Encounter at Midnight, by Irene Maschke

Zoost, by Romeo EsparragoMick McLoren was quite an ordinary sort of guy. He was married, had two children, and had held the same clerical job for more than 17 years. He owned a house on the outskirts of London and spent all of his Sundays reading the Sunday newspapers. Like everybody else in his neighborhood, he left the house at 8 o’clock Monday through Friday, caught the tube to the city, worked from 9 to 5, and took the tube back home, where his wife was waiting for him with dinner. He played a little while with the children before they went to bed, and then, finally, he was free for his true vocation.

Every clear night, after it had gotten really dark — regardless of the season — he would get his telescope from the closet, drive to the open countryside, put up the telescope, and gaze at the stars for hours on end. Despite his wife’s constant teasing and urging him to do something more useful with his time, he was sure they were out there somewhere. He was keeping himself informed on all reported UFO sightings, and he was sure that one day he would see them. All he needed was a good telescope and enough patience. And he knew he had both — waiting for long-overdue promotions in the office had taught him the latter.

“Hakata to vana.”

Mick was concentrating on searching the dark between the glittering stars through his telescope.

“Halama ti teni.” A long index finger tapped him on the shoulder.

Mick turned around with an irritated frown. “What the h…aaaaa….aaaaaahhhhh”

Mick stared open-mouthed into a long, green face with deep wrinkles and two spindly antennae on top. The alien was a little shorter than himself and looked rather plump in its silvery space suit.

“Talala wa hala.”

Mick just stared.

The alien slapped Mick gently in the face for encouragement. Mick blinked and swallowed and blinked again. How could they be here? Where was their flying saucer, or whatever they used? He had thousands of questions to ask. His mind fumbled for words, but his vocal chords seemed paralyzed.

“Tawa…hihihi…pshhhh…kkggk….hahahahaha…” The alien almost fell over laughing.

Mick continued to stare. Even more confused now. The laughter sounded almost human. He thought it sounded familiar.

“Gloria?!” he screamed.

The alien shook uncontrollably, gasping for air.

“Gloria, it’s you!”

The alien took off its mask, and Mick looked into his wife’s laughing face.

“Oh, Gloria”, Mick groaned and gave her a reproachful frown.

Gloria had never taken his space explorations seriously. But this was worse than just giving him the occasional disdainful eye-roll. Mick was way too hurt at the moment to see the funny side of it. He packed up his telescope and stormed off deeper into the dark countryside, leaving his giggling wife standing where she was without giving her another glance.

When his telescope began to weigh too heavily on his shoulder after a good while, he set it down and caught a deep breath. He wasn’t quite sure where he was. In his outrage he hadn’t wasted any thought on where he was going. He’d just marched off, somewhere, away from his wife who’d never taken him or his research seriously, and who’d never failed to show it and rub it in!

* * *

After a good hour’s standing in the dark and moping, Mick’s indignation was fading, and he began to feel the chill of the night. He decided then it was time to go home. He didn’t have to forgive Gloria right away; he could still be angry with her, but it was a lot warmer and more comfortable to be angry with her at home.

He tried to retrace his steps to where he had come from. As he skirted an unfamiliar wooded area, he caught his foot and fell over a root or something in the grass. At second glance, it seemed to be something metallic. Mick knelt and took a closer look and found that the piece of metal was part of a sort of metal framework, which led to a large sphere sitting among the trees a dozen feet away.

Mick quickly crouched behind some bushes to take a better look. This had to be a UFO. A genuine UFO! Or was that something else Gloria had rigged up? He couldn’t imagine how she could have done that, though.

His thoughts were interrupted by an eerie sound. A long, drawn-out, high-pitched whistle right at the limits of his hearing. Then he saw a group of people approaching from the same direction that he’d come from. They were carrying something. Mick stared hard into the darkness, trying to make out what that was.

They were coming towards him. They were about as tall as himself, but they were walking on eight legs each. He gulped. Aliens. Real aliens this time. He counted four of them, carrying something in a silver space suit. Gloria! They were carrying Gloria.

Mick felt a surge of panic. Total, utter panic. The aliens had kidnapped Gloria! He had to rescue her. But how could he fight four, eight-legged aliens — and probably more hiding inside the UFO — all by himself?

The aliens carried Gloria’s unmoving figure into the glowing sphere. The door slid shut behind them with a low thud, and Mick was sitting behind the bushes not knowing what to do. All he knew was that he had to do something to rescue Gloria. But he didn’t have the slightest idea how. His thoughts were running in circles. He couldn’t just storm the sphere and drag her out. There were too many of them. And he didn’t know how to open the UFO anyway. And he didn’t know what kinds of weapons he might be facing if he managed to get inside. He also knew there was no time to lose. The UFO might be leaving Earth any moment, carrying Gloria away into space. Mick began imagining all the horrible things they might do to her. By the time he might think of a way to rescue her, it could well be too late. He regretted now that he hadn’t at least taken karate classes or learned how to fire a weapon. Here he was, without any combat skills, forced to confront a horde of aliens…

The door of the sphere whooshed open again, and five aliens filed out. The first one continually moved his/her/its head left and right and seemed to be checking the area for anything suspicious. Mick ducked deep behind his bush and held his breath, silently congratulating himself for wearing dark clothes. He imagined the alien looking right into his eyes, but the alien continued to move on as if it hadn’t noticed him at all.

