Beam me up
Amy parked by The White House, where the sheep dawdled in the road like truculent teenagers, and took the path up Blackstone Edge. The Pennine Window, that’s what the experts called this whole area. From Blackburn across to Ilkley in the north, and down as far as Sheffield in the south. The most active UFO window in the country, where one fifth of all reported UK sightings had taken place, dating back as far as the 16th Century. Or in Amy’s case, as far back as 1977… which was a lifetime ago, and nothing went back farther than a lifetime.
She repeated the acid of a red onion chutney she’d spread on her sandwiches that afternoon. Not a problem. She unwrapped a couple of Bisodol from her backpack and chewed their familiar chalkiness, puckering so as not to leave a grainy residue on her lips.
“It’s like kissing a blackboard,” Yann had told her; back when kissing had been much more of an issue between them.
Above her loomed the Blackstone rocks, where climbers kicked in their crampons on a weekend, and from where, on a clear day, they said you could see as far as the Welsh mountains – if your eyes were up to it. Tonight Amy could see the twinkling of Littleborough below her, Rochdale to the west and Oldham to the south. Beyond that, the tremendous burn of Manchester, radiating from the horizon.
She worked her way round back of the rocks ‘til she came out on top, then laid her blanket a cautious distance from the edge. It was a deep midsummer twilight, and the stars had just begun to spark, though it was after ten and the heat of the day had long since rolled off the moors. Amy pulled up her knees and huddled the blanket round her shoulders, waiting.
So long, waiting.
1977, walking Oscar round Hollingworth Lake after tea. He’s your dog, your responsibility. Rather be home watching telly. Missing Charlie’s Angels tonight. ‘Once upon a time there were three girls who went to the police academy…’ Watched the first bit before Dad fetched her the lead. ‘I took them away from all that and now they work for me.’ Half seven, getting dark earlier each night, why does Oscar have to sniff at every post, every clump, every tree? Mum’ll be worried sick if we’re not back soon.
Starting to run. Oscar panting, excited, thinking it’s a game. Stupid dog…
Then the Christmas tree.
Wrong. It couldn’t be a Christmas tree. It was only September.
And the lights, the lights weren’t on the ground, they were moving across the lake. Fast. Oscar barking, the lights getting closer, reflections slurring on the water – run!
“Where the hell you been, young lady?”
Daddy. Daddy, what’s wrong?
Mum crying, the policewoman coming in from the kitchen.
“Your parents have been very worried about you, Amy. You mustn’t run away like that.”
Didn’t run away – daddy, I didn’t, I was running back. From the Christmas tree! Back to catch the end of Charlie’s Angels! I didn’t—
“Amy, you’ve been gone three days. Your mother’s been out of her mind!”
“Where’s your dog, Amy? Did he run away? Have you been out looking for Oscar? It’s OK, no-one’s going to be angry, but you have to tell us the truth. Where have you been, Amy? Where’s your dog? Amy? Amy?”
Headlights from the road crawled up the moors below. A lone bat etchasketched on the blue-black screen. Amy’s tongue rolled over the impacted wisdom tooth that always caused her so much grief. Made her gum swell and smell, like foul red cheddar. Bad days, she honked like a goose.
“Why won’t you let them take it out?” Yann used to ask.
Scared, she told him. Of coming out of the hospital with a boot print on her chest. It wasn’t the truth, but it satisfied him for a while. Lies always did a better job of that. No dentists. No X-rays. Amy couldn’t risk what they’d find.
She was 38 now, but looked and felt ten years older. Still, she’d made an effort again tonight, though she wasn’t sure why. Clean underwear, her ninety quid jeans, that top she’d caught the MD peering down at the management meeting. Make-up – probably too much, but she’d never known how much that was. She remembered Caroline Egdall taking the piss, “You a panda or wha’, Lewis?”, before slapping Amy hard up the side of her face, yanking away her satchel, and pushing her down the banking behind the sports hall. Caroline Egdall. Whatever happened to Caroline Egdall?
