John Ravenscroft


The hills looked like breasts. Two grassy-green breasts rising out of rough pasture, a great, verdant bosom thrusting skyward from a fertile trunk of farmland. A female trunk, Walter told himself. Obviously.

Squinting through the driving rain, he could see the rest of the body with an almost indecent clarity, and he felt vaguely embarrassed about standing on it. In all of his forty-two years he'd had precisely zero significant contact with the fairer sex, and yet right now there lay beneath his muddy boots the body of a sturdy young woman, a rustic wench, flat on her back, naked beneath the grey English sky. She had a carpet of woodland at her feet, a nimbus of river looping about her head, and a small lake reflecting dark, shifting clouds in the dip of her navel. Matching footpaths rose to the respective summits of each breast, skirting the barbed-wire areolae of her sparking, electric nipples. Twin footpaths to heaven, thought Walter. Unfortunately for him, they were both slick with rain: wet, muddy and steep.

Nevertheless, he pushed on, drawn by the bright metallic promise that spiked the gloom above him.

He was following the route that climbed the left breast's inner slope, the one nearest the roadside stile where he'd parked his van, and he was thoroughly sick of the whole business. Sick of uphill effort, sick of unrelenting rain, sick of his mother's voice prattling on in his ear. Usually he enjoyed his missions - he liked the solitude, the possibilities, the spine-buzzing excitement as he approached each new pylon - but today everything was hard slog. On the way here his van's windscreen wipers had decided they were no longer going to wipe his windscreen, and he'd been forced to spend fifteen minutes bent over the bonnet attempting to fix the bloody things. Ten miles further on he'd punctured a tyre. Whilst changing the wheel he'd started sneezing, and he suspected he had the beginnings of a head cold.

Now, as he trekked up this great green tit of a hill, things were harder and sloggier than ever. It didn't help that for every four steps he managed to lurch onwards and upwards, mud and gravity sent him slipping and slithering a couple of steps back down again.

He stopped for a moment and looked up at the pylon rising out of the hill's summit. It towered over him, all thrusting girders and overlapping spaces, and as he got closer the image of an electric nipple seemed less and less appropriate. Such a magnificent creation deserved a more elevated prosopopoeia: something that incorporated the notion of a complete entity in its own right. The Lady Pylon, perhaps. Beautiful. Mysterious. A gorgeous, if rather anorexic, giantess.

Walter sighed. Despite the wind, the rain and the growing need to blow his nose, he could feel the first signs of that old thrill stirring in his belly. Just imagine, he thought. Just picture their stupid, stupefied faces when...

Suddenly his right foot slid from beneath him and he was fighting for balance.

'Bugger!' he said as the toe of his boot grooved a sloppy rut in the cattle-churned earth. He tilted forward, instinctively reaching out to save himself from a decidedly muddy tumble. His hands hit the mire in front of his face. They disappeared into it. Both of them. All the way up to his wrists.

Walter found his footing, steadied himself, and pulled his hands out again, first the left, then the right. The left made a shloop sound as the earth reluctantly gave it back. The right, which he'd managed to punch straight through the dead centre of a fresh cow-pat, came free with a petulant shlump.

He stood in the rain, his back to the wind, staring at his hands. Between them, they were carrying enough acreage to feed half the population of the third world.

'Bugger!' he said again.

'Walter?' squawked his mother, her voice breaking up a little in his earpiece. 'What's happening? What's going on?'

His mobile phone's microphone had unclipped itself from his anorak collar and was dangling from its cord, flapping about in the wind. He shook most of the muck off his hands and replaced it, trying not to get his clothes or his equipment too filthy.

'Nothing, Mother,' he said. 'I slipped, that's all.'

'Slipped? Slipped? What do you mean, slipped? You didn't fall, did you? You didn't damage the Pylotron?'

Walter sighed again. That was typical. Abso-bloody-lutely typical. She wasn't worried about him was she? Not her one-and-only son, her Personal Shopper, her Provider of the Night-Time Horlicks. Oh no, all she cared about was her precious Pylotron. And of course, that was perfectly safe. As if he'd ever take any risks with the Pylotron - the most important device the world had ever seen! Not that the world ever had seen it - not yet, anyway. But one day, oh one glorious day...

