The Time Machines - a skit on HG Wells
A little gift for all those sci-fi fans, hope you enjoy it.
Hearing Daniel's giggles delighted Don as he chased him around the garden, and catching him Don would scoop him up in his arms. This was the moment when Don would rag his son with a rendition of Danny Boy.
‘Dad - don’t, I’m not Danny Boy!’ he’d protest, as Don knew he would.
‘What’re you gonna do, beat me up, Eh? Come on then tough guy, lets see you in action.’ Going down on his knees nearer his son’s height he followed the same ritual, and pretending to beat him Don would then inexplicably tire, and allow little Daniel to win.
‘Breakfast! Come on you guys, I thought you’d be hungry by now.’ cried Mom from the kitchen window. They didn’t need a second invitation. Sitting down to scrambled eggs and bacon was something Don always appreciated; it was that wonderful moment when he could sit down and be with his family.
‘Dad... why do they call Mars the red planet?’
‘That’s a hell of a question for an eight year old,’ replied Don, ‘to give you an answer, some people say it’s because the surface contains a lot of iron, which oxidises when it meets with moist air... you remember our old car? D’you remember the rust on the wings? Same thing... but others say it’s because the planet’s oceans froze over, and were then covered with volcanic ash that hid them from view.’ Daniel's little mind pondered the wonder of this for a while.
‘When you go there, can you bring me back some so I can see it?’ asked Daniel.
‘You bet I will son.’ replied Don enthusiastically, and looking furtively at the kitchen clock added, 'my God is that the time, I must get a move on.’ Grabbing his coat he left for the base, where he would undergo his final training that morning, so kissing Cheryl and Daniel goodbye he jumped into his car, then hooting the horn he waved from the car window as he turned onto the highway. One day is a long time for an eight year old who can't wait for his hero dad to come home, and whatever pursuit he was engaged in, one ear would listen for the familiar hoot from Don's car as he turned into the driveway.
Suddenly his life took on the ultimate meaning, the horn hooted! Running out to meet him, Don, with his case in one hand scooped up Daniel with the other and carried him into the house.
‘Hi Baby, everything alright?’
‘Yeah,’ replied Cheryl from the bathroom, ‘I’m taking a shower.’ Walking into the kitchen Don took Daniel with him.
‘Hey, did I ever tell you about the swimming pool we’ve got?’ Daniel nodded innocently in the negative, ‘it holds over six million gallons! That’s a hell-of-a swimming pool - wouldn’t you say?’ ‘Can I swim in it Dad?’
‘Well unfortunately son it’s strictly for guys over nine years old, and you’ve got almost a year to wait yet, but as soon as you’re nine I’ll take you there.’
‘Thanks Dad!’ replied Daniel beaming, his dad was definitely a hero, and no one could ever change that!
‘Tell you what son,’ said Don suddenly, ‘why don’t I take you there on your birthday, as a sort of treat... what d’ya say?’
‘Oh brilliant!' shouted Daniel, and ran out to play “astronauts” in the space ship his father had built for him in the tree at the bottom of their garden.
‘I’ll get the dinner on hon.’ said Cheryl walking into the kitchen.
‘Great, I’m starving,’ said Don patting his stomach.
‘Half an hour ok,’ she asked him, ‘how’d it go today?’
‘Really good,’ Don told her, ‘all simulator work is finished, and we’ve finished in the Neutral buoyancy lab, and... we heard today the mission is scheduled for the 20th of next month!’
‘Brilliant!’ replied Cheryl smiling broadly, but underneath wished it would fail through lack of funding or something, she was petrified something would go wrong, the thought of life without him was unthinkable. However, she would show Don and the world a brave face; it’s what you do when you’re an astronauts wife. Don walked into the garden to look for Dan.
‘Where are you... come out brat, or... I’ll come and get you!’
‘You can’t get me I’m in outer space.’ came the decisive answer from the space ship in the tree. ‘Ok, I’ll get my shuttle and come up there, my space ship’s faster than yours.’
‘I’m going faster than light now Dad.’ replied Dan, challenging his father.
‘Well I can’t compete with that, I guess I’ll just have to climb the tree and get you... it’ll be a lot easier.’ Shrieking with delight Dan loved it when his father chased up the tree after him.
‘Supper’s ready!’ shouted Cheryl from the patio, and having rescued a stricken space station moments before Dan and Don were hungry, well, even astronauts have to eat!
The weeks had flown by, and it was four days to countdown, so Don left early that morning for preflight checks with his crew. At school little Dan was full of it, and his teacher apparently learnt more about Mars and space flight from Dan, than he’d ever learnt from text books or general reading matter. How do you silence an eight year old whose dad is a member of the first crew to land on Mars? Answer - you don’t! He was also full of it at home, and Don had Hell's own job getting him off to sleep at night. On one occasion he even had to get short with him, something he didn’t really like doing.
‘Hey, come on Dan,’ he said chiding him gently, ‘it really is time to go to sleep.’ Dan fell silent, never having heard his dad use this tone before.
‘Look,’ explained Don, ‘you must go to sleep son... you see, sleep is where you get your energy from... so that you do well at school. The more you get, the better you do at school - especially if you wanna be an astronaut. It’s like recharging your batteries when they get low.’
