One of my Scifi shorts for you to read:)
THE DUST OF OTHER DAYS
The spring sunlight crept across my desk, the bands of light and dark formed by the bamboo slats across my window swarmed with tiny motes of dust and I sat fascinated by the amount of them in the air.
However, they were nothing compared to the dust that had permeated the air in the Mali desert.
Mali…one of the five poorest countries in Africa…if only dust was an asset...
“If only…” I whispered as I slowly unlocked the top drawer of my old desk and slid it open. The old Webley .445 revolver languished like a black snake in the bottom of my drawer.
The faint, sweet aroma of gun-oil and the harsher sulphur smell of gunpowder wafted up.
Within a moment I was transported back to Africa; the cool night spent alongside the Tiber. I was composing the dialogue to the film we had finished shooting that day and looking up at the velvet sky bejewelled with more stars than grains of sand upon the desert in which I stood.
No…even more stars than sand grains upon our very own jewel…Earth.
“Penny for them”
I jumped, “You scared the crap out of me then James.”
“Oops, sorry Sammy, didn’t mean to wake you up.” Laughed James Issoufi Cooper our cameraman, and then he took my photo with his small digital. The flash blinded me and all I saw was the green after-image.
“Great…now you’ve spoilt my night-vision as well. And…once again…don’t call me Sammy, only my mother calls me Sammy.” I grimaced at the thought; it was an ok name for a six year old, but not for a thirty-six year old. I much preferred Sam, or at a push…Samuel.
“Your night-vision?” he laughed again, “You were asleep mate, what bloody night-vision?”
“I wasn’t asleep, just lying down, looking at the stars and compiling the dialogue for our piece in my head.”
He sauntered over to me and collapsed like a bag of bones onto the sand by my side. James had to be the tallest man in Mali, perhaps even in Africa. At six foot seven he made me look short, and I was over six foot and up until meeting him thought I was tall.
However, I was the heavier of the two. James was like a walking skeleton. The ebony black of his skin seemed to be stretched tight over his bones and I half expected to see them poke through one day.
“You sounded like a collapsing xylophone as you sat down then… you skinny fart…”
“Ha… you are just jealous my fat friend.” James replied and then laid back to look up into the night sky, “Beautiful, just beautiful.”
“Thanks, but I’d prefer you called me handsome,” I answered and poked him in the ribs.
He pulled away quickly; James was also one of the most ticklish people I knew.
“You girls having fun?” Ann Roberts, the producer of our little documentary on the possible discovery of gold in the Mali desert, had left her tent and decided to join us.
To an undiscerning eye she seemed a matronly type of woman; a woman that meant business and would not stand for any shenanigans. But she was exactly the opposite, as I found out the first night I crawled into my sleeping bag only to find a rubber snake coiled up there waiting for me.
“Pull up a chair and sit down,” I said, “we are just watching the telly” I nodded towards the sky.
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind?” she asked, staring up and not bothering to lie next to us.
I frowned and looked skywards again but the damned green splodge, the after-effects of the flash, still marred my vision, “What do you mean?”
“Holy shit…” James said and moved the fastest I had ever seen him move; he ran towards his tent, “Getting the video camera, start taking photos with my digital…quick!”
Ann picked up the discarded digital camera and brushed off the sand, she selected automatic and switched off the flash, “I doubt this will be any good.”
I screwed my eyes shut and rubbed them in an attempt to disperse the after-image and looked up again. This time I spotted something, movement.
A large triangular shape was hovering above us occluding the stars. It was impossible to tell its height or dimensions as there was no point of reference available.
“I see it,” I gasped as James came running back with his Sony Cinealta and started recording, “What the hell is it?”
“Well it sure isn’t a helicopter or a “Stealth”,” Ann replied, “We’ve got ourselves a UFO, guys”
The object wavered momentarily and fluttered like a kite in the breeze, only there was no breeze and more ominously, no sound.
“Doesn’t look very stable; how big do you reckon it is?” James whispered, the camcorder held up to his right eye.
“Why you whispering… you muppet?” I answered, still staring upwards, “Got no idea, damn thing could be miles up or just a few hundred feet.”
A purple glow ran around the edges of the triangle, the stars around the object seemed to get drawn towards it and then it flashed across the sky towards our Nissan Pathfinder and hovered once more.
“It’s not as far up as we thought,” I said, “Look at it in relation to our off-roader. I’d guess it to be about the size of a small plane, perhaps something like a twin-engined Beechcraft.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” replied Ann, “Doubtful it’s alone then.” She started to look around the sky.
“What you mean Ann?” asked James, his camera still trained on the spaceship.
“Well, I can’t see that little thing being an interstellar voyager, more like a landing craft or shuttle.”
“That means there’s a mothership out there somewhere?” I asked.
“How the hell would I know?” Ann laughed, “But it seems logical.”
“Thanks, Mrs Spock…” I answered back.
“Looks like it’s gearing up to fly off again,” said James, “Purple lights are back.”
We all looked up at the object as its outline became illuminated with a purple glow once more.
“Wow it’s brighter now,” Ann said as the glow increased, “Must be going further.”
