THE BOY WHO SLEPT 100 YEARS
episode taken from The Skipper No. 182 -
The most amazing adventure a boy could have.
He’s 116 years old.
THE BOY WAKES UP
The boy at the back of the cave grunted, turned over on his back, and rubbed his eyes. He was stiff and had a headache, his mouth was dry, and he licked his lips ruefully. “Gosh, I must have overslept myself! It’s getting quite dark. I’ll have to hustle off back home or they’ll be worrying about me.” His joints creaked as he leapt to his feet, and Bob Gable frowned. He could not understand such stiffness; it was not like him. The cave was not a very large one, but it was deep and dry. Trees shadowed the opening, and it had always been a favourite spot of his ever since he had discovered it two summers before. Bob was very fond of roaming over the lonely hills from his home at Foster Grove, and this made a convenient halfway spot where he could eat his sandwiches or dodge a shower of rain. He stepped into the open, and automatically brushed his hands down over his clothing to knock off any dust that might have collected there, for the floor of the cave was sandy. To his horror his hands brushed against his skin. “What on earth—” He had looked down and just realised he was in rags. They were not even substantial rags. His clothing seemed to have dissolved into a dry powder; it was crumbling from him as he moved, falling from him in flakes. “Hey, what’s happened? Everything was all right when I came out this morning. There are my second best trousers, and—Gosh, I’ll get in a row when I get back home.” Things were even more serious than he had as first believed. He could not stir without dislodging another piece of clothing. Everything seemed to be falling from him; the cloth had gone as thin as cobwebs and turned to dust as he tried to pull it closer around him. “I found an old dress up in the attic one time,” he thought, “and that was like this. Uncle said it must have been 80years old. Crumbs, I’ll have to find something to go home in! I’ll get run in if I try to cross the main road like this.” Absent-mindedly he groped for the top wire of the fence he had climbed to enter the woods, but his hands found nothing. There was no fence there; he could walk straight out on to the next field. “That’s queer! I could have sworn there was a fence there when I came in this afternoon. Hullo!” He stooped and retrieved a piece of tarpaulin which must have fallen from a farm waggon. It was dirty and had been long exposed to the weather, but he shook it as best he could, then wrapped it round himself as extra covering. It gave him a comical, half-savage appearance, and he hoped he would not bump into anyone on his way home. He decoded to stick to the narrow lane where there was scarcely any traffic. He crossed the field, clambered over a low stone wall, and then paused to rub his eyes. What had happened to the lane along which he had come that morning? It had been a narrow winding lane with a high hedge on one side and this wall on the other. Now he found himself on a broad arterial road at least 120 feet wide, a road of some resilient surface which made no sound when he stepped upon it. It was as he stooped to peer at the surface of the road that he discovered his shoes were equally as dilapidated as his clothing. His toes were almost exposed to the air. He turned and looked about him. “I must be going dotty. They couldn’t have built a new road in an afternoon. And it seems to be made of some kind of rubber. I’ve never seen a rubber road before.
There was a loud, not unpleasing wail from a siren, and the strangest motor car
he had ever seen flashed past him at something over 60 miles an hour. Beyond
that warning blast absolutely no sound came from it. It was impossible to hear
the engine. It was streamlined almost like a bullet, and of a dull metallic
hue. Bob turned to try and get another glimpse of it but it had vanished in the
distance. He hitched the tarpaulin the tighter about himself, and turned
resolutely towards the left. There was the glow in the sky which marked the
position of the distant city of
did the chap keep harping on his clothing? He was asking for a thick ear.
Another of those queer-looking vehicles flashed past them; it must have been
doing 100 miles an hour, but the strange boy in the field-grey one-piece suit
did not even glance at it. His eyes were still all for Bob. “I—er—had an
accident,” grunted Bob. “Fell in the stream. Had to leave some of my clothes
behind. That’s why I’m hurrying home. Good-night.” He turned away, but the
other fell into step beside him. “I’m coming your way. I was only out for a
stroll before supper. Where d’you live?” “At Foster Grove, with my uncle,”
grunted Bob, shortly, not too pleased to have company in his present state.
