We stopped because we could.
The night was still young, and this open expanse of freshly mown grass seemed irresistible.
Our end of year exams were over, and within twelve short months, we would all be fully fledged teachers. The thought terrified all of us but no-one said it out loud.
My car was jammed full of young, slightly inebriated student teachers. In our year the girls outnumbered the boys two to one. I was the only sober person in my vehicle, which was okay with me. I like a drink, but my meagre allowance only stretched as far as owning a car and taking girls to the movies. So booze was a luxury I could ill afford.
The girls preferred clothes and public transport, so we were struggling for enough vehicles to get us around in a large group. Fortunately, Laurie’s father decided not to be a dick on that night and loaned him his car. Even so, we were all wedged in pretty tightly.
“Pull over Spider!” the girls in the back seat shouted. I’d had that nickname since I was a kid, but never told anyone how I got it.
“Okay. No need to split my eardrum,” I said.
There was an absolute absence of moon, and we were far enough away from the city lights for the sky to be full of bright stars.
The other four cars pulled in behind me, and when the headlights went out, we were in total darkness. Tipsy girls tumbled out of cars squealing with delight. I heard someone trip and fall — then laughter. Not my girlfriend, not my worry.
Then the phones came out, and shafts of light crisscrossed the vast open space. I could sense that the open field, possible a football field of some sort, was bordered by tall trees. There was moisture in the air and if the squealing mass of humanity had not been a bit drunk they would have been complaining about the cold.
The light from torches on our phones was riding on the mist and created a light show without music.
It didn’t take long before the selfie photos started to light up the field.
Each time a flash went off I saw an after image off to my left, but when a torch beam hit that spot, there was no-one there.
I dismissed the image as part of the dance that goes on with one’s vision in such low light situations. I remember thinking that I had damaged my vision when I was a boy because I could not see if I looked directly at something in very low light. In year eight we discovered the wonders of the human optic system, and I worked out why my vision was so much better in low light if I looked to the side. Rods and cones — cool.
This wasn’t that.
Every time a flash went off I caught sight of someone for just a second then the image would fade. This someone was moving around, and it was starting to freak me out. The hair on the back of my neck was standing up.
“Did anyone else see that?” I said.
“See what,” said Colin, who was the only other student in our group who owned a car, but he left it at home and borrowed his father’s sedan so that we could all make it to the celebrations.
“Over there, not far from the trees, wait for a flash to go off.”
“Holy shit! What was that?”
“Keep watching and tell me if you think it’s moving.”
“Yes, it is, and it’s big,” said Colin.
By this time I’m scared, but I cannot take my eyes off the spot where we last saw the person.
“It’s hard to tell in this light, but this bloke must be close to seven foot tall,” I said.
“What should we do?”
We rounded up our rowdy crew and got them to turn off their phone torches.
“Girls, you point your phones in that direction and take a flash photo,” They all turned and fired off all at once before I had a chance to finish, “one after the other.”
It seemed to me that the after image from the flashes was visible for only a second or two, then they faded away.
“It’s almost as if this bloke absorbs the light for a second before it fades away.” Now I wasn’t the only one who was scared. Our crew were now huddled together in the middle of this vast field. We could smell the cut grass under our feet, and the girls were beginning to shiver.
I rallied the boys together. “We are not going to just stand here and let this bozo intimidate us. When we get the girls organised with the flashes, we are going to tackle this bloke and get him to tell us what he’s up to.”
I didn’t wait for confirmation of my plan because I knew that there was a chance that someone would start to argue about the efficacy of my idea.
“Keep the flashes coming girls. Paul, you stay here with the girls in case there are more of them. Ready? Then let’s get him.”
We ran at the figure who kept glowing momentarily after each flash, and as we got closer, it became apparent that he was huge — over seven foot tall. I’m not the fastest runner in the group, so my tackle was late. This bloke was icy to the touch, and he was wearing some sort of leathery coat.
He didn’t struggle when we hit him at full pelt, and he didn’t say a word.
We all lay on the grass holding on to this huge person, but as the flashes continued I had time to gather myself and got a look at him.
This bloke didn’t look like any man I had ever seen before. His eyes were big and sad, and his skin was shiny and wrinkled.
“I think this bloke is really old,” I said.
“This ain’t no bloke,” I heard Colin say.
“There’s another one over there,” I heard one of the girls say. “It’s a lot smaller.”
The little one made a strange noise, and the big one that we had tackled looked at me. It didn’t say anything, and I know it sounds weird, but I knew what it wanted.
“Let her go,” I heard myself say. “Just let her go.”
Amazingly, the boys did as I asked. The creature stood up gracefully and moved towards the little one. When they met they embraced, all in the glare of flashing light.
Together, they walked back towards the tree line and disappeared from view.
I was hoping that they would look back in our direction, but they didn’t.
I could still feel the cold sensation of having my arms wrapped around this enigmatic creature.
She was enormous and powerful, but she did not fight back.
“So, what do we tell everyone about this?” said Patricia, who was always the first girl to ask a question in lectures.
“Check your phones,” I said. “See if you captured any images of one or both of them.”
The girls didn’t have to answer; I could see it on their faces.
“Tell, don’t tell. I don’t think it makes any difference. Some will believe us, and others will say we’re nuts. Either way, we helped a mother and her child reunite. That’s enough of a story for me. So, are we going to this party or not?”
It took a few minutes for us to squeeze back into the cars and the journey through the darkness, on the way to our destination, was undertaken in contemplative silence.
Minds were racing, but mouths were silent.