Tuesday 25th May
"Goddamnit, get out of the way!"
The large woman in front of me, whose swinging arms occupy those parts of the pavement her central mass doesn't, stiffens. I jump in front of her while she's still shocked and continue up the street at a cracking pace.
That was damned rude. I wouldn't normally have done it but she's been ambling along in front of me forever, frustrating all my attempts to get to work on time.
It's 9.15 in the morning. Regent Street is full of people, but I only care about two at the moment: myself and my employer, who is still some 500 yards away. Heat is making me damp - this early on too - and the high, clear sky's making me squint. A confused mass of Japanese tourists is milling about on the pavement up ahead, instinctively leading me to hug the shopfronts so I can slip by without breaking my stride; but the man on the crossing of Great Marlbrough Street is red, so I have to stop there.
And that's when I suddenly remember.
There's that prickly sensation when you suddenly realise something very important or bad - or both - that you'd forgotten till now. I turn to look back and up towards the high southern sky, almost laughing that I could have forgotten. There's nothing to see, but it should be there somewhere.
Lines of cloud like a Zen sand garden lie across the stratosphere, but it should be clear, it should be... Should be what? What am I looking for? The cute brunette girl in a shop uniform next to me does a double take, catching my eye. She's looking up too.
"What is it?"
She sounds confused.
"What are we looking for?"
And then I notice, everyone is looking towards the sky, towards the same spot that I am.
"I have no idea." I say unhelpfully. "You saw it too?"
"I haven't seen anything," she says, "I thought..."
Another, older, woman in a business suit looks down, toward us and around her. The traffic has stopped and it is all of a sudden remarkably quiet. I can see people craning their necks out of taxis, huddled towards one side in buses, shielding their eyes on the other side of the road, all trying to catch a glimpse. As nothing happens some of them begin to look around at other people. A car horn honks, then another.
It would be hilarious if it didn't involve absolutely everybody in sight. Some of them are still looking. I notice the woman I was rude to, pointing to the sky for the benefit of a man next to her, who nods.
The cute brunette girl shakes her head.
"That was too weird." She's an Australian, I notice for the first time. Or maybe a New Zealander.
I try to laugh but it emerges as a snort. More car horns sound and the traffic grudgingly starts to move on its weary way again. Looking up, there's still nothing there. People are beginning to move again, but pausing, turning, just to check, every few seconds.
It's a five-minute wonder when I get into work at last, like a particularly large delay on the Tube.
"Did you see it?" asks Darren, as I gulp gratefully at a cup of water fresh from the cooler.
"There wasn't anything there to see."
"That's what I mean." He spreads his palms and looks at me. "You looked."
"I looked, you looked, we all looked."
"Yeah," he nods, "Fuckin' weird, eh?"
"You didn't see anything?" I ask seriously.
"Not a thing. I could've sworn though..."
"Me too. Like that." I snap my fingers, "I knew there was something there, something important that I'd... I don't know, something I'd forgotten to check."
I pour myself another cup of the icy water, which is heavenly since I'm still dripping from the power-walking I did to get in on time.
"Exactly like that... Hey, Alison!" he calls out to Alison, who has just arrived looking somewhat preoccupied, and wanders over to her.
Lunchtime comes and we all cluster round the TV for the news. It's the lead story, but there's not much anyone can say about what happened. At 9.16 and 15 seconds GMT, as near as they can tell, everyone on the daylight side of the planet turned, as one, to look at the same patch of sky, roughly towards the site of the constellation of Taurus. There was nothing there. Satellites and telescopes, military and civilians, they've been checking all morning: there wasn't and isn't anything there. No one has yet come forward with any explanation. Meanwhile the G7 nations, meeting in Paris, continued to... blah blah etc. etc.
It's strange, but people are out in their gardens, on the streets and at their windows looking up until sunset and beyond. One man at the bus stop swears he saw the face of Jesus. I have trouble sleeping, laid in the night racking my brains, trying to remember what I almost saw. It feels like a word that's on the tip of your tongue. Maddening.
Wednesday 26th May
It's happened again. At lunch today, sat quietly in the grimy light of the crew-room window eating stale sandwiches I knew it was there again. Today, though, it wasn't just a feeling but a decisive presence. There was something overhead, something huge and heavy. I might have seen it pass if I'd looked just seconds before. Three others popped their heads around the crew-room partition, looking towards the polluted window before we all ran - knowing the course the enormous spectre was making - towards the roof.
A curious ennui gripped us even as we scrambled up the ladder. There was always going to be nothing there, but, like winning numbers on a Lottery scratchcard, you never knew.
