Party Crashers (Part 2 of 2)
Belinda started crying.
Jake began to wish he hadn't started this. She fascinated him, sure, but he hadn't really signed up for this, and he didn't know what to say. He wasn't sure he understood why she was crying. He reached to put his arm around her shoulders, but they were cold, and he drew back.
She looked up at her, her face white and grey, eyes sunken.
“Look what they've done here.”
“I'm sorry, I...”
“This is wrong. This house wasn't like this. It wasn't a home, but it wasn't like this either.”
“Too much. It all changes. Too much. I want things back the way they were. Do you understand?
He did. The understanding went chill through his spine, from his head, discharging through his feet. He looked at her harder, seeing everything that was wrong with her face, with her sallow, bleached skin. Her chest didn't move, she didn't breath.
Meredith scrambled to her feet.
He reached after her. “What's wrong?”
“You just told me you came from another planet!”
“That's... that's... not...” There were really no words.
“It's not allowed?”
“It's not... normal.”
“Oh. I wasn't sure.”
“Were you even invited to this party?”
“I saw people, natives. I heard the sounds you were making, and I came to see what you were like. I've offended.”
Her world twisted sideways. The sky fell through the earth. She was staring at him, seeing at once his human guise, and the true form that sat beneath it. She should scream, she should call for somebody. She shouldn't still feel like this... drawn to him. It didn't make sense.
“What are you even doing here? Are you about to launch an invasion?”
“Suck our brains?”
“Switch bodies with us?”
“Is that... something... here?”
“No! No, it's not!”
Michael – and there was not way in hell that was actually his name – reached toward her again. His face – with all its strangeness – still seemed to show a concern. “Have I frightened you?”
Her hands jumped to her hips. “No. But most people... a lot of people... we don't even think you exist.”
“None of us?”
He gestured up at the sky: “It's a big place. Your world is really very young in it. I promise though, we're just here to gather data, to learn more about other cultures. I'm really just wanting to experience.”
Somehow, she was here, and she was talking to an actual space alien. Somehow. And it was really nothing like it should be. It was... Meredith shook her head, her mindscape was permanently altered, nothing would ever quite look the same. She titled her head, trying to bring her scrambled thoughts into a straight line: “So you really are at this party just to party?”
And he smiled. A grin that revealed pointy teeth, and a purple mouth: “I think that might be it.”
Jake faced Belinda. He saw an ugly side to her now. And she was staring back at him with something in her eyes that mixed anger and hurt.
“When did you used to live here?”
“A lot of time's passed... I lose track, I...”
“What was the year?”
His heartbeat tripled. He stopped himself from gaping. “Then...”
“A lot of time.”
“Did... you die here?”
“But you keep... coming back.”
“It was still my home.”
“You must want...”
“... my world, the way it was. My house, put back like it should be. They've ruined it, they've made a mess. They've made it all wrong. And I won't have it!”
“Well, there's really nothing...”
Inside her eyes, like crystal-clear reflections, two small fires ignited.
“I don't even know what to ask you,” she sat opposite him, cross-legged, admiring – sort of admiring – the strangeness of his face.
“To ask me?”
“About where you come from?”
“It's a lot colder than here.”
“And you swear you're not here to suck our brains out?”
“All right then. So, cold? Like icy?”
“The ice is thick though, blue. It covers the whole planet. We don't live on the surface the way you do. It's too cold to live on. We live underground.”
“Like moles. I mean... sorry.”
“Small animals of this world, yes?”
“A bit like that. We have living areas, what you might call villages. We live in those and we only go up to the surface in suits. We can last about six of your hours like that before we have to go back down below. We've got observatories though, so we can look at the surface.”
“Yes. We the sun comes up. When the ice changes colour.”
She didn't know what made her say it, or where she found the courage, but the words flew past her lips before she could stop them. “Can you take me there?”
He might have answered. She wasn't sure if he was about to speak, before a sudden roar, a flash of light caught their attention. Meredith turned and looked at the house. There was a sharp, hard bang as a window blew out and flames burst through from the inside.
After that, they got up and ran.
All around Belinda flames were given life. They were ephemeral at first, ethereal, too pale to be real. And then in the next second they were orange, harsh, fuming with heat.
“What are you doing?” Jake staggered back.
“What I want!” she snarled.
“You're going to hurt people.”
“They've taken this away from me!”
“They said that. When they sent me away. They said that. That was the last thing he said to me, with her looking on, with her with that half little smile on her face, and 'good riddance' in her eyes! No-one has ever wanted anything except to get rid of me!”
Oh, crap. Jake stared into the abyss of her eyes. He should save her. But she was nothing but ice inside heat. His hands burned trying to reach her, and his fingers slid right through her. “Stop!” He tried to call out to her over the roar of the flames.
And the fire was crawling up the curtains, it was gnawing its way along the wallpaper. Smoke reached out for his eyes and lungs. It was wrong to leave her, it was wrong to run, and yet there was really nothing else left. She's already gone. She's long dead. In a few more seconds he could probably be trapped, he could probably die with her, haunt this house beside her... Did she want that? Jake broke the connection between their eyes, he wrenched his face sideways, and then he ran. There were footsteps running towards him, questioning faces. He struggled to find his voice, but of course he had to: “Fire! Fire! We have to get everybody out!”
