The slight rise in the road dipped and before the pickup spread a vast plain, all the way to the hills so far away they were blue with distance. The plain was also covered in young wheat, a veritable sea of gently undulating green stalks. The murram road they were on ran through the field, seemingly all the way to the distant hills.
“Wait, wait… isn’t this someone’s land?” asked Jude. “We won’t be busted for trespassing?”
Charles shifted gear and the old pickup’s engine coughed and the vehicle jerked before the battered transmission caught.
“Look around,” he said, waving his hand to take in the plain. “There’s no one here. This is a new crop. People show up when it’s time to harvest.”
“Ah.” Jude was silent for a while. Then he turned to face Charles. “So, this place we’re going, will it be – you know – weird?”
“Weird is relative. And like I told you earlier, just wait till you see it. Nothing I say can describe it. Just chill, it’s just down this road.”
They drove on in silence for about five minutes, the pickup’s suspension creaking and groaning as it traversed the ruts in the road. Jude looked out his window, wondering what it took to own a farm like this. Hard work, as his father would have put it. Jude figured he could use the work, pudgy as he was after three months in rehab for alcoholism. The green sea all around them waved gently in the wind. It was beautiful. In the great blue bowl of the sky above, a flock of something flew in a V formation. One of them squawked. Jude watched their silhouetted figures flying north and smiled.
Mwalimu Lenkai was overseeing the installation of the new water tank near his barn. He was on the ground, shouting instructions at his farmhands who were fumbling with the plastic tank at the top of the crumbling concrete pylons. There was a pulley rigged at the top and they were just finishing after a long afternoon of hard work. Lenkai hadn’t wanted to splash out for a crane, which would have made this effortless. Why pay for a crane with all these young able bodied men around? It didn’t make sense.
“Boss!” One of the men at the top of the tower was pointing in the direction of the wheat fields.
“What is it?” Lenkai asked gruffly. He was tired and he was developing a headache. “I can’t see what you’re pointing at from here.”
“There’s a pickup in the field.”
“What?” said Lenkai. “Is it one of you idiots?”
“No,” the man said. “I can’t see who is driving.”
Lenkai swore. “Get down from there you fool. I want to see.” He shucked off his jacket and started climbing up the series of steel brackets that served as a ladder. They were there on all four columns of the tower. Three men could not fit at the top, not with the tank there, so the one who’d spoken climbed down the opposite side. By the time he got to the top, Lenkai was breathing heavily and a pulsing agony was steadily building up steam in his temples. He glanced at the patch of sweat that had formed around his rounded belly and told himself that he was too old for this.
From his vantage point, he could take in a good deal of his spread. Sure enough, out there in the distance, a pickup was speeding across the wheat field, raising a plume of dust behind it. The vehicle was green and definitely not one of his. Lenkai’s disdain for trespassers was malevolent and his beady eyes narrowed dangerously as he shouted down instructions for his Land Rover to be brought around. Whoever these fools were, he’d get them. How dare they? Bastards!
Charles pushed the clutch in and shifted down as he slowed the truck. As he lifted his left foot, there was profound clang from somewhere and the clutch pedal dropped, lifeless to the rusty metal floor. The engine roared, surged then stalled. The pickup jerked forward for a few meters and stopped dead.
“Fuuuck!” Charles said.
“Dude, what the hell? What happened?” Jude’s eyes were wide.
“The clutch pedal has come loose.”
“Well, I guess that’s what we get, hiring this heap,” said Charles. “It’s about half a kilometre down the road. We can walk.”
“Cool,” said Jude. They hopped out of the truck. Charles shouldered his backpack and they headed down the road. The dust here was ankle deep and each step raised a little puff of powder. They hadn’t gone twenty metres before Charles stopped suddenly and looked back the way they’d come.
Jude stopped and looked too. “What?” he asked.
“Someone’s coming,” Charles said. “Listen.”
The cloud of dust their passage had raised was clearing, having been swept away by the wind, but the road was still hazy and indistinct. Jude could hear an engine. A car engine, being driven hard.
“OK, we need to rush,” Charles said. “Come on.”
The two men started a trot down the dusty road. Behind them the engine grew louder.
“See?” puffed Jude. “Trespassing.”
“They won’t find us,” Charles said. “We’ll be long, long gone.”
They ran on for a further fifty meters and Charles stopped. Jude stopped and rested his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. He watched as Charles, fit and unflustered as ever, dropped the backpack on the tough grass and unzipped the top. He pulled out what looked like a small camera tripod and something else resembling a miniature baseball bat. It was stout, rubberised, and had what could only be a lamp at one end.
“What’s that?” Jude asked.
“Locator,” said Charles. “Here,” he pointed at the tripod, “set this up over there. You can figure it out.”
Jude took a quick look at the thing and after some fumbling, managed to get its legs spread and set it on the ground. Charles screwed the thick little tube on top of the tripod. The engine sound had died down and the rising wind brought with it snatches of a loud and angry conversation.