‘Ok Dad,’ said Dan eventually seeing reason, ‘I’ll go to sleep now.’
‘Good man.’ said Don, crediting him for being grown up, and leaving the night light on he went down to joined Cheryl in the lounge for an evenings TV. Having had no more trouble from a very excited young Dan, twenty minutes later Don found him sleeping the sleep of innocence that only children know. His little face was a picture of peace and tranquillity, but Don mentally bet himself all that would all change around seven the next morning. The day after would be the last time he would see Dan and Cheryl before going in for pre-launch, after that it would be into the capsule, which would be followed by the countdown.
Holding Dan in one arm Don kissed Cheryl goodbye, and didn’t want to let go of either of them before it was absolutely necessary.
'Getting greedy in your old age!' said Cheryl, chiding him humorously.
'Dan doesn't weigh much,' he said grinning, 'come to think of it - neither do you, and if the cheek doesn't stop I might have to put you over my knee before I leave.'
'You wouldn’t dare,' she challenged him, 'not in public.' Putting Dan on the sidewalk Cheryl realised that not only could he, but he would - and do it now! Running as fast as she could it wasn't fast enough, and much to Dan's delight Don soon caught her. The little lad shrieked with laughter at his parents antics. Suddenly it was time for Don to report for briefing, so kissing Cheryl once more, he gave Dan a final hug and left for the briefing room.
'I love you both.' he said, and quickly choked back a few tears as he walked away, 'be good while I'm away.' Looking over his shoulder, he gave them a final wave before disappearing through the door.
Sitting on the settee with Dan on her lap Cheryl pointed the remote at the TV, the live broadcast had already started, and the commentator was going through the usual facts and figures as the countdown ran silently on in the background. It was all very much a fantasy come true for an eight year old whose father happened to be one of the crew, and sitting riveted to the set was not a prerequisite for them, they weren't even conscious of the fact. Having asserted that the weather was fine and window still held, it was all systems go for launch; the countdown continued. An hour later they watched the Martianis lift slowly from the pads, and as she broke free smoke and flame spewed in all directions, and as she gathered speed and altitude the Martianis started the first leg to her journey. This would be the first time that man had ever set foot on another world, a world that didn't belong to him. Dan was over-awed by the spectacle of seeing his dad's rocket take off; and, leave for another world. His dad - Commander Don Blackwell, Payload Commander - was going to Mars! Their propellant spent, just over a minute later both solid fuel tanks jettisoned as the second stage ignited, and watching intently Dan's face was fixed in awe, as his dad became his biggest hero ever.
Needless to say, Cheryl had Hell's own game getting Dan into bed that night, as she was bombarded with a million questions - and a growing astronaut had to have his answers - now! How close to Mars was he now, would he be there in the morning, could he see him on TV before he went to school? There was a thought; Cheryl suddenly realised what his class teacher would have to put up with the following day. Perhaps she should telephone and apologise in advance. As the Martianis had achieved orbital status -it meant only one thing, it was time for Dan to achieve orbital status. Needless to say Cheryl fell pray to a torrent of protests.
'Come on Dan, don't be tiresome... you know what I said.'
'Yeah but I-'
'Yeah but nothing young man – hey, I've just thought of something, how about you check over your own shuttle, after all if Daddy ever needed it to get home, you'd want to make sure it was working properly wouldn't you, and so would your father.' Suddenly Dan found the preparation of his Martianis model of great importance, after all, it was important to him that his dad could rely on him, and his ship - if need be... peace at last! Leaving a light on for Dan Cheryl returned to the living room, to watch the rest of the programme and make sure her husband was safe. It would be nearly six months before she saw him again, but the evening went slowly without Don, and feeling bored she went to bed early that evening. Time passed even slower the following day, even her rounds of the charity shops and a visit to the garden centre failed to persuade the clock hands to move faster. A visit to the space centre, and a chat with the wives of other crew members killed an hour, but what was more important, it allowed her to check on Don's progress. Each day passed slower than the one before, and each day Dan asked more demanding questions about his father, he couldn't wait to see his dad home. Although his mission was only one week old Dan wanted to parade his father through the streets, and simply couldn’t comprehend there were still five months and three weeks to go. Seeing him on TV wasn't enough now, he was tiring rapidly of not having physical contact with him. He missed his dad chasing him up the tree, or around the garden, and Cheryl found it hard coping with his demands on her as a mother - and surrogate father; tree climbing wasn't exactly her forte. The biggest break she’d had was when the mission was in its fifth week, and she and Dan were invited to the Space Centre to talk to Don live for twenty minutes, only then did he relent, and dashed around at light speed to tell his friends where he was going.
