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       Tempests, p.3

           Michael Carter
 
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later. I walked in the back-door at half past eight that night, and when I saw my mum sitting down with two policewomen I was a bit scared. Mum ran up to me and cuddled me and we both started crying. The first thing I said was “Why is it dark already?”” Sarah paused, and inhaled deeply.

  “Yeah?” coaxed Bradley.

  “As far as I knew it was just after four’o’clock. Mum and the police both asked me where I’d been and I just said School. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I thought the police were there because something had happened to Louisa. Then Mum got a bit angry and started shouting, “Where’ve you been? I’ve been thinking all sorts.”, you know. She told me I’d been gone for hours and she found a few bruises around my head, the front and the back, all around really. A doctor came and looked at me and then the police told my mum that I must have fallen over and knocked myself out for four hours, then just woke up and come home. That was their explanation; it was on the radio. I was famous for five minutes. Mum got a transfer after that, and we moved again, because she said that Richmond had a jinx on us.”

  “Couldn’t you remember anything?” Bradley asked. Sarah was silent for a few seconds, a few paces, until she said, “No. Not that first time, anyway.”

  “First time?” said Bradley, stepping round from her side to look her in the face. “It happened again?” She looked up from the floor where she’d been staring all the time she told her story, and looked in his eyes.

  “Yes. When I was fourteen.” She paused again, but Bradley sensed she had more to say.

  “I’m listening.” he said.

  “My mum doesn’t know, cos I was at school at the time. I went out to the far end of the field at break. It was always quiet there, to eat my lunch in peace, you know. I was quite happy just chomping on my sandwiches and watching the birds skit about in the sky, then everything seemed to go like shadowy... like as if there was an eclipse or something. I was gonna go back in the school but...well, I never got the chance. When I got there and tried the main door, it was locked. It was a Friday, see, and the teachers leave just after the kids do.”

  “More lost time, eh?”

  “I sat on the school steps for a while, maybe half-an-hour or so, and cried a bit, cos I’d realised that it had happened again, like in Richmond. It scared me a lot, you know, but it was more frightening to think that my mum would get worried; I didn’t want to move away again, I was just starting to make some good friends.”

  “So...?”

  “So, I didn’t tell her. I made up my mind to keep it a secret and then I ran home and told her that I’d gone to a friends’ house straight from school and that they didn’t have a phone. Something like that. She still doesn’t know.”

  They were still looking at each other, and here Bradley took her hands in his own.

  “So,” he asked, “do you know what happened?” Sarah swallowed a few times and her chin jiggled in unison with the edges of her lips. Bradley could tell she was trying hard not to cry. Softly, he put his arm around her back and pulled her towards him.

  “Look, I promise- I absolutely promise, Sarah, that I won’t laugh at you. Whatever you say, ok? You need to tell someone about this. You need to tell me about this.” He had pretty much guessed what she would say next, but wanted her to say it. He didn’t want to say it, lest it sound unintentionally sarcastic.

  “Do you believe in aliens, Brad?” she said, looking him right in the face for the slightest signal of humour. There was nothing.

  Bradley sounded calm, and spoke slowly; “I think that, yes, it’s highly probable that mankind isn’t alone in this huge universe.”

  “Do you believe they abduct people?” She was still looking at his face, checking for the slightest upturn of the mouth, the haze in the eyes, the sharp intake of breath, that he was just jesting her along.

  “There’ve been lots of reports, and...yeah. Yes, I think it’s quite feasible.” Bradley had long been a scholar of UFOlogy, studying many books and articles on the subject. With no job or much life to speak of, all he did with his time was read books and watch TV. He was certain in his own mind that extra-terrestrials existed, and he believed that a lot of reports of abductions were genuine, too. He hoped his little act of making his mind up on the spot would give Sarah the confidence to speak out.

  “I know that abductions really happen,” said Sarah, “’cos it’s happened to me.”

  “I kind of guessed it had.” He paused, and glanced up at the sky. “Do you wanna tell me about it?”

  Sarah scratched the back of her neck and nodded yes.

