By Phil Maxey Bright lights swirling. I'm in a circus, but no wires. Helpless, floating, why are they watching? I hear crying, no not crying, laughing, shouting, why…. “Jack!” Jacks mother shouted through the door. Jack awoke with a start, as usual his alarm hadn’t done the job. “Ja..” “Ok ok, I'm awake!” The morning light streamed through a gap in the curtains, looking more solid than it should. Jack lay watching the dust particles enjoy their dance. So many, all moving in con... KNOCK knock knock. “I’M UP!” “Don't be late again Jack! And the rubbish needs putting out before you leave.” Jack heard Tilda close the front door of their compact 2 bedroom house and walk down the path, past plants of unknown origin and a somewhat unkempt lawn. The house fell into silence. I wonder if I didn't go anyone would ever realize I wasn't there? But even as these thoughts played in his mind he found he had one foot on the floor and was looking squarely at a ripped poster of one of his favourite movies. “The day the earth stood still,” I really need to get a new one he thought. Jacks room was modest in size but made to feel even smaller by the sheer number of items on various wooden shelves. An army of shiny heroes and heroines stood frozen in various poses, no doubt impressed by the similar artwork and posters adorning the walls. Drearily he stood up reaching for his trousers then socks. He was tempted to sniff the socks but knew if he did it would just mean he would have to go looking for a clean pair so resisted. When does anyone ever have to take their shoes off in school? he thought. While trying to clothe himself he still noticed the suns rays intruding into his living space and moved around them while grabbing his tie, jacket and backpack. Jack loved his backpack, it was his home away from home and contained pretty much anything and everything Jack thought might come in useful should the need arise, the need never did arise of course but that didn't matter to Jack. Shaking off the last remaining vestiges of sleep, he left his room, hesitating for one moment to ponder if he should open his curtains, but seeing the stars faintly glowing on his ceiling decided against it. Aaron who was Jack's best friend often teased him about them, but Jack always felt somewhat comforted by the artificial heavens above him each night. Behold my strength, beast of the overworld! Jack thought as he struggled to remove the black bin liner and it’s contents from the plastic bin. Jack had always used the term overworld rather that underworld but could never remember why. “You will be a writer when you get older Jack” Tilda often said due to his over active imagination. FLAK. Uno their cat for five years now leapt through the flap in the back door and instantly went to her bowl, finding it empty she looked up at Jack giving a little squeak. “Ah Uno I’m already late!” Jack pleaded while knowing it was a lost cause. Jack heaped a few teaspoonfuls of whatever it is that cats eat into the bowl, and started to move away when Uno pressed up against his leg. “Oh you want more eh?” An extra helping was given and Jack grabbed his coat and then keys off the passage sideboard and rushed to the front door. Catching a glimpse of himself in the hallway mirror, I'm skinny was the one thought that reflected back to him and then he was out of the house. The unforgiving late winter wind almost made him consider missing the last day of term, but as he walked down the garden path his thoughts turned to all the comics he could read during half term and the cold was soon forgotten. The exotic garden fauna swayed in the wind. Getting on the bus, Jack quickly scanned the availability of seating and moved toward a middle seat behind two girls, both in similar attire to himself. Regretting not getting up five minutes earlier to make better clothing choices he sat next to the window enjoying the warm spot on the seat while trying not to laugh at the rude shape that had been etched into the steamed up window. As the number 71 bus grumbled along the street picking up eager recipients Jack thought about his dream. I’ve never really liked the circus, was it a circus? There were lights, people watching me, I’m sure I was floating, swinging…something. “He’s cute” Abani says. Nita giggles. “Sssshhh” “Oh Nita, what difference does it make?” Jack heard their conversation but ignored it knowing full well they must be talking about somebody else, and anyway could the nightmares be returning? Tilda would describe with tears in her eyes how during his 5th year she would go into his room often to find him not there. A frantic search would find him sitting on the lawn of the back garden playing with his toys, seemingly unawares of how he got there, saying only “I’ve been to the circus mummy”. By all accounts Tilda was a good mother Jack always thought. A tall slim brunette in her 50s she had always done well by Jack, even though life had been hard for them without his father being around. “Jack Fer…Rab….” Every time Jack thought. “Ferraby sir” Jack interceded. “Oh yes Ferraby, interesting name. Jack of course is not, a pretty common name that one…Tracey Singleton!” Last day of term and we get a stand in teacher. His usual teacher Mr Hemmings was one of Jacks favorites at the Pillsbury Secondary school, but for some reason was not here today. “Fabey Baby Fabey Baby Fabey Baby” drifted forward from the back of the classroom. Jack knew from whom the taunt came from but did not care to react. Jack prided himself on not getting into trouble, not winning awards or doing anything to particularly stand out, he was happy to be not seen and not heard while at Pillsbury. This wasn't always the case, he started his academic life full of expectation and curiosity, but then the Brocks happened. A brother and sister combination of supposedly Nordic descent, who for a reason Jack could never understand had made it their quest to make Jacks life a misery. So from then on it was much better to be invisible. “My name is Mr. Hampton” A stout and somewhat eccentrically dressed man in his late 60s bellowed. “Like the court!” Aaron Zakerick shrieked. “Yes