“And you?” “That’s funny, because I live there too! My father is manager of the
nitrogen works there. I’ve never seen you before, and we’ve been here ten
years. No, only nine years. We came in the spring of 2025.” Bob stopped with a
snort; his fists were clenched, his eyes flashed angrily. “Look here, young
‘un,” he roared. “You try to be funny with me again I’ll knock your teeth down
the back of your throat. First you try to be funny about the time, and now
about the year. It’s 1934, and besides, there’s no nitrogen works or any other
works in Foster Grove.” His companion stepped back from him with dilated eyes.
He gazed at Bob as though he was some strange insect. “You’re trying to be
funny,” he grunted. “Don’t you call me a liar! Don’t I know the date, and where
I live? I’m Frank Holmes, and my father runs the nitrogen works at Foster
Grove, and it’s
STRANGE NEW WORLD
Biff! It was a good hard fist on the end of his nose, and the fist belonged to Frank Holmes. It staggered Bob. “Pack up!” growled Holmes, dancing round him with fists raised. “Don’t try to be funny with me. Think I’m simple? Whoever heard of anyone sleeping a hundred years? I believe you’re a tame lunatic escaped from the infirmary. I ought to knock you down and take you to the nearest police station.” For once in his life Bob did not hit back. Instead he dodged away. The pain from that punch on the nose had cleared his head. The dull heaviness had gone. “Wait a minute, Holmes,” he said. We can soon prove this. You’re coming home with me, and if you’re lying about the date and the time and everything. I’m going to give you the biggest hiding you ever had. Come on! It was 1934 when I went to sleep, and if it’s 2034 I must have lost a hundred years somewhere. That would make me 116 years of age. Sounds crazy!” Frank Holmes tried to shake off his grip, but found his companion stronger than he had expected. Looking rather scared he stepped out with Bob and during the next mile no less than five more speeding vehicles flashed by. One of them slowed, and the occupant yelled something at them in angry tones. Frank at once dragged Bob to the side of the road. “What’s he say?” demanded Bob. “Says he’ll report us to the next policeman he sees for walking on this road. You know we’re not allowed to walk on the motor roads. The road for walkers is over there, but this is the direct road so I always sneak on to it after dusk, don’t you?” Bob did not reply. He was swallowing hard. He was trying to adjust himself to the fact that he had been asleep one hundred years in the cave, and that it was now the year 2034. Could it be possible? Did that explain why his clothes had been turning to dust when he got up? Did it explain the vanished fence, the great wide road, the amazing motor cars and this boy’s strange talk? Could he have been overcome by some escape of underground gas through the back of the cave, and have been actually sleeping for a century? Bob’s guess about the gas was correct. Through cracks in the earth the gas had been seeping up into the cave until it had filled every nook when Bob went in to rest. But it was no ordinary gas. It did not kill. It had overcome Bob and his body had just stopped working. He had lain there much the same as a squirrel goes to sleep for the winter months, until the gas had by chance cleared from the cave. And now Bob had wakened up, a hundred years after, in a world entirely changed and filled with wonderful new things.
They passed over the brow of the next hill, and a blaze of floodlights showed right beneath them. “There’s Foster Grove, and there’s my father’s factory,” said Frank Holmes. “Now where is it you live? I don’t believe you live here at all.” “I do!” snapped the boy in the tarpaulin. “I live in Rose Cottage with—” “Oh, there!” Frank sounded scornful. “In that tumble-down old place. There it is at the foot of the pylon. It’s the oldest cottage in the village. I believe they’re going to pull it down next year when they widen the road. If you live there you must be a relation of Tom Phillips. He’s the head Machinist at the factory. But, I say, it’s getting late. I’ll have to run, or dad will be home before me. Cheerio, and don’t try to play practical jokes on me again or I’ll punch you harder next time.” He hurried away, and Bob was too dazed by what he saw to grab him or answer him. He forgot all about the unavenged blow. He was staring at Rose Cottage, at the home where he had lived with his Uncle Oliver ever since his parents had died. It was Rose Cottage right enough, but things were different. The building with its rambling garden had not changed very much, except that a huge chunk of the garden had gone to widen the road. But right behind the cottage, and dwarfing it was a gigantic pylon of steel girders about 80 feet high. This carried some sort of overhead cables towards the other end of the village. There were a hundred other changes, but Bob did not take them in just then. He4 staggered over to the familiar gate and leaned against it. His stomach was reminding him that he was starving. If he had not eaten anything for a century, whilst he lay dormant like a squirrel in the winter-time, there was little wonder that he was hungry! He opened the gate and went in. Everything came to his hand as it had always done. There was the door to the back kitchen, where he always washed his hands before going into the living-room. He could not resist opening the latch and looking inside. Nothing had altered. There was the sink and the big table. There was the cupboard in the corner, and the same damp stone floor. The door to the living-room beyond was ajar, and there was a light in the room. But it was not that which attracted Bob so much. His nostrils twitched and his mouth watered. “Sausages!” he muttered. He edged nearer to that door. There was no movement on the other side, only that delightful odour. The old Welsh dresser was right opposite him as it had always been. Surely he was only dreaming he had been asleep a hundred years! He did not trouble to look round to see what else had changed, for on the edge of that dresser stood a covered plate from which steam and that savoury smell was escaping. Sausages! He could resist no longer. One stride carried him within reach, he lifted the cover, snatched two of the succulent-looking sausages, and crammed them into his mouth. There were delicious, crisp, and cooked to a turn. They tasted finer than anything he had ever eaten in his life before.
