BUG EYED by David Hartley
We heard you
Five, four, three, two, one, and a roar of guttural cheers and whoops and howls as the sky pulses and we glimpse our saviours again, our bug-eyed angels, in their cloaked mothership which holds our planet like a new layer of atmosphere. A sleek silver console of lines and lights that is, for that moment, a shell above our heads and then it fades, becomes transparent, becomes the night sky again. It is a warm August night, clear and sharp, each of the billion stars shining proud with the promise of a new home.
And the drumbeats thud-thud-thud and are washed through with whistles, and shouts, and choral chants, twanged chords and blown brass. We toast and cherish and live our final night on our once-beloved planet. Fires rage with dead possessions and roast meats and fruits and vats of mallow, while fireworks unzip the sky into orgasms of claps and lights.
You have done well
We’ve made it! shout the signs and stickers, and the naked paint the peace sign on their breasts and bellies, and lips are locked and swell into orgies, sweat mixes with mud with love with water, wine and vodka, and never once does love become hate, or passion become rage, because we have made it! We have done well! And there is no use in breaking that now, no hopelessness in pure hope.
The children glitter cheeks and are crowned with glowsticks and grin and stare at the costumed, at the fire-breathers on stilts, at the drag queens in their sweeping glory, at jugglers, and clowns and acrobats, at puppeteered dragons that weave through the crowds, or they snuggle deep into arms of mothers, or laps of fathers, where exhaustion has caught them, to dream their last dreams of Earth.
This is us, in our readiness, doing what we do; we push away sleep and pull together, we fill our bodies as if they will not come with us, we put the best of our race and the worst of our smells in one place, because this is what we are and we are proud, so proud. We show ourselves as we think we should be; ruffs around the necks of Shakespeares, badges pinned on the dresses of suffragettes, fake moustaches cry Einsteins and there is every Bowie from every era multiplied by a thousand.
And we sing to our saviours, we sing Star Man and Imagine and Bohemian Rhapsody and they hear us because; five, four, three, two, one, ROOOAAR, the sky pulses and they appear again, the mothership-shell, our bug-eyed angels, our newest friends, and look at us! Look hard into our hearts! We do not hurt each other anymore, we are collected, we are together, there is nothing left to want or fear! We have dismantled, we have decommissioned, we have abandoned posts: this is us. We eat, drink, dance, love and sing. This is us at our best.
We will take you to your heaven
And this time the ship does not fade, the stars do not return and the thrill shocks through us all like lightning. There are screams, shaking hearts, failed legs; it is time! Loved ones rush to reunite, children are woken and snap to attention, clothes are flung off and cast into flames. Arms raise and reach to welcome the rapture…
No drum-beat now, no horns blown or songs sung; we are hushed. The drunk are nudged and hoisted up, children appear on shoulders, breaths are held. We huddle as the crowd think as one, our fingers grasping at the air as if trying to catch what’s next before it happens. Hatches clatter open on the mothership, tiny oblongs of purple light. We wail as we stretch our spines, and strain our toes. Hairs lift and skin shimmers.
There is much to learn
We are tickled. Feet first, then legs, waists, shoulders and arms. In the gap we leave between each other, ants and worms emerge. And beetles, woodlice, crickets, millipedes, just specks of dirt at first but as they clear our heads, we see them, wriggling, squirming, antennae twitching, and the dirt is flicked away and showers us in a desperate smatter. Our elbows bend, fingers are stilled, and there too go the midges, the moths, the mosquitoes, the flies, and a buzz erupts as swarms of bees and wasps are dragged from hedgerows and woodlands and far off hives.
The air becomes a plague, but upwards, and we are muttering now, we hear each other say; no, and someone snaps a hand at a passing bug and we all do it; we all try to grab back our betrayers, but it is too late, the sky is black, they have been taken and we remain. But perhaps there is an order, we think. The birds will go next? Then the small mammals, and then us, and then, what? Horses? Cows? The mothership is hidden now because the only thing we can see is the cloud of insects.
Tired arms drop. Some of us sit. Some lash out. The crowd swells and sways, fear returns. Gaps appear in the insect sky and, like mould clearing, the mothership reappears. A second, perhaps longer, and we think our time has come so we stagger once again to our feet, back to our positions. But no. The mothership recedes. All its lights go out. A long thin crack appears and the two halves of its shell separate, a reverse of what happened when it came.
And it leaves. It leaves us.
The night sky returns. No. Not quite. The sun is arriving on the horizon, a patient glow, a deep orange that seems to say; remember me?
In the trees, birds answer the question with their chorus. They do not realise yet that they sing for nothing. They do not realise that this will be the first day they go hungry.