Strangers Bearing Gifts

by Bill Cox

 

Barry ran through the woods, his eyes focused on the track ahead. In the distance he could hear the excited shouts of the other children participating in the scavenger hunt.

He came to a densely packed set of pine trees. Deciding against going around, he took a short cut and ploughed on through the copse. Branches and twigs grasped at him as he forced his way through, protecting his face with his arm. After a few minutes he could see more light ahead, and before long, he pushed through into a clearing.

Looking around to get his bearings, Barry realised that there was a figure standing at the opposite side of the clearing. It was a small person, shorter than him, but with a really big head and mottled grey skin. It didn’t seem to be wearing any clothes. A few moments passed before Barry realised what he was looking at.

It was one of the aliens, just like the ones he’d seen on TV, the ones that had met with the President in America. They’d arrived in their big ships three months ago, declaring their intention to “save the planet” from the climate emergency that his teachers had taught him about in class. It had been a time of great excitement, but after a while life had gone back to normal for kids like Barry.

Tentatively he raised a hand and waved at the alien. It waved back at him. Barry walked slowly towards it until he was just a few feet away. It blinked its large black eyes once, but otherwise didn’t move.

Remembering something he’d seen in an old black and white movie, he said in his most serious voice, “I come in peace”.

Barry felt a tickle in his head and had the feeling of amusement, but it seemed detached from him, like it wasn’t his feeling. Then the alien reached out its hand.

There was a flash, so bright it made him screw his eyes up. When Barry opened them again it was dark and the alien had gone. He felt very cold and started shivering. Looking at his watch he couldn’t believe that it was after nine PM. It was like those seven hours had passed in the blink of an eye.

In the distance he could hear people shouting his name. His mind felt quite foggy, and he tried to remember what happened, why he was in the woods, but it wouldn’t come back to him. Barry started walking towards the voices, shouting, “I’m over here,” when he got close enough.

Barry was returned home to the anxious but warm embrace of his family. As he slept that night, the virus multiplied in his body, just as it did in the bodies of other individuals across the planet, people who’d had similar encounters. Three days would pass before the unusually virulent illness appeared, an unexpected solution that would, in its own way, save the planet from the depredations of its apex predator: humanity.

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