I stared in total disbelief. I’d returned home from work to find my front door hanging from broken hinges and the whole house surrounded with yellow tape, stating POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS. I looked around. There were no police vehicles, that I could see anyway, and nothing happening at any of our neighbours’ houses. All seemed quiet and deserted.
I ducked under the tape and went in. A table in the hall lay on its side, but in the lounge, everything seemed normal. Then I looked in the kitchen. It looked as if a giant arm had swept everything onto the floor. There were broken cups and plates strewn around everywhere. I spied a mobile phone amongst them, my son Jack’s, I thought. How odd. I picked it up and put it in a jacket pocket. As I did so, I noticed a dark stain on the brown kitchen carpet tiles, and what appeared to be speckles of blood all over the crockery. A saucepan on the stove, now cold, had a blackened base, as if it had boiled dry.
“You’re not allowed in the house, sir!”
I turned around and jumped out of my skin. A man stood in a yellow suit with a huge clear visor. Through it, I could see he was breathing with a respirator. He wore black rubber gloves and shoes.
“What’s going on. Where’s my wife and son?”
“Your wife’s in hospital and your son’s … being looked after. Everything’s being taken care of. Now, can you leave the house please, sir?”
“You need to go NOW, sir.”
“No, not until I find out what’s going on!” I felt an impact on the back of my head then … unconsciousness.
“Darling, come and look at this.” I turned my lava rock paperweight around under the desk light. Yes, there it was again. In one of the mass of tiny holes, something moved.
Sandra came into the room. “What is it? I’m busy. And you need to get to work.”
I laughed. “I thought it was my imagination, but I think there’s something alive in this rock, in one of these little holes.”
She showed surprise. “Where?”
I indicated the approximate hole.
Her interest perked up. “Let me see.” She opened a desk draw and took out a magnifying glass. “Yes, I think I saw something move. Yes, I see it now, it’s like a … like a tiny red maggot.” Ow! She dropped the paperweight and put a hand over her left eye.
“What’s the matter?”
“Ow, if feels like there’s something in my eye.”
“Here, let me look.” I couldn’t see anything. I took the magnifying glass and looked again. Against the pale blue iris was a tiny red dot.
She must have noticed my concern. “What is it?”
“Oh, I think you’ve got a speck of … er, dust or something in your eye. Here, let me look again. Hold your eye open.” I peered into her eye once more. Suddenly, like magic, there were two tiny red dots.
So, I’d called for an ambulance and tried to stall a rising panic. When I’d next looked at Sandra’s eye there’d been four red dots. I didn’t dare look after that. She seemed agitated, pacing around with a hand over her eye.
“Just keep calm, darling, they’ll know how to treat it.” I became aware that I was crossing my fingers.
It didn’t take long, although it seemed like an age. Two green-suited paramedics, a man and a woman, came in, carrying equipment. “Nothing to worry about, madam,” the man said to Sandra after a quick examination. The paramedics exchanged concerned glances before the man came to me, speaking quietly and out of Sandra’s earshot. “It looks like some kind of parasite. They can freeze the area and get it out with a laser. It’s painless but her eye might be a bit sore for a few days. She’ll be given some special eye drops. Just go to work normally, sir, we’ll be in touch to let you know how she’s doing.”
And that was that. Once at work I was sucked into a department-wide panic at parts not being ready for a machine we were supposed to be marketing the following week. Heads were about to roll and I wasn’t sure if mine wouldn’t be one of them. At lunchtime there was a call for me from nearby St. Margaret’s hospital.
“Yes, who’s calling?”
“It’s Doctor Menzies from Ophthalmology. Just to let you know your wife’s fine and that she’s been discharged. We’re running her home in a hospital vehicle. She’ll feel a little ‘woozy’ for an hour or two due to the anaesthetic, so she’s been told to rest.”
Now, I regained consciousness and the room blurred into focus. It seemed to be some type of hospital ward and I was lying on a bed. I got up and unsteadily made my way to a washbasin where I splashed my face with cold water. I looked at my watch. That was odd. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. I must have been given something to make me sleep, a whole day had gone by.
I felt in my jacket pockets and found my son’s phone. I was surprised it hadn’t been taken, but my wallet and other bits were there too. I took it out and looked at the messages. He hadn’t set a password. They were the usual teenage nonsense, nothing untoward. But on the phone log, the last number dialled was 999. That was timed at 3.43 p.m. the previous day.
I clicked on Photos and, after pictures of Jack fooling around and pulling silly faces with equally silly friends, I noticed the last item was a video. I clicked it to play. It showed Sandra in the kitchen. Her left eye was covered with a gauze pad. “Jack, what are you doing?”
“Just filming the ‘grand unveiling’!
“I’m only taking it off for a minute. I’ve got to put these eye drops in.” She pulled on the tape holding the pad in place.”
I could hear Jack gasp.
“Jack, what’s the matter? Jack?!”
I gazed in horror. Her eye was completely red and bulging outwards. As I watched, it pulsed three times, slowly, then suddenly exploded, covering the phone’s lens with blood and tiny, wriggling red creatures. I recoiled at her shrill screams, feeling sick to my stomach. Through the blood spatters on the lens, I could see a gaping, empty eye socket. Oh …my … God.
“Yes, it was rather nasty wasn’t it?”
I looked up in surprise. A man in a white coat had come into the room whilst I’d been absorbed with the horrific video.
“Unfortunately, the laser didn’t do the trick. Those little buggers were more resilient than expected. Let me ask you, where did that rock come from, exactly?”
“I found it on a beach, Theddlethorpe St. Botolph’s.”
“Hmm. Well the boffins have had a good look at it. Seems it wasn’t your ordinary volcanic lava rock after all. It’s a meteorite.”
“What?! Then that … thing that was in it was … alien?”
“That’s our presumption.”
“Don’t worry, all those little critters were flushed out and your wife will be given an artificial eye. It’ll be connected to her brain, so she’ll be able to see, … well, sort of. Jack’s more problematic.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, this has got to be kept under wraps. A condition of us fitting the artificial eye is that you keep this … ah, affair, to yourselves. We can’t have the plebs, er, sorry, I mean the public, panicked by this. We’re worried about Jack blabbing.”
“Well, what’ll happen to him then?”
“Oh, he’s been packed off to a young offenders’ institution for a year. We think the regime there should help him forget about it. No one there’s going to believe him either, they’ve got … other stuff on their minds.”
“But, that … that’s horrible!”
“Look, you can say he’s gone abroad for a year’s study. We’ll make it up to him when he comes out, OK?” He smiled. “Anyway, let’s get you something to eat. You must be hungry?”
I was. I was starving. So hungry, in fact, I forgot to mention that when I’d picked up the rock, it had promptly broken in two. I’d donated the other half to a local charity shop.
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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