The house was still. Its creaks and groans had ceased as it settled itself for the rest of the night. Jenny listened to the regular breathing of Mogg, asleep at her feet. The child turned her body to one side, the cat opening one eye as she disturbed his pussy dreams. Jenny thought she had heard a strange sound. She lay still, holding her breath, ears searching the night. No sound came; she let out a yawn, closed her eyes and pulled the covers around her head. Something knocked. Jenny froze, waiting for another sound to permeate the darkness. She sat up, staring ahead, her nine-year-old ears tuned for any noise that might break the silence. She climbed out of the warm blankets, fitted her feet into slippers and crept towards the door. Mogg looked up. What was happening, was Jenny about to give him food? He uncurled his black body, stretched, and jumped from the bed to join her as she peered into the dark hallway. The comforting sound of her father's snores floated through the air. Jenny thought of waking him, bleary eyed, but what if it was her imagination? Feeling foolish, she turned back to bed.
The knock came again. Her heart leaped in her chest, she stood
for a moment, undecided, before putting on a red flannel dressing gown
and walking into the hallway. The cat mewed, following her.
Jenny put her finger to rosebud lips.
"Ssshhh" she murmured, moving further toward the stairs. Her initial thoughts were of burglars stealing the family treasure, except there was no treasure in the house, unless you counted the jar of change into which Mother would dip to pay for ice creams when the van came round. Ever since Dad had been diagnosed as having cancer, there never seemed to be enough money. The medicines were so expensive, her Mum said,
"We have to spend less on sweets to help Daddy." Jenny wished that she could give all her toys to cure her Dad, he was so ill, spending much of his time in bed or in hospital. She pushed thoughts of the family crisis to the back of her mind as another noise came from below.
Jenny bravely approached the top of the stairs. She saw no signs of disturbance as she peered through the carved railings, the familiar smell of the lower part of the house wafting upwards; a warm, comfortable smell of lived-in rooms. Jenny hesitated, trying to decide if the sound were serious enough to wake her parents. Mum hated to be woken up quickly and Jenny was sure she'd be angry if there was nothing to worry about. No, better take a look herself first, then if it was a real burglar she could shout at the top of her lungs to bring her parents down to deal with him. She eased her foot onto the top step, careful to avoid the creak near the wall, her fingers clutched at the banister rail and she almost lifted herself down each step, silently as a cloud. Halfway to the bottom Jenny paused, waiting to hear another knock that would announce the presence of a stranger in the house. No sound came.
Mogg trotted down the steps, he thought this was a good excuse for a feed, why else would his mistress get out of bed in the middle of the night? His head turned toward the thudding sound which came from the kitchen. The cat stopped in his tracks, poised in the light from the street lamp shining through the glass of the front door. Jenny reached the bottom step, almost falling over him.
A pale blue light lit the space under the kitchen door. Jenny couldn't remember a blue lamp anywhere in the house, never mind the kitchen. She put her ear to the door as the next soft thud sounded. The keyhole revealed no more than a bright blue light, blotting out any details. Jenny's curiosity was aroused, her fear fading behind an all-consuming need to identify the strange blue light in her kitchen. Slowly she turned the round brass handle and, taking a deep breath, opened the door.
What she saw made her jaw drop. A creature of perhaps eighteen inches tall, with two legs, four arms and a pointed head resembling a tear drop resting between its shoulders. The light was coming from its hand, which was holding a bright blue ball. At the sight of Jenny, the little creature jumped, and the light went out.
Jenny's hand shot up to the light switch, the room filled with the
glow of fluorescent tubes. The small visitor cowered beneath the
table. Jenny bent down to survey this strange being.
"Hello," she whispered, it seemed to be the best form of address. Jenny was proud of her manners; Mother always taught her to say please and thank you. The creature looked at her through almond shaped eyes.
It wore a helmet, pointed at the top, fitting snugly around what she imagined to be its ears, although you couldn't be too sure with aliens. It had no nose, but an opening for a mouth. The little girl smiled, showing white teeth. The alien shrank back in alarm. Mogg appeared next to her, obviously interested. He must have looked like a huge wild animal to the small figure. Jenny picked him up, depositing him on the other side of the kitchen door, and closed it.
Looking under the table again, Jenny smiled what she hoped was her
most welcoming smile, trying to make the midnight caller feel more relaxed.
She wondered if it could understand her, but having seen enough episodes
of 'Star Trek' she knew it had a translating machine, all aliens did, even
the Klingons spoke English.
"I am Jenny. Who are you?" The creature stared at her, its almond eyes widening. "Can you talk?"
The newcomer leaned forward and grunted. Jenny thought its language was very limited if that was the best it could do. She asked again,
"Can you talk? Do you know English?"
"I speak you planet," was the reply. Jenny tried to understand, then gave up.
"What did you say?" The alien appeared impatient, its small hands rested on its hips, or at least where they would have been had its body shown curves, and it said again,
"I speak you Earth talk." Jenny was delighted; this was more fun than playing with dolls at Susan Mitchell's house.
