A year and one day late, VD2009 project complete. No promises that it will remain in its current state.
I wanna love and treat you right
We’ll be together with a roof right over our heads
We’ll share the shelter of my single bed
We’ll share the same room, Jah provide the bread
- Bob Marley
Toby drove the car. That was one of those weird things he thought about from time to time. Why was it the man’s job to drive the car?
“What are you thinking about?” Val asked.
“Oh, come on. Don’t do that to me.”
“Don’t do what? I was really thinking about driving. Like did you ever think about why we drive on the right side of the road while the English drive on the left? And why do some cars have the tank on the left and others on the right? Ooh, did you know they used to have the tank under the license plate on some cars?”
“God, I shouldn’t have gotten you started.” She settled back in her seat. “So, I got dad a foot spa from Sharper Image back in May before they went out of business. What did you get mom?”
“I got her one of those Snugger things. You know, the blanket with sleeves.”
“Oh, Toby, please tell me this is one of your sick jokes,” she whined.
“Nope, no joke. I’ve got the feeling she’s going to love it.”
Her look turned sour. “Toby, it’s too late to get her another present. It’s Christmas day! How could you do this to me?” She swore under her breath and looked straight ahead for the rest of the trip.
Toby knew better than to say anything else. It was a good thing her parents lived so close. He didn’t mind silence, but Val’s silent treatment was pretty harsh.
Lu was watching Hunter do his business near a snow-covered bush when Toby and Val arrived. He smiled and waved as they pulled into the driveway. Their arrival distracted Hunter, who started yipping and ran to the car.
Toby opened the car door gently and climbed out.
Hunter backed up, but continued yapping.
“Hey kids, how was the drive?” Lu asked.
“Pretty good. Not too many people out on the roads on Christmas day,” Toby said.
Lu helped them bring in their bags.
Val was a hell of an actress so Lu didn’t catch on. But she was clearly still not speaking to him.
Gift time seemed like a big success for those who were unaware of the argument. Lu loved the foot spa. Hunter spent the rest of the day playing with his new toy. Lu and Gracie got a sapphire necklace for Val and a black titanium dress watch for Toby.
The trouble was with Toby’s present for Gracie.
Gracie loved it. She spent much of the day and night wrapped in it.
Toby knew he was going to pay a hefty price for this one. Val glared at him whenever she thought he wasn’t looking.
Toby woke up with a shock. He had to be to work in forty minutes.
He swore. “Why didn’t—”
Val wasn’t there. She’d left him a week ago. He jumped out of bed and walked to the sink to shave. As he started to wake up, he noticed a thin, perfectly straight scab on his forehead. He got them from time to time and liked to joke that they were leftover from alien abductions.
Maybe his weirdnesses were the reason he couldn’t keep a girlfriend. Didn’t apply in Val’s case.
He knew why she left. Upset that he had been right and she’d been wrong. He didn’t rub it in, didn’t say anything about it at all, was perfectly understanding. She couldn’t deal with him being right and being dispassionate about it.
She wanted him to gloat so she could feel better about being wrong about her own mother.
Toby’s knees buckled under him, and the room seemed to swirl around. He felt his forehead where the scab was as he crumpled to the floor.
The scab was so straight, so narrow, and it was the only thing he could think about. A white blur was growing all around him, drowning out his apartment until he could see he wasn’t in his apartment.
He wasn’t holding his head either. His hands were strapped to his sides and there was something attached to his head where his scab was.
Pale, sickly translucent figures stood around him, examining devices and talking about something. He couldn’t understand what they were saying, but they seemed to be concerned about him. Concerned at him, maybe.
The room was an oval shape, and the bed Toby was strapped to was slightly inclined and near the room’s center. A rail ran a few feet around the bed and controls were situated all around it.
The creatures weren’t wearing clothes and seemed to have an almost plastic consistency to their flesh. It wasn’t immediately apparent if there was a distinction between male and female.
Their eyes were huge and black, as if they had no irises at all. Their similarity to cheesy science fiction movies was startling. If this had been happening to someone else, Toby would have gotten quite a laugh out of it.
One, who he was starting to get the idea was a girl, was trying not to look at him. Trying not to look at him in a way that seemed a lot like attraction.
Suddenly, all of the other aliens looked up at him, and then at her. The room was quiet for a moment before one of the aliens started gibbering rapidly. He couldn’t understand any of the words, but a few things seemed to be clear.
