night sky looked as though somebody had spilled a bottle of ink across
the roof of the world and pinpricks of light shone as if God, at some
point recently, had shaken the residue of a particularly bad case of dandruff
into it for good measure. The cold was thick enough almost to be sliced
like a chocolate cake; though the air was still enough for breath to almost
be heard to crystallise as it was exhaled.
the foot of a hill somewhere in England, three men have gathered. Each
is wearing very bright, very loose fitting woollen jumpers, beneath dark
anoraks with their logos still clearly displayed. Two of the men, Paul
and John, are in earmuffs designed like Reindeer antlers; the other, Simon,
wears a bright red scarf with white tassels at each end and little white
tufts of wool stuck to its surface. All three are kitted out with gloves,
jeans, woolly black bobble hats and boots, and all three are slightly
the worse for a drink or two consumed throughout the course of the day.
three men are hanging over a five-bar gate, looking into the distance
and out across a seemingly barren field. Nothing can be seen but for the
dots of orange light that glow along the roads in the next town, some
six miles away.
'Why do we do this year after year?' Paul said, breaking the silence that
had fallen for some two minutes between them.
'Tradition,' replied John 'we've always done it.'
'Doesn't explain why though, does it.' retorted Paul, his voice steady
and slow, as though his words had taken some effort 'I mean, even traditions
start somehow, don't they?'
'This 'un started 'cos we're stupid and because we needed to get away
from Violet when we were kids. Remember?' said Simon. 'Uncle Sam was about
to suggest a good old singsong around his new portable organ, followed
by a game of charades or summat.'
'Aye and we made a bolt for it while nobody was looking. We came out here
with some cake and sweets and stuff, made ourselves sick almost, then
went back about two hours later. Nobody had missed us.' Paul smiled at
the memory whilst wiping a dewdrop from his nose onto the back of his
three men fell silent again. John took a slug from his half empty bottle
of whisky and passed it to Paul on his right, who took it and did the
'After today, I'm never drinking again. It's gonna be my New Year's resolution.'
He said and passed the bottle back along the line.
'Isn't that what you said last night?' asked Simon, the bottle now in
his hand, though he was looking at it doubtfully and wondering if there
was room in his stomach for more alcohol, next to the seven tins of bitter,
four sherries, three vintage ports and the copious amounts of food he'd
consumed during the day.
'Aye and with bloody good reason. I still reckon our drinks were spiked,
you know. Either that, or Alan was serving dodgy ale.' Paul said, before
'Bloody strange one that and no mistake' John chipped in 'fancy us all
having the same illusion. Nobody would believe me you know. Fact is, I
don't believe it 'appened meself, not really like. And I've not told nobody.
Well nobody special, 'cept for Janice.'
'And what did she say?' Asked Simon
'Nothin' much. Fact is, she's not said much all day.'
'How much is not much?' prompted Simon, a smile threatening to break out
onto his face. John paused before answering.
'Nothin' at all. Kids think Santa dropped off his prezzies and stole her
'If only eh?' Paul said, with a wise nod of the head.
'Aye, if bloody only. It'll be back by tomorrow I expect, at full Fog
Horn level.' John had been happily married right up until the point of
the first day of the honeymoon, some ten years ago. From then on, things
had sort of gone down hill somehow. The reason why, like his wife, remained
a mystery to him. He took a sharp swig from the bottle, screwed on the
tin cap and put the drink back into his anorak pocket.
'So' Paul said with a sigh 'what do we reckon then? Now that we're all
sober and alert.'
'Speak for your self!' John ventured.
'OK, now that we're all relatively sober, what the 'ell 'appened last
'Well I were talkin' wit' some o' the lads in the pub at dinner time and
' Simon began.
'You were what? You were tellin' folk what 'appened?' Simon nodded to
John's question 'You Pratt! Now what are people gonna think? That we're
all bloody mad, is what! God save us, we're a laughing stock!' John was
not best pleased. His reputation as a hard drinker was something of which
he was immensely proud and tales of his being absconded by aliens, he
thought, would do it little good in the village.
''S'allright, nobody believed me! And besides, I didn't tell 'em everything.
