‘What pray is that?’ Mr Yardley leaned over the pages of Angus Whateley’s note book. Angus did not reply but let his black dyed hair hang across his face, hiding the eye liner and skull earring that he should not have been wearing. ‘I asked you a question Angus, how is that relevant to the physics of energy?’
‘It’s the alien sir.’ Angus muttered. There was a snigger and Angus closed his note book, his braceleted arm revealed a host of suspect scratches. ‘That’s art Mr Whateley, not science, please focus on the subject in hand.’
‘He believes in aliens sir, he says he’s been kidnapped.’
‘I believe the technical term is “abducted” The last time I checked I didn’t think we got ransom demands from aliens.’ There was a general murmur of laughter from the class but they knew better than to laugh too loudly, lest the wrath of “sir” was visited upon them. Angus covered his picture and attended to the work sheet he had been given. ‘It’s not art sir, it’s memory.’
‘Tell that to David Hockney’
‘Is he a scientist sir?’ someone chirruped.
‘Oh God!’ Mr Yardley wailed. ‘He’s an artist, he paints a lot from memory, as many of you who do art would know, if you bothered to listen to Miss Barker, rather than plaster her classroom with unthinking graffiti.’
‘She can’t keep control sir!’ The same voice chirruped, but they had gone too far this time, and attention was turned away from Angus’s alien to the relative merits of the requirements of self discipline as opposed to imposed discipline. Discipline was duly imposed on the culprit, including the requirement to offer an apology to Miss Barker for his very existence. Mr Yardley himself, had no trouble imposing discipline, but then his class could be conducted with the comfort of prospective tests, right or wrong answers and a good old fashioned exam at the end, unlike the preparation, constant creativity and day-long exercise that passed, according to Mr Yardley, for an exam.
The lesson was nearly over, Angus had completed his work sheet and had returned to his picture of the alien. It was indeed a traditional alien, a Grey, he had looked them up, after that day. They were the tall slim, humanoid forms, with the huge eyes and diamond faces. They walked a little like dinosaurs and were reported to abduct people on a regular basis, but most could not remember what had happened to them. Angus was exceptional though, he had a special memory. He could remember his mother’s milk, he could remember crawling and hauling himself up on the furniture, he could remember his first steps and his mother’s reaction. He could remember that because she wasn’t there. She had left him in the charge of a nanny, a nanny that he knew now that his father had had no knowledge of, a nanny who saw him take his first steps while his mother went out to the “gym” for some “personal training”. He remembered how the poor nanny was scolded for allowing him to walk, to take his first steps, without his mother present, perhaps it was her guilt that had made that day so unforgettable, the yelling at both him and the nanny, as if walking at sixteen months old was a crime. Whatever the reason he did think that he remembered all that, he thought that he could see his mother’s face, feel her warmth, they were real enough to him even if (perhaps) the memories were just imposed information, imposed by the rows his father and mother had had throughout his childhood. Imposed by the repetition of accusations once his father had found out what was going on. What he couldn’t remember was whether it was his fault that his father found out about Peter, or whether he had said something as he struggled to learn to talk. Had he asked about nanny? Mentioned Peter’s name? Whatever the reason, his father had found out and the shouting began.
It was the shouting that haunted him throughout his childhood, shouting that may well have been the reason that he began to scratch and gouge at his skin in order to blot out the agony of their enmity. The shouting that led to their final declaration of hatred and that was around the time he began to grow out his hair, dye it black, block his face from view with its length. That was when he began to annoy, upset and infuriate his parents whose remaining hope of their dying marriage was their son. Their son, who they hoped would survive to make them proud. He would be an architect, an engineer, a physicist, anything but a goth, an artist, a mentally ill freak who screamed to the high street ‘I have dysfunctional parents!’ At least that’s how they saw him – as the final disappointment, the culmination of their misery together. Perhaps the hair, the dye, the piercings and the talent for art would have come anyway, regardless of family circumstances, perhaps a functional family would have bought him his hair dye, a kind mother would have painted his nails, a loving father would have visited exhibitions with him, and shared his love of the abstract, perhaps colour, not black, would have inhabited his drawings, perhaps life, not death, would have been his subject, perhaps he would never have been left at home alone that night, when the aliens came … perhaps. Because he could remember them, he could remember every detail of their faces, every detail of their deformed arms, their silent but clear communication, he could remember the pain, the fear, oh yes he could remember them.
‘Angus!’ Mr Yardley was standing in front of him. ‘Angus, this has got to stop.’ The rest of the class were packing up and leaving the room, Angus was clearly not going to get away so easily. ‘What sir?’ He replied sullenly, not meeting the eyes of the teacher above him. This annoyed Mr Yardley and he knew it. ‘Look at me boy!’ Angus raised his head, but the sight of his black lined eyes, false eyelashes and copious piercings did not raise Mr Yardley’s spirits. ‘You’re a clever boy Angus, capable of great deal, it doesn’t have to be science, but it could be, whatever it is, whatever subject, in your case boy what it should be is success at something, Art, English, History, Biology, every teacher who teaches you attests to your ability but it’s all taken on faith, there is no evidence, except these drawings.’ He indicated the sketchbook that was Angus’s only treasure. It was full of sketches of aliens, space ships, point of view shots, disturbing eyes and probes, strange abstract patterns, a map of the stars that seemed to be extraordinarily detailed and, to Mr Yardley’s amateur, but interested, eyes a recognisable pattern from the Southern Hemisphere. ‘Can’t you stop this nonsense and focus on something real?’
‘It is real!’
‘All right, even if it is, what does it get you? Can’t you incorporate it somehow? Accept that it is what it is and move on with your life.’
‘I want people to know, I want them to understand.’