young man, like the court, do you know anything about Hampton Court?” Jack watched the glimmer of excitement of knowing that Court followed the name Hampton fade in Aaron as quickly as he had said it, and was now trying to become smaller than his already tiny frame would allow. Luckily it appeared Mr Hampton never intended for there to be an answer for he then spent the next 45 minutes describing (and sometimes acting) every detail of the Palace and it’s unfortunate history. Jack realized as a stand in teacher Mr. Hampton needed a quick way to engage the class and what better method than his own name. By lunchtime almost everyone had learned that it had been built originally for a Cardinal and that a Jane Seymour had died there, almost everyone because one of the two Brocks seemed to be pre-occupied by something else. Aaron and Jack sat on the wall near the school gates not saying anything. Seedpods fell around them seemingly out of control, pan’s clattered in the school kitchen and the school itself seemed to be getting comfortable with the idea of a weeks worth of rest. Aaron cleared his throat. “Best James Bond ever Live and Let Die” Aaron remarked. “Yeah it’s not bad, mines Moonraker” Jack replied while seemingly thinking about something else. “What made you think of that?” Jack said returning to the present. “Jane Seymour, she was alright” They both gave a little laugh. Aaron had been Jacks friend since the first year of secondary, small for his age Jack had always presumed Aaron would suddenly sprout upwards and gain a foot at least, but now they were both in their 15th year this apparently was not going to happen. But what Aaron lacked in stature he made up for in enthusiasm and a sense of humor, where you never knew if he was joking or being serious. “Hey let’s go to that Hampton place it’s got a maze!” Aaron blurted. “Yeah I don't really think mum would be happy with me going there.” Jack replied, knowing that Tilda would never allow it. “You're 15! You can vote and everything! Come on it will be a half term adventure! You just know Mr Hemmings is going to get us to write about what we did while on break, this will be newsworthy!” Aaron said while looking for any positive sign from Jack. “Well maybe if we went and were back within a few hours” Even before Jack had finished his sentence Aaron had flipped open Jacks backpack (which was almost the size of Aaron) pulled out Jacks computer tablet and was checking opening times. “There you go it’s open tomorrow, 10am there’s gardens and stuff, your be back with your stars and plastic people before your mother even knows you have been gone” The idea of going somewhere that far and his mother not knowing made Jack uneasy, but the maze did sound cool. “Ok I'll meet you at your place around…” Jack sensed movement behind them. “HEY!” Aaron yelped as the computer tablet was now residing with a Brock. The one holding it was of the male variety and named Ulf. Both the Brocks were unusually tall for their age standing at least 5’11 but seemingly more so because of their athletic stature. Their portrait blue eyes seemed to see more of you than you wanted. Ulf was examining the device and smiling at seeing himself on the smudged surface, but that wasn’t what was bothering Jack for Ulf’s sister Vega was standing some way behind her brother watching. Aaron leapt from the wall and landed squarely on Ulf’s foot. Jack wasn’t sure if this was intended or not but either way the complete lack of reaction from Ulf seemed to surprise Aaron momentarily. Taking a small step back Aaron then launched a torrent of abuse that was impressive in its complete lack of focus. Ulf looked down upon Aaron almost in pity, and then in one continuous movement grabbed him by his sides lifting him clean off the ground. “Let me down Björn!” Aaron breathlessly shouted. (The brocks were often compared to the band Abba behind their backs, no one until now had ever said it to their faces). Ulf raised an eyebrow then lazily declared to Jack “Hey I’m going to squash your pet!” Jack stood frozen, I have to do something, Aarons going to get hurt and it’s all because they have something of mine, I need to do something he thought. “Let him go, just keep the tablet I don’t care, just put him down and leave us alone” Jack said half looking at the ground. To this comment both Ulf and Aaron seemed surprised, Ulf dropped Aaron. “Jack that was a present from your mother you can’t just give it to them!” Aaron said with urgency walking towards Jack. “Let’s just go” Jack replied, while slowly walking away. Vega watched. “Catch!” Ulf said while throwing the computer tablet high up into the air. “I got it!” Aaron shouted while running to what seemed the completely wrong possible landing spot. Jack made a lunge as well, he was always fairly good at sports and this was definitely catchable. CRACK. THUD. Jack and Aaron lay on the ground both their hands within inches of the tablet, which had fallen onto concrete. Ulf laughed. “Oops, you really should take better care of your things Jack” Ulf said while walking away with his sister. Jack picked up his 15th birthday present from his mother, the screen was slightly cracked in one corner, he pressed the various buttons required but nothing happened. Jack took a deep breath and put it back into his backpack. The rest of the day was thankfully uneventful, Art and Physics came and went and the half term break started with Jack trying to think of a cover story to why the computer tablet was broken. He hated lying to anyone especially his mother and every time he did, it never worked anyway as she could always tell, maybe I should just tell her the truth he thought but the idea of that left him feeling slightly nauseated. Aaron suggested the bizarre story that the tablet was attacked by a flock of magpies “They like shiny things” Jack couldn't tell if he was being serious or not. Walking up to the front of his house Jack noticed a shiny sports car parked outside, not one that had been there before. Cars were never Jacks thing but he knew enough to know this one was expensive. Opening the front door of his house Jack instantly heard a