The Magic Ball From Mars

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Chapter 7, The End

It was good to be home. Johnny never felt snugger. His room looked exactly as it should, even the place he had jagged in the wallpaper with the end of a cap pistol. His bed felt exactly right. He could hear Minstrel in the hallway. That meant it was late. It meant that Minstrel had been out and around the barn and down the meadow for a run. Maybe Minstrel had even eaten breakfast. What's more, now that Johnny thought about it, the morning felt late. The birds sounded far away, as if they were busy about their own bird affairs instead of tweeting around the house as they usually did when he first woke up. The house sounded late, too. It was full of noises and extra feet and Dad's voice and Mother's and somebody else's.

Suddenly Johnny sat up straight in bed. He was home. Not in a highway toll booth with a lot of State policemen. Not in a field alone and scared while kidnapers chased him. Not on the edge of a road while the Man from Out There stopped a car for him.

He swung his feet to the floor and called, "Hello. I'm awake."

Minstrel got there first. He put his paws on Johnny's chest and knocked him flat on the bed. He licked Johnny's face. Then Mother swept into the room. "It's about time, sleepyhead," she said. She reached down and hugged him tight. "How do you feel?" she asked tenderly.

"Fine," said Johnny. "Hungry."

Just like your father," she said. "Well, breakfast will be ready before you are. Pancakes and honey today. Everybody else has eaten. It's ten o'clock."

"Oh, my!' said Johnny, and yawned a big yawn. "There's a man downstairs waiting for you," said Mother. "In fact, there are several men with your father, but this one said to tell you that he fought his way through nine hundred alligators to get here."

Johnny laughed. "That's Mr. Murphy," he said.

"Right," said Mother, and threw a T shirt, a clean pair of shorts, and clean socks on his bed. "Hurry up now, but be sure to wash."

Mr. Murphy's being there, thought Johnny, meant more about his being a big secret. But there really wasn't any secret, now that he no longer had the magic ball. He wondered where it was now. Probably out among the far stars with the Man from Out There and the flying saucer. Johnny shivered a little. What had happened to the two men who were hunting for him in the field? He remember only hearing footsteps coming close and then the whooshing of the saucer. He had an idea that it was better not to know for sure. He washed and dressed in a hurry and went down to the breakfast nook in the kitchen.

Mr. Murphy and Dad and, of all people, the Colonel, were drinking coffee. Dad still had a bandage around his head, but he looked all right. As Johnny walked in, Dad was saying to Mr. Murphy, "Believe what you want, but I don't know any more about what happened than you do. The boy was worn out last night." He was Johnny. "Hello, son," said Dad, and hugged him.

"Good morning, Johnny," said Mr. Murphy.

"Good morning, sonny," said the Colonel.

Johnny slid into his chair and Mother put a plate with nine pancakes on it before him. Mr. Murphy counted them. "I can eat sixteen," he said, "and I'm only forty-three years old."

"Out," said Mother firmly. "Let him eat." She chased the men out into the screened porch with their coffee.

Mother sat with Johnny. She poured him extra milk. She gave him maple syrup. She waited until he had finished eight pancakes and was grunting a little on the ninth. "Do you know," she said, "that none of us knows for sure what happened to you after those men took you away in their car? The wreck of that car was found." Mother's lips trembled a little. "and the man that was driving it. That's all."

Johnny licked some syrup off his upper lip. "My magic ball is gone," he said.

Mother patted Johnny's arm. "So Dad told me," she said. "Do you want to tell your father and the others about it?"

"All right," said Johnny, although he didn't really want to talk about yesterday very much.

"They think it's important," said Mother.

Together they walked out to the sun porch. Mr. Murphy was cracking his knuckles by stretching his fingers and then closing them into a fist. "Aha!" he said to Johnny. "It's a wonder I don't turn into a statue, I'm so patient." He stopped cracking his knuckles and pointed a lean finger at Johnny. "What happened to your little ball?" he asked. "Just answer me that and I won't have to turn into a statue."