  The sun had finished its chores for the day and the twilight was in that wonderfully eerie stage when everything seems to be shrouded in a cloak of peacefulness, serenity, but at the same time is heavy with the uneasiness of the approaching night.

  Sarah and Bradley were sitting on a bench in the park, looking down on Beechburn Beck, almost dried up, and watching the fledgling sparrows and wrens flirt about the sky in their last exercise before bed.

  In the last two and a half hours she had told him – slowly but surely, much like the gentle flowing of the beck below them – all that had happened to her regarding the abduction experiences.

  After the time when she’d been at school, she had said, she’d almost forgotten about it, until certain memories began to crop up in her dreams. Bradley had recognised them as being interchangeable with many other abduction reports; lying naked on a slab, pinned down by some unseen force, while strange eyes and intelligences stared down; a series of photographic images being constantly flashed at her, not so much flashed in her eyes as actually transmitted directly into her mind; alien devices, technological and otherwise, examining, probing and delving; then being imprisoned in a spongy, amorphous cell, its walls seemingly biological and very much alive; all classic factors of the typical close encounter of the fourth kind.

  Sarah said that she had told no-one; Bradley was the first. Nobody else knew that ever since she was twelve she had been stolen away temporarily by unknown forces approximately once every two years – once every 734 days to be exact – for four hours each time. Only once had they broken this chain; they had kidnapped her, out of character, when she’d had her first period at fifteen (“I was late in starting.” she had explained to Bradley. “I think my body knew that when it began to change and develop then my friends “ she emphasized, with contempt, “would want to take a look.”) Other than that it had all been regular and synchronistic; “beamed up” at twelve, fourteen, fifteen when her period started (“I started bleeding when I was in bed and I went to clean things up with a shower. I wasn’t scared or shocked, I’d been waiting for it for years. But I didn’t expect them to show up. Anyway, I was back, had cried for an hour, and was cleaning the shower down when mum got up at half past six. I told her about my period but not the rest.”), sixteen, and eighteen.

  She’d just turned twenty last month. The 734 days were almost up.

  “In my dreams, and daydreams, as well, I see the usual things, like I said. Those nightmares come in waves; start a couple of weeks after the event and last about a fortnight, on and off. Then a few months’ll go by and they’ll come back again, slowly fading with time.

  “But lately, the last twice, I’ve been remembering other things when I’ve been wide awake. Nothing really clear; just a vague feeling that they’re, like, doing something new with me. There’s one image I can’t get out my head at all. It’s being in one of their rooms where the walls are sticky and they stretch when you touch them; I’m there naked as usual but I can see through one of the walls. It’s just like a sticky membrane or something, and I can see through it and there’s another Sarah-Jane Tempest on the other side, naked and asleep, except her chest’s not moving; I don’t know if she’s breathing or not. And then I scream. I always scream then, in this memory, but there’s no-one there to hear me. No-one to help me, anyway.”

  Bradley was overwhelmed by all this; before she’d told him the whole story he’
d felt that he could handle it. Now he wasn’t so sure.

  “I don’t know how you’ve coped with it.” he said, “I’d be terrified.”

  Sarah-Jane nodded earnestly.

  “Yeah. Terrified. I am, Brad. I’m so bloody frightened of it all. I’m obsessed with the-“ She broke the flow for an exhalation of stored breath, a quick bite of her lower lip, and a tiny tear, emerging from her frenzied eye and gliding down her cheek. She sniffled and carried on; “Obsessed by the calendar, by the days; it’s getting very close now, Brad. I haven’t slept properly for nearly a week, scared that they’ll be early.”

  “You must have slept a little.” said Brad, while he squeezed his arm tight round her back. “You need your sleep, Sarah; it’s important. Besides, “ he smiled unsteadily, “you look wonderfully alive and alert for a lady who’s having trouble sleeping. You’re handling it really well.”

  “On the outside maybe, yeah. I’ve still got people to fool; I can’t have mum asking questions about my health, can I?” Bradley cut in then; “Why? Why don’t you tell your-“

  “I can’t. No. I can’t tell Mum, she’s got enough on her plate with Louisa. I can’t tell anyone.”

  “You told me.”

  “You’re special, though. I knew you’d understand.”
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