Trying to answer a million questions from Daniel, and think about how she was missing Don, Cheryl felt very cheated as she drove home, but it was mainly the fact that she hadn't had the opportunity to talk to Don alone at the Space Centre. Wanting to talk to him on a personal level, Cheryl felt awkward in the presence of the other wives, and wouldn’t dream of embarrassing them, or Don, by talking intimately in their presence. After a month Cheryl was finding it harder to cope, and started wondering how she would cope with the remaining five, especially in the knowledge that as time went by Daniel would grow increasingly fractious, and ask her ever more frequently when his father would be home. In the months that followed, Cheryl found herself inexorably more involved with her charity work, which was largely due to her close friend Dianne, who, noticing the fresh lines on Cheryl's brow had asked certain favours of her regarding jobs that she needed done urgently. For some considerable time she was totally unaware of what Dianne was doing, and time as we are all aware becomes a shadow when we're involved in a subject of interest. Three months had passed when Cheryl had coffee with a few of her charity colleagues, and as the others started talking discretely Cheryl took Dianne aside.
'That was very clever of you,' she told her with a knowing smile, 'I didn't have a clue, it wasn't 'til this morning it dawned on me how subtly you'd manoeuvred me into doing that extra work.'
'Sorry Cheryl,' replied Dianne starting self consciously, 'I thought you looked a little stressed, so I decided to do something about it.'
'Why didn't you tell me, I wouldn't have minded.'
'Oh come on Cheryl, I know you, you'd have protested 'til kingdom come that there was nothing wrong.'
'Yeah, I Guess you're right,' replied Cheryl, and laughing she realised that Dianne knew her far better than she'd given her credit for.
Halfway through the mission Cheryl was surprised that she'd managed far better than she'd expected, but surprisingly Daniel hadn’t been as demanding as she'd originally expected, in fact he'd been quite the opposite, and had helped with housework, gardening, and had even washed the car! She guessed that Daniel had realised having something to occupy him would relieve the long drought until his father came home. Inevitably she got the odd whine as to when Daddy was coming home, but Cheryl handled the situation with consummate ease. Considering she'd seen it as an uphill task as little as eight weeks ago, she had reached the point where one evening while watching an update on the mission, she'd actually gone to the kitchen and made herself a coffee during the bulletin. It was at that precise moment she realised she was becoming blasé. Indeed, the following day at the supermarket, she was propositioned by a young man, obviously single he hadn't realised she was married with an eight-year-old son. At thirty three it was an ego trip to be told you're definitely no older than nineteen, he was very nice and genuine in the way he made his advance, she not only found him attractive, but also very engaging, and almost fell into the time worn trap. Then, coming to her senses she gently chided the young man, and thanking him for his compliment she headed for the checkout. Remembering her promise to Don at the alter was one thing she would cherish as long as she lived, and would never dream of breaking!
The boredom of months suddenly turned into a rush of minutes, and what seemed to have taken an age to pass, had suddenly become a last minute panic. Clasping Dan's hand Cheryl sat in the hospitality lounge with the wives and children of the other astronauts. Riveted to the large screen in front of them, it was re-entry time, and this was the moment everyone was dreading, the atmosphere was tense, and just one spark would be enough to ignite an explosion of emotion. They were finally coming home, after six seemingly endless months they would soon be reunited, and Dan was beside himself at the thought of seeing his dad again after so long.
One de-brief, and one heroes two hour welcome later, Cheryl and Dan finally got to see Don. Not that that meant much, as the following day Don would be paraded around the town, complete with ticker-tape and the commensurate razzmatazz, so while the nation enjoyed his company Cheryl and Dan would have to bite the bullet a while longer. After two weeks they were almost back in their routine, when Daniel in one of his question-asking modes queried Don over the piece of "Red" from Mars that he'd promised to bring back.
'No I didn't forget young Dan, I haven't got it with me right now,' explained Don, 'you see, like me it
has to go through decontamination... but just as soon as I get the all-clear I'll fetch it home for you, ok son?'
'Yeah ok Dad, how long will it take?'
'I don't know son, it depends on what they find in it, you see it must be declared safe for our world before they can release it... just in case it contains anything that might damage our planet, do you understand?'
Little Daniel silently nodded his head, and suddenly finding a need to fly his shuttle to Mars, he had to investigate a report that aliens were amassing prior attacking Earth. Before Don knew it his son was halfway up the garden tree, or as he would put it, well on his way to Mars! The next morning Don called Daniel for breakfast, and told him that if he didn't get down there real quick an alien would eat his cornflakes. It only served to incite a command of extermination from Dan, who continued to dress unhurriedly.
'You remember before the mission son, I said I'd take you for a swim at our special pool?'
'Yeah, when can we go?' said Dan beaming.
'I said on your birthday, so as it's only two months to go I'll book us a slot,' then, looking up, 'Cheryl you coming with us honey?'
'If you don't mind a girl tagging along!' she ragged them.
'I guess we'll just have to put up with it!' said Don, feigning resignation. Doing frankfurters for dinner, Cheryl reminded Don that if she got any more cheek she would stick a fork in him, and boil him up with the frankfurters.
'One thing you’ll learn pretty quick in life son... is know when to keep your mouth shut!' said Don, and gave Daniel a knowing wink as if Cheryl wasn't there, ‘women can get quite grippy if you push 'em too far, can't take a joke you see son.' Suddenly Don found himself running at high speed from the house, and had he been slower off the mark, a large skillet would have made contact with his fully exposed pate. Ten minutes of high jinx followed where Dan’s parents would chase each other around the house and garden, a period of fun that little Daniel always counted as very special. It wasn't long before Don came home one day, and purposefully squealed the tires on the driveway as he pulled up; this was always a sign to Daniel that he'd brought something special home with him. Don sat in the car counting.
