I realised that something had got Tommy really fired up from the moment he answered the intercom at the front door. It was something in his voice, though his greeting was as terse as ever.
‘Mike – good you could make it. Join me in the study. And put the kettle on as you come down.’
The door release hummed. I let myself in. Minutes later I was standing behind him, a steaming cup in each hand, while he stared into the monitor on his desk. He spun his chair round to face me.
‘So. Here you are. I thought you might be interested – well, I know you will be.’
‘What have you got there Tommy?’ I nodded towards the screen.
‘Proof. Evidence. It’s … it’s mind blowing. But I knew. I’ve known for a long time.’
‘Proof of what?’
‘That they really are out there …’
‘You’re surely not still chasing aliens. I thought you’d left that one behind. I thought you were smarter …’
He slapped his hand down on the arm of the chair. ‘Just get this, Mike. This is no wild theory. I’ve worked it out from pure observation. The maths is complex. It took me years to get on to the right track. But I’m there now. I’m at a stage where I can make predictions that are borne out by real events. Look at this …’
He turned back to the computer monitor and tapped at the keyboard. An image filled the screen. Strange, geometric and – yes - beautiful. I knew that I was looking at a photograph of a crop circle.
‘But that’s all been debunked! Guys going out into the fields at night with ropes and planks after a few drinks.’
‘Mike, do you honestly think a crowd of drunks could have made that?’ There was excitement in his voice.
‘OK. So maybe they did this first and then laughed all the way to the pub.’
‘Not this one …’
‘So how do you know?’
‘This circle appeared at the foot of Milk Hill in Wiltshire on the 7th July. Those are the map coordinates at the bottom of the screen.’
‘Mike – I predicted it. I knew – to the hour – when it would appear. And where. I’d known for quite some time.’
‘You got some eccentric friends who do crazy things in their spare time then?’
‘Stop being so bloody obtuse. Who – what – made this are no country yokels. They aren’t even remotely human.’
‘Not human. So what are they?’
Tommy’s brow furrowed. He shook his head. ‘That’s what I don’t know. The only thing I know for certain at the moment is that they make crop circles – or most of them – and other phenomena as well. They’re immensely powerful – and much, much more advanced than we are.’
‘So what’s behind them – I mean, why do they make these things?’
‘Looks as though they are … communicating. But that’s just a guess. It’s all part of a much larger pattern. Certainly it’s not just confined to the Earth. It’s possible, of course, that they make them as a sort of challenge, a test if you like.’
‘Uh-huh. I mean, I hardly think that they aren’t aware that there is intelligent life of this planet. Maybe they were just waiting for someone to suss it all out, and then …’. Tommy hesitated. I wondered if he felt he’d said too much. But I was really playing him along. I mean, the whole idea was so far-fetched. He had to be kidding.
‘Are you thinking that they might do something when they realise that we earthlings are on to their game? Taking a bit of a risk there, aren’t you?’
A smile played across Tommy’s lips. ‘I think you’ll agree that I have little enough to lose. These guys can do anything, even …’
I shook my head forcefully. ‘Your problems are one thing – but what about the rest of us? I mean, this could be one mighty can of worms …’
‘Mike – don’t try to kid me that if you had the chance that I think I have now - if what had happened to me had happened to you – that you would have hesitated for a moment …’
And he was right. They’d done their best for Tommy after the accident. But it would have taken a miracle to make him what he had been. Were it not for his intellect and his creativity I’m pretty sure he would have given up. Even so, he was tormented by frustration and resentment which could make him very difficult to live with. In the end, even his long suffering wife had found it impossible.
‘I’m going for it Mike. And I’m not waiting. If I don’t do it in the next few weeks, then it will have to wait until next year. And that’s too long.’
‘So what is it you’re proposing?’
‘You’ll know in good time. I’ve worked out where and when the next series of circles will appear. And I am going to be there for one of them. Right in the middle. I’m going to meet them, Mike.’
* * *
I couldn’t take him seriously. In fact I worried if his frustration had sent unhinged him. It was just too far fetched. Yet, as the weeks went by I found myself drawn to the web sites that monitored the appearance of the crop circles. Four, in fact, materialised in Wiltshire as the crops grew to maturity. One was clearly a fake, but the others I could not be so sure of, they were so strangely unworldly.
On another visit to Tommy he’d remarked on these. ‘Oh, yes – I knew they were coming. But they weren’t … weren’t in the right place. Too far off the beaten track. But it isn’t long now …’ He wouldn’t say any more. I guess he thought that I might interfere with whatever it was he was planning. But I don’t think I would have done. Because I never really believed him, until it happened.
* * *
Within a few seconds of switching on my mobile phone that morning in late August the familiar jingle announced a text message. It had in fact been sent a couple of hours before I’d woken. It was from Tommy. Just two letters and two five digit series of numbers, and the words “come now”. It took me only a few seconds to recognise it as map reference. As a keen walker, I had a good supply of large scale maps in the house, and it was only a matter of minutes before I was poring over a sheet spread out on the dining table. I pinpointed the spot quickly enough: in the low lying fields south of the Vale of Pewsey in the north of Wiltshire. The heart of crop circle country.
A couple of attempts to raise Tommy on his mobile proved fruitless. It was switched off. Not even taking voicemails. That was unlike Tommy. For the first time I felt a sense of misgiving. I pulled on a jacket, grabbed some walking boots from the under stairs cupboard and went out to the car.
It was still quite early and there was no traffic to speak of. A diffuse early-autumn mist lying low over the ripening fields gave an atmosphere of soothing tranquillity. A copper sun hung above the horizon. As it brightened I pulled the visor down over the windscreen. Soon I was closing in on the field that Tommy had identified as the place where the event – whatever lay behind it – was to happen.
Driving, now more slowly, over the brow of a hill, I was briefly dazzled by the glare of the sun as the tendrils of mist dispersed. I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car. And as my sight returned, I saw it in the valley below me.
I was at once reminded of one of those NASA photos of a spiral galaxy, seen obliquely as so many are. The thing was pristine, exquisitely sculpted. No, I thought to myself, this is far beyond the ability of human beings to have created. Could Tommy have been right? But Tommy, where was he? For a moment I wondered if he would come riding up the lane, calling out ‘I told you so!’ But there wasn’t a sign of him. Then, as the after-image of the sun faded from my vision I saw something at the very hub of the circle. Something dark and crumpled.
I jumped out of the car and without even slamming the door shut I started running. I came up to a gap in the low hedge from where a trail of flattened barley that I knew had to be Tommy’s track headed out into the field. In spite of the uneven ground I kept up my speed.
And at last I came to the eye of the circle and found what I had dreaded finding after that first glimpse from the hillside.
Tommy had adapted his powered wheel chair into what he called an “all terrain” model. He’d been quite proud of it, with its low centre of gravity and bulky tyres. This spot, with its proximity to the road, would not have presented any real challenge. But now it was almost beyond recognition. The tyres themselves had burned away, their remnants still smoking. The metal frame was twisted, scorched and broken.
As for Tommy himself – nothing. For a while I shouted his name, but silence was the only answer returned to me on that still morning.
In time the realisation came to me that he really had gone. But where to I don’t expect I’ll ever know. I miss him more than I could have anticipated. But there is a part of me that hopes, even believes, that he did find what he was searching for.
Tommy – if you are out there – somewhere – I hope that it is all that you wished it would be.