It took Tom over an hour to get back home from Clare’s. He could have run to Thatcham in half the time, and he would have if he’d known how bad the traffic was going to be. He even considered abandoning the car and coming back for it later, but there were no spaces in which he could leave it, and no sign that the congestion was going to ease.
He eventually parked up outside the bungalow and stretched his back, glad to be out of the car.
‘You leaving that there?’
Tom looked around and saw his neighbour, Ray Mercer, storming towards him. They’d had their differences from the outset, after Tom had savagely pruned several of Mercer’s Laburnums which had been overhanging his garden, blocking the light. Mercer had threatened to report him to the police. Tom had told him to stop complaining and find something better to do with what was left of his life, and things had gone downhill from there.
‘Well seeing as I’ve parked on my drive,’ he replied, ‘yes. Is there a problem?’
Mercer grunted. ‘Spoils my view of the sunset when you park there.’
‘Oh well. I’ll bear that in mind if I go out again later.’
‘You do that,’ Mercer said, turning his back on Tom and marching back to his house.
Arsehole, Tom thought, making a mental note to leave his car there more often. He found it strangely reassuring that, aliens or no aliens, Mercer was as objectionable a prick as ever.
From his high vantage point Tom looked down over Thatcham and the surrounding area. There seemed to be even more tents in the campsite just outside the village now, barely any spaces left between them. A flood of people disembarked from a usually half-empty train. Crowds of drinkers spilled out onto the street outside the Badger’s Sett. Mrs Grayson was standing in front of the supermarket, leaning up the window and puffing on a cigarette as she did most times he saw her. Life goes on, he said to himself. This time yesterday, he hadn’t been sure that would be the case.
The eyes of the world seemed still to be focused on Thatcham, and Tom felt that he was right at the centre of it all. He didn’t like it. He’d come here to get out of the limelight, to find somewhere he could go unnoticed. Maybe the madness would die down as quickly as it had begun? Despite the intense media interest, he was surprised at how relatively normal things still felt. He’d half expected the scaremongers and prophets of doom to have been out in force by now, dispensing their fabricated stories about the visitors to anyone who’d listen. But they hadn’t. It seemed the importance of this situation had been recognised by everyone. Every media outlet appeared to have access to every detail about the aliens. He guessed that there was plenty more being withheld at the highest levels but, even so, he hadn’t yet heard much in the way of speculation. Enough information had been released to avoid the need for second-guessing.
Maybe that’s for the best, Tom thought. Sensationalism and scoops have been put to one side temporarily. Just for now it’s all about disseminating the news as efficiently as possible. It’ll all be about ratings, circulation figures and profit again in no time.
He wondered whether things would ever get back to normal, before telling himself that this was normal now. A few days back, everything that had happened would have seemed completely unbelievable, laughable even. But the fantasy of science-fiction had become reality within just a few seconds yesterday afternoon. The aliens were here, and nothing was ever going to be the same again.