Potterdown school lies at the end of the valley, and on the very outskirts of the town. The road goes no further; there is no further for it to go. Looming up on three sides around the school the steep chalk hills, some broken away like cliffs, protect the establishment from the world beyond. But it was here, in 1982, that something very strange happened.
It was on the Friday afternoon, just before the summer holidays, and on the day of the infant’s school Sports Afternoon that it occurred. An afternoon of events that, when it came to the infants, weren’t so much to do with sport as with having a fun time. The sack races, three-legged races, egg and spoon races, tug o’ war and the suchlike, with the parents often taking part too, were merely to encourage the youngsters to be competitive, and to promote a healthy team spirit.
The events had nearly come to an end, it was after three-thirty, when with a loud whistling sound a ball of fire shot across the sky above the sports field and with an enormous explosion buried itself high up into the hill behind the school. The general consensus amongst the learned there was that it was probably a very small meteorite, no larger than a marble at the most, and that they were fortunate its trajectory had not brought it down in their midst.
Three of the fathers present, the only ones out of the few men who were able to attend fit enough for the steep climbing involved, went off to explore the landing. There was a sizeable crater where it had hit, but nothing more to be seen when they arrived there. It seemed whatever it was had either evaporated on impact, or was so small as to be insignificant, and unlikely to be found. Nevertheless by next morning most of the junior school kids, and even some of the infants, had ventured up there to see for themselves — and what they found was a long way from being insignificant!
David Wallis, and his best friend, John ‘Chalky’ White, were there by six o’clock that Friday evening, and were amongst the first to peer into the crater. The two eight-year-olds were pleased about that — they were able to choose. They both chose blue ones, and hugging them ran around tormenting the dozen or so lads from the senior school who had ventured up there in the hope of finding something of value. Strangely, it appeared the older boys couldn’t see their new friends, and so they thought the kids were just playing around and being stupid. They, seeing nothing at all of interest in the crater soon made their way back down the steep slope.
Within hours all the youngsters in the town had heard of the find, and more than a hundred children scrambled up the steep chalk cliff that night to claim their friendly fluffy, and to take others home for their younger brothers and sisters. By morning every schoolchild from around ten-years-old downwards had one.
Over the next few days the children learned a great deal about their new friends. They were the Delphi atonus, the children of Delphi, a place which apparently existed in the seventh dimension of the fifteen known dimensions that broke away immediately after the universe was created — wherever that was! — and they needed a lot of loving or they would die.
The strange fluffy beings were able to communicate excellently, and they seemed very intelligent too, answering all the children’s questions with ease. They explained to the children that because they were from another dimension, an incredible concept to humans who insisted they knew everything, they could usually only be seen by children or people with minds that hadn’t fully developed; minds able to accept the supposedly impossible with ease, because it wasn’t yet impossible in their minds.
It was over the course of the next few weeks that the children’s parents and the schoolteachers discovered the anomaly. Whereas for the whole of the country the percentage of children who had a secret or invisible friend was quite small, only a few percent, in Potterdown for the infant school it couldn’t be higher — it was one hundred percent. Incredibly it was alarmingly high in the junior school too: a full hundred percent in the lower classes, easing off to eighty-eight percent in the top class; the final year of junior school. And nobody could understand that.
Another strange fact, impossible for them to understand, was that all the children’s invisible friends were identical, apart from in their colour. There were no invisible giant rabbits, teddy bears, pirates, or similarly aged boys and girls that might have been expected. No, every one of those children had a similar friendly invisible fluffy ‘monster’; one of bright colours and with features that only appeared when they were needed — that is to say the mouth was only there when it spoke, the eyes when it needed to see, and the limbs when it needed to use them. It was not only strange, it was worrying.
But the children didn’t worry. They couldn’t have been happier. The Delphi atonus were amazing friends, far better than any puppy dog. What puppy could help you with the homework, and tell you the answers in school tests, yet not have to be walked, fed, groomed or cleaned up after? All the creatures required of them was love, and they got plenty of that!
During the course of the next three years the children’s standard of education rose notably. Every boy and girl in every class was achieving full marks in every test, and it wasn’t through cheating in the end, they were actually learning at an incredible rate. By now both teachers and parents alike had lost any qualms they may have had about the strangeness of the children with their invisible friends. They were better behaved, and with the speed that they were learning they were all going to go on to achieve great things. So what if they had this strange hang-up? Everybody was happy, until . . .
It was August again, the summer holidays, and David had just turned eleven. He woke up, still cuddling Chuckles — that was the name he had given to his invisible friend — and he noticed a difference. His friend’s bright blue colour had faded considerably overnight, and the look he was getting wasn’t the usual cheerful morning one.
“I shall always love you, David,” Chuckles said. “But I know you won’t love me after today, and I shall wither away and die in this strange place.”
“What you on about?” asked David, sitting up rubbing his eyes and becoming fully awake in an instant.
“Today, David, is the day the Delphi atonus harvest. We came here because we are a dying breed, we don’t reproduce fast enough. You do know what gay means, don’t you?”
“Er . . . Yes.” David gulped and went red.
“Over many time periods, like you might call centuries, the number of us who have grown up to be gay has for some unknown reason increased remarkably until today ninety-four percent of our population is gay — we hardly reproduce at all.
“We have deceived you. The Delphi atonus only came here in order to bond with Earth children, and to absorb them and all their youthful healthy and vibrant hormones so that we might continue our species. All the children we have loved and have been loved by over the past few years are now either in, just past, or fast approaching puberty. They are all ripe to be harvested, and today is the day.”
“You’re going to kill me?” David now turned white.
“No-one will be killed. They will simply be absorbed. It won’t hurt them; there will be no physical pain, I promise you. Once that is done the atonus will return home to breed. But you David will be spared.
“Of all the many children who have embraced us, we knew there were always going to be some that would turn out to be unsuitable for us — those who are growing up to be gay themselves. From this community, only one of many we have bonded with around your world, one hundred and eighty-three will be absorbed today, and nineteen will not. You and, I know you will be pleased to hear, your chum Chalky are amongst those who will stay behind.”
“Oh, my God!”
“I’m sorry, David. I’m so sorry . . .” Chuckles looked genuinely sad, and started to fade away.
“Where are you going?” David screamed at him.
“Without love we can’t survive in your environment,” Chuckles explained. “We die within hours. You could never love me now.”
“But I do love you!” David shrieked. “I will always love you, no matter what!”
Chuckles’ colour brightened again, and he cuddled up to David, who stroked him.
Just then the bedroom door burst open and a bright and early, but breathless visitor, Chalky, rushed in gasping, “You’ll never guess what!”
David was so pleased to see he was still hugging his friend too.
On the 17th August 1985, a Saturday, a total of 27,432 children in groups of around 200 mysteriously disappeared from our planet. The product of 130 separate communities spread around the globe, all of the children were about the age of puberty. None of them were ever heard of again. Whether or not this harvesting saved the dying population on Delphi is unknown, but so far they have not been back for more.
However, a cautionary note: unless Delphi is a remarkably small place, 27,432 children are not likely to have had much of an impact on their population problem. Maybe the inhabitants of Delphi are only waiting for the dimensions to line up in a certain way again, for the conditions to be right, for them to be able to return. So parents treasure your children, especially if they should suddenly acquire an invisible friend — a fluffy one. They may not be here forever.
And a word of advice for any child naughtily reading this adult story: if your invisible friend is brightly coloured, fluffy, and requires a lot of loving, then start carrying a photograph of your parents around with you at all times — you wouldn’t want to forget them, would you?
Copyright ©Michael Knell 2006.