Canberra swirled in the starry foam of being. Before the Earth existed, there were creatures that saw through times without end into the far reaches of life itself. They divined patterns in the mess and set out accordingly. They infiltrated our solar system and through the clouds, fell onto the land. They infiltrated our systems of government. They became architects. They planned and saw, the aliens. They decided many things for us. 

One town in particular fascinated them. The committee-appointed head of the desert land. An up-side down country who did things backwards. They ordered the food then picked the venue. Its name was to be Canberra, meaning meeting place in an ancient tongue and it was decided aeons ago. They set it forth, like a proclamation, a vision of greatness from a prophet, one single man who in his mind’s eye could tell you how it would appear two hundred years from now. Griffin, Burley Griffin. And his wife. He was given the charge. His hand drew the triangles and circles, the avenues and figures. They made sure to quench the city’s thirst, a body of water was necessary to the prophecy. To this end they allowed the drowning of the old bone yard. The white skeletons floated on to be found forever more in misty dawns by startled rowers.

In the chaos of the world, long roads were built, circles within circles. Out of the rubble and scrubby bush came a symmetrical order, beautiful triangles splayed around a lake.  The endless boulevard created to make those places of importance, where memorials were kept and decisions fought over, line up perfectly with the tourist’s eye was the pride and joy, the absolute construction and flaunted across galaxies.

The town grew, shaped in its roundabout way, dimensions forming in line with the narrow, pale blue lines drawn onto the flattened mapping paper decades earlier and unfurled upon the night’s sky millennia before.

The aliens looked at one another and nodded slowly. All was coming together nicely.

 

*

 

He had needed a win.

Something for nothing. One of life’s little freebies. One more tiny match to light up against the dark. Just another flame to strike on his heart when the black threatened to consume. Because he was struggling.

So, yeah, he took the car.

Yes, Pete needed a win. That’s all Pete was after that evening, just a touch of something greater than all he was and ever could be.

The street moved slowly beneath him, like a treadmill but way more gritty. It seemed old and slow this street. Big, gorgeous trees. The evening air was cool and loud, full of buzzing and chirping. The night before there had been a great, dark summer storm, blowy and wild. Something of that lingered in the air. There were lots of deep shadows. He grinned into them.

The oncoming streetlamp cast a soft, yellow cone of light with a radius of perhaps two and a half metres, a height of eight and a volume of sixty-four point nine two.

Take my word for it.

Pete hit the main road.

He heard a metallic humming. Thousands of kilometres above him a small plane cut through the sky. He went screaming round the streets.

The edges of the clouds glowed silver like the truth of an idiom coming to pass. They streamed out alongside him. He was going so fast the clouds were not above him but flanking him, like a guard of honour on his journey and he could outrace them all.

It was late afternoon although the aliens didn’t care about that.

All the windows were down and Pete was freezing. He preferred that to choking in a closed car. The sky was the same colour as the mountain, dark blue. The thunderous clouds looked like a reflection of the deep purple mountains, save for a streak of gold on the horizon, where the last of the sun turned the scene into a black and gold flag. The air was whizzing over him, into his lungs, refreshing every atom of his skin. It was so bright.

Chase the gold? The engine roared.

Chase the gold. He replied.

He swerved suddenly as a primary school memory came flying out of a concealed turn-off. He rumbled up a pot-holed road into a grey forest.

He took an odd route to the oval. The school building was attached to it still but it looked smaller than ever and it had never been as important as the oval. It felt familiar and comfortable to him. Once, he’d run across those grounds without care.

Five years old, his nose had been smashed by a footy and he’d bled all into the grass.

Eleven years old, he’d won a blue ribbon at the carnival.

Fourteen years old, gotten drunk for the first time.

And every single lunchtime in between.

So here he returned every now and then, sometimes with mates, or a girl, but most often alone.

That was where Pete was heading. It was such a similar night.

Off, there, glinting off the horizon was a plane.

No, Pete thought, seeing as it came closer.

He blinked.

It wasn’t a plane. It was something else. Not a plane. A ship. A spaceship. It was landing. There, on the foot of the mountain, in a small children’s space, surrounded by dark eucalypts, in Canberra. 

It looked kind of like the bottom of a trampoline when you lie on the ground and other kids bounce above you.  

Once the chaos of the blinding lights and whirr of engines beating back the grass had died away all was still. Pete emerged from the car, shielding his eyes against this improbable sight. 

