Close encounter of the fourth kind

A wildlife enthusiast searches for water voles, but has a close encounter that beats all his preconceptions

Paul frowned. He expected to be spying on a rare creature, but not this rare. As he lay on the bank, peering through the reeds, the world felt normal. The meadow plants felt cool and soft under his body, though the occasional stone spoilt his comfort. He felt the warmth of the rising sun as it shone from behind him, burning away the early mist and bringing out the fresh scent of grass. His senses were fully active, so he had no doubt that he was awake. Everything about that scene fitted the mental image he had formed as he prepared for this trip. Everything except...

Paul was a nature lover and he ventured out early in the hope of seeing water voles that had recently been reintroduced under a conservation scheme. Aware of the need for stealth, he walked about a mile from his car, placing his feet with caution and planning each step to avoid making a noise. He chose a place where a screen of reeds and small trees shielded him from view and made it possible to crawl unseen to the river margins. Water voles are nervous creatures and a soundless approach was vital. They didn't come. Instead, he found himself questioning his sanity as he gazed at... Well, what was it? He couldn't call it an animal. It wasn't human. In fact, it shouldn't - couldn't exist.

The goblin was sitting on the edge of an enormous toadstool and swinging his legs.
'It had to be a toadstool, didn't it?' Paul thought, mocking his own credulity.
'Any minute I'm gonna see elves dancing round with flutes and penny whistles.'
But the picture did not quite fit his nursery story preconceptions. True to form, the creature had pointed ears, a long nose and an olive complexion; but it was hatless and wore a smart, double-breasted, grey suit and shiny shoes. Come to think of it, the suit was shiny as well - almost glowing with a faint silver sheen. Nice material. And the toadstool was out of character; it wasn't the classic Fly Agaric with bright red surface studded with white spots - but a symmetrical large, grey dome set dead square on its upright pillar. 'Large', that is, in relation to its diminutive occupant.

"If you think I can't see you, you're even more stupid than they said you'd be!"
Paul remained still and hidden but felt himself blush in conspicuous embarrassment. Not only was he watching a childish fantasy - the thing was also insulting him.
"I'm telling you I can see you. Sit up so I can see you properly!"
Paul obeyed.
"And stop gaping - it makes you look even dafter!"

The creature was the size of an average cat but had an intimidating manner which commanded compliance.
"What are you?", Paul asked.
"That's a very ignorant question. I'm not sure whether you're real but, if you are, you don't deserve to be. At best, you're backward specimen of primitive life."
That was one insult too many.

"If you don't mind, I've got a degree in zoology and I'm intelligent enough to know better than to insult other living creatures"

The goblin shuffled to the edge of its toadstool, dropped to the ground and stood facing Paul across the stream.
"I'll admit that you sound real - you certainly make a noise when you're angry. But I've never really believed in mortals. Convince me!"
"I'm NOT angry! Anyway, why should I convince you? It's you who dropped in from a fairy tale."
The goblin glared.
"Fairy tale, is it? Now who's throwing insults? Goblins are the peacemakers; the most technically advanced; the most intelligent beings in the universe. We don't have anything to do with those dirty, violent, malicious fairy brutes. Don't you know that they're subject to quarantine and universal sanctions? Little good your education has done for you."

Paul was becoming confused. His quiet morning of wildlife observation had turned into a frustrating argument with a pint-sized legendary being who contradicted everything he learned in the nursery. No, wait a minute! He didn't learn it… those tales were just fantasies: stories to amuse a childish mind. Anyway, the goblin wasn't wearing the right clothes… He looked straight at the creature, which still insisted on looking real - and stubbornly refused to disappear in a mist at the end of a dream.
"Let's get this right - you're a goblin?"
"That's right!"
"And you say that goblins are an intelligent race with advanced technology and a love for peace and order?"
Paul could hardly believe his own voice.
"It's universally acknowledged."
"And you don't go round creating havoc and making mischief?"
"The very idea!"
"So, if you're real, and there's lots of you, why don't we see you more often?"
"Because we don't come here often. There's very little to learn from this backward planet and its violent, verminous inhabitants."

Paul stood up, his fists clenched at his side.
"You're throwing insults again."
"None that aren't deserved. I can see your getting ready for a fight. I said you were a violent race. You're the fairy here!"

Paul's patience snapped and he strode down the bank and into the stream. As he did, a door sprung open in the side of the toadstool and the little man dashed inside. Red, yellow and green lights began flashing all around the perimeter of the toadstool as it lifted into the air, hovered for a moment, then whooshed up and away to the north-west. The lone human watched open-mouthed, thigh deep in water and wondering about his experience. A UFO would be hard enough to explain, but however could he rationalise a close encounter with an alien goblin?

© Derrick Phillips - 2000