“Last night, at around half-past-three, the garden waste bin moved.” Peregrine Rubeltopf sighed, closing the little notebook and passing it to Vicki, who opened it again, upside down. “Not much to be gained from an entry like that. No details. I mean, how did it move? Where did it move? For what reason did it move?”
“It was an event. It didn’t need a reason.” Vicki Blomquist stated with finality, placing the matter beyond question. She tried to find the page Peregrine had closed upon, unaware she was turning to the wrong end of the book. “I presume that was his last entry?”
“Event, event!” Marcus Batt cried impatiently. “It can’t just be dismissed as ‘an event’. Tarpington has disappeared – there must be more to it than that. Why was he awake at half-past-three? How could he see if the bin moved – in the darkness?”
“Perhaps he heard it?” Peregrine craned his neck to see out through Tarpington’s kitchen window. Three plastic wheelie bins, Recycling, General Waste and Garden Waste, were sitting beside the path in an orderly row. “They don’t look as if they’ve moved at all.” He said. “What’s Chipperby doing out there?”
“Investigating probably,” Marcus said. “Chipperby’s always investigating.”
Peregrine frowned. “Isn’t that why we came?”
“No, it most certainly is not.” Vicki had taken up a stance in the middle of Tarpington’s kitchen, her eyes raised towards the ceiling and her hands spread in a gesture of supplication,. “Oh Mighty Ones, hear us! We await you! Show us your beneficence we beg you, and allow us to extend to you our humble welcome! Ah, each day brings you nearer, I feel it; I feel it! Peregrine – can’t you feel it?”
“She’s gone off on one again,” Marcus said. “She’s beginning to twitch.”
“Well, he’s definitely not here, and no-one’s seen him for days. He could be on holiday?” Peregrine suggested. “No, scrub round that. Tarpington never goes on holiday.”
Outside in the passage, Saul Chipperby was seeking clues to substantiate his friend Donald Tarpington’s cryptic final note. A member of the ‘Lallybridge Alien Life Society’ or LALS for several years, he sometimes found their collective company a little overwhelming; but that was not to say he disbelieved their mission; oh, no. Lallybridge was a hub for alien activity, Saul was convinced of that. Hadn’t he seen those mysterious silver discs in the eastern sky sunset after sunset, heard the strange hum that persisted behind the moan of a north wind, the creak of the trees in the birch wood on the night when the blue light shone from behind St. Wilfrid’s Hill?
Donald Tarpington had gone – abducted, without a doubt. Like seventeen-year-old Shona Trott from the Post Office and Glen Tebbit, the butcher’s boy. They had been returned, fortunately – found together in Margate six months later with no memory of their miraculous experience. And Shona was carrying what would inevitably be an alien child. But Donald Tarpington, he was a member of LALS. His abduction could only mean the visitors were ready to make contact at last!
Saul wasn’t sure what evidence of Donald’s abduction there might be. When the Society met on the first Tuesday of each month, signs of alien activity were freely discussed, and scorched circles generated by great heat from landing craft featured highly in those discussions, but when it came to specifics – size and so on – no-one had actually seen one. Nevertheless, scorch marks on the concrete could not be discounted, in Saul’s opinion, any more than signs of a struggle, or a pungent alien type smell. There was a pungent smell certainly, but it emanated from the three neatly aligned wheelie bins. He approached them cautiously, opening them one by one; first the blue Recycling bin, which was half-full, then the General Waste bin which was black and very full, and then the green Garden Waste bin…
“Don’t tell them I’m here.”
The creature was a caterpillar, wasn’t it? Except that it had limbs – or possibly tendrils, it was difficult to tell. It was certainly very green, as a mallard drake’s head is green, and it spoke: well, it sort of spoke, because its words entered Saul’s head by means other than his ears.
“I won’t,” said Saul, astonished at his lack of astonishment. The creature’s eyes were large, dreamy and the clear blue crystal of a mountain lake.
“Can you get me food? I’m hungry.” The creature’s thoughts read. “I simply love these little short things, but I seem to have eaten nearly all of them. They taste delicious. What are they?”
“Grass cuttings.” Said Saul.
