We proudly present a Tales of One City first: an exclusive short story by local author Mike Nicholson and some of the children at Oxgangs Library – the result of their “Write a story in 60 minutes” session. Read on and enjoy…
No-one knew who the stranger was. If they noticed him at all, then they might have wondered what his bulging backpack contained. Perhaps they might have guessed in which countries his battered safari hat had become so bleached by the sun.
Whatever their questions about him, they saw him enter through the door of the National Museum of Scotland and look around as if awaiting instruction. Don Drake himself had no idea why he was there. All that he knew, was that he had to come to the museum.
Removing the hat from his sandy hair, and wiping his dusty glasses with an impressively stained handkerchief, Don Drake took firm hold of the small piece of rock once more. It was this which had led him here. From all of his exploring experience throughout every continent, it remained the most fascinating object he had ever collected. And although he still knew nothing of its origins, he had always felt that it contained an unusual power for what most would dismiss as a lifeless object. And now, Drake could feel that here in the National Museum of Scotland, the rock was close to where it was supposed to be.
What Drake was not to know, was that in his hand he was tightly grasping a fragment of meteorite from a far distant galaxy. What he was not to know, was that this ordinary looking rock, its surface scratchy-rough to the touch, was about to be reunited with something from the world it had come from. What he was not to know, was what would soon be unleashed.
Now, as Drake walked through the museum, a green glow appeared from deep within the rock. Bright then dim. Bright then dim. Moving through the exhibition rooms, this changing light pulsated ever faster, and his heart quickened as it did so. Don Drake kept moving in the direction which seemed to make the rock react most strongly. He passed stuffed animals, interactive science exhibits and then felt the urgency of the strengthening glow leading him upstairs into Egyptian and Oriental worlds. As he headed to new levels of the building, the rock felt warm in his hand and Drake briefly wondered if he could hear a faint hum.
Then, as the green light steadied and became as bright and as constant as a powerful torch, Drake knew that somehow he had arrived at where he was meant to be. He looked up to find that he was in front of a glass case. The Aztecs and the Incas. Mexico’s and Peru’s former civilisations. Here was what the museum declared to be amongst its most mysterious exhibits. Large sections of wall removed from ancient temples, with stone carvings dating back thousands of years. Little was known about the strange figures caught in chiselled rock. People and creatures, standing or in mid-stride, frozen in time and in two dimensions, half emerging from the flat grey stone surface. Lifelike but lifeless.
And then it happened, although Don Drake did not notice. He was hypnotised by the green light in his hands, and the noise which the rock now emitted was at a frequency way beyond that which his or any human ear could hear. The only ones who could hear it, were those from the same planet from where the meteorite had broken off. And to them, it was a signal. It was like a long high-pitched scream and amidst the piercing tone, words could be heard; ‘Awa-a-ake, Awa-a-a-ke’.
Those who could hear and respond were right in front of Drake. Aliens who had been earth’s visitors thousands of years before, but who had become trapped in stone. The carvings began to move. First, a figure emerged from the Aztec carving and then one from its Inca neighbour.
Now Don Drake certainly noticed. But there was little he could do. He stood in awestruck horror as the stone from the section of temple wall appeared to soften before him and a figure the height of himself, emerged oozing like a great grey jelly man pushing itself out of a mould. Drake was powerless to move, seemingly faced with a dripping concrete alien. Its face was featureless with deep fathomless eye sockets as though it wore a mask of grey over infinite blackness. It raised an arm, displaying a hand with fingers so stubby it appeared as a clenched stony fist. Pointing directly at Don Drake, he knew no more. Anyone walking into the room now would have seen a stone statue of an explorer standing as though transfixed in front of a smashed glass case, holding an ordinary looking rock in his cupped hands.
Looking around, the concrete-coloured alien who had stepped out of the Aztec scene, was joined by an equally strange sight. An Action Man-sized figure had eased itself from the stone carving in the Inca display. An oddly small and agile companion for the large stone man.
“Action,” said the stone alien addressing the small man. Its voice rattled like stones on a gravel path. “It has been a long time.”
“Greyblob,” said Action returning the greeting. “Centuries. Perhaps millennia.” He jumped nimbly out of the case and stretched his army uniform-clad arms and legs.
“We are many millions of miles from home,” said Greyblob. “But now we are free to go anywhere. But we need transport. We need information. Without these, we will be almost as trapped as we were in those stone temple walls.”
“Wait,” said Action. He turned on one of the many powerful functions in his mind, scanning the cityscape outside the museum building. Within seconds he had located their target. “There is a place just a few miles away,” he said. “It’s a library. Oxgangs Library. It has information. It will give us answers.”
“Let’s go,” said Greyblob, his powerful stone legs beginning to turn away from the case and the carving which had contained him for so long.
“Wait,” said Action scanning again. “There is transport nearby.” He pointed upwards.
The two contrasting figures left the stationary figure of Don Drake who had unwittingly released them, and headed upstairs. Despite his small size Action was able to bound three stairs at a time. Moving more slowly behind him, Greyblob was dripping liquid stone which hardened to form frozen grey puddles on every surface he passed. There were screams and shouts as the alien companions tracked through the museum. Without breaking his slow crunching stride, Greyblob turned each person nearby to stone, leaving them as twisted statues in the desperate act of escape. Up and up they went, on past the areas open to the public and to a smaller stairwell marked ‘Staff Only’. Then, on reaching a locked metal door at the top, Action showed the extent of his powers, removing the toughened barrier with a flick of his finger.