He was reaching for another when it dawned on him that the mumble of voices he heard came from the next room. The man whose supper this was seemed to have visitors. Still holding the cover in one hand, Bob tip-toed to the communicating door and strained his ears. He had just remembered that Frank Holmes had told him the head machinist from the nitrogen factory lived in Rose Cottage now. He wondered what manner of man he was. “ …there ought to be a cool ten thousand in this for us,” came a deep voice. “It’s one of the easiest jobs we’ve ever done, if we can trust you, Phillips.” “You can trust me all right,” grunted someone else, and a chair was pushed beck. “I’m in on this. I’m sick to death workin’ for my salary an’ watchin’ the firm pile up profits…I’ll fix it to-night. I have to go back to see to some special machinery which has to be overhauled before the morning shift come on. I’ll leave the side door near the main store open, and you can slip inside. The manager’s office is the first door on the left down the passage, and the safe is right in front of you in the far corner. I’ll start up some of the noisiest machinery to give you cover while you blow the safe. Is that all right?” “Fine!” grunted one of his visitors, and a heavy hand descended on a broad back. “We’ll be leaving you to your supper now, Phillips, and will be at the factory sharp at 21.30. Don’t forget the side door.” There was the sound of several pairs of large feet leaving the cottage by the front door. Bob tip-toed across the room to peep through the window and try to discover what manner of men they were. One thing was obvious. They were crooks, and Phillips, the head machinist at the nitrogen works, was a traitor to his employers. He was going to help them rob the firm. Now Bob could see them, hefty men wearing the usual one-piece suits that everyone seemed to wear in the 21st century. “Gosh!” he breathed. “That factory is managed by Frank Holmes’s father. He told me so. It’s his safe they’re going to bust, and—” A sudden roar made him jump round in alarm, the dish-cover still in his hand. A big man with russet-coloured hair close cropped to his head had appeared in the doorway. He was glaring at the exposed plate of sausages. One stride brought him across the room, and he had grabbed Bob before he could dodge. “You confounded young thief! A gipsy by the look of it. The police will know what to do with you, young fellow.” “Stop!” gasped Bob. “You don’t understand. This house used to belong to my uncle, and—” A bellow of rage came from Phillips. “Trying to feed me with cock-and-bull stories in exchange for my sausages, eh? It won’t work. I happen to know you’re lying about the house, because before me it belonged to an old lady who had no children.” “I—I mean before that,” said Bob, desperately. “My uncle was George Wilson, and—” He was almost jerked off his feet by the wrathful machinist. “Tell me another! You’re the biggest young liar I’ve ever met. I remember the name on the deeds. George Wilson died nearly 90 years ago. Come along to the police!”
