Tom Winter sprinted down from the exposed hillside, gravity dictating his speed more than any conscious control. His heart pounded, his body racked with exhaustion and fear. Up ahead, Thatcham remained visible through the inclement late-afternoon gloom, more lights being switched on in houses and shops by the second. Despite the atrocious weather, the streets were teeming with frantic movement. Cars raced down the main road, aquaplaning through the rainwater, brake lights burning through the haze as they caught up with those in front and bunched together. Faces were pressed against almost every sea-facing window, all looking upward for the return of that thing – whatever the hell it was – they'd all seen moments earlier. Some foolhardy souls braved the squall and gathered at the sea wall, looking out over the waves. A few more even dared venture onto the windswept shingle beach. Others ran through the streets in small huddles. Holidaymaking families looked for shelter, their temporary tent and caravan homes suddenly feeling hopelessly insecure in light of what they'd witnessed.
Everything looked the same as when Tom had left the village to start his run, but suddenly everything had changed.
He pounded down off the dirt footpath and was glad to finally be running on pavements again. He glanced back over his shoulder at the cliffs and the ocean, all of it appearing reassuringly normal. If it hadn't been for the chaos unfolding in the village all around him, he might have convinced himself he'd imagined what he'd seen; a sweat-soaked, storm-addled hallucination of epic proportions.
He sprinted across the road to run up the final hill to the house, hardly paying attention, when his sudden burst of speed was matched by a swerving car coming the other way around a corner, all bright headlamps, clattering wipers and barely controlled acceleration. The driver blasted the horn at him and shouted abuse.
The bungalow loomed ahead of him now at the top of the climb. Even from here he could see his brother Rob in silhouette, standing at the living room window and staring out to sea, transfixed like everyone else. Tom dug deep, half-running, half-walking up the steep footpath rather than following the meandering slope of the road. Tom reached the front door and crashed inside, barely able to breathe. He leant against the hallway wall and kicked off his sodden trainers.
'That you Tom?' Rob shouted.
'It's me,' he just about managed to reply.
'Did you see it? Fuck me, did you see it?'
Tom limped into the living room, his legs unresponsive, shivering with cold. Or was it nerves? He wasn't sure anymore. 'I saw it,' he said, still fighting for breath.
Rob swallowed hard. He looked as bad as Tom felt.
'What the hell was it?'
'You tell me.'
'I mean, I know what I think it was, but where did it come from? Why here?'
'How am I supposed to know?'
'Do you think we're safe? Fuck, is it still out there? Tom, mate, are you all right?'
Tom slid down the wall, legs finally giving up. 'Drink,' he said. He felt faint, bright lights dancing in front of his eyes despite the room being dark. He tried to control his breathing and steady himself, but he could still hear the screaming of the jets, could still feel that intense white light burning his skin... and now, suddenly, all he could think about was how exposed and vulnerable he'd been up there, close to the edge. The storm had been so powerful, and whatever it was that had flown overhead had been so huge... It reminded him of the time he and Rob had been messing around on scaffolding on a drunken night out a few years back. They'd laughed about it at the time, but when he'd returned to the scene next morning and had seen the height they'd climbed – the stupid, unnecessary risks they'd taken – it had shocked him rigid.
YOU ARE READING
Stephen Hawking said "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans." A world brought up on stories of alien invasions and wa...