'Eight -nine -ten -eleven -twel-' Suddenly Dan came hurtling across the front porch.
'Not bad son, barely twelve seconds that time!'
'What have you got Dad, what is it?' cried Dan expectantly, his little face full of wonderment.
'I ain't got nothin' for you.' replied Don gravely, and watched his face change from one of eager excitement to one of disappointment. Suddenly scooping him up with one hand Don carried him into the house under his left arm, and told him quite definitely he was going to put him in the waste-disposal unit. This always had Dan crying with laughter, he knew his dad had no intention of putting him down there, but it was the madcap way he did it that lit little Daniel's fuse.
'Hey! Haven’t you forgotten something?' asked Don, quizzing Daniel when things had quietened down.
'I washed my hands already Dad - honest!'
'No! I wasn't referring to that... what did you ask me when you ran out the house just now?' Little Dan's face lit up again. Opening his attaché Don lifted the lid and sneaked a glance inside, then suddenly shut the lid tight.
'I think there's a "Moon-man" in there!'
'Oh Dad, come on, I want to see what you brought for me.' he pleaded. Unable to rag him any longer Don opened his case and retrieved a clear plastic box containing 1 x section of the red planet! Staring in amazement Dan couldn't believe his eyes at first, then eventually asked his father if it was alright to open it up.
'Course it is son, you go right ahead.' said Don grinning like a Cheshire cat! Opening the case
slowly Little Dan placed the top on the floor, then gently picked up the piece of Mars that was all his, and his alone!
Holding it in his left hand he stared at it for over a minute, as if waiting for the odd Martian or two to leap out and say Hi! Eventually passing it to his dad, Don took the rock, and looking at it carefully for a few miuntes he remembered his time on the Martian landscape; placing it back on its pedestal he closed the case and put it on Dan's dressing table.
'Come on,' he told Daniel, 'dinner should be ready about now... let's go see if those frankfurters are
worth eating, but don't tell your mother I said that ok?' Laughing as they entered the kitchen Cheryl
asked them what they'd found so amusing; and looking down at little Dan, Don tapped the side of
his nose with his finger.
'That's for us to know... and you to find out.' The pan holding the frankfurters was raised, and aimed
in the general direction of Don. 'Ok, I see what you mean baby!' he told her, caving in under her threat to annihilate him with its contents.
'So tell me what's so funny!' she demanded.
'I cannot!' said Don with eloquent precision.
'Oh, and why not?' she asked in protestation.
'It's a secret.' said Don already running for the door.
'Can I keep it in my bedroom Dad?'
'Yeah, you keep it where ever you like son.' said Don striding at speed across the patio, he was happy that his son was pleased with the present he'd brought across the Solar system for him. Cornering him behind the tree Cheryl tried gauging which way he would go next, and little Daniel shrieked with laughter as he ran to join them. Feigning to the left Don made a sudden dash for freedom to the right, although Cheryl chased after him as fast as she could she had no real chance of catching him.
'Oh! I've had enough,' said Cheryl gasping for breath, 'come on, or the dinner'll get cold!'
Remembering how hungry they were Don and Dan followed close on her heels.
'That was absolutely awful,' said Don placing his knife and fork on the edge of the plate, and waited for Cheryl's reaction, 'I had to eat it as fast as I could just to get rid of it!' She laughed at his schoolboy style humour, this was what Don loved best, and now dinner was done it was time to enjoy his family. It didn’t matter to him whether he was helping Dan with his homework or watching TV, it was quality time for him, and having spent six months away he wanted as much time with them as he could get.
'I've been thinking...' he said suddenly, then deliberately left it hanging in the air .
'What?' asked Cheryl screwing her face up, 'Oh come on, what have you been thinking?'
'I'm due some time off now,' he began slowly, 'so how about... '
'Don, will you stop messing around and get to the point!' demanded Cheryl impatiently.
'We take a holiday... in the Bahamas!' he said finally, dropped the suggestion like a ton weight. 'What?' asked Cheryl, genuinely surprised by Don's offer. After buying the house she thought it would be a couple of years before they got a holiday, and like most young couples their mortgage was their number one priority.
'We can afford it,' said Don casually; 'we could go for a fortnight if you like.'
How about the mortgage?' she asked him, concerned at getting behind with repayments.
'No longer a problem.' announced Don confidently.
'Well yes, ok, let's go to the travel agents, and find out when, and how much.' said Cheryl excitedly. Sitting down to watch TV their stomachs knotted with excitement at the thought of their pending holiday.
Getting up at six thirty Don had beaten the alarm clock by more than fifteen minutes. Sliding out of bed he crept downstairs, and making two cups of tea he toasted two slices of bread and buttered them heavily. Applying downward pressure with his elbow, he managed to open the door without putting anything down, or disturbing Cheryl.
'What's this?' she said smiling sleepily.
'Room service Ma'am... make the most of it, this hotel is closing for two weeks, so we're kicking you out.'
