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The room was stark; television on a stand in the corner, table and four chairs and nothing else. Like ‘interview’ rooms in police stations all around the world, old George figured it was meant to be intimidating. Thing was, at sixty-two going on for sixty-three, there wasn’t much left in the world that George found intimidating and he had nothing to hide. He knew what had happened; knew what he’d seen and heard and if they didn’t believe him that was just their bad luck. He was only there doing his civic duty, after that it had nothing to do with him. Although, truth to tell he was a little bit frightened down deep but there wasn’t anything to be done about that by him. It was up to the proper authorities.
Two officers had been sent to interview him, George thought were almost an insult. One of them looked barely old enough to shave and the other not much older than that. Kids. George just shook his head. In the black screen of the television he could see a shadowy reflection of himself. Hat off, showing his almost completely bald head with his piercing blue eyes which weren’t really clear in the black screen. Nor did it show up the many wrinkles in his deeply tanned leathery skin or all the spots the doctor said was some type of sun cancer that would have to be removed. That didn’t bother George; he’d worked in the sun his whole life and if now, coming to the end of things, he had a few spots to show for it then so what.
They’d gone to fetch him coffee, said they wanted to hear what he had to say again. Old George knew they didn’t believe him, thought he was a crazy person. Well that was fine. He’d tell his tale again while he drank their coffee but then he was going back to work. The cattle wouldn’t herd themselves and the fences still needed fixing. Life didn’t stop just because two young policemen wanted to hear the same tale again and again. They wouldn’t believe it any more this time than the first and George didn’t have the patience to sit around with them all the day long; he’d give them one last telling and then he was leaving.
They returned with Styrofoam cups of coffee and sandwiches in those plastic triangle things that you got out of vending machines. The younger officer handed him a selection of the sandwiches, which George knew would be awful but it was getting on for half past one and he hadn’t eaten at all that day. He selected an egg and lettuce and a ham, cheese and tomato and the cup of coffee handed to him. He nodded his thanks to the young constable and set to with some gusto despite their bland and dry taste.
“Is that all right Mr. Hendry?” the younger one, called Anderson asked him. Old George was slightly pleased; it showed at least some respect. He didn’t know this dark haired boy so assumed he must have come to their little town from one of the bigger cities or maybe a neighbouring town. Childers wasn’t a very big town and Senumut was the closest of the homesteads in these parts. The other constable was young Ralph Patch’s boy, Eddie. Truth to tell George had never been much impressed by Ralph Patch and couldn’t help but wonder if his boy was as spineless as his father.
“Now George,” Eddie began, “do you mind if I call you George?”
George shrugged his shoulders, his mouth still full of sandwich but he couldn’t help but recall a time when you’d never ask that question of your elders, you just knew to call them Mr. or Mrs, it was just a matter of respect. Gone now, like so many other things George had known in his lifetime.
“O.K. George, we’re going to ask you to tell us what happened this morning, in your own words but this time we’re going to make a recording of it,” Eddie continued, “is that all right with you?”
Once again George nodded but he could feel a tiny knot of anger along with his fear deep in his gut; they were treating him like some loony, being patronising and he didn’t like that one little bit.
When he’d finished both his sandwiches George took a sip of the coffee, which was surprisingly good, although he could’ve done with a touch more milk, but you couldn’t have everything, he reasoned. The constable started the tape and made notes as to the time of day and who was there and then told George to tell his story once again in his own words.
“I was riding the fences out at Senumut, looking for breaks and making repairs. I was on my third day and nearly back to the homestead when I camped that night. It was well before dawn when it happened but I don’t know for sure what time. All of a sudden the horse near to went mad. He starts bucking and pulling at his tether, neighing and crying out. I got up to see what had spooked him so bad; I had my torch with me of course. That’s when I saw it in the sky. Like a plane or a helicopter but it was hard to see the shape in the dark but I could see pretty clear that it was in trouble and it was getting on ready to crash. The thing had like a tail of fire coming from the back of it and it was making this high pitched whining kind of noise. It’s a wonder that hadn’t woke me up itself.
