‘Ali&En’ by Julie Phillips
An original short story, written for Week 3 of ‘The Map of Mundi’ exhibition at Lighthouse in Poole.
During the exhibition I wanted to invite artists of all kinds to participate – to explore the themes in the show just like I was. Writer Julie Phillips embraced this idea and wrote a new short story inspired by this true medieval account:
The 12th Century story…
Based on the 12th Century records of Ralph of Coggeshall Abbot at the small Cistercian monastery at Coggeshall (Essex) 26 miles south of Woolpit and William of Newburgh (Augustin Canon in Yorkshire), two children were found near a wolf pit outside the village of Woolpit in Suffolk.
This story explores concepts, current at the time, that there was life elsewhere in the Universe, particularly on the dark side of the moon where Aliens lived underground and also Faerie mythology where people believed at the time that Faerie’s would cast out their “malevolent” off spring to Earth and replacing them by taking good human children back with them.
 “Small, Vulnerable ETs”: The Green Children of Woolpit
John Clark, Science Fiction Studies
Vol. 33, No. 2 (Jul., 2006), pp. 209-229 (21 pages). Published by: SF-TH Inc.
The 21st Century Story…
There’s sunlight above us, I can see through the branches and the bracken. I want to tear that away and climb into the light. We’ve escaped!
I look around in the damp darkness to find En, but I feel fur. Soft, coarse and short, he’s warm. He’s not moving this animal… well, until I stroke his head. He starts to lick my hand and then sits up. He moves closer to me and sits so he is touching my back. I reach out across the dank mud to feel a human leg, two, and move my hand across a back and up to a head.
“En” I say, “is that you?”
“Yes, where are we?” is the response as I hear him move and sit up. “and what is that?” He asks, he’s seen the wolf.
“It’s a wolf” I say, and he is terrified.
“They are really aggressive animals Ali”, he says. “That’s why the humans dug pits, to trap them and kill them, eventually they wiped them out in England”. He slowly realises that that is exactly where we are, in a wolf pit, in England.
“He’s come with us, to help us, he is here to protect us, he’s not really a wolf but we have come back to a time when they roamed England, the 12th Century.”
“Why?” He asks. “Isn’t it bad enough to have to leave home without coming back to some dangerous primitive landscape where we could be killed?”
“I chose carefully En, you have to trust me.” I reply.
“Look at the sunlight En, can you see through the leaves? We need to get up there.”
En thinks there’s too much light, it will blind him. He’s used to dim twilight and dark passages. It’s freedom up there I think but I don’t say it. The walls of the pit are steep and slippery, how can we climb? The light is getting stronger and through that dappled light I can see En’s new found legs. How odd, how long and they bend, I can’t understand how he will move. Then I see my own. Even longer, I don’t understand how I can balance my whole new body on those feet and what are the toes for? I move them around slowly.
The wolf moves closer, nudging my chin, encouraging me to put my arms out and lean on him. He helps me up but I fall over. After a while, I can balance on my knees, I tell En,
“I am almost upright!” I say, happy.
“You have to stand on your feet” says En, “that’s how they move. We’re safer staying here than going up there, if that wolf really is safe.”
He doesn’t like it, he doesn’t like his new body, he wants to go home…
I pull one knee up and feel my foot is the dank earth. I like the feeling of mud between my toes, the wolf nudges my other knee still sunk in the earth. I lean on his back and pull the other leg up. I have to lean on his back but eventually I straighten up and let go. I’m standing! I tell En to do it too. He’s struggling.
“Lean on the wolf!” I tell him and the wolf moves towards him.
By now I am walking, unsteadily but it is possible. I trace a line around the walls of the pit to see how big it is, it will be difficult to climb out. En is standing, the wolf is staying close to him in case he falls but En is still terrified. He hasn’t taken a step.
“We have to climb out!” I tell him. The Wolf comes over to me, he puts his back in front of my legs, I think he means me to climb on him.
“You can’t climb on the wolf’s back” says En. “You’re too heavy, you’ll hurt him, he’ll attack you.”
“He wants us to get out,” I tell En “he’s helping us.”
“Why?” says En, “why would he help us?”
“He’s one of us En, he came to help.” I hug the wolf and then climb on his back, if I can stand tall, I will reach those branches and the edge of the pit. I try but lose my balance and fall backwards into the soft mud of the floor.
En is happy to tell me it won’t work, I try again. I dislodge a few branches before falling again. It has to be me, to climb out first, I am taller and stronger than En.
The next time I try, I find a frame to hold on to with my fingers while I dislodge the branches. Sunlight streams into the pit, En crys out.
“It’s ok En” I tell him, “your eyes will adjust, just blink.”
“It’s too light, I’m not used to it, I don’t like it!” He replies. I have to carry on, standing on the wolf’s back, I realise I can pull myself up by holding the frame and using my arms. It hurts but I do it and I am up on a grassy bank. I look back down to En, he’s crying.
“Come on En” I tell him “it will be ok.” I carefully lie down on the grass and extend my arms down the pit, I lean as far as I can.