OUTLAWED IN 2034
His uncle had died nearly 90 years ago! The words were ringing in Bob’s head as he was propelled through the door into the road beyond. Then the keen air struck him, and raised him to action. He was being handed over as a thief to the police. He had no home, no friends or relations. He was a vagrant from another century. He would have no chance. A twist, a tug, and the rotting collar of his ancient shirt came away in the man’s hand. Bob was free, and running for his life. “Hi, stop thief! Hi!” Tom Phillips stepped back and pressed a button on his doorpost. Instantly a huge bell somewhere over the door began to clang at a tremendous speed. Ting-ling-ling-ling! It could have been heard half a mile away. It was some kind of general alarm. Bob paused in horror as it was taken up by half-a-dozen other bells down the road, and automatic lights were switched on in all the darker corners of the village. People rushed to their doors, all in those standardized one-piece suits. They looked at each other and demanded what was wrong. Tom Phillips pointed up beyond the garden where Bob had vanished in the darkness. “A thief! A savage-looking young brute who stole my supper. He went that way.” Bob stood at the foot of the giant pylon, shaking visibly. What had he stirred up by coming back here from the past century? There was a loud wailing noise, and an amazing looking car laden with police arrived as though from nowhere. He could recognise them as police, although even they had one-piece uniforms, and zip fasteners instead of buttons. His legs refused to work. He could not run, but as the police raced through the garden to begin the chase he reached up for the girder nearest the ground and began to climb the pylon. Up and up he went, until he was fifty feet from the ground. Luckily there were tall trees to the rear, and his movement was not seen against that dark background. He reached some cross-girders and straddled them. He was panting, yet at the same time he felt triumphant. He had dodged them. They were shining portable searchlights all over the countryside, and more police had arrived, yet nobody had thought of the pylon. “Anyone would think they’d never had a crime in a hundred years!” he muttered. “If they only knew it they’ve got a first class robbery coming off at those works tonight. I suppose I ought to tell ‘em.” He was in a stew. He was the only one outside the gang of thieves themselves who knew what was going to happen at the nitrogen works. It was his duty to tell the police, yet at the same time he dared not reveal himself with that charge of stealing food hanging over his head. He had no friends, and nobody would back up his word.
Phillips would only have to deny the whole affair, and the Boy Who Had Slept 100 Years would be accused of romancing. A gigantic aeroplane of some kind came flashing past, and he ducked his head. It seemed to him it was only a few yards from the pylon where he clung, and through the windows of the cabin he could see rows of passengers reading papers. They all wore suits of the same cut and shape. No longer did he need convincing. It was the year 3034, and nobody would believe he had been in that cave in the hills for a century. Evidently nobody had ever peered into the back of the cave for all these years, or he would have been discovered. Perhaps the place had a bad name. He felt fairly certain that the explanation of his strange adventure was that a gas seeped into the cave from underground, a gas which had the property of suspending animation. In some weird way he had slept like a squirrel does in the wintertime, and a whole century had rolled by! The hue and cry died down. The police took full particulars from Phillips, and Bob heard himself described as a young savage in rags with some kind of skin wrapped round him. From that description he might have been a South Sea Islander. “You dirty hypocrite!” he muttered in the direction of the chief machinist. “Putting the cops on to hound me down, and all the time you’re a crook yourself. I’d like to see you get your right deserts.” At last he ventured down, and as he reached the bottom a thought struck him. Why should not Phillips get his deserts? What was to prevent Bob going up to the factory and telling Frank Holmes and his father what he had heard at the cottage/ After all, he had met Frank, and the boy might persuade his father to believe his story. No harm would be done, and out of gratitude they might give him a feed. A feed was what Bob needed more than anything else at the moment. Those two sausages had not gone very far. The automatic light signals had gone off again, and he kept to the dark spots, trying in vain to recognise any of the old landmarks. The church was about the only thing which had not changed. He waited nearly half an hour before he ventured to cross the main road, and then he headed up the hill in the direction he had seen Frank Holmes taking. He was going to warn them about the intended robbery.