He touched the Pylotron through the fabric of his anorak. He kept it in his chest pocket, close to his heart, protected by a good thick padding of bubble-wrap, and he knew he hadn't damaged it - but even so, his mother's question made him uneasy. Maybe... what if...?

He tugged at a zipper, slipped his mucky hand inside, and stroked the metal beneath the bubble-wrap, just to be sure.


'It's all right, Mother,' he said into the microphone, 'I didn't fall, and the Pylotron's fine. So am I, in case you're interested.'

'Just you be careful, our Walter,' said his mother. 'Just you think on. There's many a slip twixt cup and lip, and you've got to remember what's at stake here.'

Walter sneezed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. As if he'd ever be allowed to forget.

His mother was still gabbling.

'My battery's getting a bit low,' he lied. 'I'm going to turn you off. Give you a call when I get to the pylon, OK?'

'No! Just you wait a minute! Before you activate, remember to check the alignment and I want you to make sure...'

Walter pressed cancel and stood quietly for a moment, listening to the shifting wind and the patter of rain on his anorak hood. He unclipped the microphone, glared at it, gave it the finger. There were times when he'd have been happy to swing for his mother. Yes, she was special, yes, she'd been chosen and changed, but she never knew when to stop, did she? She never knew when enough was enough.

He sneezed again, and realised with a sinking heart that his head was beginning to throb. Still, the pylon was calling to him, and he had a job to do. He blew his nose, fixed his eyes on the summit, and carried on climbing.

* * *

It took him a good ten minutes to reach the barbed wire fence at the pylon's base, and he arrived out of breath, sniffing, and - wind or no wind - sweating like the proverbial pig. He rested against one of the fenceposts and looked out over the fields below. Other pylons stretched away into the distance, a long line of them running north-south, all connected via thick cables to pylon number - he checked the plate - 4YX 183.

The rain fell. His head thumped. His nose ran.

Still, if 4YX 183 turned out to be what they were looking for, if it turned out to be the pylon, he didn't think the rain or his headache or his cold would matter very much. In fact, he didn't think anything would matter very much ever again.

He noted the pylon's number down in his logbook, fished his wire-cutters out of an inside pocket - you must never keep anything else in the same pocket as the Pylotron, Walter - and began snipping. Half-a-dozen snips later, he was on the other side of the fence, staring up at the great tower of metal and humming wire soaring above him. Walter had never understood people who thought electricity pylons were ugly. To him, they were just about the most beautiful objects humanity had ever created. His mother and father had always thought so, too, even before the Night of the Lights, the arrival of the spaceship, and the abduction.

Why had they had been chosen? Why had he been left behind? He still didn't know, but at times he thought the words 'left behind' encapsulated the story of his life.

Walter was sitting on the toilet when, a month after his parents vanished, his mother alone returned. Suddenly, there she was, curled up in the bath, clutching his yellow plastic duck, and it soon became apparent that her penchant for pylons had become something more than a simple love affair. It had become an obsession, a mission, an everything and an all. It had become her life.

'Mother!' he'd said, struggling to hitch up his trousers with one hand whilst trying to help her out of the bath with the other. 'What happened? Where have you been? Where's Dad?'

She'd fixed him with her customary glare. Well, perhaps not quite as customary as usual, because her eyes were purple now, and they glowed a bit, and she had four of them - but it was her glare all right, no doubt about that. She'd glared some more, shaken off his hand, and answered all of his questions in one long breath: 'The aliens took us and did some experiments and we visited their planet somewhere in Andromeda and it's a funny place with three suns and lots of pylons and they have a plan and your father's still there and we don't get him back until we've built this.'

From somewhere inside his yellow duck she produced a blueprint. Walter took it and stared at the glowing lines and symbols. They were inscribed on strange, metallic paper that emitted a low hum and gave him an alarming sensation in his fingertips. He dropped it, or rather tried to drop it, but it didn't do dropped. Released, it stayed where it was, suspended in the middle of the bathroom.

