It was time to go home. Tilly opened the door a crack and peeped into the café. She groaned. Her boss, Beryl, was still sitting with the strange, old knitting people. She’d tidied the kitchen, but before she could leave, she had to put the chairs on the tables, or in the morning, that fussy cleaner, Effie, would complain.
How much longer would they be? Tilly was getting desperate.
It wasn’t even as if they were partying. They all looked miserable. Were they arguing again like when Beryl had threatened to throttle the little guy with glasses and dodgy teeth – the one who always took the biggest bits of cake but didn’t like paying up? It didn’t seem likely. Beryl knew a lot of swear words – so many, in fact, Tilly wasn’t sure if she made them up. The air would be filled with Beryl’s choicest if she was arguing. No, they weren’t quarrelling – in fact, they were barely talking. When someone did speak, the others stared in what looked like horror.
What was the matter with them?
Surely, they couldn’t all be upset about the exploding laptop?
Tilly could understand Beryl being miffed. You don’t expect to get your laptop fixed, only to find it blow up the first time you use it. Beryl had demanded Ravi in Gadgets-A-Go-Go did something about it. Tilly would’ve liked to have been there to see that.
And to hear it.
She’d been making a list of Beryl’s more colourful swear words and she bet there’d have been a few more floating around in Gadgets-A-Go-Go.
Of course, Beryl would get her way. She always got her way. Apparently, Ravi had to order new parts and that was going to take time. He’d claimed she must have damaged it somehow because laptops didn’t just blow up in the way she’d described. Beryl asked him if he’d ever worn a laptop, and once he’d worked out what she meant, he’d agreed to fix it although he’d told her she’d have to pay for some of the parts.
Beryl had not been happy. She was happy to make a profit – not so keen on paying out – as Tilly well knew. Her wages not being anything to get excited about. The Torremolinos holiday fund was growing painfully slowly.
She peered through the crack in the door again and scowled. Those old people were definitely mucking up her social life. She checked her phone.
I’m here. Where RU?
Wot U doin?
Texts were flying into her phone so fast, they were almost tripping over each other.
She’d promised to visit Nan before she met her friends, so she was now seriously late. And still Beryl and the old knitters sat there, staring at each other. What was going on? Tilly put her ear to the gap in the door. The long-haired, paint-splattered bloke – the one what left coloured fingerprints on the coffee mugs – was speaking.
‘But UFOs don’t exist.’ He didn’t sound very certain.
Tilly had been about to shut the door and find some saucepans to rattle in the hope Beryl would remember she was still there. But at those words, she froze. UFOs?
Had they given up on those knitted, post box hats, and taken up something more interesting? They certainly didn’t look interested. They all looked really rattled.
The dozy woman who worked in the estate agent, Crabbitt & Croppett, kept holding her hands to her mouth and squealing. And the greedy guy with dodgy teeth kept raising his hands above his head and lowering them slowly, his eyes wide and wild behind his glasses.
Tilly carried on listening. They couldn’t be serious. It seemed they believed the CCTV video showed a tiny spaceship had come down in the High Road and hovered over the post box. After that, the laptop had exploded. But since the Voodoo Doll had disappeared the night the video had been recorded, they’d concluded tiny aliens were responsible. The spaceship had floated over the hat-thing the knitters had stuck on top of the post box, and the aliens had somehow pulled the Voodoo Doll up into it.
Tilly wondered what they’d been drinking.
She poked her nose into the gap in the door and sniffed. No tell-tale odours in there.
Her phone vibrated.
Again. And again. More texts. She checked the time. Five minutes had passed. Nan would be expecting her and would be worried. There was nothing for it. Tilly crept away from the door, raised a saucepan above her head and dropped it.
‘Tilly!’ Beryl yelled.
Tilly went to the door and looked around it innocently. ‘Sorry, I just dropped something.’
‘Why are you still here?’ Beryl asked.
‘I’m tidying up like you told me,’ Tilly said virtuously.
‘Well go home, I’ll finish up here.’
Tilly was already out of the back door.
It wasn’t far to where her Nan lived.
A stupid name.
Of course, it wasn’t really called that. On the big sign outside the three-storey building, it said, The Hugo Uzzlewhit Rest and Retirement Home. As far as Tilly could see, the first letters of those words spelt HURARH. It looked more like something a pirate might say, but spelling wasn’t her strong point.
And anyway, who cared?
But it seemed to be close enough for the people of Creaping Bottom to refer to it as Hurrah House.
