by Samantha Memi
In the fireplace the fire flickered. On the mantelpiece the old clock ticked. Sitting opposite the fire, staring into the flames, sat Henry Giles, lamenting the passing of his wife. After 32 years of blissful marriage, he doubted he could ever be happy again.
At Rosebud Flowers, Molly McMichaels prepared the wreaths for the burial of Hilda Giles. She had known Hilda all her life; they had gone to school together, and she had been with Hilda and Henry when their only daughter, Geraldine, was killed by a drunk driver while she was cycling to the shop for her mum.
Cindy Price, just 18, was on her way to meet her boyfriend at the train station. As she drove along Simple Street she swerved to avoid a cyclist who was in far too much of a hurry. The cyclist raced away but Cindy crashed into the florist’s.
Molly looked out the window, and rushed outside. —Cindy, are you all right?
—My dad’s going to be so angry.
—It’s his car.
Molly helped her inside.
Cindy’s boyfriend, Frank, waited at the station. He was used to waiting for Cindy, but after 20 minutes he decided to walk. Perhaps he would meet her on the way. As he got to the top of the hill overlooking Tillington he saw the evening sun retiring behind the hills, and he thought how pretty the village looked.
Suddenly the sky darkened when a huge flying saucer floated down and hovered over the valley. He stood unbelieving. The spaceship cast a shadow as big as the moon and turned the day into night. It lingered silently, as if waiting; gleaming metal and flashing lights. Frank stared, spellbound.
In the neighbouring village of Penningsham, Samantha Memi, author of this story, looked out of her window and was delighted to see the flying saucer hovering. It was a beautiful craft, shiny like a mirror and with lights and fins and turrets dotted all over it, exactly as she had imagined. Excited, she returned to her desk to fill in the details about the fins and turrets.
At the Penningsham Police Station, Sergeant Blogs was looking over the report by Constable Flinker about Miss McVie’s bicycle which had been stolen from outside the Post Office.
—So no one saw it go?
—No, Sarge. Jenny – Miss McVie – came out of the Post Office and there was her bike, gone.
Sergeant Blogs looked out the window and saw the flying saucer hovering over Tillington. —My God, Flinker, look at that.
They went over to the window. —I know what that is Sarge. It’s Miss Memi down at The Lodge. I’ll bet she’s writing one of her stupid stories again. Remember when she wrote about the Titanic sailing through someone’s hotel room.
—I read about it in the Sunday Echo.
—She should have been jailed for that.
Suddenly the spaceship dropped out of the sky. There was a bright flash, the ground shook and a fiery cloud of dust rose up into the atmosphere.
The two policemen stood by the window, transfixed.
From the hill, Frank watched the spaceship crash onto the village. As the billowing smoke engulfed him, the blast knocked him over and he slid down the hill into the exploding inferno. The village was gone, just the shattered wreck of a flying saucer, sparking and smoking.
Samantha felt the ground rumble and shake as if an earthquake had struck. She turned to see her beloved spaceship fall. An explosion lit the room, shattered the windows, nearly knocked her off her feet, then the dreadful noise of crunching metal. The sky turned red and a cloud of dust, thrown into the air, mushroomed, flashing and cracking with explosions, till the world was black with smoke.
Oh my God, she thought, what have I done?
At the police station, the sergeant, watching the dust settle, realised this was an emergency. —Constable, find Blatchett and get the car, we have to do something about this.
At the same moment Constable Flinker ran to get the car, the dastardly Ms. Memi, knowing she would be blamed for the catastrophe, rushed upstairs to pack a few belongings.
I’ll go see Daphne in Paris, she thought, stay there till everything is forgotten. She threw clothes in a case. What would she need in Paris? Did France have an extradition policy with Britain? She thought it probably did. After Paris, she’d fly to Buenos Aires. She was sure she’d be safe there. She packed her laptop, checked through her papers, and phoned a travel agent for the next flight to Paris: not for two hours. She phoned her bank to sort out her money; she didn’t want her account frozen by the police.
She hurried down the stairs and into the kitchen to grab a sandwich for the journey to the airport. Then she dragged her case along the hall, checking her hair and make-up in the mirror as she passed. When she opened the front door, Sergeant Blogs and Constable Flinker were there to greet her.
—Going somewhere Samantha?
—I thought I’d take a weekend break.
—Bit sudden, isn’t it.
—Been planning it for weeks.
—Know anything about a flying saucer crashing on Tillington?
—A flying saucer? Blimey. When did that happen?
—Blimey, would you Adam ‘n’ Eve it?
—You wouldn’t have anything to do with that, would you?
—You haven’t been trying to write science fiction then? chirped in Constable Flinker.
—I would never dream of doing such a thing, said Samantha, innocently.
—Nevertheless, you’ll have to come along with us, said Sergeant Blogs.
