It was late on a normal Friday evening, and Dan and I were sprawled out on the sofa in our little flat above the Cutting Edge hairdressing salon watching Netflix. Suddenly, a weird sound filled the room. Kind of like FFFFT! closely followed by the tinkling of falling glass. For what must have been a couple of seconds, everything stopped. Then Dan threw my arm off his midriff and jumped up, yelling, “What the fuck was that?”
Even though I was as surprised as him by this curious turn of events, I was too shocked to yell much of anything. I just maintained my position on the sofa, mouth agape, waiting to see what would happen next.
Dan was inspecting the window and gazing out. The glass was broken. Not broken, exactly. It had been punctured, rather than shattered. There was a perfectly round hole right in the middle, no more than half an inch in diameter, with cracks radiating out from it. It was almost like a bullet hole.
“Who did that?” Dan growled, opening the curtains and peering out on to the High Street below. I knew it was a rhetorical question. I think he was expecting to find a gang of whooping teenagers with an air rifle or something. But I could tell from his confused expression that he was seeing nothing of the sort.
My own eyes were drawn to a patch of carpet in front of the coffee table from which hazy wisps of smoke now rose. I couldn’t see where the smoke was coming from, but something was on fire. Panic swelled in my chest. “Dan?”
“Now now, babe.”
My fiance whirled around to face me. “What?”
“Look...” I pointed.
“Fucking hell!” Dan shouted. “What the fucking hell is happening here?”
He always did have a potty mouth.
“Dunno,” I replied. “But whatever it is, it’s burning a hole in the carpet.”
Living in a tiny bedsit rebranded as a ‘studio apartment’ has its advantages. I was at the sink in the kitchenette filling the saucepan still filled with the dregs of our spagbol dinner with water within seconds. I didn’t even bother trying to close the gap between me and the smouldering mystery object. Instead, I simply launched the contents of the saucepan in the general direction of the burgeoning fire, wincing as droplets of oily water splattered over the widescreen TV we were still paying for.
After the deed was done and the crisis averted, Dan stood with his hands on his hips looking over the scene like a general surveying a battlefield.
“Do you see it?” I asked.
“The thing that just came in through the window and nearly set fire to the flat?”
“Aye, I see it.”
“Well, what is it?” I asked, a general wariness tempering my haste to join him. I was curious, but at the same time I couldn’t ignore the sense of creeping unease settling over me. I’m a creature of habit and harboured a natural mistrust of anything that upset my routine, and this was definitely upsetting my routine.
“Unknown,” Dan replied, furrowing his eyebrows. “Whatever it is, now it’s wet.”
“Would you prefer a raging house fire?”
Eventually, my inquisitiveness got the better of me and I tentatively joined Dan in gazing down at the mystery object on the carpet. It looked like a rounded charcoal-coloured pebble, the kind you might find on a beach or river bed, lying in a small, scorched indent. The stench of burning carpet filled my nostrils. “There was nobody outside?” I asked.
“Nope. Street is deserted.”
“So where do you think it came from?”
Dan momentarily pursed his lips before cocking his head toward the ceiling. “Only one place it could’ve come from. Up there.”
I followed his glance, assuming at first he must mean a chunk of plaster or something had broken off the ceiling and dropped to the floor. I wouldn’t be surprised. The place was in dire need of decorating. I was about to ask how that would explain the hole in the window, and the small fire, when I suddenly realized what he was really suggesting. “You think it came from the sky? From space? Like a meteorite or something?”
“I don’t know if it qualifies as a meteorite. It's a bit on the small side. But I think it definitely came from somewhere above. What other explanation can there be?”
That stumped me. Even though the idea of a meteorite crashing through our window seemed outlandish, it did appear to be the only logical explanation. “What shall we do? Call the police?”
“What are the police going to do? Arrest it?” Dan scoffed. His naturally dry, rapid-fire brand of humour was one of the things that first attracted me to him. It was his coping mechanism. But it could be infuriating when wheeled out under stressful circumstances.
“Well, don’t you think we should tell somebody?” I countered.
“We definitely should. But in the presumed absence of a meteorite hotline, I guess the only interested party might be the local newspaper.”
“Do you think they’ll pay us for the story?” I asked, my hoped suddenly rising.
“Doubt it. They probably struggle to pay their electricity bill.”
“Then who’s going to pay for the window? And the burned carpet?”
“Dunno,” Dan shrugged. “Won’t our insurance cover it?”
“I’m not sure if our policy includes rocks falling from the sky and damaging our shit.”
“Isn't it considered an Act of God?”
“Fuck. I knew we should’ve got a better package.”
