‘So you see,’ said Gracie to her brother Benjamin, ‘I told you didn’t I but you wouldn’t believe me would you?’
Benjamin stood with his eyes wide open and his mouth agape at the sight, which beheld him.
‘What do you think then Ben?’
He stood stock still for a moment not knowing how to answer his sister.
What did he think? He was unsure. Was he seeing this with his own eyes or was it some sort of dream he was having. Gracie pinched him and he realised he was wide-awake.
‘Children where are you?’ They could hear the sound of their mother’s voice.
Looking at each other Ben remarked, ‘Will we keep it a secret Gracie?’
‘Of course silly. Why how do you expect we would explain this place. Now come on mammy will be cross if we don’t hurry.’ Dragging her brother none too ceremoniously away from the ‘secret place’ they now hurried towards their home.
‘Oh there you are where ‘ave yer been. I hope you ain’t got up to any mischief you know how ‘yer pappy gets angry with yer if you gets into any trouble, now come away in to the house and wash ‘yer hands, supper is nearly ready,’ she scolded.
Gracie and Benjamin rushed inside and raced upstairs to the bathroom to do as their mother bid them. They could hear the car coming up the driveway and knew it was their pappy home for his tea.
‘Last down is a wet fish,’ Ben shouted as he pushed passed Gracie. He had reached the bottom of the stairs and nearly crashed into his father as he entered the hallway.
‘Steady on young man, not so fast, where are you going all in a hurry?’
‘Nowhere pappy I was just seeing if I could get down the stairs before Gracie.
‘Well now you go into the kitchen and see if mammy needs a hand setting the table places.’ Benjamin obeyed.
George Snow, although he loved his children dearly, was quite strict with them. Being brought up into a Baptist family in the mid eighteen hundreds in the southern state of Louisiana George had learned discipline at an early age and carried the same rules into his own household today. He was an educated man and spoke with hardly any hint of a drawl.
His usual habit on arriving home, he went into the kitchen to greet his wife. While waiting for Martha to serve supper George glanced over the evening paper.
‘Ya ‘al ready,’ his wife shouted from the kitchen.
Their pappy always said grace before supper and now they were all sitting down he offered up the usual prayer, giving thanks for the food before them.
They tucked into hot dumplings and rye bread together with some fried fish and corn followed by a sumptuous fruit pie.
George was proud of his family and felt lucky he worked for the local bank since the age of fifteen, earning a good wage, Martha and the children wanted for nothing. They had married thirteen years before in eighteen seventy-eight when he was just turned twenty-two and Martha a young woman of twenty.
The children had followed quickly. Gracie was born eleven months after and Benjamin followed twenty-one months later in the summer of eighteen eighty-one. Gracie was now almost twelve years and Benjamin just ten.
Very little was said at the supper table. The children had been taught from an early age only to speak when spoken to and never to speak with their mouths full. George had told them it was considered ill mannered to talk whilst eating and only between courses were they allowed to say anything at all.
On this particular evening, George was glad to have insisted on these table rules. He had a lot on his mind and needed to think things through.
The children finished asked their pappy if they could leave the table. With a nod of his head in approval, they retreated to their playroom, glad the meal was over.
Martha waited for the opportunity to speak with her husband she knew better than to interrupt his thoughts so patiently now she lingered at the table.
‘Well Martha my dear,’ he began,’ we have a slight problem on our hands.’
‘What would thart be then honey?’
‘The bank has announced they wish to move premises.’
‘They say it is for the best. A bigger branch is to be acquired on the other side of town.’
‘’An ‘ow will that affect us, you then George?’
‘Well this is the problem you see. The manager of the bank has asked me if I would move with them.’
‘An what is wrong in thart then honey?’
‘Oh Martha can’t you see it would mean that we would have to sell up here and move to the East side.’
‘Because my dear I would not be able to travel every day to the Bank so easy from here. It would take at least two hours there and two hours back and that’s not including the time spent at the bank. I just couldn’t do it.’
