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Grandad's Trip to Mars
Nan closed the front door of the country cottage after waving Mum and Dad goodbye. “Right, children,” she said cheerfully. “Grandad is waiting for you in his silly shed with some kind of surprise, and I’m going to see your Great Auntie Jean... you can come if you want.”
Hugo looked as though someone had slapped him on the face with a soggy sponge. “I would much prefer stay with Grandad,” he said.
“Me too,” added Lily. “It’s not that we don’t want to go and see Great Auntie Jean, but there is nothing for us to do there.”
Nan picked up her car keys. “I thought you would say that. But I would rather you didn’t stay in Grandad’s shed all morning... and definitely no whizzing up and down the drive on the back of any of his motorbikes. I’ve told him it’s dangerous... and your mummy and daddy aren’t happy about it either. Do you understand?”
“But we like going to his shed,” said Hugo, “we learn so much about growing vegetables and things… don’t we Lily?”
Nan didn’t give Lily time to answer. “Oh you do, do you? So what is he growing at the moment?”
Hugo looked thoughtful and Lily suddenly remembered what they were supposed to say if Nan asked. “He said he’s going to show us how to dig up potatoes and onions today.”
Nan looked at them suspiciously as she grabbed her handbag from the hall table. “He did did he. Well, that’s what he told me too. But that won’t take long, so do make sure he takes you out; somewhere like the museum or the library where there’s lots of interesting things for seven and eight-year-old’s like you.”
As soon as Nan left, Hugo and Lily raced to the back door of the cottage where a curvy wide path snaked through the middle of a long lawn to a gate at the bottom of the garden. Beyond that, steps took them down to an allotment where Grandad grew just about every vegetable imaginable.
It was hard to see the shed. It was covered in ivy which made it look like something from a magical land – which it was of course.
A sign was on the door showing a list of shed rules.
The door creaked open on rusty hinges as Lily pushed it. Grandad liked it to sound like that because it let him know when Nan was ignoring his sign and sneaking in to see what he was doing. Only Hugo and Lily knew what went on in the shed, and they had been sworn to secrecy.
They stepped into an enormous room made entirely of wood. The door creaked closed behind them.
Jars of screws, nails, and paint of all colours sat in neat rows on shelves and, beneath the shelves on hooks were spanners, screwdrivers and saws, all dangling in a perfect line. There was no sign of Grandad.
“Grandad?” whispered Lily.
Floorboards groaned under their feet. Dust swirled up from the floor as they made their way to the other end of the room where a row of motorbikes, old and new, were lined up like soldiers in front of another much larger door.
A glimmer of sunlight entered through a grubby window that was covered with cobwebs and trapped flies. The rays fell onto an old brown armchair that seemed to shimmer in the gloom.
Hugo yelped and Lily screamed. Grandad leapt out of the chair and laughed. He wore brown trousers, a brown jacket and a brown pillowcase over his head with two eye holes cut into it. Every item of clothing he wore was the same shade of brown as the chair.
“Ha-hah! Got you there didn’t I!”
“No. I saw you,” said Lily.
“No you didn’t,” objected Hugo. “You jumped out of your skin!”
Grandad removed the pillowcase. “Whoa, the pair of you! What does it say on my sign? No narky people… and that includes you two.”
“What are we doing today, Grandad,” asked Hugo. “Nan said you can take us for a ride one one of your bikes.”
Lily only got as far as saying “No she,” before Hugo bashed her on the arm to silence her.
Grandad laughed and wagged a finger at them. “Stop it, the pair of you. I know exactly what your nan told you, Hugo, and it wasn’t that.” He pointed to his ears. “Do you see these? I know what she said because I have special hearing which allows me to hear sounds up to half a mile away. So, do you want to go to the library?”
“No!” shouted both.
“Did you tell her what I told you to say if she asked about vegetables?”
“Would you rather see what spell I have brewed up for today?”
“Good. They are the right answers. Come on then, follow me, you’ll like this one.”
He led them to another corner of his man cave where a window looked out over his allotment. A model aeroplane about thirty centimetres long sat on top of a table.
Triangular wings went all the way from the front to the back of its black slender body. It did not have wheels; instead it had three skis on the end of short legs. The only window was on the top behind its curved nose.
Grandad pointed at it. “How would you like to fly to Mars in this? It’s all tried and tested of course. I went there yesterday and it only took twenty minutes.”