"Do you want something to eat?" she asked politely, (mother always offered guests something to eat and drink). The stranger crept out of its hiding place, standing a full eighteen inches from the top of its pointed head to its tiny feet, which Jenny noticed had three very long toes, like the feet of a big bird. It wore blue leggings under a thigh length tunic; a belt wrapped around the middle held an assortment of small boxes and buttons.
"Me Laaj, you name?" It said.
"Jenny," answered the girl, "where are you from?"
"Planet Killin, long way."
"How did you come to our house? Have you got a spaceship?" asked Jenny excitedly. She would love to see a real spaceship.
"Ship there." Laaj pointed over his head, (Jenny had deemed it to be a male), she looked at the kitchen ceiling, half expecting to see a flying saucer hovering near the strip light.
"There, many distance," continued the alien, pointing straight up. "Me here, not go ship. Problem beam gun." He held up the box he had been holding in his tiny hand. Jenny understood, 'ET' after all, was one of her favourite films. Wow, wait 'til Susan Mitchell hears about this, her very own ET in the kitchen, that would show her! As he spoke, Laaj pushed a button on the box and the room was flooded again with blue light. Jenny thought this must be signalling device to warn the spaceship of his return, she had seen Captain Kirk use his communicator many times, and judged this box to be Laaj's version.
Opening the refrigerator, she picked up a carton of strawberry milk,
then taking out two small glasses from a cupboard. She poured them
both a drink. Laaj eyed the liquid suspiciously before putting it
to his mouth, as Jenny was doing. He drank with a loud sucking sound,
having no lips to curl around the rim of the glass.
"Uuullgh" was the sound he made. Jenny was unsure if this was delight or disgust, but as his face screwed into a grimace, she realised strawberry milk was not something he liked. Taking his glass, she drank it herself. She sat on the floor to make it easier for her small guest; she didn't want him getting a stiff neck staring up at her all the time.
"What are you going to do?" she asked, her expression serious. Laaj looked at the floor sadly, he shrugged tiny shoulders. Jenny felt sorry for him, but didn't know what to do, she tried to remember what had happened in the film, but Steven Spielberg wasn't here to help.
The blue glow faded, perhaps the batteries had run out, though Jenny,
and almost offered the little visitor another set, her Dad kept them in
the drawer by the cooker. Laaj put the box back onto his belt.
"Perhaps if you went outside, your beam gun would work," offered Jenny, trying to be helpful.
"Ship go." Said Laaj, "come back later, maybe."
"Oh dear, what can we do until then?" Jenny was thinking of the hour, her parents would not take kindly to an alien species under their kitchen table when Mother came down to make breakfast. Her mother would probably have a fainting fit and make Dad try to kill it.
"Look, we’d better go up to my room. If my Mum comes down and sees you, there'll be a row. It might be easier if I carry you, then Mogg won't get at you. OK?" Laaj thought about this for a moment then nodded his head. Jenny picked him up and opened the kitchen door quietly, turning off the light. As she walked out, Mogg shot past, searching for the new entertainment but by the time he realised the alien was gone, Jenny had climbed up the stairs.
She closed her bedroom door softly as the cat scampered up to it.
He scratched and mewed to be admitted, but the door remained closed.
Laaj was very frightened at the sound. Jenny tried to comfort him.
"Don't be afraid, it's only Mogg, he won't hurt you," she said, "I won't let him in, anyway." The alien seemed glad to hear this. He stood in the centre of the room, surveying the furniture.
Seeing her bookcase, he went over to it and fingered the books. As his tiny hands moved over them he pulled one on to the floor. He leapt back in surprise. Jenny smiled, picking up the book; it was the junior encyclopaedia that Auntie May had bought her for Christmas.
"What this?" asked Laaj, indicating the book.
It's a book, with words and pictures in it, it's called an encyclopaedia, and has information in to help you learn.
"Book? Book." Said her companion. He studied the pages, touching them. Jenny could tell this was the first time he'd seen a book. She told him about writing as a way of communicating, Laaj seemed to understand, but couldn't read the words in the books. Jenny took a dictionary from the top shelf, showing him the lists of words inside.
Suddenly he stopped, staring at the books and shook from head to
toe, like a jelly when touched.
"This good! This good!" he cried, his small finger pointing at the volumes. Jenny was pleased, it was fun talking with aliens.
"Me take to Killin?" asked Laaj, he explained in his broken English that there were wise men amongst his people who could read the books. Jenny thought there were much more interesting stories in the bookcase. She pulled out a volume of 'Lord of the Rings.
"This is much nicer than those, why don't you take this one instead?" Laaj studied the book for a moment, comparing it with the books of knowledge.
"No, this good for Killin, want information."
"Is that why you came here, for information?" asked Jenny. Laaj nodded in his funny wooden way. Jenny thought she understood, the small creature was gathering knowledge for his people about her species, that was why he'd appeared in her kitchen.
