May 7, 2012 — 420 words
By Greg X. Graves
I would make a terrible journalist.
Did you know that they're not allowed to lie? And if they lie, then there are consequences? Every time a journalist lies the moustache of a robber baron grows three inches and becomes three degrees curlier. A scummy crime boss grows another layer of grim. A corrupt politician crashes the first six miles of his Bentley into an orphanage and has time to finish his single-malt scotch before climbing into his auxiliary Cadillac and jettisoning before the passenger compartment comes within view of the wreckage.
The thought of responsibility makes me sweat. That's why I spend my writing time making up stuff.
Fact about me: facts don't work on me. I zone out and have flashbacks to my past life as a history student. Did you know that Caesar Augustus was not the final Roman Emperor to ride a Tyrannosaurus Rex into battle? That the Sack of Rome is not a lewd reference to Mark Antony? That everything that I know about the ancient world could be inscribed on a grain of rice with an extra-fat Sharpie?
Don't put the cap back on the marker. Take a few deep breaths, then open up Tacitus. You'll get an idea of how I understand history.
But sometimes I have to struggle with facts (ew), just like I have to struggle with transitions. Both hurdles have come up very recently.
I’ve been writing an alternate history novel for the past nine months. And it turns out that for it to be "alternate history" and not "mindfluff" then I have to put some actual history into it. World War I. Wireless telegraphy. Electrification, urban and rural. Tesla. The Curies. Nuclear weapons.
One of these things is totally like the other and you'd believe me if it wasn't for stupid facts.
History, granted, is not fact: history is by its very nature an interpretive act. Historians must choose what stories to tell and what stories go untold. They piece together stories and data into patterns that make or break a thesis. Historians combine fact with passion, intramural drama and incredible myopia to interpret the past.
These qualities are vital to wrest any sort of tangible, worthwhile product out of the howling mysteries of the past.
Wait. These qualities also make for great plots. Passion? Intramural drama? Myopia?
Maybe my next book should be about historians instead of history. Maybe I could ignore some of these facts.
Whoops. I said the f-word again. I have to go lie down.
May 5, 2012 — 374 words
By Terra Whiteman
When we first write something--a book, a short story, an article, whatever--we love it. We think it's the absolute best thing we've ever written. We sit there beaming at those clusters of words strewn into sentences strewn into paragraphs (sometimes) strewn into pages and think: "Yeah, it doesn't get any better than this."
Unfortunately, it does. And yes, I mean unfortunately.
Because like every other aspect in our lives, writing evolves.
The fourth book in a series I've been working on for over three years now has just been released, the fifth and last one due out this summer. Recently I picked up the first book and glanced over it.
... And then I cringed.
I skimmed through the draft of the final book that has yet to be released, and realized the writing is different. It's been nearly two years since I'd revised that first book, and back then I thought it was so completely filled with awesome that no one could have told me otherwise. Now I think it's utter crap. In fact, I'm currently in the process of producing an entirely rewritten second edition after begging 1889 Labs to let me go ahead with it.
But in a sense, it's a futile battle; I'm sure in another four years from now I'll look back on the rewritten edition and think it's crap as well. It seems like an endless process, and then I wonder if there is ever a point at which we achieve our apex of 'perfect' writing. Do we ever reach our maximum ability? Or perhaps we're not really getting 'better', but instead just writing differently?
Even with these dizzying thoughts, a rewrite would at least make the series more consistent, rather than having it seem as though two different authors had written it. Lately I've become so obsessed with trying to improve that I spend more time analyzing each sentence than focusing on the story. My husband finally told me that it'll never be perfect, and to just put it out and move on. It's what every author does, they move on. After this rewrite, so will I... albeit reluctantly.
I wonder how many other published authors look back on their earliest work and feel like burning it?
May 5, 2012 — 301 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Milly said, "I think that's everything, right guys?" She gave Haglyn and Overard pointed looks.
Haglyn raised her eyebrow in a "why-are-you-asking-me?" kind of way, but Overard caught on more quickly. "Right," he said, "no secrets here!"