Her nan, Dora Dawkins, had been living in her retirement flat there for three years. She knew everyone and all their business. Some of the residents were more reserved than others, but Dora prided herself on being able to prise information out of the most secretive of people.
When Tilly arrived, gasping for breath, having run from the High Road, Nan was in the communal lounge. She patted the armchair next to her. ‘There you are, Chickie. Where have you been? I was getting quite worried.’
Tilly told her about the ridiculous conversation she’d overheard and why she was late.
‘I’d always had that Beryl Bonzer down as a sensible woman,’ Nan remarked, shaking her head in disbelief. ‘UFOs indeed! Just wait until I tell Mabel.’
Back in the café, the members of the society and Beryl remained seated, talking over what they’d witnessed. Their shock had given way to indecision about how to proceed.
Beryl wanted to tell everyone; keen on profiting from the crowds who’d inevitably come to the scene. Vera was more cautious. After all, if the café was inundated with UFO spotters, would they lose their table? She’d already had her fill of weird people who were interested in Voodoo. Did she really want a flood of UFO aficionados trying to infiltrate the Post Box Topper Society? And anyway, they had no proof of the alien abduction. Who’d believe them?
‘It’s probably just as well there’s no proof,’ Stuart said gloomily. ‘The aliens targeted our Barbie Doll. If it got out about the abduction, wouldn’t people wonder how they knew about her? Aliens have got the entire universe to roam it’s a bit hard to believe they’d find their way to Creaping Bottom – and specifically, to our post box topper.’
‘And your point is…?’ Petronella asked.
‘We might be accused of inviting them, or at least complicity in an alien operation. We might be legally liable. I’m not sure our insurance covers us for aiding and abetting an alien invasion. And what about health and safety? Who knows what sort of hygiene issues might be raised if it became known aliens had visited.’
‘That’s nonsense!’ Sally said but her voice was hesitant. ‘Isn’t it?’
No one replied.
Eventually, they agreed to keep silent on the matter and wait until Ravi had fixed the laptop so they could connect it to Beryl’s CCTV camera. And in the meantime, Stuart offered to research the financial implications associated with alien abduction.
‘Can’t you connect Stuart’s laptop to your security system, so we’d have a better idea of what we’re dealing with?’ Petronella asked.
‘Certainly not! My laptop is my business computer. I can’t go joining all sorts of unsecured networks. I have to think of my clients’ security and confidentiality.’
‘Whose network is unsecured?’ Beryl rose, scowling, her fists bunched. Vera hastily suggested they all go home and sleep on it.
‘When we get the proof, then we can decide what to do,’ she suggested, hoping by that time, the entire alien mess would have gone away.
‘But in the meantime, we must all remain silent on the topic. Agreed?’
Everyone nodded. Even Beryl, who didn’t like the sound of legal proceedings against them or the thought of placating an invasion of food inspectors.
The following day, Vera was waiting outside Bonzer Buns when it opened. She was joined shortly after by Stuart who planned to work from the café. Petronella was at the library and Sally was at the estate agents. Levi was missing. Presumably, he’d been painting through the night and hadn’t yet woken up.
Beryl let them in. They exchanged worried glances but said nothing to each other. Two women followed Vera and Stuart into the café and found a table near the window. They looked about animatedly and when Beryl greeted them and took their order, one of them said, ‘So, is that where the aliens landed, just outside your café?’
Beryl dropped her pad and paper. ‘Aliens?’ she said weakly. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’
Vera appeared at Beryl’s shoulder. ‘Well, goodness.’ Her voice was conversational. ‘Aliens? Here in Creaping Bottom? How ludicrous!’
Vera exchanged glances with Beryl.
‘Don’t be too sure,’ the woman said, tapping the table with her forefinger. ‘I heard it from a friend who heard it from her friend who knows everything. And it’s true. Apparently, there’s even video proof. A few nights ago, aliens landed in the High Road. It seems they snatched that awful Voodoo Doll that’s been terrorising the town. So, what d’you think of that?’
Vera began to laugh and picking up on the cue, Beryl joined in.
‘Oh, how funny! Really what nonsense!’ Vera said.
The woman puffed herself up. ‘Well, I had it on the best authority…’
‘I bet it was that rascal, Tony Parstedd from the newspaper,’ Vera said. ‘What a prankster. He does love a good joke.’
The two women looked disappointed.
