnny could no longer see the Man, but inside his head he could hear his voice. "Good-by, Johnny," it said, "and thank you for Ted Williams."

"What's going on?" demanded the man in the car.

"Can I have a ride to a telephone, please?" asked Johnny. "I'm Johnny Jenks and I'm lost."

The man in the car got out and walked around to the edge of the road. He was a big, fat man and a very puzzled one. "Where's the guy who stopped me?" he demanded.

"He went back to his saucer," said Johnny truthfully.

The big man ran his hand down over his face and muttered something. "Get in, kid," he said. "I'll take you to the next toll booth."

He was a nice man, Johnny decided, but he was an odd man, too. He sort of talked to himself and he never asked Johnny a single question. When he got to the toll station he said to the attendant, "I picked this kid up on the highway. He says he's lost. His name is Johnny Jenks." Then he drove off quickly and he seemed glad to get away.

The man in the toll booth took Johnny into his little office and picked up the telephone. "Come on over here," he said. "I've got the boy."

A few minutes later a lot of State troopers arrived. They called another number and then beckoned Johnny to the telephone. I'm coming down for you, Johnny," said Dad's voice, sounding sort of choked up. "Are you all right?"

"Yes," said Johnny. He stole a little look at the booth full of State troopers. "Daddy," he said cautiously, "I haven't got my marble any more. It went back to where it came from."

"Oh," said Dad. "Oh."

For a half hour Johnny sat in a State trooper's car and the trooper let Johnny talk over his radio-telephone to other State troopers. They all seemed glad to hear from him. On trooper gave Johnny a candy bar. It was pretty soft from being in the trooper's pocket, but Johnny ate it hungrily and then licked his fingers.

Dad had a bandage around his head when he came for Johnny, but he drove up in their own car. Two men were with him. Dad hugged Johnny and right in front of all the State troopers he kissed him. There were tears in Dad's eyes and Johnny felt very uncomfortable.

The two men got in the car with them. One of them drove and the other sat beside him, and together they filled up the whole front seat. Johnny and Dad sat in the back and presently Johnny's head was on Dad's lap and he was asleep.

He slept all the miles up the Turnpike and all the miles through the winding North Jersey roads to the Jenk's driveway. When he woke up he was in Mother's arms, but he was only half awake. He never knew how he go into bed. He just slept.

He had no dreams. The night turned into tomorrow.

Copyright 1953 by Carl L. Biemiller. Illustrated by Kathleen Voute.

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