“Climb on the wolf and take my hands.” Eventually he calms a little and does as he’s told, I pull him up and we are both out.
En covers his eyes and screams. “The light hurts Ali” he says. I can feel the pain too but I keep my eyes open trying to see what’s in front of me. It’s where I want to be and I have to adjust.
“It’s beautiful En, a lot of it is green but there are other colours too.” We both sit for a while, dazzled by the light and the landscape. Green grass and trees, obviously I’ve learnt about them but I’ve never seen them before.
I am so happy but En is still crying. “What’s the matter?” I ask him. He doesn’t like it, he doesn’t like the new light and he wants to go home.
“Now what do we do?” asks En, “Are you going to leave the wolf there? He’ll be killed when they find him.”
“The wolf has gone” I tell him, “he had to go back quickly so that nobody noticed he had gone,”
“So can we go back too?” He asks.
“No” I say.
“How can we survive here?” he says, “we have nothing”.
“We have everything here En, I’ve planned it all”. He asks me if they use money and I tell him they do.
“Did I bring any?” He asks.
“No, we don’t need it,” I reply. I don’t go into the details, but the resources were not available.
“So, we are poor?” he says with annoyance clear in his voice.
“No,” I say “we are very, very rich in all the most important ways, but we need to find some inhabitants”. I look round but there is no sign of human dwellings, just grasslands and the wood. Just as I think about walking and trying to remember where we should go, I hear a thumping noise, voices and then see shapes coming towards us.
“Look En” I say quietly, “there are some humans on horseback.” They have spotted us and are coming towards us. They are speaking but I can’t understand what they are saying.
“They will kill us” says En, “we need to hide. Let’s go back in the pit.”
“No!” I say, “I’ve planned who we meet, they are kind.”
“How can you possibly know how they will react to us, look how different they are?” They have reached us and got off their horses.
I didn’t think about what to wear! We are sitting on the grass wearing the green skin outfits from home. Their clothes are not as bright, stockings, tunics and cloaks dull brown and dark blue, I’ve seen them in pictures back home. I think they are men, it’s supposed to be a man. It looks like En is a man too but I’m a woman. Once they’ve reached us they go quiet, just staring at us. Eventually, one turns to the other and says something and he disappears off across the grass. The one left behind says something to En, En can’t understand, he starts crying again.
“He is just trying to talk to you” I say, “but they speak a different language.” The man heard me speak, he looks at me strangely. He tries to speak to me but I don’t understand either.
“We can learn the language, that’s not something to worry about but we need to show him we are not hostile En” I say.
I hug the man, like I did the wolf and he lets me put my arms inside his cloak. He bends over to En and takes his hand, pulling him inside the cloak as well. We sit wrapped up for a while, until I notice that a whole group of people are coming towards us.
En gasps, he thinks they have sent out for an Army and they are going to kill us.
“They don’t have any weapons En, look.” Among them there’s a woman, she gives us blankets. “They just don’t understand us En, they won’t kill us.”
I don’t need a blanket, I’m not cold.
She’s a lot bigger than me, I mean really twice the size. Then I realise they all are.
“Why aren’t we as tall?” En asks, he says I haven’t done it right, we’re not the same colour either. Then I start looking at their faces, they are pale generally. Like a rose cream colour although I notice the man we first met has blotchy red patches and hair growing from his face. I feel my head, I have hair too and I pull it round to look at it. It’s green, they don’t have green hair. I look at my hands and they are green too. I look at En, his face and hair are both green and he doesn’t have hair on his face.
“We’re not the same as them” I say to En, “something went wrong but it will be ok.”
“How can it be ok?” He says, “we are not the same, they won’t trust us, and we can’t tell them who we are.” En starts crying again, he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t like being different, he wants to go home.
The man bends over to pick me up and I put my arms around him to hold on. Another man picks up En, he screams and reaches out his arms towards me. He’s frightened, “we are separated” he says.
“It’s alright En” I say, “I think they are just taking us to their home.”
“I don’t want to be separated” says En, “We were made as one, we shouldn’t be separate.”
“We had to be separated to come here En.”
“So why couldn’t you come on your own then? Why can’t I go home?”
“Home won’t take us back En, we were cast out. I knew they were going to so I planned and prepared a place to come to. They won’t find us here, they won’t realise we moved in time as well as space.”
The man carrying me, I later find out his name is Richard, is the man I chose to meet. He moves towards the other one so that En can hold my hand. I want to tell him that it isn’t necessary, but I can’t make myself understood.
After some time, we see a large building ahead of us, black and white stripes all over it, we’re taken inside into an enormous room with a large fire. I’ve never seen fire before and I get lost looking into the flames. Richard put his arms in front of me to stop me walking towards it, he says something, and the woman rushes up and rewraps the blanket, offering me another one.
I don’t need a blanket, I’m not cold.
Richard sends the woman away, but she returns shortly with two cups with yellowy liquid in them. En looks fearful, we just stare at them. I am not sure what it is or whether I am supposed to do something with it. They put it on the floor in front of us.
“What is that?” says En, I tell him
“I don’t really know but we are sure to find out.”