Couldn't anyway. I can only remember bits.' Simon was sorry he'd spoken
now. He'd felt a little foolish in the pub when everybody had sneered
at him. Now, he felt that same feeling again.
'Good' snapped John 'let's hope it stays that way!'
'Bloody odd though' Paul said ' whatever it were.'
'Aye, that light over the village. Bloody spooky! And why here? 'ardley
an 'otbed of political intrigue is it, Biddleton?' Simon's voice was quieter
now, almost dreamy as he recalled the night before.
'I'm tellin' ya both; it was a dodgy pint or two at the pub. That's all!
Nothin' more an' nothin' less!' John turned away from looking out over
the field, his hands sunk deep into the pockets of his anorak, his right
foot swinging across the loose concrete of the road as it always did when
he was irritated by something.
'Three dodgy pints it must 'ave been then. We all saw it, clear as bloody
day! 'ow do you explain that?' It was Paul who was speaking now.
'I can't. I just know it weren't no bloody visitation from another world
'It looked like a cloud didn't it?' Simon asked at length. The other two
men looked at each other, slowly. 'The thing it was in, looked like a
cloud. A bloody funny shaped cloud, like, but yeah, it looked like a cloud
I think. And all of those lights that shone around its bottom end.
Really peaceful and quiet like. Hypnotic almost!'
'Don't forget the music from its sound system. Bloody lovely it was. Dead
relaxing. Some others heard it too and it woke 'em up. But from what I
can work out, they thought it was just an aircraft flying low.' Paul said.
'Aye.' Simon agreed, and then smiled a little. 'Lovely music!'
'God, will ya listen to you two! Anybody'd think you actually believed
that what we saw last night was actually real! That it actually 'appened!
Have you been smokin' Mince Pies today or what?' John spoke and his leg
swung faster, causing the sole of his boot to scuff the concrete in ever-louder
'Well, in a manner of speakin', it was real John and you know it too.'
Simon said. 'I mean, if all three of us saw it, then it was real, wasn't
it?' John's leg stopped swinging at this and Paul didn't answer. The bottle
was retrieved from John's pocket once more and each man took another swig
of its golden contents before speaking again.
'So then' Paul said 'if we're all agreed that it 'appened, what are we
gonna do about it?'
' 'Ow d'ya mean?' Simon asked, himself turning away from looking out across
the barren field, to rest his back against the gate instead.
'Aye, do about what?' John's voice and irritation had quietened. The leg
had stopped swinging.
'Well' Paul was hesitant 'about what he, err it, asked us to do.' Nobody
spoke for a second.
'Well, what can we do like?' Simon didn't like problems, and especially
not those of an extra terrestrial nature, he was finding out.
'Look, it said it'd been travellin' for light years. It must have been
pretty bloody important for it to travel all this way, don't you think?
We can't just ignore what it said.' Paul was amazed at how dumb the other
two were being.
' 'Ow long, exactly, is a light year?' John asked. 'I mean, it don't take
long for the current to hit the bulb from the switch does it? And lightning
doesn't take long to hit the deck in a storm? So, perhaps he'd, or it,
had just popped out for a paper in his GTi Cloudburst Mark 1, saw we were
open so to speak, and just, sort of, dropped by.'
'On his way to Saturnbury's you mean or to the Telstar Cash and Carry?
He must have been so surprised and delighted to find Earth open on a Christmas
Eve, and so late too! Perhaps he found that perfect gift for Missus Alien
Being whilst he was 'ere, eh? ' Paul's sarcasm knew no bounds once he
'I was only askin'.
'Does it matter? I mean bloody 'ell, a light year is some flippin' distance
wouldn't you agree? And he reckoned he'd travelled two thousand of 'em
'No.' interrupted Simon.
'He said he'd been here two thousand years ago and that it had been "light
years of time since his mission had started." That's what he said.
Not that he'd travelled two thousand light years. I think that might have
only taken about six months or so.' Paul and John looked at Simon with
'Well thank you, Doctor Spock!' Said John at last.
'Well, as Paul said, its message was pretty clear last night, so we should
know what we're doing, if we decided to do what he asked, don't you think?'
