The door crashed open splitting the door jam with its force. Two heavily armed creatures entered and took up position either side of the opening. Jim leapt up spilling his ersatz coffee. The third alien marched straight across the room and pinned Jim to the wall with its sucker stuck firmly to his forehead. One of its several arms looped around his shoulders and a claw bit into his cheek.
The voice, as always, had a metallic echoing quality which made it difficult for mere humans to distinguish the tone. One had to assume menace!
“Hello”, squeaked Jim, choking for breathe.
With no apparent expenditure of effort, Jim was dragged by the sucker across the room and deposited back in his armchair by the fire. The weight of his body dangling from the sucker on his forehead hurt his neck and gave him a terrible headache. He tried not to let it show.
The aliens were pretty much indistinguishable from each other but this intruder’s identity was obvious from its distinctive carapace.
“What can I do for you, commander” Jim croaked, rubbing his sore neck with his hand as the creature lessened its grip.
“Confidential information is leaking out. Someone is passing it to our enemies. There has been sabotage.
“But I’m just a smallholder”, Jim pleaded.
“It is suggested that you may be a spy.”
“I don’t know anything about espionage.”
“.Do not forget what was done to you the last time you came under suspicion,” the commander threatened.
Jim remembered all too well. Fear crept up his throat as he tried hard to keep his voice steady.
“I work here all day”, he said, “I only go to the village on my bicycle to sell firewood or collect what fresh food there is”
“Yes,” replied the commander. “You went this morning.”
It wasn’t a question but Jim nodded anyway.
The commander waved an arm at the two others by the door.
“Search the house.”
They commenced to overturn everything in the room.
“We will wait outside,” the commander announced, his sucker moving again to Jim’s head.
“I’ll walk,” croaked Jim quickly and made his way to the door.
The cottage only had one main room with a half floor loft above where Jim slept, accessed by a ladder. There was also a shed which contained nothing more than his bicycle and piles of wood. After surprisingly little time, the two soldier aliens came outside and indicated by movement of their eyes that nothing had been found.
“Really, all I bought this morning was some bread, some meat for my dinner and a cake”, Jim pleaded. “How could I pass on messages to anyone? I can’t phone. I don’t even have a land line.”
“Cake?” The commander, cut through Jim’s gabble. “You know that I have a sweet tooth.”
“Do come in and sit down, commander”, Jim whispered hoarsely.
The commander had never learned Earth’s cultural niceties and so alternated between terror and social politeness without any apparent awareness of contradiction.
They sat down.
“Now we begin to know each other better. We shall have coffee,” the alien announced.
Jim lifted the coffee pot off the stove and beckoned to the table, pointing to an iced bun decorated with an alphabetic design.
“Please have a cake,” he said, trying to maintain the fiction of a civilised conversation.
The commander pretended to consider this social request.
“This is not entirely a social call”, he continued. “However, I greatly enjoy your earthly cakes.”
His face changed shape in what Jim took to be the equivalent of a smile. He chewed noisily, saying nothing for a few moments but staring intently into Jim’s eyes.
“We will leave you for now,” he said. “Oh …. and thank you for the cake.”
Jim waited until they had left in their vehicle. He watched them go all the way down the hill before he went back into the house to try to fix the mess.
* * * *
Earlier that day, Jim had set out as usual for the village. The ride there was mainly down hill and he always smiled with pleasure as the wind rushed through his hair. As always, he went first to buy a newspaper, not that there was any real news in it since the invasion but it was something to read, and then walked to the one café where he could still get a decent cup of tea. While he drank he tried to do the newspaper crossword. Philip, the proprietor, chatted casually about the weather, the price of goods since the invasion, the lack of petrol for cars and the effect that it had had upon his custom, all the time polishing teacups behind the counter. Jim sympathised with his friend’s business problems, tut-tutted at the shortages and sipped his tea. He liked Philip very much but thought he was incautious. As far as Jim knew the aliens hadn’t bugged the café but he knew that he was already a suspect and wasn’t prepared to take risks. He just smiled and nodded.