On the rooftop, the security guard had been having a normal day. The helicopter parked there required round-the-clock cover, but the vehicle was used so rarely that the guard was generally able to enjoy a leisurely read of his newspaper. The sight of the metal door he watched over, buckling and flying off its hinges like a pizza box in the wind, snapped him away from the sports pages. Then, the appearance of an Action Man figure running towards him, followed by a stone-masked grey creature left him open-mouthed and reaching for his radio. But he had time to do little else.
“This one’s mine,” said Action, stopping Greyblob in the act of raising his stony hand yet again.
Action’s eyes burned into the security guard’s face and forced the uniformed man to speak in a robotic voice. “You wish to take the helicopter. That is fine. Your way is clear. Travel safely.”
As the helicopter took off, with Action at the controls, the security guard was left wandering around the rooftop far below the departing aliens. The one thing he guarded, he had now released, and his mind had been left reeling by Action’s superpowers.
People all around Oxgangs looked up to the sky in surprise as the clattering noise of a helicopter grew louder and louder. Within moments, it had touched down in the middle of the main road next to the full car park of Oxgangs Library. Cars screeched to a halt and passers by stopped and stared in amazement at their familiar road becoming a landing pad. Seconds later the same people were no longer staring; they were diving into front gardens and houses, and even headfirst into hedges at the sight of huge stony alien emerging from the cockpit, closely followed by his pint-sized companion.
Greyblob had no time for interruptions or for screams and shouts. His stunted blunt hand was pointed at anyone who was slow to move, and each person immediately turned to stone. The area around the library became an instant exhibit; grey statues of panicking people.
“Is this it?” said Greyblob, looking at the entrance to Oxgangs Library.
Action scanned the building. “Packed with information,” he concluded. Without a moment’s delay, Greyblob strode through the library front door, and inside people ran behind shelves and slid under tables in desperation. In seconds, they too formed a series of statues scattered through the library in various stages of escape as Greyblob’s raised fist delivered its stony spell.
Behind the reception desk, stood the librarian; the only person who remained untouched and unruffled. Each day brought something different in Oxgangs Library, and as she watched the drama unfold, she concluded very coolly that today had once again given her something new to deal with.
“We need information,” said Greyblob lumbering up to the desk.
“Er…yes certainly….what is it you are after?” said the librarian, remaining calm despite this most unusual visitor.
“This city…we do not know where we are,” said Greyblob.
“Ok. We’ve got some local maps and directories of places of interest,” said the librarian. “Are you…are you planning to stay around for long?”
“No,” said Action, hopping up on to the desk with an easy jump. “We don’t belong here. We need to travel far, ideally to another planet. Really what we need is to find a new home.”
“Right,” said the librarian. “I think I can help. Give me just a minute.” She stepped out from behind the desk and moved around the library in search of the right books. She had to slalom her way between all of the statues. A woman in the act of taking a pile of books to the computer check out. A man reading the paper. One of her colleagues pushing a trolley of books. All cast in stony stillness.
Two minutes later she was back, and feeling rather pleased with herself.
“How about these,” she said, laying three books out on the desk for Greyblob and Action to see. ‘Find Your Way Around Edinburgh’, ‘DIY Spaceship Design’ and ‘A Beginners Guide to Uninhabited Planets.’
“Most helpful,” said Action, scanning the contents of all of the books in a nanosecond.
“Mmm,” he said, as he processed the contents. “The Spaceship Design book suggests a lifeforce is required for the energy cell we’ll need to power any spaceship that we build.”
The Librarian looked nervous. She had a horrible feeling that she was about to be put to use. However, quickly thinking, she turned to one side and said, “Would this do?”
The library’s large pumpkin plant, sat next to the reception desk.
“Wait,” Action scanned the giant orange vegetable with its trailing green runners. “Yes. Perfect. Most helpful.’
The librarian could only marvel at what happened next. She watched bits of library trolleys, tables, shelves and even the staff room’s kettle being taken outside by the two aliens. Before her eyes, and in only a few minutes, the helicopter was transformed into a makeshift spaceship with the pumpkin attached to the back.
“Good work,” said Action. “Let’s go.” Greyblob eased himself past bits of connected up shelf, trolley and kettle and into the cockpit. The spaceship leaned to one side as his great weight entered the craft.
“Er…before you leave, do you think you could…you know…get everyone back again?” said the librarian pointing at the collection of grey statues around the building. “It could be nice and quiet with people like this, but I think it would be good if we could get back them all back to normal.”
Greyblob’s deep pits of eyes showed no emotion, but he wafted a huge pawlike hand and the stone statues inside and around the library, and even in the distance back at the museum, all crumbled at the edges before forming back into the people they had been.
With a noise like the largest firework rocket ever lit, the makeshift helicopter spaceship lifted off, spitting a trail of pumpkin seeds over Oxgangs as it departed into the clouds.
Waking up, people all around resumed their lives as if nothing had happened. It was as though they had been sleeping with their eyes open. They had no memories or even dreams of what had taken place. The only evidence was an ever-so light coating of stone dust and the occasional pumpkin seed, which they brushed away in mild confusion.
As the day returned to normal, the only person who knew exactly what had happened was the librarian. She decided that she had more than earned herself a break. It was time for a cup of tea, but first she was going to have to find a new kettle.