There weren't many people about on the roads and while we had had a pleasant Christmas Eve visit with Charlie's mum—my mother-in-law—it was getting late, blacker than a witches hat outside and the kids—Suzie and Jake—were frustrated by the enforced restraint of the seat belts and boredom of long-distance travelling.
"Muuuuum," whined Suzie in a voice that could curdle milk at a hundred paces. "Jake keeps poking me."
The one thing about a six-year-old girl, is the range of vocal capabilities they have. It set my teeth on edge at the best of times and this time was no different. Charlie turned round to see Jake with the most angelic look on his face, studiously looking out of the side window.
"Leave your sister alone young man or Father Christmas will not be visiting you tonight."
"But mum, I didn't do anything," he moaned, which was the most notable aspect of our eight year-old son—moaning. Nothing was ever good enough, too long, too short or too hard—usually the latter.
"That's enough. Now I don't want to hear another peep out of you two, is that clear?"
It wasn't their fault, I know—and so did Charlie, but it was as much of a strain on us as it was on them. Their outlet of course was winding each other up or, as Jake had discovered, poking. We didn't have that luxury and as the driver, I certainly didn't.
About fifteen minutes on, we were flagged down—as were other drivers ahead—by a policeman, who informed us that the road ahead was blacked due to an accident and we had to take a diversion. He pointed ahead to the off ramp.
"Blast!" I cursed. "It's going to take hours now."
"Oh well done, Bob. Just make this really a journey to remember, why don't you?"
I didn't need to look. I could feel Charlie's pout from the driver's seat and inwardly cursed myself for having opened my mouth—even though the accident and subsequent diversion wasn't any of my doing.
"Where are we going?" asked Suzie.
"We have to take a detour, honey. There's been an accident ahead."
"Oooh! Can we see?" asked Jake.
"No you can't. The policeman has told us to take this detour."
"But I want to see the accident."
Charlie shot them both a look that quietened them down immediately and taking a turning down a road which apparently would take us to the next town and hopefully another entry to the motorway beyond the accident, I relaxed.
We had been travelling down twisting, narrow, rural roads heading in what I thought was the right direction, but in truth, I didn't know. Yes, we travelled along this route fairly regularly, but we rarely took detours and on the unlit roads where we found ourselves, with few if any road signs, where we would end up was anyone's guess.
"Mum," Suzie whined again. "I need to, um, go."
"So do I," Jake added.
"See if you can hang on for a few more minutes and hopefully, daddy will find a lay-by or a café or something."
The chances of coming across a lay-by down these roads were pretty slim and finding a café was as remote as finding a loo on the moon. Ten minutes down the road and Suzie was starting to squeak and squirm. I pulled over in what turned out to be the entrance to a farmer's field. At least it got us off the road.
"Where are we?" the kids asked.
"I honestly don't know," I replied. "But at least we can stretch our legs and you two can do whatever it is you need to do."
"What, here?" wailed Suzie, aghast at the thought of having to take a leak behind a bush. "There are no toilets here and I need to go, um, number two's."
"Shit!" I exclaimed. Okay, so that was a little more difficult.
"Yes, daddy, but mummy told us not to call it that. I need to shit."
Talk about out of the mouths of babes and suckling's. I stifled a laugh and Charlie gave me another of her looks. I shrugged.
Shit happens, I thought grinning to myself.
There are worse things that can happen I suppose and it transpired that all of us need some relief and it actually became quite comical in the end, all of us wandering around in the pitch black, trying to see what we were doing and where. I think it was more by luck than judgement that we were able to get through our 'doings' without a major disaster.
That was until it arrived.
The kids had done their thing and were practicing their mud stomping, giggling away as their shoes made disgusting slurping noises as they were squished into the mud then drawn out again.
Even Charlie was relieved as she was another one who needed to do more than pee. I think the sounds the kids were making, covered her sounds and made her feel a little less self-conscious.
"Hey look," Jake announced suddenly. "They've got a merry-go-round."
That was the last we heard from them as we finished up and looked around for our offspring.
The 'merry-go-round' as Jake had so happily described, was no such thing. I didn't know what it was and Charlie became immediately fearful, screaming out their names as we ran as fast as we could across the lumpy field towards the object.
I could see why Jake would have thought that it was a merry-go-round as it seemed to pulse with different colours around its outside edge, whilst bigger lights towards its centre blinked.
"Holy fuck," I breathed, stopping suddenly and grabbing Charlie's hand, stopping her dead in her tracks. "It's a fucking UFO."
We stood, stock still, mouths open, becoming aware of a gentle hum that seemed to emanate from the object.
Two small figures were dancing around in front of it—well I say 'front', but in truth, this thing had all the hallmarks of a flying saucer and I really couldn't tell which part of its apparent circular form was the front, back or sides. We continued towards whatever it was.
"Jake, Suzie! Come here," Charlie called as we neared.
"But, mum, I want to play on the windy-round," Suzie complained.
"I'm sure you do, but we don't know whose it is and they might not like you tromping all over it with your muddy shoes," Charlie explained.
The kids both seemed pacified by that and sauntered over to us. We didn't immediately turn back, but stayed a while to look at the strange object, with its pulsing lights and odd hum.
"It's pretty isn't it, mummy?" Suzie remarked.
"It's awesome," Jake added.
"It's certainly impressive," I agreed.
We were about to turn away and head back to the car, when something started happening.
First it shuddered and we all took an involuntary step backwards. Then the lights dimmed and stopped with the pulsating, followed by a slow return to what had been happening before.
The next thing that happened, we could never have imagined possible.
A hatch or door opened right in front of us, accompanied by a kind of mist. It was a two section door, the top sliding back and the bottom dropping down in an arc, its smooth surface wrinkling then forming steps. The whole effect was quite dramatic.
"I told you, I'll be back in a minute," a voice said as, out of the mist, the silhouette of a person appeared. It stopped at the top of the steps as the four of us looked on in awe. "Oh. You're not supposed to be able to see this. Damn, that's something else to fix."
There were a few moments of awkward silence...
"Hello," it said.
I must admit, I would have expected a ray gun and "take me to your leader, but I suppose "hello" was as good a greeting as any.
"Hello," I returned, getting a dig in the ribs from Charlie for my trouble on one side and a grin from Jake on the other.
"Um, we won't be long—just got a bit of a problem with the matter compensator."
"They talk like we do, mum," noted Suzie.
"Need a hand?" I asked.
"Oh, would you mind? It's been giving us grief sine the moment we set off," the figure replied, just as another, slightly shorter appeared behind him.
"Who are your friends?" the new apparition asked.
"Don't know. They were already here."
"Sorry, I'm Bob and this is Charlie," I supplied and got another dig in the ribs for my trouble, but I carried on regardless. "These two short people are our son and daughter: Jake and Suzie."
"Pleased to meet you," said the shorter, in a definitely feminine voice. "I'm Olimar and this is my life partner, Dormag. These are our offspring, Olag and Formar."
Suzie and Jake laughed. "They've got funny names," Jake giggled.
"Our two said the same about yours too," commented Olimar. "They have no respect, do they?"