‘They’re never going to mate, not unless Independence Day happens.’ There was a pause in the conversation, Mr Yardley was right, Angus wasn’t stupid. He knew this was a lost cause, he knew his life, at least his quality of life, was under threat. Mr Yardley gave up and began to pack up. ‘It’s up to you mate, but you need to solve it somehow.’ He switched off the smart board and logged off the computer. ‘If I were you mate,’ he said as an aside. ‘I’d try to negotiate with them.’ He picked up the meagre homework he had been handed by some of the class. ‘Don’t break anything!’ He declared as he left the room.
Angus couldn’t concentrate, in fact he couldn’t wait, ever since his conversation with Mr Yardley, an idea had formed in his mind that had formed into a plan, a real plan, but it needed them, it needed them to come and find him, like they always did. When he returned home, his parents were in separate rooms operating the kind of peace that meant that dinner would be cooked, some form of television watched, whilst each parent lived their parallel life in silence, for the sake of Angus. Neither of them wanted to look at Angus, neither could hide their disappointment. Angus went to his room and waited. In time his mother called him down to supper, he went down meekly, his arm throbbing from an impatient scratch that his mother chose to ignore. She informed him that she and “her husband” would be going out that night, she was going to the pub, she had no idea where “he” was going. They would be back by morning and they had their phones if he needed anything. Result, a night alone was what he needed. All he need do now was assume the position and wait for them to come, because they would come, they were real and he would prove it, to himself at least.
The scandal broke two weeks later, apparently the lad had been coming to school for a week before it became clear he was on his own. Some of the damage on his arms had become more obvious and Miss Barker had reported it under safeguarding rules. Social Services went round to find the mess and the fact that the parents had disappeared. Angus had no explanation, he remained mute and nervous, which raised police concerns so they took him for questioning.
‘If you ask me’ said Mr Yardley in the staff room, ‘he’s better off without those parents.’
‘That wouldn’t be a justification for offing them’ Nick Driscoll helped himself to three biscuits from the communal packet, he seemed to have an eternal capacity to eat. ‘I don’t think he offed them’ Yardley nabbed the last one and sat down. ‘Self harm is his MO I don’t think he’s got it in him to harm somebody else.’
‘Well there has to be some explanation – they have disappeared.’ Miss Barker was anxiously re-reading a mark scheme, between sips of overly hot tea. ‘Aliens probably’ Driscoll grabbed the TES, ‘isn’t that also his MO?’ Nobody commented the meeting was about to begin.
The police let Angus go within a few hours because two new reports had come in. Axis Engineering complained that a quarter of million pounds had disappeared from the company’s Research and Development account, on the same day as Bernard Whateley had disappeared, not only that an infuriated young man, by the name of Peter, a personal trainer from the Fine Fitness Gym had discovered that his credit card account had been maxed out on a cash withdrawal. It seemed the couple had done a bunk. It was only a matter of time, said the police before they would be found. Indeed, they were not expert fraudsters. They had made some attempt to cover their tracks, buying flights to Rome on cards and then making cash purchases of flights to Sabah, Borneo, where they had booked a suite in the Tanjung Aru hotel, ironically enough the hotel where the biggest fraudster, Nick Leeson, had holed up after bringing down Barings Bank, perhaps that was their little joke or a sign of their ignorance. Whatever, the local police found them naked in bed, disoriented after what witnesses had described as drug fuelled night of music and drink and screaming. They were arrested, deported and charged, the police were delighted, at last a job done!
Angus was released back to his home, as it happened he had just turned 16 and his grandparents had agreed that they would ensure his safekeeping until the situation with the parents had been resolved. Neither set of grandparents appeared surprised by the actions of their offspring although each did blame the other, which presented some logistical problems for Angus.
The story came out over the next few weeks, the couple were adamant that they were innocent. Their marriage was dead, they were only holding on for the sake of Angus, who was a difficult boy, but they conceded that they had misjudged him. They had misjudged him they said, because now they believed him. They had no idea, they said, how they had got to Borneo. It had not been their plan, they only had memories of a bright light, strange big eyed faces, pain and probes, everything that Angus had described. They were ignored of course. Angus reneged on his claims, said that his self harm had been about getting attention, and his obsession with aliens a symptom of his need to escape from his parents’ constant arguing. The parents each got six years.
Angus improved visibly: the black hair was replaced by a conformist cut and a natural colour. Most of the piercing healed over, he kept one eyebrow, two ear piercings and, for old time’s sake the belly piercing. He still got a tattoo but it was a nice simple Maori pattern on his ankle and his art sketch book, sported colour and landscapes. He struggled with science, it had been his father’s wish to pursue it so he dropped it and took up Psychology. The scars on his arm faded and by the time he was seventeen, he was a handsome, well balanced young man, although he showed no desire to drive a car, he didn’t like country roads, he said.
Mr Yardley understood that, country roads could be scary places, particularly at night, particularly that night, the night the Whateley’s disappeared. It had been then that Yardley had been driving back from a particularly successful quiz competition, his scientific knowledge always aced it. His route took him past the Whateley’s house which always had been a bit isolated, it had the semiotics of Bates Motel crossed with the loneliness of Wuthering Heights and that night, well that night… He saw lights, a great light and something, something odd over the house. A shape, pretty big. He had the wit to get his phone out, to take a photo, film even, but the engine on the car stopped and the phone crashed, it never recovered, necessitating an hour long replacement session in the store. In a few seconds the light withdrew, for a second or two he thought it might be a police helicopter, but it suddenly shot up leaving behind nothing but darkness, no hovering light chugging away, no noise, nothing.
Mr Yardley never said anything, he liked a quiet life, but every now and again he thought about it and his own words came back to him ‘If I were you mate, I would negotiate with them’ he had meant the parents but… well just who did Angus negotiate with?
© All rights reserved by Judith Gunn 2012