There is no doubting the certitude of some things. It took only a couple of drinks at a party and Warwick would corner any and every one and talk about Unidentified Flying Objects. Tonight he had buttonholed Brandon.
One of the more concerning things about UFOs – said Warwick – is that they are always seen hovering near military establishments. Military bases of various kinds. Or if not, at least an air force plane or an aircraft carrier. It implies that these UFO aliens are snooping on our military. One would think that aliens would be interested in Nature – our mountains and lakes, our trees and animals. Even our weather. But no! They snoop around the military bases, and this implies that their intentions are not friendly. Don’t you think?
Brandon felt trapped. He clearly had to respond, because there was no one else in on the conversation. Just him and Warwick. So he said that Warwick’s point was very perceptive. Yes, it did look like these cosmic aliens were preparing for an Earth take-over. One would think that if the aliens were going to surprise the Earthlings they would cover their intent by making appearances at less war-prone environments. Why not be furtively seen in the sky at the Chelsea Flower Show, for example?
Quite true! Quite true! said Warwick excitedly. The signs certainly point to an imminent attack.
Brandon made a mental note to pass this observation on to his headquarters, somewhere in the vicinity of Proxima Centauri.
Eustace was eleven years old. He lived in the country. He had four pet ducks. They were black and white.
A river passed through the neighbouring farm. It wasn’t a big river; more of a large stream. One day Eustace’s ducks waddled down to the river and went for a swim. Eustace told the farmer. The farmer didn’t mind. He said the ducks were welcome to cross his fields and swim all day if they wished. Besides, they looked pretty swimming around.
So that is what they did. Every morning before school Eustace would let the ducks out of their pen and they would waddle down to the river. They messed about in the river all day. Then after school (after he had done his homework) he would go down to the river, call the ducks, and they would follow him home. Of course they followed because they knew it was dinner time.
One day Eustace went down to the river and called but no ducks came. Then he saw them. They had been shot at close range by a hunter and tossed into a pool in the river. The hunter hadn’t even bothered to take them home to eat.
Caitlin was halfway through peeling the potatoes for dinner when the phone rang. It was Uncle Philip phoning to say that Great Aunt Philomena had died. Caitlin hardly knew her. Once or twice when she was a child her parents had visited Great Aunt Philomena and Caitlin was each time ordered to “behave like a lady”. Even back then Great Aunt Philomena was as proper as one could get, and now she was dead. It was no great shakes. Caitlin went back to peeling the potatoes.
The announcement of Philomena’s death brought back some vivid memories for Caitlin. The spinster aunt would sit in a huge armchair while Caitlin’s parents sat on the sofa and made small talk. Two or three times throughout the visit, Great Aunt Philomena would rise from her chair and grandly announce, “I shall be back shortly. It’s time for a little Coca Cola.” She would depart the room only to return a few minutes later smelling of gin.
Her death was five years ago. Throughout those five years, every time Caitlin peeled potatoes for dinner she thought of Great Aunt Philomena. That phone call had associated Philomena with potato peeling. Forever, it seems. Why can’t I think of something else when I peel potatoes, thought Caitlin? The association remained. There was no escaping it. Great Aunt Philomena and potatoes were inextricably bound. It was an existential annoyance. There was only one thing for it: Caitlin would have to give up peeling potatoes.
Of course, Caitlin peeled the potatoes only to be useful and “ordinary”. She didn’t need to do the peeling. These days one of the scullery maids does it. It helps that Great Aunt Philomena left Caitlin her mansion and all her millions.
No one knew exactly where they came from. Earth visits by exoplanet aliens were becoming so common that the whole thing was humdrum. There were millions of different types of aliens visiting from all over the cosmos; so many that Earth decided to set up some sort of registration office. Each “species” of alien could await their turn. After all, they were basically “coming just for a look”. Like Earthling tourists in the old days, nothing was added to the Grand Canyon simply by having lots of inquisitive tourists. It would be different if an alien species came to share its technology with Earth.
