Hello, hello! Since my MA is on lock-down and I am now having to do everything from home, I am more painfully aware than ever of my lack of self-discipline. This week's blog post is a short story. Rather a special one though. It is the first time any work of mine was published in an actual book (the creatively titled Anthology of Short Stories, vol. 2)!
I've updated it a little because these things are never truly finished. But this isn't merely self-love. I will be writing comprehension questions to go with this story and sharing them via Instagram (SVREducation). If you are having to send children home due to self-isolation, feel free to include them in your home learning pack.
Feel free too to critique the story. I wrote it during my undergrad days, so it is far from perfect! Let me know what you think...
The Boy Who Saw an Alien
by Carl Headley-Morris (2003, updated 2020)
Jimmy was a small boy with very few friends. He had not been at his new school for very long but in the short while he had been there, he had become known as the token weird kid.
This didn’t bother Jimmy too much. He was apparently too weird for the bullies to notice, which was nice in its way. Being left alone meant that he had no distractions in class. With no real friends to discuss the previous night’s TV, or even the weather, he picked things up very quickly, and as a result, had become the most knowledgeable six-year-old in the classroom. In any room, actually. This served to ostracise him yet further and this led to his being very quiet, a trait that exacerbated his perceived weirdness. It was a cruel and vicious circle. At least, it appeared so from the outside. From the epicentre, Jimmy’s world was one of inner peace and self-reflection.
This was probably why it happened.
It was a Thursday and Jimmy’s class were about to start their maths lesson. Jimmy was sitting by himself as usual and a girl handed him his book. As he went to open the front cover, he noticed that he had been given someone else’s book by mistake. The girl was behind him now so he turned on his chair and pulled at her cardigan. She turned around and glared at him.
“What?” she asked. There was no malice in her voice. But there was no feeling in it either. It was a strange, sort of indifferent tone. Jimmy called it Jimescent.
“You gave me the wrong book,” said Jimmy in his own Jimescent tone.
The girl searched through the pile until she found Jimmy’s book. She handed it to him. As Jimmy was handing back the other book, something happened. A very strange and a very unexpected something. The girl smiled. It was definitely a smile and it was definitely aimed at Jimmy. This had never happened before and Jimmy was unsure how to react, so he just smiled back (awkwardly - he hadn’t had much practise) and thanked her. She continued to pass out the rest of the books and took her seat at the far end of the classroom, which, as far as Jimmy was concerned, may have been the other end of the universe.
Being good at maths, Jimmy finished his work quickly. In the remaining time, when he should have been colouring in a picture, he thought about the girl. He had seen her before, of course, she was in his class. But she had never smiled at him. She had never even noticed him. Why was today so special? Since he could hope to fathom the logic behind the event, he settled for simply thinking about the girl. She wasn’t especially pretty, thought Jimmy. In fact, as he looked around the rest of the class, she was distinctly average-looking. She was taller than the boys (as were all the other girls in his class, except Amy. Amy was short.). She had the same plaited hair that was slowly coming free and by lunchtime would become a ponytail. There was nothing special; nothing remarkable about her at all. Except the fact that she had smiled at him. To Jimmy, this made her beautiful. The bell rang for playtime and Jimmy quickly put together a plan. He would speak to her in the playground.
As it transpired, Jimmy’s plan was proving to be a lot more difficult that he had first thought No-one ever played with him at playtime so it hadn’t occurred to him that people might be playing with her. Apparently, she was very popular and half the playground was buzzing around her in an excited swarm of giggles. Jimmy would have to reach the centre of the throng; get the girl’s attention; and hold, or even generate, a conversation. He took a deep breath, two or three steps, then froze. What was he thinking? She had spoken to him in near-perfect Jimessence. She didn’t like him. She didn’t care about him. She had probably forgotten all about him! He was going to make a fool of himself. That was the last thing he needed; to be weird and stupid.
Then he remembered the smile. The one thing he could never have expected; the curvature of her lips that had lit up his world. There was no question about it, he had to speak to her. Even if she ignored him. He might see her smile at someone else; he could pretend she was smiling at him.
Then a second strange thing happened. The throng of children parted and the girl strode, Moses-like, up to Jimmy.