—I’m under arrest?
—We’ll take a visit to Tillington. So you can see what you’ve done.
—But I didn’t …
The police car wound its way through country roads covered in white ash, past smoking fields and burnt fences. A haze of particulates hung in the air. Stillness reigned. No bird, no animal moved.
—There’s Tillington, said the sergeant when they drove over a hill and saw the smouldering wreck of the flying saucer lying in the valley below. —That’s what you’ve done!
They drove down to take a closer look.
—My God, said Constable Flinker. —My God.
Twisted metal stood in the air like the twisted limbs of giant robots. Occasional flashes lit up the evening sky. The smoking ruins shocked Samantha; she swore to herself she would never write another story. When they stepped out of the car, the air was acrid and choking.
Through the swirls of dust and smoke a figure staggered. Burnt and disfigured, he stumbled towards the group. It was Bert Higgins, the grocer’s son. When he saw Samantha, he pointed and screamed, —You! You bitch! Why can’t you write proper stories where people fall in love and live happily for the rest of their lives? Why d’you have to make people suffer? What have I ever done to you?
Samantha broke down. She realised what Bert said was true.
—Oh Bert, I’m sorry, I thought the saucer would hover.
—Hover! You crazy bitch. What do you know about space travel?
—Come on Bert, we’ll get you to a hospital, and throw this idiot in jail.
—Drop a flying saucer on her head, see how she feels, moaned Bert.
In the car Sergeant Blogs worked out a charge sheet for Samantha and wrote down a few questions he wanted to ask. Samantha cried, not because she felt sorry for what she’d done, but because she was frightened of what may happen to her.
—Flooding Hackney so the Titanic could sail through is nothing in comparison with this, eh, Samantha, said Constable Flinker.
—Honestly Archie, I just wanted to write a story.
—I think you do a little too much of that, said Sergeant Blogs. —Stick to things you’re good at – like watching daytime TV.
Constable Flinker sniggered.
They took Samantha back to the police station for interrogation and locked her in a small, grey, windowless room with flickering fluorescent light. She wondered if the best thing to do would be to feign madness and fall to the floor and writhe, but realised she would probably be given an injection which might contain a truth drug and that would make matters even worse for her. It was a paradoxical situation: if she feigned insanity, she would be locked up for life; if she admitted guilt, she would be locked up for life. She decided to deny all charges, but if cornered, admit to everything and plead forgiveness. She hoped her childhood friendship with Archie Flinker would help.
Sergeant Blogs and a detective came in and sat at the table opposite her. The sergeant pointed a desk lamp in her face. He was sure it was the way to interrogate a prisoner.
The detective coughed. —Samantha Memi, I have reason to believe you were behind the crash of a flying saucer on Tillington a few hours ago.
—I don’t know anything about it.
The detective looked at Sergeant Blogs, who took a large manila envelope out of a briefcase, leant on the table and stared at Samantha.
—You admitted it when Bert Higgins accused you.
—I was confused.
—Confused? said the detective. —What gives you the right to bring destruction on a peaceful, unassuming village?
Sergeant Blogs opened the manila envelope and took out a grey quarto notebook. Samantha gasped. He placed the book on the table.
—While we were at your house, Constable Eileen Blatchett entered and found this notebook.
—That’s illegal. You’re not allowed to do that.
—In it is a description of a flying saucer exactly like the flying saucer I saw hovering over Tillington.
—You’re not allowed to go into someone’s house.
—She also found a manuscript which has a paragraph describing a flying saucer hovering over a village and all the inhabitants are taken back to an alien planet, cloned, and returned to Earth in order to take control of said planet.
Smug Sergeant Blogs leant back on his chair.
The detective sneered at Samantha. —But it didn’t work out that way, did it? It crashed, didn’t it? Wiped out the whole village. You’re a murderer, Ms. Memi!
Samantha broke down. She covered her face with her hands and pretended to cry. —Oh my God oh my God oh my God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t think it would crash. Sometimes things happen even though you don’t want them to. I didn’t want things to be like that. Please don’t put me in prison. I’d die in prison.
—Tell that to the inhabitants of Tillington.
—I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I didn’t think a flying saucer would fall out of the sky.
—Why were you trying to write science fiction?
—You need skill to write science fiction, skill and passion, passion and …
At that moment the door opened and in shuffled an elderly white-bearded gentleman who stooped as if he were ill. It was Professor Shuttlewert from the Ministry of Defence.
The detective stood. —Ah, Professor, I’m so glad you could come.
—Good evening. I came as soon as I could. And you are?
—Detective Davies of Marsham CID, and this is Sergeant Blogs, Penningsham Constabulary.
—I suppose this sad looking creature is the so-called writer who caused all this mess.
A chair was brought in for the professor, and when he sat, it scraped on the tiled floor and jangled Samantha’s nerves.