Dad grinned at Johnny. So did the Colonel.

"The Man from Out There took it back with him," said Johnny.

"Your father said the very same thing," murmured Mr. Murphy. "You saw him again, did you? Well, that explains a lot to me." He stopped and looked at Johnny. "Never grow up," he said. "It's too hard to believe in things you ought to take on faith."

Mother pulled Johnny to a seat beside her on the porch swing. "Just sit here and tell us about it," she said gently.

Johnny thought of something else. "Did you get your rocket back all right?" he asked Mr. Murphy.

"The rocket's fine for the time being," said Mr. Murphy. "Will you talk, boy?"

Johnny squirmed a little. Then he started to talk. He told them about burning the man with the little ball, and the Colonel yelled, "Great!" He told them about the wreck and about running through the woods into the thicket, and Mr. Murphy's knuckles cracked, as his fist clenched tight. He told them about the men who hunted for him and almost found him, and Mother's arm tightened about his shoulders and Daddy's face got very white.

He told them about the saucer and the Man from Out There. As well as he could, he told them about the stars and the worlds that are frozen and the worlds that burn and bloom…Then he ran out of talk for a long moment, because Mr. Murphy and Daddy-especially Mr. Murphy-looked as if they had been frozen solid like an ice cube in the top of the refrigerator. He told them about how the Man from Out There took back the little ball and how he hated to take back a gift. He told them-and, because he wasn't sure he ought to, the words came with a little stutter-about giving the Man from Out There the Ted Williams baseball card.

When he finished, Mr. Murphy laughed out loud.

"What are you laughing about?" asked Johnny.

"Because I'm thinking of the funniest thing I ever thought," said Mr. Murphy.

"What?" asked Johnny, sitting up straight.

"Of a ballplayer going to the stars," said Mr. Murphy. "Not a jet pilot. Not a scientist. Not a general. Not the President of the United States. Not me. Oh, no. A baseball player."

Come to think of it, it was funny, Johnny decided. He laughed too. "Can I go out now?" he asked.

"Yes," said Dad.

"Yes," said Mother, and kissed him on the back of the neck.

"No," said Mr. Murphy. "I've got a present for you first." He got up and went into the living room. He came back with a long, slim package and handed it to Johnny. Everybody stood around while Johnny unwrapped it.

It was a rocket model, shiny, smooth, and sleek to the fingers. It was the very rocket Johnny had asked for. He gasped with pleasure. "Thank you," he said softly. "Thank you very much."

He turned and, without even saying good-by, he ran out of the sun porch, the rocket model under his arm. It was a little awkward to carry because, even thought it was light, it was quite long.

It was warm outside. Minstrel was down soaking in the creek with the cows and getting muddy feet so he could dirty up Johnny's T shirt later on. Johnny went down through the pasture, down into the cool woods. He went through the tall grass to the fallen oak with the cave beneath the torn-out roots.

He sat down in the little cave where he had first made the magic ball work the way his thoughts wanted it to. And now the ball was gone. He missed it very much. Of course, he had another gift in its place. He stroked the rocket model. It wouldn't work by just thinking what you wanted it to do, but it would fly, and Dad could help him fly it. A rocket could go as high as you wanted it to go and even higher-maybe to the moon, when Mr. Murphy was ready. Once on the moon, there was no telling where you could go. Maybe to visit the Man from Out There.

The rocket felt nice. Johnny would learn all about it and about bigger ones, too, some day. He would watch the sky for flying saucers. He was the only boy he knew who had really seen one and talked to a Man who flew one. And that in itself was a sort of gift.

Meanwhile, he would. There was a little green beetle walking up a blade of grass. It reached the top and swayed back and forth and back and forth. It snapped its tiny pincers. It fell off to the ground. Johnny poked his finger at it gently. The beetle reminded him. He would go out tonight and catch fireflies in a jar if Mother and Dad would let him. Tomorrow he would ask Dad about shooting off the rocket.

The beetle waked around the blade of grass and disappeared into a tunnel

It was good to be home.

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

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