It was not much taller than Jenny and sprouted hair like a startled floor mop.
Most disconcertingly, it went, “Threep!”
The sound was far from birdlike and demanded a response.
“Hello,” said Jenny.
The creature fiddled with an array of buttons on its baggy, blue overalls. “Hello,” it eventually said.
“Who are you?” asked Jenny. She knew it was wrong to talk to strangers, but this creature was so strange it was hard to resist.
“What does that mean?”
“The last of what?”
Adults always seemed to use that excuse when they didn’t want to explain something.
“My name is Jenny. I’m eight. How old are you?”
Well, Omega 20 certainly sounded like an adult.
“What are you doing here?”
Jenny looked about them. There was nothing much to observe beyond the hedgerows and farm outhouses. It was always entertaining to watch Matron, the sow, wallowing, but she was now inside suckling a litter.
At last something Omega 20 didn’t have an answer for.
With a whirring sound punctuated by several “Threeps!” the strange creature disappeared.
How odd, thought Jenny. Those students employed during the summer must have been playing a joke. Either that, or filming a science-fiction movie. Her family always used to play jokes until, without warning, they became very serious. A few weeks ago, Jenny had arrived home from her cousin’s and thought she had been brought back to the wrong house. Nobody was the same. Paul, older brother, no longer heaped sugar into his tea; Buster, the dog, instead of rushing to greet everyone at any pretext, was slinking away as though they were liable to kick him. The worst thing was the change in her mother. She no longer smiled, just looked vacuous as though newly arrived from a different planet.
Jenny was still given breakfast, lunch and dinner, made to get up in the mornings and sent to school, but there was no more home-made ice cream, plum jam or evening trips to the supermarket. All the joy had drained from her family. It was hardly surprising the eight-year-old was starting to see strange creatures that went “Threep!”
To make matters worse, Bob and Sid had left without warning at the same time, leaving her father and brother to manage the farm by themselves.
Money had always been tight, so the family was dependent on her mother’s salary for shelf stocking at the very supermarket that took forever to pay for their calabrese and trimmed parsnips. However much Jenny’s parents moaned about that, they always used to laugh it off as the price for being blessed with such a wonderful view over the Downs. That was usually followed by ribald comments about Matron being less greedy than company directors who must have had similar waistlines. Now they weren’t bothered one way or another.
Then the morning after meeting “Threep!”, a new farmhand arrived.
Hopefully she would lighten the atmosphere once everyone didn’t need to work so hard. The young woman certainly had the physique to carry sacks of parsnips and turn the screw on the apple press come cider season.
“What’s your name?” Jenny demanded before she allowed her inside the farmhouse.
The new farmhand smiled. “Ollie.”
“That’s an odd name?”
“You are Jenny, aren’t you?”
Jenny was puzzled. She had never met Ollie before and was sure her parents weren’t communicative enough at that moment to have told her.
“Have you had breakfast? Everyone else has, but I can scramble some eggs before I go to school if you like?”
“There’s really no need.”
“All right. I don’t know where the others are, so I’d better show you to Sid’s old room. You wouldn’t like Bob’s. He was a mucky old bugger.”
The young woman smiled.
That was unusual. Most adults showed disapproval when the eight-year-old swore, but Ollie seemed to assume that it was the most natural thing in the world.
After the new farmhand had unpacked and freshened up, there was still no one else to meet her.
Before Jenny dashed for the school bus she thrust a sheet of paper into her hand. “This was on the kitchen table. Looks like dad left you a list of things to get on with.”
“Thank you Jenny. You have been very helpful.”
Ollie watched the schoolgirl dash up the lane just as her bus came over the brow of the hill.
She waited until it was out of sight, tossed away the list of things to do and opened her jacket to take out a small tracking device. The high pitched signal it emitted woke Buster. He came charging across the farmyard, wondering how he had missed the arrival of the newcomer. There was something very wrong here. He growled and kept a safe distance as she strode away from the farm.
Ollie used the detector’s beam to sweep a small clearing. Human forms started to take shape - two adults and a young man. They remained nebulous, obviously not aware of anything.
She scanned the area again. This time two bodies appeared on the ground. They immediately became solid and appeared to be dead. Ollie removed another device from her jacket and used it to pulse a shaft of energy at them.
Sid coughed and came to with a jolt. “What the hell!” Then he saw Bob lying beside him, apparently lifeless. “Oh my God!”
Ollie pulsed energy at the motionless body until it moved.