As it got closer I could see that it weren’t no plane nor helicopter neither. It was sort of long, like a kind of football shape, pointy at both ends and fatter in the middle. Whatever was causing its’ trouble was coming from the back, far as I could tell, as there was sparks and fire and the thing seemed to be tearing apart. I watched it for maybe a minute or two before it finally hit the ground then I went off running to see if I could help. I didn’t know what it was but the government’s always experimenting so I just figured maybe it was some new type of plane we hadn’t seen yet.”
George paused for a long time before he spoke again, “once I got close up though I knew it weren’t nothing from this planet.”
“How did you know that George?” Eddie interrupted.
“Well it had all this writing on it and it weren’t no language we got here, none of the letters looked right but I could tell right off by the way they was laid out they were meant to say some-thing. Underneath the writing was this symbol thing, a circle in dark blue with a funny looking shape in the middle, not like a square or anything like that but a weird kind of shape.”
George paused for a while, thinking over the shape he had seen in case it might be important later.
“I guess it kinda looked like a skull and crossbones kind of shape but it wasn’t a skull, just a similar shaped figure and there weren’t just two bones crossed there were four and they looked sorta like insects legs, like a cricket maybe. Either way, soon as I saw that symbol, I knew straight off I was dealing with something from outer space. As I said the crash site weren’t too far from where I’d camped so I was just thinking to see if I could help. I didn’t think about cameras or such, not that I had any with me; I was just thinking there might be people in there that were hurt. When I got there were these strange looking creatures already dragging out the dead and wounded.”
“Can you describe these creatures George?”
“Well you know you hear these stories about these grey aliens with big black eyes, well they were sorta like that. Except what they really looked like I couldn’t tell you because I could see straight off they were all wearing some kind of space suit, all grey with a built in helmet with only these black eye holes. I knew it was a suit cause a couple of the aliens had theirs ripped and underneath I could see a scaly kind of skin, a dark browny kind of colour and they were bleeding but it was blue not red. They were talking but it was a kind of high pitched chittering sound that I couldn’t understand. Didn’t sound like any language I’d ever heard before. So I tried to get their attention, to sort of get them to understand I wanted to help and that’s when I heard this kind of boom sound high up in the air.”
“What exactly do you mean by a boom sound?”
“Well it was loud but sorta quiet at the same time, a sound you felt as much as heard with your ears. I looked up and saw another one of the ships, this one was ok though and it was coming in to land.”
“So there was more than one ship?”
“Yes, like I told you before there was the crashed ship then this other one that came to help out or something. It was mostly the aliens from the second ship that took up the dead and wounded and got rid of all the debris and stuff, except the piece I’d stuffed in my pocket.”
George pulled out the piece of metal, a dull, deep grey colour about the size of a matchbox. As they watched him George crumpled it up and then put it back on the table where it immediately resumed its original flat appearance. To George it felt almost greasy and reminded him of the cook’s Teflon pans. He scratched at it with his fingernail but it didn’t even leave the tiniest mark. As far as old George was concerned that shoulda been all the proof they needed that his story was true. Still, they were going to force him to tell the whole tale again from start to finish.
“Do you mind if we keep this George?” Constable Eddie asked as he was already reaching for it. George knew he had no choice in the matter, but he didn’t make a fuss, he had another small piece stuffed in his other pocket he hadn’t told them about. That was his own souvenir of the whole experience.
“So you heard a boom, Mr. Hendry,” young Anderson said, “What happened next?”
“Well the second ship seemed to float down, just like a helicopter landing rather than a plane if you know what I mean. I hadn’t been able to catch any of the other aliens’ attention, which I figured made sense, there were at least two dead aliens and three wounded. Only two of them were on their feet and they were busy doing what I guessed was some kind of first aid on the wounded ones.” George paused for a second; he had been a medic in the Vietnam War, the scene with the crashed ship was eerily familiar to him in the way they had all moved and worked together.
“When the second ship landed I could see that it looked more like a shark than a football, there was still a pointy end at one end and the other had two points, like a shark’s tail. I figured that was obviously what the problem had been with the first ship, that one of its’ pointy bits had broken off or caught fire or something. Anyway a whole bunch of the same kind of aliens came out of the second ship. Some of them started immediately cleaning up the debris. Well, not exactly cleaning it up they were sort of destroying it I think. They had these things like remote controls and when they pointed it at the metal it just melted away to nothing. Some of the others came to help with the wounded and there was this one alien, he looked like he was in charge because he had the symbol thing on his chest like a badge or something. He came up to me and started chittering away in their funny language. So I told him I didn’t understand what he was saying and that I only wanted to help.”