"Hey," said Tic, "wait a minute. This is my ship. You can't just take over like this!"
The curator harrumphed. "Got a better solution? We're under attack! I need your ship, and you need my weaponry. If you had any real armaments, or even some specialized ammunition, I'd welcome you to have at it..."
Tic was about to retort, but another attack from the Liberati rocked the loading bay. "Urgh. Fine! But I'm taking copilot."
The curator acceded the claim, and Tic led him and a staffer—Jeffries, according to his name tag—into the cockpit. Jeffries took the pilot's seat and began acclimating himself to Pelly's controls. Another museum staffer bustled in and pulled Milly, Haglyn, and Overard off the ship into the loading bay.
As Pelly's sublight engine warmed up, Tic's hands started getting clammy. What was he doing!? He didn't rush into battles like some kind of hero...
The curator clapped him on the shoulder. "Let's get 'em, boys!" He held up a handset: "Got those turrets ready?" The staffers outside confirmed. The curator hit a button and the loading bay doors started opening.
"We're going to die, aren't we?" said Tic.
"Wouldn't be war if there wasn't a chance of dying!" grinned the curator.
Pelly, who had been quiet throughout the chaos and bustle, softly said, "Mr. Bolter, it has been an honour working with you." Then Jeffries hit the accelerator and they shot out into the open air.
Lasers instantly started to fly.
On the loading bay floor, Milly said, "Wait... Where's Dr. Fester?"
May 4, 2012 — 303 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
"We'd better let the curator in," said Milly. She and Overard hurried into the hold. Tic, still woozy, stumbled after them.
Overard hit the button and the door swished open to reveal the curator in mid-knock, along with half a dozen museum employees. They were all holding various intimidating weaponry.
The curator pushed his way into Pelly's hold. "Took you long enough... Now, what do we have here? Got that engine in yet?"
"Um," said Overard. "No, not yet."
"Gonna be a little while," chimed in Cogs, popping his head up from behind the Jitterdrive. "I'm doing what I can, sir."
"Prioritize the cloaking circuitry," barked the curator.
"Er..." said Cogs.
"Jenks, get in there and help him out."
One of the other museum staff dropped his blaster and hopped down with Cogs.
The curator looked at Overard. "What armaments does this old bucket have?"
"It's his ship, actually," said Overard. He pointed to Tic.
"Well?" said the curator.
Tic shook his head to clear away the cobwebs. "'Well' what? What's going on?"
"You tell me!" said the curator. "I dunno what these scum are after, but I'm guessing it has something to do with you folks. Y'all can explain later! Right now, we gotta fight. I'm commandeering your vessel. The Enemy hit our hangars, crippled us right off the hop. In three days we could construct half a fleet out of our spare parts, but there's no time. We've gotta do with what we've got, and right now, we've got your Galactic Pelican."
There was a pregnant pause.
"Huh?" said Tic.
"Pelly has vacuum generators," offered Haglyn.
"It's a start," mused the curator. "Jones, Jackson: wing-mount your turrets." Two staffers leapt into action. "Anything else I should know before we get this freighter in the air?"
May 3, 2012 — 879 words
By Letitia Coyne
Just lately people keep asking me the worst possible question. No, not questions about the motivating forces that apply to perambulating ducks, not ‘would you kill your child to save the world?’ not ‘do you want fries with that?’; worse.
What is your favourite book?
How does anyone ever answer that? At any given moment, it might be the book I am reading now or the one I wish I was reading. I do not have any exclusivity in genre preferences; I’ll read most things and enjoy many. There are too many variables that influence my choice.
There is the weather. Cold wet weather makes me want to read classics. If I can curl up in comfy chair with a hot Milo or Irish coffee, with a TimTam and a duvet, then I like to read old books and pretend it is a simpler time or the world is a different place. So I’d have to start with a list of classical Literature that I have enjoyed repeatedly. But to pick one?
Hot sunny weather is unlikely to bring on a reading binge, but if it did I would want something foreign. Living in Queensland all my life has never cured me of associating heat and humidity with pre-war Singapore, all white linen and broad-brimmed hats on ladies sipping G&Ts on rattan verandah chairs, or colonial African plains spreading out for ever with the threats of adventure, blood and riches. There are masses of those, too. Which one is best?
