Authors: David Thompson
Tags: #Short Fiction
Zak took the mike once again, grinning, and announced, “And that, folks, is why Halloo men never have to fight.”
The crowd roared its approval.
Zak finished his message without further personal interjections. Then Winch read the agenda and introduced the speakers, who stood and bowed respectfully to the participants. Professor R.P. Austin was the chief expert on alien abductions. Author Glen Smarting wrote
Aliens and Beyond
. Researcher Dr. Min Yan Ming had flown in from Formosa. Elder Joseph Copper represented Dawson City. Professor Madame Merch lectured at the university in Metz, France.
Doctor Ming was first to show his film,
Look to the Skies
. Example after example of oddly shaped silver objects flashed across the screen, eliciting
from the rapt audience in the darkened room.
Some objects looked suspiciously like pie plates glued together. The pictures were fuzzy and out of focus, but the audience didn't seem to mind. When someone asked about the lack of clarity, Dr. Ming said, “All these pictures were taken without any advance notice, and the camera holders had only the briefest second to react. It is impossible to get any better pictures unless the aliens stop and pose.”
A smattering of laughter followed his response.
Then the spokesman for the Sasquatch Believers Club, which had sent a contingency of observers, said, “We know better than anyone how difficult it is to take pictures of the Sasquatch and aliens.” The discussion ended there.
Elder Joseph Copper sat quietly in the audience, waiting for his turn to speak. When Brian finally invited him onstage, he didn't rise from his seat but waved his hand and said, “At this time I won't speak. Maybe later.” With that he got up and left the room, head down and frowning.
Madame Merch spoke at length, in fractured English, about crop circles. Near her home in Metz in northeastern France, people had discovered these circles numerous times. Professor Merch believed that crop circles were the greatest proof that aliens exist and were attempting to communicate. “We must decipher their meaning, as they contain important messages.”
“So far,” she continued, “I have deciphered a complicated message that involved the study of six individual circles that collectively said the Earth is round.”
Her theories and her slide show were warmly received, and numerous questions followed.
At the back of the room, from a darkened corner, a man asked, “If these beings are intelligent, why do they have to wait for harvest time to communicate with us? And why crop circles? Don't they have any regard for the farmers? Why don't they write us a letter or send us a postcard?”
Madame Merch pretended not to understand, apologized for her lack of English and moved on to the next query. It was quite complicated, but she answered without any difficulty.
And so the conference went, with speaker after speaker convincing each other of nothing, really. They offered the weakest of proof and the barest of evidence, but their audience accepted everything wholeheartedly. It was a case of the blind leading the blind.
When Professor Anca expounded on the Venus de Miloâhe said she didn't have arms because some aliens didn't have armsâthere were more loud scoffs and laughter from the back of the room.
“How do they pull their pants up if they have no arms?” was a question.
“Yeah, and how do they hug their children and wives?” came another.
Winch had had enough of this, and I stepped aside as he rushed past me toward the back.
The voices asking the probing questions turned out to belong to OP and Clutch.
Winch fumed. “Saboteurs! Idiots!” he spat. “I thought it was you two. How could you embarrass me like this?”
OP and Clutch cleared out as fast as they could; they didn't want to face the wrath of Winch. Later, when they bumped into each other in the hall, Winch turned his anger on OP, believing he'd persuaded Clutch to disrupt the convention.
“How could you be so damn rude? Who are you hanging out with these days, Howard Bungle?” he snapped.
“You know we would never do that, Winch,” Clutch said, not trying to hide the hurt in his voice.
OP said, “We just want our brother back.”
Winch's shoulders sagged, his voice softened and he raised his palm as he nodded. “Okay, okay. I know this hasn't been easy on you guys, but we can't talk now. We'll talk later. This whole show is almost over.” He patted their shoulders and walked outside.
“Later,” OP called out hopefully behind him.
