A big thanks to FracturedFaith for his regular Flash Fiction Challenge, a fun opportunity for would-be writers to test their mettle by writing a short piece around an inspirational topic. This week, inspiration is the attached till receipt, genius.
Again, thanks for the challenge I hope this little amusement at least entertains, and please be gentle it’s the first piece of fiction I’ve written since school a very very long time ago 😉
The heat was almost unbearable as I drove along the dusty scorched road up into the hills. The months of relentless sun had turned the usually green and fertile countryside into a dust bowl, field after field of withered brown crops telling a story of desperate drought. It was the same story across the country with new record-breaking temperatures being set every year. Global warming predictions were becoming a stark reality and in a time scale that no one could have predicted.
I was regretting agreeing to meet so far out of the city, almost as much as I was regretting not getting the aircon in the car fixed, but cash was tight and the car was rarely used. I really should just sell it. I could feel the sweat running down my back, my shirt would be soaked by the time I got to the farm. I rolled the window back up giving up on the pretence the wind was cooling.
Why this farm? I’d wanted to meet in secrecy, I’d been the one to demand it, I’d learned over the last few weeks to be careful. But this is literally the back end of nowhere, replete with dust devils playing across the fields and road. At least by the time I get to the farm, it would be dark and hopefully, that would provide some respite from the heat.
As an investigative journalist, I was no stranger to midnight liaisons, you went where the story led and in my experience that was often in the shadows. This was different, this wasn’t a secret source a whistle-blower ready to drop the inside scoop and provide me a payday. This was much bigger and it had me scared.
It had started innocuously enough, a phone call and a sequence of clandestine meetings with a small group of student scientists. I had met with several of their group in the first week, and my initial annoyance at being set up, the target of some adolescent joke, slowly gave way to interest, then concern and finally horror.
It all came to a head of all places in a packed London pub, two of the group had asked me to meet them there. I was going to tell them I was done, that without real evidence I couldn’t afford to continue to indulge their fantasy. Before I could make my excuses, they were pointing at a guy in the corner of the pub, he was animatedly talking to a woman. There was nothing odd that I could see in the scene, just more student bloody games.
The guy they had pointed out finished his conversation, the woman left and headed out of the pub, she even looked over and smiled, The bastards, it’s a wind up, that was it I was done, I launched into my time wasters speech, it wasn’t the first time I’d had to deliver it, in fact, I was well rehearsed. One of the group got up and followed the man out towards the back of the pub, taking the wind out of my sails mid-flow. His companion started ushering me in the same direction towards the toilet both men had now entered.
At best I was about to be pranked royally or at worst have an encounter I definitely didn’t sign up for, either way, the increasing urgency from my guide rapidly escalated to him dragging me into the toilet. I expected the worst.
Nothing could have prepared me for the scene of a fire extinguisher being brought down on the poor guy with a sickening thud. He staggered back, I was amazed to see he was still on his feet, and utterly gobsmacked when he launched himself forward kicking his assailant clear across the room. The fire extinguisher fell from the limp hand and rolled over to his colleague who proceeded to snap it up and threw himself into the fray. He swung wildly, catching his target off guard and knocking him off balance, the guy’s reaction was instant and with a slow dawning realisation – completely unnatural. He was moving oddly, too quick, too angular, too … something I couldn’t put my finger on, but the hairs on the back of my neck told me everything I needed to know.
Again the fire extinguisher came down on his head, and again he did not drop. The student hit him twice more, he didn’t even move on the last hit. I stood in shock, trying to comprehend what I was witnessing. It just didn’t make sense. The student suddenly changed tack and unclipped the hose on the fire extinguisher and started spraying the guy with the contents. The reaction was instant, flailing of arms and legs and the target was finally on the ground, the student pressed the attack and shoved the hose in the guy’s mouth. The creature (I was under no illusions by now) eye’s went wide and then wider again and blinked in a way that shattered my world.
My flight response finally kicked in and I ran out of the pub in sheer terror and I just ran and ran trying to escape the memory of what I had seen. I finally made it back to my apartment, my mind was racing replaying the story the scientists had given me, connecting the dots. I was still shaking when I collected all my notes and packed an overnight bag and headed out, to where I had no idea, just away from here away from London.