Most of them didn’t think much of Toby at all and she wasn’t saying much of anything. Toby thought he might have seen her blush.
This went on for two minutes before one of the aliens activated a control, and Toby felt his consciousness fading into a swirl of ethereal music.
Toby awoke a little early feeling exhausted but without any intention of going back to sleep so close to work time. He stumbled out of bed and walked to the mirror. He needed a shave, but he didn’t really feel like one.
His vision was still blurry with sleep, but there seemed to be a scratch on his forehead. It was so thin he almost didn’t notice it, and wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been so very straight. He rubbed it.
Aliens again, he joked to himself. The work day felt especially long and when he got back, the sun was setting and his apartment was growing dim. He tossed his bag onto the floor, slumped down on a chair, pushed his shoes off, and leaned back.
He would have fallen asleep had he not suddenly realized that someone was in the apartment with him.
Before he had a chance to wonder where the intruder was at, he heard a quiet padding foot and spun around to face the sound.
He picked up his cell phone and dialed. “Yeah. It’s Toby. I’m not coming in today. I have the SARS or something.”
He pressed a button on the phone and tossed it aside.
She couldn’t possibly be in a costume. Even the movies didn’t have costumes this good. She looked like a real cliche grey.
Her eyes fluttered for a moment and he found himself on his back. She sat on his chest and was examining his head. She pushed it to one side and then the other.
She cupped his head in her hands and pressed her forehead to his. He fell asleep.
When he woke up, it was dark outside. The lights were on, and his place was completely torn apart. Every box’s contents were emptied along with the cabinets and drawers. The place was a tragedy.
The alien was still sifting through stuff and Toby felt a little too comfortable to get out of bed and stage an attack on her. He rolled gently out of bed and walked up to her.
“Hello,” he rolled his head side to side, “I’m not sure if you understand me or—”
She put one translucent hand up.
It had been a week and a half since his visitor had shown up. They still couldn’t speak each other’s languages and he had given up entirely on trying to make the sounds she did when talking. It seemed to offend her ears.
Their communication wasn’t hampered much, however. They were developing a sign language for things which couldn’t quite be expressed with a look or an emotion.
She liked orange juice and hated coffee. Creamer made her sick and she had refused to try coffee with sugar in it, so orange juice it was.
It only took her three days to realize that the bathroom door was shut for a reason. Even if she couldn’t quite comprehend what that reason was.
Toby wasn’t quite sure where things were going, and it was slowly starting to dawn on him that he might ought to be curious about it.
Reading humans had unconsciously become second nature to him, but he had assumed it was something like sympathetic vibration. He saw their emotions and understood them.
He seemed to understand her without a common emotional frame of reference, though. He looked at her straight in the eye and tried to understand.
At that moment, his place was suddenly filled with grey aliens.
They were having an argument. Somehow this seemed very familiar but he couldn’t place it. The strange greys were trying to persuade her to leave. He was sure of it.
“Hey, no! Why are you trying to make her go?”
They were all silent and looked at him for a moment before looking back at her and continuing their conversation.
He slumped down in a chair. There was still so much to learn. So much to do. He didn’t want her to leave.
“Honey, please don’t leave.” If the room had been filled with humans, she wouldn’t possibly have heard. He knew she wouldn’t understand the words. He felt the meaning of them at her as hard as he could.
Suddenly, she was beside him and petted him.
The crowd was very angry about this.
There was a sound outside like a screeching zebra floating in the sky. He felt drawn to it and he followed the greys out to see what the fuss was about.
What Toby could only call a dragon was swooped in the sky. It was shiny black and seemed almost insubstantial. It wanted to be friends.
The greys didn’t mind being friends with it either. Several rushed close to its path and it caught them in its jaws and swallowed them whole.
Toby was shocked and was torn between the desire to follow their example and the desire to run away.
He chose a middle path. He ran toward the dragon’s path and herded the greys out of the way, back into the apartment.
Things got better after that. Unless you counted all the blood samples they took and the fact that all the little grey nephews and nieces they brought over after that seemed to have a special familiar glint in their eyes.
It reminded him of someone he’d seen in a mirror every day of his life.
He didn’t think about it too hard, though. He spent too much time explaining Reena’s appearance to everyone they met. At least her English was getting better.