'Close your mouth, Walter,' his mother said.

Walter did so, then opened it again to speak. 'What is it?'

His mother reached out a limb that was really more of a tentacle than an arm, snatched the blueprint out of the air, and stuffed it back inside his duck. Quacker's floating days were over, thought Walter.

'Instructions for building a Pylotron,' said his mother. 'You're going to help me build it, and when we've built it you're going to find The One True Pylon. It's somewhere in England but that's all I know. When you've found it, you're going to attach the Pylotron to one of its legs. Then you'll activate. And when you do, Walter, when you do...'

She'd paused for dramatic effect.


She'd fixed him with her four purple eyes.

'Let's just say it's going to change the world, Walter,' she said. 'Oh yes. The entire, blind, foolish world.'

* * *

That had been over a year ago. The Pylotron had taken them two solid months of steady, careful work to build, using a weird combination of bits ripped out of the TV, the microwave, and just about every other electrical appliance in the house. Since then Walter had taken it all over the country, snipped through an awful lot of barbed wire, strapped the machine to thousands of pylons, and pushed the big red button - but so far to no avail. He had a log book full of pylon numbers, but the number of the One True Pylon wasn't yet amongst them. Unless, of course... he reached out and patted 4YX 183's cold, wet framework.

Gradually, over the long, disappointing months, he'd developed a good luck ritual that he liked to perform before attaching the Pylotron. He'd never told his mother about this. She'd just have mocked him, and anyway, he was of the opinion that a son ought to have at least a few secrets that his mother wasn't privy to - especially if he happened to have a mother who'd been abducted by aliens and was no longer fully human.

He unzipped his anorak pocket, took out the Pylotron and carefully removed the protective bubble-wrap. He kissed the big red button, faced north and spoke his special north word. He did the same for east, south and west, kissing the button each time. Then he stood on his left leg for five seconds, his right for ten seconds, and finally attached the Pylotron to the pylon, pulling the metallic strapping nice and tight.

Like magic, the rain suddenly stopped. Walter tugged down his anorak hood and looked up at the sky. There was a tiny circle of clear blue directly above him. A strange, perfect circle in an otherwise grey dome. As he watched, he saw the circle expand.

This had never happened before. He fumbled for his phone, turned it on, and called home.

'Walter?' said his mother. 'Don't you ever...'

'Shut up and listen,' said Walter. 'There's something odd going on.'

He spoke quickly, but even so the expanding circle was a lot bigger by the time he'd finished.

'Have you checked the alignment?' said his mother, unable to conceal her own excitement.


One third of the entire sky was now a perfect disc of blue. I've found it, thought Walter. I've only gone and bloody-well found it!

'Have you activated yet?'

'No, not yet.'

'Well don't just stand there gawping, you idiot,' his mother squawked. 'Do it! Activate the Pylotron!'

Walter took his eyes off the sky and stared at the red button. It too seemed to be expanding. He didn't know for sure what would happen when he pressed it, but he knew that nothing would ever be the same again. His headache was gone, his cold forgotten. With a shaking hand he reached out, touched, stroked, pushed.

For a moment there was a silence deeper than any other silence he'd ever know, so deep he could hear the blood rushing through his veins. And then the One True Pylon began to hum, to glow with a throbbing, purple light. A thin shaft of purple shot skywards, through the exact centre of the still-expanding blue circle.

And that was when Walter heard them. Dozens of them, ripping themselves free, finally on the move. He turned, followed the sagging, swaying cables and saw the long line of sisters, majestically striding across the fields, heading for his hill.

His mother's voice was small and distant in his earpiece. 'What's going on, Walter? What are those noises? Tell me!'

Walter swallowed. It had started. It was happening. And this, he knew, was just the beginning.

'It's the other pylons, Mother,' he said.

'Yes? Yes? What about them?'

He swallowed again as The One True Pylon began to scream.

'They're coming, Mother,' he said. 'They're coming.'

©2002 John Ravenscroft

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