Meredith Aves looked upon her husband’s ashen face through a veil of hot amber sparks that erupted in the space between them. His voice carried a dread she’d never before heard as he asked her pleadingly, “Are my eyes open?”
She awoke with a start and barely suppressed a scream. Carter was standing beside the couch, near her feet. “Bad dreams?” he asked.
“Jesus. How long have you been standing there?” She stole a glance at the huge timepiece mounted above the mantel; it was just past 1:30 a.m.
“Not long,” he said. He took a step closer and she heard a thick squashing sound.
“Stop,” she told him, and then to the house, “Lights on.” The recessed ceiling canisters agitated the bioluminescent algae within, whirring softly, and the room was bathed gradually in soft flickering light. Carter was completely soaked, wearing a light gray tee with a retro Administration logo, his riding jacket, dark jeans, and suede boots which were caked in wet mud. A sizable puddle languished beside the couch. “Why are you wet?”
“I was watering the lawn. It needs water.”
It was raining; had been all day. He was watering the lawn during a rainstorm, she thought to herself, at 1:30 a.m.
The quiet that followed was oppressive, and Meredith ground her teeth to drown out the soft patter of raindrops against the front windows. Carter had been on the first contact team a month ago, and by all accounts the mission was as uneventful as could be. The alien ship that passed so near Earth had been a chance encounter. It was a derelict, drifting lifeless for millions of years. But he’d been acting strangely ever since coming home after clearing the quarantine, and it coincided with the nightmares she’d started having.
“Take off your boots; I’ll clean this up. Why don’t you take a hot shower? I’ll be in in a few minutes; I’ll come to bed with you.”
“Okay,” he said. She watched with her hand over her mouth as he first untied his boots and then completely removed the laces before stepping out of them. He put the laces in the pockets of his jeans—right lace in the right pocket, left lace in the left pocket—and disappeared down the hall.
Meredith sat still, stifling a sob, when she heard quietly from the bedroom, “Are my eyes open?”
“What did you just say?” she called. She was frantic, her voice fracturing like thin ice. “Carter! What did you just say?” She flew down the hallway and burst into the bedroom. The shower was on full blast, billowing steam, and Carter was laying in bed breathing lightly, as if he’d been there all night.
Something had happened to her husband. He was no longer himself, if indeed this was her husband at all.