Down To Earth - By C.J. Jessop
It will always remain a great mystery to me that when our first alien visitors decided to make contact they failed to put all their centuries of observation to good use. If they had they would never have chosen the village of Ecclesthwaite for the scene of their grand entrance.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the people of Ecclesthwaite rejected anything new, or that they were anything but jovial, but my cheery ‘good morning’ is usually greeted with a sour grunt, and after thirty years of living in their midst they still refer to me as ‘er from ‘Epplethorpe’.
I can still see the look of pure bewilderment on the poor alien’s face. When the space-ship, or should I say landing craft, put down in Jed Scargill’s allotment I could see there would be trouble, especially as it had landed right on top of Jed’s prize-winning gladioli, completely flattening his valuable blooms. Jed was pottering about in his shed at the time, busy re-potting some begonias he’d grown for Mrs Lane, and he came out to see what all the noise was all about.
“What the bloody ‘ell d’ye think you’re doing?” he demanded as the alien climbed out of his craft.
“Greetings.” The alien beamed, his gloved hand outstretched. He didn’t look much like an alien, except for his shiny silver suit and the gleaming, chromed helmet he carried under his arm. He didn’t need either; the atmosphere of Earth was almost identical to that of his own planet, but decades of observation had taught his race that people here expected that sort of thing. There had been talk of fitting him with some false antennae, like the creatures in all those old earth movies he had been forced to sit through in training, but his superiors had been decided it would be a bit over the top.
“Greetings,” he repeated to the unimpressed Jed, who stood with his arms folded and an expression of annoyance on his craggy old face. “I come from the planet Jemar to bring the friendship of my people to your world.”
“Another planet eh?” Jed mused, a dangerous glint in his rheumy blue eyes. “Well you can just bloody well piss off back there!”
“I beg your pardon?” Selmer, the alien, was gobsmacked. Well, he would have been if he had known what the word meant. He had come prepared for all kinds of reactions, from fear to reverent awe. He had not, however, expected to be told to ‘piss off’ back to his own planet.
“I said, I have come to offer the friendship of my people to your world.” He held out his hand, and tried to stop his lower lip from wobbling.
“Well you should’ve thought of that before you crushed me gladdies!” Jed pointed to the remains of his flower-bed. “Took me years to get them gladdies like that. I won every prize. Now you’ve squashed ‘em. If you don’t piss off before I count three, you’ll get this ‘ere fork up your jacksy!” He brandished the fork, as if for emphasis.
By the violent gleam in Jed’s eye, Selmer knew the old man meant every word he said. Not wanting the indignity of having a garden fork rammed up his rear, he made a tactful retreat into his landing craft, taking off before Jed decided to attack that too.
As he circled above, looking for somewhere else to land, he wondered what was wrong with the man. The people of Earth had been clamouring for aliens for decades, and yet the old curmudgeon had greeted the first, bona-fide, extra-terrestrial visitor, with downright rudeness. He felt like showing the man exactly what he thought of his lack of hospitality by firing his laser cannons at the already damaged gladioli, but knew he must not. His credibility as an envoy of peace would suffer in the extreme if he started taking pot-shots at the natives. It wouldn’t do his career as a diplomat any good either, and he would certainly be relieved of the honour of making first contact.
He saw a row of houses a few hundred yards away, a terrace if he remembered his earth-architecture lectures correctly. Perhaps someone in there would know how to treat a visitor from another planet. He brought the craft down, his optimism restored, and accidentally brought Jane Gledhill’s washing line down with it. His second mistake.
As he stepped down from the craft, a woman approached. Selmer smiled to himself. This was more like it; women were known to be more reasonable than men, and she would surely succumb to his wit, charm and good looks.
“Greetings.” He gave her his most dazzling smile. “I come from the planet Jemar to bring friendship to your people.”
“I don’t give a toss whether you’re from this earth or Fullers!” She glared, hands on hips in an age-old gesture of indignance. “Just look at my bloody washing! Took me all morning to do that lot, and you’ve muckied it!”
“Please, Madam,” he began. “I come to offer the friendship of my planet to the people of Earth.”
“Well you shouldn’t have pulled my washing line down, should you?” Jane snapped. “And before you say another word, I don’t have time to stand around discussing the ins and outs of a cat’s arse with the likes of you. “
Selmer groaned. This wasn’t going well, not well at all.
“Please wait!” he cried as she gathered an armful of soiled clothes and began to march towards the house. “Look, I’ll help you with these, it’s the least I can do, but I don’t think you have grasped the implications of this moment. I am from another planet. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” He picked up a muddied towel.
“It means I’ve got to do all my washing again!” Jane snatched the towel from his hand. Then she sighed and her face softened a little, not much—she still looked as though she would like to strangle him with the stockings she held in her hand—but at least she no longer appeared to want to castrate him.
“Look mister,” she said. “I’ve nowt against aliens in principle, although you don’t look much like one to me. Where’s your antenna thingies? Everybody knows that aliens have antenna thingies on their heads. Besides, I don’t have time for chewing the fat. My baby’s screaming for his feed, and my old man will be home wanting his tea any minute, not to mention that I have all this washing to do again. Why don’t you try Maisie Turnbull next door? She sits on her arse all day watching telly and smoking fags, She’ll have time to talk to you.”
With that, Jane walked up the path and back into her home, slamming the door with a finality that made Selmer groan again. He supposed he could try the house next door. Anything rather than admit defeat. It wasn’t like this in the Earth-movies. E.T. and those creatures from Close Encounters might have had their problems but at least they were taken seriously. He might as well have turned up in baggy trousers and a revolving bow tie for all the credibility he seemed to have with these people.
