Chapter 2: Blast-Off
Frustrated and angry, Jack ran as fast as he could down a narrow, winding country lane, which cut through a string of fields and woods.
Eventually he arrived at his Cousin George’s house, which was on the sprawling Badgerton estate nearby. Like so many of the houses there, it was semi-detached, sandstone coloured, and with large gardens to the front and rear. He grasped the shiny brass door-knocker on the white PVC door and rapped it three times. His auntie Margaret opened the door, her gold jewelry twinkling in the evening sunshine.
“Oh, you’ve turned up I see,” she hollered, her skin almost as golden as her bracelets. “Your mum’s rang and she says you’ve to go back home at once and clean up all the mess you’ve made!”
“But I-I-I-wanted to ask George,” he stammered “If he wanted to come out and p-p-play football with me.”
“No, he can’t!” she bellowed back, “He’s not allowed to play out with you tonight. He's got homework to do, and besides you’ve to go home and clean-up that kitchen of yours.”
“Oh c-c-come on Auntie Margaret!” he begged. “Just for an hour, then I’ll go back home and clean it up, I promise.”
“No! Your mum says you’ve to go home now, and that’s the end of it!”
“O-o-okay, tell her I’m on my way.” he said, walking back down the drive.
“Oh no, you don't,” she said, “I'll drive you. I'll just go and fetch my keys.”
But Jack didn't want to go back with her. He'd had a terrible day at school - aside from losing another pen fight, someone had poured a whole bottle of salt over his lunch, and he'd been given another bad school report from his teachers (All D's, E's, and F's) – so now all he wanted to do was to play football and enjoy himself for once. So as soon as she went back inside to get her keys he ran off towards the football pitch as fast as he could.
As Jack walked towards the side of the pitch he saw several boys and girls playing football. As he'd been so eager to run away from his mum and dad he'd left his glasses behind, so he squinted his eyes in the bright evening sun and scanned their blurry faces, trying to work out who they were. He’d got to within a few metres of them when suddenly he realised that the boy in front of him was Gaz Finch, the biggest bully and self-proclaimed ‘cock’ of the school. One of the roughest boys in Rockingdale he was constantly being caught fighting, not just with other boys but also with some of the teachers too.
Thick-set, tall, and stocky, like a pit-bull terrier, he at once turned towards Jack, his whole, ugly face snarling.
“Hey, look who it is!” he shouted to his friends, through yellow, jagged teeth. “It’s Jack MONG!”
Immediately, his friends howled and shrieked with laughter.
“What d’you want Mongy?” He continued, “A new face and some new clothes ha ha ha!”
“I-I-I don’t want anything,” Jack stammered, suddenly afraid. “I-I-I just wanna play f-f-football.”
“NUTHIN? Don’t look like nuthin Mongy!” he yelled. “What do you want to play football for? Yer RUBBISH!”
“N-n-n-no I’m not, I’m …I’m…” spluttered Jack.
“N-n-n-n-n-n-n-n!” Gaz mocked back, to yet more howls of laughter.
But Gaz interrupted him again, his voice even angrier. “YER WANNA FIGHT? YER STARTIN’? Think you can show YOUR BIG RED FACE around here do yer?”
Then he began to push Jack, inching closer and closer, spit spraying all over his face.
Jack was terrified; he didn’t know what to do.
He held out his hands to try and prevent Gaz from getting closer, but all he did was slap them away.
“N-n-n-no,” Jack begged again “I-I-I just wanna p-p-play f-f-football, honest. I don’t want to fight yer Gaz, please!”
But his pleas only seemed to make Gaz angrier, and his pushes and shoves and his barks and yells became more forceful and more violent, as he brushed and slapped away at his arms.
“YEAH YER ARE, YER STARTIN’! He yelled again. “Think you can take me do yer Mongy? I’LL SHOW YER!”
With that Gaz punched Jack just below his right eye.
Immediately, his skin stung and seared.
“Arrgghhh!” Jack screamed at the top of his voice. “It hurts! It hurts! Stop! Stop! Stop! Please!” he begged, absolutely terrified, trying to back away, his heart hammering like a pneumatic drill.
But Gaz didn’t listen. He just kept on hitting him, his stinging fists swinging like wooden mallets.
“COME ON! COME ON! LET’S FIGHT!” he yelled, punches landing all over his face. “COME ON! COME ON!”
Then Jack spat out some blood. Gaz had bust his bottom lip.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” he kept shouting over and over again, his mouth stinging, blood dribbling down his bruised chin.
