Morning found Johnny several miles away, still in the forest, and with no idea where he was. He hadn’t slept for over twenty-four hours and he was exhausted.
He crested a rise and found himself in a clearing in the trees. He decided it was as good a place as any to get some rest, so he set his rucksack on the ground to use as a pillow, and after brushing away as many twigs and leaves as he could he lay down and closed his eyes.
His thoughts were erratic, flitting like a bird between what had happened with his father, what he was going to do now that he had run away, and what his future held in store for him. He tried to picture himself as grown man; he could see himself with a nice car, a nice house, a dog and a beautiful woman on his arm. He couldn’t quite make out her features, and as he drifted into blissful sleep, he was desperately trying to focus on her face, but didn’t seem able to for some reason.
He woke up several hours later, cold and confused. His back hurt, he was hungry, and he felt alone and miserable. He was somewhere in the middle of the forest, in one of the wildest regions of South Africa, and he had lost all sense of direction. He sat up and looked around.
Judging from the position of the sun, he could see that it was around midday. He knew that he had to make use of all available daylight, so he climbed to his feet and walked off into what he hoped would be the right direction… hoping that it would lead him to a road… or farm… or some form of civilization that he could use as a means to escape.
He had only taken several steps before, without warning, he tripped over something, sending him tumbling to the ground. Frustrated with himself for his clumsiness, he dusted his hands off and looked around. A few feet behind him was a piece of silver metal sticking out of the ground. At first glance, it looked like the bumper of an old car or something, half-buried under the dirt and leaves. All he could see was the edge of it, protruding from the ground. He moved closer to get a better look.
It was shiny silver, about three feet across, and it seemed to curve ever so slightly. What fascinated him was its brightness and the fact that he couldn’t see a single dent or scratch. Obviously part of a larger buried object, it shone as if made that morning.
Johnny stretched out his hand and touched the object uncertainly with his fingers, and was surprised to feel a strange vibration. At the same time, he was convinced that he could hear a faint humming sound. He stood up and took a step back in disbelief, combing his fingers through his hair. So much had happened in the last few hours. He was hungry and hadn’t slept well, he was cold and alone, but yet he felt a strange sense of excitement well up within him, like a dormant volcano coming to life, and without thinking, he reached forward again. This time, on some base instinct, he grabbed the object with his open hand and closed his eyes.
His entire being seemed to explode; he was suffused with an energy that he could never have imagined. Eyes closed, it felt as though he was standing, mesmerized, at the foot of a rainbow, or watching a star being born. He fell backwards and landed on the ground; startled, perplexed, and filled with excitement. It felt like something had awoken deep inside him; it was like plugging his soul into a power socket.
Breathless, he regained his feet and watched in astonishment as trees toppled, the earth broke up, and out of the ground in front of him rose a silver disc of enormous size. He couldn’t believe his eyes. It was huge! He craned his neck to look up at it. It was about four storey’s high, and almost as wide as the length of an Olympic swimming pool. Johnny was flabbergasted, speechless, staring at this gigantic object that all but blocked out the sun. He took several steps backwards and studied it in fascination.
It consisted of a flattened ball with a ring around the middle – all one solid piece. It looked like two silver soup plates glued together, one on top of the other. The edge of the ring was about five meters above the ground, and the top of the ball at least double that again, about ten meters or so.
Johnny figured that the width of the ball, or dome, looked to be about twenty meters or so… perhaps less. The ring gave it a total diameter of close to forty meters, and seemed to be about five meters thick where it joined the ball. Nothing in Johnny’s life could have prepared him for something like this.
A ramp had extended from the base of the ship, and it caught his attention. He took a tentative step forward, and then broke into a run as his natural curiosity got the better of him.
Entering the ship the first thing Johnny noticed was a circular metallic column, about two meters in diameter, which dominated the centre of the room. Around this column wound a spiral metallic staircase rising into the gloom. He looked around. The place was a mess, and the air smelled stale, as though the ship had been dormant for years.
Cautiously, he approached the spiral staircase and looked up; he could see there were several levels. He climbed the stairs to the second level. His eyes had become accustomed to the light and he could see quite clearly around him now. The second level was much larger than the first, and Johnny realized that the design of the craft incorporated the extra space provided by the ring.
The first level’s total width was less than twenty meters, closer to fifteen in fact, but due to the curvature of the bottom of the ball, much of that was unusable, being at an angle. The dead space provided storage areas and such. The useable area was closer to ten meters or so, but up here, he could see that almost the entire width of the ring provided floor space, maybe thirty meters in total, and served as a kind of living area. Four passages branched off from the central column, and on either side of the passages were doors, exactly like the passageways one sees on passenger ships.
