Close Encounters of the Small Kind – a Short(ish) Story

I thought I’d share with you all a short story I wrote back at the tender age of 20. It was published in an old small press publication called RQC (Really Quite Cosmic). I remember really enjoying the story when I wrote it and I recall a it being published in a couple of other places.

It’s light, it’s humorous, and I hope you don’t mind a long read. I thought I’d post it up as between now and 1996, my writing has changed massively. Next week I may well put up a section of The Book I’m currently working on for you all to see the difference.

Maybe.

Included in this tale is all the original artwork by a guy called Steve Barrett. If anyone knows him or recognises his artwork I’d love to get in touch with him as he illustrated many of my short stories back in the 90s.

[Also included is the original biography of myself. As you can see, it’s very outdated but I thought it would be fun to keep it in]

___________________________________________________________________

“BUURRP!” belched the old retired jazz-man, his thin fingers scratched at his equally skinny rib cage whilst his other hand discarded the now-empty beer can on the deck of the small fishing trawler. He and his companion cast a casual eye over their fishing rods protruding from their holders and into the sea.

The sun had set almost two hours ago and now the only light available was from the cabin of the fishing boat. The cracked and chipped paintwork reminiscent of the two old men slumped low in their small, low-backed chairs at the rear of the calmly floating vessel.

The aged black man lit a small stub of a cigar and puffed intently before blowing smoke rings into the air before him. He almost remarked that the circles looked the same colour as his thinning head of hair.

“Goddamn, Harve!” the second man exclaimed, his blue eyes widening. “Those things’ll get ya killed!”

“Aw, hell!” retorted Harve, a smile crossing his face. “We near as dead anyhow.”

The second man regarded his companion sternly. The dark skinned man continued to smoke his cigar, ignorant of prying eyes. He gave it a while before suddenly sticking the smoking object right beneath the second man’s nose.

“Wassa matter, Joe?” Harve snapped with a trace of amusement evident. “You want some or not? You keep staring at the damn thing!”

Joe threw his bald head back – akin to being slapped with a sledgehammer. “No, dammit!”

Harve returned the smoking stick to his mouth a took a long drag before letting it go. “I think maybe you oughta smoke.”

Joe, scratching the bridge between his nose and upper lip, checked that his fishing rod was secure. “Why’s that?” he asked impatiently.

“Ease your nerves, ’fore your heart packs up wit’ all your panic.”

Joe ceased to scratch at his lip and looked deeply offended. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong wit’ my heart!”

Harve snorted and gave a little chuckle. “There will be if you keep cryin’ like a little girl.”

The white man’s face twisted from offence to amused anger. “Ain’t no one screamin’ like a girl! Now go get some more beers, dammit!”

Harve shook his head slowly, picking his nose at the same time – an acquired art. “I got the beers last time.” he said.

Joe stiffened and was on the brink of retort but managed to stifle himself. “O- K- I’ll get the beers – this time. Next time you’re going.”

The boat tilted slightly as Joe pulled his ample frame from the chair. Harve hid his smirk and watched from the corner of his eye as Joe entered the cabin. He then heard the clink of bottles as a small portable cold box was opened.

Stepping out of the cabin, Joe said “We run out of cans, only got bottles left.”

“Hell, beer’s beer, even out of a plastic cup!” Harve shrugged and then took the bottle his geriatric friend offered him as he sat down.

“Guess you’re right.” Joe agreed as he levered the bottle open with his teeth and then spat the metal lid between his feet. Taking a long swig he wiped his free hand over his bald head. “It’s hot tonight, gonna storm over. Maybe we should be headin’ home soon.”

Harve tapped his unopened bottle against the arm of his chair. “Nah, reckon it’ll blow right over.”

“Ha, you just scared that Rose’ll give you a right royal hidin’ if you go home without any fish.”

The black man’s nostrils flared, his upper lip curling, revealing his yellow, gap-ridden aged teeth. “Ol’ Rose knows who wears the trousers in our home, fool!”

Joe was about to laugh aloud when the sound caught in his throat. Now his perspiration had become a cold sweat, his diminishing neck hairs standing to attention. He had seen something.

Something big.

“Hoollee!” he hissed, bending forward and half-placing, half-dropping his bottle onto the deck. “I got a bite!”

A child-like excitement crossed Joe’s face, wiping years from his wrinkled eyes. He gripped his heavily bending rod and released it from its holder. The rod bent and creaked alarmingly, the line straining hard. “Maybe Moby Dick is alive an’ on the end of my damn line!”

The old, bald headed man began to gently reel his catch in.

