A wild slim alien

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Panning for gold

On subsequent nights in dreams I would find myself alone in the earth of Earth, panning for gold, picking out aurous fragments, flakes, seeds from gritty, water-trickled alluvium.  Then suddenly – gloriously – a fragment became a whole sheet of gold foil, on which I tugged to free it from the disrupted reddishness of the river bed.  Now I was aware that all around me there were many, many other tabs of gold on which to tug.  So I pulled at them too, until the sheets were piling up beside me, stacked like material in a draper’s.  Then came the feeling of people as yet unseen ominously starting to gather around me; hard people with pioneer faces who would do me harm and take what was mine.  So I tried to pull my gold faster, but now it would only come more slowly, and my mind was not on the beauty of the gold and the excitement of freeing it from the earth but on how long I could leave it before I would have to run to escape with my stack of precious cloth, and my life.  And when the moment came and I ran – ran like the wind – the sheets blew from my grasp, and I was left with just one.  I stopped and from a distance watched the hard people tear the other sheets and themselves apart.  I calmly folded my gold into smaller and smaller squares until it resembled a handkerchief.  I pressed it to my cheek, then placed in my pocket, and walked away.

On other nights still I dreamed of Dancing Ledge where I had once twirled alone, the only creature alive under the sun, or so it seemed that fine May evening.  But now in this dream I was standing on the edge of a pool carved not out of the ledge itself, but the quarry behind, a nightmare blowhole of muddy quicksand, a plugless sink into which I would be sucked if I fell into it.  I teetered on the brink in the strong westerly, and waited for the wild slim alien to fly in and rescue me.  And waited and waited and fell and woke.  Beside me he slept on, his dreams sweet now while mine had turned sour, disturbed, filled with foreboding.

I was beginning to see that I might need more support than he could give if I was to get through this pregnancy and the birth without involving the matriarchal hand of the health service.  There were ways in which he could calm me, but in a crisis he could not be relied upon to remain calm himself.  In a place somewhere near where the baby would kick me for the first time, I knew our paradisiacal state would not last.  Perhaps life had rendered me a pessimist, a fatalist who expected pain and loss and death.  I needed someone who would break my fall, when the time came, however it came.  Because whatever happened I was sure I would need to continue to place one foot in front of another, continue to draw breath, for one being’s sake or another’s.

The choice was obvious.  Her name was Rupa and she was steady, faithful, the only friend from the city where I had lived who kept offering me her ear and her shoulder when everything I touched was curdling, and I was habituating myself to death and loss and pain; all my other friends were driven away.  She had black hair that flew away from her face in unruly curling bunches – luxuriant and ludicrous all at once so that I sometimes had to restrain myself from plunging my hands into its midst for the pure joy of feeling its texture and weight.  Her nose was sharp and larger than proportion demanded but that was all; she was closer to beauty than plainness, and she never seemed to age.  Her skin had remained as healthy as her hair and her smile was an optimist’s, seemingly untainted by any measure of pain she may herself have had to swallow in her own life.  And – crucially – she was a doula.  I invited her to stay.  She accepted.  That was how I explained our need of her to the wild slim alien – that she knew about labour, and birth, and my needs.  If we were going to do this ourselves, we needed a third person we could trust.

We had already decided to avoid the usual scans.  I would not be sorry to miss the first official staging post, given what that scan had revealed in the past.  So weeks thirteen and twenty came and went without the authorities being informed that a new life – and possibly a new life form – was as yet unaccounted for.

The alien hovered by the door waiting to be introduced when Rupa arrived.  I hugged her, and felt that mess of hair against my cheek, and promptly burst into tears.  The baby kicked and the alien hopped from foot to foot as Rupa calmed me, rendering him surplus, and (I could tell) a little agitated by the wait before the formal introduction was finally made.  At that moment and ever after, neither betrayed anything about what they made of the other.  So now I had two people living in my house whose respective thoughts I would always be hard-pressed to guess.  But I needed them both.

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Oriel fables

His answer left me not much the wiser.

‘Well, there’s an exoskeletal formation on each shoulder which protrudes from what you call the scapula.  What in a free translation from the Badezoid we might call the ‘oriel’, as in the protruding window.  Let me feel yours.’

He reached over and put his long arms under my top, feeling the shape of my shoulder blades, and tutting in a way he’d picked up from Sandy as he presided over his optics.  Just as I was relaxing into the connection that was being established between skin and sleepy brain, he stopped as abruptly as he had started.

‘Your scapulae are disguised by all that potter’s wheel muscle of yours.  But in the bar and on the beach I’ve noticed that many humans have quite pronounced or pointed bone structures there, which are not dissimilar to the Badezoid child’s.  I think there might be a genetic relationship between our species that is lost in the mists of time.  That is of course something which could now be tested.’