After his drink and a small toasted cheese sandwich which Philip provided, he walked on to the butcher’s and purchased some sausages for his dinner. He also bought a single small piece of horse steak for tomorrow. It was a luxury but he felt like treating himself. He grew his own vegetables but had to purchase meat. While he was in the village he made sure that he popped into every shop at least for a moment or two so that no suspicion could fall onto any particular person. Finally, he bought some bread from Henry’s bakery, also for his dinner. The bread was very rough these days but still made a pleasant change from his home grown potatoes. Henry greeted him like a long lost friend although it had only been three days since he had last been there.
“Well, old friend,” Henry said, “I’d like you to try this special gateau. It is a new recipe using carrot and parsnip in the absence of any dried fruit. I made it this morning.”
“It’s good,” replied Jim, licking the ersatz cream from his fingers.”
“Excellent!” said Henry “And now I must give you a bun to take home”
There was a whole tray of iced buns. Each had what appeared to be a random selection of letters in a pattern on the top. Hence the name on the label: ‘alphabet buns’.
“This is just for you,” said Henry, picking it up and placing it carefully in a bag.
Jim thanked him, smiled at the other customers and collected his bicycle. The ride home was harder because of the incline but he still made good time. He put away his bike, placed the sausages, the steak and the bread in his larder and put the iced bun carefully on a plate next to his chair. He studied the pattern on the icing and then lit the wood stove, made ersatz coffee and settled down for the afternoon. He had barely sipped his coffee before the aliens intruded.
* * * *
Once it was dark that same evening, he put on his warm coat, picked up his torch and walked slowly through his garden and up to the copse of trees at the top of the hill. Once in among the trees he searched around for the right one. He always had difficulty finding it in the dark but he thought that that was probably a good thing since it must be equally difficult for anyone else to find. Once there, he put his foot on a lower branch and hoisted himself up into the tree stretching his arm up to a small aperture hidden in a fork of the branches. He dropped down holding a very old cell phone and a mechanical charger. He sat with his back resting against the tree while he wound the charger for 5 minutes. That was usually enough. Then he found the only number saved in the cell phone memory and text-messaged the letters which he had memorised from the bun.
“Over and out” came the texted reply.
He repeated his efforts in the tree in order to return the phone and charger to the hiding place and then made his way back through the copse to his cottage. Once inside he poked the stove and settled down with the sausages and a mug of vegetable soup.
It was such a simple system that he was amazed that the aliens had never worked it out. Henry, the bakery owner, obtained the code by word of mouth from Jim knew not who – presumably one of his many customers - and iced the code onto one of the buns. Henry dare not pass on the information himself because like everyone else in the village he was closely monitored. Jim was one of the few outlying crofters who had good reason to travel regularly to and from the village. He presumed that the information originated from another such. However, neither he nor Henry knew what the code meant so they could not give anything away even if they were caught. Of course, one day they would be caught. They were a nuisance rather than a serious liberation force; just a couple of people trying to do their bit.
Jim admitted privately to himself that he had been lucky. The aliens were not very sophisticated in their understanding of local cultural practices and had accepted at face value the idea of an alphabet bun. Had they bothered to study the pattern closely they might have been more suspicious. Fortunately for Jim, the commander of his district had a sweet tooth and so, every time Jim was interviewed, he had eaten the evidence before the search.
Jim finished his soup, damped down the fire and then went to bed. In the countryside there was little point in having late nights, especially when there was a fuel shortage. The
next morning he was just beginning to wake when he heard an explosion in the distance. He had no idea what the target was. As always he hoped that no innocents were injured but he could never be sure. He would probably never know what damage had been done, but he felt that he had played his part. It wasn’t even as though he liked iced buns. He preferred things to be savoury.
I'm a semi-retired academic who lives in a village in north-west Essex in the United Kingdom. I'm married with three adult children. Like many people I first got interested in story telling when my children were young and we started making up bedtime stories. However, it was only in semi-retirement that I had the time to begin to write poetry and adult stories. I have never had so much fun with a computer keyboard. So far I have been lucky enough to have had a number of stories published. These include science fiction, horror, humour and contemporary themes.