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I remember a story that deals with humans on Earth having some sort of long-term, long-distance interaction (perhaps war/conflict, but I think they were benevolent in some way; but I can't remember) with aliens, but over the course of those years or decades, no human ever saw one of the aliens. I remember the end being sort of a twist ending:

The story ends with the aliens landing on Earth and when the first one disembarks from their ship, we see they look a whole lot like the traditional image of a red devil with horns and a tail. They stayed hidden for so long because they were aware of the iconic devil image and didn't want us to associate them with the devil.

I don't know if this was a short story or novel. It may have been part of a collection of books a friend loaned me during the early to mid 1990's to broaden my SF/F perspectives; he included a lot of military fiction and some fantasy, both of which I hadn't read much. I've tried searching online using key terms but I have been unable to identify the story.

marked as duplicate by user14111 story-identification Feb 20 '18 at 3:40

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    Childhood's End, presumably – Valorum Feb 19 '18 at 21:17
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    @user14111 - Also covered in the dupe – Valorum Feb 19 '18 at 21:22
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    @user14111 The shape of the tail is mentioned a few times in Childhood's End as well. Though it's described as "spade-shaped" I think we're thinking of the same visual. The difference here would be that in Childhood's End, that reveal was in the middle, not the end. Depends on how sure OP is of where in the story that reveal came. – Irishpanda Feb 19 '18 at 21:52
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    Just for completeness, in Childhood's End the Overlords are ebon black, not red (the tail is "barbed"). The key paragraphs: There was no mistake. The leathery wings, the little horns, the barbed tail — all were there. The most terrible of all legends had come to life, out of the unknown past. Yet now it stood smiling, in ebon majesty, with the sunlight gleaming upon its tremendous body, and a human child resting trustfully on either arm. – LSerni Feb 19 '18 at 22:36
  • Yes, it must have been one or the other. That I misremembered the color is highly believable. I do remember it being a very big reveal, so although I will look at them both to know for sure, right now I think it's Guardian Angel. Thank you, all! I've been trying to figure this out for quite some time. – Aster Feb 20 '18 at 1:37

Probably "Guardian Angel", a novelette by Arthur C. Clarke; originally published in New Worlds #8, Winter 1950, available at the Internet Archive, and in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, April 1950, also available at the Internet Archive; expanded into the 1953 novel Childhood's End.

"We have had our failures."

Yes, Karellen, that was true: and were you the one who failed, before the dawn of human history? It must have been a failure indeed, for its echoes to roll down all the ages, to haunt the childhood of every race of man. Even in fifty years, could you overcome the power of all the myths and legends of the world?

Yet Stormgren knew there would be no second failure. When the two races met again, the Overlords would have won the trust and friendship of Mankind, and not even the shock of recognition could undo that work. They would go together into the future, and the unknown tragedy that had darkened the past would be lost forever down the dim corridors of prehistoric time.

And Stormgren knew also that the last thing he would ever see as he closed his eyes on life would be that swiftly turning door, and the long black tail disappearing behind it.

A very famous and unexpectedly beautiful tail.

A barbed tail.

  • Since the short story was turned into the first of the three parts of the book and you mentioned both, I figured you were right either way, but I went and looked. I know I did read the book. And I even have had a memory of the end of the book but didn't realize it was the same story. I remember finding it terribly depressing. Thanks for all your help here. :) – Aster Feb 20 '18 at 3:38
  • @Aster You're welcome! So I was wrong, and Childhood's End is the story you remembered. And now we can close this question as a duplicate. – user14111 Feb 20 '18 at 3:41

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