Johan And The Secret Caves
"AAAUUUKK!” A pterodactyl flies over my house. The bright reflection from its orange wings almost blinds me. This happens every morning at seven o’clock. It wakes me, just like an alarm clock...A VERY ANNOYING ALARM CLOCK.
This time it’s a blood curdling “AAAUUUKK.” Definitely, a louder more frantic noise than its normal, gravelly voice. Something is wrong, and I’m going to find out what.
I jump out of bed. My wake up shower can wait. Today, I am on a mission and there’s no time for proper hygiene. I grab my tan cargo shorts and shirt from the pile of clothes in the corner of my room. Sniffing the blue tee shirt, I decide to toss it into the laundry basket and take a clean white one from my dresser. My shorts are only slightly wrinkled so, I dress quickly and run downstairs to the kitchen.
I grab my backpack; fill it with a juice box, a refillable container of water, my usual peanut butter and cracker treat, and Grandmama’s homemade sjokolade chip cookies (that’s chocolate in Norwegian.)
I add the penknife Papa gave me when I turned 10. I carry the knife with me all the time. (Papa died last year in an explosion at his lab. I miss him very much. He loved great adventures, too.)
Next, a flashlight, a rope, and some duct tape are added to my pack. I put my cellphone into my front pants pocket and I head out the door. I am ready to explore.
My name is Johan Kristensen. I am 11 years old, soon to be 12. I live on Kortdagbyen Island with my mama, two sisters, my grandparents, two uncles, and a large community of amazing people. I’m on summer break from school, and most of the time I explore the island with my friends Christian, Mikky, and Anna. Today, I am in a hurry to solve a mystery.
Kortdagbyen Island is full of unusual discoveries, like pterodactyls that died out thousands of years ago except on our island. Our scientists have been studying this phenomenon for years. A new discovery is found on the island all the time.
It is an island very far north above the Arctic Circle. It is 840.078 kilometers (522 miles) north of Nordkapp, Norway.
Nordkapp is at the very top of the Norwegian mainland and the northern most part of Europe. You might think our island is covered in ice since it is close to the North Pole, but it’s not. Magma vents around the island keep us warm.
Magma vents are holes, about a meter around (36 inches wide), that encircle the island. Each hole goes straight down through the water to the center of the earth. Inside is magma, a hot liquid rock, its incredible heat rises up through the holes. It mixes with the icy cold sea, warming the water and air around Kortdagbyen Island to a temperature of about 25.5°C or 78°F. For two centuries, the warm temperatures made it the perfect vacation spot for the Vikings.
But today, there aren’t any Vikings…just me on another adventure. As I head to my bike, I stop short and run back into the house. I forgot to leave Mama a note.
Since Papa died, Mama is like a prison warden always asking, “Where are you going?…When will you be back?…Who are you going with?” Of course, she was worried before Papa died, but now it’s more intense.
If Mama’s not on my back, then Nina, my oldest sister, is hounding me when she comes home from college. She’s worse than Mama, if that’s possible.
This summer my sisters, Nina and Kristen, are taking summer courses in London, England. They’re super smart and have won many awards in math and science. After three months in London, they are home for a few weeks, and then back to college in Oslo—the capital of Norway. Mama really misses them. I’m glad they are away because I get a break from their bossiness.
Grandmama says, “All birds must fly.” I don’t think penguins do, but Grandpapa says it’s just an expression.
Running for the door, I stop to call Christian and Anna. He’s my very best friend in the whole world. He loves a good mystery, and we always go on adventures together. Christian and I have been friends for a long, long time.
When we were little, we went to the daycare center at the Royal Academy Science Center. Our mama’s both work there, as botanists.
The science center is where our scientists research the plants and minerals of the island. We have lots of researchers living on the island. My papa, Dr. Paal Lars Kristensen, worked there as a Geographical Engineer, too. He researched the properties of our rocks and minerals. Anyway, that’s how Christian and I met.
Christian’s a great friend. He’s a little taller than I am and he whistles all the time. He says tunes get stuck in his head and he has to let them out somehow. He’s good at school and chess, but he’s not a very fast runner.