Harve rose gingerly to his feet and grabbed a net that had been lying under his chair. He stood poised, hardly daring to breathe. “Slowly, ol’ Joe, slowly.”

Stains bloomed around the armpits of Joe’s khaki shirt and sweat crowded his forehead, rolling into his eyes. He blinked rapidly and gritted his teeth.

“Feels like it could feed me for a week!” he gasped, quickly glancing at his companion. “Your life depends on you being ready wit’ that net, Harve.”

Harve nodded dumbly, unable to speak. He could feel his knees cramping.

Suddenly a dull roar filled the night sky and a jet of flame tore through the air and over the boat, hot air and turbulence rocking the craft and nearly flattening the fishermen. The trail of fire crashed into the sea so fast it caused only the slightest of disturbing ripples, the flames ending abruptly.

Harve managed to find his voice, albeit a croak. “I hope you still got that mutha’ on the end of your line.”

Joe kept his eyes fixed firmly on the water dead ahead of him. “I still got my boxin’ muscles in these arms.” he grunted through gritted teeth. “This fishy ain’t going nowhere except in that net you holdin’, but you may need a bigger damn net!”

Harve breathed a small sigh of relief, unaware of a dim circle of lights that had materialised beneath the waves not ten metres from the fishing boat’s portside. The pair were also oblivious to the fact that the lights were getting bigger… getting closer.

Joe’s biceps bunched in his thick arms as he slowly reeled his prize in. “That’s it Honey… come to Papa.”

Harve unconsciously mimicked his old friend’s actions, pretending the net he was clenching was Joe’s fishing rod.

The circle of lights now erupted to the surface, causing small waves.

Joe cursed loudly as the boat rocked a little more and a little harder.

“You still got it?” Harve asked hopping from foot to foot.

“Don’t go rocking the damn boat, Harve!”

The lights revealed the object they surrounded. They were mounted all the way around the rim of a gigantic disc – similar to a throwing disc – at least twice the size of the fishing boat. It was as deep in colour as the surrounding ocean, and was so sleek and smooth in appearance that it had to be of alien origin. There was a sharp hiss and a jet of steam erupted from the central top of the craft. This was followed a second later by a hatch seemingly melting into the rest of the ship, releasing a green haze of smoke which was carried away slowly by the slight breeze that had cautiously begun to test its strength.

“You nearly got it, Joe! It’s comin!”

A platform ascended from inside the circular phenomenon, miraculously hanging in mid-air, awavering. Upon it stood a small figure, its features obscured by the green mist. The small platform it stood on floated over the water and towards the boat.

Joe continued to slowly crank the reel, afraid the smallest slip would release the beast he was so close to capturing. “My hand is crampin’ up.” he groaned.

“You b-be OK.” Harve tried to sound reassuring but failed dismally.

The figure on the platform was now right alongside the boat, and if either of the old men had cared to look, even their aged eyesight – aided by the absence of the green mist – would have defined the newcomer’s features as other-worldly.

However, it was humanoid in appearance but the completely black eye sockets and green skin would have set it apart from any human. The blue robed, bald figure looked male in its facial features but this was hard to distinguish. In ‘his’ hand he held an object not unlike an unlit flashlight.

“You will surrender to me.” it ordered in a flat, monotone voice. “You will desist in your barbaric actions.”

Joe pulled back on his line, eyes wide, muscles bunched. “Goddamn! It’s here! Get the goddamn net ready, Harve!”

Harve grabbed the net’s handle in both hands and held it out alongside Joe’s fishing line.

“Cease this now.” the green man demanded, still in the plain, boring voice.

“There’s its damn head!” Harve yelled pointing at the spot where the straining fishing line met the sea.

“I see it!” Joe shrieked, his voice hardly sounding. “I see…”

A thin white streak of solid light cut midway through the rod, and with the weight at the other end now gone, Joe found himself falling backwards over his small chair, the wooden boards of the deck creaking in protest as the man’s ample body struck down. The line and remaining stretch of rod shot through the air and into the sea where it disappeared.

Harve stared stupidly at the location in the water where the beast from 20,000 fathoms had been a moment ago.

Joe remained motionless on his back, a serene expression on his weather-aged face, gazing up at the cloud-filled sky. The broken piece of rod was still in his hands, although he had managed to stop reeling. His mouth opened but only a croak came out. He tried once again. “Harve… I… I nearly found out why I was placed on this ol’ Earth.”

The dark skinned man dropped the net on the deck and fell back into his chair, his mouth still hung open dumbly.

