Out There

The radio sat on the kitchen bench, black and made of plastic. All night the talkback channel it was tuned to had been covering a series of UFO sightings around the area, one wild-voiced caller after the other ringing up to share their stories.

“Your mother and I saw a UFO once,” said Simon O'Brien, as he peered out his back window. He turned around. “We were parked up on Grey Hill, looking up at the stars and talking. But then this thing appeared: bright orange and moving too fast to be a plane. We just watched as it sped across the sky. Jasmin was scared but I was excited, because it’s not something you see every day is it, a real live UFO?”

Andrew brought up his usual objections to the story. “You don’t know it was a UFO, Dad. It could have been a whole number of things. A satellite. A military plane. A cloud of gas. Some kind of trick of the light. Anything.”

“Yes, but you weren’t there, Andrew,” said Simon. “You don’t know what it felt like, the way your skin tingled and you just knew something was happening, something important.”

Alex, staring at the radio, renewed his plea for the family to take some action about the events of the night. “Well, if it’s so amazing, let’s get in the car and go and see if we can find these ones!” he said, desperate-eyed.

“Alex. These people on the radio, they’re just old ladies after some attention. Lonely people like to make these sorts of things up,” said Simon.

“Well, there's no way to find out unless we go and see for ourselves, is there?”

Simon felt himself giving in. He looked at the radio.

The Statesman’s V6 whirled smoothly into life. Simon loved his car. That’s it old girl, he thought, as he revved the engine slightly. He liked referring to the car as a she. Enjoyed thinking of himself as someone who could gain pleasure from a well constructed piece of machinery. “Ok boys. We’re just going to take a quick drive around the area, head down to the lake and back. And then we’re coming right home? Okay?” Simon said. “I don’t want you getting too worked up over this. When it’s probably nothing.”

“We know Dad,” said Andrew.

Alex squirmed in his seat, straining to get a better look through the windscreen. The orange streetlights reflected against his skin. “Do you think we’ll be abducted?” he asked.

Alien abductions are just the projected sexual fantasies of repressed fundamentalists who were forced by their parents to sleep with their hands tied to their sides,” said Andrew, smirking slightly. “Anal probes. Stirrups. People love that sort of thing, deep down.”

Simon winced. “Not in front of your brother Andrew,” he said. He didn’t like the tone of voice in which his eldest son had said ‘deep down.’

Simon heard the crunch of tyres on tarmac as the car rolled out of the driveway and into the street. In the rear view mirror, he watched blue exhaust fumes spiral up towards the stars.

Simon reached down to the radio, a fuzz of white noise coming from the speakers as he twirled the volume knob. He slid the tuning over to the talk radio channel that was plugging the UFO story, catching the end of a conversation with what sounded like a drunk. “Thash right, John,” said the man. “Abducted. And they took me up to their ship, and they performed experimensh on me, John, they performed experimensh. Latex gloves, John. Agent Mulder, John. Mulder was there ashwell, so help me Jesush.” Simon, annoyed that Andrew’s sordid thesis had been proven so neatly, pressed down hard on the accelerator. The engine roared, fierce and violent, as the car sped onwards. Its headlights cut through the darkness, victorious.

A different voice started coming from the radio. “That’s right, this very moment. Bright green and completely silent John, just floating right here above me,” said the voice, cracking a little.

“Alright mate, and where are you at the moment exactly?”

“Just down at Lake Simmonds. Oh Jesus, they’re perfect circles, you know, I can see them so clearly.”

“Do you get the impression that they are hostile to you? Are they making any threatening movements?”

“No. Nothing like that. You can tell, somehow. That they’re not out to hurt anyone. They’re just. Jesus, it’s so quiet, John, so peaceful. It’s the most…”

What’s happening now?

“I think they’re leaving, John, yes, they’re moving upwards. It’s beautiful. So slowly. Beautiful.”

And then beeps, one after the other. Simon, meantime, had turned the car around, revving the engine in the direction of the lake. The radio:
“Well he’s just left us I think folks, though we never even got his name. It sounds like an amazing story though, doesn’t it? It looks like science fiction is becoming science fact right here in front of our eyes. In front of our eyes, folks! Hold on, it seems as though we’ve got another caller coming through, yes, Hello you’re live on Three Double Nine AM!”