“They’ve found the pickup,” Charles said. “Buys us a minute.” He was fiddling with the tube and something clicked and whirred. Then the part that Jude thought looked like a lamp began to glow in an eerie greenish-blue light that was accompanied by a low hum that vibrated in his bones. He stepped back uneasily.
“Is that thing safe?” he asked.
“Yup,” said Charles stepping back from the device. He bent over the backpack, rummaged a bit and held out what looked to Jude like the sort of glasses they hand out at 3D cinemas, albeit larger.
“Here, put these on, or you’ll go blind,” said Charles.
Jude slipped on the glasses. James pulled out his iPhone and pressed something. The voices in the wind had stopped and the engine noise was back. It was headed straight at them.
Mwalimu Lenkai and his foreman, a burly man called Joseph, were investigating the beat-up and apparently broken down pickup parked in the middle of the road. It was empty, of course, but there were two pairs of footprints leading away, headed down the road.
“Who do you think these people are?” asked Lenkai angrily, as though the trespass was the foreman’s fault. “And where the hell are they going?”
“I don’t know, boss,” said Joseph. “But they can’t have gone very far. I think we can find them.”
Lenkai looked around. There was really nowhere to go further down the murram road. The road petered out after about a kilometre into grassland that went on forever. There was nothing there. So where the hell were these people going? And who the hell did they think they were?
“Let’s go,” said Lenkai.
Joseph nodded and started the Land Rover. They drove slowly, following the footprints in the fading light.
“Alright Jude,” said Charles. “Are you ready?”
“You’re sure? ‘Cause this will be the craziest ride of your life, you do realise?” Charles laughed.
“Let’s do it,” Jude said. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and lit one. He offered the pack to Charles who also pulled one out. He put it between his lips but didn’t light it. Charles stepped forward to the tripod setup.
“You remember the moon landing?” he asked, half turning to look at Jude. “That part where Armstrong or whatever-his-face comes out of the lander and says the whole ‘that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ line?”
Jude nodded. “Yeah?”
“Well, he has nothing on this.”
Charles pressed something on the tube and the hum got louder. The light flashed faster and then stopped. It went off.
There was complete silence for a second.
A beam of light, thick and blue, shot out of the tube and straight into the sky. The beam was iridescent, with what looked like bubbles pulsing and swirling within it. The effect was mesmerising and Jude wanted to take off his eyewear for a better look.
“No!” Charles yelled. “You’ll go blind.”
“It’s beautiful,” whispered Jude. “Can I touch it?”
“Nope.” Charles lit his cigarette.
“So what happens now?” Jude asked.
“You, my friend, are just about to… ”
The slate grey Land Rover suddenly appeared over the little rise from the direction of the wheat field and skidded to an abrupt halt in front of them. Charles saw the driver and the front seat passenger yell and throw their hands to cover their faces from the brightness of the beam.
“Shit!” Jude yelled.
“Chill, dude,” said Charles. “We’ll be leaving shortly.”
The blue pulsing light suddenly went bright green for a second and then shut off. There was a deep rumble, reminiscent of distant thunder from the sky above.
There was complete silence for a second.
Jude looked up, everything forgotten, as a large sleek, silver delta winged craft slowly and silently descended from the heavens and came to a stop about fifty meters overhead. Charles smiled and flicked away his cigarette. “Our ride, sir,” he said.
Lenkai, still dazed from the beacon’s light, shambled out of his car. He held on to the open door, his jaw sagging as he took in the two young men and the thing floating in complete silence above them. Joseph shouted something and started the Land Rover. He threw it in reverse and buried the pedal. Lenkai, who had been hanging onto the door with his elbow through the frame, was flung violently aside into the tough grass. He scrambled to his feet, staggered back a few steps, shaking his head, tripped on a clod of grass and fell down on his ass. He could hear the Land Rover speeding back the way they had come.
“Wh-what is that?” he gibbered, pointing at the object. “Wh-who are you people?”
“Tourists,” said Charles. He was dismantling the tripod and the locator and stuffing them into the backpack.
A beam of amber light shot down from beneath the craft and described a circle about ten feet across next to where Jude still stared and stared. Charles shouldered the pack and went over.
“Jude,” he said. Jude was still mesmerised, gawping up at the ship. “Jude! Let’s go.”
They stepped into the amber circle. Lenkai watched with his mouth open as the men rose gently in the beam towards the spacecraft. The one with the bag smiled and waved at him. Lenkai got up and ran.
“This is it, isn’t it?” Jude asked.
“Yup. Like I said, don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
Jude smiled, and then started laughing as a bay opened up above them and they disappeared inside. The sleek cruiser tilted its nose up and its engines pulsed, glowing a bright blue in the twilight. If Lenkai or Joseph had dared look back, they’d have seen it shoot off into the atmosphere at almost light speed.
Mwangi Ichung’wa is a writer who lives in Nairobi, works in advertising and is currently working on his first novel.