I gave him a ‘we are not submitting ourselves to tests’ look.

‘Anyway, the casing of the Badezoid’s fledgling wings is embedded in the scapula and is not necessarily that much more pronounced than a human’s, though inevitably Badezoid shoulders develop more powerfully than yours’.

I though about mentioning Björn Borg at this point but the flippancy would almost certainly be lost on Bill.  I was by now inured to human inferiority and Badezoid superiority.  Besides, it was flattering to hear that my shoulders disproved the general rule.  At least, I think it was.

‘It might look a little odd if the baby does carry the genetic coding to develop wings, but if it did, the protuberances could still be in the spectrum of what is humanly possible and explicable.  But the ridges might raise some eyebrows.’


‘Badezoid babies have a ridge along the underside of each arm, from which an additional part of the wing structure sprouts at a varying age – the shoulder wings overlap with these so that the arms become part of an impervious whole.  If you look along my arms you can just make out the scarring where mine were cut away.  In places.’

I peered at his now wingless arms, raised nevertheless as if for flight, and looked for seams as you might in the stitched-up sides of an ancient teddy bear.  It was difficult to see by lamp and flame alone, and I was too comfortably heavy to get up and turn the main light on.  I made a mental note to check on another occasion, but I’d made more than one thorough exploration of his arms before now, kissing the length of them, and not noticed any ridges.  I trusted my lips as much as my eyes in that respect.

What a strange state I was in.  Pregnant by a man who genuinely seemed to believe he was an alien, and against all rational analysis instinctively inclined to give maternal credence to the notion that my baby might appear from the womb with a pair of wings.  It was as if in taking his seed into me I had out of reproductive necessity become part-Badezoid myself.

Was this the birth of a new species, a story that would one day be embellished to become a set of magnificent fables – a creation myth – or simply a series of delusions told by a madman and believed by a woman not much less insane, day after deluded day?  That I still did not know; I believed he wasn’t entirely sure either, or that the baby when it came would offer us proof one way or the other.

My dreams that night defied rational analysis too.  As dreams should; but these were such as I had never had before, going beyond those I remembered from my previous pregnancies, before each successive would-be life was unfairly, harshly snuffed out.  I dreamt of walking with Bill through what in the dream and on waking I knew was a forest on Badezon; the scale of the trees was unearthly and their unfamiliarity magical.  Badezon appeared as a deserted world in which the alien and I roamed together, as if we had been given the planet to populate.  The wild slim alien’s wings were spread like a cloak around my shoulders as we drifted along a short distance above the sandy forest floor.  And the love we made hidden among waterside trees that bore some resemblance to weeping willows woke me with a start.  For a moment the vivid reality of the dream took away my breath, and the whole of me heaved with waves and wings of desire.

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Fledgling wings

I waited for her to tell me.  On Badezon a male of the species knew when the female to whom he had become attached was expecting a child; there was something in our biological make-up that made it so – a smell, a look, a difference, a genetic understanding.  I presumed this was not how it was with humans.  Typically their biology seemed to breed mental complications where ours stripped those complexities away, rendered them simple.  But I judged it best not to let on that I knew; I suspected it would – in a phrase I heard regularly among hang-gliding club members – freak her out.  In the meantime I tried to work out the implications of the as yet unspoken news, and to translate my instinctive Badezon reaction of joy and deep curiosity into some gently equivalent human male form.  Humans seemed to think that the gulf between their sexes was wider than it appeared to me to be, but perhaps the margin was most frequently at its largest when the half that were men were faced with the struggle of making the transition between partner and parent.  The little that Chan had told me about her previous partner seemed to confirm a male fear of being shaken out of a comfortable rut into one which he envisaged being both less comfortable, and less free.

We were sitting before the fire one night, watching the flames dance awkwardly to some of Chan’s favourite songs.  When the music stopped, a raging winter wind stepped in quickly to take its place, howling its frustration at not being able to blow our house down.  Chan took my hands and I knew this was the moment; I knew the words she was about to speak.  She spoke them, a badly disguised look of uncertainty in her eyes.  I smiled, and I kissed her, and, finding I was unable to pretend otherwise, told that I already knew, had known for some time.  She hit me on the head with a cushion then, and said, ‘Why ever didn’t you say?  I’ve been worried sick about telling you.’  Then she hugged me, and kissed me back.  It was difficult to gauge, but I think my reaction had pleased her.  She talked, slowly at first, then with her words tripping over each other in their rush to be spoken.  I listened, smiling all the while, and looked into the heart of the fire just as ancient cave-dwelling Badezoid males must have at the blaze pitched in the mouths of their shelters, dwelling with primeval satisfaction on the knowledge that their line was set to continue.