'I'd like to see you try.' she said with a clenched fist. Grinning broadly Don knew she was trying to get him going, but he would take his revenge when she was least expecting it, he had a knack of taking her by surprise in more ways than one. Eating their toast they drank tea and chatted about their forthcoming holiday, but Don hoped that he and Cheryl would get it on before they got up, but due to an eight year old boy his hopes went out the window, when he suddenly opened the door to tell his father the exciting news.
'What is it son?' asked Don, amused at Daniel's enthusiasm for items new.
'Come and see Dad, come on, it's spreading!' he said eagerly. Knowing he would get no peace until he’d looked at Daniel's piece of Mars, he pulled on his dressing gown and followed Daniel to his room.
'Look Dad, it’s growing!' he said eagerly; walking over Don stared at it intently.
'Yeah, you're right Daniel,' he said reservedly, not quite sure what to make of this development.
'Ok, don't take the lid off it 'til I get back son,' he said emphatically, 'I'm gonna ring the lab and ask them if there's anything to worry about.' Walking to his office Don immediately rang his friend Cass, and asked if it could be dangerous.'
'Yeah... yeah, so in your opinion it's quite safe.'
'Don, as you already know, all samples were tested before they were allowed out of quarantine,' said Cass reassuringly, 'but if you want to bring it in and let me take another look at it, just to make doubly sure, then feel free.'
'I hate to disturb your Saturday morning like this -'
'Hey what're friends for,' she interrupted, 'it's better to be safe than sorry.' Slipping his jacket and shoes on Don returned to Dan's room and picked up the case, then walking back to the office he sealed the sample with parcel tape.
'Are you taking it away Dad?' asked Daniel concerned he'd never see it again.
'I'm taking it back to the lab, Cass's gonna take another look at it, but it'll be alright, we just wanna make sure it's ok,' he told his son, and then leaning back through the door he shouted to Cheryl he'd be an hour or so. Twenty minutes later he pulled up in the car park at the laboratory, and was temporarily dazzled by its glass walls reflecting the mid-morning sun.
'I'm sorry about this Cass,' he said seeing her sat at her bench, 'as it's Dan's I just want to know it's ok.'
'Not a problem,' said Cass with a winning smile, who, for a forty eight year old was extremely attractive, and having fancied Don from the onset, had secretly envied Cheryl ever since she started work for the company. Putting the sample under the electron beam microscope she studied it for over five minutes, then, running a series of chemical and biological tests she announcing it was inert.
'Thanks for that,' said Don gratefully, 'Dan will be extremely pleased to hear it's not been impounded.'
'Not at all,' she replied, I'm fascinated by the fact that it's grown, but... I can't find anything wrong with it.' Smiling warmly she secretly hoped that Don would one day make a pass at her, but as there was a twelve year age difference she didn't hold out much hope of that, and Cheryl being very beautiful, and two years younger than Don; if nothing else Cass was a realist.
'Anyhow,' she said getting up from her seat, 'I had nothing else to do, so... ' Picking up the sample, Don drove home to tell Daniel his trophy was safe.
As Don returned with his Martian little Daniel jumped for joy, and having just put on fresh coffee, Cheryl poured him a cup as he walked in.
'So, are we gonna look at brochures this morning Babe?' she asked, placing his coffee on the table. 'You bet! Just give me enough time to finish this,' he told her, and raised his cup to indicate his intention, 'and I'll be ready to go.' Cheryl smiled, her face was radiant with excitement at the prospect of holidaying in the Bahamas. Being a popular haunt for holiday bargain hunters they stopped at Bullimore's first.
Telling the travel agent they'd like to leave at the earliest opportunity, Don was offered a cancellation package at an unbelievably low price.
'I am tempted to take this.' he told Cheryl studying the price, 'it's too good to miss.'
'I guarantee you won't find cheaper in any part of town.' said the travel agent overhearing Don's comment.
'I'm going to put you to the test,' said Don laughing, 'if you're right we'll be back.'
'Ten dollars says you'll be back.' said the agent with an engaging grin.
'All bets are on.' said Don walking out the door. Dragging Cheryl and Daniel through the other four travel shops he went back fifty minutes later and slapped a ten-dollar bill on the counter.
'Book us!' he said decisively, and laughed at his foolishness. The clerk took the ten-dollar bill and put it in his uniform waistcoat pocket. Filling in all the necessary forms he placed it in front of Don with a ballpoint.
'Don't I have to fill anything in?' he asked, feeling cheated.
'Nope! We do it all for you, it's a wipe-your-nose service here, you like work or something?'
'Not really,' laughed Don, 'but I'm impressed, we'll come here again.'
'Anyhow I get paid to do this, and … I might just get the idea you're after my job!' said the clerk ribbing him.
'I don't mind swapping... if you're interested.' said Don, tongue in cheek.
'No fear, I'll leave that to you and this young astronaut here.’ he said ruffling Dan's hair. Being called an astronaut Daniel thought that was great, 'and, I think you ought to have something to spend when you get there, after all... I've heard those Martians have some real bargains.' he told young Dan, and then slipped the ten dollar bill he'd won from Don into his little hand. Paying cash Don left with their tickets to pack their cases with the usual holiday items, as their heads spun with a million things to remember. Deciding his Martian was feeling lonely, as soon they got back Daniel ran straight to his room to keep it company, plus, it had to know he had ten dollars to spend when he went to Mars.