"All right, you take them" The books were so large he could not lift them. He laid them out side by side and took another small box from his belt. Pressing a button, a blue beam shone on them, and Jenny gasped as she saw their size reduced to that of a matchbox. Turning off the beam, Laaj picked up the books, storing them in a pouch hanging from his belt.
"How clever, I wish I could do that to some people I know," giggled the little girl.
She watched as he toured the room, touching things here and there,
looking quizzically at her for explanations of their use. When she
brushed her curls with a hairbrush, he was astounded. Obviously people
on his planet had no hair and would not need brushes. Jenny wondered
what it would be like to have no hair, the thought made her shiver.
The radio took some explaining. Laaj couldn't understand that it was a one way communication, useless for calling his ship. He kept making odd sounds into the speaker, but all that came out was static. He turned his attention to Jenny herself, feeling her hair, skin, and fingernails (he had no nails at all) and asking various questions in broken English. Jenny asked him about his home, but he would only say the same phrase over and over,
"Long way, much distance."
She yawned, now very tired. Entertaining extra-terrestrials was tiring work. Lying on the bed, her eyelids grew heavy. She watched Laaj investigating her child-sized dressing table with its many coloured bottles of pretend perfume. Everything was interesting to him, even her shoes. Jenny thought about the look on Susan Mitchell's face when she showed her the creature, she would be so jealous. Just because her Dad was rich and she had more toys than anyone else. Jenny lay on her bed, fighting to keep her eyes open. Laaj must have thought she was ill, because he came over and placed his right hand on her head, as a doctor might do. Jenny felt a warmth spreading from her forehead, then it felt like an eye were inside her head. She couldn't move. The little alien kept his hand on her brow. Jenny knew that he was reading her mind, drinking in all the knowledge she possessed to take back to the strange blue-clad people of his world. The almond eyes widened and he looked at her intently, then released his hold on her mind. He leaned closer to her face and breathed into her nostrils. That was the last thing Jenny could remember.
Next morning, Laaj was gone. Jenny looked under the bed, in
the wardrobe, no spacemen were hiding there. She heard her mother
calling from the kitchen.
"Jennifer!" Oh dear, what had she done now? Mum only called her Jennifer when it was serious. Feeling a bit scared, she walked slowly downstairs. Mother was preparing breakfast. As her daughter appeared, she glowered.
"What were you doing last night? I found two glasses and a carton of strawberry milk on the table this morning, did you come down for a drink?"
"Yes Mummy, I was thirsty."
"Well you can just wash the glasses and do the dishes after breakfast, OK?" said her mother. Jenny agreed. She felt relieved as she went back to her bedroom. Had it been a dream? Did she imagine the little alien being? She was beginning to think so when her eyes rested on the spaces in the bookcase. Jenny grinned, it had not been a dream, she knew.
Dressing, she wondered if he would be back to visit again, perhaps to gain a little more of the knowledge she had given to his people. She counted the books, there were plenty of them to chose from; perhaps next time he would take the 'Chronicles of Narnia,' she felt sure that the inhabitants of Killin would benefit from that.
It was the day for Dad to go to the hospital for his scan.
They usually went in a taxi, and as it was half term, Jenny went too.
She stared at all the white-coated figures rushing around the corridors
of the Radiology department. After waiting for half an hour, the
doctor called Dad inside. Jenny flicked through the pages of a magazine,
she was bored. She sat next to Mum for a long time before the doctor
opened the door, calling them into his office. Mother clutched Jenny's
hand tightly as they walked in. She sat on a comfortable chair, Jenny
standing next to her, staring shyly at the important man in the white coat.
He smiled broadly, shaking his head before he spoke.
"Well, Mrs Bristow, I don't know what to say. I've never seen anything like it in my entire career as a cancer specialist. If I hadn't seen it for myself I would have called the staff liars. It appears that your husband's cancer cells have disappeared completely. It's as though they were never there, his bowel is in better condition than I've seen in younger men." Mother's jaw hung like a pendulum from her top teeth. Tears formed in her eyes, the doctor handed her a tissue. Jenny stared at each in turn, coming to terms with the news in her own childish fashion. Daddy was cured. No more cancer in Daddy's stomach, wonderful!
At home later, Dad sat in his favourite armchair nursing a glass
of champagne. Jenny stood by him, smiling with love at his tearful
face. He was relating a dream he had dreamed the night before.
"So this little chap, no taller than your knee, comes up to the bed, puts his hand on my head, then on my stomach. All blue he was, with a pointed head. Looked very strange, like he was from another planet. Then I heard this voice in my head say "Thank you for the books." Weirdest thing I ever dreamed. Very strange, not a nightmare, just a funny little pixie standing next to me. Any more bubbly left darling?"
Jenny grinned at her father, sipping the little glass of champagne,
which she was allowed on this special day. She would like to tell
Daddy about Laaj, except that he would think she'd made it up or, like
him, had dreamed him. Bubbles tickled her nose as she lifted the
"I wonder if Laaj needs some more books?" she thought happily.