The professor took his spectacles out of their case, wiped them with a spotlessly clean handkerchief, put them on and stared at Samantha for a few seconds. He saw a pathetic creature, squirming in her chair like a sullen schoolgirl caught cheating at exams.
He took some papers out of an attaché case. Samantha said nothing, wondering if she could babble enough to make the professor think she was a bit doolally; not enough to need an injection, but enough to justify a lighter sentence.
—Your name is Samantha Memi? asked the professor.
—Yes. Actually I was going to be called Isabelle, but shortly after I was born, a nurse called Samantha saved me because the cord was caught round my neck so they changed …
—Your name is Samantha?
—Yes, but …
The professor held up a finger to silence her.
—Apparently the police believe you caused the destruction of the village of Tillington.
—Yes, that’s true, but it was an accident. You see what happened was …
—She was trying to write science fiction, said the detective.
—Really? Why did you want to do that?
—I think science fiction is popular. I haven’t actually read very much. In fact, if the truth be known …
—Just answer the questions! ordered the detective.
Samantha decided to do as she was told, hoping this would please them.
—So you want to be popular? asked the professor.
—Yes. None of my books sell, so I thought I’d try something different.
—Without much success apparently.
—It seems you were writing about a flying saucer. Tell me, exactly, what you were trying to do.
Samantha was pleased with this question. She loved talking about her writing.
—Well, the flying saucer was going to send green rays into each of the houses and beam the occupants up and shrink them, ready to take back to its home planet.
—How did it hover?
—The spacecraft; how did it hover?
—Um … It had an anti-gravity force.
—And you’d worked that out before you wrote the story?
—You didn’t just make it up when I asked the question?
—Because you hesitated before you answered.
—I wasn’t sure what you meant.
—How did this anti-gravity force work?
—Um … It, um … I’m not sure. It just sort of …
—You need to know things if you want to write science fiction.
—I do know things.
—You don’t know how it worked?
—I know it flew at warp speed.
—Um … I’m not sure. I think it’s really fast.
—Did it spin?
—Um … I don’t think so.
—If it didn’t spin, how did it fly? Everyone knows flying saucers spin. Don’t they Sergeant?
The Sergeant gave a slight nod of his head. —Indeed they do.
—And if they don’t spin they crash.
—I didn’t know that.
—Shouldn’t writers know what they’re writing about?
—I suppose so.
The professor turned a page of the file on the table.
—Do you care about them?
—Of course I do.
—You remember Henry Giles?
—He never got to bury his wife.
—And Frank, he never got to marry his childhood sweetheart.
—Childhood sweethearts never have successful marriages.
—Not with you they don’t. They never get the chance.
Samantha looked at the floor, still wondering if writhing would help her.
—Here’s what you wrote about Eric Coggins.
—Apart from the fact that there aren’t any blacksmiths in the 21st Century, what do you suppose happened to Eric?
—There might be some blacksmiths.
—What happened to him?
—I don’t know.
—I’ll tell you what happened to him. He got burnt to death. That’s what happened to him. And his son too. Is that any way to treat characters?
—I suppose not.
—I should think not.
The professor shuffled through some more papers, and just as Samantha decided to throw herself on the floor, he looked at her. —You said the village folk were to be beamed into the spacecraft and shrunk. Why did you want them shrunk?
—Ah, yes! So they didn’t take up a lot of room on the journey back.
—But from the reports I’ve read, and having seen pictures of the crash site, it would seem the craft was nearly a mile across.
—Well, when I started the story, it wasn’t very big, but it sort of grew. I thought it would be nice to have a cafe and a dance hall and somewhere for kids to hang out, and a nursery.
The professor looked bemused. —Nursery? Flying saucers don’t have nurseries. They have rooms full of machines that buzz and whine and show flashing lights in red and green. And an intercom that barks, Cholilo, to flight deck immediately! And doors that swish open and say, Hello, have a good day. Sergeant, have you ever heard of a flying saucer with a nursery?
—No, can’t say I have.
—This is what gets you into so much trouble Ms. Memi. You need to know what you’re doing when you write. If you were cooking apple pie would you use raspberries and pizza dough? Would you?
—Well … not for apple pie, no.
—Why don’t you stick to writing about things you know, like romances between doors and doorknobs? Your incompetent writing is what killed those people, as sure as day is day and night is night.
Samantha hung her head, pretending to be ashamed.
The professor stood and his chair screeched on the floor and rasped Samantha’s nerves again.
—Well, thank you Detective, Sergeant. I’ll complete my report and get it to you as soon as possible. This is a very dangerous prisoner. Watch her carefully, and on no account allow her to have any writing material. I will recommend she be disposed of secretly. She’s a Q12 transferral.