Joe slowly got to his feet and then tossed the ruined rod over the edge of the boat, just missing the still present alien. “Now you will surrender.” he continued.

Once again Joe ignored him. “I could have died happy knowing that I had captured the biggest darn fish in the crummy ol’ sea. I’d ’ave taken it to the fishin’ club an’ slapped the bugger down on ol’ Merv’s drinkin’ table an’ made him lick my dirty ol’ boots clean…”

“Cease!” the being had managed to find a vocal tone a few decibels higher than his usual droning voice. “You will surrender to me and come without any rebellion.”

Joe turned slowly, very slowly towards the intruder. The old man’s face twisted into a mask of confusion and anger but without a trace of fear evident in his features. He pointed a flabby, shaking finger at the torch-like device in the creature’s smooth green hand. A small whisp of smoke drifted up from the barrel of the object.”

“You cut my line wit’ that thing?” Joe shook in rage. His eyes widened and he shook his head. Picking up his fallen seat he set it right and dropped his bulk into it as Harve lit another cigar, having dropped his first into the sea amidst the previous drama. Both men stared out into oblivion.

The green man began to look uncertain. He frowned – without the creases – and then once again aimed his weapon at the two old men.

“Stand. You will come with me to my ship.” he said with no flicker of emotion.

Joe spat into the sea, drew a handkerchief from his shirt pocket and mopped his brow. When this was done, he calmly folded his tissue and placed it back into his pocket and then picked up his beer bottle which, miraculously, had not toppled over during the previous events.

The alien now began to show a trace of annoyance. “You will…”

“Listen, sonny,” exploded Joe, pointing the tip of his bottle at the small creature. “Thirty years ago an’ I’d kick your butt over the seven seas for what you did!”

“If you persist with threatening measures then I will be forced to detain you.”

Harve puffed on his cigar. He paused for a moment and shook his head. “I reckon that fish could have made us rich men.” he said staring at his own slack fishing line hoping that the fish would return for dessert.

Joe, feeling very irritated, felt like starting an argument. “What would you do with a whole heap of money? Want to know? Nothin’, cos ol’ Rose’d take the lot off your hands before you knew what was happenin’.”

Harve sniffed and picked up his unopened beer bottle. “I’ve told you before… I am not a prisoner in my own home.”

“You will come with me. Resistance will lead to…”

“I bet you didn’t even tell Rose you were comin’ fishin’ all day.” Joe continued, closing one eye knowingly and aiming a stubby finger at his colleague. “Where did you tell her you was goin’? No wait, let me guess.”

A thin solid beam struck Joe on his right thigh. The old man yelled, kept hold of his bottle and vigorously rubbed his injured leg. “Goddammit! What is your problem, child?”

“I am not a child.” the alien objected. “I am over one hundred of your years in age.”

Harve looked hard at the figure, studying him properly for the first time. “Over a hundred years, you say? You rich?”

The first noticeable expression became apparent on the smooth unwrinkled face. Puzzlement.

“Rich? Explain your question.”

Harve waved his cigar in the extra-terrestrial’s direction. “Well… look at your fancy flyin’ boat thing an’ that snazzy surfboard you’s on, an’ you’ve had some serious plastic surgery if you is really as old as you say. It all costs big, little man.”

The green man lowered his weapon slightly. “I did not purchase my craft. I made it with all of the latest technology on my homeworld.”

A thoughtful look crossed Harve’s face. “You crash just now, huh?”

“That is correct.”

“Well you didn’t build it too good now, did ya?”

The creature now looked like a small child who had just accidentally sacrificed the family pet. He shifted his weight from foot to foot. “My ship was hit by a strange meteor. I could not avoid it in time.”

Joe stopped rubbing his thigh and started picking at the burn mark that was left on his jeans. “You want us to get into your ship?”

The alien nodded, his face now almost showing relief. “That is what I demand. You will obey.”

“But you said it don’t work no more.”

“My crew should have the repairs completed very soon.”

“Crew?” asked Harve with a mix of shock and amusement. “You mean there’s enough room in that over-sized hub-cap for you and a crew?”

“My ship is a lot bigger inside than out. I will not explain. Your brains would never comprehend the physics needed to understand such complex things.”

Joe finished his beer and let the empty bottle slip from his hand to the deck. Harve still held his unopened.

Joe noticed. “Ain’t you gonna drink up?”

Harve faltered, stalled and then spoke. “I’m gonna finish my cigar and then I’ll drink my fill.”

Joe sat there, staring up at the man next to him. A knowing smile-cum-idiot grin arrived on the white man’s face, his eyes twinkling. Harve could see the alien over Joe’s shoulder also watching him.