Mick waited until all five of them had moved out of his range of vision. Then he moved up the ramp to the door of the sphere that had closed behind the last of the five aliens. As he got close, the door whooshed open. Mick jumped off the ramp and dived underneath it. He waited. He heard the thud of the door closing.

Mick cautiously edged up the ramp. The door whooshed open again. Mick jumped off the ramp and hid again underneath. He waited. Again he heard the thud of the door closing. Nothing happened.

Obviously it was just the door opening automatically for anybody approaching — the aliens didn’t seem to worry too much about ship security; perhaps people were usually too afraid to approach them. Mick sneaked up the ramp again. The door opened, and he dashed inside. The inside of the sphere looked very much like the spaceships in Science Fiction movies. Lots of blinking lights, buttons, and labels with alien symbols.

He saw a big, iridescent case below one of the huge control panels, and in it was… “Gloria!”

Mick sank to his knees in front of the shimmering panes. Gloria was still wearing her silver space suit. She looked alive, although he couldn’t tell through the glimmering cover if she was breathing. Without pausing to think, he grabbed the first thing he could lay his hands on and smashed the case. He removed as much glass or whatever it was around the opening as he could and pulled Gloria out. At least she was breathing. He swept her up in his arms, lost his balance with the momentum and the added weight, and almost fell.

He lowered her to the floor and dragged her by her arms. To hell with heroic gestures, he thought. I can’t afford a hernia right now. He dragged her to the door, down the ramp, and into the bushes. He had to stop there to catch his breath. Maybe he should have accompanied Gloria more often when she went jogging.

He knew he had to get away from there as quickly as possible and warn everybody. Who would be the appropriate authority to deal with aliens? The police, the local government, the army? He reminded himself that he had to get away first.

He shook Gloria, but she wouldn’t wake up. He quickly crouched as he saw the aliens coming back and entering the sphere. Now they would notice that Gloria had gone and would come looking for her! Carrying Gloria, he would never have a chance to get away fast enough. But he couldn’t leave her behind either. Mick was close to panic again. Now, of all times, the remembered the “DON’T PANIC” sign with the large friendly letters that Gloria had made for him a couple of years ago, again making fun of the things he was interested in. Naturally, that thought didn’t help at all. Mick was close to tears of fear and frustration.

A roaring sound brought him back to reality. He saw the sphere vibrate, lift off, and in a minute it was gone.

Mick stared at the spot in the sky where it had disappeared.

“Mick?”

“Gloria! Are you okay?”

Gloria looked at him sleepily and uncomprehending.

“Are you okay, Gloria?” Mick touched her gingerly as if he couldn’t believe she was there and more or less awake.

“I must have fallen asleep”, she mumbled. “What are we doing out here in the woods?”

“Don’t you remember…? The aliens! They must have caught you and sedated you…”

“Oh, Mick, this isn’t funny. Just because I tried to play a little trick on you…”

“Gloria, I’m not trying to get back at you. They were here!”

“Oh, don’t be silly!”

“They tried to abduct you, they already had you in a glass case in their spacecraft…”

“Sure, and then I was rescued by Mick, the fearless space hero…” Gloria smirked and rolled her eyes.

“Yes, I did. I smashed the glass case they had put you in, pulled you out, and got you away from their spaceship…”

“Mick, I’m sick and tired of your fantasies. And I’m getting cold. I’m going home.” She struggled to get up and marched off.

Mick followed her. He had the sinking feeling that nobody would ever believe him, especially his wife. But at least he knew. Yes, he finally knew.

Gloria turned around again, interrupting his thoughts: “Are you coming, Mick? And what the hell are you grinning at?!”

“Nothing, dear”, he responded, still smiling. “Nothing at all.” *

About the Author: Irene Maschke has been an avid reader of all genres since she learned how to read. She stumbled into SF fandom through a friend of a friend, who coaxed her into attending the 1990 SF Worldcon in The Hague, Netherlands. Since then she’s been to various cons and ended up as contributing member of an Amateur Press Association (APA) publication, DAPPER, for which she wrote a serial and various short stories. Irene also has published a short story in “Bewildering Stories”. In the real world, Irene holds a degree in translation and works occasionally for the police and courts of law.  She’s always wanted to translate a novel, and since this hasn’t happened so far, she had to start writing her own stories. Irene also works a regular office job during the day. Besides reading, she enjoys travelling, photography, and languages. She lives in Fürth, Germany.

About the Artist: Romeo Esparrago is a real alien.

One thought on “Encounter at Midnight, by Irene Maschke

  1. That was a fantastic read. A well thoughtout story. You are a brilliant writer and I enjoyed every moment of it. I liked how he rescued his wife from the aliens and how his wife didn’t believe me.

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