 

This young boy was saved by just one fact. Only tiny miscalculation. The aliens had made a mistake. In their quest for patterned regularity the aliens left nothing to chance, and so when, inevitably, chance came in the unexpected presence of a youth yearning for moment in which to know himself, they were quite unprepared. In the creation of their masterpiece, the culmination of every pattern they had read and listened to they had forgotten a fundamental truth. An exception to every rule. Their geometric city, their measured configuration was far more than the estimations and arithmetic of blueprints and building blocks. As they came to carve the circles and half-circles and triangles and rectangles and all manner of angles into the surface of the meeting place they neglected to account for spanners in the works.

 

Pete! Petie, pete, Pete. Why aren’t you afraid? How do you be so brave?

Facing these grey creatures from worlds away?

 

He looked at them and they looked at him, and I could say that in that moment the world broke and was made whole again, stars shattered, swans sang and took flight against a red sun but really nothing happened except one of the aliens dropped his beer.

The aliens felt something they had never, not in all their time, felt before; surprise.

They had not anticipated this.

 

Pete by contrast, was dimly aware that he should be shocked by this appearance of beings from another planet but it all seemed to fit somehow. Like he’d always known and was just remembering. I don’t know why Pete doesn’t see the world quite how you and I see it but he finds himself often alone.

Pete approached the extraterrestrials as a homeschooled kid starting up at regular school might approach new classmates; with a naive eagerness and determined belief that they will soon become friends.

The extraterrestrials garbled a few panicked sentences in their own slushy language. One of the more rash aliens reached for what I can only imagine to be some kind of laser-beam gun.

He was restrained by a particularly fat, mature looking alien.

 ‘How do you do?’ This out-dated phrase spilled forth from the mouth of the large alien, who is possibly the second in command.

‘Um...’ Pete did not know what this question meant, ‘I’m doing… well?’ 

The aliens slushed at each other again, then the leader gave Pete a sly grin.

‘How do... you do?’ asked Pete.

‘Very well, thank you. You’re arrival has put paid to the old saying, “a glzbrchingle in time saves nine”, I suppose, haha,’ the fat alien said. All the other aliens laughed.

The alien smiled kindly at Pete, who shrugged tentatively back at him. The alien stretched out a limb.

The mottled alien skin shook hands with the pale human hand.

‘I must say, you’ve given us quite a shock, turning up here,’ it said.

As the alien spoke it took Pete’s shoulder and swivelled away from the rest who began to fan out with various instruments.

‘Oh, sorry. Back at you, though,’ Pete said, trying to unobtrusively wipe the slime off his hand.

‘Oh? Oh, ahaha! A joke. Yes, we’re... fond of our privacy...’

There was a moment of silence. Pete looked around and saw the rest of the extraterrestrials measuring and beeping with their devices. Much of the activity seemed to be directed towards Black Mountain Tower.

‘What brings you guys here, then?’ Pete asked.

‘Oh, we’re just doing a concluding survey, routine stuff, all very technical.’

‘Um, what are you surve–’ Pete started.

 ‘Well, it’s truly a pleasure to finally meet a human in the... flesh, as it were, ahaha. The lads back at base will be rather chuffed,’ the alien said. Pete nodded.

‘I, uh, wish I could say the same, but I never really–’ he began to say.

‘Oh, yes of course, it’s a nasty business, all this secrecy but you understand the need for it?’ 

 ‘Oh. Yeah, ‘course. Sorry, I won’t tell,’ Pete said.

‘My dear boy, you won’t remember. You can expect to lose ten to fifteen hours of memory when you wake up, although, haha, why am I telling you this?’

Pete felt a sudden jab in his side and fainted.   

 

*

 

Stretched out upon it, the grass looked like a great ocean. Vast and rolling on into eternity.  The sun was producing multi-coloured splotches on Pete’s inner eyelids. He opened them.

Dark trees sprouted out at the horizon where the green sea met the opaque sky. A willow wept downwards. An oak towered gently upwards. Sweet, cool shadow played just beyond them. It was just starting to turn autumn, the air was clear and bright enough to be poured into a crystal vase.

He envisioned small panthers creeping towards him through the jungle blades of grass.

The sunbathing clouds seemed to smile down at him as they wrestled one another into delightfully compromising positions. Inwardly, he cheered them on.

A soft whisper of wind and a few kids kicking a ball around contributed to a sense of familiar peace.

However, the sounds and sights were nothing, but nothing, compared to the smells. The scent of flowers was heavy and sweet, mixed in with the freshness of the rain-soaked dirt and the faint leftover whiff from the dinners inside the houses, long since eaten but still remembered by the meaty aromas that escaped out of gaps in windows and sealed-off chimneys. Finally, overlaying everything else, there was that distinct smell of something uniquely from Canberra, something he’d never smelt in Sydney or Melbourne, with a bit of a country vibe, like cow shit, but not quite.

He breathed deep. 

It had been his first alien abduction. It was not to be his last.

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