Something in the way you love me won't let me be

I don't want to be your prisoner so baby won't you set me free

- Madonna, Borderline

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

To Boldly Go

Jason Munt said him and Carly Furnish got beamed up by a bunch of aliens just after he’d boldly gone with her in the car park woods. It was the boldly going bit people thought was bullshit. Carly Furnish was a good God-loving girl. Trouble was, she’d gone missing. And Jason Munt had a weird crescent-shaped branding in his back, and was sticking to his story.
Jason got hauled in by the cops and told he was in a whole heap of trouble. He reported blinding lights and a feeling like floating. He described being strapped to a table by little green men. A cop slapped the table and shouted, ‘there’s a frigging girl out there.’ Jason said he knew how it sounded – the little green men, the whole thing – but it’s true: they were little and green, just like out of the comic books.
He volunteered tests for drink and drugs. He came back negative on both counts. They left him to stew. He said the last he saw of Carly was her being sucked up in some kind of light ray. He said, ‘she seemed asleep – all peaceful, like.’ Jason could not explain why he’d been beamed back down to earth, yet they’d seemingly taken Carly all the way off home with them to the Planet Zog. There were plenty of people willing to reckon it proved aliens had mighty good taste, but it wasn’t the time nor the place to say it out loud.
The cops released Jason after two days of questions. He stuck to his story throughout. The desk sergeant said, ‘mark my words, there’s a lot of hate out there.’ Jason headed straight home. He lived in one of the straggle of council houses leading up to the tip. Carly Furnish and her folks lived two doors down. Supposedly they were distant relatives, but that’s what everyone said about folks on that street. All it took was a couple of kids to get born with stumps for arms a couple of decades back to start the whole inbreeding thing. Others blamed toxic land-fill. The Furnishes made the most of what they got, and what they got mainly came from the state. They had six kids, seven if you include Ged, the oldest one, who swore he’d fell in love with a mermaid and threw himself off the stern of the Sally-Marie six years since with the famous last words, ‘I gotta go see her.’ When they line-hooked him back in he was smiling like he’d seen something more beautiful than the rest of us could ever dream. Deep chilled, fast-froze dead, but smiling all the same.
Carly was the last. After Carly, they gave up on kids and had a bubble pool built in their back patio. There were some reckoned it must have cost more than the whole rest of their house was worth. Sometimes, Jason would invite us round to take a peep through his curtains, hoping one of Janet or Nicky, Carly’s big sisters, would be out in their bikinis. They got wise to it, started sending their brother Keith round to give us black eyes. Keith had lost his mind like his brother, not that he ever had much of one to begin. Always chuntering on about shutting them skeg-holes of ours for good. No punches ever stopped us looking, but we never got sight of Carly in the bubble pool. There were plenty who reckoned she could be even more of a looker than her big sisters if she got a few square meals inside her and had a frizzing-up of that snow-pale hair of hers, hung round her shoulders limp as fly-paper. The rest of the Furnishes could keep the whole street up into the early hours with their shouting and whooping, but there were few people could ever say they’d heard Carly speak. It was kind of ironic given how good she was at belting out all those church choir hymns all Sabbath long. In fact there were more than a few folk around who didn’t give a rat’s arse about the religion side of things but would often fill those pews just to hear her sing. They’d come out all misty-eyed spouting ‘voice of an angel’ crap.
Jason’s folks weren’t much the types to kick up a fuss and it seemed they’d spewed most of what gobs they’d ever had into their boy. Jason’s old man worked the weigh-bridge at the animal feeds and his mother sat at home and figured out ways the wage could get them by. The day Jason headed back they were sat in the front room with suitcases packed. She said, ‘I’m all cried out.’ His dad said, ‘you’ve gone and done it this time, son.’ They headed off to her sister’s. Jason said he didn’t give a shit what the cops said. He stayed put and went and fixed himself a packet-ham sandwich.
The cops went round more or less every house in the village in turn. Here’s the truth, at least as far as most people saw it:
Jason Munt was a smart-arse bastard at the best of times. He could talk his way in and out of just about anything. His teachers had high hopes. Said his sharp mind could get him all the way to university. His folks started putting a little aside. Jason stuck it to the school lot and started slouching around rent-free. Even talked his mother into handing over the set-aside cash. Re-invested it all in a kid from town who’d fixed up his grandma to score him prescription temazepam for a fee. When the kid under-cut him, Jason didn’t think twice about heading into town and sorting things out the only other way he knew. Places his gob couldn’t get him, his fists weren’t far behind. And just about the only other place his gob never got him anywhere close was Carly Furnish’s knickers.
Jason sat at the front of those pews every Sunday and when that didn’t get her attention he started acting up all born again. Quoted bible lines and set up black-out blinds in his bedroom so as to lead him not into temptation. The way he told it, she said okay pretty much straight away. Jason said he’d take her to the car park woods to watch the stars, maybe catch a few of those angel sisters of hers. We had to hand it to Jason Munt. He didn’t have a whole lot going for him in the looks department, but that gob of his could reel them in all right. Trouble was, we didn’t reckon there wasn’t any amount of smart-arse was going to get him all the way into those clamped-shut God-fearing knickers of hers. And there wasn’t a guy or a girl among us who didn’t subscribe to the theory that that temper of his had gone and trip-wired big-time when he discovered his gob wasn’t enough to get him what he wanted.
The cops kept the woods sealed off. They dredged the pond. All they came up with were a couple of old bike tyres and some empty gas cans. No sign of Carly. Jason sat around in his empty house like nothing had happened. Wouldn’t even budge when his living room window was put through, or when Munt = Cunt was daubed on the side of the garage. A cop was posted outside the front door. Jason said, ‘I’ve got nothing to hide.’
Meantime, Carly’s face was plastered all over the front of the tabloids. They picked out an old innocent one, her peering out in full choir garb. Jason remained the prime suspect. He was questioned more times, but not re-arrested. They poked at his branding, said it seemed soldered in. Another window went. Folk were getting pretty fed up with what they reckoned he was hiding. Then the Furnishes came out in a TV press conference. They sat in line – mother, father, and some of Carly’s brothers and sisters. The mother had red rings round her eyes. The father hid his face and blabbed. The mother said, ‘please – find our angel’. Then she said they were not discounting Jason’s story about the little green men.
It turned out the Furnishes were one of ten different households who’d dialled 999 on the night of Carly’s disappearance to report strange lights glowing out over the car park woods. Some said they’d seen a round sort of spaceship. Some reported light rays. Almost all the households were from the Furnishes’ own street. Their back yards had plain views out over the landfill to the car park woods. Some reckoned it wasn’t aliens they’d seen, but a bunch of mutant offspring they’d pitched out with the trash. The cops said they were not discounting anything at this stage. Bobby Lunn came forward and said next day he’d found a pair of his prize milk herd with their inners cut out neat and not a drop of blood in sight. He’d reckoned on it being a bit of a rum do but he’d hauled the carcasses off and burned them up before he’d been of a mind to re-think his findings. ‘I ain’t got time for believing in no aliens,’ Bobby Lunn said. ‘I got jobs to do. But still.‘
Press and TV poured in over the hill. They parked up their satellite trucks on the village green. Did their own door-stepping. Hauled in UFOlogists and private investigators with them. The cash they flashed wasn’t half helping folk open up their gobs a bit.
‘I seen the lights,’ said Mary Lomax. ‘I stood there on the front lawn with the wind whipping up. I had that same kind of paralysed feeling, just like the boy said.’
Jody Morgan said, ‘me and Carly, we’re best friends. The day before, she said, ‘I got a feeling something weird’s going to happen.’ I thought she meant, like, boys. I’m dead scared now, in case they come back for me.’ She posed for pictures with a concerned face and a crop-top.
Cathy Allen, the Furnishes’ neighbour, said, ‘the whole house shook.’
A huffer named Ged Skaife said he’d seen a girl seeming to fly in the woods that night. ‘I never thought nothing of it,’ he said. ‘I seen lots of things, some true, some not.’ No-one paid him for his story, so he sat on the village green and blew out his maybe-truths through a brown paper bag.
A bunch of photos emerged supposedly of the spaceship. One paper said, ‘PROOF!’ Another got a photo expert to insist they were fakes made with angle-poise lamps and a couple of mirrors.
Jason got an agent and told the same story he'd already told the cops to a tabloid. He lifted his shirt to show his crescent-shaped branding. He said it felt like his insides had been poked around. He said he’d been planning to ask Carly to marry him. He said, ‘one minute, I was getting down on one knee. The next minute, whoosh! My Carly was gone.’