My attention was drifting, so I made an effort to reconnect with what Chan was saying, and realised to my surprise that she seemed to be seriously countenancing the possibility that this baby might be born with an unusual set of genes.  Not just a weird set, but alien.  This was a breakthrough; but it was probably also a sign that Chan’s underlying pragmatic determination was coming together with the maternal instinct to protect her unborn child from every conceivably threatening possibility.  She desperately wanted this baby, and nothing – not even alien genes – was going to stop the world from treating it like any other ordinary, wholly human infant.  After so many disappointments, she did not want success to turn into a freak show.  But it was what she asked me next that most confounded my expectations.

‘Are Badezoid babies born with little fledgling wings, or do they sprout from your shoulders at some point as you grow?’

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Leaping roe

This was happiness.  The day-to-day stuff, not the burn and scorch of fast-flaring love; that was now in the past.  Why did I not tell him that I was pregnant?  Because this was happiness.  And because I knew what havoc the introduction of a third party could wreak.  So I blocked out the knowledge when I was with him to avoid it showing on my face.  The physical effects of the pregnancy I blamed on bugs and food poisoning, trusting that if he really were an alien, human biology would not be his strong suit.  But of course, I would have to tell him soon; nightly our bellies came together, and whether for the purposes of alien research or out of plain human curiosity, he remained observant of our life together, sometimes astutely so.

I kept giving myself one more day; then, as each seemed as ordinarily perfect as the one before, I kept feeling disinclined to cast a possible shadow over it and all the days that followed.  When not lingering in the present moment, I made my memory work hard to avoid thinking about the future – about, for example, how I would navigate the health system with a life form that just might turn out to be regarded by it as freakish.  I knew I needed to think about that, but I didn’t want to yet.  So I wandered back to the last time I had been as happy as this, day-to-day.  The year before my parents died, the summer that began with the invigilator signalling the end of the last exam.  It was a song that sent me there, one of the ones the wild slim alien and I listened to in front of the fire, after eating, before bed.  ‘Harvest time’.  I found myself before the memory of a boy who worked holidays on the farm whose acreage surrounded our house, and of a girl who had nothing she needed to do with her summer, nor anything better than read or listen to music, except to meet the boy in his lunch hour, and on Sundays.

When we were aged thirteen he and his friend whose name I can no longer remember had on a perfect summer’s day chased us – me and my friend who I last saw a dozen years ago – along the rutted furrows of a farm track.  When we broke across the lines of discarded barley stems, they followed us, until eventually we tumbled down laughing, glistening and unrelenting in the shade of a stand of trees whose coolness was doubled by the neighbouring pond deliberately and artlessly dug into the shallow bowl of the landscape, its chalky sides the scummy white froth atop the muddy brew of weak coffee-coloured water.  An East Anglian oasis, and we on that day were their mirage, conscious for the first time of a power that we could call upon but they could not.  Straw stuck to our clothes, we flirted, and they learnt to take it, and deal with it the best they could, or could not.  They panted like dogs and begged to be petted, but they were boys and we were almost women.

Three years later and we were both full-grown.  His shoulders had broadened and his muscles were toned from working the sacks on the potato harvester.  I led him by the hand through the ancient corridor of interlinked barns, lit by gaps where the wood had rotted.  At the time it felt like we were the first who had ever made such a walk, the first who had ever settled in such a nest constructed and walled with hastily re-arranged bales of hay, but now I realise that the barns would have seen many such couplings over the four centuries that they had stood.  But at the time, of course, there were no ghosts, just me and the boy, and our beating hearts and sweaty palms.  His insistence, my acceptance, my choice of place.  I wanted the transition as much or more than I wanted him.  I knew I was not for him, but I was happy enough to let him be the one.  I couldn’t wait to tell the friend who had run with us that perfect summer’s day, the friend who had chaperoned me when I first visited his house.  In his surprise at our visit, he had leapt through the door of his bedroom and clunked his head on the lintel that long habit usually and automatically allowed him to avoid.  His mother brought tea and a cold flannel and we looked him in the eye to make sure he wasn’t concussed.  I sat next to him on his bed and gingerly dabbed at the cut with the flannel.  Emboldened by his injury, unembarrassed by my friend’s presence, I put my arm around him, lifted the blood-matted hair from his hot, damp forehead, and softly kissed him there.