‘So what are we goin’ to do then honey?’
‘That’s what’s troubling me Martha I don’t know.’
‘Well you carn just give up yer work honey.’
‘I know Martha but I don’t think I can afford to move us all either. You see the property on the East side is way more expensive than here and we would have to sell this house first. I really don’t know what to do.’
‘Now darn’t you go worrin’ none, I’m sure the good Lord will give us the answer soon enough.’
George went to bed that night but could not sleep he just did not know how he was going to move his whole family to the East side. There was no sign from ‘above’ to give him any guidance.
Martha slept soundly but woke with a start. ‘What’s thart noise?’
‘What noise dear?’ George wide-awake as he had been all night.
‘Did ‘yer not ‘ear it honey?
‘No Martha and as I have been sitting here all night without an ounce of sleep I think I would have heard if there was a strange noise.’
‘Listen there it goes again.’
George pricked up his ears and thought he heard a loud whistling sound coming from outside.
‘’Ear it honey. Thart was a big sound.’
‘Yes dear I think I did hear something. I’ll go and take a look outside although it’s still pretty dark out there.’
Martha waited bed covers pulled up under her chin and jumped when she heard the same sound again coming from the garden.
‘George honey,’ she said almost in a whisper,’ whart is it?’
George could not hear his wife and carried on looking for the source of the strange sound. The bushes rustled but he did not see anything.
‘Who’s there, come out whoever you are and stop snooping about like this.’
All of a sudden, there was a huge cloudburst and the heavens opened up, soaking George to the skin before he had the chance to run inside.
‘Aw honey ya all wet, cum ‘ere while I dries ‘yer off. Did yer see anythin?’
‘No Martha but I heard some rustling in the bushes and just as I was about to get closer that huge clap of thunder sounded above me and the rain came down so fast I got soaked trying to get back into to the house.’
The children were awake now, got quickly washed and dressed, and went downstairs.
‘Pappy you’re all wet,’ Benjamin exclaimed.
‘Yes son I got caught in the rain.’
‘Why were you in the rain pappy?’ asked Gracie.
‘Because mammy heard a noise outside and I went into the garden to see what it was. I got drenched by the torrent of rain.’
‘What was the noise pappy? Did you see anything outside?’ Benjamin his large brown eyes staring enquiringly at his father
‘I didn’t get the chance to look very far son but I think it may have just been a skylark in the bushes, nothing to worry about.’
‘But mammy,’ Gracie started.
George made a motion with his hand to show he did not want them to ask any more questions.
‘Now children ‘yer pappy has told yer all not to ‘all worry, it was just a bird tharts all. Now come on lets have breakfast,’ Martha said summoning them all into the kitchen.
Gracie gave Ben a knowing glance but said nothing to her brother. They would have chance to discuss the ‘noise’ later
The children helped Martha to clear away the breakfast dishes and went back to their rooms to change into their outdoor clothes.
Today, Saturday there was no school and usually their parents took them in the buggy into town where mammy would buy some supplies of cotton and cloth to make more clothes, while pappy would go to the corn merchants to order some provisions for Martha’s pantry.
Martha sat proudly alongside her husband at the front of the buggy. Gracie and Benjamin sat on the flat bed at the back, legs dangling over the side, sitting very close, and holding on to each other for fear of falling out.
Ben whispered to Gracie. ‘Do you think that ‘noise’ had something to do with you know what Gracie?’
‘Why of course it did Ben. I suppose they were trying to attract our attention and have found out where we live and. Pity we didn’t hear, though.’
‘What would you have done Gracie, if they had?’ Ben asked.
‘Well I’d have climbed out of the window and spoken to them.’
‘Gosh Gracie wouldn’t you have been scared?’
‘No of course not, silly. Why should I be?’
‘Well because, well you know it’s not usual is it?’