In the following days, I had moved around between travel inns and b&b mixing it up, trying to buy myself some time to process the information I had and had seen. I kept seeing that couple in the pub so normal talking in the corner. The way she got up and smiled on the way out, the way her partner flailed around in the bathroom it didn’t make any sense. I was out of my league.
I realised I stood almost no chance of selling this story to my usual employers, it would be laughed out of the room. There was no publication on the planet that would touch this sketchy tale, it was too absurd. But I had to tell someone, to get the message to people who would know what to do. Luckily I had a long time friend who was fairly high up in Government. Jim Thomas, we’d met 30 odd years ago as it turned out we shared a common and dangerous addiction to alcohol that was in danger of ending both our careers. Over those weeks in therapy, we became steadfast friends and thereafter from time to time had helped each other out. Strictly off the record of course! So if anyone would hear me out, it would be Jim.
And so I found myself on the access road leading up to the farm, it was dark and it was still hot. Up ahead I could see a small cottage with a light in the window. I pulled the car up out front, got out and headed to the cottage, the noise of a small diesel generator humming in the background, definitely off the grid this far from humanity. I looked through the window into a small rustic kitchen, there were items on the table but I couldn’t see anyone.
I started at a noise behind me, and turned around to see Jim leaning against the wall, he clearly had watched me walk up. “You scared the shit out of me”, I spluttered. Jim stood up and walked over smirking, “Sorry old boy, I just couldn’t resist, how was the drive?”. We traded pleasantries as we went into the cottage.
The small kitchen I had seen from outside, seemed larger inside, a good size table and several chairs, a double sink under the window and a small fridge/freezer in the corner. “Want a drink? I went out of my way to pick something up for us”, said Jim pointing at the cans of diet coke on the table. It was a running joke that it was the only thing either of us drank these days. “I’m sorry I’ve had the last of the ice”, he raised his glass and the ice clinked alluringly. Shame!
I fell into a chair and slowly started my story, Jim just sat and listened swirling the ice in his drink. At the end of it, I was relieved to have finally shared this madness, I stared over at Jim trying to judge his reaction. Finally, he smiled and asked, “How do you know I’m not one of them?”. I jokingly replied, “I’ve known you for years and amongst politicians, I consider you one of the most human”. I raised my glass and added, “From what I know of these creatures they wouldn’t be necking ice cold diet coke, without a serious headache”. Jim just laughed, sucking an ice cube into his mouth and crunching down on it.
For the next few minutes, I just answered Jim’s endless questions, who, what, where, why? I totally understand where he was coming from, it had taken me days to get my head around it and even now the idea of a cold-blooded alien lizard race infiltrating every government with an agenda to terraform the planet, seems unbelievable. Even more so in this cosy and isolated cottage.
By the time we were done, I could hear the first bird calls of the morning, I was totally exhausted. A combination of the relief of sharing my nightmare, the stress of the last few weeks, the hour and the endless heat. I looked over to Jim and yawned, he was staring out the window in thought still swirling his ice.
It shot through me like lightning, something was wrong. In my tired state, I couldn’t quite figure it out but my heart was racing as the pit of my stomach knotted. What was it, I tried to wipe the sleep out of my eyes and focus, scanning the room. What is it? I know there’s something wrong but I can’t see it, my gaze falls back upon the table the diet-coke, half the cans empty now, the receipt. I reached out and twisted it so I can see its contents – diesel, glacier mints, diet-coke. Nothing.
Jim is still looking out the window lost in his thoughts, still swirling the ice in his drink. Still swirling the ice in his … my heart stops. How, the ice, I’m slow to take it in, it doesn’t make sense, how is the ice. Jim had held that same glass of diet coke and ice all night and the ice hadn’t melted. How? Why?
I hadn’t noticed Jim get up and slowly, casually walk towards the door constantly swirling his ice. I heard the lock click solidly into place and I span around, Jim still had his back to me and without turning says “Can I interest you in a Glacier Mint, old boy?”.