“Hello, Jimmy,” she said with a cheerful giggle. “Do you want to come and play with us?”
Jimmy’s face mirrored that of every other child in the playground. Had he really been invited to play with the popular children? Him? The weird kid? He didn’t know what to say but eventually managed,
“I, er, I don’t know what you’re playing.”
The girl giggled again. Giggles, Jimmy realised, sounded so much warmer when they weren’t directed at you. “Oh, that doesn’t matter,” she said, taking his arm. “We’re not really playing anything; just hanging out and chatting. Come on.”
And that was that. She dragged him into the centre of her world and he was accepted by association. It was the happiest moment of his little life.
Throughout the next lesson, Jimmy sat with his new best friend and for the first time ever, didn’t finish his work. Instead, he chatted. He had never really been very good at smalltalk but he had picked it up surprisingly quickly. They talked about everything. Favourite animals; worst colours; funniest noises… The girl told Jimmy how she had always wondered by he sat on his own and Jimmy told the girl how he had just come to accept that people thought he was weird. It was fantastic. Various children asked if he would like to sit with them at lunchtime. The teacher even had to tell him off for making too much noise!
Then the third strange thing happened.
The sky outside became shadowy and overcast. The birds stopped singing, and a terrible fog masked everything from sight. It was very eerie. The children fell silent. From out of the clouds, a spaceship emerged and landed in the nature garden, flattening the bird table.
A door on the side of the ship melted away and a squat-looking alien, in what appeared to be very regal garb, stepped out and into the classroom. The alien walked straight up to Jimmy and put its hand on his heart.
“Jimmy,” it said in a soothing tone that made the teacher sigh. “You have suffered much in your short time; more than most. Yet you have not become embittered nor lost hope. Instead, you have used the cruelty of others to better your self-knowledge. This has not gone unnoticed.
“My people have, for many years now, invited people like you to join our race. Some are grown-ups but most are children, not very much older than yourself. I have come to offer you what I offered them - a place where you can live as an equal among your peers.
“You do not have to accept. You have every right to decline my offer and remain here on Earth. But my being here requires a great amount of energy and I cannot stay for long, so I must have your answer now.”
Jimmy looked around the room at all of the astonished faces. His new friends. How long would it be before they grew tired of him? Wasn’t it possible that he was merely the latest novelty, to be ignored and forgotten by next week? And this other place the alien was talking about, it sounded very nice indeed.
He looked around the room again. Surely, not all of the children would grow tired of him? Even if most stopped talking to him, surely there would be one or two who would still be his friends? He thought for a while, his child-brain trying to weigh-up the huge gamble. Was it worth the risk? He looked at the spaceship and had almost made up his mind. Turning back to say goodbye, he saw the girl. She was smiling at him, her eyes glossy with growing tears.
“Jimmy?” she asked, quietly.
Jimmy walked up to the alien and said something that no-one else could hear.
The alien returned to its ship, turning at the doorway. “One thing, Jimmy,” it said. “I must reverse time a little. None of your friends will remember having seen us this day. It is for the best. Farewell, Jimmy. We will never meet again.”
And with that, the spaceship faded from existence.
The girl ran over to Jimmy and hugged him, the tears now falling from her eyes. “You chose us,” she said. “Thank-you!”
Jimmy held her close. “I chose you, he whispered.”
She smiled at him again and the clock on the wall stopped ticking. Jimmy broke away from the embrace and noticed that the entire room was locked in time. The girl’s that perfect, life-altering smile, was frozen in place.
The room began to spin and melt away. Jimmy guessed (correctly) that the alien was reversing time. He wondered just how far back it would go. Perhaps just before the spaceship arrived. He would have to try and remember what they were talking about; so much had happened in the past three minutes, he had quite forgotten. Then the world turned a bright white and Jimmy felt a tug pulling him into unconsciousness.
He was shocked to find himself sitting alone at the beginning of the maths lesson.
“Oh well,” he thought, “living out the day won’t be all that bad. At least I know that it ends well.”
The girl stepped up to his desk and threw a book onto it. Jimmy went to tug on her cardigan and then he read the name on the cover. He froze and his lip started to tremble. It was his book.
The girl took her seat at the far end of the classroom and Jimmy started to cry.
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