Course, Jason quick-clammed up as part of the deal. So the others printed stories about him and Carly Furnish. Got girls to tell how Jason could come over all sicko with that temper of his. Dredged up the kid with the temazepam gran. Got boys to come forward saying never mind aliens, Carly Furnish was away with the fairies all right. One said she’d let him see plenty more than the light with her on a church camping weekend just before she’d got zapped. They dangled lie-detector offers in front of Jason. He told them, ‘there’s a girl out there.’
The Furnishes got papped heading back from the shops with bags of crisps and beer. The mother said, ‘the world don’t stop for the rest of us.’ Then she said, ‘where ever you are, just bring our little girl back.’ The father said, ‘the truth is out there.’ Then, ‘I ain’t being funny.’
Jason and the Furnishes became sort-of celebrities. They even took to sharing press conference platforms. They said, ‘we know Jason wouldn’t do our girl no harm.’ They said, ‘he’ll always be like a son-in-law to us.’ They rolled up together on breakfast TV. Jason repeated, ‘I know how it sounds, but it’s true. They were little and green. If I’d made it up, don’t you think I’d have done better?’ They did set-up pieces in shiny magazines. They did book deals, appointed ghost-writers. The mother said, ‘we've got to keep it in the public eye.’ Summer came, and they sat out long nights in the bubble pool. Slowly, eventually, the satellite trucks and the wacko hangers-on shipped out.
The cops pretty much shut the book on it. Said the most likely explanation was that Jason nodded off in some fantasy dream, and Carly simply got up and left. Suggested missing persons bureaus, got a slot on Crimewatch. Jody Morgan played Carly with too-frizzed hair. The Furnishes’ agent alleged an MOD cover-up.
Exactly one year after her disappearance, the cops got loads of calls that the bright lights were back. The same people said they were just like before. A few hours later, Keith Furnish found Carly walking dazed in the car park woods. Said he’d just woke up real early and had an inkling. Carly was even thinner and paler-looking. She was still wearing the same black dress she’d worn the night she went. Hair still hanging dead straight. The Furnishes locked themselves away and said they needed time. The satellite trucks rolled back in. That night, the whole village heard the party.
Next day, Carly squinted into the TV lights. Jason clasped her hand and smiled at the cameras. Her mother patted her shoulder. Carly said, ‘I got beamed up, I don’t know.’ The room strained to hear. A tabloid paid for more words. She said, ‘they looked after me good. Somehow, it doesn’t seem I’ve been away that long.’ They shot Carly in a bikini. They made her up heavy and scrimped up her hair. Finally, she looked as hot as we always knew she could. They had her give Jason a kiss. She strained her lips. The headline said, ‘BEAM ME UP, HOTTIE!’
The Furnishes got a bigger bubble pool out of it. It fitted a whole lot better in their bigger house too. In a week, they had the new neighbours call the cops out four times. They stayed up all night drinking, ramped their cars across other people’s lawns. They shouted, ‘what the hell, we got our girl back!’ They sprayed champagne at passers-by.
Jason got a place of his own and said he was going to be a full-time UFOlogist. Carly didn’t often venture out in public, and Sunday choir never would never sound so sweet. Their books clogged the top of the best-seller chart for weeks. Judging by the new cars and label-clothes around the place, they weren’t the only ones to make a fair wodge.
There were those who said they couldn’t begrudge the Furnishes their better lifestyle after all they’d been through, what with having already lost their eldest to the mermaid thing and all. There were others who maintained all along it was a bunch of old bullshit.
The one paper pushed on with the anti-Furnish line, claimed the whole thing was nothing but an elaborate hoax from start to finish. Said Carly had spent the best part of the year holed up in a hidden corner of Bobby Lunn’s hay loft. They couldn’t ask Bobby Lunn, as he’d blown his brains out with a shotgun soon after foot-and-mouth came and finished off what the aliens had started. Mary Lomax said there never were lights. She said, ‘they offered cash. I didn’t ask.’ The cops stepped up their grilling but the rest of the folk concerned kept mum.
Pretty much the whole village turned out for Jason and Carly’s wedding at the church she used to sing. Guests were frisked for cameras. A glossy magazine sent Carly twice up the aisle, making double-sure of its money’s worth. It had her repeat her vows a little louder. Carly sparkled in her off-the-shoulder dress. Her hair was frizzed and she’d got a few square meals inside her all right. They exited to the Wedding March. Half-way through, the notes went wavy and turned the tune into the theme from Star Trek. Folk laughed. Outside, the dark drew in and the stars beamed especially bright.

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