In the barn we lay a while, straws of straw marking our backs as we gazed into the time-blackened depths of the roof above the cross-beams; there were bats up there somewhere, for sure, and mice beneath the bales.  Occasional sparrows flitted over us, having found their way in through the same gaps in the wood as the sunlight.  Arms flung over each other, I reflected on his absence of knowledge, his expectation that I would know what to do, that I would be his guide rather than he mine.  And so with clumsy directness and overswift accomplishment on his part we both made the transition.  But oh! the extraordinary particularness of it, the feel of him slipping hard inside me.  I had had a taste of the tidal tug that existed between those two overlapping forces, desire and satisfaction, and I wanted more of it.

Today the barns are unrecognisable.  I went back to East Anglia for a period, before coming to Cornwall.  I ate a meal in the fancy restaurant that had once been home to bales and bird shit and a girl and a boy, and drank wine from the vineyard which became the farm’s chief raison d’être; the rest of its thousand acres sold to an agribusiness.  No-one recognised me, and I didn’t declare myself.  The young waitress who served me might have been me.  I didn’t doubt that there was a kitchen hand who coveted her, nor that the after-hours privacy of the restaurant’s toilets or linen store cupboard ensured that the barns still saw their fair share of transitional moments.

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We need flight to feel alive

Sandy’s seasonal workers had moved on, and though he didn’t really need help in the autumn and winter months, he let me pot-wash and collect glasses on the busier nights of the week.  Pot-washer by night, glider by day, or at least on those days that the school decreed it safe to take to the air.  The gliding burned off the excess of human adrenaline that – I now saw – had precipitated my mental crisis; strangely it also left me physically tired in a way that flying under power of my own wings had rarely done. 

Over the winter months I built back Chan’s trust.  I could see it returning in small increments (I had been with her long enough now to be able to begin to perceive these little human signs); in the momentary relief that showed before she composed her face each time I returned from gliding, and in the way she would half-smile as I described a typically ordinary evening at Sandy’s.  Her eyes clouded only at the mention of Badezon, which I had begun to talk about again.  I wanted to normalise the notion of what I was, and talk freely about my origins as I had in the period after she found me on the beach.  So, talking about the hang gliding, I would say, ‘I’m Badezon; we need flight to feel alive.’ And then wait hopefully for the kind of questions she used to ask, about life lived in the air, life lived on my planet.  Now and again, usually late at night, she would humour me.

I understood that she would have preferred me not to hang glide.  But she had also quickly understood that it was for me what ceramics were for her.  Before long I had flown from all of Cornwall’s recognised launch sites – Sennen, Perranporth, Chapel Porth, St. Agnes Head, High Cliff, Vault Bay, Carbis Bay, Carne, Carn Brea, Rosewall Hill, again from Godrevy, and from one or two unofficial places.  I never felt in the slightest danger.  I knew I could fly, whether with real or artificial wings; bird-alien that I was, I turned and dived in a way that few of the other professional pilots would dare to try.  Soon the school’s manager started to talk about me gliding competitively, even though he knew it meant that he himself would drop a place in any competition we both entered.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  Like any Badezon, I wanted to show off my prowess in the air.  But obviously it would draw attention to me, too much attention.  Chan immediately said no.  Now that I had begun to talk about my planet again, I could tell that she feared the stress of competition – of exposure – would force another crisis, another moment of dangerous madness; another hang gliding fatality.  She needed me to carry on existing and she did not have – could not have – my conviction that in the air I was safe from harm.  I agreed not to put myself forward, but the urge was strong, and I knew that eventually I would give in to it, and risk the consequences.

But that winter, alien-human relations were at their best.  When I came home from the bar or from the air, and Chan from her potter’s wheel and kiln, we would both ache with virtuous exhaustion.  After preparing and eating a simple meal, we would sit before the flickering open fire and listen to music – Earth songs about the sea and the moon, or Spain, or hearts entwined with human complications.  When the songs finished we would allow the wind to slip in and take its place, and listen to the music of the onshore breeze rising off the sea, ascending the hill, deviating over the roofs of the houses that clung to it, until it gusted down our chimney, scattering the flames in all directions, and left behind a sound like the fading shimmer of a cymbal.  And then we ourselves would rise on an indoor thermal and without any seeming effort find ourselves in what I began to think of as not Chan’s but our bed.

That was the night I remembered making love with another of my species, in the air above the semi-translucent sloping fields of quartz, as Badezon’s two dying suns set them aflame.  In our sleepy, stream of consciousness bliss, I immediately relayed this flashback to Chan, who to my surprise roared with laughter.

‘Well, that brings a whole new meaning to the Mile High Club,’ she said.  Then, laughing hysterically, ‘Don’t even think of trying that in a hang glider.’

