Far Off Hives 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 ship which holds our planet. A copper skin of lines and lights that is, for that moment, a shell before it fades, becomes transparent, becomes the night sky again. It’s August, warm and hazy, and each of the billion stars shines proud with the promise of our new home.

The drums 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 billow with dead possessions and roast our meats and fruits and chunks of mallow, while fireworks unzip the sky with their orgasms.

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 and love and 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 at the costumed, at the fire breathers, at the drag queens on glorious stilts, 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, wading through their last earthbound dreams.

Be ready

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 species 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 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 Starman 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. 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, shag and sing: take us at our best.

We will take you to your heaven

This time the ship does not fade. The thrill shocks through us all like lightning. There are screams, shaking hearts, failed legs. Loved ones rush to reunite, children are woken and snap to attention, clothes are flung off and cast into flames. Arms raise and reach… and reach…

No drums now, no horns or songs; we are hushed. The drunk are nudged and hoisted up, children appear on shoulders, breaths are held. We huddle and swell. Fingers grasp 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 moan as we stretch our spines, strain our toes. Hairs lift, skin shimmers.

There is much to learn

We are tickled.

Feet first, then legs, waists, shoulders and arms.

In the gaps 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 sways and shoves as 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. All the 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.

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.

About The Author

David Hartley writes strange stories about strange things for people who like to be strange. His work has appeared in Ambit, Black Static, Structo, The Ghastling, The Shadow Booth, and other such spooky places and he can often be found haunting the spoken word nights of Manchester and beyond. He is currently finishing off a PhD in Creative Writing at The University of Manchester where he has written a novel about autism and the afterlife. He lives in Manchester with one human, two rabbits and thirteen guinea pigs.

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