“Well at least nobody got hurt. That could’ve killed one of us if we’d been standing at the window,” I offered.
“So what are we going to do now?”
“The emergency is over, so I suppose all we can do is clean up the mess and get on with our lives,” Dan said with a shrug.
“I’ll ring the landlord in the morning and explain what happened.”
“I hope he believes us.”
“The story is too far-fetched not to be true.”
“Good point. Okay, I’ll get the broken glass, you pick up the meteorite thing. And be careful, it might still be hot.”
I retrieved the dustpan and brush from the cupboard beneath the sink, swept up the shards of glass under the window and dropped them in the waste paper basket, marvelling at how tiny they were. It was almost as if the mysterious flying object simply pulverised everything in its path on its way to burying itself in our carpet. We should be happy it didn’t punch a hole in the floor. I then covered the hole in the window with some masking tape I found in the junk drawer to keep the draught out. The patch-up job would do until a more permanent solution could be found.
Tasks completed, I turned to see what Dan was doing, and was surprised to find he wasn’t doing anything. He was just standing there in the middle of the room with his back to me, shoulders hunched and head bowed. He was holding out one hand, and staring intently at something he held in his palm.
“What’s up, Babe?” I asked, tentatively.
“Babe?” I say again, slightly louder this time.
Still no response.
I cautiously circled around so I could see his face. He looked deep in some kind of trance, worry lines creasing his brow and mouth hanging slightly open. A silvery strand of saliva hung from the corner.
I noticed an odour hanging in the air. An awful, sharp, scorched stench. At first I thought it was the carpet, but this smell was different. Meatier and more organic.
And then I realized what the smell was. It’s skin. Dan’s hand. He was holding the tiny meteorite, which was still hot, and it was burning him. He seemed remarkably unfazed by it all, his face blank and expressionless. For some reason, I found this more alarming than seeing my fiance wilfully burning himself.
Unable to control the combination of shock, revulsion and raw fear, I erupted. “Dan! What the fuck are you doing?”
He flinched, and there was the smallest flicker of recognition on his face as I grabbed the front of his shirt and gave him a shake.
“Drop it! Drop it, please!” I implored, making a grab for the object.
I was too slow. His fingers closed around it and try as I might, I couldn’t prise them open. Changing tactics, I half-dragged, half-guided him to the sink, turned on the cold tap, and forced his hand under the deluge of water.
At first, he didn’t flinch. It was almost like he’d detached somehow, or disappeared inside himself. Was he having some kind of breakdown or stroke?
And then the sounds started.
There were no intelligible words. Instead, he expelled noises from deep in his throat through clenched teeth. At first they were barely audible, but they steadily rose in pitch and tone.
“Nnnnnn… nnnnn…. NN…. NNNN!”
Then he farted. This wasn’t a normal fart. It was explosive. And I could tell from the stench that he’d followed through.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Dan!”
At the same time he farted, Dan stopped making those weird throaty noises and his eyes widened comically, his mouth forming an ‘oh’ of surprise. His grip also loosened long enough for me to prise his fingers open and shake his sleeve causing the mystery object to drop into the sink with a solid, metallic thunk, where it hissed gently in the water.
I inspected the damage to his palm, which was significant. The skin was blistered and discoloured, showing a rough outline of the tiny egg-like object. The image reminded me of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the evil Nazi tries to steal the headpiece from the Staff of Ra from Marion’s bar as it catches ablaze and scorches a likeness of it into his hand.
The difference was that Dan didn’t scream.
Now the object was no longer in his possession he seemed to come to his senses a little. Though he still didn’t show any outward signs of pain or discomfort, it was almost as if a fog was lifting.
“Are you okay?” I asked, at a loss as to what else to say.
“Sure, why?” His voice sounded a little slurred, like he was just waking up from a deep sleep.
“What’s up with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You were holding that red-hot thing like it was nothing.”
“Yes! Look at your hand!”
“Fuck,” Dan said, inspecting the wound to his palm as if it was the first time he was seeing it.
“Does it hurt?”
“Now you mention it, yes it does. Like a bitch.”
“And why didn’t you answer me?”
“I dunno. What were you saying? Was it important?”
“Depends whether you consider your own welfare important,” I said.
“What the fuck is that? Some kind of reverse psychology?”
That was more like the Dan I knew. He was back. “Anyway, you stink,” I said, wrinkling my nose to illustrate the point. “Are you even aware that you’ve shit yourself?”
Dan looked genuinely mystified, and warily reached behind with his good hand to feel the back of his jeans. His face told a story. “Ah, shit.”
