“Mother Mary and Jozuf!” exclaimed the old man, looking up at the dark sky. I swear I saw somethin’ fly past just now. Somethin’ white and round, real low. He took another swig from his bottle and turned back to the brazier. He wore a woollen hat, a dirty black greatcoat and brown boots with the soles almost worn through. If you had been near him you would have smelt a curious smell. A mixture of mould, sweat and urine. For that reason, he sat alone at the brazier.
The tramp heard the voice in his head and turned around. He almost fainted at the sight of the three strange figures standing at the edge of the light from the brazier.
‘Do not be alarmed. We wish you no harm.’
He stood up and found himself stumbling. “Good gawd, is this shum kinda joke?”
‘We wish to visit your leader.’
The tramp steadied himself, blinking furiously. “What, the Prime Minister?”
“The leader of Earth!”
“Leader of Earth? There ain’t one. Every bloomin’ country’s got its own blinkin’ leader!”
The bizarre figures waited for a moment whilst the old man continued to gawp in disbelief, then, ‘Are there many countries on your planet?’
“For Gawd’s sake, there’s blinkin’ ‘undreds of ‘em!”
‘Well, is there a spiritual leader of man?’
The old man took a swig of whisky and the figures began to blur, which suited him just fine. ‘Well, there’s the Pope, ‘e’s in Italy. ‘E’s the leader o’ them Roman Cathol … Catholicists. And there’s watchamacall ‘im, the Dalai Lama. ‘E’s the leader of a load of Buddhist types – millions of ‘em.”
The creatures exchanged glances, then the first one spoke, again telepathically. ‘Now … where would we find this … Dalai … Lama?’
Chimera! That was the Dalai Lama’s first thought on seeing the creature that entered the quiet, candle-lit temple. He sat, flanked by his two most trusted monks, Tenzin and Kelsang. All three were clad in red robes, their shaven heads reflecting the flickering flames of hundreds of candles.
The creature entered the chamber ponderously. It had a long face with four large eyes, two on each side of a horse-like muzzle, a kind of mane, reminiscent of a lion but of a dark rubbery tissue, and folded leather-like wings, which protruded from a long white robe.
The Dalai Lama stood up. “Welcome to our temple!”
The creature was followed by two companions, who, at least to the Dalai Lama’s eyes, looked identical to the first. They shuffled across the polished floor and seated themselves upon throne-like chairs. ‘Greetings, Your Holiness. We are the Travellers you dreamt of last night. You were expecting us?’
The creature’s lips didn’t move but the words came into the Dalai Lama’s mind in perfect Tibetan. “Indeed, I was. Well, this is a very special occasion. It’s not every day I meet Travellers from another galaxy, not in the flesh anyway!” He gave a chuckle.
A smiling monk approached with a tray of small metal cups full of steaming liquid.
“Thank you, Sherab.” The Dalai Lama turned to the visitors. “Would you like tea?”
The Travellers nodded their horse-like heads and drinks were duly distributed.
“Now, may I ask the purpose of your visit to our planet?”
Traveller One lifted its long head, again speaking telepathically. ‘We wish to learn of your ethos, your beliefs, your science.’
“As you know, I am a spiritual leader, concerned with the soul of man, not this physical exterior you see. I am no expert on the political machinations, the movements of government, or the great scientific experiments taking place.
‘Ah yes,’ the creature inclined its head and eyelids flickered across its four, amber cat-like eyes, an effect the Dalai Lama found disconcerting. ‘Tell us of your scientific advances.’
“Well, I am no expert, as I say,” said the Dalai Lama, “I will let Tenzin speak of this on my behalf, he has spent time in the great universities.”
Tenzin did as he was requested, holding court and speaking eloquently for several minutes.
Finally, Traveller Two spoke, ‘You speak of “war” and “killing.” Please explain.’
“Well, war, is when you have a disagreement between nations or tribes, and it needs to be settled by arms,” Tenzin answered.
The Travellers exchanged glances, ‘What is “arms”’? asked Traveller One.
The Dalai Lama sipped his tea, listening to the conversation with trepidation.
“Well, originally, it was clubs, then spears, then bows and arrows, axes, muskets, rifles, machine guns …”
‘Excuse me.’ Traveller One stood up, stretched out his wings, retracted them, and then sat down again. “I see these devices you speak of as images in your mind. Tell us more.”
Tenzin looked at the Dalai Lama, then at the strange Travellers with their elongated faces and squat, winged bodies. “Well, there’s grenades, bazookas, flame throwers, mines, er ….”
“And what are the purposes of these devices?”
Tenzin’s face was animated in the flickering candlelight. “Well, grenades are to rip people apart, rockets blow things up, flame throwers set people and buildings alight, mines blow people’s legs off ….”
The Travellers shifted uncomfortably.
The Dalai Lama interrupted, “Kelsang, would you continue, I know in previous lives you experienced all manner of armed conflict.”
The other monk, much darker-skinned than Tenzin and the Dalai Lama, continued. “Well, you see, there’s planes – flying vehicles – with all kinds of guided missiles, there’s attack helicopters with Gatling guns that fire thousands of rounds a minute. There’s cluster bombs, incendiary bombs, bombs that explode a huge ball of gas before it ignites, now, that’s a big bomb!”
The Dalai Lama regarded his excitable companion disapprovingly.
“Then there’s nukes. That is atomic and hydrogen bombs, devices that can vaporise a whole city and all the folk in it! Then there’s chemical and biological weapons, satellites and laser-beam weapons—”
Traveller One interrupted, ‘It seems a great deal of thought and innovation and money go into these … weapons.’
The Dalai Lama coughed. “I think it’s true to say that history bears witness to the fact that more time and money has been spent on the technology of man killing man than on everything else put together.”
There was a long silence. Then, “Where we come from,” said Traveller Three, there are accidents, some of us die, and from disease too, sometimes. But our spirits live on. You, of all people, understand this.”
The Dalai Lama’s bald head nodded sagely in the yellow-orange light.
‘But to cause another’s death deliberately … we don’t understand. Why would you do this to each other?’
The Dalai Lama exchanged glances with Tenzin and Kelsang. He spoke softly, “Well, there’s territory, of course. You can’t have any Tom, Dick or Harry taking over your land.” He chuckled inwardly at his Tibetan translation of the quaint English phrase.
Traveller Three nodded, ‘Yes, I see, if, in the first instance, the land were to be designated to certain … tribes. Where we come from there is common ownership, co-operation ….”
“And then there are ideas, you see. If someone doesn’t share your way of thinking, or your beliefs, then, well, many would, unfortunately, regard them as their enemy. Or if someone has a different colour skin, or a different appearance, or believes in a different faith, for example.”
‘Enemy. What is that?’
The Dalai Lama hesitated, “Er, well, someone you wish to do harm to. Perhaps wound or kill?”
Suddenly, as one, the creatures stood up, ‘Thank you for the tea,’ they said in telepathic unison as they headed for the door.
The Dalai Lama, Tenzin and Kelsang went out and watched as a silver disc lifted soundlessly into the sky. Lights ran around the rim for a few seconds, as if to bid farewell, then it was gone.
Tenzin turned to the Dalai Lama. “Was it something we said?”
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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