'And are we?' Paul asked.
'Are we going to do what it asked us?'
'Do we have a choice?' Simon said, his tone even and lifeless.
'Whoa! Just wait there one cattle proddin' second! Are you seriously suggesting
we give up our admittedly crappy jobs at the market, leave our wives and
kids, set off with a back pack, a tent and a compass and start telling
people that ' he - whoever He might be - is come again'? Tell me your
kidding Si, please tell me your kidding!' John was now standing in the
middle of the road and once more facing the barren field. Clouds of frosty
air were illuminated as he spoke; the match that Paul had just lit from
which to ignite his cigarette, shone like a flare to give his hands and
face a ghostly appearance and a dancing light that shone all around.
'I don't see what else we can do, not really. Besides, I think you know
the He in question. Anyway, would we be givin' up that much?' Simon, his
own hands thrust deep into his coat pockets and his head bent low into
his chest, had obviously been thinking things through during the day.
'Simon 'as a point John! We're not married, got no kids and hate our jobs.
You're not exactly ecstatic with Janice and, besides, we don't know if
the market is even gonna be open come the summer, so we'll be out of work
anyway. Not much to give up on is it?' Paul had grown to look both sad
and tired and his words echoed both facts.
'On the strength of a dodgy - sorry, three - dodgy pints it is, aye. God,
it sounds as though you two are already decided on doin' this thing.'
John felt his voice catch in the back of his throat.
'It was the music for me, I think.' Paul said.
'It was the lights for me. The lights and the music. Both of 'em together.'
said Simon, his head not lifting as he spoke.
'And how, exactly, are we supposed to survive? I've got some cash put
by, but not much. Not enough for a marathon jaunt at least.' John said,
wanting to sound desperately unhappy about everything, but somehow failing.
'Doesn't matter how. All that's important is that we do and that we will
survive, somehow.' Paul answered simply. John blew out his cheeks, white
air filled his vision of the night sky and he kicked at the concrete ground
once more. All three men were silent for a long stretch of time.
'Bloody freezin' 'ere!' Said Paul 'I'm getting' off 'ome.' And he stepped
away from the five-barred gate and zipped his coat up to the throat from
its place on his chest.
'When then?' Asked John, his voice quiet and almost childlike.
'New Year's Day I reckon.' Simon said 'I don't wanna miss the Fancy Dress
at the pub on New Year's Eve. I've spent months on me costume and reckon
I might win summat.' All three men smiled and nodded, before shaking hands
solemnly and making their way home through the crisp air of the night.
what remained of that Christmas week, the three Shepherd brothers - Paul,
John and Simon - made good their individual preparations for leaving so
as to spread the message that a new Saviour had been born. A Saviour who
promised - according to the being that they referred to now as 'The Travelling
Salesman In The Cloud' - redemption of all of man's sins throughout the
world and a Saviour who vowed that peace and goodwill to all men would
reign for a thousand years.
Paul sold off his prized record collection that had taken the best part
of his juvenile and adult life to muster. He also put his flat back on
the market to rent.
Simon got rid of his computer, his games and his football programmes to
somebody down the pub and raised four hundred and forty quid in total.
His flat he left empty and set up a direct debit to pay the rent in his
absence - just in case.
John took out his nest egg of some nine hundred pounds. Not much to show
for nearly twenty years in the same job, he thought, as he stuffed five
hundred into an envelope on New Years Eve and left it behind the clock
on the mantelpiece, above the gas fire, in the small living room of his
house. He hadn't explained to Janice why he was leaving so suddenly, because
he knew she would not have understood. Instead, He'd written her a note
asking her to look after Tom and Rebecca, their children, and said that
he hoped she would be happy.
As the bells of the Biddleton Church struck one on New Year's Day, the
three sober brothers gathered at the five-barred gate, glanced out across
the barren fields on its other side and shook hands before setting off
down the crumbling, concrete road; to where, God only knew.
If they had paused for a moment, they might have just seen the glimmer
and shimmer of an outlined craft, its lights extinguished and its music
silenced, as it lifted up from off the frosted ground, and drifted into
the darkness - like a star shaped cloud - to disappear into the night