If, like me, you have had multitudes of sport-playing children to chauffer about on the weekends, you will know there is rarely time to watch any one of them compete. The schedule demands you drop one off with gear early, to get another to their venue just in time to head back across the endless suburbs to where another must be signed in, signed for, paid for, kitted out, fed, and photographed before the whole journey runs again backwards. Throughout that day you will have periods, however brief, where waiting in carparks reading is the only sane option. That book has to be light. That’s the time for chicklit or comedy or blissfully both! But not for Dostoyevsky. Or it's time for a great short story collection. Or even a comic. So – choose your favourite carpark book, I dare you to try.
Doctors’ waiting rooms. Yes, you’re groaning. It depends, doesn’t it? Do you want to flick through an eleven year old celebrity focused magazine with the crossword done in red biro and wrong? No. No one does, but they persevere because trying to choose a good doctors’ waiting room book is too hard. It’s fine if it is only a check up, or a non-life threatening complaint. But what if you can’t think straight because of the persistent burning? What if there is a lump or a discharge? What if it is a prenatal checkup and you are so excited you just cannot see the words?
Having a few different favourite books to take to the doctor is essential. I like books I can open at any page, and familiarity with them allows me to resume reading from any point. If there are really loud and fascinating social interactions going on around you, [as there often are at my doctor's surgery] you can relax knowing you won’t have to keep re reading a passage every time your attention is snagged away.
Can’t sleep and need to? Then something biographical. So many interesting people, fascinating people, who have had the day-to-day diarized for them just so you can read their tales as you try to nod off. Can’t sleep and don’t care? Then something really gripping; something to take your mind off lying on the bed as the time ticks by. A great thriller or adventure novel. Or truly beautiful poetry or poetic prose that lets your tired mind flow through washes and waves of thought and imagery.
I haven’t scratched the surface of times to read, and each one has a hundred books that would be the perfect choice for that moment in time. So for every hundred moments, there are a hundred wonderful books. For every emotional state or state of confusion or relaxation, there are another hundred that I might be thrilled to pick up over and over again.
I answered the question recently for Tonya Moore. I said, ‘Precious Bane’, ‘Wuthering Heights’, and ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ as a box set. On reading that, a friend said, “What? You didn’t even mention Douglas Adams?” No I didn’t. I wasn’t thinking of humour at that moment. I was thinking about loam and lovechildren. I didn’t mention Homer, or Terry Pratchett or PG Wodehouse either and every one of their books is a favourite. I might have alighted on ‘The Prophet’ or ‘Sacrament’ or ‘Titus Andronicus’.
I cannot choose. I cannot, ever, reliably choose my favourite book.
If you can, how? What is it and why is it so far above all the beauties of literature that it holds its place in every circumstance? How do you do it?
May 3, 2012 — 271 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Milly readied the Instawake syringe and looked back and forth between Tic and Dr. Fester. She made up her mind, lifted Tic's blanket, and jabbed the needle into his thigh.
"Yeeeeow!" Tic shot bolt upright and wrapped his head in his arms. "Uuuuuurgh... Where are my legs!? I can't find my legs!" He kicked his feet violently, knocking the blankets and the syringe onto the floor. "Oh, found them! Ow. Oooooh..."
"Are you okay?" said Milly.
"I think I need to puke..." Tic gagged, then swallowed. "False alarm. Hey: why is everything green and purple?"
Milly held up the packaging the Instawake had come in. Maybe she should've read the fine print.
"Oh," said Tic, "so this is what Instawake feels like. Crazy stuff. Why'd you use it on me?"
"We're under attack!"
"What? By who?"
"The Liberati!" Milly quickly explained the situation. "None of us are good enough pilots to get us out of here... We need you, Tic."
Tic rubbed his temples. "Great. Just great. Why me?"
"No time for that!" said Milly. "Come on!" She grabbed Tic by the sleeve and dragged him towards the cockpit.