“John! This is very important, very important, OK, so just listen. I don’t think that last fella can be trusted. I can’t say how I know this, alright, not on the radio, but take my word for it: he was on Their side, John. Oh Jesus, I told them, I told them but did they listen? Did they listen? And now it’s too damn late, it’s already started. But here’s what I know anyway, John. These green circles, they’re aliens alright, but they’re in leagues, John. They’re in leagues. The Secret Government, John, the aliens have been signing deals with the Secret Government. Plottings, John. Have you seen Men in Black? It’s a lot like that, except these men in black, they aren’t ordinary, you know, they’re actually part alien, John, half-humans, I like to call them. And Jesus, they’re all coming down, John, the aliens, the half-humans, it’s all going to come down."

John, sounding angry at the usurpation: “You just stay on the line there, mate, we’re going to get someone else in here to have a little chat, maybe see if we can’t just –”

Oh no you don’t John. Oh no you don’t. I know your game, mister.” Beep. Silence. Beep. Silence. Beep. Silence. Silence.

“We’re just going to cut to a song now, this is one of my personal favourites and may help to soothe those of you out there who may be upset by the events of the night: Simon and Garfunkle's Bridge Over Troubled Water. Thank you all for listening, and make sure you stay tuned so you can keep up with any new developments!”

The radio:

He’s a real Nowhere Man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans,
For nobody.

Doesn’t have a point of view
Knows not where he’s going to,

They sat in silence, watching the streets slide by through panes of safety glass, surrounded by music. “Wrong button, John,” said Simon, eventually.

He's as blind as he can be,
Just sees what he wants to see,
Nowhere man can you see me at all?

Simon directed the Statesman up onto a gravel carpark beside the lake, stopping the car just a few paces from the water. He killed the engine and pulled the handbrake. The radio, which Simon had left on, continued to hum quietly:

Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.

“I wouldn’t be surprised, you know,’ said Andrew, staring out the windscreen. “About Government cover-ups. Because they’d be afraid that any talk of aliens would scare everyone and stop them from going to work. From paying off their home loans.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in aliens,” said Simon.

“I don’t. But that doesn’t mean I trust the Government. Who knows what they know. What things they might not be telling us. You know when you walk past a Government building, and you look up at the thing and you can feel them, the secrets, board rooms full of men in dark suits, talking quietly, exchanging knowing glances.”

“Do you ever notice that sometimes, when you go to the shops, and you park your car in a parking lot that’s full, that when you go inside there’s no-one around except you, and maybe a cleaner? Where the hell are all the people? It feels like The Truman Show or something, those days when you can just tell something is up, can smell it in the air, like a dead animal under your bed.”

Andrew nodded. “I had a friend whose Mum used to believe her smoke detector was watching her. You’d come over and she’d tell you not to stand directly under it, because she didn’t want to drag you into her ‘problems with the Government.’ ‘I don’t trust that machine,’ she’d say. ‘I don’t trust that fucking machine.’ Black helicopters would hover over her back yard while she hung out the washing.”

“That’s the New World Order,” said Simon.

“You’d come over and she’d be sitting at their computer, writing this romance novel in which the protagonist had by the end not only scored herself a Fabio, but brought down an international/intergalactic communist/extraterrestrial conspiracy in the process.”

They’ve been seen flying all over America. Spying. Keeping track of those who get close to the truth. Occasionally opening fire, sometimes on subversives, other times, for no real reason, spraying herds of cattle. They’re jet-black, and their blades don’t sound like the ones on normal helicopters. These ones are silent.”

“Once she wouldn’t let my friend come inside the front door because she was convinced he was up to something, colluding against her in some way. He came back the next day to find her holed up in the lounge room behind a barricade of kitchen stools and heavy duty saucepans, holding a butcher knife. She’d been there all night, waiting to cut the face off of anyone that stepped inside. Luckily she’d fallen asleep by the time my friend arrived.”

“They think the Illuminati is behind it.” Simon said. “That’s a secret society that started up some say back in the 15th Century, with world domination on its mind.”

“Though maybe she was pretending, terrified by the possibility that her only son wasn’t really a part of a worldwide conspiracy against her. Lying there, paralysed. She hears his voice at the door and just shuts her eyes, chooses not to choose.”

Marx. Manson. Bush Senior. They were all members at one time or another.”