She leaves again and returns again with something round and puts that in front of us as well. Richard kneels down and picks up one of the cups, he puts it to his mouth and lifts it up, he’s put it in his mouth and tips it up, I can see his throat move. When he puts it down, he says “drink” and then “Mead”. He pulls at the round solid item she has left us and tears some off, again putting it into his mouth. “Bread” he says.
“Oh En, it’s food! They have to eat to survive. They are offering us food!”
“No!” said En, “We mustn’t have it!” He looked scared. “If we eat, we will have to stay.”
“But we have human form now En, we need it” I say, and “we can’t go back.”
He starts babbling; “once we eat”, “we can’t go back” “Don’t like it!” “I’m not safe.” He starts to cry again, he doesn’t want to eat, he doesn’t like being human, he wants to go home.
The woman returns with some long green pods and puts them in front of them.
“I want to survive En” I say. “I want to eat, and I want to stay here.”
I reach out and take one of them. I put it to my mouth, Richard watches me as I put the end in my mouth and use my teeth to bite down. It’s very hard and quite bitter, I’m not sure that I like it. Richard and the woman are looking at each other, the woman bends down and splits a pod open. There are smaller oval beans inside. She takes them out and gives me one. I put that in my mouth and it’s much nicer.
“You just eat the beans inside!” I tell En. “Try one.” He won’t. I want some more, a strange feeling that I hadn’t noticed before. Perhaps I should try the other things they gave us.
“I know you are adventurous and brave” says En, “but I can’t risk having to stay. I don’t like it. I’m not the same as you anymore.”
“Red” I say to Richard and he looks confused. He says something back, but I don’t understand. I reach out and point to the round solid item. He tears some off and looks at me, “Bread” he says. “Bread” I say back and he smiles. He gives me the bread and I chew it, I really like it.
“En, it’s lovely, have some!” But En says “No!” and puts his face in his hands.
Then I try the drink, I try to say drink as well, but I get the end of the word wrong. Richard passes me the cup, I tip it back in my mouth but I can’t chew it. It’s really difficult to control and I start coughing. It’s sweet and very strong and I don’t know what it is. It makes me feel tired. I ask En if he feels tired, but I don’t hear him answer.
A little while later he is shaking me, “I thought you had gone back without me” he says, “what happened?”
“I think I fell asleep En, they do that too.”
“It’s the drink you had Ali, they are trying to poison us.”
“I am alive and well En.”
The days pass and I am feeling stronger and braver. I copy lots of things that Richard says and I’ve started being able to communicate somethings. En asks me if I am talking to them and I say I am learning to. He tells me not to, that I will forget our way of communicating and I will no longer be able to talk to him. He says home would not want us to eat, drink or communicate and that my behaviour is not acceptable.
“My behaviour has never been acceptable” I say, “that’s why we had to come.” I can be happy here, I am happy here.
En still refuses to eat or drink anything and he keeps himself awake because he is so frightened that someone will come and kill him if he sleeps.
One morning, Richard gives me a cup and points at En. I know he won’t drink but offer it to him anyway to show concern. He refuses and I put the cup down. He is so weak, he doesn’t move much and barely talks. I can faintly hear him say “he doesn’t like it here, he wants to go home” as tears roll down his cheeks.
My colour is changing, I am less green, a paler green every time I wake up. En’s is not, if anything he is going a darker green. He moans and cries often. Richard touches his forehead. He goes away and comes back with another man. Richard says “sick” to me but I’m not sure what that means although I realise that he is worried about En. The other man removes a small knife from his bag and places a bowl next to his bed.
“What are they doing?” cries En?
“Bloodletting En, they think you are ill.”
“They are going to kill me”, he cries as the doctor slits the skin above his elbow.
“They are trying to help you En, the best way they know how. You should eat and drink, then you would be ok.” En’s blood runs out dark green and the Doctor shouts, he’s horrified. “They think you are dying En” I say.
“They are killing me” he says.
Later that day a man comes to the room and picks En up, out of bed. He’s wrapped in blankets and Richard tells me to “come”. We leave the house and walk across the paths to a building with stones around it. The building has two towers and a long room coming away from them. We go inside where the arched windows let in the light and there are rows and rows of wooden benches. He takes us up to what looks like a stone bath. It’s full of water and there’s priest standing next to it.
The man holding En, unwraps the blankets and plunges En in the bath. En screams, it’s like a howl and Richard runs up. He shouts and they pull En out. The priest leans over and makes a mark on his forehead with oil. It burns En’s dark green skin as he does it, there is even smoke and En cries out in pain. They lie him down on the floor and he wails.
“They are baptizing you En, they think you are dying, and they want to make sure you go to their heaven.”
I lean over him and talk quietly. “You are dying En” I say, “I brought you here to die and you have killed yourself. I can’t live with your fear, misery or sadness. You are sick and you are dying. Die, just die.”
He stops breathing and I have hope and I am free, healthy and alive.
Julie Phillips is a writer based in Wiltshire, UK, who incidentally is the local Green Party candidate for this December’s election!
Thank-you Julie for fully participating and creating this for the show.