Before they made it there, they heard a booming knock from the side door of the hold. "Open up, if you know what's good for you!" shouted a muffled voice.
Milly stopped. "Oh no! Did they break through into the loading bay already?"
Overard stuck his head out of the hold. "It's the curator!"
"The who?" said Tic.
"Oh, you're awake," said Overard. "The curator sold us the Jitterdrive. Should we let him in?"
May 2, 2012 — 294 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
The force of the explosions knocked Milly off her feet. Her ears rang and she felt like she'd been run over by a truck. Blood trickled down into her eyes. She wiped it away. The police officers were scattered across the floor in front of her. Through the smoke, she could see the two white ships hovering outside. There was no mistaking it now: the pilots were clearly Liberati.
Glancing around in panic, Milly saw a way to at least buy some time: on the wall to her left, only 15 or 20 strides away, was the control panel for the loading bay doors. If she could only make it there...
Milly carefully rose to her feet, picking up the bottle of Gortinawa seeds. They might come in handy now. Then she spun quickly to her left and dashed towards the control panel on shaking legs. Ten more steps, five, three...
The floor beneath her exploded into dust as the lasers sent her flying. She hit the wall with her shoulder and crumpled, but through the pain she heard the heavy whirring of the bay doors closing. The Liberati were shut outside. For now. She felt the bombardment immediately as they tried to force passage, but the doors held.
Making sure none of the seeds had spilled, Milly limped back to the Pelican.
Overard helped her inside. "What's going on?"
"It's them," groaned Milly, "from Crux. We have to get out of here!"
Overard swore. "But the Jitterdrive isn't ready yet!"
Haglyn whirred into the hold. "If Bolter was awake, he could fly us out of here!"
Milly rushed into the passenger cabin, where Tic and Dr. Fester were both unconscious. Rummaging through the drawers, she found a single dose of Instawake.
May 1, 2012 — 1,163 words
By Guest Author
by Emily Devenport
I've had three pen names during my writing career, so, "Why did you change pen names so often?" is a question I've been asked a lot. People may assume an author would do that because her first books weren't successful, and she wanted another shot with a new name. That's not a bad assumption, but I changed my pen names for only one reason: my publisher wanted me to. And not because they were trying to fool readers -- at least, not at first.
My first six books sold pretty well. When I changed my pen name from Emily Devenport to Maggy Thomas, my publisher was actually trying to fool the book store chains. The chains had an unfortunate policy of ordering only as many copies of a midlist writer’s new title as they'd recently ordered of the last book. I don't mean total sales. I mean the last order. So even if they sold 30 copies of your title at a particular location, if they ordered one or two copies in the last few months before the new title was released, they would order one or two copies of the new one. Not only did that give you no opportunity to grow your audience, it actually caused your sales figures to shrink.
Despite this, the name change was not a casual decision. I knew I had fans who wouldn't know where to find me anymore. But I got the impression that refusing to change my pen name could be a deal breaker. So I became Maggy Thomas. My 7th title, Broken Time, was published under that name. It was nominated for the Philip K. Dick award, and it got some fabulous reviews. But it wasn't a “lead” title – it was just another midlist mass-market paperback release for that year. The sales figures weren't the worst, but they weren't the best, either.
Fortunately, my editor still believed in me. So when it came time to sell the next proposal (for Belarus), she had a new strategy to sell me to her bosses. She told them I could gain more readers if my name was "gender obscure," meaning that it could be a man’s name or a woman’s. The theory was that it would attract male readers as well as female. That’s how I became Lee Hogan.
Yes, that time around they were trying to fool the readers.
That strategy worked fairly well, at first. But the economy started to tank the year the next book, Enemies, was released. And then the 9/11 tragedy happened, striking right at the heart of the publishing industry. That industry was already in trouble, and in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crash, 80% of writers who were signed with various publishing companies (including me) were let go.
Understand: this doesn't mean we got pink slips. It's never that straight-forward in the entertainment industry. What happens is that people just stop returning your calls. My agent was very honest with me about what was happening, and she is still willing to vet any contracts I may receive. I have no idea whether that will ever happen again, given the changes in the publishing industry and the rise in ebooks.