“They moved away, eventually. The old woman decided she had to leave, that there was a government agency of some sort watching her from behind the bathroom mirror,” Andrew’s face displayed his usual mocking cynicism as he spoke, but Simon thought for a second that he could see a sadness in his eyes, one he had never noticed before.

“Now they’re working towards establishing a one-world Government. And we’ll be their slaves,” Simon said, smiling a little, not quite sure how seriously to take himself.

They both laughed. “Sounds like someone been doing some research,” said Andrew.

Simon, smirking: “I’ve been reading the World's Greatest Conspiracy Theories.”

Paranoia," said Andrew, “is a bucket of laughs.”

Simon nodded. “Seen any UFO’s yet Alex?”

“I’m not sure Dad,” said Alex. “I think so.”


“I don’t know. What does a UFO look like?”

“Well technically,” cut in Andrew, “a UFO is anything unidentified and flying. So if it’s in the air, and you’re not sure what it is, Bam, there’s your UFO.”

Alex nodded slowly.

“But tonight,” Simon now, coming to the rescue, “from what we’ve heard on the radio, it sounds like the one’s we're looking for are bright green and circular.”

“I’ll keep an eye out, Daddy,” said Alex, relaxing his shoulders a little.

Three sets of eyes scanning the darkness.

They sat like that for a while, saying nothing, listening to the radio’s hum. “We’re just going to cut to a few quick words from our sponsors now folks,” came John’s voice. “Make sure you stay tuned!”

Love, Love, Love.
Love, Love, Love.
Love, Love, Love

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.

“Wrong button again, John,” said Simon, shaking his head. Suddenly the volume increased a few notches, without anyone touching a button. And then Alex: “Turn it off Dad. Turn it off! Something’s coming. I can feel it. Turn the music down!”

Simon recognised the tone in Alex’s voice immediately. "Shit,” said Andrew, “he’s having a fit again.”

Simon, meanwhile, was fumbling with the volume knob. “It won’t turn down, Andrew,” he said. “Get in the back with him and make sure he doesn’t -” But then the radio exploded:


Simon, screaming, his voice barely carrying over the blast of music that was spewing from the speakers: “Jesus Christ! The bloody thing is going crazy!”

“Just turn it down, Dad!” said Andrew, doing his best to pull himself into the back seat, where Alex vibrated, spitting, his hands gripping the back seat in spasms.

“I can’t! Something’s broken,” said Simon, breaking, deciding that pulling the key from the ignition switch would probably be a good option, realising that this had no effect upon the insanely loud sound. He fumbled, dropped the car key.


Andrew held Alex to stop him from slamming his head into the car door. “Get him out of the car!” Simon yelled.

Andrew tried to pull the lock on the back door, but it was stuck. “It’s deadlocked!” he shouted.

Simon was suddenly incredibly angry at Holden for constructing their security system to be so powerful that even their customers couldn’t penetrate it.

“You need the key, Dad, press the fucking button!”

Simon fumbled around under the driver's seat, trying to find the key so he could regain control of the central locking. “I can’t find it Andrew,” he screamed, grasping, grasping. He started pounding the radio with his fist, plastic cracking, skin shredding. “It” (punch) “Wont” (punch) “Shut” (punch) “Up!” (punch, punch).

Alex kept convulsing, yelling nonsense, eyes shut tight.

“Find the key, Dad!” pleaded Andrew, so Simon tried again, ran his hands upon the upholstery below the accelerator and brake, felt under the car seat and, yes, there it is, there it fucking is. He picked it up and pushed his thumb into the Open button, the four locks chugging upwards.

Andrew carried his little brother out into the cold, slamming the door against the sound. Then Simon came tumbling out, fist bleeding, a burst of distortion coated YEAH YEAH YEAHs escaping the vehicle before he could kick his door shut.

The three of them sat on the wet grass, Simon and Andrew leaning against each other, Alex lying across the both of them. Their breathing rose upwards towards the sky. The car rumbled, The Beatles begging at its windows. “It’s okay Alex,” Simon said, stroking his son’s forehead. “Everything’s alright.”

Alex sat up, eventually, looking upwards. “I think I saw something,” he said. “I think I saw something.”

And suddenly, as he listened to the muffled music and stared at the moon’s white circle, Simon began to feel unbearably cold.