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The hang gliding school were wary of my credentials, and warier still when I appeared not to know certain technical terms which were their lingua franca.  I said we’d developed our own Aussie slang for the kit we used, and improvised some names for them on the spot: goblet, tinny, short leg, gastropod.  They were still wary, and later I learned that one of them had checked the internet to satisfy himself that the club I purported to teach for really did exist.  But Chan and I had done our research; she had meticulously faked a certificate from the Australian hang gliding association, and, with the help of an acquaintance of Sandy’s, had come by a marriage certificate and proof of joint nationality.  With this and one or two other easily acquired items, I could open the bank account I would need to become employable.

I committed to memory all the basics of hang gliding, and visualised what in artificial terms I needed to do to become airborne.  Once in the air, I was convinced that my genetic, natural flying ability would be there waiting for me to reclaim it.  There might be some bumpy moments as I adjusted my centre of gravity to the fact that my wings were no longer attached at my shoulders but were instead held by a frame some number of feet above my head; I would ride those out.

At the end of that first meeting with the people from the school, they seemed more or less satisfied, and told me that they would ring me when the weather was set fair for flying.  As for teaching, well, they’d have to see how I flew; but even then, I’d need to take the national association’s qualification before they’d let me near novices.

When the day came, my skin prickled and my mind exploded with flashbacks to Badezon.  The clouds were the flat-bottomed cotton-wool puffs of cumulus that signified safe gliding, and as the pilots gathered on the hillside at Godrevy, there was talk about streets, glassoffs and elevators.

I was impatient to feel the air about me as I had on Badezon, but I carefully and methodically adjusted my kit as protocol required, and waited my turn.  As I launched myself from the hillside, I tucked my legs into what they called the cocoon and I the gastropod – like the bottom three-quarters of a sleeping bag – and was transformed into a giant wasp with chevron sails.  Immediately I felt myself rise on a thermal, sniffing the air for its feel and its path.  These wings were clumsy in comparison with my own, but I soon had their measure, and knew they would do.  So I swooped down and into and up on a thermal.  I wheeled like a gull, and wheeled again.  Then I glided for miles along the coast, watching the human flyers drop behind me and away.  I ignored the variometer.  The climatic conditions were near-identical to Badezon.  When my wings had first been strong enough to lift me into the air, I discovered that what my parents said was true – you’ll know what to do, and where the good air is.  And then I was alone, I was free, soaring as we used to do on Badezon across the plains of rock that heated the air and created the uplift which bore us higher, lighter than a single one of our feathers.

From the skies, I could see the beauty of the planet I had found myself upon.  If the coastal walks with Chan had given me a glimpse, now I had a three-dimensional panorama all about me.  But to what astonishing effect the planet’s weather systems and the bodies of water and earth interacted; light reflecting and deflecting off clouds and sea, and colouring the emeralds, yellows and greys of the land with a degree of intensity that momentarily dazzled me and took my breath away.  And as I had come to expect at such moments, a flashback hit me, and I remembered the exhilaration of flying over features of the Badezon land- and waterscape that I had never before encountered.

While I was in the air, the wind changed direction, and I was able to head back the way I had come, landing to everyone’s astonishment on the very hill from which we had taken off.  I was a natural bird-man, they said.  Unusual technique.  But very effective.  ‘So you believe me now?’ I said, softening the impact of the implicit criticism with a smile.  The school’s manager cracked a smile in return, and I knew I was in.

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We found a plane together

From that day forwards the wild slim alien would not voluntarily talk about his origins, and became extremely discomfited if I tried to persuade him to do so.  I learned not to ask: ‘What are you thinking?’  To a troubled mind, there is no escape from such a question except through deceit, and I did not want the awareness of a lie infecting with its toxins the calmness of the atmosphere in which we once again began to co-exist.  It was as if, having reached a crisis point, and finding himself standing at the crossroads with full-blown insanity signposted in one direction and the chance of recovery in another, Bill had chosen to set himself against the uphill gradient of the latter; had chosen to contain what was wild and alien in him within the framework of my protection – and whatever protection his own damaged mind afforded.

I thought again about going to the police, before it became clear in those next few days that he was fighting hard to regain permanent control of his mind.  I couldn’t think how I might approach them without suspicions arising that I knew more about the person after whom I was enquiring than I was letting on.  I even went as far as looking up contact details for missing persons in Australia and New Zealand, but I could not bring myself to ring or email.  I did not want to lose him; and it was my considered opinion that he was already lost to anyone that loved him from before, because he remembered no-one.  No-one born on this planet, at least.