But I don't feel bad about it. I actually managed to get nine titles published with NAL/Roc, and I got my professional credentials. I was privileged to work with great editors. Still, I have to admit, having three pen names was a pain in the neck. I made fans with all three names, and trying to direct them to my new titles, Spirits Of Glory and The Night Shifters (now using my original pen name, Emily Devenport) has been a real challenge.
Trying to attract old fans is not the biggest challenge facing an indie ebook author. It's daunting to swim in that electronic ocean -- professional writers are lost among the multitude of newbies, many of whom are publishing books that should never see the light of day (or of a reader screen). Even experienced writers are sometimes too delusional to hire a professional editor (many of whom work freelance these days). But I would still rather take charge of my own career and plot my own course through the ebook publishing scene than do what some professionals have contemplated -- adopt a pen name to fool the publishers.
This has actually worked for one or two people. But it's a terrible idea. Publishers don't like being deceived. I understand why authors would consider doing it -- the stigma attached to self-publishing seems especially poisonous to writers whose books were published in New York by “The Big Six.” It's a stamp of validation that doesn't currently exist in the world of indie e-publishing. But trying to fool publishers with a new pen name is an act of desperation, and decisions based on desperation seldom turn out well.
There are other reasons why some writers might consider using pen names, even when they've been self-publishing. Lack of success under your original pen name might cause you to try to reboot your career with a new one. But some writers adopt multiple pen names so they can venture into new genres. This happened under the old publishing model too -- book stores tended to put an author's works all in one section, regardless of the genre. Publishers wanted to make sure that an author's children's books would go in the Children's section, and mystery books would go in Mystery. How necessary that is for ebooks and web sites remains to be seen.
So -- will I ever adopt a new pen name? I doubt it. If I did, I'd just have to build my audience all over again, quite a bit of work in this age of social networking and book blog reviews. I'll take my chances as Emily Devenport. Patience, perseverance, and good work are the best strategies I can recommend for anyone these days, regardless of what name they decide to put on their books.
Nine of Emily Devenport's novels were published by NAL/Roc before she started publishing ebooks. She wrote under three pen names and was published in the US, the UK, Italy, and Israel. Her novel, Broken Time, was nominated for the Philip K. Dick award. She has published three new ebooks: The Night Shifters, Spirits Of Glory, and Pale Lady.
May 1, 2012 — 287 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Milly stood paralyzed for a moment, unsure what to do.
"Your options, dear," Pelly prompted her, "are to have me launch and fly us away, or wait here and find out what kind of trouble you're in."
"Or," said Milly, "or... We could fight them?"
"Perhaps," said Pelly. "You're in charge, dear."
"Er," said Milly. She chewed her lip. "No, we shouldn't fight or run. This is all based on a misunderstanding. Let's stay here, and I'll explain everything."
"As you wish," said Pelly.
Milly jogged into the hold, where Mr. Cogs and Overard were banging around with the Jitterdrive, and grabbed the Gortinawa seeds out of storage.
"Hey, whoa," said Overard. "What are you doing?"
"The police are here," explained Milly. "I'm going to surrender these things and sort everything out."
"The cops? Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"No," said Milly, "but I'm going to do it anyways." She stepped down the ramp into the loading bay and watched the police ships pull in and land near the opening, blocking the exit. Several officers piled out, blasters drawn.
"Put the seeds down!" barked an officer with an especially shiny hat.
Milly slowly lowered the bottle of seeds to the floor. "I'm very sorry about all this," she said. "I can explain..." But she trailed off, her attention stolen away by the sight of two sleek white ships hovering in the air just outside. Inside the cockpit of the nearest one, the pilot was wearing white clothing and a black mask...
"Well?" said the officer with the shiny hat. "Go ahead: explain."
"I—" said Milly.
And then the lasers leapt out of the white ships' cannons, and the police ships exploded.
April 30, 2012 — 2,709 words
There weren’t many people about on the roads and although we had had a nice Christmas Eve visit with Charlie’s mum—my mother-in-law, it was getting late, blacker than a witches hat outside and the kids—Suzie and Jake, were not enjoying the enforced captivation of the seat belts and boredom of long-distance travelling.