The factory was made of some glassy substance which shone brilliantly in the floodlighting. In the grounds behind it was a weirdly modern looking house with huge windows that revealed every detail of the interior. Evidently the people of the year 3034 did not believe in shutting themselves away from their neighbours. Bob guessed the manager of the works would live there. He crawled up until he could see through one of the windows. The family was at supper, and they had nearly finished. Frank was being packed off to bed. Bob saw him say good-night to his father, then go out of the room and disappear from Bob’s sight. The Boy Who Had Slept 100 Years was wily. He stepped back and watched the upstairs rooms until he saw a light come on in one. He guessed at once that was where Frank Holmes slept. He marked it well, and began to seek a way up. Modern building styles did not give a cat burglar much chance, but Bob was nimble. He climbed a nearby tree and jumped to a narrow ledge. From there he was able to get above the porch, and thence he swung on to a window sill of the lighted room. Hanging there, he peered cautiously through the open gap at the bottom. Frank was just starting to undress. The boy from 1934 wriggled into a more comfortable position on the sill. “Sss-ss-sssssss!” he hissed. Frank looked round in a startled manner, staring straight at the window. Perhaps he saw a shadow. He grabbed the boot he had just discarded. “Who’s that?” “It’s me,” panted Bob. “It’s the chap you met down the road just now. I’ve got important news for you. Let me in.”
BOB’S FIRST FLIGHT
Three minutes later he stood on the rubber flooring of the bedroom, and Frank Holmes was looking him over in amazement. “You haven’t half got a nerve!” he growled. “Scaring a chap like that this time of the evening. If my father knew you were here—” “He must know!” declared Bob. “He’s got to know. I’ve just heard that the factory is going to be robbed tonight, and your head machinist is helping the crooks.” “What!” Frank looked thunderstruck, then still without his boots, he grabbed Bob and rushed him towards the staircase. “Dad’s down here. You must see him at once.” There were so many startling new things in this fine house that Bob’s head was in a whirl by the time he had reached the dining room, where Mr Holmes was lingering over some coffee. He started to his feet in amazement. Frank wasted no time. As rapidly as possible he told his story, and the faces of his listeners were a picture to watch. Incredulity, rage, fear, all showed in turn. Mr Holmes seized Bob by the arm. “Boy, you’ve done us a good turn! I would have trusted Phillips with anything at any time. It just shows how one can misjudge. There’s over £10,000 in the safe tonight, and he knows it. The scoundrel! What time did you say they were arriving?” “At 21.30, sir,” said the boy from 1934, pleased that he had already grasped the new time system. In this new world time was reckoned over the full 24 hours instead of two periods of 12 hours. In this way had become 21.30. Mr Holmes glanced at his watch. “It’s only two minutes from that now. I’ve got an automatic, and you boys will have to help me. We ought to get over to the office and hide ourselves as soon as possible. We’ll nab the whole bunch of them. Phillips must not see us arrive. Mr Holmes got his gun, an extraordinary looking automatic so far as Bob was concerned, nothing like he remembered seeing before. The manager saw him glancing at it. “Shoots concentrated ammonia pellets and knocks men unconscious. Follow me. I’ll use the private way from the house.” They reached the passageway by which the crooks were supposed to get in, and Frank pointed to the door, which was ajar. “Bob’s right so far,” he hissed. They made for the office, and Mr Holmes wanted all three of them to stow away inside. Bob objected. “If you don’t mind, sir, I’ll hide in this cupboard opposite the door. No good putting all your eggs in one basket.”
Holmes frowned, but agreed. Father and son disappeared into the office, and after picking up a short iron bar which stood propped against the wall, Bob stowed himself away in the cupboard, leaving the door partly open. He had not very long to wait before he saw figures pause before the office door. There were four of them all wearing masks. Mr Holmes had locked the door after him, but one of the four with an instrument made short work of that. They stepped inside. Bob clutched his iron bar more firmly, noticing that one of the four remained behind the rest. Evidently he was going to keep watch on the passage whilst the others forced the safe. But the next moment there was a yell, the crack of a revolver, and a tangle of figures fell out through the doorway. One of the crooks had gone down, but two others had grabbed Mr Holmes before he could shoot again. Frank had been staggered with a blow on the chin. It would have gone hard with the defenders if Bob had not been apart from them. Nobody noticed him. He stepped out and slogged at the first man who came within reach. Biff! The crook went down in a heap, and Mr Holmes tore one arm free. Biff! Bob was enjoying himself. He had brought the bar down across the leg of a man who was aiming a brutal kick at Frank. There was a snapping sound as the bone broke and he let out a howl of agony. The only unhurt member of the party turned and ran for the swing door which led to the workshop. He was going to warn Phillips, who would not have heard the din above the noise of the machinery. “Good work, Bob!” panted Mr Holmes. “Bu we mustn’t let Phillips get away. Come on, you boys!” He darted through the swing doors in pursuit, and they were in time to see Phillips dropping his tools and pointing the way to another door. “That’s the compressing room,” roared Holmes. “They can get through there into the grounds.” He put on a spurt, but Bob got to the other door as quickly as he did. Frank was a yard or two behind. Someone was in the way of the door as they burst through, and swung round with a vicious snarl. It was quiet in there after the noise of the machine room. The man was Phillips. His eyes were blazing with hatred and fear. “The door at the other end is locked against us,” he roared. “Let us come out that way or—” Mr Holmes did not wait to hear what the traitor threatened. He took deliberate aim at Phillips and fired. But quick as he was, the machinist was equally as swift. He had been standing beside a big tank from which there came a faint hissing sound. It was a compressor of some kind, and air was being used in it at terrific pressure. With a violent jerk the machinist swung over a handle. The bullet had hit him in the leg, but his mouth twitched in a snarl of triumph. “You won’t lock me up!” he roared. Bob had stopped; his eyes saw Mr Holmes face pale.
