Inside the home was everything he remembered from his childhood.
Lamps lit the living room, the main light unused for years. Across the walls was a multitude of old photographs framed in miss-matched frames. They were displayed like a patchwork covering the whole wall facing the main window.
His Grandmothers red chair was near that wall, half facing the rooms’ corner and the ancient radio that sat on the table there.
When Terry was a young boy he had wondered why the radio had been kept, it no longer received anything but static and it was a few years before he realised that the old AM frequencies were no longer used any more.
That was until now.
All the old communication technologies of the past had been resurrected, peoples trust in what had replaced them in recent years under public scrutiny. There were still people who used the internet and digital broadcasts, but since the arrival of The Lights things had changed on those official channels of communication.
The radio played Bob Dylan’s Talkin’ World War III Blues and Terry thought it wonderfully bad taste.
“You know the BBC says that the pirate broadcasts are promoting fear?” Terry said to the back of his Grandmothers head.
The old woman half turned, eyeing him with a look of faux-contempt.
“You’ll believe anything they tell you won’t you?” She answered.
Terry smiled and walked over, kissing the woman on her fore head. He felt her hand press briefly on the nape of his neck as she always did, her fingers were as smooth as tissue paper and for a moment he did not want to move away.
But he did anyway.
“How’s that wife of yours?”
“She’s okay, I was going to try to get a C.B. radio so you could talk” Terry replied and moved to the small couch that sat beneath the room’s main window. He sat, sinking into the old seat until the sensation was mildly alarming.
“What’s happened to the springs in this thing?”
His Grandmother shook her head.
“Perhaps your Grandfather could fix it.”
Terry glanced up and quickly recomposed his face, shedding the surprise he knew he must have been showing with practiced ease. His Grandfather had been dead for nearly twenty years.
“Maybe…” He muttered. “Where’s Mum?”
“She’s in her workshop, she said she had something to finish.”
World War III Blues ended and there was brief static before a quiet voice began to speak. The volume rose and dropped a few times until it levelled out and the DJ could be heard over the background noise.
“What are you listening to?”
“It’s ‘Barry Jerry’s Skywatchers’,” the old woman answered, leaning forward to fine tune the ancient radio.
“You know that Barry Jerry’s a nutter don’t you?”
“You sound like my shrink.”
“Dr Heddleston isn’t a shrink Gran.”
“Well, he messes with my bloody head, so what else should I call him?” She shot back in reply.
Terry didn’t really know how to answer that one. Technically the Doctor was a bereavement counsellor, but he guessed there was little difference. It was true that his Grandmother had gotten better since she had began seeing the Doctor, but Terry feared this had more to do with what else she was loosing than any good the Doctor was doing.
“Does it seem lower to you?”
The question took him by surprise and it took a moment for Terry to realise what she meant.
“No… I don’t know, doe it seem it to you?”
“That’s why I said it.” She gave him the side-long look she reserved for really stupid questions and then sighed a sigh of kindly exasperation.
“You know that strange lad from over the road? The one who always wears the obscene t-shirts?”
Terry had to smile, that last one Matt Jenkins wore read “I support stem cell research (but only as a side effect of killing babies)”. He was getting used to being equally appalled and amused by what the young lad thought up next.
“Well he has this telescope he watches it with and he says its dropped because of the degree’s he has to use.”
“Does he know how much?”
Gran turned and rooted in a pile of papers on the far side of her chair. A moment later she produced a pamphlet from The Church of Latter Day Saints and passed it to him. On the back were scrawled calculations and a small diagram that Matt had obviously used to explain his findings.
“He says he thinks its landing.” Gran said as she turned back to the radio and turned the huge frequency dial. The tubes in it glowed, throwing a zebra pattern of light and shadow over the photographs on the wall. To Terry it seemed to flicker slightly as the frequency lowered and another voice began to emerge from the static.
“What? Like… Really slowly?” Terry’s words dripped with incredulity.
“Because of the size of it.” Gran said and the room was filled with the sound of gospel music. “Ah, that’s better!” She concluded.
Terry felt a sudden oppression fill the room.
