Matryoshka by Gareth Jones

Matryoshka
by Gareth Jones | 1,625 words

“Tell us about the aliens, Grandad! What did you do when they came?”

I sighed as two pairs of bright eyes peered up at me from their pillows. The youngest grandchildren were already asleep, but Petr and Mikhael would not sleep until they had heard one of Grandad’s adventures. I had never spoken about my involvement with the aliens. It was fifty years ago – an episode that came and went without much impact on history. The twins had learned about it at school the week before they came to visit. During dinner they recited the ‘facts’ as they knew them, that aliens had come to Russia, been subdued by the army, sued for peace and been granted amnesty by the President, and left, never to return. Then they told us the unofficial version, the stories that constantly circulated and never went away. That the aliens’ ship had been destroyed and that the President allowed them to stay on Earth; that they lived among us still.

“I’m scared,” said seven-year-old Mikhael. “They might sneak up and get me.”

“There’s no need to worry,” their father said. “Grandad was there. He can tell you about them. They won’t come back and get you.”

I managed to avoid elaborating on the story as the dinner things were cleared away and the evening drew on, but now it was time to tell them the tale.

“Were you a Sergeant then?” Petr asked. He loved all the facts about ranks and insignia and liked to make sure he knew which period of my life each story fell into.

“That’s right. I was a Sergeant.” I was proud of my time in the police, in an era when officers were honest and helpful. The boys knew that I always told the truth.

“I was a Sergeant,” I began, “and that day I had my new partner with me. Only his second week on patrol. Officer Sidyuk.”

“Was he the one whose brother was in the police, too?” Mikhael sat up earnestly.

“That’s right, but not till later.” I waited for him to settle down again. “We had a call to go out into the countryside, miles away from town, in the middle of the night. Strange noises and lights, they said. Someone had reported a downed aircraft, but nothing had been called in from the airlines. When we got close, we could see the lights – bright green, glowing from behind a copse of trees. We stopped the car at the edge of the trees – this is the old days, remember: cars drove along the ground.”

“I remember.” A pair of sleepy but determinedly awake voices chorused.

“We could hear the noise then – our engine was noisy, see – a kind of moaning, groaning sound, and smoke, too. We thought the smoke and lights might be from a rave – that’s a kind of party they had in those days – but the sound: that was strange. I was pretty unnerved, but poor Sidyuk, he was really scared.

“We crept through the trees as quiet as we could. The lights got brighter. Everything looked odd, lit up green. Unearthly. When we got to the edge of the trees we saw it.” I paused here and smiled to myself at the boys’ worried expressions.

“It looked like a big armadillo, fifty feet high and made of green metal. The smoke was coming from ’round its legs. We stared at it. When something stepped out of the smoke from underneath it we both fell over backwards into the leaves. It looked like some kind of elephant-spider. I was terrified, I can tell you.

“We decided it was time to call for back-up, so I got on the radio as we ran back to the patrol car. I even locked the door when we got in, but I don’t think that would’ve stopped it if it followed us.

“Control told us to sit tight and monitor while they called in help. Sidyuk still looked green even though we were out of the light. I knew I had to do something to calm him down.”

“What did you do, Grandad?”

“I remembered something my old instructor said, back at police college. It was when I’d climbed up this big old rickety water tower to practice rescue techniques. I got myself so worked up I froze at the top. Couldn’t come back down.”

“_You_ were scared, Grandad?”

“I was terrified. But old Anikov the instructor, he climbed right up there next to me to talk me down. And do you know how he did it?”

“How?”

“He told me a story to take my mind off it. And that’s just what I decided to do to help Sidyuk. I told him the same story that Anikov told me. I’ll tell it to you now.

“Anikov had been in the force his whole life. I don’t know how old he was; about a hundred and three, it seemed to me. When he was much younger, still just a new officer, he was involved in a hunt for a missing girl. She was only ten and had been gone for days. Anikov, some other officers, and some of the local villagers were searching the woods near the village where she lived. Her name was Ana, and they called for her as they went:

““Ana! Ana!” The only sound they heard was the voice of others calling the same name. It was a big forest, much bigger than the one Sidyuk and I were in, and Anikov gradually found himself alone. “Ana! Ana!” The voices got quieter and quieter. Suddenly, Anikov slipped down a muddy bank all covered in slimy leaves. He fell down a deep ditch and landed in a stony stream. He was bruised and muddy and wet, but what a lucky fall it was! There was this little girl, Ana, muddy and bruised and crying. She wore a pretty yellow dress that had got ripped and her ankle was swollen up and hurting. Anikov was glad he found her, and called for someone else to help, but nobody heard. He tried to get Ana to climb out with him, but she was too scared and hurting. Finally, Anikov had an idea. He told her the story of Ingrid and the Wolf. You remember that one?”

Two sleepy boys nodded.

“He told her Ingrid had bravely gone into the forest and saved her grandmother from the wolf, how she chopped its head off with the woodsman’s axe, and how no wolf ever troubled their village again.

“Well, the story worked. Ana decided to be brave like Ingrid. She crawled out of the ditch with Anikov’s help. It hurt her leg, but she didn’t cry. He carried her through the woods back to the village. Everyone was so happy and they called her parents, who came and hugged her and kissed Anikov. It was a lovely story.

“Well, when Anikov finished telling me about this I looked at him and I said “Do you think I am a little girl, to be cheered up by your story?” And do you know what Anikov said to me?”

Two sets of shoulders shrugged.

“No, you are not a little girl, so get down this tower now!”

The boys giggled at this.

“I climbed down as quick as I could, and from then on whenever I was scared I thought of Ana and made myself laugh.

“Well, I told Sidyuk all about Anikov and about Ana. He looked at me very seriously and said:

“Are you saying that _I_ am a little girl?”

I just smiled at him.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I am down the tower now.”

“From then on, Sidyuk didn’t look scared any more. Later on, more patrol cars arrived, then the army. We weren’t allowed back to see the aliens, but before dawn they suddenly took off and disappeared into the sky. They weren’t the only ones, of course. Dozens of them landed, all over the planet. But they were the ones I saw.”

“Wow, Grandad, you were really brave!”

“Just like Ana!”

“Just like Anikov!”

“Just like Ingrid!”

“That’s right boys.” I kissed them both on the forehead. “And do you know what?”

“What, granddad?”

“The aliens were as big as elephants, remember? They’re not still hiding here, waiting to get you.” I tickled them as I said ‘get’.

The boys giggled and wriggled.

“Time to sleep now.” I settled them down, crept out of the room and closed the door softly.

I had kept my word to them and told a true story as always. A story full of excitement and adventure, just as they liked. They hadn’t noticed that this time I didn’t actually do anything.

#

The alien rumbled with enjoyment. The image that the man had of a spider-elephant always amused it. The creature had not spent much time on Earth, but in the fifty years since, it had gleaned much information from the man. The telepathic link established on that night had enabled it to experience everything he had, to know everything he knew, to feel everything he felt. Along with dozens of others who visited on that day, it had built up a comprehensive picture of Earth. They were almost at the point of being able to infiltrate and control those minds, to gain a whole planet full of intelligent creatures as an unknowing workforce.

At the beginning it had been a terrifying thought, losing itself in the mind and body of such a bizarre being from another planet. But the old man had helped him overcome those fears as he got to know him. They would have no trouble blending in when they returned.

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© Gareth Jones 2013

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About the Author

Gareth’s stories have been published in over 40 venues and in 23 languages. He is a father of five who works with hazardous waste, writes stories and drinks lots of tea. You can find out more about him at http://www.garethdjones.co.uk/.

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