He opened the door closest to him and saw that it was a bedroom, complete with side tables and closets, although nothing like Johnny had ever seen. Everything seemed to be made out of moulded grey plastic, and he couldn’t discern any joints between the floor and the bed, or the cupboards and the ceiling. It looked smooth and clinical, though not at all uncomfortable or uninviting; on the contrary, Johnny felt surprisingly at home in this alien environment, with its soft, rounded contours and pleasing lines. As with downstairs, the room was in complete disarray, and Johnny figured that this ship had obviously been involved in some sort of crash many ages ago.
Wading through the mess, he found a washroom adjoining the bedroom; with what he supposed was a shower or something, and a contraption he could only imagine was a toilet. Fascinated, he left the room and climbed to the third level.
The moment Johnny stepped foot onto this level, he realized that this must be the control centre for this craft. Up here, the design was open plan for the most part, and he noticed an area which could possibly be a communal area on the one side; he thought perhaps it could be an eating area, or a meeting area, with chairs and tables. The tables were similar in design to the bedroom below, moulded plastic, and fixed in position. The chairs, however, were flat on their backs and paper was scattered all over the floor.
Johnny glanced around, feeling somewhat out of his depth. He stood in the centre of the large, round room, near the central column. On either side of him, the room had been sub-divided, providing an office, or something, on each side. Behind him was the communal area, with three large tables. In front of him stood a large silver panel, with a big, comfortable looking chair, and he realized this must be the control centre – the pilot’s station.
What surprised him was the complete lack of windows in this ship, including the pilot’s station. In fact, it was nowhere near the front of the ship as he would have expected. It was more or less midway between the centre column and the outer edge of the ship. This completely baffled him as he peered round, wondering how the pilot would see where he, or she – or it, was going.
Deciding to explore further, he climbed the stairs to the final level. This level seemed to be an inverted copy of the first, bottom level. It seemed to be a galley, perhaps – a food preparation facility, where the occupants would make their food, and then eat it on the level below.
As he made his way back down the spiral staircase, his thoughts raced around in his head. He didn’t know how or why this ship had risen so dramatically from the ground; all that he did know was that he had stumbled across some sort of craft, and that it had responded to him. The fact that it was now hovering silently above the ground, that it had extended its ramp for him, and that it wasn’t making any clanking or grinding sounds, seemed to indicate that it was in perfect working order.
He walked over to the dining area, pulled a chair up off the ground and collapsed into it, taking a moment to think. Previously, he had a vague idea of getting away and going somewhere – or something – he wasn’t sure exactly what – not a very good plan, he admitted. But now he was presented with the opportunity of a startling, new option. He was in a perfectly preserved ship of some sort, and there was nothing or nobody to stop him! He could go anywhere he wanted, and he could do whatever he wanted!
As the realization dawned on him, Johnny’s spirits revived miraculously. He jumped up off the chair and ran down the stairs to get his rucksack. He didn’t make it that far…
Standing on the ramp, he heard something in the distance.
Dogs! He could hear them barking, and he could make out the shrill cries of their handlers. Then his blood ran cold as he heard his father’s voice rise above the din.
‘I must have him back, do you hear?’
Johnny panicked. They were only moments away! He turned around and darted back up the ramp, then stood looking around in wild confusion. He couldn’t figure out how to close the door! He couldn’t find any buttons or levers designed for the purpose and he began a frantic search. He felt despair set in as the voices got louder. At last, he noticed a handprint on the wall next to the door. Warily, he placed his hand over the handprint, and to his intense relief, the ramp closed with a whoosh as the ships door shut closed.
He took the stairs two at a time as he ran to the third level and sat behind the controls. In front of him were the indented imprints of two human-like hands, one on the left, and the other to the right, five fingers each. Johnny looked around and saw no other options, so he placed his hands on the imprints. Almost instantly, he felt an unexpected power surge through his entire body. The ship lit up, and he heard the faint bleeps and blurbs of software, and a soft humming sound coming from somewhere behind him; the central column he supposed.
He realized that the ship was ready to go, but he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He looked around; there were no windows or monitors to guide him; no buttons, levers or pedals he could use to fly this thing.
How am I supposed to see where I’m going? How am I going to get out of here? he thought.
Fighting off the panic that threatened to overwhelm him, he closed his eyes, and to his surprise, he found himself floating about ten feet off the ground! He looked round; it was as though he was flying; he couldn’t see the ship anymore – it was just him floating in thin air! Looking down, he realised he couldn’t even see himself. He could see the forest around him; he could even see his rucksack lying on the ground.
He opened his eyes again and to his surprise, he was still in the chair with his hands on the controls. With a flash of insight, he saw that somehow this ship interfaced with his mind, and that there was no need for windows, or monitors, or pedals or buttons. All he had to do was imagine it and it would happen!
He closed his eyes again.