“Muuuuum,” whined Suzie in a voice that could curdle milk at a hundred paces. “Jake keeps poking me.”
The one thing about a six year-old girl, is the range of vocal capabilities they have. It set my teeth on edge at the best of times and this time was no different. Charlie turned round to see Jake with the most angelic look on his face, studiously looking out of the side window.
“Leave your sister alone young man or Father Christmas will not be visiting you tonight.”
“But mum, I didn’t do anything,” he moaned, which was the most notable aspect of our eight year-old son—moaning. Nothing was ever good enough or was either too long, too short or too hard—usually the latter.
“That’s enough. Now I don’t want to hear another peep out of you two, is that clear?”
It wasn’t their fault, I know—and so did Charlie, but it was as much of a strain on us as it was on them. Their outlet of course was winding each other up or, as Jake had discovered, poking. We didn’t have that luxury and as the driver, I certainly didn’t.
About fifteen minutes on, we were flagged down—as were other drivers ahead, by a policeman, who informed us that the road ahead was blocked due to an accident and we needed to take a diversion. He pointed ahead to the off ramp.
“Blast!” I cursed. “It’s going to take hours now.”
“Oh well done, Bob. Just really make this a journey to remember, why don’t you.”
I didn’t need to look. I could feel Charlie’s pout from the driver’s seat and inwardly cursed myself for having opened my mouth—even though the accident and subsequent diversion wasn’t any of my doing.
“Where are we going?” asked Suzie.
“We have to take a detour, honey. There’s been an accident ahead.”
“Oooh! Can we see?” asked Jake.
“No you can’t. The policeman has told us to take this detour.”
“But I want to see the accident.”
Charlie shot them both a look that quietened them down immediately and taking a turning down a road which apparently would take us to the next town and hopefully another entry to the motorway beyond the accident, I relaxed.
We had been travelling down twisting, narrow, rural roads heading in what I thought was the right direction, but in truth, I didn’t know. Yes, we travelled along this route fairly regularly, but we rarely took detours and on the unlit roads where we currently found ourselves, with few if any road signs, where we would end up was anyone’s guess.
“Mum,” Suzie whined again. “I need to, um … go.”
“So do I,” Jake added.
“See if you can hang on for a few more minutes and hopefully, daddy will find a lay-by or a café or something.”
The chances of coming across a lay-by down these roads were pretty slim and finding a café was asking a far too much in my opinion. Ten minutes down the road and Suzie was starting to squeak and squirm. I pulled over in what turned out to be the entrance to a farmer’s field. It did get us off the road though.
“Where are we?” the kids asked.
“I honestly don’t know,” I replied. “But at least we can stretch our legs and you two can do whatever it is you need to do.”
“What, here?” asked Suzie aghast at the thought of having to take a leak behind a bush.
“There are no toilets here and I need to go, um, number two’s.”
“Shit!” I exclaimed. Okay, so that was a little more difficult.
“Yes, daddy. I need to shit, but mummy told us not to call it that.”
Talk about out of the mouths of babes and suckling’s. I stifled a laugh and Charlie gave me one of her looks. I shrugged.
‘Shit happens’, I thought grinning to myself.
There are worse things that can happen I suppose and it transpired that all of us need some relief and it actually became quite comical in the end, all of us wandering around in the pitch black, trying to see what we were doing and where. I think it was more by luck than judgement that we were able to get through our ‘doings’ without a major disaster.
That was until it arrived.
The kids had done their thing and were practicing their mud stomping, giggling away as their shoes made disgusting slurping noises as they were squished into the mud then drawn out again.
Even Charlie was relieved as she was another one who needed to do more than pee. I think the sounds the kids were making, covered her sounds and made her feel a little less self-conscious.
“Hey look,” Jake announced suddenly. “They’ve got a merry-go-round.”
That was the last we heard from them as we finished up and looked around for our offspring.
The ‘merry-go-round’ as Jake had so happily described, was no such thing. I didn’t know what it was and Charlie became immediately fearful, screaming out their names as we ran as fast as we could across the lumpy field towards the object.
