Wednesday, 1 April 2009

When They Arrived - Short Story

Finding this story which is the last chronologically I realised that I have entirely lost another story which I wrote in 2005. It is ironic that I have stories going back over 20 years but two which have been produced in the last 5-6 years have gone. I blame this on moving between three computers and having one of them totally reconstructed recently. I might have been able to find this missing two stories just a couple of months ago, but now I fear they have gone for good.

Anyway, I do not know why I wrote this story. It may have come from re-watching 'The Men in Black' movies, but then if it did I feel guilty for putting that slant on what are serious aspects of contemporary politics and conflicts. I think I might have been envisaging some kind of analogy around the concept of 'alien invasion' not overly dissimilar to writers from outside Europe writing of voyages of discovery to modern-day Britain to remind many people that actually when the 'voyages of discovery' arrived in places in the 18th and 19th century, that those locations were of course already known by the local population who had no need of being discovered. On that basis this story looks at the concept of 'alien invasion' and 'alien induction' especially focusing on the US contribution given how much Americans talk about these things but do not reflect on whether they are sometimes the cause of them.

When They Arrived

I suppose we should have not been all that surprised that it was our village they picked. You always hear that they tend to go for remote areas and I guess that makes sense; you couldn’t land one of those things in the middle of a city.

I awoke to the sound of a child in one of the other houses screaming. Somehow it must have sensed what was coming before us adults truly heard it. In moments, though, its wail was blotted out by the sound of the engines and the so-very bright lights running up and down the streets as it came in to land.

On reflection, I guess the best thing would have been to run away or at least stay put in our house, but I imagine, when it comes to it, that’s not the behaviour of most humans. We have to be up and looking at whatever is occurring as closely as we possibly can. We are like the proverbial moths.  As I pulled a jacket on and slipped into my shoes, I remember thinking how apt that analogy was, given the piercing white lights that seemed to be filling the sky over the village. Outside, it was the wind which was more intrusive: denting the crops, sending flurries of dust and debris off in all directions.

My wife and my two sons were close behind me and we gathered, with many of our neighbours, at the edge of the village to see the large craft, vehicle, I don’t know what you would properly call it, anyway, it was coming down in the fields nearest the houses. It was an ugly thing, appearing, as it landed with a bump, like a huge distended caterpillar. Then they were scrabbling out from it, heading in what seemed to be random directions, but now I realise they were just trying to encircle the village before anyone could escape. The running figures were enough to send a few of the crowd scurrying back to their houses but most of us stayed where we were, as if truly entranced by what was happening. There was that crazy man, Adnan, who started, as he does to any given excuse, bellowing about how we need to arm ourselves. He rushed off perhaps to get one of his guns, though I doubted, even then, that they would have had much effect given they were probably half full of grit from wherever he kept them hidden.

Then they were amongst the houses, seeming so alien but resembling us all the same. We could make out some differences between individuals and they were each designated by that backwards writing they use.  Yet, for the moment the main impressions were that there were all tall and so very noisy, babbling away in terse, hard voices. The lead ones had faces concealed behind strange apparatus that gave them a cycloptic eye. The ones that followed looked more like us, but their faces were streaked with various dark shades like some tribal colours. They seemed to have no other volume bar loud and they appeared to equate noise with comprehension: the louder they were, the more they thought we would understand.

Those of us still at the village edge, held there by a strong mix of curiosity, fear and simple uncertainty as to what to do, now hugged the walls of the nearest houses, feeling that the less of an obstacle we made to the newcomers, the least each of us would suffer. Gradually the craft began to quieten as if they had killed the engines. I guess the fact that we had put up no hostile response, well little response at all except curiosity, meant they felt safe enough to bring it to a full halt. Though it was now quieter the village was still filled with noise and I looked back apprehensively as I realised they were going house-to-house. The cluster of us still at the end of the street had been surrounded by four or five of them. Though they stood there passively, almost bored even, the bulky squat guns clutched idly in their hands suggested what kind of reaction we would get if we tried to flee.

Then, of course, the old woman from two doors away started shrieking at them. She went up to the closest one, hammering him, I guess it was a him, they’re all pretty androgynous, anyway, she started pounding him on his chest and bellowing something about her sons. I doubt it did him any harm; they are heavily protected across that part of their bodies with armour, all in that mottled pattern they favour. The woman’s words were pretty much incomprehensible to me and I doubted the newcomers could make out anything from what she said. Fortunately they were confident enough in their strength not to see her as a threat and it was her daughter-in-law who finally made her way through to take her and pull her to the back of our group, out of the way; soothing her with soft words.

Now I began wondering what it was that they were looking for. They were not stopping in each house long enough to be looting, so I guessed it was a person, and someone specific, otherwise why not simply take the old woman? This was followed by another thought, one that made me grateful for having no daughters: maybe they were looking for only those of us suitable for breeding; perhaps this was not an invasion, simply some kind of pleasure jaunt. I pulled my wife close to me, making sure her headscarf was pulled tight to her hair and pressing her down with a heavy arm across her shoulders so she looked older than she is.

Looking back, I guess I should have been more afraid. After everything I know has gone on in recent decades, all the stories you are told, I probably should have expected to be shot dead right there by a high-tech weapon. I suppose it was that I was still half-asleep or maybe it was that the whole thing was so peculiar, so unlike anything that goes on in this village in an average week or even a pretty odd week: heavily-armed visitors dropping out of the sky for a raid.  How often do you see that?

Then it became clear that they had found what they were looking for. Of course, it was Adnan. They had him lifted off the ground, his hands bound behind him, his legs flailing and him shouting and screaming as if he was a bizarre kind of poultry being taken to be slaughtered. I knew it right then to be the truth that we would never see him again. Moments later I began to perceive him like some kind of tribute that we had to pay. Then I was grateful that it was no-one from our family or none of our friends. Since that night, however, I have worried whether next time they come back it will be for someone I do care about, and anyway, I know the village has lost something since Adnan was taken. He might have been a pain, but he was ours. In the quiet moments, I do cringe when I think about where he might be and what they are doing to him, you do hear such alarming things.

Whilst they were loading him aboard, still shouting and struggling, one of them came up to us. He took off his helmet and revealed a hairless, red-skinned head and face below, not that different from ours. He started explaining something about what was happening and why they wanted Adnan. He knew our language but had the strangest accent and got some words wrong. I guess it was not too bad given how far he had to have come. Then he seemed to think that what he said was enough, strapped his helmet back on and turned to leave. In a couple of minutes they were all streaming back like ants and then the engines were going again and it was all wind and dust and noise as it lifted off.

To be honest, we all stood around after that, half-deafened, dazed and certainly bewildered by what had happened. Then I saw my eldest coming back. With the concerns over my wife, I’d not seen him sneak off, but you can be sure I was glad he was returning unharmed. It was clear he had been playing the warrior, with a couple of his friends, seeing who could get closest to the intruders. I’m sure that I’d have done the same at their age, but you can be assured that I cursed him as strongly as my father would have done me. The funny thing is that he says that he got near enough to hear that they were playing that Bryan Adams track, you know, the one that the kids always had on their cassette player a couple of summers back. I suppose these days there are quite a few things that are common to everyone, no matter where they come from, though I doubt that wherever Bryan lives they fly down to pick up people in the middle of the night or perhaps they do, you tell me.

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