The winds swept across the open fields, at times slightly changing directions. The dark green moss surrounding the pillars that dotted the landscape squished somewhat under my feet as I shivered in the wind. “What in the world am I doing here?” I muttered to myself as I paced around the tall pillars that initially seemed to stick up randomly from the ground. The question is less than about the Moors but about this place.
Though here for many years, the constant wind and cold continued to bother me. The longer I was here, the more I realized there was a pattern to the weather, which surprised me. My home was in a warmer climate, where weather extremes were non-existent. Assigned to this God-Forsaken place had been but another nail in my professional coffin. At this rate, my personal coffin too, and that made me bitter.
A phone call from the station in the middle of the night had brought me out of my nice warm house into the early morning cold. Something was going on at the old landmark pillars, and I drew the short stick. Even though I am the sheriff, dispatch informed me that everyone else was on a call. I drove across the rugged roads through the Moors to reach the mysterious landmarks. Villagers had reported strange lights in the area, which was probably nothing, which was why no one else wanted to go.
Whatever the villagers had seen overnight was gone, and I returned to the warmth of my Land Rover. There was something comforting about the slam of the steel door against a steel frame—strong and substantial. Much stronger than I felt. I shivered and cranked the heat as high as it would go. I opened the thermos left in the front seat early that morning, needing caffeine, but the coffee in the thermos was lukewarm and undrinkable. I cracked open the door, dumped the remaining coffee, and shut the door quickly to keep out the wind.
The drive to the village was tedious. What passed for roads out here were little more than ruts and paths, and the early morning dampness and moisture made them slippery. Fortunately, the old Land Rover was up to the task. Twenty tedious minutes of navigating the road away from the moors brought me to the main road leading into the village. Once I got onto a decent road, it took no time to get there.
The Bears Claw Pub had just opened for the day. The fire in the hearth was inviting, and I sat at a table near the roaring fire to thaw. Lucy, a plump middle-aged lady with black hair in a loose bun, came over with a coffee cup without asking. Lucy had been one of the few bright spots in the age-old town that still believed in ghosts and goblins. They would probably burn me at the nearest stake if they knew my true identity and origins.
I thanked her and held the warm cup in my hands while I tried to figure out exactly what I’d seen last night. The steam from the cup of liquid life wafted to my nose. The smell of coffee helped bring me back to life and warmed up my cold, tired bones.
While I was too late to see what the villagers saw on the horizon, I did see something, and a nagging thought fluttered in my mind, but I didn’t allow the thought to form.
Lucy returned and sat across from me, leaning forward, her ample bosoms resting comfortably on the table, shielded by her hands which held a large cup of coffee. She grinned almost childlike and finely burst out.
“Well?” She sipped her coffee, waiting, eyes wide open, for my answer.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see anything.” That is not strictly true, I didn’t see anything, but I sure felt something was different. I wasn’t going to tell her that.
“You didn’t see anything?”
“NO. By the time I arrived, whatever it was gone,” I sipped my coffee as an excuse not to say anything more.
Lucy sat upright and swore under her breath. I didn’t blame her as I’d done some swearing this night too.
“Want breakfast?” She changed the subject like last night hadn’t happened. I nodded in the affirmative. She smiled. “Eggs, toast? “
“Biscuits if you got them.”
She nodded, rose, and disappeared into the kitchen. Lucy had always been friendlier than necessary. In some ways too friendly, and I suspected a small fire burning for me under all that plump exterior. I never did anything about it, although the thought had crossed my mind a few times.
I sipped my coffee, now cool enough to drink. I had seen something out among the old carved stone pillars, but I wasn’t sure what. I couldn’t even tell myself what I’d seen, much less the likes of Lucy. She was a fixture of the old village. Her family had run The Bear Claw Pub since the beginning of time. No one remembered when it had opened. It had always been here. The more I thought about it, Lucy herself had always been here. She was always fun to be around, joking with the customers and childlike in her wonderment of all things unexplained.
When Lucy returned with my breakfast and a pot of coffee, my coffee was half gone. She slid the plate to me and again sat across from me.
“Tell me more.” She prompted as she poured more coffee for me and refilled her mug.
I busied myself rearranging the food on my plate and munching on biscuits for a few minutes because I was hungrier than I thought and, well, as a stall.
“Not anything to tell. I drove out where you all had seen the lights, and nothing was there. Except for freezing wind and darkness.” I shoved eggs into my mouth so I wouldn’t have to talk anymore.
“There was something there!” Lucy insisted.
“Whatever you saw, it was gone when I got there.”
In between bites, I elaborated on the weather and the pitiful excuses of roads in the area, none of which interested Lucy. Finishing the last morsel of scrambled eggs and a third biscuit, I pushed my empty plate toward her.
“Look, Lucy, I don’t know what to tell you or anyone else. I know you all saw something. I don’t doubt it for a second, but whatever you saw was long gone by the time I got there. Everything looked the same as the last time I was there.”
She nodded as if to say okay, but I knew she didn’t believe me. Hell, I wasn’t sure if I believed myself either, but I wasn’t going to say that.
“Thanks for breakfast, Lucy,” I stood and laid some money on the table in front of her. She glanced at and collected it.
“That’s too much.” She tried to hand me back some of the money.
I waved her off. “Keep it. Put it toward next time.” an
Once outside the old pub, I took some deep breaths and let the freezing air work its way into my lungs. The fire had been nice for about five minutes and then became too hot. I knew the cold would be nice for about two minutes, but by the time the cold was too cold, I was inside my Land Rover. I cranked the heat again after I started it.