He didn’t know what to do. He was so scared. It didn’t seem real. He was trapped in a waking nightmare and he didn’t know how to get out.
Still Gaz's fists swung and clubbed away.
Finally, he did what he always did with the bullies.
Gaz didn’t chase after him though. He didn’t need to. He’d got his fun for the evening. Today it was Jack. Yesterday it was a younger boy with ginger hair, glasses, and eczema. Tomorrow it would be someone different.
Jack ran from the football pitch across some fields, and through some bushes and trees, past flocks of startled sheep; leaping over mole hills and piles of cow dung, until eventually he came panting to the cool, blue haven of Darnley reservoir.
There Jack sank down on one of its rough grassy banks and started to cry.
He felt weak, lonely, and pathetic.
He was still bleeding from his bottom lip, and his shoes and jeans were smeared with mud and cow dung. Thoughts whirred around his head. How was he going to explain his bloodied clothes to his mum and dad? Would he get black eyes? What would everybody say at school after the holidays? No doubt Gaz would tell the whole school that he’d beaten him up. Everybody was going to have a right good laugh at him.
He ran his fingers through his clammy hair, and then he started to cry again. He felt humiliated. He hadn’t even fought back …
He sat there for about twenty minutes feeling sorry for himself, until eventually the sobs subsided and the tears dried. He thought about his mum and dad too. He felt sorry for shouting at them and for breaking all those dishes. Though they were poor, he realised that they always did their best for him. His mum was always buying him t-shirts from the charity shops and his dad would often bring home bags of chocolate from the chocolate factory where he worked. The thought made him smile. He would go home and make it up to them, even if it did mean getting told-off and being grounded for a few weeks.
He wiped his bleeding lip with his hands and now bloodied t-shirt, and then he got up and trudged off towards home, spitting out a pink mixture of saliva and blood every few paces.
It was now approaching eight o’clock and it was beginning to get darker. The Moon had long since been visible overhead, resting on a bed of red and orange, and now poking through the increasingly dark sky were the first glimmers of a vast armada of stars.
It was at that moment that he saw out of the corner of his eye a small, bright, circular object moving across the horizon.
“It must be a plane,” he said out loud, but even so he continued to follow its course as it cut a path through the increasingly populous night sky.
His mind swirled with the possibilities: Could it be a satellite or a space station? Or perhaps it’s one of those new rockets taking tourists into space?
But just at that moment it suddenly turned around, changed course, and headed in his direction with incredible speed. He watched unbelievingly as it became an increasingly large bright dot in the sky. In a matter of seconds this dot had then changed into a large, silver, elliptical-shaped object.
All the time it was getting closer and closer. Then suddenly in a matter of seconds it swooped down across the wide sprawling valley, close to where he was standing. He tried to run away, but it was no use. In no time at all it had whooshed over his head settling beside a dark, shadowy clump of trees about twenty feet in front of him.
It was absolutely massive, easily swamping the football pitch that he'd just run from. It was bright silver and shaped rather like a triangle, only more aerodynamic, being curved around the edges. There were no windows, lights, panels, insignia, cockpits, engines, or mechanical instruments of any kind that he could see, and it was absolutely silent. It glimmered brilliantly in the cool moonlight; the moon, clouds and the stars reflecting off on its shiny, metallic surface.
Jack’s heart was beating wildly. For a few moments nothing happened, it just hung there suspended above the field, casting not even the slightest bit of shadow. Maybe it doesn't know I'm here? He thought.
He should have been terrified, he should have been panicking and running away in the opposite direction like he always did. But for some reason he didn't feel scared at all; if anything he felt calm and relaxed, welcome even.
He walked towards it, its size appearing all the more gigantic the closer he got, the battered image of the crescent moon glinting off its huge nose.
In no time at all, he was directly in front of it, the wavy image of the grassy field reflecting back at him. It had still not moved, and no landing ramp or steps of any kind had come down. It didn’t appear to know he was there.
Then for some unknown reason he had an idea to try and touch it. He stretched out his fingers, running them over its soft, fluid-like surface. And then, as if someone had pulled a lever or flicked a switch, he was inside, standing in a long tube-like corridor, his own awe-struck reflection staring back at him.
Jack Strong, the boy who had gotten an F for his latest science report, had just become the first boy inside an alien spaceship.
If you want to read the rest of the novel you can find it here: Jack Strong and the Red Giant