“Exactly. Now go on and get changed. Maybe hose yourself down. I’ll finish the cleaning operation in here.”
“Thanks, babe. You’re a star.”
Dan sheepishly exited the room, leaving me alone with the thing in the sink. Now I could get a good look at it, I could see that Dan was probably right about it coming from space. Shiny and sleek, it had an unnatural, otherworldly look about it.
As I stared at it, something unusual began to happen. I felt myself being carried away as if on some unseen cosmic current. The world around me melted into insignificance, and instead I saw explosions of sharp, vivid colours bursting all around me. I felt weightless. Not just in a physical sense, but also in a spiritual way, as if I’d spontaneously shed all the emotional baggage I’d been carrying around with me for years and tasted true, unconditional freedom for the first time. I felt calm. At peace. And I never wanted to leave this place.
I could hear my name. Someone was calling me, the voice sounding like it was coming from a long, long way away.
Suddenly, the illusion was shattered and I was back at the flat, staring down at the little lump of black rock in the sink with Dan standing next to me.
“Are you okay, love?”
I still felt sluggish and slow, as if my head was wrapped in cotton wool. I had to think about the question, and my answer, for much longer than I ordinarily would have done. And then, as is my want, I instantly went on the defensive. “I… sure I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You just looked a bit spaced out there.”
“A bit tired, I guess. I told you to get changed and have a wash.”
“Erm... I did?”
I could see now that he was right. He was wearing different clothes and his hair was still wet.
“Come and sit down,” he said, gently taking my arm and guiding me to the sofa. I had to suppress the strangest urge to reach out and snatch up the meteorite thing and take it with me. I wanted to be close to it. But at the same time, I was aware of some other, deeper part of me acting in complete opposition. This part sensed danger, making my skin crawl with fear and repulsion, and told me to keep my distance. I listened.
“Here,” Dan said. “Sit. Do you want a glass of water?”
Irrationally, my first thought was that he wanted to go back to the sink to get the rock. He wanted it for himself. I was surprised at how angry and envious I felt. My stomach flipped over and gurgled loudly as the negative emotions took hold.
Then I remembered the condition I’d found Dan in; standing in the middle of the room, present in body but not in mind, there but not there, holding onto that hot black rock as if his life depended on it, and I suddenly understood. He’d been having the same almost out-of-body experience as me. Relief washed over me, and I realized I'd probably had a lucky escape. A few more seconds and I might've been the unfortunate recipient of some shit-stained underwear rather than a grumbling tummy.
“Later. Let’s have a look at your hand,” I said, more to switch the focus of attention away from me than anything else.
“It’s nothing,” Dan said with a slightly embarrassed look.
He reluctantly offered up his palm. I held it and lovingly traced the swollen, angry red welts with the tips of my fingers.
“We need to talk,” I said, as calmly as I could.
“Indeed we do.”
“First on the agenda should be getting your hand checked out at the hospital.”
“No way,” Dan complained. “It’s not that serious. I can’t feel a thing now.”
“That’s probably because you’ve fried all the nerve endings.”
“Anyway, let's skip it for now. What’s next on the agenda?”
“What to do with that thing,” I jerked my head in the general direction of the sink where the black rock still lay.
“Why do we have to do anything with it?”
“Well, we can’t just leave it in the sink. I was thinking we can contact some museums, or collectors. Maybe stick it on eBay. If we can get some money for it we can use it to pay for the window, and a rug to cover the hole in the carpet. If there’s anything left it can go towards a holiday. God knows we need one.”
“Is that all you’re concerned about? Money?”
Dan feigned disappointment. That stung, but I was in no mood to molly coddle him.
“Well, yeah. Duh. If you haven’t worked life out yet, it goes something like this; the more money we have, the easier it becomes. That thing’s only been in the flat for about ten minutes and already its smashed the window, ruined the carpet, burned your hand, and made you shit yourself. The omens aren’t good. I say we get rid of it ASAP.”
“We don’t know it was the meteorite that made me have my accident. Maybe I ate something...”
“Too much of a coincidence. Has that ever happened before?”
“Well, then. Point made. Plus, I’m getting bad vibes off of it,” I added, remembering my mini-episode.
“Oh, so that’s what this is about. You getting bad vibes? Really?” Dan sneered. He was trying to brush the whole thing off, but was fighting a losing battle and he knew it.
“Dan, I don’t want to argue with you,” I countered, deliberately lowering my voice to a more placating tone and hoping it didn't come across as patronising.
“Well, it’s a bit late for that, don’t you think?”
“I’m done!” he snapped, theatrically getting to his feet, spinning on his heels and storming off into the bedroom leaving me sitting alone on the sofa with my mouth agape.