“You’ve been missing a week now Amy, and so has one of your classmates. Only Caroline’s still missing… and her parents are understandably very concerned.” The headmaster, and his frowning brow. “If you won’t tell us where you’ve been this last week, at least tell us if you know where Caroline might be…”
What could she tell them? They wouldn’t believe her. The Christmas tree again, floating above the banking, Caroline silhouetted against its lights, Amy scrambling up to reach her, screaming with no sound. Waking shivering six days later, face down in the dew. A blackbird pulling at a worm, it took flight as she lifted her head from the grass.
They tried therapy, they tried hypnosis. Caroline’s father tried threats. Her own father tried tears. She couldn’t tell them anything. The doctors gave her a complete physical, reporting bruises, marks, blistering… possible signs of sexual abuse.
“Whatever happened,” they concluded, “Amy’s mind has blocked it out to protect her. It could be risky to probe further. Any attempt at forcing her to relive her ordeal could have serious psychological consequences.”
Now it was dark, and the lights twinkled above and below. Not much longer, she thought. She hoped. She prayed (though she wasn’t sure to whom). She was begging them now. This time, please. Please!
She’d never wanted the baby. But when she got pregnant, Yann was over the moon. Amy kept waiting for the maternal instincts to kick in, but there was nothing there for her. Yann was buying buggies and painting the nursery and reading books of names in the bath (Erin, Beth or Selina; Wesley, Patrick or Matthew). Amy was crying in the ladies at work and going through a full roll of Bisodol every morning before lunch. How had this happened, anyway? She was on the pill, and she always made Yann use a condom. Surely that was enough? When she was young, Katie Swain told her if she had a big wee after sex it’d wash all the sperm out and there’d be no way she could get pregnant. She’d stopped believing that a long time ago. Maybe that was her mistake, right there.
On a sticky night in July, Amy woke paralysed and saw the Christmas lights outside her bedroom window. Yann slept on beside her, a low growl in the back of his throat, and Amy was terrified. She thought they’d come for him. She couldn’t bear being left alone now, not with this thing growing inside her. Without Yann, she couldn’t go through with it. She wanted to scream and kick and punch and yell, but she knew it was hopeless. They did what they did. There was nothing Amy could do to change that.
When she woke again in the morning, Yann was screaming. At first she thought they were still wherever they went, that maybe she was actually seeing it all this time – and maybe that meant neither of them would be sent back. But then she recognised her bedroom curtains and the tapestry Yann’s parents had brought back from Europe, and she caught the look on Yann’s face and realised.
“Where have you been? Where have you been? And what’s happened to the baby?”
She’d been gone three weeks this time, only Yann hadn’t been with her. Once again though, she’d returned alone.
“What have you done with our baby?”
More doctors, more tests. Still no answers. Yann became angry, became distant, picked up some slapper in a club in Manchester and started screwing around behind Amy’s back. Only not quite far enough behind her back. He left just enough distance that from time to time she’d catch him out of the corner of her eye. Smiling, but without any joy.
Amy shivered, and for a second, she thought she saw them. The Christmas tree lights. But it was just a police helicopter in the distance, buzzing the town. The night was growing colder. She pulled the blanket tighter, though she knew it’d get colder still.
“Come on… come on!”
Seventeen nights, and not even a shooting star to show for it. They’d sent her home from work because she kept falling asleep at her desk. The doctor had written her off for a fortnight, but that was almost done now, and then she’d have to go back. Every day she went online and scoured the message boards. Activity levels were at a peak right now, particularly within the Pennine Window. UAP and LITS, credible low and medium definition sightings, animal disturbances – even ball lightning. But sitting way up here on Blackstone Edge, with just her flask and binoculars, and only the sheep and an occasional bat for company, Amy hadn’t seen a thing. She’d thought about finding a different location… but what if that was the night they came? Her odds felt better if she stayed in one place.
She’d read somewhere that it was impossible for astronauts to cry. In zero gravity, not even tears could fall.
So patience, that’s all she needed. After all, it wasn’t like she was a stranger to them. If they were here, they knew she was here. Sooner or later they’d come for her.
And when they did?
This time, she wouldn’t let them take her home again.