Lily giggled. “Don’t be silly, Grandad. You can’t fit in that and neither can we!”
“And you can’t go into space if it isn’t a rocket,” said Hugo with a great air of knowledge.
A huge grin appeared on Grandad’s face which was something he always did when he knew he was right and they were wrong.
Hugo’s eyes widened. “You’re going to shrink us?” he asked astoundingly.
Grandad nodded. “Of course. How else would we fit in.”
“You could make the plane bigger,” suggested Lily.
“Ah… I thought about doing that; but you see, everybody in the village would see it take off and we can’t have that can we?”
“But it’s just a plastic model,” objected Hugo. “It doesn’t have any real engines or controls and computers and stuff.”
“Huh! Wash your mouth out, young man. My magic is far more powerful than a zillion computers put together. Anyway, try picking it up… go on!”
Hugo grabbed it but it didn’t move. “You’ve glued it down.”
“No I haven’t. It’s a real spaceship that is so heavy you can’t pick it up.”
He took a key from his pocket and opened his secret spell cupboard under the table. Hugo and Lily gazed in awe at the contents like they always did.
Jars of dried frogs, toads, slugs, insects and snails were on the top shelf. The middle shelf had larger jars, all full to the brim with strange liquids. Some sparkled, some bubbled, some were so thick and gloopy it looked like the contents would crawl across the floor if they were tipped out.
Grandad selected a round tin from the bottom shelf. “We just need some shrinking worms to pop in our bellies,” he said. He flipped open the lid and showed them the contents.
Hugo and Lily took a step back at the sight of fat wriggling worms all crawling over each other, each one the colour of blood.
Lily wasn’t impressed at all. “Eeew, they’re horrible!”
“Yeah… yuck,” added Hugo.
Grandad put a finger to his lips and shushed them. “Quiet! You’ll upset them with talk like that.” He placed the tin on the table and took out a jar of fizzing green liquid. “All we have to do, is wash a worm down with some of this… my special cabbageade.”
This time a double chorus of Eeew filled the shed.
Hugo shook his head and said. “I think I would rather go to the library.”
Grandad’s wrinkly smile went from ear to ear. Without saying another word he took three cups from a nearby shelf and unscrewed the lid of the bubbling and sparkling cabbageade.
He placed the cups on his workbench and poured the leafy mixture into each one. Then, with a wink and without a word, he heaved his amazingly agile body onto the edge of the worktop.
Lily giggled. “You’re silly.”
Grandad’s smile widened as he put his hand in the tin. He shook a worm until it was free of all the others and placed it on his tongue.
“Ugghhh!” cried Hugo and Lily.
He picked up a cup and drank the contents all in one go, finishing with a large gulp and a burp.
Then he vanished.
Lily and Hugo gazed at the bench. They had seen Grandad do some amazing things with magic, but this was the best ever.
Lily pointed excitedly. “Look!”
There, sitting on the end of the worktop was Grandad, no more than three millimetres tall. His lips were moving but they could not hear him. Hugo put his ear closer.
“What is he saying?” asked Lily.
Hugo shrugged. “I don’t know, but he’s pointing to the tin.”
They looked at the tin of worms and the remaining two cups of green fizz with tiny bits of cabbage leaves bobbing about on the surface.
Hugo grabbed a nearby stool and, making sure not to sit on tiny Grandad, he used it to climb up.
Without hesitation he took a worm and a cup, opened his mouth, closed his eyes, and swallowed everything as fast as he could. The next thing he knew he was sitting next to Grandad watching his huge sister do the same.
Now they were small, the spacecraft looked massive and, not only that, it looked real.
A platform dropped down from its undercarriage onto the dirty grainy surface of the table.
“Right, let’s get onboard,” said Grandad rubbing his hands excitedly.
As soon as they were all on the platform, it lifted them inside. Hugo and Lily expected to see rows and rows of seats like in an aeroplane but it wasn’t like that at all. The platform took them straight into a huge cockpit with a glass roof.
Three seats were in a row in front of a massive television screen. The chair in the centre was bigger with a joystick on one armrest and a throttle on the other. There were no fancy consoles with dials, lights, switches and computers like they had seen in space films.
Lily whistled. “This is the best magic ever, Grandad. Are we really going to go to Mars?”
“Of course, unless you want to go somewhere else?”
“No, I’d like to go to Mars.”
“Well, come on both of you, get strapped in.”
“But how are we going to get out of the shed?” asked Hugo.