voice he recognized. “Hey Jack how’s it going?” Said Mr Hemming. Jeremy Hemmings was a man of average height and build seemingly in his 50s, not that anyone knew due to a complete absence of grey hair. He and Tilda always seemed to get on well whenever there was a parents/teacher meeting but seeing a teacher no matter how much you liked them on your own turf was a little unsettling. “Hi...” Jack cautiously replied not quite knowing what the purpose of his visit was. “It must be strange seeing me here, sorry about that” Jeremy said standing next to Tilda, standing a little too close Jack thought. “I just thought I'd drop in and see how you and your mother were doing.” “Ok…” Jack replied still unsure what the etiquette was for a teacher in your house and puzzled by why he was there, either way it would prove a useful distraction if he could make it upstairs quickly with his backpack. “Have a good day Jack?” Tilda enquired standing awkwardly. “Yes thanks” Jack replied now half way up the narrow stairs to the first floor landing, hoping over Uno who seemed to be observing events from the top stair. Downstairs Jack could hear rushed goodbyes and then the front door closing. Entering the sanctity of his room Jack took his computer tablet out placing it carefully on the corner self, and dropped his backpack on the floor sitting down heavily on his bed. What a day, well least I never had to take my shoes off. Why was Mr Hemmings here? And not at school? There was something going on with Mr Hemmings and his mother but Jack wasn’t sure what, not that it hugely bothered Jack as he generally liked Jer as he once told Jack to call him. The first time Jack met Jer was during one of the early run ins with the Brocks, Vega had been teasing him incessantly about the fact that Jacks trousers had patches on them and the new to the job Jeremy Hemmings had noticed and took Vega to one side, telling her to leave Jack alone. Jack had never known any teacher to do this, but looking back was it all because he liked his mother? From them on though Jer always seemed to look out for Jack especially when it came to his run-ins with the Brocks. Lots of questions swirled around Jack's mind, most of which he was too tired to think about, much better to think about the adventure tomorrow and what supplies would be needed. The computer tablet conversation with his mother could wait until after he returned. Jack spent most of the evening in his room only popping down to the kitchen when dinner was ready and sneakily grabbing crisps and a drink. When Tilda was asleep sandwiches would also be made. A state of unease existed between Jack and his mother that night, both of them having things to tell the other but not quite knowing how to do so. Jack walked up to the front gates of Aaron’s family home, signed and cautiously pressed the Zakericks doorbell. “I should be so lucky!, lucky lucky lucky!” Screamed out. Jack moved into the recess hoping what just happened was outside of audio range of any living being nearby. A static noise followed, then Aarons voice exploded onto the street. “Hey you like the gate ringtone? It’s Kylie Minogue! The 80’s Rocked!” Before Jack could reply there was a buzzing and the gates opened. Walking up the driveway Jack wondered how many times you could fit his own house into the Zakericks family home, at least 4 times he concluded. He couldn’t help but wish that he and his mother lived in similar surroundings, but never said any of this to his friend, as Aaron always seemed embarrassed by his family’s wealth. One of the large rose red doors stood slightly ajar, Jack entered while trying not to slip on the marbled hallway. “Gimme five, I'll be right down” came from the landing above the grand staircase slightly echoing as it did so. Jack was always puzzled by how the house was decorated, for on the outside it seemed a large forgotten building of a bygone era but on the inside it was the complete opposite, odd shapes and surfaces combined to give the impression of one of those crazy school trip paintings Jack had once seen at the Tate modern. They had an exhibition on of a European painter that went by the name Klee, Jack never remembered his first name but he was sure there was a Klee somewhere. But the oddest thing (at least in Jack's mind) was the portraits of Aaron’s family that lined the hallways and rooms. They were odd because they looked so impossibly perfect. In one of them there was Aaron with his mother and father sitting on a blanket next to a stream, all laughing, in another Aaron and his mother were feeding a pony, in another they were standing next to the Eiffel tower, it all reminded Jack of a scene from one of those French films they once watched in media class. Whenever Jack asked Aaron about the pictures Aaron always seemed defensive, Jack always presumed the reason was because Aaron essentially lived alone in this big house, his parents always away on business trips. The fact that Jack never knew his father and Aaron never saw his was something of an unspoken bond between them Jack thought. “Are you ready? You look ready.” Aaron said bounding down the stairs 2 at a time. “I am and I have supplies.” Jack said pointing to his backpack. “Good! We will need them” Aaron replied. The bus journey to Hampton court was longer than they both hoped for, taking a little over an hour. By the time they arrived at the palace most of the sandwiches had gone and they were on to the chocolate bars. Quickly throwing all of the wrappers into the backpack they leapt off the bus in excitement to see their new surroundings. Standing proudly opposite them were some impressive looking gates and pillars with lions on them. There was a sign, which they couldn't quite make out until they were standing right in front of it. HAMPTON COURT GROUNDS AND PALACE ARE CLOSED TODAY DUE TO REQUIRED WORK AND REFURBISHMENTS. WE ARE SORRY FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE CAUSED. Jack sighed. “I thought you checked the opening times?” “I DID! It was open!” Aaron espoused in Jacks direction. “Man that sucks all this way for nothing.” They both stood there not quite being able