It all started with Sid.
Sid was quiet and lived on the edge of town, under the hill. At the back of his house there was a track that lead to an old well. He used to sneak out to it under moonlight.
Whenever he was caught, Sid could never tell his parents why – to be around another way of life, a time way older than himself? To escape being poor? For the joy of being alone? Who knew?
“I just like being out here under moonlight,” he would whisper, to the owl that lived there-abouts.
One night, though, there was a small
in the dark, as if something in the ground deep beneath the well had shifted. Gradually, the smallest specks rose from its shaft, catching in the silver light, making them look like moon dust. They were beautiful, spiralling as if they almost, sorta, kinda, had some sort of pattern to them. As if they were a microscopic dance.
“Idiot…” Sid laughed at himself. “You and your imagination.”
Yet, on closer look, when they landed, each speck of dust seemed to have colour to it. Sid got right down onto his knees, staring hard.
“Wah!” he shrieked.
They were creatures – weird little creatures! And they were growing fast!
Sid was scared. It had been a week since he ran from the well. How big would those creatures be now? He talked to his cat about it. Why not? Nobody he knew would believe him.
“I should go up there, but what if they eat kids?”
The cat just purred.
“But, I dunno. If they eat little kids, maybe I have to go and look, before they cover the whole town.”
The cat purred more. It was useless, but still good to talk to. More people should talk to their cat, he thought.
Sid decided to go back to the well, and not tell anyone, or even take his cat. It felt right that way, doing things alone.
Sid pushed through the bush. The creatures were now one-to-two foot tall, all turning to stare at him – some with strange eyes, some with no eyes, some with no heads. Most were smooth, almost like living objects. Boxes with rounded edges and small, striped legs and a tail, one was a clear ball full of stars. Another looked like it was crying into itself, as if made of tears. One seemed to be made of fur and gears. A few of them looked like a many-patterned vegetable, or weird spinning tops. The one with wings looked like a fat lizard, but smooth, as if a kid drew it.
They were cute in a strange way. Sid reminded himself that baby sharks were cute, too. Still, it was too late to back out now.
“Hi…” he said.
A few of them hopped, walked, or floated towards him. Several more poked their heads out of the well.
“Um, nice to meet you,” he smiled.
Several more appeared from their hiding spots behind trees. They were getting in close now. And closer. One nuzzled his ankle. It was too much! Sid ran!
They followed him home.
It was creepy. None of the objects made a sound. Sid watched them, in their dozens, milling about his bedroom, filling the window, some floating, a few sticking to the wall.
“What am I going to do with you all?” he said. “The people of town wouldn’t understand. They never do. That’s why I keep to myself.”
Then his father opened the door, complaining; “You’re not talking to the cat again, are you?” And was swamped!
The objects pinned Sid’s father down. Each one, smooth, shiny. This could go any way. Dad was terrified.
“Help!” he cried.
Sid heard the rumble of several approaching steps. “Oh, no. It’s Dad’s poker night!” he moaned.
Sid hated poker. It was one of those dumb adult games people played rather than do something like hang out by old, abandoned, moonlit wells. X-box, television, footy on weekends – the town needed some magic real bad! Dad and his friends needed some magic real bad. He watched them running around, trying to catch the objects, which all dodged and bounced away from harm.
Soon, Dad’s friends started picking up weapons – fire pokers, cricket bats. Always so ready to go to war.
“STOP!” Sid yelled. “They’re not attacking anyone!”
Nobody was expecting that! Sid was usually a quiet kid. Nothing moved. Not Dad’s friends, not the objects. Everything was silent, as if waiting for something to fall.
A meeting was held at the town hall – a big old shed with dust and fold-up chairs.
“I still reckon we eat them,” insisted the pig farmer, Ian Redneck.
“So you keep saying,” moaned the Mayor.
“They could give us cancer!” Jenny Watermelon complained.
“Let’s sell them to scientists,” the town’s chemists declared.
“We’ll all be famous!” roared the butcher, Babs.
Sid watched the objects. Many were at his home, some still scattered in the bush around the well, some at his cousin’s. The kid next door, Gianpiero, had already taken one as his own. Most were here, though, at the hall, standing silent, listening to them all.
Eventually, a decision was made to adopt them out to the people of the town, and see what happened from there.
“No!” Sid protested, pointing to Ian Redneck. “He’ll eat his!”
“Now, now. What’s fair for one is fair for all,” insisted the Mayor.
Ian Redneck just smiled.
Sid stared at his object. It looked like a curved letterbox, with transparent skin, and stumpy little bendy legs. Inside seemed to be made of soft, squishy bits and watch cogs. It was so alien.
But the mood he felt around it was friendly, somehow. It scratched around a bit, but seemed, mostly, to sit and wait on him.
When Sid turned off the light, he noticed the cogs and gears glowed warm blues and greens and orange, lighting the slightest eyes on its front surface.
“You’re beautiful…” he whispered.
Then it shrieked. Then it wailed! Its wail rose and rose, and met with other objects and their screams, like hundreds of kettles screeching at once. Most people in town fell to the ground, holding their ears, as their objects backed into corners and screamed.