What a weird night. I couldn’t believe things had gone south with Dan so quickly. It was just like him to run away from an issue rather than confront it. There was no way I was going to grace that bedroom with my presence. Not tonight. He needed to understand that words and actions have consequences.
I decided to have another glass of wine, just to show Dan how many fucks I didn’t give, then crash on the sofa with Joe Hill’s latest book. That’ll show him.
As I passed the sink on the way to the fridge, I looked down and noticed the space rock meteorite thing was gone. Dan must have taken it with him.
It was cold when I woke up. Reluctant to go in the bedroom, even just to grab a quilt, I’d bedded down on the sofa with nothing but the tiny blanket Dan’s mother had knitted for us when we first moved in together. It was too small to cover all my body at once, even if I curled up into a ball. As a result, my feet had been left exposed most of the night and were now like two blocks of ice. Wincing, I moved into a seated position and rubbed them furiously to get the circulation going again.
What the heck was I doing here on the sofa? Had I dropped off watching TV?
The alcohol-infused fog began to lift and I remembered the argument with Dan. A quick glance at the scorch mark in the carpet and the hole in the window, now patched over with tape, confirmed it.
I tried to piece together who’d said what in an effort to assess my accountability. I could be biased, and no doubt Dan would have an entirely different version of events, but even in the cold light of day I didn’t think I’d done much wrong. I’d been reasonable and comparatively restrained throughout. It was Dan who’d lost his shit and stormed off.
I fumbled around for my phone, found it half-hidden between two cushions, and turned it on. I always liked to start my day with a news fix. That usually began with a quick scan of the Daily Mail or BBC websites, and from there invariably descended to a trawl through my Facebook, Twitter and Insta feeds. That’s where the real news was. I even toyed with the idea of updating my Facebook status with something deliberately mysterious.
OMG You’ll never believe what happened last night!
What did they call it? Vaguebooking? Yeah, I'll do that.
Not right now, though. My phone was completely dead. It must have ran out of juice during the night. I cursed under my breath when I realized my charger was in the bedroom. At least it was Saturday so I hadn’t overslept for work and probably hadn’t missed anything interesting.
I needed coffee. As I waited for the kettle to boil I stared into the sink, replaying the night's events in my mind. It all seemed so silly now, as most arguments do after the fact. Despite being unable to find myself responsible, the nagging spectre of guilt gnawed at me. Life was complicated enough, without exasperating it with pointless disagreements. They had a nasty habit of escalating.
The bedroom door was firmly closed and nothing stirred behind it. Dan must still be asleep.
I raised a hand to knock, trembling slightly with trepidation, then mentally checked myself. No way was I going to knock on my own fucking bedroom door. Resisting the urge to throw it wide open to announce my presence, I opened it a crack instead and peered through.
There was the bed. Given the size of the space, there wasn’t room for much else. My charger was still on the bedside table, and a pair of my socks that I’d neglected to pick up were still on the floor.
But there was no Dan.
That didn't make sense. He had to be here. Where else would he be?
Could he have had a guilt attack and gone out to get a takeaway McDonald’s breakfast by way of apology?
Fat chance. Dan was as stubbourn as the day is long, and even if he was in the wrong, no doubt he’d spent the night convincing himself otherwise. Just like I would.
Then, my eyes were dragged up toward the bedroom ceiling. There was something there, in my peripheral vision, something that didn’t belong.
I'd known it the moment I flung open the door. I just chose not to address it, probably out of fear. On some level I knew whatever was up there would be life-changing, and I wanted to delay the revelation for as long as possible. I liked my old life. But now, I had no choice.
It was Dan.
On the ceiling.
He was naked and wide-eyed, a huge grin bisecting the lower part of his face. His skin was pale, almost translucent, and covered in a waxy sheen. His entire body seemed to pulsate and throb, and a network of blue veins were clearly visible through his skin. All the time he stared at me with those eerie too-wide eyes.
Something in my mind snapped. I felt it. I leaned against the door frame, feeling woozy and wondering if this was how people usually felt before they fainted.
Dan shouldn’t be on the ceiling. It was impossible. Against the laws of physics or something. And he absolutely shouldn’t look like that.
Yet there he was.
It wasn’t an optical illusion, or a dream. This was real.
“Dan? Dan.. what?” I began, but then I had to stop to concentrate on pulling myself together. I was hyperventilating. I had time to think that maybe passing out would be a good thing. I would welcome oblivion with open arms. And maybe when I came around, everything would be back to normal. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
Then, there was an ear-splitting thump so loud it reverberated through the floorboards. I felt it deep in my bones. Nothing good could come from a noise that loud. I let go of the door handle and staggered backwards, eager to put some distance between me and whatever was on the other side.