Grandad raised a grey eyebrow and slapped his forehead. “Oh! I forgot to open the window! Ah well, never mind, it will open when we fly through it.”
Before Hugo and Lily had time to object, Grandad grabbed the joystick, pulled the throttle, and glass shattered everywhere as they hit the window full on. The increasing whine of magical engines propelled them up into a blue summer sky.
Up and up they went until the sky turned black and twinkling stars popped up everywhere like a clear night time sky.
Below them, under the rays of a fiercely bright sun; oceans, and lands of brown and green, could be seen on the huge ball that was the earth; and, where the sun’s rays did not reach, the lights of cities twinkled in the darkness.
The screen in front of Grandad showed stars and planets and every one had a name alongside. He tapped a finger on the one that said Mars and pushed the throttle to full power.
Twenty minutes later the red planet grew and grew as they approached; and then, through a cloudless sky and a very thin atmosphere, their spaceship took them down to a red and flat dusty surface. It gently came to rest near to another spacecraft that looked very much like a monstrous spider on wheels.
Hugo’s eyes widened. “Whoa! What’s that?”
“That, my dear boy,” answered Grandad, “is the Mars Exploration Rover, sent here by the Americans to take pictures and poke the ground with things. I don’t know why they have gone to so much trouble… all they had to do was ask me for a lift.”
“But they don’t know you exist, Grandad,” said Lily. “Only we know about your magic and you’ve sworn us to secrecy.”
“Oh yes of course. That’s the right answer my girl… you’ve passed the test. Now then, let’s get the suits on.”
“Suits?” questioned Lily, “what suits?
“The spacesuits of course. We can’t go out there without one. The atmosphere is a hundred times thinner than earth’s and it is ninety-five percent carbon dioxide. And as for the temperature, well, because of the midday sun, it will be quite warm at the moment.” He looked at the screen and pointed to some numbers. “Ah yes… here we are... twenty degrees centigrade.”
Hugo was amazed. “That warm?”
“Oh yes. We are here at the right time. But it will soon begin to fall. At night it will drop down to minus a hundred and ten. Imagine going out in that.”
“Are we really going outside?” asked Lily.
“Of course we are. We have a job to do so come along.”
On the way back to the lift, Grandad stopped at a cupboard and opened a door to reveal three brightly coloured spacesuits which looked like they had come from a children’s television programme.
He unhooked a red one. “These are jet suits. Raising your right arm will take you up; lowering it takes you down. Twist your wrist to the left and you will go left. I’ll leave you to work out right for yourselves. Now, I’ll wear this red one because it’s the biggest. You two can fight over the green and yellow ones.”
The lift dropped them onto the dusty surface of Mars and, because they were still only three millimetres tall, the grains of dust looked more like large, roughly shaped, red golf balls.
The Exploration Rover towered over them like a monster. Grandad’s voice came through speakers in their helmets. “Right, on the count of three, we’ll all raise our right arm and up we’ll go. Ready? One… two… three!”
Dust lifted from the ground as they soured upwards. Hugo crashed into Lily and Lily crashed into Grandad causing everyone to tumble all over the place.
“Whoa!” yelled everyone.
“You’ll soon get the hang of it,” said Grandad after they all righted themselves. “Come on, we’ll fly in front of one of its cameras, that’ll spook those Yanks out.”
“But won’t we be too small to see?” asked Lily.
“Maybe,” said Grandad, “We’ll find out when we get home.”
Lily and Hugo sat at the kitchen table at home while Mum prepared dinner. Dad sat reading his kindle while he waited for the news to come on the television.
“How was Grandad today, children?” asked Mum. “Did he take you to the library or the museum like Nan told him to?”
Careful not to say that they did not actually go to either of those places, Hugo told her how they learnt all about the Mars Exploration Rover. Lily continued giving a very detailed description of what it looked like.
Mum was very impressed. “Really? That sounds fantastic. I’m so glad he took you somewhere interesting instead of messing around in that silly shed of his.”
The news came on the television. And there, on the screen, was the headline.
Life found on Mars!
Three tiny blurred blobs of red, green and yellow with what looked like arms and legs whizzed around the screen.
Dad looked up from his kindle. “Doesn’t look like life to me,” he grumbled. “I bet it’s interference… I don’t know what all the fuss is about.”
Lily and Hugo burst out laughing.
“It wasn’t that funny,” said Dad.
But Lily and Hugo knew it was funnier than anyone would ever know.