'Dad, Dad, it's grown again Dad!'
'Sorry son -what's that you say,' replied Don checking his passport.
'It's grown again -my Martian, it's pushed the lid up and it's growing underneath!' Just to put his mind at rest Don thought he'd better look at it. Sure enough, when he walked in he saw that it had grown under the bottom edge of the case, and had spread almost an inch across the window sill. 'Not much we can do about it now son,' he reasoned with Daniel, 'we're off tomorrow, we'll take a look at it as soon as we get back ok?' Although Daniel seemed happy with that, to take his mind off it Don told him his mother needed some Martian potatoes for dinner, and asked if he could fly up there in his spaceship and buy some. Before he knew it Daniel was climbing the tree, where in his years of innocence and imagination ran riot.
Touching down at Nassau, the 747’s tyres filled the air with acrid smoke as rubber resisted tarmac. Passport control was a fairly quick affair, and they were soon on their way to the hotel, and at seeing their hotel room Cheryl hid her excitement, to her this was a holiday of a lifetime, and when they had a moment to themselves she would show Don her gratitude. The desk clerk gave them the key to room 244, a luxury suite on the third floor that had a balcony overlooking the sea. Thankfully the hotel was only fifteen minute drive from the airport, and as Don threw the cases on the bed Cheryl started unpacking. Meanwhile Daniel went to the balcony to see how far up they were, and marvel at the tropical splendour of their surroundings.
'Dad, come and look at the boats down in the harbour!' Making his way out to join his son Don and Cheryl laughed at his enthusiasm.
'I'll bet they cost a few dollars.' he told Dan, and then whistled at the plethora of million dollar yachts below. Joining them a few seconds later Cheryl was curious at how the other half lived. 'Good God, wouldn't it be nice if we could afford one like that.' she said; her mind conjured up a picture of Don standing on the bridge, in an open-necked shirt and peaked cap, and as she laughed at the absurdity of it Don asked her what she'd found so funny.
'Oh nothing,' she replied as her day dream die in her mind, 'just one of my silly notions.' Shaking his head Don wondered why she couldn't tell him about her "silly" notion.
'I think you need a shrink.' he told her, and pointed his finger at his left temple. Picking up a feather-filled missile from the bed she hurled it at him, and her aim, being better than Don had given her credit for, caused him to duck as it flew over his head.
'Hey, you’re getting too good at this, I'll have to teach you a lesson young lady.' he ragged her, as Don chased her 'round the room she shrieked with delight, and eventually catching her he threw her on the bed, but as he pinned her down he noticed she'd gone limp, and her brow had furrowed with concern.
'What is it honey,' he asked getting up immediately, 'is there anything wrong?'
'I don't know,' she replied hesitantly, 'I feel a bit cold... inside.'
'In this heat?' asked Don incredulously, 'I don't get it, how can you be cold?'
'I don't know Don,' she replied slowly, her voice suddenly weaker, I feel tired as well.'
'I'll call the hotel doctor,' he reassured her, 'you lie there and take it easy, it's probably the heat, he'll have something for that, so don't you worry!'
Putting the phone down he ran back to her side, and arriving three minutes later the doctor went straight to Cheryl. Listening to her chest for a minute he finally put his stethoscope down.
'How long have you been here?' he asked Don as Cheryl's breathing suddenly became laboured. 'We've only just arrived,' he told the doctor worriedly, 'literally ten minutes ago.'
'Why has she got a tan, and you, and I take it this is your little boy, haven't?' He hadn't noticed that Cheryl's complexion had changed, and looked as if she'd arrived at least two weeks before them.' Suddenly her breathing rasped like someone sawing a piece of wood, then looking at Don and little Dan she closing her eyes as her head rolled slowly to one side. In a desperate attempt to start her breathing again the doctor tried resuscitation, but realising he was getting nowhere ran to the phone and called the ambulance service. Hardly able to comprehend what was happening Don was frantic, and was beside himself with worry as to what was happening to his beautiful wife. By the time the ambulance had arrived Cheryl's body had crystallised, and the transformation from life to death was so rapid, so astounding, that no one could take it in. Still lying on the bed her poor body had now mysteriously turned anhydrous, then five minutes later all that was left of her vibrant being was a reddish-brown powder. Beside himself with grief Don suddenly grabbed little Daniel and hugged him tight as tears streamed down his face.
'Oh my little Daniel, my dear little boy,' he cried bitterly, 'you must go to your grandmother, do you understand?' But Daniel was in no state to listen to his father's words, and was hysterical at the loss of his mother, the woman who'd been the centre of his little world. Don now realised the sample he'd brought back for Daniel was contaminated, but somehow evaded detection in the laboratory. 'Why hasn't it affected your son yet?' asked the doctor, unable to comprehend the mystery.
'I don't know,' said Don dialling urgently, 'I must make a phone call.' Cass didn’t answer; Don hung up.