As yet unaware of the life growing within me – for it did not seem a lie not yet to tell him in his state that he was to be a father – we found a plane together, and lived happily upon it for those weeks before the baby showed.  The plane was a bed, in which we made love, with less abandon than before, but greater consideration, giving ourselves pleasure which had depth if not height; but the plane was also the land outside our door – the tortured circuitous paths which followed the ceaseless three-dimensional wriggles of the Cornish coast.  In the embracing arms of out-of-season coves that we had to ourselves, we would cool off from the up and down efforts of our rambles in sun-warmed rock pools or – once Bill had overcome his fear of returning to the element from which he had apparently emerged free of memory – the sea itself.

After swimming we would lie in the sun and dry off, listening to the waves rush or lap, slowly allowing ourselves to move towards a state in which, invisible from the coastal path above, we would lick the salt from each other.

Afterwards we would eat the fresh rolls and the fruit we had brought along, and drink sparkling water, warmed from the sun on the black bag in which we carried it.  Soon we would set off again, either for home or further along the path.  On one such an occasion, I determined to spoil our usual peaceable silence.

‘This can’t go on forever, you know.  I’ve got to get back to work.  So we can eat.  You know, that thing you like doing so much.  And you need to find something to do too.  To keep yourself busy while I’m busy.  I don’t care whether you earn any money or not but you need to start filling that mind of yours with the day-to-day so that at least for a time you can stop dwelling on whatever or whoever it was that you were in the past.’

He thought about that for a while, then said, ‘That’s the problem though – I don’t know what I’m good for.  Couldn’t I help you?’

‘We could try – but you’re a touch on the clumsy side and I have my doubts that those will ever be potter’s hands.’

‘Sandy might let me work at the bar.’

This was, at least from Bill’s perspective, rational; plausible even.  But I was reasonably sure that while Sandy might be happy to engage with Bill’s weirdness himself, he would be a shade less keen for his customers to encounter it.  Plus I didn’t want him that close to alcohol on a regular basis.

‘I think you’d probably drop too many glasses for Sandy’s liking.  But we could ask him,’ I added, seeing something like a flicker of disappointment register on what had become a habitually impassive face.

He thought some more, gazing out at the swell of the sea.

‘I want to hang glide.’

This was dangerous territory.  Not because hang gliding seemed to me an insanely risky pursuit, but because Bill was evidently searching for ways to bring himself closer to the winged alien he imagined he used to be.  I cursed myself for ever crediting his story once he had discovered lodged in the previously inaccessible vaults of his mind.  I cursed myself for wanting to believe, for letting myself be subsumed in the powerful romance of becoming one with an extraterrestrial.  I cursed myself for playing along with the notion that the stories he told about flying over Badezon must be true because the detail of his narrative was so exacting.  We had seen the hang gliders one afternoon, rising from a headland on the westerlies, steering once airborne for the flat land set back from the beach.  I knew he had been struck by the sight at the time, asking me who they were and what they were doing, but he had not mentioned them again until now.

I laughed, nervously.  ‘I’m not sure you can make a living out of hang gliding.’

‘You said that didn’t matter.’

‘It would cost a lot of money – for the equipment, for lessons.’

‘If I work for Sandy, I can pay for it.’

Having opened up the subject, I couldn’t think of a reasonable way of closing it down.  Once we reached the next cove, and the old fishing port that crowded its steep sides, I rang for a taxi home.  Bill sat in the back while I sat next to the driver in order to soak up the majority of the conversation.  His interactions were still unpredictable.  Soon I would have to step away, and let the wild slim alien explain himself to the people he met without a minder by his side.

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Festooned with flowers

He had seemed so normal in his abnormality. No different from dozens of my peers at school, girls and boys, in that respect. A generation of ordinary kids with freakish personality traits, or freakish kids who had somehow managed to contain themselves within the ordinary every day reality of late 20th century Britain, and who had, come the 21st century, freakishly blossomed, or wilted.

The day the ambulance men came, I should have handed him over to them. The psychiatrist on call at A&E would not have taken anything like as long as it took me to realise he ought to be sectioned. But I had taken him in, I had allowed myself to become responsible for him, and more than that, to fall heavily in love with the contrast between his slim wildness and his unassuming gentleness. And now he was waving bread knives in the face of my petrified elderly neighbours. How I managed to talk them out of ringing the police, I have very little idea. I remember begging them not to, without suggesting who exactly it was that they should not call. I blamed Bill’s ‘somnambulant nightmares’, which wasn’t so very far from the truth. As long as they don’t open the door in the middle of the night again, I don’t think they’ll come to any harm at his hands. And at least he was sufficiently surprised by their appearance – visibly elderly humans who have almost certainly never raised a hand against anyone their whole lives long – not to think that they were the Peldastiquon or Gedavippio he now believes are keeping him here against his will.