The intensity of the glow began to hurt my eyes and I wondered if the object would be visible from further across the desert, but as we were hundreds of miles from anything that could be called civilization I doubted we would be able to get corroboration from other witnesses. Suddenly the whole delta shape of the craft flashed purple and a beam lanced down onto the Pathfinder enveloping it in a surreal lambency.
The car began to dissolve before our very eyes whilst the beam thickened and became more solid.
“Oh-my-god…” Ann gasped, “Look at the triangle.”
For a moment I couldn’t discern anything different about it and then realised what she meant. It was growing.
“The damn thing looks like a mosquito feeding off someone’s arm.” James said quietly.
“I’m bloody glad it’s not my arm.” I replied.
“I hope it’s satisfied with just the car.” Ann murmured and turned around to look at James and me.
I reached down and grabbed my rucksack, I never went anywhere without it. It must have been the boy-scout training that was ingrained into me for it contained water, some dried rations, energy tablets and my father’s old pistol.
North of Timbuktu was bandit country and we were on the Niger between there and Gao. It had seemed prudent to pack the weapon and now I was glad that I did, even though going through customs had been scary. The gun had been dismantled into tiny pieces but now it was whole again and loaded.
“James,” I hissed, “Put the bloody camcorder down and run.”
“No way, man.” He said and turned to me, smiling, “My Pulitzer’s in here.”
His smile will be ingrained in my memory until the day I die; his beautiful white teeth flashing in the darkness of his face; the look of excitement as he anticipated the future and finally the shock as the beam moved from the car onto him.
The image of my friend dissolving in front of my eyes is another memory that will stay with me until I die too, and an image that haunts my every dream.
I reached out a hand to him and for a brief second he tried to walk to me, his bony hand outstretched and the damn Sony grasped within it. I knew he wanted me to take it, even dying he was still the professional. A sharp tug on my jacket pulled me away from the tableau of James standing frozen in the purple beam, gradually melting, his structure being absorbed into the spacecraft the same way the off-roader had.
Ann had her hand twisted into my jacket and was pulling me backwards with all her might. I almost stumbled but caught my balance and turned; her face glowed eerily in the backwash of the beam and I saw her eyes flick past me and I realised that unsatiated with its consumption of a car and a human being the purple beam now sought more.
Unfortunately the only way we could run with any safety was towards the river; Ann looked at me and I knew what she was asking.
“We have to; it’s either the river or try and dodge the beam. I don’t think we have a choice.” I shouted across to her and she nodded her face pale but her mouth drawn tight and determined.
The Niger was a vast black ribbon before us. We careered down the escarpment towards it and the possibility of escaping the searing beam. I didn’t know if the water would hide us or even diffuse the thing but anything was better than the alternative.
I suddenly had a moment’s doubt, as what I thought was a large dark log, suddenly rose and up crashed into the water. It disturbed a number a black blobs that I had taken to be small islands but were now bellowing and snorting before sinking below the surface.
Great… hippos or crocs. I wondered which would be the less painful death.
I didn’t have time to decide, the escarpment finished and I saw Ann run past a huge boulder and leap out into the darkness. A brilliant light washed over me, I turned and gasped; the craft was almost on me.
Christ it was so damn low!
I felt the escarpment vanish from beneath my feet and I fell.
For a moment I thought the beam had captured me and I would remain suspended over the water until I too was consumed, but gravity took hold and I crashed into the Niger.
The wind was knocked out of me and water tried to rush in to fill my empty lungs as I sank like a stone. I kicked out with all my strength towards what I hoped was the surface. The rucksack became a sodden weight on my back but I didn’t have the time to try and remove it. My vision started to go red as I realised I was losing consciousness when something big brushed against my side and grabbed on. I screamed, or rather tried to scream, all I succeeded in doing was to swallow even more water. It was then I broke through to the surface and the thing surfaced next to me
“You big girl,” spluttered Ann, “What’s the matter, water too cold for you?”
I sucked in a great lungful of air and spat water out in guffaws of almost hysterical laughter.
“Ann, you silly sod!”
We grasped each other as the current swept us downstream, laughing like maniacs.
Behind us a rumble filled the air and we both paddled around to look. The red I had seen wasn’t due to lack of oxygen. It had been our pursuer. The craft had collided with the last part of the escarpment, skipped like a stone across the river and was now embedded in the opposite bank and in flames.
Ann cheered and raised a fist in the air, “Eat shit and die!”
“I don’t believe you just said that Ann,” I looked at her in astonishment, “Not very ladylike.”
“Well I did, and I mean every bloody word Sam.” She looked at me soberly, “I hope whoever is in that thing burns slowly, or the crocs get it.”
At the mention of crocs we both looked around in the water and then at each other. It didn’t take us long to swim to the bank and get out.
Try as we may we couldn’t get a fire going. The matches in my rucksack were soaked through and I had never been any good at starting one with two sticks or a piece of flint. So we just sat together, arms wrapped around each other and shivered in tandem until our clothes slowly dried.
As the sky lightened and we began to get our bearings Ann and I formulated a plan. I stripped the old Webley down and was pleased to see that the mechanism worked freely. I changed the six .445 bullets for fresh ones that came out of the grease-lined box of spares and spun the chamber.