'Christ doc, it's happening to me... I feel cold now just like Cheryl,' he said tearfully, and suddenly realised he would now suffer the same fate, 'please, please... look after Daniel for me,' he pleaded; with a tear in his eye the doctor nodded grimly at the sudden loss of life, life he was powerless to save with his meagre skills. Falling on the bed Don watched as his pigmentation turned reddish-brown.
'I feel... so... cold... ' were the final words he uttered, his mouth moved, but the words he uttered died on his lips; his eyes closed and he joined his beloved Cheryl in eternal harmony. Realising quickly that he also would not escape this weird illness, the doctor gave Daniel a sedative to relieve him from his trauma. Having precious little time he rang reception to tell them what had transpired, but by now his speech had become incoherent, and the receptionist was unable to understand him. Feeling intense cold in his stomach the doctor attempted to write a note, but having written two words his grip failed, and dropping the pen he fell to the floor semi-conscious. By the time the porters had reached room 244 the doctor was dead; the head porter found the doctors half scribbled note.
'Quarantine this b-,' he asked his colleague, 'what does that mean?'
'I don't understand that,' replied his colleague, ‘hang on... could it mean, ‘Quarantine this boy?'
'Christ, yes... looking at it I think that's all it could mean,' replied the junior porter on seeing of the doctors deteriorating body.
Collecting his post from the mailbox at the end of the drive Deke Marston returned to the house, but as he turned he noticed something odd by the side of his neighbour’s car in the driveway. As far as he was concerned it was odd, as he knew Cass always garaged her car when she was at home.
'Vanessa?' shouted Deke through his front door, 'come out here will you?' Stepping over the low dividing wall he walked slowly to the Chrysler Neon, and lying by the drivers door was a pile of red dust and clothes, with her ignition key on the floor beside it. In less than ten minutes the police had arrived, and looking through her purse the officer found Don's number, breaking into Cass' house he dialled the number but there was no reply.
'I guess we'd better ride over and pay them a visit,' it's only a twenty minute journey.' Cruising slowly down the road the police looked for Don's house, and then clapping his eyes on it pulled over the road and parked.
'Glad you're here officer,' piped up Don's next door neighbour, 'take a look at this!' Leading the officers down the path, he pointed out the front door and windows. Both officers stared in disbelief, behind every window was a blanket of red, and trailing under the front door, was a trace of red dust. 'I've been watching that,' said Don's neighbour, 'it's getting larger... it wasn't that big ten minutes ago.'
Going back to the car the officer switched on his loud hailer.
'Attention! Attention! I want everyone in this neighbourhood to pack a few things in a bag, and get out of your homes as soon as you can, I'm declaring a state of emergency!' Wondering what the commotion was about people suddenly appeared from nowhere. Arguments ensued as the officers attempted to explain why they were instigating an evacuation.
'Will you please just do as I ask?' More of an order than a request he directed at a particularly obnoxious individual. After warning the Public Health department they took a head count and set about sealing off the road, at that moment the state militia arrived to take up positions at both ends of the road.
'I can't get an answer from anyone,' said Phil Bowers angrily, 'isn't anyone awake in that damn lab? I'm going over there... someone’s gonna get a rocket up their ass for this!'
Storming through the main doors, Phil Bowers strode menacingly up to the security desk, and was about to give them a roasting when he saw two caps, one on the floor, and one on the stool behind the semi-circular desk, underneath each was a pile of red dust accompanied by two pairs of trousers, jackets, and shoes.
'What the -' Turning abruptly he went straight up to the labs on the first floor.
'Anyone awake in here, this is getting on my... holy shit!' Finding the lights on, equipment whirred and clicked as if it were business as usual, a centrifuge hummed on one of the benches as it separated solids from some unknown liquid, and waiting for someone to switch it off. All Phil Bowers saw was four more piles of red dust half covered by clothing.
'This is the BBC nine o'clock news, I'm Peter Swann - I've just received a report from our political correspondent in America, who says that astronaut Don Blackwell and his wife Cheryl, have died in mysterious circumstances while on holiday in the Bahamas, early reports say its the result of what has been described by some as mystery disease, we'll bring you more on that as we get it.' Ian James switched off the TV, and running to the phone dialled international to the USA. He had to find out if it was true about his crew mate on the Mars mission, surely it was some kind of mistake!
Having sealed the road outside of Don's house the state militia were getting uneasy about the growing threat from the red dust, which through sheer pressure had now ruptured the windows and doors in Don’s house, the house itself had all but been destroyed. The gable ends of the roof had lifted as the deadly red growth oozed beneath the eaves. Having reported that the growth was inorganic the public laboratory were said to be totally baffled by this mysterious red growth, but would investigate further. Six hours later every one of them was dead! Pete Ritter, who'd booked Don’s holiday had also died, and since booking Don’s had booked holidays and foreign travel for thirty six other people, they had gone as far afield as Tokyo, London, Pakistan, Rome, and Rio de Janeiro. Daniel, by now was living with his grandmother in a state of constant turmoil, and apart from her own grief she had to deal with his loss as well.
