Monsters and Machines

NOMMED FOR MOVELLA OF THE YEAR 2017

Nabdale is the most boring town in England. It’s muddy, it’s rainy, it’s full of cabbages, and all its residents can talk about is the lights in the sky.

On Sunday night, the lights come down, and barely anyone notices. The few who take notice have three days before they’re silenced. First comes the headache. Then, the nightmares begin. And after that, there’s no waking up.

As a very crazy, very real conspiracy theory takes Nabdale by storm, the residents are forced to push the boundaries of what they believe, and what they’ll do to survive. They’ll have to watch their loved ones suffer; they’ll have to abandon their normal lives, and everything they thought they knew about humanity. They’ll have to die. They’ll have to kill. Sickness and hysteria spread like wildfire, and the plot only gets stupider. It’s the end of the world, and they’re either too early, or too late, to stop it. But that doesn’t mean they’re not going to try.

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1. Through the Greenscreen

One sci-fi cliché seems to be that nobody ever believes you till it’s way too late. I wouldn’t blame my parents for not believing me if I was a kid, but I’m twenty-three.

Another sci-fi cliché? Lights in the sky like the ones over my farm. They’re green, and they come and go, but they’re there. Flecks of glitter on the horizon, flashes threading the outlines of clouds, tinges of neon colour in the dirty brown sky. Living on the outskirts of a town, even a tiny one like Nabdale, means the sky’s clearer and darker, and that means you see everything. Every white star, every red plane, every green flash, even if the people in the streets can’t. I’ve lived here with my parents since I was born, but since my brothers moved out, it’s just been me and them. Me and them and the shit on the ground and the lights in the sky. I used to wish my life was something more, sit and stare out of my window and wish I was stronger, smarter, taller, more attractive. Less lazy. I used to wish I lived in a city; somewhere where things actually happened instead of this dumb filthy silence that hangs over me, stronger than the stink.

Of course I’d think like that. I am, after all, the most boring bloke in Britain. I’m Robert Walker, that farmer’s kid with the dirty hands and the dirty brown hair and the dirty brown eyes and the thoroughly forgettable face. The slow one who couldn’t add two and one, let alone pass a GCSE. Who now lives with his parents and pays his rent with labour because he gave himself no other options. Yeah, I’m shit. I used to wish something interesting would happen to me.

Then again, I never asked for any of this.

Lights in the sky aren’t easy to explain, but they are easy to ignore. It’s not like the movies. Those flashes aren’t so bright they make me jump, and whatever fucking spaceship’s up there doesn’t make a racket loud enough to wake the dead and then some. The lights are just sort of there, and they stay quiet and they stay small. So, naturally, after a couple of days, I started to ignore them. Another sci-fi cliché is that you don’t believe what you’re seeing. You think you’re dreaming it. I never thought that. I just didn’t really care enough. If those aliens want me, they can come and fucking get me.

Last night, I finally finished watching another one of those Hollywood sellout alien films. I say finished because it took me a fucking week to force myself to sit through it all. God, was it ridiculous. I fell asleep twice and swore at the screen so many times I lost count; then again, now that I think about it, all the dumb-arsed philosophical bullshit they shove in there nowadays isn’t really any more ridiculous than the fabric it’s built on. Aliens. Beings from another planet who somehow, somehow, want to come down to Earth, the fucking garbage dump of the universe. Then, once they get here, they usually decide they want to kill us all. Why? Because they want an empty planet? If they want an empty planet, why don’t they fucking go somewhere else? I mean, I’ve been seeing lights in the sky for months. I’m not denying it’s real. I’m just saying that since it already makes no fucking sense, what’s the point in trying to force sense into it? After a point, it doesn’t really matter. If Nabdale ends up getting vaporised by some alien race’s laser gun, you can bet your arse the people in it aren’t going to give a shit who the aliens are, or how they work, or why they’re here, or where they came from. They’ll probably care more about the fact their flesh is now chargrilled.  They won’t even mind that, actually. Because they’ll all be dead.

At the rate this is going, if those bastards ever do come down from the clouds, I reckon I’ll be the first one gone. If I am, the last word on my lips won’t be “Why.” It’ll probably be “Shit.”

Bring it on.

The other day, I found a blog on the internet called That Conspiracy Twat. I only found it because I’d finally gotten up the courage to try searching for information on the town and what I’ve been seeing. I started reading for the title- I love me a good curse word or six or seven.  I guess it comes from growing up a right mummy’s boy. I stayed for the stupid jokes the writer seems to have rated as more important than the message he’s trying to deliver. I suffered through the message. Last time I checked, this blog had ninety-six posts and half a million followers, even though it’s just some guy ranting about government cover-ups and alien invasions and sleeper spies. Turns out, surprisingly enough, That Conspiracy Twat isn’t just a name. I’ve kind of fixated on him, this crazy guy with his crazy jokes and crazier stories, because he makes me feel a little less insane. Compared to his hairbrained theories, like the one about the aliens, or the one about the nuclear pollution that’s apparently going to give us all either superpowers or cancer, or the one about the gas the government’s pumping into the air to keep us stupid, my thoughts and nightmares don’t seem so crazy after all. I went outside last night and stood for twenty minutes in the middle of the driveway, breathing in gulp after gulp of that air to see if it tasted any different. It didn’t, and I didn’t get any stupider, but then again, I don’t think that’s really possible.