The convention's comradeship was inspiring, and the banquet was sumptuous. People drove and hiked up the Dome road and overflowed the summit to celebrate the summer solstice. Brian stood on the highest point to make his speech, and the midnight sun reflected off his silver hard hat and blue face as he spoke. “Thank you, thank you all, for being here in the name of science. Wonderful things have been brought to light this weekend. I'm sure we have advanced the cause of understanding our fellow inhabitants of this universe to a new level.” He stretched out both arms to the crowd, then pointed to the heavens. “Let no one rest until all aliens are human, and all humans are alien!”
No one really knew what he meant by that, but in the spirit of accepting non-conclusive evidence for the past few days, everyone cheered wildly.
I saw Camelia in an animated conversation with Howard Bungle Jr., who sported a Chinese Maoist cap with the red star and all. I think he bought it from an army surplus store while on a trip to Vancouver. He wore the cap all the time. Camelia must have taken it seriously, because she was arguing wildly about something.
Howard saw me watching them, and later when he walked past, he said, “That chick is nuts.”
After his speech Brian and Maude left to lock up the meeting hall for the night. Brian called to me, “Tobias, come and help us.” As we entered the cool darkness, we could hear faint voices coming from the stage area. Silently we stood and listened.
Elder Joseph Copper sat onstage with his two grandchildren Gerald and Terry, talking in a quiet voice in the silent, empty hall. The boys listened, entranced with his words. He looked up and motioned for us to come over, which we did.
“You can stay and listen to this if you want. Draw your own conclusions. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or change what people believe in, but everyone told their stories, so now I will tell mine.”
There were chairs nearby, so we dragged them over. As soon as we sat, he began.
“Long ago, when I was young like Gerald and Terry, my father Copper John and my two uncles Robert and James took me with them up the White River for an early fall caribou hunt. It was my first time and I was very young. We hunted successfully for two days and then camped beside the river. We had to smoke and prepare the meat for transportation back home. I made my first kill. I was very excited. Around the campfire my father and uncles honoured me with their stories and gave me small gifts for the occasion. I scratched my name and the dateâit was 1911âon a jackknife that my Uncle Robert gave me.”
With that, Joseph reached into his pocket and took out a well-worn bone-handled Buck knife and handed it to me.
“Read it and tell what's on it, Tobias,” Joseph said.
I held the knife up to catch the light from the open door behind me. I could make out the faint worn scratches on the handle.
“It says, âJoseph Copper, 1911,'” I said.
I passed the knife around; everyone looked at it, then Joseph put it back in his pocket.
Just then Professor Anca and Camelia walked in, and uninvited, pulled chairs up and joined us. Joseph didn't seem to mind.
“The work of preparing the caribou was done,” he continued, “so one afternoon when my father and uncles were napping, I decided to wander off and explore the countryside. I took my Cooey .22 rifle and followed the river upstream for a while. Then I came across a small creek flowing into the river and decided to follow it up into the hills. I kept my eye out for small game and prospected along the way. I hadn't gone very far when I saw something move on the bank above the creek. I thought it might be more caribou, so I crawled up silently and lay peering through the grass to see what it was. At first I could not make it out, because it looked so strange, but then I saw small creatures walking around what looked like the boiler from a riverboat. It was shiny and made a sound like the wings of a bee. The small creatures looked like youngsters but they moved like men. Their clothes were thick and padded, and their heads were bare. I sat and watched them for a long time. I wasn't scared. Maybe I was too young to be scared. They didn't see me because I kept hidden. They seemed to be doing something â¦ working maybe. Finally they all walked back into the boiler and closed the door. That was when I left and went back to camp to tell my uncles and my father. They were amazed. They wanted to hear about everything. Uncle James asked, âDid it sound like bees' wings through the air?' I told him it did.
“Have you ever heard bees' wings like that, Brian?” Joseph asked.