Most exoplanet species didn’t mind the registration and visiting timetable schedule. A few exoplanet species however had evolved as deviants. Like the Earthling Communist Chinese of a previous era they had stolen the technology (in this case from other planets) – which was how they had the wherewithal to travel to Earth. Basically, when it came to being scientifically practical, they were relatively thick.
An example would be when they tried to bypass the registration setup. Some dumb exoplanet genius had devised a plan to infiltrate Earth by having a whole army pose as Earthling mailboxes. They were to stand motionless at every house gate and observe. (It must be added here for those who scoff, that these particular aliens were masters of transmogrification). They had missioned to Earth a team to capture the template of the basic mailbox. Moulds were made of the prototype. Thousands of mailboxes were manufactured. Each mailbox was imbued with the being of an exo-alien. The possessed mail boxes were placed at every earthling’s gate, replacing the mailboxes that were there.
There stood the aliens, motionless and observant; “spying” would be a better word. That was until Mrs Bridie McDonald of Chattanooga went out to check her mail. She was the first in the world that day to do so. She discovered that her mailbox no longer had any moving parts. They had ended up doing what the Japanese had done in an earlier Earth era: the Japanese had made trumpets with a mould so that there were no moving valves.
Every infiltrating mailbox was thrown onto a non-carbon-producing bonfire, and the dumb invasive exoplanet species were banned permanently from Earth. Way to go, Earthlings! Although, as an addendum, Mrs Bridie McDonald of Chattanooga did in later years admit to having found her mailbox particularly attractive – which might well explain why later that year her son was born with no moving parts.
Don’t ask me how he knew, but he knew alright. Charlie knew that this was his winning day. He didn’t know exactly how, but he knew it deep down in his bones.
He had always been intuitive; like when he knew his brother had passed away before the phone call even came through. Perhaps today he would win a lot of money in the lottery. Or perhaps he’d win the trailer load of groceries that the local Rotary Club had organized; after all he’d taken two tickets in the raffle. Perhaps he had been given the winning voucher from the local electronic supply shop; the promotion had said “Spend $20 and go in the draw to win”. He already knew how he’d spend it; at least how he’d spend part of it. He wanted a rice cooker, and a deep fryer, and a hand held whizzy stick-thing that pureed stuff. Not being sure as to which scenario was going to make his lucky day simply added to the excitement!
And then… as he looked out the window, two cars slowly passed the front of his house. One was a shiny new bright red car. Both drivers slowed down and looked at his house. They stopped just up the road. One of the drivers got out and went to the other driver’s window. They spoke for about five minutes.
During that time, Charlie was beside himself. He’d won a car! He simply knew! There were a number of competitions he’d entered over the previous month to win a car, and at last it had come to fruition. Oh lucky, lucky day!
The two cars were turning around now. They began to slowly approach Charlie’s house. He knew! He knew! Don’t ask me how he knew, but he knew alright. Charlie opened his front door wide as a welcoming gesture. His heart was in his mouth. The cars were moving so slowly. They almost came to a stop. And then they went right passed.
Desmond had only one thing on his bucket list: to conduct a symphony orchestra. For over thirty years Desmond had been to every concert the national orchestra had staged in his home city. If only he could wave the baton for one minute! He would slow the orchestra down; he would speed the orchestra up; he would increase the volume; he would lower the volume. Such power at the tip of a little stick!
Of course, he would need to have the music and all the parts written out for each instrument. Desmond had a piano background from way back, so preparing the music was nothing. Selecting the piece of music was more problematic. In the end he chose to conduct Percy Grainger’s 1918 arrangement of Country Gardens. It was short and catchy, and had already been arranged for orchestra. Desmond need only get hold of the parts or write them out by hand himself. And he did that; he wrote the parts out himself.
And then tragedy struck. Such tragedy happens to most of us. The doctor gave Desmond sad news: you have but a short time left. Desmond had many acquaintances and friends, but only one knew of Desmond’s sole bucket-list desire. That friend wrote to the symphony orchestra. He already has the parts written out for Grainger’s Country Gardens. He’s been to every concert in thirty years. The piece of music is short. Perhaps he could conduct it at a rehearsal? But hurry! He has but a short time left.