I froze though when he accused me of being in league with them. Then I exploded with frustration at how my care, my love, was being misinterpreted. ‘Go if you think anyone is keeping you here – no-one, least of all me, is standing in your way.’ For more than a solitary moment I thought the bread knife was going to end up in me. Those same ambulance men would be back to hurry me away for life-saving surgery; my consciousness heightened by imminent death, I could hear their conversation over my prone body as the ambulance rushed me away: ‘I knew there was something fishy about that bloke’. But it seemed to bring him to his senses, and I led him inside to bed.

There was always the possibility that my retired neighbours would think better of accepting my entreaties and appeasement, and ring the police to tell them about the knife-wielding homicidal maniac that I was harbouring next door. That was just one of the thoughts that was keeping me awake as he slept. In the absence of sleeping pills, I had given him three antihistamine tablets – one had always been enough to knock me out.

But the police calling and what the homicidal maniac might do to me in the privacy of my own home were not in fact the source of my greatest anxiety. Could there be anything worse than this dual threat to a continued and peaceable existence? Well, yes, there could.

I was as certain as my potter’s hand that I was pregnant. For the fifth time. That it was the fifth time gave my certainty a strong case, without any need to test it. The ‘man’ who must be the father was under the impression that he was an alien from a planet called Badezon. I couldn’t help feeling that a paranoid, homicidal extraterrestrial was not ideal fatherhood material, nor for supporting a woman through a fifth pregnancy when the previous four had all ended prematurely. But he couldn’t do worse than the uncommunicative, listless earthling who had overseen each successive failure with increasingly grim reluctance. No, that was not quite fair. Who but a saint would not have wished to escape from the repetitive horror of that time?

Of course I was scared that history was about to repeat itself one dangerously final time. But the fear was intermingled with sudden stabs of optimism and joy that went beyond those I had experienced before. Perhaps that’s what it took to allow me to make it to term and beyond – alien genes! I had often had the sense that Bill was directed to me; by what force I hesitated to speculate. But might this not be an act of kindness on that force’s part? Hadn’t I always known that by allowing Bill into my house in the first place, I was giving my consent to whatever followed? Leaving aside the craziness of the notion that inestimable and unknowable forces might be persuaded into acts of kindness, and the opposing sense that I might really be the subject of an inter-species experiment, I was incredulous that the part of me that I had exerted such an effort to control and then to shut away for good, that part had now burst back into centre stage of my mind, projecting madly, calling out to its audience – my body – to raise the theatre’s rafters with its applause and festoon the platform with flowers, milking the congratulations, revelling in the glory, and seeing nothing but a rosy future for us all together.

What a majestic combination we would make: human, alien, and humano-alien child.

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Bread knife

I began to trust my dimly-lit memories and those intensely violent nightmares, in which my wings were severed by Peldastiquon wielding ophidia.  From them it seemed safe to derive an assumption that modern day equivalents of the wing-taker sects had entered an alliance with Badezon scientists, who were themselves tasked and paid by a government that appeared to have forgotten its sworn obligation to protect its citizens from that ancient terrorism, among many other kinds.  Further, under the terms of such a malevolent alliance, my wings had been taken from me, and in their place I had received plasticizing surgery so that I could pass as human.

Facts kept falling into place.  Of course – now I understood the reason that the faces of the Badezon who took my wings showed no emotion.  The wing-takers were wearing the ophidian face masks that mythology suggested they should wear.  As for the scientists, men and women whose experimental routine dictates that they remain expressionless – poker-faced, humans would say – you could expect nothing better.

But when during the middle part of the day, I shook off the memories and nightmares, and felt myself warmed by Chan’s embrace, I was to all intents and purposes a happy human, living among humans.  The deficiency of having been rendered wingless was cancelled out here; it had no meaning.  My heart leapt at this thought, until others struck me in long and horrifying chains.  Was Chan an agent of the wing-takers, the scientists, the government?  Sandy too?  Was I in fact still on Badezon, imprisoned in some little-known and unrecognisable corner of it, where an innocent might be experimented or practiced upon?  An entertainment even, a day to day drama watched by millions Badezon over, discussed between colleagues, friends, and family as if it were indeed a fiction, and not a cage of misery into which one poor drugged and butchered unfortunate had been less than gently placed by manipulating claws?

I began to wonder whether anything I touched was real.  I imagined that this was all just a stage set, whose limits I would uncover if only I went far enough in any one direction.  Chan had entrapped me with her sweetness, her clever artist-cum-loner disguise, her entirely credible simulation of need, hunger, desire.  Seeds of hate were sown among the flowers of love.

