The next five days were going to be the most important five days of Michael Stone’s life… so far. He knew that what happened over this Christmas was going to have a massive, monumental, game-changing impact on the entire rest of his life on this earth. He was in love with Abigail Tremethyk. He wanted to marry Abigail Tremethyk and today, Christmas Eve, he would be travelling to Cornwall to be introduced to her family. Christmas with the Tremethyks. Michael knew that the impression he made on her mother, father, grandmother and siblings over the next five days could make or break how Abigail saw him. He would be travelling back home on December 28th as either husband material or a disappointing footnote in Abigail’s dating history. Thank God you never married… what was his name? So these next few days had to go well or the life Michael had dreamed about and wanted desperately would never come true. It was unfortunate then that today was the day that Michael Stone was kidnapped by aliens.
Well, one alien. Gor Ul Hatamakatakanaka. And not so much kidnapped exactly as occupied. Gor Ul Hatamakatakanaka was more of a squatter. He was from a race of beings called the Emuti. They were homeless. Their planet, Emut, had been invaded by an alliance of several other races who had taken a liking to Emut’s vast supply of zoat, a crystalline energy supply that powered cities across five galaxies and made interstellar space travel possible. Zoat was big business. The Emuti had a lot of it and pretty much controlled the intergalactic share price. They were greedy or at least the minuscule percentage of Emuti that decided the share price of zoat were. They enjoyed an enviable lifestyle, owning cwado¹ teams and having second homes in the Foslear nebula (very exclusive). Most Emuti went about their daily business without giving zoat much thought at all. It came as something of a shock then when Emut was invaded one quiet morning in the thirteenth kweeg of the arn of makara². The invasion was swift and efficient. About a million Emuti managed to flee and spread out across the universe looking for a home.
The Emuti are a non-corporeal race. They have no physical body. They are basically sentient energy. They can adopt a physical form if they feel the need but it is purely aesthetic. They are beings made of light. The colour of said light can change due to mood, environment or what they’ve had for lunch and if they so choose they can have no physical form whatsoever and still be just as relevant. At least they can on Emut, which is, obviously, built with a non-corporeal population in mind. Earth, however, is a little different.
Michael came off the M3 and merged onto the M27. He passed a big blue sign informing him this way lay The West. Before setting off he had loaded his car’s six-disc CD player with nothing but Christmas music: Christmas with Nat & Dean, Michael Bublé’s Christmas, Christmas Hits, Merry Xmas 2011, Now That’s What I Call Christmas and The Essential Now That’s What I Call Christmas. Michael was singing along with abandon. This was the third time he had listened to Chris Rea telling him he was driving home for Christmas.
Michael flicked on his indicator to overtake a slow-moving Citroën and his eyes glanced up to his rearview mirror. He saw a red line streaking across the sky behind him, moving incredibly fast and coming straight for him. For a moment he was distracted and veered into the adjoining lane. A black BMW let him know that was not cool by blasting its horn. Michael jerked the wheel sharply and went back into his lane, taking his place behind the Citroën once again.
Before he could look back to the mirror the red streak shot overhead, travelling in the same direction as the motorway. All the traffic near by saw it now and everyone slowed down. The streak carried on and in seconds it was out of sight. Gradually traffic started to speed up once again. Jona Lewie started to sing about stopping the cavalry. Michael was trying to work out what the red streak could have been. A missile maybe. There was an army testing site not a million miles from here. The missile must have come down somewhere ahead so if he comes across a scene of burning debris and utter devastation in Dorset he will know why.
Michael drove on through Hampshire, Dorset and into Devon before having to take a break at a rest-stop. He switched off the engine and Bublé was cut off in the midst of telling him how it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. He got out and stretched. There was a pre-fab hut that housed a small café. Lots of travellers had stopped for a bacon sarnie or a mince pie and a polystyrene cup of tea. There was a small picnic area, which was empty on account of it being freezing. It was not picnic weather. Plus everyone was eager to get where they were going. To be with their families. Michael was too. Though he wasn’t going to be with his family he was going to be with a group of strangers. Mostly. One of them was most definitely not a stranger. Abigail. He had never felt this way about a woman before. This giddy. This was true love. He was sure of it. He couldn’t wait to be with her. He could wait to meet her family but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Abigail had assured him that her family were all lovely, very not scary and would make him feel extremely welcome. For his part, Michael had quizzed Abigail for weeks to discover her family’s likes and dislikes. He had bought presents that he hoped would wow, tailored to each individual’s taste. Michael liked to be prepared. It’s what made him so good at his job. In Michael’s profession one had to be ready for anything. Had to be able to think on your feet. Adapt. Roll with the punches. When he was at school he had wanted to be a writer. He was very creative. A careers advisor had suggested that rather than becoming an author he should use that flair for creativity in a more practical way. She had suggested he become an estate agent and so he did. He didn’t like to disappoint anyone and it had been good advice. He was a very good estate agent and some of his property listing descriptions could have won the Booker prize if the Booker prize ever expanded to included things other than just books. Michael told himself not to worry. He wasn’t a bad catch. Presentable, good job, owned his own Apple watch. Not too shoddy.
‘There’s something out here,’ said a gravelly voice from behind him, startling him, yanking him out of his own thoughts and making him spin around in surprise. He saw a diminutive, twisted man or possibly woman, he wasn’t entirely sure which. Probably a man. He was wearing several layers of clothing. He looked like a beach ball on little stumpy legs.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Michael.
‘Why? What have you done?,’ said the beach ball, with a throaty, phlegm-coated chuckle. He was not looking at Michael and instead scanning a thicket of trees a short distance away. ‘There’s something in those trees.’