Sid was sure he knew what was going on. Holding his screaming object under his arm, he ran through the streets, to Ian Redneck’s butchering shed.
The weirdest smell hit Sid when he burst through the door. There, on the chopping table, sliced in half, was the pig farmer’s object, dead.
Ian Redneck lay curled on the ground, holding his ears. Sid saw three of his fingers had been bitten off in the struggle.
“Dirty, little, no good…” Redneck mumbled between clenched teeth.
Just as Sid was wondering what to do, his object leapt forward, bending itself into a impossibly large shape as its front opened, like a mouth, and consumed the pig farmer.
Then, right across town, the objects fell silent once more.
Another meeting was held at the Hall, its air think with fear.
“I… that is… well… Will somebody just tell me,” Jenny Watermelon fretted. “Is it my pet, or am I its pet?”
“Any luck in finding Ian Redneck?” the Mayor asked Senior Sargent Major.
Overweight, near retirement, Senior Sargent Major scratched his plumber’s crack.
“Beats me,” he said. “Nothing. He might of just heard the same shrieking noise we all did and run off.”
There was a silence. Nobody believed that.
Sid stood there, quiet as mice. He wasn’t sure why he didn’t tell what happened to the pig farmer. Was it for the safety of the town, or his object, or himself?
Outside, Sophia Rowbottom was a bundle of old lady stress.
“They can’t take my Louie away!” she fretted. “It talks to me when no-one else will. We chat for hours. I’m finally not alone!”
Sid looked at her object. ‘Louie’ had a u-shape and some sort of hollow tongue. He bent down and whispered into its top entrance; “Hello…”, before hearing the word echo through its bend, then reappear out its other end. “Hello…” it said back.
Gianpiero was Sid’s age. His object looked like six joined Frisbees. “I take mine hunting,” he bragged.
“I walk mine, of course,” Tommy Tuckers said. His seemed to be a string of warm lights. “I can only really see it at night, so that’s when we go. I see all sorts of stuff.”
“Like what?” Sid asked.
“That’s between me and my object,” Tommy smiled, then walked off.
Tommy Tucker’s object passed Sid as it went. When Sid looked through its lights at the street, he could see tentacles wiggling out of drains, other lights hiding on rooftops, a cute little box-like thing hopping between garbage bins.
The magic was spreading.
Sid stared at his object. His object stared at him. It had been a week since he had found them. Outside, everybody was running around wondering what their one could do for them. Little old ladies liked the soft objects, angry boys insisted on taking sharp ones. But, no matter what people did, each night, the objects would escape somehow, and end up with the person they suited best.
Gianpiero’s object would only look at drawings, not hunt like he commanded it to. When Anita nudged hers, it would eat music, and breath out different tunes. Bobby was rough and gruff and hated all things cute, yet his object looked like a series of colourful spinning plates. Circles on it back would open, letting out small clouds shaped like doughnuts and spikes. He had no idea what they did, maybe nothing, but was too scared to ask.
Every now and then, the objects would shudder as a group, or growl, and everybody knew someone, somewhere, was treating one of them wrong.
“So what do you think?” Gianpiero asked from down in Sid’s garden.
“I dunno. Why ask me?” Sid mumbled, still looking at his object.
“Because you found them, duh,” Gianpiero moaned.
“Dad loves his. It’s so curious, which makes him curious. Mum’s terrified. I think she did something to hers,” Sid said.
Gianpiero sat, leaning his back on the house.
“I know, it’s weird. It’s like everything’s changed, but nothing has. We’ve taken them in, it’s sorta making us all do things different, see things different, but…”
Sid looked down at Gianpiero. No buts. Normally, you’d be out hunting, he thought. Not observing everything.
“What do you try to get yours to do?” Gianpiero asked.
“Nothing?” Gianpi protested.
Sid was back looking at his object. Nothing. He hadn’t even given it a name.
“I wonder how old you are?” he asked it. “1 week, fifty years? 1,000?”
The object didn’t reply.
“I wonder if you’ve done this before? Am I just another boy? What are you thinking? Can you think? Are you all just a reaction to us?”
Sid thought some more.
“What makes you happy?”
Sid thought about his question. A lion was happy when tearing another animal to shreds, some soldiers were happy in the thick of war. Mean kids were happy when somebody cried. ‘Happy’ could be a dangerous thing.
“What makes you sigh?” he corrected himself.
There had been three more shrieking incidents. Two more people were missing. Both nasty. Maybe they’d run away, maybe it was all too much for them? Maybe not. Tourism was up. There was a weird, electric energy to the place, as if all the adults were kids again, new versions of themselves.
Everything was new again, especially the everyday.
“No-one deserves to be eaten, though, even if in self defence…” Sid whispered to his object. “The missing people, are they the price of all this magic?” he asked.
But the object just stared.
It was a Saturday night when some of the people of town heard another thoom, from deep beneath them, as if something even bigger underground had shifted. It was a Monday morning when the objects all turned and faced the same way.
Nobody knew what was going on. They looked where the objects looked. Sid watched the horizon with everybody else, as a beast stomped its way into view, 100 feet tall, made almost entirely out of mouths that jibbered and jabbered and slobbered all over sharp teeth.
