AlterNativity - Part 1 - The Night Watch
It was a clear night. In fact it was a very clear night. Bright points of light peppered the sky, but these paled in comparison with the gigantic 'star' currently appearing to hang over the small village in the valley.
In a field on the hillside, two shepherds sat on a rocky outcrop and regarded the 'star' glumly. Eventually, one turned to the other and said, conversationally,
"I'm sore afraid"
There was a pause, during which his companion digested this news.
"Well, which?" he asked, eventually.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, what I mean is, are you sore? Or are you afraid? Can't be both, don't make any sense that."
"I mean what I say, and I say what I mean." the first shepherd said, glaring at his companion, "I'm sore from sitting on this ruddy rock and I'm afraid that damn great star up there is going to put us out of business." Somewhere in the distance, a wolf howled. "Look," the shepherd continued, warming to his theme, "what's the point in us being here, watching our flocks by night, as it says in the job description…"
"As it says in the job description, agreed." His companion nodded.
"Well, what's the point if it's going to be like daylight all the time? What creature is going to be daft enough to try something in broad daylight?" He eased a weary buttock from the rock beneath and shuffled a little.
"Take your point, comrade, take your point." The second shepherd chewed the idea, along with a length of straw he had been saving for just such an occasion. "So, you are of the view that the aforesaid and alleged 'star' hanging above us, is, in point of fact and notwithstanding, a celestial conspiracy to deprive us of our rightful livelihood, to wit, being a shepherd watching his, or as it may indeed be, her, flock by night?"
The first shepherd squirmed on his rocky repository a little, thought this statement over, gave it due consideration and said, "You what?"
"I said," the second shepherd sighed deeply, "that if this bright light goes on, we'll all be out on our ears. Remember when it turned up?"
"How could I forget?" The first shepherd muttered glumly, "what with that coming out of nowhere and ruddy choral singing belting out in every direction…the effect it had on my sheep"
"Not good! You know what sheep are like. Scared stiff is how they are when things are fine. Add a blinding bright light, and all that singing, and you've got some seriously terrified sheep. And you know what happens if you frighten a sheep?"
"Yeah." said his companion with feeling.
"It was like a skating rink round here. Took me all my time to stand up without falling over. And, of course, the last thing you wanted to do was fall over. Bloody star!" He said with feeling, "we don't even know what it is."
"Ah now, I may be able to furnish you with a little inside knowledge there," the second shepherd looked around conspiratorially, "You see Earl over there?" he nodded toward the lone silhouette of a shepherd on the horizon. The first shepherd nodded his agreement. "Well, he's been giving it some thought, and he reckons it's a supernova."
The second shepherd folded his arms and attempted to look wise, which unfortunately left him with the appearance of someone experiencing a severe bilious attack.
"A supernova?" The first shepherd thought about this for a while, and eventually caved in, "what's one of them when it's at home?"
"I thought you might ask that, brother," said the second shepherd, looking somewhat smug, "you know those Brit slaves the Romans brought here?" The first shepherd nodded. "Well, they've got this game, right, where they all stand round in a circle and one chucks a ball at the other, you know what I mean?"
"I've seen 'em at it," the first shepherd confirmed, "it's called Rickets." He said with some pride.
"Rickets? Is it? Well, If you say so." The second shepherd gave his companion a hard stare."Any road, at some point the one chucking the ball gets fed up with it and lets the other one have a go, and that," he said smugly" is called a Nova."
"Oh, right. Well, he would know," the first shepherd conceded, "Earl's a thinker. So, a Nova is a point in the game where they change ends, right?"
"Yeah, that's it." The second shepherd congratulated himself on working his way through a tricky conversation.
"Right." The first shepherd decided to quite while he was ahead. "Here, there's a kid bawling his eyes out down there. We're doing no good here. Let's grab a lamb, go down, see if we can cadge a cup of tea. Kids like lambs. We might even get a few bob off the father if we can get him to shut up."
With a lamb under his arm, the second shepherd helped his friend up off the rock and they set off, cautiously, because the sheep were still somewhat anxious, in the direction of the village and the 'star'.
"What's a supernova then?" The first shepherd asked, and immediately regretted it, as they picked their way down the hillside.
"Well, it stands to reason dunnit"
"Yeah, course it does. If a Nova is the time where the game changes a bit, then a Supernova must be…must be…"
"Oh, I'm with you." The first shepherd stopped to catch his breath and looked up at the 'star'. "It must be where the game changes completely!"
"That's it" said the second shepherd with some relief, "it's a game-changing event, that's what it is."
You can find the complete AlterNativity, along with a whole bunch of other seasonal stories, in Philip's collection 'A Christmas Cracker' out now on Amazon Kindle.