It's on fire. Meredith found herself thinking the obvious.
And the flames seemed to be spreading. She followed Michael to the door, to where party-goers were streaming out, coughing and running. She tried to drag them clear of the doorway, comfort them, check them for flames and burns. She found a heavy pot in the garden and battered it against one of the windows trying to break it. It was dark and bright all at once in there, too loud to know if anyone might still be inside. Just make them an exit. As the window smashed she dropped the pot, leaned in, started calling out. “Over here! Over here!” She reached in to try and grab anyone who might be staggering in the smoke and flames.
Behind her, she saw Michael step inside.
He didn't answer her, he walked through the front door and vanished into smoke and darkness.
Don't be crazy, she told herself, but she couldn't stop. She was insane to be doing it, but she followed him in. She kept her face, her hands, against the hallway wall. She called out to him: “Michael! It's too hot in here. You have to come out!” The heat was a furnace, red and black and directionless. She could feel it eating at her skin. “Michael!” She just had to reach him and grab him and pull him out.
She saw him up ahead of her. He was glowing now though, an eerie blue. He opened his mouth far wider than any human mouth could open. The mist that came out was paler than the light from his body. It had its own light though, and its own sense of direction. It was almost as if it hunted out the flames: an attraction of opposites, yin and yang finding and bonding, melting into one another. The air around Meredith cooled as the mist flowed past her. She saw the flames at the end of the hallway shrink away beneath Michael's cold breath.
“Oh my God,” she whispered. There was nothing else to think or say.
He turned and walked away when he was finished, and without another thought she ran after him.
Jake staggered into the garden, and out onto the road. There were people gathering in the area. He stood in the middle of the road, staring at his hands, only now realising that they were red with fresh burns.
Ethan came running up behind him. “Jake, man. Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” He felt faint though.
“I was trying to find you.”
I didn't even think about him.
“Hey, dude, your hands.”
“It's not that bad.”
“You sure, man?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I'm okay. You?”
“Fine. Hey, how the hell you think that started?”
Jake shook his head, “You are not going to take me seriously.”
Meredith caught up with Michael. “Going somewhere?”
He looked awkward. He was fully in his human disguise.
She took a deep breath, trying to suck up some courage out of the air. “Before, all this. Before all this we were talking...”
He looked apologetic.
An alien, looking apologetic; her world really wasn't ready to stop spinning.
“I wasn't supposed to do what I did back then. We try to be reasonably subtle.”
“I don't know if anyone except me saw you.”
“We were talking. I asked you... I really do want to go with you.”
“To leave all this. Your home. Your family. You have... family, the male and female your born from? The other offspring.”
She laughed in the face of the ridiculousness of it all. “Yeah, we have family.” And friends. Where was Sally? What if she'd been hurt in the fire?
“You see, if I take you with me, I don't know if you could come back again.”
“A one way trip.”
“It might be.”
And they'd think her dead, or mad, or both. No explanation would be enough. And Sally, who might be hurt, scared; who might be racing around trying to find her right this minute. “I can't can I?”
“Me too. You could come back though... right? Here again?”
“I can't promise.”
“You can say maybe.”
She was fairly sure she'd never see him again. And her regrets were huge, they were gaping holes in her. Even while she knew she'd chosen what she'd had to. Even so. At least, she thought, at least everything's changed inside me.
Jake stayed after everyone had gone. He told Ethan he'd catch up with him. Told the paramedic who bandaged his hand that his dad was coming to pick him up. He wasn't even sure why he stayed. The house was a shell, twinkling with last red embers, puffing a smear of dark smoke out and against the night sky. He didn't even know really why he was watching the house, just that he didn't quite feel ready to go yet.
Some of the neighbours were looking out their windows. They must think him a weirdo of significant magnitude. He told himself: soon. And he watched the night sky changing shades from black into deep blue-purple. A strip of rose broke open along the horizon, lining the silhouettes of endless roofs and a half dozen or so trees.
He realised that he was waiting to see her. And he realised at the same time that he wouldn't.
Meredith walked for some time before heading back towards the house. She told herself – she told Sally as soon as she tracked her down – that she just needed some time to think. Although she didn't think, she just waded through the night, taking in all the sights and sounds, seeing them as if she'd just stepped off a spaceship from a faraway planet. She bathed in the neighbourhood as if it had somehow become something beautiful.
Back at the house she saw Jake Martin sitting on the road. His hands had been bandaged. She went over and sat beside him: “Hey, you all right?”
“Yeah,” he said, “fine.”
“I was trying... no, never mind.”
“Did everyone get outside okay?”
He seemed to hesitate.
“They all got out. It's okay.”
“You're still here.”
“I thought she... never mind.”
“You wanna talk?”
He shook his head.
“You wanna sit here awhile?”
“Can you tolerate some company?”
“Actually yeah, that'd be okay.”
She rested her cheek on his shoulder as if it were the easiest, most normal thing to do. She ran one finger up and down her leg, tracing the line of the bone. Out in the universe, Michael might be anywhere. The sky, turning pink and blue, would hide him, hide his world. She couldn't even remember now what star he'd been pointing to. Meredith shook her head: “Funny fucking thing right, life?”
“Yeah, tell me about it.”
And sometime later, when the silence had run its course. “Hey, the sun's coming up. You wanna walk past the closest bakery and grab a couple of cakes?”
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work