I could see why Jake would have thought that it was a merry-go-round as it seemed to pulse with different colours around its outside edge, whilst bigger lights towards its centre blinked.
“Holy fuck,” I breathed, stopping suddenly and grabbing Charlie’s hand, stopping her dead in her tracks. “It’s a fucking UFO.”
We stood, stock still, mouths open, becoming aware of a gentle hum that seemed to emanate from the object.
Two small figures were dancing around in front of it—well I say ‘front’, but in truth, this thing had all the hallmarks of a flying saucer and I really couldn’t tell which part of its apparent circular form was the front, back or sides. We continued towards whatever it was.
“Jake, Suzie! Come here,” Charlie called as we neared.
“But mum, I want to play on the windy-round,” Suzie complained.
“I’m sure you do, but firstly we don’t know whose it is and they might not like you tromping all over it with your muddy shoes,” Charlie explained.
The kids both seemed pacified by that and sauntered over to us. We didn’t immediately turn back, but stayed a while to look at the strange object, with its pulsing lights and odd hum.
“It’s pretty isn’t it mummy?” Suzie asked.
“It’s awesome,” Jake added.
“It’s certainly impressive,” I agreed.
We were about to turn away and head back to the car, when something started happening.
First it shuddered and we all took an involuntary step backwards. Then the lights dimmed and stopped with the pulsating, followed by a slow return to what had been happening before.
The next thing that happened, we could never have imagined possible.
A hatch or door opened right in front of us, accompanied by a kind of mist. It was a two section door, the top sliding back and the bottom dropping down in an arc, its smooth surface wrinkling then forming steps. The whole effect was quite dramatic.
“I told you, I’ll be back in a minute,” a voice said as out of the mist a silhouette of a person appeared. It stopped at the top of the steps as the four of us looked on in awe. “Oh. You’re not supposed to be able to see this. Damn, that’s something else to fix.”
There were a few moments of awkward silence …
“Hello,” it said.
I must admit, I would have expected a ray gun and “take me to your leader", but I suppose “hello” was as good a greeting as any.
“Hello,” I returned, getting a dig in the ribs from Charlie for my trouble on one side and a grin from Jake on the other.
“Um, we won’t be long—just got a bit of a problem with the matter compensator.”
“They talk like we do, mum,” noted Suzie.
“Need a hand?” I asked.
“Oh would you mind. It’s been giving us grief since the moment we set off,” the figure replied, just as another, slightly shorter appeared behind him.
“Who are you friends?” she asked.
“Don’t know. They were already here.”
“Sorry, I’m Bob and this is Charlie,” I supplied and got another dig in the ribs for my trouble, but I carried on regardless. “These two short people are our son and daughter: Jake and Suzie.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said the shorter, in a definitely feminine voice. “I’m Olimar and this is my life partner, Dormag. These are our offspring, Olag and Formar.”
Suzie and Jake laughed. “They’ve got funny names,” Jake giggled.
“Our two said the same about yours too,” commented Olimar. “They have no respect, do they?”
I must admit, this was the last thing I expected and was having a great deal of difficulty getting my head around the concept, never mind the names.
“Well, shall we get on with this?” asked Dormag.
“I guess so,” I replied and started towards the steps.
“If I know men—and I’m sure I do—they’re going to be a while, why don’t you three come in out of the cold?” Olimar asked, and beckoned Charlie, Jake and Suzie aboard.
I had to give Charlie a really strong nod to let her know that I didn’t think these were going to be brain-eating Martians and that I was certain that if Dormag thought he could do on-the-spot repairs to this, er, craft, it wasn’t going to be rocket science.
I walked towards Dormag and as I neared, I could see that he hardly differed from me or any other man. There I was expecting the typical ‘grey’, but I got confronted instead by someone who could just as easily be Albert from down the street.
“Not what you expected am I?” he asked.
“Not at all. It’s the fact that you speak perfectly good English that’s probably most surprising.”