Slowly, ever-so-slowly, the bedroom door opened, and there was Dan.
Or what used to be Dan.
Because whatever I was now looking at was no longer the man I loved.
The most immediate and shocking difference were his eyes, which instead of being bright blue were now sunken and black. The pupils were like onyx, resembling the rock that had come hurtling through the window. His discoloured gums had pulled back making his teeth seem bigger and more pronounced, and that network of veins still peppered his glistening body, pulsating and throbbing to some unheard beat. He seemed altogether bigger, more imposing, and more threatening. He also smelled bad. God, did he smell bad. On the surface it was a mixture of sweat and urine, but there was something more earthy and organic lurking beneath, like rotting meat.
“What’s up, babe?” he said, his voice thick and syrupy. For this person to be calling me ‘babe’ just felt wrong.
“Dan… what’s wrong with you?”
“Wrong? Nothing wrong. I feel on top of the world.” There was a playful flicker in his black, unnatural eyes, almost as if he was revelling in some private joke, and he took a determined step forward into my personal space.
I wanted to stand my ground. I really did. On some level, I knew how important it was to not show any weakness. But this new Dan repulsed me, forcing me to involuntarily retreat backwards until my back was pressed against the kitchenette worktop. With our eyes locked together, the-thing-that-used-to-be-Dan leered at me, extending his face until it was just inches from mine.
His naked shoulders swayed, cobra-like, and his voice still sounded… off. Only then did I realize why. He was having trouble forming words because there was something in his mouth.
“You’re scaring me. What’s got into you?” I said, grimacing in disgust as I put my hands on his chest and tried to push him away. His skin was cold and clammy.
“Funny you should say that,” he said, standing firm. Slowly, as if he was divulging some great secret, he opened his mouth wide and slipped in two fingers. There was a sickly sequence of wet smacking sounds and throaty clicks, then he withdrew his fingers, now wet with saliva and bile. He was holding something.
No, no, no.
The space rock meteorite thing.
“What the actual fuck?” was all I could say. This whole episode was just too bizarre. Too surreal to comprehend.
“Don’t worry, baby. It will all be over soon,” the-thing-that-used-to-be-Dan purred.
The words were ominous, heavy with connotations and hidden meaning. “What will?”
“This thing that you call a life.”
“It’s your life too, asshole.”
“Not any more. I’ve seen the light. And I know you’ve seen it, too. Except you saw the crescent, and I saw the whole of the moon.”
“Are you… Are you quoting the fucking Waterboys? At a time like this?”
“I’m sowing wisdom.”
I was going to correct him by pointing out the actual lyric said, ‘I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the moon.’ But then I suddenly understood what he was referring to. The thing that came through the window. He was right. I’d had the merest taste of it’s power, while Dan wallowed in it. I saw the crescent, he saw the whole of the moon.
“Are you going to kill me?” I asked.
Dan grinned, grey lips pulling back over teeth that seemed larger than before. He inhaled deeply, then said, “Not in person, no. It’s not my role. I am here in a more preparatory capacity.”
“Preparing for what?”
“The invasion. There’s a lot to do.”
The invasion? I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. I knew what he was referring to. There was only one thing he could be referring to. But still I wanted conformation. I wanted to hear him say it. “What are you talking about, Dan. Tell me.”
Wordlessly, the man I once loved reached out a hand and gently brushed my cheek. Immediately, there were bursts of kaleidoscopic colours behind my eyes so powerful I almost passed out and had to grip my knees to stop myself sinking to the floor. It wasn’t just the colours. That was just a pre-cursor, a curtain-opener. After that, I saw explosions, buildings collapsing in on themselves, and people running through the streets screaming and foaming at the mouth.
I was seeing the destruction of the human race.
The destruction of everything.
The thing mankind had feared ever since it had become aware enough to acknowledge it’s own mortality was here.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”
And then, still naked, he sprinted across the living room, gaining speed as he went, and dove out of the window.
The last image I had of the man I loved, burned into my brain, was him arcing through the air like an Olympic diver, arms outstretched. There was a crash, and a tinkle of glass.
Irrationally, I had time to contemplate the damage. We would definitely need a new pane of glass now. Then I screamed and ran to the window, which had been turned into a gaping hole in the side of the flat ringed with shards of glass like broken teeth.
I looked down onto the street below, expecting to see Dan lying there dead, his body grotesquely twisted and contorted. But the street was empty.
Dan was gone.