Christian picks up the phone on the second ring. I tell him about the sick pterodactyl and my plans. He is really excited to go pterodactyl investigating with me. His mama tells him to bring his little brother, Mikky. She has a botany research paper to review and Mikky will just get in the way. Christian says to meet at the cave on the north side of the preserve in half an hour. First, he and Mikky must pack their lunches.
Mikky is his nickname, but his real name is Mikkel after his grandpapa. He’s OK. He listens to me when he ignores Christian. I just have my two older sisters, and it’s fun having a little brother to show stuff to. Mikky is shorter than most 10 year olds. He has something called Down Syndrome. Papa said that means he has an extra chromosome. Papa also said, “It means he has a double dose of cuteness.”
Christian says Down Syndrome just makes Mikky mispronounce words, and it takes him longer to learn things than other kids. I’m like that in math.
On my way to Christian’s, I stop at my grandmama’s house. She will be interested in hearing about the pterodactyl’s cry. I pull into her yard, but her bike is missing. I park my bike in the rack by the porch and go into the house. She isn’t home. She must have gone to the store or to a meeting. She doesn’t go to work until tomorrow, but her door is unlocked. We don’t lock doors on Kortdagbyen Island.
Everyone is from one of the original settler families, except for a few who married into one. So, we trust each other. Kortdagbyen Island is a super place to live. We have lots of friends to go on adventures with, but it’s a secret place. And we must keep it that way. No one outside of the island can know of our existence. It must be kept hidden to protect the unusual plants, animals, and minerals.
I sit on the top step and look out into the field. I am thinking about all the stories Grandpapa and Papa told me about Kortdagbyen Island’s history.
The Vikings died out by the end of the 11th century. Early stories talk about huge icebergs in rough seas; several mention huge sea creatures north of Norway. I guess that’s why people just stopped coming here for vacations. By the 19th century, nothing about Kortdagbyen Island was mentioned in any records. That made it easy to keep the area a secret, but then many changes were coming to Norway.
On May 17, 1814, the Constitution of the Kingdom of Norway was signed. It established the rights and rules for an independent Norway. It’s the second oldest constitution in the world. Awesome, right?
America has the oldest.
Anyway, Papa told me that after that a group of early Kortdagbyen settlers with the help of King Oscar II established a secret committee to protect Kortdagbyen Island, “The Komiteen for Beskyttelse av Hemmelig Statlig Ansvar,” (the Committee for the Protection of Secret Government Responsibilities). We call it the Komiteen.
They wrote another document, the Hemmelig Bestemmeiser Article #731. It established advisors, picked by the king, to remove, or erase all records of the island both past and present from all government records. It chose a leader called an Ombudsman Spesille Statlige Anliggender to oversee the protection of the island and the waters around it. (My grandpapa holds that title today.)
The article states that all future monarchs of Norway would personally oversee Kortdagbyen Island’s protection. At times, it has been a hard job for them.
Safeguarding the knowledge and natural resources of the island was strictly enforced by the Komiteen. The next king–King Haakon VII of Norway understood how valuable our secrets might be.
At the end of World War I, a special secret research facility on Kortdagbyen Island was set up. Some of the finest scientific minds of Norway were instructed to make the island invisible.
Paal Simon Rylandsholm, my great-great-grandpapa, was chosen to be the head engineer for the project. He recognized the unusual properties of the minerals in the rocks around the rim of the island, and decided they would be useful in developing a sort of invisible shield.
He put together a team of engineers, physicists and other people with unusual skills. Christian’s great-great-grandpapa, Mikkel Erik Knutson was a physicist on the project. I guess we were meant to be friends since our families knew each other for such a long time.
The team and their families lived on the island and made it their home. They built a one—way, see through, invisible, energy-based dome. It’s about six hundred miles wide, covering the whole island and about fifty miles out to sea. It was set up to open and close on the 15th day of each month. People and supplies came and went from the island on that day.
My great-great-grandpapa and his team were able to finish it just before World War II began. He named it Simonhatten after his oldest son, Simon. Constructing it, before computers were invented, was an amazing feat. But it was still a secret and they couldn’t tell anybody what they had done, especially with two wars in Europe.