Harve shook his head and put the cigar to his lips only to find that it was now a stub and had gone out. He glared at it accusingly for a second and then flicked it into the lapping waters.

Joe leaned back in his chair a little more, still keeping his idiot grin. Harve pursed his lips and pointedly ignored the two watching him. He pretended he was a statue.

“Want me to open you bottle, Harve?” Joe asked smoothly, calmly, like the snake in The Jungle Book.

Harve flexed his jaw and tried to keep cool, calm and collected.

“You gonna drink up?” Joe asked, his grin now stretching from ear to ear.

The alien watched the scene with great intent. He wasn’t too sure what was occurring between the two terrans, but he could sense a mild tension growing and wanted to find out more.

Joe slowly held his hand out. “Want me to open your beer, Harve? Huh? Hey… Harvey?”

Harve felt his bottom lip tremble slightly but he would not look Joe in the eye. Harve looked solemnly at his bottle. He then slowly passed it in Joe’s direction and slapped it into Joe’s hand. Joe’s smile almost engulfed his own face as he bit the metal top from the beer container. Next he slowly handed it back to Harve. “There you go, pal.”

Harve took the bottle without a word. he didn’t drink from it, he didn’t even look at it. Instead he spat into the water ahead of him, the bottle held limply in his hand.

It was all too much for Joe. He exploded into laughter, beating his fists into the air and yelling in triumph. “Ha, ha! Ain’t that a sight? Wassa matter, Harve? Ain’t you man enough to open a bottle with your teeth?”

“Shaddup!” Harve snapped at him. “Don’t be so stupid!”

Tears began to stream from the corners of Joe’s eyes. “The ol’ black man’s upset ’cos the ol’ white man can do something he can’t!”

This sparked a torrent of abuse from Harve.

The green man stood silent, his laser device hanging from his hand by his side. He frowned, but no wrinkles appeared around his eyes or forehead. “Explain this. I don’t… I can’t… comprehend this foolishness.”

“Aw, wadda you know?” Joe dismissed him with a wave of the hand. “Hadn’t you better get home to your family?”

This confused him further still. “Family?”

Joe’s laughter slowed to a stop. He turned to regard the strange martian with one eye and took a good long look at him before speaking. “Where you from, boy?”

“The land of CH’Lart.” the green man replied.

“Must be somewhere in China.” commented Harve.

“Oh, so you’re speakin’ now?” Joe joked, the idiot grin fighting its way back.

“It is over six thousand of your light years away.” the martian stated. “On the planet of ST-CH’Lank.”

Joe turned back to the alien. “So, you from another world, huh?”

The being nodded.

Harve spoke up. “Prove it.”

The alien appeared startled, dumb and confused all at the same time. Then with a flash of inspiration and an excited voice he held up his laser device. “I stunned your limb with my matter ray.”

Joe looked disappointed and unconsciously placed a hand on his still sore limb. “Hell, we use them things to work our TVs.”

The green man looked at Joe with his mouth slightly open. Behind him his ship gave a low whine followed by a splutter and then a droning hum. A bright expression crossed his face and he pointed at the spaceship.

Harve shook his head. “You can’t fool us with that! Every other person I know has a flyin’ boat these days.”

Joe snorted. “You think we a couple of dumb ol’ men, huh?”

The creature didn’t answer that question. He held out his hands. “Look. I am green.”

Joe held up the hand that held his bottle. “An’ I’m white.”

“An’ I’m black.” Harve added. “An’ proud of it!”

The being was now feeling very frustrated and desperate. These two humans had almost convinced him that he himself was human! “I am Ovar. I am not human. I am from the planet ST-CH’Lank. I do not know what a family is. You will come with me, where experiments will be conducted on you. You will not resist.”

“You don’t know what a family is?” Joe asked with a small touch of amazement evident.

The alien shook his head. “Explain.”

“Y’know, kids, parents, wives…”

“Kids? Ah, yes, children.” the being was flooded with enlightenment. “I can reproduce within myself. My sexual organs are in my chest.” And with this he opened up the chest of his robe.

Harve nearly fell out of his chair and dropped his beer bottle over the side of the boat. “Goddamn!”

Ovar did his robe back up. “Is that enough proof? I could summon my companions to show…”

Joe waved his hands as if to ward off the alien. “No! Anyone with their… er… their… well, you definitely ain’t from around here!”

“Now you will return to our planet with us.” Ovar said, relieved that the situation had managed to avoid complete panic, confusion, mayhem… just.