to move away. “We are here now why don't we just walk around and see what there is in Hampton land.” Aaron said. “I guess” A disappointed Jack replied. They both walked away from the impressive lions and started following the equally impressive wall. Something Jack couldn't understand was why the message on the sign was repeated 4 times, each in a different font. They must really want people to know Jack thought. As they walked the sun shone gleefully above them hinting at the spring to come. Impressive houses lined the busy roads and they both got locked into a game of who was the greatest band of the 80s, Jack could only think of four U2, Queen, Duran Duran and Status Quo and wasn't even sure of those. Aaron seemed to know every band of the 80s and would go into excited detail why one was better than the other. After walking and talking for sometime, oblivious to their surroundings, Aaron suddenly stopped. “Look, there’s a door in the wall” Aaron said moving towards it. A rustic looking green door with a brass handle stood in the center of the wall they were near. “What are you doing?” Jack anxiously replied, staying rooted to the spot but at the same time feeling like he was being pulled by an invisible string linking him to his friend, a friend who was now reaching for the doors handle. “Aaron?? Are you nuts we can't go in there!”. “Jack, look around there’s no one anywhere, let’s just have a quick look, I think it leads to the Palaces grounds.” And with that the door was open and Aarons small frame disappeared into the gloom on the other side. Jack stood still not knowing what to do, until Aarons head reappeared gesturing him inside. Quickly looking around him and seeing Aaron was indeed right there was no one there, Jack moved quickly towards and into the space behind the door, making sure to pull it closed behind him. “Wow, that’s a lot of flowers” Aaron said while holding his head. They were standing in a field full of the most vibrant flowers Jack had ever seen. It was like the door was a portal to one of those pictures his mother liked so much of Holland. Tulips, Daffodils and Snowdrops in their 100s spread to the left and right of them, with the vista only being interrupted by a small path to one side. “This way” Aaron said assuredly while walking along the path. “This way to what?” Jack replied still anxious about what was happening. “The maze the maze!, if you see anyone let me know.” And with that their pace quickened. “It’s not very big is it” Aaron said while they stood looking at the maze. “I guess it’s like the Tardis.” “We have already been in here for too long someone’s bound to come along and see us!” Jack replied really not happy with the situation. “Even if we get caught what they going to do? Stop worrying, it’s A MAZE!” and with that Aaron ran towards the turnstile, clambering over it with an agility that Jack had never seen him use before. Jack sighed and examined the surroundings for signs of life while ignoring the voices in his head that were informing him of how much trouble he could get into, if they did get caught. I could just go, there’s another door to the street just there. A clone of the earlier door beckoned to his right, it was also slightly ajar showing Jack the world outside. Doesn't anyone close the doors around here he thought. But he found himself following Aaron into the maze, clambering over the turnstile with some difficulty. “Aaron… ? Aaron where are you?” Jack moved along the narrow hedge lined paths, winding left and right. There was no reply, just the sound of birds chirping in the trees above him and an empty soda can clattering due to stiff breeze. Where the hell is he, I bet he’s got lost, lost in a maze! “Aaron!”Jack tried a little louder but was still constrained due to the situation. He must be in the center already. Jack moved quicker while trying to remember the paths he had just been down. Faster and faster, this way and that sometimes repeating a path until finally he had made it, instantly he wished he hadn't. “Looks like we found ourselves another rat” A tall unshaven man with slightly greying hair, denim jacket and wool hat stood next to Aaron. Aaron looked paler than usual. “Rats in a maze, I like that.” Sitting behind him was a younger man, wearing glasses, also slim but better dressed than the tall one. “What should we do with these rats Kaz?” Jarek said, his gaze staying fixed on Jack. “I don’t know, but we don't have long to decide” Kaz replied. Jack noticed the better dressed mans leg was shaking. Jack thought about turning and running, I'm in a maze they might not be able to find me, but then it struck him that Aaron had not said a word, this was not Aaron like behavior. “Nice to meet you, but me and my friend need to be getting back” Jack said with a confidence that surprised himself. “Getting back to where? You're not here with your parents, you're not here with anyone! Well just us of course” Jarek said smiling. “Why don't you come and sit down with your friend, you see me and this nerd behind me have come here to do a job, which has now got a lot harder and that’s not good for anyone.” Every part of Jack was telling him to run, but he knew if he did he might never see his friend again, so for better or worse he walked towards Aaron and they both sat down. The center of the maze was a small space, with a large metal plaque proudly pronouncing (strangely 4 times again Jack noticed) that you are at the center, that you had made it. Jack did not feel that he had made it, in fact he felt more lost than he did before. Kaz stood up and leaned into Jarek. “Let’s just leave them and go, do the job some other time.” Kaz said looking anxious. “Why are you whispering? Being that paranoid at your age is not good you know.” Jarek said placing his hand on Kaz’s shoulder in such a way that made him wince a little. “We do the job today, we do it now, you know why and 2 little rats are not going to stop me from getting my hands on that painting. The window on the east wing has been left open for us, the car is waiting outside, it was all in the message.” Jarek grabbed Kaz’s jaw “Always worrying little