“So you spoke to the alien and you said earlier that you felt certain that it understood you,” Eddie interrupted.
“That’s right. After I said my piece it started repeating what I’d said, in sentences and then just words and sort of mixing them up. He sounded like he was working out the language just from the words I’d used but he had this clicky kind of accent. After a bit though he seemed to get it and he spoke to me.”
“You mentioned that earlier George,” Eddie once again interjected, “but you didn’t specify what was said. I need you to be absolutely specific about every word that passed between the two of you.”
George paused again to make sure that he got the exchange exactly right. He knew, even if these youngsters didn’t believe him, that it was important. The final words they’d spoken had left him with a chill, the kind of fear he’d only experienced back in ‘Nam.
“Like I said, I told him I wanted to help,” George started but was interrupted.
“We need your exact words for the record George,” the constable said.
“Fine. I walks up to him and said, I’m George, is there anything I can do to help you fellas?”
“Thank you, George, now what did he reply?”
“Well he didn’t at first, just kinda repeated what I’d said, mixing the words up and saying them again. Seemed to me it was like he was trying to figure out how to speak our language. Then he says, “Thank you George,” all in this clicky kinda accent, “We have sufficient help for our needs. We appreciate your concern for our fellows though.”
“Then I said, ‘some of them look pretty banged up, I used to be a medic in the army, I might be able to help with the wounded.’ So then he says, ‘our physiology is far more complex than your own although your concern is noted.’ So I says to him, ‘how far away do your people come from?’ Mind you all the time we was talkin’ these other aliens are clearing away all the evidence and workin’ quick too cause there were barely nothing left by the time we’d had our little talk.”
George sipped his coffee for a bit and watched the two young constables as they were watching him. He’d been around for a while and he knew, he could tell by the look in their eyes that they didn’t believe a word he was saying. They had already written him off as a nut and that bothered George. Not for himself, he was old and had not much life left to live anyhow. It bothered him for them. When the time had passed and they had found his story to be true old George was worried that it might just be far too late. Still there was nothing he could do to convince them of the truth of his story; all he could do was tell it and hope that someone, somewhere took it a little bit serious.
“Anyway,” George continued, “by now the area’s pretty much all cleared up, they did something to the crashed ship and it sorta disintegrated, like it’d never even been there. If I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes I wouldn’a believed it had even happened at all. So the chief alien guy he’s directing all the others back to his own ship and he says the funniest thing to me.”
“What was that George?”
“Well first I says to him, ‘I gotta compliment you on the way you and your folk work. Quick as a flash and like no-one had even been there. Very impressive,’ I says to him. He looks at me for a long time then he says, ‘we are not yet ready to make contact George. We have been watching your planet for some time now and soon we will be ready. If you are still present on this land when we return your kindness will not be forgotten.’
“So I says to him then, ‘so you’ll be coming back some time?’ and he looked at me and even through the eye-holes, which was all I could see, I got this chill when he says back, ‘oh yes George, we will return.’ I didn’t really like the way he said that I can tell you that right now. And another thing, I been in ‘Nam, I’ve seen war and there ain’t much on this planet that can scare me but his tone or somethin’ scared me. When them aliens come back I don’t think it’s gonna be a friendly visit and even though it’s none of my business I reckon someone should start preparing. Study that metal, let people higher up know what happened cause one day we might just need every bit of wits we got. Any ways that’s all I got to tell you. I told you twice now and you got it on your tape recorder thingy. I’m heading back to Senumut now cause there’s still work to do.”
George stood and put on his hat and briefly shook his head.
“I know neither one of you believe a word I just said but I’m telling you this, they’re coming back. I don’t know when but they’ll be back and I don’t think they mean to just say hello. Now, I’ve done my duty, time now I reckon for you to do yours.” Without another word and with his head held high George walked out of the station. They’d learn, he just hoped he wasn’t around to see it.