His silly sisters were giggling non-stop in their bedroom. Jack hated the way they always got their way with everything and he had to "toe the line" all the time. Sure, he was the youngest, but he was a boy and boys should be given a little more slack in things like going to bed.
Jack could hear his father on the telephone talking excitedly about something that sounded complicated about Ethernets and broadband, but his mom stuck her head in the door and told him,
"Get that light off now, young man, and put that book down."
He shrugged in resignation and closed the book about an astronaut stranded on Mars making sure his page marker was in place. He was almost finished with the book and wanted to find out how it ended but he recognized the tone of voice as being the final word.
Jack thought about sticking his explorer's flashlight under the pillow but he wasn't sure the batteries were still good. He was too tired to check them out and just turned over and started to think about the test on Friday. His eyes closed and he could see all the questions lined up one after the other but nowhere was there a single answer.
The house was quiet now.
Outside, a neighbor's cat stalked a bird hiding in the bushes. The bird got real low and tried not to make any movement that would attract attention. Jack could see everything through the bird's frightened eyes and wished he was a little bigger and not so defenseless against strange cats.
The wind picked up and the cat ran back to the safety of his backyard. The bird came out of the bushes and flew off into the night. He knew he had to get up real high so the hungry owls wouldn't suspect some tasty prey was available for a midnight snack.
Jack flew up higher and higher.
He could see the full moon over his left shoulder. It was pockmarked with the craters of countless impacts from falling meteorites. Jack wondered why the Space Program had not continued to expand into colonizing the moon with its untold wealth of minerals and other carbon matter. The textbooks at school were filled with photos of the American astronauts on the surface of the moon and no mention at all of the complicated systems that put them there.
He was flying faster and faster and Jack could see the surface of Mars, the Red Planet right in front of him. It was getting closer and closer and then with a big bump and a long bounce, he landed in a dusty bowl of red pebbles.
When he stood up, Jack realized he was wearing a suit similar to the one that he had just read about in the book he was close to finishing. It had the nozzles and tubes that recycled everything to keep him alive in the oxygen deprived atmosphere of Mars. If he could have seen himself in a mirror, he would have seen an alien creature that looked like some fearsome monster.
Off in the distance, he saw what looked like a sandstorm. Jack was glad it was there and not located where he was standing. In the book, he had read that it was the most dangerous feature of Life on Mars. If it wasn't for the suit, Jack would have pinched his arm to make certain he was awake. It seemed so strange to be standing on another planet in the solar system.
All of a sudden, Jack felt very lonely. After all, he was completely by himself. He was the only living thing on a "Dead" planet. He was beginning to feel isolated and forgotten. He reached down to the pouch on his belt and let some sustenance move up to his feeding tube and inside his mouth. Just a little mouthful was enough to take care of his hunger for a full 24 hours. He felt a little light-headed but figured it was the stress of the long journey and the adjustment to the gravity of Mars.
Ping ... Ping ... The sound of what sounded like a metal pipe being hit a long ways away caught Jack's attention. He thought he had started to hallucinate like other stranded astronauts in the deep recesses of space. Then, he heard it again and he knew it was not some figment of his imagination. It seemed to be coming from a high hilly feature in the opposite direction of the dust storm.
He immediately started walking toward the sound to investigate the strange noise.