‘Oh, that’s a shame. I thought it was true. It would’ve been quite exciting. Well, in that case, cancel the coffee and cake. There’s no point staying here.’
Vera followed Beryl into the kitchen. ‘How did they know? We all promised we wouldn’t tell a soul.’
Beryl frowned. ‘Are you sure you can trust that mongrel, Stuart? He’s got shifty eyes. If I was going to put my money on anyone, it’d be him.’
‘Well, it doesn’t matter, Beryl, the story appears to be out, whoever it was who couldn’t keep their mouth shut. We now need damage control.’
Beryl’s eyes narrowed. ‘You know, I think we’re looking at this from the wrong angle. We’ve got no reason to be on the defensive. We didn’t invite aliens to Creaping Bottom. Surely, we can prove that? Or at least, no one can prove otherwise. I’ve just lost two new customers who only came because they thought we have UFOs. The story leaking out might work to our advantage.’
‘I don’t see how! You might be insured for such things, but the Post Box Topper Society certainly isn’t.’
‘Oh, lighten up, Vera. You’re overreacting. You wanted publicity for your society. Well, here it is.’
‘But I want people who can knit. People who know what a post box topper is. Not a lot of conspiracy theorists.’
‘Well, we’re too late anyway. The story’s out. If crowds of people come into Bonzer Buns to ask about the aliens, I’ll make a fortune. Enough to compensate for the aggro of food inspectors, and you’ll have your pick of my customers. Some of them will be able to knit, I’m sure.’
Typical. Beryl had her eye on the profit. Most likely she’d make enough to cover any legal damages. Perhaps she was the one who’d let the story out? Had Stuart been right about her all along?
The doorbell jangled.
And now smiling broadly, Beryl rushed into the café.
It was Tony Parstedd, and he didn’t look as though he wanted a cup of Beryl’s finest coffee and a Brisbane Brownie.
‘What are you playing at?’ he demanded, an accusatory finger jabbing the air.
‘And a bonzer good day to you too,’ Beryl said.
‘That’s a low trick! I’m in charge of headlines in Creaping Bottom. How dare you go viral! You don’t get to decide what’s news and what’s not. What garbage! Aliens in Creaping Bottom. It’s just blatant lies.’
Nevertheless, the UFO story made it to the front page, with the headline Awful Alien April Fool’s Joke Hoax. The report suggested the story had been invented by the Post Box Topper Society and Beryl of Bonzer Buns in a shameful attempt at self-promotion.
‘How dare Tony Parstedd, of all people, accuse us of deceit,’ Petronella said.
Vera had called an extraordinary meeting to discuss the UFO story and the increased interest in Bonzer Buns.
‘I don’t care,’ said Beryl, with a smug expression. ‘Business has never been so good.’
‘But aren’t your customers all a little bit… well… intense?’ Sally whispered, looking around at the occupants of the tables in the café, who were staring raptly at the post box outside the window.
‘Who cares? They’re fuelled by coffee and cake. I’ll be able to buy a new laptop soon. Crikey, I’ll be able to buy two.’
‘I think you’re missing the point, Beryl,’ Stuart said raising his eyebrows in a patronising way. ‘What happens when the aliens don’t return? People will believe we’ve tricked them. Imagine the backlash.’
‘We can’t win,’ said Sally, her brows drawn together in a frown.
‘Well, perhaps we can.’ Levi looked up at the ceiling as he pondered. With an uncharacteristically wide-awake look, he said, ‘We need to satisfy the alien sightseers, yet we also need to demonstrate we’d had no intention of tricking anyone. But also, we need to keep the rumours of the visitation alive so Beryl fills her café, and we get preferential rates on anything we order—’
‘What?’ Beryl leapt to her feet. ‘I never said anything about preferential rates over and above the mates’ rates you’re already getting!’
‘But if we could keep Bonzer Buns full and our reputations intact, it would only be fair…’
Beryl chewed her lower lip and held out her hand to Levi. ‘If you can do all you suggested, then I’ll knock another ten per cent off your bill.’
‘Twenty?’ Levi put on his hopeful face.
‘Done,’ said Beryl.
Vera had a headache. Her heart was racing, and she wiped the cold sweat off her brow with a tissue. Then remembering how flimsy they were, she found a hankie in her pocket and wiped all the disintegrated bits of tissue paper off her forehead. If she survived to the end of the day, then she really must buy better-quality tissues. But in the meantime, what had Levi got them into? And more importantly, how could she get them out of it?