Darren spins about on the roof, face towards the clouds.
Miranda is more thoughtful, long dark hair writing in the breeze. I'm not saying anything, watching the others. Raj, neighbourly, waves at the other rooftop figures across the street.
The sense is of anticipation rather than anti-climax, of something building rather than missed. 15 minutes later there's a news bulletin on TV saying everything's fine and to remain calm. It's only having been reminded to be calm that the thought strikes me that there might be something to be uncalm about.
Thursday 27th May
And again. Early evening this time. I suddenly found myself in the street, still with a mouthful of shepherd's pie, running to see something. Nothing.
Friday 28th May
Death rays, everywhere, melting everything they touch. Destroying the entire city; probably the world if the panicked reports from over the radio are anything to go by. Waking, instantly alert, I abandon my carefully chosen hiding place. The ruins of a building, one side destroyed by those storming alien machines yesterday in their tremendous rampage through every city. How could I ever have slept? Sheer exhaustion must have taken me down in the end.
Awake again, I peer through the remains of the window - banging my head.
The glass is still whole in its frame! Incredible! And... outside, the slagged and rubbled landscape is... the same miraculous view of south London as the day before yesterday. It's untouched by the monstrous calamity that hounded me like an animal into these miserable ruins... my bedroom.
There are four walls, a floor and entire ceiling. The single large unbroken window I stand almost naked at lets in sunlight from a beautiful Spring morning. Those terrible machines, hideous and grey, have yet to touch it.
And I'm standing there, remembering the terrible events of yesterday, crying, unable to believe that everything I saw lost is restored. My room is whole, beautiful and amazing in my whole, beautiful, amazing flat. Everything is just as it had always been before the invaders landed yesterday and began, without question, to level everything.
Lifting the sash window there are voices from outside: laughter and sobs and whoops of joy. The Asian family next door wander, shell-shocked, into their once-more beautifully kept garden, looking around and around at everything. The mother, seeing me leaning out, waves uncertainly at me and around her, before sitting down heavily on their unscarred lawn.
I distinctly remember the end of everything; too distinctly. It was early yesterday when, Independence Day-style, the massive filthy ships, belching thick damp smoke and exhaust like Victorian factories, dropped like stones unannounced into the hearts of cities all around the globe. They barely slowed their descent through the atmosphere before smashing to Earth, crushing whatever was beneath their half-mile wide, gazillion-tonne hulls.
Their warty bloated exteriors had barely begun to cool, groaning and cracking as they contracted, when enormous vents in the sides had swung open and thousands of gallons of stinking, alien, semi-liquid waste discharged upon the devastated ground.
I'd watched, stunned, from a distance, as the flow of sediment slowed, the vents closing once more, before, through the sickening palls of effluent the chimney vents continued to belch out, there came a crack of light as of a door opening. It grew wider and brighter for a long minute, then flickered and dimmed slightly. From the bowels of the horrible ship (and from ships around the world, all of whom duplicated this sickening display) came a multitude of terrible cries, all subsonics and phase effects. Then came the alien machines, dull, greasy, grey metallic shells with sinuous whiplash tentacles that tore through metal, concrete and brick, spraying lurid beams of destruction in random patterns about them.
In hours they destroyed London, from Hammersmith to West Ham, Enfield to Croydon. Except... except that in the fresh welcome light of a new day everything had been restored. I couldn't understand, couldn't understand anything. How or why could they, or would they, destroy everything and then... undestroy it?
My neighbours looked to be on the verge of hysterics, some of them, anyway. I hoped they'd stay calm; it wouldn't take much to tip me over the edge right now. The sheer joy of my reprieve refused to mix with the utter horror of yesterday's events, like oil and water poured together, the two emotions were too different and too close.
My curiosity asserted itself and the practical part of me decided to do something useful, like see if the ships were still there. I went through to the front of the house, from where yesterday's landing site should be plainly visible. Nervously drawing back the curtains revealed Canary Wharf and Centre Point, Tower Bridge and the Post Office Tower as safe as ever. No swollen, stinking mass of blackened metal sat atop them. None.
The phone began to ring behind me but, stunned as I was, the answerphone kicked in before I could reach it. Whilst my overly long message told the caller I wasn't in, I switched on the TV, hoping for some sort of explanation. It seemed the G7 conference in Paris had been convened, but that wasn't what I was looking for.
Trying to concentrate on both the TV and the 'phone at once, I ended up missing the best of both. My dad's voice came after the beep, checking to see that I was OK and to let me know that both and my mother were fine, that they hadn't been hurt yesterday, and could I please ring back as soon as possible because they were very very worried.