brother.” “But” Kaz replied looking down at the their captives. “Give me your phones, I know you have them.” Jarek held his hand out in front of Jack and Aaron. “Quick, don’t make me wait”. Jack and Aaron did as told and handed their phones over then resumed looking at the ground. “I thought we might run into some trouble which is why I brought this” Jarak walked over to a well worn green backpack, bulging with what looked like to Jack an array of builders tools, one of them was a small axe. Jarek bent down to the bag, his hand sliding over the axe but then plunging further inside and pulling out some plastic duck tape. Jack and Aaron both breathed out at the same time. “Still no clouds” Jack briefly thought looking upwards as him and Aaron lay with their mouths, hands and feet bound by the ever-useful duck tape. 10 minutes had passed since their run in with the Bara brothers and Aaron and Jack had lain completely still and silent as told to do so for all that time, but then a thought struck Jack. I heard their plan, I can stop this from happening. Jack looked at Aaron, who appeared to have his eyes shut. Jacks heart beat faster did they hurt him before I arrived? Jack rolled over, facing down and rubbed his mouth somewhat painfully on the ground, pulling the tape off in doing so. “Aaron!” Jack half whispered half shouted. Aaron flickered open his eyes, looking somewhat in a daze. “Are you ok?” Jack ignored the fact that Aaron looked like he was dozing, which made no sense, he must of fainted or something. Aaron nodded. “I heard their plan, if we can get this tape off I think we can stop them from stealing a painting” Now that his mouth and therefore teeth were free Jack raised his hands and starting chewing at the tape that bound him. Jack then freed his feet and pulled the remaining tape off his friend. “You were brave Jack!” Aaron said. “You could have ran but you didn't.” “Never mind about that, we need to get out of this maze and to a phone or to someone who works here.” Jack replied. Aaron and Jack ran around the rows of hedges not making one wrong turn but being ever vigil incase one of the brothers was laying in wait. Finally they made it back to the turnstile, both leaping over it. Aaron ran for the door near the maze which was still ajar, when Jack remembered about the waiting car. “NO! not that way, they are waiting there” Jack shouted in Aarons direction. Turning away from the thief’s escape route they ran down the opposite path frantically looking for a groundsman or someone to help. Leaping over fallen trees and through lawns they spied an elderly man in a green jumper attending some flowers. The gardener sensed some movement around him and stood up, putting his hands to his eyes to see what appeared to be 2 young teenagers running towards him. On a day when there was not meant to be anyone on the grounds his first reaction was a step backwards, but the closer they got the more he could see they were obviously in need of help. Jack frantically told the gardener what had happened and what was about to happen. Aaron helped best way he could by jumping and waving his arms. Within minutes sirens could be heard in the streets outside, and shortly afterwards the 2 brothers were in custody. Jack saw Kaz and Jarek being pulled along in cuffs seemingly having a heated argument, with Kaz repeatedly shouting at his older brother “Paranoid!”. The ride back in the police car was far quicker than the ride there, Jack sat next to Aaron and another police officer feeling sick to his stomach about the possible reaction from his mother. Aaron looked out of the side window, watching the people and places of London streak by, feeling for the first time in a long time, content. Sargent Bowther cap in hand was looking at Tilda. The Sargent, Jack, Aaron and Tilda were standing in Jacks living room. Tilda had already been informed on the phone roughly what had happened, and hugged Jack furiously the moment he got out of the police car, but after that initial relief resided, the anger and worry were still obvious on her face. Jack wasn't sure what was going to happen next, nothing good that’s for sure. “Your sons a hero Miss Ferraby” Sargent Bowther said. Jack felt like his heart started again, he was about to smile but after looking at his mothers expression decided against it. Aaron was still strangely quiet. “3 criminals going to jail, 4 if we ever catch who left the window open, and a national treasure saved, I wouldn't be surprised if they both win an award or something.” Sargent Bowther turned to Jack. “As for why you were both on the Palace grounds in the first place, well I'm sure you must of thought the grounds were open, isn't that right Jack?” “Yes sir” Jack quietly agreed, both him and Aaron nodding. “Ok then, me and my men will be off, we will be back in touch when we need further statements but for now, I think these 2 lads need a good meal and a little less excitement” Sargent Bowther and the other officers returned to their car, which fled off no doubt to catch more criminals Jack thought. “We need to talk about this Jack, but after I've taken Aaron home” said Tilda. Jack and Aaron said bye, and then the house fell into silence. Jack sat with Uno on the ragged white sofa Jacks uncle gave them, thinking about what had just happened. This is what it feels to be important, to matter he thought. Tilda returned quicker than Jack had time to prepare for. “What the hell were you thinking!” Jack had never seen Tilda’s face this red before. The idea of blaming everything on Aaron flickered into his mind and then just as quickly dissolved. Even if it was all Aarons fault, something had changed today in Jack. “I wanted to go, I’m sorry all of this happened, I never meant for you to be worried” Jack felt his eyes moisten, this felt like a moment when he needed to hold his ground, to take reasonability, to try to make his mother understand that it’s ok for him to go on a 1 hour bus ride, to be far from her, it’s ok. Tilda grabbed Jack and hugged him almost as tight as the time getting out of the car. “Jack you know why I worry” Tilda said falteringly. “I know, I’m sorry