Stoically, he marched across the garden, careful not to tread on anyone’s prize flowers or vegetables, and knocked on the door.
“Come in, it’s open!” a voice called from within the house, and Selmer’s heart leapt at the sound of the first friendly voice since landing.
This could be the one, Selmer old fellow. He turned the handle and pushed open the door. Maybe now he could deliver his greeting speech and get on with the business of becoming Earth’s first inter-stellar celebrity. He could just see himself, appearing on Oprah, and being interviewed by that man who couldn’t pronounce his R’s properly.
“Greetings,” he said, stepping into the house. The rest of the speech died on his lips as he took in the scene around him. In the middle of a dingy room, an extremely large, middle-aged woman lounged on a tatty old sofa, her legs mottled with sitting too close to the fire, the hair on her upper lip stained yellowish-brown from the smoke of the cigarette dangling from her mouth.
“Who the hell are you?” she demanded, struggling to bring her ample form to a sitting position. “And what are you doing in my house?”
“I am from the planet Jemar,” Selmer began, not liking the way she had begun to scowl at him. “And I am in your house because you told me to come in.”
“That was because I thought you were her next door,” the woman grunted, “And what’s all this tripe about you comin’ from another planet? You’re not from another planet, Aliens have them funny antenna thingies on their heads. Any fool knows that. You’re a Jehovah’s witness aren’t you? Dressed up like that to make me think it’s an alien invasion so I’ll want to join up. Well I’m not interested so you can bugger off. I’m trying to watch Corrie.”
“But Madam.” Selmer stood his ground. He was not going to fail this time.
If he had to stand there all day choking on cigarette smoke he was going to make the woman understand. “I am an alien! Look, I’m wearing a space-suit, and if you still don’t believe me look in the garden next door. If I’m not from another planet then how come I have a spaceship?”
“If you think I’m getting up off this sofa to look at some fancy car you’re trying to pass off as a spaceship, you can think again,” the woman snapped, her eyes not leaving the huge tv set in the corner of the room. “I’m not missing Corrie for anybody. Rita’s just about to tell Ken that she’s his long lost sister’s best mate’s brother’s auntie’s cousin. Now sod off and find some other silly sod to listen to your daft tales. Look, here’s a quid, give us a copy of Watchtower, and be on your way.”
“I am not a Jehovah’s witness!” Selmer fought the urge to stomp his foot. “I am a real, living, breathing alien, and I have come to offer the hand of friendship to the people of Earth, and you, my good woman, are damned well going to accept it, do you hear?”
“And who’s going to make me?” Her voice took on a dangerous tone. “Harry! Get down here! There’s a bloke here threatening me. Come and sort him out!”
Selmer heard the thud of footsteps making their way down the stairs, and his hand went automatically to his belt. Now here was something he was prepared for. He set the dial on his multi-gun to stun and waited. When the door creaked open he braced himself, then shook his head with a groan. This was going to ‘sort him out?
“What do you think you’re doing?” asked the scrawniest, most miserable looking man Selmer had ever seen. “Who do you think you are? Coming to my house and upsetting our lass? Go on, bugger off before I give you a good hiding!”
“Sir.” Selmer sighed. “I must point out that I can render you unconscious with this stunner before you could reach me. All I want is to make friendly contact with the people of Earth, and you have been chosen as the recipient of that gesture.”
“Don’t listen to him Harry,” the woman said. “He’s a Jehovah’s Witness, that’s what he is! I’ve offered to buy a copy of Watchtower, but you know what they’re like. Once they get a foot in the door, you can’t get rid.”
“I will not tell you again that I am not a Jehovah’s Witness!” Selmer exploded. “I am an alien, from the planet Jemar, and I have come to offer the friendship of my people!”
“There’s no need to shout, lad,” Harry said quietly. “I’m not at the other end of the village. Now, what’s all this nonsense about being from another planet? Who are you trying to kid? We all know that aliens have them funny antenna thingies on their heads. Now, be a good lad and bugger off before I call the Bobbies.”
With a scream of frustration Selmer crossed the room and picked Harry up by the front of his shirt, bringing the man’s narrow face close to his.
“Aliens do not have funny antenna thingies on their heads,” he snarled. “I am an alien, and I have come from another planet to make peace with your world....” He dropped the man with a defeated sigh. What was the use? What was the use of trying to get through to these imbeciles? The biggest thing to happen since Roswell was going on in their front room and all they could think of was antennae and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Well he’d had it. He was going to get in his craft and go back to the Mother-Ship, and if they still wanted to make contact with Earth after this fiasco they could find some other chump to do it. Without another word, he turned and stomped out through the door, slamming it as hard as he could.
“Well Maisie,” Harry said, raising an eyebrow as he smoothed his rumpled shirt front. “‘He was a bit of a rum ‘un.”
“Bloody nutter.” Maisie grumbled, rearranging herself on the sofa. “Them Jehovah’s Witnesses are all a bit soft in the head if you ask me. Anyhow, forget him. Eastenders is on in a minute. Put the kettle on and bank the fire up, it’s like a bloody fridge in here.”
The newsflash, when it interrupted Eastenders, brought an exclamation of annoyance from Maisie, who was far more interested in what Ian had been about to tell Roxie.
“‘Eyup, Maisie, he looks like that young feller that were here,” Harry pointed at the screen with his pipe.
“Nah.” Maisie scowled. “That one’s a proper alien. Look, He’s got them funny antenna thingies.”
“Must be real, then,” Harry nodded. “Typical though. Them Yanks get the real thing, and all we get is some bloody nutter pretending to be an alien.”
“Aye,” Maisie lit a new cigarette with the remains of the other. “Nowt exiting ever happens round here.”