Something was wrong. The manager turned to shout some warning, but before the words left his mouth there was a terrific explosion. The compressor tank had burst. The roof seemed to lift over their heads, the air was filled with pieces of flying steel, and the boy from 1934 found himself hurled through the swing doors back into the machine room. Undoubtedly that saved him. There he lay for several minutes, listening to the crash of falling debris. At last he proved to his own satisfaction that he was only bruised, and managed to stagger to his feet. “The dirty rotter did that on purpose!” he gasped. “He blew himself up—Frank! Mr Holmes!” No sound came from the inner room, and when he forced the door open he saw the reason why. The two who had been with him lay side by side. Mr Holmes must have been killed instantly, for there was a huge mass of steel across his body. The machinist and his crook companion had also got the full blast of the explosion, and were dead, but Frank Holmes still breathed. There was a jagged scratch across his forehead, but that was all. He had been knocked out. Bob dragged the youngster into the machine room, and then through the doorway into the grounds. He had a feeling fresh air was what Frank Holmes needed. “Frank!” he muttered. “Frank!” Half the village seemed to be streaking up the hill towards the spot. The explosion had roused the countryside. Bob stood up. He saw uniforms amongst the crowd, and as they came within range of the overhead arc-lights he heard someone shout: “There he is! There’s the young savage we were hunting just now. He caused the explosion. He’s been up to his tricks. Grab him!” It was quite five seconds before Bob Gable realised they were referring to him. They were after him again. They were not going to give him time to explain. Their attitude was so ugly when they saw the wrecked building that he was scared. The crowd looked as though it might lynch him before he could tell them his story. He turned and doubled round the undamaged end of the factory, leapt a wire fence, and streaked for the open. They were after him like a pack of hungry wolves. Maybe when Frank recovered he would tell the true story, and then Bob could come back without fearing arrest. He climbed steadily at a jog-trot, very satisfied with the progress he was making, but as he neared the top he heard the low phut-phut-phut of an engine of some kind. It seemed right on his heels. Utterly bewildered, he stopped and turned. Speeding towards him at a good thirty miles an hour was a small whippet-tank. It was red in colour, and the heads of three policemen showed through the top. It made nothing of the rough going, and was moving at least three times as fast as the fugitive. Bob gave a gasp. What chance had a runaway against these modern pursuers?
He turned, and a blazing searchlight threw his shadow before him against the hillside. He panted as he strained every nerve to retain his lead, then heard the unmistakable explosion of a gun. Bob closed his eyes and winced in expectation of the bullet which he imagined had been fired at him. But no bullet came. There was a movement in the air over his head, and a strong cord net with cunning wide stiffening-pieces dropped as though from nowhere right over him. It was this which had been shot from the police tank. It was another of the contrivances used by the officers of the law in 2034. Bob found himself dragged over inside the net as the whippet-tank rushed alongside him. Madly he hit out to throw aside the clinging object, but his arms only went through the mesh. He was trapped, like any wild beast might have been by the hunters. The three police were already leaping from their strange vehicle and plunging towards him.
The Boy Who Slept 100 Years 25 episodes appeared in The Skipper issues 182 - 206 (1934)
© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd
Vic Whittle 2007