During both wars, Norway was neutral, but in the beginning of the Second World War, the Nazis (an evil group of people ruling Germany) invaded Norway and occupied it for five years. Norwegians were forced to live by Nazi rules. It was a dark time in Norwegian history.
Throughout that period, Kortdagbyen Island was at risk of being discovered. Hitler, the leader of the Nazis, had heard of a magical island north of Norway. He ordered his men to find it. They made several trips looking for it. They even set up search camps in Kirkenes, Norway, a town bordering the Norwegian Sea.
If the Nazis had found it, they could have used our minerals to make powerful weapons and win the war. Then the Nazis would rule the world. We might all be like slaves….Scary, right?
Norway continues to be one of the most peaceful countries on earth. We work hard to bring peace to many places in the world. We have good relationships with lots of countries and their leaders.
Today, Norway has an agreement with many of the world leaders. On the 15th of each month, the world’s satellites must face away from the Arctic Circle. When the area around Kortdagbyen Island is out of view, no satellite pictures are taken. No one can see us.
The Simonhatten automatically opens for supplies, equipment, and people to come and go from the island for twelve hours. Then Simonhatten automatically closes. The men and women who pilot the boats are from the island, so we feel safe. We have many other secretive, security measures to keep out strangers. So, Kortdagbyen Island remains secret and safe.
And that’s why I am free to go on adventures and help pterodactyls.
Before leaving home, I had picked a bunch of forget-me-nots from Mama’s garden. They’re a small blue flower with yellow dotted centers. Grandmama loves them. We picked them when I was a little kid and she made me promise “…never get too old to pick flowers for your grandmama.” I race to Grandmama’s and put them on her table…she’ll know I left it.
Well, I‘m wasting time. I’ve got to get going. Christian and Mikky are waiting. I get back on my bike and race to Christian’s. They will meet me at a cave about a hundred feet from his house. The cave is incredible. It has a big opening and looks like a room carved out of one large rock.
Christian thinks it would make the perfect bedroom and it’s close to his house. He asked his Mama several times if he could just move into it. She won’t have to see his messy room. And most importantly, Mikky will stay out of his belongs.
Each time he asks, his mama says, “No!” But she never gives him a reason, just a glare. Christian is going to wait until his papa comes home.
His papa is an Environmental Zoologist; he’s taking a group of scientists on an expedition. They are traveling to the southern part of the island’s jungle to look at a new species. It’s for a whole month, and he’s already been gone two weeks. Christian is sure he will let him move his things into the cave. Men understand this kind of stuff.
As I get closer to the cave, I see that everyone is right on-time. Christian is wearing his usual pair of brown shorts cut from old school pants. He’s a conservationist.
He recycles everything. Wherever we go, he collects trash in a pouch attached to his belt. Even, his bike is recycled. His papa built it from old parts; the frame is from three different bikes. It’s painted in a bright blue with red and white trim, like the Norwegian flag. He took an old kitchen chair seat with a soft back covered in red vinyl for the seat.
Its knobby wheels from an old garden cart are wide for our rough roads. He painted yellow lightning bolts on the chain covers. It makes it look like it’s going really fast. The basket was recycled from an old melk (milk) crate. It’s crazy good!
He had a really loud horn from an old boat, but his mother made him take it off. It scared the birds and some people. On national holidays, we are allowed to put cards on our wheel spokes and ride around. They make a cool puttering sound like a motor. Well, I’m almost there.
Oh, there’s Mikky, he’s running around in circles. When he sees me, he stops dead in his tracks. Christian just shrugs his shoulders. They put their backpacks in the bike baskets, and we head out on our adventure.
Soon, we will pass the Holsum house. My friend, Anna lives there. She’s always up for an adventure, too. Anna’s super smart, and she lets everyone know it, but I always pick her for my team in school projects. She’s just one of the guys and she can kick a føtbal (soccer) farther than any boy in fifth grade.
Since her mama is a biologist, the daughter of a biologist may come in handy when we find the pterodactyls nest.
Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you that part. We are going to check out the pterodactyls’ nesting ground.