but I'm not that 5 year old kid anymore” Jack said while trying to forget that the nightmares might be returning. The sun disappeared for another day to be replaced by light rain, and the evening was spent with Tilda watching the latest reality show, and Jack catching up on his favorite comic “Starman”, which had arrived earlier that morning in the post. Tilda also spent some time explaining why Mr Hemmings was in their home the day before. Evidently Tilda and Jer had gotten fond of each other after the first teacher/parent meeting and were having the occasional dinner together. Jack put down his comic and reached for his bedside light, when a noise in the corner of his room caught his attention. Sitting up he looked at the bookshelf. In the gloom something was flashing red, it reminded him of the police car lights he had just seen. Gingerly getting out of bed he went over to his computer tablet. On the screen was a big red arrow pointing towards his bedroom door. Jack picked the tablet up and tapped it with his finger, still the arrow flashed and remained stubbornly pointing to his door regardless of how it was orientated. This is an odd dream he thought and looked back at his bed half expecting to see himself lying there. Nope not a dream he thought while moving the tablet up and down, swinging it left and right trying to make the arrow point in another direction other than his bedroom door. Then it hit him. Those damn Brocks they must of done something to the tablet, this is some prank, they are probably waiting wherever this arrow points to. But prank or no prank there was something about the arrow flashing that made him curious to what would happen if he did indeed go where it wanted him to. Glancing at his alarm clock to make sure Tilda was asleep or taking her nightly bath, he walked to his bedroom door and opened it standing in the doorway. The arrow changed direction it was now pointing towards the stairs. This is crazy he thought, while putting his trousers on always keeping one eye on the flashing red arrow. Walking down the stairs, holding the computer tablet in front of him like some holy relic he followed it’s twists and turns until he was standing next to the patio doors, looking out onto the garden. The arrow disappeared plunging the dining room into darkness. Jack became aware of his own breathing and then… OPEN Jack dropped the tablet. Luckily it fell on a rug which did no further damage nor made any noise, however the word “OPEN” was still there plain to see. Jack knew what the tablet wanted him to do next but he most definitely was not going to do it. It’s the Brocks, it must be the Brocks, some new elaborate plan to get me, I bet they are waiting outside in the back garden right now He thought. I AM NOT THE BROCKS, OPEN THE PATIO DOORS JACK! Jack started to step backwards, I think I'm going to go back to bed thanks Jack thought trying not to start some kind of thought conversation with his computer tablet. JACK, LOOK OUTSIDE. “Aaron?” Jack uttered in a hushed voice. Aaron was standing in the center of the garden. Except it wasn't the Aaron that Jack knew. This fancy dress Aaron was wearing some kind of metallic/leathery clothing which for the lack of a better term Jack could only think looked like a space mans suit. Jack started to laugh thinking how funny Aaron would find this when he told him about his dream in the morning. Even funnier his friend now had two snail like antennae attached to his head. Fancy dress Aaron walked a little towards the patio doors. “Jack I know this is all weird and dreamlike, but trust me it’s not, I'll explain later but we haven't got long, I’m sure Prion will be here soon and now you have entered the age of ability you and him must not meet.” Ok one of two things is happening, I've fallen asleep reading Starman or… Just as Jack started searching for an “Or” Uno casually walked up to fancy dress Aaron, wrapped her tail about his space boot and started purring so loudly it could be heard through the patio doors. “I know I know” Aaron said briefly looking down at the cat and then back to Jack. “Jack please it’s me your friend”. Jack slowly opened the patio doors, the cool night air giving him a jolt helping make this impossible situation seem more real. “Look, you like Sci-fi right? You read comics, you like the films with robots and strange crazy space people, ok well just imagine if you can that it’s all real, and that your best friend Aaron is umm well not from around here.” “What…” Jack said pointing at the two antennae on Aaron’s head. “Oh right yeah, they help me sense things, like I can smell stuff from a mile away, cool eh” Uno made a half squeak/meow noise in Jack’s direction. “Yes, I’m getting to that just keep watch for Prion” Aaron said to the cat. “Why are you talking to…” Jack started to say, but then realized in this crazy dream what did it matter if Aaron talked to Uno. “Jack you're special, like me but different, but don't worry you don't have antennae, I think…” Aaron said looking slightly confused. “Anyway, the thing is now your abilities are starting to show we need to get you somewhere safe, and here is not safe.” “Abilities? Safe? What are you talking about?” Jack stepped out onto the patio, at this distance Jack could see that Aaron’s skin was glistening slightly. Just as Aaron was about to reply, his Antennae shot straight up with the ends pointing behind him. “Damn it, here’s here” and with that Uno came bounding out of the bushes at the back of the garden closely followed by what looked like a troll. Alien friends, talking cats now trolls, why not Jack thought. Uno ran to Aaron’s side, her fur bristling, and her claws obviously out. Aaron slowly walked backwards, only stopping when he bumped up against Jack. The troll stood around 6ft tall, and almost the same wide, strangely it seemed to be wearing a torn jumper and even more ripped trousers. “You can't have him Prion!” Aaron declared to the troll, while his hand seemed to be furiously tapping a part of his space suit. Prion sneered and starting walking towards them. Uno the cat or whatever Uno was leapt into action striding forward and