The professor, leaving, turned back to add, —Obviously I don’t need to remind you this affair is subject to the Official Secrets Act. The MoD will create a story about a chemical truck exploding, or maybe a terrorist attack. Well, goodbye.
The Sergeant stood and shook the professor’s hand. —Goodbye Professor.
The Detective saw the professor out, and when the door closed Sergeant Blogs turned to Samantha and said, —All right, come on.
—No, please, wait, Mr. Blogs.
—Sergeant to you.
—You’ve known me since I was a child. I played in your house with your daughter, Marie. I never did anyone any harm.
—Well, there was the time you took young Tilly Smith and …
—But I didn’t mean her any harm. Look, I have 300,000 in the bank and it’s all yours if I can go free. 300,000.
—So, I’ll add bribery to the list of charges.
—You won’t. You wouldn’t do that!
—You’re a mass murderer. Why should I help you?
Samantha opened her purse, —And my wedding ring, and look, another wedding ring, and another.
—How many husbands have you had?
—Six or seven.
—So why don’t you ask them to help you?
—I killed them.
—What a wonderful creature you are.
—I’m a novice writer. What else am I supposed to do with husbands?
—You disgust me.
—At least, let me have a notebook and pen. I can’t live if I don’t write.
Sergeant Blogs opened the door and ushered the complaining prisoner out.
—Ah, Constable Flinker, escort 039 Memi to the cells, will you.
Constable Flinker took Samantha down a metal staircase to an underground passage containing the police cells. It was cold and dank and Samantha snivelled. She got no sympathy from Archie Flinker. He’d had a hard life, and his favourite uncle had died in the tragedy at Tillington. He had no reason to feel sorry for Samantha, but when she said, —Archie, listen, he listened.
—Look, she said, —we’ve known each other since school. Remember behind the bike sheds?
—Cor, yeah. I loved you then.
—I know you did. And I was mean, I know. But I’m better now. You know I wouldn’t kill those people, don’t you?
—I’ve got 300,000 in the bank. It’s all yours. All you have to do is let me go.
—I can’t do that, Samantha. 300,000 quid ain’t much nowadays.
—And my house. You can have that.
—It needs a lot of work done to it.
—There’s land. A lot of land.
—So there is. You bought old Seb’s fields, I remember. I always wanted to be a farmer. Do you remember?
—I do. You did. That’s right.
—But how can I be sure I’ll get the farm and the money?
—Through my lawyer. I’ll hand over everything I have to you.
—I can’t do it, Samantha, my conscience won’t allow it. But I’ll tell you what I will do. You give me your house plus £250,000, and I’ll bring you a pen and notebook, okay.
Locked in a cold dark cell, Samantha began a story about the notorious space villain, Amalthea Novata, who had been captured with her conniving cohorts and was on her way to court when the prison van carrying her tumbled over the edge of a cliff and was dashed on the rocks below. Using her laser pen she blew open the rear door just before the truck crashed. She flew up in the air and pressed a button on her lipstick which opened a parachute and she floated safely to Earth.
In the morning Sergeant Blogs collected Samantha from her cell for her appearance in court. Two Ministry of Defence officials had come down from Trewbridge to escort the prisoner to Marsham. After breakfast, which she complained about because her boiled egg was runny, she was handcuffed and put in the prison van. The guards were advised to take the coast road because there were roadworks on the main road causing long delays. Samantha sat in the back of the van with an armed guard. Although she was handcuffed she managed to get her notebook and pen out of her pocket and write a story about a gorgeous woman being taken to prison on false charges of treason. The woman had super mind-over-matter powers, and hypnotised the guard to unlock her handcuffs, and when the van skidded off the road, she escaped.
In the newspapers the following day the headlines screamed that Samantha Memi, recently voted the worst English writer ever, had been killed in a freak accident as she was being transported to Marsham County Court on terrorism charges related to the murderous attack on the village of Tillington.
On TV an eyewitness said he was out with his dog when he saw the van go over the cliff and a woman jumped out of the back and a parachute opened and she floated down to a fishing boat anchored in the bay. Police discredited this report, but theories soon developed to show the possibility that the notorious Memi had escaped and was still alive.
When Archie Flinker left the police force and set up as a farmer at Memi’s old place, suspicions surrounding the case increased but, despite an investigation by the Fraud Squad, nothing could be proved.
For weeks the media was rife with speculation. A book, Whatever Happened to Nasty Memi, was serialised in the Sunday Echo, but the research was inconsistent and no conclusion was reached. Eventually the fuss died down; the terrorist attack on Tillington became local history, and the disappearance of Samantha Memi was forgotten.
In a quiet suburb of Buenos Aries lives a woman called Mariela. That isn’t her real name. She lives quietly in a small house, tends her garden, and works as a ladies’ taxi driver. Fortunately for everyone in the world she rarely puts pen to paper.