It’s funny what you remember and what you forget. Is it a choice or an accident? Or somewhere between the two? I don’t know but I can’t forget that night and its aftermath though, if I’m honest, I would choose to.
It had been a fairly ordinary Friday in late April, a day of work and of fitting in those things that have to be fitted in around work. In those days I earned a living of sorts in a seafood processing factory several miles away from my home. The commute took me past flinty escarpments with their suggestion of standing stones and down a blackthorn valley with sparse, ancient cottages like the one I rented. I parked my car on the grass behind a make-do building covered by corrugated iron sheets the colour of port in a former port town. The equipment for processing the produce of cetaceans had been inserted into the vacuum left by the decline of traditional farming that was due to a series of bad harvests, a collapse in trade deals and the foot and mouth epidemic that had led to the mass cull of cattle and pigs.
In the stench of dead dolphins and over the searing buzz of the mechanised knives, a rumour arose, first debated in the morning ten minute break, developed during the twenty minute lunch and fully formed by the time the last mugs of tea of the shift were empty. One of the migrant workers had asked if any of us had seen strange lights in the area over the last week. He claimed to have observed white, yellow and red lights both above and below the horizon, moving at enormous speed. A couple of the smokers nodded but then they always did when they were smoking. One colleague said that she thought she had seen something not quite right in the sky while driving recently but it had happened so quickly and whatever it was had gone by the time she’d stopped. Cigarette smoke spiralled upwards to a cacophony of seagulls. I looked for these birds and wondered when they would be available on supermarket shelves.
I had nothing to contribute to the debate and kept to myself the conversations I’d had recently with some sheep farmer neighbours of mine. Several of their animals had been found dead on the moor which was not that unusual but these beasts had been marked with strange geometric shapes gouged into their corpses. This had been kept out of the news as no one paid much attention to such small fry now that the new agriculture was dominated by massive conglomerations and horrors dressed up as opportunities.
The workplace emptied with a palpable feeling of relief and expectation and a haste that always impressed me. I waited for the cars of the others to leave and I started on my way home. My first call was to a market where I picked up some flowers, wine, and two packets of horse burgers.
I pulled in next at the care home, a former mansion, where we had installed my mother when she had become too much for us. I entered the impressive but dismal hallway and signed my name in the visitors book. There weren’t many staff members around at this time of the day. I found my mother on her own, tiny in a large chair, looking out over the gardens. I kissed her, introducing the flowers. She was not interested in them so I left them on a nearby table. The conversation was a struggle but her eyes still shone. I was happy that she was well cared for but I couldn’t shake the thought that this was a pointless exercise. I said goodbye and drove the last few miles home.
Mary was waiting for me at the cottage. We caught up with the day’s news and thoughtlessly switched on the TV. We fried the burgers and sat down to eat as the sun was sinking from view. I had the wine to myself as she had just started maternity leave. We didn’t say much as we were tired and we had already said most of what we wanted to say. We both lifted our heads, however, to follow a news item concerning an incident in which a car had crashed off a road in our locality the night before, its driver apparently dazzled by a light approaching from the sky. The motorist was uninjured but spooked, barely able to look the reporter in the eye.
We collapsed onto the sofa, exhausted, me a little tipsy. We must have fallen asleep soon after, leaning into each other. I awoke briefly a couple of times and half-noted on these occasions that the light was switched off and that I couldn’t see the TV standby light. I was too sleepy to realise that we had not caused this.
Mary woke up, murmuring that she wanted to go to the toilet. She was about to get up when I pulled her back by her arm. The room was bathed in a light coming from outside the window. I knew that there was no moon that night and that vehicles could not access the building from that side. I very carefully peeped over the top of the sofa and gasped when I saw a tall figure dressed in some kind of illuminated space suit standing completely motionless at the window. I saw no identifying marks on the clothing and could not see the face through the helmet. I quickly ducked back down and whispered to Mary what I had seen, exhorting her to stay quiet and not move.
Our hearts beating almost audibly, we clutched each other and remained tensely still, holding sweaty hands. I prayed that no harm would come to us or the baby and tried to summon up the courage to confront the intruder. However, the motive for the watcher’s visit was not clear and as time passed it became more and more possible, and hopeful, that our presence had not been detected.
A little before dawn, the night visitor at last moved away from its position and the room was immersed in the kind of darkness that occurs for a short time after a bright light is extinguished. As the day was about to begin to break, I regained my confidence and rose cautiously, keeping an eye on the window and taking my shotgun from out of its cabinet. I nervously crossed the threshold to patrol the exterior, gun at the ready. I poked the barrel into bushes, around the car and aimed it futilely down the rough track that led to that place. Nothing greeted me save the barking of the awakening dogs of the nearby farms and the chill of the morning of the night before.
I got back inside and tried the lights. They worked. I gave Mary the biggest hug my dwindling energy reserves could muster. She put the kettle on and we drank a cup of tea in silence and relief, me with the weapon across my knees as the world stirred around us, a world that had appeared to have changed forever.
Later that morning, we packed a bag or two and left for the in-laws in the town. She would stay with them while we tried to work out what to do for the best. I left them and walked the short distance to the police station to file my report. To my amazement, I was not met with incredulity as it had been a busy night for unexplained sightings.
On the following Monday, two officials who claimed to be from a Government Department I had never heard of, The Ministry of Mystery, called on me at work. The manager allowed us a cramped storeroom and they interrogated me about what had happened. Both had the same unidentifiable accent and were polite enough, asking the type of questions I would have expected. There was something awkward about the whole exchange, however. Maybe it was me, maybe it was them. When they had finished, they shook my hand and left.
They would return a number of times over the following weeks to ask the same questions at my home, also interviewing Mary at her parents. I had the impression that they would have liked me to retract my statement. I told them that I knew what I thought I had seen and very definitely felt, at which they just smiled. I noticed on at least two of these occasions that they had to make their excuses fairly early in the meeting as they both appeared to be either fatigued or ill. After a while, I became suspicious of these unnamed and enigmatic bureaucrats. When a couple of phone calls revealed no record of such an organisation, the visits suddenly stopped.
Mary was worn out by the whole thing and lost the baby. She blamed me and we grew apart. I stayed on at the cottage and remained at the factory until I could no longer stand the smell, the people, the place, the memories. I left the area and took a job on a ship in the resurgent whaling industry, making good money working out my disappointment and rage in the slaughter of huge animals, and keeping away from UFOs and their occupants.