leaping at Prion with a speed that caught Prion off guard. It looked for sure that Uno would attach those claws to what passed as Prions skin but when the cat was within a few inches of it’s target there was a large static red flash and Uno fell to the ground limp. “Tamera!” Aaron shouted. Prion looked down at Uno with a smile “Algar will be disappointed, I'm sure.” And then resumed his movement towards Jack and his friend. “Run inside, lock everything, I'll hold him off” Aaron exhorted, trying to push Jack in the direction of safety. Jack started backing up, getting closer to the patio doors. His mind flashed back to earlier in the day when he was standing outside the maze with a similar choice. Running, not fighting no longer seemed like a viable option anymore, but how do you fight a space troll? Aaron raised an arm, which seemed to be more than just an arm because as he did so a volley of blue fluorescent light streamed from his hand hitting Prion square in the chest, red static electricity filled the garden causing the nearby plants to wither slightly and Prion staggered backwards, before regaining his posture. Another volley followed but this time the effect was much less, so much so that Prion moved forward relentless. Jack felt his back press up against the patio doors, this was not a fun dream anymore. Aaron lowered his arm almost in defeat, but instead started running towards Prion. Prion grinned and held out his arms welcoming Aarons advance towards him. Jack did not want to watch for the conclusion was obvious and swift. When Aaron was within a few feet of his enemy Prion swiped across him with such ferocity that Aaron was knocked clean off his feet sending him careering into the darkness of the gardens recesses. Jack looked for sign of movement, but there was none. The garden was silent, apart from the sound of Jack's heart. What just happened? Why am I not waking? This can't be real, it would of woken the entire neighborhood including Tilda, What is that in front of me? “Young Jack Ferraby, your mothers surname is it not?” said Prion. The question caught Jack off guard. “Where is your father?” but before Jack could give a coherent reply Prion smiled and continued. “You no doubt have many questions, questions which these failed questionable beings around us would have never answered, I on the other hand am a fountain of knowledge.” Jack looked around, he had never felt so alone. “But of course answers require something in return. You have certain abilities, abilities which I have waited a very long time for on this distasteful planet.” With this final statement Prion took a stride forward and grabbed Jack's arm. Just as the clammy scale clawed hand of Prion dug into Jacks upper limb Jack noticed something amazing in the sky above Prions horned head. Brocks. FROOOOM. THUD. THUD. Prion spun around still holding Jacks arm surprised by his two unwelcome guests. “You're too late, he’s coming with me.” Prion espoused. “You let him go, we let you go.” Vega replied. Except these were not Brocks that Jack recognized, both were wearing form fitting black bodysuits made of which seemed to be the night sky. And whereas the Brocks that had berated him for the past 4 years always seemed disheveled and in need of a bath, these versions looked impossibly refined, making them look more like freshly produced clones. Jack struggled to pull his arm away but Prions vice like grip held firm. “Last chance Prion, you know your powers have been weakened due to your time here” Ulf retorted. “Maybe you're right, maybe I just end this Jack Ferraby so we both can't have him” Prion switched his grip from Jacks arm to his throat, Jack struggled as best he could but found himself being lifted off the ground. As Jack started to lose consciousness what seemed to be fireworks lit up around him, the night sky alive with colour and motion, and then the comfort of blackness. Tilda awoke from her slumber in the bath. Tilda loved her baths. The bathroom was no mere place to do the necessities but instead a new age boudoir of wonder containing all manner of salts and candles, after todays events there was a good chance they would all be needed. After finishing in the bathroom Tilda made her way to her bedroom passing Jacks room on the way. “Jack I know it must be hard sleeping after what happened today but you need your rest.” no sound came from behind Jacks door. Tilda stopped she suddenly become very aware of the rough carpet under her toes “Jack? You won’t sleep with the light on you know”. She walked back to Jacks door, her breath quickened for reasons she did not want to think about. “Jack?” Her hand touched the bedroom door, but she couldn’t find the strength to apply any pressure snap out of it, he’s just fell asleep she said to herself while pushing the door open. Empty. Tilda ran onto the lawn of the back garden, not noticing the security lights were already on and the broken computer tablet on the rug. Clearly Jack was not there, but just as her mind started to try to make sense of what was happening and think about where he could be maybe he crept out to Aarons? A voice came from her right. “Special occasion Tilda?” Mrs. Foyles hair net was just visible over the damp wooden fence. “Sorry what?” “Sounded like you were having a party, me and bill saw all the fireworks you had” “Fireworks?” but as Tilda was struggling to understand her neighbours enquiries she noticed something wrong with the lawn, namely a number of what could only be described as scorch marks. Ignoring Mrs. Foyles Tilda edged towards the light brown patches of grass trying to stop the memories of 10 years ago flood in and overwhelm her. She noticed that the area in front of her was perfectly dry, bending down her fingers touched the ground where the 5 year old Jack would always be found to be sitting, it was warm. The night was silent, no sounds from any beast, no night sounds at all, only the twinkling stars above and Tilda standing alone. * * * Bright lights swirling. I’m floating. It was a dream! I’m still in it though, why haven't I woken up yet. People are talking I can hear them. “I think he’s waking up, go