‘Greetings, Master. How may I serve?’ a voice echoed in his mind. Johnny nearly fell out of his chair in surprise.
‘Who… who are you?’ he asked.
‘I am the ship, Master. How may I serve?’
‘I want to know where my pursuers are!’ he said, and automatically his point of view rotated, and he saw them coming into view through the trees; his father in front, leading the search. He wanted out! If the ramp opened up for him, why shouldn’t it open for them too?
‘Get me out of here!’ Johnny shouted. Without any warning, the ship shot into the air at an incredible speed. What startled him was that despite the incredible acceleration, he didn’t even feel the sensation of moving. One moment he was hovering, just above the ground in the forest, and the next, he was floating about a thousand feet above the trees, with the entire vista before him.
He saw his pursuers below, and it seemed that he could reach out and touch them, standing with their mouths agape.
‘So long suckers!’ he shouted, and the ship zoomed into the distance, leaving the spectators speechless on the ground. One second the craft was there, the next it was a pinprick of light, and then it was gone.
‘What do you mean gone?’
‘I’m sorry Sir, but he’s gone.’
Captain Hannes Swanepoel, the Commanding Officer of the Hazyview Police Station, within whose jurisdiction the incident had occurred, looked at his subordinate irritably.
‘You’ve just flipping told me that, Kruger! I’m still waiting for an explanation!’
Sergeant Kruger shuffled his feet awkwardly before replying. ‘Well Sir, I don’t think you’re going to believe it, but it looks like a bloody UFO got to him first.’
‘A bloody what?’
‘A UFO, Sir. We all saw it, it happened right in front of us. This thing was just hovering in the air as we came over the rise. It shot off into the distance just as we got there, Sir.’
‘What kind of fool do you take me for, Kruger? A UFO? It sounds like a load of bull-crap to me!’ he shouted.
‘Sir, we all saw it. All of us, Sir. I think the boy’s been abducted, Sir. I read a story the other day in the…’
‘I’m not interested in the rubbish you read!’ he shouted in irritation. ‘How can you be so sure the boy’s on board?’
‘Because we have his rucksack, Sir.’ Kruger replied defensively.
Hannes Swanepoel chewed his bottom lip while he considered this piece of news.
‘Where’s the boy’s father?’ he asked finally.
‘Just outside, Sir.’
‘Send him in.’
Hannes watched carefully as the boy’s father came in. He sized him up immediately… poor white, chip on the shoulder, probably an alcoholic – judging by the stale brandy fumes that followed him into the room. He sat down with a scowl.
‘What happened to your face?’ Hannes asked.
The direct question caught Robbie off guard. ‘I had an accident,’ he replied.
‘What kind of accident?’
‘A none-of-your-business kind of accident,’ Robbie replied sullenly.
‘I assume you’d like to find your son, Mister Roberts?’
‘Ja! Of course.’
‘Then I’m going to need your co-operation. I’m going to ask you again: what happened to your face?’
‘Okay. Okay! My kid hit me yesterday! Are you happy now?’ Robbie was irritated and morose.
‘I don’t remember…’
‘Because you were drunk?’
‘Yes, because I was drunk.’
‘And you drink often?’
‘And you hit your kid when you drink?’
‘Ja… sometimes,’ Robbie mumbled.
‘So let me get this straight,’ said Hannes, ‘yesterday afternoon you got lekker drunk, you moered your kid, but this time he moered you back, and then he ran away. Am I on the right track, Mister Roberts?’
‘I didn’t hit Johnny yesterday, that much I do remember. We were talking and he said something that made me angry, and the next thing I remember is waking up on the grass with a bunch of strangers standing around asking me what happened.’
‘It makes no difference, Mister Roberts. The fact is you got drunk, you pissed your kid off, and now he’s run away from you. And to make things worse, from what my men tell me, he was abducted by a flipping UFO on top of it all! All because you get stroppy when you drink!’
‘Ja, okay! Whatever! What are you going to do to find my kid?’
‘What would you like me to do? He was abducted by a bliksemse UFO! Would you like me to phone them and ask for him back?’
‘But you can’t just sit here and do nothing! Where the hell does my taxpayer’s money go? You have to do something!’ Robbie shouted.
‘Relax, Mister Roberts. I’m going to phone Jo’Burg and find out what I’m supposed to do. I’m sure there are procedures to be followed in a case like this, though what the hell they may be I have no idea. And here I thought this kind of thing only ever happened in America.’ He shook his head.
‘So I’ll get Johnny back?’
‘Oh, I don’t think so, Meneer. To find him we must find that UFO, and I’ve got no idea how anyone’s going to do that.’
Robbie’s face fell.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2012
Cover artwork: Adam Van Der Riet © 2012
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© 2012 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved