Donnie Jackson went to bed feeling elated. Tomorrow was his fourteenth birthday and his mother had told him they’d be taking him somewhere for a special surprise.
He lay in bed, listening to the traffic on the nearby motorway. Donnie likened it to the relentless waves on the shore at their summer home on Morton Island. He wondered where they would take him? Maybe to the climbing centre? He’d made noises about wanting to learn rock climbing. Or maybe they’d arranged a secret outing with his friends? To the bowling alley, maybe to the skate park? But his best friend Marty Chang had seemed normal at school. Not like he was hiding a big secret. And he knew Marty better than anyone. He hoped it wouldn’t be a trip to a boring museum or art gallery. The thought of that made a funny feeling in his stomach. Like he was going to puke.
The next thing he knew, Donnie was waking up after a vaguely remembered dream of cycling to the canal with Marty to go fishing. But when they got there, the canal was empty and barren, a rusted car wreck jutting out of the mud.
He lay in the dark, wondering at the lack of noise. Even in the early hours, there was the quiet swish-swish of vehicles. But there was no sound whatsoever. He pressed the bedside lamp switch. Nothing happened. He pressed it again, and again, but the room remained pitch black. He felt for his watch and tilted it so that a pale green backlight illuminated the hands. Seven-thirty. Seven-thirty! Donnie jerked fully awake. Well, why was there no light through the curtains from the streetlights? He reached for his phone and blinked as the screen burst into life. That was weird, no mobile or wi-fi signal. He switched it to the torch setting and made his way over the thick carpet to the window. He drew back the curtain and saw … nothing. Maybe there was some big power failure. Of course, that was it!
He went out onto the landing by the light of his torch. His mother and father must still be asleep. He didn’t want to switch on the landing light and disturb them. He crept downstairs. Why was it so quiet? It was like everyone had died. He went into the kitchen and pressed the light switch, maybe expecting to see presents heaped on the kitchen table. Instead, nothing happened. There was no light. Then he saw that there was no light from the fridge, no light from the oven, no light from the power sockets. Nothing.
Using his torch, he found his way to the back door. He unlocked it and went outside. All he could see was an interminable black landscape. He couldn’t make out the shape of the Craven Bridge, nor even any lights on in the tower block over the way where no one ever seemed to sleep.
There was an odd smell. It reminded him of overcooked cabbage, like they served at school mealtimes. Then he realised he was breathing deeply, almost gasping for air. He suddenly felt fear. Something had happened. Something he didn’t understand. He’d go and wake his parents. They’d know what to do.
But just as Donnie turned back to the house, he was startled as a thin sliver of silver appeared on the horizon. Slowly. the silver rim expanded. He pinched his arms and slapped his face but, no, he wasn’t dreaming. The silver crescent grew and grew, and as he watched, the moon began to rise. But it was huge, it had somehow grown gigantic in the night.
Like the minute hand on a huge clock face, the moon rose perceptibly until its light illuminated a dark, featureless plain with mountains in the far distance. Donnie reached down and picked up a handful of earth. Except it wasn’t earth. It was like a kind of coarse sand, and in the light of the huge silver moon, steadily rising, it appeared purple. He hurriedly brushed it off, noticing that his hand glowed luminescent where the purple sand had been.
He raced back indoors and up the stairs in a panic. “Mum, Dad! Something’s happened to our town. Maybe to our planet, even!” But their bedroom was empty. No sign of his parents or their clothes. The room looked unslept in, and through the open curtains came the burning silver light of that huge alien moon.
Then Donnie’s blood began to pound. Someone was knocking on the front door. He opened his dad’s desk drawer, where he knew his father kept a revolver. There it was, a heavy, squat piece of grey metal, smelling of oil. Donnie clicked the safety catch off and galvanised by fear, headed downstairs.
(To be continued in No Place Like Home)