“It might not be a modern gun but it never let my father down and I’m not a bad shot.” I said to Ann. However, it seemed that I had said it more to convince myself than her, for we had decided to go and investigate the downed spacecraft. If anything had survived we had both agreed it should not be allowed to escape. A bullet from the Webley made a very big hole.
We walked back up river and within ten minutes arrived at where the Pathfinder had been; we knew because a glassy puddle now lay in its place. Both Ann and I tried not to look at the next, smaller puddle, but it was unavoidable. I heard a sob break from her lips and put an arm around her, “It was quick, Ann.” I heard myself say, but with no great conviction.
Upon reaching the escarpment we could see where the craft had hit. I had been right, the damn thing had come in low to try and get me, too low. A massive boulder with the upper part of it sliced off had been the culprit. The spacecraft couldn’t have been able to avoid it in time. Then it had careened down into the water and the drag had been enough to stop it from avoiding the hard rock bluff on the other side.
It lay split open like a ripe melon. Smoke lazily wound up from the main body of the craft and from smaller debris spread across the furthermost bank of the river.
Ann gripped my arm, “Something moved.”
I peered across the river to where she was pointing and sure enough beneath a silvery-grey piece of what I imagined to be metal a movement caught my eye.
“Could be a croc, or something scavenging?”
She shook her head, “Don’t think so, it saw us approaching and scuttled under. I think it’s the pilot.”
“We’re going to have to go across then.” I said and checked along the banks. I couldn’t see any crocodiles, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there.
“Keep the gun dry Sam.”
I looked at her and nodded then stepped into the river.
It was hard swimming one-handed and by the time I had got across I was a little further downstream than anticipated, Ann however, unencumbered, had climbed out of the water almost on top of the wreckage. I saw her pick up a solid-looking branch and approach the metal sheeting.
“Wait for me!” I shouted and she turned and raised her hand in acknowledgement.
But in the same instance the metal sheeting was flung back and something squat and grey, the size of a large dog flew across the ground towards her at phenomenal speed I cried out and raised the Webley as she turned to face it.
The creature leapt and I hesitated, it was too close to her.
The branch was cumbersome and Ann didn’t have time to swing it around before the creature impacted with her. One moment it was upon her then the next it was melting into her.
She screamed and tried to tear it off but it was if she was trying to tear away her own flesh. Ann turned towards me and held out both arms in supplication. The creature was no where to be seen. Somehow it had melded into her body although her mass didn’t seem to have changed one bit. Ann raised her fists to the sides of her head and screamed again. She took another few steps closer and once more held her arms out to me.
I raised the Webley and cocked the hammer back slowly. She nodded to me her eyes beseeching me to pull the trigger. The sound of the gun’s report was deafening; the kickback threw my arm up into the air and Ann’s head exploded.
I dropped to my knees and vomited violently as Ann feet drummed on the dusty riverbank, a last nervous reaction by her I thought… but I was wrong. The creature that was melded into her sloughed away from Ann's body like a snake casting-off skin and turned to me. A pair of intelligent eyes surveyed me momentarily then glazed over as it too dropped to the floor.
I had killed it.
I looked at the Webley; smoke curled up from its barrel and the smell of its sulphury breathe made me vomit again. I dropped it to the ground and watched as the dust rose up from around it, so much dust, so much.
The shadow was over me before I even realised what it was. I didn’t even have a chance to turn or reach for my gun before the thing slammed into my back and I was flung forward smashing my head upon a rock. Darkness overtook me and so did a feeling of unknown terror.
It took me almost a year to get out of Africa. I can understand why. If the remains of the craft hadn’t been found then there would have been only one possible explanation for what had occurred besides the Niger that night and day. I had gone berserk and murdered my fellow film-makers.
But the remains of the craft were still there; so were the photographs on James’ digital camera. But the alien’s corpse had gone. Some residue was found near Ann’s body and a great furore ensued as to what should be done with it, but that too dispersed before a decision could be made.
Perhaps it was for the best.
I was surprised they had let me come home to Britain; I was even more surprised when MI5 had visited me at home for even more debriefing. But perhaps the thing that surprised me the most was when the agent had handed me the brown jiffy-bag with my father’s pistol in it. My quizzical expression prompted him into explaining that it had come back to Britain for forensic examination and now that everything had been satisfactorily concluded… and as I had a valid permit for it… then…
I lifted the revolver from the drawer and spun the chamber; there were still five bullets in it.
I looked at myself in the little silver-framed desk mirror and smiled, “Everything had been satisfactorily concluded…my arse…” I said, “Not until you are accounted for too…”
The click of the hammer locking back into place was loud, louder than the beat of my heart, louder than the thing I knew was inside of me, unable to get out and desperately fighting to control what I was doing. I had secretly been fighting it since that day on the Niger and was terrified that one day I would lose.
Now there would be no…one day…
The dust swirled up in the bars of light that shone across my desk as I brought the pistol up to my temple, such a lot of dust, but not as much dust as there was in Africa.
I smiled…”Get a chair ready for me you two,” I whispered to James and Ann, then closed my eyes and pulled the trigger.