Prologues shouldn’t be necessary in a novel. Even if the novel starts off with a mystery that you don’t understand, you should get it by the end. (On the other hand, a General Prologue was good enough for Chaucer, so …)

I compromise, and if I absolutely feel I have to have a Prologue, I prefer to call it Chapter 1. This was originally a short Chapter 1 to New World Order, dropped when someone pointed out to me that the invasion is more interesting if it’s obviously a threat to England, not to some sheep.

1: The Arrival

The invasion began on a crystal clear night at the end of April, when nothing moved and the stars were picked out in the sky like flecks of diamond ice.

A tension had gathered on the flat hill top, a tautness in the air that made the shepherds think strangely of thunderstorms. Even the sheep noticed something amiss. They huddled together, ears pricked and eyes straining in the dark for the approach of some nameless danger known only to what passed for the ovine mind.

The shepherds were alert, standing, poised uneasily for whatever danger lurked. There was a hum, a rumble in the air, as of a thousand throats murmuring something just too low to be heard, but there was no direction to it — no clear source, so no clear threat. The rumble began to split into harmonies — bass, tenor, alto, pitch piled upon pitch until the whole air vibrated with an infinity of possibilities. And then a brilliant, searing light split the night with a crack like a million thunderbolts and the brilliance of a newborn sun flooded across the hilltop.

The sheep, showing that there can be wisdom even in the congenitally unintelligent, fled. They were followed a bare second later by the shepherds. There was theological precedent for shepherds on bare hilltops seeing strange lights at night, but such weighty matters were driven far from their minds by sheer terror.

The sheep, being sheep, came back once the immediate danger had passed. The searing light was gone, replaced by a more gentle yet equally strange glow; this one more orange than white. Shapes were moving about — strange, angular shapes, giving off acrid smells that their noses had ever known. But among the strange shapes were more familiar ones, more comforting. Men, like their shepherds. The men didn’t seem interested in the sheep or threatening, so the sheep ambled back to where they had been.

After a while, interest in the sheep grew. One man had seen the flock. He murmured to one of his friends and together they strolled casually over. Faced with such a direct approach the sheep shied away. They scuttled some ten, twenty feet, but when none of the men chased them they stopped again. The men stood, crouched, in a semi circle around the sheep. A couple of them held out hands, made noises that were meant to be encouraging. Nonplussed, the sheep held their ground.

One of the men straightened up. He was baring his teeth and his arm went to something hanging at his side. He raised the object he found there and pointed it at the sheep. The noises he made were unintelligible to the sheep but they translated as, “Hello, dinner.”

It was no great comfort to be the first fruits of occupation.

Copyright © Ben Jeapes 2004. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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