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The Twitcher

Humans can be amazing; we’re adaptable and able to take even the most mind-blowing events in our stride and come out smiling. To all of those who’ve been instrumental in getting us through these interesting times: this one is for you.
Steve Dean's Short Story The Twitcher
Image: Wallpaperflare.com

For those of you who don’t know, a twitcher is someone who practices the art of twitching—a certain style of birdwatching that involves seeing, or hearing, as many different species of birds as possible. Twitchers have their own websites, which provide news of rare bird sightings. Some twitchers will drop everything and dash off at a moments notice to see these birds and tick them off their lists.

As any writer will tell you, ideas can strike out of the blue, but sometimes you just don’t have time to wait for inspiration. Instead, as in this case, I perused the daily news, found two interesting articles and squashed them together. The first was about a species of fish that was found washed up on a beach thousands of kilometres from where it should have been. The second was about some of the extraordinary humans who’ve worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic. Humans can be amazing; we’re adaptable and able to take even the most mind-blowing events in our stride and come out smiling. To all of those who’ve been instrumental in getting us through these interesting times: this one is for you.

* * *

He moved along the rough track being as quiet as he could, occasionally lifting his binoculars up to his eyes when he spotted movement. According to the websites, there was a great grey shrike around here somewhere and he was eager to find it and tick it off his list. There were plenty of birds around on this warm day, but none of them the one he wanted. Maybe, he thought, it would be better to get off the path. It wasn’t exactly busy this far away from civilisation, but anything that gave him a better chance was fine by him.

Moving silently in the undergrowth was much more difficult than on the track, but the effort would be worth it if he could just see, or even hear, the shrike. Using all the skills he’d read about on the internet, he moved deeper, heading for a sunlit clearing he could make out just ahead. A flash of colour caught his attention, but it wasn’t grey, more a neon blue. He headed towards it anyway. It might be another species he hadn’t already ticked off.

Stopping on the edge of the clearing, he looked around and soon spotted the blue creature, sitting on a log right in the centre, only a few metres away. It looked like an egg, but it was at least half a metre across. The shell was shiny like plastic and at first, he thought it was a discarded balloon or kids’ toy. Until it moved.

It opened out like an upside-down flower to reveal four legs like orange segments, but bright blue with sharp yellow edges. What he assumed was the head lifted up from one end and looked at him with six green eyes. Near the main body was a tube, which lifted and pointed towards him, the end pulsing in and out. Around its middle was a belt, with a plastic box attached to it, a blue light winking rapidly.

His first thought, mainly to keep him from running away screaming, was that the creature was someone’s robot or animatronics project. Perhaps they’d lost it or were somewhere close by watching him to see his reaction. Scanning around the area, with his eyes and through the binoculars, he didn’t see anything out of place. Just in case, he spoke loudly. “That’s very well made. I bet it uses a lot of batteries!”

The creature rose up higher on its segment legs, raising another tube, which it also pointed at him. It moved around but didn’t come any closer, instead making a high-pitched stuttering sound like a wheel that needed oil. The tubes looked very organic, not at all robotic. What if it was an alien and he was their first contact? He’d be famous! He moved a step closer and tried to think of something to say. Maybe the box on its belt was a translation device.

“Hello. Welcome to Earth. Please don’t eat us or steal our water!” he said with a nervous laugh.

The creature continued to look at him, the tubes moving slowly from side to side as if scanning him. The blinking light didn’t change speed or react in any way.

He tried again, this time using gestures. “Hello,” hand wave, “welcome,” arms held wide apart, “to Earth,” pointing towards the ground with both hands.

The alien creature shifted its position slightly but otherwise didn’t react.

“Well,” he said to the creature, “if you communicate with smells I don’t think I’ve got a lot to say!”

Taking a step closer, he said, “look, I’m making all the effort here. Give me something to go on. Someone else might come along soon and steal my glory.”

The creature backed away a step, pulling its head in slightly.

“It’s ok. I’m not going to hurt you. Look.” He backed away a step, holding his hands out to show he meant no harm.

With a sudden thought, he removed his backpack and opened it. Inside there was a small flask of tea and some corned-beef sandwiches. Moving carefully, he pulled the cling-wrap open and broke a corner off a sandwich. The creature’s tubes wafted animatedly and then locked on to the food.

“Oh, now I have your attention. Lost your supplies have you, crashed your space pod?”

Taking half a step forward, he held the food out in front of him, not knowing which, if any, of the tubes were its mouth. “Sandwich. Sand… wich. Corned… beef,” he explained.

The creature moved a little closer, waved the tubes around again, then backed off.

“Oh, vegetarian? Vegan? Sorry. You could just eat the bread, it’s seeded granary.”

The creature moved backwards, dropping down off the log and scuttling towards the undergrowth.

“No, wait, I have tea, and some biscuits!”

The creature stopped, turned a full circle, then pulled in on itself.

He was just wondering what to do next when a crackling sound filled the clearing. At first, he thought it was more people arriving and was ready to shout at them to back off. All he saw was a dark line standing in the air on the edge of the undergrowth. The line started a few centimetres off the ground and reached up to about three metres. It was only a few centimetres wide at first, then began to thicken. As it widened, the centre changed to a dark grey, which also thickened. Over the next few seconds, the line grew increasingly brighter, began to bow and then formed a tall oval. The centre was very bright now, and the crackling sound had increased in pitch until it set his teeth on edge.

From out of this light stepped a humanoid creature so tall it had to stoop. It had two long legs, long arms and a small head with wing-like frills instead of ears. Its huge eyes locked on to the blue creature. It bent over, slapping its hands against its thin thighs and letting out a bubbling noise. The creature opened up and waved its tubes at the newcomer, then lurched towards it. Without even acknowledging the human, the humanoid attached a long rope to the blue thing’s belt, then stepped back through the light, pulling the blue creature with it. The oval thinned to a line and popped out of existence, the shrill noise finally stopping.

When he was able to convince himself to move again, he closed his mouth, rubbed his eyes and ears, let out a giggle and headed off back to the path. Once free of the undergrowth, he pulled out his notebook and turned to the last page. Here he started a new list:

Very, very tall humanoid alien – tick.

Neon sphere crab alien – tick.

With the notebook and sandwiches returned to his backpack, he headed off again. “Right, where’s that shrike.”

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