Sid pulled Bob up into a sitting position. “Wake up you old fool! I thought you were dead! I nearly shit myself!” Then he became aware of Ollie standing there. “Who the hell are you?”
“What is the last thing you remember?”
Sid had to think. “Mucking out the old Matron and her litter.” He looked at Bob. “Gord knows what he was doing. Probably having a quiet smoke behind the tool shed.”
Hearing Sid’s rasping tones, Buster bounded into the clearing and bounced on the two dazed farm hands. Then the long-haired spaniel saw the shadowy forms of the family and whimpered in terror.
“What happened to them?” demanded Sid.
“You must tell me what happened,” Ollie insisted. “Otherwise I can do nothing to help them.”
But something else occurred to him. “Jenny’s not with them? She okay?”
“She is safe. Tell me what happened?”
“It’s all a bit of a fog.” Sid managed to get to his feet. “I’d just filled the old Matron’s swill and was coming back to feed the hens... There was something in the yard...”
“Only it wasn’t really there.”
“What colour was it?”
“Bright yellow, dark blue, pink, hadrinaceous..?”
“Hadri... what?” Sid remembered. “A sort of red smog glowing like a furnace. There were things inside it.”
Infrared; that’s what Ollie needed to hear. It meant that there may still be time.
Sid indicated the three frozen figures. “They alright?”
“Who the bleeding hell are you?”
Ollie didn’t answer. She turned and walked back to the farm.
Bob struggled to his feet and Sid helped him follow her, neither sure whether it was such a good idea.
By the time they reached the yard the mysterious woman was sweeping the area with her small scanner. Finding nothing, she went into the farmhouse kitchen. When Sid and Bob reached her and looked inside, the stones of its ancient chimney breast were glowing red. They didn’t recognise this as the place where they used to sit and eat their meals.
The Welsh dresser displaying decorative plates had been replaced by a peculiar honeycomb structure filled with busy, buzzing lights. The large oak table was now a dome of octagonal cells from which tiny entities came spinning out, weaving nebulous webs.
“Bloody hell! What’s going on?”
“Keep back!” Ollie warned Sid.
She was standing in the midst of the furious swarm, apparently impervious to their attacks.
Bob was still only half aware of what was going on and assumed he was hallucinating. “What’s up Sid?”
Sid’s common sense told him to get out of there, but curiosity had him rooted to the spot.
Just as he thought Ollie would be consumed by the dense webs and buzzing swarm, the room was filled with a flash of brilliant light.
The strange hive and furious entities disappeared.
So did the woman.
Where she had stood was an alien in blue, baggy overalls and hair like an exploding floor mop.
“Who the thundering hell are you?” Sid demanded.
The alien pushed a button on her baggy overalls, and was gone.
When Jenny came home her parents, brother, Sid and Bob were sitting around the kitchen table looking bewildered.
Buster was underneath it, whimpering with confused delight.
The eight-year-old had come to expect no friendly greeting on arrival and tossed her satchel onto a chair. She went to the sink to pour a glass of water. Without warning her mother leapt up and gave her a hug that knocked the breath out of her.
“Still with us then, kid?” called Paul as though wondering why she hadn’t run off long ago.
“It’s alright Jen,” reassured her father, “we’re all back to normal.”
“Though where the hell we’ve been none of us knows,” added Sid.
Jenny was aware someone was missing. “Where’s Ollie?”
“Ollie? Was that the woman’s name? She turned into this peculiar creature and said her name was really Omega 20.”
So Jenny hadn’t imagined the alien after all.
“Don’t worry about it Jen,” Sid told her, though knew he would have nightmares for the rest of his life. “Everything’s alright now.”
After the Matron had been fed and bedded down for the evening and the others were watching TV, Jenny secretly slipped out and went to the spot where she had met Omega 20 or “Threep!” as she remembered it.
There was still a strange electrical charge in the air.
“Where are you?” she called.
Omega 20 shimmered into view against the setting sun.
“What happened?” There was urgency in the eight-year-old’s tone that refused to be fobbed off with some adult platitude.
“Parasites. They-infest-other-lifeforms-and-use-their-energy-to-reproduce. They-create-replicas-of-their-victims-to-avoid-detection.”
“Ugh! How disgusting.”
“Didn’t the parasites want Sid and Bob then?”
Jenny could understand that. Bob smoked like a chimney and Sid lived off burgers and beer.
“Where are you going now then? Home to a different planet?”
Jenny couldn’t believe her ears. “You mean the dinosaurs were wiped out by these parasites?”
Omega 20 had told her enough. “I-must-go-now.” And with a brief “Threep!” disappeared.