Having suffered a total loss of population, Don's home town was now overrun by the insidious dust, which showed no signs abating. World leaders were now concerned with the spread of the "red" disease, and having stated it appeared there was no way to combat the threat, let alone contain it, the scientific community also expressed their concern. Already established as inorganic matter they said it was possible the samples contained organic properties unknown to our scientists, which would make it impossible to analyse, let alone find an antidote. Reports were funnelling in from all parts of Europe, Asia, and South America, but no one appeared to have an answer to the growing menace. Don's home town had all but disappeared under the ever-growing menace from their solar neighbour, and the state militia had asked the president to declare a national emergency, and following a brief investigation by the White House the president heeded his advisors by declaring it a military affair. Priority orders were issued for the air force to carry out a missile strike, in the hope that it would blow the red dust out of existence. Critics heckled the president for his short-sightedness, and for wasting taxpayer’s money, without so much as a thought of what they would have done in his position.
The blast trajectory of the missiles had tragically succeeded in spreading it further, and people now ran scared as panic broke out in countries affected by the red onslaught, and worldwide an ever growing number of countries were afraid it would reach their shores. Religious factions predicted the end of the world, and made their way up various mountains to pray to their God for forgiveness. Accusations of crass ineptitude were levelled at respective governments by prominent members of differing societies for not tackling the menace earlier. Japan, the UK, Italy, and South America were now in serious trouble, as their infrastructures had completely broken down, and knowing their time on this planet was now finite people were looting and rioting in a frenzied panic.
'Our laboratories cannot cope,' said the president of the “once” most powerful nation on Earth to world leaders at a UN summit, 'every time a technician touches the damn stuff; after six or seven hours he or she is dead! I regret to inform you I think our world is doomed... I wish I had better news to tell you... but,' the president paused as he fought back tears of regret, 'I'm afraid it has come to a situation where... it's every man for himself, I don't know what else to tell you, God bless the world God bless America!' The whole world now knew it now faced Armageddon on a scale no one could have foreseen. In the past most countries in the western world had looked to America for answers to world problems, but this time their big benefactor had no answer, and the red killer crystals from Mars were rapidly becoming omni-present, and destroying everything in its wake.
Devouring all organic matter in its path, every ocean and sea had long since crystallised, and was now in an anhydrous state. There was no re-growth, as plant animal bird and reptile, even insects had been wiped out, and Earth was rapidly becoming a barren waste! After five months the globe was almost dead, and having died six weeks earlier little Daniel's grandmother had left him to fend for himself, in a world now hostile to life. Where once there was noise, buses, cars honking horns, trains blasting their way across country, airplanes taking off and landing, now there was nothing! Where once there was the song of birds drowned by traffic, the noise of animals hunting and mating, people shouting, laughing, screaming, crying or dying, doing the multifarious things that humans used to do, now, there was nothing. As the last of his kind Daniel wandered the streets; he was alone.
'Mum... Dad... please come back,' he cried, 'I'm frightened, there's no one left, I can't find anyone!' His last few words were shouted in anger, anger at being left alone in a world devoid of life, there no one to comfort him, no one to tell him everything would be alright. His voice echoed, an echo that seemingly went on to infinity, and cannoning forever down the deserted street, it bounced from the facade of every empty building. Every building reflected the colour of the dying planet, and bled crimson in the evening sky. Daniel's voice was alone, no one, or any thing answered him, but still he craved an answer, begged an answer. Nothing came. Silence - total silence. Crying out again, a long harrowing cry, his loneliness was heartbreaking, but no one was moved to tears by his plight. Again his cry rent the summer air, like a knife cutting the ether to contact anyone, or anything, but again there was no reply.
‘Why?’ His cry was charged with emotion loneliness and panic, but most of all he needed to be loved, to give love. The echo, like the last one, reported a million reverberations, and as the last echo died, he waited for an eternity in hope of a reply. A distant voice carrying on the air? Nothing. Why had this happened, what had happened? Tears fell freely from his reddened eyes, he yearned to return to his home, to his mother and father, to find them once again, to hear them tell him there was nothing to worry about. Turning a corner Daniel dared to hope, but still no one answered. Another street, might an answer be forthcoming this time? Once again he cried out, and once again his loneliness tore into the atmosphere like staccato gunfire in battle, again, no one except Daniel felt his sadness and loneliness; he was desolate. Crying in desperation, the scimitar of his voice cut through the evening air with its plea for a response. Again nothing! Indifferent to his plight the red and empty buildings ignored his pleas.
Realising he was quite alone Daniel grew ever more despondent, and the full impact of his loneliness bore heavily on his little mind, this was a new experience he was unable to cope with. His little frame collapsed under the weight of a world devoid of companionship, and falling on both knees he cried out once more, in a last desperate attempt to hear another human voice. It echoed around the world, it echoed in the present and the past, but not in the future. The awesome silence magnified his loneliness as futility became omnipresent, but still no one came. He cried one last time in total anguish.
Why was he alone, where had everybody gone? No longer able to stand his involuntary seclusion he turned in on himself, as his mind began to die, and as his eyes faded with resignation and sadness, he cast his last glimpse at an empty world. Tears of regret distorted his last vision of a world without meaning, if there was no meaning, there was no point, no point in going on... his cry unanswered, he relinquished his hold on life. It was the end.