Brian had been deep in thought and jerked when asked the question. “No,” he said with weariness in his voice. “No, I have never heard or seen anything like that.” He leaned forward in his chair, looking at the ground and rubbing his hands slowly together.
“We stayed in camp, but the men asked me to point out the direction I had travelled in. So I did, and they gazed intently in that direction, hoping to see something, all the while questioning me and talking excitedly among themselves. Sitting around the fire my father said, âThis is good. These are good people. They have come here many times before â¦ we know about them. This is good.'
“My uncle Robert explained, âWe won't go see them. They like to be left alone. They don't mind us seeing them, but they don't like being chased. We call them Small People.'
“The men remained at camp for another night. They stayed awake, sitting around a blazing fire and excitedly exchanging stories. It seemed that the sighting had opened a floodgate of history that could now be shared because the time was appropriate.
“My father, Copper John, did most of the talking. He seemed more experienced and knowledgeable than Robert or James. Everything was related to spirits, he said. âThe Great Spirit, the One who made usâwho made the land and the crow and the wolf, the mountains and water and everythingâalso made these people.' Then he laughed. âI think these Small People went to school longer than us. They fly with machines that are faster than our planes.'
“I asked my father and uncles how they knew about these Small People, and my father explained, âOnly those who have seen the Small People talk about them. For a long time these sightings have been passed down, so the visitors have been coming here for a long time. One ancient elder, Yugunvaq, passed on the story that he had travelled with the Small People and they had come from beyond the sun.'”
“Who was Yugunvaq?” I asked.
“That's a story I'll tell you another time,” Joseph said.
“I know,” said Gerald putting up his hand as if in class.
Joseph patted him on the head and laughed. He went on, “I am telling you this now because it has been too long since the Small People have been sighted. I think they stay away because of the Blue Faces. Crazy dances, crazy movies and crazy songs have nothing to do with the Small People. It makes me angry, and I think it makes the Small People angry too. They have been embarrassed to have people think of them in this way!”
Brian shifted uneasily in his chair, and Maude reached over and took his hand.
“I was going to tell these people here today about this, but I decided against it. There were too many arguments and too many lies. If they had been smarter, I would have told them everything. Guard this knowledge and respect it. Maybe someday you too will see the Small People and be able to explain them to others.”
“Do you know if they were communist?” Camelia asked.
What an idiot, I thought. Suddenly she seemed plain-looking.
No one answered, and the Professor and Camelia got up and left. The professor had seemed unimpressed and aloof to Joseph's story; otherwise I'm sure he would have asked questions.
“What could these people know that the Bureau of Extraterrestrial Beings does not know?” he asked Camelia as they walked out the door.
Joseph was finished. He slid from the stage and helped the children down one at a time. We stood up. He gave Brian a hug. “You're a good man, Brian. I like you. But you let your imagination get the best of you. Stick to facts like Tobias here and listen to your wife. I think she is good for you and a wise woman. I respected you enough to tell you this. Now respect the Small People.”
He hugged Maude and me. Then, taking the children's hands, he left, wishing us a good night.
Brian mumbled something about having to go, then ran out of the building and down the street, raising dust that followed his every step.
“That upset him,” Maude said, looking sad.
I gave her a hug and patted her on the shoulder, and she in turn squeezed my hand.
At that moment, from the direction of the Dome, more rowdy laughter and cheers rose and drifted through the air, down the hill and into the town like a dusty cloud of misinformation.
Immediately after the Alien Convention I realized I was working far too hard and needed a rest, or at least a change. I would go over to Keno City, camp out and interview some of the locals. Like Dawson City, Keno City wasn't really a city. About forty people lived there.
Before I left, I visited Dawson's elderly Indian Army doctor with a sick puppy. He was very British, still wore his army khakis and was all spit and polish. I thought of Rudyard Kipling and the heat and dryness of India when I visited him. He was easily distracted, and no matter what you were seeing him for, he usually talked about different subjects.