‘What sort of something?’ asked Michael and immediately regretted it. He admonished himself silently. He was from London. He knows not to engage strange people in conversation. Talk to someone on the tube and the next thing you know they’ve moved in and they’re living with you.
‘The devil,’ said the strange stranger. ‘Or maybe a grockle.’
‘W-what’s a grockle?’ asked Michael. Whatever it was didn’t sound good.
‘You’re a grockle,’ said the gravel-throated beach ball. ‘Don’t think I don’t see you.’ He turned to Michael then and for the first time Michael saw the man’s face. His eyes were milky and dead. He was completely blind. Michael felt a very small amount of wee escape before he controlled his bladder.
‘I h-h-have to be going now,’ said Michael and he hurried away.
‘I can see you,’ cackled the beach ball. But when Michael glanced back he saw that the man was addressing a tree.
Michael checked his Apple watch. It was almost three-thirty and the sky was starting to darken. He should get back on the road. He still had another eighty miles to go. Following his encounter with the beach ball, however, Michael had wandered away from the picnic area into a dense patch of trees without really thinking about where he was going. He could hear the traffic on the A30 but the trees were so thick he wasn’t entirely sure which direction the noise was coming from. He turned in a slow circle in an attempt to get his bearings. As he did so, something caught his eye and he saw a rippling mist of purple-hued light moving through the trees. He was trying to work out what it was so it took him a moment or two to cotton onto the fact that it was moving in his direction. It was like a nebulous sheet of semi-transparent light that pulsated, becoming steadily brighter then dimmer, brighter then dimmer. And it was moving with purpose he realised. It was weaving through the trees, avoiding them. He started backing away, suddenly alarmed. What could it be? A swarm of fire flies maybe? It didn’t look like fire flies. Whatever it was, Michael wasn’t interested in finding out. He turned and ran now, not knowing if he was running in the right direction. He kept glancing back over his shoulder as he went. Now when the light dimmed it dimmed to nothing and vanished before returning even brighter than before. It dazzled him and for a few moments his vision was filled with blotches of white. He had to stop and rub his eyes. Slowly his sight returned. He looked around but the ghostly light had gone.
He was at the top of a hill and saw parked cars at the bottom. He was back to the rest-stop. Slushy leaves under foot turned the gentle hill into a greased slide and before he knew what was happening, his feet shot out from under him and he was careening down the muddy hill on his back. He gathered momentum and couldn’t stop. At the foot of the hill he kept going until he slammed into the rear wheel of a Vauxhall Astra and finally came to a stop. Fortunately the car was empty so there was no one around to object.
Michael quickly looked back up the hill but there was still no sign of the light. It had vanished. He looked down at himself and saw that he was caked in mud.
‘Great. Just great,’ he said as he struggled to his feet. He would have to change his clothes but he had mud and leaves in his hair. He used the Astra’s boot to help him get upright. His feet were threatening to slide out from under him again at any moment so he moved slowly and cautiously. As he stood upright, he saw, just for a moment, the light reflected in the car’s window. It was right behind him and, for half a second, it took on a vaguely humanoid shape. Michael span around and as he did so the brightest of bright lights filled his vision. Once again everything went white and he was back on the ground.
Michael’s vision cleared and he discovered that he was lying on his back in a pile of leaves next to a wooden picnic bench. The Vauxhall Astra had gone. Evidently the driver had not noticed a prostrate man lying on the ground next to his car. It had got a little darker too. How long had he been lying there? He looked at his Apple watch. It was dead. The screen was blank. That was weird. It had been fully charged when he left home that morning and it should stay active for a lot longer than that. There were half a dozen cars parked nearby. How had no one noticed him? He got to his feet and looked around. No sign of the weird light. He headed back to his car and got some clean clothes out of his suitcase. He stripped off and changed using his car as a screen though there was no one about to pay him any attention.
He crossed to the toilet blocks and washed his hands and ran water through his hair in an attempt to wash out the mud. The water was ice cold and the hand dryer blew out a weak stream of cold air. He was shivering by the time he got back in his car. He turned on the engine and Bublé picked up where he left off. Michael turned the heat up and set off.
A little over an hour later and he passed a sign by the side of the road welcoming him to Cornwall. Underneath it was written Kernow a’gas dynergh. It must have been a trick of the light but as he looked at the words they morphed before his eyes from Kernow a’gas dynergh to Welcome to Cornwall and back to Kernow a’gas dynergh all in the space of a second. Michael shook his head and squeezed his eyes closed for a moment. He was tired and needed a break. Fortunately he would be at his destination in less than half an hour.
He drove past the famous Bodmin Moor and wondered if he would see the infamous beast. He did not. His destination was well signposted and Abigail had given him very clear directions once he entered her hometown. Five minutes later, he was turning off the road and driving down a narrow country lane. Abigail’s family home was at the end. He pulled into the driveway outside a grand Edwardian manor house and switched off the engine. He was here.
‘Your liver needs cleansing.’ Michael leapt out of his skin and twisted around to look in the back seat. It was empty. There was no one else in the car.
‘Who said that?’ He was scared and about to scramble out of the car when he realised something: it had been him. It had been his voice but he had no memory of saying those strange words. Only of hearing them. Why had he said that? Your liver needs cleansing. What? It had been an odd day.
But then the front door of the house opened up and a cone of amber light flooded out and he saw Abigail grinning at him, as excited to see him as he was to see her. He forgot about everything else and got out.
End of part one.
- Popular team sport on Emuti – a cross between golf and draughts but played with robots in a zero gravity environment and more of the contestants end up decapitated. So not really like golf or draughts at all.
- About twenty past eleven