‘No and that dear brother is why I like it because it’s not usual,’ Gracie answered.
‘What are you two whisperin’ bout down there? Their mothers voice coming from the front seat. ‘I 'ope you’re not contrivin’ anythin’ the two of ‘yer.’
The children didn’t answer.
‘Come on children up on the buggy.’
Gracie and Benjamin jumped onto the flat bed but this time they had to sit near to the front as the back was piled high with the purchases. Their mammy and pappy had all but spent up, as promised though they allowed the children to have cold lemonade in the candy store followed by a short walk in the park. It was quite late in the afternoon as they set off for home.
They arrived back just as the sun was setting. George unloaded the goods with the help of Gracie and Benjamin, who carried the smaller loads. Martha went straight into the kitchen to prepare the supper.
Benjamin began to yawn.
‘Aw yer sleepy sweetie? Come on let’s get ‘ya to bed. Say night night to yer pappy and Gracie now.’
Benjamin kissed his pappy on the cheek and said, goodnight.
Gracie you’ll be up before I go to sleep won’t you?’ Ben enquired expectantly.
‘Yes Ben I’ll be up soon.’
Martha ushered her son upstairs to make sure he brushed his teeth before getting into bed. Kneeling down to say a prayer Ben put his hands together and asked the Lord to keep his mammy, pappy and Gracie safe through the night.
Martha tucked him in, kissed him on the forehead, and told him to have a goodnight’s rest. He was asleep within minutes and did not hear Gracie steal into the bedroom thirty minutes later. She undressed, went into the bathroom, offered up a quick prayer, and quietly settled herself down under the covers of her own bed.
It was the middle of the night but the moon shone brightly through the curtains of the children’s room. There were hundreds of stars twinkling in the sky and as Benjamin opened one eye, he could see the shape of his sister curled under the blankets. She looked as though she was fast asleep.
Gracie however was wide-awake and had been for the last hour, hoping to hear the sound she was listening for.
‘Gracie are you awake?’ Ben whispered.
‘Yes,’ she answered softly.
‘Have you heard it yet?’
‘No not yet Ben, but they may not come tonight. The moon is full and they may worry someone will see them under the brightly lit sky’.
‘Oh I hope they do come,’ Ben said sounding a bit disappointed.
‘Hush, listen. Did you hear it?’
Ben strained his ears but could hear no sound.
‘There it is again,’ Grace confirmed.
‘Gracie, I can’t hear anything. Are you sure you’re not imagining it?’ A soft whistling noise suddenly came to his ears. Excited he sat up in bed to try to hear the sound again. This time it was shriller and in the coldness of the room, sounded rather eerie.
Ben jumped out of bed and got into Gracie’s to snuggle up beside her. He was afraid and needed the protection of his big sister. Gracie was a bit scared too but did not let Ben know it. He snuggled up close to her. They held each other tightly as the sound became louder.
Closer and closer, louder and louder. The children clung to each other both openly showing their fright now.
‘What happens if they come into the room Gracie?’
‘Don’t be silly Ben. How will they get in here we are on the top floor remember and as far as I know they don’t have any wings to fly.’
‘Yes I suppose you are right it’s just that they sound so close. Do you think mammy and pappy have heard them?’
‘I’m not sure Ben. I haven’t heard their door open have you?’
‘No I could only hear the whistling, nothing else Gracie.’
The children sat very still wondering what to do next. Should they get out of bed and look outside or should they stay safely under the covers?
Just at that moment, they heard a loud bang and both nearly jumped out of their skins.
‘Gracie I’m scared,’ Ben said his voice all of a tremble.
‘It’s alright Ben I’ll protect you.’ Gracie was unsure if she could but it made Ben feel better and he relaxed his grip on his sister a little.
Their voices were high pitched, familiar and coming closer.
‘Its mammy,’ Benjamin exclaimed.
‘Thank goodness,’ Gracie muttered under her breadth.
