Please note that this story is the conclusion of an earlier story, A Sliver of Silver. Please click to read or re-read the first part.
“Do you remember when Donnie was born?”
“Like it was yesterday.” Donnie’s mother reached out to an ashtray, plucking up a burning cigarette and putting it to her lips, taking a deep lungful of smoke.
“I wish you wouldn’t smoke in bed, Susan,” said Donnie’s father, recoiling at the stench of tobacco and the cloud of acrid smoke that seemed to cling to his face.
“I remember Donnie popping out like a greased champagne cork. That bit was easy. It was looking at him through the glass, not being able to hold my baby … my little baby, that was the hard part.” She felt a lump in her throat and took another drag, exhaling towards the ceiling.
Donnie’s father remembered something that looked like a skinned rabbit in a tank, connected to more tubes and wires than he could count. “Well, he made it. Fourteen long years ago. Give or take nine months.”
“We’ve changed, Frank. You, you look twenty years older, not fourteen.”
Donnie’s father looked at his wife’s pasty face and fat arms, recoiling as yet another blast of cigarette smoke was blown into his face, making his eyes water. He bit his tongue. “Well, that’s as maybe. People grow old, or didn’t you know?”
His wife grunted. “D’you think he’ll like his birthday surprise?”
Frank turned onto his back. “Are you kidding, a personal tour of the space centre? All the other kids would give their right arms for one!”
“I’m glad it’s just Donnie and Marty, I’d hate for a whole bunch of spotty, swearing kids to traipse around with us.”
“Hey, what the hell’s that?” Donnie’s father sat up in bed. “That noise.” He put his hands over his ears.
His wife stubbed out her cigarette and jumped out of bed, naked, her flapping breasts hitting her in the face. “I don’t know, Frank. We should get dressed.”
Knock-knock-knock. There it came again. Avoiding the hall, Donnie went to the back door and looked out of a window. All clear. He went out into the baleful silver light and crept around the side of the house, his feet scuffing the purple-black sand that surrounded them.
At the corner, he raised the gun. His father had taught him how to use it. He steadied one shaking hand with the other. The gun seemed heavier than he remembered. It must be the gravity, he realised. Then he was around the corner, his finger itching on the trigger and pointing the weapon at a thin figure with a fist raised at the front door. Just then, it sensed his presence and whirled around, hands in the air. “Don’t shoot!”
Donnie lowered the gun in astonishment. It was Marty Chang, his best friend. “Marty, it’s me, Donnie!”
They strode towards each other, grins like watermelons despite the circumstances, shook hands and clapped each other’s backs.
“Donnie, where the hell are we? I woke up and everyone had gone, there was just our house, but in this horrible place.” He gestured over to one side and now Donnie could make out the square shape of Marty’s house in the distance.
They went around to the back of Donnie’s house and into the kitchen. Donnie sighed. “There’s no power, no water. There’s some stuff in the fridge, it won’t stay fresh for long, and some tins in the store cupboard. But no way to cook it.”
Marty sat at the table. “We’ve got a camping stove and a big bottle of gas. Some bottles of water too.”
Donnie stared blankly ahead. “It’s like our houses were just plucked off the Earth and brought to this crummy planet.” He felt like crying but didn’t want to show himself weak in front of his friend. “It’s my birthday, too.”
“Maybe they’ll send a rescue party?”
Donnie gave a bitter laugh. “Oh, sure, like maybe they’ll bring us some party food! For chrissakes, we’re not even in our solar system. I mean, what planet could this be?”
Marty looked crestfallen. “What are we going to do, Donnie?”
“I know what dad would say. ‘The best you can, Marty. Do the best you can’.”
“Well, let’s grab some food and go over to my house. We can cook some breakfast, at least.” Then Marty let out a gasp and jumped up, gesturing frantically towards the kitchen window. “Donnie, something just went past!”
Donnie ran to the window. “There’s nothing out there.”
“I swear I saw something. It was white, kinda like a … like a ghost.”
The two boys trudged over the sand towards Marty’s house. It seemed hard going, harder than on Earth, and the air had an unpleasant smell, like the cabbage or cauliflower cooked to death at school. Thank God it was at least breathable though, Marty thought.
Donnie carried a bag containing tins of beans, peas, potatoes, a packet of breakfast cereal and a plastic container of milk. He didn’t know what he’d do when the milk ran out or went bad. Maybe he’d just have to get used to eating dry cereal.
“Donnie, look!” Marty pointed up at the huge silver disc of the alien moon. Something was changing. A shape, curved like a snake, was moving, as though just under the surface.
Donnie put his bag down and gazed in awe, wondering at the gargantuan size of whatever it was, moving up there. Then he became aware of something happening in front of them. He grabbed Marty’s arm. “Look at this!”
On the plain, maybe half a mile away, smudges of white began to appear. Lines and endless rows of them, to the right, left and straight ahead, filling the space towards the distant mountains. The smudges began to solidify and now there appeared beings. Tall, slim, humanoid, and transparent. There was no sound, not even the sigh of the faintest otherworldly breeze. The creatures stood with their arms raised towards the sky, tilting forward, then back in unison, their gaze transfixed by the activity on the moon. Donnie watched in awe. Was it some kind of Leviathan up there, or maybe a gigantic machine?
The boys whirled around to see a small group of adults, astonished and relieved to see their mothers and fathers amongst them. The boys ran to them, and the mothers threw their arms around them, whilst the fathers tried to hide tears.
“Dad, where the hell are we?” Donnie asked.
His father looked up at the moon, now still, and the plain, empty once more. “I don’t know son. My best guess is that some crazy scientific experiment went wrong. Maybe that CERN thing. Created a wormhole in space and threw some bits of the planet into another dimension.”
“Well, what are we going to do, Dad, I’m scared.”
Donnie’s father looked around at the assembled friends and neighbours. “I don’t know, son. Those creatures, whether they were real, or ghosts of some kind, who knows? But they weren’t hostile. The best we can. Like the early explorers to strange lands. Just the best we can. Anyway,” he gave a wry smile, “Happy Birthday, son!”
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