The symphony orchestra scribbled a reply at the bottom of the friend’s returned letter: “Certainly not”.
Bernice was a lovely little old lady who drove around in a beat-up old car and lived in a cosy bungalow with a cottage garden and a sausage dog. She was always pleasant – some would say delightful – and hence would be invited to gatherings here and there whenever a celebration was called for. For example, the local school always invited her to their Christmas party (not that they called it a Christmas party) simply because she was delightful company.
Bernice had a saying if anyone asked her age: “Quite frankly, I can’t afford to die.” It was true that the cost of dying had rocketed into the stratosphere in recent years. There was the coffin and the funeral and the hearse and the flowers and the… Would it never end?
Well, afford it or not, Bernice passed away. Her will requested a simple funeral, the sausage dog got looked after, and the school got to build a new gymnasium.
Alva was one of those slightly past-middle-age rich people who lived alone and entertained themselves with every new gadget that came on the market. Her garden gate opened by remote control just by pressing a button on her diamond watch. The front and back doors to the house had locks with number pads. Her television on the wall could turn slightly to the left and right depending on where she was in the house. For example, if she was in the kitchen the television screen could turn slightly to the left. Gadget after gadget…
Alva had a large house which she shared with a lodger called Howard. Howard was a promising plumber. He had an apprenticeship. A practical hands-on job with some mathematics suited Howard down to the ground. Alva let him stay for a song. It was her way of helping someone young get a start in life. Of course, Howard the Plumber was as into gadgetry as Alva – and a handy gadget fixer as well!
“What I dislike most of all about modern things,” said Howard to Alva, “is having to remember all these different passwords and pin numbers.”
“Oh, I just use the same one for everything,” said Alva.
“That’s a good idea,” said Howard.
A week later, Howard had a brand new car, and Alva had no money in her bank account.
Mrs Mallard Duck had found the perfect place for a nest. It was not too far from the stream where she could go to stretch her legs, and it was close enough (although a good way back) from the road to give some interest and variation to an otherwise monotonous twenty-eight days of sitting on the eggs to keep them warm.
Mr Mallard Duck wasn’t a great deal of help, although he did offer a bit of company occasionally when Mrs Duck went swimming and feeding in the stream. But goodness me! Twenty-eight days is four weeks, and four weeks can feel like four months (in fact four years) when there’s little else to do than count the cars and trucks that whizz by on the road.
But it was all worth it! After those exasperating four weeks all nine eggs hatched. And what pretty babies they were! Mrs Mallard Duck would soon take them to the stream for their first swim. But first, she must show off her brood by waddling them slap-bang down the middle of the road.
She always wondered why he limped; now, she knew. Randall McAvoy was eighty years old and hobbled along with the aid of a walking stick. Dolores Hughes had known him for the last eight years. He was a neighbour. She had always presumed that his limp was because of age. One day she asked him if his limp was due to rheumatism. He said, “Oh goodness me no! I’ve had this limp since I was sixteen.”
Dolores asked further, even though she didn’t want to appear nosey. He had got a knee injury when he was sixteen while rescuing orphaned babies trapped in a gun fight between warring factions in Lebanon. Some shrapnel had hit him in the knee. No, he wasn’t a fighter; he was rescuing the orphans. However, it was only today that Dolores discovered the full truth.
Dolores was just settling down to watch her favourite afternoon soap when there was a knock on her door. It was Randall. He said, “Look, I don’t want to be a bother but my washing machine needs fixing. I know it’s a silly request but would you mind ever so much if I used yours? The need to wear these clothes has become a matter of urgency, and they’re frightfully dirty with soot and the stink of acrid smoke.” He had the clothes neatly folded in a large paper bag, and there were just a couple of items.
“Of course I don’t mind!” said Dolores. She showed him her washing machine and the soap powder and softener.
“I’m very grateful,” said Randall after setting the washing machine going and leaving. “I shall be back in a while to pick things up.”
He was long in returning. Dolores wanted to do her own washing so she put Randall’s clothes in a laundry basket. She got the shock of her life. Randall’s clothes were not ordinary. He was the real Superman.