The bedroom door opened slowly and now the children witnessed the sight before them.
Martha, who had, on retiring that evening a mop of black hair had turned completely white. Her face was ashen and she physically trembled before them.
Behind her, they could make out pappy who looked equally as scared as they did and although his hair had not turned white like mammy’s his face was like chalk and he looked as if he had seen a ghost. Managing to control the shaking feeling, he now took charge of the situation.
‘Come on children,’ he said trying to keep his tone even, ‘get out of bed and dressed we are all going down to the sheriffs office to report what we have just heard and seen.’
Benjamin started to shake uncontrollably and asked his father if it was necessary for them all to go.
‘Yes it is son. I’m not leaving any of you alone tonight. Now come on wrap up warm and I’ll get Samson ready to pull the buggy into town. We’ll have to wake Sheriff Stone up I’m afraid we have to warn the others.’
Benjamin had started to cry and Gracie tried to console him.
‘Come on Ben it will be alright you’ll see Sheriff Stone will catch them.’
Ben went silent as Gracie bent down to whisper in his ear.
‘Ben we’ll have to pretend we know nothing otherwise we’ll get into real trouble. I don’t want them to be caught either but can’t you see what they have done to mammy and pappy and that may only be the start. No Ben we must not let on that we know about this. We are safe Ben. Remember they told us that ALL children are safe?’
Ben nodded his understanding of what his sister was trying to say and wiping his tears away put on a brave face following his pappy, mammy, and sister outside into the cold night air.
‘So now let’s get this straight Mr and Mrs Snow. You both say that you heard a loud bang followed by some whistling noises and then before you knew it these ‘things’ were standing at the bottom of your bed and that’s when you Mrs Snow let out a scream and when you looked in the mirror your hair had turned white’
‘Is that correct Mrs Snow?’ The sheriff was addressing their mammy as they sat mute in the corner of Sheriff Stone’s office.
‘Werl sheriff it’s not quite how it ‘appened. Yer see I ‘eard the whistling sounds first and then a very loud bang and that’s what woke me up sir. But when I sees them standin’ at the bottom of the bed that is when I screamed and woke up George.’
‘I see thank you Mrs Snow.’
The sheriff now turned to George and asked him his version of events. He was only able to corroborate Mrs Snow’s story at the point where she had woken him with her screaming.
‘You see Sheriff Mrs Snow suffers from nightmares and regularly wakes up screaming. So I’m sort of use to this behaviour. However tonight was different he screams were like, well how can I describe them, well I think more like howls sir. Yes, howl that’s what they were. Just like a frightened animal is the best way I can put it.’
‘What happened when you realised Mrs Snow was not having one of her usual nightmares then George?’
‘Well it took me a moment to see what had set her off ‘howling’ like. I could see with my own eyes the ‘things’ at the bottom of the bed and you know me I’m not one for scaring easy but the sight of them, well it was enough to turn my hair white and all sir.’
‘Would either of you recognise them again. I mean apart from what you have told me. I don’t have much to go on. You see George, Martha I can’t chase after something that appears to be well err ‘not human’ like, you can see I would be a laughing stock if I was to chase around the countryside looking for what you describe as ‘alien’.’
‘Look I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I will send one of my men to have a look around your house and garden and if he finds anything untoward, we’ll do a full search in the morning. How does that sound?’
George and Martha nodded in agreement.
The sheriff ordered two of his deputies to accompany the Snow’s home and gave them orders to give the place the once over.
Winking at them now he whispered, ‘just to make sure there are no strangers hanging around.’
As they left his office, the sheriff scratched his head and muttering to himself ‘Aliens. What on earth next!’
‘He didn’t belief us George,’ Martha moaned on the way home.
‘I know dear but who would?’
The children sat on the flat bed, snuggled up close, neither saying a word but thinking how glad they had been not to be questioned and how very lucky that ‘THEY’ had not been caught.