“What on earth is Chipperby doing?” Peregrine demanded, watching his LALS colleague passing back and forth beyond the rear window of Tarpington’s lounge, into which room the quorum had adjourned and within which they were helping their absent host by downsizing his decanter of vintage port.
Peregrine opened the window, shouting, “What are you doing, Chipperby?”
“Mowing the lawn,” Saul replied.
“Good lord, why?”
“It needed to be cut.”
“Did you check out the Garden Waste bin?”
“Where do you think I’m emptying the grass box?” Snapped Saul.
Vicki Blomquist’s ‘Event Temple’ took a further half hour and two more generous measures of port to complete, during which time Marcus and Peregrine prowled around their erstwhile friend’s home, ostensibly looking for anything which might help them understand the method of his abduction, while allowing their focus to constantly stray into criticism of his choice of underwear or his loudly coloured ties. Their efforts were curtailed by Vicki’s loud proclamation: “Griselda’s been abducted too!”
The assembled company were jointly rendered aghast. Griselda Burdock, a member of LALS like themselves, had been prevented from joining their investigations at Tarpington’s house by a need to visit Sainsbury’s supermarket. They were expecting to join her for a post-abduction drink at the Skinner’s Arms later that evening.
“Her aunt’s texted me three times,” Vicki told them. “Griselda returned from shopping, it seems, without ever re-entering the house. “The bags of shopping were abandoned, their contents scattered on the path by the side gate. That was three hours ago!”
“Did her Garden Waste bin move?” Saul enquired, with what he hoped would sound like a thin veneer of sarcasm.
“I think we’d better go and check this out. It sounds to me like they’re finally ready to invade.” Said Marcus, with gravity. “Her aunt’s place is only three streets away.”
“Yes,” Saul agreed. “I’ll come back here later and clear up.”
“This must be reported,” Peregrine said. “It’s a major news story, at least!”
Saul, Vicki and Marcus greeted Peregrine’s enthusiasm with sad, downcast eyes. The people at the local paper would, as usual, laugh and offer unkind suggestions as to the real reasons for their colleagues’ absence, and if they were lucky enough to avoid a charge of wasting police time, the reactions of the local constabulary would run along similar lines. The LALS reputation for extravagant claims of alien invasion was well established in Lallybridge.
“Where are you going with that wheelie bin?” Miles Purvis called across the road as Saul Chipperby rumbled past. “It looks heavy!”
“I’m taking it up to the Tarpington place,” Saul responded. “It’s Griselda Burdock’s. While she’s away I’m getting both bins emptied from Tarpington’s house. It’s easier!”
“I suppose,” Miles said doubtfully, trying to follow Saul’s logic. “By the way, has Chipperby Lawn Services got a slot free to cut my back garden this weekend? Great idea for a company, that.”
“I’ll maybe have some space on Sunday. I’ll give you a call.”
Saul was not unaccustomed to the odor of fermenting grass, although its smell was the more malodorous for being confined within the walls of Tarpington’s living room. Wherever he looked there was grass – grass in bags, grass in boxes, grass in basins, grass in bottles. He wondered what Tarpington would make of it if he returned unexpectedly from the holiday Saul still darkly suspected might be the cause of his absence.
“Circumstances dictate cases. I wouldn’t object in the slightest.” It was the familiarity of the voice in his head that made Saul jump. He shot a glance at the two creatures, one dark green, the other dark blue but remarkably similar in every other respect, that lay entwined comfortably on Tarpington’s brown leather corner unit. Two pairs of dreaming eyes returned his look.
“Donald?” Saul frowned. This didn’t make sense.
“Of course, dear chap. Who else would I be?” The dark green creature’s response filled his mind.
“And you can address me as Griselda,” ‘Donald’s dark blue companion’s ‘voice’ was equally familiar. “Although we aren’t, actually.”
“That much we can agree, at least,” Saul said. “You bear no resemblance to Griselda – nor you to Donald. You actually look more like, well, caterpillars, I suppose. You do know that, don’t you?”
“Caterpillars.” Blue Griselda exchanged glances with Green Donald. “That could present a problem.”
“It would explain the appetite,” Green Donald agreed. “Could I have another bag of cuttings, by the way?”