One night I fastened upon the notion. Chan was no human, no artist, but a Badezon scientist.  A doctor or psychologist, perfectly positioned to control the subject of the experiment or the nature of the entertainment; on hand to ensure that I played by the experiment’s rules and inflicted no harm upon myself.  Witness the austerity of her gaze so habitually adopted in our first weeks.  Think of how well she calmed me when I woke from my nightmares.  Think of how she always tried to turn my thoughts to love, to loving.  Watched by millions!  Lying awake in bed in the wind-buffeted depths of the night, I became hot with shame and anger.  With an effort I forced myself not to move, struggling to contain the rage which would have me scream murderously at my captor.

But how could they be sure that I would not harm Chan?  They must be watching my every move.  This was not highlights, it was round the clock, from one day’s suns’ rising to the next.  Every Badezon knew that espionage was the government’s forte.  They would have military police – or even Gedavippio – on permanent stand-by in one of the other nearby coastal cottages in this artificial row, with a control centre somewhere close at hand – no doubt in the faceless concrete structure next to Sandy’s bar.

I must not give myself away in temper, if I wanted to escape.  Yet what was to stop me surprising them now, here in the middle of the night?  They would not expect it.  In which house were the guard stationed?  It must be one of the two either side, so that they stood a chance of reaching me in time were I to attempt to kill their scientist.  Unless, of course, they had a beam permanently trained upon me from within this house itself!  One false move and I might surrender my starring role to an equally unfortunate newcomer.

Again I urged myself not to panic, not to throw on the lights and put them on alert.  I must slip from the bed as if going to the toilet.  Then to the kitchen as if for a glass of water.  Then outside, as if to scan the sky as I had done so many harmless times before, looking earnestly for the return of my traitorous people come finally to fetch me home.

I needed a weapon.  I needed my own blade.  I did not think that any of Chan’s modelling tools in the lean-to by the back door would serve my purpose, so once in the kitchen I would silently take the bread knife from its stand.  It would hardly be a match for an ophidia or cintilar, but concealed in the arm of my jumper, I might surprise at least one of my enemies with it before they took me down.

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The legends of the wing-taker sects remain as stories to scare the young and the nervy.  Legend relates that it was Peldastiquo himself who took the last pair of wings from the last bird, and that he arranged that henceforth members of the sect should wear a mask imprinted with the facial image of that extinguished ancient species.  And though it is not known whether Peldastiquo himself used it – despite the attempts of artists of later centuries to show him in the throes of smiting the last bird with it – the blade of the Peldastiquon was named after this species against whom we had used the weapon over long centuries – the ophidia.  The sword which bore the ophidian name had long since passed into disuse, revived only by myth and dramatisation, but in its time it was said to be sharp enough to cut the substantial flesh of even the toughest of those wild reptilian birds, and light enough to wield at speed and with great control.  The metal was the colour of mercury, the weight was akin to steel’s and in its diamond hardness it resembled titanium.  A lattice work handle allowed the Peldastiquon to achieve the best claw purchase on the weapon; the blade was shaped like a snake in flight, its sinuous edge a lacerating wave.  Catch flesh with the leading part of the ophidia’s wave, and it was cut away; catch a limb with the depth of the curve and it was as if the blade doubled, clossing around gristle and bone with a scissoring motion.

With symbolic intent, a later largely ceremonial sword modelled on this early bird-killer was named after our sworn inter-planetary enemies the Cintilars.

The Peldastiquon killed off bird species successively and mercilessly, deaf to naturalist protests.  They had taken their wings as trophies, but the wing-taking lust still raged.  Unchecked by legislature or populace – both of whom feared to oppose them – the Peldastiquon finally brought about a birdless world.  After that there was only one species left whose wings they could take.  Their own.  Not that they had waited until the ceremonial slaughter of the last bird had taken place.  They developed their taste for Badezon wing-taking long before the last mournful swoop of an escaping bird against the sky was witnessed.

Legend also says that on the day of judgement it will be the resurrected Peldastiquo who will with a giant ophidia scythe the mountains of Badezon in two, opening up the furnaces below for the molten liquid of destruction to pour forth and burn up the forests, boil away the lakes.  On that day those Badezon who can still fly will hover above the raging fire and bubbling lava until exhaustion takes hold, and one by one the last of our species will drop to their deaths.  (Legend has of course been surpassed by the subsequent technological developments that made leaving our planet possible, but the mythic horror remains, for what good would the life of Badezon explorer be without a home planet to which one day he or she can return?)

Grounded on Earth, increasingly I suspected that the Peldastiquon ophidia was the blade that had taken my wings.  In my darkest moments Chan could not reach me and in my wingless state I believed it was worse to live on so than to die.  The wingless were in all respects deficient.  They were deprived of the practical means upon which living in the Badezon world depended; and, believe me, the symbolic weight of their loss was greater still.