‘Twenty per cent, eh?’ Stuart nodded approvingly. ‘I’d have gone for twenty-five, myself—’
‘Oh, shut up!’ The tension was getting to Sally too.
Petronella, Vera’s right-hand woman sat silently, her jaw slack.
No help from that quarter, then, Vera thought. The only possibility was that Levi hadn’t simply been dreaming, and really did have a plan. It was vital he didn’t now fall asleep, leaving them all to try to work out what it was.
Vera felt sick and to make matters worse, she’d received an email from A. Godbin that morning, calling her integrity into question over what he’d dubbed Aliengate. Really! The cheek of the man!
Levi crossed his arms over his chest. ‘Right, here’s what we’ll do. First, we deny everything…’
Vera’s heart sank. For a second, she’d allowed herself to believe Levi would rescue them.
He raised a hand with paint-covered palm towards them to stop any comments. ‘And then.’ He smiled. ‘We do this…’
It had indeed been a masterful plan. The members of the society had been invited into the local BBC radio station to talk about their post box toppers and they’d had lots of applicants wanting to join who both knew what a topper was and could actually knit. There’d been so many, Vera had made a waiting list. In fact, the society no longer needed new members because an anonymous donor had sent them a generous cheque for their ‘sterling community work’. And Beryl’s coffee and cake were now so cheap after all their discounts, the society’s members could afford to wait a few months before they allowed anyone to join. After all, as Petronella had pointed out, they had a winning team, so why dilute it with new people who might or might not get on with the existing members?
Tony Parstedd had written a favourable article about the society and had even mentioned Bonzer Buns, to Beryl’s delight. He’d praised their wit and even suggested King Charles might come to Creaping Bottom to view the Post Box Topper Society’s masterpiece.
That was doubtful, but Vera could dream. Dame Vera Twinge. It had a delightful ring to it. Perhaps Tony Parstedd was after a knighthood. That was as likely as King Charles visiting the town.
But regardless of royal honours, the May topper was a masterpiece. It wasn’t what Vera had planned but, in the end, it was far better.
As soon as the date for the Coronation had been announced, the members had agreed on an appropriate topper for May, with a knitted King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla. They’d already started making crowns, union flags, coronation regalia on cushions and so on. Those pieces had all been used as planned.
However, the Creaping Bottom Post Box Society’s Coronation Topper had a twist. It included guests at the coronation. But not just any guests. Not bishops, lords and ladies. No, Levi had proposed they create a scene that imagined what the Coronation might look like, had the King invited beings from a neighbouring planet. Not so much alien invasion as alien invitation.
The knitted spaceship had been sprayed silver, and Levi had attached eight fine, strong wires to the bottom. It looked rather like a metallic spider standing up on its legs. It gave arachnophobe, Sally, quite a turn. However, once each wire had been covered in a yellow knitted tube, it looked just like a hovering spacecraft that was projecting light beams from its underside, onto the earth below. A knitted ladder dangled from beneath the spaceship down which green-knitted aliens climbed to the Coronation scene at its base.
The rumours about real aliens had been explained by claiming the post box topper society had been planning their knitted alien coronation and the story had somehow leaked out. As so often happens, the facts had become distorted until people had come to believe Creaping Bottom had really been visited by aliens.
Exactly what would happen if aliens really did visit the town again, Vera had no idea. But really, what were the chances?
A. Godbin had predictably been incensed at the May post box topper and had emailed to tell Vera so. But she was confident that he was mistaken, and that King Charles wouldn’t see their interpretation of their imaginative Coronation as treason. That was simply ridiculous.
Roll on, next month, Vera thought. They’d survived May. What would June bring?
To read the previous stories in this series:
Part 1 – Post Box Topper Outrage – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/02/the-post-box-topper-outrage-by-dawn.html
Part 2 – Post Box Topper Surveillance – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/02/post-box-topper-surveillance-by-dawn.html
Part 3 – Post Box Topper Confusion – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/03/post-box-topper-confusion-by-dawn-knox.html
Part 4 – Post Box Topper Shock – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/04/the-post-box-topper-shock-by-dawn-knox.html
About the author
Dawn’s three previous books in the ‘Chronicles Chronicles’ series are ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’, ‘The Macaroon Chronicles’ and 'The Crispin Chronicles' published by Chapeltown Publishing.
You can follow her here on https://dawnknox.com
on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SunriseCalls
Amazon Author: http://mybook.to/DawnKnox
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