He thought of the news reports and photographs of the thing in the sky, all of which were out of focus or distorted. It was something to do with the field around the thing they said, whatever kept it protected from Earths gravity – not to mention its armies – bent light in peculiar ways. Everyone could see the machine, many wished they couldn’t, but details were lost even with the most powerful well machined lenses money could buy.
Terry found himself wondering if any form of measurement was reliable through the ships barriers; and what it might mean if they weren’t.
“I said is this better?” She pointed at the radio.
“I’d say gospel music is a step down personally Gran.”
His grandmother made a sound in the back of her throat that sounded half-sigh, half-grunt.
“You’re never getting into heaven Terrence.” She said with genuine sorrow and Terry felt the oppression in the room double.
In the garden stood a large wooden structure a little larger than a double garage. It looked a lot like a bungalow, albeit a rather small one, with small drapes covering the equally small windows that sat in the top third of the buildings large double doors. These doors were swung open; the light inside striking a wedge that illuminated the back of Grans’ house up to its second storey.
The rain that had began earlier continued to fall and the small drapes were sodden, the insides of the open doors wet.
Inside the building sat Terry’s mother, completely lost in her work and oblivious to his approach. Terry slowed his pace and stopped feeling the cool rain hit his face.
The dress that was draped across the dressmakers dummy inside the shelter was of ivory and cream, a complex pattern of interlocking threads made up the bulk of the torso and the skirts were long enough that they had been tied up as to not brush against the less than perfectly clean floor. When Terry was a child he remembered that littered that floor, there were sharp things down there, tarnished and hidden in the cracks in the concrete.
Terry’s mother held some of those sharp things between her lips, bobble headed pins she was using to temporarily fasten a thread of beads to the dresses bodice. She completed a length of them, paused to inspect it and then grunted in disapproval.
Terry took another step forward and she looked up.
“What are you doing out?” Her brow wrinkled and for a moment he saw her as old, a shard of cold pain cut through him at the thought.
“I was late back from work but I wanted to say ‘night to you and Nan.”
“There are soldiers out there you know! They’re very itchy with those guns.”
Terry stepped under the shelter of the building and his mother stood to give him a hug. He wrapped his arms around her, her frame was small and the top of her head rested just under his chin. It was not so long ago when it would have been the opposite, he remembered the towering woman that cared for him after his father had left them. He remembered her fiercely defending him, and sometimes scolding him, when the world didn’t quite go the way they had planned.
The hug was longer than he’d intended and when she drew away from him he saw a cast of concern in her eyes. For a moment he felt panic, he knew that there had been something rattling around the corners of his mind for the last few weeks that even he hadn’t fully acknowledged.
But he knew if anyone could see it; well, it would be her.
“Are you feeling okay?”
She placed the back of her hand on his fore head as though he were a child. Her hand was cool but a wave of nostalgia washed over him like a rush of images and sounds, Terry remembering the moment he had walked into school for the first time with her hand in his. He remembered when she let go of it and he felt so suddenly alone. He remembered the first time she had met his wife, and he remembered the horrible day they had lost their baby girl.
It took moments but something welled inside him and the touch of her hand released it.
He didn’t realise he was crying and he didn’t realise how long it had been for, he just felt her slim arms holding him and felt the love she had for him fill the room.
When she let him go the second time she did not ask and he did not offer an explanation. He knew he couldn’t if he tried.
Something was happening within him, he felt it, and somewhere in those dark corners of his mind a decision had been made without consultation with the rest of him. He could not explain this if he tried, he couldn’t even rationalise it to himself much less explain it to others.
He bid his farewells to his loved ones and began the short trek back to his own home at the bottom of the hill. The rain still fell making it hard to look up, but it was not this that stopped him; he knew what awaited his gaze up in that darkened sky.
In his minds eye he saw the glittering object suspended above them, he thought of how big it might be and he thought of those words from his Grandmother.
“He says he thinks its landing.”
He reached his own front door and he fished out his keys, selecting the one connected to a small metal “T” he tried to slide it into the lock.
His hands shook, the tip of the key scraping a shallow scratch into the paint.
Terry stood there in the rain, willing his hands to stop, willing the turmoil inside him to stop, willing the thing above to stop; willing the world to stop.
I’d like to get off, he thought, but what would be waiting for me out there; in that darkness?