The TV was "once more" urging people to remain calm and stay in their homes whilst the confusion was sorted out. Yesterday's events had been extremely distressing but, it seemed, no more than that. There were no reports of lasting damage or casualties at all. An emergency helpline had been set up on ... for those suffering early symptoms of post-dramatic stress disorder and related problems. "Once more" it appeared that the events of the day before may well have been a straightforward case of mass-mass hysteria.
I sat on the sofa all morning with my head in my hands, interrupted only occasionally by the answerphone going off. I remembered the day before very very clearly indeed. I couldn't believe it was all hysteria or misguided imagination. That was impossible. But then, so was this return to normality.
I called home and reassured my father that I had not had my brains sucked out by ravenous alien technology for use in some hideous experiment.
The ongoing news bulletin caught my eye again with reports of nuclear explosions in a couple of Baltic states early that morning, pre-emptive strikes against the sleepily remembered positions of the monstrous alien enemy by panicked bunker technicians. Thousands really were dead from those. Would they still be dead tomorrow, I wondered? What if the aliens came back, assuming they had ever been here?
I carried on watching the TV, needing some support of my experience of today's reality. It had been confirmed that, just as with the phantom presences in the sky the last three days - was that actually yesterday? - and then if the memory of the alien invasion was mass hysteria did that mean that everyone who had experienced it now had an unwanted extra day's existence squeezed into their experience? I checked the calendar and my watch, and yes, I had two overlapping sets of memories for the same day.
Going into work was obviously out of the question (and against government recommendations!) so I called a couple of friends and we anxiously agreed to meet in the pub that afternoon. The weight was too heavy to bear alone. Although others couldn't consciously alleviate the burden, buttressing your memories with those of others seemed to help. Sharing our private fears and theories about the dream experiences was a lot less comforting.
Dougie took small sips of his pint every few seconds as he spoke. It was his third in half an hour.
"All I'm saying is (drink) that this whole fucking experience (drink) has left everyone (drink) fucked. (drink) I mean, think about it, this is Philosophy 101. (drink) How do we know what's really happening - I mean, at all, ever?"
He put his pint down and looked at all three of us in turn.
"Your memories have no validity at all, they're completely fucking shot to hell."
Jenny looked uncomfortable at this and lit another cigarette. I already knew where this was leading. I'd thought about it on the way here; I was pretty sure Stewie had as well because he wasn't saying a word, which usually means he agrees. I wished Dougie would shut up, I didn't want to think about this.
"How do you know, " continued Dougie, picking up his drink again, "How do you know (drink) that anything you remember, (drink) or think you remember, ever actually happened? I remember that big ugly ship-thing trashing my home yesterday, in full surround sound Technicolor scratch'n'sniff fucking 3D (drink) And I distinctly remember the lot of you being somewhere underneath it, (drink) Flat Stanley's the lot of you. (drink) And yet here you all are drinking as slowly as ever!"
We all stared down towards the table at this, except Stewie.
"So what's your point, So-Crates?" he snorted.
"MY FUCKING POINT IS - !" shouted Dougie, stopping suddenly and hunkering down before continuing in a quieter tone, "My point is, what if it happens again tomorrow? And the day after that and the day after that and the day after that?" My point is that eventually none of us are going to have a fucking clue what's real, we'll have been invaded, eaten and gang-raped by Darth fucking Vader so many times that that's gonna be what's real, not the quiet little interludes in-between. That's my point.
Aliens won't have to invade us because we'll all be convinced fucking long before then that they already have. Get me a drink somebody."
Stewie stands up slowly and walks even more slowly to the bar.
"So it's an alien invasion is it, Mr. Spielberg?" says Jenny. Normally she'd be smiling when she says something like this; today it just sounds belligerent.
"No, it's the fucking Care Bears revenge, how the hell should I know? The only thing I do know is that yesterday I saw everything blown to shit and I'm scared to think what I'm gonna see tomorrow."
Dougie lifts his empty glass and puts it back down.
"And you want to know what scares me more than anything?"
Jenny blows a smoke ring into the air.
"What scares me more than anything is the thought that I might wake up tomorrow as normal, hell, I might blink, and find out that I remember this conversation and that it never happened because something fuck-awful did instead."
And he looked at me hard for a second, rubbed a hand back and forth across his mouth and picked up his empty glass again.
Saturday 29th May
A quiet day, thank Christ. No strange visions, memories or weird shit at all.
Dougie almost had me worried in the pub yesterday!
Sunday 30th May
A quiet day, thank Christ. No strange visions, memories or weird shit at all.
Dougie almost had me worried in the pub yesterday.
Monday 31st May
A quiet day...