tell Algar” Jacks vision came into focus bringing with it the forms of Tamera the cat, Aaron, Ulf and Vega, all of whom were all sitting intently looking at Jack. Jack was the only one not sitting instead he was lying horizontally at a slight incline. Looking down he could see he was not actually laying on anything as he was gently floating as if on an invisible cushion of air. The Room that Jack and his friends were in was completely circular with what seemed a glass dome directly above. Jack was in the center on his invisible bed. “So this is not a dream then?” Jack enquired to anyone who would reply. “Indeed it is not young man” A tall humanoid creature in long gilt red and purple robes spontaneously appeared at the back of the room seemingly from nowhere. “I am Algar the Guide” Jack could see that Algar was clearly of great age by grey strands of what looked like hair hanging down from his face. But what a face! The closest Jack could compare it to was a Walrus, complete with small downwards facing white horns. “It is my job to help those that the universe deems are important to its survival. You and everyone here Jack are such beings.” Algar waved a hand and the invisible pillow that was supporting Jack started to tilt until Jack was standing upright on the metallic floor making Jack catch his balance a little. “Where am I? I can’t be here I need to return home, I need to make sure my mother is alright!” said Jack looking pleadingly at his audience. “I’m afraid we are already far from your home” Algar waved his hand again, and what was once an encompassing wall for the circular room now disappeared, making it seem that they were all floating in space. Except this space was not empty, a myriad of stars filled Jacks vision in all directions apart from below him where a misty blue planet of awe inspiring proportions lay. This was clearly not home. Jack started to feel dizzy, but was held up by Vega. “I got you Jack” Vega said assuring. Jack wanted to pull away, his natural reaction to a Brock, but looking at Vega realized for the first time that she was quite pretty. The walls become solid and once again they were in a circular room. “Why am I here? This is crazy. I need to help my mother, that thing was back there!” Jack said. “Your mother is fine Jack, there is no need to worry about her. I’m sorry events went the way they did but unfortunately we could only move once Prion revealed himself, you see that is Prions ability, he can change his form to any creature he has previously touched. What you saw today was just one of many faces he uses.” Algar looked thoughtful. “He was our greatest hope for peace in the universe as a younger being he had such promise” Algar sighed. “I failed with Prion, now he’s our greatest threat.” Algar looked at Jack and smiled “But there is a new hope.” “That’s you” Aaron whispered. “What? Me? How can I help?” Jack replied. “What language am I talking now?” Algar posited. “Umm English?” replied Jack. “And what language now?” “I don’t understand, you are still talking English” The others laughed. “No Jack, the former was Tagerian, and the latter a particularly difficult dialect of Gootel, and this whole sentence I am talking to you in now is what you would normally know as Russian on your planet.” said Algar. “But what you hear is what you think is your native tongue, English.” Algar stood in front of Jack, placing a hand lightly on Jack's shoulder. “You Jack are the Universal Translator.” Algar said contently. “Notice I said “the” and not “a” because the universe only ever creates one being of ability at a time.” “What? No, I want to return home, take me home! I’m not what you…” Jack stopped because Tamera the cat was rubbing her face on his leg, he looked down at the cat, which then spoke. “Remember Jack, remember….” Tamera said. Jack shook his head, but then suddenly it was morning again, he was on the bus and the 2 girls were talking. Except now they weren't talking in a language Jack could understand. Next he was standing in front of the impressive lions at Hampton court with Aaron, standing in front of the sign, but instead of the message being repeated 4 times, it was in English only once, the other languages Jack did not recognize, and finally Jack and Aaron where with the Bara brothers, with the older brother talking in a language which seemed European but Jack could not tell from where. The circular room appeared once again. Jack staggered back. “But I always sucked at languages!” “There’s no way of telling when a beings ability will show itself or even if it ever will, this is why Tamera, Vega, Ulf and Aaron as you know them were with you just incase, each with a different role.” Algar said. Jack felt anger rising inside him, the Brocks had made his life a misery for so long and for what? And Aaron, who he thought was a friend was what? I knew those pictures looked weird. The anger burst out in the former Brocks direction. “Why did you bully me! What was the purpose?” Jack angrily enquired. “We are truly sorry Jack, our job was to test you to get you ready for the tasks ahead, we had to be tough.” Ulf hung his head. “And you! Who, what, are you really my friend?” Jack said pointedly to Aaron. “Yeah I got the short straw!” Everyone looked at Aaron, who seeing this was not the time to joke, stood up and walked to Jack. “Of course I am your friend Jack and I hope you are still mine.” “Everyone here Jack is like you, they have been given a gift by the universe, how you use that gift is how you repay it. Either you turn your back and work for destruction as Prion and his followers have, or you work to build, to construct, to help.” Algar said. “If you really want to return home we will take you back, but Jack you have the ability to unite nations, to end wars, to bring peace where it never existed before. If you want to use your ability to help others, then we would welcome you here.” Jack stood in silence in this circular room, not knowing where in the cosmos he was or who these beings were around him, but there was one thing he did know, something he knew to be true in the depths of his soul, he was the Universal Translator.