“Oh, that. It’s a universal translator. It’s not bad, but there are some things it’s not too good at. Its grammar for one thing is horrific. Still, it means we don’t have to assimilate you.”
I nearly jumped out of my skin, but Dormag laughed and said that he had seen some of the Next Generation Star Trek episodes and was very intrigued. Resistance to a laugh was futile.
We walked about a quarter of the way round the craft and Dormag touched an area, causing it to open, revealing something I won’t even try and describe. How the hell I thought I could be of assistance I don’t know. It should have had a label on the outside saying ‘no user serviceable parts within …’
Evidently, this was rocket science.
I actually did help in the end, but it was only by holding tools—none of which I had ever seen before. They seem to have progressed beyond simple screws, nuts and bolts, which immediately lost me. I wouldn’t know where to start with something that didn’t need a hammer or mole-wrench.
Some time later, I imagine no more than half an hour, we mounted the steps to the craft and went inside to join the wives and children.
“So you finally decided to rejoin us then?” Olimar said archly.
“We weren’t that long, were we?” he replied.
“If you’d have bought the new model like I suggested, none of this would have been necessary, but no, you just have to tinker, don’t you?”
“Ah, but then we wouldn’t have met,” I argued and Olimar’s stern face softened.
“That’s true I suppose,” she said and laughed.
“I think a test run is in order. We can’t do the remainder of the journey unless we know it’s good to go,” Dormag announced and Olimar rolled her eyes.
“I think he thinks it’s a toy,” she said, sighing deeply. “Still, if it keeps him happy …”
Our kids were absolutely dumbstruck, especially Jake. Both of them ran up to the cockpit area, which was more like a bit of the craft with some seats in and a few flashing lamps on—something I could best describe as a dashboard.
All four of the kids clambered into the front as Dormag took his seat and before we knew what was happening, I had the feeling of lifting up and then everything through the windows went sort of blurred as we shot forwards and up, leaving the earth behind us with nothing more than a whisper.
Dormag put the craft through its paces, much to Olimar’s disgust and then after a few minutes, we landed back in the field.
“Can we do that again?” asked Jake.
“Maybe another time,” Charlie said. “We really need to be getting home.”
“You took the words right out of my mouth,” Olimar agreed and Dormag looked a little sheepish.
We said our goodbyes and Formar, their daughter presented Jake with a gift.
“Formar’s got a boyfriend, Formar’s got a boyfriend,” chanted Olag, who immediately got a stern ticking off from Olimar.
Jake blushed bright red as he took the gift. None of us knew what it was, but Jake hasn’t let go of it since.
Despite such a short meeting, the goodbyes were lengthy, each of us promising not to be strangers and it wasn’t until we got into the car that we realised the absurdity of such assurances.
“We may have a little trouble getting this out of the atmosphere,” I said with a chuckle.
I have had to turn a blind eye or deaf ear to the sounds of teachers asking whether I was aware of my children’s propensity for romancing. By that they mean telling tall tales. Apparently the flying saucer story has been round the school and no-one believes them.
Charlie and I have had to have a long chat with them about this. UFO’s are still widely regarded as being the stuff of fanciful people out for attention.
“But dad, mum. It was real.”
“We know honey, but it’s probably best that we keep it to ourselves.”
That episode happened last Christmas and today, we nearly got the shock of our lives as Olimar, Dormag and their two kids—who look a great deal bigger than they did, but they have said the same of ours—turned up on the doorstep.
“It’s great to see you,” Charlie said welcoming in the foursome. “How did you find us?”
“Simple. The gift that Formar gave Jake last year was trackable. After that, finding you was easy.”
This year, there were no time restraints for any of us and we actually got to find out more about out interstellar friends. God only knows where they put their flying saucer, but they assure me it’s in no danger—it’s the new model and much more reliable.
Next year, they have invited us to their place for Christmas.
Now that's going to be a story that'll be difficult to keep quiet.
* * *
Nick B. an old git from England (well fifty-one at the last count), who is trying his best to break into the literary world - something that may turn out to be somewhat difficult with a piece like the above.
Still, providing his muse doesn't disown him, he may yet write that best seller ...
Don't hold your breath.