As one mouth would swallow people, another on its other side would cough them out, pale, almost transparent, broken of soul.
“Whatever it’s eating, it isn’t flesh,” Gianpiero shouted above the panic.
“DO something!” Jenny Watermelon screamed, as more people were consumed, all colour from their lives drained.
Then it happened.
First, there was the sound. The CLICK of a hundred bodies stiffening. Sid looked down. His object had hardened itself, was leaning forward. They all were – tensed, ready for war
Then, there was the chaos of a thousand creatures chattering. The objects biting air, showing their teeth to the beast. People were shocked. A lot of the objects, until now, didn’t even seem to have mouths.
Then, there was the shrieking.
All the humans covered their ears, buckling with pain again, as the objects wailed once more.
Then there was a rush as they charged…
“My baby!” Jenny Watermelon cried after her object.
“Sick ‘em Rex!” Gianpiero shouted to his.
“No, wait! You’re our happiness!” pleaded the Mayor and his wife.
Senior Sargent Major had been using his as a footstool. It relaxed him. The grandkids played with it when he wasn’t around. Now, he watched as his one foot living toy leapt, with dozens of others, at the monster’s eyes.
The beast let out a cry of anger and pain, a haunted thing that attacked people as if it was fire, burning them with their own bad memories, scaring them by bringing their nastiest thoughts out. Every thundering call twisted and darkened people more.
Sid said nothing as his object charged.
The monster didn’t stand a chance. The objects attacked as one. Stretching impossibly large mouths they simply tore the beast apart, shaking and eating its pieces in a frenzy, until it was no more.
The objects were ruthless, powerful, frightening, and, when they were done, somehow, the battle had doubled their size.
Sid watched his object, now a good three foot tall, walk back to him easily, then sit by his side. Gianpiero scruffed his; “You were right in the thick of it! Well done, boy!”
Jenny Watermelon wanted to hug hers with relief and weep with joy. But, a non-violent person, she now watched her object with caution and fear.
More and more objects, now taller, less cute, returned to their owners. It was as if an uncertain pause filled the entire town.
The Mayor saw there were votes to be gained. He stood on the town’s fountain ledge, and boomed: “The math of this is not lost on me! It’s not lost on ANYONE! First, these objects appear, then monsters follow!”
“How much bigger will they grow?” a voice cried out in agreement.
“They saved us!” someone else yelled.
“They brought their problems with them!” another raged.
“Maybe they knew the monster was coming, and arrived early to defend us!”
A wave of arguing voices swept down the street until someone bellowed: “Hey! You numbskulls! The objects are right beside us! They can hear everything!”
Then there was an awkward silence… followed by a lot of angry whispering.
Sid sat under a tree with his object, gazing into it. It waited, gazing at him. He decided to sing, softly – for no reason, for every reason, because he wanted to, because he always thought singing might work when words failed.
Oh, little thing, oh big thing,
Oh ins and outs, if I could I’d purr for you,
I’d pull back my sin,
To show you my heart.
I haven’t asked for, or given a thing,
Not a thing…
But now, oh, little thing, oh big thing,
And the creature shaped its transparent surface into something almost resembling a mouth again, and cooed beautiful little sounds.
“You’re us, aren’t you?” Sid said, softly. “I’m not sure what part, maybe our magic. Us, if we banded together. Maybe you’re how we should treat ourselves?”
The creature cooed more. Soft sounds. Gentle sounds. Sounds that were wordless, yet Sid could understand by their tone, and agreed with – this was a sad time. They both knew the town would vote for the objects to be driven back down the well.
“Don’t do it!” Gianpiero shouted, into the night. “Resist them, Rex!”
“Shut up!” Senior Sargent Major barked, holding him back.
The town had decided. The objects had to go “Before they grow anymore.” But, really, because people were scared.
“Hey, what if another monster comes back?” Babs called.
But it was too late, a decision had been made: This whole ‘crisis’ started with Sid, so he would walk the objects back to the well.
Sid thought about rebelling, making the town confront its more colourful, dangerous, rewarding, amazing side, but was too worried about the violence that might follow. Senior Sargent Major had his gun drawn. A number of locals did, too. Some held rakes, others shovels, any weapon they could find. Yet all Sid could think of was Ian Redneck. It wasn’t the objects he was worried for.
He walked them to the well alone.
When Sid got to the well, there were already more creatures there. They merged, and turned themselves inside out, creating light shows of such delicate beauty and power – blue tones that looked like turbines turning, pulsing green glows, magic, poetry, maths problems being solved.
“We haven’t scratched the surface of what we might achieve if we worked together, have we?” Sid smiled sadly, his fingers sliding off the object as it made its way over the rim and down the well.
Now ranging from two-to-four foot tall, each object took much longer to make its way down. Sid watched them all, one-by-one, until the last was gone, and watched more. Just stared into the well’s mouth for hours.
“You’ll be back,” he whispered. “They’ll miss you, more than they know.”
Eventually, there was a distant, almost reverse thoom, a quiet, rumbling mooth of something being covered up again.
Who knew for how long?