“Man, I need a drink.” Harve whined, getting up and entering the boat’s cabin.

“So, what are these experiments that you wanna do on us then?” asked Joe finishing the rest of his drink.

“Standard physical and mental.”

“Such as?”

“Dissection.”

Joe chuckled and took the two bottles that Harve handed him. Joe pointed at Ovar with one of the beer bottles. “This little guy wants to chop us up to see how we work, Harve.” He bit open the bottles and handed one to his friend.

Harve regarded Ovar with a look of doubt. “You don’t want to do that, what with our old carcasses.”

Ovar pointed up into the night sky. “But you will see sights only a handful of humans have ever seen. There is so much to see. So much to do.” A distant look appeared in his eyes. “Riches to be found. Other species to be discovered. There is nothing on this planet for you.”

Harve and Joe looked hard at each other, Joe scratching his chin. “There’s always football. I couldn’t miss my grandson’s games, it would break his heart.” he said.

Harve sat down. “An’ I gotta be there to watch my kiddies… an’ look after Rose.” he shook his head. “Nope. Sorry. No can do. We too old to be gallivantin’ everywhere anyway.”

Joe nodded. “We just passin’ our last days out at sea wit’ nothin’ but the fish, the sun, and the beer. We gonna drink an’ fish until we can’t fish and drink no more.”

Ovar studied the pair of them. “But you are always so unhappy. You always fight.”

“We ain’t unhappy!” complained Joe. “We’re old! It’s our job!”

Ovar looked bewildered. “So you don’t want to travel the solar system? Imagine the wealth you could gain from being the only living terrans in captivity.”

“At the cost of a few experiments.” Harve added.

“Of course.”

“No deal.”

Ovar regarded the two old men and thought of what they had just told him. They seemed violent towards each other and they would be no good if they killed each other. “Well,” he began, “I could always say that you earthlings were extremely violent so I had to wipe out your entire race, or I could say that there were no decent specimens.”

Joe nodded. “Both sound good to me.”

Harve agreed and thrust his bottle into Ovar’s small hand. “Here, drink for the road home.”

Ovar examined the beer carefully as the little platform he stood on turned smoothly and glided back towards the spacecraft.

“Strange little fella.” Joe commented, resting his legs on the back ledge of the boat.

Ovar’s hovering platform was now positioned above his ship, the small hatch melting open beneath him. As he and the board descended into the ship he took a long, long swig from the bottle, finished it, burped, waved and disappeared into the opening.

Harve and Joe waved back dumbly as the ship rose completely out of the water before gliding slowly, gently towards the old mens’ boat.

The duo looked on cautiously as the disc paused and several streams of white light erupted from the underside of the vessel and into the sea before them. Small trails of steam arose where the lights met the water and then the lights stopped. An engine gunned somewhere deep inside the ship and it suddenly sparred into the darkly clouded sky. It moved so fast that Joe blinked and nearly missed it.

“Impressive.” he mumbled taking another draught from his bottle.

Harve looked down into the water, scratching his backside. “What was all that lightshow in aid of?” he paused and looked up into the sky, then he turned and went into the cabin. “Better get myself another beer. I can’t believe I gave my other one to a damn stranger.”

The skinny man opened the cool box and put his hand into the ice. He found a bottle right at the bottom.

“Harve…” he heard Joe calling quietly. “Oh, Harve…”

Harve came back out onto the deck. “Issat dam Ovary back again? We told you…”

The light from the cabin illuminated a fair sized area of water around the boat and Harve’s eyes twinkled brighter than any star. Amidst the small, rocking waves and atop the water were dozens and dozens of dead, floating fish, and right near the side of the boat where Joe stood was a fish of mammoth proportions with a line and broken rod hanging from its mouth.

“Goddamn.” Harve muttered, smiling in surprise, his face a replica of Joe’s own bright illumination.

“Get your net, Harve, we got some serious fishin’ to do!”


THE END


JODY RUTH was born in Kent twenty years ago but was raised mainly in Norwich, which results in his support of Norwich City football team. Now based on the Isle of Wight, Jody lives with his girlfriend Tasha and their young twins, Cameron and Chloe. His main love is writing and he hopes to become successful sometime soon! Jody’s favourite writing and reading interests include all kinds of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Jody has penned several stories for RQC: “Close Encounters of the Small Kind” in #1; “Neame the Barbarian” in #2; and “Gladiators 2525” in #4. He has also worked with Steven Barrett on the comic strip “Really Quite Cosmic Tales” which first appeared in RQC #3. More recently he has been working on a small press comic series under the banner of RuCo Comics Presents….

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