Central South Australia
The early light of morning just before the dawn was a magical time in this ancient landscape. Julius balanced precariously atop an abandoned termite mound that raised about five feet above the ground. These mounds seemed at odds with their featureless surroundings; as if stabbed through the ground from underneath. He’d improvised some crates into a sort of random staircase to the summit. In every direction he looked there were flat, treeless plains as far as the eye could see. It was so flat here, that you became aware of the Earth’s curve. He imagined the dismay of early explorers that had been tricked by these man-sized mounds into believing they weren’t alone. The cruelty of this barren land was the stuff of Aboriginal legends. As he lifted the powerful binoculars that had been hanging around his neck to his eyes, he realized that at that very moment, he might just be the most isolated person on the planet.
Things hadn’t panned out as he’d hoped. He’d imagined a couple of days away from business, phone, and internet, to be “good for the soul”. But his “soul”, not that he believed in such things, ached. Having time, and peace, to reflect on things hadn’t been the enlightening experience he’d wanted. The recent loneliness of Christmas, and the ending of an unhappy relationship just before, hung heavily in his thoughts. The entrepreneurial spirit too often has little time or room for love and personal “only” relationships. Time is too short to waste on excursions of purely personal desires. Did he really believe that?
The only child of immigrant parents who died in an automobile accident, Julius had taken the family’s savings and, as if inspired by some divine adviser, invested everything in tech stocks Amazon and Apple. It was the kick-start to a financial empire that rarely faltered. The trust he’d founded to honor his parents reached out with health, housing and education across the globe, in turn affording him the sort of media super-status that leveraged opportunity. Now forty-four years of age, he was not only single and childless, he also realized that there wasn’t a single realistic, romantic prospect currently within his sights. This trip to the isolated heart of this sparsely populated continent was one huge miscalculation. A last look around and then it was time to go.
A distant flash out of the blackness of the western horizon caught his eye; dark and heavy clouds that seemed to never rain but always hung about displayed their wrath at the extreme edge of his viewing. It rarely rained here. Without mountain ranges to rise above, the clouds had no reason to lighten their loads. He imagined the desperate pleading of the parched earth, unsympathetic Gods instead responding with angry strikes and fierce winds, stoking raging fires that now swept across the vast emptiness.
From behind he sensed the imminent dawn of the new day. Lowering his binoculars, the battle on the western front seemed inconsequential. If he hadn’t come here personally to witness it, it would have gone unnoticed completely. Careful not to lose his footing, he turned about on the uneven peak of the crumbling termite temple to face the brightening sky … and something else. A bird? Out here?
The sun cracked the horizon as he reached for sunglasses that weren’t there, looking away an instant too late. Tuning away to make his way down the improvised staircase he misjudged his footing only slightly. The steep earthen wall of the mound ripped the back of his shirt from his pants as he found the ground awkwardly, his right buttock landing heavily on the edge of a crate.
‘Ow fuck! That hurt.’
Limping and cursing, he found his sunglasses, then eased himself into a folding chair by the camp stove. Coffee! Australians have a lot to learn about coffee. Tea is NOT the same “sort of thing”. Only after his addiction was satisfied would he contemplate the journey home to New York.
This expedition had been an enormous investment of faith. It was a gamble, and he was used to risk, but he never took on a risk with expectations of losing. Yesterday he’d lost. More than ten years in UFO theorizing, research, analytical analysis, and dreams were lost. A deflating admission. The calculations were incredibly complex … maybe if he stayed one more day?
You don’t take chances in a place like this. Julius had given police at Broken Hill a map with destination, route, and timing. To deviate would trigger a search across an area as big as Texas. If he’d broken a leg just now, his only hope would be if he’d stuck to the plan. The plan said, “it was time to leave”.
The rumbling kettle broke into his thoughts. The satisfying, strong odor wafting from his mug as he stirred its ingredients eased the discomfort from his injuries. He took a long sip … he loved his coffee hot.
That instinctive edge of preparedness when you realize you’re being secretly watched, just as a bird digging for worms might experience when the nearby grass moves against the prevailing breeze. Julius froze, but just for a moment. Leaning forward slowly he reached for the phone at his feet, lifted it carefully and snapped off a photo. That’s all there was time for … it was gone.
Standing up tentatively on unsteady legs, he put his hand on his chest and felt his heart pounding. Unaware of his pain, he made his way over to his equipment while cautiously monitoring his surroundings. Nothing activated as it should; an EMF meter to pick up magnetic field anomalies, special movement and light sensor full spectrum cameras, mobile radar, Geiger detector. All had failed to detect the UFO.
Nobody’s going to believe this! He didn’t care. He had nobody to share it with anyway. Julius had come halfway across the globe to prove that we’re not alone, only to discover that he was.
This 1000 word short story about a UFO encounter has been created as part of my fiction writing journey with the FUTURE LEARN “Start Writing Fiction” online course.
FYI it was a great course and I do recommend it absolutely: https://www.futurelearn.com/
I would be interested in any comments. Please email to:
(UPDATE: 12th June 2019. Some great and constructive feedback. WOW, thanks, people. Feel free to send any short stories you’ve written for my comments. I have no illusions, I still have a way to go and I learn by the review process. MM:)
Michael Muxworthy – Disruptive lateral thinking author