I’d been to the Moors before and spent many hours exploring the mysterious ring of stone pillars. I knew exactly how many pillars there were and how far apart they were, even photographed them from the air. But last night was different as if another presence was there.
I drove to my small cottage on the far side of town, where I showered, and then headed to the station to write the official report of my visit to the Moors. Official? I didn’t even have an unofficial report.
My report was short and vague—only a half-page long. I stated what happened from when I got the call until I left the Moors and what I’d seen there, which wasn’t much. At least not that I could explain to myself or anyone else.
It was a slow day, as it always is in this sleepy town, so I decided to return to the Moors. I filled a thermos with coffee, rummaged through the station refrigerator, and made a couple of sandwiches. I stopped at the local petrol station and filled the tank. As I was paying for the petrol and some snacks, I noticed the old man behind the counter looked like he’d been awake all night.
“You see the lights last night?” I asked while paying for the petrol.
He nodded yes and counted my change.
“Yeah, what time? “
He looked up from counting and seemed to look past me toward the Moors in the distance. “Can’t say exactly, but it was late. I know that.”
“You remember anything else?”
“I’d seen them before, but never this bright or as long. They seemed to stay for a spell.”
“You’ve seen them before. When?”
“I don’t know, a few times over the last few years. Usually, they don’t last, flash on and off. But last night…” his voice trailed off.
I finished for him. “They stayed on a long time..” He nodded yes, and I asked. “Who else saw them?”
“I don’t know, probably everybody awake. They were pretty bright.”
I thanked him and headed for the Rover.
The drive to the Moors was just as bad in the daylight as last night in the dark. The only difference is that I could see to avoid some of the worst potholes and ruts in what passed as a path on the outer regions of the land.
I quickly found the same place I’d been to last night and parked in the same tire tracks. The fog had started to lift some by the time I got there. The stone pillars looked just as lost and forlorn as they had last night, and the ground was still as soggy and damp as it had been last night. My footprints still showed in a few places. Shivering in the ever-shifting winds, I wandered around the site again.
In the dead of night, with only my headlights and a torch to look around, I couldn’t see much. Even in the daylight and with the ever-present cloud cover, it wasn’t easy to get my bearings.
I couldn’t find an obvious source for the lights seen from the village miles away. My phone barely had any signal out here, but I could pull up text flooded with pictures of the lights. The photos were pretty much useless.
Pulling my binoculars from the back of the Rover, I stood where I could make out the village through the fog that hung over the area as a blanket to keep the sun from warming up the region. It had been foggy last night as well.
Scanning the horizon, I found the church or, rather, the steeple of the old church. I steadied the binoculars by resting my arms on the hood of the Rover and could barely make out tiny shapes moving in the fog. A glance at my watch told me it was time for the morning confessional. Many villagers would undoubtedly be in church to confess what they’d seen last night to the priest.
Villagers saw lights coming from here. What could make lights bright enough to cut through the thick fog and be seen a few miles away? There was nothing here that hadn’t been here all along—just the tall stone pillars with strange markings on them. The marking had been copied long ago and studied. They resembled Gaelic letters or, perhaps, another dead language.
The ground was too soft to hold any heavy equipment without at least leaving a deep imprint or mark. So, nothing was brought In, and there were no other footprints than my own from last night.
But I had seen something. The mist diffused my headlights and torch in the foggy darkness, so I couldn’t be sure what I had seen. Yet, I knew something had been here with me last night. I vaguely remember movement in the distance, just out of reach of the headlights.
I worked my way out from the flat area surrounding the pillars into the grassier land that was the fields that made up most of the ridge. Looking towards the village with my binoculars, I saw no more than I had before. I turned to head back to the Rover when I caught movement up by the pillars. Something was up there.
My heart pounded as I ran on the damp uneven ground, but I made it back to the pillars as fast as possible. Panting from the exertion and excitement, I caught my breath as I approached the clearing.
He was leaning against the front fender of the Rover, hands in his pockets and a hat pulled down low over his face to keep the wind off.
“It’s about time.”
Between breaths, I managed to speak. “You could have called. I thought we only used the lights to scare the people on this planet.”
“Yes, but then I wouldn’t have all the fun of watching them.” He nodded towards the town across the valley. “I used the cover of the lights to drop in, but you didn’t see me before I got pulled away. The lights were stronger because they kept trying to pull me out, and I kept moving out of the beam’s reach.”
“What you want?” I leaned against the fender next to him, panting.
“My, my, you’re out of shape. You are getting too soft on Earth.” He observed. I glared back at him. “I didn’t dare call. You know how they like to scare people.”
I nodded yes. “Yes, I knew they used the lights to keep people from coming here, as this is the easiest place to beam on and off the planet. I never realized they were using the ancient pillars for their amusement.”
He laughed. “Had you fooled too.” He became serious. “I just got word there’s another attack coming. This one is a doozy, Going to kill many people.”
“You can’t stop it?”
He shook his head no. “Too many variants and impossible to track until it hits.”
“Then whatever is going to attack is already here?
“That it is. Give me your arm.”
I held out my arm, and he slid my sleeve up and pressed the steel injector against my upper arm. “That should protect you, and it won’t appear on their test.”
“What about you?” I rolled my sleeve back down.
“I’m leaving. I got a new assignment.”
“So, you’re just going to leave me on this planet alone?”
“You won’t be by yourself, and someone will check-in. We need you to catalog the invasion. Good luck.”
With that, a flash of light blinded me for a minute, and my friend was gone.
I spent the next two years recording the effects of Covid and reporting the results to my home planet. As observers of Earth, we were not allowed to interfere. A pity as many died, for my friend was right. This one was a doozy.