New Year’s Eve 1989 in the Venison household was one to remember. So it is unfortunate that I’m the only one who does. (My parents, and my aunties and uncles who attended the party at our house, all woke the next afternoon with “nasty colds” that seemed to have wiped all memory of the night’s festivities. I noticed my parents often came down with these amnestic symptoms after a jovial night ingesting toxic quantities of alcohol.)
My siblings and I had gone to bed at 8:30, but I awoke around 10pm to the inharmonious din of a Cindy Lauper singalong. I crept upstairs (at the time I was sleeping in the basement—we had been learning about gophers at school, and the idea of living underground appealed to me). After getting a drink of water from the kitchen, I went into the living room, and saw my father and my uncle knotted on the floor—my father gripping my uncle in a headlock, and my uncle punching my father repeatedly in the knee. “Time After Time” was still playing on the stereo, and my mother and my aunties were shrieking at each other (it was more bearable than their singing). Frightened, and curious, I hid behind the couch and watched. The melee continued for a short while, before my father and my uncle separated and caught their respective breaths. When my uncle called my father a name comprised entirely of swear words, and my father responded by calling my uncle a drunk, I knew they had made their peace. My father and my uncle put their arms around each other’s shoulders and went into the next room, to the bar. My mother and my aunties began cackling with joy, and it seemed they too had buried the hatchet.
The party simmered down after that—the grown ups played cards and drank, they told stories and drank—tempers flared again at one point during a political discussion (Dad thought Bob Hawke was a good prime minister, while Uncle Darren insisted Viv Richards was still the world’s best cricketer), but it never came to fisticuffs.
I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew, the grown ups were counting back loudly from ten.
They stopped at four.
A few seconds later, cheers and singing burst from the neighbours’ houses, and homemade fireworks popped in the distance. Inside our house was only silence. I peeked out from my hiding spot and saw the grown ups frozen in poses of celebration. Aunty Janet had knocked over a champagne glass on the table; the glass balanced at a thirty degree angle, while the stream of bubbly spilling from it was suspended in mid-air.
A low whirring sounded overhead, and the room took on a green glow. A short, strange being entered. Its bodily proportions, along with its drifting gait made it look like a green helium balloon floating at eye level, dragging a string. The being passed by me and hovered for a moment in front of the mantelpiece. Its colour changed from green to blue, and it shot a narrow beam, like a laser, at the small Abbott and Costello figurines at the end of the shelf. The beam lifted the figurines, and the balloon-being turned to leave, towing the porcelain comedy duo.
Then it saw me.
It stopped and watched me with its blank face. I stepped out from behind the couch. For a second I thought the being would freeze me like the grown ups, but then its colour changed to a warm orange. It spoke to me in a language which I think was German, and projected a hash symbol from the top of its head. Looking back, I think it was telling me how to invent Twitter, in exchange for my silence. I couldn’t understand what it was saying, and probably wouldn’t have done anything with the information even if I did.
The being left the house, along with its colourful aura and Mum’s figurines, and then the grown ups reanimated. They finished their countdown as though it had never paused, and then shouted, “Happy New Year!”
Dad saw me and asked what I was doing out of bed, but before I could answer him there was a knock at the door. It was two policemen. Neighbours had reported a disturbance—strange lights, electrical outages, and a possible UFO sighting—all centred around our house. One of the officers, Sergeant Anatole, asked lots of questions, which none of the grown ups could answer. Whenever the grown ups said something though, Sergeant Anatole would scratch a tiny stick on a small rectangle. As he scratched, I saw squiggles appearing on the rectangle. I understood these squiggles were representations, like a visual code, of spoken words. I was amazed. (I would learn later that Sergeant Anatole’s stick was a pen, and his rectangle a notepad. He was writing.) This strange new art form seemed to me like magic—and I desired its power. It was then that I first wanted to be a writer.
Sergeant Anatole noticed my unusual interest in his notepad, and my total ignorance of written communication. He forgot about the disturbance complaints, and began asking me about my school.
Police launched an investigation into Northwood Academy of Excellence, and it was soon shut down. It turned out the school was unregistered, and its sole teacher, Mr Seldon, was unqualified (he mostly just taught us what he had seen in a documentary about rodents).
My siblings and I started attending a real school—one with pencils and paper. Mum accused me of breaking her Abbott and Costello figurines and hiding the evidence. I didn’t bother arguing.
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