“By all means!” Saul slid a box of cut grass across the floor in the creature’s direction. “You haven’t explained who you really are, yet. What has happened to Donald and Griselda – I mean, you’ve given me their names, but…”
“We’re placeholders.” Blue Griselda jumped into his thoughts. “You can think of us as exchange students, if you like.”
“We’re Zoggians,” Green Donald continued. “The Donald and Griselda you speak of have been teleported to our Mothership for modification, and we’re keeping their place for them until their treatment is complete.”
“The difficulty with teleportation – it’s a new system for us – is displacement of matter.” Blue Griselda explained. “If we break a creature down into its constituent atoms and then remove them we leave a hole. That can cause quite a commotion!”
“But nothing like the disturbance that will result when we try to put them back!” Green Donald added. “So we swop – two Earth people out, two Zoggians (that’s us) in. We’re keeping a window open for their return, when they’ve been upgraded to Zoggian specification.”
Saul was incredulous. “Donald and Griselda are being turned into Zoggians?”
“Obviously! I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a Zoggian? New, increased functionality, superb telepathic communication (including teleconferencing and augmented visuals) and full connectivity for our sensory navigation package – and that’s just to begin!”
“If you attract our gold package, for less than five pounds a month you can even download your own music on Zoggify!” Blue Griselda chimed in enthusiastically. “Although, this caterpillar thing does seem to be a bit of a problem. We were supposed to appear identical to the earth creatures we are body-sitting for, but something seems to have become confused.”
“I found you in the garden waste bin,” Saul found himself explaining to Green Donald. His long-held belief in alien abduction was helping him overcome the profound shock of seeing his convictions validated. “You could easily have got mixed up with a caterpillar or two in there.”
“And I sent up my transmission pattern for you to copy,” Green Donald mingled his thoughts with Blue Griselda; “So we are the same, effectively.”
“Which doesn’t solve our problem,” Blue Griselda reminded him. “Am I the only one who feels a little stiff this morning?”
High summer approached and Saul’s Lawn Services business fell into decline as an increasing weariness overtook him; so he was quite glad to arrive one Sunday at the Tarpington house to discover not a pair of voracious caterpillars but two extremely large dry chrysalids, one green, one blue, in their place. Even then he refrained from informing the membership of LALS (the Lallybridge Alien Life Society) what had passed. Only when, upon a regular weekly visit, he thought he detected movement in one of the chrysalises, did he summon them to the Tarpington house, relating all that his larval companions had told him. The members were not pleased.
“Why didn’t you inform us earlier?” Marcus demanded. “We might at least have averted the chrysalis crisis.”
“They asked me not to,” Saul replied. “I think they were afraid of publicity.”
“And now look what’s happened!” Cried Peregrine. “They’ve turned to bloody rock! Vicki dear, what are you doing?”
Intoning the words of an unintelligible mantra, Vicki Blomquist was busily producing cards decorated with mystic symbols from her handbag and positioning them around the room, glancing frequently up to a point on the ceiling for reference. “I’m generating the Event Temple, Peregrine. One of us has to, or Donald and Griselda won’t find their way back, you see?”
“I think they will,” Saul responded. “The blue one’s splitting; look!”
A tiny fissure had opened in the Blue Griselda chrysalis. Marcus, ever thoughtful, brought a bath sheet from Tarpington’s linen cupboard and held it up, ready to preserve the hatching alien’s dignity as she returned to Earth. “I don’t care whether she’s still one of us or not, she deserves a little respect,” he excused himself (somewhat lamely, Peregrine thought).
The assembled company would have to wait a further half-hour, regaled by Vicki’s chanting, before the familiar head of Griselda Burdock finally appeared, her hair passably well styled, and looked around her. She registered no surprise at the presence of her welcoming committee as, giving a final heave she rose, thrusting the two halves of her chrysalis from her. Marcus, about to bring her the towel, froze. Griselda looked down at her large, bedraggled wings and her six furry legs.
“Dammit!” She said.
© Frederick Anderson 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.
Featured Image – Thomas Budach from Pixabay
Grass Mower: Ulrika Mai from Pixabay