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
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
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
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
'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
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
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
'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.'