My head filled as it was with loopy thoughts of aliens, I nearly laughed out loud when my dad stuck his head into the room and asked me to go outside and make sure the sheep were shut in their pens properly. It was the middle of the night- eleven or twelve at least- and we keep our sheep at the bottom of the valley with fences at either side of the field to stop them from walking off the edge into the fucking ravine. The sky’s black, and I’m heading, alone, down into a massive fucking dent in the ground. Nice and spooky. If the aliens wanted me, this’d be their prime opportunity for maximum drama. Again, if they want me, they can come and fucking get me. I’d had enough of being scared a week ago.

I had the sense to bring a torch. It, shockingly, didn’t run out before I’d reached the bottom of the hill. I was thinking about that film where the aliens dismembered a load of cows. Again, why the fuck did they do that? They could just be sadists, sure, but the excuse usually seems to be that they’re running experiments. “Hey, we’re new to this planet. “I’ve got an idea. Let’s grab eighty of the same organism and turn them all inside out to scientifically study the way their guts fall out.” “Genius!” I wonder if the aliens invading my town have a better team of scientists. They’re going to need one if they want to take over this planet. Conspiracy Twat published a post a month or two ago about a farmer in Colorado whose cows were cut up in the night. This was real. Not a film. But they did a load of experiments and proved it was probably just an act of vandalism. Hey, who said humans can’t be just as sadistic as movie monsters? Sometimes they’re worse.

Anyway, even though I hadn’t seen any green lights in the sky by the time I’d reached the gate to the pen, I’d pretty much decided all my sheep were going to be dead. You know sometimes, you get so lost inside your own head you forget none of it’s really happening? Like, you start in the moment, then imagine what could happen next, then what you’d do, and you get deeper and deeper and deeper into the daydream till the real world may as well be a greenscreen for all the attention you’re paying to it? Yeah. That was happening to me on the way down. I imagined unlatching the gate, walking through the overgrown grass, staring up at the forest on the horizon, as the sensation of being watched by some unseen force got worse and worse and worse. In my fantasy, my torch died before I’d taken two steps, and I tripped over a solid sticky mass that sucked at one of my boots and nearly knocked me over with the smell of rot. I smacked the torch till it came back on- or maybe I dropped it and had to pick it back up?- and when I had my light again, I shone it up, my heartbeat pounding in my head or my ears or my mouth or whatever sounded the most dramatic, to see a dead sheep at my feet. Empty black eye-sockets, gore all over the grass, guts tangled round my ankles- the whole gruesome shebang. My mind goes a little too crazy sometimes. Then, I shone my torch up, and saw the whole field of sheep dead on the ground. The green grass was red. And the black sky flashed green. And then I was abducted or something. At around that point, I shook my head, swore to myself, and dragged my mind back into reality.

In real life, I unlatched the gate, and my torch was still on. I walked through the grass, which was only wet from dew and rain, and my torch was still on. I slipped, sure, but it was only because the ground was slick with water. Tiny flecks of rain were tingling in the air so I could just barely feel them on my face, and the sky was still empty of green. I shone my torch up, my heart staying put in my ribcage where it was meant to be, and saw one of the sheep grazing a few feet away from me. The rest were on the ground, sure, but they were asleep. I knew they were asleep.

See? Nothing. Real life’s not a film.

I’d gotten about halfway round the perimeter fence when I thought to stop and look up at the sky. By that point, I was shivering, and my fingers were numb and damp. I was distracted, for a couple of minutes, by the blinking red light of a plane passing behind a cloud. The black sky was smeared with silver clouds and white dots of glitter, and it was silent. Really silent. Too silent? No. It’s the fucking British countryside. There was a green flash on the horizon, but it was far away, nearly swallowed by the sheets of orange light over Nabdale. I let my eyes follow that plane, barely blinking as I got lost in my own head again, and barely noticed that green light turning into a green line. I turned my head, and saw that it was falling downwards. The trail it left in the sky was fuzzed brown by the light pollution, but I could see it. Just.

It was pretty.

Then, another green flash erupted from the middle of a cloud. It was still over the town, still three or four miles away through the forest, but this time, it was on my side of the orange haze. It was neon paint on the black sky, and when it swelled and overflowed, I watched it dripping down to the ground. Its shape- a hard line with a splash at the upper end- was burned into my eyes when I turned away. Then, it exploded against the ground. No sound. It glittered and fizzed in the air, then vanished. There was still silence. Nothing had ever made a sound, but in that silence, now, I could feel my heartbeat creeping up into my throat. Then, my mouth. It pounded in my head, louder and louder, and I bit back a yawn. A yawn, of all things. 

I was midway through my yawn when the sky tore itself in half above me.

“Shit.” I muttered to myself.

I looked up, watching those neon green tentacles of light overflowing from the seam in the clouds. They were like liquid and gas at once, flowing, morphing, swelling up in a huge droplet. Right above me. I would’ve run, I swear, but by then, my legs had turned to stone and my heartbeat had frozen and my breath was dead in my mouth.

Bring it on.

I yawned again as the bubble burst and the light started to fall towards me. Even the boredom had abandoned me by the time it reached me. All I felt, as that green shitstorm grew larger and larger and brighter and brighter before filling my vision and blowing up the ground all around me, was a blinding sensation of dizziness that turned all my thoughts bright white. And then, nothing.

My name is Robert Walker. At least, it was.

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